Getting Through Winter During A Pandemic

It’s no surprise that 2020 was a challenging year — with the pandemic bringing anxiety, grief, burnout, and financial strain to the masses, not to mention other stress-inducing events. Now that we’ve entered Winter 2021, we are currently experiencing a new challenge: navigating the pandemic’s effects at a time that is already difficult for many people. With pandemic fatigue, shorter and colder days, and social isolation, it’s safe to say that this winter hasn’t been an easy season to date for many people. Despite this challenging time, the good news is that we can do things to help us prepare for and cope with the transition into winter. 

Learn to enjoy the outdoors

Nothing is worse than experiencing months of winter when you hate winter. The antidote? Find ways to engage with the outdoors. The cold is an apparent reason why people struggle with winter. I’ve found it’s easier to bear with preparation — investing in warm and comfortable winter wear is a helpful first step, and a hot beverage in hand can make things more relaxing. Taking up a winter sport or activity can also make the outdoors more fun. Why not try sledding with the family on the weekend, try cross country skiing, or try to see the beauty in wintery nature by going for a walk? Trying different activities can also bring variety to your life, which is sometimes lost when we ‘hunker down’ during the pandemic.

Exercise 

With the winter months bringing in higher rates of depression and seasonal affective disorder, finding ways to cope is an essential step in their treatment. While exercise may not be a solution to these disorders, research has shown physical activity to be as effective in treating mild to moderate depression as medication (O’Neal, Dunn & Martinsen, 2000). Winter is when many people want to stay inside watching movies on the couch, and engaging in exercise might feel like a chore. The key is finding an activity you like and ways to make it the most comfortable choice. The best exercise is the one you’ll do, and often, it’s easiest to engage in an activity when it’s a part of your routine (like brushing your teeth). Experiment with a time of day that works best for you. Many people feel most motivated in the morning, and engaging in health behaviours early on in the day can snowball into more health behaviours as your day continues.

Try a little Hygge

‘Hygge’ (pronounced: “hoo – guh”) is an integral part of the Danish lifestyle, encompassing coziness, warmth, and wellbeing through enjoying simple pleasures in everyday life. Though Denmark is known for having intense winters, the hygge lifestyle is a custom that has contributed to making the country amongst the world’s happiest. So how do you incorporate more hygge in your life this winter? Light candles, snuggle under warm blankets, gather some good books, enjoy comforting foods, fit in some quality time to connect with loved ones – what sorts of things will you try? 

Schedule regular social time

Ever find that it’s becoming increasingly more comfortable to be socially isolated during the pandemic? These social distancing regulations make it challenging to spend time with our loved ones in the same way we once did. Many of us can become inclined to isolate; but, isolation can make winter especially difficult considering a time when depressive disorders are most common. Scheduling weekly video calls or socially distanced walks with loved ones helps manage the effects of social isolation. 

Be kind to yourself

When times get rough, it can be tempting to look for someone to blame — and we often direct it to ourselves. While many of us are our own worst critics and often criticize ourselves for instigating change, we may promote the opposite. How can any of us have a positive relationship with ourselves, feel motivated to complete work, or begin a healthier lifestyle if we unceasingly criticize, condemn, nitpick, or hate ourselves? We often speak to ourselves in a way that we wouldn’t talk to our worst enemy–so why say them to the person we’re supposed to have the most connected, intimate relationship with — ourselves? When you’re in the self-critical headspace, try talking to yourself as if you were your own best friend. What would they say? Would they be judgmental or provide a balanced view of the situation? Would they tell you all of the things you’re doing poorly, or would they highlight the positive and how for you’ve come? Would they provide further criticism, or would they soothe the wounds you’ve created for yourself? Remember, all you are ever doing is the best you can, at this moment in time, with the resources you have. That’s the best anyone can ever ask for, given the circumstances!

Seek professional help

Life isn’t simple, especially during a pandemic. Admitting that we need help can sometimes feel complicated. But no matter where you’re at in your life journey, you’re never broken — just stuck. Seeking professional help can be an excellent way to maintain your wellbeing and get support during your most trying times.  Consider contacting the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) if you are seeking therapy services. CFIR is a collective of over 70 clinicians who provide various treatment and assessment services and work with clients of all ages, life stages, cultural, sexual, gender, and romantic orientations. Free consultation and reduced fee options are available, making our services an affordable and accessible option for your therapeutic needs. We hope to be a part of your support network!

