Last summer, it felt like we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. People were getting vaccinated, we could hang out with our double-dosed friends (even indoors!), and COVID-19 cases were below a thousand in most provinces.
Then a new variant decided to rear its ugly head. Omicron was declared a new variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO) in November and soon became the most common COVID-19 variant in some provinces.
We entered the new year with increased restrictions, and the COVID-19 vaccines, which were supposed to be our ticket out of the pandemic, may need to be updated for Omicron. It feels like we’re back to square one.
“The fact that so much change has happened over the past two years means that many of us have felt like we don’t have a lot of control over things,” Dr. Taslim Alani-Verjee, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Silm Centre for Mental Health, told Daily Hive. “That sense of unpredictability, that constant back and forth in terms of power, control, and hope, is emotionally exhausting.”
The pandemic has affected change in how we work. Most are stuck inside working from home, and many have lost their jobs or are working in unsafe environments. It’s affected how we interact with our friends and family, some of whom we may have lost.
Overall, it has stimulated significant changes to the way we live.
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If you’re feeling exhausted by these stresses caused by COVID-19, you’re most likely experiencing pandemic fatigue. The WHO defines it as “demotivation” from the demands of the pandemic.
An important thing to remember is that it is completely normal to feel this way.
Dr. Melanie Badali, a psychologist with the North Shore Stress and Anxiety Clinic in North Vancouver, says that demotivation is natural at this stage of the crisis.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, some people were able to tap into adaptive systems that we draw on for survival in acutely stressful situations,” she told Daily Hive over email. “But systems such as our ‘Fight-Flight-Freeze-Tend&
So how do we take care of our mental health as we continue to live through what feels like an extension of March 2020?
Dr. Badali and Dr. Alani-Verjee share some ways you can cope.
Give yourself a break! Be compassionate with yourself and others
“This is hard,” Dr. Badali puts simply.
Goals that you had prior to the pandemic may have been upended. You may not feel as productive or organized. Maybe you didn’t master a new pandemic hobby like baking sourdough bread.
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“Right now, it is perfectly acceptable for all of our energy to be spent on just getting through this,” said Dr. Alani-Verjee. “So, we can be kind to ourselves, we can be patient with ourselves, and we can remind ourselves that we’re doing the best we can.”
She adds that it’s also important to extend that compassion to our friends, family, bosses, coworkers and kids. “All of us are trying to get through it the best we can which means we might not be the best versions of ourselves.”
Spend time outdoors and get active
Working from home might mean you don’t have to take that daily commute that naturally gets you outside for some fresh air.
“Being outside has a way of making us feel like there’s more to the universe than just what exists inside of our homes,” said Dr. Alani-Verjee.
She acknowledges how R & R with the outdoors can be difficult in the winter but encourages people to get out even for a couple of minutes on a balcony or doorstep.
You have also probably been told over and over again that getting active, even a simple walk outside, is good for your mental health.
“Exercise can release feel-good endorphins and helps us shed some cortisol and adrenaline from stress and frustration,” explained Dr. Badali. She adds that while physical activity is not a cure-all, it is a proven mood booster.
Find things to look forward to that can happen regardless of restrictions
“Maybe it’s a daily ‘Wordle’ puzzle or texting a friend while watching the next episode of your favourite show,” said Dr. Badali. “It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but it needs to be something you can anchor to in these times of uncertainty.”
While it may be hard to spend time with friends and family with restrictions, Dr. Alani-Verjee says it’s still important to find alternative ways to make those meaningful connections.
She suggests virtual hangouts, over-the-phone conversations, mailing your friends letters, and possibly going for outdoor walks with them if you feel safe doing so.
Practice mindfulness and gratitude
Dr. Badali says that even though it’s hard to stop comparing our current situation to the times before COVID-19 or the future, it is helpful to ground yourself in the present moment.
She also recommends writing down three good things every day or spending five to 10 minutes writing about one thing you are grateful for.
There are plenty of online tools that can help you put mindfulness into practice.
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Dr. Alani-Verjee recommends the free meditation app Insight Timer, which allows you to find tailored guided meditation depending on mood or activity. She also recommends a meditation app specifically made for the Black community called Liberate.
There’s also MindBeacon, which is free mental health therapy for Ontario residents.
While these are ways people can help themselves in taking care of their mental health, Dr. Alani-Verjee thinks governments need to do more to prioritize mental health.
“I would love to see the governments pushing employers to make mental health benefits more accessible…or just funding mental health services that are trauma informed, and mental health resources that are anti racist,” she said.