It wasn’t like me – leaving my Grandmother’s birthday gift to the night before. Work had been so busy the past couple of weeks, I hadn’t gotten to it until now.

Finished work at 5:30, ate dinner quickly and put the baby to bed, and went to Costco. Costco felt like the apocalypse. Skids full of grocery items pushed together, creating a barrier to all aisles except for groceries. No getting a dog bowl to replace the one the baby had broke this evening. No finding a book to read to get one’s mind off things. No perusing the clothes section for yoga pants or baby pjs. No fresh cut or potted flowers. And evidently no gift for Grandma here.

It jarred me. I had to take a moment to take some breaths in the parking lot before moving on to Sobey’s. There I could at least get my Grandma a bottle of wine and be out of there. I walked around the wine aisles and found the Pinot Grigio she would like. I picked out a cheery, spring bag to put it in – thinking maybe it would bring cheer despite the fact her special milestone birthday would be celebrated with no party, just simply her closest relatives driving by with well wishes. As I was plucking the gift bag from the rack, I heard an announcement that it was 8:00 pm and no alcohol would be sold after 8:00 pm. I literally ran to the cash register, which was right in front of me, and got there before the cashier got off the intercom making her announcement. “I’m sorry”, she said, “It’s 8:00 pm. We absolutely can’t sell any wine even on the dot”. “Are you serious?” Somehow came from my lips. “I’m sorry, that’s the new rule. I made an announcement five minutes ago” came the response. 

I didn’t hear the announcement, because I was on the phone with another therapist figuring out yet another referral for a young girl whose referral had already been rejected by multiple therapists. We’re all at our max capacities. 

I burst into tears. I, therapist Kayleen, who controls her emotions for every session every day, burst into complete and “ugly cry” tears behind my cheetah-print mask. “It’s my Grandma’s birthday tomorrow. I’m sorry. It’s okay.” came from behind my mask, between shaky crying breaths. “I’m so sorry. You can come back tomorrow at 7:00 am and buy it. I can set it aside for you”. It was clear the cashier felt awful, and I’m sure I’m not the only panicked person she’s seen this week.

They say there’s a first for everything, and I can say that’s the first time I’ve ever had a panic attack in my car outside of Sobey’s over a bottle of wine.

Fat tears flowed, and it was hard to catch my breath. I cried for how messed up this entire thing is. How twisted it feels to have somebody else decide for everyone what is “essential”, when all of these things felt entirely essential to me. How sad I am for my Grandmother not getting the birthday party she deserves, for my son not getting the first birthday he deserved. Hell, for my son still not having met half my friends or family. For all of the occasions celebrated without extended family and friends. For having my maternity leave to come to a screeching halt six months in, because it was more important to me to return to more hours earlier to serve the clients I love so much. 

I cried for how much I feel for my clients. Day in and day out, I hear stories of how much this has pandemic affected everyone. Clients’ depression and anxiety through the roof, as they feel as though they’re living a twisted Groundhog Day of events every day. Relatives passing away and having to make the impossible decisions of which family members attend their funeral. People losing their jobs, or businesses they’ve started because they weren’t considered “essential”. Clients being sick and having to go to the hospital alone, with no support system. Couples splitting up, because the extra pressure of the world as we know it right now was too much for the relationship to bear. Clients that I’ve known for years who are now suicidal, and had never had those kind of thoughts until now. 

As therapists, we’re experienced in working with these issues. We’re no stranger to them. But generally, we aren’t all experiencing all of the same issues at the exact same time. We are going through a collective trauma, at the same time as all of our clients. I’m currently supervising around 20 therapists in total, and none of us were trained for this. They don’t teach you how to weather a pandemic with clients in graduate school or weekend trainings. Having the perspective of a supervising therapist gives me a glimpse into not only how clients are struggling, but therapists too. In one group supervision session, I asked the therapists to rate their burn out on a scale of 1-10. There wasn’t one rating under six, and most of them were towards the max. 

