March 13, 2020 – we were informed that Humber College would be closing its doors due to the COVID virus outbreak. We all thought that we’d be closed for a few weeks and then all would be back to normal. Well, almost one year later, we are still waiting for our lives to return to something that resembles our pre-COVID ones.
As with any event that can uproot our normal everyday lives, we know that it can have profound effects on us. Some will use stress and change to move them forward in a positive way with new ideas, and some will be profoundly affected negatively in many ways.
One positive that has happened during this pandemic is that mental health has been brought to the forefront of governments' agendas around the world. Another is that it has also made many of us more aware of the challenges that face anyone who has to navigate the world while dealing with a mental health challenge.
I was interested to learn if the pandemic had altered our way of thinking about mental health and posed two questions to my colleagues, friends, and students. Here is what they shared with me:
Question #1 - Since the pandemic began, what have you found has helped you the most with your mental health? (eg. talking to friends, attending virtual fitness classes, going for a run, family......)
“Most important to my mental health is a tie between strengthened connection with my family and exercise/fitness/cycling (and great when they go together!)” ~Ian Crookshank~
“Me time – taking time to decompress going for a walk, stretch, watch a show, read a book or cook a healthy meal. Anything I can do to turn my mind off from the stress and focus on something positive.” ~Anonymous~
“Exercise and fresh air.” ~Anonymous~
“Scheduling regular virtual games nights with my extended family has been a huge boost. We all live in different cities, so it’s actually been nice to “see” them weekly.” ~Deb Singer~
“With all the time being spent locked indoors, the #1 thing that has helped with my mental health, and my mood in general, has been going for a daily walk outdoors. The fresh air and a reminder that there is a world outside of "the screen" provides a positive boost that helps me get through this challenging time.” ~Ajay Rampersad~
“We adopted a rescued boxer dog the first week we were home (not anticipating it would go on for as long as it has, but still, knew it would be a good time for a new dog to acclimate to a new home). Hands down, it was the best thing to help a boxer dog in need. We are regularly active but walking a dog allows me to actually slow down and just be with my thoughts and I think that helps in these difficult times. Plus, there is just a general good feeling about rescuing a dog. ❤️” ~Stephanie Maggs~
“On-line classes, especially yoga, and Chris, Amanda, and Kendra's cardio/strength classes have been most helpful, as have long walks and hikes in the conservation areas. Your on-line classes provide more than the physical fitness which is essential to my feeling well; they also provide a sense of continuity with the gym we have all left behind and the community of gym friends we have all made.” ~Anonymous~
“Since the pandemic began, I have found it has been a huge transition from being constantly physically connected to people to being mostly alone. This is a large change for someone who is an extroverted people person. I've found the best way to keep my mental being healthy is taking care of my physical body, by doing what I enjoy doing most. Walking with my Nordic poles outdoors in nature; doing yoga stretches, light weights, and dancing to some good music!
By keeping moving and active, the mood does brighten, and you can make the Most of your Day.
Teaching my weekly YogaFlow classes helps me to feel connected to my participants and I use my imagination to visualize they are all there in the studio with me.
If I start to feel sad about missing family or not being able to do what we all wish we could do (be with others), I will text my friends and family and make them positive and light-hearted. And turn to my hobbies that I truly enjoy! Reading a good book, sewing and creating new crafts, and delving into an art project.
The mind is a powerful tool - one that you and only you can control to make it the best you can be -bring brightness, happiness and hope into the time given during the day to manifest into what makes you feel great!” ~Maureen Martin-Edey~
“In the Fall, I tripped over Tosca Reno’s 3 E’s to Health – Exercise, Emotional Well-being and Eating.
What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. That being said, getting into the groove to find balance is indeed challenging. Health begins from the inside out. Focusing on what I’m putting into my body and sticking to a schedule has helped. Making time for daily nature walks and taking breaks from sitting is a must. Taking time for my spiritual growth. Paying it forward. Cooking a meal for a neighbour, picking up groceries for those who are not able to go out, or just a quick check-in to show I care. This has given me a bounce in my step.
Oh yes, and did I mention Netflix? LOL.
