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Tackling mental health in a pandemic

Health: Okotoks psychologist David Small shares tips on coping amid COVID-19
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Okotoks psychologist David Small said amid the COVID-19 pandemic anxiety and social isolation are problems that have to be owned and managed properly. (Brent Calver/Western Wheel)

Uncertainty, anxiety and isolation are part and parcel with the pandemic.

And Okotoks psychologist David Small is offering his expertise on maintaining mental health in the age of COVID-19.

“A lot of people experience anxiety,” Small said. “And what this COVID-19 has done is taken a couple of mental health issues and actively made it quite normal and that’s anxiety with regards to uncertainty moving forward and then social isolation, which is not normally the way human beings interact.

“It’s really important that even though anxiety and social isolation are uncomfortable, we have to own those problems and take steps to manage them.”

Small shared six tips for managing those issues using a directive outlined by Dr. Diane McIntosh during this most intense period of time.

1. Maintain your routine

“A lot of anxiety is about people feeling life is unpredictable,” Small said. “And what we can control is what we do every day. Get up at the same time every morning, have breakfast at the same time every morning. Set up a structure every day.

“Similarly with your evening routines, it’s really important to create predictability and control where there might not be those factors outside of your home.”

2. Exercise

“Exercise is known to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression,” Small said. “You can encourage people to go for a walk as long as they’re maintaining social distance, about two metres away from others, for 30 minutes a day, just a moderate level of activity. You can also do things within the house… things like yoga, stationary bikes or workouts if you have them planned.”

3. Go outside

“We know that fresh air and being in nature tends to bring out good mental health,” Small said. “We know it’s important to schedule fun into your day as well, so anything that can bring you a sense of pleasure, sense of enjoyment, perhaps that’s reading, baking, online shopping, board games with family or websites where you can play board games online with friends as well.

“We’re encouraging people to limit the use of alcohol and screen time. Even though it feels good, I binge watch Netflix, but at some point Netflix is over and your brain needs some other form of stimulation.”

4. Being mindful

“To accept our emotions because our worries about uncertainty are definitely real, but we don’t need to spend all of our time on them,” Small said. “It’s important to distract ourselves and get our mind off anxious thoughts for a while. You can call a friend or family member and be honest about your thoughts and you can access mental health professionals, many of whom are offering online or teleconferencing services.

5. Limit media exposure

“And we’re encouraging people to limit media exposure to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Small said. “The problem is here for a while and you need to stay informed about health updates, but that does not mean plugging into every update about the number of cases, worldwide deaths or spreading conspiracy theories or misinformation about the virus. This will only contribute to heightened anxiety and discomfort so turn off the news and try connecting with family and old friends, make some early plans for spring cleaning.”

6. Be good citizens

“And one key piece of information should influence our behaviour moving forward. According to the statement released by Dr. McIntosh, up to 90 per cent of infected in Wuhan were infected by someone who didn’t know they were sick. This explains the aggressive approach of the government to contain the community spread, no one would intentionally spread the virus to another person, their friends or family.

“Psychologically then it may be helpful to act as if we already have the virus, if we did it would make sense we would not want to pass it to others.

“Above all else, just remembering you’re not alone is a challenge and one of the challenges we have is to balance the needs of our family with good citizenship which in the short term means staying home as much as possible and respecting the health updates and guidelines released by Alberta Health Services.”

Small said the industry is bracing for more individuals seeking help in the coming months as the toll of the pandemic makes its mark.

“Everyone that I’ve been speaking to, all of the health professionals suggest that because of the stress and anxiety people are experiencing with the uncertainty of what’s to come that we’re probably going to get a lot busier moving forward,” Small said. “In the short-term it’s been not as busy because people are worried about coming in.”

To tackle the issue of social isolation, many psychologists are taking their services to tele-counselling or through online webcams to align.

Small suggested those in need of treatment should reach out to a psychologist.

Those in need can call their medical doctors, the Distress Centre at 403-266-HELP, the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 and more information can be found at www.albertahealthservices.ca/amh/amh.aspx

COVID-19 UPDATE: Follow our COVID-19 special section for the latest local and national news on the coronavirus pandemic, as well as resources, FAQs and more.




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