Written by Step Above Stigma's co-president, Jessica Gregoire.
Many of us are uncomfortable openly talking about our mental health struggles, or even admitting to having them at all. This was a major barrier for me growing up, as conversations surrounding mental health were not common and the topic was stigmatized in my community. It wasn’t until my first year at university when I realized mental health was not something to ignore. It took me facing the depths of depression and anxiety, and turning my life upside down, to acknowledge that my struggles were real.
After my first-year experience was severely impacted by my mental illnesses, I made the choice to step back from school and focus on rehabilitating my mental wellness. This is by far the best decision I have ever made for myself, and I can gladly say taking one semester off of school helped me to form coping strategies and reframe my thoughts.
It has now been three years since I made this decision and I have been growing stronger ever since. Sometimes admitting to yourself that you are not okay is the bravest thing you can do. I have had many ups and downs throughout the years, because life is unpredictable, but I have coping strategies that have helped me navigate through challenging times.
With the current global situation, many of us are struggling and isolation can definitely amplify mental health struggles. I have been struggling specifically with the disruption of routine, lack of social interaction, and not feeling like myself. Many of you can likely relate to these struggles, and that is why I wanted to share some of the strategies that I have found work for me when dealing with my mental health in isolation. Everyone is different, and what works for me may not necessarily be effective for you, but try some of these out and see if they help.
1. Find a Routine That Makes You Feel Good
This has to be the most important, yet most challenging, tip that I have. Having a routine for your day gives you direction and purpose, which many of us feel we’re lacking in these unprecedented times.
I wouldn’t recommend planning your days down to the minute, as this may overwhelm you. Instead, have some goals for your day and hold yourself accountable to them. The goal of your day can be something as simple as doing your laundry or calling a family member. Doing things that you love and that make you feel good during your day will make all the difference as you navigate through quarantined life.
One of the fundamental aspects of routine is your sleep schedule. This is huge for mental function and overall health. Scheduling a rough time frame to go to sleep and wake up will change your experience in isolation drastically. This has been the biggest struggle for me, but I keep on trying.
2. Keep a Healthy Body For a Healthier Mind
Something that I’ve kept constant since isolation began is focusing on my physical health and nourishing my body. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way the vision of health and I’ve been eating my fair share of snacks, but I try to get at least some nutrients in daily. I have felt such a difference in my mood and mental wellness on days where I am eating whole nutritious foods, and snacks in moderation.
On top of getting in some nutrients throughout the day, I always try to move my body at least once. Physical activity does not need to be strenuous! Simply going for a walk or stretching your body can have major positive effects on your mental wellness and mood.
I’ve found that on days when I wake up and feel reality bring my mood down, all it takes is ten minutes of movement while listening to my favourite music to bring me back to myself. Little changes in your level of activity throughout the day can make isolation more tolerable.
As always, don’t forget to drink lots of water!
3. Check in With Yourself
The narrative in our minds greatly impacts our actions and our mood. This is something many people struggle with, including myself. It’s important to check in with yourself regularly to ensure you’re in a healthy state of mind. Because I struggle with an anxiety disorder, social media and news broadcastings tend to make my anxiety increase. Decreasing my intake of media about COVID-19 has helped me focus on myself and make it through the day.
Being bored at home has definitely caused an increase in my social media usage as well, and I often have to check in with myself to make sure I don’t fall into a toxic mindset from these platforms. When I feel that social media is impacting my mood, I take a break from it and stay off of my phone. This helps me focus back on my life, and off the illusions of social media.
Some of the best practices I have been loving for this are journaling and meditating. Taking the time to be alone with yourself and your thoughts is so important to ground you when there is so much going on in the world. Some people are intimidated by journaling because they don’t know where to start. When I’m stuck, I look up journal prompts online and choose one that resonates with me. An easy start is writing down five things you are grateful for, as expressing gratitude is a major mood booster.
4. Make (Socially Distant) Plans With Loved Ones
Many of us are struggling with the lack of social interaction that comes as a result of quarantine. For me, making plans with loved ones using online platforms has been something to look forward to. I’ve been having Zoom calls with my friends to catch up, and we have planned a few movie nights! Although it isn’t the same as being in person with your friends and family, making these plans can remind you that you have people who love you and who are there to support you through the challenges of isolation.
As I navigate through isolation, I learn new ways to cope with my mental health struggles. I hope these tips can help you continue your life through quarantine, and help you develop coping strategies you can use moving forward! If you are currently struggling with your mental health, just know you are not alone. Take each day as it comes, and remember that better days are coming.
