Covid-19 and Mental Health

The pandemic has had a huge impact on worldwide mental health.  There is the stress and fear of the illness- particularly if you, or someone you love, has a health condition that makes you vulnerable to the effects of the  virus.  There can be a real fear of infection and fear of death (Khan et al, 2020). However the stress goes beyond the actual stress of getting sick.  There are the socioeconomic and emotional costs. We are seeing a rise in depression, insomnia, anxiety, anger, stress and confusion, (O’Connor et al., 2020; Rajkumar, 2020; Javed, Sarwer, Soto, and Mashwani, 2020; Mukhtar 2020 as cited in Khan et al, 2020; Pakpour and Griffiths 2020 as cited in Khan et al., 2020; Xiong et al. 2020) The overall mental health of the population can be impacted by the secondary effects of the virus.  There is fear of job loss, actual job loss, small businesses are facing incredibly trying times (Ahorsu et al. 2020 as cited in Khan et al, 2020; Sakib et al. 2020 as cited in Khan et al., 2020), and of course work conditions that can be risky in terms of contracting the virus, even if employers are doing their very best to implement safety measures 

We are also facing a huge loss in terms of human connection.  For many people, their social world has shrunk enormously due to physical distancing, self isolation and quarantine (Khan et al., 2020).  Some work from home and live alone, others may only see people at work.  While some individuals may be at home with families, being at home with your partner/family/roommates can put enormous stress on these relationships(Suseela 2020 as cited in Khan et al., 2020). While we may try our best to connect and stay in touch, it often doesn’t feel the same to only connect online with those we love. People have to make decisions about whether they want to risk the in person human connection, and that decision making process alone can be stressful.  Prior to the virus we didn’t have to deeply consider what risks we are facing, or what we might be exposing loved ones too, if we went over to Grandpa’s house for dinner. The mental load can be enormous for what used to be simple, even pleasant decisions. As a population we may start to adapt, however it is still an added layer to an already stressful situation.

Social support has been found to be highly correlated with emotional well-being (Harandi, Taghinasab, and Nayeri 2009).  And yet, as we try to make the best decisions for ourselves, our friends, famly, and society as a whole there is a need to isolate and physically distance.  This has had a huge impact on our populations mental health. (Khan et al. 2020)

So why am I stating the obvious? I’m hoping this can be a reminder of what we are facing.  It’s been almost a year now since this pandemic has started.  We have all been dealing with these stressors for a year.  It’s ok to be impacted.  It’s ok to not feel ok.  We are dealing with something that, for most of us, was totally unexpected and shocking. So What are some of the ways we can cope?

Coping with the Mental Health Impact of Covid-19

  1. Self compassion – remember what you are dealing with.  It doesn’t matter that everyone is dealing with it too.  It doesn’t matter if you have it easier than so many others. No one is escaping the impact of the pandemic.  Be kind to yourself.  Allow yourself to rest if you need to.  Don’t be too hard on yourself if you are finding it difficult to get tasks done.
  2. Mindfulness – try to take moments of stillness in the day.  Focus on your breath. Evidence suggests that mindfulness helps support mental health coping and lowers feelings of stress (Weinstein, Brown and Ryan, 2008)
  3. Try to keep a routine.  Keep a regular bedtime and wake up time.  Have regular meals.
  4. Exercise – even if it’s just a walk outside, or a yoga video on youtube.  Try to move your body a little bit each day.
  5. Reach out to friends/family – keep in regular contact with people you care about.  Ask them about their day, laugh with them, share your concerns.
  6. Watch a funny show or movie – it’s ok to occasionally need an escape, and laughter has a really positive impact on our brains : laughter releases endorphins, which are our brains feel good chemicals, and activates the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, the same brain chemical affected by the most common types of antidepressants, SSRIs (Disalvo, 2017)