References

O’Neal, H. A., Dunn, A. L., & Martinsen, E. W. (2000). Depression and exercise. International Journal of Sport Psychology.

Carolyn Streich, BMus, B.A. is a counsellor at Centre for Interpersonal Relationships working under the clinical supervision of Tracie Lee, R.P. (Registered Psychotherapist). She currently holds a B.A. in Psychology (Honours), and is in her final year of her Masters in Counselling Psychology program (M.Ed) at University of Ottawa.

Mind-Body-Wellness Sessions (Episode 2): Coping with the Pandemic through the Body

We’re back with another episode of ‘Mind-Body-Wellness Sessions’ part 2 of 3! In this segment, Tracie Lee, (registered psychotherapist at Centre for Interpersonal Relationships – Ottawa) and Stephanie Karlovits, (founder and CEO of EPIC Fitness + Lifestyle – Ottawa) talk about how coping with the pandemic has been affecting so many of us mentally and physically. There are ways to feel better, and in this video, this amazing duo of wellness professionals tells us what we need to know.

Mental Health in the Midst of a Pandemic

Reesa Packard, R.P., Ph.D. (Associate at CFIR – Ottawa) was on the airwaves with 1310News’ Sam Laprade! The two shared an engaging discussion about managing mental health throughout the pandemic and beyond. This conversation is one you don’t want want to miss.

To learn more about how clinicians at CFIR can help you online or by phone, go to www.cfir.ca

The Individual Impact of Pandemic Stress

The COVID-19 pandemic has had, and continues to have, a significant impact on us as individuals and as a society, on a worldwide scale. There have been significant changes to our daily experiences in the context of lockdowns, self-isolation, and physical distancing. As humans, we are inherently social creatures, and in the context of this pandemic, we have lost access to the typical ways in which we meet our social needs. This pandemic has significantly changed our lives and can cause (variable and/or persistent) acute stress and chronic stress responses.

The pandemic as an “acute stress”

Initially, the onset of the pandemic can be considered to be an acute stress in terms of the way it impacted us and our ability to cope; regarding the impact on ourselves and our nervous systems, an acute stress response is one that activates the sympathetic nervous system or “fight or flight response.” This response is often referred to as “anxiety,” which can be more episodic in nature as our nervous system responds to a threat the environment and then we subsequently seek safety and can return to a state of ease. As such, the anxiety system is meant to switch on and off as a response to immediate threats in the environment. 

In regard to the pandemic, especially the initial onset, we perceive the presence of immediate danger and our nervous systems respond as if there is an immediate stress or risk of danger. In many ways, the pandemic provides a legitimate increased risk of danger in relation to the risk of infection and the consequences of that infection. As such, when responding to an acute stressor, our nervous systems respond with hypervigilance (i.e., scanning the environment for danger), muscle tension (in order to spring the action), worry/preoccupation (as a way to analyze the environment in hopes to keep us safe), as well as other sympathetic nervous system responses, such as increased heart rate and changes in breathing rate.

The pandemic as a “chronic stress”

In the wake of a prolonged period of an acute stress reaction, a stressor can become chronic. There are many stressors that can become chronic, such as work stress, interpersonal relationship issues, financial strain, and the prolonged fear of infection (i.e., pandemic), to name a few. For the context of this article, I believe there to be a difference between acute stress, referred to above as “anxiety,” and chronic stress, which I refer to as “stress,” but this is a matter of labels and diction.

