Community members reach for various mental health pamphlets at a community suicide information night earlier this year. File Photo

Mental health and COVID-19: regression

Dr. Tyla Charbonneau shares mental health tips in her weekly column

In the past few months did it feel like some of the work you did to improve your mental health digressed? Did you and your partner argue perhaps just a little bit more? Did you find you had to work harder to stave off anxiety or feelings of sadness? This is 100 per cent normal and considered regression. This regression is due to your brain working overtime to make sense of the rapidly changing world around you. In our regular lives most of what we do is automatic, our brains learn routines, patterns, and scenery so we do not voluntarily have to attend to everything around us. When the pandemic began our brains had to relearn and adjust to a new way of life and this relearning is exhausting. This is also why you may have felt just a little more tired in the last few weeks. Even if we were going along thinking we are doing okay and adjusting well, your brain was still working overtime in the background making sense of the new way of life. Something simple that we once took for granted, such as walking through a grocery store needed to be relearned.

This relearning takes some of the energy that we use to cope with anxiety, irritability, depression and other challenges. The lack of energy can lead to regression and older maladaptive behaviour or thought patterns in these trying times. The good news is that even though it might feel like you are back at square one, in reality the tools and strategies are still accessible, we just have to remind ourselves of them. And be kind to ourselves when it takes just a little bit longer to remember all the tools we have learned. If you find yourself overwhelmed, take a moment and ground yourself with your senses and notice what you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste around you. You can also pick a colour and silently name everything you see around you that is that colour. Both of these activities will draw you back into the present moment and turn your prefrontal cortex on which is where we learn new things, problem solve, and rationally think.

In addition to understanding what this regression is doing in your life remember this may be happening to the ones we love as well. Just as we need understanding for our own brains and how hard they are working right now, we also need to remember that the people around us are doing the best they can. They may be struggling to access their own tools for communicating or mental health. As always, be kind.

The content provided in this article is for information purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you find yourself in distress, please reach out to your local physician or mental health providers in your community.

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