Attachment and Adolescents

The importance of attachment in babies and young children is commonly well-understood, as is the expectation that when our children hit their teenage years, they will begin to move away from their attachment figures. It is assumed that this is a key part of their growth and development into adulthood. It can be easy, (particularly when teenagers are testing our parental boundaries!)  to also assume that attachment is less important as children get older. However, maintaining a secure sense of attachment is just as important for adolescents – and Covid19 has shown us some interesting results that help highlight and remember what we can keep in mind for our teenagers.

John Bowlby, a renowned attachment researcher, helps to show us that attachment is “from the cradle to the grave”. It impacts us as children, through our teenage years and well into adulthood.  Brain development and our nervous system responds to, and is shaped by, secure attachments throughout our entire life.  We all, children, adults and adolescents, need to have a sense of a secure base and supportive relationships. Part of our ongoing role as parents is to actively and consciously consider how develops and remains important in our relationships with teenagers.

As adolescents begin to move away from their initial attachment relationships, they thrive when they are carrying with them a “secure base” from which they can reach out into the world and explore.  This exploration happens through peer relationships, connecting with other important adults (coaches, mentors and other relatives) and institutions (schools, clubs etc.).  A vital part of this healthy development, and a necessary condition, is a strong and secure base that remains available, and continues to be a space for children to return to. Adolescents thrive with both roots (secure attachment) and wings (growing independence and sense of purpose). In order to move towards independence, teenagers require a place of dependence. A place to be continually nourished, have their needs seen and met – an emotional space that is unconditionally accepting (but note this is not the same as unconditionally permissive!). 

COVID -19 lockdowns all around the world have facilitated a unique opportunity for many families to engage with, observe and reconnect with the adolescents in their lives.  As a result, in many instances, adolescents are reportingless stress, better sleep and often better connections with their siblings and their caregivers. Recent figures from student resilience surveys from researcher Dr Suniya Luthar during COVID lockdowns in the US have noted overall improvement in clinical anxiety and depression (compared to the same time last year). Bearing in mind the increased pressures most families have been facing in this chaotic time – ongoing work commitments, complexities of work from home arrangements, potential increasing financial pressures, anxieties about family around the world – it’s useful to ask what has been important about this unique period that has engendered improvements in mood and measures for good emotional health?

Time: Families though stretched in unforeseen and novel ways, have noticed the return of rhythms that in the past have been compromised in the unrelenting march of extra-curricular activities (before school, after school, weekend tutoring, volunteering – on and on it goes). It’s a reminder that spending time with teenagers outside of scheduling is an important factor.

Sleep: Adolescents have long been thwarted by a body clock that really prefers to sleep later – versus school times that are geared for early morning risers. The opportunity to gain the additional hour or two of sleep is important in physical and mental well-being. Parents too, have been able to travel less, with little or less commuting, less rush for school picks ups, extracurricular activities etc.  Finding ways of keeping healthy sleep patterns as we come out of lockdown is something to focus on.

Togetherness: A sense of being in it together – the embodied sense of safety and all physically being in one location, and sharing a common experience is another important component.

In many parts of the world, and certainly here in Singapore, families are balancing a return to activities outside the home, and in doing so are considering which parts of this lockdown worked for them. Given the choice, what would you like to maintain and protect in the future? There is still the reality of ongoing academic demands for students, college applications, community service, volunteering, sporting commitments. So what really matters? Resilience research has consistently shown that the key factor in being OK when things are difficult is close and robust relationships. Prioritizing parent-child, parent/ caregiver relationships (couple relationships) is crucial – without strong relationships teens are increasingly isolated, they miss the opportunity for conversations that help develop their reflective capacity. Robust relationships and secure attachment helps adolescents develop their sense of who they are:- at first within, then outside of the family unit, which is a protective factor against isolation, hopelessness and anxieties.

