Reconnecting with Yourself During Social Distancing

It’s been a strange time. There are daily news updates regarding the current pandemic; still, it’s uncertain how long we’ll be required to stay home. Some of us have found this period at home to be calming, while others have found it to be monotonous. The change of pace has left us with time to spend with (and learn more about) our selves. Here are a few things you may wish to explore:

Do Things You Enjoy: When life gets busy, we may start to neglect aspects of ourselves to make time for things that seem even more essential. During this time, allow yourself to reconnect with the things that bring you joy (e.g., art, music, writing, etc.). Reignite those passions and take note of how they affect your wellbeing. 

Unplug: The ongoing dissemination of news can become overwhelming. It is okay to allow yourself a chance to step away and take a breath. Instead of tending to something that may exacerbate feelings of anxiety and being out of control, shift your focus to what can be controlled-you. Do the things that bring you peace of mind (e.g., yoga, reading, cooking, etc.) 

Reminisce: It’s not uncommon to want to press ‘pause’ sometimes during fast-paced times. If you have some extra time now, reconnect with who you are, and how far you’ve come, whether it’s looking at old pictures or looking at mementos; allow yourself to look back on special memories. Reconnect with the forgotten parts of yourself and reflect on how they affect your wellbeing. If distressing feelings or thoughts arise, it may be an indication for you to reach out for support.

Re-Evaluate: With the opportunity to disconnect from ‘auto-piloting’ through life, we may start to evaluate our thoughts and feelings concerning our experiences in the present. Allow yourself to acknowledge this information. Sometimes, we may need to re-evaluate what is working and what is not working in our lives and how it’s affecting our wellbeing.

Social isolation can be a confusing and anxiety-provoking state to be in, but it may also teach you a lot about yourself. Taking the time to reflect on who we are, how far we’ve come, and where we would like to head in life can be a compelling experience. Therapists at Centre for Interpersonal Relationships can help you process different aspects of your identity during this time. We are currently offering virtual sessions that you can connect to from the safety and comfort of your home. Click here to learn more. 

Nereah Felix, B.A. is a registered psychotherapist (Qualifying) at Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) in Ottawa and is under the supervision of Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych and Dr. Natalina Salmaso, C. Psych. The clients who come to see her are provided with an authentic, non-judgmental, safe, and supportive environment to share their experiences and improve their wellbeing. Nereah is currently enrolled in the Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology at the University of Ottawa.

Am I Backsliding?

During times of crisis and panic, many people can feel as though their current mental health issues are on overdrive. Everyday activities that were once employed to help alleviate depression and anxiety, such as face-to-face encounters and related activities, have been put on pause in light of social distancing measures and self-isolation. Stress and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 have many feeling overwhelmed by potential financial, social, and health implications. With the additional strain on our mental health, some of us may feel like we’re regressing into old habits that we deem as ‘unhealthy.’ These practices may include excessive drinking, emotional eating, insomnia or oversleeping, and even over-exercising. It’s easy to start turning to old behaviours.  

There are countless social media posts about ways to achieve new goals, and become uber-productive now that we ‘have the time’; this can intensify feelings of isolation in our struggles. With social distancing in play, it’s even more important to stay connected and share what might be challenging for you right now, because chances are, others are struggling too. 

Remember…this is not an easy time. It’s okay if you are not okay right now, and most importantly, you are not alone in this.

  • Be kind to yourself. Some days are going to be better than others, both in mood and motivation. Remind yourself that these are hard times, and everyone has moments of struggling in both similar and different ways. 
  • If you do engage in old habits, try to see this as a signal of emotional pain and a need for something that stimulates or soothes you. Try different types of care and activities until you find something that meets your emotional needs.
  • Try moving your body regularly, and walk outside (even across the street or around the block) once a day. This practice can help, especially when you feel restless or have low energy.
  • Build motivation by making a daily routine and planning things to look forward to in your week, but try not to look too far into the future. There is an ending to all of this, even if it feels far away at the moment. 
  • Be realistic. You don’t have to finish a novel or establish a side business by the end of the pandemic. For example, finding a new hobby or activity that you enjoy (even if you’re “bad” at it) is good enough. 
  • Connect! Strike a balance between scheduling virtual hangouts, phone calls, or facetime dates, and spontaneously connecting with others throughout your week. When you start to feel lonely and disconnected, call a friend or family member. 
  • Disconnect from social media and news intermittently. Many of us are glued to our phones, scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, and catching up on a constant stream of COVID-19 articles. Set boundaries and limits with these things and try to give yourself some breaks in your day to connect to yourself and your needs.  
  • Breathe. It may seem simple, but it has a profound impact on our nervous systems. In moments where you feel overwhelmed with anxiety and fear, take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that this will pass.  

If you feel alone and overwhelmed, clinicians at CFIR are ready to offer support. Psychologists, psychotherapists, and counsellors from CFIR Ottawa and Toronto are providing secure, confidential therapy online or by phone. 

Whitney Reinhart, R.P. (Qualifying) is a qualifying registered psychotherapist, at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) in Toronto. She supports adult and couple clients with a wide range of difficulties related to depression, anxiety, traumatic experiences, and interpersonal conflict.

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.

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 Netflixparty.com
  • 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.

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