We all know the saying “it takes a village to raise a child,” but what happens when your village can’t come through the front door?
This is the unique and unprecedented reality for parents bringing home newborns amid COVID-19.
Lockdown measures are keeping support systems at bay for new parents. And rather than having loved ones able to visit and help out, exhausted moms and dads are pretty much going it alone right now.
The pandemic has also suspended social gatherings and religious ceremonies, meaning everything from baby showers to baby namings, are on hold for the moment.
Lastly, physical distancing rules have decreased access to in-person care, including doctor visits, physiotherapy and lactation clinics, making it difficult for parents to get the postpartum support they need.
It’s a lot of unexpected change in a very short time.
WHAT IMPACTS CAN ALL THIS HAVE ON POSTPARTUM MENTAL HEALTH?
Caring for a newborn is demanding and delicate without the weight of a pandemic. The stress and restrictions of COVID-19 have only exacerbated these challenges.
For first-time parents especially, being isolated from loved ones and having decreased access to certain supports can breed feelings of fear for having to go through this experience alone. Add to that the pressure of protecting a fragile newborn from a global virus and it’s understandable why moms and dads may be feeling extra anxious or afraid.
Physical distancing measures can also compound feelings of loneliness, exhaustion and sadness that are already common in the weeks following childbirth. New parents may also experience feelings of disappointment that their postpartum reality bears little resemblance to their hopes and expectations for this time in their lives.
Among the biggest concern for Canadian health officials, however, is the impact long-term isolation could have on postpartum depression — a serious mental health disorder impacting approximately 15 percent of postpartum women. Symptoms of postpartum depression can vary from woman to woman, but common signs include excessive feelings of sadness, withdrawal, exhaustion, guilt and trouble bonding with the baby. Postpartum depression is not limited to first-time parents and can last for weeks or months following delivery.
COPING AMID COVID
Below are some strategies that may be helpful if you or a postpartum loved one are struggling to cope amid COVID-19.
This is a particularly challenging time to be bringing a baby into the world. If you or a loved one are finding it difficult to cope, consider the above strategies and always reach out to a therapy professional for additional support.
In this two-part series, I explore the unique challenges of pregnancy and childbirth amid COVID-19 and how women can prioritize their mental health at this difficult time.
Pregnancy and childbirth are challenging under normal circumstances, but especially right now as shifting healthcare policies and social distancing measures have turned even the most routine checkup into anything but, well…routine.
Add on the weight of job losses or salary cutbacks and fears around getting sick and it’s understandable why there are heightened concerns around mental health in the prenatal community.
WHAT’S CHANGED FOR PREGNANT WOMEN DURING COVID?
There are many things out of the ordinary right now, but the most obvious changes for expectant mothers are logistical.
Hospitals and clinics have adapted their policies to fit the pandemic, including limiting the number of people allowed during prenatal visits and inside the delivery room. Doctors and midwives have, in some cases, been asking their patients to skip routine check-ups or replace them with virtual appointments to minimize contact.
When it comes to blood tests, ultrasounds and other appointments that can’t be done via tele-medicine, women are likely to face enhanced health and safety measures at their clinic(s) — including restrictions around their movement and mandatory masks — that are beyond what they’d experience under normal circumstances.
WHAT IMPACTS CAN ALL THIS HAVE ON MENTAL HEALTH?
We’re living through a time of great uncertainty when emotions are running high. Put pregnancy on top of that and the mental health toll can be significant for expectant mothers.
COPING AMID COVID
Below are some strategies you may find effective if you or a pregnant loved one are struggling to cope amid COVID-19.
This is a challenging time to be pregnant and it’s necessary to treat your mental health as importantly as your physical health. If you find yourself struggling right now, consider the above strategies and always reach out if you need additional support.
Covid-19 and Your Mental Health: FAQS
7 Tips for Coping with Coronavirus Anxiety
The Underexplored Issue of Postpartum Anxiety
Baby Blues or Something More?
Surviving Motherhood: 5 Tips To Help Avoid Burnout
This an extremely challenging time with far more questions than answers about how we got here and where we’re headed next. It’s also put a renewed focus on mental health as people grapple with feelings of fear, stress and loneliness brought on by the pandemic and resulting social isolation measures.
To help provide support, I’ve offered some answers below to a handful of questions related to Covid-19 and mental health. I hope you find these responses informative and helpful.
