Stress and anxiety are two things that most people have experienced in their lives at some point or another. While there are certain things that we can do in effort to prevent them from being daily re-occurrences in our lives, there are also times when the stress and anxiety we live through is often brought on by things we don’t have any control over. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant increase in the number of Canadians that are experiencing a decline in their psychological health – including not just an increase in stress and anxiety, but also an increase in things like drug and alcohol abuse, as well as individuals having thoughts of suicide. According to a recent study conducted by Statistics Canada, as many as half of all Canadians said their mental health had declined since the start of the pandemic. Subsequently, there has also been an increase in the demand for mental health services, such as a spike in the number of calls received to 24-hour crisis lines, appointments made with counsellors and psychologists, as well as referrals to psychiatrists and other mental-health related programs. Naturally, this high demand for these services has led to making it much more challenging for those who do offer them to respond as quickly as they normally would in a non-pandemic world…and while we may not be able to control these wait times or even be able to control the COVID-19 pandemic itself, for that matter, what we can do our best to try and control for now are two things: The way we go about protecting ourselves and our loved ones from this virus (i.e., by following all public health orders and recommendations – such as washing our hands regularly, wearing face masks, keeping that 6-feet distance from others at all times, working from home, and making sure that we stay home when we’re sick), and how we cope with our thoughts surrounding it.

While getting a handle on your thoughts might sound a lot easier said than done to most – particularly to anyone experiencing severe anxiety since the pandemic – it’s important to remember that our thought process plays a significant role in the feelings that we experience. Given the uncertainty of the virus, no one can fault anyone for feeling anxious, overwhelmed, stressed out, nervous, or scared. While we’ve learned a lot about COVID-19 since the virus first made its impact in Canada back on January 25th (11 months ago), there’s still so much we’ve yet to learn. Furthermore, we have also seen a rapid and concerning increase in the number of newly diagnosed cases (as well as deaths) across the country, leaving some to wonder when they or their family members may be hit with the virus next.

All of this uncertainty can lead to immense feelings of fear, stress and anxiousness. If you happen to be feeling any of these things, then it may give you some level of comfort to know that you’re not alone – while, at the same time, also sadden you even further to know that there are so many others out there who are experiencing the same thing and struggling as much as you may be. On the other hand, some individuals may not even initially realize they’re having a hard time coping, which is why, just as you would all other aspects of your health (for example, if you happened to develop diabetes or suffered a broken bone, then you would do what you needed to do to treat those things), it’s also important for you to be as in-tune with your mental health. If you’re feeling happy, allow yourself to feel happy. If you’re feeling sad, upset, angry or confused, then it’s also important that you allow yourself to feel those emotions, too, and don’t try to compartmentalize them. To compartmentalize your emotions is when you subconsciously (although sometimes it can also be done on a conscious level) put up psychological defense mechanisms in order to avoid things like cognitive dissonance, mental discomfort, and anxiety.

All of that being said, there is one simple task you can to do get better in-tune with your mental health – and that’s practicing self-care. Self-care is defined as a deliberately chosen activity (usually multiple) to help take care of not just your mental and emotional health, but your physical health too. Examples of self-care include things having a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and developing a regular sleep/wake routine – to things that are more creative, like drawing or painting, expressing your thoughts by writing in a journal, as well as meditating. Whatever you choose to do, when you finally do start to get into routine you should also start to notice yourself feeling calmer. That’s not to say that you still won’t experience some level of worry when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, but by practicing self-care you help shift your focus – and, rather than spending the time worrying over things you can’t control, you’re spending more time focused on yourself and your own wellbeing, which is important. Because much of the news we receive on COVID-19 comes from the news, it’s also a good idea to take breaks. While it’s important to get information, sometimes there can be information overload which can leave you feeling overwhelmed. In times where you find yourself feeling anxious or in a panic, then you may also find deep-breathing exercises to be beneficial – and you can find some helpful techniques by clicking here.

If you continue to struggle, you can find a list of helpful resources via your local Canadian Mental Health Association chapter – including everything from a list of national programs, brochures on different mental health disorders, quizzes, and more by visiting www.CMHA.ca. If you’re having thoughts of suicide, it’s crucial that you seek immediate medical attention.