We are part of the front line of this pandemic. We are seeing the first-person impacts this pandemic is having on our society as a whole, and our resources are running thin. We are all squeezing clients into slots we don’t have. We are all saying yes to that “just one more” referral, to lower sliding scale rates for clients even when it impacts our own personal finances, because we don’t want to see anyone go without care for their mental health. 

This is a health pandemic. But it is also a pandemic of mental health. We are in a mental health crisis, and we are anticipating the fallout of this to last much longer than the pandemic itself. 

So where do we go from here? 

I feel pressure to end this blog post with my usual inspirational, positive thought or “thing to do” to help the situation. But the reality is, none of that is going to make this go away. None of that is going to take away the trauma and suffering this past year has caused. And so it is. We continue on, despite the seeming bleakness of things. We do our best to see the ways we still can connect with others, with nature, with ourselves. We FEEL the big feelings that come with this, knowing that they are here for a reason and we’re allowed to have them. All of them. Even the big, fat, ugly tears behind the cheetah mask.

I see you. I’m here with you. And I’m sending you so, so much love, respect, and hope for this roller coaster of a ride we’re all in.

Kayleen

Hello readers! 

I can hardly believe I’m sitting down to write this blog post.  While writing a blog isn’t new to me, I’m thrilled to be contributing to Roots in Wellness – as a blogger and a student!  I’m the latest Masters in Counselling Psychology student to join the incredible Roots in Wellness team and I couldn’t be happier to be on board and ready to begin connecting with clients. 

Everyone has a story.  And if you’re reading this, chances are you might want to share yours.  To be seen and heard, to be found and healed.  I want to empower clients with their unique strength and courage to live an authentic life where they aren’t surviving – they’re thriving.  And while the vision of a fulfilled life is different for everyone, my goal is to guide and support you to explore your life and awaken you to grow through what you’ve gone through. 

Especially recently, I’ve heard from more and more people about how they are experiencing increased anxiety.  The current state of the world gives reason enough to bring a flood of intense feelings.  I want to help people who are experiencing anxiety, stress, trauma and depression.  If you’ve been feeling angry, sad, anxious, lost, stressed, reactive, unmotivated or don’t find joy in the things you once loved, know that you aren’t alone.  In a fast-paced world that has created a burnout culture, the question likely isn’t “are you feeling stressed or anxious?”  Rather, “how stressed and anxious are you feeling?”  I’m here if the time is right to put yourself first, stop living on autopilot, examine what will bring about meaningful change and take the steps you need to live a fulfilling life. 

I encourage others to give a voice to their stories because I believe every story should be heard – and because I’ve experienced the healing power of expressing my own story.  Although I have enjoyed a decade-long career in corporate communications, it was a life-changing event in 2013 that gave me the courage to pursue a profession in the mental health field – a dream that had long been on my mind.  My health history provides me with a unique, intimate perspective into the trauma associated with a cancer diagnosis.  I was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in my late twenties and it’s that experience that called me to follow my heart and my passion for connecting with women affected by cancer.  Whether it be the pain of surgeries, fear of cancer treatments, the effects of a diagnosis in every facet of your life, or dating post-cancer, my hope is that you, too, can embrace life after cancer. 

I’m a guest blogger for the incredible non-profit organization, Rethink Breast Cancer.  To read a bit about my story, read my latest blog – An Unexpected Love Story – at this link: https://rethinkbreastcancer.com/an-unexpected-love-story/

Using a customized approach, I provide clients with a safe space and guide them through reaching their goals.  I believe that the therapeutic relationship should be rooted in trust, compassion and empathy.  My main therapeutic approaches are customized for each client and include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), mindfulness techniques and narrative therapy.  I offer online therapy from Hamilton, Ontario through an online video counselling platform. I am under the supervision of Kayleen Edwards, Registered Psychotherapist at Roots in Wellness.  

Healing is possible.  I would be honoured to take that journey with you and work together to explore your life, establish goals and bring about change that matters to you.  Using the premise of accepting instead avoiding, and being mindful of your thoughts and feelings, you will experience the joy of living as your most authentic self.  From unlearning unhelpful patterns to embracing self-compassion, I’ll support you in finding out who you truly are and the courage to embrace it.

