Seven tips to manage anxiety, stress and isolation during the COVID-19 lockdown

OTTAWA — As Ottawa and Ontario residents begin a second week of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, an Ottawa therapist says its “normal to feel anxious.”

“Never before have so many people been feeling intense anxiety and stress all at the same time,” said Therapist Nataxja Cini of Family Therapy.

Ontario implemented a province-wide lockdown on Boxing Day, closing all non-essential businesses to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

Cini tells CTVNewsOttawa.ca it is normal to go through a range of emotions during the lockdown, including feeling stress and anxiety.

“Where you start worrying about your anxiety: if you’re not sleeping, call your doctor. If you are starting to have panic attacks, definitely you have waited to long. You don’t want to get to that stage,” said Cini.

“We’re all worried. But if this is the predominant thing you’re doing; you wake up and you’re feeling nauseous, you’re worrying right away, you can’t sleep, you’re waking up multiple time at nighttime, you’re unable to focus – please reach out to speak to your family doctor or reach out to one of the helplines to talk to someone or get into therapy.”

Cini admits the winter lockdown may affect you more.

“The days are dark. It gets dark at 4:30, 5 o’clock so it is shorter days, people don’t want to get outside. In the springtime, I had my garden to look forward to, but now what do I have to look forward to? That might be the attitude some people have is there’s nothing to look forward to because it’s dark, it’s cold.”

Nataxja Cini of Family Therapy shares seven tips for managing your mental health during the current COVID-19 lockdown.

FOCUS ON THE THINGS YOU CAN CONTROL

“It’s really important to focus on what we can control because if we spend so much time looking at all the bad things that are happening, it becomes overwhelming,” said Cini.

Cini notes there are many things outside of your control, including how long the pandemic lasts, the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 and people’s behaviour during the lockdown.

Cini says try to focus on things you can control: How you respond to others, how often you go into public spaces and how much “negative news” you watch.

“I think it is really important we don’t spend too much time on social media, the news reading all this stuff. You need to inform yourself, but do not overconsume. It’s overwhelming. We only have control over what we do.”

MANAGE YOUR ANXIETY

“This is where self-care comes in and it’s really important,” said Cini.

“We carry a lot when we’re anxious; we’re worrying, worrying, worrying about the future and we can’t control what’s going to happen five minutes from now, let alone a day from now. So we have to find a way in order to have constructive concerns, but not get caught up in a cycle of worrying about something endlessly.”

Cini says many of us get anxious as we feel we have lost control over our lives.

“We must now create a new normal for ourselves and our children while we live through this pandemic.”

Cini has three tips to manage your anxiety:

  1. Write down your worries and place it in a box (Create a worry box with a lid for anyone to store worries. Once the worry is deposited in the box, try to turn your attention towards another activity or task)
  2. Deep breathing
  3. Focus on Now

When it comes to focus on now, Cini says, “you cannot be worrying about anything while focused on the present moment. Try looking at and describing an object in detail while trying to worry. You cannot do both mental processes at the same time.”

CONNECT WITH OTHERS

Take advantage of technology and reach out to someone today.

“Even if you’re an introvert, seeing someone’s face and seeing someone smile without a mask I think is very important,” said Cini.

The therapist with Family Therapy recommends instead of texting or emailing, reach out and call family, friends and even co-workers you haven’t seen face-to-face in weeks or months.

“We are spending too much of our time isolated from one another. I am having coffee with my friends over the internet and making sure to call my friends and family weekly.”

WHAT GIVES YOU JOY?

“What little pleasure and joyful moments can you create for yourself,” asks Cini about finding things that brings you joy during the winter months.

“Turning on the fireplace, reading, petting your dog or cat, getting into your workshop and creating something. Only you have the answer to what brings you joy.”

Cini says one of the things she has started to do is light candles for every meal.

“Lighting the candles and playing music is a way for me to bring myself comfort and pleasure.”

Cini recommends thinking about things you can do daily or weekly that will give you joy. 

GET OUTSIDE

“Nature is open 24/7,” says Cini.

She recommends getting outdoors as much as possible.

“We need fresh air, the movement and feeling cold air on our skin.”

PRACTICE GRATITUDE

“While so many of our daily routines have changed, we still have a lot to be thankful for and grateful for,” said Cini.

“While I see myself as a grateful person, a few years ago I started a gratitude journal. There is something a bit more concrete about spending the time to write down than just thinking about your blessings.”

Cini says studies have found that giving thanks and counting your blessings can help you sleep better, lower your stress levels, reduce depression, and improve your interpersonal relationships.

ME TIME

Cini says a great idea from a friend is for each of you to have a kid free evening and night.

“Each of you choose a regular night when you can disappear after dinner and not be on duty until the next morning,” said Cini, admitting this doesn’t work for single parents.

Cini also recommends doing something you love once the children are in bed.

“What can you do that helps you feel happy?”

Here is a list of Mental Health Resources available for you

The Mental Health Crisis Line (24 hours a day/7 days a week) 613-722-6914 

Distress Centre of Ottawa (24 hours a day/7 days a week) 613-238-3311

Kids Help Phone (bilingual) 1-800-668-6868

Good 2 Talk (bilingual) 1-866-925-5454

First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line 24/7 (Bilingual, Other) 1-855-242-3310

Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre Crisis Line 24/7 (English) 613-562-2333 24hr Line: 613-562-2333

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