How stressful global events impact mental health
Dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity is challenging for most of us under regular circumstances. Add a pandemic into the mix and a spike in your anxiety level is inevitable. There’s a lot of uncertainty about COVID-19, and much of that is outside your control. No amount of worrying will change that fact. That said, the positive steps you can take to cope with the uncomfortable feelings you’re experiencing are under your control.
Table of Contents
- Coping with uncertainty, anxiety and stress during COVID-19
- Coping with loneliness during self-isolation
- Adapting to working from home
- Staying healthy during the pandemic
- Talking to children about COVID-19
- Consulting a healthcare professional for my mental health
- Getting financial help
- Accessing my family doctor
- Worrying about job security and safety
Coping with uncertainty, anxiety and stress during COVID-19
Doctors, researchers, and essential services personnel are working hard to keep us safe and healthy, and help minimize disruptions in our daily lives. These are challenging times and it is possible that as new information about COVID-19 arises, we may have to adjust our routines. It helps to think that we are all in this together, and everyone is doing their best. Here are some tips on how to reduce the stress that can arise due to uncertainty and change.
News about COVID-19
- Rely on scientifically-sound sources of information.
- Avoid posts that are meant to generate fear and panic.
- Monitor how anxious you feel after watching/reading the news and/or social media. Take breaks regardless of how you feel.
- Remember that feelings are not facts.
- If you have to, set alarms to remind yourself to take breaks and focus on something else for a while.
Other things you can do
- Remember that it’s normal to feel emotions such as fear, sadness, and anxiety given the circumstances.
- Connect with friends and family via phone or video call to discuss how you’re feeling and how you can support each other.
- Recognize that when others vent about their stress, this can make you feel stressed, sometimes without you being aware.
- Take good care of your body. Ensure that you’re engaging in physical activity (e.g. stretching, yoga). Also, make sure you’re eating healthy, well-balanced meals and maintaining a regular sleep schedule.
- You may find yourself wondering whether you’re getting sick each time your throat feels scratchy or your breathing is uneven. Recognize that this is a natural stress response. Remember that there could be other reasons you’re feeling that way (e.g. allergies, anxiety).
- Even if you’re worried about lost income or how you’re going to pay the bills, give yourself time to unwind. If you don’t, it’s probably going to make it harder for you to be creative and find solutions.
- Do things that have helped you relax in the past.
- Consult meditation, relaxation, or yoga resources that are available online.
- If you have a creative pastime, focusing on it for a period of time each day can help relieve some of your anxiety.
- Give yourself time to relax and unwind. Try guided meditation phone apps (e.g. Headspace or Petit Bambou – some are free right now). Practice deep breathing, read, or take a bath. Whatever works for you.
- If you’re experiencing acute distress, contact a health professional.
Coping with loneliness during self-isolation
The key to warding off loneliness while in self-isolation is to regain a sense of control. Of course, that can be quite a challenge when COVID-19 is evolving so quickly and guidelines to deal with it keep changing.
- Avoid thinking too far into the future. Focus on what you can control right now, things like the clothes you’re going to wear and the food you’re going to eat. This should give you some sense of stability.
- Try meditation. Or simply breathe in and out in three-second blocks. It will help root you to the present.
- It’s also important to recognize that feeling lonely can actually make you feel skeptical and distrustful, thus making you want to avoid others. It’s important to resist this tendency.
- Now is a great time to reach out to people virtually or over the phone. Have coffee with a friend via video. The fact that you’re physically apart isn’t as important as the quality of the time you spend with them.
Adapting to working from home
If you find working from home more stressful than you anticipated, don’t be too hard on yourself. Lots of people are struggling, especially those who are living with kids or a partner who’s also teleworking. Here are some tips to help you cope.
Create a routine
Our normal workplaces provide us with structure. With that structure removed, you may find it hard to get into a proper work rhythm. And you may spend more time worrying about things you can’t control.
- Try behaving as if you were still going into the office or job site. Get ready for work just as you normally would. Set regular working hours. Check-in regularly with your manager and colleagues.
- If you can, find a dedicated workspace, one that minimizes distractions and helps keep your work and home life separate as much as possible.
- At the same time, don’t be too rigid. Recognize that this isn’t business as usual. Don’t get upset with yourself if you’re having trouble being as productive as normal.
