When we are going through stressful times, we may not focus time or energy on caring for our body’s Feeling anxious is completely expected and normal for the unexpected and abnormal times. We have never faced a time like this. I don’t know anyone who is not at least somewhat anxious. At some level, feeling anxious is helpful because it helps us to take action and to stay vigilant to the actions that help us to stay safe including social distancing, cleaning, disinfecting, and hand washing protocols.
Emotions are like waves that we can notice as they come, we can’t stop them from coming, and then we can watch them as they go.
We can take a deep breath in and a deep breath out. This reminds us that emotions can be like our breath - the feeling comes in and the feeling goes out. Deep breath in, deep breath out.
For some people, feeling heightened anxiety feels beyond helpful or manageable. If you are feeling overwhelmed, please turn to trusted people in your life and to helpful medical professionals. If you are able to manage, to take action to take care of yourself, then here are some resources to help you manage your emotions.
First, ask yourself: “Am I feeling overwhelmed with anxiety - freezing or fleeing,
when I need to be able to take action and to make decisions?”
It is important to keep healthy during this time. Reach out to trusted people in your life. Engage in activities that are soothing and relaxing. Activities that keep you engaged, body and mind, help to distract our brains from the anxious thoughts and triggers for strong emotions. Grounding techniques help to bring our thoughts back to the present moment to what we are experiencing right now and to what is around us. One helpful strategy is to name what we notice around us: 5 things we see, 4 things we feel, 3 things we hear, 2 things we smell, and 1 thing we taste. Here is a link to a grounding in 5 senses handout.
Facing fear with compassion by Elizabeth Gilbert (author). Link.
Second, ask yourself: “Am I taking care of myself in healthy ways?” Or “Am I using substances, shopping, or eating to numb my emotions?” There are ways of limiting the Caffeine.Alcohol.Tobacco.Substances (C.A.T.S)
Caffeine: Monitor your daily intake (e.g., coffee, soda, tea, energy drinks, tablets, and chocolate) because this can increase tension levels due to the impact of caffeine on your nervous system.
Alcohol: Many people use alcohol to help reduce stress, handle fear, and avoid unpleasant emotional states. Alcohol can have a negative impact on low mood and anxiety. A better solution could be to replace alcohol with tea which has calm soothing properties (e.g., lemon or chamomile).
Tobacco: Many people use tobacco to help reduce stress. Try to limit your Tobacco use and replace it with calm breathing which can help relieve underlying anxiety and stress.
Substances: Cannabis impacts the brain and the body, specifically mood, sleep, motivation, concentration, and learning. We encourage you to limit the amount of cannabis used and again replace it with healthier coping strategies.
Set limits for yourself. You can make a rule like, “I will only have two glasses of wine this weekend and no wine during the weekdays”. This is applicable to cannabis use and cigarettes as well. Each substance has unhealthy effects on our mental and physical health.
Healthy Coping Strategies: Self-care is the practice of taking an active role in protecting one's own well-being in particular during periods of stress. Self-care can include the following areas: physical self-care (eating, sleep hygiene, and exercise), relationships (e.g., connecting with others by calling or video chat), fun activities/hobbies. Identify 4 activities you would like to prioritize over the next few weeks that you can incorporate as part of your ongoing self-care. Link to self-care worksheet.
Routine Can Anchor Us
Routine can help us manage uncertainty by allowing us to have a structure in place - knowing what we will have for breakfast in the morning, and going to bed at 10 pm following our bedtime routine can be comforting. Having a routine can help us reduce stress because it takes the guesswork and uncertainty out of bits of the day.
Routines allow us to build healthy habits and prioritize self-care by building blocks of time into our day for things that are important to us. This could include time to relax and be creative.
Schedule daily activity that increases your heart rate and requires some exertion for your body. We can still go outside for walks, runs, bike rides, and hiking. There are many resources for online workouts including yoga, body weight exercises, and other activities that are challenging and enjoyable. Maybe this time can be used to try something new.