Given our collective experiences in lockdown, as well as what adolescents themselves are reporting – this time has been instructive. And time itself is necessary. Adolescents need time with their closest secure attachments, they continue to draw on and thrive with their support. Consider how you can protect some of your caregiving time – being able to share a meal, being present to ensure decent sleep patterns, being engaged in shared activities or interests. To assume that teens do not need or even want these things, because they are “growing up and becoming independent” is to diminish the ongoing importance of relationships  – which is a human need and especially important in the development of the adolescent brain.

Bowlby J. Attachment and Loss: Vol 1 Attachment. New York: Basic Books; 1969/1982. [Google Scholar]
Dr Suniya Luthar (http://authconn.com/research.html)   

Written by:
Veronica McKibbin
Counsellor

Cultivating Joy In Our Relationships

As we around the world have to get used to an ever-changing landscape of daily life, one aspect of what comes sharply into focus in how relationships tend to need some readjustment.  For most of us, we have settled into routines in our relationships; that could be with our partners, spouses, children, friends and anyone else that we love.  With any relationship, at any time, it is easy to take it for granted and expend less energy on maintaining connection.  This is oftentimes not even an issue, until something happens.  Something like a pandemic, betrayal, loss of life or even just minor inconveniences.  We forget to add a component of intention into our relationships and this causes them to suffer, we get irritated with our spouses when they are working from home, our children don’t pick up their socks or toys during times when they are on school holidays.  Little annoyances can turn into big feuds and hurt feelings and resentments become the norm.

During times like these, finding joy is not just a good idea it is essential; especially in our close relationships.  And to find joy, you have to cultivate it, tend to it and ensure that joy and subsequently love, grow.  We can reconnect with one another and ourselves by taking small steps daily to develop this greater sense of joy. 

Be kind and thoughtful:  Instead of an inward focus on ourselves, being able to focus our attention outward and acknowledge our loved ones helps to make us feel more connected to them.A simple “thank you” or checking in with someone is a simple way to be both kind and thoughtful.

Let go of blame: In our close relationships, we often will become frustrated with our spouses, our children, our parents even our friends when they fall short of our expectations.  Sometimes we want to find fault with others to alleviate our own sense of frustration and anger.  Blame is anger, accountability encourages acceptance and connection.  So when feeling like you want to blame a loved one for something, stop and think about what you are feeling, share that.  This will create connection and allow for more authentic connection in your relationships. 

 Practice Gratitude: During times when we are stuck together in close quarters, have been devastated by loss or are simply mustering every last bit of patience in our day, it can be helpful to take a pause and be thankful for our loved ones.  Even when we are hurt or challenged by their actions, finding gratitude for having them in your life can shift the perspective so that a little clarity can enter.

Written by:
Sanaa Lundgren
Counsellor & Collaborative Family Practitioner
MS Soc (Counselling

Philosophy and Psychotherapy

It is easy to forget that psychotherapy and counselling were once very much the business of philosophers. They also have religious and medical roots, but understanding yourself and how best to live your life was the business of Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, Epicurus and Aristotle. Like many other branches of knowledge, psychotherapy has grown up and become a separate discipline. But some therapists remain closely attached to their
philosophical roots, especially existential psychotherapists.

Philosophy as practiced in many universities in the West and around the world has also narrowed itself, becoming more academic and not much concerned with how people can best live their lives. But this is just one philosophical tradition. What of Indian, Chinese, Japanese and other world philosophical traditions? Have they also become remote from the
concerns of people about how to live?

It was very refreshing to see a new book (2018) “How the World Thinks” by Julian Baggini, introducing western readers to a much wider range of philosophical traditions, and trying to see whether they have anything to teach each other. All philosophical traditions, western included, look back to their founding fathers for key ideas and principles, and in varying
degrees explain and reinterpret their ‘revelations’, in the Indian Vedas, Confucius’s Analects, Buddhist sutras, the Quran, and more. Baggini surveys modern interpretations of these ideas from around the world, and tries to reconcile them: are they talking about the same issues, do they reach similar conclusions? Who is right?

