The Ground-up Approach to Structure with School-Aged Children During the Coronavirus Crisis

These are challenging times for all of us, and for those of us with children, it can be especially daunting to face the coming weeks. Schools have been closed and are unlikely to resume any time soon. Managing elementary and middle-school aged children can be quite a task for parents trying to juggle working from home and engaging in full-time childcare at the same time. This is one time where perhaps the usual gripes about reticent high school teenagers can pivot to feelings of gratitude about their self-sufficiency! For the parents of younger children, though, there can be additional feelings of guilt and anxiety regarding making sure that they are doing home-schooling “right.” This concern can result in a top-down approach to structure, where rules can be established rigidly, in an attempt to mimic the structure of the school day. 

Attempting to ensure that, every day, your child: 

– studies math, 

– reads a certain number of pages, 

– gets physical exercise, 

– engages in arts and craft, 

– practices music, 

– learns new things in science and social studies, 

– keeps up with the school-at-home websites, and after that, 

– talks to family and friends, 

– engages in game and leisure time, 

– eats, 

– sleeps, 

– bathes and brushes on time…

… will only ensure the outcome of a frayed, fraught and frazzled parent!

All of the activities, as mentioned above, are useful in themselves; however, desperate times do not necessarily call for extreme measures. A ground-up approach to provide structure would be more useful in such challenging times. Moving smoothly between structured and unstructured activities will help your child to regulate their emotions related to the significant changes to their daily school routines. Rather than structuring the whole day with a gamut of activities, it might help to structure the next hour or two with an activity or two and leaving enough room for unstructured time. A more inductive approach to tasks and achievement during this time of crisis would help the child process and express their emotions in healthier ways. 

There is significant research on the positive benefits of unstructured activities for younger children. Now might be a good time to allow those benefits to be obtained, as we can creatively and compassionately weave those in with the scheduled activities. It would help parents to realistically manage their own expectations (and that of their children) and for the time being.

If your child seems to be struggling with adjusting to the new routine of life or is experiencing negative emotions related to the pandemic, psychologists, and therapists at CFIR are here to help! We are offering telepsychotherapy (e.g., video, telephone) sessions that are private and safe. 

Dr. Ashwin Mehra, C.Psych. is a psychologist at CFIR (Toronto). He provides psychological assessment and treatment services to a wide range of clients. Dr. Mehra supports them to understand and overcome a wide range of difficulties related to anxiety and mood disorders, traumatic experiences, substance use and addictions, and interpersonal challenges.

The Coronavirus Pandemic and Eating Disorders: A Perfect Storm and Tips to Weather Through

The coronavirus pandemic has evoked a sense of living in an eerie, uncertain, and unpredictable dream. We all need to do our part to carry out public health recommendations to reduce the spread of COVID-19 (i.e., keeping a safe distance from others, practicing proper hand-washing and hygiene techniques, staying at home). But for those who struggle with an eating disorder, the isolation, stockpiling of food, empty grocery store shelves, along with a general sense of heightened stress and anxiety, can be a living nightmare. Indeed, eating disorders tend to develop insidiously in hiding, as a person becomes more isolated with their illness. Concerns about food scarcity and stockpiling food can create enough tension and anxiety to lead to binge and/or purge urges, while guilt about eating limited food may trigger restriction urges. For those in treatment with a prescribed meal plan, having limited access to their regular foods can create confusion, fear, and panic about what to eat. Disruption to our routines, including our food, eating, and activity routines, can threaten our sense of security. On top of all this, social media memes about weight gain and the ‘quarantine 15’, along with the plentiful messages about ‘staying fit at home,’ can bring upon intense body image distress and/or compulsive exercise urges. This combination can be a perfect storm for ED to rear its head.  

Although this can be a challenging time for those who struggle with an eating disorder, there are strategies to help ease, cope with, and tolerate the distress:

Maintain a (flexible) schedule and plan

Having a structure to our days can be hugely beneficial to our sense of security and stability. Maintaining regular meal and snack times can offer grounding anchor points throughout the day. Further, having a meal plan can reduce anxiety during this time when food-buying patterns are shifting. Building flexibility into that schedule and plan, however, can help to reduce the likelihood that rigidity and perfectionism flare, both of which may trigger eating disorder symptoms. For example, this might mean creating a meal plan with multiple options for meals and snacks, so that limited food available at the grocery store is less likely to create panic and distress. 

