Are You Okay? Keeping Tabs on Mental Health

The impact of COVID-19 on our mental health cannot be understated. What began as a sudden, unprecedented disruption has turned to months of uncertainty, stress, change, and isolation.

We are not well equipped to handle long periods of crisis. Our fight-or-flight instinct helps us deal with imminent threats to our safety. When exposed to chronic stress, our system goes into overdrive, leading to long-term exposure to the hormone cortisol. Its effect? Increased inflammation, leading to diverse symptoms such as rashes, stomach aches, and headaches through to depression and loneliness.

While the arrival of a vaccine signals hope for recovery and reopening throughout 2021, we will continue to live in a changed reality for months to come—particularly in tourism. The full resumption of the travel economy in Canada depends not just on the uptake of the vaccine here, but worldwide. We recognize that many jobs have been lost, businesses shuttered, and lives altered. It will take time to get back on our feet. As we do so—and even once we have—it is vital for us to support each other and take care of ourselves as we try to manage the disruption to our lives.

To help with this, we’ve collected a number of resources to understand the mental health implications of the pandemic and offer ways to help process the ongoing stress. Our hope is these will raise awareness of what signs and symptoms to look for in oneself and others, and direct us all to the expert advice and guidance that will help us cope in a healthy, positive way.

First and foremost: if you are in immediate danger, please contact emergency services for your area.

You can also access support workers, social workers, psychologists, and other professionals—confidentially—by texting WELLNESS to:

  • 686868 for youth
  • 741741 for adults

It’s OK not to be OK. The Government of Canada wisely asserts that fear, stress, and worry are normal in a crisis. You might feel like you’re no longer in control of things. It’s normal to feel sad, stressed, confused, scared, or worried. People react in different ways. Some common feelings include:

  • A sense of being socially excluded or judged
  • Concern about your children’s education and well-being
  • Fear of getting sick with COVID-19 or of making others sick
  • Worry about losing your job, not being able to work, or finances
  • Fear of being apart from loved ones due to isolation or physical distancing
  • Helplessness, boredom, loneliness, and depression due to isolation or physical distancing

Find a way to cope that works for you. You may want to get out and run no matter what the weather or try simple stretches in the comfort of your home. You may want to chat on the phone for hours or find five minutes of peace and quiet in a crowded house. Below is some overarching advice to help guide healthy strategies:

  • Stay socially connected, whether it’s video chat, social media, or even snail mail
  • Practise mindfulness, from simple deep breaths to a guided meditation routine
  • Try to eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and get adequate, restful sleep
  • Limit your use of substances
  • Focus on what you can control
  • Be kind to yourself and others

Seek support—anytime. While some may feel like they need to reach breaking point before seeking professional support, please know that it’s okay to reach out even if you’re just needing another perspective or have questions about healthy behaviours. The sooner you feel supported and understood, the more manageable the stress is. The Mental Health Commission of Canada provides this list of resources:

Anxiety Canada

Bell Lets Talk

Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction

Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)

Canadian Women’s Foundation

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)

The Family Institute: Counseling@Northwestern

Health Standards Organization (HSO) and Accreditation Canada

Mood Disorders Society of Canada

Morneau Shepell

Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres

The Mental Health Commission of Canada also provides this graph summarizing the mental health continuum model and corresponding actions to take.