Mental Health Strategies for Coping with the Coronavirus

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  • April 7, 2020

Be Gentle with Yourself:

The coronavirus has created an environment described by many as ‘unprecedented.’ Since most of us have not seen anything like this in our lifetime, it’s okay to be confused or upset. Acknowledge that this is a difficult time, and be gentle with yourself while you sort things out. Know that it’s okay when you try something and it doesn’t go according to plan, and recognize it’s normal to make some mistakes or mis-steps along the way. Give yourself permission to accept that this is a challenging situation, and is not a time when you, (or anyone else!) is expected to be perfect. Rather, be gentle with yourself while you navigate what is best for you and your family.

Allow for Time Alone…

Just as your family did not spend all of your time together before the onset of the coronavirus, it would be unnatural for you to suddenly to spend all of your time together now. Young children may not want time alone, but it is normal for teens to need to spend some time on their own or online with friends. Rather than take offence that they don’t want to always be with you, recognize they are in a difficult situation too, and might need extra time space to cope. If you do have young children, you may find they are extra-ordinarily clinging or may constantly vie for your attention. In these cases, arrange for yourself to take at least a short break. Agree that someone else (i.e., your spouse, another family member in the house) will take over the childcare responsibilities for a certain amount of time (i.e., 30 minutes). Also, recognize that if both yourself and your spouse are home a lot more than usual, it is okay to take some time apart from one another. Communicate with your spouse ahead of time about a self-care activity (and vice-versa), so you both are getting the breaks you need.

…But Make Time for One Another Too:

Do you have family traditions you already do? Or some activities your family has always planned to do, but have never gotten around to? Well, I’m sure you have more time now! Make a plan for your family to do things together. Some ideas for family activities include a family game night, a puzzle, a dance party in your living room, or a game in the backyard. Already done all of that? Try asking people in your family what they’d like to do. In fact, children and teens are more likely to participate in something if they came up with the idea or agree upon it themselves. You might also be pleasantly surprised by some of the things they come up. Or maybe they give some ideas you’re not fond of. Keep in mind that you may need to be flexible and try a video game they like. But also ask your children to be flexible, and swap a night of their activity for yours. Maybe in exchange for you playing a video game, they will play that board game you love. Also, plan ahead so you’ve set a date and time for the activity so that everyone’s ready when the time comes.

Keep a Routine:

There is so much uncertainty from the coronavirus, some structure can be reassuring and keep everyone on track. You don’t want your teen (or yourself!) jumping in the shower five minutes before an online class or meeting. Basic hygiene like showers and getting dressed should be completed early, so everyone is ready for the day ahead. The same goes for schoolwork. When people have endless amounts of time to do work, it often doesn’t get done at all. Make sure your child or teen knows their school schedule and is spending the amount of time they need on homework. Also, have a schedule for meals, clean-up, and a bed-time routine. This facilitates going to bed on time, which is important because without a schedule, people may go to sleep later, and in some cases people’s schedules could switch to where they are up all night and sleeping during the day. Do keep in mind that in keeping a schedule, it doesn’t mean things need to be run so strict that there is no flexibility. Since there’s no travel time to school, children may sleep a little longer. Maybe some homework gets put off until the weekend to fit in a fun family night. Use the structure to keep people on track, but adjust accordingly so everyone is doing what fits best for you and your family.

Set Limits Around the News and Social Media:

While it is helpful to stay informed, too much news and social media can create unnecessary helplessness and anxiety. It can also lead to ruminating on worst-case scenarios and cause you to spend an immense amount of time worrying over things that may not even happen. You may find yourself focusing only on problems, so much so that you begin to ignore the positive things and people around you, which can lead to what professionals call a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy,’ where you inadvertently cause others to react negatively to you or create more problems for yourself. Self-fulfilling prophecies cause one problem to multiply into many, making people feel even worse. Limit your time with the news and on social media by only allowing yourself to check information once or twice a day. Have a regularly scheduled time when you do this, and have a limit, so there is a clear time when you will turn it off and move onto something else.

Psychologically Healthy Activities:

We know that some activities good for our physical health also have a positive impact on mental health. These activities may seem basic, but they are important more now than ever, and you may be surprised how much they can help. For instance, it is recommended for individuals to participate in 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day. Although its been cold, as the weather warms up, go outside to get some vitamin D. With the limitations of physical distancing, you may not be able to go to your favourite park or trail, so it may mean finding a new place to go, or exercising on a treadmill and then going outside to sit in your backyard for the sunshine. Also eat healthy, get the recommended eight hours of sleep, and connect with others. We also know that while everyone needs different amounts of time with friends, typically all people feel better with at least some social connection. It is true that social distancing recommendations don’t mean you have to isolate completely. Use a device to text, phone, or facetime the people who are important to you. Through conversations you may

unexpectedly find yourself sharing a laugh, supporting your friend, or feeling supported yourself. Regardless of how much connection you need, in times of stress, social support can remind you that you’re not alone and help you feel stronger.

Self-Care:

The changes from the coronavirus is affecting so many aspects of our lives. Unfortunately, you may find yourself experiencing increased frustration and maybe even hitting a boiling point where you can’t focus on anything but the negative. Self-care can help with this. When you engage in something that brings you relaxation or even joy, it will help you shift your attention away from the negative, and focus on something positive. This is more likely to help you feel better and also to feel more energized to deal with the negative. Also know that what is self-care for one person may not be self-care for another. For instance, one person may find that exercise is helpful, while another may find their self-care is listening to their favourite playlist. The important thing is not to judge others or yourself for what helps. We are all unique and that is okay – do what works for you! If you are running out of ideas of things to do, here are some options to try:

Activities for All: Big & Small!
(Information updated April 7, 2020)

Edmonton Public Libraries has a collection of books, movies, virtual songs, storytimes, craft classes, and countless learning opportunities: https://www.epl.ca/epl-from-home/


National Marine Sanctuaries have short dive videos that will take you under the ocean:
https://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/


National Geographic has free activities and videos: https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/

Telus World of Science has a list of science experiments that can be done from home:https://telusworldofscienceedmonton.ca/


YMCA is offering free access to fitness classes: https://ymca360.org/

Nike has their premium workout app for free: https://www.nike.com/ntc-app?mod=article_inline

Stingray music has one month of free access to music apps, karaoke, and concerts:
www.stingray.com/freemusic

Metta Yoga Edmonton is offering one or two classes per day at no charge. Login into Facebook or Instagram for classes on their homepage

Modo Yoga Edmonton is offering one month of free access to online yoga classes:
www.modoyoga.com

“The Show Must Go On!” are streaming plays and musicals for free:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdmPjhKMaXNNeCr1FjuMvag

Erin Buhr, Ph.D., Registered Psychologist