Connect with your physical self outside of exercise

Physical activity can be soothing and regulating. For those with compulsive exercise urges, however, connecting to our physical self in forms outside of exertive training might help to limit these urges. For example, stretching, deep breathing, or body-based guided meditations and mindfulness exercises can help to feel a greater connection to our body.  

Engage in tactile and sensory activities to cope with and manage eating disorder urges (e.g., crafting, drawing, playing an instrument, doing a puzzle).

Much of an eating disorder exists inside our internal worlds – doing something external by engaging our senses can help to shift our focus away from eating disorder thoughts and urges. 

Limit time on social media

Being inundated with overwhelming and conflicting messages on social media can contribute to heightened anxiety, depression, and unhelpful social comparison. Putting boundaries on scrolling through social media can help to prevent this spiral.

Seek connection and support

Although many in-person support groups have closed, online support groups may be available. Further, many clinicians are continuing to offer assistance through video and/or phone therapy sessions. The National Eating Disorder Information Centre ( runs a helpline and instant chat for those needing support. Hours are available on their website. Connecting in with loved ones and talking about our struggles can also help to soothe the distress associated with an eating disorder. Asking a loved one to help out with grocery shopping or meal prep may reduce the related stress, while also offering opportunities to feel connected to and supported by others.

And finally,

Be compassionate towards yourself

Eating disorders are notoriously harsh and critical. Gently approaching yourself with moments of self-compassion and kindness, acknowledging that this is a difficult time, and validating the struggle you are experiencing, can be a quietly powerful way to help weather this perfect storm. 

Clinicians at CFIR can support you in working with issues of weight and emotional eating.

Dr. Jean Kim, Ph.D., C.Psych. is a clinical psychologist at CFIR’s Toronto location. Over the past eight years, Dr. Kim has had the opportunity to work alongside people as they develop a greater understanding of themselves and their relationships. She has specific interests and training in working with people who struggle with disordered eating, weight, body image concerns, as well as those who are experiencing the challenges of integrating their cultural identity.

Dealing with Loneliness During COVID-19

Were you already feeling lonely before physical distancing became mandated? Now in response to the novel Coronavirus Pandemic, The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends “physical distancing” as it is vital to slowing the spread of COVID-19. It is difficult to fully grasp the idea of limiting physical human connection as it is essential for promoting wellness in our lives. But we are being told this vital connection could potentially harm us. 

But I Was Already Lonely…

Unfortunately, COVID-19 is not the only public health concern we should be worrying about as we start to see the countering effects of social isolation and loneliness. According to new research by Statistics Canada, the number of people living alone in Canada more than doubled over the last 35 years. Also, there is some evidence that individuals who live alone are more likely to report social isolation or loneliness than those who live with others. For many of us, especially those who live alone, being deprived of social connection for an uncertain amount of time could exacerbate current feelings of loneliness and other mental or physical illnesses.

We were already living through an epidemic of loneliness, even before the Coronavirus pandemic started. Those who are lonely do not choose to be isolated. Loneliness can be defined as the subjective feeling of being alone and not connected to others, which can still occur when in the company of other people. Those who experience loneliness tend to have higher levels of cortisol, which is an indicator of stress. An accumulation of this stress hormone can suppress your immune system when exposed to pathogens.

Stay Physically Apart But Stick Together

Being told to stay away from one another physically is the opposite of our innate response as humans to seek out and support one another during stress to maximize survival. Humans have lived in groups for thousands of years for this reason.

The new term “social distancing” was intended to stop or slow the spread of the Coronavirus by limiting the number of people you come in contact with while keeping a physical distance from one another. But more recently, The WHO says efforts taken to slow the spread of the Coronavirus should instead encourage strengthening social ties while maintaining that physical distancing. The new term “physical distancing” emphasizes the need to be physically apart, but socially we still need to work together. 

Why is Social Connectedness so Important?

