Grief is a bit of a mystery to us, and something that our brains and our bodies have a hard time processing. Many times we might wonder, “How do I support someone who is going through grief?” It can be hard to know what to say or do when someone you care about is grieving a major loss. Some people may be afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, or maybe think that there is nothing they can do to make things better. Others may simply feel uncomfortable with the intense pain and emotions that grief brings. These are common fears that we all experience when someone we deeply care about is going through a difficult time. It may help to know that there is no magic pill – no cure for the pain of loss, and nothing that can take it all away. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything we can do to support someone who is grieving. You don’t have to have all the answers or be able offer great insight or advice for your loved one to feel supported and know that you care about them. Often times, your mere presence is enough. The bereaved would benefit from just knowing that they are not alone in their suffering, and that they have a caring and compassionate friend to turn to if they need to. This alone can help the bereaved process the pain and slowly start to heal.
Nonetheless, here are some good ground rules to keep in mind when you’re trying to answer the question of how to support someone who is grieving.
Your friend or loved one may have not had the chance to share their thoughts and feelings about the loss with anyone. Often times, those who are grieving may avoid talking about the deceased with close family members or friends so that they don’t bring them too much pain. This means that they may have never had the chance to share their grief story. Just by listening to them, without judgement or restriction, you offer them a unique opportunity to verbally process the loss and express the impact it has had on them, which can be healing in itself!
Give Permission to Grieve
Some of us may be uncomfortable with this step because of the intense pain and emotions that grief brings. We may feel propelled to offer advice, or provide intervention or direction in some way, which is understandable – no one wants to see their loved ones suffer! But as mentioned earlier, the most helpful thing we can do is offer our presence and remind ourselves that there is nothing we can do to take their pain away. Depending on your relationship with the person experiencing grief, you can encourage them to express their grief, especially if they consider you to be one of their safe and close friends. Keep in mind that grief may not only involve feelings of sadness, but can also include intense feelings of guilt, anxiety, anger and despair. Allow them to express the range of emotions they may be feeling, without judgement. Many people hide their grief and pretend that everything is alright, so giving them permission to express their grief, with all the extreme emotions it involves may be very freeing. You can say something like, “tell me about your dad,” or, “this must be really hard,” and let them know that grieving is a normal and healthy response to loss. You can even tell them, “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know that I care.”
Share Information About the Grief Process
Grief often comes in waves, and many people don’t know what to expect from it. Some people may be surprised by the duration or intensity of it and they may judge themselves for how long it’s taking them to heal. It can be helpful to remind them that grief affects everyone differently, and that their journey is unique to them. Not only that, but it is also normal and expected to have some good days along with the bad. Reassure them that this does not mean that they love the individual they lost any less – finding ways to cope with the loss and finding a new normal is part of the healing journey.
Assist in Practical and Concrete Ways
Lastly, helping the bereaved in practical ways can be one of the most helpful ways to support them, especially in the early days after the loss. They may very likely have no energy to ask for support at this time or may not know exactly what it is that they need. That’s why it’s helpful to take initiative to make a practical, concrete offer that would lessen the burden of their daily responsibilities. This could be something like offering to deliver them a meal, babysit their children so that they can have some time to themselves, or take long walks with them for fresh air and exercise.
Finally, it’s important to practice self-compassion as we support someone else on their journey through grief. It’s hard when we see those close to us suffer. Even though it’s not our own suffering, their pain still impacts us, and we may experience it as our own. That’s why it’s important to show kindness towards ourselves and acknowledge how hard it is for us to know that a loved one is going through a difficult time and that there is nothing we can do to take their pain away. This allows us the capacity to be there for those who are suffering and not get lost in their pain. If we are able to attend to our own emotions and have compassion for ourselves, we increase our capacity to be there for others and offer them the gift of our presence.
If you or someone you love is experiencing grief, we’re with you. If we can be of any help to you on your journey through grief please give us a call.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had many of us in social isolation and practicing social distancing when in public for weeks now. For a fortunate few, this has been a welcome reprieve from an otherwise hectically paced life. For the majority, it has meant being cut off from friends, family, community, and routine supports such as gyms, recreation centres, and social gatherings. We have become a people who are afraid to even greet one another in person. It’s because of these shifts that some of us, particularly those who have struggled with depression before, may be asking the question, “How can I prevent depression during COVID-19?”
