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Acknowledging Grief during COVID-19

The loss that we are all feeling right now is profound. It is okay to grieve the loss of what last month was, this week is, and next month was to be. We are all imperfect beings. We have all suffered losses. We are all vulnerable.

 

We have the chance to change that feeling.

Right now, there is a common darkness. We can find a light together, in this unusually unpredictable collective grief.

 

Let me help you understand three different types of grief you might be relating to right now:

  • Anticipatory grief – This can be described as the intense sadness that sits with you before a likely event takes place (such as the foreseen the loss of a family member who is very unwell). Anticipatory grief can be as intense or more intense than the actual pain than when the event happens.
  • Disenfranchised grief  –  This occurs when our own intense grief feels downplayed by others or the world in general.  For example: if you feel the intense negative sadness and emptiness connected to Coronavirus, and at the same time, others around you believe that you are overreacting and diminishing your feelings around it.
  • Ambiguous grief – the overall sadness and emptiness we feel, which can be described as a ‘general malaise’. At times, this can be when we see that what is happening is happening to all humanity in the world. This collective grief can be feeling sad for the planet and our fellow human beings.

 

Using a two-step process, and elements of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), we can work together to lessen some of this pain and discomfort.

* First, we acknowledge the losses, and second, we find ways to commit to a more positive mindset. *

 

1. Acknowledge the losses you identify with

a. Identify the losses you are feeling right now…

  • Loss of certainty
  • Loss of future plans
  • Loss of structure and routine
  • Loss of boundaries between home and work life
  • Loss of sense of security
  • Loss of social connection
  • Loss of community
  • Loss of in-person social gatherings
  • Loss of some connection to faith
  • Loss of job or income
  • Loss of health
  • Loss of freedom
  • Loss of optimism and hope

 

b. Past loss or grief coming to the surface

You might be wondering why this time feels especially challenging. While we are grieving the loss of one or more of those listed above, it is important to remember that all current loss can trigger loss from the past (especially that which is buried or unresolved). This is often referred to as ‘cumulative grief’. This can happen when:

  • We do not have the time we need to process what just happened before another loss occurs
  • We feel overwhelmed, we avoid dealing with ‘hard feelings’ at the time, and ‘save it for later’
  • All these toxins from the past bubble up and come to the surface
  • Example: I lost my mother last year, I have shifted to ‘doing mode’ (highly effective with day-to-day activities), and
  • To process past losses, we have to go back to that place of darkness and experience that suffering and pain
  • Today, we might feel unprepared to deal with COVID-19 in general, in addition to all of the old losses that are coming up
  • We don’t have the time we need before another loss occurs we end up overwhelmed by these multiple losses and unable to give them the attention they need.

 

When we are overwhelmed, our mind typically reverts to one of the most common defense mechanisms: avoidance. Though avoidance, denial, and shock may seem like a really bad thing (and it can be if it is never resolved), it can be our body’s way of keeping us functioning in the short term. Sometimes, it was the best way we were mentally and physically able to deal with it at the time of the event.  What will be important for us, as losses accumulate, is that we have an awareness of the effort that we must begin working toward, facing reality of the loss. Unfortunately, this avoidance cannot continue indefinitely.

 

2. Let’s commit to change, and move to a more positive mindset.

Right now, this world is not the same – so how can we make it better? We realize we have not been prepared, and that we need to be more prepared in future. We can grieve the loss of the old unprepared world, and help to develop a new, prepared, more grateful world. My challenge for you is to reflect on these questions:

  • What value are we discovering?
  • What priorities have shifted?
  • What new or existing relationships have you built or rekindled?
  • What are we able to see that was unclear or blinded before?
  • Who depends on you and why?
  • Whom do you depend on and why?
  • How do you take care of yourself?
  • How do you provide for yourself and your family?
  • What opportunities have you created for yourself?
  • What new ways of living have you embraced?
  • What are you grateful for?
  • What do you love doing?

Elizabeth Lesser’s book titled ‘Broken Open’ focuses on a similar theme – how we have the ability to make the choice to be broken down and defeated or broken open and transformed. Lesser draws on different stores of ordinary people who ‘fell and got back up’, as well as some helpful traditions to help us learn ways to grow from difficult times. In light of past challenges you are trying to understand, or current ones you are experiencing, we hope this is helpful to you.

 

Activity for Processing Grief

I learned a valuable tool from a seminar I attended with Doug Smith, a specialist with years of teaching about grief and loss. Doug introduced a creative and practical tool we can use to process complex grief:

Materials needed: hammer AND small clay pot AND large sealable plastic bag (ziploc) AND glue gun AND marker or paints.
(If you do not have a pot and would like to do this activity, Doug suggested that a candle might have the same effect)

  • Place the clay pot in a large sealable plastic bag, and firmly seal it
  • Take the sealed bag outside. Bring the hammer.
  • Use the hammer to break the clay pot/ candle (healthy form of processing anger)
  • Bring the bag inside, and empty the pieces onto a table
  • Each of these pieces represent all of the smaller losses that the larger loss contains
  • Use a marker or paint to draw images or words that symbolize the aspect of yourself/ your life you have lost.
  • Use a glue gun to re-attach all of the pieces, in whatever way you like.