This pandemic is not about me. It’s about us…and those we don’t know, as we get through this one day at a time.” ~Sonya Herrfort~
Question #2 - Do you look at mental health and what needs to be done to help, differently now than in pre-pandemic times? If yes, how?
“I do look at it slightly differently. My view has shifted slightly to consider how to make mental health and perhaps more holistically “health” more equitable. I think the pandemic has opened my eyes to the traditional supports for mental health and clinical approaches to health and wellbeing privilege those in society with access or means to access those supports. The pandemic has exacerbated or emphasized where these disparities exist and has me thinking about how we look at health more holistically and think about supporting health in a way that augments or adds to clinical approaches. These approaches look like creating opportunities for connection, developing peoples’ sense of purpose, creating opportunities for people to be active, encouraging connections to the natural environment, normalizing help seeking but also wellness seeking behaviour.” ~Ian Crookshank~
“I have been extremely aware of mental health ever since my sister died by suicide in 2009, but acknowledge that we really didn't have a great infrastructure for true mental wellness before the pandemic...... I'm hopeful more light will shine on the issue during and after the pandemic. But I'm afraid we, as a society, will continue to talk the talk about it, but not actually put the money towards it to actually walk the walk. I hope I'm wrong.” ~Stephanie Maggs~
“Yes, I have always been someone that craves human connection and I believe now more than ever, finding ways to ensure a connection is paramount. I have seen it with my own family, my dad has struggled with a lack of human contact. We are social beings and the lack of interaction has been my biggest struggle.” ~Deb Singer~
“Since the pandemic started, we have all been urged to keep to our own households and away from others. This is a very vulnerable position to be in. Humans are social beings. To "socially distance" is a very difficult reality to accept. This was never an issue pre-covid, now we have to live it every day. To me, staying connected with others (virtually for now at least) and focusing on forging deeper relationships, rather than the superficial ones we settled for pre-pandemic, will be more important than ever before. “ ~Ajay Rampersad~
“Not differently than in pre-pandemic times, but more perhaps, as in more emphasis needs to be put on the ways in which we are all responsible for taking better care of our own health. In many ways, we have lost the sense of individual responsibility for our own lives. Exercise requires doing something; eating properly requires choice. We need to rediscover that wonderful feeling that comes from taking care of ourselves, from being responsible for our own lives. Too many of us have come to believe that our mental health is in the hands of pharmacology, psychology, and psychiatry. It is in our own hands, as well, and even more so. But good health, like most everything worth having in life, requires effort. And as Roosevelt said: "Nothing worth having was ever achieved without effort." Many have forgotten the joy of achievement, and it is that which, I believe, needs more focus.” ~Anonymous~
“Yes, I do look at mental health more now during these trying times - especially those around me. I like to reach out to my senior friends who are alone - a phone call works wonders. Sending words and images of inspiration and joy - brighten their day. Give my heart to those in need and be empathic and supportive to those who have family and friends who are burdened - with work or personal issues.
Teach not only yoga and movement to my class but give them a ray of brightness and hope for a wonderful day and keep reminding them to keep positive and happy.” ~Maureen Martin-Edey~
“Definitely. Everyone’s situation is different so be understanding. It starts with us. Show and share kindness. Be open-minded and flexible. Be supportive & inclusive. Reach outside of our bubble to help others. Check on our neighbours. Humble ourselves to know that everyone is experiencing hills and valleys during these unprecedented times. Be grateful each and every day. Strive to be a better version of ourselves. Be safe”. ~Sonya Herrfort~
“I always try to find a positive in every situation. There are a few I can find with the pandemic – believe it or not! With mental health, while it has been so hard on people around the world, I believe it has brought the spotlight onto mental health and the lack of support for those who are struggling. This will be a good thing as the government, employers, schools, and the medical community look for ways to put help and resources into place.” ~Anonymous~
What have you been doing to help with your or your family's mental health during these unprecedented times? Has your view of mental health changed?
Let’s continue to be KIND to one another – to help those around us who may be struggling – and remember what has become the fitness team's motto during the pandemic - “Stay safe. Stay fit. We got you!”
Leanne Henwood-Adam, Fitness Coordinator, North Campus