All posts by Laurie Blaikie

Valentine’s Day…Revisited

Puppy with a PPE maskWhen I originally posted the following Valentine piece back in 2018, the world was a very different place.  No Covid; therefore, no stress about lockdowns.   Chances were that we could celebrate Valentine’s Day with our loved ones and give them a hug.  The opportunity for a romantic dinner at a favourite restaurant was assured.

Valentine hearts craftsWhile February 14, 2021 arrives in a different context, I suggest that all is not lost.  We just need to widen our scope.  As innocent as it sounds, who says that ‘the day of hearts, chocolate and flowers’ has to only be for romantic partners?  In a time when many of us are feeling lonely and isolated, let’s make an effort to let others know that they are ‘seen’ for the wonderful humans that they are.  I don’t mean ‘in person’ (unless there is a safe way), but in a way that lets them know we love and appreciate them.  Doesn’t have to be fancy…a call, note in a mailbox, e-card, or wave will do.  We can do this even if we have to spend the day alone.  Please reach out to another living creature (yup, pets count!).

In whatever way you spend Valentine’s Day 2021, I wish you the best day possible.

Valentine’s Day–What’s It To You?

Valentine's Day present

Ah, Valentine’s Day! For some, it’s the most romantic day of the year…for others, it’s the biggest ‘Hallmark Holiday’ of all time. However, no matter where you fit on that continuum, February 14 can be an opportunity for you to create a personal experience of love while avoiding the pitfalls that can accompany the day.

The Dark History of Valentine’s Day

Traditionally we may think of Valentine’s Day as a celebration of love, cute stuffed toys, kisses and chocolate; however, its beginnings were not so cozy. According to a 2011 opinion piece presented on National Public Radio (US), the Romans had a lot to do with the creation of Valentine’s Day.

“From Feb. 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain.

The Roman romantics “were drunk. They were naked,” says Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Young women would actually line up for the men to hit them, Lenski says. They believed this would make them fertile.

The brutal fete included a matchmaking lottery, in which young men drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would then be, um, coupled up for the duration of the festival ? or longer, if the match was right.

The ancient Romans may also be responsible for the name of our modern day of love. Emperor Claudius II executed two men both named Valentine on Feb. 14 of different years in the 3rd century A.D. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day.”

There wasn’t a cupid in sight!

As time went on, through the 15th and 16th century works of Chaucer and Shakespeare, February 14 took on the more romantic tone that we recognize today. In Britain and Europe, hand-make paper cards became part of the tradition during that time.

Modern Valentine’s Day

Valentine flowers, chocolate and teddy bearWhat about now? How does an ordinary Canadian mark Valentine’s Day?

A 2016 Montreal Gazette article stated that in 2015, Canadians spent $3.3 billion on chocolate. When we add in money spent on other gifts (flowers, jewelry) and dinners out, our bank accounts went down by an average of $177–all in aid of February 14.

Businesses appreciate this ‘love festival’ as there are no associated discounts associated as there are with Christmas (i.e. pre-holiday and Boxing Day sales).

This holiday is seen to be such a romantic day, that 10 percent of marriage proposals happen on Valentine’s Day!

What If I’m Single?

Traditionally, we think of Valentine’s Day as a celebration for couples. But what if we’re un-coupled? No worries! Business has found a solution! Thanks to the Canadian Association of Professional Cuddlers (CAPC), you can hire a professional cuddler to spend Valentine’s Day with. Cuddling starts at $45 for 30 minutes and goes up to $155 for two hours. If you’re looking for skin-to-skin cuddling, there is an additional fee per hour. Cuddlers are trained to ensure that everyone is safe and comfortable at all times.

Some single people will participate in Single Awareness Day–a celebration of the love of friends, family and self. Individuals recognize the day by getting together with loved ones, buying themselves a gift and/or taking part in a favourite activity.

It appears that if you want to celebrate, there are many options.

Expectations…A Roadblock on the Road of Romance

Sometimes this ‘holiday of love’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Based on what I hear personally and professionally, Valentine’s Day can be a minefield…and I don’t mean the “Will you be mine” variety! The problem comes down to expectations about how our partners should show their love. However, there may be a solution.

Gary Chapman, in his 1995 book The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate; outlines the five ways that we show and accept love from our significant other(s). These are: giving/receiving gifts, spending quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service (devotion) and physical touch. When a couple doesn’t understand each other’s ‘love language’ hurt feelings can erupt.

OHL Kitchener Rangers LogoCandle lit dinner table for twoLet’s look at Bob and Sue…Valentine’s Day is around the corner and Bob has dropped many (what he thinks are obvious) hints about his ideal gift (Kitchener Rangers tickets). Sue has decided that she will surprise Bob by taking their children to her parents’ home for an over-night visit and then making him a romantic dinner. A clash is possible as Bob is looking forward to tickets, and Sue is imagining Bob’s appreciation and delight at all the work she has done to make Bob feel loved.

When we are part of a couple, it’s important to communicate with each other about our expectations–especially as these can change over time. If you’re curious about your ‘love language’, check out Dr. Chapman’s site and take the quiz. It may be a useful pre-Valentine’s Day activity!

