Anxiety, Stress and COVID-19: How to Take Care of Your Mental Health

This article will be helpful to anyone who wants to take care of their mental health. But in the face of a health emergency such as the one we are currently experiencing, people living with a chronic illness (e.g., type 1 diabetes) face additional challenges.

The current COVID-19 crisis affects both physical and mental health. When you self-isolate, whether by obligation or by choice, you demonstrate great commitment and consideration for others. On top of this, you may be worried that you or a loved one will get infected with COVID-19.

When we have to face danger and the unknown, stress is a normal, instinctive reaction. The situation we’re currently experiencing is entirely new, and we have significantly less control over what’s going to happen. We don’t even know how the situation will evolve over the next few weeks.  

So, it’s normal to feel stressed out and anxious.

How can I increase my self-efficacy and sense of control in order to manage my stress? 

  • Compare the current situation to past challenges that you’ve overcome, and think of the resources you used then.  
  • Remember the successes that you’ve had in difficult times and the skills that helped you cope.
  • Remember that stress can be a good thing: it helps us be more vigilant and identify vulnerabilities.
  • Follow basic health guidelines (wash your hands frequently, cough and sneeze in your elbow, avoid touching your face and stay at home in self-isolation or quarantine).
  • If you think you might have COVID-19, call the COVID-19 phone line 1-877-644-4545 or complete the government of Canada’s COVID-19 Symptom Self-Assessment Tool.

Normal anxiety or anxiety disorder?

When the level of anxiety significantly interferes with daily activities (e.g., reduced sleeping hours and working capacity), it’s considered to be an anxiety disorder.

How to relieve normal anxiety

  • Get up and go to bed at the same time every day.
  • Whenever possible, limit screen time to 2 hours a day. Beware of overexposure to alarming media reporting. Make sure to use reliable information sources.
  • Eat healthy by following your diet plan (if applicable).
  • If you live with type 1 diabetes, adjust your treatment according to your new routine (e.g., less active) and your level of anxiety. Contact your healthcare team as needed.
  • Do moderate physical activity (e.g., walking, exercising videos) at least 30 minutes every day.
  • Do daily active relaxation activities, such as abdominal breathing and yoga. You can also try mindfulness meditation

What should I do if I have an anxiety disorder?

Follow the health guidelines above, and do the following:

  • Choose active relaxation activities instead of mindfulness meditation, which can momentarily fuel anxiety
  • Keep taking your antidepressant and antianxiety medication as prescribed by your doctor (if applicable).
  • Consult a doctor or health professional if needed.

What should I say to an anxious loved one?

  • Don’t invalidate, minimize or exaggerate what they say.
  • Be there, stay calm.
  • Validate what they say, even if you don’t agree. This means that you listen to them, and articulate what you understood in your own words.
  • Help them share their feelings. Imagine a catastrophic scenario, and help them explore what the consequences and solutions might be. 
  • Encourage them to do whatever activity makes them happy: walking, drawing, writing, listening to music, etc.

With the collaboration of Dr. Cynthia Turcotte, psychologist and member of the Ordre des Psychologues du Québec

Do you need to talk to someone? Call Écoute, Entraide at 514-278-2130 (Montréal) or 1-855 365-4463 (toll-free)

Useful links 

Article from BETTER: Diabetes Burnout

Abdominal breathing 

Yoga for kids 

Yoga for adults

How to deal with COVID-19 anxiety