Therapist advises routine, leisurely walks to maintain mental health during pandemic

This article has been amended to note Adrian Juric has closed his office due to the pandemic.

You can’t run from your problems but, sometimes, it helps to walk.

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As people around the world self-isolate in an attempt to thwart the spread of COVID-19, North Vancouver therapist Adrian Juric recommends putting one foot in front of the other to help maintain your mental health during the public health crisis.

Many are struggling to: “download and comprehend information of the kind that nothing has ever prepared them for,” he says. “Myself included.”

Keeping up with the constant coronavirus updates can impact mental health.

“People are trying to drink from an information firehose,” Juric says. “Your whole day can fill up with media alerts coming up on your phone.”

That can lead to ruminating, catastrophizing and “a sense of powerlessness,” according to Juric.

The solution is simple.“Take a media break,” he recommends.

In order to find the line between helpfully informed and oversaturated with information, Juric advises scheduling a time each day to catch up with the news.

That media routine should also be balanced with “necessary and welcome distractions,” Juric says. That could mean a phone call with a friend, puttering in the garden, reading a good book, or taking a stroll.

A practitioner of walk-and-talk therapy, Juric is devoted to the mental health properties of getting there by foot.

“You don’t need research to tell you that it feels good to take a walk sometimes,” he says.

But for those who do need research, a 2015 study by Stanford researchers found that walking in nature – compared to walking in an urban environment – resulted in less blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain associated with morbid rumination.

Once in nature, that part of the brain has a tendency to quiet down as nature “quells that tendency to ruminate,” Juric explains.

That’s why, if possible, Juric advocates heading to one of the North Shore’s trails to walk. Of course, that's become more challenging recently.

Juric has closed his West Esplanade office and is currently seeing patients online rather than on the trails to allow for social distancing during the pandemic.

For those hours, days or even weeks of self-isolating, Juric advises frequent exposure to natural light, plenty of soothing music and frequent Facetime or Skype conversations that have little or nothing to do with the pandemic.

And for parents cooped up with their children, maintaining a routine is vital, according to Juric.

“What I know from working with kids is that they thrive on structure and routine,” he says.

Having spent 23 years teaching and working as a school counsellor overseas and in Squamish, Juric is an advocate of giving kids something predictable that they can see. That may mean writing the day’s routine on a whiteboard. The routine could include exercise, online classes and generally just encouraging kids to be curious. Self-isolation presents an opportunity “to really get to know your kids,” he says.

While online resources can be extremely helpful, Juric is adamant that parents exercise control of their children’s time spent on social media. Oftentimes, kids don’t have a filter for authenticating what’s real and what’s false on social media.

As long as the pandemic lasts, Juric recommends parents project calm and confidence.

“As with all parenting, even when you don’t know what you’re doing . . . act as if you do.”

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