Feeling anxious? Counsellors offer advice for facing the pandemic

Bermuda Triangle: (left to right) Linda Fioretti, Shirley Maden, and Diana Brikich in Calgary on May 24. Fioretti, Maden, and Brikich are taking Amber Brodziak’s advice and sticking to a daily routine. Socializing with neighbours is a normal Sunday routine in their neighborhood. (Photo by Ashley Avery/The Press)

COVID-19 has caused more of a concern for people with mental illness who are being forced to self-isolate for a long period of time.

Due to the pandemic, people are being cautious and self-isolating per the country’s request. This is causing some people to develop cabin fever or to feel depressed.

Other people, who suffer from mental illness, seem to be having a hard time adjusting to the “new normal.”

People with mental illness typically have a routine that they follow and, with the pandemic, they now have to change the course of their whole day and adjust to a new schedule.

Ashley Shaw-Strand is the produce supervisor at Macleod Trail Co-op. She has her own struggles with mental health and has felt her anxiety rise since the pandemic started.

“I’ve experienced anxiety, worry, depression and haven’t been able to sleep, eat,” said Shaw-Strand. “But I have recovered from that slightly because it [the pandemic] has been going on so long. I have started to implement things to help with my health.”

Shaw-Strand has found her own ways to cope with her mental illness. During her two weeks of leave from work, she started to pick up new skills and hobbies.

“I just started playing guitar, I was drinking, I was sleeping more,” said Shaw-Strand. “Now that it’s [self-isolation] been going on for a few months, I’m starting to eat healthier, I’m starting to exercise, sleep better, I’m really trying to combat the initial stuff that was happening.”

Jane Fix is a registered provisional psychologist who has experience working with first responders and their families. Her main focus is on depression, anxiety, and trauma therapy.

Fix didn’t get a lot of counselling calls at first due to people believing that quarantine would end quickly. But as time went on, Fix started getting more calls concerning people’s mental health.

Fix has some tips to get some people past their anxiety and focus on other things day-to-day.

“Maintaining our social connection is the best way to reduce stress and anxiety,” said Fix. “Just focusing on all of our wellness factors, emotional, intellectual, physical, social, environmental, financial, and spiritual.”

She also recommends movement and exercise. She said that even getting 20 to 30 minutes of exercise a day can implement something called “runner’s high,” which can put you in a higher mood.

“It can certainly help improve our mood and ability to cope with frustration,” said Fix.

Amber Brodziak is the owner and clinician of Calgary Therapy Services. She has a wide range of issues and mental illnesses that she counsels on, but her main focus is anxiety.

Brodziak has limited her counselling sessions to phone and video for the time being, and she doesn’t have any plans to do face-to-face counselling sessions any time soon.

Brodziak says that she has noticed an increase in counselling calls within the last few weeks.

“There is an increase in people feeling really stressed and anxiety and depression going up because they’re not able to keep their routine and talk to people,” said Brodziak.

Brodziak recommends sticking to your own routine every day. She says that it can really help you establish a timeline throughout the day as well as give you the possible alone time you may need.

“What I talk to clients about is staying in your own lane and not taking on other people’s emotions, feelings, or opinions about this,” said Brodziak. “Because I think a lot of what we’re seeing is that people are really stressed cause family members all feel really different.”

Shaw-Strand agrees with this technique and says that it has helped put her mind at ease.

“It actually helps, going to work, believe it or not. It gives you a routine, it gives you something somewhat normal for your everyday life,” said Shaw-Strand.

She wanted it known that mental illness looks different for everyone and that it is okay to feel that way.

“If you’re feeling off or if you’re feeling on edge that is really normal,” said Brodziak. “Usually just talking to someone about that can usually just help [you] feel validated and feel better.”

Sun’s Out, Everyone’s Out: Linda Fioretti in Calgary on May 24. Fioretti is keeping herself social in Shirley Maden’s front yard while also maintaining social distance. Fioretti continues to keep in contact with her neighbours in order to stay social. (Photo by Ashley Avery/The Press)