His approach is always polite; he wants to find out what his own western tradition has missed; how different are we in our beliefs? When I discussed the book with a group of people mainly brought up in a western philosophical tradition we were perhaps a little disappointed by his reluctance to say to other philosophers, “You are wrong.” But perhaps that is because, as Baggini suggests, we come from a “truth-seeking” tradition, rather than a “way-seeking” one. We want true beliefs about ourselves and the world (parallel to the western scientific tradition) from philosophy, rather than models of behaviour which will help us to lead better lives. Buddhists, Confucians, Daoists and Hindus are perhaps more interested in what we should think and do to escape from suffering, or karma, and achieve salvation, or unity with nature. Baggini suggests the western tradition has become too narrow.

Baggini’s book is perhaps part of a change in the western philosophical tradition, in which the concern with leading a good life returns to its proper place. Alain de Botton and many others now encourage us to think how our beliefs about ourselves and the world are an essential part of who we are and how we should live. Truth remains vital but so too does ‘the way’, ‘telos’ (our purposes and goals) and practice.

Written by:
Dr. Tim Bunn
Consultant Educational Psychologist

Let it go

The virus-which-shall-not-be-named is a most tempting topic for a blog. Although I am tempted, I am looking for something we all may have in common in our current experience, rather than squarely at the culprit. And I think I may have found it.

Imagine your child with an ice cream in hand. They are perhaps smiling and cherishing the thought of it. As they lift it to their mouth, you notice the blob shifting. Then, oh dear, it slips and falls to the pavement with a sloppy splat. Even with the enhanced cleanliness of Singapore’s constantly mopped pavements, I doubt it can be licked off. You may even have to stop them trying. So in the end, there it will sit, shrinking away like the Wicked Witch of the West. Oh, what a world.

What your child then experiences is a sense of loss, a sensation of having something taken away, something they liked. As well as the thing itself, it was the hope and the joy that was stolen, the associated experience. And though that experience took place in the outside world, it was also an internal loss. To mourn this loss – any loss – is a process, one which Freud (1917) long ago described as letting go of the individual memories, one by one. It is painful, but also part of development and our common humanity. It is necessary for recovery and the development of resilience. Kessler (2019) a century later, similarly sketched out a process of grief, noting how people move through stages which end with making meaning.

There perhaps is where your role as a parent comes in. Freud, and many since, also pointed out that there is a difference between this process of ordinary mourning and one which he called ‘melancholia’, what we would now call depression. In this state, it is less clear what is felt to be lost and the feeling becomes more personal – to paraphras in e Freud, a feeling that they themselves are poorer and emptier ( Freud, 1917 P.45). This loss of self-regard or esteem, or a growth of self-reproach in your child would be greater cause for concern. But it may not be immediately apparent, or distinguishable without some exploration.

So if you feel that your child is down, perhaps think with them about what they may be feeling sad about. They may need help in articulating the things they have lost, as well as the associated feelings. You do not need a psychology doctorate to do this. In fact, your own expertise as their parent will serve you well. Perhaps the main thing to consider is how much room to give them to explore, and how much to hold their hand while they do so. While listening and thinking out loud with them, you will help them to share their feelings, as well as be their company. Having feelings thought about with someone trusted is the essence of the therapeutic role but the heart of a parental role. And if you decide they, or you, may need some further support, you will do so with insight and a feeling of partnership in your next step.   

References:
Freud, S. (1917 (1915)) ‘Mourning and Melancholia’’, in Freud, S. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 14: 1914-1916. On the History of the Post Psycho-analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology and Other Works. London: Hogarth Press, 1958, pp.237-258.
Kessler, D (2019) Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. Simon and Schuster, Scribner Imprint, New York.

Written by:
Robert Leveson
Psychotherapist & Counsellor,
Children and Families (Reg; TSP, BPC)

 

Is wearing masks getting in the way of social interactions?

Wearing a mask is becoming the new norm of the post-coronavirus society. With what consequences on our social interactions and our understanding of others?

Prof Ursula Hess, facial expression and emotion researcher, provide some answers based on her research in an interview conducted by Stella Marie Hombach.

