Thankfully, in my 20 career, I have been fortunate enough to work with and learn from some of the best psychologists in this province. For the better part of my career, I worked as part of a multidisciplinary team that treated the “whole” person. I have also had opportunities in the last five years, to take courses in mental health. I have to say it was amazing to watch the lives of many of my patients transform. Those who embraced our team’s approach became happier and healthier human beings. Not all patients I worked with experienced the same success however. In fact, some were outright resistant to becoming well. Despite mine and the team’s efforts, no matter how kind and compassionate we were, no matter how tactfully we offered feedback, no matter how hard we worked to establish connection, they simply were not willing to have an open mind to consider the possibilities available to them.
Incidentally, the present global pandemic is imposing involuntary restrictions and changes to our way of living. We may be tempted to resist these changes, resist this phenomenon so much outside of locus of control. It is affecting all of us, regardless of socioeconomic status, ethnicity, religious or cultural background, regardless of age, and regardless of health status. We have essentially been put on pause. This pause has resulted in many losing their source of income, losing their daily routine and potentially losing their human connections. A few days ago, I crossed paths with a friend who is a sergeant with our local police force. This person shared how since our government imposed social restrictions on our community the incidence of violence and suicide has increased substantially. While this is affecting us all, the consequences of social isolation is undoubtedly more harsh for those of our community with less resilience, fewer coping strategies and unhealthy family and social dynamics.
So much about this health crisis leaves us feeling powerless. In fact, the devastating potential of this virus on our world is downright scary. This reality combined with the fact that our brains are wired to focus on the negative (an evolutionary survival mechanism), is a recipe for a mental health crisis for anyone. That is, if we let it. (Amen, 2020)
Allow yourself for a minute to consider the possibility that in the midst of this crisis there is opportunity here. The opportunity of time which allows reflection, healing, transformation, that we might emerge from this better, stronger and happier than we have ever been. Perhaps this is a gift wrapped in ugly paper. But inside is a never before known chance at true happiness. It is a looking glass that is all revealing. This looking glass tells us what is good and life giving and what no longer serves our peace and happiness.
We have already seen much positive healing impact on our environment-clear water in the canals of Venice with return of water fowl and fish; blue skies and singing birds in cities once clouded in smog and the holes in the ozone layer are getting smaller.
I have learned both in my training and in my clinical experience, the only thing we truly have control over is our thoughts and our behaviours. So how can we think and act so as to diminish the stress we are experiencing in crisis?
- Practise gratitude every day. Better yet, every night before you go to sleep, write down 3 things for which you are grateful. This increases the production of dopamine (a feel good neurotransmitter) in our brains and activates our reward centers in our brains. This works to rewire our brain to become effortlessly grateful. (Doidge, 2007)
- Develop a healthy daily routine. This should include a set wake up and sleep time, healthy regular nutrition, adequate water intake(our brains are 80% water, so try to aim for 8-10 glasses/day), physical activity, something fun and some time to tidy up your living space. (Amen, 2020)
- Exercise! Anything that increases your heart rate will increase blood flow to your brain, improving its function and increasing the release of feel good neurotransmitters. Start with just 10-15 minutes per day.
- Try meditating. Start with 5 minutes per day. Meditation activates the calming centers of our of brains and studies show these centers actually increase in size, allowing us to better manage stress. There are free apps you can download for guided meditation and walking meditation if you the thought of being still overwhelms you.
- Keep life simple and be kind and compassionate to yourself. These are unprecedented times! We are learning a lot, what works, what doesn’t work. This requires lots of energy. Have realistic expectations and choose one or two things to focus on.
- Buddy up! Stay connected regularly with someone you trust and who accepts you as you are. Use the virtual apps(Facetime, Zoom,Facebook etc) to have coffee together. We are social beings and need human connection. The longest human study done on happiness is an 80 year longitudinal study conducted out of Harvard. The conclusion of the study was that the only predictive factor on health and happiness was the QUALITY of our human relationships. (Stossel, May 2013)
- Focus on that over which you have control, your thoughts and behaviours. You may find it helpful to make a list of these, let the rest go. This may mean limiting your exposure to news and social media.
Any questions, or want to chat - don't hesitate to reach out.
~ Lisa Lepage, Physiotherapist
Amen, Daniel G., The End of Mental Illness (Carol Stream, IL Tyndale,2020)
Doidge, N., The Brain the Changes Itself (Penguin Group,2007)
Stossel, Scott (May 2013). "What Makes Us Happy, Revisited: A new look at the famous Harvard study of what makes people thrive". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on 7 June 2017.
Image credit - Saskatchewan Health Authority, April 2020.