Contact:

cassandra@rootsinwellness.ca

Hello, my name is Kat and I am so thrilled to be a part of the team at Roots in Wellness for the next 7 months! A little bit about me…

I am currently in the final stage of my Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology degree through Yorkville University, completing the practicum portion. While I am in the last leg of this academic journey, I have been in the helping field for over 15 years. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Brock University, and a Child and Youth Worker diploma (Accelerated) from Humber College.

I have always known I was meant to work with people, helping others to find the voice that may be hidden, to advocate for themselves and their needs. Originally, I thought I was going to be a teacher – that is the role I would always play as a child, and what I envisioned as I grew older. Then one day, I met someone who told me about the program they were in at Humber and introduced me to what a Child and Youth Worker/Counsellor was. I immediately began researching the program and how I could register, having to be on the waitlist and interview to be accepted. I remember my very first day sitting in seminar, hearing my professor tell the class about her experiences working with clients. I just knew I was in the right place, and couldn’t wait for my own experiences!

Flash forward to my first shift at my first placement – a residential setting for receiving and assessing children and youth. I was so nervous, but even more excited! By the end of that 8-hour shift, I knew I had made the right decision. Having the opportunity to spend time with those that need a little extra support in reaching their potential, role-modelling appropriate relationship dynamics and most importantly, being an ear to listen and an ally in developing their skills was life-changing for me.

Over the past 15 years, I have had the privilege of working in a varity of different settings and environments, with amazing clients and exceptional teams. Some of my past work experiences include Children’s Aid Society, Thistletown Regional Centre, Syl Apps Centre, Sick Kids Hospital, Southlake Regional Health Centre and Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.

Although I have worked with many clients of all ages, in the past, I have specialized in children and adolescents (ages 10 and up) who are struggling with anxiety, depression, self-expression, low self-esteem, parent-child conflict, peer relationships, self-harm tendencies and behavioural concerns. For over 10 years, I worked with children and adolescents struggling with disordered eating and body image concerns, both at Sick Kids Hospital and Southlake Regional Health Centre, in the Inpatient program as well as Day Treatment.

My passion for my work has only increased over the years, with each new experience and journey that I have encountered. When I am able to help someone realize their self-worth and identify their core values and beliefs, how this can impact their life and how to make changes to move forward and live the best version of their life – it fills up my cup and makes my heart smile. Working one-on-one with individuals, as well as working with families, in a private practice setting is something I am honoured to be able to do. I believe the client is the expert when it comes to their own life, and I am here to provide support and guidance along the way. Together, we will work towards developing goals and achieving success.

When I am not working, and not doing schoolwork (which, to be honest, is not very often these days!) I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, reading the newest fiction book, taking my pup Zoey for walks, attempting to keep my plants flourishing, picking up my very basic level of knitting, and anything related to Harry Potter. I have also recently started spin class from home and feel like a (indoor) road warrior already!

Thank you for taking the time to read up on a little bit of myself. If anything resonates, please feel free to reach out! I can be reached by phone (416) 903-7185 or by email at kat@rootsinwellness.ca.

 

~ Kat

As therapists, we recently find ourselves in our own real-life experiments, hearing echoes of the things we have been asking our clients to do for themselves, and now more than ever, we need to make sure we are also walking the talk.  We are into week four of social distancing (really physical distancing), and in complying with government recommendations, most therapists (and all four of us) are offering online or teletherapy, in place of in-person sessions. Teletherapy is emerging as the new normal (perhaps long overdue).

In light of this, we’d like to address some recent trends we’ve noticed might impede our mental wellness during this COVID-19 containment period, and provide our practical guidance.

Our top five tips and trends include:

  1. Privacy: Finding creative spaces for privacy, for online therapy and for when you simply need space.
  2. Structure: The importance of creating structure for yourself during uncertain times.
  3. Responsibility: Helping your non-compliant loved ones accept the importance of self-isolation, and check in on healthy boundaries.
  4. Flexibility: How to ‘roll with the punches’ by increasing cognitive flexibility.
  5. Regulation: Recognizing how fear and other emotions show up in our behaviour and what we can do to help ourselves deal and heal.

