March 1, 2021

Staying healthy by making meaning

Make meaning a part of your mental health care

Finding meaning in life during the pandemic can be tough, especially when we’re still grappling with physical distancing and frequent changes to restrictions, along with winter weather. If you’re not able to access your usual support (like going to the gym or seeing loved ones), you might be feeling bogged down in the daily pandemic existence.

Making meaning in its many forms has been thoroughly researched, especially in light of the global pandemic. Below are some experts’ suggestions on how to make meaning in a difficult time.

Use your creativity

Whether you’re learning a new hobby or starting a new project, creativity can help refocus your energy into something positive. Some experts think it may even be at the centre of human adaptation, so try getting involved in a creative project. For instance, have you ever wanted to learn to play the ukulele? Maybe now’s your chance!

Music has been widely used to express or address hardships. While we’re still physically distancing, many musicians continue to offer live-streamed concerts – you can find them on Billboard or Songkick, or check out this Canadian guide. You can also stay updated with events at UCalgary, watch a play online or check out what your local theatre group is offering.

Writing or journaling is great creative outlet and has often been used in different types of therapy. Some  have used narrative therapy — working with stories to address feelings— to work through the difficulties faced in the current pandemic situation. Check out this link to read more about nurses in Chicago reflecting on the pandemic, and a group in Brazil who used narrative therapy to write emotional letters to the virus.

Crafts can also be a fun and inexpensive outlet, even if you don’t want to share the final product on Instagram. But remember that the final product isn’t necessarily the goal. Using your creativity will help you feel that you’ve accomplished something and possibly take your mind off of things for a while.

Show gratitude and appreciation for someone

The conscious act of showing gratitude, like writing in a journal or thanking someone, can refocus your energy on the “bigger picture.” It can also be good for your mental health. Integrating moments into your daily routine of being mindful and showing gratitude can be a simple, but effective, game changer.

You could also:

  • Commit to writing in a gratitude journal daily for a week and see how your outlook changes
  • Check in on a neighbour or drop them a note in their mailbox
  • Send a thank-you email or message to a professor who provided extra help or a classmate who made your day
  • If you’re UCalgary staff, you can send a UCalgary eNote to colleagues to show your appreciation

Paying kindness forward can make you feel more positive and stabilize your mental health.

Connect or reconnect

It’s been almost a year since the first major shutdowns of the pandemic began. While you might have Zoom fatigue, there are other ways to connect — or reconnect — with your social circles. Try picking up the phone and calling a family member or friend. It could make their day, and yours. You should also keep up with your outdoor, physically distanced visits too. Vitamin D is important during the winter months, and so are relationships!

For some of us, making sense of our existence can mean spirituality or religious connection. The Faith and Spirituality Centre continues to host weekly virtual meetups to engage with the community while sharing, playing games and connecting. Faith representatives have also shared messages of hope on the FSC YouTube channel for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion week.

Connecting with a friend, loved one, peer helper or counsellor can also mean you’re accountable to someone else. This can help you in making and keeping up with your goals. Setting up a daily or weekly check-in with someone can go a long way to improving your mood and motivation.

Recognize your own efforts

Remember to recognize your efforts and commitment to your mental health. The pandemic has affected different people in different ways, which means we’re all finding our own way through it.

Making meaning out of a situation like this can have long-lasting effects on your mental health. You can develop your resiliency by making sense of your experience, experiencing joy in the everyday and planning for the future— and likely you’ve already strengthened your ability to adapt, even if you haven’t yet recognized it.

For more information on cultivating resiliency, check out this helpful post or this informative presentation about resilience during COVID-19 and beyond.