Tips to Improve Your Overall Well-Being
During this crisis it is important to continue to take care of yourself. The links below have valuable information on self and family care.
General Strategies for Coping with Stress and Anxiety
There are many strategies to help protect and enhance your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some strategies may apply to you and some may not. In some cases, you may need to adapt strategies to suit you personally (e.g., based on your personality, where you live, who you live with). Use your judgment and try the strategies that will work best for you.
Do More of What Works and Less of What Doesn’t
There are things you do every day that help you manage your stress. Exercise, keeping a healthy diet, or getting enough sleep may have worked well for you. These strategies may have become more challenging or limited with the pandemic.
Integrate the stress management strategies that have worked for you in the past into your current routine. For example, maybe you can begin an at home fitness challenge if you don’t have access to a gym. You can try out new recipes if you can’t rely on restaurants or take out. Avoid coping strategies that are old bad habits or only offer short term relief. Be mindful of how much alcohol you are drinking and or drugs you are using. Be careful about focusing too much on the news. Notice how you feel after experimenting with new healthy coping strategies (e.g., going for walks, reading books) and build on those that bring a sense of calm.
Deal with Problems in a Structured Way
Feeling a bit anxious and overwhelmed is normal as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The changes to our lives are likely substantial, and we may be exposed to large amounts of changing information. If you feel anxious or overwhelmed, it might help to identify the problems that are relevant to you that actually need to be solved or addressed (as opposed to the problems that are not relevant and may not to be addressed right away). Once you focus in on problems that are relevant to you, identify the steps that are needed to address each one, and start with the simplest actions.
Book Time to Go Offline
If possible, set aside some time to unplug from all electronics, including phones, tablets and computers. Public Safety Personnel may be required to monitor their electronic devices more closely during the pandemic (according to their workplace policies and guidelines), but setting aside some time to unplug from all electronics might be helpful in managing your stress. Going offline may include disconnecting from social media outlets. Try to schedule some offline time into your day to make sure it happens. When you do unplug from your electronic devices, do something fun and healthy for yourself (e.g., read, exercise, call a loved one).
Find Your Own Type of Relaxation and Meditation
Relaxation strategies and meditation can help reduce or manage your levels of stress and anxiety. You may consider doing a formal meditation practice (e.g., yoga or mindfulness meditation), informal or self-help approaches (e.g., books or online videos), or another form of relaxation that you enjoy. Choose something that you are likely to continue doing. Start slowly and gradually work toward a regular practice.
Be Kind to Yourself (Give Yourself a Break)
Any coping strategies can take some time to be effective. You might need time to practice them before they become routine, so don’t be hard on yourself if you forget to use your coping skills, or if you’re not feeling better right away. If you are a member of Canada’s Public Safety Personnel, you are used to extending compassion to others, so remember to extend the same compassion to yourself.
Know that Feeling Anxious is Normal
When faced with the unknown, asking “what if” questions and spending time wondering what might happen next is normal. There is still much that is uncertain about COVID-19, including how long it will last, how many people will be affected, and if any other restrictions will be put in place. Understand that feeling a certain amount of anxiety about the current situation is expected. However, if you are feeling that this anxiety has crossed over to becoming debilitating, consuming, or paralyzing (for example, if it consumes you to the point where you have difficulty leaving the house for food or essentials or it occupies your thoughts so much that it is hard to concentrate on anything else) it may be useful to seek the support of a mental health professional.
Get Help if You Need It
- Remember that if you feel you need support, you can reach out to family, friends, colleagues, or professionals. Reaching out is especially relevant for Public Safety Personnel who routinely put others’ needs before their own.
- Practicing physical distancing and self-isolation do not mean that you should break off all contact from social supports. Being alone can lead to spending too much time thinking about the current situation, resulting in increased stress and anxiety. Connecting with people who are a positive influence when you are feeling stressed can be helpful.
- Consider limiting your contact with people who are overly negative and generally increase your stress and anxiety.
- Reach out and get support from these people (through phone or video calls or text messaging).
- Look for formal supports, either online or over the phone that can help you during high-stress times. For example, you may turn to distress lines, online support groups, or resources in your community such as religious institutions. If you are interested in connecting with a mental health professional, be sure to seek out those who offer evidence-based approaches to your concerns.