In her research, Prof Ursula Hess observed that recognizing emotional expressions is no worse when our mouth and nose are covered. Thanks to our multitude of facial muscles involved in facial expression, the observation of the eyes area is generally enough to recognize someone’s feelings. Only fear and surprise caused confusion as we usually rely on the way the mouth is open to differentiate both emotions.  

Indeed, the eyes are a powerful vector of expression, but, being sad, scared, angry, or happy is also expressed by the way we speak and move. We are feeling and carrying our emotions with our whole body. Our attitude, gestures, rhythm and modulation of our voice are enough clues for the observer and listener to understand our emotional state. 

In her research, Prof Ursula Hess observed that covering mouth and nose does not seem to prevent social mimicry, which is when we naturally mirror the other’s behavior. This makes us feel closer and judge the interaction more positive. In the study, participants imitated the smile of another person even when this smile was hidden.

Children of primary school age are barely less able than adults to recognize emotions. However, for toddlers, seeing faces that look different, disrupts their bearings and can, therefore, be stressful. Parents can familiarize their children with the mask in a playful way, for example, by placing it in front of their face for a short time, then removing it again. Toddlers learn quickly and get used to the new situation.

Prof Ursula Hess suggests that wearing a mask as a sign of solidarity and as an expression of mutual consideration for others, can bring us together and create a sense of community.

Article based on an interview by Stella Marie Hombach in Scientific American’s German-language sister publication Spektrum der Wissenschaft.

Prof Ursula Hess is a facial expression and emotion researcher, deputy dean for international affairs at the faculty of life sciences at Humboldt University of Berlin.

To read the full article in English: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/from-behind-the-coronavirus-mask-an-unseen-smile-can-still-be-heard/

To read the full article in French: https://www.cerveauetpsycho.fr/sr/entretien/coronavirus-comment-voir-les-emotions-derriere-les-masques-19573.php

Written by:
Lucie Ramet

Clinical Psychologist

Life is NOT black and white

Black and white thinking (also dichotomous thinking) is our tendency to look at the world in terms of “all or nothing.” We either find things to be “good” or “bad,” “beautiful” or “ugly,” “easy” or “hard,” “happy” or “sad.”
Black and white thinking might feel reassuring, at least in the beginning, but when pursuing this thinking we don’t acknowledge all the grey areas in life. The things we can’t fit into a box. Life’s paradoxes. Unknowns. The stuff that’s difficult to put into words. Instead, this illusion that we have all the answers to life when we really don’t, it limits possibilities and holds us back. And when we engage in this type of thinking, it can actually cause a lot of unnecessary unhappiness and problems in our life. It will ruin
important relationships and it will, eventually, isolate us.
Sometimes new information and new experiences tell us we need to adjust those lines we draw. And without this open-mindedness, we will always be trapped within those same limitations.

Thus, black-and-white thinking is a ‘cognitive distortion’: one of the many biases that can obscure our ability to judge and make good decisions. And when we erase possible choices, it becomes easy to feel angry or impotent, or maybe both at the same time.
This rigid way of thinking precludes creative solutions. The judgments are
unquestionable and the right path is one and only one, there is no room for the exploration of any new or better alternative. This type of thinking inhibits problem solving and makes life constricting, which may further exacerbate depression. What is wrong will become irreparable, what is ugly will become monstrous, what is scary will become terrifying, what is negative will become catastrophic.
There are a number of techniques which may help reduce and, eventually, eliminate black and white thinking:

Re-Frame Your Thoughts: try to give yourself the luxury of a few moments of time to take a deep breath and gently challenge your negative thoughts, actions or words.
Say goodbye to ‘never’ and ‘every’ and absolutistic definitions.
Ask yourself:
Is there evidence that supports my thoughts?
Am I considering all angles or am I leaving things out?
Does everyone else see it this way?