- Work with your team to focus your energy on essential work tasks.
Stay socially connected
Working at home can be an isolating experience. You’ll need to be more deliberate about staying in touch with your friends and colleagues. In stressful times like these, it’s important to share feelings and hear friendly voices. It’s also important to find emotional support and offer it to others.
You can do things like
- call or text a co-worker you can relate to
- reach out to someone in your business network whom you haven’t talked to in a while
- take time to connect with family and friends
Take care of yourself physically and mentally
Look after your physical health by
- eating well-balanced meals
- staying hydrated
- avoiding too much alcohol or sugar
- getting plenty of sleep
- taking breaks, moving around, and stretching
Keeping tabs on your mental health is vital as well, especially if you’re prone to anxiety or depression.
- Limit the amount of time you spend watching, reading, or listening to news stories about the crisis.
- Identify what is within your control and what’s not. Try to direct your energy towards worries that are within your control.
- Start each day by listing a few things you’re grateful for.
- Revive stress-reducing practices that may have worked for you in the past.
Set realistic expectations if you have children at home
If you have kids at home, you’re juggling child care, homeschooling, and work responsibilities right now. You’re doing the equivalent of two full-time jobs. No wonder you’re feeling stressed!
- Begin by accepting that you’ll probably get less than half as much work accomplished as you would under normal circumstances, especially if you have young children.
- Let your employer and co-workers know this now in order to avoid misunderstandings later.
- Present options to your boss. This may involve you doing some of your work outside normal business hours.
- Mental health tips for working from home (Government of Canada)
- Coronavirus: How families can cope with self-isolating together (BBC)
Staying healthy during the pandemic
By implementing tips and tricks to
Relaxation and meditation
- Try to disconnect from your phone and the news for at least an hour a day.
- Headspace (a relaxation app) has unlocked a free selection of meditation and mindfulness content to tackle stress.
Staying physically active
- Many gyms and trainers have created at-home workouts requiring little to no equipment. Check your local gym’s social media pages for virtual workouts or Fitness Blender for a variety of free programs and exercises.
- Start a little friendly competition through a virtual step challenge with colleagues, friends or family using a fitness tracker (we’ve started our own at Dialogue!).
- When trying to limit trips to the grocery store, consider buying a combination of:
- Protein foods (canned fish, lentils, beans, eggs, cheese, milk, etc.)
- Whole grains (quinoa, rice, whole-wheat pasta, rolled oats, etc.)
- Vegetables (canned or frozen, leafy greens, long-lasting root vegetables like carrots and potatoes)
- Fruits (canned, frozen or dried, longer-lasting fruits like oranges or apples)
- Healthy fats (nuts, seeds, nut butters, or avocado)
- For more ideas, consult this article.
- Make a list prior to going to the grocery store to minimize time spent roaming the aisles.
Working from home habits
- If working from home is new to you, try defining when your day is done and taking regular breaks to maintain a schedule.
- Use video conferencing to connect with your colleagues, and schedule lunch, coffee or snack breaks with team members or friends when possible.
Talking to children about COVID-19
When it comes to dealing with COVID-19, children or teens take their cues from their parents. One of the most important steps you can take to reassure your child is to act calmly and confidently yourself. That doesn’t mean denying that you’re anxious. It does mean showing them how to cope with anxiety, especially in the face of the uncertainty all of us are experiencing right now.
Here are some specific things you can say or do:
- Reassure them that many people around the world – nurses, doctors, scientific experts – are working hard to keep us all safe and healthy.
- Find out what they know about what’s going on. Correct any misinformation.
- Be honest, but positive. Reassure them they’re unlikely to get sick, but it’s still important to do what they can to protect themselves and your family – especially those who are at higher risk like grandparents.
- Give them a sense of control by showing them how to do things that keep everyone in the family safe (like helping keep things clean).
- Tell them it’s ok if they feel upset. Share how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
- Accept that there’s likely going to be an increase in screen time during social distancing. Try to limit your child’s exposure to the news. Find other things you can watch together.
- Come up with creative ways to connect with family, friends and neighbours.
Helping children cope with social distancing
Parenting can be challenging at the best of times, but now that you and your kids are at home together for extended periods of time, it just took on a whole other level of difficulty. On top of trying to work productively at home, you’re also responsible for your child’s education.
