COVID-19 (coronavirus) Mental health

Mental health in a COVID world: How to build resilience during a global pandemic

This has been a tough year for everyone. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that milestone events would be missed, get-togethers with family and friends would move online, and the stresses of everyday life would be amplified by feelings of uncertainty. While adapting to a physically-distanced way of life is important to help stop the spread of COVID-19, the realities of pandemic life are also having a significant impact on mental health.

At the latest Speaker Series, expert panelists Dr. Peggy Richter, Dr. Mark Sinyor and Dr. Rosalie Steinberg covered topics relating to mental health in a COVID world, providing some excellent tips on how to cope and build resilience as we mark one year of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s especially important to remember that there are resources available to help us take care of our mental health in these difficult times.

Simple strategies to build resilience

Dr. Richter introduced many tips that can help individuals to remain resilient including:

  1. Staying connected with friends and family whether it is online or on the phone.
  2. Being active and enjoying the outdoors safely, when you can.
  3. Limiting your intake of COVID-19 news.
  4. Taking up a relaxing practice like meditation or mindfulness.
  5. Eating and sleeping well.

“Like everything else, times of great challenge can also represent opportunities. We may have opportunities as we come back from COVID, to do things better. There may be some good news out there with all the negative, and there are some simple steps that you can take to stay healthier,” says Dr. Richter.

Building an action plan

Dr. Sinyor highlighted the importance of building an action plan to manage distress. Having a plan can be a helpful way of preparing for and dealing with feelings of anxiety and stress.

Try using the strategies below to manage distressing moments:

  1. Identify your triggers/stresses. Knowing what they are will help you recognize when it is time to start your action plan.
  2. Distraction techniques like reading, sleeping, or going for a walk can help in passing through a stressful moment.
  3. Emotional regulation strategies like breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques and progressive muscle relaxation can also help in managing your distress.
  4. Reaching out to others can help with managing distress. In some cases, you may want to reach out to help distract yourself from the way you are feeling. Confiding in a trusted family member or friend that you aren’t feeling well can also help to diminish feelings of distress.
  5. Speaking with a health-care professional can also help you to find comfort in working through your feelings of distress.
  6. Identify a list of crisis resources like a crisis line or emergency department that can be contacted for help (see the Crisis Services Canada number below).

Using a coping card to write down your crisis action plan details can help outline what to do in moments of distress.

“Think of it like a fire drill.  You need to practice this over and over again, so you feel confident that you know what to do to manage a crisis,” says Dr. Sinyor.

Reflecting on positive experiences

It’s important to remember that the COVID-19 pandemic has provided the opportunity to reflect on positive experiences too. Dr. Steinberg emphasises the importance of writing your “Silver Linings Playbook” and recognizing the moments that have supported you in the past year.

To get started, you can:

  1. Reflect on sources of purpose and meaning.
  2. Identify things that hold value to you and/or to society.
  3. Reflect on what inspires you .
  4. Tap into your spiritual supports, if you choose to do so.

Dr. Steinberg describes, “It’s not all doom-and-gloom. Think about what the new positive aspects are in your life. The participation in reflecting on things that you are grateful for is physically healthy for your brain: it promotes wellness, it helps you become pro-social and engage with others, and it helps cope with stress.”

There are a number of a number of resources available on the Department of Psychiatry’s website with respect to coping and building resilience. You can find them here.

To learn more on the impact of COVID-19 on mental health, tips to build resilience and coping with crises, view the whole Speaker Series event here.

If you need help in an emergency, please call 9-1-1 or visit your local emergency department. If you’re feeling like you’re in a crisis or need somebody to talk to, please know that help is also available through community resources:  

  • Find a local crisis resource at sunnybrook.ca/gethelp
  • Crisis Services Canada
    • Phone: 24-hour, toll-free 1-833-456-4566
    • Text: 45645 (4:00 pm – midnight Eastern Time)

About the author

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Hafsa Siddiqi