When a stressor becomes chronic, it impacts the mind and body in a more profound manner as it continues to tax resources in a way that was not intended. During periods of chronic stress, stress hormones are continuously released in the body, perpetuating a fight or flight response. In the face of persistent sympathetic nervous system activation, we experience chronic muscle tension and soreness (e.g., in the shoulders, neck, jaw), disrupted sleep patterns, disrupted eating habits, significant fatigue or lack of energy, decline in cognitive function (e.g., poor attention/concentration), increased irritability, becoming easily overwhelmed, and feeling depressed. Other indicators of chronic stress include G.I. distress/digestive issues, chronic pain, headaches, poor immune system function (e.g., frequent infections/colds), and decreased libido. Over time, we begin to lose the capacity to engage more effectively in other parts of our life (that we previously enjoyed) as the chronic stressor takes up most, or all, of our physical and mental resources. Our lives become narrow in terms of activities where we confront/face the chronic stressor and resort to recovery actions; without awareness of our coping repertoire and the short and long term impacts of these actions, we often engage in “maladaptive” coping strategies that provide immediate relief of the stress response, such as escaping/disconnecting (e.g., excessive sleep, excessive use of TV or video games, zoning out), numbing (e.g., substance use, less health food habits and choices), and avoidance (i.e., not engaging in activities that provoke any level of distress). As maladpative coping of the chronic stressor persists, our lives may become more and more limited.

An interesting phenomenon that appears to be occurring during the pandemic is that many individuals report experiencing, sometimes extreme, fluctuations in their well-being, functioning, and emotion regulation/mood. People report this experience as functioning “ok” and being able to meet the demands have their daily life and some of the additional goals they may set for themselves for a few days, and sometimes without notice, the same person might report a significant reduction in their ability to meet these demands for a few days. During these “down days,” the person will likely experience the above-mentioned symptoms a facing a chronic stressor. Following a period of these down days, the person will return to an “ok” level of functioning -and the cycle continues, perhaps with longer periods of down days as the pandemic chronic stress endures.

Chronic stress – an analogy regarding coping

When speaking with clients about the impact of chronic stress, I like to use the analogy of a bucket, which I refer to as “the coping bucket.” When stressors appear in our life, as they do on a daily basis to varying degrees, it is as if liquid is filling our bucket; the larger the stressor, the greater the flow and quantity of the liquid. Once the liquid reaches the top of the bucket (i.e., our upper threshold for our ability to cope with the stress), we start to experience more severe symptoms, such as “breakdowns,” feeling overwhelmed, anger outbursts, emotional dysregulation, etc. 

In order for us to regulate the amount of liquid in the bucket, we need to find ways to release liquid from the bucket, and in the context of this analogy, I imagine spouts at the bottom of the bucket that can pour liquid out; these spouts are our adaptive coping (i.e., helpful) strategies. Similar to the flow speed and quantity of liquid entering the bucket, the spouts differ in terms of how quickly and how much stress they release. For example, in the context of the pandemic, the spouts that previously released greater amounts of liquid likely release less liquid currently because we strategy has been modified to fit within pandemic guidelines. A prime example of this is the way in which we connect socially during the pandemic; many people remark that there is something “different” about connecting virtually rather than connecting in person and that it does not meet our need for connection to the same degree as before.

It is important to note that, at certain points in our lives (depending on the surrounding context of our life), what may have been an adaptive and helpful coping strategy might actually become a source of stress and “add” to the bucket. Part of developing our ability to cope with the variable stressors of life is to pay attention to what our mind and body needsin a given moment and what will best serve the purpose of reducing the liquid (i.e., stress) from the bucket. For example, exercise is generally an adaptive coping strategy to burn off distressed energy; however, when we are feeling rundown and significantly fatigued, exercise may exacerbate this and push us closer to burnout.

If you are having difficulty coping with acute, chronic, or pandemic stress, I encourage you to reach out to a professional (psychologist or psychotherapist) who can assist you in developing and strengthening your coping skill repertoire, as well as address other contributing factors to the maintenance of your symptoms.

Dr. W. Rylie Moore, C.Psych., is a clinical psychologist & neuropsychologist at CFIR’s Toronto location and he has published academic articles in peer-reviewed journals and book chapters. As a requested presenter at numerous national and international academic conferences, Dr. Moore has spoken on topics related to gender dysphoria, LGBT2QA advocacy, psychological assessment, executive functions (cognitive abilities that could be described as the CEO of the brain), stuttering, and bilingualism. In his therapy practice, he works with clients to understand what is happening for them in its larger context, including past experiences and their social world. 