So, how can you make the best of a complicated situation? Well, first of all, recognize that you’re bound to make some mistakes along the way. Remember that you can always stop, apologize, and start over if you have to. This is uncharted territory, after all. Go easy on yourself.
That said, here are some practical steps you can take to help your children cope with being cut off from their friends and the structure of a normal school day.
Establish a routine
- Create a routine for your children. This kind of structure can be reassuring, especially in times of uncertainty and worry. But be sure to work in some fun.
- Don’t try to stick rigidly to a schedule though. One approach would be to have a short to-do list of activities for the day and then go with the flow.
- Consider rearranging the furniture to give kids space to do schoolwork and crafts.
- You may find that younger children focus better in the morning, while teenagers do better in the later afternoon / evening.
- Your routine should include meals, play time, and bedtime routines.
- Be sure to check in with each family member to see how their day or week is going.
- Remember that people will need some space and time on their own.
Find ways for your kids to stay connected socially
- Connect with grandparents by doing activities together or sharing eating together via video.
- Check out suggestions from Media Smarts about how teens can socialize with their friends online.
Manage screen time
- Accept that there will be more screen time than you might like.
- Consider limiting your kids to one hour of screens at a time, followed by at least an hour’s break.
- Provide them with a list of other activities they can do to keep busy.
- Information from reliable Canadian medical sources through Chloe, Dialogue’s medical assistant
- How can we talk to kids about COVID-19? Be “realistically reassuring” (Canadian Paediatric Society)
- Coronavirus Q&As: Answers to 7 questions your kids may have about the pandemic (The Conversation)
- Talking to children about COVID-19 and its impact (CAMH)
- Parenting during COVID-19: A new frontier (Canadian Paediatric Society)
- Coronavirus: How families can cope with self-isolating together (BBC)
- Helping kids stay in touch while social distancing (MediaSmarts)
- Grandparenting in the time of COVID-19 (Harvard Medical School)
- Coronavirus: 5 tips for navigating children’s screen time during social distancing (The Conversation)
- Social media and screen time during a pandemic (MediaSmarts)
- Resources for Families During the Coronavirus Pandemic (Common Sense Media)
- Tips for parenting during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak (UNICEF)
Consulting a healthcare professional for my mental health
It’s normal to feel anxious during this pandemic. But what if you find that you’re not able to function anymore? Or friends and family say that you seem unusually worried or stressed out, even considering current circumstances?
If that’s the case, you need to reach out for support. Sometimes friends and family can help. But it may take someone with mental health expertise to provide the support you truly need. Check out the links to phone and online mental health supports below.
If you have a pre-existing mental health condition, here are some tips that the Government of Canada suggests:
- Make sure you have enough medication on hand.
- Stick with the routines that make you feel good.
- Reach out to friends virtually.
- Find an accountability buddy.
- If you have a therapist, see if they offer telephone or video-based sessions.
Here are support resources available in Canada.
If you have access to Dialogue through your organization, you can log in to your account to connect with a healthcare professional. If you’re already logged in and are accessing this page from the Dialogue app, you can continue to access helpful information based on your needs or connect with a mental health specialist.
Phone / online mental health supports in Canada
If you do not have access to Dialogue and need some support for you or your loved one, below are some other resources available across Canada. Given the impact that the pandemic is having on so many individuals’ mental health, their response times may be slower than usual. Additionally, you can also consider speaking to your employer about gaining access to Dialogue.
