The past few weeks have felt like the intro scene to a zombie apocalypse movie. The streets are getting quieter and quieter since the pandemic was announced. I know we’re all just at home doing our best to keep everybody safe, but it still seems eerie when I look outside.
It makes sense that many people are feeling some degree of anxiety these days. There are so many unknowns around COVID-19, it can be difficult to assure ourselves we are safe and secure.
One of the many challenges when we’re presented with huge unknowns in our lives is figuring out how to make and adjust our plans and how to accept when our previous plans are no longer possible.
It can be really hard to adjust especially when we’re facing the unknown. You may find yourself having to change your well-honed daily routine, lose out on your well-earned vacation plans, modify a milestone event, isolate yourself from loved ones, or perhaps all of the above. What’s worse is that many of the usual strategies you use for coping with these sorts of challenges, i.e. going to the gym or visiting with a friend, may not be possible anymore. Thus, whether you’re adjusting a financial plan, figuring out a new school schedule, solving childcare needs, etc., all of this unknown can create a spiral of anxiety. Our brains are always trying to help us plan and figure out the best course of action in a given situation. When we can’t, our bodies react.
Another effect we may experience as we try to manage and adjust to sudden change is loss. The initial response to a sudden change is often panic and/or shock, which is a sign of grief. We tend to go through many of the stages of the grief cycle, which includes: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages are not linear so we might experience different stages at different times or sometimes all at once.
Sometimes, throughout this process, our brains want to fill in the blanks to try to make sense of the unknown. In order to regain some control over this process, here are some tips on dealing with the loss you might be experiencing:
Consider alternatives/other options for your plans
Ask for help! Talk to those you trust for emotional support, assistance with logistics, etc.
Use strategies that feel soothing, comforting, and enjoyable
Give yourself permission to feel sad, angry, or anything else that comes up. Whatever it is, your feeling is valid.
It’s not necessary to resolve everything at once. Take the time you need to make a decision.
Keep to your usual routines as much as possible by modifying them to your situation (e.g. workout at home or go for a walk, get dressed for work even if you’re working from home, etc.)
Find ways to be safe (e.g. currently that means washing your hands, sanitizing, staying inside, etc.)
Ask for and take time to yourself
There’s a lot going on for all of us as we try to adjust to these changes without having the answers. That’s okay! Myself and Shift’s team of therapists are here to support you if you have further questions on how to manage your mental health during this challenging time.
Returning home for the holidays can be difficult to stomach under normal circumstances. When you add a break up to the recipe, you’ve got something harder to swallow than even the driest of turkeys.
With Thanksgiving coming up, I’m reminded of the phenomenon referred to (so unsympathetically) as the Turkey Dump. If you’re unfamiliar, this is when college and university students who live away from home return for Thanksgiving and promptly break up with their significant others. According to data collected in 2009 from Facebook status updates (by data journalist David McCandless and design technologist Lee Byron), it isn’t just a myth. Indeed, they noticed break-up rates began to increase around Thanksgiving and peaked about 2 weeks before the winter holidays and they saw a spike again during spring break.
Curious about why it happens? Some speculate it’s because the holidays present a whole new set of expectations in a relationship that can feel all too “real” (e.g. meeting the family and friends); others postulate it’s because the holidays turn attention to the opportunities and options up ahead.
Getting Through It
If you’re among the heartbroken you probably don’t much care why it happens, so let’s turn to the important stuff. Here’s what to do if you find yourself in splitsville for the holidays:
- Remember that holidays can be spent with family and/or friends. Take this opportunity to foster the other valuable relationships you have in your life.
- Have a prepared response for those who ask about your relationship status. Know that you don’t owe anyone details about what happened.
- Try to meet new people at a holiday party or out with friends.
- Let yourself be distracted by the holiday festivities and events.
- Take a trip if you can—near or far—and get lost for the holidays.
It can really suck to have a relationship end during the holidays, but having a few days off can be a blessing. Use it to take some time to yourself and, if you’re able, be with those that you love.
Struggling with the process? Here are some other tips that can help you keep it classy through a break-up.
I don’t know about you, but the thought of asking others for what I need is extremely challenging. I pride myself on being independent and self-reliant, but I’ve come to realize that a necessary part of that is being able to ask others for what I need from them.
Try to imagine this scenario:
You’re on a date with someone you really like. You’ve been dating for a while and you’d like the relationship to be exclusive. You’re not sure if the other person shares your feelings. You’ve done some reflecting and it’s very important to you, so you decide it’s time to share your feelings and have a talk about exclusivity.
This talk involves asking for something you need, in this case, exclusivity in the relationship. What’s so scary about that?
In my own case, I fear that I might be rejected.
