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

Taking Therapy Online

E-sessions have emerged as a key, if not, the only option for therapy amid tightening social distancing measures.


I work mainly with children and adolescents and engaging this demographic through a screen had initially been a concern as mandatory work from home measures came into play. However, after a couple of weeks of working remotely, I have concluded that e-therapy can be a viable option and have actually observed some benefits compared to in-person consultations.

For instance, since starting work-from-home orders, I have racked up a 100% attendance/ participation rate with all my clients. Compare this to roughly 1 in 5 appointment default rate over the same period of time for in-person cases. Of course a lockdown means few other distractions, but I’m also attributing this to the convenience of being able to avoid a long commute and simply logging on to their home desktop or mobile device at the appointment time.

Additionally, most of the appointments have taken place on schedule despite the occasional technical glitches while initially setting up their device for the online platform. Perhaps more interestingly, the clients that have participated in my remote sessions have so far been more engaged than usual. A client who was active and moving around the consult room when we had our in-person sessions, was engaged and remained seated throughout the e-therapy sessions.

Finally, with today’s technology, distance can no longer be considered a barrier to engagement.

Functions such as ‘share screen’ have allowed me to share social stories with clients. It’s given me the ability to complete activities while I provide guidance over the screen in real time. The ‘virtual whiteboard’ functions have allowed me to write ideas and present in real time, as if the client were right beside me. Of course, this complements good, old fashioned prep work in making sure clients have materials ahead of sessions. So far, feedbacks on the sessions have all been positive.

The point I’m trying to make is that the reservations I’ve had over E-sessions have so far been unwarranted. At the end of the day, the conferences I’ve conducted have proven to work well at a time  when social distancing and various restrictions on services are being tightened further.

 As therapists, we will continue to do our best to provide a high level of care and service to our clients regardless the therapy format.  Meanwhile, stay safe and stay home.

Written by:
Dr. Jamie Ong

Clinical Psychologist

Silence is Golden

In the song, ‘The Sound of Silence,’ there is a line about people talking without speaking and people hearing without listening. Silence can be a haunting sign of the struggle to communicate. But is it always such a terrible thing?

If you have been in a lift, up at 5 am or on a bad date, you will have experienced silence. It may be something you vaguely remember from your younger years. Or silence may be fleeting, appearing for a moment with a power enough to shock you, before being consumed. Perhaps between family life, work and the busy streets of Singapore, silence may have been lost altogether. And with it may have gone the chance to contemplate, to reflect and to listen. Which is perhaps why some people find themselves wandering into a counselling room.

We may be tempted as therapists to fill a silence when it descends. It is awkward between people and may encourage a great deal of anxiety in you too; perhaps someone has nothing to say, or seemingly doesn’t care. Maybe you have run out of words. It may feel like you are not there, or perhaps that they are not and you are on your own. These are powerful feelings which encourage speaking just to break the silence (even in words, it is fragile). It may be experienced as a loss of something, which may be too much for some – including Paul Simon!

But there may be a different experience too. If you consider that ‘…silence is complementary to words in general…’ (Sabbadini 2004, P.229), it could be easier to see a role for it, one which offers something rather than taking it away. Buddhism and Mindfulness both speak of the benefits of silence. Perhaps allowing for a ‘…silent space within…’ (Sabbadini 2004, P.231) may give you something to make of these moments. Silence may be an opportunity to consider someone or something else, whether they are there or not. It is a communication, encouraging attention, both in you and in others, in contrast with the perpetual noise of modern life. It could be a chance to digest – try talking and eating at the same time to get a clearer idea of this – or simply a chance to pause. It also offers hope, even expectation – think of a silence falling over a crowd at a cinema or a concert as the performance begins. It is therefore something that can be recognised and even used, rather than avoided.

You are perhaps reading this in silence; or you may have life going on in the background. This may indicate how it feels to you, a good starting point to consider its role in your life. So next time it all goes quiet, perhaps hold on for just a moment before you allow the noise to kick in. You never know what you might hear.  

References:
Sabbadini, A. ‘Listening to Silence’, British Journal of Psychotherapy, 21 (2), pp.229-240
Simon, P & Garfunkel, A. ‘The Sound of Silence’, Columbia Records (Originally released as ‘The Sounds of Silence’, October 1964)

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

Managing Your (Consuming) Mind (PART 2)

In the first part of this article, I suggested that to manage your health, eating and activity you could

  • Pay attention to your environment, your workspace and your cupboards;
  • Take time to imagine the future you want, in detail and in colour;
  • Accept that your aren’t fully aware of everything you do, yet;
  • Learn to manage the stresses you are under – learn from mistakes.