You CAN start to realize when you are giving-in to black and white thinking, and then make the choice to avoid those extreme cognitions in favor of healthier ones.
Give yourself time and lots of practice identifying and eliminating negative self-talk and seek support from others who can help or talk to a professional and enjoy the rich spectrum of the opportunities that life presents to you.

https://www.webpsychology.com/news/2015/09/01/dangers-black-and-white-thinking-228391
http://www.psybersquare.com/me/me_back_white.html
https://www.verywellmind.com/dichotomous-thinking-425292
https://www.theemotionmachine.com/the-problem-with-black-and-white-thinking/
https://medium.com/@dlcivello/life-is-never-black-or-white-1b8cb69a7dd7
https://www.clinical-depression.co.uk/dlp/understanding-depression/all-or-nothing-or-black-and-white-thinking-and-depression/
https://www.learning-mind.com/black-and-white-thinking/

Written By:
Laura Spalvieri
Counsellor, Psychotherapist & Transactional Analyst

Narrating the new normal

As we begin to have restrictions eased throughout Singapore and the Circuit Breaker slowly winds down, we all are waiting anxiously for our lives to return to normal.  Yet all around, we hear the phrase, “the new normal.”  As I have been contemplating my own integration back into a regular routine that allows me to leave my home, I wonder about stepping into the new normal and how that can be done so with intention.  

What can we take from our recent experiences that will allow for a more purposeful, intentional life?  What can we take from our collective contraction?  What can we leave behind as we move forward into a new expansion? How do we continue to evolve so that a more positive and heartfelt experience can emerge from this global blow to humanity?

In order to really feel as though we have grown and developed from our experience during this pandemic, it seems essential to build a new narrative for ourselves; one that incorporates and honors our individual experiences during this time, one that recognizes the benefit in our personal and collective experiences, one that allows us to continue to engage in those things that provided us benefit and have kept us going through this time of crisis.

While many people have had experiences of isolation, anxiety, sadness, anger or boredom during the circuit breaker, it is important to look at how those emotions may be seen as having molded or shaped us for the better.  What positive can we gain from experiencing these negative emotions?  In experiencing the positive side of emotional challenges we need to feel them, not resist them.  Undesirable emotions have an evolutionary aspect as well as an ability to provide insights and thus they do have something to teach us.   One way in which to begin to shift our perspective on our negative emotional states is to write a gratitude letter to that emotion for what it has provided us, if the feeling is isolation, perhaps it has given you a greater ability to listen to internal thoughts, perhaps it has given you a new appreciation for your family, maybe being isolated has taught you a new skill.  In any case, being able to examine and be with our challenges can be a great tool to assist us in creating a narrative of our time that holds value.  

Another aspect of taking value and creating a story that holds richness is how we take new positive experiences with us into the new normal. During this circuit breaker, some of us have had increased time with family, more time to read and incorporate creativity into our lives through painting, writing, learning a new skill or hobby. Or we have been able to increase our physical health with at home workouts.  Once we begin to go back out into the world, ensuring time to continue these activities can be essential to build a new narrative of living life with intention.   Plan your week and “pay” yourself first.  If you have enjoyed game night with your family, put that in the calendar, block time for your workouts, even time to read or paint should be included in your schedule; whatever refuels us needs import. These activities have kept us sane, and grounded when things felt unknown and because of the value, keeping these pastimes is a way to ensure that our story is grounded in an appreciation for how this global pause has stretched us.  

In all of the things that we have gone through collectively, it is important to remember that our journey is not an isolated one, our story has a cast of characters that include our friends, family as well as all of those individuals affected by this pandemic (and we have all been affected).  With that in mind, the recreation of our narrative should include honoring and finding appreciation for those people in our life. Include them, use them to process those challenging emotions, include them as part of your “payment” to yourself.  The way to move forward and ensure that our new narrative is intentional and lasting is to have support in our new normal to support others in theirs.

Written by: 
Kimberly Fisel
Counsellor
Marriage and Family Therapist

Building a 3S-Inside-Out Survival Toolbox Amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown countries and individuals into the throes of newfound challenges and stress. While the initial waves of the pandemic were focused on mitigating the spread of the viral contagion, there is increasing focus on the mental health implications of the pandemic experienced by individuals, families, and whole communities. Some individuals may experience heightened anxiety, anger, frustration, or ruminate about their own health and that of their loved ones. Others may find that these negative feelings manifest themselves in physical and behavioral ways ranging from gastro-related issues to more severe expressions such as substance use and abuse, self-harm behaviors, and suicidal behavior.

