Since March, Canadians have had to adapt to increased physical and social isolation and, now that we are firmly in the second wave of COVID-19, many are concerned about the challenges ahead.
In addition to the significant and sustained toll that COVID-19 has had on the physical health of thousands of Canadians, it has also had serious consequences for our mental health. Earlier this fall, nearly 25 per cent of Canadians reported being very or extremely stressed about the pandemic, according to an Angus Reid poll.
Recognizing that proactive mental healthcare is more important than ever, people are looking for ways to adapt to new stressors related to the pandemic. As our daylight hours decline and we experience colder weather across the country, we’re also being confronted by a second wave of COVID-19. Both of these issues can impact our mental health, and it’s important that we take proactive steps to stay well this winter. Here are a few ways you can prioritize your mental health and well-being.
1. Maintain a routine
Since the start of the pandemic, many people’s daily lives have been impacted by the upheaval. And, with restrictions and guidelines constantly changing, finding new routines hasn’t been easy.
Nonetheless, the science is clear: we all feel better, and function better, when we follow a routine.
If you’re working from home, start the day as you would if you had to go into work. Instead of rolling out of bed five minutes before your morning meeting, follow your usual routine. Get up at the same time, have a shower and eat breakfast – if that’s what you normally do.
Set clear boundaries with working hours and downtime. At the end of the workday, turn your computer off and resist the urge to check those emails! Try to get to bed at your usual time as
2. Get some exercise
We all know that exercise is good for our physical health, but it’s also a great way to improve your mental health.
And while you can’t yoga your way out of a very severe depression, it can certainly improve your mood and help prevent the onset of depression.
The good news is, it doesn’t take much exercise to help your brain stay mentally fit – aim to get 30 minutes of mild- to moderate-intensity exercise five days a week.
3. Go outside
With so much of our time spent indoors during the pandemic, finding ways to get outside and enjoy some fresh air is incredibly important to both our mental and physical health.
So long as you can keep a safe physical distance, walking, biking or jogging are great ways to exercise outside. Better yet, spend some time in nature, whether it’s going for a walk around the park or a safe local hike with someone from your household or in your bubble. Research shows that stress is a major threat to our health and spending time in a greener environment can help
4. Prioritize sleep
Sleep is a gift you give yourself every night. Unfortunately, stress, anxiety and depression can rob us of sleep and leave us irritable and less effective.
If you’re struggling to quiet your mind before bed, try listening to calming music or sleep stories as you lie in bed.
And don’t forget the basics – getting to bed at the same time every night, setting an alarm to get up at the same time every morning, and not having screen time in the hour before bed are all also factors associated with better quality sleep.
5. Learn how to be more mindful
I like to describe mindfulness as letting your worries in your front door and showing them out your back door, but not serving them tea. Said another way, we all have worries and fears, and what we’re navigating together is unprecedented. We need to accept that our emotions count and be kind to ourselves. However, accepting them does not mean we need to spend all of our time on them. We let our thoughts in, accept them and then ask them to move on.
Leveraging technology to take care of your health and well-being
With the right tools, information and support, there are many ways you can improve your physical health, take care of your psychological well-being, create healthy sleep habits, and build your mindfulness muscle.
TELUS has partnered with Calm to help Canadians access valuable mental health resources from home on their TV, delivering sleep, meditation and relaxation content to help people manage stress and sleep better. Calm also offers an app, as does Headspace. Both are highly-regarded mental well-being apps I recommend that support meditation and mindfulness, and
offer a free basics package.
Finally, it’s okay to not be okay – if you’re struggling, ask for help from a loved one or a professional. It’s a difficult time for every one of us, but there is always a path ahead, and we will get through this together.
Dr. Diane McIntosh is Chief Neuroscience Officer at TELUS. She is responsible for optimizing all mental health-related products, services and innovations, leveraging TELUS’ world-leading technology to enable improved health outcomes for all Canadians.