1. How can I manage my feelings of loneliness while in self-isolation?
Loneliness can be a symptom of isolation so it’s perfectly reasonable to feel this way right now. An important thing to remember is that even though we’re being told by government and health officials to avoid physical contact, we can still find alternate ways of connecting with people and staying in touch with the world beyond our four walls. Some ideas include:
2. How do I cope with this new pressure to work, parent and homeschool all at once?
This is a common question from parents nowadays as they try and juggle the simultaneous demands of homelife, work life and school life all under one roof. It’s an unprecedented balancing act made all the more challenging because nobody knows how long this pandemic will last.
So how can parents manage?
The first and most important thing I want to emphasize is kindness — self-kindness, that is. Now is the time to be most compassionate with yourself and to let go of unrealistic expectations of “having it all”. Despite living in a society that values perfection, it’s simply unrealistic (read: impossible) to achieve that right now. These are stressful times, so take stock of some small changes you can make (e.g. allowing more screen time than normal or asking for a reduced workload) that will make life a little bit easier. This too shall pass.
3. How can I avoid passing my fear and stress onto my kids?
Fear and stress are legitimate emotions to be experiencing right now but it’s understandable to want to shield your children from feeling the same way. If you’re concerned about passing your current feelings of anxiety to the youngest members of your household, consider the following tips:
4. How can I pace myself for this 'new normal'?
I know it sounds cliché but there’s simply no better advice than to take it one day — or even one moment — at time. We’re all in survival mode right now and our bodies become exhausted when they’re constantly fending off fear or stress. For this reason, it’s important to stay attuned to our feelings and respond accordingly. If we’re having a low energy or “nothing” day, take some time to rest, recover and regroup. Likewise, consider spending a “good” day accomplishing one of those household tasks you’ve been putting off.
5. Self-isolation is creating tension and more conflict in my relationship: what should I do?
Our lives don’t typically involve the stress of pandemics or staying indoors 24/7, so it makes sense that our personal relationships are being tested right now. Two keys to making it through this time with your significant other are compassion and communication.
As humans we thrive on consistency, so when something like the Covid-19 crisis hits, it can cause us to feel many different emotions, including panic. Panic is a healthy and perfectly appropriate reaction to the uncertainty swirling around us right now so rather than pushing it away, try to acknowledge it with compassion. Remember that your whole day is likely not filled with panic so use that as a reminder that this state of fear is only temporary.
7. I'm feeling fear, but I'm also experiencing feelings of grief. Is that normal?
Yes. This pandemic has disrupted our sense of normalcy so it’s perfectly natural to be grieving your way of life B.C. (before Covid-19). While some people may be sad over their loss of freedom and daily routines, others may be grieving a lost job or missed celebrations with family and friends. Grief typically comes in stages (e.g. denial, anger, acceptance), so try and be patient and kind with yourself knowing that your feelings are reasonable and appropriate at this time.
8. What if I or someone I care for needs mental health support but don't currently have a therapist?
Many therapy professionals are making themselves available to new clients and have adapted their practices by shifting to virtual or telephone counselling. This is a very challenging time and speaking with a mental health practitioner is a healthy way of coping with the stress and fear you may be feeling right now. I encourage you to reach out to a therapy professional if you or a loved one is in need of extra support.
As the world continues to grapple with the coronavirus outbreak, you — like so many people in the world right now — may be feeling a heightened sense of anxiety. Often this anxiety is caused by an extraordinary sense of uncertainty about the future: “how will this crisis affect my loved ones?”, “what will happen to my job?”, “when will things go back to normal?”
As humans, our natural reaction to a future that remains uncertain is to feel fear. The emotion of fear can feel uncomfortable and difficult to regulate. When regulation becomes challenging we will often fall into a state of fight/flight/freeze, a normal biological reaction when we perceive an imminent threat to our physical safety.
During these uncertain times, our ability to cope and regulate our emotions can become even more challenging. It is important to remember that we are not alone and that we are all going through this together.
The question is, during this time of increased stress and anxiety, how do we make sure to take care of ourselves?
COPING WITH CORONAVIRUS ANXIETY
Fear and anxiety are subjective emotions and so are the ways we cope with them. Here are some different strategies that may help if you’re feeling extra anxious about life right now:
Times of upheaval and uncertainty, like the unfolding coronavirus crisis we’re all living through, can lead us to feel more fearful and anxious. If you find yourself struggling right now, consider the above strategies and always reach out if you need additional support.
