It is said that the third Monday in January is the saddest day of the year. And while “Blue Monday” makes for good headlines, feeling down during the winter months can last more than a day. The holidays are over, and yet we’re only one-third of the way through the short, cold days of winter, not to mention our credit card statements have arrived. But 10 months into the pandemic, we may be eyeing January 18 nervously. Just thinking that things could get darker may rattle the most resilient of us — will we endure Blue Monday? More importantly, will we mentally thrive during the coming months of isolation?
“The pandemic and its related trials have increased people’s sense of vulnerability, risk or harm,” says Dr. Karyn Hood, a clinical psychologist, consultant and speaker with a private practice in Toronto. “It’s also challenging people’s ability to cope and continually be resourceful. This combination can lead to low mood, apathy, irritability, anxiety and stress.”
These concerns hover over a wide range of situations, from immediate loss of a loved one to loneliness due to isolation to apprehension about finances or potential job loss.
Yet, while it’s hard to call anything a silver lining after such a trying year, a greater awareness and normalization of mental health issues during the pandemic is surely one thing that will benefit us in the future. Call it COVID fatigue or the quarantine blues, never have so many people in Canada — or indeed around the world — dealt with mental health issues at the same time caused by the same thing: the COVID-19 lockdown.
Although mental health had been slowly but surely coming to the forefront of public consciousness in recent years, Hood says the COVID-19 pandemic and its related constraints and pressures have significantly elevated the prominence and urgency of staying mentally healthy.
But with greater awareness of support or better strategies for coping, people may find it easier to seek out help. And that’s a large benefit to their health, the health of their families and our communities as a whole.
For women who often have disproportionate responsibilities around home and family, the pandemic may have hit particularly hard. The impact of living a “quarantined life” for much of 2020, along with worries about protecting yourself and your family from the COVID-19 pandemic have played heavily on people’s psyches, says Hood. These are times of great uncertainty and many of us are struggling as we crave stability, predictability and control.
She says it’s time for women — in fact, everyone — to “let themselves off the hook” and lower their expectations of what is reasonable to achieve or take on during this time, both at home and work.
“This can mean having honest conversations with friends and colleagues about the challenges they are facing, for support and strategies,” she says, “but also learning to be OK with doing the best you can. That can mean a less than tidy home, ordering in versus cooking, and setting boundaries around work hours.”
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it could be time to reach out for help if you’ve experience any of the following: sleep disruptions, problems concentrating, feelings of burnout, exhaustion, or dependence on alcohol or drugs.
In order to prevent small issues from turning into significant problems in the future, she recommends people have a “check-in” with a mental health professional. If you have a friend or loved one who is having trouble coping, she suggests you recommend that they too should have a check-in.
The lockdown has meant that mental health services can be accessed from the privacy of your own home via a secure video platform or phone which may feel safer for people who still feel uneasy seeking these services. For those reluctant to seek out help, she says to take comfort from the fact that close relatives or friends may likewise be seeing a mental health worker during these times.
Hood points out that seasonal affects may also contribute to winter blues and she’s actually been helping her clients manage this since September. She recommends getting as much exposure to light, especially natural light or therapeutic light that mimics bright sunshine. Getting outside and exercising can also boost your mood.
“These are challenging times and we all need support to stay resilient and protect our mental and physical well-being. If you feel you need additional support or better strategies for coping, remember that assistance is available from your employee assistance program, family doctor or mental health professional.”
Mental Health Resources
If you need immediate assistance, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.
Contact Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566 or text 45645)
Centre for Suicide Prevention (1-833-456-4566).
See Wellness Together Canada, for access to online tools and mental health support.