There are decades of research that support the importance of social connection and love and belonging. According to Abraham Maslow, humans possess an innate desire for a sense of belonging and acceptance. These needs are met through pleasing and fulfilling relationships with others.

From the beginning of our lives, we are wired to connect. This fact is evident from our early days as a newborn. When an infant cries, oxytocin is released. The cry serves as a signal for the mother to bond with their child. Also, there is evidence that this bonding hormone is released when we engage in positive social interactions.

Here are some ways to engage in positive social interactions while halting the spread of COVID-19 and turn social distancing into distant socializing:

Be in Nature – Cultivates interconnectedness of others and reminds us that we are just a small part of the greater whole. 

  • Go for a walk at least once a day – each person you pass say hello and smile at them
  • Go for a hike or bike ride

Use Technology in Socially Healthy Ways Set reminders to connect with others 

  • Social Technology Connections 
    • Use Facetime, Zoom, House Party or Marco Polo 
  • Watch Netflix in Party Mode stream together with a chat function at
  • Virtual Exercise Classes

Media and News Exposure

  • Limit exposure to media related to COVID-19 ten minutes in the morning and ten at night 
  • Use consistent and credible news sources for your information 

Slow Down and Reflect

  • Create a new normal at home with structure and consistency 
  • Reflect on a past positive event 
  • Look at old pictures or videos- by seeing, hearing, or thinking of loved ones can recreate old attachment bonds. 
  • Embrace little connections; they can be meaningful
  • Comfort food – reminds us of being safe and cared for 

Be Present and Mindful

  • Engage in interactions requiring eye contact with both people and pets 
  • Pet and play with your furry companion

Help Yourself and Others

  • Talk about your feelings of loneliness with others. It may not rid you of your loneliness entirely but lets you know you are not alone in that feeling.
  • Give support to others – helping others will help them, but it makes us feel connected as well, which can help us see our shared humanness. We are all in this together.

The correlation between social connection and overall health is clear. Social interaction and connectedness can be used as treatment and prevention for feelings of loneliness and isolation.

At this point, it is safe to say that connecting with others during this period of isolation and using technology in socially healthy ways can increase pleasure and continue to release the oxytocin we need to thrive and survive. This can, in turn, reduce stress and increase happiness. Physical distancing may protect us from the Coronavirus, but it may deprive us of our innate need for social connectedness and belonging.

When we are isolated from others with limited social connection and deprived of oxytocin, life can feel cold and empty. For many, loneliness and even depression follow. Right now, our clinicians at CFIR are offering secure video and teletherapy sessions to new and existing clients. Please feel free to reach out if you would like to connect for a confidential therapy session from the comfort of your own home.

Laura Moore, B.Sc. (Honours) is a therapist at the Centre For Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) in Toronto. She is completing her Masters degree in Clinical Psychology at the Adler Graduate Professional School in Toronto. Laura works with adults and couples in therapy, to support them to overcome challenges related to depression, stress, grief and loss, trauma, and relationship conflicts. Her current research focuses on cultivating spousal attunement following traumatic experiences.

Maintaining Normalcy During Challenging Times

There is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has already become a time of significant uncertainty, concerns, and instability. For many individuals, this chaos may negatively impact general well-being and functioning and may provoke increased levels of stress, sleep disturbances, and lower mood. Try one or all of the following tips to help maintain a certain level of normalcy in your daily regimen:

1. Follow recommendations and take actions

When possible, participating in measures and advice can help us feel connected to our community and increase our sense of internal control. For example, by practicing social distancing, we can feel solidarity and know we are taking a concrete measure to limit the spread of the virus. By encouraging local businesses, we know we are participating in the local economy. By connecting with the vulnerable individuals around us, we minimize their isolation. In this uncertain global climate, taking ownership of our actions can help mitigate our sense of helplessness.

2. Stay connected

Social distancing can tangibly and positively impact the pandemic, but the practice can also leave us feeling lonely. Communicating with friends, family, and colleagues through different means of technology can give us a sense of connection – which is such an essential part of our regular functioning and well-being. Share a meal or a board game session over video chat, play online games with friends, write a letter or send an e-card, or call and message your loved ones.