The idea this activity brings is to be able to rebuild structure out of loss. The shape of the clay pot, or you, will have a different form; however, it is still comprised of all of the same pieces. We can make something beautiful out of brokenness.

 

Everything can change in a moment. Many times in life, we will have little control over our external environment and cannot do anything to change it. So, we can learn to manage what happens internally, or inside ourselves. The good news is: we can use what happens on the outside to change the way we function on the inside. We can make the choice in times that feel very defeating.

 

 

Written by Carly Clifton, Director & Registered Psychotherapist at Balanced Mind and Wellness Inc.

 

 

To learn more about how we can support you during this challenging time, please contact us at 647-961-9669 or info@balancedmindandwellness.com, or book online with us.

Coping in Uncertain Times

As I write this on March 30, 2020, it feels like the world as I experience it has changed dramatically over the past two weeks.

 

Although I have started to adapt to the changing circumstances including social distancing, working from home, and relying on phone and video chats to connect with clients, friends and family, it seems each day brings new changes and my mind and heart are still working to understand and adapt.

I want to share with you 6 ways I have been coping with all the change and uncertainty in the outer world…

 

 

1. Acknowledging what I am feeling

In times of uncertainty, disruption and rapid change, it is normal to experience feelings of stress and anxiety. It can be helpful, and important even, to name the emotion, and to share with a trusted friend or therapist. I also remind myself that feelings are just that, and they change with time. Emotions are also not linear or isolated, so it is possible to feel both anxious and appreciative or happy at the same time.

 

2. Grounding

When we are anxious or stressed, it is common to get lost in thinking, and we can actually feel like our heads are full, and even get a headache. Grounding helps bring energy down through the body, and can help relieve mental tension. There are several simple ways to help ground yourself. Bringing attention to your feet, or your sitting bones (if sitting), and allow the weight of your body to gently “settle” downward, with awareness can be very effective. Even better if you are able to get outside, and have your feet on the earth. If you are familiar with yoga, there are postures such as the mountain pose, or a squat that will help ground your energy.

 

3. Breathe

Another way to help calm yourself is to slow and deepen your breath. When we feel anxious or stressed, it is common to breathe more quickly and shallowly, which in turn, fuels our anxiety. Slowing and deepening the breath will help create a relaxation response in the body, which helps to calm our thoughts. Even one slower, deeper breath can be helpful.

 

4. Practice Gratitude

It can help to balance our sense of stress or worry by remembering those things that we appreciate. It may be simple, such as having a good night’s sleep, having friends and family, enjoying a favourite food, or other things that are meaningful to you. If you can remind yourself at least once a day of at least one thing for which you are grateful, you can start to change your experience.

 

5. Reach out

I keep hearing the phrase “we are in this together” as we experience a truly global pandemic. In this time when many of us are not able to be with our friends, families, or co-workers , it is important to find ways to keep in touch. We can use phone, video chats and social media to visit with people. And, we can smile and say hello as we pass people (at a safe distance) on the street, or to the people working in the grocery stores and other essential businesses that remain open.

 

6. Find the silver linings

As these past couple of weeks have unfolded, I have experienced, and heard stories from friends and clients about the unexpected gifts that have come with this time. One woman told me of having a “honeymoon period” with her partner, and experiencing renewed tenderness; another told me she was sleeping better, and sleeping in; a friend told me she was finding time to work on a project that she never seemed to have been able to get too; and there have been countless classes and webinars springing up and opportunities to learn. As for myself, I have started to read books that I have been meaning to get to; cooking favourite foods and experimenting with new recipes, and my cats are happy to have extra belly rubs.

 

I hope there are even 1 or 2 things that resonate for you, and that you feel you are able to try out in the coming days. May you be safe, and well.

 

Written by Michele Meehan, Registered Psychotherapist at Balanced Mind and Wellness Inc.

 

To learn more about how we can support you during this challenging time, please contact us at 647-961-9669 or info@balancedmindandwellness.com.

Coping in Uncertain Times with our ND

What wild times we are in right now! There is a lot of uncertainty, fear, stress and heightened emotions. It’s on everyone’s mind and many of you have questions – What’s next? What do I do? What’s going to happen?

Perhaps you are currently unemployed and financially concerned about the future. Perhaps you work in the health care industry and are having to respond on the frontline of this crisis. Perhaps you’re a mom at home with kids, trying desperately to keep them occupied but also trying to keep them safe and healthy.

Like you, I have been struggling to adapt to these extenuating circumstances. What made it easier for me was figuring out how I could take control of my situation and shift my focus away from panic to something more constructive. I’ve put together a list of 5 ways you can do the same.

