Who We are
Getting mental health support isn't always easy. As your EAP, our goal is to provide access to comprehensive, professional, diverse and accessible mental health supports.
We can work with you and your loved ones in a range of areas, from prevention and wellness to challenging life events to chronic health concerns, including:
- Counselling: on a range of individual, family and work-related concerns
- Clinical services: including addictions treatment and psychiatric consultations
- Wellness solutions: to promote awareness, capacity building and lifestyle change
- Organizational services: to assist with emerging issues in the workplace
We offer an extensive scope of services and delivery methods. We have a diverse and vast provider network, a robust counsellor matching process and a holistic treatment philosophy.
Our program is serviced by an extensive network of professionals who bring a high level of expertise and credentials. We offer clinically managed intake and an extensive range of clinical services.
We provide multicultural and culturally diverse counselling options and can offer translation services in 150 languages. Our offerings are strengthened by our community connections, including an Indigenous awareness program and LGBTQ supports.
We have providers located throughout rural and northern Manitoba. We offer access to support 24/7, 365 days per year. We offer a variety of alternate channels for counselling, including video, text-based and telephonic options.
Mental Health and Wellness
Comprehensive problem assessment and short-term counselling, including the following areas:
- Occupational Stress
- Depression/Mental Health
- Family Concerns/Parenting
- Trauma/Critical Incident
- Emotional/Behavioural Concerns
Work-Life support includes supplementary counselling such as:
- Financial (budgeting, financial crisis)
Personal Wellness Services
Available health assessments include:
- Weight Loss
- Smoking Cessation
- Nutritional Counselling
Specialized services include access to psychiatric consultation through the Employee Assistance Centre.
Addictions Management Program
This confidential program provides assessment, treatment, and follow up for alcohol, drug, and other addictions via individual counselling and group treatment. We specialize in addictions complicated by depression, panic and anxiety, family dynamics, abuse, and stress.
My Good Health®
Access our interactive site My Good Health for resources and tools to help you understand and improve your overall health and well-being. To access My Good Health, log in to your mybluecross® account.
Your secure mybluecross® member account gives you the ability to look up benefit information at any time. It also provides access to our interactive site My Good Health and allows you to manage your plan online.
Stronger Minds by BEACON®
To support mental well-being through the COVID-19 crisis, Blue Cross® has joined as a sponsor of Stronger Minds by BEACON® – a free digital program available for all Canadians. This resource is a supplement to the suite of health and wellness offerings provided by each Blue Cross Plan, including their respective employee assistance programs.
Self-help workbooks can help you learn and apply the skills and knowledge necessary to manage health concerns on a day-to-day basis. Some recommended free self management resources include:
- Antidepressant Skills Workbook: The Consortium for Organizational Mental Healthcare offers a free self-care workbook that offers an overview of depression, explains how it can be effectively managed and gives a step-by-step guide on changing patterns.
- HeretoHelp is a digital platform that aims to help people live well and better prevent and manage mental health and substance use problems.
We also offer a number of services at the organizational level. From consultation and trauma response to mediation and wellness programs delivered at your place of business, our EAP team will ensure your organization remains healthy.
We are providing up to three counselling sessions at no cost to Manitobans who have experienced a loss during COVID-19.
Sessions are provided through qualified clinicians from our Employee Assistance Program, including Clinical Psychologists, MSW Clinicians, Registered Psychiatric Nurses, Marriage and Family Therapists and Master of Divinity Clinicians.
To access this support, please call us:
Directly at 204.786.8880
Toll Free 1.800.590.5553
Connect Now is our clinical, personal and immediate support line where members can call to connect instantly with a professional counsellor from our Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Learn more about Connect Now.
The following resources were developed by counsellors and health care professionals from our Employee Assistance Program and Disability Case Management teams to support the mental, physical and financial health of our fellow Manitobans.
How To Connect
If you are curious about our services, have any additional questions or are ready to book an appointment, our clinically trained intake staff is ready help. Call us at:
- Directly at 204.786.8880
- Toll Free 1.800.590.5553
- TTY 204.775.0586
What is the intake process?
You or an immediate family member who is eligible under your plan can call us directly to start the intake process. Appointments are generally available within 72 hours and can be scheduled for days, evenings and weekends.
How do I know if I am covered?
All Employee Assistance Program benefits are subject to the terms and conditions of the contract through your employer. If you are unsure as to what benefits you may have, you can:
- contact your Human Resources representative
- call us directly
- log into your mybluecross® account and use our coverage look-up tool
How am I matched with a counsellor or treatment plan?