Speaking of Communication…

Valentine’s Day can bring a lot of pressure to new relationships. What does my new person want? Will dinner out be too much? Too little? My last partner really loved jewelry, but is it too soon in this relationship? What impression will my gift give? Maybe I’ll just go out of town on February 14 and skip the entire thing!

CoupleWhat would happen if Valentine’s Day became an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation around expectations–what we like, what we don’t? Is this something we want to celebrate as a couple?

I wonder how many hurt feelings and broken relationships could be avoided by having a simple conversation?

Despite all the buildup, February 14 is just another day on the calendar. No matter how you choose to spend it, I wish you love and your fair share of chocolate!

And now…some romance from Peanuts…Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

“Interesting Ideas” for January 2021

Puppy with interesting ideasI am very fortunate to have friends that send me interesting ideas, articles, videos, or book suggestions on a regular basis.  While I use some as inspirations for blog posts or my work with clients, others are not blog or reference material…and they are too interesting not to share.

So, this is the first month of the “Interesting Ideas” post.  My hope is that this will become a monthly feature.  While not every suggestion will appeal to everyone, ideally something will pique your curiosity.

Here’s the selection for January…Enjoy!

From The Atlantic:  What Moving House Can Do For You

From BBC News:  Lockdown mental health:  Tips for Helping Your Child

From The Guardian:  Why Your Most Important Relationship is With Your Inner Voice

2021 Resolution….Let’s Eat for Mental Health

New Year's fireworksWelcome to 2021!  May everyone be healthy and safe.

The data isn’t available for 2021, but if you are like the 30% of Canadians who made resolutions going into 2020, almost half of us had goals around eating better and losing weight.  However, with the arrival of Covid-19, many of us fell off of the resolution bandwagon.  When we’re in survival mode, it’s difficult to change habits.  In fact, we often resort to comfort activities.  Baking and online shopping, anyone?

person under their own personal raincloud signifying mental health troubleOne of the results of Covid-19 is the negative effect on our mental health.  Anxiety and depression levels are increasing rapidly across all age groups, as we live with uncertainty, isolation and 24/7 news coverage about pandemic numbers and positive or negative testing and vaccination numbers.  We are grieving not only the death of loved ones but the loss of regular, physical contact with our friends, family members, coworkers and casual contact with other humans.

So, as we move into 2021, what can we do?

What Some Of The Experts Are Saying

As the pandemic continues, experts are offering suggestions on how to get through the waiting period for the life to return to a ‘familiar normal’.  A recent University of Waterloo article, provided data from a study that asked a number of scientific psychologists for their ideas of how to get through the pandemic.  Their results were tabulated, and…

“The most common psychological recommendation was to establish a sense of agency — to find a way to remain in charge of your day-to-day life, despite pandemic uncertainty. Research in psychology shows that such mental focus can help regulate emotions in the face of uncertainty. It includes finding ways to reframe the pandemic as a manageable challenge, to find “something that you want to get out of bed for,” as one interviewee mentioned, or to establish structure and habits to compensate for lack of external structure in a lockdown-imposed work from home.”

The entire article can be found here.

Let’s Put It Together:  Eating for Mental Health

Cartoon of a woman asking questionsWhat would happen if we combined our desire (i.e. resolutions) for making positive dietary changes with our need to improve/maintain our mental health?

Disclaimer:  I’m not a dietician!  Any ideas that I’m presenting are based on research articles and websites that I’ve read.  I’ve linked to these resources throughout this post.

The Link Between Diet and Mental Health

Researchers in the relatively new field of Nutritional Psychiatry are discovering the links between dietary patterns and mental health.  Basically, the more we eat a ‘western’ or highly-processed diet, the greater our risk for anxiety and depression.  Based on what I’ve read, I’ve found three areas in which diet affects our physical health–leading to declines in mental/brain health:  Obesity, the Gut/Brain Axis and Inflammation.

Obesity

Cookie, not great for eating for mental healthEven before the pandemic, the numbers are frightening.  According to Statistics Canada (2018) data; 26.8% of Canadians 18 and older (roughly 7.3 million adults) reported height and weight that classified them as obese. Another 9.9 million adults (36.3%) were classified as overweight – bringing the total population with increased health risks due to excess weight to 63.1% in 2018.

When we think about mental/brain health, obesity is linked to higher instances of Alzheimer’s disease and depression due to vascular cognitive impairment (which can be caused by lifestyle habits such as poor diet and excess weight).

The Gut/Brain Axis (GBA)

We don’t live in our bodies alone.  Instead, we share our gut with trillions of microbial organisms (bacteria, viruses, and archaea) that make up our microbiome.  Our brain and gut interact using a system of neural (the vagus nerve), inflammatory responses and hormones–making up the brain/gut axis.

Eating for mental healthWhen our microbiome is in a healthy balance, this system works well.  Unfortunately, the gut imbalance can happen due to chronic stress, poor diet, environmental toxins and infections.

While the science on this is relatively new, a study (mentioned in the above link) found rodents undergoing emotion-like changes based on changes in their microbiome.  When fecal gut microbiota from humans with depression was inserted into rodents, the rodents showed depression-like behaviours.

