Coping with COVID-19

First thing’s first. This situation is difficult for everyone, so it’s totally normal to feel anxious and stressed. You may be separated from family and friends, or you may be back in your family home without having planned it. You may have lost your income. In a few short weeks, you’ve become a fully virtual student. Things you were looking forward to are cancelled. There’s uncertainty about what the future holds. The world feels hushed. On the other hand, the constant stream of information and news updates seems to have the opposite effect – there’s a heightened sense of reality, making everything feel like it’s happening in a movie or a dream. You may be worried about the well-being and safety of others. In fact, the whole notion of safety and “home” could feel like a question mark right now. It’s no wonder you’re feeling the way you are. Navigating uncertainty is hard. While there’s no quick fix to make it all go away, there are small things you can do to help manage the stress and anxiety of dealing with the unknown.

Tip 1

Be realistic about your expectations

Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t finish the first draft of the next greatest coming-of-age novel. We hear constant updates about the financial and socio-political costs of what’s happening, but rarely are the emotional and cognitive costs given equal (if any!) weight. Don’t be ashamed if you’re finding it difficult to concentrate. Low motivation, restlessness, loss of sleep, and being easily distracted are all to be expected given the circumstances. People are highly adaptable, but remember, it does take time to adjust.

Tip 1

Lay the foundation

Sleep, diet, exercise. These are the foundations of your mental health. Stay connected with friends and family via zoom or facetime. Avoid too much caffeine and try some new relaxation techniques. Ever tried yoga or Qigong? Anything is possible with YouTube! Take up an activity like knitting, drawing, or playing an instrument as a healthy outlet. If you feel like you need more support, talk to a trusted family member or friend about how you feel. Consider using a mental health app, look into your school’s virtual counselling offerings or their recommended off-campus support.

Tip 3

Build a routine

Try to get up, go to bed, and have your meals at roughly the same time you normally would. Do as much as you can to keep your days filled with activities, and your nights with rest. A recent study which looked at the impacts of disruptions to our circadian rhythms (when we’re asleep and awake), found that having a regular rhythm of being active in daylight and inactive in darkness is really important for mental well-being. The study also reveals that practicing good sleep hygiene (no screens before bedtime) helps relieve anxiety and promotes a better night’s sleep. Reflect on three small things you could do first thing in the morning to ground you (spoiler: resist the urge to pick up your phone first thing). Build in small rituals to ground yourself throughout the day. Take a few breaths when you first wake up. Plan nice things to eat. Stretch as you listen to music at the start, middle and end of your day.

Tip 4

Turn off your brain with some healthy escapism

Graphic images in the twitterverse, rumors on Facebook, and ongoing speculation may exaggerate the issues at hand. Less sensational stories about communities coming together and adapting to change by creatively sharing resources just don’t have the same newsworthy appeal. Be mindful of where you’re getting your information. Many of us are yo-yoing between extremes: the urge to be as informed as possible, and a burning need for escapism. Stay informed with resources like World Health Organization or the Government of Canada Health Site for correct information that doesn’t sensationalize developments. After that, give your brain a break. Re-watch favorite movies from when you were a kid for some nostalgic escapism. Play video games, listen to music, try a hair or makeup tutorial just for the fun of it. This is a time when our on-demand culture is really coming through for us, so make use of all that the internet and streaming services have to offer.

Tip 5

Practice Perspective

Don’t forget that this will pass. Even though it’s tough, self-isolating and practicing social distancing is the most socially responsible thing we can do. Remind yourself of what is good in your life and what is most important to you. Think about how you’ll want to look back on this experience. Maybe there’s an interesting way you could document your experience? Consider starting a journal where every day you fill in the following phrase: I’m grateful for _________ because___________. And, if you still feel anxious or restless, then be with that too. The best way to move through difficult feelings is to be with the tough emotions. Trust that they won’t last forever. This global pandemic is asking all of us, on this planet we call home, to be unselfish. In such a short timespan we’ve been able to change our behaviors for the greater good – because we’re considering the needs of others over our own. The power of our individual actions has never felt so obvious. Our connection to each other as a global community has never been clearer. We’ll get through this. Imagine all that might be possible when we apply what we’ll learn as we move through this (temporary) new normal towards our own individual lives, and to solving complex problems that impact our global community at large.