A few weeks ago, I spoke with Allison Winter, a regional program coordinator with the Mental Health and Addictions Program at Eastern Health. The public health emergency had just begun. We talked about how important it was going to be for people to take care of their physical and mental health – all while learning to live with a new reality – physical distancing.
At the time, her words seemed abstract to me. Probably because physical distancing itself, was an abstract concept. I thought, “This shouldn’t be too hard. I can handle it.”
The next day I drove to work and there was no traffic on the road. I expected to feel happy to have the lanes to myself. Instead, I felt lonely.
As the days passed, more COVID-19 cases were confirmed, and my office emptied as everyone shifted to work from home. That last day as I drove to work on the still-empty roads, I was angry, and a little afraid. How could this happen?
It occurred to me that I was grieving. That many of the things I took for granted, like casual contact with coworkers or the simple comradery of chatting with someone in a grocery store lineup, were gone. And the worst, of course, was losing physical contact with my family.
As the days went by, living – and working – from home became the new reality. And I realized how critical it was to create a routine, a framework to provide a structure we can hang our lives on.
And Allison’s advice took on new life as I discovered tactics that worked for me.
Seek out the positive
Each day, I actively look for something that lifts my spirits.
A couple of weeks ago, city residents honked their horns for essential workers. I stood on my front steps in my fuzzy grey slippers and pressed the lock button on my car’s key fob, adding my own small beep, beep, beeps to the mix. It made me think of the Dr. Seuss story, “Horton Hears a Who,” where residents living on a speck of dust repeatedly shout, “We are here.” “We are here.” “We are HERE!” to let the outside world know they exist.
I realized, we do exist and we’re not alone.
Put a lid on it
One of the things Allison said that really stood out for me was to be aware of information overload. While it’s important to stay informed via credible news sources, it can be unhealthy and stressful to stay immersed for too long.
This can be a challenge, especially if you’re an essential worker. During some recent time off, I was really looking forward to some down-time. It felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders, so I said to my partner, “I’m putting the lid on Covid this weekend.” We didn’t watch the news for two days and on Monday, I felt recharged and ready to face the world again.
“As people, we need to be connected,” Allison said. “While we can’t do that face-to-face, we can pick up the phone and call our loved ones. We can even connect online these days. It’s really important to check in on people – and to reach out when you need that connection.”
Every couple of days, I check in with my family by phone and online. Last weekend, I ‘hung out’ with several friends in a Facebook chat. One of my friends called from Central America and another from Alberta and we chatted for hours.
Move your body
On a day that I was feeling stressed, I went for walk around my neighbourhood. I had my head down and was walking fast when something made me look up. I saw a child’s crayon rainbow in a window. Another window had pictures of loved ones. Another, a simple message – Stay Safe. It brought tears to my eyes. People are reaching out to each other any way they can. It’s important to embrace that.
Now I make sure to go for a walk every day.
However, walking may not work for everyone, and our weather may not always cooperate.
“If there’s a day when the weather isn’t overly conducive to getting outside, take a walk around your space,” Allison suggests. “Try a free online yoga class or a do few simple stretches in your living room. Moving our bodies daily helps our mental health as well our physical health.”
It’s different for everyone
Each person will experience the pandemic restrictions in their own way. Some may experience high levels of stress. Others may feel isolated. It’s important to reach out, find tactics that work for you.
If you’re struggling, there are many telephone and e-mental health resources available. In particular, Bridge the gApp has resources that range from a 30-day mindfulness challenge and self-help videos, to links to other mental health resources such as Doorways Walk-In Counselling services (currently offered via phone and video), the CHANNAL Warm Line (1-855-753-2560) and many others.
The most important thing we can do right now is to take care of our mental and physical health as best we can. And to stick together by staying physically apart. ■
Bridge the gApp, a resource for youth and adults – https://www.bridgethegapp.ca/
Provincial government Mental Health and Wellness links: https://www.gov.nl.ca/covid-19/mental-health-and-wellness/
Mental Health and Addictions Systems Navigator – (709) 752-3916 or 1-877-999-7589
Mental Health Crisis Line – (709) 737-4668 or 1-888-737-4668
This story was written by Robyn Lush, a communications specialist with Eastern Health.