How Can I Tell If I’m Depressed During COVID-19?
Anxiety about the risks of catching the Coronavirus are at an all-time high as are concerns about the future of jobs, financial security, and the availability of needed supplies, the education of children, and so on.
When ongoing anxiety is combined with a lack of social and community support, the result can be despair and even full-on depression. Depression is defined by features such as:
- A feeling of purposelessness or hopelessness about life
- Feelings of intense sadness often combined with heightened irritability
- Failing to attend to one’s personal hygiene
- A loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Changes in appetite
- Failure to adhere to previous routines
- Sleep disturbances
- Loss of motivation
Some of the features indicated above are currently forced upon us by the pandemic. For example, simple aspects of hygiene such as going for a haircut are not currently available. And, even if we can find the motivation, many of the activities we would do are structured and rely on facilities such as a gym or a recreation centre which are currently closed.
The Effects of Social Distancing on Depression
Perhaps most alarming out of all of the effects of the pandemic is the imperative that we practice social distancing (or maybe more aptly, physical distancing). While this is entirely necessary at the present time, it can serve to greatly contribute to the development of depression. It is primal in human beings to gather with a friend, a family member, or community supports when experiencing stress. As it happens, we are incurably pack animals – maybe like orcas or wolves. Rare is the person who wants to be alone for extended periods of time while anxious. Rather, we naturally gravitate toward one another and, furthermore, we need social connection to remain emotionally and psychologically healthy. The need for social distancing has forced us to behave in a manner that is counterintuitive to our being healthy in the world.
Ways to Prevent Depression During COVID-19
What all of this means is that we will need to be very deliberate and stubborn in our efforts to fend off depression. I have a few suggestions for us all to consider, as I try to answer the question, “How can I prevent depression during COVID-19?” Here they are:
- Contacting with friends or supports by phone or video. Don’t be shy about admitting that you’re in a funk and just need to talk.
- Go for walks outside alone or with others (6 feet apart of course…)
- Do a bit of what you enjoy – whether it’s a hobby, listening to your favourite music, etc
- Pay close attention to your nutrition and don’t let it slide into bad habits
- Exercise – whether it’s a run outside, a workout following a TV or YouTube instructor, throwing the ball for your dog, riding a bicycle, etc. 20 minutes of exercise daily is ideal to fight depression
- Reach out for professional support if needed. Yes, we’re open for business and can safely meet with you if you feel that a counsellor is needed to support you for a time.
- Stick to as much routine as possible. Get up at a decent hour, get showered and dressed even if you aren’t going out. And then do that 20 minutes of exercise mentioned above
We don’t currently know how long the pandemic will last and that uncertainty can be very upsetting. Preventing the anxiety and the upset from becoming depressed in life is one of the few factors that we can actually control with some decided effort.
If you’re resonating with anything I’ve written, know that I’m rooting for you. We’ve all been there, and we’re all in this together. If you’re asking yourself how you can prevent depression during COVID-19, I’d love to help you out. Give us a shout at the office, and set up an appointment. Don’t go through this alone, we all need some help sometimes and I’d love to be there for you through this.
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.
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone in some way – many of us are unable to work, unable to find access to child care or other important resources (one friend of mine has even been barred from doing laundry in his building). For some, like someone I know of who runs a milk delivery company, the pandemic is like an early Christmas present. Significantly and unfairly, the pandemic most adversely affects those who are most vulnerable: people living in or close to poverty who are out of work, people who are homeless, and those at highest risk to develop illnesses.
An important, but often overlooked group impacted by COVID-19 coronavirus are those who use substances. That includes those who rely on alcohol, cannabis or other drugs for medicinal or functional purposes (such as anxiety management), injecting drug users who rely on access to safe injection sites, and users of a variety of other substances for whom access has now dried up or become increasingly unreliable.
Imagine having to go device-free for a week, or longer – no phone, TV, computer, or other screen. For many of us this would involve literal symptoms of withdrawal, as we have become accustomed to using screens to cope with negative emotions, stress, anxiety, and to connect with others. I’m willing to bet you couldn’t, or wouldn’t, pull it off. A substance user’s drug of choice likely serves a similar function and is very likely quite painful to suddenly lose access to, without any sense of choice or control. My colleague very kindly reminded me of the difficulty some people will go through losing access to substances during a very uncertain and stressful time, and I feel sad to think of the number of us that will go through painful withdrawal symptoms (physical pain, uncontrollable anxiety or panic, and severe depression are just a few) and as a result will be forced to find other ways to cope.
