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[re:tell] Reflections on the COVID-19 Pandemic

[re:tell] Reflections on the COVID-19 Pandemic

Several weeks ago now, I can remember going to school and noticing increased safety precautions being implemented as sad news spread of the growing negative effects of COVID-19 on the health of humans around the world. 

 

I had a conversation with my statistics professor about what life might look like if we were not able to come to school in the coming weeks. I wasn’t sure and he wasn’t either. Our conversation was hopeful. We spoke like it was all just hypothetical. He concluded by saying, “we’ll see when the time comes.” Just hours later, Ontario declared public schools would close after March break. Post-secondary institutions soon followed suit and with that, our lives turned upside down. I haven’t seen my professor in person since our conversation.

It’s weird how life works, even though we’d been hearing reports of this virus spreading for weeks and knew it was only a matter of time until it came to Canada, the thought of seeing the country shut down and daily life stalled never settled in until the hammer dropped that Thursday evening. The school closures and the countless government actions that followed brought along fear and panic as anxiety and confusion about the situation escalated rapidly. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind, with ups and downs, moments of hope and feelings of despair.

At first, I tried my best to stay informed with what’s happening in the world by watching CBC’s The National newscast on a daily basis. It felt important to keep up with what was happening to understand how best to protect myself and others, but as the days went on, with my usual schedule disrupted, I felt little motivation to do anything else but watch the news. It stopped serving any positive purpose. Every time I tuned in, I heard the sadness and fear in the stories that grew hour by hour as more Canadians were affected and strict government action increased. The feelings of despair and anxiety increased. Survival instincts had kicked in. It was clear we were at a pivotal moment.

At home, I started a serious cleaning regimen to be extra safe. I wanted to do everything I could to stop the spread. After a quick weekend trip to the grocery store, I was in for a surprise to see how people had forgotten the basic grade school lesson, sharing is caring. I walked into the grocery store prepared for a messy situation, instead it looked like it had been struck by a tornado. My neighbours managed to ravage every aisle of the store as if preparing for years in lockdown. I stood in the middle of the shop and took a deep breath. It seemed like the worst in humanity was coming out. Without the guidance of public health education and calm leadership, I thought, this could lead to disaster.

While I sympathized with these emotional reactions to uncertainty and instability, it became very clear to me that in times of difficulty, we need to learn to do better for ourselves and for each other. The challenges we face dealing with COVID-19 as a collective aren’t going away any time soon. In the weeks and months ahead, some things will improve and some things will get harder. It doesn’t mean we can’t make the most of the situation and try to find the silver lining in a catastrophe.

Here are a few hopeful reflections I’ve had over the past few weeks that I’d like to share:

  • People are mostly kind, love to socialize and desire human connection. Though we’re all at home helping to flatten the curve, checking in on each other regularly through technology is what will help spread positivity and joy in our current way of living.
  • We are fortunate to live in a country with some of the best doctors in the world doing the best they can to help save us from this difficult dilemma.
  • Some of the things that have helped get me through might help you too: read a book (I recommend The Omnivore’s Dilemma), learn a new skill (Cooking? Baking a cake?), catch up on family stories. Try to nurture your spirit. 
  • Given the loneliness and other difficult feelings that social isolation can cause, sometimes we need something that excites us to draw our focus away and get us motivated and energized. In the past few days, I’ve turned to goal-setting and planning and I’ve taken up passion projects like joining student advocacy groups. Joining these groups with like-minded individuals has helped me develop a creative outlet to brainstorm new ideas and get involved with the greater community. Isolation can take a toll but I firmly believe that by engaging in projects that get your creative juices flowing, mental health and happiness are boosted.
I understand that a call for positivity may not speak to all the struggles and stresses that you may be facing, whether with finances or family separation. I’ve been reminding myself time and time again that, although the anxiety associated with the pandemic will stick around for some time, staying true to my values and listening to public health advice is the way to weather the storm. 