In this blog, we will focus on building a survival toolbox that addresses your needs both within yourself and externally. The ways that we have utilized for comfort in the pre-pandemic days may not be available to us now. However, we now have opportunities to build a toolbox and grow new tools for survival. Use the 3S-inside-out survival toolbox checklist included at the bottom of the blog to help you identify and monitor your areas of strength and need.

Self-Regulation

With the stay-home restrictions, you may experience your feelings more acutely in the absence of everyday distractions. One way to self-regulate is to identify the feelings you are experiencing and connect with them instead of pushing them away. For example, you could say to yourself ‘I feel sad.’ Invite yourself to experience the negative (examples include anger, pain, disappointment) and positive feelings (examples include content, peaceful, joyful) throughout the day and identify at least three emotions daily. You could verbally say these feelings to yourself or journal them, and while you may be curious as to why you are feeling a certain way, why’s not important in this process. Owning and accepting your feelings is an important part of self-regulation.

Another way to regulate yourself is to breathe. Although this is seemingly basic, breathing is a powerful tool for enhancing circulation in your body, supplying your body with oxygen to do its important work in your body, pairing with the blood in the system to provide energy and remove waste material. However, deep mindful breathing can also refresh your brain and mind. One breathing activity you may try is to take a deep breath in through your nose and take your time to exhale all of that breath through your nose. Allow yourself to breathe deeply during intervals throughout the day especially when you feel overwhelmed or experience an emotional roller coaster. Perhaps you could also try breathing into your feelings.

Support Networks

Humans are social creatures and are ever inclined to connect with others. One of the major implications of the pandemic is that it breeds a sense of isolation with the lack of face-to-face social interactions. Some individuals live with friends, roommates, their families, or significant others but there are others who live all by themselves. The felt sense of isolation may not only be experienced for those who live alone but may also apply to those who live with others and yet feel alone and disconnected.

Brene Brown (n.d) defines connection as the energy between individuals when they feel seen, heard, and valued; a non-judgmental space is created where they can both give and receive freely to each other and enjoy the nourishment from this relationship. When individuals experience this connection, there can be significant gains. For those who are living with others, there may be opportunities to foster connections by creating or building some rituals daily. Simple rituals may take the form of joining by preparing meals, enjoying take-out food together, or even having a dance chores party. As long as the rituals happen at about the same time daily and are enjoyable activities, one can benefit from these events. For those who are living alone, there may be opportunities to reach out to family and/or friends via Zoom or other virtual technologies to engage in a casual conversation or join interactive online games together. All is not lost if we do not have people we can connect with. With the onset of the pandemic, new support groups have been created and people are now meeting virtually to provide connection and support to each other during these times in the community. Additionally, you can reach out to a therapist to build your support network during these uncertain times.

Self-Care

Self-care is commonly associated with ideas that are grandiose in nature such as going for a spa treatment or a vacation. However, taking care of yourself in small ways is also a form of self-care and during this pandemic; these small ways of caring for yourself may be more significant than before. Some of the less common self-care ideas include movement and bursts of hope. Movement can range from gentle stretches to high-intensity workouts. How about incorporating movement in your day if you do not enjoy exercise? Gentle stretches can invite energy into your body and awaken your senses. Have you tried including bursts of hope in your day? Bursts of hope can take the form of finding an inspirational quote and jotting it down for the day or finding one good thing that has happened throughout the day. Reflecting on these bursts of joy can make for a heartfelt experience.

You have what it takes to build your inside-out survival toolbox. There are no limits to growing new tools. Try it out!

My 3S-Inside-Out Survival Toolbox Checklist

Place a check against each of the key and sub-key items and see what your survival toolbox looks like in terms of areas of strengths and needs!

