Mental Health

5 Tips to help your mental health during the second wave

As the number of COVID-19 cases rise in the Kitchener-Waterloo region, the possibility of heading into another lock down becomes increasingly likely. This isn’t an easy time. We all miss our families, friends, activities, and having the freedom to do things without restrictions of physical distancing. However, none of us have a magic wand to make this change happen today, and my realist brain tells me to prepare. And so, today’s post will include tips to help your mental health during this phase of this pandemic.

What can I do for my mental health?

1. Figure out your basic needs

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Copyright: TeacherPrintables. 
Kasi Shan Therapy: 5 tips to help your mental health during the second wave, COVID19.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (a theory about human motivation) explains that it is important to meet the foundational needs of physiology and safety before being able to truly focus on our psychological needs (belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization). This means creating a plan for ensuring you have proper access to meet your physiological needs (e.g. water, food, shelter) and your safety needs (e.g. finances, employment, health, law and order).

What does this mean practically? It means creating a plan with your family to ensure you’ll have food and water if you need to go into quarantine. You may have to speak with your landlord about rent subsidies if you are unable to go to work during this time. Your basic needs also includes financial stability. You may have to speak with your employer to know your employment and financial eligibility rights. Visit the Government of Canada‘s page to see the various financial services available during this pandemic. When it comes to your health, review the recommendations from public health about following current best practices to stay safe.

2. Create a schedule

Kasi Shan Therapy: Mental health during COVID19.
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Having a predictable routine and plan for the day brings great comfort. While there is so much happening in the world that we cannot control, you do have some ability to create a daily schedule that works for you. It helps to know when you intend to wake up, what hours you’d like to work, when you’ll be eating meals, and when you get to clock out for the evening. While creating a plan for your activities, I recommend ensuring that the following are added:

  • Fun/new activities: Let’s face it. Being stuck at home can get pretty monotonous. Ensuring that you are trying out novel activities or fun hobbies helps break up the pattern, and gives you somethings to look forward to during the week.
Kasi Shan Therapy: Mental health during COVID19.
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  • Set a routine time for sleeping: Sleep struggles have escalated during this pandemic, which is no surprise when we are suddenly taken out of the practice of our usual 9-5 work hours. It’s easy to ignore the alarm when it goes off in the morning, or to spend endless hours watching TV at night because we can sleep in. Lack of sleep will start to play a toll on your mental health after some time. You’ll notice you’re more irritable, you may start snacking more frequently or you just feel a constant level of fatigue. Create a bedtime routine to help your body and mind learn to wind down before bed. If your sleep schedule is completely out of sorts, try and go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time daily (this includes weekends).
  • Make time for exercise. Exercise works as effectively as a low-dose antidepressant. Getting consistency in your level of exercise (ideally a minimum of 3x per week) will help regulate your emotions. There are a lot of free online resources right now if you are not a fan of working out or are unsure how to start.

3. Talk about your feelings

Kasi Shan Therapy: Mental health during COVID19.
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I’m totally biased in preaching this message. We tend to stifle our emotions, and let’s face it, no one is doing great right now. What’s the point in pretending we’re doing okay, when compassion and understanding goes so much further in helping us heal? Find safe people to talk to about how you’re doing. This may include friends and family, or it may involve a mental health professional. We are often caught in a culture where it’s not okay to be vulnerable. However, the best way to increase the strength of a relationship is in voicing our feelings. It gives the other person a chance to validate your concerns, and also acknowledge their own.

There was a study conducted in the UK at the start of this pandemic where people were asked about their level of loneliness. Within matter of days during the first lock down, the numbers jumped from 1 in 10 to 1 in 4 people voicing they were lonely (learn more at Mental Health Foundations). By reaching out to others and sharing your worries, you create the opportunity to build connection with new friends.

4. Plan for the bad days

Kasi Shan Therapy: Mental health during COVID19.
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

I know that sounds super pessimistic, but let’s not kid ourselves, everyone will have moments of suffering during this pandemic. When it comes to our mental health, the easiest option would be to problem solve our worries. We don’t get this option with COVID-19. So, while we wait this pandemic out, it’s useful to have a plan on how we get through difficult days.

