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.

How Does It Feel to Transition Out of Social Isolation? Your Guide to Emotions in the “Reopening” and “Return-to-Work” Phase of the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the possibility of business and recreation gradually reopening becomes more of an imminent reality, many of us will face the opportunity to step out into the outside world again, into closer contact with other live (not-virtual) human beings, for the first time in months. 

Despite many social media narratives that celebrate this possibility, the actual emotions we might face as such opportunities become realities might be a lot more complex than that.

When COVID-19 initially hit, we fell suddenly and unexpectedly into a full-blown crisis. As with any onset of crisis, it is common and even likely to feel emotions like anxiety, worry, panic, overwhelm, and fear.

And as long as we continue to live in this crisis, especially as food, work & income, and housing remain uncertain for so many, we can expect these emotions of anxiety, worry, panic, overwhelm and fear to stay present. 

Everything inside of us is mobilizing—body and mind—to meet these threats that we face, and to survive them. 

Now that we are a couple of months into the pandemic, I am seeing some clients in my psychotherapy practice who are beginning to enter into the next phase of emotions. Since we’ve now had some time to start absorbing a bit of the new reality, and certainly, as we anticipate returning to work, the main emotions we are feeling are expected to shift. Increasingly, I anticipate seeing more people with emotions like depression, chronic boredom & under-stimulation, frustration, hopelessness, helplessness, and despair.

As we continue to take in more of what we have been experiencing, we are going to feel more of the weight of it all, and at times that weight is likely to feel quite heavy. 

So, what can you do to support yourself through these current and upcoming emotional experiences? For me and the way that I practice psychotherapy, the answer comes back to ‘connection.’ 

Firstly, it is essential to maintain—or build—connection to yourself. Once or twice per day, for 15 or 30 or 60 seconds at a time, stop and check-in with yourself. Notice what is happening in your thoughts and feelings, and even in your body. Notice your breath, notice your bodily sensations, and check in on them at various moments and throughout the following days because they are likely to fluctuate. 

Self-monitoring, in this manner, can help you to feel grounded in yourself and your experiences. It can also help you to identify when you need help—and this leads to a second point: we also need to be maintaining connection to others. 

If you find yourself struggling or feeling unwell, try to reach out. Of course, you can always reach out to a psychotherapist, and you can also reach out to a close friend or family member who might intently listen to you, or else might help you problem solve, depending on what you need. 

You can also try going for a walk to give your thoughts some space, or write them out, or even audio record them for yourself. In any of these cases, reaching beyond yourself to outwardly express what you are thinking and feeling can help you release some emotional burden, and so can help you to feel a little better. 

Secondly, as you are reaching out to others, do not forget that you can probably assist others, too; there can be a mutual exchange of support. Sometimes all someone might want is to be heard, and even in times when we feel we have nothing left to give, just existing next to someone alongside their experiences can bring great relief. The relief is mutual, as we benefit from a dose of feel-good chemicals in the brain when we connect with and help others. 

One final thought on emotions in this next stage of the pandemic: sometimes we can forget that it is absolutely possible to feel many different things, including stress and hopelessness, and even gratitude, or any other mix of emotions, all at the same time. These feelings can co-exist together.

If we can hold on to this thought, maybe we can make even just a tiny bit more space for the feelings of connection and groundedness. 

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.

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.

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