3. Maintain your routine

When our daily routine is completely changed, it is vital to maintain some key elements, so it is not too difficult when we return to full normalcy. Try practicing your same eating and sleeping habits, get up and maintain your regular wake up time, go for a walk or do some stretches when you would usually take a break during the day, etc. It will go a long way! 

4. Participate in self-care activities

Your self-care remains essential, and we can be creative with that exercise. Many cultural events, physical training programs, and interesting classes are now shared online for free. You may wish to revisit past activities that make you feel good such as playing games, taking a bath, doing a meditation exercise, reading, watching a movie, organizing or decluttering your house, cooking, sorting through pictures, etc.

5. Seeking help and support when needed

Throughout this challenging time, you may feel an increasing need for emotional support. Do not hesitate to rely on your support system, call a distress line, or consult a mental health professional. CFIR is offering secure teletherapy to individuals in need of services, and we are here to help! 

Like all things in life, this chaos will eventually pass. By focusing on our needs and staying connected, we will all get through this together. 

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 to Set Boundaries While Self-distancing

For most of us, the social distancing process has been accompanied by many questions, concerns, and uncertainty, leaving us feeling overwhelmed, confused, and anxious. These feelings are common, as we are trying to navigate an unprecedented situation that left us needing to adapt rapidly to a new reality.

There are many useful ways to help us adapt during this time, such as setting boundaries. Boundaries are an integral part of self-care and will be essential to feel psychologically well.

Boundaries with yourself related to pandemic can look like the following:

  • Limit your media or information intake
  • Rely only on two or three trusted resources
  • Maintain good sleep hygiene practices
  • Check-in regularly with yourself to increase self-awareness of internal experiences
  • Eat regular meals (even though anxiety can make it hard to feel hunger cues)
  • Limit your caffeine intake as this can induce anxiety symptoms
  • Say no to hanging out with friends, even if it is at home
  • Find safe ways to breathe in some fresh air and move your body every day

Boundaries while working from home can look like the following:

  • Set the alarm in the morning
  • Get dressed
  • Schedule breaks
  • Set your phone aside or use mobile applications to block distractions (e.g., self-control)
  • Create a designated, comfortable workspace
  • Schedule specific times for social interactions
  • Check emails during the workday only
  • Focus on one task at a time

Remember that you are not alone in what you are experiencing. It is ok to feel all your feelings. If you had mental health difficulties before the pandemic, this might be a more triggering time for you. Again, you are not alone. I hope that you take good care of yourself by honoring your mind and your body. I also hope you stay connected to your community and your loved ones by reaching out via video chat, texts, and teletherapy. We are all in this together.

Mathilde Theriault, B.A. Hons., is a clinical psychology resident at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) in Toronto and a candidate in the Doctor of Psychology program (Psy.D.) at the Universite de Moncton in New Brunswick. She provides psychological treatment and assessment services to individual adults and couples in the areas of depression, anxiety and stress, trauma, personality disorders, and relationship difficulties.

Accessibility, Comfort, Flexibility & Consistency – What You Need to Know Now About Teletherapy at CFIR

Within the past few weeks, so many of our realities have entirely changed. With the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are working from home and choosing to practice social distancing. This new realm may have interfered with your weekly or biweekly therapy sessions. For others, you may be finding yourself struggling with new or familiar troublesome thoughts, feelings, and memories. 

Right now may be a time when you are looking for support.

Right now is when video and telephone therapy are great options to explore. 

Some of the benefits of video and telephone therapy include:


ideo and telephone therapy is easily accessible to everyone that has a phone, computer, or tablet and an internet connection.  


You can have sessions from the comfort of your own home which may make you feel more comfortable because you will be in a familiar setting


There is more flexibility in terms of scheduling your sessions


These sessions work much in the same way that face-to-face meetings do. If you are used to coming into your therapist’s office, there will be minimal difference when switching to video or telephone sessions. 

Clinicians at CFIR are offering secure video and teletherapy sessions during this time, to ensure continuity of care. Reach out if you would like to have safe, confidential therapy sessions from the comfort of your own home.

