For the better part of a year now the COVID-19 pandemic has been profoundly impacting our lives. Some of us have been dealing with loved ones who have fallen ill – locally or in other locations. But many more of us have been affected emotionally, economically, socially or psychologically.
Dr. Saby Ramirez is a Powell River psychiatrist who has been seeing these impacts firsthand.
“We are seeing a high level of anxiety in Powell River,” she says. “We’re seeing higher-than-normal levels of substance abuse, especially alcohol. Also, we know that many people in Powell River are isolated, even in usual circumstances. But the pandemic has made these situations worse.”
Additionally, some people who are isolated are not reaching out to ask for help, Dr. Ramirez says.
For these reasons it is more important than ever for each of us to attend to our own mental health needs, and to reach out to others who may be isolated or suffering.
“We need to take care of one another – it has to be a community effort.”
One of the key resources Dr. Ramirez recommends is FACE COVID by Dr. Russ Harris. Using the acronym, it outlines a set of practical steps for responding effectively to the Corona crisis. In summary:
F = Focus on what’s in your control
You can’t control what happens in the future. You can’t control Corona virus itself or the world economy…and you can’t magically control your feelings, eliminating all that perfectly natural fear and anxiety…The reality is we all have far more control over our behaviour than we do over our thoughts and feelings. So our number one aim is to take control of our behaviour – right here and now – to respond effectively to this crisis.
A = Acknowledge your thoughts & feelings
Silently and kindly acknowledge whatever is ‘showing up’ inside you: thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, sensation, urges.
C = Come back into your body
The aim is to remain aware of your thoughts and feelings, continue to acknowledge their presence… and at the same time, come back into and connect with your body, and actively move it. Why? So you can gain as much control as possible over your physical actions, even though you can’t control your feelings.
E = Engage in what you’re doing
Get a sense of where you are and refocus your attention on the activity you are doing. You could try looking around the room and noticing five things you can see, hear, smell or taste, for example.
*These first four steps are meant to help you “drop anchor,” which is a skill that can help ground you, and enable you to handle difficult feelings, emotions, memories, urges and sensations more effectively. The better you anchor yourself in the here and now, the more control you have over your actions (described in the next five steps).
C = Committed Action
Guided by your core values, this is action you take because it’s truly important to you. Repeatedly throughout the day, ask yourself, ‘What can I do right now – no matter how small it may be – that improves life for myself or others I live with, or people in my community?’ And whatever the answer is – do it, and engage in it fully.
O = Opening up
Opening up means making room for difficult feelings and being kind to yourself.
V = Values
Your values might include love, respect, humour, patience, courage, honesty, caring, openness, kindness … or numerous others. Look for ways to ‘sprinkle’ these values into your day.
I = Identify resources
Identify resources for help, assistance, support, and advice… if you are able to offer support to others, let them know; you can be a resource for other people, just as they can for you. One very important aspect of this process involves finding a reliable and trustworthy source of information for updates on the crisis and guidelines for responding to it.
D = Disinfect & distance
Disinfect your hands regularly and practice as much social distancing as realistically possible, for the greater good of your community. And remember, we’re talking about physical distancing – not cutting off emotionally.
For the complete FACE COVID document visit https://divisionsbc.ca/sites/default/files/inline-files/FACE_COVID-1.pdf.
Despite current challenges there is much to be thankful for, Dr. Ramirez emphasizes. And that’s what she is encouraging her patients, and Powell Riverites in general, to concentrate on leading into the holiday season.
“It’s easy to get drawn into how difficult things are right now,” she says. “But focusing on gratitude will help us get through this.”
For a list of mental health supports and resources in Powell River visit https://divisionsbc.ca/powell-river/resources/patient-resources
This article first appeared in the December issue of Powell River Living Magazine.