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How Can I Support Loved Ones During COVID-19?

The world is dealing with a drastic event that nobody was truly prepared for and is testing us in many ways. Our emotional, mental, and physical limits are all being pushed as we all strive to make sense of this new world order that we are finding ourselves in. My thoughts are with each and everyone of you that has been directly, or indirectly, touched by COVID-19.

As a result, I wanted to take a moment to connect with you all on some of the ways that we can start to cope and support others with such unprecedented experience in our lifetime.

I am often asked, ‘how can I support someone I care about with their mental health?’ And the answer is never simple. However, the one thing that I often share is, ‘just listen and support someone through validation and understanding, and you are likely doing more than you will ever know.’

Right now, though, we are in a time where we are all needing support as this pandemic is starting to touch each of us in different ways. Some of those ways are not even evident yet as things continue to shift and progress throughout the world and our leaders do all that they can in order to create safety and support for our communities.

I have had colleagues share many ideas and strategies with me over the last week and I have also made the decision to move all of my psychotherapy services to virtual sessions for the time being. This was done as a way to continue to provide support while also alleviating the stress for individuals trying to leave their homes and experiencing the anxiety that may come as a result.

The following list is meant as ways to be able to check in on your loved ones, while also urging yourself to reflect on what your needs may be. This list is certainly not exhaustive, by any means. It is meant as a starting point to provide a place to ask questions of those we care about in a way to let them know we are there for them and that they are not alone. Of course, should anyone be really struggling and need more support, there are many trained professionals, like myself, that are eager to help and connect. Here are a few small things that you can do for those loved ones in your life as you look to support them.

1. Holding Space

We are all working through these events for the first time and without any first hand experience on what to expect. It is normal and natural for us all to feel confused, scared, overwhelmed, or unsure.

When we ‘hold space’ for others, what we are doing is giving people permission to express these feelings stated above. We do not have to have the answers, or know what advice to give, but by just giving someone the opportunity to express themselves and what they are holding inside can be very cathartic. This can be done in person, over the phone, by video chat, etc.

When we hold space for people, we listen with our full attention and do not make the moment about ourselves or to share our opinions or insights. Rather, we are really there to allow that other person to empty their heart and lessen the burden of all those conscious and unconscious thoughts to get out. I often express to people that I am working with to try to ‘listen to understand’ vs ‘listen to respond’ in those moments. When we listen to understand, we are really just wanting to be there for the speaker and any questions that may arise are coming from a desire to clarify and understand what is going on. When we listen to respond, we are often delivering advice, or opinions, which are often not what the speak is needing in that moment.

2. Self Care

Self care is a term that many of you have already heard. The idea of self care is to do things that are for ourselves that alleviate distress or pain and allow us to feel more at peace. Often self care can be confused with ‘escape’ or ‘avoidance’ and I think this is where there is an important distinction.

When I refer to the term self care, what I am actually speaking about is to identify and engage in activities that you find re-energizing. While binging that recent series on Netflix can feel like self care, I would argue that this is actually avoidance or escape.

When we engage in activities that actually recharge us, we are helping our bodies flush out the adrenaline and cortisol released during stressful events or situations.

Take some time to identify what your self care activities are. Maybe they are going for a hike, reading a book that you really enjoy, or playing a board game with someone you live with. We want to amplify our joy as much as possible and continue to make such self care activities an important part of our lives with so much stress/distress being experienced.

3. Limiting Social Media and News Intake

Each and every day there are new updates to what is happening around the world, let alone in our own communities. This may be an opportunity to look at limiting your exposure to such media in an effort to support your own mental health and wellness.

When I was working in Alberta, I was often receiving emails about quite disturbing events as part of my role. As a result, I made the conscious choice to limit my news intake outside of the work day. So, when I left the office, I would not consume news or media about current events as way to set my own psychological boundaries while away from the office. I was still informed and would listen to select news outlets on my commute or throughout the work day, but I had to really be aware of my own mental wellness and ability to take in all of the challenges and struggle going on in the world outside of my own circle.

By no means am I suggesting that we should not be informed or aware of what is going on in the world, especially during times like this, but we can put some limits and boundaries on when and how often we are engaging. Maybe you allow yourself to check in each morning and evening, or limit your media consumption to a few trusted outlets. However you choose to do so, ensure that your comfort of being informed is right for you and also allows you to a have some time away from the heaviness as well.

What About Counselling?

Is counselling what you need? Great question! I have been a ‘student’ of Scott Miller’s since I began my career and incorporating his outcome measures into my sessions as a means to track progress for my clients and also to measure the therapeutic alliance (comfort and connection between therapist and client) as well. I recently watched a video by Scott and in that video he cites a study that indicates that 80-85% of individuals who could benefit from seeing a therapist, do not go to one. Let that sink in for a moment. That means that only a very small percentage of those that could truly benefit from a professional are actually taking that first step. This highlights the importance of really looking at how you can be there for yourself and others in meaningful ways during these extra challenging times. When I juxtapose this information against the idea of ‘holding space,’ it really helps to illustrate how much supporting each other means for our mental wellness.

Please feel free to share this as widely as you wish in order to reach anyone that could use it. I will be releasing more content throughout the coming weeks as well with an eye on practical approaches to supporting yourself and others. As always, I am here to people that would like to connect for an appointment.

Stay healthy and be kind to each other.

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