We find ourselves in a very unique time in history, don’t we? We’re so globally interconnected (part of the reason why Covid-19 became a global pandemic in a few short months!), and yet so isolated (particularly now that we all do our part to practice social distancing). For many people, the practice of being removed from others is especially difficult because they felt alone before social distancing was even a thing. For others, there is a reawakening to the importance of relationships. Maybe it’s a bit of both for everyone. How can we stay connected during Covid-19?
Give Social Distancing A New Name
As we practice social distancing, I think it’s important that we give it a better name and call it for what it is – physical distancing.1,2 I’m certainly not the first to propose this name change, and even the World Health Organization and health authorities have recently begun to swap social distancing for physical distancing terminology. The reason why it matters is because we are social beings, and we may need each other more than ever right now – but from a safe physical distance. We cannot, and should not, deprive ourselves of social connection at time when we are more prone to anxiety, dread, fear, and uncertainty.
Maintaining Social Connections During This Pandemic
If you are feeling isolated or lonely, it is still very safe to go outside for a walk and call a friend as you enjoy the fresh air. Many people are using Zoom (online video platform), WhatsApp, voice memos, and regular phone calls to connect with people they can’t see in person right now. It might be, for some, that you find you have more greater quantity of time to invest in the people that really matter to you, and as a result you experience more quality time. Perhaps some people will use this self-isolation period as a unique opportunity to reinvest in important relationships.
If you find that your screen time has increased significantly in the last couple of weeks, and that connecting on social platforms is becoming an impediment to a regular rhythm in life, perhaps you could consider making some changes to how you divide your time. If you spend an hour or so each day reading the news, and find that this drains you of mental or emotional energy, try to cut down your news intake! If you allow yourself 20 minutes to read the news each day, you might then spend more screen time with people whom you are socially connected to.
Maintaining A Physical Connection During This Pandemic
While social connection is something we can all become creative around, it is the physical connection that may feel challenging over time, particularly for those in troubled relationships, or those who live alone. I have some good news! Would you like to hear something interesting that we know from neuroscience? Oxytocin, the bonding hormone released through safe and affectionate physical contact, also sometimes called the “love” or “cuddle” hormone, essentially shuts off our stress response in the body. Research conducted several years ago measured for rates of oxytocin in people when they touched themselves (on the arm, face, stomach, etc.) versus when they were touched by another person. What they found was that there was virtually no difference between when they were touched by another person, versus when they touched themselves.
So, if you live alone, or are in a home with people you do not receive physical affection from, put your hand on your chest and take some long, deep breaths. Give yourself a foot rub or a hug, massage your temples, or place your hands on your neck. This is, in a true sense of the word, self-care! 3
Maintaining Your Community Connection During Covid-19
During this time while we are physically removed from one another, how can we stay connected during Covid-19? We all need social bonds that tether us together as we face this crisis at a community level, and on a global scale. We can look for ways to support the most vulnerable in our community. If we express ourselves creatively — drawing, painting, playing music, writing, cooking – we can share it with those who might appreciate it. We can post our project online or drop off food for an isolated neighbour. We can find some comfort in the fact that we are taking care of one another by remaining physically distant. We can cheer from our front door at 7pm for our frontline workers, and remember, for a moment, that although we are physically separate, we are all in together.
If you find that you are struggling with anxiety, loneliness, or grief, please do not hesitate to make an appointment with one of our counsellors at Alongside You. We are seeing clients for in-person and online sessions. We’re also offering a free online support group for anxiety related to Covid-19, which you can read about here. Wherever you’re at, whatever you’re managing, pulling for you! Let us know how we can help.
Mental and emotional burnout is something different from keeping a busy schedule and feeling tired at the end of a week. It occurs when a person has experienced pervasive and prolonged stress. Burnout can be described as occurring in a predictable manner in which it begins with excessive ambition and commitment, leads to changes in values wherein personal care is neglected and emotions are displaced, and typically ends in feelings of sadness, emptiness and/or defeat.