I want you to know, we will get through this and this too shall pass! Together as fellow students, Canadians, humans, let’s be sure to have each others’ backs!
 

 


Himanshu Luthra is a George Brown College student. This is his second contribution to re:tell.

5 Great Mental Health Books to be Stuck Inside With

5 Great Mental Health Books to be Stuck Inside With

COVID-19 has us all stuck inside and exploring different aspects of our mental health. I thought it would be a good time to suggest books that have helped me develop and ground my knowledge on the diverse topics that impact our emotional and mental health. 

Here is a short list of books that have had a major impact on me and taught me to think critically and compassionately:

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van der Kolk, M.D.

  • Bessel Van der Kolk takes the reader on an exploration of his career and the tools he developed to assist his clients in healing. His transformative trauma research began when he was working with soldiers coming back from Vietnam and noted that typical talk therapy wasn’t having the expected results. He was disillusioned but he challenged himself to go deeper and seek alternative therapies to respond to the challenges he was finding in his practice. This book is essential reading if you’re interested in how human bodies have evolved to respond to stress and trauma. It explores how we hold trauma in our bodies and offers helpful solutions for healing journeys.

It Didn’t Start with You: How inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle by Mark Wolynn

  • Wolynn’s book is an introduction to how family trauma continues across generations. Mark highlights that for many years the medical world has not recognized how serious trauma’s impact is on health, bodies and relationships. Mark grounds his work in modern research and demonstrates that trauma can impact bodies in ways that are beyond our capacity for recognition. The message is that, until we learn to take this insight seriously, we will continue the cycle.

Saving Normal: An Insider’s Revolt Against Out-of-control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life by Allen Frances, M.D.

  • Frances (the chair of the DSM-5 task force) asks why mental health diagnosis is increasing at such a large rate and considers how Big Pharma is exploiting this market to pathologize normal, everyday challenges. Frances explores the history of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) to give the reader an inside perspective of how it has been developed, who is in charge of making changes, and the pressing challenges of diagnosis in the modern age. Frances approaches the DSM 5 with a critical eye and challenges the reader to do the same.

Troubling Masculinity: Reimagining Urban Men edited by Ken Moffatt

  • Troubling Masculinity explores a variety of ways masculinity might be reimagined in the modern age. The critical thinkers and theorists featured in this work consider issues of race, gender, sexuality, and social class to challenge and “trouble” how we think about masculinity. I believe this book could be an entry point into a discussion about the challenges men face in society and a meaningful exploration of the root causes of toxic masculinity. In this trying time, very few books are offering concrete solutions to the problem of toxicity. This book seeks to evolve masculinity into something to be embraced and nurtured instead of shamed.

A Dialogue on Love by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

  • When I began reading this book I was having challenges related to grief, identity, and relationships. In this piece, Eve discusses her terminal cancer diagnosis and how she grieves for her body, her family, and her relationships. She incorporates her therapist’s notes, her diary, and keen critical analysis to delve into how identity is formulated beyond the body. This book holds so many crucial ideas that challenge secular spaces to invite in a new spirituality. Sedgwick’s spirituality is grounded in the earth and challenges us to sit with the very real way we intimately hold and impact those around us.

These books have had a major impact on my development as a therapist and I hope they’ll have a positive effect on you, as well.

The Key to Great Video Therapy

The Key to Great Video Therapy

The benefits of feeling seen and heard in life, and in therapy, have an incredibly positive effect on helping each of us cope through stressful or uncertain times. In fact, when it comes to what makes your therapy sessions the most effective, it’s the therapeutic rapport—feeling heard, seen and understood by your therapist—that predicts success.

The good news? The format of the session doesn’t impact the outcome. That means that while in-person sessions may be on hold for the time being, our video and telephone sessions have just as positive an impact as the times we spend sitting in the same room. The great news? Doing the session from the comfort of your home can increase feelings of being seen.