- Revivre - Self-help support workshops for anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder
- Big White Wall - Peer support network available in Ontario
- BounceBack - Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario
- AmiQuebec – listing of services
- Crisis Centre (BC)
- Kids Help Phone
- Strongest Family Institute
- CTV listing of mental health care across Canada (not just phone / online)
Getting financial help
Sudden unfortunate events, such as family illness or job loss, can cause financial strain and stress for many Canadians. The COVID-19 pandemic may have gotten you worried about your ability to pay for your house, bills, and provide nutritious meals for your family. Know that you are not alone in this, and that the Canadian government and many financial institutions are providing support in this time of hardship through payment deferrals, monetary supplements, and the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
We suggest reviewing the resources below which contain guidance on financial planning during the pandemic:
- Suggestions on how to gain financial support and save money
- COVID-19: Managing financial health in challenging times
Governments are also offering additional relief measures for individuals and businesses affected by COVID-19, such as:
- Fiscal deferrals for tax submissions and payment of income tax balances
- Student loan repayment deferrals
- Child support and emergency care
- Support for seniors
- Community organizations and emergency shelters
- Provincial emergency benefits
Resources on financial support available nationally
- Canadian economic response
- Employment and Social Development Canada
- Mortgage deferral initiative
- The New Canada Emergency Response Benefit
We also invite you to consult your provincial government’s resources regarding additional financial support being offered:
Accessing my family doctor
Many family medicine clinics have their own way of helping their patients right now.
You can consult your clinic’s website if they have one as COVID-19 specific instructions may be posted. Otherwise, you can call the clinic directly to request an appointment and provide a reason for consultation. Usually, patients are able to make appointments within 24 hours and if you have COVID-19 symptoms or have traveled in the last 14 days, a phone consultation is usually done. For any COVID-19 related symptoms, you can also consult Chloe for COVID-19, Dialogue’s free automated medical assistant that will guide you towards the latest information and public health authorities.
If you’re a Dialogue member and your family doctor is not seeing patients, you can also consult one of our doctors or mental health specialists, and we’ll be able to give you the support you need.
Worrying about job security and safety
Providing for yourself and loved ones can be an important source of stress for many of us, and can be further amplified during these complex times. Some may be entirely new to remote working, others may have to juggle working while caring for their loved ones, and in some cases, you may find yourself at home without work. Whatever the scenario you identify with, know that you are not alone, and that we are all facing challenges and learning how to adapt.
Caring for your family and working
Navigating this period can be particularly difficult if you are sick, need to care for others, or are unable to work during this time due to COVID-19. Many provinces have therefore enacted legislations that protect employees, alleviating some of the added burden and stress that individuals may be experiencing.
Managing your workload
This challenging period may be a good opportunity to talk to your manager and prioritize the projects and tasks that you are responsible for. It will help you focus on what is truly important, minimizing time-consuming distractions, and ultimately maintaining the impact you are striving to achieve in your role.
Depending on your role, you may find yourself working remotely or having to be physically present in your workplace alongside your colleagues. While this can be anxiety-inducing for some, there are many best practices and guidelines put in place to help you stay safe and protected.
My employer's responsibilities
Your employer has the responsibility to provide a safe working environment, and should help accommodate employees by:
- Avoiding in-person meetings
- Using technology to foster communication among employees
- Supporting remote work
Your employer must implement clear guidelines should you develop COVID-19 symptoms.
Staying safe at work
Health professionals are stressing the importance of hand-washing and social distancing as the main preventative measures.
Wash your hands often, especially after preparing food, before eating or touching your face, and after going to the washroom. If you don’t have access to water and soap, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- When you cough or sneeze, use a tissue or do so in your sleeve or elbow, avoiding your hands. Immediately after, throw away any used tissues in a lined trash can and then wash your hands.
- Avoid any type of contact-based greetings, such as handshakes.
- Limit contact with individuals who are at high-risk, such as elderly and those with a compromised immune system.
- Maintain a safe distance of at least two-arms length (approximately 2 meters) with others as much as possible.
Wearing a mask is not recommended if you are healthy; in fact, it might contribute to a false sense of security. There is an increased risk of contamination when the mask is not worn correctly and disposed of safely. It can be used only if you are displaying symptoms and need to step outside of your home to seek medical help. It will therefore help protect others.
Safely returning home from work
Keeping your household and family safe begins with these best practices:
- When you arrive home from work, disinfect your hands before entering your home, and dispose of your clothing before coming into contact with your family.
- Wash your clothes with warm water, separately from other household clothing.
- Afterwards, you can rewash your hands and put on fresh and clean clothes.
- If you work in a higher exposure setting such as a hospital or other type of medical facility, shower immediately upon arrival and wash your hands.
Use any of the recommended cleaning products and disinfectants or a solution of diluted bleach (1 part bleach to 9 parts of water). Clean surfaces that are often handled by hands, such as:
- Electric appliances
- Door handles
- Remote controls