New West comedian shares tips on coping with COVID-19 crisis

A psychiatric-nurse-turned-comedian has some ideas on how people can stay positive during the COVID-19 crisis.

A former psychiatric nurse, Janice Bannister has worked as a stand-up comedian and taught comedy classes and made presentations about healthy living for two decades.

“I think the Number 1 thing people have to do is keep connecting with other people,” she told the Record. “Isolation is such a hard thing on people, whether they are 20 years old or they are 80 years old. I think they just need to pick up a phone. Pick up a phone and call our buddy. Even leave a voice mail if you can’t get a hold of them.”

With people being advised to stay home as much as possible, Bannister said online tools like Facetime are a great way for folks to connect visually.

“If you don’t have these tools, ask someone about it. Just say, ‘Can I do this on my phone, can I do this on my computer?’” she said. “If you don’t keep in touch with people, you will shut down. You will shut down within your own home.”

While she’s unable to visit her son and his family in Port Coquitlam as they’re on lockdown, Bannister chats with them regularly on Facetime.  She’s also in regular contact with her daughter and her family in Los Angeles.

“If you are someone who doesn’t have the technology, the phone is still the Number 1. To hear a voice is so much more powerful than silence,” she said. “But if you can, go with a voice and a face. I put my laptop on the counter and cook my dinner while I’m talking to my kids in L.A. We are all just cooking dinner together. My daughter is yapping away. My two granddaughters are running around. Dad is doing whatever. Sometimes we eat our breakfast together.”

Bannister’s second piece of advice is to avoid watching around-the-clock news coverage about the COVID-19 pandemic. While it’s important to be aware of what’s happening, she believes people should avoid getting caught up in non-stop media coverage.

“We need to be aware,” she said, “but maybe check in once a day on what you need to know. There is always a report coming out from the health minister.”

Last week, Bannister and some of the students in her current comedy class met online.

“It just became such a touchstone for everybody to know they aren’t the only ones going through this stuff out there. For me personally, at the end of the night I chuckled for about an extra hour after that, just thinking about how good I felt,” she said. “I didn’t watch the news before I went to bed. I never clicked on any media sites. I had the best sleep ever. I think it was just knowing that we are all in this together, to support each other, whether it is a comedy group or a sewing group. If you have the technology, hook up with your quilting group and quilt together and yak at each other. Or share a call – ‘I’m working on my 15th square today, what are you doing?’ It’s really important.”

Many people have commented on social media that they’re not sleeping well because of concerns about COVID-19.

“People are worried about their kids. They are worried about their parents. It’s all circling around in their little brains that aren’t settling down,” Bannister said. “Watch a love story. Read a book of poetry. There are a lot memes online, supportive things. Watch 10 memes that are good for your heart and soul and then go to bed.”

Bannister said a variety of mediation apps are available that may be helpful to folks who are having trouble sleeping.

“Listen to a forest or waves crashing. Listen to those things before you go to sleep,” she said. “Don’t sit and watch the 11 o’clock news when you get an update on how many have died and how many new cases.”

At a time when people are spending a lot of time in their homes, Bannister said it’s a great opportunity to get a little creative with their activities.

“I encourage people to do different things,” she said. “I know it sounds crazy but if you are used to just sitting and reading or knitting, stand up and do the polka in the middle of your living room or turn something on that allows you to do that. Dress your cat up.”

With many people’s normal daily routines disrupted, Bannister said it’s a chance to create new routines.

 “Get out and walk. You feel good. Listen to a podcast. You can say hi to people, just keep your distance,” she said. “To me, Number 1 is connection. I do think when you get outside, whether it is on your own patio or whether it’s walking though your community, you realize there are other people out there. The warmth of the sun on your face is really good therapy. We know the power of light therapy. We know the power of colour. All these things are really important to mental health. If you are getting up every morning – ‘I’ve got nowhere to go, I’ve got nothing to do’ and you just wear your same pyjamas every day, it’s going to slide you down. Put on your party dress. Wear a fricken crinoline. Seriously.”

© New West Record