Coronavirus
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Feeling anxious about Covid-19? Mental health experts offer tips


The Covid-19 pandemic is changing what daily life looks like around the world. For some people, that change is having a profound effect on their mental well-being. 

Dr Keith Dobson calls the pandemic a “triple threat.” Dobson, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Calgary, says there are three main drivers of the anxiety you might be feeling:

  • predictability (how much you can predict what’s going to happen);
  • control (can you do something to reduce the impact of what’s happening); and
  • salience (how important the thing is that’s concerning you). 

Dr Dobson thinks Covid-19 poses a problem on all three counts.

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“It has poor predictability, there’s lots they don’t about the virus,” he says. “Poor controllability, because there’s not a heck of a lot we can do. And high salience, because of course the potential impact is huge.” 

So that may be why you’re anxious. What can you actually do about that?

Dobson recommends these ways to reduce your stress and anxiety:

  • Stay informed about Covid-19. Make sure you’re getting good information from good sources and “when in doubt, check it out.”
  • Maintain a regular routine, including getting up and going to bed at the same time.
  • Get regular exercise and go outside when you can, even if it’s just for a walk while maintaining that two-metre distance. 
  • Schedule time for activities – whether it’s baking, online shopping, or a hobby you enjoy. “Whatever it is that fits your interest, try to do something that’s fun.” 
  • Stay connected to others by phone, email, social media, or any other method that allows you to keep your distance. “Do as much of that as you can.”
  • Watch your self-talk. If you begin noticing you’re being negative when talking to yourself or others, that’s a clue you’re getting more stressed. 

Noting it’s still relatively early on, Dobson said there may be other impacts to people’s mental health as the Covid-19 pandemic continues.

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He expects people may experience depression due to job losses, deaths, and other long-term effects of the illness. 

“I think, as a mental health challenge, the Covid-19 pandemic creates not only the threat right now about anxiety, but I think it’ll become more complex as time goes on,” he said.

“Just the toll that this has taken on society… we’re going to see people starting to grieve, and start to feel sadness as a result of that.”

Social workers look for long-distance solutions

Raymond Pidzamecky is a social worker and mental health consultant who works with residential school survivors and their families in the NWT and Nunavut. He said he’s been connecting regularly with his clients by phone and text.

Pidzamecky, whose office is based in Yellowknife, was told to go home to Ontario on March 16.

However, he says many of his clients don’t want counselling over the phone.

“They’re not comfortable with it,” he said. “There’s so much non-verbal communication that occurs that you can’t pick up on the telephone.”

Pidzamecky believes Covid-19 is exacerbating the conditions of people who already experience anxiety and depression. He thinks others are also beginning to worry about the future or how they’ll deal with disruption to their day-to-day lives. 

“I realize the Northwest Territories only has one [case] reported but that challenges people’s sense of security – when they hear it’s not that community 5,000 km away, it’s happening all around us,” he said. 

As of Monday morning, there was one confirmed case of Covid-19 in the NWT. So far, 832 tests have come back negative. Another 215 are awaiting results.

Places to get help

Pidzamecky has heard residents in smaller NWT communities express anxiety about what will happen if Covid-19 reaches where they live. More remote communities have limited access to medical services.

He has started sharing relevant resources online, including a tips sheet with self-help strategies for anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

He echoed many of Dobson’s recommendations and said people should avoid consuming large amounts of alcohol and drugs, because they can make depression worse.

When it comes to children, Pidzamecky recommends engaging them in activities, giving them guidance, not exposing them to too much media on Covid-19, and helping them to process what’s going on.

The NWT’s Department of Health and Social Services has also shared tips on mental health and social distancing, including talking about your concerns, setting boundaries, and using online tools. 

The territory says wellness workers, mental health and addictions counsellors, child-youth and family counsellors, and child youth care counsellors are available to provide services by phone. 

The NWT Help Line is open but there may be delays in response time due to the high volume of calls. Since March 8, 40 percent of its calls have been related to Covid-19.

People under the age of 25 can contact Kids Help Phone by phone, text, or online message.

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