Natalie Alexov, B.Sc. is a counsellor at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) under the supervision of Dr. Aleks Milosevic, C.Psych., and a Masters of Education with a concentration in Counselling Psychology at the University of Ottawa. She supports individual clients to overcome a broad range of difficulties, including depression, anxiety and stress, the impact of traumatic experiences, and relationship problems.

Caring for the Mental Health of Front Line Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

During this unparalleled novel coronavirus pandemic, the majority of the global population has been instructed to practice social distancing and stay at home. However, front line workers have no choice but to continue serving the public during this critical time. These workers include, but are not limited to, hospital staff, nurses, physicians, police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and many more. Under normal circumstances, society relies on these individuals for our wellbeing and understands the importance of protecting their mental health. However, in the context of COVID-19, our collective reliance on and heartfelt gratitude for this population is highlighted. Thus, it is incumbent upon us as mental health professionals and as a society to care for the specific mental health struggles these individuals will face during this devastating time. These individuals are knowingly exposing themselves and their loves ones to the virus to serve the public. Taking this risk comes with its own set of mental health challenges that I will speak about, drawing from a psychological understanding of how chronic exposure to trauma affects individuals.


Front line workers understand that their job requires them to be exposed to events outside of the average person’s experience, including having to work to protect the public in a state of global crisis. At the same time, the rest of the world is social distancing. This exposure creates isolation as many front line workers live with a sense that others do not understand what they go through and that people around them are concerned with “more trivial” issues. This sense of isolation can lead to further disconnection from loved ones during a time when front line workers need support. Additionally, feeling isolated can result in their apprehension to raise their challenges with loved ones, operating under the assumption that they will not be understood. Thus, a deep sense of shame and alienation about one’s internal struggles can ensue, furthering isolation, and helplessness.

Disconnecting from Difficult Emotions 

As front line workers are taking risks to their own (and loved ones’) safety and security, they must adopt coping strategies to manage their own painful emotions of fear, powerlessness, sadness, and more. These strategies may include suppression, dissociation, and avoidance and are, to a certain extent, standard in response to trauma and crises to maintain functioning. While these mechanisms are necessary to allow front line workers to perform heroic acts of bravery, there are detrimental effects to chronic use of these coping strategies. These damaging effects involve operating on “autopilot,” as if one’s survival is continuously threatened, lack of engagement in the present moment, being indifferent, withdrawn, or cutoff. Moreover, the complex emotions engendered during times of crisis do not get processed in a healthy way that allows for constructive meaning to be made. Further, enduring chronic trauma increases the risk of substance use and other forms of self-destructive behaviour.

The Effects of Chronic Stress Response 

Unfortunately, front line workers will also suffer from the chronic activation of anxiety associated with always being in “fight or flight” mode. The persistent activation of this kind of psychological stress also has harmful physical and mental effects. Such effects include: 

  • destabilization of mood, 
  • distorted perceptions of events, 
  • hyperarousal of the nervous system, (resulting in elevated blood pressure, heart rate, physical tension, and stress hormone production) 

Moreover, nervous system dysregulation results in increased difficulties with primary bodily rhythms, such as sleep, appetite, digestion, body temperature, sexual desire/arousal, and energy levels. These detrimental psychological and physical effects of chronic stress levels make it even more difficult for front line workers to cope and less capable of accessing their baseline levels of resilience.

Supporting Front Line Workers During the Pandemic 

At CFIR and in the broader community, we are enormously grateful for the sacrifices front line workers are consistently making daily during this global crisis. CFIR clinicians are skilled in providing trauma related-care and assisting family members of front line workers. Collectively, we can support front line workers by increasing our awareness of the specific challenges they have and will endure and letting them know that mental health support is available to them. We also recognize that, particularly at a time like this, front line workers need to be confident that the world around them is ready and able to provide much-needed care and support. If you are a front line worker during the COVID-19 pandemic, you are not alone—we see you, we value you, and there is support for you!  

