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Coronavirus mental health Q&A with Prof. Steve Joordens (May 4)

Last Updated May 24, 2020 at 1:36 pm EDT

We know you have questions about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and we’re working to get you the answers, straight from the most trusted sources.

As Mental Health Awareness Week begins Monday, we spoke to psychology professor Steve Joordens from the University of Toronto Scarborough in a live video interview about how best to manage your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prof. Joordens is the creator of a course called Mind Control: Managing Your Mental Health During COVID-19 and provided tips on methods of dealing with feelings of anxiety, uncertainty and parental guilt. He also touched on how to cope with grief, feelings of helplessness and the physical symptoms of emotional stress.

Here are a few questions Prof. Joordens addressed:

(Note: questions were moderated and questions and answers have been edited for grammar, punctuation, clarity and length)

Q: How does one cope with mourning and loss with little to distract you and how does one deal with the grief of losing someone during this time, especially when we cannot grieve together?
A: That is one of the horrible parts of this whole situation — our normal reaction to stress, anxiety, grief and trauma is to connect with other human beings emotionally.

Our challenge now is to find ways of emotionally connecting without physically connecting. I would say things like a good old phone is a powerful device that we’ve kind of neglected. We’ve bought into all these shallow interactions on text and sharing and liking, but this might be a time to call some of those people closest in your life — other people who knew that person — and have a little bit of a celebration of their life. That’s what we all do in these funeral situations to try to deflect from the grief and talk about how great the life was.

When it comes to distracting yourself from the grief — a large part of my course is about that. It’s more about distracting from the anxiety, but that’s the general story of these negative states — we can’t live in them.

I called the course mind control — you can learn to take control of the thoughts in your head by being mindful about what’s there. And if it is constant grief, there are things you can do to kind of change the channel on your mind by engaging in certain activities that absorb our minds. It could be reading for some — for me, it’s writing songs and Garage Band — whatever it is, find those activities and think of them as medicine.

When you need a break, just say “okay, I am now going to go into this other world and I’m going to escape the anxiety or I’m going to escape the grief.”

Those become very powerful activities. So find them and use them.

Q: How does one deal with anxiety that comes with the stonewall silence of job searching during the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: You have to try and learn the things you can control and the things you can’t control.

In this situation, everybody is holding their breath, seeing what the post-COVID world looks like. So it’s a very tricky time for any employer to be hiring.

You have to mentally tell yourself this is going to be very difficult, which is no reason not to keep doing it, but just to do so with a certain expectation that it’s probably going to be a month or two before that’s going to be a very viable way of finding a job.

In the mean time, what else can you do? So here’s a situation where you might work on personal development.

There are online courses where you can actually work on upgrading your credentials perhaps. So you might not be able to get a job now, but you can increase the likelihood, that when people are hiring a gain, you are attractive. That will feel like, you’re not just sitting and waiting, you’re actually preparing.

A big part of anxiety is to not feel like a victim but rather to feel like you’re doing something —because that’s what anxiety screams at us [to do something] — and that you have some control over how this all plays out. So personal development may be a way for that.

It also gives you something to work on when you wake up in the morning and a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day. Don’t do that if it’s going to add more stress to your life, but if it’s done right, if it aligns with career growth and with a career you really want, then you’re probably interested in it anyway. As long as it’s feels like it’s reducing your stress and anxiety, that’s what I would recommend in that situation.

Watch the full video with web writer Dilshad Burman in conversation with Prof. Steve Joordens in the video above.

Scroll through the questions submitted to this session below.

Note: Questions were moderated before appearing in the chat window.