People are incredibly resilient and will generally find ways to get through difficulties whatever the cost. I wanted to talk a little bit about the ways we can cope with difficulties, even in the face of withdrawal from something as mild as social isolation or as severe as substance addiction. Recovery from substance dependency involves building recovery capital, which is a blanket term referring to resources (both external and internal) that allow us to slowly build up capital – a wealth of other ways to cope. There are hundreds of examples, but some key themes are relationships with others, health (physical, mental, and emotional), strategies and tools, and a relationship with oneself.
Substances can be an effective tool in the short-term, but they have shortcomings: they don’t tend to last very long, they take a physical toll, and they can keep us away from some opportunities for the growth that comes from going through difficulty with the right support. Substances are considered part of passive coping, just like video games, junk food, and ignoring a problem. Passive coping is not bad, it is an important resource and we don’t want to overuse it. Active coping is also an important resource: exercise, diet, certain types of social support, therapy, learning, and other health behaviours fall into this category. Simply put, active coping is anything we do to directly cope with a difficulty, and passive coping tends to avoid the implications of a difficulty. The trick is striking a healthy balance between the two.
If you have recently lost access to substances or access to other important habits, I’m really sorry – you didn’t get to have a choice in the matter; an invisible and seemingly uncaring force made the decision for you. That really, really sucks, and now you’re stuck managing as best you can. Some that I have talked to will use tools such as exercise or meditation to achieve another type of “high,” and focus on emotional, spiritual, or intellectual pursuits when they have the energy to do so. When they don’t, they will use whatever means necessary to get through the really hard moments: sleeping a little more, indulging in TV or video games, venting to friends, or eating a little extra sugar.
You will find a sample list of different coping tools and a couple resource links at the bottom of this article. However, I’m not really here to give a bunch of advice, as everyone is different, and there aren’t any one-size-fits-all solutions. If you want help taking care of yourself right now and want to talk about creating a short-term plan, let me know and I can help with that. But you know yourself best, and you know what will get you through this better than anyone else does, and hopefully you know when you might need to seek support. Mostly, we just want to say that whatever your situation, we are thinking of you and rooting for you to get through it, because there is a lot of uncertainty and difficulty for a lot of us right now. Always feel free to reach out, and most of all, take care of yourself.
Tips for the “Green Zone” – when we have some energy or motivation:
- Don’t overdo it – quality over quantity. Give yourself a realistic and short amount of quality time (say 15 minutes) to spend on something that your ideal version of yourself would do: go for a walk or a run, listen to some music, do yoga, spend some time reading, writing, singing, or drawing, complete a short work task, organize your cupboards – whatever. When you’re doing this, try to let all your focus rest on the activity at hand. Here’s a quick video tip from a children’s book I’m a fan of.
- Try meditation. Focus for a few minutes on your breath, and spend some time being curious about yourself: how do I feel at this moment? What physical sensations do I notice? Do I feel anything towards myself or towards those sensations? Try to avoid positive or negative judgments during this time, and if they arise, just notice that they are there. The goal is just to be, to observe yourself internally at that moment.
- Spend time cooking yourself a healthy meal from scratch, and eating it without any distractions, focusing on how good it tastes, and feeling good about yourself for putting the energy in to make it. If you can, even better to share it with someone.
Tips for the “Yellow Zone” – when our stress is present but manageable:
- Notice what thoughts and feelings are coming up with as much compassion as possible. Imagine the things that are happening internally are happening to someone you really care about (real or imaginary). What would you tell them? How would you want to care for them? Try to identify a small way you could care for yourself in that moment. If all else fails, take some deep, slow, breaths.
- Exercise. Get your blood pumping and get moving, this will give you an adrenaline spike to help you get through the next while. If you are tired later, you’ve earned a break! Take a nap.
- Put on some music to match your mood, and paint, draw, or write along to it.
- Call or chat with someone. Most of us have time on our hands – talk (or even vent) about what is stressing you, ask how they are doing and try really hard to listen well. When we share with others, or work hard to understand others, our relationships deepen and we feel closer and more comfortable. If you’re not up for a conversation, just play some online video games together. If you are struggling with something specific, try to find an online chat group that specializes in that type of thing. If substance use is your thing, there are tons of online chat groups full of people who have good advice and good support, all anonymous and for free.