So, how do I ask for what I need despite my fears? Below is a list of things that help me prepare. Give them a try.
1. Check in with yourself
Ask yourself, “How am I feeling about this conversation? Do I know what I want out of it?”
2. Map it out
Lay the key points you want to address out for yourself.
3. Imagine how the conversation will go
Consider other perspectives– try checking in with a trusted friend or family member and get their feedback.
4. Take a deep breath before going in for this talk
When you’re anxious your brain forgets to think and your body goes into survivor mode. Help your body and brain calm down by taking a few deep breaths. Some mindfulness practice would also be super helpful here.
5. Ask for what you need
Describe the situation and tell the person what you need (you can say something like “we’ve been seeing each other for a while now and I’m really starting to like you. I want to know where this is going. Do you see this becoming a long term relationship?”)
6. Acknowledge yourself
At this point, no matter what happens, remind yourself how brave you were to ask for what you need.
Remember, if we don’t ask for what we need, we won’t ever receive it. However, the other side of that means we also need to accept that it’s the other person’s right to say no. Whatever happens, at least we have the answers we need.
As always, you’ve got this!
The seasons are changing. The days of layered long-sleeves, sweaters and coats are just around the corner and kids have thrown on their backpacks and headed off to school. I’m not even a student anymore but every year it’s still hard to accept that school’s back in session.
For those who are headed back, adjusting from a summer of doing other things like travel, work or socializing can be challenging. Here are a few tips to help get you back into the swing of school:
1. Rebuild your routine slowly
Start with sleep. If the summer has disrupted your sleep routine, start by spending the first few weeks with a set wake-up and/or bedtime. Consistent and quality sleep will have you recharged and ready for everything the school year throws at you.
2. Make lists
Knowing what you need to do for your classes and extracurriculars is important. When you know what’s coming you can plan for it.
3. Set up a support network
If you’re new, know who you can contact for support on and off-campus. There are often great resources available on-campus for those who look (most student centres or student unions can help you with that information). For those returning to campus, it’s time to get back into the swing of connecting with friends, classmates, and/or student groups. Making sure you have a strong support network will help you get through the midterm and exam seasons.
4. Experiment with your study habits
It’s easy to put off studying in college and university because no one’s there to tell you to get down to it. The best antidote is to get to know your study style. Do you have certain productive hours in the day? What kind of space do you need to study in? Are you a snacker? What kind of learner are you? Contact your school’s learning/academic support center, they can help you learn to study effectively and efficiently.
5. Create a self-care plan
What nourishes and recharges you? Get to know what you need: for some, it might mean regular trips to the gym, daily meditation, or 3 square meals a day, for others it may mean cutting back on work hours, or 2 days off each week for rest. Regardless, have a sense of your unique needs and try your best to meet them so you’re recharged for the more stressful periods.
Remember that adjustments take time. Give yourself some time to get used to the hustle and bustle of campus in September.
I wish you all a wonderful school year. Happy studies!
Do you know those thoughts that randomly pop into your head and drag you down a rabbit hole? Or those images that flash in your mind? They seem to come automatically and can fill you up with anxiety. Even now as I write about this experience I feel almost overwhelmed. In the therapy world, we refer to these unwanted and distressing thoughts and images as intrusive thoughts.
You can think of intrusive thoughts as random scraps of paper that don’t really have a place to go but your brain tries to file them away. These random scraps have no meaning but your brain tries to stick them somewhere. What makes them distressing is the sense we try to make of them, the meanings we attach, and the fact that these thoughts (and images) tend to stick in our minds. They stick because they’re often fantasies or thoughts about things we find unacceptable and fear we might act on.
Here are some quick tips to cope with these intrusive thoughts:
- Allow yourself to have them. Remind yourself that they’re thoughts, not facts. If you think or see an image in your head, but don’t really plan to act on it, that’s completely normal. It’s not harmful, and not something to worry about. Remember that these are automatic thoughts, so it’s outside of your control whether they happen or not. It might be helpful to try to label the thought as intrusive and then carry on with your day.
- Check the facts. Ask yourself how likely it is you will act on this thought. (Disclaimer: If you think you might harm yourself or someone else, it’s important to check in with a medical professional for support. You can access a distress helpline or the local emergency room for that immediate support).
- Start a mindfulness practice. This will help you notice and let go of intrusive thoughts.
- Keep going! Try to continue whatever activity you were previously doing and allow yourself to move on from the thought.
Intrusive thoughts are common. If they start to feel unmanageable, then it could be an indication of an underlying mental health concern, such as anxiety, OCD, and PTSD, to name a few. It’s important to check with your doctor if you’re feeling highly distressed by these thoughts and images.