Tips to keep mentally healthy in a COVID-19 winter

Tips to keep mentally healthy in a COVID-19 winter
WatchWith winter coming, many health officials are concerned of the impact COVID-19 restriction are having on our mental health.

As the days grow shorter and colder, it’s not only clouds looming.

Health officials are predicting the winter ahead will hold unprecedented mental health challenges.

“The hard part is family and friends all around the world, and not knowing when we’ll ever be able to see them again,” said one Victoria resident.

“I think that everybody wants social connections right, and not being able to have that? Honestly, it’s hard,” said another.

Across every age group, whether it’s the isolation, emotional anxiety, or financial concern, COVID-19’s disruption to our lives has been enormous.

“There’s just no immunity to it. It just had an impact on our lives, throughout our country,” said Sandra Richardson, CEO of the Victoria Foundation.

In the newly released report, over half Greater Victorians say their mental health has declined because of the pandemic, 29 per cent are facing job or income loss.

And behind those percentages are people, who are in one way or another, struggling.

“Some days it’s tougher than others,” one south Islander told CHEK News.

“Even if one keeps busy, it catches you sometimes when you’re not expecting it.”

And health experts say that an emotional rollercoaster is to be expected.

“One day you feel like supercharged and you’re going to get something done, and then the next day you feel really crappy,” said Dr. Bonnie Leadbeater, a psychologist at the University of Victoria.

“Try to remind yourself that this is temporary, but also disruptive. This is forcing you into a day to day existence. Get a routine. Get up at the same time every day no matter what else happens.”

And health experts say we need to be checking in, not only with those around us, but with ourselves.

“Eat ice cream, sleep! Deal with your emotional flu, in a way,” said Dr. Leadbeater.

“Be kind to yourself.”

Because experts say this winter will likely be a difficult one.

“We tend to cocoon a little bit more in the winter as it gets darker, we turn more to our screens,” said Dr. Ryan Rhodes, a health and physical activity psychologist with the University of Victoria.

Dr. Rhodes is part of a group of scientists who are tracking changes in our movement behaviours since the lockdown in March.

He says physical activity is down, but there’s a bigger story. Half of those self-reported that their activity levels haven’t changed, a small group actually became more active, while a much larger group, became inactive.

It’s a pattern that’s especially concerning seeing that soon, seasonal affective disorder and the pandemic will collide, creating a perfect storm for mental health issues, by making people more isolated and less active.

“Physical inactivity is linked to at least 25 chronic health conditions, but it’s also linked to mental health,” said Dr. Rhodes.

“We know it’s a very powerful anti-depressant, it helps with anxiety and self-esteem. Outdoor seems to be in particular more powerful than indoor activities. So it’s especially important right now, given the social isolation.”

Health officials agree, fresh air no matter the weather, is the best medicine.

So is being kind. Not just to others, but ourselves as well.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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