Inflammation

tissue inflammationAccording to this 2019 Psychology Today article, inflammation is the body’s defence mechanism for infections, irritants, stress and physical trauma.  The body produces small protein cells called cytokines in response.  According to the author, studies link depression and anxiety to inflammation and high levels of cytokines.

While this may all be overwhelming….

All Is Not Lost

An article published in PNS:  Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, described the results of a study published in BMC Medicine.  They wrote:

“One randomised controlled trial published this year in BMC Medicine demonstrated quite striking effects of a 3-month dietary intervention on moderate-to-severe depression, with a significantly greater improvement in the dietary intervention group and remission achieved in 32 % of this group”.

The dietary intervention that seems to have the most positive effect on mental health is one made up of whole foods–i.e. the opposite of the Western, processed food diet that is common in our culture.

The Mediterranean Diet

An infographic describing the Mediterranean Diet - eating for mental healthAccording to the Mayo Clinic, interest in the Mediterranean diet began in the 1960s with the observation that coronary heart disease caused fewer deaths in Mediterranean countries, such as Greece and Italy than in the U.S. and northern Europe.  Actually, it’s more accurate to say the “Mediterranean diet” is not a diet as such, but a way of eating with slight variations depending on which Mediterranean country you’re looking at.

It is comprised of lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes; moderate amounts of fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products.  Eat limited amounts of red meat.

Studies such as this one, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, show the link between positive mental health and the Mediterranean way of eating.   The Mediterranean diet has also been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and heart disease.

As I delved deeper into my research, it was easy to become overwhelmed by the amount and complexity of the information.  My 2021 resolution? Keep it simple. Move to a more whole foods diet, while being kind to myself.   Change is never easy, especially during stressful times such as these.

A carrot dressed as a superheroLet’s all raise a carrot to better mental health in 2021!

For more information, here’s a Library of Congress documentary on the Mediterranean diet to get you started.  Enjoy!

 

 

Hold tight to the holiday feelings

I thought about writing about how to survive the holidays this year, with so many of us facing possible lockdown, but there are so many articles out there already.

candle lights let us hold tight to the memoriesSo here’s my wish for you: hold tight to the feelings of the holidays. To the memory of loved ones and joyous times. Lift up that warm glow in your memory and know that no matter how far they may be right now, the magic of the holiday season can bring us all together just a little closer, even when we have to socially distance.

There will be a day, and hopefully not too far into the future, where we can be together again. Know that I will hold tight to my memories of all of you, and that you bring me joy.

And until that day…

 

Musings on Remembrance Day and Covid-19

Remembrance Day poppy fieldIn Canada, Remembrance Day will be marked this Wednesday, November 11.  Due to Covid-19, ceremonies of remembrance will be different this year–no parades, no gathering at local cenotaphs,  curtailed (if any) events at Legion branches.  And yet, I wonder if the events of past wars are more relevant to us this year than any other as we attempt to adjust to living with the pandemic.  While I recognize that Remembrance Day honours veterans from all the wars, based on my family history,  I’m going to focus on World War 1 (WWI) and World War 2 (WWII).

At no time in this post am I implying that what we are going through with Covid-19 comes close to the horrors experienced during WWI or WWII.  I am only wondering about some similarities.

The Use of Language

As I started to think about the similarities, I couldn’t help but notice the language.  Words are important.  They frame how we look at events.  It’s interesting to note that the language used around the pandemic is ‘battle’ language.  We talk about ‘the war’ against Covid-19.  Nurses, doctors and first responders work on the ‘front line’.  Government and public health officials are creating ‘Covid strategies’.  Just as casualty lists were published during the world wars, we have daily access to Covid-19 statistics by world, country, province, region and city.  The frequent statement of “We’re all in this together.” applies to all of it.

How Long Will This Last?

The thing about history is that we know how the stories end (and when).  The First World War was fought from 1914 to 1918, the Second from 1939 to 1945.  These global military conflicts, the largest in human history, lasted years, not months.

For those living through the two world wars, struggle and sacrifice were a daily occurrence.  Travel was curtailed in order to save precious fuel so it could be used by the military.  Citizens lined up for food and used ration cards–not only to help support troops but also due to food shortages.

Since everything was in short supply, people became experts at making do–whether by reusing materials, making things from scratch, mending, sharing or doing without.  Various governments published information pamphlets with instructions on everything from turning cuffs on shirts (in order to make them last longer) to growing Victory Gardens and canning the resulting produce.

Because of the travel restrictions, as well as the reality of loved ones fighting overseas or in different parts of the country, it was impossible (or difficult) to see family and friends.  Sometimes people didn’t see loved ones for months or years.  A baby born near the beginning of the war may not meet one of their parents until they were about to start kindergarten.

Depending on where they lived, individuals dealt with the reality of daily bombings (being forced from their homes on a moment’s notice, spending night after night in underground shelters). Many people living in England urban centres sent their children to live with family members (or strangers) in safer parts of the country.

Our Current Experience

While not to the same extreme, during this pandemic, we are being asked to restrict travel–not to support the war effort, but to make sure that we stay close to home in order to avoid spreading the virus.  Borders have been closed.

