Maintaining and Building Healthy Relationships Virtually During COVID-19

With the outbreak of COVID-19, the whole world changed rapidly and drastically, which can invoke feelings of fear as well as uncertainty. A particularly crucial yet psychologically difficult element associated with COVID-19 is the worldwide efforts of socially distancing to limit the spread of the virus. As human beings, we have a fundamental need and drive for interpersonal connections and relationships. During social distancing, it can be common to feel loneliness and disconnection from others. However, with modern technology, we can build and nurture new and existing relationships that have evidence-based findings to improve our mental health and overall wellbeing. Healthy relationships are linked to reduced production of stress hormones such as cortisol, a greater sense of purpose, and healthy coping behaviours.

During times like this, it is crucial to utilize the psychological benefits of social relationships by:

  • Scheduling times to connect via FaceTime, Skype, or virtual platforms. This activity can serve as a wonderful substitution for face to face interaction. 
  • Sharing our thoughts, feelings, concerns, and experiences with friends and family. Doing so allows us to feel heard, understood, and increasingly connected to others.
  • Create time for individual hobbies and self-care; however, include scheduled time for family activities such as game nights or think of some creative ideas on date nights you can create with your partner at home.
  • Reconnecting with friends or relatives that we haven’t had much time or opportunity to connect with as frequently in the past.
  • Keeping in touch with colleagues or employees during these uncertain times and offering support.

Clinicians at CFIR are offering confidential, secure video therapy or teletherapy therapy, which can help support you with maintaining social relationships during COVID-19 as well as working through feelings of loneliness, loss, or uncertainty, amongst others.

Edgar Prudcoi, B.A. is a therapist at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) in Toronto and is near completion of his Masters degree in Clinical Psychology at the Adler Graduate Professional School. He supports individual adults and couples to deal with difficulties related to emotion (e.g., depression, anxiety, anger), the effects of trauma, loss and grief, conflict resolution, and relationship functioning.

Social Support and Its Role in Mental Health

by: Stephanie Azzi, B.A., Counsellor

Humans are social beings; we all rely and depend on the support of others to help us deal with the difficulties we encounter in everyday life. Social support is a concept that encompasses the physical and emotional support we receive from our surrounding social worlds (e.g., our cities, neighborhoods), as well as from our personal relationships. We may receive social support from romantic partners, relatives, friends, coworkers, as well as from our social and community ties (Taylor, 2012). 

To better understand what effective social support looks like, it is important to look at two aspects of social support: received social support and perceived social support. Received social support refers to the emotional or physical support that is provided to a person by others, usually in a specific context or situation, and that is not always appreciated by this individual receiving it (Uchino, 2009). Perceived social support refers to a person’s beliefs about how available support is to them when they need it, and to how much they believe they are receiving it in different situations (Uchino, 2009). 

Social support can have positive effects on our physical health (e.g., reduces the risk of mortality; Holt-Lunstad, Smith & Layton, 2010) and on our mental health (e.g., reduces anxiety; Harandi et al., 2017); however, not all social support appears to be beneficial at all times. Whether or not social support is positive and beneficial appears to depend on various aspects of the support, such as who provides it and whether it is considered appropriate for the situation (Taylor, 2012). Certain forms of support may be more valued when they are provided from different individuals. For example, emotional support (i.e., providing empathy, affection and caring towards someone; Kent de Grey, Uchino, Trettevik, Cronan, & Hogan, 2018) seems to be most appreciated when received by close family members, spouses, and friends but may be perceived as unhelpful and unwanted from acquaintances (Dakof & Taylor, 1990). 

While we all need some form of social support as we deal with the vicissitudes of life, when reaching out for certain types of social support it is important that we consider who you are reaching out to and what type of support you are needing.

Stephanie Azzi, B.A., is a Ph.D. student in the Clinical Psychology program at the University of Ottawa. She is currently completing a practicum at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) in Ottawa, under the supervision of Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych. Stephanie works with individual adults and couples, providing psychological assessment and treatment services for a wide range of presenting issues including depression, anxiety, and interpersonal difficulties.

Emotional Dialogues in Couples: 9 Steps to Greater Emotional Communication and Connection!

Learning how to experience and express our emotions and needs to a partner can be very difficult, particularly if in our own family of origin, our inner feelings and needs were not addressed. Working through feelings and emotions requires adequate time and space to complete these types of interactions.  Couples often struggle and elevate distress when trying to engage in discussions of feelings and needs while multi-tasking (e.g., cooking, driving, shopping, taking care of the children). 

Discovering how to efficiently and effectively process your partner’s and your emotional experience is essential, so each of you feels understood and seen by the other. Picking the right time to have these dialogues is crucial, taking turns so that each partner feels sufficiently validated in their experience and their needs resolved is also important. Emotional accessibility and responsiveness to our partner’s emotional experiences and needs help our partners distress to lower and deepens the connection between partners. To be accessibility means to be able to be present and engaged sufficiently with your partner’s emotional experience. Responsiveness involves interest and engagement in identifying and resolving the underlying needs associated with emotions. These types of interactions are the essence of secure attachment.

The clinicians at CFIR support couple clients to develop emotional attunement through nine different steps. Learning how to complete these types of emotional interactions can lower distress and stress levels when partners have a guide to help them to process their emotions and needs. Come learn how to emotionally communicate and connect using steps developed by clinicians at CFIR’s offices.