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Guest post: Maintaining mental hygiene in unpredictable times

Posted by John Jackson in Health and Wellness, 3/17, 9:32 AM

Flights cancelled, schools closed, places of work contemplating a shut down: this is the reality that COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus, has hit us with in 2020. And it’s escalated quickly: in a local context, we’ve gone from the coronavirus seeming like something that was happening away from us, to being something that feels too close to home.

Although most of us likely don’t know someone who has tested positive for the virus, we have all been affected by the consequences: flu symptoms leading to self-quarantine, kids being off school for 3 weeks, interruptions to work schedules. These consequences range from inconveniences, to having our lives turned totally upside down.

On top of all this, there is an unspoken toll we can feel on our mental health. That’s what we’ll start talking about today, specifically, to know when we should start paying attention to how the coronavirus is affecting us. Signs to look for are many, including feeling panic or despair about what the future might look like, and even a heightened fear of getting sick. Let’s start with a couple of common concerns to be aware of.

Worry that seems unreasonable or goes to far
The catch 22 of having a world that is well-connected by media is that the information we receive can sometimes leave us feeling worse. On the one hand, its useful for us to learn about where the virus is spreading and how quickly, but at the same time it can leave us feeling anxious that it might directly affect us. It’s ok to worry and take precautions- but if you notice your thoughts and time being consumed with ideas of you or your loved one contracting the illness, this could mean the worrying has become unhealthy for you.

Trouble sleeping
The worries of the day can translate into not being able to sleep at night. When you do manage to fall asleep, you find yourself waking up after a few hours thinking about something bad happening, or not being able to shut your thoughts down. Does the term “Hamster Wheel” sound familiar? Losing sleep for a night or two might not be such a problem, but when it runs into days or weeks you will find yourself wearing down quickly. Having enough sleep is an important component in maintaining good mental health.

What are some solutions?

Worry 
Its normal to worry about things that might be dangerous to us. In fact, having a healthy fear of things that might be harmful helps ensure we survive in life. But if you notice your worrisome thoughts going too far, some solutions might be to compare your beliefs against the facts, find a distraction, or even talking with friends and family as a way of getting things off your chest. Great sources of information for facts include government websites (Provincial and Federal), as well as trusted health care professionals. Distractions could include television, music, or a hobby/activity that you enjoy. When it comes to getting things off your chest, its important to share with someone who you know will boost your positivity, and not make you feel worse.

Trouble sleeping
Many people have trouble falling asleep, and if we add worries about things like coronavirus to the mix it can make matters worse. Taking time before bed to practice some relaxation techniques can be helpful. These include deep breathing or guided meditations. There are a number of great apps that have guides for deep breathing, as well as popular guided meditations on YouTube. There’s lots of ways to find an option that works for you. Some people have a hard time falling asleep without noise: that’s ok. You can purchase a white noise machine or have the television on in your room.

Bringing it all together

Taking care of our mental health hygiene is just as important of maintaining our physical health, especially when we’re faced with the challenges the coronavirus has presented. If you find that you’re worrying too much about what might happen, can’t sleep, or are having other concerns with your mental health, ensure you take steps to connect with a mental health professional. Resources include public services such as Community Mental Health and the Mobile Crisis Unit, or private services such as Divergent Counselling.

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John Jackson is a Registered Psychiatric Nurse and holds a master of psychiatric nursing degree. He has a private counselling practice, Divergent Counselling.

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