Published on: October 11, 2020
by Samantha Walravens for Forbes:
As 2020 drags on and the Covid-19 pandemic continues to ravage the world, the number of people reporting mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and stress, has skyrocketed.
According to recent data, symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders have more than tripled among U.S. adults compared to this time last year—with women and Black and Latinx communities most acutely impacted.
And in a study released on World Mental Health Day, by the International Committee of the Red Cross (IRCR), over half — 51 per cent — of respondents surveyed across seven countries reported that the global health crisis has negatively impacted their mental health.
The data are disturbing, but not surprising, says Dr. Teralyn Sell, Ph.D, psychotherapist and brain health expert.
“Over the past seven months, the world has seen a high degree of change, isolation, uneasiness and loss due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” she explains. “People have lost their jobs, lost loved ones, and are struggling to maintain some sense of sense of normalcy while life feels anything but normal.”
This experience has had a serious impact on our collective mental health.
There are tools we can all employ, however, to help us improve our psychological wellbeing during the age of Covid. From maintaining routines to stopping negative self-talk, Dr. Sell shares some of these coping mechanisms with us.
One: Focus on the things you can control.
Humans thrive when they have certainty in their lives. It’s how we keep ourselves safe, explains Dr. Sell. It’s scary and exhausting to feel out of control. Sadness, hopelessness, fear— those emotions will wear you down.
She recommends focusing on the things in your life that you can control. For instance, we can control going for a walk, or eating healthy foods— but we cannot control what other people do or say.
Two: Adjust your inner dialogue with positive self-talk.
Emotional stress is a big piece of mental wellbeing. In fact, emotional stress has a lot to do with grief, loss, anxiety and fear, emotions many of us are experiencing during the pandemic. Your inner dialogue represents a big part of your emotional stress. Your inner dialogue is likely a result of your overall perception of what is happening in your life.
Often, it takes on the stance of fear or doom. Instead, catch yourself when your dialogue becomes fearful or negative and say, “STOP” and then say an easy phrase, song lyric or something else that stops the negative dialogue. You can take it a step further and just say, “I’m ok.” If you begin to do this you will eventually create a new neuropathway which is the key to better self talk.
Three: Use your senses in a new way.
Our senses are important and often we leave them to passively happen, like when we smell something good or bad. But, if we can purposefully use our senses, they can be a powerful tool for coping, explains Dr. Sell.
For instance, our sense of smell impacts our limbic system (emotional center of the brain). Smell can help us recall memories (good and bad). So, when you are stressed out or even depressed grab an essential oil, something like orange or peppermint and take a big inhale right out of the bottle. It will instantly put a smile on your face and uplift your mood in a positive way. Combine that with the words, “I’m ok” and now you are creating a partnership between a smell and a positive mantra.
Four: Maintain routines.
Our body is used to patterns and structure. We thrive on consistency, yet the pandemic has made so many things in our lives inconsistent— parents working from home, kids doing school online. There is so much chaos around schedules that our brain is likely to trip into a fight or flight response when the next change occurs.
It is important to create structure around your work day and school day, says Dr. Sell. She recommends maintaining the same sleep wake pattern by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. “Don’t let the days get willy nilly or it might send your emotions into a state of chaos again.”
Five: Limit your screen time.
During Covid, screen time has been integrated into our days in a profoundly unlimited way. From working from home to logging into online school, our eyes and minds have been screen fatigued. Dr. Sell suggests turning off your screens at the same time each day. Also, think about a blue light blocking screen on your monitors or wearing blue light blocking glasses.
Other advice? Use text books, worksheets or printed materials more frequently and make sure you shut down your computers when you are finished working or participating in school activities. In other words, don’t go from work to social media without a lengthy break. Set a limit on screen time for the day and make sure you shut down screens at least 2 hours before bed. Screen time interferes with serotonin production and therefore melatonin production which will negatively affect your sleep.
Loneliness and isolation have become problematic during the pandemic. If you find yourself feeling lonely or isolating from friends or family, it is time to take action. Thankfully there are many ways to connect via live chats while watching a show on TV or having face time calls with family and friends. One thing that I have seen is an increase in people joining support networks on social media to feel connected again. So, using social media groups in a productive way, instead of mindless scrolling, can help you feel more connected once again. However, if your loneliness moves to despair, reach out for professional help immediately.
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