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Coping With a Second Covid-19 Lockdown in the Midst of Winter

Coping With a Second Covid-19 Lockdown in the Midst of Winter

Jessica del Rosso, Trauma Therapist, MSW, RSW

Alongsidetrauma.ca


Despite many of us knowing that a second lockdown was coming to Ontario, the emotional toll of walking down empty streets, watching local businesses close and missing those closest to us, is significant. It would be unrealistic and invalidating to believe that the physical and communal risks of Covid-19, do not also impact our mental health and wellbeing. Many of us are struggling with feeling any sense of purpose and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I know that this blog is only scratching the surface of what many are struggling with during this second lockdown. However, I hope it may offer some tools to help you or your loved ones cope.


Reminding ourselves that this WILL end.


I know that it may not seem like it, but nothing is forever – including this pandemic. We are already seeing developments towards life being able to return to normal. Reminding ourselves that lockdown is temporary can help us when feelings of doom or overwhelm start to come over us. Many of us have also experienced hardships in our lives. Sometimes reminding ourselves that we have made it through other challenges may remind us of our strength.


Thinking of things we are looking forward to

Humans need a sense of purpose and hope. I like to remind myself of things I am looking forward to once the pandemic is over. Creating a list of goals or a vision board can be a helpful visualization of this. Studies have found that thinking of positive memories, things that we are thankful for or future goals aids with feelings of depression as it encourages a break in the negative thinking patterns that can happen during periods of prolonged stress.


I am looking forward to traveling again, hugging my friends and family and the spring and summer months.


Setting a routine


We thrive on routine and predictability. A large part of the difficulty around lockdown is that many of us lose our routines such as going to work, the gym or volunteer positions. Create a routine for yourself that includes regular sleep routines, meals and time for pleasurable activities. Try to stick to this routine as much as possible to increase feelings of predictability during times of high anxiety. You can find a list of Covid-friendly pleasurable activities at the end of this article.


Practicing self compassion


Give yourself permission to not function at 100%. Give yourself permission to need to access extra supports. The impact of this pandemic is very real and is causing immense amounts of stress for our bodies and nervous systems. The last thing we need is to add dialogue to our day that includes; “I should”, “Why aren’t I?”, “Do better”, “Not good enough”. Give yourself permission to have off days and to sit with feelings of grief, sadness and anger. Finding healthy ways to process and feel these emotions is essential so that they do not get stuck in our physical bodies. Allow yourself to cry, punch a pillow, yell into a pillow or go for a brisk walk.


Nervous system regulation through activating the five senses


This pandemic has created a sense of prolonged stress in our bodies. Chronic stress leads to nervous system dysregulation, which can lead to higher levels of irritability, sleep complications, digestion issues, depression and anxiety. Knowing the signs of your nervous system reaching its capacity is helpful so that you can put in preventative coping mechanisms to help your body through this long period of stress and trauma. I like to think of coping mechanisms as things you can do to help your body feel safe and comforted, through use of the five senses. The more of these activities that can be layered, the more effective they will be at calming your nervous system. Below are some examples:

Sense of sight: What visuals bring me pleasure? (Water, photos of nature, nature shows on TV, art).


Sense of touch: What materials or sensations make me feel calm? (A favourite and soft blanket, a warm bath, a soft sweater, petting an animal, being hugged or cuddled, self touch or comfort).


Sense of hearing: What sounds bring me a sense of relaxation? (Nature sounds, a favourite band).


Sense of smell: Are there smells that bring you a sense of joy or calm? (Fresh baked cookies, a favourite candle, an essential oil blend)


Sense of taste: What are your favourite tastes? (A favourite meal, a flavour of gum, chocolate, a hot tea or coffee)


Movement


Moving your body is essential to keep your body and mind healthy. I like to motivate myself to move in any way for 10 minutes. If my body is really struggling with it, I will honour that message and try again later or the next day. However, most times, getting ourselves motivated to move is the hardest part. Once we are over that hump, continuing the movement is easier. Endorphins are extremely helpful in battling Seasonal Affective Disorder, depression and anxiety.


Nature


Studies have found that 20-30 minutes a day in nature decreases feelings of depression and anxiety. Getting outdoors even for a walk around the block will provide your body with full spectrum light, vitamin D and fresh air – all of which are essential to healthy mental health during the winter. A great book recommendation on this topic is, The Nature Fix by Florence Williams.


Creative ways to stay connected to friends


I know, we are all sick of Zoom calls. However, I argue that interacting with friends and family via phone or video calls are more helpful for up keeping our social skills. Texting and instant messaging, although convenient, is not the best form of communication to foster connection, which is direly needed right now! Some other ideas are to play online games such as chess, Among Us or Words with Friends.


Letting your friends and family know when you are struggling is important for your mental health and feelings of connection. Over the pandemic, I have formed a mental health check-in system with friends. If we have not heard from one another, we will send validating and check-in messages to each other, such as “I haven’t heard from you in a while – just reminding you that I care about and appreciate you!”.


Limit news intake and be critical of information sources


Limiting our news intake is vital to keeping our mental health when our nervous systems are already overwhelmed. I do not suggest getting your news from Instagram, Facebook or social media as much of it is inaccurate, not peer-reviewed and biased. I recommend to clients to intake their news from John Hopkins University, the World Health Organization or Democracy Now (an independently funded news resource that summarizes daily world news 11-13 minutes).


Utilize your coping mechanisms


Coping mechanisms will only work if you use them! Experiment with a variety of coping mechanisms to see which ones work best for you and keep a list of these accessible for times when you are struggling. Do not underestimate the value of engaging in hobbies!