While many people live a full life and are invigorated by pace and productivity, burnout is often demonstrated by a persons’ inability to reenergize and struggle to stay focused. Although true burnout will affect each individual in unique ways, there are standard warning signs that your nervous system may be overloaded, and that you’ve neglected parts of yourself in the process. This list is not exhaustive, but it captures some common signs of burnout:
- You’re easily irritated and find it difficult to be patient with others.
When other people’s requests of you begin to feel like an assault on your capacity to provide what they need, it is an indication that you’re feeling depleted. Normally, a request is something we can consider, and decide in a relatively neutral way what we’d like to give.
What can you do about it?
Begin to check in with yourself more often to see what you need. When you feel that your own needs are taken care of, you’re much more likely to be able to meet the needs of others. When you have taken care of your own needs (for rest, solitude, exercise, nutrition, enjoyment, etc.) you will be better set up to meet those needs for others.
- You’ve lost the motivation to engage in activities you normally enjoy and may be more likely to procrastinate.
Procrastination tends to occur when we feel overwhelmed; our “system” (mind, body, spirit) is taxed and so we lose motivation. When we lose motivation, we’re less inclined to engage in activities we normally enjoy or the responsibilities we’ve committed to. When we’re not enjoying our activities, we’re likely to procrastinate in making them happen.
What can you do about it?
This may boil down to scaling back activities and responsibilities. It may also be a matter of tackling responsibilities in “bite-sized” pieces. Some people find it helpful to break down one big task into several smaller pieces, identifying deadlines and rewarding for a job well done.
- You feel detached from your own feelings, and your day-to-day life can feel robotic.
When a person experiences burnout, they have learned to function at such a high capacity that they have had to shed a certain degree of their “humanness” to do so. When a person begins to think (consciously or subconsciously) that emotions get the in the way, or that slowing down to be present in their experience is cumbersome, they will adjust to a way of being that sees those elements of the human experience eliminated.
What can you do about it?
It requires, yet again, a turning in toward yourself – toward your feelings, your present experience, your needs. Do regular “check-ins” to note the physical responses, the thoughts, and the emotions you’re experiencing. If you operate in a robotic manner, return to the things that make you feel human. Mindfulness practices can be really helpful. For example, hold a cup of tea and feel the warmth on your hand, note the scent it releases, and observe the design of the mug itself. Taking moments to look for what brings you pleasure can eventually lead to a slower, more human experience.
- You become emotional at unexpected times, and you are quick to cry.
If it is true that we are more inclined to detach from feelings if we are experiencing burn out, then it stands that our emotions will bubble up unexpectedly, as we know that they have to find their release somewhere J. If you find that you can go weeks at a time without identifying any significant emotion, but then suddenly cry at a car commercial, you may be experiencing burn out.
What can you do about it?
There are many ways to facilitate an open acknowledgement and acceptance of the emotion. Some people need to process it verbally with a good friend who listens well, or with a therapist. Some people find that journaling can be helpful as it forces a person to reflect on their experience. No matter how you begin, it requires a method for tuning in to your feelings, and this requires slowing down enough to make this possible.
- You experience an increase in worry and anxiety.
The capacity to process your environment is compromised, and your stress responses are weakened when you are burnt out. When your body and brain have operated as if you’ve been under threat for a prolonged period of time, the resources for dealing with everyday stress are inhibited, and you are likely to experience an increase in anxiety.
What can you do about it?
First, try to eliminate obvious stressors. An honest look at your schedule may illuminate the ways you’re overextending yourself, and where you can cut back. Second, don’t try to push away the feeling of anxiety. It can be very tempting to attempt to detach from anxiety, much like detaching from other emotions or feelings when experiencing burnout, but this can be counterproductive. Sometimes it can be helpful to follow the “thread” of the anxiety, to become curious about what it’s about, and to see if there’s something beneath the explicit fear. Particularly with burnout, it can be helpful to stay with the feelings of anxiety, as it can point us toward what we need.
