It’s been over a year since most Canadians were told they should go home and stay home. Those who could, nervously retreated from the pandemic and the world. In the weeks and months that followed, there was no shortage of reasons to feel anxious—changed routines, lost jobs and isolation were all part of the new reality.
Covid stressors have impacted our mental health here in Canada and across the globe. Not only are people reporting that they’re facing increased anxiety and mental health concerns, there’s also a new spotlight on self-care and coping strategies.
A recent survey conducted by The Conference Board of Canada and the Mental Health Commission of Canada revealed that a vast majority of Canadians polled—84 percent—reported that their mental health had worsened since the onset of the pandemic. Among the biggest concerns were wellbeing and family wellness, isolation, loneliness and employment status. Employment status and income also play a large role in an individual’s access to solutions since employees may have access to benefits, resources and funds that other individuals can’t access when searching for help.
“People who experience mental duress and haven’t learned or adopted healthy coping skills are more likely to engage in riskier coping activities like alcohol or drug use,” said Dr. Bill Howatt, Research Chief of Health at The Conference Board of Canada. Everyone faces unique stressors and has unique reactions based on their personal support systems, coping mechanisms and personal situations.
“One strategy isn’t going to fit all,” explained Howatt. “We need to be mindful of checking in and seeing where employees are. Help them move through this settling period of whatever this new norm is.”
As organizations and communities start to create the new norm, Canadians are also starting to cope with the tremendous loss and grief the pandemic has caused.
“We’ve all lost so much this year. The loss of what we expected our life to be, the loss of a job, a co-worker, a wedding celebration or a hockey season,” said Jeremy Allen, Grief & Loss Educator with DeathEd. “Where loss lives, grief will follow.”
Understanding and normalizing grief is an overlooked piece in Canada’s mental health puzzle. While discussions about anxiety, stress and isolation have become more common throughout the pandemic, conversations about grief are just beginning. Like commonly discussed mental health concerns, grief can affect an individual’s emotions, thoughts and behaviours in unexpected ways, and can be difficult to work through.
“We need to take a moment in discomfort and identify our personal loss. Don’t fix it. Just acknowledge and process the emotions,” said Allen. “We need to recognize that grief isn’t a linear process. If you reach acceptance, that doesn’t mean that grief goes away—you need to continually acknowledge and heal.”
Despite not knowing what will happen in the months and potentially years to come, Allen stresses that it’s possible to begin moving forward. Processing the anxiety, stress and losses Covid has brought us doesn’t mean we must simply accept everything that’s changed. It means acknowledging and addressing anxiety, stress and loss in a healthy way. Allen suggests a few things to keep in mind as we process personal grief and anxiety.
Everyone faces unique stressors and has unique reactions based on their personal support systems, coping mechanisms and personal situations.
NAME YOUR STRUGGLES
Identifying the source of the problem and giving it a name can bring much-needed clarity to why we’re feeling so stressed. Be as specific as possible. Maybe it isn’t work that’s stressing you out, but the loss of a coworker you enjoyed working with.
DON’T COMPARE LOSS
Comparing grief isn’t helpful. Saying things like “lots of people lost their job” discredits the other person’s feelings. Everyone’s struggle is their own and shouldn’t be contrasted with another.
CELEBRATE SMALL VICTORIES
It can be easy to focus on the losses, or all the things that have gone wrong. But don’t discredit the things you’re doing well, even if they’re small like getting out of bed in the morning or returning an important email.
Check in daily to see if you’ve taken time to keep yourself balanced, and mentally and physically healthy. This can include things like reading, chatting with a friend or revisiting a favourite hobby.
EXERCISE AND EAT HEALTHILY
Make time to move your body whether it’s a walk, a yoga class or training for a triathlon. Likewise, choose a healthy, balanced diet to give your body the nourishment and energy it needs to maintain positive mental and physical health.
CHECK IN ON LOVED ONES
It’s powerful to let others know you’re thinking of them. Not only does it help them know they have a support system, it provides an opportunity for you to connect with others.
ASK FOR HELP
Reach out and talk to family and friends for support. Let them know what you’re experiencing and ask for what you need. If you don’t feel better, reach out to your doctor and ask for a referral for professional support.