Acknowledging and mitigating the mental health fallout during a pandemic
If the past is any indication, there is a strong connection between a pandemic and a decline in mental health. The Russian (1889 to 1890) and Spanish (1918 to 1920) influenzas have both been associated with dips in mental health that lasted years after the pandemics were over. According to Morneau Shepell (Canadian HR specialists), as of April 2, 2020, the mental health of Canadians has already fallen by 16 percent. That means our overall score has dropped to 63 (compared to the benchmark of 75), which is ordinarily associated with a major life disruption and mental health risk. Anxiety, helplessness, optimism, and isolation were the largest negative changes evidenced from the survey. Heather Doidge-Sidhu, a Victoria, B.C.-based registered clinical counsellor (counsellorheather.ca), says the uncertainty the world is experiencing is tremendously stressful for those already struggling with their mental health—and those who weren’t. On a day-to-day basis, everything’s changed, and, from a big-picture perspective, there is truly nowhere in the world that’s safe right now, says Doidge-Sidhu. She says the stress we’re in may cause us to revert to unhealthy coping mechanisms, like going back to unhealthy thought patterns we thought we’d already worked through.
Doidge-Sidhu recommends using technology to keep connected to friends and family, which could include coordinating a time to watch a movie and eat popcorn with another family, or eating dinner together over FaceTime. And when you’re connecting via video chat, Doidge-Sidhu also encourages embracing some of the awkwardness we may feel about using video technology. Having a laugh can also help; for instance when, if you’re FaceTiming, one of your kids or pets makes an impromptu photobomb. “These are moments when we get glimpses into people and homes that maybe we didn’t get before,” says Doidge-Sidhu. “And it’s okay to laugh at it. Laughter can bring us together.”
Practising mindfulness can help in coping with anxiety. The practice can be as straightforward as drinking a cold glass of water and observing when you can’t feel the temperature anymore, or noticing the colours and objects around you, says Doidge-Sidhu.
Doidge-Sidhu also says it’s important to celebrate small victories. That could mean calling and talking to someone for five minutes, when you’ve been feeling really stressed out and alone, or leaving a voicemail after nobody picks up on the other end. And, instead of dwelling on the fact that no one picked up, staying focused on making the call in the first place. These are tough times for sure, but keeping a focus on your mental health and practising mindfulness can be extremely beneficial in keeping yourself centred and happy.