Tips for mental wellness from someone who does it every day.

By Jasmine Hermans

Update: I have updated parts of this article to reflect the longevity of this pandemic and lessons learned since then.

I try not to keep it a secret that I have struggled with my mental health for a long time. Almost six years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as well as panic disorder. I have tried everything you can imagine to help manage it, and the good news is that I have succeeded.

As everyone practises social/physical distancing, health professionals have warned that it will be difficult for neurotypical people to stay mentally healthy. As humans we are social creatures. We need interaction. We need to experience life. So how can we stay mentally healthy in these isolating times?

Since I originally wrote this article, it has been estimated by Health Canada that 11 million Canadians will experience increased levels of stress during the COVID-19 outbreak. Calls to support lines have already risen by a staggering 44 per cent. A survey by IPSOS commissioned by Addictions and Mental Health Ontario and Children’s Mental Health Ontario shows that two-thirds of Ontarians feel that the mental health impacts of COVID-19 are going to be serious and lasting. And we know already that mental illnesses often creep up AFTER crises or traumatic events, so this is just the beginning of a larger strain on the already-existent mental health crisis.

What does this mean for us as individuals? It means that we need to be more aware of taking care of our mental health than we ever have before. It means that we need to recognize that while we take precautions to protect ourselves from COVID-19, we also need to take precautions to ensure our minds are protected.

This in no way means you will not or should not need help. Turn to your friends, your families, to professionals. But in a time where connections and help can feel scarce, here are some tips that can help you make it through.

  1. Make a new routine. I thrive on routine and planning. If life throws me off my plan, it really affects me mentally. But now I have had to adjust everything. I am doing so by getting up at my usual time, showering, making a plan for my day, and sticking to it. Pro tip—crossing things off a list feels really good.

  2. Drink water. Water is healthy—it reduces headaches, bloating and can also be a thing you cross off that list.

  3. Connect. Having regular calls, Zooms and check-ins with your family and friends will inspire a feeling of normalcy. Plus, an essential part of being human is connection with others. A study from Stanford proved that people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression.

  4. Make a happy playlist. Find songs that are light, upbeat and positive. Shout out to Spotify which has hundreds of playlists under ‘Happy’.

  5. Read for 30 minutes a day. Use this or other activities such as drawing or playing an instrument as a break from binge-watching. Keep that brain moving and distracted.

  6. Meditate. Or, just remember to breathe. It is science that when you take fuller breaths, your body and mind relax. Try the app Calm, or Oak is a good free one.

  7. Move. Go outside, stretch. You are allowed to go for runs and walks. Do so, regularly.

  8. Turn it off. It is tempting to keep yourself updated and that is fine but take breaks or turn off notifications and only check when you want to.

  9. Be kind to yourself. Maybe you have existing mental health issues. Maybe these feelings are new for you. But the trick is to allow your feelings to happen and accept that you are and will be okay.

  10. Keep your spaces clean. You know that feeling when you finally clean your room after ignoring it? It feels refreshing and you feel accomplished. Do that everywhere. And then, once you can be social again you won’t have to worry about it.

Not everything works for everyone. But spend a bit of time trying these out and find your mentally clear, calm place. Your mind and body will thank you.

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