During the spring lockdown, there was a resurgence of cooking, baking, DIY projects and making do with what we had on hand.  Remember the shortages of food staples, cleaning products and toilet paper?  We didn’t have ration cards, yet we were limited to how many bottles of hand sanitizer or loaves of bread we could buy (if any were to be had).

We’ve been asked to make sacrifices–restrict our social contacts, stay away from seniors homes, give up organized sports, work from home and home school our kids (often at the same time).  During lockdowns, public playgrounds were closed.

A major thing that we share with our ancestors is that they didn’t know how long the war would last, or what the future looked like.  They coped on a daily basis.  We are being asked to do the same as we await a vaccine and levels of immunity.

The Change in Grief Rituals

A similarity in both the world wars and our current time with COVID-19 is changing in the way we publicly mourn.

It is estimated that 76 million people died during the two world wars.  Another 50 million died as a result of the 1918 pandemic (commonly referred to as the Spanish flu).  With many of the military deaths occurring overseas, fallen soldiers were buried in military cemeteries near where they died.  Due to the circumstances, many of the deceased were buried in mass graves.  After the wars, great attempts were made to identify individuals and give them their own grave and marker.

While some families may have erected a grave marker in the local cemetery, everyone had access to public memorials to mark the deaths of local people killed in battle.  This was a big change from being able to care for the loved one and be an active participant in the funeral process.

During the 1918 pandemic, people were dying so quickly, and in such large numbers, that regular funeral and burial practices were impossible.  Funeral services were banned and funeral personnel of the time (undertakers, coffin makers, grave diggers) were unable to keep up with demand.  Burials had to happen quickly, leaving little or no time for public mourning rituals.

Grief During Covid-19

As I read about the burial practices of the wars and 1918 pandemic, I’m reminded of news footage of mass graves and one-mourner funerals occurring earlier this year in Europe and New York City.

As we’re aware, funeral homes in Canada have been restricted by the number of family and friends allowed to attend a funeral/memorial service.  Physical distancing has prohibited hugging of loved ones when it is needed most.  We haven’t been able to hold the service that we or the deceased wanted to have.

Grief has sometimes taken a back-seat as we struggle to cope with the daily realities of living in a pandemic, leaving mourners to feel guilty that they’re not honouring their ‘person’ as they think they should.

Strangely enough, while lonely, grieving has become even lonelier as we become aware of the weight of everyone’s grief.

Doing Things for the Common Good

One of the common memories that the Great War veterans and civilians share is that there was a sense of purpose and that everyone was working for the same thing–victory.  People did things for the common good–knitting for the troops, saving food scraps, supporting neighbours and strangers.  While this may paint too rosy a picture, when I have spoken to family members and elderly friends who lived through this time, the hard stories are interspersed with stories of great sharing and connection.

Today, the biggest symbol of doing things for the benefit of all is wearing a mask.  We are asked to wear them in order to keep others safe.  We try to wait patiently in line when required and practice kindness for others.  On a good day, we can give others the benefit of the doubt and on hard days, we can try to keep our lips sealed.

There are also many stories of window visits for people who are in isolation, grocery pickups for at-risk neighbours, food drop-offs for healthcare workers, drive-by birthday parties and baby showers…

Life Will Be Different

Life wasn’t the same for those living after WWI and II.  WWI ushered in the beginning of the end of the class system in Britain (Downtown Abbey anyone?).  Both wars led to a global loss of innocence as we learned of the atrocities that humans were capable of doing to other humans and the earth.  In the US, the technology created by WWII led to the creation of chemicals that changed the world forever as well as the exuberance of 1950’s consumerism.

While we don’t yet know how our world will be changed by Covid-19, we have seen some massive changes already.

  • Working from home has become so common that we may never return to offices in the same way.
  • We are on the move.  As our jobs are no longer as tied to a physical location, people are moving in order to be closer to family and away from urban centres.
  • Relationships are shifting as we let some people go and focus more on others.
  • We are becoming more used to spending more time at home and less socializing in person.
  • We are relearning what is important to us and asking big questions about how we want to continue after the pandemic is a memory.
The Big Differences

While I’ve been focusing on the similarities, there are two big differences that I see between these times in history:  a visible enemy and the ability for physical closeness and support.

No matter which side of the war you were on, there was a shared enemy.  Not only was the enemy shared, but the result of the battle was very visible–casualty lists, bombed out buildings, absent loved ones.  Today, we can’t see a microscopic virus.  It’s hard to believe in what we can’t see.  This can make us feel like the threat isn’t as serious as we are told by health and government officials.  It’s hard to keep up the fight and remain vigilant.

We miss human contact.  During the wars, people were able to band together–friends and strangers alike–as they viewed the destruction.  While they may not have been able to hold a burial for a loved one, they were surrounded by those who could hold and comfort them.

When people are sick of this entire thing, dealing with anxiety/depression and wondering when it will be over; it’s the isolation from all of their people that they feel is the hardest.

So in whatever way you mark Remembrance Day, please take a moment to honour those who share similar struggles today.  We are all in this together.

