The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was officially declared a pandemic on March 11. Those with pre-existing mental illnesses like panic disorders or generalized anxiety could experience panic attacks or anxiety flare-ups triggered by these intense and constant news updates.
“You do have to be informed but constantly living on the newsfeed and constantly watching the numbers and that kind of thing, that's not necessarily beneficial,” said Brianne Shea, New Brunswick College of Craft and Design’s mental health counsellor.
The closure of all in-person classes was announced on March 13 for the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University, with NBCCD following in the following days. As of March 18, all students that were able had to move out of UNB residences.
This series of abrupt and distributive changes was distressing for all those implicated, but presented additional changes to students facing mental health issues.
What went from a normal year, with the expected student services, could quickly turn dangerous for a student who doesn’t have access to alternative counseling services outside of the school community.
Some students could also be forced to return home to an unhealthy family dynamic.
Combine a possibly unstable home life with limited access to mental health services, a widespread virus, social isolation, and large scale changes – it’s a recipe for worsening mental health.
Brianne Shea is the counsellor at Fredericton’s NBCCD and she’s trying to help eliminate one of those factors. Shea is still trying to provide counseling services via phone and video to her students who are still in need.
“Self-isolation doesn’t have to mean the absence of connection,” Shea said.
She recommends using our age of technology to connect with friends or family through chat rooms, texting, video call, or social media platforms, but to also not indulge too much in the media since reading the news and constantly receiving worrisome updates can be mentally unhealthy.
For people trying to avoid the news, Shea suggests having a designated friend in the friend group who updates the group each day on the state of COVID-19 and new precautionary measures, so you can avoid the alarming daily headlines but still be an informed citizen.
But being informed and being absorbed are two different things. Shea said that while we don’t know the long-term impact of coronavirus and we don’t know the timeframe, it’s important to have mental resilience over your mind regarding the situation.
“Putting in effort to switch gears and take time to notice some of the really beautiful, inspiring things that people are doing to help people right now is so important,” Shea said.
Shea said the weakened social connection and overindulgence of media sources can induce panic in many different instances and it shows how quickly mental health can spiral.
To avoid that spiral, she first recommends acknowledging that that spiral can happen, and your mind can drift to dark places easily so recognizing that this is a risk is foremost.
Her next tip is to always be checking in with yourself. Reflect on your physical, emotional, and psychological feelings. Validate those feelings and then express them.
Keeping a regular routine is another necessity. Keeping a regular bedtime and wake-up time, keep to your normal diet, change out of pajamas or get ready like you normally would, take your medication, and continue to work out if that’s a regular thing for you. And not only keeping a regular routine but adding to it. By making a goals list, finding a new purpose, exploring something you’ve always wanted to learn, etc.
“We do live in a generation where time is certainly a valuable resource and it's something that we frequently say we don't have enough [of.] So, it can be helpful to kind of see this as an opportunity,” Shea said.
“We just received a big chunk of time, and it could be a great time to invest in ourselves.”
Shea provided us with a list of resources she recommends to her students that are especially relevant given the current COVID-19 situation:
- Self Awareness
- Stop, Breathe and Think (Youtube videos and App for Mindfulness)
- Headspace (mindfulness app)
- Keeping a Routine
- Loop Habit Tracker (app)
- Google calendar: Calendar blocking
- Keeping active
- Yoga with Adriene (Youtube)
- Modo Yoga NYC (Instagram live)
- Dancing Alone Together (Website – central resource for free online classes)
- Jungle House Dance (Instagram live)
- Seeking Social Engagement
- Netflix Party (to watch with your friends)
- Google Hangouts
- Zoom (video conferencing)
- Houseparty (virtual boardgames/cards games with friends)
- Check your favorite musician, comedian, dancer, celebrity, etc. to see if they are doing any live shows and tune in!
- Keeping Positive
- YOU app (Great for encouraging self care as well!)
- Brené Brown: the Call to Courage (Netflix)
- Happyfeed: Gratitude Journal (app)