8 mental health tips to help persevere through physical distancing

Excerpt: Public health experts are concerned months of isolation and physical distancing could potentially trigger mental health issues, like depression and anxiety, for some Canadians living under COVID-19 restrictions. Expanding social connections, being physically active and calming your mind are positive, preventive steps that can lift your mood and ease anxiety. Being kind to others and limiting negative news exposure can also help in coping with the current situation’s challenges.

Public health and mental health experts are understandably concerned that months of isolation and physical distancing could potentially trigger mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress for some Canadians living under COVID-19 restrictions. Fortunately, there are many positive, effective mental health strategies and preventive steps you can take to persevere through physical distancing.

Here are some tips to boost and support your mental health, which can help in coping with the current situation’s challenges:

  1. Maintain and expand social connections.
    The World Health Organization (WHO) switched the term “social distancing” to “physical distancing” to emphasize how important staying socially connected is for mental well-being and human health.* Through regular video calls and “old-fashioned” phone calls, connect daily with family and friends* and reconnect with friends or relatives you haven’t seen in years, advises the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). Also, chat in person with friends, family, and neighbours from a safe physical distance of two metres.

  2. Be physically active.
    A brisk daily walk, or other exercise, can help lift your mood and ease anxiety by releasing feel-good brain chemicals, called endorphins,* according to Mayo Clinic.

  3. Quiet your mind.
    Meditating, listening to music, watching a glorious sunset, or spending quality time with a canine companion can reduce anxiety and emotional discomfort. Petting a dog can also lower blood pressure and heart rate,* reports Harvard Medical School.

  4. Practice self-care.
    Get enough sleep, eat healthy foods and spend time in the fresh air to feel less stress,* says CMHA. Establish a new daily routine to be more comfortable with change and uncertainty, and do things you enjoy to loosen up, have fun and recharge your mind and body,* suggests McGill University’s psychiatry chief.

  5. Limit negative news exposure.
    While it’s important to know about evolving public health recommendations, limit daily media exposure* if the news is bringing you down, advises University of Toronto. Look for stories that convey hopefulness or build a sense of connectedness.

  6. Tap into your resilience.
    Draw on skills you used before to cope with life’s adversities to help manage your emotions and adapt to the outbreak’s challenges,* WHO recommends.

  7. Be kind.
    Helping other people shifts the focus from your own worries* to making a difference in their lives, suggests Psychology Today. Acts of kindness can also give a sense of control and transform your heart.*

  8. Reach out for virtual counselling or support.
    If you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider seeking extra support through virtual counselling services, or a video or telephone visit with your family doctor,* advises CMHA.

*The following sources are references for this blog in order of appearance:

1. CBC News. “Physical distancing is critical during COVID-19. But let’s not become socially isolated.” (2020), online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/covid-19-coronavirus-physical-distancing-opinion-1.5518309

2. Canadian Mental Health Association. “‘Social distancing’ is a misnomer: we should be physically distancing, but remain as social as ever.” (2020), online: https://mentalhealthweek.ca/social-distancing-is-a-misnomer-we-should-be-physically-distancing-but-remain-as-social-as-ever/

3. Mayo Clinic. “Depression and anxiety: exercise eases symptoms.” (2017), online: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495

4. Harvard Medical School. “Get healthy, get a dog: the health benefits of canine companionship.” (2020), online: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/get-healthy-get-a-dog

5. Canadian Mental Health Association. “Tips for managing stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.” (2020), online https://mbwpg.cmha.ca/tips-for-managing-stress-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/

6. McGill University. “Q&A: Psychiatry chief Dr. Gustavo Turecki’s COVID-19 stress management tips.” (2020), online: https://reporter.mcgill.ca/qa-psychiatry-chief-dr-gustavo-tureckis-covid-19-stress-management-tips/

7. U of T News. “Seven tips for staying grounded as the world grapples with COVID-19: U of T expert.” (2020), online: https://www.utoronto.ca/news/seven-tips-staying-grounded-world-grapples-covid-19-u-t-expert

8. World Health Organization. “Coping with stress during the 2019-nCoV outbreak.” (2020), online: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/coping-with-stress.pdf?sfvrsn=9845bc3a_2

9. Psychology Today. “Being kind to yourself in the midst of a pandemic.” (2020), online: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lead-kindness/202003/being-kind-yourself-in-the-midst-pandemic

10. Canadian Mental Health Association. “Pandemic pushing your anxiety buttons?” (2020), online: https://cmha.bc.ca/news/managing-anxiety-covid-19/