Paying Attention to Your Thoughts
Challenge Worries and Anxious Thoughts
High levels of anxiety and stress are often linked with negative thought patterns. For example, you might be having thoughts such as “I am not doing enough” or “There is nothing I can do to prevent getting sick” or “I won’t be able to cope.” These thoughts can be so strong that you believe them to be true (and sometimes we may hold these beliefs for so long that they feel like facts).
Remember that not all of our thoughts are facts; many are just personal beliefs that we hold. How do we know if our thoughts are true or are just beliefs we have grown used to? Consider the following questions (adapted from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) and be prepared to be flexible in your thinking:
- How do I know this thought is true? Is it 100% true and always true? What evidence do I have for believing this thought? What evidence can I use against believing this thought?
- Have you ever been worried about specific things before and they turned out okay? What actually happened? How did I cope, and what was the end result?
- If you find it hard to let go of worrying, ask yourself, “What does worrying do for me? Is worrying actually helping me solve a problem or is it keeping me stuck and feeling anxious?” Ask yourself how helpful it is to keep thinking this way.
- After working through these approaches, see if you can come up with a more balanced thought. For example, “I am working in a Public Safety profession, on the front-lines or as part of the larger organization, so there is nothing I can do to prevent getting sick” could be replaced with “I am taking all of the recommended precautions, I have a good support network, and I am taking steps to stay healthy. I am extremely likely to get through this and be fine.”
Remember that You are Resilient and Be Careful with the "What ifs"
Whenever we are stressed, fearful, or anxious, we might tend to focus on negatives and even worst-case scenarios. We might also start to entertain “What if…” questions, such as “What will I do if I get sick?” or “How will I manage if I have to self-isolate?”
If you find yourself overestimating how bad the situation can get, you might be underestimating your ability to cope. Tip the scales in your favour and remind yourself that you are resilient and able to deal with the challenges that come your way.
Focusing on Getting Proper Rest and Sleep
Strategies to Help you Rest and Sleep
Getting proper rest and sleep can help us to better manage current stress, and it can prepare us to handle stress in the future. Here are some quick strategies to help you get a good night’s sleep.
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule. This involves going to bed and getting up at the same time each day (including weekends).
- Practice relaxation or meditation before bedtime.
- Schedule physical activity for earlier in the day (at a time that does not interfere with your ability to get to sleep).
- Practice good sleep hygiene: keep your bedroom dark and cool, use your bedroom for sleep (not reading, watching TV, using your phone, etc.), and get out of bed if you don’t fall asleep within 15 to 30 minutes to engage in a soothing activity, returning to bed when you feel tired).
- If you drink caffeine or alcohol, avoid them late in the day, and avoid eating habits that are likely to affect your ability to get to sleep.
- Avoid naps during the day if these interrupt your sleep at night.
- Talk to your doctor if these strategies don’t work — there may be other issues affecting your sleep.
The Importance of a Healthy Diet, Getting Exercise, and Avoiding Substance Use
Follow a Healthy Diet
One of the most basic things you can do to enhance your physical and mental health is to follow a healthy diet. During times of stress, many of us may choose comfort foods that are convenient, but not actually good for us. As much as possible, follow a healthy diet (including a variety of fruits and vegetables) and stay hydrated.
Physical activity is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety, and improve your mood and overall health. If you are self-isolating, find safe ways to exercise in your home. If you have health conditions that may prevent you from being active, ask your doctor for appropriate alternatives.
Avoid Substance Use (including alcohol, tobacco, vaping, and cannabis)
Some people use substances (drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, vaping, or using cannabis) to cope with stress, anxiety and depression. Although the use of these substances might appear to help to reduce stress initially, they can make things worse in the long run. The brain and body may develop a tolerance to the effects of these substances, and people have to compensate by using more and more. That leads to additional harms and often delays the recovery from the stress. Moreover, in those at risk, substance use can lead to an addiction or a relapse in those who are in recovery. If you are in recovery and experiencing stress, it is important to reach out for help before a relapse occurs. In general:
- Reduce or stop using any non-prescribed substance if you can do so safely (always rely on your doctor’s recommendations).
- Take prescription medications as prescribed.
- Try to reduce or avoid tobacco and alcohol.
- Seek out professional help if you cannot do it alone.