It’s okay not to feel okay. COVID-19 has forever changed our lives, and what was once unimaginable almost two years ago has been normalized. The pandemic has had a profound negative impact on Canadians’ mental health. According to a paper released by CAMH in July 2020, “people are struggling with fear and uncertainty about their health and their loved ones’ health, concerns about employment and finances, and the social isolation that comes from public health measures such as quarantining and physical distancing.” 1 I, too, have struggled with this.
I have always been anxious about health and death due to loss and grief in my childhood and young adulthood. During periods of high stress, I would worry excessively that I or a loved one may become seriously ill. In other words, my mind would jump to the worst possible outcome. I recently discovered that in psychology, this is called catastrophizing: “a cognitive distortion that prompts people to jump to the worst possible conclusion, usually with very limited information or objective reason to despair.” 2 In the past year, there have been times when this anxiety has been so overwhelming that it’s been a challenge to direct my attention effectively. It’s as if my mind is on a loop, and I keep imagining what may or may not happen overshadowed by a deep sense of despair and sadness.
While it wasn’t easy, I had enough self-awareness to understand what was happening. I knew that I had to act and get help to put these intrusive thoughts at bay. I understood that what was happening wasn’t my fault. However, I knew it was my responsibility to get help. One morning, I called my family doctor and explained how I was feeling. She asked if I would be open to taking an antidepressant. Though I have always been reluctant to take an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) or SNRI (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor) because I was afraid of not feeling like myself, I knew that it was what I needed at that moment. With careful consideration, my family doctor recommended that I start on a very low dose and double the dose a week later. My doctor also provided me with a note to talk to a therapist and scheduled a follow-up appointment in four weeks. I knew that it would take some time before the medication would take effect, but just knowing that I had a plan in place to treat my anxiety brought immense relief. I began seeing a therapist, made sure that I was getting adequate sleep and started exercising regularly. Leading up to my follow-up appointment with my family doctor, I was feeling pretty good, I was no longer catastrophizing, and it seemed that my anxiety was under control.
Since the pandemic began, “about one in two Canadians reported worsening mental health.” 3 It’s okay not to feel okay, and there’s no shame in asking for help, especially before things get out of control. Consulting with my family doctor about how I was feeling and adopting a treatment plan helped tremendously. If you notice that your mental health is declining, don’t be ashamed to tell someone or ask for help, you’re worth it.
1 Covid and MH Policy Paper PDF - CAMH. https://www.camh.ca/-/media/files/pdfs---public-policy-submissions/covid-and-mh-policy-paper-pdf.pdf. Accessed November 24, 2021.
2 Catastrophizing | Psychology Today Canada. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/basics/catastrophizing. Accessed November 24, 2021.
3 Covid and MH Policy Paper PDF - CAMH. https://www.camh.ca/-/media/files/pdfs---public-policy-submissions/covid-and-mh-policy-paper-pdf.pdf. Accessed November 24, 2021.