To provide a personal example, when I was experiencing a strong sense of overwhelming several years ago, I began to worry – more than usual – about my children. I found more reasons to be concerned about their safety and wellbeing. It was during this time that I was also taking quite a bit of school work. When I became curious about my anxiety, and how it generally pertained to my children, I realized that I was really missing spending as much time with them as I had in previous years. I felt more distracted and less connected to them, and that was unsettling for me. My anxious feelings pointed me toward what I was really in need of at the time – to drop a course and to fit in more time with my young kids.
If you recognize yourself in any of the items listed above, it may be helpful to take some time alone. In the quiet of solitude, we are more likely to reflect on who we are, and what we need. In addition, it’s likely you could benefit from the support and guidance of a counsellor. If you think working with someone to process some of this could be helpful, give us a call, we’re here to help.
Here we are again – that time of year that gets us all excited about lights, smells, food, and relatives. Oh, and friends, cookies, the Stanley Park train, and…
Wait. Why are we excited again? Is anyone else stressed? What is this peace that people keep talking about? What’s the secret, and who actually experiences peace this time of year?
I’m like everyone else. I can let the stress get to me too. So, what I’ve done is some thinking and some research that will hopefully help all of us figure out how to get some peace this year. I don’t know about you, but I think we could use it. Here are three practical ways to experience peace this Christmas, I hope they’re helpful to you!
- Say “yes” to what matters most to you, and practice presence when you are there.
“It’s crazy. I can’t believe how much I have to do!”
We nod our heads and empathize, “Yes, I know. Me too. It’s just too busy!”
I am guilty of making these kinds of “Christmas complaints.” I am also aware that these rote responses make us feel that we’re “all in this together.” What a shame it is to forget that we often have a choice in the matter and that much of what we’re begrudgingly doing may, in fact, be worth enjoying.
Christmas parties, school performances, family dinners, and year-end activities – everything can be meaningful and life-giving. If you find yourself excited about a particular activity, and you think it is a worthwhile investment of your time and energy, show up with your Ugly Christmas sweater and your party hat on! What a gift it is to be alive!
One of the keys to connecting with the activities in a positive way is to be mindful. The best way to practice mindful presence at your chosen festivity is to set your intention, going in with the knowledge that this event is not imposed upon you, but gratefully chosen by you. Allow yourself to enjoy the people you speak with, the food you choose to eat, the melody and rhythm of the music you hear, and the décor creatively displayed for your aesthetic enjoyment. Breathe deeply, attune to your five senses – sight, smell, touch, sound, taste – and pay attention to what is right in front of you in that moment.1,2
- Say “No,” to what is not a priority, and learn to be okay with disappointing people.
If it is true that we can choose to be gratefully present at an event, it is also (usually) true that we can gratefully decline to attend. In fact, it can be very liberating to do so. When we choose to simplify our schedules and scale back our commitments, we are giving our enthusiastic ‘yes’ to what we do show up at. We may also disappoint a few people along the way.
It can be very difficult to let someone down; it is even more difficult, long-term, to live with blurry boundaries and residual resentment. We may think that we have to jump when our friends and family say “jump,” and perhaps we’ve done it our entire lives. Perhaps it’s instinctual, and to do otherwise would create tension. Part of our work as humans who work toward self-identity and emotional health is to know what is not for us at this time. It does not mean that we cannot change our minds in the future and show up meaningfully then, but that in this season, at this time, we cannot take it on.3
There is a way to communicate boundaries in a respectful, effective manner. It takes practice, but with new learning and perhaps some help from a counsellor, it is possible to become skilled at lovingly communicating our intentions and expectations to others.
- Say nothing at all, and take time for solitude.
For some, it will be a challenge to take a break from the busyness, to be alone and recharge. It may feel selfish to have time away from your partner, children, parents, or co-workers, to collect your thoughts in quiet. You may literally be thinking that you will make time for yourself next year. While it is possible to push through and strong-arm this season, we remember that if we feel coerced or obligated to be somewhere (in this case, to be with people), we may find it difficult to remain present with them. One of the best gifts we can give ourselves, and those we love is to take some time alone.
