By: Margo Kennedy
Oncology Social Worker
Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
What are some of the hallmark symptoms of stress and anxiety during the pandemic and now that we are preparing for a potential 2nd wave?
Some patients I speak to understandably are very concerned about contracting Covid 19, due to their weakened immune system. Living with this stress on top of a blood cancer diagnosis can be difficult to manage. Social distancing has taken away or changed important supports for many patients. It has reduced contact from family and friends, patients now come to medical appointments alone, support groups and social activities are on hold, many people are feeling alone and quite isolated. Practical things like just buying grocery or getting to medical appointments can be a challenge.
Family members have had limited access to attend medical appointments with patients due to Covid restrictions. Their presence is truly missed! Family or friends fulfill important roles such as helping with language interpretation, clarifying medical instructions, being the "note taker", acting as a way finder and accompanying patients in wheel chairs and with walkers. Most importantly they are the supporters, providing vital comfort to patients to manage clinic visits.
For patients admitted to the hospital, they, along with their families have endured very limited visiting policies which has been so challenging. Everyone is getting ready to celebrate the soon to come relaxing of some of these rules and restrictions.
Interestingly, some leukemia and post transplant patients tell me that they are not feeling a big impact from Covid 19. They already have had lots of experience in taking many precautions similar to Covid prevention strategies. Avoiding crowded spaces, public transit, hitting the grocery store as soon as it opens, wearing a mask, washing hands, physical distancing have been a part of their life long before Covid 19. They could teach us a thing or two!
Symptoms of anxiety related to the pandemic can include constant worry about the pandemic, fear of becoming ill, fear of going outside or germs coming into the home, preoccupation with cleaning constantly, difficulty concentrating or enjoying activities that are usually pleasurable, difficulty sleeping, finding that worry and anxiety, fear of the unknown are significantly interfering with day to day life.
How can people cope with or overcome mental health challenges they may be experiencing right now?
Different things work for different people, below are a few ideas to consider:
Focus on what you can control: wear a mask, physically distance, wash hands often, remind yourself of the many thing you do each day to protect yourself and keep safe
Make sure you are following the basics: getting proper sleep, eating well, doing some physical activity each day
Take a break or limit watching the news about the pandemic
Spend more time on things that make you feel better - activities that bring you joy, provide distraction, people who are supportive or make you laugh
Connect with others (in a safe way) to reach out for support when you are having a tough day
Consider trying out some relaxing activities such as yoga or mindfulness meditation - these activities can help to calm racing thoughts or worries. Take time to slow down and just breathe.
There are some excellent free resources available which offer meditation, relaxation
and yoga - below are links to a few that are very popular and worth checking out:
What symptoms (or behavior) might be a red flag or a cause for concern? When should people seek professional help?
People should seek out professional help if they experience any of the following concerns:
• strong feelings of worry and restlessness most of the time and difficulty feeling relaxed or calm
• Anxiety preventing you from doing many of your daily activities, makes it hard to concentrate or make decisions, makes it difficult to sleep or eat
• Any thoughts about wanting to harm yourself or other people - seek out help immediately
What would you recommend to someone very worried of the second wave of COVID-19?
To keep on doing what we know will help to protect you from Covid 19; wear a mask, physical distance and wash your hands frequently.
Take care of your physical health – eat well balanced meals, try new foods and recipes, increase your physical activity, take a walk in nature.
Take care of your emotional and mental health; set goals to engage in activities which are nurturing, soothing and provide relaxation or distraction.
Contact friends and family virtually or on the phone. Reach out to patient support groups to connect with others.
Limit the amount of upsetting media and news coverage.