Coping with Negative Thought Cycles During COVID-19

2020 has been far from the easiest year so far. The global pandemic imposed quarantine and social distancing, loneliness, loss of job and financial security, complexified family-work balance, increased levels of stress and mood fluctuations, winter weather in late April…

Meanwhile, our regular life stressors continue to persist. We may be dealing with illness, grief, conflicts, separation, or difficult life transitions. It can be quite challenging to hold all of this at the same time or to maintain our usual upbeat attitude and optimism.

These kinds of considerations often contribute to our negative thought cycles, where everything seems unmanageable, our cynical world views are confirmed, and we experience feelings of despair and frustration. Below are a few ways to soothe those negative loops and help regulate the underlying vulnerable emotions:

  • Turn up the volume of our self-compassionate voice: Judging ourselves for not feeling well or not being our usual self is only aggravating our negative thought cycles. Instead, let’s be more validating regarding our feelings, needs, and limits, and remember that what we are feeling is normal and is a shared human experience.
  • Limit exposure to news and social media: Being informed of the evolution of the pandemic, its impacts, and social measures recommended by our governments is important. However, a continual barrage of negative news and information has its toll on our mental state. I recommend allocating a specific amount of time during the day to read on the pandemic, and then moving on to more enjoyable content. 
  • Reframing our thoughts: Being aware of our negative thoughts that contribute to lower mood and heightened anxiety helps to reframe them and identify authentic needs more effectively. “I am cut off from everyone” could be reframed as “I am feeling lonely today, which contributes to my sadness – I may call my friends today to feel more connected.” “This nightmare will never end” could be reframed as, “I am afraid of what is to come, which contributes to my anxiety – I will practice breathing exercises and talk about this with my partner.” 
  • Practice self-care: We tend to forget to do what makes us feel good when we need it the most. Let’s put a pause on our daily autopilot routine and perform activities or small gestures to take care of ourselves. 
  • Connect with the current positives around us: Even though the present times are very challenging, we continue to be surrounded by positive moments and kind actions. Try to glean hope from the various ways people are working together to mitigate the pandemic. Witness the support given to front-line health workers, and observe how the environment is benefiting from humans slowing down. Notice how strangers are saying hello to each other on the streets, or experience how being at home and connecting with loved ones is reminding us of what’s truly important to us.

We are going through this together, and we are required to take it one day at a time, but sometimes things can feel overwhelming. If the negative thought cycles are too challenging to cope with or are causing significant emotional distress, it is ok to ask for help from our social support system or mental health professionals. CFIR is here to help, and continues to offer teletherapy and reduced-cost services. 

Dr.Karine Côté, D.Psy., C.Psych. is a psychologist at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR). Dr. Côté provides psychological services to individual adults and couples experiencing a wide range of psychological and relationship difficulties related to mood and anxiety disorders, trauma, eating disorders, sleep disruptions, and interpersonal betrayal. She works from a humanistic approach and integrates therapeutic techniques from gestalt and object relations psychotherapies, emotion-focused therapy (EFT), and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

How Frontline Workers are Being Impacted by COVID-19 and What They Can Do

As we all navigate through the uncertain time of COVID-19, frontline workers face a set of particularly unique challenges. What follows is a list of ways that frontline workers are being affected by COVID-19, with some suggested coping techniques. It is my hope that, in creating this list, frontline workers will feel better understood and validated, while those not on the frontline may learn how to better offer their support. 

Isolated from Family/Friends

Being isolated from loved ones is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects frontline workers face. During a time when they may need it most, they may not be able to receive the same love and support from their family that they usually would. Keep in mind that, although frontline workers may have to or choose to isolate themselves from family physically, it doesn’t mean that they have to isolate themselves emotionally. 

Be creative – read bedtime stories over the phone or prop up a phone or tablet with video chat for dinner time. It might still be possible to meet in person, but with a degree of separation like a glass door or window. Also, activities like walks might remain an option, so long as there is physical distancing. Even short, positive, love-affirming texts throughout the day can make a world of difference. 

