7 ways to boost mental health and cope with adverse times

Excerpt: More than half of Canadians say the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected their mental health. Taking positive steps to support the mental well-being of older adults is especially important in these times. Being social virtually and outdoors, keeping physically active, and calming the mind with relaxation-based techniques can improve mood and ease anxiety. Getting out in nature, eating nutritious foods, and enjoying stimulating activities also makes coping easier and life richer.

Nearly 60 per cent of Canadians reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected their mental health,* according to Sun Life Financial. This is not surprising given that factors such as uncontrollability, uncertainty, heightened health risks and social isolation can cause worry, anxiety and depression during a prolonged crisis, even for people who aren’t typically anxiety-prone or susceptible to mental health problems,* suggests University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine.

In these times, taking positive steps to support the mental health of older adults is especially important and can have a lasting positive impact in coping with adversity. Here are some tips and advice to build resilience and boost your emotional well-being through and beyond the pandemic:

  1. Be social virtually and outdoors
    Older adults adapted to pandemic life and boosted their mood through regular remote social interactions more effectively than younger adults,* reported a University of British Columbia study. Also, summer weather offers more opportunities to socialize in person easily and safely.

  2. Keep moving
    Women experiencing depression, who did 30 minutes of regular physical activity daily—even just walking—improved their mood,* had more energy, socialized more and enjoyed a better quality of life, according to an American Journal of Preventive Medicine study.

  3. Calm your mind
    Practicing mindfulness meditation and other relaxation-based strategies regularly, such as tai chi, yoga and slowing down your breathing, can help ease new or increased feelings of anxiety in adverse times,* advises Ryerson University.

  4. Get a boost from nature
    Experiencing the natural world by strolling in a park, or walking through a forest, can provide relief from the stress of the current situation,* suggests the American Public Health Association. Observing and noticing flowers, plants, trees, and birds as you walk is also a soothing balm for anxieties.

  5. Nourish your mind and body
    Eating healthy, nutritious meals supports the mental and emotional well-being of older adults by improving mood* and increasing alertness,* advises McMaster University and University of Illinois.

  6. Enjoy hobbies and creative pursuits
    People who engage in pleasurable, stimulating, and meaningful activities generally cope better with adversity than those who lack such outlets,* according to Psychology Today. Keeping yourself active through gardening, baking, writing, reading, painting, photography, singing, playing music, carpentry, or birdwatching can help you feel less confined and more positive about life.

  7. Seek support online or in person
    If you’re feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, stress, low mood or irritability, consider reaching out for help through the expanded virtual mental health support services available during the pandemic,* advises the Canadian Mental Health Association. You can also contact your family doctor or a counselling professional for a video, telephone, or in-person visit.

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

1. Sun Life Financial. “Social isolation is taking a toll on Canadians’ mental health.” (2020), online: https://www.sunlife.ca/ca/About+us/Newsroom/News+releases/Announcement/Social+isolation+is+taking+a+toll+on+Canadians+mental+health?vgnLocale=en_CA&id=123422

2. University of Calgary. “COVID-19: Seven mental health coping tips for life during a pandemic.” (2020), online: https://theconversation.com/7-mental-health-coping-tips-for-life-in-the-time-of-covid-19-138479

3. University of British Columbia. “Older adults show better emotional resilience, coping strategy during pandemic.” (2020), online: read:http://www.healthcareasia.org/2020/older-adults-show-better-emotional-resilience-coping-strategy-during-pandemic/

4. Reuters Health. “Regular walking can help ease depression.” (2015), online: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/regular-walking-can-help-ease-depression/#:~:text=Regular%20Walking%20Can%20Help%20Ease%20Depression%20By%20Janice,of%20life%20for%20depressed%20middle-aged%20women%2C%20a%20

5. CBC. “How to cope with health anxiety related to the coronavirus pandemic.” (2020), online: https://www.cbc.ca/life/wellness/how-to-cope-with-health-anxiety-related-to-the-coronavirus-pandemic-1.5499698

6. American Public Health Association. “Nature can boost your mental health during COVID-19 pandemic.” (2020), online: https://apha.org/news-and-media/news-releases/apha-news-releases/2020/nature-can-boost-mental-health

7. McMaster University. “Mental well-being: What’s ‘food’ got to do with it?” (2020), online: https://www.mcmasteroptimalaging.org/blog/detail/blog/2020/07/08/mental-well-being-what-s-food-got-to-do-with-it

8. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Make the right food choices for your brain health.” (2019), online: https://www.thehealthsite.com/fitness/diet/make-the-right-food-choices-for-your-brain-health-691933/#:~:text=Leafy%20green%20vegetables%20like%20spinach%20and%20kale%20can,radicals%2C%20improve%20brain%20power%20and%20boost%20cell%20health.

9. Psychology Today. “Helpful hints for coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.” (2020), online: https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/think-well/202007/helpful-hints-coping-the-covid-19-pandemic

10. Canadian Mental Health Association. “Free online and virtual mental health supports: BounceBack Program.” (2020), online: https://cmha-yr.on.ca/learn/covid-19/bounceback/