- If you have a therapist, an online session might be a good idea.
Tips for the “Red Zone” – When the bomb hits or is about to hit:
- Breathe. Inhale for 3-5 seconds, hold for 2-3, and exhale slowly for 7-10, like you’re blowing on something to cool it.
- Douse your head in cold water for a few seconds – this activates a survival “dive reflex” that calms the body. You can also try grabbing some ice cubes and squeezing them in your hands, focussing on that feeling and seeing how long you can go before having to let go. It’s pretty hard, and good at redirecting the brain.
- Reach out to whoever feels safe to reach out to, in whatever way feels ok.
- Feel free to use your favourite passive coping mechanism: watch a movie, eat something (preferably deliberately slowly), try to take a nap.
- Imagine or daydream.
- Write or draw – destroy some paper with whatever you’re feeling at the time.
There are countless other things you can do, and lots of online resources for meditation, emotional regulation, practical addiction support. Again, individuals vary wildly, so if you want help creating a specific plan for yourself, feel free to reach out to a mental health professional. We’re in this together, and we’re rooting for you here at Alongside You.
Can I get real here? We find ourselves in very difficult and unsettling times. As a mental health professional, I am struggling to provide a sense of hope or assurance to my clients during this time. What can I say? What can I offer? So, let’s be honest. It is scary. Yep, we can admit that we feel scared! It feels as if control is slipping through our fingers. Things are changing every day…even hour by hour.
Over the past few days, I have been focusing on what I know to be true. I would like to share some of these thoughts with you.
- It is ok to feel anxious. FULL STOP. You do not need to put on a brave face and pretend that you are fine. Anxiety is normal. It feels different for everyone. Some folks get sweaty, others find themselves feeling angry or bursting into tears. Other people experience a tightness in their chest or racing heartbeat. Anxiety looks and feels different for each person. Please remember to be kind to yourself and others as we are all doing the best we can. Some great resources for anxiety can be found at anxietycanada.com
- It is ok to feel disappointed. For many of us, plans have changed. Trips are cancelled. Events are postponed. School is stopped for the unforeseeable future. Many folks have lost their jobs. These are extremely disappointing times. Something I have noticed lately is, when someone is sharing their disappointment, they try to downplay it because it is “not as bad as someone else” So now, folks are heaping shame unto their disappointment. Please do not do this. You are allowed to feel your feelings. I would love to give you permission: you are allowed to feel disappointed even if your disappointment is less than someone else’s.
- BREATHE. It sounds trivial, but I cannot stress the importance enough. I tell my clients from the little ones to the not as little ones; breathing is the fastest way for your body to calm down. I am not talking about small shallow breaths; these need to be deep down in your belly breaths. Slow, deep breath provides your brain and your body the fuel it needs to continue to support you and calm you down.
Some great resources on helping with breathing and calming down can be found at calm.com.
- DO NOT FEED THE FEAR; FOCUS ON FACTS
Just because something is on the internet, does NOT make it true.
Some questions to ask yourself:
Is this information coming from a valuable source?
How do I feel when I am reading this?
Is this helpful for me?
Some reliable sources may include:
Fraser Health Authority
Vancouver Coastal Health
BC Centre for Disease Control (and the BC COVID-19 Symptom Self-Assessment Tool)
- Limit your time online.
Reading articles, searching for answers, watching clips and listening to perspectives and options sometimes just gets a bit too much. Turn off your phone. Power down your computer. Your mental health will thank you.
Some things to try instead:
If you can, get outside and go for a walk.
Start a hobby- pick up that guitar, start writing that book, paint, colour, draw
Read a book
Have a nap
Clean your house
Organize your closets
If you need some screen time, try these:
Watch a movie.
Start a new series on Netflix
Take an online class, lots of universities are providing free courses…a FREE online course from Harvard…um…YES PLEASE!
Take a virtual tour of a famous museum
- CONNECT. Just because we are keeping our social distance, does NOT been we need to be distant from each other. Take this time to check in with folks:
Have tea via Facetime.
Send an email.
We need each other. Make sure you are reaching out when you need to connect. I know this is difficult for some folks, so be gentle with yourself and do what you can.
