Coping with Mental Health Issues in the COVID-19 Era
Do you find yourself increasingly anxious or depressed?
Has this new world of COVID-19 seemingly overwhelmed your life, leaving you filled with stress, anxiety and/or other emotions that have made it difficult to get through each day?
Are you unsure of what to do next, and how to get through it all?
You’re not alone in feeling this way. It’s a perfectly reasonable reaction to have to this global pandemic. Life as we know it has changed, both in the short term as well as future implications.
Let’s explore what causes this response in people, and what we can do within our control to cope with the situation and get through the day while keeping our mental and emotional health reasonably intact.
Heightened Threat & Massive Change: The Brain & Body Respond
Human beings are hard-wired to react to major life changes, stressors and imminent threats with a series of physiological and emotional responses.
In the case of COVID-19 aka the Coronavirus, both the level of threat and the scope of change have converged in nearly a perfect storm. Most of us weren’t exactly leading stress-free lives before this, but our stress levels have now skyrocketed.
We’re struggling to cope with something we’ve heretofore never seen, let alone dealt with.
“Will I get sick?”
“How can I put food on the table?”
“What will the future look like?”
These are the types of questions that we’re all asking.
It’s a lot for the brain to process at once.
The resulting stress, anxiety, depression and other mental & emotional health issues are neither surprising nor out of line with what we know about the human brain.
The Brain’s Initial Response: Denial & Suppression
At first, the threat seemed minor and distant. It was going on “over there” – while here, our governments were assuring us that the threat was low and that the country was prepared if and when the virus came to Canada. Either there was no real evidence that our lives were about to change, or our brain didn’t process the information to interpret it that way.
The common response at that point was to go about our lives as “normal,” storing the information from the news in a part of our brains not often accessed. Even though we knew that the coronavirus was bad, our brains generally computed it as something that did not require an immediate and heightened response.
The brain likes routine, predictability, and situations it can control. It was easier to continue our day to day lives. We’d all seen news of calamities before; even for the ones that had the potential to spill over into our lives, we generally reacted with some semblance of maintaining our routines.
We proceeded the same way as usual, going on about our lives… until were presented with the need for an immediate and heightened response.
Flipping the Switch: The COVID-19 Threat Surged
It was in the month of March 2020 that the switch was flipped. Immediately, our lives seemed like they were turned upside down.
We were suddenly faced with the sobering reality of a contagion threat and the overnight halting of our day-to-day routines. On top of that, the uncertainty of our future – from financial worries (unemployment, stock market, mortgage, rent, bills, etc.) to what our lives will be like going forward – have complicated matters even further.
Thus, we have seen an increase in stress, anxiety, depression, overeating, substance use and other normal but detrimental human responses to a very negative situation.
Is it too much for the brain to process?
A major event such as this is prompts our brains to “parallel process” a series of things at once. The result? Many of us are in overload. Most people are doing their best just to get through the day, but even that is not without its challenges.
Our individual response to coronavirus is a huge endeavour that requires the brain to engage a different way of coping to find the solutions that work best for each of us.
The Brain Likes Predictable Situations Which It Can Quantify & Control
As we said earlier, our brains are generally wired to appreciate controlled situations.
Granted, some people are more risk-averse than others. On the whole, however, our nature is:
- to calculate a situation and its potential for risk, reward & threat
- to respond to threats either by avoiding or eliminating them (“flight or fight”)
- to take necessary action within our control
- and to create a predictable, successful outcome
That is what’s gotten us this far in life, as individuals and as a society.
Alas, now are faced with COVID-19 and the new world it has created.
We cannot fully calculate what we are facing (we can’t even see the enemy). The probabilities of getting infected with the coronavirus, becoming sick and/or passing it along to loved ones are stark but still not fully definable.
We’re massively aware of the threat of COVID-19. But we’re also aware that we cannot eliminate the threat (not individually, and not anytime soon as a society), and we feel incapable of avoiding it entirely.
We feel largely powerless to take control, short of completely shutting ourselves off to the outside world (which isn’t really possible in this day and age).
What’s more, facing a future that is largely unknown (both for our health as well as for our livelihood and lifestyle), we find ourselves unable to create any sort of predictable, successful outcome.
That’s why it’s important to remember that all we can do is do our best.
Mental & Emotional Response to COVID-19
Back to the fight or flight response, when facing a situation where we are largely powerless to fight it, one of the natural “flight” responses is to go into a sort of shutdown mode.