Vitamin D and sun lamps


Seasonal Affective Disorder is a very real added stressor to the pandemic during these dark winter months. Fortunately, from December 21st onward, daylight begins to increase! Increasing your daily intake of vitamin D substantially and investing in a sunlamp, as well as, getting outdoors are all ways to help yourself cope with SAD. Some individuals may also explore anti-depressants until this challenging time is over.

Come the spring, longer days and warmth await us. You can do it – we are almost there.



PLEASANT ACTIVITIES LIST: PANDEMIC EDITION

q Sorting vacation photos

q Going on a virtual date

q Relaxing

q Watching a movie

q Jogging, walking

q Thinking, “I put in a full day’s work today”

q Listening to my favorite music

q Thinking about past parties

q Buying household gadgets online

q Lying in a sunbeam

q Planning a career change

q Laughing

q Thinking about past trips

q Listening to other people

q Reading magazines or newspapers

q Engaging in hobbies (model building, knitting, etc.)

q Planning a day’s activities

q Meeting new people online

q Remembering beautiful scenery

q Saving money

q Drawing a “tattoo” on myself

q Writing a song parody

q Going “home” from “work”: shutting down email, changing shirt

q Eating

q Sewing

q Practicing karate, judo, yoga

q Thinking about retirement

q Repairing things around the house

q Working on my machines

q Remembering the words and deeds of loving people

q Deep clean appliances

q Wearing shocking clothes

q Having quiet evenings

q Cuddling my pet(s)

q Taking care of my plants

q Buying, selling stock

q Doodling

q Exercising

q Thinking about buying things

q Having discussions with friends

q Riding a bike

q Singing around the house

q Arranging flowers

q Practicing religion

q Organizing tools

q Going to the beach

q Thinking, “I’m an OK person”

q Having a day with nothing to do

q Reuniting with old classmates on social media

q Painting

q Doing something spontaneously

q Doing needlepoint, crewel, etc.

q Sleeping

q Listening to an audiobook

q Driving

q Thinking about getting married

q Taking a sauna or a steam bath

q Thinking about having a family

q Dancing

q Thinking about happy moments in my childhood

q Splurging

q Doing something new

q Working on jigsaw puzzles

q Playing cards

q Soaking in the bath

q Thinking, “I’m a person who can cope”

q Taking a nap

q Figuring out my favorite scent

q Making a card and sending it to someone I care about

q Instant-messaging/texting someone

q Playing a board game

q Putting on favorite clothing

q Drinking a smoothie slowly

q Thinking, “I am doing well right now”

q Putting on makeup

q Working on my car

q Planning how to get out of debt (applying for funding, creating a budget etc.)

q Thinking about a friend’s good qualities

q Completing something I feel great about

q Surprising someone with a favor

q Surfing the Internet

q Playing video games

q E-mailing friends

q Planning a career

q Going walking or sledding in a snowfall

q Trimming my own hair

q Solving riddles

q Installing new software

q Buying music

q Watching sports on TV

q Meditating

q Following an online tutorial

q Taking care of my pets

q Doing volunteer service

q Watching funny videos/comedies

q Working in my garden

q Blogging

q Fighting for a cause

q Conducting experiments

q Putting lotion on myself/others

q Expressing my love to someone

q Going on nature walks, exploring (hiking away from known routes)

q Playing a visual/spatial game

q Political discussions with friends

q Joining or forming a band

q Learning to do something new

q Listening to the sounds of nature

q Looking at the moon or stars

q Taking an online class

q Outdoor work in my yard (cutting or chopping wood, farm work)

q Creating memes

q Sorting clothes

q Playing in the sand, a stream, the grass; kicking leaves, pebbles, etc.

q Protesting social, political, or environmental conditions

q Reading cartoons or comics

q Reading sacred works

q Thinking how it will be when I finish school

q Dying my hair

q Creating art with photography

q Rearranging or redecorating my room or the house

q Thinking about how much I’ve grown

q Snowmobiling or riding a dune buggy/ ATV

q Writing silly poems

q Social networking

q Soaking in the bathtub

q Learning or speaking a foreign language

q Dressing up my pet(s)

q Talking on the phone

q Composing or arranging music

q Baking

q Browsing Wikipedia

q Sorting your change

q Playing a math game

q Making paper dolls

q Telling a joke

q Teaching someone something new

q Making someone laugh

q Telling someone about my day

q Doing my nails

q Asking someone about their day

q Colouring

q Checking in on people who are sick, isolated, or in trouble

q Showing off my collection

q Planning an ideal vacation

q Playing dress-up

q Browsing daily deals on online stores

q Listening to a podcast

q Watching roller coaster videos

q Browsing e-books in the library

q Discovering new music

q Reflecting on my own past kindness

q Trying out a new free App

q A virtual evening with good friends

q Watching the helpers

q Being a helper

q Sending someone a gift

q Turning something old into something new

q Lighting a candle and focusing on the flame

q Kissing

q Hanging out on the balcony

q Having virtual family get-togethers

q Going camping in my backyard

q Researching the history of something that I own

q Starting an online group chat

q Join an online club

q Watching nature videos

q Playing a word game

q Ordering from a new restaurant

q Livestream myself playing music

q Posting pictures of my pet(s)

q Going swimming in a private pool

q Cutting paper with scissors

q Putting something in my window for neighbours to see

q Reading fiction

q Following a recipe

Other ideas:

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q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________ q___________________

By Dr. L. Gollino, C.Psych. Adapted from Linehan, M. (2015). DBT skills training handouts and worksheets (2nd ed.). New York: The Guilford Press.


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