If you’re not someone who typically works from home, you’ve likely always dreamed of responding to emails in your PJs, with your pet curled up beside you. But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as the Canadian government amps up its measures to flatten the curve by recommending social-distancing and self-isolation, this once-coveted scenario is proving anything but.
Canadians, especially the 4-million who live solo, are finding themselves home alone with their work, yes, but also their thoughts — which pinball from worries about, well, disease and death, to finances, to whether they have enough food for a two-week quarantine. Without someone to help share the burden by chatting over a glass of wine at dinner, the situation can feel infinitely worse. Add to that the flight-or-fight response from the body’s stress hormone, cortisol, kicked up by the panic around coronavirus, and you’ve got a recipe for anxiety.
But whether you're on your own, living with a roomie, or surrounded by your family members, a global health crisis is sure to stir up feelings of loneliness and anxiety in many of us. Here are five ways to combat it.
Create A New Routine — & Stick To It
Not having to race to work might have you staying up to re-watching episodes of On My Block and pressing snooze more often than you care to admit — if you're even using an alarm, that is. But there are merits to sticking to a routine.
“The body thrives with homeostasis, that is, sleeping, eating, and moving at regular times, which supports the natural rhythms of the human body," says Ingrid Söchting, a clinical psychologist who teaches at the University of British Columbia. In fact, a disrupted sleep cycle has been associated with feeling lonelier and less happy. “[Keeping a schedule] can make it easier to have the necessary energy and motivation to also schedule social times,” says Söchting. (Read our next tip on how to keep your social ties strong.)
Try taking 10 minutes to quickly plot out a daily routine that suits your new reality. If you're working from home, that could be a new daily video conference call with colleagues and an hourly stretch break. In your personal life, it might mean a home workout instead of your a.m. spin class, or making a Nespresso instead of picking up your daily Starbucks americano. Creating a new structure will also help keep your work life from bleeding into your home life, which is more crucial than ever.
Make Your Social Life A Virtual One
Just because we're social-distancing, it doesn't mean we can't be social. Google Hangouts, group texts, video work conferences, birthday parties on FaceTime, and more can help bridge that gap. Turn your regular girls' night into a girls' night in on Skype.
Missing your workout buddy? Lots of gyms, many of which have become closed to the public, are offering live-streamed classes, such as BodyLove Inc (BOLO) in Toronto, which can help you feel a sense of normalcy and connectedness among your gym pals.
Fact-Check Your Anxious Thought Patterns
Everyone deals with information differently — some can read an article and forget it minutes later, while others fixate on every detail. However you manage is okay, but being alone while trying to do so can intensify the impact. “It’s very difficult to rein in thinking biases when you’re by yourself,” Söchting says. “And it’s harder to have positive distractions.”
For mild anxiety, she recommends reframing your thoughts and stopping the “thinking trap.” So instead of fixating on the idea of “I’m going to get coronavirus and die,” or “all the grocery stores are going to run out of food,” take a step back and look at the numbers to determine the actual likelihood (most healthy people are expected to fully recover and the grocery stores are actually fine). “Nobody can tell you that [the worst-case scenario] is not going to happen,” says Söchting. “But you need to get away from black and white, certainty-based thinking to probability thinking.”
If you don’t have a therapist and/or want to learn more about CBT, Söchting recommends Anxiety Canada’s free app MindShift, which offers such tools as a thought journal and coping cards. If you feel like your anxiety is worse and you need to talk to someone, Anxiety Canada has a resource page to find a practitioner close to you.
Because leaving your house can be a challenge right now, virtual therapy app Talkspace can also help: after completing an assessment, you'll be matched with a therapist who you can message an/or video chat with. If you're tight on cash, there are some free resources in their Instagram stories to help you deal with COVID-19 stress.
Try Meditating — For Real
We’re not talking 30 minutes a day of breathwork but rather adopting “micro-habits,” says Natalie Matias, a Toronto-based mindfulness and meditation coach, who offers custom meditations online. So when fear comes across your mind, for instance, take 30 seconds to think of something pleasant like “feeling the sun on your skin.” You could also try repeating a simple mantra, such as, “We are in this together” to feel less alone and isolated, she says.
Step Away From Social Media
Spending more time at home scrolling your social feeds may make you feel more connected at first, but it depends how you use them. A 2019 Harvard study suggests those who use social media as part of a routine, to check in, feel pretty good, unlike those driven to social by FOMO.
And, if you're tracking coronavirus, rather than following every news site and pundit on Twitter, visit trusted sources such as the World Health Organization and the Public Health Agency of Canada. However, if you feel more anxious after consuming news, Söchting advises taking a break from it and checking in regularly with government sites rather than Facebook shares.
Acknowledge That This Sucks — & Work Through It
Sitting with the discomfort can help — really. “Give yourself permission, that it’s okay to feel fearful and to almost see it as an opportunity to see, what is real right now? Right now I’m safe,” Matias says, noting that not everyone has the privilege of feeling safe in a home. Remember, she says, that everything is temporary. “So even fear is temporary, and even this moment itself is temporary… what else can you notice outside of fear?”
If you are experiencing anxiety and are in need of crisis support, please call Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566 at any time or text 45645 between 4 p.m. and 12 a.m. ET. Residents of Quebec, please call 1-866-277-3553.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the Public Health Agency of Canada website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.