‘Stay in touch,’ exercise, breathe: Combating mental health challenges during COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis has impacted people in many different ways.

For some, the biggest toll has been socially or financially. For others, they’ve experienced loss during this extraordinary time. Perhaps people have experienced all of those impacts.

But perhaps something everyone has experienced to one degree or another is an impact on their mental health.

Angie Daigle, a Moncton mother and salon owner, says she’s lived with depression and anxiety for the last 13 years. Most recently, she’s been diagnosed with PTSD.

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified those concerns, she says.

“Isolation and closures of my business and everything has caused my anxiety and depression to get extremely worse,” she says in an interview. “Medications increase, isolating myself even more from friends and family.”

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Daigle owns her own hair salon. But she’s been forced to close it again due to the Moncton region being in the red phase of New Brunswick’s COVID-19 recovery plan.

Her young son’s world revolves around hockey. But he’s had to stay off the ice as a result of the tightened pandemic restrictions.

Each day, Daigle says it can be nerve-wracking thinking about 2:30 p.m. That’s when New Brunswick typically holds its COVID-19 briefings.

“Wondering what Dr. (Jennifer) Russell and (Premier Blaine) Higgs are gonna say that day,” she says. “Are we going into lockdown, are we going to orange, are we staying in red? Is my business going to open? It’s the unknown that causes my anxiety to just skyrocket… worry about stuff that I can’t control.”

It’s been nearly one year since New Brunswick’s first case of COVID-19.

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Since then, some people have lost jobs. Others, like essential workers, have been busier than ever.

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People are forced to grieve losses when they can’t mourn together.

The pandemic has been evolving throughout the past year, and it can be tough to keep up.

“It is very normal to feel some stress and anxiety,” says Julie Allain, the manager of programs for the Canadian Mental Health Association of New Brunswick (CMHANB).

“It makes people feel hopeless and lost.”

Especially with alert levels changing frequently and new restrictions being imposed, says Allain.

Read more: ‘We’re at a breaking point’ — Addressing mental health during COVID-19

While there are many aspects of the pandemic we can’t control, Allain says it’s important to focus on what you can change.

“Even if we can’t be close physically, we need to stay close emotionally,” she says. “So while you’re staying in, stay in touch with each other. That is so important right now. And reach out if you need support.”

Some tips include nature walks, breathing exercises and focusing on little things that bring you happiness.

“It’s taking baby steps towards the things that bring you joy,” she says.

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The CMHANB has launched BounceBack, a free program that “helps you build skills to improve your mental health,” Allain says.

To anyone struggling, Daigle wants one message clear: “they’re not alone. We’re all going through it… Some more than others, but there is help for people that need it.”

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