□      Are you self-regulated?
– Are you taking at least 5 to 10 deep breaths daily?
– Are you in touch with your feelings? Identify at least 3 emotions a day.
– How are you expressing your feelings (journaling, talking to someone, etc.)?

□      Are you well-supported?
– Do you have family and friends to connect with in-person or virtually at least once a day?
– If not, are you a part of a community support group?
– If not, can you identify a community support group to join?
– What other supports can you think of?

□      Are you engaging in self-care?
– Are you taking care of yourself physically?
– Are you including bursts of hope daily?
– What are other ways of taking care of yourself?

References:
Mental Health America. (2020) Owning your feelings.
https://mhanational.org/owning-your- feelings?fbclid=IwAR2I2rp37g48q3jtbF-uzzJGQljX37OyXLdQnxmlqs4DQIFfXV8flDjAkf8K1c
Munzel, T., & Daiber, A. (April 28, 2020). Public mental health: A key factor in dealing with COVID-19. Open Access Government.
https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/public-   mental-health-a-key-factor-in-dealing-with- covid19/86125/?fbclid=IwAR1djmDtygDtIsU4j1lkXvT0Z9LN7FIo1wiFtCE3U08Lrt2X        AXMBRnMpct8
Onneby, H. (2019). A first aid kit for when life falls apart. Tiny Buddha.        
https://tinybuddha.com/blog/a-first-aid-kit-for-when-life-falls- apart/?fbclid=IwAR3Lw_v97LPEPOgo9XeqCLTg5-Kn3bMH3XWpst_qYcciOPff-apDQJcWlJI

Written by:
Isabelle Ong, Ph.D., LCMHCA, NCC (USA)
Clinical Mental Health Counselor & Psychotherapist for Individuals, Children, Adolescents, and Couples

Home schooling

How do we approach it so it doesn’t become a nightmare?

How do we make the most of it so it can help us reconnect as a family?

How do we take it seriously- enough but not too much to ensure it doesn’t completely disrupt our adult life to avoid burn-out?

Some tips:

1. Make a daily schedule
The more it is visual and co-decided by the child, the more it will empower them to feel responsible in applying it. They will more take ownership on what has been done and what is left.

2. Preferably do school work in the morning
Wake up your child at the same time school starts. A child’s cognitive capacities function better in the morning- he will be concentrated and work better. Then, playtime and relaxation comes as a reward well-earned. Avoid using too many e-resources to keep it a dynamic shared learning moment.

3. Establish a new ritual
Ensure you can transform the learning into a fun and shared moment in family and that it shows you are happy to contribute. Doing a 10-minute activity to recap the learning of the at the end of the day on a slate can be fun and experimental.

4. No nap time doesn’t mean no calm time
Modelling the idea to pause during the day is important. A lot of parents think that their child is too old to nap  and therefore they can do whatever they want. Whether they are lying down on their bed reading or listening to music, it is key for them to disconnect and learn to be by themselves.   It is called calm time and can apply to everyone in the family. Boredom is welcomed.  Silence is gold. It also allows parents to have a break and ensure they get a ‘blank space’.

Written by:
Saveria Cristofari
Counsellor

The effects of COVID-19 isolation and what you can do about it

Anxious, bored, frustrated and lonely are some of the emotions people have described since the COVID-19 circuit breaker first began in Singapore. These emotions are not uncommon as many around the world have reported similar feelings since COVID-19 reached pandemic proportions this year.  There is now a growing body of research that demonstrates the effects of imposed isolation on psychological and physical wellbeing, and more importantly, offers ways of managing and countering its effects on our human psyche.

Brooks and her colleagues (2020) at King’s College London recently conducted a review of studies investigating the psychological impacts of quarantine adopted during the periods of Ebola, SARS, MERS and H1Ni influenza. Their review revealed that some of the common effects of long-term quarantine and isolation comprised anxiety, low mood, depression, stress, irritability, insomnia, and acute (and post-) traumatic stress symptoms. Factors that were observed to heighten people’s psychological distress included longer periods of quarantine, fears of infecting self and/ or others, loss of physical and social contact, loss of usual routines, having inadequate supplies, and lack of clear and adequate information from health and other government agencies. These effects were observed even three years after the quarantine and were most pronounced among those who had direct exposure to the high-risk situations (i.e., healthcare workers) or a history of psychiatric illnesses.

