Bell Let’s Talk…about three reasons the pandemic is still affecting our mental health

With Bell Let’s Talk Day on the horizon, I felt it important to address one of the most pertinent mental health struggles of our time: COVID anxiety and fatigue. With severe public restriction measures making a comeback this winter, it is no surprise that we are, once again, feeling the keen sting of mental illness, whether previously diagnosed or not.

Over these past two years, mental health practitioners have been urging the public to engage in self-care practices in order to curb the negative psychological effects of anxiety, lockdown, and isolation measures. And on the matter of healthy habits to adopt, it seems as though we’ve heard it all: Take a walk. Eat well. Teleconference with loved ones. Take up a new hobby. Work on a personal project.

And while many of us, at some point during the pandemic, have had a good mental wellness plan in order to stay sane in a crazy time, many of these recommended strategies fell flat. I even read an article titled, “Can the Lockdown Motivators Please Shut Up?” which got me thinking about motivation and self-care.

I completely understand that self-help measures may have become somewhat of an eyeroll for people who are just sick and tired of the pandemic – they are tired of having to put in effortful self-care work to feel the satisfaction they effortlessly felt when COVID did not exist. Unfortunately, whether we like it or not, a purposeful self-care regimen remains one of the most important commitments to maintain in our day-to-day lives.

The thing is, we all know what we should be doing to stay mentally healthy but what do we do when our motivation legitimately (and understandably) dries up?

Perhaps a tall glass of “why” will help us understand our prevailing mental illness symptoms and rekindle a desire to engage in those customized self-help strategies we planned for ourselves near the beginning of the pandemic.

Here are three reasons why the pandemic is still affecting your mental health and why you should still be engaging in the self-care behaviors that work best for you.

Compassion Fatigue
Once reserved for fire fighters and individuals in the help-giving professions, the concept of compassion fatigue now applies to most of us. Compassion fatigue is a term used to explain the physical and emotion burden of taking care of others in distress. There is no doubt that we are caring for, thinking about, and concerned with our loved ones like never before. And whether we like it or not, an excessive degree of thoughtfulness and consideration cannot be maintained day-in and day-out without being burnt-out. What to do: Start to become aware of how much focus, time, and energy you are giving to your loved ones to make sure that they are ok. Are you giving yourself a similar about of care or focus? If not, it is time to rehash those customized self-care strategies. Netflix? A walk? Games? Reading that novel? Streaming that musical? Planning your eventual vacation?

Pandemic Brain
A new study out of Harvard discovered that lockdown and stay-at-home measures affect our hippocampus which has important memory functions. Recent brain fog or forgetfulness can be due to pandemic brain. Therefore, if you find yourself more confused with less of an ability to concentrate, you may want to familiarize yourself with pandemic brain. Things will return to normal with a little bit of time when restrictions are lifted. The good news: The brain is plastic – it is not hardwired. This means that our brains can change depending on how we use them (which is related to a concept called neuroplasticity). What to do: Continue to stimulate your brain with activities that are personally interesting and invigorating to lessen the effects of pandemic brain.

We must not underestimate that we could very well be grieving the (potentially permanent) loss of our old lives. The perpetual sadness you’ve felt during the pandemic could, in fact, be a symptom of really. big. change. And how do we cope with this type of massive change or loss? …when a best friend moves across the world? …when a relationship ends? …when a job is lost? Put plainly, our lives are turned upside down. Our identity is challenged. Our existence is uprooted. Our routines change and things are never the same. It takes quite some time to come out on the other side of that, am I right? And COVID grief is no different. A huge thing happened to us. We have been collectively traumatized and are in the midst of leaving what we once considered normal life. As in other life crises and traumatic situations, we somehow and someway stumble upon a new normal, complete with new routines and new comforts but unfortunately, we are not there quite yet.

What to do: Throw a tantrum. Express emotions. Lovingly resign. Accept. And wait.

Anna-Maria Tosco, or our Sassy Psychologist, has two masters degrees in the field of psychology and has studied and worked coast to coast. She has worked in both psychiatric and community settings in some of Montreal's most respected healthcare organizations and institutions, and has also given a variety of talks and workshops on neuroplasticity, meditation, and uncovering barriers to love.