The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a lot of additional stress — whether it's financial strain, loneliness and isolation, or concern about the future — and a mental-health expert on P.E.I. says taking care of yourself is especially important to getting through it.
Tayte Willows with the Canadian Mental Health Association, P.E.I. division says she likes to describe self-care as "the things that you do to find balance in your life, to maintain a good sense of well-being."
"Some of these practices that we can do that are proactive and give us the ability to take control of our our mental well-being have been really crucial for folks," she says.
1. Follow your passions
Willows says a good place to start is with what you're passionate about.
"If you're really into sport or into art or into reading, taking time to do those things," she says.
2. Find ways to connect
Physical connection can be difficult in the pandemic, but Willows says connecting with those around you is still important.
"So finding ways to connect with the people who we care about and who make us feel like we're part of a community."
3. Step back from the chaos
The pandemic means a lot of unknowns and a lot that is out of our control.
Willows says it's important to make "space for mindfulness and for gratitude, to be able to take a step back from the chaos that sometimes surrounds us and really ground ourselves in the present moment."
4. Keep a routine
Willows says this one is the hardest for her to stick to, but it is really important.
She says it can sometimes seem daunting to complete tasks such as doing the laundry or brushing your teeth, but once you get into the habit of them, they do help you feel like you're more in control of your life.
"When we hit a big point of stress or when something goes sideways in our lives, knowing that those things are done helps to reduce the stress that we might be feeling," she says."So if you've had a really hard day at work, going home and knowing that whatever choice you made for supper in the morning is actually already almost ready in the crockpot can be really helpful."
5. Start small
Willows acknowledges it can be daunting to make time for self-care so she recommends starting small.
"Sometimes those little things can also be indulgences that are necessary when we're going through stressful situations." — Tayte Willows
"Sometimes it can be as much as saying, 'You know what? Three times a week I want to make sure that at lunch I go for a little walk around the block just to get some fresh air, give myself a break, some new scenery,'" she says.
"Coming home at the end of the day and having a really nice warm bubble bath or having a really difficult conversation and then soothing that anxiety with a full tub of Ben and Jerry's ice cream…. Sometimes those little things can also be indulgences that are necessary when we're going through stressful situations."
6. Stick with it
Willows says it takes almost of month of daily practice to form a new habit.
"Within, you know, the first two or three days of trying something new and practising that new habit, it can be uncomfortable fitting into those new shoes. But we start to feel the effects pretty quickly," she says.
She says people often know it's benefiting them when they're better able to deal with stressful situations.
"They're feeling more at ease and there's less stress that they're physically carrying in their body. So they might feel more relaxed in their shoulders, their jaw and their temple area," she says.
"Also when something does come up — they get a stressful phone call or they have a difficult encounter with someone who they work with — they feel like they're better able to navigate that because they're already taking care of themselves."
7. Get help when you need it
A long walk or a bubble bath can go only so far and Willows says there are situations where additional mental-health care is needed.
"When we feel like we're having more bad days than good ones, when we're feeling like things are going wrong more frequently than they are going right, that's usually a time to reach out and talk to someone," she says.
Another thing to look for, Willows says, is when self-soothing behaviours start to take over. She gave the example of drugs or alcohol. She said if that's numbing out the good things as well as the bad things, it may be time to reach out for help.
Willows says another sign it's time to reach out is if you're doing self-care activities and still feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
Anyone needing emotional support, crisis intervention or help with problem solving in P.E.I. can contact The Island Helpline at 1-800-218-2885, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For more information about mental-health services on P.E.I., find resources from Health PEI here, or from the Canadian Mental Health Association P.E.I. Division here.
Island Morning will be drawing three names to win a $50 Canada's Food Island gift card. To enter, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call our talkback line at 1-800-680-1898 and tell us what you're doing for self-care.