As countries hunker down to battle the dreaded novel coronavirus, schools are closed, events have been cancelled and restaurants and recreational activities have been shut down.
The prospect of prolonged self-isolation and widespread closures have caused Canadians to panic buy everything from canned good to toilet paper, leaving shelves at many stores bare. Sanitizer and face masks have also become a rare and precious commodity.
But as we practice social distancing, there’s little doubt we’re still together in our collective sense of anxiety and dread.
Anxiety is normal
Most of us have never seen anything quite like this before and feeling uneasy and stressed is a given.
“It’s definitely a normal response to this kind of a situation”, says Alison Thompson, University of Toronto Professor of Public Health Sciences.
Being held hostage at home restricts daily life activities. Taking time to rest and find hobbies to engage within the house can help with anxiety.
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) says the first step to getting over the anxiety is being aware of the virus and what it is. It is important to understand the basics of the virus, what it is, the symptoms and preventive measures for it.
CMHA recommends information on this page to learn more on COVID-19.
Social media is both a blessing and a curse
At this time of the pandemic, checking social media can do more harm than good. “The social media piece in all of this is a big contributor to people feeling overwhelmed,” said Thompson.
“We have different messages coming at us from so many different platforms.”
Thompson recommends limiting the amount of usage and rather than checking every 15 minutes, she recommends checking once in the morning and once in the evening.
The Canadian Mental Health Association also recommends refraining from setting COVID-related push notifications on your device, it can lessen the sense of danger.
Social distancing doesn’t mean losing connection with friends and family. With the blessing of social media, stay connected. Use Skype and FaceTime to talk to friends and family.
4/5 Use technology to connect with your loved ones and people in your community to share what you are going through as a means of dealing with anxiety and uncertainty #COVID19 #protectthevulnerable #WeAreCanadian
— Dr. Theresa Tam (@CPHO_Canada) March 16, 2020
Through Netflix, now you can have watch parties with friends and family.
Self-isolation watch party activities. Enjoy, friends and frenemies. pic.twitter.com/MEcRCOJbjL
— Smoke (@terrill) March 17, 2020
It’s easy to fall into the rabbit hole of panicking and get more anxious, “the more stressed out you are, the bigger an impact it has on your immune system,” said Thompson.
It’s crucial for self-care at this point so eating a balanced meal, getting enough sleep and implementing light exercise is the best way to stay healthy.
Engaging in activities like painting, knitting, downloading a game from the array of apps, watching movies and shows on your Netflix list and anything that keeps your mental health in check is key. Thompson says that chronic stress can negatively impact your immune system.
— Rod Mickleburgh (@rodmickleburgh) March 17, 2020
— Carlyn Gardner (@CarlynDenton) March 17, 2020
— Savannah (@Savannahgillies) March 17, 2020
I enjoy everyone's self-isolation activities. Here's what we're up to: puzzles, weaving, books and movies. What are you up to? The hubs and I are posting live videos on IG of breadmaking, cooking, poetry, and yoga if you need inspiration. pic.twitter.com/q75pmRxon7
— Catherine Hernandez (@theloudlady) March 14, 2020
CMHA recommends staying away from alcohol, smoking and caffeine as they can worsen anxiety and panic.
Create a schedule
Work and schools have oriented us to follow a schedule and without one, it can cause unnecessary anxiety. Creating a schedule for yourself as well as for your family can create a structure around your day.
Implementing a routine for yourself around the house can involve taking some time to rest as well.
Thompson recommends having a schedule for kids, especially so they know what’s to come.
Some scenes from a 2 EM physician, 4 person household under self-isolation (other than work):
– garage-turned-decon area
– welcome home reminder
– daily schedule to replicate school days
Whatever you're doing out there to keep your family and others safe, keep up the good work! pic.twitter.com/gQCogrixMh
— Zack Repanshek (@ZackRepEM) March 15, 2020
Preparing my self isolation schedule so I can return as a more well adjusted person. pic.twitter.com/JzJivJCBVV
Calming anxiety for children
For parents who have their kids home, they might have a lot of questions.
Thompson said the best way to answer the questions is to “gauge the type of question they are asking” so you can answer them and provide reassurance. CMHA suggests not to overshare information or worries.
Lying to your children is not ideal but answering them based on their level of understanding is the best way to go. It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers, CMHA recommends being honest and saying that you don’t know that answer but will find out about it.
If your kids are not asking questions, Thompson says, “it’s probably because they don’t want to know.”
Tense times like these can feel extremely overwhelming but remind yourself that by cutting social interaction and staying home, you’re contributing to the greater good in society. “One of the paradoxes about this whole situation is that staying home and doing nothing is actually doing something” says Thompson.
Here are some of the resources available to you in Canada:
- CMHA has 75 branches across the country. You can reach out to your local branch through the CMHA website;
- Mental Health support: 1-866-531-2600
- Visit anxietycanada.com and the CDC’s website for information and self-management strategies for anxiety.
- If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others call 911;
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. (TTY 1-800-846-8517);
- The Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) page on COVID-19;
- Call the Public Health Agency of Canada’s COVID-19 Information line: 1-833-784-4397.