Your initial intake conversation will help us understand your needs, preferences and services that might work best for you. Please help us understand your level of comfortability as it relates to counsellor gender/gender identity, ethnicity, languages spoken or other important identifying areas for you. We will do our best to address your needs.
Mental health support during COVID-19
The following articles were prepared by dedicated professionals from our Employee Assistance Program in the hopes of offering support through COVID-19.
MYTHS, FABLES AND FACTS ABOUT SEEKING HELP
In some cultures, there is a belief that if you are worried, anxious or stressed, you should tell your worries to a worry doll, place the doll beneath your pillow before you go to bed, and then in the morning all of your worries will be gone.
From a psychological standpoint, it is easy to understand why maintaining a worry doll makes good sense. It signifies your firm intention to solve a problem, it embodies an optimistic attitude that problems can be solved, and it suggests that you have faith that help is available to you.
Unfortunately, many attitudes embraced in North America can actually keep people from seeking help.
We can recognize the problems – but not the need to seek help
Most people would agree that there seem to be as many different problems out there as there are different human beings. We struggle with multiple types of issues that can include addictions, anxieties, depression, fear, loneliness, anger and relationship problems, to name a few. These problems can consume our lives and they can greatly interfere with our personal desires to not live a life imprisoned by our problems.
Despite this desire, why do so many people carry the weight of their problems with them daily and allow them to take up full-time residence in their lives rather than facing them? What prevents many of us from seeking the help we need and developing the abilities necessary to overcome the problems in our lives?
Myths and beliefs that discourage us from seeking help
For years, popular media has painted the image of a troubled individual lying on a couch in a "shrink's" office while the good doctor digs into the patient's murky unconsciousness and determines the nature of their problem. This process was said to take years and cost a king's ransom.
Myth 1: I will have to hash out painful details
We now understand that solving problems does not always involve rehashing a person's history. Exploring solutions to problems can be more beneficial, for some, than solely discussing the problem itself. Sometimes the idea that problems require in-depth analysis for a person to feel relief prevents the person from seeking the help they need or from recognizing that they can make changes quickly.
Myth 2: I should handle my own problems
We can also be kept from seeking help by our own embarrassment at having a problem. We live in a culture that encourages a rugged self-reliance and a stiff upper lip. This attitude remains a bigger obstacle for men than women, yet it factors into everyone's reluctance to talk about their problems with a professional. It is an unfortunate belief of many that admitting to having a problem is a sign of weakness.
However, if we have a toothache or a chest cold, we immediately seek the help of a dentist, doctor or a pharmacist. We need to embrace the fact that seeking help for personal problems is as wise as seeking help for our physical ailments.
Myth 3: There is something wrong with me
Another fear that prevents many people from seeking help is the belief that those who experience problems are somehow abnormal. There is a saying that states "the problem, not the person, is the problem". This saying conveys the impression that "problems are problems" and "people are people." However, people can be taken by problems. It is a normal circumstance of living our lives. When we are swept up by the emotional stream of a problem, it can be very difficult not to become overwhelmed and feel like we are drowning in our problems. At these times, it makes sense to seek an outside perspective and find a coach, counsellor or therapist who can help us find perspective.
Myth 4: Therapy won't work for me
Finally, a major obstacle to many people choosing not to seek help is the belief that talking to someone will not really make a difference in how we are feeling. At times, our problems can seem so insurmountable or numerous that we are unable to see the forest for the trees. Finding help and talking about problems can be a major step in identifying solutions that will defy a problem's hold on you. You will discover that speaking with a counsellor can be a huge relief, as it will allow you to be open about your thoughts and feelings in a safe setting. This can restore balance in your life and enable you to restore or gain your own sense of control.
Important ideas to keep in mind when you need help
Keep these tips in mind when you feel ready to take your life back and conquer a significant problem.
- There is more than one way to look at a situation. You likely experience unique moments during your day when the problem's hold on you feels less profound. Ask yourself, "How is this possible?" A counsellor can help you find different ways to view the situation.
- You are not your problems. Your problems don't own or define you. You have the strength, resources and ability to resolve the challenges that you are facing in life.
- There is nothing so wrong with you. A counsellor can help you see the strengths that you possess that the problems don't want you to see.
- What you are going through is normal. Remember that the one thing we can always depend on is that life is full of change and as a result it is always possible for you to make more changes happen.
- You don't need to understand what caused a problem to resolve it. Emphasizing solutions and not just problems can lead to positive changes and problem resolution.
