Mental fitness amidst COVID-19 pandemic
DR. JACKIE KINLEY SPECIAL TO SALTWIRE NETWORK
It’s a different world suddenly, as people are being asked to socially distance themselves in Can-ada as a result of COVID-19. Wondering how to deal with the stress that this has caused? Dr. Jackie Kinley, a Halifax-based psychiatrist, has some tips to help. It’s different times; however, the fear that COVID-19 has stirred is nothing new. Psychologically, the problem remains the same: our inability to positively respond to stress. Feeling stress is natural, and fear is normal. In fact, fear ensured our survival! However, when fear turns into anxiety, it’s gone too far. Anxiety is caused by stress. Remember - the presence of stress is the result of a skills deficit, rather than a character flaw or primary disorder. You can increase your mental strength and re-duce anxiety at the same time. It’s a different approach, and a positive, hopeful, and refreshing way to approach mental health and reframe illness. In my experiences from over 20 years of psychiatric practice, anxiety persists as a leading cause of illness and injury, and it’s totally preventable. My remedy is mental fitness. By viewing the brain like a muscle, you can stretch and strengthen it, building your ca-pacity to manage stress and strain. Building mental fitness increases your resilience. In this series I to commit to supporting and helping you manage stress and to build resili-ence. Now seems like a good time! Resilience is a process. It results in positive adaptation (you know - adaptation... Dar-win and survival of the fittest). There are eight steps to resilience, we will learn them one at a time. Step 1: Grounding. Settle down: sink into the weight of your body to stay grounded (count to 10 if you need to). Anxiety is in your head. The antidote? Get out of your head and into your body! Your body is dense. It is a capacitor. It has the ability to contain a tremendous amount of energy. Anxiety is emotional energy that becomes stuck. It creates tension in your muscles (back, shoulders and neck), then spills into your gut and constricts your airways - not a good thing when struggling with a respiratory illness. Reduce anxiety by grounding yourself in your physical body. Getting out of your head and into your body stops anxiety. Think of anxiety like lightening in a storm. Grounding protects you and keeps you safe. The quickest way to ground yourself is by sinking into the weight of your body. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and push your feet into the floor to feel your connec-tion with the earth. Next, feel your weight in the chair. Notice the density of your body. You matter! Then, notice your posture, let your shoulders relax and feel an imaginary string pull the crown of your head to the sky. Take a moment to notice the space you occupy. Sit tall. This is your space! Own it. Enjoy it. Take 10 slow, deep breaths, letting all the tension drain out of your body. Let excit-ed energy drain down your legs, through the soles of your feet and into the earth. Stay focused on visualizing all the jittery energy draining or washing out of you. Mother Earth is always there to hold and support you. Other ways to ground yourself include tuning into your physical senses. That’s what being “sensible” means: getting out of your head and grounded in the natural world around you. Practice grounding for five minutes each day; then again at any time you want to calm down. I can give you tools, but you have to use them! If you do, you’ll see that mental fitness train-ing decreases stress and anxiety and increases your resilience. Resilience increases your mental health, happiness, and wellbeing. We can do this together! Looking for some online resources to access? Here are some Dr. Kinley recommends: • www.anxietycanada.com - Tools and resources to help manage anxiety • MindShift CBT – Anxiety Canada app, available on Android and iOS • www.comh.ca/antidepressant-skills/adult - Selfcare manual to help with depression • http://depressionhurts.ca/en/information/resources.aspx - For help with depression • www.mysleepwell.ca – For help with insomnia • https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/resources/looking-after-yourself - For a list of resources by concern. Dr. Jackie Kinley is a psychiatrist, author of Mental Fitness: The Game Changer and founder of the Atlantic Institute for Resilience in Halifax, NS.