Let’s remember…

Riding the Second Wave of Covid-19

Riding the Covid19 waveAs I write this post, Canada is seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and at the beginning of the second wave.  While the virus remains the same, there are differences between the two waves–medical experts’ knowledge of how COVID works, the time of year, government responses (I’m speaking of Ontario) and our experience of COVID fatigue.

As we move into the upcoming Winter of COVID, how are ways we can successfully ride this wave?

I’ve Been Reading…

Over the summer months, a very good friend (and researcher) has been sending me articles about COVID experiences worldwide.   Many of them have discussed how the pandemic has negatively affected mental health (increased levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness).

Another common theme is that many of us are attempting to cope in unhealthy ways such as increased alcohol and drug use, poor diet and lack of exercise.  These strategies can lead to a vicious downward cycle of addiction and poor mental/physical health.  For a few of us, extreme exercise has been our tool of choice.  As one person I know wisely said, “At the end of COVID, we’ll either be a hunk, a chunk or a drunk”.

A final group of articles speaks to how our grief has been affected by restrictions around being with loved ones at their time of death, changes in funeral practices and lack of in-person support.  An October 11, 2020 NBC News article suggested that, “The Covid-19 pandemic will be outlasted by the grief pandemic.”

However, while the situation is dire, I suggest that it’s important not to bury our heads in the sands of avoidance, or to float in the waters of despair.  Instead, let’s take stock to get a clear picture of where we are–somewhat like weighing ourselves after the early pandemic baking extravaganzas.  We may not like the ‘number’, and we know where we’re starting from.

It’s About Having a Plan…

We are no longer ‘COVID innocents’. Because of our experience we know what’s coming.  As one news article stated, “Winter is Coming.” no longer relates just to Game of Thrones!  We lived through the tail-end of last winter, and it was hard (and short).  After a three-seasons of socializing outside, we’re staring down the tunnel of potentially five months of weather-induced, minimal human contact.

Now that we have an idea about what the game board looks like, let’s plan our strategy using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a template.

Be prepared:  take care of the ‘bricks and mortar’ stuff.

There is a sense of safety knowing that our basic needs (food and shelter) are covered.  It’s hard to function when we’re concerned about how we are going to get to the store during a possible lockdown if our furnace will stop working requiring someone to come into our home, or we are running low on prescription medications.

If possible make sure that you have some extra staples (food and medicines) on hand if stores move to limited hours, or there are shortages as the wave continues.  I’m not suggesting building mountains of toilet paper in your home!  Also, think about your physical space and what you may need to do to prepare.

Establish or re-establish social networks. 

Once our physiological and safety requirements are met, next comes our need for human connection.  While many of us were able to see more of our loved ones and expand our ‘bubbles’ during warmer weather, those bubbles burst once children went back to school and limited contact became much more difficult.  Cooler weather is also becoming a factor (though many of us are extending the Fall season by using patio heaters, fire pits, etc.).

Stay connected however you can during covid-19Think about who you would like to be connected to, and then talk with them about ways to spend time together.  We know what helped (and didn’t) last time, so we’re not recreating the wheel.  Maybe Zoom calls didn’t work as well due to technical challenges or ‘Zoom fatigue’.  Is the use of FaceTime apps (if possible) or shorter Zoom calls the answer?  In some cases, can small in-person bubbles be kept in place or restarted?  A friend of mine has started to write letters by hand to her friends and family.  Not only is she using this as a mindfulness practice, but enjoying the anticipation of checking the mailbox for replies.  For some of us, sending holiday greeting cards is making a comeback.

One way to continue to see people in-person is to come to terms with the cold of winter.  A podcast on “The Big Story” talks about how people in far northern communities deal with cold and near-darkness for several months of the year.  The answer–change their mindset about winter.  Embrace the colder, cozier months.  You can listen to this podcast here.  Personally, never having been a fan of the cold, I’m investing in warmer winter clothing so that I can see friends and family outside.

Spend time this Winter developing a new skill.  

Maslow’s next level is “Esteem”–not only the respect that we feel for ourselves but also the respect we feel from others.  Now can be a great time to think about how we would like to grow and develop.

Has covid-19 got you feeling frozen?While there are many websites that list activities/hobbies to take on while in lockdown, I’m suggesting that we go deeper.  What kind of human do we want to be going forward?  When we look back at this time (5, 10 or 20 years from now), what will we see?  And it doesn’t have to be all serious–play is important as well.  In my new snow pants, I’m planning to build some monumental snow people, that may be the talk of the neighbourhood!

Relax and give back. 

Self-actualization.  Now that our other needs have been met, we can relax while having a sense of reality.  Because we are in a safe and clear place we have the energy to provide support for others.  Based on the research on how mental health is being negatively affected by COVID, it is clear that the need is great.  Providing help can be as simple as taking the time to really listen to others when you sense that all may not be well with them, or waving at others on your physically distanced walks.

This BBC video talks about how one person’s life was changed by randomly receiving a bunch of flowers.  It’s not difficult to do–even in these times.

Fighting Covid-19 stress with snow angelsSome things are in our control and some are not.  The fact that the second wave is a reality is beyond our control.  However, we can attempt to influence its progress by wearing masks, washing our hands, practicing physical distancing, and following other guidelines recommended by public health officials.  We also have the choice of how we frame our experience.  This is an opportunity to grow our resilience.  Me….I’ll be making snow angels.