Every person is different when it comes to interests and skills, so I encourage you to think of what options you would like to have in your coping plan. Some helpful options include using mindfulness or distress tolerance skills. It’s helpful to have four or five different tasks as part of a coping plan. These are tasks that will help you get through this moment, and may even help your emotions calm down a bit. They will not get rid of the issue all together, but it will get you through the moment of suffering without creating further distress. For me, my favourite coping skills are exercise, reading, watching sitcoms (or really, anything light-hearted) and eating junk food.

5. Find a balance between positive events and accomplishments

One of my favourite lessons from dialectical-behaviour therapy is that we feel better when we create a balance of accumulating positive events and building mastery. When it comes to “accumulating positives, this is basically a fancy way of saying focus on those activities that make you feel good (e.g. taking a long bath, staying in PJs and watching reality TV, going on vacation, etc). Having these positive activities makes us feel great and keeps us in good spirit.

However, we start to find these tasks mundane when we don’t they are not balanced out with work. Consider how awesome it would be to go away to a spa or resort. The first few days, or even weeks would be relaxing and lovely. How would it feel for you after a month or even a year though? I imagine you’d get bored, or this type of activity becomes less exciting or pleasurable because it’s so habitual. It’s not that we wouldn’t appreciate the vacation on it’s own, but the work makes us feel more appreciative of this down time.

Kasi Shan Therapy: Mental health during COVID19.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

This is where building mastery comes in to the picture. Building mastery can mean two things. The first way to build mastery is by working through tasks on your to do list. These may be tasks that are mundane (e.g. doing dishes, folding laundry, spring cleaning) or overwhelming (e.g. applying for a job, creating a budget, completing paperwork). These tasks are often ignored, and we tend to procrastinate about getting them done. Once these tasks are are completed, there is a sense of relief and perhaps even pride. By working through your To Do list, you start to feel more in control of your world. There’s no longer that looming pressure, and you feel more confident with your ability to manage life.

Kasi Shan Therapy: Mental health during COVID19.
Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com

The second way to build mastery is through short-term or long-term goals. When we think of the pandemic, we have months to spend at home. What would you like to achieve during this time that will help you feel proud and accomplished? These tasks are much longer, and will often require several steps along the way to eventually get to the end goal. The goal itself may be challenging, but it should be broken down into manageable steps so that you can work in smaller steps to grow your skill and knowledge. Again, this is very individualistic, and your goals will depend on your own interest and needs. Take a moment to consider what you would like to master, and the steps you would need to take in order to achieve this goal.

What will you do for your mental health?

I hope you are able to incorporate one or more of these tips to support your mental health. Did one in particular work well for you? Were there ones you didn’t like as much? Let me know!
Your mental health matters. If you are needing some support during this time, please feel free to reach out.

Kasi

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Abuse

Safety Planning During COVID-19

This is a unique time in the world, where staying at home is meant to be the safest option. Yet, for someone living with an abusive roommate, partner or family member, staying at home can create a world of danger. Living within the confines of your four falls can mean being always available to a violent individual. The difficulty is that we cannot always predict when these blowouts will take place, and so it is important to create a safety plan to ensure there is as much safety as possible.

Everyone has the right to decide for him or herself whether it is best to stay or leave a violent relationship. This is not a decision to take lightly as there are many reasons why an individual continues to stay (i.e. love, financial security, sake of children, community pressures, fear) . If you decide it is best for you to maintain current arrangements, then I want for you to be prepared. The following are some tips that I hope will help increase safety in the home. Everyone’s circumstances are different, and the following suggestions may not be enough for you. If you would like to create a more thorough safety plan, or simply want to talk, please reach out.

