As someone with a general anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder, looking after my mental health has been far from easy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Uncertainty fueled fear and overwhelming anxiety in me. I had a very difficult time adjusting to the changes that were forced on me in my everyday life. Intermittent closures in my community and workplace combined with new safety regulations that aimed to distance us from family and friends all started to take a toll on my health both physically, socially, and mentally. 

As a former Varsity athlete at York University, I have always worked hard to take care of my physical health. My experiences during COVID-19 have reinforced the importance of being proactive and making my mental health a top priority. When we are mentally healthy, we can more fully enjoy all aspects of our lives, the environments we place ourselves in and the people we interact with. We can be creative, take risks and try new things. Being mentally healthy means we are better able to manage difficult times and stress. 

Like so many others, my everyday life and mental health has been challenged in a world dominated by COVID-19. I realized that I needed to change my mindset, modify my routines and my lifestyle. I therefore made three adjustments to support my overall well being and mental health.

The first adjustment I made was to create a positive daily routine for myself that includes a ritual of physical activity, planned nutrition breaks, scheduled work time, time set aside to relax and a regular bedtime. It is essential for my mental health that I keep busy and have a routine. In knowing this, I made a conscious effort to plan a balance day that includes self care. Routine gives me a sense of predictability and comfort which buffers the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

The second adjustment I made was to focus on what I could do rather than what I could not do. It is very easy to dig a deep hole for yourself as you watch too much news and dwell on the negatives of lockdown. Yes, it is disappointing when we are not able to do many of the things that seemed so normal and natural. Finding new opportunities, ways to pivot and be flexible helped me a lot. For example, the closure of gyms meant moving to daily online zoom workouts and going for a run outside instead. Hanging out at a friend’s house changed to daily walks outdoors with my friends. The closure of restaurants and malls presented an opportunity for me to try new recipes and save money instead of spending it. Going out to the movies was replaced with watching funny shows like Friends with my family or learning something new from an interesting documentary. The big plans I used to make for the weekends morphed into planning Friday night Zoom paint nights with my friends. I still have something social to look forward every week while I also reconnect with my creative side. Making these simple adjustments and enjoying the simple pleasures in life helps me feel more positive. I have found ways to create more good days for myself than bad during these restricted and uncertain times.

The third adjustment I made was perhaps the most crucial one: to stay connected and talk about how I was feeling emotionally and mentally with others. Although I managed to turn many potentially bad days into good ones, I would be lying if I said I did not struggle with anxiety and depression at times over the past several months. There were days I wanted to completely isolate myself and disconnect from others. I felt that social media was a negative influence on my mental health and I ended up disengaging from it for three months. I learned the hard way that isolating myself further just created more anxiety and depression. Avoiding isolation when we are feeling low and are already being forced to social isolate it is much easier said than done. The key strategy for me centres on being open to sharing how I am feeling and normalizing discussions about my mental health. There is no shame in asking for help from those around you or in seeking professional help. That is exactly what I did. I had to prioritize my mental health which meant, talking about how I was feeling to people I could trust like my parents or, close friends that I know have my best interests at heart. It meant asking questions when I did not know how to help myself. Talking about how I feel emotionally and mentally was an uncomfortable experience at times however, it was a necessary pathway to letting go of negative thoughts and experiences, finding solutions and bettering my mental health.

With the numerous ups and downs, COVID-19 continues to be a challenging experience to say the least. Uncertainty, fear, and anxiety are still very much a constant in my life, however learning how to better manage my negative experiences and thoughts has kept me hopeful and has made lockdown less stressful. 

Moving forward one day at a time has been something I constantly remind myself and others of. Taking care of my mental health is of upmost importance to me and I hope that in writing this blog it helps others know they are not alone. Small progress is still progress. It is okay to be not okay but, if you are not okay – please reach out and let somebody know.

By: Haley Bowie

Below are some excellent resources for Humber students to help with mental health and well- being:

Student Wellness and Accessibility Center (SWAC)
https://humber.ca/student-life/swac/home

Good to Talk
https://good2talk.ca/about/

Therapy Assist Online:
https://www.taoconnect.org/