Tracie Lee, M.A. (Ed)., R.P. is an Associate at CFIR (Ottawa).  She provides psychotherapy to adults and couples who are experiencing issues related, but not limited to, anxiety and depression, self-esteem, interpersonal and couple relationship functioning (e.g., divorce/separation, infidelity, intimacy issues, family issues), sexuality, body image concerns, personality disorders, identity issues (e.g., professional, gender, sexual), suicidal ideation or self-harming, trauma and domestic abuse, and workplace and school functioning (e.g., burnout, workplace stress, performance). She recently spoke with CBC News Ottawa co-host, Adrian Harewood, about the psychological effects of COVID-19.

Power and Pandemics

Over the past week of the #COVID-19 pandemic, many of my colleagues have written wonderfully helpful articles on how to cope ( and connect without physical contact ( I’d like to do something a little different, so I’m going to talk about power. So, take a (virtual) walk with me, and we’ll find out a bit more about power in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic; who has it, who needs it, and what to do with it if you’ve got it.

Power relations (i.e., social power) can also play a role in helping or hindering any attempt to your attempt to sway others into adopting, implementing, and adhering to COVID-19 social distancing policies. Social power, though difficult to define, can be understood as the capacity to influence others, even when they attempt to resist influence (Forsyth, 2009). In an early analysis of the roots of power that still holds today, French and Raven (1959) identified six critical bases of power: reward, coercive, legitimate, referent, expert, and informational power. Group members who control these bases of power are more influential than those who do not (Forsyth, 2009). Let’s focus on a few that might be most useful for getting your friends, family, and loved ones to #socialdistance.

One kind of power that you might possess is referent power – influence based on group member’s identification with, attraction to, and respect of others. Someone who commands referent power is a person meriting respect, is admired by others in the group, and is a nice, likeable person. For example, a person may achieve high levels of referent power by being a social leader (i.e., the one that plans the Skype parties), or someone who others look up to for any number of reasons. The person who is attempting to influence people around them to #socialdistance can do so by simply asking them to socially distance. When individuals with referent power ask for compliance, their followers are often happy to oblige (Weber, 1921/1946). Put simply, people like you, they hear what you say, and they’re open to it.

Another base of power is expert power. This one refers to an influence that is based on others’ beliefs that the individual possesses superior skills and abilities in some relevant dimension. Here, we’re looking at you if you’re a medical doctor, a nurse, a public health professor, or any other person working in a field where other people assume that you have relevant knowledge on the merits of social distancing. If you’ve got that kind of power (like so many ER doctors we’ve seen in recent days on social media), merely suggesting that social distancing occurs, many people are likely to comply, as they might assume that “the expert knows best.” This could be one reason so many of these posts have been made. 

The final base of power, informational power, is influence based on the potential use of informational resources such as factual data and rational arguments. For example, the early adopter of social distancing can increase adherence to social distancing by showing others the data regarding its efficacy (e.g., anyone who has shared #FlattenTheCurve information). This will help some people adopt social distancing who might otherwise not have done so.

So, think about which of those sources of power might apply to you or people you know. Getting people into the social distancing mindset might not be easy, but it sure is essential. These power tactics might just save a life.

Finally, it’s completely normal to be concerned or experience stress and anxiety from the growing challenges we are facing from COVID-19, but it’s essential to stay calm, be prepared, and stay informed. Right now, our clinicians at CFIR are offering secure video and teletherapy sessions to new and existing clients. Please reach out if you would like to have a safe, confidential therapy session from the comfort of your own home. 

For additional information and important updates related to COVID-19, please refer to the following links:

Brent Mulrooney, M.A.S.P. is a therapist at CFIR (Toronto). He works with individuals and families to improve family functioning and relationships, work and school success, as well as anxiety, depression, and anger problems. He also work to alleviate problems associated with substance use, learning difficulties (including ADHD and Learning Disabilities), bullying, trauma, violence, grief and loss, transitions in life, self-esteem, gender identity, sexuality, and intimate relationships. 