Other local resources that could be of help, include:

Here 24/7 at 1-844-437-3247 (24-hour Crisis Line)
Women’s Crisis Service of Waterloo 519-742-5894 (24-hour Crisis Lines)
Carizon– 519.743.6333 (individual counselling, support group, safety planning, financial counselling, children’s services, legal services)
Victim Services of Waterloo 519-585-2363 (crisis intervention, immediate scene response, safety planning)
Sexual Assault Centre of Waterloo 519-741-8633 (24 hour support line, individual counselling for men and women, accompaniment and support for medical procedures/police investigation, Family Court Support Program)
Community Justice Initiative – 519-744-6549 (Support groups for survivors of violence, partners of survivors)

Anxiety · Mental Health

COVID-19: Working with the fear of not knowing

One of the biggest struggles with COVID-19 is the uncertainty with this virus. How do we treat it? Will we become infected? How long will we need to maintain physical distance?
Given that there is so much that is unknown right now, it is understandable that many of us are struggling with anxiety. The following are some suggestions that may help support your emotions.

1) Find areas in your life where you have control.

Do you have a routine that you follow? How are you managing to get adequate sleep, exercise, and diet? How are you practicing physical distancing? While there is a lot of uncertainty right now, notice and foster the many areas in your life where you have control.

2) Physical distancing is not the same as social distancing.

For many extroverts, it is extremely difficult to not have access to other people. Practicing physical distancing does not mean emotional isolation. Stay in touch via electronics. Yes, for once in our lives, it is acceptable to encourage screen time!

Are you feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the coronavirus? You are not alone. Read these strategies to calm down your emotions during this pandemic.
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

3) Limit your time reading the news

Stay informed, but do not stay glued to CNN, CTV, BBC, or wherever you get your news stories. Set a limited amount of time to tune in during the day so that you are aware of what is going on. Too much time reading about COVID-19 can leave us overwhelmed.

4) Validate your anxieties

Of course, you are overwhelmed right now. We have not faced COVID-19 before, and we don’t know what to expect. Your anxiety is a natural human emotion that is letting you know it’s worried about something bad happening in in the future. Validation does not cure anxiety. However, notice what happens to your emotions when you recognize the normalcy of feeling scared versus pushing it away or trying to argue with it.

5) Notice how you take care of yourself

Your anxiety will feel calmer once it trust that you will take care of yourself today, as well as in the future. This might involve creating a plan for your finances, your work, your health, your education, and so forth. What are you doing right now to ensure you are staying safe and well? Remind yourself often of these steps to help reinforce to your anxiety that you are doing your very best.

Are you feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the coronavirus? You are not alone. Read these strategies to calm down your emotions during this pandemic.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

6) Create a plan if you were to get sick

This does not mean ruminate for hours, but set aside 10 minutes to plan for this possibility. If you were to start showing symptoms, what would be your first step? Knowing even a few of the steps you will need to take can balance out the fear of uncertainty.

7) Enjoy your space

A patient recently told me “your home is not your prison”, and I really resonated with this statement. You’ve worked so hard to create a beautiful home, and now you’re finally allowed to spend time in it. You may have considered slowing down with the busyness of life. Now, many tasks and errands have been removed from your daily responsibilities. Don’t get me wrong- this is no one’s idea of a vacation. However, there is a sense of release when given permission to spend time at home and enjoy activities at a slower pace.

Are you feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the coronavirus? You are not alone. Read these strategies to calm down your emotions during this pandemic.
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

As always, please feel free to reach out or share this post.

Cheers,
Kasi

Anxiety

A conversation with my anxiety: Supporting fears about COVID-19

There is an abundance of updates about the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s hard to not let our anxieties overwhelm us. The following are some of my anxious thoughts over the last week, and how I used Internal Family Systems therapy to shift my relationship with these fears.

There is a part of me that feels like a helpless little kid with this pandemic. This kid feels scared and uncertain of what to do. She’s worried about the safety of her family, friends, and loved ones. This kid feels overwhelmed and anxious by the constant updates of interventions, closures, and new cases. She wants to hide inside hoping that bad things cannot penetrate the four walls of her home.

