Jennifer Kirkbride, MA, BA
March 25, 2020
As a clinical counselor, I want to contribute what I can during this challenging time. I have compiled some basic, yet very important strategies to mitigate the impact of stress on mental health during the pandemic.
1.) Maintain connectedness: during isolation and quarantine, it can feel impossible to stay connected to loved ones and friends but there are many ways to do so, and it is crucial to our mental health that we do. Ideas for connecting include starting a group chat or text message, use Facetime or Snapchat, make a skype call, or write a note to a neighbor with your phone number on it and leave it at their door.
2.) Information and Media: it is important to know yourself in this regard. Some people feel more empowered by obtaining current information via reading articles and listening to broadcasts. Be especially careful to filter the info you are taking in, as there are significant amounts of misinformation available. Suggestions for reputable sources of info include the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, and Health Canada.
If excessive media and information creates increased anxiety or stress, consider limiting the amount of time you expose yourself to news and social media. Keeping informed on up-to-date government requirements is important but being bombarded by social media threads can create undue fear.
3.) Strategies for Anxiety and Stress management:
BODY SCAN: Sit in a comfortable position. Feel the floor beneath your feet, the chair beneath your legs. Scan your body from head to toe. Notice any tension, any sensations, any pain. Now wiggle your jaw to loosen any clenching. Raise and lower your shoulders. Gently shake out any tension in any other areas of your body.
DEEP BELLY BREATHING: Place your hands on your lower abdomen. Breathe in slowly (through your nose if possible), trying to raise your hands on your belly. Count to five as you inhale and when your lungs feel full, slowly exhale through your mouth. Repeat at least ten times, and as many as needed.
MINDFULNESS: This is the ancient art of staying in the moment. Problematic anxiety can occur when we fixate on the past, the future, or things we cannot control. Mindfulness helps us to stay present. Try this basic mindfulness exercise that can be done anywhere: check in with your senses in your current environment. What do you see? Notice the little things. Notice the colors and shapes around you. What do you hear? Even if it is quiet, you may still hear something subtle like the hum of your refrigerator. What do you smell? Food cooking? The scent of the laundry detergent on your shirt? What do you feel? The temperature of the room? The softness of a blanket? What do you taste? Your toothpaste? The linger of your morning coffee?
SELF SOOTHING: Develop a list of self soothing tools. This will be unique to you. Think of what evokes feelings of comfort. Suggestions include having a cup of herbal tea, listening to music, a warm bath, burning scented candles or diffusing essential oils. Tap into things that calm the senses.
4.) Journal: Get your thoughts down onto paper. Anxious minds tend to ruminate on the same thoughts over and over. When we get our thoughts down in writing (or drawing), we are better able to process them, that is, sort through them and challenge any unrealistic or unhelpful thoughts. When our brain feels it has dealt with the concern, we are better able to move past the obsessive thought. This can be particularly helpful before bed, when it is common for people to struggle with anxious thoughts.
5.) Build a List of activities and interests that you can do at home. Again, this will be tailored to the individual but some ideas might be: small home improvements, creating art, crafting, reading, home workouts, or online courses. Beyond keeping you busy and bringing joy to your life, the activities create a sense of accomplishment, which has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health.
Finally, if you are currently seeing a therapist, or believe you should, do your best to keep your appointments, even if the format has changed. Most therapists have moved their practices to online sessions for the time being. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, the crisis line in BC can be reached at 310-6789.
Take care of yourselves and take care of each other, from a distance for now. We will get through this together.
Jennifer Kirkbride Counselling, MA, BA