Direct Interaction with the Disease

Imagine a poisonous snake is living somewhere in your home. Every time you open the refrigerator to get food or hop into bed, you risk being bit. This is the reality that frontline workers are facing. Every person that they interact with and every surface they touch is a risk of contracting this disease. Their stress response is heightened for every moment of their day as they are at risk and may feel they can’t let their guard down. 

Frontline workers may benefit from practicing short-term stress-reduction techniques throughout their day, such as grounding or breathing exercises, as well as practicing long-term techniques like meditation, exercise, or therapy outside of work. Continue to take precautions as necessary to help minimize risk. 

Generally Chaotic Work Environments & Long Hours

Whether its hospitals at capacity or grocery stores swarmed with people, frontline workers are generally working in a chaotic environment at this time. Furthermore, working long hours can also be draining, regardless of the type of work. Imagine being used to going for an evening walk and now suddenly having to be able to run a marathon. The demand for frontline workers continues to grow as confirmed cases of COVID-19 increase, and as there is a need to cover shifts for those that are out sick.  

Try different relaxation techniques before and after shifts and, if possible, create a sanctuary or safe space at work in order to have a place to calm down or take a break quickly. Frontline workers are providing an essential service and are helping their community – use that as a basis to create meaning and satisfaction from work and to help maintain a positive attitude. 

Lack of Equipment/Resources

Some workplaces have been extremely aggressive in trying to keep their workers safe. For example, grocery stores are sanitizing carts, have put up a plastic divider between customers and cashiers, and not accepting paper money. Despite best efforts, however, many places are experiencing a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks. This significantly changes how frontline workers interact with people and how they do their jobs, and it can also lead to a general sense of uneasiness or not feeling safe. Furthermore, the added layer of PPE also affects the patient relationship by way of creating an extra barrier. 

Just today, Prime Minister Trudeau has pledged $2B to buy personal protective equipment, in which Canadian companies are being enlisted to provide critical medical supplies like ventilators, surgical masks, and test kits. Until then, however, continue to focus on things that can be controlled rather than dwelling on things that can’t, and continue to remain positive and practice self-affirmations. Don’t repress worry or stress, however, but give proper times to process and handle those concerns. 

Increased Risk for Mental Health Issues

Many frontline workers are reporting an increase in depressive symptoms, anxiety, insomnia, distress, and trauma-related disorders. Through direct contact with patients, as well as through vicarious trauma of other frontline workers’ experiences with COVID-19, and witnessing illness and death around them all the time, frontline healthcare workers are at significant risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as increased suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors. Some could also turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms and even addiction to help get them through this time of overwhelming anxiety, confusion, instability, and loss. Despite these growing mental health concerns, many still have to continue working and treating the ill. 

It is important to remember that there can also be post-traumatic growth, not just distress during these times. There are important resiliency factors that could help buffer against developing any of the above-mentioned mental health disorders. These factors include, but are not limited to: not avoiding the situation and self-disclosure of distress or trauma to loved ones; having social support available to you and being connected with others (practicing safe physical distancing); spirituality, or having a sense of community or belonging; having an identity as a survivor, and finding hope and optimism wherever you can; helping others, and finding a positive meaning in the trauma.

Frontline workers should know that they are valued and appreciated for all that they are doing and sacrificing for the better of their community. I am offering pro bono services (1-5 sessions) for frontline healthcare workers in Ontario (through the Ontario COVID-19 Mental Health Network), and reduced cost services for other frontline workers. Please reach out if you need support – we are all in this together. 

Dr. Brianna Jaris, C.Psych. is a clinical psychologist at CFIR. She has extensive experience in psychological assessment and diagnosis and the treatment of a wide range of psychological issues, including trauma, depression, anxiety. She is currently the head of CFIR’s Trauma and PTSD service. 

Lessons from a Bereaved Cancer Parent on How to Emotionally Survive the COVID-19 Pandemic

Almost two years ago, the worst thing in the world happened: my precious, loving, silly, joyful, brilliant, freshly two-year-old son was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer. Despite putting him through every treatment available, nine months after that, he suddenly began to decline, and one day, he came to die in my arms. 

For the past two years, I have been living every parent’s absolute worst nightmare, every single moment of every single day. 