There is another part of me that is angry. This part is frustrated by the flurry of shopping, the crummy communication from political leaders, and the lack of resources available for healthcare staff. She wants to have a temper tantrum and yell at anyone who will listen that all of this sucks. And finally, there is a part that feels like a whirling ball of panic. This part wants to join the masses and just freak out. It wants to buy all the toilet paper.

Using Internal Family Systems therapy to help with anxieties about COVID19. Contact Kasi Shan Therapy for counselling support in kitchener, ON.
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I took some time this weekend to understand why I’ve been feeling like this lately, and I hope these words may resonate with you. It may seem odd to think of anxieties as external parts of a person. However, Internal Family Systems Therapy has taught me how to have a different kind of relationship with my feelings. It has taught me to recognize that I am separate from my emotions. It’s helped me realize that there is a solid and stable person who is always present; however, sometimes anxieties can make it hard to access this person.

When my thoughts and emotions become loud and agitated, I try to pause and listen to them. This is not always simple, because the avoidant part of me comes out saying she doesn’t feel like working with my uncomfortable emotions. It can take time to negotiate with my avoidance to ease up and let me understand what’s going on in my mind. I work on validating my emotions. I can appreciate my anger at this time. I get why I feel frustrated for those trying to manage with a lack of resources and an ever-increasing demand in supply. My heart goes out to all of the hardworking healthcare staff who are being asked to do more and more. I have so much sympathy for those living in the epicentre of this scare. Yet, I ask my anger to step back, as much as it is willing. I ask it to trust in me to handle this situation to the best of my ability. Through my training with IFS, I can understand that my anger is protecting me from feeling helpless. It is much more empowering to feel angry than to say “I don’t know how to make this stop.”

Using Internal Family Systems therapy to help with anxieties about COVID19. Contact Kasi Shan Therapy for counselling support in kitchener, ON.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I can appreciate the need to dive into the mosh-pit of panic (Truthfully, I think this part of me would not have been as anxious if I had avoided Costco). The panic wants me to ensure that my loved ones and I are prepared for whatever is coming next. It notices that others are preparing, and it wants to guarantee that my family is also ready.

I think it is understandable to feel helpless at times. It’s hard to feel in control when we are experiencing a pandemic. It is not easy to take things day by day when we don’t feel secure about the future. It is fair that I want answers and plenty of reassurance that this health scare will dissipate and that my loved ones are going to be okay. I wish I could provide my anxieties that security, but I cannot guarantee this. I do not have a crystal ball that will predict the future, and I do not want to make false promises to myself. Instead, I ask my anxieties to trust in me. I ask it to trust that I have the capacity and strength to handle each new update. I ask it to trust that I have the wherewithal to reach out to my friends and family members and be with them in this time of confusion.

Anxious about COVID-19? Using IFS to soothe our worries. Contact Kasi Shan Therapy for further support.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

During the next few days, if you notice you are feeling anxious, I encourage you to take a quiet moment to reflect.

  • What thoughts and emotions have taken up space in the last few days?
  • What happens when you acknowledge them?
  • What is this emotion or thought trying to do for you? Can you identify the positive intention? Can you appreciate its intent?

As always, please feel free to reach out if you have questions, or share this post with others.
PS: For further information about anxiety and the coronavirus, please visit: Anxiety Canada

Cheers,
Kasi

Pregnancy and Postpartum

When your experience of pregnancy and childbirth don’t match your plans

I want to send a big virtual hug to all new moms and mothers-to-be! Pregnancy is such huge chunk of time in our lives. It’s 9 months (or longer when those babes feel the need to make a fashionably late entrance) of planning and growing. I think it’s reasonable to say that pregnancy is a mixed bag of emotions. It’s a roller coaster of feeling elated, anxious, determined, in denial, panicked, calm, insert twelve other emotions you experienced this hour. The easiest way to manage our anxiety is to problem solve. For many moms, this means planning out the pregnancy, delivery and postpartum phase to manage this emotional roller coaster. During these months, moms may be reading every blog and book they can grab. They may be reaching out to professionals to make sure they’re “on the right track”. They may start nesting to create the ideal nursery for their new family member. They have created a birth plan, set up parental leave with work, connected with potential daycare services, or made enough freezer meals to feed the whole neighbourhood.

