The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic continues to have an unwavering and unparalleled impact in the entire world. With over half a million cases and more than 30, 000 deaths, the virus has certainly cast an ominous and dark cloud that seems to challenge our everyday actions, thoughts, and well-being. Aside from its fatal sequelae, COVID-19 has caused several financial qualms and an overall uncertainty regarding work and education. Of this, our world’s mental health has taken one of the largest hits amidst this pandemic.
Referred to as the Loneliness Epidemic by Forbes, our Millennial generation has long been part of a movement marked by feelings of isolation, anxiety, and distress. The etiology of this loneliness felt by millennials has been attributed to an increase in single-person households, technology, and social media. Despite the mystery in its origin, the impacts of loneliness are profound. In fact, recent findings suggest a strong association between loneliness and poor cardiovascular function, accelerated cognitive decline, depression, and weakened immunity.
As such, in a time like today where a global pandemic is marked by mass uncertainty and government-mandated social isolation, these mental health challenges are likely to exacerbate. Specifically, this mass panic and exacerbation are in light of the “economic slowdown, rising health care costs, uncertainty, misinformation, lack of appropriate information, isolation and separation from loved ones.” Such factors can contribute to a form of “health anxiety” that can be experienced by those who have never felt these feelings before, and can even become “obsessive-compulsive tendencies.” That is, individuals with no history of anxiety can develop feelings of panic, depression, and even profound mental illness as a result of this pandemic.
So what can you do to maintain your mental health?
Acceptance. First, acknowledge and accept your loneliness. Own it. Recognize that loneliness is not a unique phenomenon and that this feeling has been/is being felt by many universally. Moreover, understand that feeling exceptionally lonely and distressed at this time isn’t necessarily irrational. These are normal feelings and responses to a global pandemic with mandated social isolation. Once you have accepted your feelings of loneliness, challenge yourself to critically define the causes of this subjective state. Are you lonely because you are a raging workaholic who leaves little time for play, friends and family? Do you find yourself swamped with tons of work and barely having any time for communication with loved ones? Or is your loneliness defined by a lack of social connections? Do you truly feel that you may be lacking in friendships or strong family bonds? Challenge yourself to accept, understand, and truly appreciate the context of your loneliness to be able to move forward effectively.
Establish a routine. After you have been able to define your loneliness, aim to create your own personal agenda for each day that is conducive to good health and well-being. In doing so, you are able to set appropriate boundaries for yourself and eliminate any unnecessary sources of anxiety and stress in your life. For instance, start your own personal health kick by cooking more healthy meals, drinking more water, and curbing consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and pop. Engage in fitness activities and mindfulness through meditation, yoga, and any other physical activity that you find pleasurable and effective. Be kind to yourself and carve out time in your day to pursue fun hobbies, passion projects, and personal downtime. Creating your own sense of routine by balancing work and play. This can help enable you to feel rejuvenated and approach your day with a sense of clarity.
Check in with your thoughts. Ensure you are truly listening to your thoughts and try to correct certain negative thinking patterns you may notice within yourself. For instance, you may think, The pandemic put my thesis project on hold. I’m going to fail everything. I’m not going to graduate, get that job, and ever see my friends. This style of thinking is overgeneralizing where one thinks that one negative situation is applicable to all aspects of life. Is it possible you are exaggerating with this thought? Do you really believe that you won’t ever see your friends again? Your graduation timelines may have shifted but does that mean you won’t graduate? Try to pause and regroup when you begin to spiral into a pattern of thoughts and “what ifs” that distress you. Challenge your thoughts. Ask yourself if your thought is realistic and rational. If not, forgive yourself and aim to have thoughts that are kind and healthy to you and know that when your thoughts are not kind, healthy, nor true, you have the power to see the inaccuracies in them.
Recognize that though this situation is distressing and frightening, there are several people (including yourself!) who are part of a mass movement to conquer this pandemic. According to the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health, one of the ways you can do so is by limiting the amount of time you spend researching the pandemic and when you do, read/listen to reliable sources who are reporting the most accurate information. In this way, you are able to feel in control of your thoughts as you filter what runs through your mind.
Connect with others. Oftentimes, when we are feeling distressed, it can be best to channel our anxieties and stressors toward activities that involve others. Engage with your most trusted friends and family members who add positivity to your life in safe ways. This may involve a discussion at home with family members, texts and video-chatting. Be creative. Perhaps explore virtual birthday parties, group workout sessions, or cooking classes. Your family and friends are likely experiencing similar stressors and empathizing with each other can be comforting. You can also connect with others through important projects to help frontline workers and the general population during the current pandemic. For instance, Volunteer Ireland has created an online platform for locals to participate in safe volunteer opportunities both online and offline. These include management of transportation, communications, marketing, and other responsibilities geared toward supporting one another during these challenging times.
We are in this together. Finally, you don’t have to suffer alone. There are still mental health resources available to you even in these exceptional circumstances. Reach out to your family doctor, psychotherapist, social worker, and other local mental health resources. In Ontario, there are more than 450 licensed mental health workers who are volunteering 5 free sessions to frontline workers. Kids Help Phone provides round the clock counseling services for children and youth. The Government of Canada is aiming to provide $7.5 million in funding to continue such mental health support. We acknowledge this is a vulnerable time for all and preserving both mental and physical health at this time is important and indeed possible.
We are in this together.