Reach out to your EAP
If you have EAP coverage with us, our intake lines remain open to assist and support anyone seeking counselling services. We will be providing telephonic, text-based and video counselling options to all clients seeking support. Please call: 204.786.8880, 1.800.590.5553 (toll free) or 204.775.0586 (TTY)
Talk to friends and family
You will likely be surprised at how many people you know who have sought help from a professional and benefited from it. A friend might also be able to steer you in the direction of someone who they feel would be the most helpful for you.
A note on finding the right fit:
It is important to be aware that not every counsellor will be the right fit for every person. Be assured, however, that there is a counsellor out here who is a good match for you.
Telling your worries to a worry doll and placing it beneath your pillow at night, in the hope that all of your problems will be gone in the morning, is certainly one method of finding the help that you need. However, there are many more ways of finding help that make it a less solitary activity.
Perhaps taking that first step in asking for help will be the beginning of a behaviour change on your part that will help you take your life back from the hold a problem might have on you.
BREAKING FREE OF FEAR
All of us experience fear. It is our best-known, worst-hated companion. It holds us back and pushes us forward. It stops us in our tracks. It limits our freedom and takes a toll on our emotional and physical well-being.
So how do we break free of it?
Whatever we focus on tends to expand in our vision. When we feel fear, it is like using a close-up lens on a camera. The subject of our fear fills up the whole picture and becomes all we can see. Our thinking becomes distorted and we tend to overreact to situations and what others say or do. We lose the ability to see the long-term consequences of our actions. We can no longer relax and enjoy the moment.
Emotional symptoms of fear
Physical symptoms of fear
Fear triggers a genetic response in our bodies known as the fight-or-flight response. This automatic process was designed to protect us from an external threat by stimulating a part of our brain called the hypothalamus. Stress hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released into our bodies to prepare us to fight or flee. Our breathing becomes shallow, decreasing the amount of oxygen we take into our cells. Our pupils become dilated, our sight sharpens, and our awareness intensifies. Our perception of pain is diminished. Blood is diverted from our digestive tract to our muscles and limbs. We perceive our environment as a threat to our survival. We see everyone and everything as a possible enemy. The physical changes taking place in our bodies can trigger emotional and physical symptoms.
We are so used to planning ahead, being in control, and having our hands firmly cemented to the steering wheel. We need to let go of trying to control things. When we feel fearful, we are in a state of resistance, and we struggle.
It is often said that what we resist, persists. So when we resist what is going on, the challenges we face not only feel more pronounced than they actually are – they also tend to hang on longer. We rarely look at the good things in our lives and celebrate that we did something right. Instead we focus on the tiniest negative things and believe we messed up. When we can let go of the struggle, we can make space for the things we fear to change.
One of the simplest ways to decrease fear is to breathe deeply into the abdomen for five minutes, closing your eyes on the last breath. Deep breathing sends a message to your body that you are safe, and when you feel safer, you calm down.
Meditation is a practice that involves noticing our thoughts and seeing how they affect our emotions. Thinking the same thoughts over and over can actually form a belief. If we activate our internal witness by witnessing our thoughts, we can then let them pass by. That is what meditation is all about. It is not about stopping ourselves from thinking. We have the power to choose the thoughts we want to keep and which ones to let go.
Any exercise you do that makes you perspire for five minutes will metabolize excessive stress hormones. Yoga is particularly helpful because it helps you to focus, quiets your mind and lessens your fear.
When you yawn and stretch, your brainwaves automatically slow down and you enter an alpha brainwave state. This brain state is the same as when you are doing a light meditation and will alleviate fear.
Progressive muscle relaxation
Contracting and relaxing each muscle group from your head to your feet will promote relaxation.
Listening to music
Modern recordings are made using binaural beats where the sound of one frequency goes into one ear and another frequency goes into the other ear. The difference in cycles results in musical beats at an alpha frequency and the brain resonates with this, producing a state of relaxation.
Anything you do that helps you to become calm and more peaceful when you are fearful is the perfect thing to do. Reminding yourself of all of the times you faced challenges in your life and survived them will boost your confidence.
Practice, practice, practice
A daily breathing and meditation practice would be highly beneficial. Five to ten minutes a day would be a good start. As with learning any new skill or exercise, we need to be patient with ourselves. It is always harder to do something at the beginning, and it gets easier the more we do it. If we practice breathing and meditation on a consistent basis, we will not only become more successful at letting go of our fears, we will begin to notice other positive changes in our lives.