What might the reasons for this extent of psychological distress? Firstly, Slovic and Peters (2006) reported that certain factors are more likely to increase (perceptions of) fear such as when the threat is novel or unfamiliar, there is a lack of control over the threat, and when the threat involves a sense of dread. Further, Holman and colleagues (2014) described that while communication of information is essential and useful, we need to be mindful the amount and type of exposure to information because stress and anxiety can be exacerbated by too much media. Management of stress is therefore crucial (Garfin, Thompson, & Holman, 2018) especially since imposed isolation can increase the likelihood of negative psychological outcomes for individuals, especially if the quarantine period is extended or indefinite with no clear time limit (Brooks et al., 2020). Imposed quarantine can be an oftentimes isolating and lonely experience, with those who have strong social relationships 50% more likely to survive compared with their peers who have poor or insufficient social relationships (Holt-Lunstad, Smith, & Layton, 2010).

Given these facts, what might we do during quarantine you may ask? You may wish to observe the 3Cs of Choice, Control and Certainty in making this period of imposed isolation a little more comfortable..

Choice: Imposed isolation and social distancing is not a pleasant experience for most, so let’s instead choose a more helpful mindset  – perhaps this can be an opportunity for reflection and taking a step back from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, or a time to practice gratitude for the little joys and pleasures that we do have. Keep in mind that this sacrifice that we’re taking is one that will keep ourselves, loved ones and others in our community safe.

Control: Continue to exercise control over aspects of our lives that we reasonably can, such as picking up a new skill or activity, setting goals you can work towards during this period of working from home. Intentionally make varied and intentional choices when it comes to meal times in what you may cook or choose to takeaway or Grabfood.  Don’t forget to control your intake of COVID-related news and limit it to reputable reporting sources.. keep a rein on that wandering mind and don’t let it catastrophise!

Certainty: Create a routine for yourself and stick to it – remember to include both achievement-oriented and pleasurable activities including exercise and leisure. Make dates with your loved ones, friends and family to Zoom or Skype, or to play Animal Crossing together, and consciously maintain your social support and friendship networks. Rest a little easier in the certainty and security that you’ve got your act together, and that life still goes on in spite of all the uncertainty around you.

So make realistic and flexible choices that allow you to maintain control and achieve certainty. Remember, we are all in this together.

References

Brooks, S. K., Webster, R. K., Smith, L. E., Woodland, L., Wessely, S., Greenberg, N., et al. (2020). The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence. The Lancet, 395, 912-920. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(20)30460-8

Garfin, D. R., Thompson, R. R., & Holman, E. A. (2018). Acute stress and subsequent health outcomes: A systematic review. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 112, 107-113. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychores.2018.05.017     

Holman, E. A., Garfin, D. R., & Silver, R. C. (2014). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(1), 93-98. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1316265110

Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., & Layton, J. B. (2010). Social relationships and mortality risk: A metanalytic review. PLOS Medicine, 7(7): e1000316. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316.

Horesh, D., & Brown, A. D. (2020). Traumatic stress in the age of COVID-19: A call to close critical gaps and adapt to new realities. Psychological Trauma: Theory, research, practice and policy, 12(4), 331-335. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/tra0000592.

Netburn, D. (2020, April 29). Feeling drained by coronavirus quarantine? Science can explain why. The Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2020-04-29/what-science-tells-us-about-the-psychological-impacts-of-coronavirus-isolation

Slovic, P., & Peters, E. (2006). Risk perception and affect. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(6), 322-325. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8721.2006.00461.x

Weir, K. (2020, March 16). Seven crucial research findings that can help people deal with COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/apa/2020/03/covid-19-research-findings

Written by:
Dr. Daphne Goh

Clinical Psychologist