Wishing you comfort and peace of mind.
Eco-Anxiety: How to Cope with Climate-Related Stress
Understanding the Symptoms, Triggers and Treatment of Panic Attacks
Panic Attacks and Panic Disorders: What’s the Difference?
Today’s blog entry focuses on the early stages of the therapeutic process: finding a therapist that’s right for you.
I’m posting on this theme to clarify some of the confusion that still exists and to provide a roadmap for anyone interested in taking the next step on their mental health journey.
THE ROAD TO THERAPY
The decision to start therapy isn’t made lightly in most cases. It can be daunting if you don’t know what to expect and can feel like an expensive or time-consuming exercise you just don’t have room for in your already busy life.
Perhaps the biggest deterrent to seeking therapy, however, is the ongoing stigma attached to it and the fear that getting professional help is a sign of failure or weakness. Research shows that men are particularly resistant to therapy because of concerns that society will look down on guys “who can't ‘tough it out.’”
Of course, the opposite is in fact true: therapy can be incredibly beneficial and takes great courage; it is nothing to ever be embarrassed or ashamed of.
FINDING THE RIGHT THERAPIST
Once you’ve made the important decision to see a therapist, the next step is finding the right one.
Finding a therapist in a large metropolitan city like Toronto can be overwhelming. With that said, it is important to remember that therapists, much like their clients, are all different. They have unique disciplines, areas of specialization, educational backgrounds and personalities that all contribute to their overall approach.
Searching for the right therapist requires patience, effort and even an actual session or two to determine whether they are a good fit for your needs. Ultimately, the key to making progress in therapy is finding someone you trust and can connect with in a meaningful way.
Here are some steps for finding a therapist that’s right for you:
The decision to embark on therapy is a big step in anyone’s life. Afterall, it takes courage to admit we don’t have all the answers and might need some extra help. Doing the necessary diligence, as I outlined above, will go a long way to helping you find the right therapist in Toronto and set you on a path to progress in your mental health journey.
Stop Mental Health Stigma!
The Pursuit of Happiness
I routinely meet with people who are struggling with the pressures of raising kids. It’s a 24/7 job that can spark a roller coaster of emotions depending on the day: fear, resentment, joy, frustration….and that’s just before breakfast.
But one of the most common emotions that my therapy clients struggle with goes to the heart of how they see themselves as parents. And that feeling is shame.
WHAT IS SHAME?
The experience of shame is deeply personal and can make us question how we see ourselves in everyday life.
As a parent, shame can lead to feelings of unworthiness and self-doubt around how we’re bringing up the next generation, particularly when certain parts don’t work out as we envisioned or planned.
WHERE DOES SHAME COME FROM?
Moms and dads often have an image in their mind of what parenting ‘should’ look like. Aptly coined the ’myth of the perfect parent’, this romanticized outlook is usually formed before the babies are even born and the messiness (literally and figuratively) or parenting truly sets in.
This universal idea of what parenting ‘should’ look like can also give rise to a million smaller ‘shoulds’ that creep into our everyday thinking. For example:
I should be breastfeeding my baby.
I should be balancing career and family.
I should always enjoy spending time with my kids.
I should never yell or show frustration.
The trouble with all these ’shoulds’ is that they put an unrealistic pressure on moms and dads to parent a certain way and can lead to feelings of defeat when things don’t work out. This disconnect between expectation and reality is where shame starts to set in.
WHAT ELSE IS AT PLAY?
While the issue of shame around parenting isn’t anything new, certain aspects of modern life aren’t helping.
Social media, for example, has made it easier than ever to compare ourselves to one another and fill our minds with doubt about what we should and shouldn’t be doing as parents. Just last year, a survey of 500 Canadian women revealed that 82% of moms compare themselves to other moms online and 69% said they have “insecurities about motherhood” due to social media.
SO, WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Despite the emotional challenges of parenting in today’s world, there are strategies that can help:
The Underexplored Issue of Postpartum Anxiety
Lowering the Stress of Summer Parenting
Surviving Motherhood: 5 Tips to Help Avoid Burnout
The end of December is synonymous with celebration, but it also signals the start of another time-honoured tradition: making new year’s resolutions.
The act of pledging to start doing something “good” or stop doing something “bad” is one that’s observed by many Canadians annually. But, is it a healthy way to start the year?
You may be surprised to read this, but I don’t think it is.
