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April 13, 2020

drmadan_270-(1).jpgBy: Dr. Robert Madan, Psychiatrist in Chief, Baycrest

COVID-19 has changed everyone’s lives dramatically. Many people are self-isolating. We have all been asked to remain in our homes and self-isolate as much as possible. Some can stay in touch with friends and family through technology, but it is still very different than seeing people in person. For others, their social lives involve recreational activities that have now been cancelled. Gatherings have ceased. Important celebrations and events have been cancelled. For many, one day blends into the next.

We are all anxious about our health and the health and safety of our families, friends and loved ones.  Our social lives, structure and routines have been completely disrupted. We don’t even know exactly when this will all be over. Needless to say, the stress, uncertainty and disruption have an impact on psychological wellness.

How can we cope with this? Here are five tips to stay psychologically healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Exercise and Look After Your Physical Health

There are many benefits to physical activity. Research conducted at Baycrest as part of a study by the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging (CCNA)has shown that exercise can help with depression, relieve stress and is good for overall brain health. There are many exercises you can do at home and the type of exercise depends on your physical health. Try to schedule 30 minutes of exercise per day; but do not participate in exercises that your doctor has instructed you not to do, and don’t exceed what your body allows. The following are some good options:

  • Exercise along to videos on YouTube or videos that you already own.
  • Take a walk around your home, go up and down stairs, or walk outside (but be sure to maintain your physical/social distance from others).
  • Eat healthily by following Canada’s Food Guide and the Baycrest-developed Canadian Brain Health Food Guide
  • Don’t forget to take your medications daily and monitor your stock of medication. Don’t wait for the last minute to ask your doctor or pharmacy for refills.

2. Reach Out to Others

While social/physical distancing, it is easy to start feeling very alone and isolated. It is important to stay connected to other people, including friends, family and co-workers. Technology has made it possible to virtually meet with others individually or in groups using Skype, FaceTime, Zoom and other applications. Or, you might even go “old school” and call someone using the telephone. No matter how you do it, connecting with other people reminds you that you are not alone in this unprecedented time.

Talk to your friends and family, reminisce and share what’s on your mind. Give and be open to receiving support.

Also, don’t be afraid to keep in touch with your health care team if you have the need. The health care system has had to adapt due to COVID-19, and many health care practitioners are still available by phone or through technology. Don’t let medical issues go unaddressed.

3. Don’t Watch the News All Day

It’s good to stay informed about what is going on in the world and in your local community. There is an abundance of information about COVID-19 on television and the internet. It can be easy to get overwhelmed, anxious and thrown into “catastrophic thinking” about your future by watching the news for too long.

Anxiety is generally a good thing because it helps us stay safe. For example, if you feel anxious about walking down a dark alley late at night, that is a good thing, since your anxiety will protect you by making you avoid walking down that alley. However, too much anxiety is not as helpful. Habitual news-watching can drive your anxiety levels up high. Try to watch the news for quick updates only once or twice per day.

4. Take a Moment to Relax

In a pandemic situation, there is an even greater-than-usual need to find ways to manage stress. There are many ways to do this and different methods work for different people.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Set aside a daily time to do something fun and/or relaxing, like pursuing a hobby, meditating, doing yoga or Pilates, and the list goes on.
  2. Find some instructional, guided mindfulness meditation videos online
  3. Most importantly, do whatever relaxation technique works for you.

Be aware that too much work and stress can lead to burnout. We all need to find ways to re-charge our batteries. 

5. Implement Structure and Routine

Having daily structure and routine is very important for mental health.
While it may not be currently possible to get back into your “pre-COVID 19” routine, establishing and following a daily routine will help. Some ways you can do this are:

  1. Wake up at the same time every day and follow your usual morning wake-up routine
  2. Eat breakfast, wash up and get dressed as you always would
  3. Book time to do your normal work and chores
  4. Create a plan for the day by scheduling activities the night before
Reward yourself. We can all use a reward now and again for dealing with our stress and being resilient in these times.

Follow these tips for your mental health
Remember, setting aside time during your day to exercise, relax and reach out to others can help you cope during these stressful times.
Dr. Robert Madan is the Psychiatrist in Chief at Baycrest and is involved clinically in long term care consultation, and outpatient psychiatry. Dr. Madan attended medical school at the University of Western Ontario and completed his psychiatry residency in psychiatry at the University of Toronto. He has been on staff at Baycrest since 2003 and is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto.
Dr. Madan has a strong interest in education. He is the Postgraduate Education Coordinator for the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry at the University of Toronto and the Program Director for the Geriatric Psychiatry Subspecialty Residency Program at the University of Toronto.

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