Here is something I did recently which I would not recommend to anyone: I set up a Google alert for “COVID-19 and mental health”. Every day I get a list of page hits related to this topic right in my inbox, and I actually go through them.
You might be wondering, why, Sarah, why? Aren’t we supposed to be limiting our media consumption on COVID-19?
That is certainly the healthy thing to do, and what I would actually recommend! The news is overwhelming right now, and it’s important to set boundaries around how much you are absorbing, particularly if it is affecting your mental wellbeing.
For me, keeping a finger on the pulse helps me understand what is coming next in this wild ride- none of us signed up for- but find ourselves on regardless. It also gives me an idea of the emerging trends in mental health that will possibly impact the lives of my clients and readers of this blog.
So without further ado, let's get into something you may or may not have come across, and maybe feeling worried about: an echo pandemic.
This Just In….
This week, the Google alerts had one common theme: the anticipation of an echo pandemic of mental illness right on the heels of the initial COVID-19 pandemic
An echo pandemic is a new term that health professionals are using to describe the possibility of widespread mental health issues that resemble COVID-19 in scale.
At this point, it's safe to say that anything with the word pandemic in it is unsettling at best and alarming at worst.
However, given how COVID-19 has impacted our lives, I was truthfully not surprised to read about this. While only a portion of Canadians have been directly infected with the virus, it has undoubtedly affected each and every one of us in some way.
We are now entering our third month of lockdown and social distancing measures!
Over the last several weeks, we have faced (and continue to face):
- Feelings of isolation
- Pressing financial concerns
- Worries about the future
- Grief for those who have lost their lives to COVID-19
- Disappointments around having to cancel milestones and important life events
- Juggling multiple roles with limited social support
- Adjusting to a new way of living and being that does not have a certain endpoint
Is it any wonder that it will take a while to feel okay again?
If hearing the word 'pandemic' again is re-igniting feelings of anxiety, keep in mind that is not new information!
Improving our mental health was and is always going to take time and care.
Anticipating an echo pandemic is a way for our government and systems to think of solutions and supports pro-actively, rather than reacting to the situation once it has gotten out of hand.
This applies to our personal response too!
Earlier this week, several news outlets reported that about half of Canadians are either experiencing new mental health difficulties or finding that their existing issues have worsened over the last several weeks. Here is a breakdown of the responses:
When I read this, I had to pause for a moment and take it in.
Experiencing mental health issues can feel very isolating.
However, we now find ourselves in a situation where more likely than not, your neighbour, best friend, doctor, grocery store cashier, and Starbucks drive-through staff member are all experiencing a mental health disturbance of some kind!
Interestingly, the stigma of having a mental health issue has decreased considerably in the COVID era. More people are talking about it openly and actively building coping mechanisms and creating resources.
What does this mean for us?
A Trauma Response
Back in March, the speed with which the situation evolved left us with barely any chance to prepare, let alone process what we were experiencing.
The upheaval of routines, job losses, discovering new faces of our relationships in constant close quarters- this all happened fast and largely outside of our control.
What comes to mind when you think of trauma?
Many people associate trauma with what we call ‘capital T’ trauma- car accidents, deaths of loved ones, being a victim of violence.
However, over the past several weeks, most of us have been exposed to what we can call ‘small t’ trauma, where we are experiencing things that are entirely out of control and at times overwhelming our coping capacities.
Losing steady income overnight, being catapulted into a relationship or family dynamics we did not face in the past, and coping with the uncertainty of our future are all circumstances that qualify for "small t" trauma.
Going through a collective trauma means we are right to anticipate a longer-term impact of these events on our lives!
Going through this together, with an emerging culture of expanded conversations about mental health and coping means we are already in a good position to address this impact.
It’s also important to note that hope is indeed on the horizon! It’s faint, but for the first time in a while, it is tangible. The economy will slowly re-emerge, many of us will return to our jobs, and life will begin to resemble what we used to call ‘normal’.
What can we do to ease this process? I share some tips below:
1. Take it slow
Sometimes the best way to explain something is a meme, and this one does it:
In the coming month, some of will begin the process of returning to work. The routines that were once so familiar to us may seem strange at first.
When we go through a major life change, returning to a previous pace of life can be jarring, regardless of how much we were looking forward to it!
Easing yourself into this process will help you adjust once again. Maybe this will look like continuing to work from home on certain days of the week!
2. Maintain A Familiar Anchor
What helped you stay grounded during quarantine? For many, it was a particular morning routine or regular appointments with a virtual therapist.
Maintaining these familiar comforting anchors can go a long way in making us feel safe in the world again. The collective effect of COVID-19 trauma is that we no longer feel as safe in our routines. What was once normal may feel risky. This is a common response!
Helping our nervous system to feel safe again may take some time, and keeping healthy aspects of our quarantine routine in place as we function in the world again will help with this.
3. Plan Regular Check-ins With Your Support System
As I mentioned earlier, it is very likely that people around us are feeling exactly how we are! Part of anticipating a surge of mental health issues post-COVID is setting ourselves up to address them properly.
If you have a reasonable feeling that adjusting to life again will be challenging, connect with your social supports now! They will be able to check-in with you regularly and you can do the same for them. Being an integral part of each others lives deepens the sense of community we are all craving right now. Anticipating a challenging transition also allows you to create a plan with your therapist.
As we begin to hear talks of re-opening the economy, and returning to our routines, it is important that we do not expect everything to go back to normal right away. Perhaps ''normal'' for you will be different as you develop a ''new normal'', and that is okay too.
Remember to be kind to yourself- we are experiencing something that will become a fixed marking post in our memories.
Taking care of our mental health in the coming months will be just as important as everything we are doing to care for ourselves right now.
What are some things you will include in your self-care plan for the coming months?
Leave a comment below or flip me an email, you know I would love to hear from you!
Until next time!