THE DOWNSIDE OF MAKING BIG PROMISES
According to a recent study, the top 10 New Year’s resolutions for 2019 were:
When you combine this list with the fact 80 percent of resolutions fail by February, the cracks in this longstanding ritual begin to appear.
Overhauling aspects of our lifestyle is challenging at any time of year, but particularly when its tied — not to internal motivation or readiness — but to a fixed date on the calendar. If we pledge to make major and unrealistic changes without actually being ready, the chances of failure increase and we can end up feeling more demoralized and unhappy than before we started.
AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH
Rather than making lofty and life-altering resolutions at the start of the year, I suggest approaching January 1st with a renewed commitment to wellness and self-care.
Life can be frenzied and stressful enough without piling on a list of new tasks to achieve. I’d prefer, instead, my clients focus on learning who they are and how to healthily move forward when life doesn’t go as planned.
In dedicating more time to personal wellness and less time to pressure-driven goals, we can hopefully strive for a healthier, wiser and more improved self in 2020.
Wishing you a peaceful and happy New Year!
‘Tis the season for family gatherings and while many people enjoy reconnecting with relatives at this time of year, others feel less than cheerful about it.
There are several reasons someone may dread a holiday get together, but one that’s come up a lot in recent weeks is the unease some clients have expressed around spending time with a toxic family member.
If you’re struggling with a similar worry in the lead up to the holidays, below are some self-care tips and strategies that may help.
If you have decided to attend:
This time of year is merry for some and challenging for others. If you’re concerned about encountering a toxic family member during the holidays, consider the above steps and reach out to a therapy professional if you need additional strategies or support.
Wishing you a peaceful and joyous holiday season.
It’s not an official diagnosis, but the term “eco-anxiety” has gone mainstream as a way of describing the stress or despair some people feel when it comes to climate change.
And it’s not hard to see why.
Dire assessments about the environment and seemingly non-stop images of natural disasters have permeated our lives near constantly. Sixteen-year-old activist Greta Thunberg captured international attention in September when she was literally moved to tears describing “the beginning of a mass extinction” due to global warming.
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL
A 2017 American Psychological Association study revealed that climate change can affect individual mental health in a variety ways and can lead to stress-related problems from depression to substance abuse. On a macro level, environmental upheaval (i.e. from droughts or flooding) can displace entire communities and lead to long-term feelings of insecurity, powerlessness and fear.
To further understand the real-time impact of climate change on our psyche, look no further than the results of a recent U.S. study that found 20 percent of millennials believe climate change will lead to the end of human civilization in their lifetime.
So, what can be done to overcome eco-anxiety?
TIPS AND STRATEGIES
Being conscious of climate change is important but it's necessary to have coping strategies if your concern becomes too consuming. Here are some solutions for managing climate-related stress.
We were blessed with a beautiful summer here in Ontario, which makes the inevitable start of winter a tough pill to swallow.
And while cold temperatures combined with shorter days can irk even the toughest Canadians on occasion, some people struggle intensely when the mercury takes a dip.
I’m speaking today about Seasonal Affective Disorder.
UNDERSTANDING SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER
Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly known as S.A.D., is a type of depression linked to changes in the weather that typically sets in during the fall and winter months.
Research suggests S.A.D. is caused by fluctuations in sunlight that can disrupt a person’s biological clock and lead to feelings of sadness and depression. Lack of sunlight is also believed to impact important brain chemicals, like serotonin and dopamine, that are directly linked to behaviour, cognition and mood.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF S.A.D. AND WHO IS MOST AT RISK?
Symptoms of S.A.D. generally turn “on” and “off” at similar times each year and can range in severity from behavioural to physical. People suffering from S.A.D. may notice a drop in energy levels, changes in mood, appetite or sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating and an overall sense of sadness that lasts for days or weeks on end.
Studies show women and young peopleare most at risk for developing S.A.D. It’s also more common for people with a family history of the condition and those living in places with major swings in daylight hours throughout the year (i.e., people living far north or far south of the equator).
STRATEGIES AND TREATMENT
While we can’t change the weather or the hours of sunlight in a day, we can change how we cope when the seasons turn.
With daylight savings and the start of colder temperatures, it’s clear that seasonal change is upon us. Be on alert for signs of S.A.D. and consider the above strategies to help yourself or your loved ones overcome it.
Lindsay Ross, MSW RSW, is a clinical social worker in private practice in Toronto, Ontario.