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.
As we get into the thick of the new school year, if you’re anything like me, you’re pretty bummed about it. Maybe it’s just the chill in the air that spoils my mood, but I sense a change of pace and attitude in folks at this time of year as everybody buckles down post-summer. I already feel nostalgic about those joyful, sunny days when the sun was still shining at 9 pm. Come back, August!
‘Tis the Season to Own Your Shit.
For me, Fall is a season of self-reckoning. I think that’s the effect of two decades worth of spending it transitioning back to school. As a kid, your life is structured for you into a pattern where for two months you can stop and smell the roses while they’re in bloom, and then you’re thrown right back into school’s rhythms of responsibility, filling agendas with homework again, and sitting quietly in a chair doing what you’re told.
That transition was never easy for me. It always took a few weeks of inattention before I could tune in. Instead, I’d stare out the window at the vacant playground while the teacher taught. I’d watch the pathetic seagulls squawk and wrestle over the best trash from morning recess. It all felt sad.
Eventually, I’d tire of wallowing and come to accept and even enjoy school. But to this day, and even in the few years before I went back to school, in late-August a cloud of dread floats in.
Now that I’m back to being a student, my pattern so far has been to let all this dread and anxiety for the new school year turn into unreasonable expectations of myself. A very bossy part of me sees being back as a mature student as a second chance to finally be perfect in every way. This part of me speaks in commandments, like so:
Thou shalt read every word assigned in your course syllabus on time!
Thou shalt not have any fun between Sunday evenings and Friday afternoons for 8 straight months!
Thou shalt be perfect in every way or consider yourself a failure!”
No surprise I dread school every year. Bossy-me sets up these rules that I don’t really want to follow, and I make no plans to manage the difficulty of making change happen, and I expect myself to simply stop—cold-turkey—that laidback summer lifestyle I’ve been enjoying for months. How am I supposed to succeed?
The truth is, I can’t. It’s a setup. It keeps me in a cycle, in the middle of a perpetual wrestling match with myself. I feel like the head of a 90s sitcom actor, while the tiny devil on my left shoulder and the tiny angel on my right bicker back-and-forth about what’s best for me. Shut up already!
“Be the Cookie Monster you wish to see in the world”
This year, I’m taking inspiration from Cookie Monster.
To be clear, I haven’t decided to once and for all to say, “screw it, I give up!”, drop out and eat infinite cookies. Let me explain. About a month ago, I had a moment of clarity while belly-laughing with my six-year-old nephew. I showed him Youtube clips of Cookie Monster, whom I love passionately. Until then I hadn’t considered why. It occurred to me then that the little blue rascal is timeless, full of life lessons, and everybody seems to just get it without judgement.
This seemed very important at the time. So important that later that night, instead of filling out my student loan application, I mulled over what it is about Cookie Monster that’s so great, so universally charming and so inherently worthy of love. I think it’s because Cookie Monster mirrors the little rascal in all of us. Cookie Monster shows us what the experience of desire is like. Everybody knows it deeply. Every human carries a cookie monster within them.
The average Sesame Street viewers may be preschoolers learning for the first time that they don’t get to do whatever they want whenever they feel like it. But we keep learning that lesson our whole lives.
The Temptation of Cookie Monster
The way Cookie Monster is presented on Sesame Street is cute and innocent. I mean, despite an evident incapacity to self-regulate or to love anything other than the pleasure of a good cookie, everybody still loves Cookie Monster.
If Cookie Monster was an adult human, the story would be a little more sinister. We don’t imagine a fuzzy blue puppet with googly eyes might have a traumatic past. We don’t worry that he’ll face the devastating effects of an all-cookie diet. We don’t witness the pain of having only a cookie to turn to. We don’t wonder if he has a family somewhere that he abandoned for a cheap, lousy cookie. We see an ageless puppet, in a sweet little world, protected from consequence.
It’s certainly not the most authentic characterization but it does give us a safe space to see inner demons in a gentler, judgment-free light. For example, do you notice how every child and adult on Sesame Street welcomes Cookie Monster as a deserving member of their community? How often do you laugh with, sympathize, hug, or spend quality time with your cookie-monster-self in the way that those folks do theirs? I don’t. I tend to roll my eyes at mine, call it selfish, weak, careless, ugly, and I often blame it for holding me back from being awesome.
Why do I do that? It’s pointless! Nothing I tell myself makes the proverbial cookies any less tempting. What if instead, I loved my internal cookie monster in the way the Sesame Street community love theirs? What if I accepted that part of me for what it is? If I appreciated that tenacity, that ability to be in the moment and to feel joy, that unabashed will to get every drop of good vibes out of life and share it, no matter the consequences?