1.  Finding Privacy

Privacy for therapy

When you imagine ‘therapy’, chances are you envision a cozy, quiet, office with a live therapist. A private space, where you could safely talk about whatever experience you need to unpack, or whomever, you needed to talk about.

In week three of sheltering at home, hanging out non-stop with our family members, therapy may feel like a more urgent need, but more difficult to achieve.  Online therapy might take a bit more preparation, but don’t let the initial challenge of looking for private space get in the way of getting the support you need. Some ideas for finding privacy are:

  • Talk to your family about taking a call and needing privacy.
  • Pick a quiet room (even a closet, or the bathroom will do!).
  • Carpeting can help buffer noise.
  • Put a noise machine or radio on outside of the room, or download a white noise audio file on another device.
  • Put a towel or pillow at the base of your door.
  • Wear earbuds or headphones, so your therapist’s voice is for your ears only.
  • If there’s a specific sensitive subject, you can create ‘code words’ to use with your therapist.
  • Go in your car, park at a park, or in a spot with publicly accessible wi-fi (your therapist should be providing the secure platform to access).
  • Looking for free wi-fi? If your own driveway doesn’t work, try the parking lots of your local coffee shop, fast food restaurant, Rogers or Bell store, or other public wi-fi spot (we find generally, Starbucks works best).
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your therapist about your specific needs or concerns – we’re learning new tips and tricks every day as well to help meet your needs. As an essential service we can also explore an option for face-to-face sessions if extremely necessary.

I just need alone time!

Some of us are just looking for privacy for ourselves, especially if you already worked from home and were used to a quiet house, are an introvert, or are just simply losing your marbles (which is totally understandable). Try:

  • Setting pre-specified “quiet time” in closed rooms (see section below on Creating Structure),
  • Take a bath (lock the door!),
  • Sit on balcony, or get going on some yard work,
  • Go for a walk/run,
  • Talk to each other about the overall noise in the house at different times of day.

2.  Creating Structure

During uncertain times, when there isn’t a great deal of order externally, we can create structure internally, at home, which can help buffer the stress caused by uncertainty.  Some of us have this skill from our jobs, and the rest of us suddenly have to create it.  Here are some strategies for creating structure:

Focus on your values

Keeping your values in mind as you navigate your new normal is something we’re all figuring out how to do. Your values are things that light you up, when you feel you are being true to yourself.  If you align with those five to ten values regularly (like connection, family, patience, creativity, loyalty), you’ll feel less stuck. We need to give ourselves permission to create our own daily structure based on our individual values.

Some ways to do this include:

  1. Look at what sort of activities you’d be doing normally, and identify which of your values line up:
    1. Sports: exercise, fitness, social
    2. Visiting: family, friends, relationships
    3. Writing: creativity, art, alone time
  2. Once you have a list of things you value, see if you can come up with new ‘physically distanced’ ways of fulfilling these values:
    1. Sports: going for a run or walk outside; doing a home workout video (with friends on video chat).
    2. Visiting: video chatting with friends and family daily; going for a physically distant walk with a friend.
    3. Writing: find quiet time and place each day for yourself to write; find inspiration in what’s going on around you.
  3. Structure your day in a way that incorporates all of these things that are important to you. Write out a daily schedule, with specific time blocks for all of the activities that keep you feeling healthy.

Be Kind to Yourself

You don’t have to follow the same routine as before. If it makes sense to sleep in an extra hour and it’s not going to negatively affect your day, then sleep in that hour. Allow yourself the time and space to adjust to this new life.

Try Something New

There are lots of changes to absorb, so it makes sense we’re going to also change. The restaurants are closed but you can still have a date night with your partner – you’re going to have to be creative. Try new routines, an activity you’ve never done before (like online therapy!), or do more of something you often don’t have time for. Get out of your comfort zone; after all, we’re all a little uncomfortable right now, aren’t we?