If we practice when we are calm, it will be easier to remember to do it when we are in fear. It will become more automatic, like a muscle we use frequently. So we breathe, we change our focus, we meditate, and we let go of needing to control things. Most importantly, we let go of judging and criticizing ourselves. Judging what we are experiencing is a form of resistance. It intensifies our negative feelings and makes it more difficult to do what we need to do to become calm and more peaceful. We remember to be patient with ourselves, we persist, and we break free of fear.
What is family stress?
Family stress can mean troublesome relationships or crises that create distress. Stressors can include conflict in the family, circumstances external to the family that affect family members or significant changes that make life difficult to manage. Distress can be short term, long term, easily resolved or even difficult to imagine getting past because it seems so overwhelming.
Some signals that family members are overwhelmed can be the inability to sleep or eat, loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed, persistent negativity, excessive discouragement or increased conflict in relationships.
A visit to the family doctor or a counsellor is a courageous first step to developing a better understanding about what's behind these signals and recognizing that something may be off track.
Different family developmental stages can present different types of stresses. Families with small children often experience caregiver overload or marital/couple problems with the demands of raising children. The teenage years can bring conflict as parents and teens negotiate independence – balancing good judgment with freedom to make one's own choices. Young adults leaving home can be a challenge as both parents and children develop new relationships.
Other stress factors
Mental or physical health issues can occur throughout the family lifecycle and often create distress for the person experiencing the illness. Distress is also a symptom for other family members who worry, take on more chores around the house or experience a loss of income. The term "sandwich generation" describes those parents who take care of children and aging parents at the same time. One of the primary concerns with this group is caregiver burnout. Research shows that women are still most often the primary caregiver. Personal time for caregivers is often put aside in the interest of looking after others and therefore women often experience stressors due to lack of self-care.
What is self-care?
Self-care is a balance of well-being where one feels able to manage and enjoy life. Usually this involves a balance among physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, economic, and social factors so that no one area of life has become central at the expense of all the other important factors for well-being. Parents sometimes recognize the importance of developing a balanced lifestyle when reminded that they are modelling a life path for the next generation.
We can develop coping strategies to handle challenging situations. Coping and self-care strategies can include:
- sharing chores at home to help achieve balance while modelling life skills for your children
- enjoying activities that offer comfort such as taking a hot bath, phoning a friend or getting absorbed in a movie
- eating, sleeping and exercising regularly and practicing smart money management
- taking time to enjoy your spouse's company or being on your own
- having one-on-one time with each of your family members
- cooking and eating meals with other family members
- scheduling family activities such as movies with discussion afterward or special board game nights
Aim to balance fun activities, household chores, working tasks and relaxing time together.
Develop problem solving skills
One of the easiest problem-solving skills is the principle that is expressed in the "Serenity Prayer" – to separate the things you can change from the things you can't. We have influence over some things in our lives and no influence in others – and it is important to let go of the things we can't change.
The problem is that sometimes we are so embroiled in our situation that we can't get a good perspective on our relationships or problems. That's where good friends or a counsellor can be helpful for talking things over.
Freeing children and parents from restrictive roles
Sometimes it is easy to get locked into a role like the "troublemaker child," or the "disciplining parent," or the "good child," or the "fun parent." In the end, everyone in the family loses out when someone's role has become too restrictive. Parents can practice looking beyond the most immediate behaviours and search for slight variations or differences from expected roles.
Then parents can strategically attend to the desired behaviours or reactions. If children are "seeking attention" then why not offer attention for positive contributions? It is much more difficult than it sounds to comment less on behaviours we don't want to encourage. It is a bit like planting a seed and waiting for the germination and growth with patience.
Other coping strategies
Learn some simple ways to diffuse conflict by using humour, side-stepping the issue temporarily or dealing with your own temper. These approaches can be most useful when teaching calmness and conflict resolution to children.
Understanding more about reasonable expectations for different developmental stages can be very helpful. Self-help books and parenting classes are useful to assist parents and children in developing problem-solving skills.
DIFFICULT EVENTS IN THE WORKPLACE
As we all face unprecedented changes to our work environments during the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it is important to draw from our bank of resources on the impacts of stressful events in the workplace.
A variety of events that happen in a workplace can impact a person's emotional well-being and ability to do their job.
Sometimes these events are critical incidents or "near misses" where a person's life is threatened. However, an event doesn't need to be critical to be stressful. Something like seeing a child the same age as one of your own, injured in the emergency department where you work, could be just as impactful.
Other events, although not critical, may still be upsetting. Examples of such events are grief at the loss of a colleague, a breakdown in workplace relations or conflict with colleagues.