Then,

Track yourself:

The best way to get yourself to behave is to keep an eye on yourself. Keeping a diary has been shown to reduce mindless snacking, smoking and even nail-biting, by bringing our unconscious habits to our attention, and encouraging better choices. Apps that track activity, including exercise, can make this an interesting, easy and reliable activity, but you need to be careful of the bigger picture – monitoring exercise alone may allow unfettered snacking!

Think Negatively:

Yes, not positively! Positive thinking has a huge following, but imagining a successful future may not be enough to imagine the steps needed to get there. Studies of positive thinking have not always shown it is enough to maintain effort over time. If we think about how bad it might get this might be more effective, and generate the motivation to keep up the effort we need (for example in overcoming fear of public speaking). So, imagine the (positive) solutions a step at a time, not forgetting the fear.

Train your brain:

We know more about the brain’s executive function system in the prefrontal cortex now, and “brain training” by doing daily practice (often on an electronic device) can make a difference to our control habits. But does it generalize and maintain? The evidence so far is that brain training is very difficult to generalize. But it probably gets better with coaching – someone to support and remind you of the longer-term goals.

The bigger picture:

The theme of all this advice is really to keep returning and adding to the big picture: if you want to eat better, you might join an exercise class – it may give you a head start on your diet, as a 2015 study found. There are no guarantees, though. You need to keep enlarging your awareness of yourself, your environment, imagining, training, learning from mistakes, and thinking ahead. A coach or counsellor may be able to help you enlarge your self while trimming your body! You are not alone.

(with thanks to New Scientist, “Outsmart Yourself”, 27.7.19)

Written by:
Dr. Tim Bunn
Consultant Educational Psychologist

Secure attachment and Resilience

It has often said that there is no manual for childrearing – and nothing could be both further from the truth and yet so true at the same time. The inundation of parenting advice today is saturating. Finding the way through early parenting years can be thrilling, equally terrifying and certainly life changing. Caregivers for the most part, will come into a greater confidence and trust in their child and their ability to manage tough times. However, there will be struggles and difficulties, life and parenting is not straightforward. During these times parents and caregivers will often consult the great body of literature, friends, family or a therapist. Wading through the copious literature and opinions can be intimidating, piecemeal and reactive. It can be helpful at these times to go back to the basics, reviewing what we know is helpful across the lifespan. Pioneered by Mary Ainsworth’s work on attachment styles, copious research now supports the concept that secure attachment is the single most important fundamental to child development (Siegel and Bryson, 2020).

Secure attachment is a phrase that potentially evokes images of monkey experiments, classic studies into the impact of parental engagement (the “still face” experiments) or perhaps of even children in orphanages. In terms of neurodevelopment, secure attachment is the pillar of brain development that allows a child to be in a physiological state that is ready for learning. Without perceived safety, the mind of the child is perpetually engaged in threat reduction and survival. The brain can be thought of in the most simplistic terms as an association machine, and secure attachment means that the brain will expect that the world will be open to receive them in a safe, logical and positive way.

Secure attachment is the culmination of experiences that are “good enough”, that are safe and soothing for the baby and child.  It is a process whereby the child is safe, seen and soothed repeatedly (Siegel and Bryson, 2020). It is this predictable cause and effect that creates pathways of neurobiological “wiring”.  It is not about always being a “perfect” caregiver, it is the long and slow process of being good enough (Winnicott). A brain that has not had the opportunity to wire with secure attachment will look very different to a securely attached brain. In particular, the amygdala, frontal and prefrontal cortex develop in a structurally different way. However, it is not so much in the brain scans that this is evidenced, but in how the child copes relationally and how they develop their sense of self in the world as a person. As an individual who can manage difficulties, who can be self determined and self confident, as a person who has a positive impact on those around them, and who can manage interpersonal difficulties as they arise. Naturally, as the child wants to explore they engage more with those in the community or school settings, the securely attached child is able to take with them into the world the idea of the “secure base”. This is an internal mechanism of the relational safety the child has developed and acts like an “on-board puncture repair kit”. It shows up in the way the child engages in positive self talk, the way they are willing to take appropriate risks, and through the way they reconnect with caregivers and others when relational difficulties or conflict arise.

