But winter is coming and, according to experts, the seasonal woes that accompany it too. And this time, it will be “amplified” by the confines of the coronavirus, according to Roger McIntyre, psychiatrist and professor at the University of Toronto.
“The amplification of loneliness is really concerning,” McIntyre told Global News.
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“An epidemic of loneliness long preceded this pandemic. And just because of the nature of winter, people are less likely to come into contact with others. It is a realistic concern. ”
Since March, Canadians have been urged to stay separated to stop the spread of the virus. The ability to be outdoors has provided safer alternatives to exercise, recreation, travel, and eating, among others.
In winter, these options will decrease. Experts have warned that the risk of transmission is also increasing indoors.
“I think we’re looking at a layering effect on mental health,” McIntyre said.
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“The public health crisis alone is enough to cause post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression and even suicide. Add to that the huge economic impact on people and the malignant uncertainty of the pandemic with winter – I think you have a combustible mix.
Mental health and COVID-19
The mental health of many Canadians has undoubtedly been affected by COVID-19, as experts have warned.
The data is starting to make these fears clearer.
A survey conducted in conjunction with the Mental Health Commission of Canada found that 84% of those surveyed believed their mental health had deteriorated since the start of the pandemic. Similarly, an Ipsos survey for Addictions and Mental Health Ontario found that 45% of Ontarians said their mental health had suffered during the pandemic, and 67% said they expected these effects to be “serious. and sustainable ”.
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“Unfortunately, the unintended consequence of governments shutting down entire economies to deal with this emergency is a mental health crisis,” McIntyre. said.
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In some ways, the coronavirus situation in Canada has improved since the spring. Cases in most provinces gradually declined in May and June, paving the way for policymakers to begin a gradual reopening of their economies.
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“There is always this tendency to hibernate in winter. But during COVID-19, it might be even more necessary for people to mentally push themselves to regroup and go out, ”said Theone Paterson, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.
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“But that’s not always possible for everyone. When it is freezing rain, some people with mobility or fragility problems would find it difficult to do things like that.
This is where fears of “amplified loneliness,” according to McIntyre come in.
“Loneliness has been linked to a series of health problems, not only obesity and heart disease, but also depression and suicide,” he said.
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And it’s not just adults who feel it. McIntyre pointed to a recent report released by UNICEF that showed Canada ranked 31st out of 38 countries on children’s mental well-being.
“This report predated the pandemic,” he said. “It tells a very gifted story that the children are also alone and have very low levels of satisfaction with life in this country.”
How to live with
For McIntyre, “the story is the lesson”.
“In other words, what have you learned in the past six months? “
Impacts of COVID-19 on mental health
The coping strategies and routines you adopted in March may need to be revived, Paterson said.
“Some people might come up with these strategies better than others,” she says. “But there are a lot of things you can’t do outside that don’t take you outside. For example, using an app to exercise in the gym, because physical activity is great for your mood. ”
Paterson and McIntyre agree that staying in touch with people is just as important in the winter part of the pandemic. However, there is a fine line.
While there’s no question that technology can help ease loneliness while remaining physically distant, “these devices can be dangerous for some people,” McIntyre said.
“There are extremes. People who spend a lot of time on social media report more negative health outcomes, ”he said. “There is ‘portion control’ that can be applied here.”
More tips for dealing with a pandemic during the winter months
The endless scrolling of social media could be fueled by feelings of boredom, said James Danckert, a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of Waterloo. Danckert is studying boredom and recently analyzed it under a COVID-19 lens.
Boredom can be temporary for some people, he said, but for those with a “tendency to boredom,” it can lead to mental health effects such as increased anxiety, depression. depression and drug and alcohol use.
“There is no positive relationship with the tendency to boredom, everything is bad,” he says.
“People prone to boredom tend to use their smartphones and social media more and have an unhealthy relationship, which in its form looks like an addiction.”
Social media and things like drugs and alcohol are a “pacifier” of boredom, he said.
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But Danckert believes it’s possible to use boredom to your advantage, especially at times like COVID-19 in the winter, when options for safe activities and socialization are more limited.
“In a foreclosure situation, it’s hard to figure out what you want to do that is useful and meaningful to you, but that’s the solution,” he said.
“This is a good opportunity to reflect on what matters to you. They don’t have to be big words, like “How can I cure cancer?” It should be something that feels good at the time, like picking up a guitar or deciding to bake banana bread. Then you actively choose rather than passively picking up your phone – that’s better for you in the long run. ”
All experts agree that the preparation will help.
Winter is inevitable, so all of the preventative measures that a person can do to improve their home life ahead of time are recommended, whether that is buying more gym equipment or doing the gym. full of bakery supplies.
“It’s about improving your resilience,” McIntyre said.
“These are all the basics – sleeping, exercising, eating well, moderating alcohol consumption, and fostering social connection.”
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