Get on the Same Page

Family meetings might be awkward and new, but they can be crucial at a time like this, where everyone is stuck in the house together, or shared family arrangements are thrown out of whack. Pick a night every week to have a family meeting – get everyone in the house involved. On paper you can chart the week with school, work, dinners, chores, and time for video games and quality family time. If you’ve never done it before, know it will feel awkward and you will receive ALL the eye rolls and “do I have to’s?”.

At the end of the week review it, look at what worked/what didn’t work and re-adjust for the week ahead.

Organize Yourself

For those of us who really value structure, or get carried away doing either not enough work, or too much, making sure you’re organized is important. Make use of to-do lists, alarms and reminders to help you structure your day. Put things in your calendar you wouldn’t normally put in (like standing up, or changing the laundry, looking into your partner’s eyes).  Most importantly, make sure you have balance and boundaries by setting specific working hours, self-care time, and family time. Take breaks during the day as well, even if you have to schedule them.

3.   Pandemic-level Responsibility (feeling over-responsible)

Feeling over-responsible for other people who are not your dependent children can be very tough. With all the stories in the news about which generation is tougher to manage during this pandemic, we had to wonder:  are some of us over-responsible adult children especially triggered right now?

While this experience can affect any generation, in psychology, we sometimes refer to the emotional state of being a ‘parentified child.’  Parentification describes a role reversal, where a child is obliged to act more like the parent should be (but isn’t) to their own parent or sibling. It can happen for various reasons, including parent physical or mental illness, parental alienation in divorce, enmeshed relationships, porous boundaries with parents for example.

Whatever the reasons, the child grows into an adult who feels generally over-responsible for caretaking of their now older or elderly parents, adult siblings and perhaps other people in their life.  This constant boundary crossing into other adults’ lives tends to cause problems for us in the long run.

How do we regulate our anxiety when we don’t have full control over what our parents and other loved ones do?  How can we exercise compassion and understand what we AND they’re going through?

  • Some of our loved ones may be afraid and their coping strategy to reduce their anxiety, rather than to face that this is real, is to downplay the crisis.
  • Acknowledging their fear response by helping them talk about what’s going on, rather than telling them what to do, may be helpful.
    • Recommend things you can do together virtually like facetime, can help.
    • Recommend a new hobby that doesn’t expose them to risk.
  • Most people don’t want to be told what to do, which can be distressing for the over responsible adult child, but we need to manage our own levels of distress first.
  • If we can be compassionate, patient (to an extent), and provide the right information, we have a better chance of getting through to our loved ones
  • Before you lock your stubborn friend or mother in a basement, remember to BREATHE (see Regulation below)!
  • If you’ve been trying to talk to them and your approach isn’t working, switch it up. Appeal to your loved one’s values. If they’re more worried about others than themselves, speak to that.
  • Remind them of their responsibility to help protect the health of others, including other loved ones, the elderly, and children, you need their help.
  • Hold your boundaries. Our parents often still think of us as children (so what if we act like children sometimes?), and this can translate to them not respecting our adult boundaries. It’s not their job to remember our boundaries folks, it’s our job to remind them.

4.  Flexibility, but the brain kind

Cognitive flexibility refers to our brain’s ability to switch from one train of thought, or way of thinking, to another, in order to adapt to a new situation. An analogy often used is switching between TV channels.  If you are set on only one channel, you can get stuck there, and miss experiencing all that is offered on the other channels. Cognitive inflexibility is something parents might experience with a child who struggles to transition from one activity to the next, or with someone who doesn’t like curveballs being thrown into their days that mess up their schedules or to-do lists.

Perhaps no collective experience like this pandemic has demanded new levels of cognitive flexibility from all of us. We are being required to bend and flex in ways we never knew were possible – whether we like it or not.  It’s possible some of us might be struggling more than others, especially if you are in touch with your extroversion, have had a hard time with change in the past (we all do, some more than the average cat), already deal with having a neurodiverse brain in a neurotypical world, or have had a highly structured job or office environment.

Acceptance and Commitment

We have some tips to ease into cognitive flexibility, adapted from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a version of CBT, focusing on accepting your emotions, and moving forward with your life.