Secure attachment can also be facilitated and enhanced as children grow. It is not something that is finished with after the child becomes an adolescent. Indeed the “showing up”, being attuned, holding safe boundaries and being able to support an adolescent during this intense period of brain development is, I believe just as crucial, and at times overlooked in the parenting literature. My next blog post will explore this in greater detail.

  • Daniel Hughes (2006), Building the Bonds of Attachment, Jason Aronson
  • Kenneth Ginsburg (2015), Building Resilience in Children and Teens, American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson (2020), The Power of Showing Up, Ballantine Books

Written by:
Veronica McKibbin
Counsellor / Child and Family Therapist

Show you care. Apologize!

Inevitably, people make mistakes, it is what makes us human. Either those mistakes are done willingly or unwillingly, they damage our relationships and hurt the people we care about: our friends, family, spouses, children or colleagues. If we want to keep a healthy relationship, apologizing is the only way to repair and heal what has been damaged. It is a way to show care and foster respect and affection. It is a necessary step toward validating feelings, promoting forgiveness, and restoring balance and trust in a relationship. However, it is not always easy to apologize and to apologize effectively.

To formulate an effective apology, there are four essential parts: 

1: acknowledgment of the offense (recognize your responsibility and express your empathy);

2: an explanation of what went wrong; 

3: expressions of remorse; 

4: offer of reparation and commitment to improving. 

Apologizing requires honesty, humility, generosity, and courage. The offended party can recognize that and reward you with forgiveness and reconciliation. However, a lack of ownership, blame or excuses, and lack of appropriate reparation could lead to resentment, grudges or even desire for vengeance.

These four steps increase the chance of forgiveness because they satisfy the psychological needs of the offended person. They help to restore their sense of dignity, validating that they are not deserving of the harm caused and that they are not to blame. It gives them a chance to express their feelings and contribute to a sense of justice. Finally, it can also provide reinsurance that they are safe from further harm, making them more likely to trust you again. 

We are never too young to learn the importance of taking care of our relationships. Teaching children the ways to repair when they have hurt people helps them develop humility, empathy and a sense of responsibility that will help them foster healthy relationships throughout their lives. 

Link to start the discussion with children and help them practice:

Evidence that this 4 steps apology works:

Lewicki, R. J., Polin, B., & Lount, R. B. (2016). An exploration of the structure of effective apologiesNegotiation and Conflict Management Research, 9(2), 177-196. 

To read more on the subject:

Written by:
Lucie Ramet

Clinical Psychologist

Managing COVID-19 Anxiety

Since December of last year, we have been bombarded with news about the COVID-19 virus that is impacting the world.  The number of people infected and the rate at which it has spread has caused an increase in cognizance of how and with whom we interact.  This awareness isn’t necessarily distressing but it can increase feelings of unease and anxiety. In the extreme, stress levels intensify beyond our ability to function normally. This impacts daily life through sleeplessness, social isolation, perseverating thoughts and lack of focus.

When discussing anxiety that centers around health and well-being we often think of hypochondriasis (Illness Anxiety Disorder); however the anxiety that has arisen due to the emergence of COVID-19 differs in that it is not generalized worry about becoming ill without an identified focus; there is a specific threat.  To some extent, concern and awareness of it are warranted. The goal should not be to ignore or make ourselves wrong for the concern but to manage it and prevent excess worry from running our lives. To manage the stress around the identified concern it is important to recognize what we can and cannot control. 

To alleviate the stresses brought on by this epidemic we can shift behaviors to ensure that we are more resilient both physically and mentally.  Doing this can include habits such as: eating healthy foods, exercising, getting enough sleep and engaging with others socially. These types of habits will assist with all forms of anxiety and therefore they are practices that should be part of our daily routine regardless.  

Another way in which we can ensure that we are taking control of behavioral changes and preventing exposure can  include washing our hands thoroughly, being mindful of using hand sanitizer when we don’t have access to soap and water and wearing a face mask when we are feeling sick or have a cold.  All of these activities will help make you feel a bit more at ease when having to be out in public and interacting with others.  