Steps to Positive Mental Health Can Start with Covering your B.A.C.E!
Body: Taking good care of our physical body means we will be better able to cope with emotional problems.
● Take steps to ensure you get enough sleep
● Eat healthily and regularly
● Exercise regularly, preferably in an outside/natural space
● Plan rest times too
● Beware of how things like drink, drugs, smoking, and caffeine affect you
Achievement: Our brain gets a boost when we achieve things during the day. Achievement increases the neurotransmitter dopamine and purposeful activity increases serotonin. It is therefore very helpful to plan realistic and achievable goals every day that can include but not limited to domestic chores, work-related activities, self-care, connecting with others, and/or activities that bring us enjoyment.
Connect: When we’re struggling with our mental health, we withdraw and isolate ourselves and neglect our relationships. However, connecting with and/or helping others boosts the neurotransmitter oxytocin which will boost our wellbeing. Plan to connect with close friends, family members or other community members every day via Skype, Facetime, G-chat, Snapchat, Tik Tok, phone, Instagram, email, and online forums such as Reddit.
It may just be a simple smile or saying hello to strangers on the street or grocery store can help as well.
Enjoy: When our mood dips and we feel tired, or we withdraw and isolate ourselves, the first things we stop doing are the fun and enjoyable activities. We tend to keep doing those things that drain and deplete our batteries, but neglect those that we enjoy and which energize, nourish and charge our batteries. Add VIBRANCE into your life by aiming to do more enjoyable activities, something you use to enjoy (e.g., crafting or playing catch in your backyard), or something you’ve thought you would like to do (e.g., knitting).
1. Take up a new hobby
2. Learn another language
3. Write a letter or article for a magazine
4. Learn to meditate, do yoga or tai chi
5. Start a diary or journal
6. Write a short story or poem
7. Take up a musical instrument
8. Decorate a room, or a piece of furniture
9. Paint, draw, sculpt
10. Surf the internet
11. Create a blog or site
12. Color my numbers
13. Sew or knit
16. Take photos
17. Make a scrapbook
18. Sort out your photos
1. Have an early night
2. Eat something you haven't tried before
3. Listen to some favourite (calming or uplifting) music
4. Try reading a new newspaper or magazine
5. Have a bath or shower
6. Use aromatherapy oils
7. Massage your hands or feet
8. Write a list of things you have achieved, great and small
9. Soak your feet
10. Make a list of things that you can be thankful for
11. Paint your nails
12. Meditate, relax, yoga, and tai chi
13. Cuddle a soft toy
14. Write - maybe a letter to yourself
15. Read a letter you've written to yourself to read at these times
Making contact with others
1. Telephone someone, you haven't spoken to for a while
2. E-mail someone you haven't written to for a while
3. Talk to a friend or family member
4. Join an online support group or discussion forum
Third, ask yourself: “Am I spending too much time or am I too fixated on getting news updates?”
This is a balance. It is good to keep informed, maybe limit the number of times per day and the amount of time per day that you are consuming the news and social media. Ensure that you are getting your information from a reliable source, such as your local, provincial, or federal government, public health, and World Health Organization. We know that too much social media, too much online consumption creates anxiety, social comparison, and low self-worth. We recommend that you plan other activities in your day and put your phone in a central location, just put it down.
Other resources: CAMH has a COVID19 and your mental health page. Link.
SELF online magazine has put out a Coronavirus and anxiety self-help page. Link.
Canadian Psychological Association: “Psychology Works” Fact Sheet: Psychological Impacts of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Link.
American Psychological Association Five Ways to View Coverage of the Coronavirus. Link.
Fourth, many employers in Canada are recommending that non-essential employees work from home. We would like you to consider how to maintain a healthy work environment at home with or without children.
Canadian Psychological Association: “Psychology Works” Fact Sheet: Working from Home During COVID, With and Without Children. Link.