And now…because so many of us are adopting Pandemic Puppies, here’s some puppy love!  Enjoy!

 

The Journey, and Anxiety, Continues

It has been quite a journey. Who knew that when our daily lives underwent an abrupt change in mid-March that we, now staring at mid-August, would still be adjusting to a world with COVID-19.

Personally, when I reflect on this time, I am given hope by the many acts of kindness and respect that I have witnessed…people choosing to wear masks before it became mandatory, the smile and wave from fellow walkers as we cross the street to allow for physical distancing, neighbours running errands for others who are at risk, and front line workers that I know who have gone above and beyond to support those who need their help.

On the other side, while there have been many disheartening stories, for my own mental health, I am choosing to focus on the positive aspects of my fellow humans.

Anxiety…a Constant

Professionally, if I sum up the last few months, one word would be anxiety.

When COVID first appeared there was the anxiety around fulfilling basic tasks such as getting groceries, PPE and hand sanitizer. Remember the concern about toilet paper shortages? We worried about at-risk friends and relatives who suddenly became isolated. So many of our seniors lost their lives, and anxiety about their circumstances was a constant. Many parents juggled working at home with home-schooling their kids.

For those who lost loved ones, there was the anxiety and altered grief journey due to the inability to be with our person when they died and the changes/restrictions to funeral services.

Eventually, we settled into a ‘new normal’ and our levels of anxiety levelled off as well. And then we hit Stage 1 of reopening.

Anxiety and the Re-opening Process

Slowly we’ve been able to come out of our homes. First, it was increasing our ‘bubble’. Next COVID hair was ‘shorn’ and we could visit on outdoor patios. There have been visits to massage therapists, chiropractors or dentists. And this hasn’t always been easy.

I’ve started to notice that some of us are ‘early adopters’. At each stage of reopening, these are the people who are first in line to experience the newly returned activity–dinner on the patio or inside the restaurant…trips to the spa…going to movies. On the other hand, there are those of us that are slower in venturing out. We want to see what will happen at each new stage of opening. Will the local COVID case numbers increase, decrease or stay the same? Does the mandatory mask-wearing have the desired effect? How will opening up my world affect my ‘bubble’?

It’s not a surprise that moving back into the world is a source of anxiety. For so long we were told to “stay the blazes home!”, keep ourselves and others safe. Now we’re encouraged that all is well and to go out. Some of us can’t make the change that quickly.

The Need for Respect

Whether you’re an early adopter or someone who wants to see the results of opening businesses and services before changing your behaviour, either option is ok. And, it’s important to respect each person’s choices (as long as they are keeping the safety of others in mind when making them).

I remember at the beginning of the pandemic, becoming aware of the stress of the lock-down on relationships. We saw loved ones taking risks that we found to be impossible to understand. Maybe we thought they were being reckless and strongly voiced our opinions. Social media was flooded with messages about the need to be kind. Now we’re in the same boat, but at the opposite end as the world opens up.

How To Cope

I admit that during COVID-19, I have not been an early adopter. Even before the pandemic, I’ve followed a somewhat iterative style of decision making…Let’s try this and see what happens. Let’s get a bit more information before moving on. What’s the plan going forward? I’ve found this to be a useful tactic in times of anxiety.

So, what does this style look like? Basically, just because my area has moved to a new stage, doesn’t mean that I have to. Stubbornly, I find peace in that, as my internal two-year-old stamps her feet saying “I’m the boss of me!” Want to be bossy too?

  • Set your own parameters of when you want to move on (while not going ahead of government rules). Maybe the COVID new case numbers have to continue to decline daily for a number of days/weeks before you’ll take advantage of new opportunities.
  • Listen to your ‘gut’. What is your own anxiety level telling you about safety? You can learn from this. However, recognize that being afraid to leave your home is not what I’m talking about here.
  • If others pressure you to move forward before you are ready, hold your ground. You can let them know that while you respect their choice. . . you are choosing something else and will let them know when you are ready to join them.
  • Continue to keep up with your self-care. One of the best ways to cope with anxiety involves eating healthy food, exercise, hobbies…anything that helps to keep you feeling balanced.
Strange Days Ahead

One of the most anxiety-provoking things about living in the time of COVID-19 is all the things that we don’t know. How long will this last? When will there be a vaccine? What about a second wave, potentially mixed with flu season? What is the best decision about sending our kids back to school, and how does that affect COVID numbers? While there is a lot of chatter out there, ultimately, it’s various degrees of informed opinions.

Feeling that we can have some level of control over what we do helps to decrease anxiety. So, at the end of the day, I strive to make decisions with the best information that I can find at the time….balancing hope and preparation.

And now…a story of how one person copes with stress…Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Words of Wisdom

We are now almost four months into living with various stages of COVID-19 restrictions. It’s been hard, and we’re doing it. Sometimes with grace, and sometimes it’s not pretty. I can confess to a few episodes of “I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS ANYMORE!” along with some stamping of feet.