As therapists, we are used to seeing you and learning all about your loved ones, hobbies and spaces you feel safe in. Although remote therapy may lead you to feel vulnerable initially, it also allows you to deepen that feeling of connectedness with your therapist. How cool is it that you can be right there, comfortable in your quiet space, while your roommates or family do their own thing in another room? I think it’s great. The flip side of that is that your therapist too feels seen. You will see me at my home office, my taste in artwork or my pets wandering around in the room. While we could see these as distractions, we could also reframe that and use these changes as a way to deepen our relationship.

Needless to say, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of feeling seen as the world changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The power of being able to share a moment of vulnerability can also be a powerful therapeutic experience. This can help us feel more safe and secure which is super helpful at a time when many of us feel confused, isolated, or in chaos.

In my work, I find tremendous growth occurs when we are pushed outside of our comfort zones. I’ve been privileged to witness this happening more than ever this week. From clients who have never used a webcam in their life, or those that were anxious to turn on their webcam for fear of me seeing them in their comfy clothes, we’ve moved through the fear together. We’ve broken down barriers to connection, perceptions of what “should” be, and embraced the ‘what is.’ How freeing was it to come away from a session with a sense of lightness for both of us, almost forgetting the anxiety that preceded only 60 minutes prior?

If you are a current client or a brand new client, I encourage you to challenge yourself to show up as you are in our new social formats. By doing so, you may not only feel connected to your world but may hopefully also feel more connected to yourself.

6 Prompts to Start Your Daily Journal

6 Prompts to Start Your Daily Journal

I am a huge proponent of daily journal writing. Journalling allows us to better process our thoughts and externalize any difficult feelings we may have had throughout the day. It can be a helpful tool in allowing ourselves to get to know what situations trigger us, how we process our thoughts and emotions, and how we might use our creativity to solve difficult problems.

And yes, sometimes writing feels tedious. Or we just have no clue where to start. For those moments, I’d encourage you to try these 6 journal prompts and see where they take you.

1. What’s on my mind right now?

This prompt can allow you to practice mindfulness and awareness of the present moment.

2. What has been going well in my life lately? What has been more difficult? Why?

This prompt motivates us to get more in touch with how situations, relationships, or circumstances in our lives are playing a role in influencing our feelings.

3. What inspires me? Why?

Exploring what inspires us is a helpful tool in determining our values and coming to understand what feels enriching for us.

4. What are 5 things I am grateful for right now?

Gratitude! Practicing a little bit of gratitude can help us feel more positive emotions and relish our experiences.

5. What are 5 ways that I can go out of my comfort zone this year?

There is no better way to grow than by stepping outside of our comfort zones. Experiencing and growing through a new challenge is a great way to boost self-confidence and belief in our abilities.

6. What area of my life needs more love and attention? Why?

This prompt may allow us to recognize where we need to cultivate more care and self-love. It can also be a helpful prompt toward setting small goals to make us healthier and happier.

Happy writing!

What is Counselling?

What is Counselling?

Counselling is an interactive process wherein you identify your goals and you work toward them together with the counsellor in a safe, supportive, non-judgmental environment. Anything that you share is confidential—kept between you and the counsellor—with some limitations for safety reasons. 

Talking to a Stranger

The main focus of counselling is YOU. Sometimes people find it odd to discuss their most personal problems with a complete stranger that they know almost nothing about. But that’s where the beauty of counselling lies—as opposed to talking to a friend or family member, a counsellor offers an outside, third-party point of view. Your counsellor won’t change the subject or start talking about themselves instead. They won’t belittle or judge you, and they can help you at whatever pace works best for you. They might be able to offer options both personally and professionally that you may not know existed. Even though your counsellor will not be a “friend,” a close relationship of a different kind is often developed, where trust, acceptance, and support are key components.