We have also just launched the COVID-19 Online Community Mental Health Support Group. This online community support group is focused on helping folks check in and process their feelings in a safe and secure clinical setting, with a special focus on tools to manage anxiety. If you think this would be helpful for you, please read more about it through the link above.
Or, would you prefer talking one-on-one with a counsellor? At Alongside You we are working hard to enact precautionary measures that so that clients can safely continue to attend in-person appointments if they choose to – please see our social media for all the precautionary measures we’re taking as a clinic. We also are offering online counselling appointments for any clients who may prefer to receive therapy from home during this time. If you would like to be paired with a counsellor and booked for a first appointment, the best way to get in touch at the moment is to fill out our contact page.
We are doing our best to respond to messages as soon as possible. If you have a counsellor already, please reach out to them directly for more information about booking a session, whether in-person or online.
For many of us, things feel out of our control. We wait. We wonder. We try to plan. I would encourage us all to focus on what each of us can do.
What are the things within our control?
Wash your hands. Often.
If you feel sick, STAY HOME.
Keep a social distance. 6 ft is recommended.
Practice gratitude each day.
Don’t forget to breathe.
The unknown is scary. Uncertainty is hard. Yet, as I tell my clients:
“We can do HARD things…together.”
If you’ve ever wondered what on earth EMDR is, you’re not alone! While EMDR is well supported by research and has been found to be highly effective for many clients, it can sometimes be a strange concept for people to get used to.
So, What Is EMDR?
EMDR has been around now for about 25 years and is a highly evidence-based method of treating trauma and anxiety. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and gets its name in part from the fact that it primarily relies on eye movement to work.
A client undergoing EMDR is encouraged to move their eyes from side to side in a slow, steady manner while contemplating questions or discussion pieces that relate to their treatment. As odd as it sounds, the reason EMDR works is precisely because of how the brain processes memory. When we are asleep, our brains enter REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement), and during this stage of sleep the brain is processing and filing the day’s experiences into our memory, so the next day can occur with a relatively clean slate.
Sometimes we get stuck on intrusive thoughts or traumatic material because the experience or issue has not managed to get appropriately filed in our memory. EMDR replicates the REM stage of sleep while the client is awake and alert, and supports the processing of painful memories or recurring intrusive thoughts. Interestingly, because EMDR mimics REM sleep it tends to work quite quickly. If the issues are not too complex, clients can often feel a sense of relief from their suffering in just a few sessions.
It’s important to know that at no time during EMDR is the client out of control or in a trance of any kind, and of course, the client can always choose to end an EMDR session at any point if they don’t prefer working in this way or find that they are too uncomfortable. This said, clients almost always leave an EMDR session feeling better than when the session began.
The second part of EMDR stands for Desensitization and Reprocessing. The goal of EMDR is to desensitize the client to something that was previously painful and to support them in reprocessing the painful issue.
So, what does this look like in an appointment? A client undergoing an EMDR session can expect to meet with a therapist in a comfortable room where they will both sit. The client will be asked some questions by their therapist, and then guided to use back-and-forth eye movement. During this time all the client has to do is sit quietly and allow themselves to think. Following about 1 minute of this, the therapist will check in with some questions and guidance. The eye movement sets will be repeated a number of times as the therapist leads the client through a set format of questions and feedback. Toward the end of the session, the therapist will switch gears and invite the client to “reprocess” the issue being addressed.
Clients then typically end an EMDR session feeling quite calm. The only side effect is that some folks find EMDR somewhat tiring, as the brain has been stimulated to work quite hard for the time of the session.
The good news is that while EMDR is especially effective for conditions like PTSD, it has also been reported as effective for panic attacks, complicated grief, dissociative disorders, disturbing memories, phobias, pain disorders, performance anxiety, stress reduction, addictions, sexual and/or physical abuse, body dysmorphic disorders and personality disorders.
As not all therapists have the necessary training, it’s important to note that EMDR should be done only with a therapist who is properly certified in working this way. If you’re curious about whether this treatment could work for you, reach out to us! We’re here to help.
Kathryn Priest-Peries is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Registered Social Worker who has Advanced Level Training in EMDR and has been a practicing therapist for over 30 years.
Read more about Kathryn here.
Click here to request an EMDR appointment with Kathryn.