What if I didn’t constantly shame myself for my consumption habits and instead did a little bargaining, laughed with myself, listened, took a load off when I need it, and tried to understand what makes this part of me tick? Because—
Truth bomb: it ain’t really about cookies
Heck, beyond just how you treat the cookie monster in yourself, what if the next time you see your friend that’s stuck in a loop and just can’t seem to break out of it, or you see your sibling smoking again after trying to quit for the millionth time, you looked on them with the same degree of love and understanding that we all give Cookie Monster? What if we tried to see the innocence that exists at the start of it all? Life can be so hard and the cookies are aplenty.
This semester I’m going to try my best not to shame myself for succumbing to the occasional “NOM! NOM! NOM!” session. When I do find myself partaking in some unscheduled indulgence, I’ll give my internal cookie monster’s fuzzy blue hair a tussle. I’ll say, “Alright little guy, that was a blast! Thanks for making sure I get to have some fun. Now it’s time to hit the books. We got this!”
Seamus Ogden is a Care Coordinator with Real Campus and a mature student. He has a deep affection for Cookie Monster.
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!
“So, here you are. Too foreign for home. Too foreign for here, never enough for both”. The first time I read this quote, feelings of sadness and confusion splashed over me and I suddenly felt like I didn’t belong. At that time, it would’ve been my second year since I had left my home country, where I now felt like a visitor. It took over four years to find my own place, that happy medium that combined elements from my native culture and from the new culture that I’m still trying to call my “home”. Feeling out of place was one the most challenging experiences I’ve had to endure but it certainty taught me some valuable lessons along the way.
If you’re someone who recently left home in pursuit of bigger and better opportunities and struggling to find your place, here are some things to consider to help you cope with feelings of loss:
Recognize the symptoms. Is it loneliness? Homesickness? Sadness? Nostalgia? Recognizing and naming your symptoms can help you understand where these feelings are coming from and allow you to have control over how they affect your daily functioning. It’s important to understand that feeling sad doesn’t necessarily mean you’re depressed. Recognize that this feeling can be situational and doesn’t have to impact the rest of your day. It’s okay to feel sad and nostalgic when thinking about your past life; in fact, it’s expected. However, know that you can also move past it.
Be present. Oftentimes, you may find yourself daydreaming about your old life and won’t realize how much we’re missing out. It’s true that going back in time brings us a sense of comfort and induces a familiar feeling but it also keeps us from enjoying our new surroundings. Practice living in the moment and keep an open mind. Rather than fearing the differences, welcome them and think of much you can grow. As someone who enjoys the routine and isn’t particularly fond of change, this was a challenge for me as I had to train myself to live in the present. It’s incredible the things you learn when you allow yourself to step out of your comfort zone.
Find a purpose. Setting daily goals will help shift your focus and enhance feelings of productivity. These can be anything that will make you feel like you’re working towards something. For me, it was choosing to focus on my health and incorporating a daily workout routine while tracking and monitoring my results. Did it help me fall in love with the new environment? Probably not but it was a reason for me to get out of bed every morning and distract myself from negative thoughts.
Get involved. Definitely easier said than done. Personally, this is something I dreaded. I kept being told to involve myself in social events and improve my network but what does that even mean? Do I show up at random places and initiate a conversation? Do I connect with someone on LinkedIn and hope for the best? It took me months before I had the courage to sign up for an event I had found on the internet. Did I make new friends and kept in touch? Not really but I saw it as a personal achievement back then and overtime, attending events and talking to people had become a less torturous task. If you’re someone who doesn’t naturally blend in well with people, it’s okay. Don’t let that be a reason to keep you away from new opportunities and instead see it as a way to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone; even if that means forcing yourself to attend an event at least once every two months.
Keep familiar things around you. As we integrate into the new environment, we may find ourselves slowly stepping away from our cultural roots. That’s totally normal! If you’re ever feeling homesick, do something that reminds you of home (i.e. listen to music, eat your favorite meal). As you make new friends, try introducing your favorite foods to them to strengthen the connection between familiar sources of comfort and new sources of emotional support.
Allow times to take its course. Be patient. You’re not expected to adapt right away and it may take you a few months to a few years to find your place. In the meantime, try to enjoy the differences and accept the hardships. Allow yourself to grow and recognize the changes you’re making. Remember that change also means growth.
If there’s one thing to take away from this blog post, it’s realizing that finding your place is a combination of time and hard work rather than one or the other.
I’m about to head into a big career and life transition. It’s something I’ve been working towards for many years and now it’s finally happening.
