By Aiman Altaf
The negative impacts of COVID-19 are wide-ranging to say the least. Unfortunately, one of the ways the pandemic has especially affected adolescents is through its severe impact on mental health, by both worsening pre-existing mental conditions and increasing their prevalence.
If you feel your mental health suffering, the following are some ways you can take action:
Engage in Enjoyable Activities
Engaging in enjoyable activities, whether they are activities you already practiced or new ones you want to learn, has a dual benefit. It distracts you from other stressors, and it helps improve mood and increase wellbeing, by expanding neural connections and releasing “feel-good” neurotransmitters like dopamine. Just spending two hours each week on an enjoyable activity can lead to better mental health.
Here are some examples of activities you can do:
- Creative activities: painting, dancing, photography, playing instruments, writing songs, knitting, drawing, writing stories
- General activities: reading books, watching TV, playing video games, listening to music, baking, cooking
- Academic activities: volunteering, learning a new language, learning about an interesting subject
Physical health (Exercise, diet, sleep, going outdoors)
Physical and mental health have repeatedly been linked by studies; poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health issues, and vice versa.
Exercise is a major part of physical health. Research shows that doing exercise increases the release and uptake of endorphins (“feel good chemicals”) in the brain. Even a quick ten minutes of brisk walking increases mental alertness, energy, and positive mood. If you choose to exercise outdoors, you can have the added benefit of reduced stress that is a side effect of spending time in nature. Complementing exercise with a balanced diet is also important.
Additionally, good sleep habits are essential to keep your health in check; a large body of research has demonstrated that sleep deprivation has a significant negative effect on mood, academics, and social interactions. Having good sleep habits not only means getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night, but also sticking to a schedule of waking up and going to bed at a similar time each day to reinforce your circadian rhythm and help your bodily processes function more efficiently.
Practice Mindfulness and Gratitude
Connecting with your feelings through practices like mindfulness and gratitude has repeatedly been demonstrated to improve mental health.
Gratitude means acknowledging the goodness in your life, and the sources of that goodness. It has consistently and strongly been associated with more happiness, stronger relationships, and resilience. Some ways you can practice gratitude include:
- Writing a thank-you letter to another person who has impacted your life positively
- Mentally thanking someone important
- Keeping a gratitude journal, and setting aside time every day to write in it if you need to
Like gratitude, mindfulness meditation has also been consistently linked with positive mental health effects like better focus and concentration and less stress, anxiety, and depression. It also improves self-esteem and self-awareness. You can practice mindfulness meditation on your own, or follow a guided meditation through Youtube or an app.
Connecting with Others
Having strong relationships fosters a sense of belonging and self-worth, and provides a support system when you need it, both of which are important for mental health. To maintain these relationships while observing social distancing rules, you can:
- Set up a weekly game night with friends or family, and play games like Among Us, skribbl.io, Code Names, and more
- Arrange regular phone or video chats to catch up with friends and family
- Get involved in your community by volunteering virtually at a library, your school, or another organization
- Join a virtual book club
- Take a virtual fitness session
Limit the time you spend on the news
The pandemic has caused us to spend significantly more time on the news, which can increase anxiety. If you feel that your media consumption has a negative effect on your mental health, take a break! Set a daily time limit, and stick to it.
The increased demand for more news related to COVID-19 has also led to a massive spread of misinformation. Be vigilant about the news media you consume; you can use the following tips to spot fake news:
- Check the source to make sure it’s specific and credible
- News is more likely to be true if it is reported by multiple trustworthy sources
- Poor grammar/spelling can indicate false information
- Beware of fake accounts that use misleading images and names like @BBCNewsTonight
- Search news on fact-checking websites if it seems false!
- Wellness Together Canada
- An online portal that provides free resources, tools, and professional support services to help Canadians with mental health and wellness
- Kids Help Phone
- Offers 24/7 counseling by phone, text, or live chat
- Big White Wall
- Offers 24/7 peer-to-peer anonymous support for those with mild to moderate need
- Moderated by trained practitioners
- Bounce Back Ontario
- A program delivered over the phone and through online videos to help develop mental wellness strategies
- Managed by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) for adults and youth (15 and older) to manage low mood, mild to moderate depression and anxiety, stress or worry
- Wellness Together Canada
- Better Help
- App available for iPhone and Android users
- Provides online access to professional counsellors
- The LifeLine App
- App available for iPhone and Android users
- Provides direct access to phone, chat, text, and email e-counseling, self-management tools, and crisis support
- Calm App:
- A free app providing guided meditations, sleep soundtracks, and podcasts
- Promotes better sleep, lower stress, and less anxiety
- Better Help
Aside from these resources, make sure to check your school or university’s websites, which usually have excellent and free mental health resources.
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