1. Rethink your exercise routine

With social distancing in effect, many of us are having to rethink our exercise routines. Many studios and gyms have closed or restricted access. The beauty of technology is that these same businesses are adapting quickly and bringing the fitness to us! Businesses like Barre3  has a full library of online barre classes that you can do right from your living room with minimal equipment needed. Bliss Yoga in Etobicoke is offering virtual meditations everyday at noon and will have virtual yoga classes available next week. There are also a multitude of youtube channels offering workout videos like 5 Parks Yoga or apps like Nike Training Club for guided HIIT workouts with varying levels of equipment.

Having to avoid public spaces also presents another great opportunity; GET OUTSIDE! Toronto has a multitude of great parks (High Park, Cedarvale, Brickworks, the beach) where you can maintain your distance from others, get some exercise and it’s all completely free. There has been numerous studies to support that being in nature reduces cortisol levels (our stress hormone) as well as anxiety and depression. A 2015 study compared 90 minutes of walking in a natural setting vs. an urban setting and found that those in the natural setting had reduced rumination on negative thoughts. If you are ruminating over COVID-19, lace up your sneakers and head to your nearest hiking trail!

2. Stay connected

I’ve read some people calling for Social Distancing to be reframed as Social Solidarity. We are not isolating ourselves from each other out of desire to remove ourselves from our community; we are isolating ourselves to protect our community. We all have a moral obligation and responsibility to do our part to prevent the spread of this viral illness. But just because we can’t physically be with each other, doesn’t mean you can’t find other ways to stay connected to the ones you love. There may be many negative things about technology but one thing that it does well is allowing us to stay connected. I’ve been having group FaceTime chats with my friends and family and sending messages to check in on others.

It is crucial that we remember to connect with those that are the most vulnerable right now. The elderly and those with mobility issues are some of the more obvious answers here but also the new moms who may already feel isolated or those suffering from mental illness. Reach out. Offer to help. It is good for the soul.

3. Keep yourself occupied

Many people are finding themselves with some extra time to spare these days. There are two options for how some may be responding to this abundance of time: more time to panic scroll through news releases and social media OR an opportunity to constructively keep yourself busy.
• Pick up a creative project that you have put on hold
• Re-examine your 2020 goals and how you could use this time to get closer to meeting them
• Write letters to your family and friends
• Organize your closets
• Take this time to rest, relax and practice some self care!

Give yourself a time limit each day to read the news (credible sources only!) and after that, engage in activities that fill you up and nourish your soul.

4. Boost your immune system

Due to the novel nature of this viral pandemic, we are still uncertain on prevention and treatment options. That being said, we know that those most at risk for contracting coronavirus are those that are immunocompromised. Many of you may be feeling a lack of control with respect to protecting yourself against coronavirus. So why don’t we focus on what we can control?
Boosting your immune system is something we can all do to optimize our chances of staying healthy (in addition to social distancing and hand washing of course). Here are 5 things you can do today to boost your immune system:

 

  • Get 8 hours of sleep per night – with restricted sleep, there is a 70% drop in an immune cell called Natural Killer cells. With restricted sleep, genes that control our immune system are turned off and genes that promote tumors, stress and chronic inflammation are turned on. Dr. Matthew Walker’s TED talk Sleep Is Your Superpower is a great resource on the importance of sleep.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, lean protein (fish, poultry, legumes), whole grains and healthy fats (extra virgin oil and nuts/seeds). Avoid or reduce processed foods, fried foods and refined sugar as these contribute to systemic inflammation in the body which impacts our immune function. Go Mediterranean! The Mediterranean diet has great evidence to reduce cardiovascular disease, metabolic disease, obesity and systemic inflammation.
  • Reduce stress! Stress raises our cortisol levels which suppress our immune system. Meditate, go for walks in nature and read a book.
  • Aim to get 150 minutes per week of vigorous exercise which are the current guidelines based on scientific evidence supporting the association of physical activity with health and well being, disease prevention and overall quality of life.
  • Consult your Naturopathic Doctor about supplementing with zinc, selenium, n-acetyl cysteine, spirulina and elderberry which have some evidence to support their use to boost the immune response to RNA viruses like influenza and coronavirus.

5. Reach out for help

During these challenging times, it is normal to experience heightened anxiety, worry and depression. Don’t go it alone. Reach out to your psychotherapists or social workers for help with coping strategies and processing these heavy emotions. Reach out to your Naturopathic Doctor for help with calming your nervous system, boosting your immune system and ensuring you stay on track with your health goals. At Balanced Mind and Wellness, we have adapted our practice to be entirely virtual so that we can continue to serve our community during these difficult times. You can book your appointment today here.

Virtual care is convenient, secure and our safest option for delivery of care at times of social distancing. You can stay in your PJ’s, get cozy on your couch and get the care you need right from the comfort of your home.

 

Staying Informed

If you would like more information on COVID 19 and the most up to date recommendations, visit the Public Health Agency of Canada website here.

 

Written by Dr. Laura MacLeod, Naturopathic Doctor at Balanced Mind and Wellness Inc.

 

To learn more about how we can support you during this challenging time, please contact us at 647-961-9669 or info@balancedmindandwellness.com.