Nfld. & Labrador

Self-care in the time of coronavirus: Here's what this instructor knows

For many people in the pandemic, writes contributor Lynette Adams, the primary challenge is how to live under the constraints of just staying home.
Counsellor Catherine Tansley wants to help us sort through all the mixed messages we're getting about how to get through these COVID times. (Submitted by Shannon Webb Campbell)

The spread of the novel coronavirus has created huge challenges for people in the medical field and those working in high-risk jobs, as well as for those whose needs may be sidelined by our efforts to contain the pandemic.

For many, though, the primary challenge is how to live under the constraints of just staying home.

In January of this year, Catherine Tansley, 39, a longtime teacher and musician, opened her new counselling practice at Be Well Therapeutics on Pippy Place in St. John's. This achievement had come after years of study, interning, and CCPA certification.

By the end of February, her list of clients was growing. She had plans to take a year off from teaching next year to grow her counselling business and to pursue a dream of travelling. Then in March, the outbreak of COVID-19 on the island forced her to close her practice.

"Things change and we have to pivot," she said of her decision to postpone her long-awaited year off.

Playing tuba while snowed in, Tansley made the most of the state of emergency. (Submitted by Catherine Tansley)

Managing mental health 

The shutdown compounded the stresses of the winter in particular. Tansley points out that many Newfoundland and Labrador residents, particularly in the eastern region of the island, were still reeling from January's "Snowmageddon" and state of emergency.

"We just got out of a week like this … lineups around supermarkets, the roads not cleared," she said. 

While essential workers face their own share of challenges, many people have found themselves with no job to go to, feeling helpless when charged with the task of simply staying home to prevent the virus spreading.

"A lot of us cope well with life, we have resiliency, and a lot of that [relies on] other people and other things we can't do right now," said Tansley.

All of our nervous systems are basically working on overload, so that's why everyone is so exhausted and we're so tired and we can't focus.- Catherine Tansley

Tansley points out many folks are experiencing added anxiety, simply through indecision around how best to use their downtime.

"We're all home, glued to technology in order to stay connected," she said. "We're getting crazy mixed messages right now, of 'stick to your normal routine,' and then you're getting other messages, 'You don't have to stick to your routine.'"

Tansley, who used her downtime during the January shutdown to complete a counselling course on anxiety, found comfort at home slowly working on a jigsaw puzzle, a change of pace from her life, pre-COVID.

Reframing self-care

Acknowledging that every individual is experiencing the pandemic in their own way, Tansley offers some suggestions for how we all might work with our anxiety during these times.

"Our normal self-care routines that work well for us, we might not be able to do right now," she said, noting that many of us go outside our homes and interact with other people to meet our self-care needs.

Tansley suggests that we seek ways to reframe self-care that fit within our new boundaries. "Cooking this meal is a form of self-care for me right now, because I'm creating, I'm nurturing my body with healthy things — or with chocolate chips!"

She suggests rather than trying to look to the future, it's good to be present in the moment. "I know it's vague to say it that way," Tansley said. "The anxiety [we feel] is partly fear of the future, of the weeks and months ahead of us."

'What do you have choice over?' Catherine Tansley wonders, adding that it's a helpful question to ask yourself. (Submitted by Shannon Webb Campbell)

She explains that many of us are having trouble thinking or planning for the future. "All of our nervous systems are basically working on overload, so that's why everyone is so exhausted and we're so tired and we can't focus."

Tansley emphasizes that the mere act of making a decision can help mitigate anxiety, because it gives us a sense of power over our circumstances. "We have control over our thoughts," she said, "but we also have control over our actions and what we do with our time."

She says it's not important whether we use our downtime to write a novel or to binge watch Tiger King. What's important is that we have the choice, even if that choice is "today I'm going to do nothing."

An opportunity for growth

Tansley points out that, for many, the pandemic will be a time when long-buried memories and emotions may emerge.

"A lot of us do have coping mechanisms, and we're not able to use them right now," she explained. Some of these coping strategies may enable us to ignore some deeper issues. So does this mean we shouldn't fear the negative feelings?

"Try not to escape from the moment," Tansley said, explaining that being forced to face some of our emotions and feelings may facilitate growth and healing of deeper issues.

As Tansley's career goals, she mourned the fact that her plans had been curtailed. 

Like other businesses, though, she has resumed her office practice, and is adjusting to the new normal. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Lynette Adams is a freelance writer based in St. John's.