And now, despite all of this planning and good intentions, COVID-19 has completely messed up our plans. A common theme I have been hearing from pregnant and postpartum moms is dealing with shattered expectations. No matter what you were planning for your pregnancy and postpartum phase, this is not it. It’s incredibly hard to not have our support network available to us right now. We don’t have the same access to our doctors and specialists. The coping strategies we planned aren’t feasible (i.e. attending baby/mom groups, visiting family and friends, etc). Given all of these changes, I wanted to provide some suggestions that I hope will be of help:

Suggestion 1:

This is time for physical distancing not social isolation. Be in regular contact with your friends and family. Continue to reach out to your professional support through telehealth. For first time moms, it is normal to have a TON of questions about your newborns. (i.e. Why is she making that noise? Has he pooped enough? Am I producing enough milk? Will I ever be able to fit into those skinny jeans? Will everything turn back to normal down there after that magical 6 week-wait postpartum?). Your anxiety will feel calmer with some answers from trusted sources like your family doctor, ob/gyn, midwife, Douala, lactation consultants, etc.

Shattered expectations in Pregnancy/Postpartum Care. Contact Kasi Shan Therapy. Treating trauma and postpartum/ pregnancy mental health.
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Suggestion 2

Participate in virtual communities of fellow parents. There are many parenting communities online such as What to Expect or local Facebook groups. When I was postpartum, I realized most of my anxieties showed up during a 3 AM feed (really, what sleep deprived parent is thinking clearly and calmly at 3 AM?). It was a relief to be able to post questions to my online community at any time of day. Participating in an online parenting community also led me to the realization that I had zero original thought 😀 Every question and concern I had was also posed by a dozen moms before me. This is great because our worries are fleeting if reassurance and answers are just a few scrolls down.

Suggestion 3:

Be clear with your partner of what will feel helpful. Of course, we’d love for our significant others to always know what we want or need. However, this is not the time to test our partners. Our needs are always changing, and what might have worked prior to the pregnancy may not seem like the right approach right now. It’s okay to turn to our loved ones and ask for help, whether it’s an extra pair of hands during a nighttime diaper change, getting a meal ready, needing a hug, or reinforcement that you’re doing a good job. It’s also okay to articulate when we feel distressed and we don’t know what will help. Acknowledging that we don’t have a solution can be tough to us and our partners. It’s okay to not always know the best solution, so long as it opens the door to brainstorming and trying out new ideas.

Shattered expectations in Pregnancy/Postpartum Care. Contact Kasi Shan Therapy. Treating trauma and postpartum/ pregnancy mental health.
Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova on Pexels.com

Suggestion 4:

Stay active. Yes, this is the most cliché advice that you can get from a therapist, but I promise it’s based on evidence! Your nervous system will thank you for making time for cardio. If you are consistently working out, it will improve your ability to handle stress, and it will help your emotions feel generally more regulated (Who doesn’t want to get off that emotional roller coaster?).

Photo by Valeria Ushakova on Pexels.com

Suggestion 5:

Accept that you wanted this to go differently. At the end of the day, this is not what you planned, and it’s okay to be disappointed. Many of us, whether we’re parents or not, can appreciate being disappointed with plans being thrown out the window due to this virus. Why should we deny this reality? Suggestion 6: Be honest with yourself in whether your worries are manageable. There are a lot of professional supports available. Whether through individual counselling, couples counselling, or support groups (i.e. Postpartum Support International), therapy can offer many options to address struggles that feel beyond your control. Seeking help does not mean you’ve done anything wrong, nor does it say anything about your capacity. Pregnancy and postpartum is a messy time. It’s a combination of hormonal changes, lack of sleep, adjustment difficulties, and mental health vulnerabilities. The emotional distress exacerbates when we try and put pressure on ourselves to “suck it up” or “just snap out of it”.

Photo by Mabel Amber on Pexels.com

Everyone’s needs are unique. If you feel some support would be helpful, please reach out.

Cheers, Kasi