These are truly wild times. As the world copes with and slowly recovers from COVID-19, we are seeing our lives and priorities shift inward. With working from home (if you’re still working), to potentially increased financial pressure, to the tightening of restrictions on social gatherings and outdoor activities — it is becoming harder and harder to maintain any sense of normalcy or routine without erring on the side of existential crisis.
It is for this reason that taking care of your mental health during this time should be a top priority. We spoke with Christine Devoy, registered therapist and former COO of the Canadian Mental Health Association, to look at how best to cope physically and mentally with a global crisis, the importance of routine and what not to be doing during this period.
The first step, Devoy explains is to “allow yourself to have feelings of anxiety. Don’t judge [or] become stressed or anxious that you’re feeling anxious, this will escalate the feeling.” Most of us will have anxiety during these times, she explains, “It is our brain’s way to protect us, by signalling there is an external threat. Be accepting of your anxiety and remind yourself that this is a feeling, that it will pass, and that it is not all encompassing,” she says. “If your anxiety is ongoing or heightened to the extent that you are unable to cope, do not hesitate to reach out for help. There are so many available services to help during these difficult times, ranging from volunteers to counsellors to emergency services. They are waiting to provide you with the support you need.”
When it comes to helping combat or ease these feelings yourself however, there are simple things you can do. Devoy recommends “[focusing] on what you are doing today, who you will video chat with, what support you will give or receive.” And while it’s harder than ever to not wonder (or worry) about the state of the world moving forward, “looking into the future during a time of crisis will [only] increase your anxiety. This is a tough one to follow for most of us, but just keep practicing.”
Another helpful tip? Create a routine that fits into your schedule, lifestyle and expectations of yourself, “then follow it! It seems so simple…” but is often so challenging. “Make it simple and stick to it as much as possible. Routine is invaluable. It grounds our mental health and allows us to get through difficult times, even when we don’t have the energy,” Devoy says. Part of most people’s routine too, is interacting with others in person on a regular basis… “even for those of us who are introverts, interacting and connecting with others is crucial to our mental wellness.”
How do we relate to others when we can’t see anyone? Devoy poses. “It’s time for each of us to step up and create our own avenues for staying in touch with people.” While interaction can often be a trigger point for those with anxiety, especially given the circumstances Devoy mentions to not try and reinvent the wheel, “keep your people and your routine the same; only the means of connecting needs to change. Be part of, or create ways to stay connected to your usual friends or groups.” In saying that, “don’t put pressure on yourself to video chat with flare! Just get on the phone or computer and connect. Enjoy not having to put on makeup, do your hair or get out of your pyjamas, [chances are your friends] will also be in their pyjamas.”
Remember, says Devoy, “nothing motivates us to repeat something like positive interactions, connect with people that make you feel good.”
And while you may have found yourself more tired than ever, even when you’re doing less (there’s a reason, it’s okay), Devoy says to actually lean in to that feeling. “During a time of uncertainty, crisis or stress, we have to give ourselves permission to slow down and care for ourselves and others. If baking bread helps you feel less stressed and provides you with comfort, bake bread. If baking bread is stressful for you, as you’re [only] doing it to “keep up” with everyone else on Instagram, buy your bread.”
This isn’t a contest to prove who can produce the most [be the most efficient, or be the most productive]. This is a world-wide public health crisis. Now is the time to keep life in perspective and find what gives you comfort and joy,” she says.
In relation to alcohol? It’s common knowledge that alcohol consumption is up. According to Nielsen data for the week ending March 14th, online sales of alcohol were up 42%, three litre boxed wine sales were up 53% and spirit sales were up 26.4% in the US, compared to the same time last year. Similarly in Australia, a YouGov poll (as reported by FiveAA) shows that 70% of Australians have admitted to drinking more than usual, as well as starting earlier in the day.
But “whether activities are considered ‘good’ for us, such as exercise or staying informed, or ‘bad’ for us, like alcohol or gambling, they can all be detrimental to our mental health if used in extreme,” says Devoy.
“To maintain or improve our mental health, we all need to ‘live in the middle’…extremes are unhealthy, particularly now.” Similarly, being exposed to or seeking out news in excess could prove an unhealthy habit. Staying informed has its limits and in a similar vein to alcohol consumption, limiting your information gathering or consumption to one or two hours a day and ensuring to use reputable sources, will keep you somewhere in the healthy middle range. “Use tools and techniques [like alcohol and exercise even though they seem wildly different] thoughtfully and within reason… ‘just enough’ might be a good motto right now!”
So with no metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel (it’s coming, we just can’t see it yet), there are a few things to prioritise in finding your happy balance. Connecting with positive people, living both in the middle and in the moment (as much as possible), being gentle to yourself and others and routine, Devoy says.
So, whether it’s making yourself a cup of tea, pouring yourself a glass of red, shit talking with your bestie on the phone for an hour or smashing out a workout, do what works (in moderation) and be kind to yourself. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, or just want access to more resources, reach out to Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or chat online here or Headspace, which provides online tools for young people to manage their mental health, and up to date information of COVID-19.
We love you, we’re here for you.