And yet, for the past two years, I have also maintained a thriving psychotherapy practice; expanded my skills and hobbies and personal culture; developed a deeper practice of self-compassion; cultivated a stronger sense of connection with others both close and far and across different life domains; and immersed in a strong sense of meaning and purpose, more than I could have ever imagined at any point in my life before losing my son… 

This era that the world has been ushered into so suddenly and most unexpectedly, by the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, reminds me in so many important ways of the life of a cancer parent:

  • One day, you and I each woke up to a whole new world. Nothing was as we expected it to be anymore. All of the mainstays of our day-to-day lives, everything we had come to count and rely on, everything that made us feel like our normal selves—our daily routines, our goods and services, our relationships with others, all the sights and sounds we had grown accustomed to—had seemingly ceased to exist. Our sense of normality, sense of safety and security, hopes and dreams for the future—all of these and more were shaken to their very core, one day, oh-so-unexpectedly. And this new world had no roadmap. We felt lost and disoriented and scared.
  • As we took in the intensity and severity of what was happening around us, we lost the luxury of ever forgetting, even for a second, how fragile life really is. Without a moment’s notice, everything can change, even for the worst, despite our best efforts and wishful thinking. Our shared experiences, like confinement to our homes, financial strain, social isolation, perceived scarcity, and a sense of helplessness, all combine to worsen the impacts of the situation further, while also failing to make it better. 
  • We learned, in an undeniable way, once and for all, that we are all vulnerable—that even we are impermanent.

When our basic sense of normal is so shaken up—when we understand that we are vulnerable to this disease, that it can get and take us or our loved ones, or at least, our financial means and other things that mean so much to us, this is such a massive weight that becomes piled onto our shoulders. 

“…even when the worst thing imaginable happens, we can still be okay.”

Reesa Packard, M.A., Ph.D., R.P. 

Notice that in calm times, to feel free and peaceful and relatively unburdened, the fragility of life and our inherent vulnerability is not always at the forefront of our thoughts—it simply cannot be. To feel okay enough in the present moment, we cannot also be so terribly consumed with what might happen in the next moment, or tomorrow, or next month or year.

The burden is so heavy that we cannot sustain carrying it so much all of the time. Sometimes we have to put it away and change our focus to something else—ideally something uplifting, something that deeply soothes and nourishes, whatever that is for you (nature? connection with self or other? a sense of something bigger than yourself? something creative? something fun?). 

COVID-19 and its consequences are still going to be there when you return to thinking about it, and your time away will not change anything significant, so we can surely all afford a good, well-deserved, full break from it every now and then.  

The helplessness of all of this is a common theme that I am hearing people struggle with the most. We want to protect ourselves; we want to fix it, and we want to be safe. To this, I offer some food for thought:   

  1. There is only so much that we can control. If we trouble ourselves with trying to control it all, all we end up with is despair. Learn, through credible sources, what we best understand for now as being some ways to protect yourself and your loved ones, and take these actions, and then speak to yourself directly to remind yourself: “I have done everything I can.” 
  2. Because we cannot control everything, there will be things that upset or stress us, that we cannot directly do anything about. In moments when these feelings strike, try to embrace them, and try to embrace yourself as you experience them. Speak to yourself again, this time to remind yourself: “this is hard—really, really hard—and we have to get through it. This will come to be okay, somehow, someday. It will pass because nothing has ever lasted forever, so nor will this”. 
  3. There is a harsh reality that none of us can truly ignore right now: even though we have done all we could, and coped as well as we could, sometimes, things still go wrong or not as planned. Sometimes all that we can do is not enough, and the worst happens anyway… And even as we work to accept this harsh reality, I am here to tell you—because I now absolutely know this to be true—that even when the worst thing imaginable happens, we can still be okay. We still get to wake up the next morning, coax ourselves out of bed, and choose to find or create the meaning and purpose that keeps us going. We can make it through, and we will make it through. 

Suffering is relative. Many of you have already survived so much. Some other hard thing you lived through before this might have already felt like “the hardest thing ever.” This, right now, may or may not be harder. 

Remember that you are strong and resourceful and have a lot, already inside of you that can help get you through this. You have come this far, and you will keep trekking forth. 

