While we take steps to protect the physical health of ourselves and of our communities from coronavirus, it’s also important that we invest in taking care of our mental health and well-being. After all, this is a difficult and stressful time where many of us are experiencing disrupted routines, coping with uncertainty, feeling heightened anxiety, loneliness, and/or concern for ourselves and our loved ones.
Here are eight strategies compiled by the Arts & Science mental health initiatives team that you can use to help protect your mental health and well-being amid COVID and social distancing.
Minimize your intake of COVID-related media
The near-constant stream of news reports about the coronavirus can cause anyone to feel worried. Minimize watching, reading or listening to news that causes you to feel anxious or distressed. Instead, seek information updates from public health units once or twice a day at specific times for the main purpose of taking practical steps to prepare and plan for protecting yourself and your loved ones.
Keep a routine
Maintaining a routine can help you stay motivated, keep you on track towards your goals, and protect you from falling into a rut. Even when isolated, try as much as possible to keep your personal daily routines or, if needed, create new ones. Try to keep up with regular physical activity, daily chores, hygiene, studying, working, singing, painting and any other activities that bring you joy or help you feel productive.
Stay connected and maintain your social networks, even while isolating. Whether it’s with family, friends, colleagues or neighbours, social relationships that are supportive, encouraging and meaningful enrich our days and are cornerstones to our well-being. Staying in touch via phone, social media, video calls, and even email helps you feel connected, cared for, and reminds us that we’re not in this alone.
During times of stress, it’s particularly important to pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Carve out time to engage in activities that you enjoy and find rejuvenating. Of course, keeping regular sleep patterns, finding opportunities to move your body, and fueling yourself with healthy foods can also go a long way to helping you feel and function better. Self-care isn’t selfish - it’s necessary.
Get the facts
Facts can help to minimize fears. Avoid listening to or following rumors that make you feel uncomfortable. Rely on information from credible sources such as local, regional and global health authorities (e.g., Toronto Public Health, Ontario Ministry of Health). And remember, public health agencies and experts here and abroad are working to curb the spread of the virus and ensure the availability of the best care to those affected.
Check on & assist others
Assisting others benefits not just the person receiving the support but the helper as well. Giving of your time and energy to help others through peer support, neighbour checking, and contributing to child or elder care (where safe to do so) are some of the ways that you can feel good by helping. These caring acts also foster solidarity in addressing this public health challenge as a community.
Share the love
Recognizing and celebrating positivity promotes hope and optimism. Look for opportunities to amplify the positive and uplifting stories and images around you, and share your own gratitude for the people, experiences, and things you’re appreciative of. Whether it’s honouring caretakers and healthcare workers, posting a beautiful sunrise, celebrating good news, or sharing adorable pet pics, we can all help cultivate positivity.
Access mental health supports
Even if practicing all of the above strategies, you may still find yourself feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or anxious. Lots of people feel the same way. Fortunately, there is help available from mental health professionals 24 hours a day via online and phone-based services. Here are some that are available to U of T students, staff and faculty:
For more information, including recommendations for care providers to children, older adults, and people with underlying health conditions please visit this World Health Organization resource.