A registered clinical counsellor in northern B.C. says that spending time in quarantine or physically distancing yourself from others can take a serious mental toll, but there are ways to deal with that stress and anxiety.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and the required physical distancing has affected people in many ways and it’s important to acknowledge that the stress and anxiety of these uncertain times can heighten our natural fears, which then negatively affect our emotional and mental health,” says Becca Shears, a licensed counsellor in Vanderhoof with 30 years of experience in the field.
Spending time in quarantine or just physically distancing can cause some people to feel like they have no control and are cut-off from the world despite access to the internet, the counsellor said. For some people living in rural areas, internet access can be difficult too.
“Feeling isolated can compromise your immune system, lead to poor sleep, poor cardiovascular health and impair your ability to focus, remember things, follow directions and manage your emotional state. If you struggled with depression or anxiety before this virus hit, it can impact your ability to cope with this stress,” she said.
The key to deal with our built-in ‘flight’ and ‘freeze’ response to stress is by first recognizing that we are reacting to stress, says Shears.
“The faster we can notice when it’s happening, the faster we can re-regulate the body. Breathe. Be curious. Breathe again.”
Once you notice that you are stressed, Shears says we need to take control of the situation, and try to move our minds into being more positive.
And yes, it is not easy. But possible, says the counsellor.
“If we become more mindful of noticing these negative states and begin to shift our focus to things that are inside our realm of control and release those emotions that our outside our realm of control, we can find peace in the stress, even for a moment,” she said.
One avenue Shears finds herself accessing, to help people reach those moments of peace is meditation and mindfulness, as a part of self-care. Focusing on your natural breath and the present moment is “the counterweight to the heavy sense of our own fragility,” Shears explained.
“And of course, be grateful for what you have, exercise, drink lots of water, eat healthy food, take your vitamins, read, write, dance, be creative, play a board game, or phone (or better yet, Skype) a friend. And don’t feel too badly about binge watching Netflix now and then because it can be a distraction that can focus our attention on something other than our negative emotional state.”
Finding a routine is important, she said, adding that if you are working from home and have children who need their own structure and routine, everyone can feel overwhelmed.
“I recommend making a plan for activities, eating together, outside time, exercising, meditation, and anything else that can break up the monotony. My daughter kicked me off my computer to do a 6-minute dance workout on YouTube just last night. We have to be ready to just say Yes!”
Lastly, Shears said, talk to your children about COVID-19.
A lot of research has pointed that PTSD symptoms in children who have been quarantined is four times higher than those who had not gone through the same, the counsellor said.
“The Centre of Disease Control and Prevention recommends that parents and other adults talk to children about the Covid-19 outbreak in a reassuring and age appropriate way. We can remind ourselves and others that we are doing our part to protect those that are vulnerable.”