Remember that you are not alone and that we are globally in this together through our common humanity and shared experience. 

Remember that we can choose to approach this current crisis with the goal of simply trying to make the most it that we can while trying to minimize negative impacts as best we can. 

Remember that the brain and the body respond to the demands that we place on them. Whether or not you can imagine this, you can and will grow in incredible ways as you live this extreme experience that is capable of stretching you, far beyond the confines of your previous self that didn’t yet have to deal with all of this. 

Remember that we can and that we will. 

Take good care. 

Reesa Packard, M.A., Ph.D., R.P. is an Associate and registered psychotherapist at CFIR (Ottawa). She has a doctoral degree from the Saint Paul School of Psychotherapy & Spirituality and works in private practice as a registered psychotherapist. She works with clients hoping to develop a more integrated sense of self as a means to well-being and meaningful, lasting transformation. Reesa is also involved in the teaching and supervision of psychotherapists-in-training and advanced knowledge through research in her specialty fields.

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.

9 Ways to Make the Best of Forced Isolation

As cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continue to rise, society is faced with a new reality that few have ever encountered. In an unpreceded move to ‘flatten the curve’ and avoid further spread of the disease, government agencies have enforced stringent travel restriction policies and implemented ‘social distancing’ protocols. Undoubtedly, this isolation will have an impact on how we feel about ourselves, our relationships, and the larger world. Though this separation is likely to affect mental health, there are several ways to make the best of this forced retreat. Here are helpful tips to help you through this social isolation:

Limit News Intake: While it is essential to stay up to date on the current news regarding coronavirus disease – but moderation is crucial. Try to set a routine as to when you’ll check for updates or choose only to read critical news releases. Staying connected to 24-hour news channels will only increase anxiety and limit your ability to engage in other pleasurable tasks.

Reach Out to Others: Though you may not be able to connect live in-person, technology allows us to communicate in many new and unique ways. FaceTime, the Houseparty app, or Skype are fantastic services for connecting. If someone you know isn’t able to access these technologies, phone calls are still a viable way to reach out.

Create Boundaries on COVID-19 Discussions with Friends: During difficult times it’s essential to relate and share with others. However, if you don’t put boundaries on discussing your anxiety with others, the conversation can spiral quickly. Be mindful of your communications and ask yourself, “…is this helping me feel better or making me more stressed?” If it’s making you stressed, try changing the topic to something else. Try to strike a balance between exploring your feelings and discussing more positive issues.

Create a Flexible Routine (with breaks!): Humans crave some routine. Although it doesn’t need to be structured, try to stick to a basic regimen for your day that includes when you will eat, sleep, and work. This routine will need flexibility given the current situation, however, it’s still good to have a general plan.

Enjoy Nature: If you can, take a walk in a park, your backyard, or some other natural space (just remember to keep 6 feet of distance!). Connecting with nature helps reduce stress and anxiety.

Take Time Alone: Remember to take time alone if you are in isolation with others (especially partners). We often still need quiet time when isolated. Just be sure to have a conversation with your partner/family/roommate, so they know it isn’t a personal sight, and that you need space.

Limit Time on Social Media: It can be easy to get caught up on social media. Though it can be a great way to connect – it also has many downfalls. Avoid reading to many fearmongering or non-credible articles. Remember to avoid comparing yourself to others and what they are doing in isolation. It’s OK to relax and rest.

Get Physical: Going to the gym might be out of the question; however, you can still stay active! Many gyms are offering free online programing that requires little or no equipment. Research tells us that one of the best ways to combat stress and anxiety is to stay active.

Don’t Expect Perfection: It’s impossible to expect yourself to be able to operate at full capacity during a crisis. Practice self-compassion when things don’t go the way you’d like them to and extend this compassion to those around you.

Society has come together like never before to eradicate the coronavirus. We all have our part to play in trying to reduce its spread and keep those around us both physically and mentally safe. Following these tips can help to nurture your mental health during these difficult times. If you are feeling alone and in need of help, skilled clinicians at CFIR can help you better understand your experiences and support you during this difficult period. Secure and confidential video and telephone sessions are available.