5 Ways to Connect Socially During COVID-19 Self-Isolation

Opportunities for ‘Distant Socializing’ in the Time of Social Distancing

With the state of emergency declared in Ontario because of COVID-19, many are self-isolating to protect themselves and others. While isolating or ‘socially distancing’ ourselves can limit the spread of the virus, it can also lead to feelings of loneliness. Humans are inherently social creatures. In a time where most of our basic needs are met with the click of a button or a trip to the store, we continue to strive for comfort, reassurance, self-esteem needs, and to feel worthwhile. Research shows that social support from valued others increases our life satisfaction, self-confidence, ability to cope with distress, and mitigates stress and negative mental health symptoms.

As many of us take shelter in our homes during this unexpected period in history, we can find solace in the fact that we are in an unprecedented age of social connection. Social media has allowed us the ability to connect in new and creative ways. At the same time, it can be a tiring and limiting way to socialize, especially when we find ourselves scrolling mindlessly on Instagram for hours. Here are some new, old, and forgotten methods of socializing from a distance.  

Seeking Innovative Interactions Online

Perhaps one of the consolations in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic is the knowledge that everybody is experiencing the same variations of loneliness, isolation, and boredom. A lot of your self-isolated friends are likely desperate for interaction! If you’re a gamer, multiplayer games that allow voice-chatting are a great way to amuse yourselves, work towards a shared goal and connect with others all at once. If you are less of a gamer and more of a Netflix fan, bond over your shared love of content-consumption using websites like Netflix Party. This site allows friends to chat while watching Netflix content together online, and is becoming a popular platform to socialize from a distance.

Normalize the Video Call

When people think of video calling, they often think of one of two scenarios: either they’re enrapt in an urgent conference call, or they’re talking to their parents, who are usually sitting much too close to the camera. We often forget that video calling can be useful for everyday check-ins. Your distant family members aren’t the only ones who enjoy seeing your face! Try replacing your 10 a.m. coffee chat with your coworker with an informal video call. If you have switched to at-home workouts, try video-chatting your gym buddy as you sweat through a cardio routine in your living room. Don’t be afraid to normalize video-calling by reaching out to those in your life you typically wouldn’t think to Facetime. 

Revive the Pen Pal

Letter-writing may seem like an outdated means of communication, but it can foster deep and meaningful connections with your loved ones. Unlike the average text message, writing a letter involves considerably more time and reflection, and the topics you discuss are usually more deliberate. It can thus be a profoundly introspective activity, much like writing in a journal. Sending mail is a thoughtful way of showing someone they’re on your mind while providing you with the opportunity to organize ideas and understand your experience. Older individuals who are more at risk of COVID19 and are likely also bored at home may appreciate your reaching out. 

Engage with Pets

Those of us self-isolating with a pet are in good company! The presence of an animal can be very therapeutic during times of fear and uncertainty. Cuddling your pet is a great way to release endorphins and oxytocin, which foster feelings of happiness and connection. 

In this period of social distancing, some pets can provide a great excuse to momentarily get outside from time to time. Walking your dog can become a healthy routine that allows you to check-in with yourself, get some fresh air, and catch up with neighbours (from a safe distance).

Connect with a Therapist Online

Self-isolating without family or roommates can be a lonely and emotionally-taxing experience. Self-isolating with panicked family and friends can be just as anxiety-inducing and draining. Virtual psychotherapy can allow individuals who are distressed, struggling, or who need someone to talk to, to connect with therapists from the comfort of their home. Reach out to CFIR online for secure video and teletherapy sessions. 

Nisha Mohan, B.A. is a counsellor at CFIR (Ottawa) and is currently in her final year of a Master of Arts program in Counselling Psychology at the University of Ottawa, pursuing research on the intersecting experiences of biculturalism and emerging adulthood. At the time of this publication, she is under the supervision of Dr. Aleks Milosevic, C.Psych. Nisha provides therapy and assessment to adults for difficulties related to anxiety and stress, depression and mood, anger and emotion regulation, grief and loss, learning challenges, life transitions, personal growth, existential meaning and purpose, and relationship struggles. 


A Psychologist’s Tips to Mentally Cope with COVID-19

Last week there were crowds of people amassed at grocery stores; carts full of bottled water and toilet paper, and shelves left barren. Now, businesses are closing their doors, while many are near empty as people begin to self-isolate and avoid crowds. Some people are now out of work, and they’re worried about how to make ends meet. It’s hard to ignore the impact that COVID-19 has had on Canada, and around the world. Amid so much panic and uncertainty, what can we do, and how can we cope? 

