Mental Health Concerns

Our mental health during COVID-19 is a concern during uncertain times as panic and powerlessness combined with loneliness can result in depression. 

Dr. Theresa Nicassio, a registered psychologist based in Vancouver, B.C. offers her expert advice on how to deal with our mental health in part one of a two-part Q & A series. 

Dr. Nicassio has been educating healthcare professionals and providing compassionate integrative psychotherapy and practical wellness tips to the public for over 30 years. 

This week, just one question comes to mind:

Q: During these uncertain times, how can we keep our mind healthy?

A: It’s interesting how the impact of this Covid-19 pandemic at first seems mostly related to physical health, when in fact the psychological impacts are far greater and more complex. 

So, before I can properly answer your question about solutions, it’s important to first speak briefly about what’s going on from a mental health perspective.

Probably the two biggest emotional drivers at work with this pandemic are FEAR & LOSS.

FEAR: The fear takes on many forms – from health anxiety, to financial worries, to fears around food insecurity, housing, and medical services. 

The mad toilet paper frenzy and general binge-shopping craze that recently happened was an undeniable manifestation of anxiety at work, especially around the obvious more physical needs for survival.

LOSS: While less blatant than the pandemic of anxiety that’s impossible to miss, the losses are hitting folks much more fiercely on an emotional level. 

In an era of entitlement that has been growing in recent years, for the first time in decades, the perception of self-determinism and expectations is being challenged head-on. 

When even special events with loved ones like weddings, funerals, fun nights out, and countless other privileges we’ve come to believe were our right to enjoy are taken from us, we have all simultaneously been brought to our knees, poignantly realizing how many blessings we have taken for granted, even in our familiar routine of living.

And then there is the social isolation, loneliness, and touch deprivation that the “social distancing” (I prefer to refer to it as “physical distancing”) is making even worse. 

Long before this coronavirus pandemic, I heard that 2/3 of the US population was lonely. 

It is no wonder why so many people are having a hard time keeping six feet away from each other when they have the opportunities for closeness.

So, given all of this, in answer to your question, Christine, the most important thing we can do to help keep our minds healthy is to focus on WHAT WE DO HAVE CONTROL OF versus WHAT WE DON’T HAVE CONTROL OF.


In terms of anxiety, I teach my clients three action steps:

Gather relevant information and resources about whatever it is you are anxious about (e.g. health, finances, housing, food, etc.) from trusted professionals, resources, and community organizations who you trust to offer accurate information and useful guidance.  

Create a detailed action plan of how you want to address the specific issue you are most concerned about, breaking it down into very small, doable steps.

Do SOMETHING – either from your action plan or even a conscious distraction or self-care activity that helps you bind your anxiety and has other health benefits like going for a walk, gardening, cooking healthy food, or going for a run in nature. 

Where there is movement, there is health and when it comes to Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Fold responses to stress, the first two are far more adaptive than the latter two coping strategies.



Because the nature of your losses can be so emotionally triggering, the single most important thing to remember is that you do not need to be alone with your suffering. 

Please reach out to a professional who is trained to support you during this difficult time. 

Fortunately, emergency and other supportive telepsychology services with qualified professionals are stepping up to the crisis to help those in need. Reach out to them – they are there for you.


Pick up the phone and call or video chat with that friend or family member you haven’t spoken with for far too long. 

Texting and email can also be positive ways to connect, but even more engaging is hearing their actual voice, if not also seeing their face.


While there are some losses that are undeniably painful, wherever you can, try to find the silver lining of something positive that you can learn from or transform into a positive outcome of some kind.


Whether it’s organizing your office, spending time in your garden, cooking healthy delicious food, doing some really interesting DIY projects you’ve seen on Pinterest, or any other project that has been nagging you to do.

this is a great time to feel a sense of accomplishment, even if in the midst of a time of other losses.


While it is true that Grad Night or your loved one’s funeral cannot be replaced, planning for a special event in the future when physical closeness and gatherings are again possible can offer you a positive way to cope with and plan for the future.


Finding ways to help others during this difficult time can help you shift from focusing on your losses to the gifts you have to offer others, whatever they may be.


Shifting your mindset from expectations of others, yourself, and even the outer world to gratitude for the blessings in your life. 

A childlike curiosity and wonderment about what else might be possible is a game-changer that can help you weather any emotional storm in life better.

In next week’s column, Dr. Theresa Nicassio talks about the importance of physical exercise.

Thanks to Christine Blanchette for her weekly articles and be sure to follow he on Twitter or Youtube.