More important than ever to reach out to your loved ones this pandemic Thanksgiving, says expert

Although the Thanksgiving holiday weekend will look very different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one expert says it's still an especially important time to reach out to loved ones and maintain those important social connections.

Dr. Diane McIntosh, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, says social support is a "critical factor" to good health.

"There's actually data showing us that the physical health impacts of loneliness are as great as being inactive, as being a smoker, as obesity," McIntosh told host Michelle Eliot on BC Today.

McIntosh says the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a "trifecta" of anxiety to many of us.

"We have anxiety around our health and the health of the people we love. We have financial uncertainty. And on top of that, we're quite isolated," she said.

In the survey conducted by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control this spring, a significant proportion of British Columbians said they have seen their mental health worsen due to the pandemic. Young people aged 18 to 29 reported decreased mental health at higher rates, and also that they had difficulty accessing counselling.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has recommended keeping Thanksgiving celebrations small this year, noting it will be a very different kind of celebration.

For this weekend, McIntosh recommends reaching out to family and friends, both young and old, even virtually.

"I realize that connecting online may not be the same, but it is really critically important that you maintain those connections and actually talk about how you're feeling," she said.

"[Thanksgiving] is also a time to reflect on who is alone and who needs us and trying to reach out to those individuals simply to let them know that you care."

And moving into the winter months, McIntosh recommends other coping strategies like volunteering (in a COVID-safe way), and practising self-care by eating and sleeping well, getting enough physical exercise and practicing mindfulness.

"Try to reach out to those people that make you feel safe, secure and supported, because we know that social support is one of the greatest protectors of our mental health."