A key behavioral modification to institute if you are feeling anxious about COVID-19 is limiting your exposure to an overload of information.  In our world of smartphones and sensational news, information overload is a daily occurrence for most of us. Limiting our exposure to the news cycles regarding COVID-19 can provide a break from increasing our excessive worry and misinformation.  Putting down the phone, turning off the television, not clicking on the news sites on your home screen, are all ways that you can reduce anxiety about COVID-19 exposure. In order to stay informed while also limiting exposure to anxiety producing news feeds, try checking information on reputable sources only once a day.  Reputable reporting sources include the WHO, Singapore Ministry of Health, CNN and AlJazeera news.  

Once you have shifted your behaviors to address things you control, it is important to look at practices that can assist you in finding comfort with the unknown and managing stress about the things that are out of your control.  Practices that work to address all anxieties are mindfulness practices such as meditation, journaling and breathing techniques. 

Although meditation can be tough to begin when you are feeling anxious, there are apps that can guide you by giving your mind focus, apps such as “Calm” and “headspace” are helpful to walk you through an experience to focus your mind on other things.  Journaling about your concerns and anxieties is a great way to get them out of your head and on to paper, practicing journaling allows for you to reread about your anxiety and begin to get a different perspective; once you write down your fears and get clear you can begin to question their benefit to you.  Another mindfulness practice that can reduce feelings of anxiety are breathing techniques…allowing yourself to breathe deeply for a five-count inhale and five-count exhale. Any time you are able to focus on your breathing will help to ensure that you are more able to relax during times that anxiety has increased.  

Being concerned during this time is not unusual nor are you alone in your concern, we all have to be more aware when out in public and making plans but we don’t have to let it stop us from living our lives fully.  There are things within our control and those that are not. Getting clear on what we can do to minimize our exposure and the exposure of our loved ones is important to maintaining our sense of well-being and peace; when that is not enough to assuage your fears, engage in practices that help calm your mind and get present with your thoughts.  This will help reduce the anxiety around those things that are out of our control. Remember when dealing with COVID-19 control those things that you can and let go of those things that you can’t. Worrying won’t change the circumstances or the impact of the virus. Be mindful, be prepared and be safe.  

Written by: 
Kimberly Fisel
Counsellor
Marriage and Family Therapist

The “small things, often” grow your bank account of love

If love were enough, probably all couples would be happy. The simple truth is that relationships take work and, yes, the ‘little things’ add up. One awesome piece of knowledge from the Gottmans is referred to as doing “small things, often.” Gottmans’ years of study proved that the ‘little things’ build trust and intimacy in a relationship and according to a new study by researchers at Penn State University, you don’t need grand gestures to show your partner love. In fact, small gestures, such as hugging, holding hands, and regular acts of kindness (non-romantic gestures) all top the list of how most Americans reported feeling loved and appreciated. The study also found that behavioral actions, rather than purely verbal expressions, triggered more consensus as indicators of love.

The Gottman’s demonstrated that in lasting relationships, there is a culture of appreciation that is maintained using small moments to connect with your partner. These small things aren’t grand gestures demonstrated on Valentine’s Day, buying a piece of jewelry or surprising your partner with an Anniversary trip—although it is certainly great if partners are good at doing that too. The problem is that over time, big gestures tend to get spaced farther and farther apart, because life inevitably changes. Life happens, it just does.

These “powerful small things” can change the everyday moments you share with your spouse; day in and day out, between wrestling toddlers into car seats or arguing over who’s going to do the dishes. These “powerful small things”, that often are not romantic, are rituals of connection, that when done often, help couples avoid falling into too deep of a hole of disconnection—so when things get ugly, spouses still have those many moments that can remind each other that they are in this together.

A good metaphor for this concept is to think of your relationship as an emotional bank account. Like any bank account, you need to make deposits to have it grow. If you make too many withdrawals, the bank account will eventually close. This doesn’t mean keep score, this means focus on making more positive contributions to the relationship rather than withdrawals. If the account is always withering low, it can take just one thing to push your partner over the edge.

References:
https://www.gottman.com/ https://news.psu.edu/story/491253/2017/11/06/research/love-actually-americans-agree-what-makes-peop le-feel-love https://thriveglobal.com/stories/the-one-thing-any-couple-can-do-for-better-connection-and-intimacy/ https://gulfsidecounseling.com/2020/02/18/small-things-often/ https://www.lessonsforlove.com/

Written By:
Laura Spalvieri
Counsellor, Psychotherapist & Transactional Analyst