Stay Socially Connected during Physical Distancing

Social connection is one of the best things for your mental health. Thanks to amazing technology that is available to us, we can still keep socially connected with our loved ones, even while physically distancing. Plan daily phone calls or video chats with the people that you care about and who make you feel good. A little daily connection goes a long way. There are some great apps and video platforms that can bring together many people in one chat or “virtual party” – Saturday nights can still be exciting!

Keeping a Healthy Mindset

During uncertain times, it is important to focus on what is still good in our lives, and on the things that we can control. Focus on the things that are going right, or that you can be grateful for – perhaps your family is healthy, you have a safe roof over your head, you have food to eat, you have more time at home than ever before, or other things that are creating a sense of safety and peace. Cultivating gratitude is a powerful way to boost mood, lower anxiety and create feelings of wellbeing. A simple and helpful strategy is writing down 3 things at the end of each day that you are grateful for (these can be as basic as having running water or having eyes to open). To minimize negative input, try to limit the amount of news that you watch. The news tends to sensationalize the facts (fear creates more viewers!), which can lead to unnecessary anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. Stay informed, but keep limits on the amount of news you take in.

Remember, you are human, and you are not alone

We are in this together. If you find yourself feeling worried or uncertain about the future – you are certainly not alone. It is normal to experience worries and doubts during a time such as this. If this is part of your experience, know that it is perfectly normal and human to feel this way. When difficult moments arise, acknowledge how you are feeling. Have a “toolkit” for these difficult moments that you can turn to when you get down. There are many “tools” that can help. Taking a few deep breathes can help calm the mind and body. Meditation has significant benefits for the mind and body, and can help when used on a daily basis, and during times of stress. Going for a walk or any form of physical activity can alleviate stress. Talking to a friend and sharing how you are feeling is also a powerful stress-busting tool. Challenging worries or anxious thoughts that might be “catastrophic”, or exaggerate your current situation can also be helpful. Remember that “this too, shall pass” (In fact, it this is already evident in some parts of the world!). If sadness, anxiety or other painful thoughts or emotions persist – reach out to a health professional for help.

Movement for Mental Health

Physical activity has huge benefits for mental health and overall wellbeing. If possible – get outside in the fresh air and go for a brisk walk. Indoors, play your favourite music and dance, roll out your yoga mat, or follow one of the many available workouts on the internet (YouTube is a source of endless free workouts that cater to many different styles and levels of fitness!)

Food for Mental Health

Eating a variety of healthy food can impact the way we feel. Eating vegetables, fruits, protein and healthy fats can help provide us with the energy that we need to feel good throughout the day. Supplementing with Vitamin D and Omega- 3 fatty acids can also be helpful for boosting your mood. Try to minimize sugar and food that is full of simple carbohydrates. These can make us feel more jittery and anxious and can lead to a “crash” and feeling tired in the long run.

Try to Create a Schedule and “Regular” Routine

We feel better when we have regularity and routines in our day. It provides structure and certainty, which is important in helping us to feel calm and focused (and is especially important during this time!). Even if you are at home, it is important to stick to a schedule. Keep a regular sleep routine. Try to get up at around the same time every day. GET DRESSED. Do things you would normally do, like putting on your makeup or doing your hair (when we look good, we feel good!). Create blocks of time for activities – work, family time, leisure. If something is important, make sure it is in your schedule so you know when it is time to focus on it.

Do Something Fun or Creative

Try to do something that gives you pleasure, or something creative, every day. This will allow you to connect with feelings of joy, excitement, and help you feel energized.

Remember Your Why

Viktor Frankl was a Psychiatrist who survived Nazi Concentration Camps. During this tragic time, he studied the factors that allowed some individuals to thrive amidst the most tragic of circumstances and the greatest human suffering. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he wrote “He who knows the “why” for his existence will be able to bear almost any “how.” Remember your “why”. This is very individual and personal. It can be your family, your child your pet, a hobby or passion, your work, a dream of something you plan to accomplish in the future. Know your why, and remind yourself of what that “why” is every day. In the midst of adversity, our “why” can be a shining light that fuels our motivation and strength to keep moving forward.

Dr. Joanna Jarecki – Assistant Clinical Professor, Psychiatry & Behavioural Neurosciences

Dr. Jarecki is Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University. She currently works at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton in the Psychotherapy Centre, and also does work in the community doing General Psychiatry. Her interests include in Mood Disorders, Maternal/Peri-Natal Mental Health and General Psychiatry. She advocates for a Strength-Based Approach to mental health care and believes in empowering and educating individuals to become active participants in their own care, and in helping them discover their strengths. Dr. Jarecki also has additional training in IPT/IPSRT and Mindfulness-Based Interventions.