Full disclosure: it has something to do with becoming a brand new therapist here at Real Campus, after being a clinical social worker with a bunch of organizations!
I figure, who better to riff on new beginnings than someone who has found herself smack dab in the middle of one?
I’m not someone you might think would fear change. I love novelty and adventure but over the years I’ve found that no matter how adventurous your spirit, change can still hit hard. While humans are complex and we all respond to situations differently, we’re mostly wired to feel safe in what is familiar and predictable – even when it’s not “good” for us.
I find because of my love for adventure, I often underestimate the impact that a drastic change in my life will have on me. Over the years, I’ve learned to slow down and surrender to the process—to radically accept that I’m not immune to the difficulty that change can be for a species that craves familiarity.
Here’s a road map for navigating change. It can be applied to starting a new job or going to a new school, to moving in with a partner or to have a child. All types of change deserve your attention.
Grieve the loss of what you are leaving behind
This often gets overlooked. Especially when we are moving towards a change we are excited about, or when leaving a situation that isn’t healthy for us. It’s easy to brush aside grief in our excitement or relief. But even if we’re leaving a situation we weren’t happy with, it is inevitably something that took up a lot of space in our lives. And especially if it was challenging, we likely learned things about ourselves and our resilience that are integral to who we are today.
Maybe we found our voice to speak up against crummy conditions. Maybe we learned about our strength and capacity to stretch ourselves. Maybe we learned how to affirm our worth by saying goodbye. Almost every situation has value, even if it wasn’t pleasant to experience. Regardless of the conditions I leave, I know that bypassing grief only to focus on excitement has always made my transition more difficult.
To tap into your grief, try writing a goodbye letter to the situation you’re leaving. It doesn’t have to be all sunshine and kittens. If you have harsh truths to voice, voice them. Give voice to your whole experience. If you’re happy to be saying goodbye, say why. Towards the end of the letter, explain what the situation taught you and why you might be grateful that it happened. After you’re done, rip it up or find a safe way to destroy it. Letting go is important.
If you’re leaving behind a situation that was lovely but you outgrew it, then in addition to the letter, you might want to find a happy way to honour it. Try making a memory book of your favourite pictures to honour your memorable moments. Share your memories with the people you love and trust.
The important thing is to give space to grief. No matter what the situation was like for you, it played a role in making you who you are today and it deserves a forum. By no means will one letter or memory book rid you of all your grief but it’s a starting point and a reminder that your feelings are valid.
Adjusting to something new takes time. You won’t have all the answers right away. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll say the wrong thing. You’ll feel scared. You’ll feel uncomfortable. The good news is that this means you are a human being and not a robot! It’s important that you are kind to yourself as you navigate this new situation.
Write down five things you would say to your best friend if they were navigating this exact situation. Things like “It’s ok, you’re still learning” or “It takes time to adjust” or “I admire your courage”. When you start to feel discouraged, say those things to yourself. If you want greater impact, put your hand on your face or on your heart when you say them. Self-compassion is not just about what you could say but also what to avoid saying: if you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, don’t say it to yourself. Period.
I know it’s tempting to fall into thinking that we have to have everything figured out on day one but that’s impossible and it leads to anxiety. What you have found yourself in is one of the most glorious grace periods in all of adult life – when people expect you not to know anything! When they expect you to ask questions. When saying “Oh I didn’t know that” is actually totally legit. Instead of taking it as a sign of your own inadequacy, enjoy it! It’s a beautiful phase that’s time limited! There will be lots of time to expect yourself to know what’s going on. This ain’t it! And thank goodness. Be a scientist. Be an anthropologist. Study your new environment with genuine interest. That way, when you discover something you didn’t know, you can be fascinated and curious instead of internalizing it as inadequacy.
Be gentle with yourself
Change is tiring. You may find you need more sleep. You may need more downtime. You may need more time listening to Bon Iver with your eyes closed. You may need to spend more time alone. You may need to pack a quick lunch instead of preparing your usual extravagant meal.
But listen, you’re using a lot of energy re-learning things you used to do with your eyes closed. Your energy reserves are going into processing and storing all this new information that will be so totally straightforward soon enough. But for now, everything takes an immense amount of effort. Try to be cool with pulling over to put gas in your tank as often as possible.
We’ve all heard the only constant is change. We don’t have to love it and we don’t have to sugar-coat it, but it certainly helps to be prepared for it. While the world around us spins, it‘s possible to be grounded in kindness and understanding for ourselves. Change will happen regardless, but our attitudes and the way we treat ourselves through it can change our relationship to it.