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Mental Health at McMaster

Prioritizing Optimal Health & Well-being at McMaster

COVID-19 uncertainty, anxiety and stress

If you turn on the news or open your social media you will be inundated with information about COVID-19. In early 2021 we finally saw light at the end of the tunnel with a vaccine but COVID-19 (or more specifically the omicron variant) has had different plans for us. McMaster has had to make the decision to delay our return to campus in order to protect us but that doesn’t stop the frustration, or the anxiety.

This section is not about what is COVID-19, the efficacy of vaccines, or anything that has been politicized about the pandemic. This section is about providing mental health resources, information, and tips to help you deal with the stress and anxiety you might be experiencing around pandemic.

Information Box Group

Tips for Coping with Stress & Anxiety

As COVID-19 restrictions begin to loosen in Canada and around the world, many of us are struggling to adjust to new norms for return to our day-to-day life. It’s normal to feel concerned about what’s next and it’s important to continue using the strategies and tools you’ve relied on to support yourself and your family in this challenging time. Below are some ideas (in no particular order) that might be helpful. Some might apply to you and some might not – or they may need to be adapted to suit you personally, your personality, where and with whom you live, or your culture. Please be creative and experiment with these ideas and strategies.


Seek credible information

Stay informed by checking information provided by experts and credible sources. A lot of information is disseminated about COVID-19 every day, but not all of it is accurate. Some reliable sources include:

Avoid unfamiliar websites, or online discussion groups where people post information from non-credible sources or share stories which may or may not be true. Be wary of what is posted on social media, and always consider the reliability of information you see on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Seek support

Social distancing does not mean you should break off all contact from loved ones. Being alone can lead to spending too much time thinking about the current situation, resulting in increased stress and anxiety. It can be helpful to connect with people who are a positive influence when you are feeling stressed.

  • Reach out and get support from these people – through phone or video calls or text messaging.
  • Look for formal support, either online or by phone, that can help you during high-stress times. For example, you may turn to distress lines, online support groups, or resources in your community such as religious institutions.

Try to avoid people who are negative when talking about current affairs or events, or who generally increase your stress and anxiety.

Avoid substance use

Some people use substances, including smoking or vaping, to cope with stress, anxiety and depression. This may appear to help reduce stress initially, but in the long run can make things worse. The brain and body develop a tolerance to the numbing effects of these substances, and people have to compensate by using more and more. That leads to additional harms and often delays the recovery from the stress. Moreover, in those at risk, substance use can lead to an addiction or a relapse in those who are in recovery. If you are in recovery and experiencing stress, it is important to reach out for help before a relapse occurs.  In general:

  • Reduce or stop using any non-prescribed substance if you can do so safely.
  • Take prescription medications as prescribed.
  • Try to reduce or avoid alcohol.
  • Seek out professional help if you cannot do it alone.

Rest and Sleep

Getting enough sleep can both help reduce the amount of stress we experience and prepare us to better manage stress. Here are some quick strategies to help you get a good night’s sleep.

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule. This going to bed and getting up at the same time each day (including weekends).
  • Practise relaxation or meditation before bedtime.
  • Schedule physical activity for earlier in the day.
  • Practice sleep hygiene: keep your bedroom cool, avoid any light in your room, use your bed for sleep (not reading, watching TV, using your phone, etc.), and get out of bed if you don’t fall asleep after half an hour).
  • Talk to your doctor if these strategies don’t work — there may be other issues affecting your sleep.
  • If you drink  caffeine or alcohol, avoid them late in the day.
  • Avoid naps during the day if these interrupt your sleep at night.

Eat Healthier

Eating healthily can help us feel better. When we are stressed, many people might choose comfort foods that are not actually good for stress and overall health. As much as is possible, choose more fruits and vegetables, and drink lots of water.

Anxiety is Normal

COVID-19 is a new virus and we are still learning about it. The uncertainty about the virus and the changes that are unfolding can make most people feel a bit anxious. This is normal, and it actually can help motivate us to take action to protect ourselves and others, and to learn more about the pandemic.

Express gratitude

Even in the darkest days, it’s usually possible to find one thing you can be grateful about—the beauty of a sunset or a phone call from a friend, for example. It sounds cheesy but acknowledging your gratitude can provide a respite from negative thinking and really boost your mood.

Limit your consumption of news

Stay informed but don’t let it consume you. overconsuming sensationalistic news or unreliable social media coverage will only fuel your negativity and fear. Limit how often you check news or social media and confine yourself to reputable sources.

Participate in regular physical activity

Regular physical activity and exercise can help reduce anxiety and improve mood. Find an activity that includes movement, such as dance or exercise apps. Get outside, such as a nature trail or your own backyard.

Keep your regular routine

Maintaining a regular daily schedule is important to your mental health. In addition to sticking to a regular bedtime routine, keep consistent times for meals, bathing and getting dressed, work or study schedules, and exercise. Also set aside time for activities you enjoy. This predictability can make you feel more in control.

Help others

Find purpose in helping the people around you. Helping others is an excellent way to help ourselves. For example, email, text or call to check on your friends, family members and neighbors — especially those who are older. If you know someone who can’t get out, ask if there’s something needed, such as groceries or a prescription picked up.