Written by Step Above Stigma's Vice President of Events & Initiatives, Jacob Shaddock
Residents of long-term and retirement homes across Canada have been in isolation since March, not being able to see friends or family or leave the home. One can only begin to imagine how hard this has been on their mental health. A couple weeks ago a resident approached me and mentioned that it feels to her like no one is trying to do anything to boost the morale around the building. This got me thinking about what could be done to support all of the residents who are feeling the same way.
People across the Queen’s University community submitted messages of hope that were turned into personal cards of encouragement for residents. I noticed how isolating the halls of the home were so I taped the brightly coloured cards to their doors and made a wall of cards across from the elevator on each floor.
Right away the residents noticed the cards and started to read them. One resident approached me shortly afterwards and pulled her card that she was carrying around with her out of her purse and said, “this was such a lovely surprise – thank you!” The plan moving forward is to look into ways to distribute cards to many homes across the country.
After delivery cards to just one home so far it has become clear that this small token of recognition and positivity can go a long way to cheering people up and reminding them that they are not alone.
If you would like to share your own 'message of hope' for future visits to retirement and long-term care homes, you can do so here: https://bit.ly/2ZHsu8k
Written by Step Above Stigma's co-president, Hailey Rodgers.
I have had this blog post in mind since last October; however, I thought that posting it now during Mental Health Awareness Month and COVID-19 would be fitting. In short, mental health advocacy changed my life and I believe it can change yours. It is time we all became mental health advocates together.
Like many, I have experienced my own battles with mental health. In high school and the beginning of university I experienced various mental health problems including insomnia, severe anxiety and depression, and an extremely bad body image. However, I was viewed in a different way. I was known as the girl who loved academia and always wore a smile on her face. No one knew what was going on inside.
There was also a whole other part of me that assumed that everyone else had it easier...that everything in their lives was perfect. I too did not see what was going on behind their smiles, as they most likely had their own inner battles they were facing.
However, it was in my second year of university when I became aware that there was a mental health community. I came across a Queen’s University-affiliated non-profit organization called Step Above Stigma. This organization was a part of a growing community of mental health advocates who are eager to break down the stigma associated with mental health. This community aspires to educate, increase awareness, and fight for and ensure accessibility of mental health resources. Fundamentally, they want to normalize asking for help and ensure that help is available, as every human being deserves to have access to such resources.
Having gone through my own battles for six years, I was eager to become a part of this community that was so welcoming and open about sharing their stories with mental health. It was a relief for me that others were going to welcome me fully as I am...all my battles, all my struggles, and everything that makes me, me.
Advocacy changed my life completely. All of my successes over the past two years can be attributed to mental health advocacy. Advocacy allowed me to accept myself as I am and to not be ashamed of my past or any battles that I am currently facing. It allowed me to share my own story with the world without shame or doubt.
Moreover, I never thought that I would one day find meaning in these battles. I never thought that my battles could help someone else.
The moment I opened up about my story, I began to receive messages from those who were struggling with their own mental health. They confided in me about their stories and asked me to point them in a direction where they could receive help.
Sharing my story opened the door for someone else to share theirs.
You see, through your struggle, there is incredible strength. Your strength can positively impact the lives of many people. You will showcase that through adversity, something good will always come out of it and that you are never alone.
Storytelling acts as a catalyst for change. As soon as we begin to normalize storytelling and facilitate a community of encouragement and support, then we will break down the stigma. As soon as we break down the stigma and build awareness, we can normalize mental health accessibility and all have the mentality where we know that it’s okay to ask for help.
Advocacy changed my life and I guarantee it will change yours. Are you ready to become an advocate?
On November 19, 2019, SAS hosted a Yoga and Hot Chocolate Night in the JDUC. We got to collaborate with the amazing Queen's Yoga Club, and helped connect people with different ways to prioritize mental health! Our goal was to encourage everyone to take care of their physical and mental health, while relaxing and winding down with a hot chocolate before exam season!
Our homecoming socks sales were a huge success! We sold socks in the Queen’s Athletics and Recreation Center for the four days leading up to homecoming. Our new executive and volunteer members got to know each other during their shifts. SAS socks are now being sold at Oil Thigh Designs- we are incredibly grateful for their support! They routinely sold out of socks during the week leading up to homecoming. As always, we love seeing the increasing presence of our socks around campus.
Read our blog posts about personal experiences and stories with regards to mental health. Posts written by our team or those passionate about mental health.