A mental shift of acceptance of your fear: first we must understand our fear!

This may seem counterintuitive, as fear can be perceived as negative. Fear or anxiety comes with unpleasant physical symptoms, and sometimes also a steady stream of ‘what ifs’ and ‘shoulds’. Typically, when faced with something causing these feelings, we try to avoid it.

We can see feelings of fear and scarcity demonstrated in the grocery aisles: carts full of toilet paper, Lysol wipes and hand sanitizer. We are scared. We want to get rid of the yucky feeling, so we do what is efficient in the moment. Spoiler alert: Buying copious amounts of TP is not the long-term solution to feeling better – this is our way of trying to avoid – or get rid of – these feelings of anxiety in the moment.

The fear we feel about COVID-19 is real. While the feeling of fear and anxiety are unpleasant, some level of anxiety is normal and it’s what allows us to continue to be safe, self-isolate, and reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

This is unchartered territory for you – and almost everyone – as we are learning to live through a global pandemic. It’s understandable you may have a heightened sense of worry and you may ‘freak out’ at times – that’s okay!

Remember in those moments that cognitive flexibility is a key factor to learn to live within a new normal. You can do the following to help you accept and feel your emotions, ground yourself, and move forward:

Accept

Practicing radical acceptance helps us understand that our emotions are normal, and accept that they’re going to be there no matter how much we try to avoid (and that, like everything, this too, shall pass).

  1. Remind yourself what you’re feeling is normal, and it’s okay to feel this way.
  2. Reality is as it is (the facts about the present are the facts, even if you don’t like them).
  3. There are limitations on the future for everyone (but only realistic limitations need to be accepted).
  4. Everything has a cause (including events and situations causing pain and suffering).
  5. Life can be worth living, even with painful events in it

Feel the emotion

Acknowledging and tending to our feelings, even the difficult ones, is what we need to ease the emotional pain.

  1. Name the emotion (if we can name it, we can tame it).
  2. Acknowledge all emotions are okay, they emote for a reason. If we pay attention to them, we can recognize the clues to help us figure out what we need (usually not more toilet paper).
  3. Talking about your emotions with people who can hold them with empathy and support (if you don’t feel like you have access within your limited connections right now, reach out for professional support, online of course).
  4. Recognizing we are not alone in our suffering, and being as kind to ourselves as we are to our friends and loved ones, is important. Noticing our shared common humanity is a step towards being more compassionate to ourselves.

5. Regulation

When we speak about self-regulation, we teach that ‘story follows state’ – that is, our body’s signs of stress (heart rate, dry mouth, nervous stomach, jumbled thoughts) inform the story our brain creates about how safe or unsafe we are.  Our society is living in fear right now.  Some of the behaviours discussed (TP hoarding) – include avoidance, denial and numbing (to deal with our unpleasant physiological agitation).  Sometimes distraction is okay – it takes away the emotional strain or pain in the moment. But feelings resurface when we push them down repeatedly.  If we stay disconnected and don’t share our fears with others, our fears also come with consequences adding an extra layer of shame.

ACT also informs helpful ways we can stay regulated.

Ground Yourself

In times of heightened emotions, it can be difficult not to panic. Grounding can help us get back in touch with the here and now, and focus on what we need in the moment.

  1. Use your senses to really focus on where you are in the moment. Focus on your surroundings, what you’re feeling in your body, take a few deep breaths, and remember that you are safe in this moment.
  2. Get out in nature and really experience your surroundings (what do you see, smell, hear, feel?).

Move Forward

Once we feel calmer, we can keep moving forward. Shift your focus to the controllables, and engage in activities that are in line with your values.

  1. Ask yourself if you’re doing everything you can to help reduce risk for yourself and others?
  2. Engage in a pleasurable activity. Share a positive or informative post on social media to help spread happiness, kindness and facts; offer to help a neighbour or loved one; practice self-care by doing something for you.

Finally, remember that this will pass, and like all of the other difficult times in your life you will get through this!