It is also true that for some of us, this season will feel lonely, even when we are in a crowded room of people.4 Or perhaps we will actually be alone more than we’d like, and the idea of choosing to turn down holiday activities out of sheer busyness seems like a happy person’s privilege. There can be peace in this season for you, too. Take very good care of yourself and reach out to one person who makes you feel known.5
Wherever you find yourself this Christmas, and with whomever, you choose to spend your time, try to be intentional about when you say “yes,” what you say “no,” and when to say nothing at all.
If you struggle with some of the decisions and boundaries I’ve talked about here, give us a call. We all struggle with these things at times and sometimes an outside perspective, listening ear, and some validation can go a long way in getting us from stress to health; or, as the young people say, from the FOMO (fear of missing out) to the JOMO (joy of missing out). Ok, it’s not that simple, but boundaries don’t have to be complicated. We can help.
- Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2010). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion, 10(1), 83–91.org/10.1037/a0018441
- de Vibe M, Bjørndal A, Tipton E, Hammerstrøm KT, Kowalski K. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) for improving health, quality of life and social functioning in adults. Campbell Systematic Reviews 2012:3 doi: 10.4073/csr.2012.3
- Wuest, J. (1998). Setting boundaries: A strategy for precarious ordering of women’s caring demands. Research in nursing & health, 21(1), 39-49.
- Kar-Purkayastha, I. (2010). An epidemic of loneliness. The Lancet, 376(9758), 2114-2115.
- Wright, R. Coping with Loneliness.
Research shows that client engagement in the counselling process strongly predicts the success of treatment.1 In other words, when you arrive, you are not coming to be fixed by a counsellor, but instead to work in partnership with them. There are several ways that you can prepare yourself for a successful experience in counselling, but ultimately your only job is to show up, and however, you do so is commendable and brave.
Know Your Preferences and Needs
Here are some things you might consider before coming to see a counsellor at Alongside You. First, think about what kind of counsellor you believe would be a good fit for you. Your preference may vary depending on your phase of life, and unique circumstance, and that’s okay. Some people prefer a female or male counsellor (for reasons of comfortability or life experience), someone within a certain age demographic, or someone who works within a specific therapeutic model. You may also have a need for someone very soft and gentle, or you may need someone who is willing to challenge you directly. If you can come up with ideas on these preferences, we can help to guide you in picking a counsellor.
It’s also helpful to know what it is you’d like help with. You may feel like your list of concerns are long and complex. That’s ok, you’re not alone. Although it can feel overwhelming to narrow it down, it is often helpful to come to your appointment with one or two issues that are, at present, the most problematic for you. It doesn’t mean this can’t change over time because it often does, it just means there’s some focus to start out the work. That said, sometimes we don’t know what’s wrong, we just know that something is not right and we need help figuring out what’s going on. That’s okay too!
Openness in Counselling
When you arrive for your first appointment, try to be as open as you can to establish a relationship with your counsellor. Research indicates that the therapeutic alliance (the relationship between the counsellor and client) strongly determines the effectiveness of therapy.2 The therapeutic alliance will go the distance when you work through difficult things together and so we (as counsellors and as clients) cannot overlook the significance of trust, empathy, and connection. We understand that it’s a big ask! As part of our professional practice, counsellors do clinical supervision, and many also have their own personal counsellors that they see. You may find it helpful to know that it’s not easy for us either when we’re the ones “on the couch.”
Honesty & Feedback
If part of what makes counselling effective is the therapeutic alliance, the relationship between the counsellor and the client should be strong enough to handle honesty. As counsellors, we value when clients provide honest feedback. This can occur at the moment (“I don’t think you have a clear understanding of what I meant by that”), or after working together for some time (“I find that I feel frustrated when we start our sessions a few minutes late, and I wanted to let you know”). Counsellors want to hear if something is, or is not, working for you. When you don’t agree, or don’t feel your counsellor is fully understanding you, your counsellor prefers that you speak up. Statistically, when a client offers feedback, it usually serves to strengthen the therapeutic relationship, not weaken it.3
Furthermore, be honest about what you believe you need from counselling, whether it be guidance, problem-solving, empathic response, acceptance, non-judgement, or practical insight. It is okay to communicate this. Although each counsellor and client will naturally create a dynamic (or a certain way of being with one another), your counsellor will be better equipped to work with you if they have a clear understanding of your needs. It helps your counsellor to know your objectives for therapy, but also, it can provide insight as to who you are as a person.