One of the ways that I’ve been able to cope during the last few months is through the wisdom of friends. Three of these wonderful people have been willing to share their thoughts and methods about continuing during this time with you. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

So, take a moment, breathe, and see if their wisdom resonates with you…

Anita Woodard, Woodard Administration

“Dealing with the world of an ongoing pandemic is a balancing act. It’s acknowledging that the future is extremely unknown and that regardless of my desire for it to be otherwise, I can’t guarantee anything. How am I coping? I am lucky enough to be able to manage my time so that when I cannot deal with a specific element of the world, be that people, the news, or even just work, I take time for myself to do something I know will recharge my mental batteries. I make time to see loved ones, virtually, so that I maintain that connection. And finally? I remember history. This is not the first pandemic that humanity has dealt with, nor will it be the last. Living through history is rarely easy but in the long run, things will work out. Eventually.”

LHC, Therapist
  • “Walking or yoga….every day…..especially if there has been something that is upsetting.
  • Doing normal things at a social distance with friends such as campfires and kayaking and painting over Zoom with my painting instructor.
  • Attending church services where my experience gets validated and supported by my spiritual community.”
MaryIris Reibling, M.S.W., R.S.W.
(Individual, Couple, Family Therapy; P.T.S.D., Trauma, E.M.D.R., Consultation)

“Today’s date is the last day of school before the ?summer holidays? begin.

The end of the school year picnics have been replaced with porch visits by teachers presenting students with their works of the past year ending abruptly at March Break.

Surviving Covid-19 has meant many things.

It has meant being/feeling isolated; physically/socially distanced; buying supplies of disinfectant sprays, wipes and sanitizers; wearing masks and the washing of hands continually for the past three months (seems so much longer). It has meant being strategic in our practical lives as we shop less and buy in bulk.

It has meant being caught by surprise and having to acknowledge the unexpected and the uncertainty in our lives.

It has meant trying to make sense of our new reality, being fearful of getting sick, losing loved ones and losing our security and control.

It has meant dealing with feelings of powerlessness and helpless in a time of mixed messaging and chaos as we work through surviving Covid-19.

It has meant fighting an invisible enemy by not engaging with others, staying home.

For many Covid-19 has meant feeling very alone in the world together with everyone else in the world. ?Together apart? is the poignant catch-phrase describing our new world order.

The first two to three weeks of the new ?normal? were spent in denying and minimizing the threat of Covid-19 in an attempt to feel the illusion of ?control?. Paperwork was caught up and bags of shredded paper appeared on the curb on numerous garbage days.

The importance of routine and schedules took on significant importance as the rules for work and everyday life changed from moment to moment. Morning radio took on an important role of reminding the world of it uncertainty and losses, while reassuring us.

Limiting the news of the day helped put some distance between the reality of Covid-19 and surviving emotionally and mentally.

Everyday walks were implemented in the beginning of April in spite of the coldness of the strange spring. It seemed that Covid-19 had slowed the coming of spring. The sun shone, but trees, shrub branches remained brown and bare. The sounds of the streets and roads were quiet as staying at home meant safety for everyone.

Attempts were made to connect with others some successful, some not, as everyone tried to find their own way through the confusion and disbelief. The learning curves of technology and video visits were overwhelming at times. Support systems and routines were implemented dinners with family, baking birthday cakes together, sharing breakfasts, reading bedtime stories — all virtual.

Talk of Victory gardens after the impact of World Wars inspired the planting of a vegetable garden in the spring to regain a sense control and survival. The creation of a large berm in the yard has provided a sense of pain-staking purpose, a place to plant the bushes of beauty next spring providing hope and a future beyond Covid-19.

The many unfinished tasks at home have become projects of gratitude in this time.

The perspective is now different, it is a process, not a task. The pace is much more manageable.

Letter writing has had a resurgence –? connecting with family and friends in a meaningful way.

Surviving Covid-19, music, dance and movement of the body, have become sources of joy as we become reacquainted with ourselves and our lives during this time as we look forward to the future in September with renewed hope.

Stay Safe, Be Kind, Seek Joy…”

 

 

Blaikie Psychotherapy is Going Online!

Image of calendar introducing online therapy optionsIt’s almost the end of May, and as this pandemic rages on, many businesses have had to make decisions about how to meet clients’ needs as the world moved from ‘life as usual’, including moving online. Blaikie Psychotherapy is no exception. Since March 15, 2020, I have been providing client sessions by phone, while hoping that we would be meeting in-person before too long.

With the Ontario government’s May 14, 2020 announcement that psychotherapists could begin to provide in-person sessions with clients (assuming that proper safety precautions in place), I thought perhaps the time was coming. However, in an email sent to members the next day, the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO) stated that:

“Given that the risk of infection continues to exist, in cases where you have the option of providing e-therapy or in-person therapy, we advise that you still choose e-therapy. If you choose to provide in-person care, you should be clear as to why you have made this decision. Consideration should be given to the inherent risks given the client, your modality of practice and your ability to ensure the use of best practices for preventing and spreading COVID-19.”

We’re Going On-Line!

Cartoon image of online video chatBased on CRPO’s recommendation about returning to in-person sessions, I have decided to provide online client sessions beginning June 1, 2020. This service will be provided through the OnCall Health platform. On Call Health is very secure with the use of encryption and servers located in Canada. You can find more information about OnCall Health here. I will continue to provide telephone sessions for those of you who prefer that format.

