Health Page: Mental and physical health during the COVID-19 pandemic

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    Justin Rother, PharmD candidate, BSc.

    Fear and worry are normal

    It is normal to feel stressed, confused or worried during the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on data from the SARS outbreak in 2003, Health Canada has estimated that approximately 11 million Canadians will experience “high” levels of stress in work settings and at home during the pandemic. While people react in different ways, you may feel like you do not have control over things. As COVID-19 restrictions are beginning to loosen across Ontario, many individuals will continue to struggle with residual depression, stress, and financial pressures. The uncertainty about the virus and the new norms for returning to day-day life will cause many to feel anxious and as such, it is important to have ways to cope with stress and anxiety.

    Coping with stress and anxiety in a structured way

    The first thing you should do is accept that some anxiety and fear is normal. While the pandemic situation may feel overwhelming, it is important to identify what worries you can control and which thoughts are causing you more anxiety. For example, you may be thinking about worse case scenarios without focusing on positive parts of your life. Try to remind yourself regularly that you are resilient and can handle stress and identify other challenging situations that you have encountered before and strategies you used to handle the situation. Remember that collective resources are out there to help everyone throughout the pandemic, including excellent public health systems and health care in Canada, personal relationships with family, friends and professionals who can help you including your family doctor, your local pharmacist and psychologist.

    Other ways to cope with the pandemic

    While staying informed about the pandemic is beneficial, it is important to take breaks from the news and social media. Try to set aside some time each day to unplug from all electronics and do something for yourself instead. This could include reading, exercising, or socializing. You can also practice relaxation and mindfulness by stretching, taking deep breaths, and meditating which will help with reducing stress and increasing overall happiness. In addition, eating healthy including a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lots of water can help you feel better and maintain your overall health. Do not underestimate the importance of proper sleep each night which can help you manage stress. It is pertinent to avoid substance use if possible, including overdrinking alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. While smoking and drinking may initially reduce anxiety and stress, they tend to make things worse in the long run. This is due to the brain developing tolerance to these substances and individuals requiring increased amounts to feel the same effect. Finally, it is crucial to stay socially connected to friends and family throughout the pandemic. While physical distancing helps prevent the spread of the virus, you can use social media, email and phone calls to stay connected to others.

    If you ever experience a mental health crisis

    If you are ever experiencing a mental health crisis and in immediate danger, contact 911 immediately or go to your nearest emergency room. The federal government has also created Wellness Together Canada (ca.portal.gs) which is an online portal that offers Canadians many tools and resources include access to counselling with a mental health professional. Alternatively, you can access psychologists, social workers and other professionals through phone calls or chat sessions by texting WELLNESS to 741741 for adults or 686868 for youth.