During this unprecedented time, many people are experiencing varying degrees of anxiety and uncertainty. Concerns about personal health, the health of loved one, school challenges, work uncertainty, work loss, financial uncertainty, not being able to participate in community, sports and social events are key areas of worry for many. Anxiety is a normal reaction to uncertainty and things that may harm us. For many of us, the coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness make for a very uncertain future.
Here are some tips to help you manage your challenging emotions, put news reports in perspective, and maintain a positive outlook.
1. Get the facts but consider curtailing your media consumption
It is helpful to adopt a more analytical approach as you follow news reports about the coronavirus in order to stay informed. Constantly checking for updates or reading sensationalized stories can really take a toll on your mental health. Consider sticking to trusted, verified news sources and limiting yourself if social media or news stories increase your anxiety. Also, consider verifying information that you receive from family, friends or social media—the goal is to take in the information you need and cut down on the excess, not ignore the situation altogether. Some reputable information from provincial and federal sources include the following:
- https://novascotia.ca/coronavirus/ (Nova Scotia COVID-19 Update site)
- https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19.html (Government of Canada COVID-19 site)
- https://novascotia.ca/coronavirus/mental-health/ (Nova Scotia Government Mental Health tips and supports)
2. Keep things in perspective
Take a deep breath and remind yourself that most people who contract COVID-19 will only experience mild symptoms. Work is being done to help people who may be more vulnerable to the coronavirus, such as senior citizens and those with underlying health conditions. As coverage increases, it’s important to take the necessary precautions to keep your family and loved ones healthy.
3. Communicate with your children
Discuss the news coverage of the coronavirus with honest and age-appropriate information. Parents can also help allay distress by focusing children on routines and schedules. Remember that children will observe your behaviors and emotions for cues on how to manage their own feelings during this time. You may want to limit how much media they consume to help keep their anxiety in check.
Some potential resources recommended by American Psychological Association include the following:
- Child Mind Institute: Talking to Kids About the Coronavirus
- NPR: Just For Kids: A Comic Exploring The New Coronavirus
- SAMHSA: Talking with Children: Tips for Caregivers, Parents, and Teachers During Infectious Disease Outbreak
- APA: How to talk to Children About Difficult News
- NCTSN: Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families with the Coronavirus
- NY Times: Quaranteenagers: Strategies for Parenting in Close Quarters
- Dr. Leslie Blevins: Child-Rearing During COVID-19
- Dr. Shelley Mackaman: Survival Tips from Ground Zero
- Clear Answers for Kids Regarding COVID-19
- Manuela Molina: COVIBOOK
4. Keep kids busy and active
While many parents/caregivers face work interruptions and family disruptions. They are now suddenly faced with feeling pressured to educate their children due to school closures. As such, returning to the basics can be liberating. Establishing a routine with a visual calendar can help children know what to expect and therefore reduce uncertainty. Building some family play time and one-on-one time can be powerful ways to increase positive attention provided to children, which are opportunities for emotional intimacy with your children. Listen and validate to your children’s emotions (“I see that you’re sad because you miss your friends, because you’d like to play with the neighbours, and because your hockey season was cut short.”) Emotional validation has a soothing effect on our brains. Finally, just like grownups, getting outside or getting moving every day is important for children. You might also enjoy the aftermath of a good exercise session…a sleepy and happy child!
5. Keep connected
Maintaining social networks – even virtually – can foster a sense of normality and provide valuable outlets for sharing feelings and relieving stress. You can maintain these connections without increasing your risk of getting the virus by talking on the phone, texting or chatting with people on social media platforms. You can also get creative and do fun activities over face time or phone, (e.g., baking, colouring, crafting, watching a tv show or movie, listening to a podcast, watching a ted talk, or reading a book, and then discussing it with a friend).
6. Stay active
Fear can keep us rooted and sedentary, which can sometimes make us feel trapped. Being active even in small ways can help us to reconnect with our body and bring our brain back to where we are in the present moment. Moving our body could look as big as going for walks, hikes, bike rides, working out at home, or as small as stretching, moving to another room, opening the window and taking deep breaths of the outdoors. Research says being outside in particular, is highly protective for mood. Nature can be very beneficial for many aspects of well-being including physical, cognitive and mental health, so if you can, try to spend some time in Nature if you can.
7. Ensuring good sleep and fueling your body well
During these anxiety provoking times, it is important to remember the tried and true health preventions strategies of ensuring that you are getting solid sleep, drinking water and eating healthy. Our minds and bodies are connected and ensuring that we don’t forget to self-care in these ways goes a long way towards our overall well-being. Also, when people feel stressed and overwhelmed it is not unusual to consume increased levels of alcohol or other substance. It would be helpful to be mindful of your use of alcohol and other substances. Prioritizing these behaviors during the coronavirus crisis can go a long way toward increasing your psychological well-being and bolstering your immune system.
For those who are experiencing food insecurity, require meal delivery, or other essential needs, the link below provides information around local community groups, government programs and non-profits for Nova Scotians.
- 211 at http://ns.211.ca/
8. Practicing Mindfulness
Our brain is often trying to solve problems that have not yet happened or resolving events that happened in the past. While being proactive and reflective is helpful, being stuck in either the past or the future is not. Mindfulness is an approach that helps us to respond wisely to events we experience (i.e., with intention and guided by values). Below are two you tube links that you may like to review to learn how to add mindfulness into your wellbeing regimen.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6T02g5hnT4 (Why mindfulness Is a Superpower: An Animation)
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjtfyuTTQFY (Mindfulness Animated in 3 minutes)
9. Cultivating Self-Compassion
Being kind to ourselves and others will not change our situation. It does, however, change our experience within and with others. Below are some links to self-compassion information and exercises you may wish to try.
- https://self-compassion.org/ (Dr. Kristin Neff’s website on self-compassion)
- https://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/#guided-meditations (A number of guided self-compassion meditations provided by Dr. Neff).
10. Choosing Meaning and cultivating gratitude
Finding the meaning and joy in our daily journey can dramatically change our experiences. Choose to notice the love, beauty and support around us that has not gone anywhere amid these current challenges. Below is a you tube link to learn more about this:
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-lRbuy4XtA&t=126s (An Antidote to Dissatisfaction)
Writing out our thoughts and feelings can help us to process our experiences but also interrupt and prevent rumination (i.e., getting stuck; analogy – hamster wheel). Dr. Kristin Neff has a lovely compassionate journaling activity. Feel free to check out this link if you would like to try this is:
12. Seek additional help
Individuals who feel an overwhelming nervousness, a lingering sadness, or other prolonged reactions that adversely affect their job performance or interpersonal relationships should consult with a trained and experienced mental health professional. Psychologists and other appropriate mental health providers can help people deal with extreme stress. These professionals work with individuals to help them find constructive ways to manage adversity.
From the psychologists and staff of Aulakh Psychological & Counselling Services, we want to end with some words of kindness and gratitude.
- May you and your loved ones be safe, happy and healthy.
- May you hold fast to the joy and meaning in your everyday life.
- May you lean into your friends and family for support.
- May you remember you are not walking this path alone.
With warmth and gratitude,
Shannon Johnson, Registered Psychologist
Leslie MacIntyre, Registered Psychologist
Sophie Godbout-Beaulieu, Registered Psychologist
Kate Robertson, Registered Psychologist
Erica Lundberg, Registered Psychologist
Harpreet Aulakh, Registered Psychologist
Angela Pollard, Practice Administrator
Margie Bush, Administrative Assistant