Even being able to consider some of these strategies helps to build the muscle of cognitive flexibility, which is what builds our capacity for resilience and allows us to ‘roll with the punches’. Be patient with yourself, and remember any type of change takes time.

While not everyone experiences this, one trend we have noticed in particular across our practices (which spans the province), in particular increasing is comparative suffering.

Comparative Suffering

Increasingly, fear shows up in our behaviour in minimizing our own suffering by pointing out the “more important” suffering of others. ‘Rank ordering’ our suffering is yet another attempt at dismissing our own painful emotions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly brought this out in many of us. It sounds like this:

“I can’t be afraid for my children who are simply missing school, there are children in the world who don’t have adequate food or positive home lives”

 OR

“Why should I be tired and irritated after a long day of work, there are people who are out of jobs”

OR

“I shouldn’t be worried that I can’t go to my graduation, there are people who have had to cancel weddings”

This tactic of reducing emotional pain doesn’t make our unpleasant feelings go away, it adds another layer to it.  Now in addition to the difficult feelings – like fear and sadness, we also experience the feeling of shame: “I’m bad because I’m feeling sad when other people have it worse than me.”

  • Recognizing the importance of empathy for OURSELVES is helpful.  Feelings of empathy are not finite, there is enough to go around.
  • Letting go of shame allows us to more fully look outside of ourselves, which allows us to have a deeper sense of empathy for others.
  • The clearest way to give support and empathy to others is to attend to your own feelings.

Shame grows when we don’t express how we feel. When we can share our feelings with others, especially feelings of shame, and it is received with empathy, shame cannot survive, and we are free to connect with others in a healthy and supportive way.

Our Closing Thoughts

Noticing our emotional and physiological state are the first steps toward getting a handle on our emotional states. Are you getting easily irritated by the silly things your partner does, like the way he/she chews his food? Or eats her banana? Or having a shorter fuse when you see your children haven’t emptied the dishwasher?  Noticing this behaviour in ourselves is the first step to easing the emotions underneath our behaviours. We start our own regulation by first noticing, second regulating our physiological response and finally following the steps involved in tending to our emotions (see Feel the Emotion above).

It’s a strange time and we’re all going through it together. How we come together to manage both ourselves, AND support our families might require strategies from us that we haven’t used before.  While we all learn new things, figure out our new normal, know support is here for you. No one is meant to go through a pandemic (emotionally) alone, despite ‘social distancing.’ We’re mammals and humans aren’t wired to struggle alone. Reach out for help, go easy on yourself and your loved ones, and reach out for support, sooner rather than later.

Written in collaboration by Peer Supervision Group, OAMHP Members Mindy Bilotta, RP,Christina Crowe, RP, Christina Janiga, RP Jennifer Thomson, RP, otherwise known as The Kind Heart Therapists (and on a rowdier day, The Kind Heart Cult).

For many, going back to college or university every September can be a scary process. We worry about getting good enough grades, fitting in, making friends, balancing work and school, and so much more! Life for students is a stressful one, and we are hoping we can give you some tips before the school year starts to help you cope this semester.

When I was in school, I always found it difficult to balance school and work. No one is on the same schedule, and you’re supposed to be having the time of your life, while somehow also getting good grades and building your future. This can seem like an impossibility.

The social aspect of going to school can be difficult enough on its own, but for those individuals who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, this can be extra scary. Worrying about prejudice, coming out, being outed by others, and not fitting in are real concerns that can often weigh us down.

So, how can you make sure you stay sane, functional, and happy this semester? The answer isn’t a simple one, but these tips might help!

Emphasize balance

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it easily slips away when we’re overwhelmed. Whether you’re in school or in the working world, we tend to live for the weekend, our vacations, reading week, or the summer. While it’s great to have things to look forward to, this can often lead to a cycle of overdoing it, relaxing, then getting right back to negative or destructive habits.

Think about it: when you’re in school, you have classes, school work, friends, and work. In the summer, likely your schedule is a little more consistent and there’s less pressure to perform without school work looming over you. It’s easier during the summer to work in self-care activities and time with friends. During school, it might be easier to just cram in all work and no play (and we all know how that turns out!)

