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Mental Health During a Pandemic: Do the Best You Can

The collective mental health of planet earth has been taking a beating so far in 2020 thanks to COVID-19. It goes without saying that we could all use a mental break from what the world is currently going through. It’s not enough that fear of the pandemic has swept the globe, but along with it is the relative collapse of the economy, a looming recession, the potential for a second wave of infections, and if that’s not bad enough, we now have to homeschool our kids. We jest…sort of.

It seems the only thing that we can say at the moment is, “we’re doing the best we can.” While many feel like they aren’t doing so well, experts keep telling us that we are and it’s good enough. *collective exhale*

DDA reached out to Richmond Clinical Psychologist Dr. Lynda Murdoch to talk about how we’re doing and how to manage some of the stress we now find ourselves dealing with.

“Even positive change can be stressful,” says Murdoch. “Coping with change is stressful. People are dealing with decreased finances, uncertain employment, and fears about the health and safety of their loved ones. On top of this, many people have had to deal with an increase in daily hassles. Everything from how to get groceries to how to visit a doctor has become more complicated. Coping with all of these changes, large and small, is challenging. If you’re feeling stressed out in a time like this, you’re not alone and it’s completely normal.”

Unfortunately, for kids and those adults who are prone to anxiety, the current news cycle isn’t helping.

“In the first few weeks, most clients of mine were focused on the anxiety around being infected,” adds Dr. Murdoch. “There was also confusion around the rules and guidelines, and anger towards others who were seen not to be taking the restrictions seriously enough. Lately, clients have been reporting irritability, family conflict, and feeling bored or lethargic. Limit your news intake and turn off the screens.”

Children and youth might be susceptible to fear and anxiety because of all the chatter about the pandemic. The key is to stay healthy and keep the dialogue going at home. “The best ways to mitigate long term effects are to practice good self-care to stay healthy yourself. Remind them and yourself that this is a temporary situation that we will get through it. In general, kids are very resilient.”

The new normal is far from feeling normal.

Part of the new normal is homeschooling. For many, if not most, it only adds to the pressures that society is feeling while isolating and working from home. For parents of children with developmental disabilities, schooling them at home can pose challenges that parents of typical children won’t face. While the younger set and those with developmental disabilities may not understand the full scope of COVID-19, a change in routine can bring a host of emotional responses and confusion. For those parents, Murdoch suggests broadening your definition of learning. “If you aren’t having success trying to help your child through a math assignment, play a game that involves counting like Yahtzee, roll the quarters in your coin jar, or bake cookies together. There is lots of learning to be had in regular daily activities.”

For children and youth with developmental disabilities, connecting with teachers and caregivers visually online is a good way for them to feel like they have a sense of normalcy and routine. Dr. Murdoch encourages parents to implement some structure into their child’s day. You do not need to replicate the school structure exactly, but borrowing from it will help them adapt. Perhaps most importantly she says, “Don’t be too hard on yourself. These are challenging times and most of us are not teachers.”

Dr. Murdoch offers her best tips for all of us to mentally getting through the pandemic:

  • Do yoga – There are so many good video resources for doing yoga at home – everything from 5 minute deep breathing exercises to full hour power yoga. My favourite is Yoga with Adriene, available on YouTube.
  • Minimize news watching – Check the news maybe once or twice a day, but don’t have it on in the background all day long.
  • Spend time focusing on good news stories – There are many stories of bravery and compassion emerging during this pandemic. My favourite is Jon Krasinski’s “SGN” show on YouTube (aka “Some Good News”). Humans are generally kind and helpful beings.
  • Don’t forget that as parents, your mental health needs are just as important as your kids’. Take care of yourselves and each other.

Registered Psychologists are available to help you through the BC Psychological Association website at psychologists.bc.ca