The First Session

For your counsellor, the first session is mainly about getting to know you and learning some background information about you. For you, it’s about getting comfortable talking to your counsellor, and it’s about getting to know one another.

What’s Next?

After the first session, you will be asked if you would like to continue counselling, and a second appointment will be booked. It is generally best to stay with the same counsellor because you will have a relationship with them and they will know you, your story, and the plan that you have worked out together.

Types of Counselling

Counselling is often referred to colloquially as “talk therapy,” and while simply talking about problems or issues can indeed be therapeutic in itself, counselling also takes on other forms, such as Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). These are different approaches to counselling that might be used to best help you reach your goals.

  • Solution-Focused Brief Therapy looks at finding solutions to problems and working on imaging other ways to reach your goals. This is typically a shorter-term method of counselling often used in conjunction with other approaches. By helping you identify what you might want to change in your life as well as what you might wish to have happen in the future, SFBT can help you to create a vision of a preferred future for yourself.

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is an approach that helps you look at the thoughts behind your emotions, where these thoughts might have come from, and how accurate they might be. Often times, if we don’t analyze and challenge our automatic thoughts, they can take on unhelpful forms that impede on our way of living and get in the way of achieving our goals. Sometimes we may not even be aware of these thoughts, let alone that they could be untrue. CBT can help you identify more helpful ways of thinking that can then change how you are feeling.

Your counsellor may use these or a number of other approaches to help you achieve your goals. Always feel free to ask your counsellor about their approach or ask them any other questions as you go forward with your sessions.

What kind of issues can a counsellor help me with?

Counsellors can help with a wide range of personal concerns, including coping with anxiety and/or stress, doing better in your courses or at work, time management, learning strategies, homesickness and transition to changes, financial problems, feelings of depression or sadness, body image and eating disorders, self-harm or suicidal feelings, coping with loss and grief, relationship and family issues, sexuality concerns, getting control of your drinking or drug use, confidence and self esteem, working effectively in groups and teams, anger/conflict, problem-solving around issues (advocacy), etc.

5 Things Cats Can Teach Us About Mental Health

5 Things Cats Can Teach Us About Mental Health

Happy belated International Cat Day! I’m a few days late with this one but as a proud cat mom, self-proclaimed cat expert, and intern therapist, I decided to compile a list of the top 5 things that cats can teach us about self-care and our own mental health.

1. It’s OK to say No

Many of us have forgotten that it is okay to say “no”. We unfairly associate saying no with being rude or selfish, and at times this can put us in situations whereby avoiding the discomfort of saying no, we are actually sacrificing our own needs and wants. Cats? NEVER. Cats understand the delicate balance of remaining conscientious and kind without having to sacrifice their own needs, and I can assure you that they do not swirl into a world of guilt upon declining an invitation to spend time with you.

2. Rest Is the Best

We live in a world that glorifies busy. Oftentimes we can mistake our productivity for self-worth, which can lead us to burn out and can cause us to no longer perform as best we can. A cat sleeps on average 15-20 hours a DAY. While this may be excessive for us humans, it definitely serves as a reminder that sleep is GOOD. Without adequate rest, we are much more likely to feel irritable and anxious throughout the day.

3. Boundaries Can Be Violated by Neglect OR Excessive Smothering

This is probably one of the age-old determinants for whether you consider yourself a cat or a dog person. Dogs LOVE a good cuddle and will do so on command. A cat, however, is likely to feel a bit more disrespected by being swooped up and cuddled unannounced. This isn’t to say they don’t love affection! Similar to a healthy relationship, cats set healthy boundaries wherein they show you love when it’s right for them without being neglectful.

4. Always Be Curious

A cat is forever curious, and staying curious is how we learn and grow. A healthy sense of curiosity allows us to ask questions and explore new worlds and possibilities!

5. Stay Aware of Your Surroundings

Staying aware of our surroundings refers to cultivating mental awareness. This allows us to be observant and pay attention to what is and isn’t serving us in our lives.