It may seem like an eternity, but it has only been about six weeks or so that many Canadians have been enthusiastically making travel plans for the holidays and eager to celebrate in person with loved ones – some even booking trips.
It was another time. A time when COVID-19 cases were declining amid an increase in vaccinations.
Then, on November 26, The World Health Organization has announced a new coronavirus “variant of concern”.
Omicron appeared to have caused millions of stomachs to contract simultaneously and morale to plummet. The little light that people were just starting to make out at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel darkened again, closely followed by their moods. But there is hope, say mental health experts.
“It was just that feeling of, like ‘Oh, I’m giving up,’ said Claudia Casper, author and professor of creative writing at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.
Casper, 64, who is doubly vaccinated and boosted, planned to bring 22 people to her home in West Vancouver for Christmas. With the news from Omicron, the party has shrunk to 10 fully vaccinated guests.
“You just want to stop craving anything”
But when Casper’s husband woke up from a nap on Christmas Day feeling exhausted, that all changed. They weren’t sure if it was COVID-19, but an hour before the guests arrived, they called everyone and canceled.
“There comes a time when you just want to stop craving anything,” Casper said. “Because it’s too difficult or overwhelmed. “
Indeed, say mental health experts, the longer stress lasts, the more damaging it is to people’s mental health.
Last spring, Dr. Roger McIntyre described COVID-19 as a source of “daily stress, unpredictable, clever “ having a physiological impact on people’s brains. It left people demotivated and defeated, wondering how they were going to get through this time.
The good news, said the professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto, was that the brain is resilient and once stress is removed it will heal.
But, nine months later, with a still broken brain, McIntyre says that a lot of people’s worry has now gone from ‘How am I going to get over this?’ to “When will this pandemic end?”
“It’s concerning,” he said, “because it evokes, I think, an underlying fear that this is going on and on.”
It can be difficult for individuals to be resilient in the face of such a vast unknown.
“It’s a range of impacts and uncertainties, but more importantly you just can’t really plan,” said Regardt Ferreira, director of the Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy and associate professor at the School of Social. Work at Tulane University in New Orleans.
“It has been going on for two years and, yes … there is no end in sight,” he said.
Prescribe yourself “hedonic activity”
So how do you stay strong?
McIntyre advises people to take control of what they can in order to maintain a sense of authority over themselves and their environment.
“You have to prescribe yourself some hedonic activity,” he said. “You must prescribe cognitive activity. You must prescribe physical activity.”
And it also comes down to the basics: get enough sleep, get enough physical activity. And, said McIntyre, it’s important to exercise portion control when it comes to eating and drinking alcohol.
“The more you rate your level of self-control,” he said, “the less you report the level of stress and anxiety in your life.
Ferreira, who has studied the impact of natural and technological disasters on people’s resilience, said there is evidence that once people experience a disaster – whether it is a flood or d ” a fire, nuclear meltdown or oil spill – they often emerge better equipped to face disaster again.
“The more disasters you experience, the more you prepare,” he said. “It also leads to long-term resilience, because you kind of have an idea what to expect. ”
It was also part of a study that looked at predictors of resilience in the face of the pandemic.
In this current major wave of COVID-19, Canadians have a lot of accumulated experience, Ferreira said. “So we kind of have an idea of what to expect and what action to take, and that helps increase our resilience.”
There is comfort and strength to be gained, he said, in maintaining social distancing, wearing a mask and sanitizing his hands. “It sounds simplistic, but it seems to be what works,” he said.
“More isolated … more anxiety”
Yet, McIntyre noted, humans do not have infinite resilience.
“There’s a point of no return for some people and that triggers, you know, things like depression that they end up going through long after the stressor is gone.”
Already, Kids Help Phone said it had seen a 127% increase in interactions related to COVID-19 topics since November 2021 – just before Omicron emerged. The topics of the calls and texts ranged from everything from canceled vacation plans and missing friends and family to worrying about being late for school.
There was also a 209 percent increase in texts about suicide and an almost equally high increase in conversations about depression.
All of this together, said Alisa Simon, Executive Vice President, Head of Youth and Innovation at Kids Help Phone, suggests that young people “feel more isolated, they feel more anxious, they feel sad, they feel a pain. feeling of loss ”.
No pressure to “bounce back”
Casper – whose husband ended up testing negative for COVID-19 – said she would have described herself as “resilient” before the pandemic, and is confident she will be fine.
“I’m going to bounce back, but I think I’ll be different. I’m actually quite interested in seeing,” she said.
Ferreira says that for some people it will be important not to feel the pressure to go back to who they were.
“Resilience is really your ability to withstand adversity and what lessons do you take from your future experience to resist or grow,” he said.
Society fosters resilience, but Ferreira said setting the same expectations at all levels can be detrimental.
“Not everyone has the means because they don’t have access to the resources to make them resilient,” he said.
What Ferreira and McIntyre come back to, however, over and over again, is the benefit of a simple human connection.
“Something as simple as checking in with someone if you feel something is wrong,” he said, “and again, you know, be aware of the resources available – there this is an online discussion board or if there is an online group discussion forum that they can participate in.
“We are resilient people,” McIntyre said. “The more support you have from your community, your family, and the more innate intrinsic resources you have, the more likely you are to adapt and be resilient.”
If you need help, or just need someone to talk to, here are some resources:
- Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868. You can also send CONNECT by SMS to 686868.
- Wellness Together Canada: Provides support to children, adults, frontline workers and Indigenous peoples
- Canadian Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566, and in French at 1-866-APPELLE 1-866-277-3553
- Hope for Well-Being Line for Indigenous Peoples: 1-855-242-3310. You can also connect online.
- Crisis Services Canada: 1 (833) 456-4566 (24/7) or by text to 45645 (4 p.m. to 12 p.m. ET)