After all, all the leaders and experts (and now our peers) are telling us to “stay home.”
if you find yourself pulling the covers over your head and wishing you could fall asleep, wake up and have this all be gone, you’re not the only one.
Alas, our brain knows that simply isn’t possible.
Thus, the response to this overwhelming stress often includes depression – and its mirror cousin, anxiety.
It’s understandable to be in a depressed state as a reaction to COVID-19 – or to react with heightened levels of anxiety.
We must draw the distinction between “feeling depressed” or “feeling anxious” – which are still matters of concern if they are prolonged – versus clinical depression and anxiety.
Not to say that you shouldn’t seek counselling if you’re feeling depressed or anxious about COVID-19. If you’re looking for coping strategies to get through your day to day and begin to move ahead in this new coronavirus world, a series of sessions with a counsellor, psychotherapist or registered social worker could be of great benefit.
Coronavirus & Clinical Depression / Clinical Anxiety / Diagnosed Mental Disorders
What’s even more concerning, however, is someone who has been diagnosed with or has suffered from clinical depression or clinical anxiety (or other mental health issues) – and how they are now forced to cope with the additional burden of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
If you suffer from depression, your symptoms have likely intensified in the age of coronavirus. All the news that we’re exposed to, all the legitimate feelings of uncertainty, fear, sadness, grief, etc. – those are all too real right now. And, left unchecked, your depression could quite possibly worsen as this crisis goes on without a resolution in sight.
The same goes for those who suffer from anxiety – and let us reiterate that depression and anxiety often go together. If you’ve already been diagnosed with clinical anxiety or have suffered symptoms previously, the COVID-19 crisis has very likely brought on heightened anxiety symptoms.
Many people with other mental & emotional disorders – such as addiction, OCD, eating disorders, PTSD, and many others – are suffering greatly now that we are in a prolonged period of uncertainty and threats.
If you are in this group, please know that:
- you are not alone
- help is available
- you can get through this
Professional counselling is a proven, effective means of helping you cope with mental & emotional issues.
Don’t give up hope. Contact us today to find a highly trained, experienced and caring counsellor in Ottawa who can help you process these emotions and move through this time and beyond as best as possible. Counselling is available by phone or video call.
Coping Strategies for the COVID-19 Era
In addition to seeking counselling, there are a number of things you can do to cope with the stress and uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Get as Much Sleep as You Can & Need To
The irony of being told to “stay home” is that many people find themselves not sleeping well, often due to fear and other emotions filling our minds. There are many different strategies available to promote better sleep. These include:
- Meditation / Yoga / Etc.
- Avoid eating close to bedtime
- Reduce your intake of caffeine & alcohol
- Stop screen-time before bedtime
Taking advantage of this time to get caught up on sleep will not only help one’s mental and emotional state, it also helps promote immunity – something very much needed right now.
Reduce Social Media & News Exposure
We already know it’s bad.
Being bombarded with constant bad news isn’t helping us.
Yes, it’s important to be informed. We’re not saying avoid the news entirely.
But be judicious about it, and consume news and social media in small, spaced out doses.
Stay Social in the Age of Social Distancing
Lots of ironies here.
They’re saying you should practice social distancing. But it’s making people less social.
We’re saying reduce social media. But certain forms of social platforms are actually helpful.
Keep in touch with friends and family via FaceTime, texts, Messenger, Zoom and other digital means of communications. Even though we’ve lost physical touch for now, don’t lose touch with the important people in your lives.
Everything in Moderation
Now more than ever, you may find yourself with ample temptations.
We need food to survive, of course. But avoid overeating… and make healthy choices for what you eat and drink.
Alcohol and caffeine are known to have many effects on mental & emotional health. Enjoy the occasional adult beverage or coffee/tea in moderation – but be careful of your intake.
Exercise as you can. Gyms are closed, and we’re being warned of social distancing outdoors. But do what you can within your home to exercise and stay fit.
Counselling – Someone to Talk With, Someone Who Can Help
Our friends and family can listen to us. It’s great to talk with them.
If you find yourself facing issues that go beyond their advice – such as depression, anxiety, addiction or other disorders – why not take advantage of this down time and seek counselling.
At Capital Choice Counselling in Ottawa, we offer a range of caring psychotherapists, counsellors and registered social workers with experience in a variety of mental health fields. We offer flexible schedules for counselling in Ottawa, Kanata, Orleans, Barrhaven and elsewhere across the National Capital Region.
Our counsellors are now available for video counselling or telephone counselling.
Contact us today to get started.