While practicing social distancing and self-isolation to slow the spread of COVID-19 can help protect our physical health, it’s equally important for Albertans to take care of their mental health.
“There’s an array of things that people might be feeling, but I think the one that has been most common is fear,” said Sandra Joe, support services manager for Community Links – who has been in isolation, herself, after returning from a vacation to the United States. “People are concerned about finances. They’re concerned about their health. They’re concerned about childcare.”
Feeling trapped can bring people’s vulnerabilities to the surface, she said, making us face some of our biggest mental-health challenges. Some may cross the line from germ-conscious to germ-obsessive, while for others, addictions may become a concern.
Anxiety can also cause tightness in the chest, she added, which might make people feel like they’re getting sick. Additionally, it may weaken our immune systems, which can get overloaded when our bodies are in a constant fight-or-flight mode.
“We need to look at, is our mental health interfering with our daily lives?” Joe said.
If it is, there are some ways to curb those unhealthy impulses. One of the main ways to promote good mental health and well-being, she said, is by getting some fresh air (six feet apart from any others doing the same) and exercising – even if that means doing a workout at home.
“Shifting our mindset is also important, focusing on what are our community’s strengths?” Joe said. “Right now, I feel secure in what we’re doing as a city in Airdrie, and our businesses are definitely putting clients first.”
Those with children at home likely face additional challenges, and kids could be acting out and making mom and dad’s lives more difficult because of their own fears – “everything is going to be amplified by nerves,” she said.
“They’re scared and they don’t know what’s going on, so there needs to be open discussions around that,” Joe said. “A lot of the time, children can’t verbalize what’s going on and it comes out in their behaviour.”
And when the kids do start complaining, she added, or when our own worries become too much, she suggested concentrating on the things we are grateful for. Structure can also help create a sense of normalcy and routine, letting everyone in the household know what to expect and when.
Another thing people can do if they are feeling helpless, Joe added, is to do something good for the community by making a donation to local food banks, sharing their toilet paper or cleaning supplies with someone who might not have any or taking on some of the tasks that a more vulnerable person isn’t able to do.
“It’s just about humanity and really taking care of each other,” she said.
For those who need someone to talk to, she noted, Community Links is still there – providing support over the phone instead of in person.
“Our main focus has been on the clients and how we can still be there for them,” Joe said. “People don’t want to suffer in silence. So, if they’re feeling that they do want to talk to someone, we can definitely do phone counselling and get them some skills and give them someone to be accountable with.”
In addition to the multiple services provided on its website, Alberta Health Services has launched a text-based program, Text4Hope, to help provide encouragement and hope to Albertans. To subscribe, text COVID19HOPE to the number 393939.
“In return, they’ll receive daily text messages on healthy thinking or actions to help manage their mood,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, in a March 23 announcement. “All Albertans have been impacted by COVID-19, and this free program is an additional resource to help us find encouragement and strength as we navigate the day-to-day challenges of a new normal.”
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