Joshua Peters, M.A., R.P., is a Registered Psychotherapist at CFIR. In his clinical practice, he works with individual and couple clients who are experiencing a diverse range of emotional, self, identity, and relationship struggles. With appropriate guidance in therapy, he can help you to get at the emotional roots of your distress as well as help you to become in touch with the concerns, goals, and needs that underlie your experiences.

Love in the Time of COVID-19: Coping With Separation From a Partner

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a drastic impact on all of our daily lives. While many can stay at home with their partners, other couples are separated indefinitely while restrictions on travel are in effect, or as a means to prevent transmitting the virus to a partner who is especially vulnerable to developing a critical illness. It can feel especially isolating to be apart from a partner at a time like this when we most need support from loved ones, especially when the duration of the separation is unknown. Here are some tips for managing this difficult situation:

1. Find ways to maintain your connection while you are apart

Some things to consider:

– Technology now offers a variety of ways to engage with someone remotely. In addition to phone calls and video chats, consider multiplayer online games as an option. These are not limited to traditional video games. Some of these games allow you to simulate playing a board game or completing a puzzle together!), or websites that will enable you to stream the same video together. 

– Rituals can feel grounding at a time like this; consider having a shared mealtime or coffee over video chat, or making a point to wish one another good morning and good night each day. 

– If possible, consider having some of your partner’s favourite snacks or other things they enjoy delivered to them.

– Discuss what each of you needs when it comes to communication. What works best for each of you in terms of scheduling and other commitments? Having a conversation together helps to mitigate the chances of misunderstandings and hurt feelings in this stressful time.

2. Take things one day at a time

It is natural to worry about how long it will be before you can see your partner again, or what the worst-case scenario could be. Still, these worries often contribute to high levels of stress while not helping us to adapt to the situation at hand, especially as it has been rapidly evolving. What can you and your partner do to keep yourselves safe while staying connected today and in the near future? What are the things you can be grateful for, even in these challenging times?

3. Take time to speak about your concerns about the pandemic and how it will impact you or others

Understand that your partner may have very different concerns from your own, as this pandemic is having a range of impacts on people. Some may be worried about their health or the health of loved ones, others may be struggling with lost work or other financial difficulties, and still, others may be distressed about missing important events. Be sure to take time to talk about these concerns so that you can support and validate one another.

4. Take time to speak about literally anything else

While it can be challenging to maintain a sense of normalcy and to maintain your connection as a couple, it’s also important to talk about things other than the pandemic: different aspects of your daily lives, your hobbies, and interests, your hopes and wishes, etc. Consider whether there may be opportunities to talk more deeply about some of these things than you might typically, given the extended time apart and disruptions to your routines and way of life. While you may not be able to avoid a painful time away from your partner, are there ways you can use this time to develop your relationship in a new way?

5. If you live alone, identify others around you who can provide help if you need it (for example, if you are ill or otherwise self-isolating and need someone to run essential errands for you)

Our partners often take on these tasks for us, and it can be anxiety-provoking to be without them at a time when we may need such help; neighbours, extended family, friends, or coworkers may be able to help if asked. If you do not have a robust social network in your area, look into community resources that may be able to help those in need. If you are healthy, also consider whether you might be able to volunteer to provide help for others in your community.

The pandemic has spun the world into a challenging time, and it’s okay not to feel okay being away from your partner right now. In addition to these tips, be sure to take care of yourself and reach out for (and provide, as you are able) support from others in your life, to help cope with this difficult time.

Clinicians at CFIR can work with you to collaboratively set treatment goals to ensure that you or you and your partner’s concerns and needs are adequately addressed. Secure and confidential video and phone treatment options are available. Contact us today.

Dr. Tracy Clouthier, C.Psych. (Supervised Practice) is currently practicing under the supervision of Drs. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych. and Aleks Milosevic, C.Psych at CFIR (Ottawa) provide psychological treatment and assessment services in both English and French to adult clients facing a variety of difficulties, including depression, anxiety, relationship challenges, concerns related to self-esteem and identity, difficulties with emotion regulation, trauma, and challenges adjusting to life transitions and other stresses.

CFIR OTTAWA is moving to its new home JULY 4TH, 2022. Click here for more details.