As you participate in counselling, aim to implement some of the homework (sometimes called “between-session interventions”) agreed upon in counselling. Counselling homework usually consists of experimenting with new behaviours, making cognitive shifts, acknowledging feelings in specific moments, or keeping track of a combination of all three during the time you are not with us. Homework, at its best, enables integration between the counselling hour and the client’s regular life. Ultimately, homework can be a meaningful way of facilitating healing and growth outside of the time spent with your counsellor.4 As my supervisor, Andrew Neufeld, sometimes illustrates – if you go to see a physiotherapist for your knee and the only work you do is with the physio in session, your knee will likely eventually get better but it will be a long, drawn-out process; whereas, if you do exercises in between sessions your recovery will likely proceed exponentially faster. The same is true for counselling – the work you do between sessions will significantly influence the speed at which you recover and heal.
Last, and perhaps most significant, try to practice self-compassion as you enter and proceed with therapy.5 Counselling can be exhausting, and emotional, and it always requires bravery. Your counsellor knows this and appreciates this about you. Try to be especially gentle with yourself during the process, and treat yourself with tenderness, care, and grace.
- Shaw, S., & Murray, K. (2014). Monitoring Alliance and Outcome with Client Feedback Measures. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 36(1), 43–57. https://doi.org/10.17744/mehc.36.1.n5g64t3014231862
- Duff, C. T., & Bedi, R. P. (2010). Counsellor behaviours that predict therapeutic alliance: From the client’s perspective. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 23(1), 91–110. https://doi.org/10.1080/09515071003688165
- Murphy, K. P., Rashleigh, C. M., & Timulak, L. (2012). The relationship between progress feedback and therapeutic outcome in student counselling: A randomised control trial. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 25(1), 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/09515070.2012.662349
- Cronin, T. J., Lawrence, K. A., Taylor, K., Norton, P. J., & Kazantzis, N. (2015). Integrating Between-Session Interventions (Homework) in Therapy: The Importance of the Therapeutic Relationship and Cognitive Case Conceptualization: Therapeutic Relationship and Homework. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 71(5), 439–450. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22180
- Galili-Weinstock, L., Chen, R., Atzil-Slonim, D., Bar-Kalifa, E., Peri, T., & Rafaeli, E. (2018). The association between self-compassion and treatment outcomes: Session-level and treatment-level effects. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 74(6), 849–866. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22569
It can be difficult for a parent to watch their child struggle with big worries. As parents, we want to be able to fix our child’s problems – preferably this would happen quickly and easily. If we can’t fix what concerns them (which we often cannot), we are left to support the child through their anxiety. This may sound simplistic, but I assure you, it’s not. Parental support is vitally significant for the child, and often, empowering for the parent. As the saying goes — a good parent prepares the child for the path, not the path for the child. Approached with gentleness and kindness, encouraging support can be a great gift to their developing identity and self-confidence.
Practical Ways Parents Can Support Their Anxious Child’s Wellbeing
Children require consistent, predictable routines in order to flourish1. These don’t have to be rigid or excessive, but a general structure for the course of a day allows a child to predict what comes next, and to prepare for it. For example, create a rhythm to the bedtime routine that becomes so predictable and soothing that it lulls the child to sleep (figuratively speaking). When a child knows what time they go to bed, and the events that lead up to it, they can begin to gear down and relax, knowing that the adult in charge will be helping this process the same way every night. Avoid screen time two hours prior to bedtime as the emitted blue light inhibits the release of melatonin (the hormone responsible for sleep cycles and circadian rhythm).2 Instead, read books together, discuss a moment of gratitude, ask questions about their day, or speak words of affirmation to your child.
