Coronavirus cabin fever? Keeping mental health a priority during self-isolation

Click to play video: 'Managing anxiety during the spread of coronavirus' Managing anxiety during the spread of coronavirus
Clinical counsellor Dr. Shahar Rabi talks about calming ways to help you ride out the distress caused by the measures being taken to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. – Mar 15, 2020

As cases of the novel coronavirus continue to rise in Canada, more Canadians are either working from home, self-isolating and generally staying home.

For many, this means fewer face-to-face connections and more time being alone. For those who live with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, being asked to stay at home can cause further panic.

As of Tuesday, there are more than 400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 — the illness caused by the novel coronavirus — in Canada, according to Health Canada and provincial health officials.

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Kate Mulligan, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, tells Global News if you know someone stuck at home right or self-isolating living with mental health issues, it is important to check in on them.

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“We can also point people in our communities and our friends to existing resources that are out there,” she said, adding a mental health hotline is a good place to start.

READ MORE: How many Canadians have coronavirus? Total number of confirmed cases by region

“You can call to be directed to support services,” she said.

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Maneet Bhatia, a clinical psychologist based in Toronto, says there are several things people can do who are feeling more anxiety during this time period. For starts, we need to accept what being at home actually means.

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“Accept that you cannot control everything and focus on that which is in your control,” he said.

“There is a lot of information available to us, so it is important to focus on the facts … rely on health and public officials and sources from credible outlets.”

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Too much screen time

Bhatia says for some, being isolated or being asked to work from home could mean spending more time with screens. While the “fear of missing out” may not be a concern, he says there is an urge to stay connected.

Some Canadians may also have family members or friends who have a compromised immune system, there may be an even bigger fear of staying connected with them.

On top of this, the news is changing constantly, which could cause even more anxiety for some. Bhatia says this is the time to set some limitations with screen time.

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“Avoid overindulgence of news, articles, posts especially if you are being overwhelmed,” he said.

“There is a lot of misinformation and panic/fear which only serves to heighten one’s own anxieties. If you feel others are sending too much info, you can choose to ask them to stop sending and/or disengage from the conversation.”

He adds we have the right to our own boundaries and the right to process this on our terms.

Panic and worrying

While it’s natural to worry about the news, your family, your friends and even yourself, Bhatia says panic and worry can worsen anxiety.

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“It gives us the illusion of action or control,” he said. “Focus on relying on information that is evidence-based and provided by credible health and public officials and plan accordingly.”

Some anxious people tend to catastrophize events and make them worse in their minds than they are in reality. They also believe when the worst happens, they will not be able to cope or survive.

READ MORE: Why frequent handwashing is recommended in preventing spread of COVID-19

“Yes COVID-19 is serious and a risk,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed to contract the virus and secondly, that you will not have the resilience or resources/ability to manage and overcome it.”

He said it is also a good reminder to know not everyone who contracts COVID-19 will die, some patients have mild or no symptoms.

“We do not want to minimize the threat but have to be balanced and objective in our analysis of the threat.”

Take social distancing seriously

And although you may still want face-to-face interaction, Bhatia you should still follow pubic health recommends and social distance.

He suggests setting up phone calls, FaceTime meetings or hang-out sessions with friends on the phone.

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“Read books or paint and if you not isolating, go for a walk in nature for 20 to 30 minutes as this reduces anxiety and boosts immune system.”

Where to find help

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

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For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

— With reporting from Global News’ Laura Hensley 

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