You Are Not Alone
Many people are experiencing increased levels of stress and anxiety from the uncertainty that COVID-19 brings. This pandemic is raising many concerns and worries in our daily lives:
- How will I stay afloat financially?
- How can I balance working or studying from home while home-schooling my children?
- What if I catch the virus? Do I have the virus?
- Will I lose a loved one?
- How can I stay healthy when I am feeling isolated and can’t even leave my house?
There is no right or wrong way to feel about COVID-19, the range of emotions and responses to this type of crisis is vast. It is important to be patient and kind with yourself, and to know that it’s okay to feel however you’re feeling in this moment.
No one is immune to the mental-emotional affects of COVID-19, and everyone will experience these effects differently. I want to acknowledge those who have lost loved ones, have family or friends in critical care, or those who have lost their jobs and are struggling to provide for their families. You are not alone and there is support for you.
What If I Need Immediate Support?
If you need immediate support, please call the Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433 or the BC Mental Health Support Line at 310-6789 (no area code). Please also see below for additional resources on mental health within British Columbia:
- Free one-on-one counselling: BC COVID-19 Mental Health Network
- Online and phone coaching: Bounce Back
- Support for mental health & substance use: Mental Health Digital Club and Here to Help
- Resources for anxiety: Anxiety Canada
- Support for Indigenous Communities: KUU-US Crisis Line Society
- Support for victims of domestic abuse: Ending Violence Canada
- Crisis intervention and suicide prevention: Crisis Center
What Can I Do At Home To Reduce Stress & Anxiety?
I have listed a few tips below that you can incorporate into your daily life to help you build resilience and reduce stress and anxiety.
Tip #1: Observe Your Thoughts
As Eckhart Tolle says, “there is a difference between the situation you find yourself in and what your mind says about the situation you find yourself in”. Our thoughts often go to the worst case scenario and can portray a much bleaker reality than what is really happening in the present moment, especially for those with anxiety.
Pay close attention to the thoughts that are running through your mind. Once you’ve identified them, start to question them. “Are they true?”. “Do I know with 100% certainty that they are true?”.
You will be surprised how often the answer is “No”. Once you realize this, your thoughts will have less control over how you live your life. When you give them less attention, you can develop a stronger sense of awareness and calmness in the present moment. This exercise is based on The Work by Byron Katie.
Here are some resources to assist your meditation practice:
Tip #2: Breathe
Your breath is a communication tool between your mind and body. When you start to feel your breath become fast or shallow, try taking a few long deep belly breaths. This will tell your mind that your body is safe and there is no need for alarm. The best part about this tip is that it’s free and always available! Read my article on Research-Based Benefits of Breathwork for more info.
Try this exercise to feel the benefits right away:
- Inhale for 4 seconds through your nose. Feel your belly expand.
- Pause at the end of the inhale for 1 – 2 seconds.
- Exhale for 6 seconds through your mouth.
- Repeat this 3 times.
Tip #3: Practice gratitude
I am deeply grateful to have a place to live, to be able to provide nourishing food for my family, and to feel the warm Spring sun on my skin. From a place of gratitude and appreciation for what we have, the fear of “not having enough” can subside and enable a greater capacity for peace and contentment.
I welcome you to write down one thing you are grateful for each morning. This can powerfully shift your mindset for the rest of the day.
Tip # 4: Nourish your body
With big changes in work or lifestyle routine, healthy habits often fall off track. It is important to keep fuelling your mind and body with the right nutrients. Here are a few tips on how to do that:
- Eat the rainbow. I’m not talking about a bag of skittles, I’m talking about green leafy veggies, yellow squash, red beets, purple cabbage, orange oranges, and blue blueberries! Eating colourful fruits and vegetables enables your body to receive a variety of rich nutrients. Aim for 5 servings daily.
- Maintain blood sugars. Low blood sugar can be a big trigger for anxiety and can make you feeling dizzy, light-headed and irritable. Make sure you are eating regularly and that you are eating whole food (like whole grains, healthy protein and fresh vegetables) instead of refined or processed food (like fries or potato chips).
- Take it easy on caffeine. Caffeine has a similar effect on your nervous system as stress and anxiety. When you have too much caffeine, your stress hormone epinephrine (aka adrenaline) becomes elevated and can worsen anxiety symptoms like a racing heartbeat, heart palpitations, difficulty focussing, and feeling jittery or irritable.
Tip #5: Move Your Body
Regular exercise can help reduce tension, elevate mood, improve memory and focus, and lower stress and anxiety. If there was a drug that did all of those things, everyone would be on it.
So why isn’t everyone exercising? Well, it takes a bit more effort than taking a pill, but that’s ok! Start with what feels comfortable and achievable for you. It can be a 20 minute walk or a 20km run, it doesn’t matter as long as you start somewhere. Aim for at least 150mins of exercise per week (20 mins per day) for best results (while keeping a 2-meter distance from others right now). Read my article on How to Reach Your Health Goals for more tips on motivation.
Here are some resources for online fitness and yoga classes:
- Daily Hive – here is a list of Vancouver-based gyms and fitness studios offering online classes dailyhive.com
- One Yoga – this local Vancouver and Victoria based yoga studio is offering free classes and meditations over Instagram live.
- Do Yoga With Me – Melissa is offering a free 7-day April challenge for all levels at doyogawithme.com
What Else Can I Do?
The suggestions don’t end there! Here are some other ways to support self-care:
- Read something for enjoyment
- Stay connected – FaceTime, call or message a friend or loved one
- Take a break from the news or social media if you’re feeling overwhelmed
- Take a bath. My favourite bath ingredients right now are 1 cup dead sea salt, 5 drops mugwort essential oil and 1-2 tbsp of coconut oil. The coconut oil will leave your skin feeling smooth and nourished (it can also make your bathtub a bit slippery so make sure you clean it afterwards!)
- Cuddle your pet
- Do an artform
- Get 7-9 hours of sleep per night
- Spend time in Nature
- Have a dance party in your PJs
What About Herbal Support?
Herbal medicine is one of my favourite ways to reduce anxiety and balance my nervous system. My top 3 herbs for anxiety are:
- Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata): this beautiful plant can relax tense muscles and slow racing thoughts. It has a calming action on the central nervous system which can lower blood pressure and reduce tense muscles associated with stress and anxiety.
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): this aromatic flower can relieve tension headaches, calm the nervous system and help you drift into a blissful sleep. Lavender is considered a nervous system tonic, which means that it can strengthen the nervous system and make you more resilient to stress.
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): this powerful root helps restore the nervous system and eases stress and anxiety. It is used as a tonic for mental and/or physical exhaustion and recovery from illness.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Dr. Fiona Smulders ND