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Self-love in the age of COVID-19 and self-isolation

Practical advice for surviving these strange times
Clinical counsellor Greg McDonnell
Clinical counsellor Greg McDonnell says it's essential to maintain a diverse array of hobbies to help weather self-isolation. File photo/Pique Newsmagazine

Geneviève Côté was excited to settle into her new job with a Pemberton event company last week. It wasn't long, however, before she saw her hours cut to part-time. By the time Monday rolled around and the COVID-19 pandemic had pushed businesses across the Sea to Sky to shutter their doors, she had lost her job.

But the Quebec native has, like many other Whistlerites that have suddenly seen their livelihoods disappear, taken it all in stride.

After all, what choice does she have?

"There's not much we can do about it, but we can stay positive, as being negative won't get us anywhere aside from a dark space," she said.

"I think this will all give us a great opportunity to revaluate how we live and make some changes if needed."

It's this approach that Whistler clinical counsellor Greg McDonnell preaches to those that have felt inundated by the barrage of recent news. It's important to use this newfound alone time to get back in touch with who we are and pursue that passion project we may have been putting off for so long.

"Now is a really great time to take up that hobby you've always wanted to try," he said. "Things that give us joy can help define our identity. When we have a broad base of things that give us joy, it's something that psychologically protects us. When we only have one thing that defines us, and now COVID-19 prevents us from doing that one thing, it's going to trigger depression, anxiety."

McDonnell urges anyone feeling overwhelmed to do their best to find the silver lining, which may mean taking consistent breaks from the news.

"Of course, we call this positive psychology, or narrative psychology in the sense that we're going to pick an adaptive narrative to this damn thing instead of this damn thing owning us," he said. "You want to be informed and you want to stay tuned in, but do not over-consume media right now. That's why having other things that define you is really good for you mentally."

Of course, for those already navigating the pitfalls of mental health, the constant swirl of uncertainty can exacerbate their state of mind.

"I feel like... it has worsened my anxiety," said 24-year-old Krystal Bonvie. "Now I'm constantly cleaning everything and I don't really want to hang out with anyone. I'm super self-isolated and I'm really, really worried."

Bonvie had been dealing with a recent breakdown — which included a suicide attempt — when she took to the Whistler Winter Facebook page this week to share her struggles with depression and anxiety with the more than 32,000 members of the group. Her post, raw and vulnerable, elicited dozens of supportive comments, and even a few private messages from people who were going through similar challenges.

Bonvie said just knowing her story resonated with the community has helped her in the past few days. It's also helped her to connect with people she cares about, even when she can't always be with them physically.

"I'm making sure that I'm constantly in contact with someone, whether it's my family or close friends, and never really, truly isolating myself," said Bonvie. "Most importantly, the best way to cope for anything in life is to just be nice to other people. I always get a really good energy when I'm nice to other people."

That's something that Bonvie has picked up on amidst all the confusion and chaos of the pandemic: in ways both big and small, it's inspired people to lend a helping hand, to rely on their community.

"It's weird because this situation is not making me more depressed. I think it's really opening my eyes and making me want to be better, to be honest," she said. "I've lived my whole life in the dark, so when something like this happens, it's like, 'Well, I've already been in the dark; this doesn't make it darker for me. It actually opens my eyes.'"

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