During daytime hours, a child’s pace of life should be slow and sustainable. Children need plenty of time for play and quiet exploration.3 Children who are expected to run at a pace that is beyond their capacity may experience an increase in anxiety. As an adult, you may have a clear perspective on what is manageable for your child. They may be excited to join five different sports teams this fall, but you are the one with the foresight to understand that, within a short time, this may lead to them feeling overwhelmed. This, of course, evolves as children get older, and every child is truly unique in what they can tolerate – much like their adults!
Lastly, create space in your day (or week) to connect with your child. Follow your child’s innate interests and spend one-on-one time enjoying what they do.
Some ideas to get you started:
- If they’re interested in food, bake cookies
- If they love sports, kick a soccer ball around, just for fun
- If they enjoy physical activity, go on a bike ride or for a walk
- If they’re into music, listen to a new song they’re excited about and show them what you know on the guitar or piano
- If they’re interested in mechanics, have them help you change the oil, or open the hood of the car to look around together
Intentional investment of time spent with your child will pay dividends when it comes to their behaviour, but more importantly, to their sense of belonging and connection. The attachment that is formed from these positive connections bolster a child’s confidence to face the world, and increases resilience to stress.4,5,6
Ways Parents Can Emotionally Support Their Anxious Child’s Wellbeing
Emotional support is an extension of practical support. A parent may become overwhelmed by their own feelings (of guilt, or frustration, or panic) when they see their child in the throes of anxiety. It may be important to take a moment to check in with yourself before running to the aide of your child. First, accept that your child is feeling anxious, and notice your own feelings about this. Give yourself some time to regulate your own emotions. When you feel ready, approach your child to validate their feelings, and to name what you see happening for them. For example, “I see that your fists are clenched and your eyes are wide. These must be big worries for you.” Sit with them as they feel the weight of their worry without trying to rush them, or brush it off. Once the child has walked through the experience of their big feelings of worry, re-direct them to calming activities.
Some ideas to get you started:
- run a warm bath
- go for a walk together
- somatic breathing exercises
- progressive muscle relaxation
Lastly, show your child that you, their hero, can make mistakes, do hard things, go on to survive the experience, and thrive. It can be very helpful to practice self-compassion in a way that is visible to the child.7 For example, if you find yourself running late at the school drop-off, model taking a few deep breaths, smile, and acknowledge, “Wow, we sure are running late today! I can’t get it right every day though, and that’s okay! Today we might be late, but maybe tomorrow will be different.”
It can be soothing for a child to observe their parents set boundaries that guard their own time and self-care in fact, it reinforces that it is acceptable for the child to do the same.
If you or your child would like to come in to discuss their big worries, or yours, please contact us and we would be happy to help! I’d love to work with you while I complete my internship. We also have a whole roster of Registered Clinical Counsellors available to work with you as well.
- Spagnola, M., & Fiese, B. H. (2007). Family Routines and Rituals: A Context for Development in the Lives of Young Children. Infants & Young Children, 20(4), 284–299. org/10.1097/01.IYC.0000290352.32170.5a
- Fletcher, F. E., Conduit, R., Foster-Owens, M. D., Rinehart, N. J., Rajaratnam, S. M. W., & Cornish, K. M. (2018). The Association Between Anxiety Symptoms and Sleep in School-Aged Children: A Combined Insight From the Children’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire and Actigraphy. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, 16(2), 169–184. https://doi.org/10.1080/15402002.2016.1180522
- Mrnjaus, C. (2013). The Child’s Right to Play?! Croatian Journal of Education, 16(1), 217-233.
- Neufeld, G., & Maté, G. (2004). Hold on to your kids: Why parents matter.
- Priest, J. B. (2013a). Anxiety disorders and the quality of relationships with friends, relatives, and romantic partners: Anxiety disorders and relationship quality. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(1), 78–88. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.21925
- Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Parent-child attachment and healthy human development. New York, NY: Basic Books
- Neff, K. (2013). Self compassion. London: Hodder & Stoughton.