'We will get through this together': Tools for Manitobans with anxiety over COVID-19

Manitobans might be experiencing more symptoms of anxiety in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic, but mental health providers say there things they can do, and resources they can access, to combat the stress and worry.

Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba establishes support line in response to COVID-19

Manitoba mental health providers want people to know there are resources to help them get through increased anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. (panitanphoto/Shutterstock)

Mind racing, rapid breathing, an upset stomach, insomnia, dizziness and aches and pains.

Manitobans might be experiencing more symptoms of anxiety in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic, but mental health providers say there are things they can do, and resources they can access, to combat the stress and worry.

On Monday, the Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba (ADAM) launched its new support phone line in response to a spike in stress and worry in the province.

"We're very well aware that the level of anxiety in the community has skyrocketed," said the association's executive director Mary Williams.

"We are here to help people manage their anxiety and to provide support to them during this particular crisis."

The anxiety support line, crisis line, and other resources are available at the bottom of this page

ADAM says the line will be checked regularly between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. Callers must leave their name, phone number or email address and someone will get in touch with them.

Williams says anxiety can have both psychological and physical symptoms.

"It's coming from the fight, flight or freeze part of our brain — the part of our brain that that is triggered when we feel threatened or in danger," she said.

People who are anxious can be on edge, unable to calm down, and they can fixate on things, Williams says.

They can also sometimes experience rapid breathing and heart rate, shakiness, dizziness, a lack of appetite, an upset stomach and aches and pains.

Manitobans can call a number of support lines or crisis lines if they're experiencing mental health problems that are exacerbated by the pandemic. Find resource numbers at the bottom of this page. (sergey causelove/Shutterstock)

Williams says the support line isn't the right place to call if you're in crisis or suicidal.

Klinic Community Health's crisis line is still running 24-hours a day, seven days a week, though. 

Veroniek Marshall, the clinical director there says the organization is looking into expanding that service to add more operators and lines. For the time being, people who might have trouble getting through due to higher than usual call volumes should keep on calling.

Marshall says it's normal to feel anxiety during this period of uncertainty.

"A lot of people are feeling more anxious about what's going on," she said.

"A lot of people are really isolated, so they might not have the folks around them they can reach out to."

Although some programs that Klinic provides are cancelled because of the pandemic, their 24 hour crisis line is still up and running. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Winnipeg psychologist Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman is worried finding good mental health care could be more difficult during the pandemic.

"We've always had a shortage of mental health services to begin with," he said.

"People who are may not have previously had a mental illness or an anxiety disorder are now likely to have one or have at least experienced anxiety. And where are they supposed to turn?"

There are some ways people can manage their anxiety at home, he says.

What to do when you're overwhelmed

Abdulrehman says anxiety increases when people are in an uncertain situation like a pandemic, but in this case, public health recommendations are good guidelines for behaviour.

"We want to make sure that our thoughts don't get carried away beyond that," he says.

"So some people will go exceedingly high and may engage in behaviours that they think are making them healthy or safe and it's not really helpful for them at all.  So follow those public health standards that can help guide both your thinking and behaviour."

Routine is important during uncertain times, too, Abdulrehman says. He recommends keeping this interesting by staying active and maintaining social support despite physical distancing.

"A good old fashioned phone call is going to be critically important. Make sure that you stay in touch with people and exercise. Exercise is going to be really good for endorphins, and it's going to keep your brain functioning well and manage your anxiety," he said.

A man with short dark hair and a goatee wearing a grey suit jacket looks away from the camera. A large ficus is pictured over his left shoulder.
Psychologist Rehman Abdulrehman says there are a number of ways people can address their own anxiety at home. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

Breathing deeply might seem like a cliche to some, but it helps bring the brain out of the fight, flight or flee mentality, Abdulrehman says.

Finally, he advises people to limit their time on social media or paying attention to news about coronavirus because it might increase anxiety.

Adults aren't the only people experiencing stress.

Children respond to stress in different ways. Some might be clingy, while others might withdraw, be agitated or wet the bed.

According to the World Health Organization, kids need extra love and attention during challenging times, like this pandemic.

Keeping up regular routines and schedules can be beneficial for managing stress. It's also important to be factual, clear and reassuring when talking about COVID-19.

Although there aren't a great deal of mental health resources out there, Williams wants Manitobans to know the people who do this work are committed to helping those who are struggling.

"We're a strong community and our organization is here to provide support and information and to help," she said.

"We will get through this together."

Mental health resources in Manitoba:

Canadian Mental Health Association Manitoba: 204-775-6442 or email:

Sara Riel: Peer support line 204-942-9276

Klinic: Suicide prevention and support line 1-877-435-7170, crisis Line (204) 786-8686 or toll free at 1-888-322-3019

Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba: 204-925-0600

Apps like Headspace, MindShift and Calm can also help.