Mental Health During A Pandemic

Is this pandemic having an impact on your mental health?

Before Covid-19, there were more than 264 million people struggling with depression worldwide and this most recent pandemic has undoubtedly increased that statistic. People’s mental health is suffering because of long periods of isolation, the death of loved ones, the loss of jobs, financial insecurity and the daily stress of a ‘new normal’ life. Not only are we having to make drastic changes to our lives to stop the spread of the virus, but we are also having to take steps to safeguard our mental health.

To help manage this new normal, many people are reaching for short-term fixes. Research has shown that alcohol sales have jumped, with spirits up 75%, wine up 66% and beer up 42%; cannabis use has reached an all-time high; and people are exercising less and eating more by reaching for comfort foods. This is not only damaging their mental and emotional health but their physical health as well.

Then there are the long-term effects, with the risk of PTSD, depression and anxiety. Traumatic events like a pandemic can leave a broad and lasting mark, and not just on those most affected by the events themselves. This is because millions of us will have spent many hours watching the news on our phone. The good news is that even before this pandemic, the conversation around mental health was already happening and people had started searching for solutions.

This is a good time to begin developing our internal resources so we can start to build our mental resilience. Everyone has their own response to stress and anxiety, and what works for one person may not work for another. But when we understand our thought patterns, we can respond intentionally by using certain tools and techniques to manage that anxiety much more effectively. Learning and practising sustainable tools can help us to navigate this new normal and emerge stronger on the other side.

Inner resources

Here are a few ways you can replenish your own inner resources, so you can turn away from those unhealthy coping behaviours. This will help equip you to come out of this pandemic wiser and more resilient than ever before.

Emotional response

If you find yourself judging your emotions or responses around the pandemic, remind yourself that they are normal and justified. By interpreting them as an indication that something is wrong with you for reacting so strongly will only increase your anxiety. Instead, say to yourself, ‘You are going through a crisis, and you are reacting in a normal way to an abnormal situation.’

Diaphragmatic breathing

Deep breathing is a great way to manage your body’s response to anxiety. Anxiety affects your nervous system and sends you into ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response. This can wear down your body with a multitude of physical symptoms, such as shortness of breath, a racing heart, trembling, dizziness and sweating.

Set a cut-off time

Set a news and social media cut-off time each day. While being informed can help you feel more prepared in a public health crisis, setting healthy limits to your media consumption can help you have a restorative break and put the stressful news into perspective.

Make time for mindfulness

Mindfulness boosts our immune system and increases positive emotions, while at the same time reducing anxiety and facilitating healthy relationships. Mindfulness is a mental superpower of being mentally active, accepting and open to the moment-to-moment process. In short, it enables you to tune in to what you are sensing, feeling and thinking as it occurs in the present moment, without giving it any judgments of ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Develop a mental routine

To manage anxiety, you need to consistently check in with yourself about what you are worrying about, then address it. Just as we create routines with exercise for our physical bodies, we can do the same for our mental health. One way to do this is schedule in ‘thinking time’ to think through any problems or worries weighing on you instead of letting them build up.

Your new world

COVID-19 is forging a ‘new normal’ around the world. While there is space for genuine concern, we can also find ourselves spiralling into unhelpful thoughts and reverting to ways of coping that gets us nowhere. However, this is a great opportunity to reset and create a better world. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine a new world.

What does your new world look like?

Stay healthy, stay safe.

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