Some of the most important things we need to remember are to stay calm, be prepared, and stay informed. It’s entirely understandable for everyone to have concerns or anxiety surrounding a growing global pandemic. In particular, individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions may be more prone to experiencing these symptoms. While stress and anxiety are seemingly at an all-time high, there are some strategies and techniques that can help as we navigate through this period. 


Grounding is a technique that can help to focus on the present and pull away from challenging emotions. One method to practice grounding is to follow the 5-4-3-2-1 rule – identify five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Helping your mind to focus on the present is an excellent way to calm down quickly. 

Positive Self-Talk

Positive self-dialogue helps identify negative thoughts and attitudes and works to turn them into positive ones. A positive mindset or outlook is better able to take on and tackle life’s challenges and help to mitigate stress and anxiety. 


Writing in a journal is a great technique to help you collect and organize your thoughts. When things are so chaotic and uncertain, journaling can be a means of self-reflection, and a means to provide more clarity. Additionally, keeping a gratitude journal can be a great way of focusing on the positives and silver linings of this situation.


The benefits of exercise extend beyond that of just physical. Physiologically, exercise helps to address your body’s stress responses by releasing “feel-good” endorphins, while, psychologically, it can boost self-confidence and take your mind off your worries. Some numerous programs and organizations are offering free video sessions for yoga and physical exercises so that you can stay healthy at home. 

Reach Out for Support

Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends or family to help provide comfort or support, however possible. Also, be sure to take advantage of community or government resources as available and as necessary. 


Through meditation, we learn about our internal thoughts and emotions, safely explore them, and work to better cope and manage them. Meditation is a great technique to help regulate stress and anxiety. The Calm app is currently offering several free resources, from guided meditation to relaxation techniques, to music and sleep stories. 

Deep Breathing

Breathing exercises can offer simple techniques that can help overcome emotional strain. It can be used on its own or in tandem with other methods like grounding or meditation.

Stay Busy

By focusing on our behaviors and things we can accomplish during this time, we can stay productive and mindful. Making effective use of this time by learning a new skill or hobby, spending quality time with loved ones, getting our spaces organized, and focusing on self-improvement (all the things that we don’t normally have time for). When we get productive, we can increase our moods and decrease our stress and anxiety. Staying healthy by controlling what you can when things feel out of control. 

Make Our Spaces Cozy and Peaceful

During this time when we are all cooped up in our homes, it can begin to feel as though we are trapped in our environments. When we don’t want to spend times in our physical environments (e.g. messy, cramped, chaotic), we can increase negative thought patterns and turn to potentially unhealthy coping mechanisms (e.g. isolation, lashing out at others). Make your space inviting by keeping it clean and organized. Having a cozy place to curl up and watch a movie or read a book is essential. By making a relaxing environment, you will want to enjoy your time at home. You can use essential oils and diffusers, as well as calm lighting and soft blankets (or weighted blankets) to slow down your arousal response and reduce your stress levels. 

In addition to the anxiety-reducing techniques mentioned above, the Government of Canada website offer ways to help reduce and contain viruses like COVID-19 such as:

  • Practice proper hand hygiene and coughing/sneezing etiquette
  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Reduce exposure to crowded places, whenever possible
  • Avoid direct contact with individuals
  • Stock up on essentials, but avoid panic buying
  • Disinfect frequently touched objects like doorknobs or toys
  • Get reliable information
  • Communicate and make a plan

It’s completely normal to be concerned or experience stress and anxiety from the growing challenges we are facing from COVID-19, but it’s essential to stay calm, be prepared, and stay informed. Mental health professionals can work with you and develop ways to manage the stress and anxiety surrounding this global pandemic – it’s never too late to start. 

Clinicians at CFIR are offering secure video and teletherapy sessions during this time, to ensure continuity of care. Please reach out if you would like to have a safe, confidential therapy session from the comfort of your own home. 

For additional information and important updates related to COVID-19, please refer to the following links:

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. You can visit to find out more about Dr. Jaris.