I hope that we are able to meet in-person in the not too distant future. In the meantime, I’m getting my office ready for us to meet safely by putting new procedures in place, rearranging seating and looking into Plexiglas screens. My goal is that in-person therapy post-pandemic will be as safe as possible while creating the type of therapeutic relationships that were possible beforehand sanitizer and face masks.

So, let’s continue to wash our hands, wear our masks, practice physical distancing and be kind…And now, something to brighten your day…Enjoy!

 

The Editing of Address Books

When you edit your address books when dealing with griefAs we continue our practice of physical distancing and social isolation during this time of COVID-19, certain things are obvious…we miss seeing our friends and family members in-person; Zoom parties have lost their novelty, and many of us feel lonely. I noted in a previous post that we are all grieving–and grief changes our relationships.

Secondary Losses–Our People

Book - It's Ok That You're Not Ok by Megan DevinePeople who have experienced grief after the death of a loved one, often report that they are amazed at the changes in their family/friend group–people they thought would be there for them are ‘nowhere to be found’, while acquaintances step up and provide tremendous support, understanding and enduring care. This isn’t unusual.

Megan Devine, in her book It’s Ok That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand suggests that grief edits our address book. Devine writes:

“And–it’s one of the cruellest aspects of intense loss: at a time when you most need love and support, some friends either behave horribly or they disappear altogether. There are disappointments and disagreements. Old grudges resurface. Small fault lines become impassable distances. People say the weirdest, most dismissive and bizarre things. Grief changes your friendships.”

The author suggests that this happens for a variety of reasons: seeing someone we care about in pain is difficult for us–our pain rubs up against their pain; in our grief-phobic culture, they don’t know what to say; or ‘real’ life takes over and they drift away.

So Now That We’re All Grieving…

A big bugI suggest that our time “of the big bug” is giving us a glimpse into, not only what we care about, but whom. It takes more effort to stay in touch with others, and frankly, some relationships won’t survive. I don’t mean the ones where spending so much uninterrupted time together is stressing already fragile bonds. Instead, I’m thinking about the casual, repetitive relationships that are based on habit. The relationships where one side put in more effort to stay in touch than the other and that pattern wasn’t obvious. Friendships that may have outlived their connection may quietly end.

While this may sound harsh, it’s not meant to be. I see it as a function of the COVID ‘reset’ that some say we are experiencing. And, we will all be on both sides of the keep/lose equation. We will let some people go, and be let go of by others. And it will be painful.

The Levels of Relationship

One way to put this ebb and flow of our relationships into perspective is the concept of the Levels of Relationship. I suggest that there are four levels–each with its own characteristics and levels of intimacy:

  • Level 1: Relationship you may have with the barista at your favourite cafe. Interactions are purely transactional and there is no level of intimacy. If you’re Canadian, maybe you talk about the weather.
  • Level 2: Relationship with a distant co-worker. While more than transactional, little personal information is shared. For example, you may need to let them know that you are going on vacation in order for them to do their job, but you probably won’t share where you are going or who with.
  • Level 3: Friendships. There are many sub-levels in this section, but all include the sharing of personal information and mutual support to varying degrees. If one of these relationships ended, we would feel their loss.
  • Level 4: Our 24/7 people. These relationships are rare and hard to find. These people tend to be our best friends, spouses, and maybe family members. These are the ones that we know have our back 24/7, and we have theirs. 24/7 people are the ones we can call in the middle of the night when things go wonderfully good, or horribly bad; and we know that they will always answer the text.
Moving Up and Down the Levels

Living with grief can be like trying to blend two different thingsThese levels are not carved in stone…they can be fluid. For example, let’s say that you go to your neighbourhood cafe every day on the way to school. You like the barista who usually fills your order, as well as the cafe’s warm environment (Level 1). After a few months, you notice a ‘help wanted’ sign and decide to apply. After starting to work at the cafe, you and Barista Bob become co-workers (Level 2) and this relationship develops into a friendship (Level 3). Over time, you and Bob become best friends–knowing that there is mutual caring, trust, and respect on a deep level (Level 4).

We can also move up the levels from 4 to 1–we move away or change jobs, maybe a close relationship ends due to outside circumstances, perhaps someone we thought had the emotional intelligence to be a 24/7 person didn’t.

If we think about it, we may notice that this has happened a lot in our past, usually at a fairly slow pace. But now, in the time of Zoom meetings and social distancing, the relationship patterns are speeding up.

What Does This Mean Going Forward?

Child using magnifying glass to look at plantHonestly? I’m not sure. I only know that as a therapist I’m seeing this happen and am curious about how it will affect us in the future. Will our relationships become less in number yet emotionally deeper because we have weeded out the ones that really didn’t need to be there? Will we be more choosy about who we let into our lives going forward as we want to give them the time and nurture that they deserve? Will we recognize the importance of being our own best friend? All this remains to be seen.

In the meantime, please be kind…when we let others go, and when we, ourselves, are released. It’s normal.

And now, a hopeful take on where we all may be once this is over…Enjoy!