While we may not be able to do anything about the timelines of our lives, what we can do is try to sneak in some regularity and balance. Even if your schedule is all over the place, try to keep some things consistent, such as the time you wake up in the morning, or having a routine every day (even if it’s done at different times during the day). Something like getting in a 20-minute workout or talking to your BFF on the phone every day.

While this can seem like even more work in the beginning, it will pay off in the end. Later on, we will give you some tips on how you can balance out your days and weeks in a way that will work for you.

Surround yourself with positive people

This is so so so important for every stage of your life – not just as a student. We don’t have control over everyone we interact with, and sometimes we have to deal with family members and peers that don’t make us feel so great. This makes it so important to ensure you have a good group that you can go to when you need to.

Make a point to schedule time with family or friends that lift you up. Those people who you feel you can be your authentic self with, without judgement. People you have fun with, who love you and care about your well-being.

If you’re not sure you have many of these people in your life, I know it can be daunting to put yourself out there to find them. Being a student comes with anxiety over fitting in, but there’s also a huge opportunity to make new friends. Most schools have clubs for different interests and even identities, including gay-straight alliances, dungeons and dragons clubs, and clubs specific to your major.

While it can provoke some of your anxiety to put yourself out there and meet new people, it’s impossible to make strong connections if we don’t. Remember that your anxiety is temporary and that you can get through it!

Find safe places

This relates to my last point – clubs and groups within your school can provide great safe places for you to be yourself and express who you are or what your interests might be. Aside from these places, however, it’s important to have other places we can go to feel safe and secure.

These types of places can be as simple as your dorm room, or your room at home if you’re living at home while going to school. Maybe you find a park, library, or café near campus that you can go to sit and think or work on school work.

Take some time to explore your environment and see what speaks to you. You may be surprised at what you find! When I was in school, I found a café that was a little bit further from other spots and was often less busy, and it became my go-to. I’d go and have some tea and a bite to eat, put my headphones in, and get some work done.

Take care of yourself

Another no-brainer, I know! But again, something we often lose sight of. How do you take care of yourself when you’re so busy with assignments and trying to make money that you feel like you can’t even breathe?? It’s in the little things. Those things that we normally just do without thinking, that we completely neglect when we’re stressed.

Did you eat today? When was the last time you drank water? When did you last take deep, purposeful breaths? Have you been outside recently?

Sometimes these small things make the biggest difference. Take an extra 10 minutes in the morning to make a lunch with some healthy snacks to make sure you eat throughout the day. Carry a water bottle around with you to stay hydrated. Go for a 5-minute walk between classes. Check in with friends and family, and check in with yourself to see what you need.

Mindfulness can be a really helpful tool for when we don’t have time for bubble baths and manicures!

Plan, plan, plan

I’m sure that planning something else, or having to do more thinking, is the last thing that you want to do right now. However, scheduling your activities – even your leisure activities- can be extremely helpful. We’re much more likely to engage in an activity if we actually commit to it and write it down. So we can often accomplish each of the items above by implementing some planning.

Balance can be achieved by writing out your schedule (or looking at it on a computer) and planning leisure, exercise, and social activities in a way that makes sense. For example, if you want to work out 4 times per week, and Tuesdays you have school and work for almost 13 hours of the day – that’s probably not a day you want to schedule your workout for. Instead, maybe you commit to ensuring that you eat properly and spend some time alone on Tuesdays so you can rest and recuperate.

Writing things out might help you decide which commitments you want to take on as well. If you have a few clubs in mind that you want to join, maybe you balance it out by only joining the ones that aren’t going to be at times that will extend your day by an unreasonable amount. Similarly, you may choose to skip out on a social engagement if it means too much running around. It’s okay to say no! To others, and to yourself at times.

We know how tough it is to be a student – we were there at one time and had our struggles as well. We know that you can get through it, as we did! You’ve got this! Keep your head up, be confident in yourself, and keep moving forward.

Jennifer Thomson

RP, MACP, CPT, FNS