Restrictions, Isolation, and Loneliness, Oh My: How COVID Has Affected Our Mental Health

Written by Alex Cameron

(4 min read)

Since the first reported case of COVID-19 was identified in Wuhan, China on December 31, 2019, to the first identified case in Canada on January 23, 2020, it has been a long and arduous journey in striving to tackle this novel virus and keep world citizens safe and healthy.

COVID-19 has affected how we pay attention to our physical health as restrictions came down from government agencies in a battle to corral this threat. These sweeping changes have also affected people physically, financially, emotionally, and mentally. 

Optimity ran two separate quizzes, in December 2020 and March 2021, that were completed by ~30,000 respondents ranging in age from 15 to over 65. The first quiz specifically asked ‘Once it’s available, are you planning to get the COVID vaccine?’ With 63% responding ‘YES’ and in the second quiz that number increased to 70%. As well, the second quiz also asked about areas of life that have been most affected by COVID:

19% – Social life & relationships

14% – Mental health

13% – Work & career

12% – Physical Health

12% – Family

11% – Eating habits (harder to eat healthy)

9% – Financial health

4% – Education

4% – Housing

1% – None of these options

Interestingly, only 14% of respondents identified ‘mental health’ specifically as being affected by COVID as each and every one of the above areas would be connected to one’s mental health in some way(s).

When we look at how people experience both anxiety and depression symptoms, many of the above areas can be affected. For example, I have worked with many clients that avoid socializing when experiencing higher levels of anxiety, or that their physical health can be affected due to a lack of motivation to exercise because of low mood, while others use food or substances to cope with the negative feelings as a way to escape distress. If you chose a healthier or less healthy way to cope with your distress during COVID-19, then you actually are not alone and the only difference is how you chose to try to cope. 

How to Take Action:

Behaviour activation is often used to shift low mood or distress. Simply, engaging in activities/behaviours that we would do when feeling better can help elevate our mood to want to engage in more of those uplifting activities. So, if I know that going for a walk with friends is something I do when feeling good, finding ways to do that while feeling down can help raise my mood and allow me to do more. This then becomes self perpetuating. The more we learn to cope with stress in healthy ways, the more that we can build resilience in ourselves and those around us so that we are better able to respond to stressors when they arise.

Go back to the quiz results listed above and take inventory of where you are in each category. Then identify one thing that you would be doing if you were feeling at your best. Using the behaviour activation method, incorporate one thing into your life for a period of a couple of weeks and see what you notice. Check in on your mood, sleep, appetite, patience levels, energy, etc. These do not need to be grand activities either as taking small steps forward can add up over time. As Robert Frost once said, ‘The best way out is through.’

If you are stuck on what types of self-care activities to try, check out this list by Alberta Health Services of 30 Days of Self Care.

Should you feel that you could use support around mental health or substance use, then there are resources available to you. The Canadian government in conjunction with other agencies came together to create Wellness Together Canada and you can connect with them here.

Haven’t downloaded Optimity yet? Sign up now to get healthier with our fun in-app micro-learning quizzes, AND earn rewards 👉  Click here

About Alex Cameron

Alexander Cameron is a psychotherapist with a private practice based in Ontario and Alberta. He specializes in mental health and has held several supervisory roles in both clinical and community settings. Alexander has also done extensive work around men’s mental health with agencies such as Movember Canada and Next Gen Men and can be found at alexandercameron.ca

Leave a Reply