People may also be affected by experiencing an accumulation of events – such as in the case of compassion fatigue, which happens when people repeatedly deal with the distress of others. It's important to remember that the results of these incidents can reach far beyond the individuals directly impacted or injured.
Stressful events impact us all differently
No one is immune to the effects of these types of events, but everyone is affected differently. Several factors work together to influence how deeply an individual may be impacted by a difficult event.
The first of these factors has to do with the amount of stress that a person is already experiencing in their life. This includes both current issues and past stressors.Think of a drinking glass with water in it. The amount of water in that glass represents the current stress in an individual's life. If the glass is already full, it won't take much to make it overflow. One difficult event may overwhelm our usual ability to cope.
In addition, a person is more likely to be overwhelmed by an event if it reawakens difficult experiences from the past. Even the most diligent employees may be unable to concentrate if stress is too high.
Second, the more directly involved a person is with the event or those impacted by the event, the more likely they are to experience a greater degree of distress. For example, a person is likely to be less affected if they were simply to hear or read about the event than if they were present when it occurred.
Third, a person's ability to utilize healthy coping strategies will help. Healthy coping strategies may involve talking to friends and family, maintaining a good balance between work and home, exercise, and good eating habits.
What happens to people when difficult things happen?
Following a distressing event people may experience physical, mental, behavioural and/or emotional aftershocks. Physical complaints such as headaches, upset stomach, chills, feeling tired, and trouble sleeping may occur. As well as these physical reactions to the incident, confusion, difficulty concentrating, and a sense of reliving the event in one's mind can happen. Some may notice changes like being easily startled, avoiding the place where the incident occurred, or withdrawing from friends and family. Others might feel irritable, angry, sad, guilty, afraid, lost or numb.
Individuals may experience some or all of these effects as well as others not listed. Even though these reactions are normal responses to a stressful event, people may feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with day-to-day demands. For most people, things go back to normal quickly but for some, symptoms may last longer. If this happens, it is important to seek additional assistance.
How to respond
Because these types of events may seriously affect emotional well-being, how we respond can affect a person's recovery and limit further risk. This means there are things that can be done right after an event by the people affected and the organization that will help people return to their lives and work.
There are several things that people can do to help manage the effects of a stressful event. Many of these activities are healthy lifestyle habits that become especially important during a time of distress.
- Regular exercise
- Healthy eating
- Social connection
- Rest and relaxation
- Normal routines
- Avoiding drugs and alcohol
- Avoiding life changes or big decisions
*Remember that your reactions are normal and that you are allowed to feel out of sorts.
The whole workplace may suffer when people feel overwhelmed by a stressful event. People may become disillusioned with their workplace if they believe their problems are not being taken seriously or that they are not being given adequate support.
Leaders can play an important role by providing support to their employees following a difficult situation at work. Shortly after an event, it is essential that those affected be provided with a chance to talk about what happened. Getting people together for a few minutes to acknowledge the event can help to restore some stability in the workplace. During the current pandemic, leaders and organizations may need to substitute various digital platforms or channels to do so.
This is a time to talk about what people experienced and decide if additional support is needed. If those involved feel that they would benefit from additional support, it is a good time to talk about what might be helpful and to tell the group that it will be arranged. Sharing information about what has occurred is often useful to staff as this can answer questions about the event.
It is important to remind the group of the supports that are available to them, both inside and outside the organization.
Finally, make sure everyone has information on how to get in touch with these supports. Staff and management can both be impacted by an event in the workplace. When those in leadership positions are affected, helping others to pull together may be difficult. In such times, leaders may draw on extra support. Our Employee Assistance Program offers consultation about how to respond in a manner that is supportive and appropriate to the event that has taken place.
In any workplace there is the potential for difficult events to happen. We know that each person will have a different reaction to the same event. The correct response to difficult events helps the individuals involved and improves the health of the organization as a whole.
HELPING CHILDREN DEAL WITH STRESS
Children may respond to a difficult situation in different ways:
- Clinging to caregivers
- Feeling anxious
- Feeling angry or agitated
- Having nightmares
- Experiencing frequent mood changes
The following tips may help children deal with stress:
Allow children to express and communicate their feelings
Encourage active listening and an understanding attitude. Children usually feel relieved if they can express and communicate their feelings in a safe and supportive environment.
Help children find positive ways to express difficult emotions
Every child has their own way to express emotions. Sometimes engaging in a creative activity, such as playing or drawing can facilitate this process. Help children find positive ways to express difficult feelings like anger, fear and sadness.
Provide a sensitive and caring environment
Children need adults' love and often more dedicated attention during difficult times. If appropriate and depending on the age, parents/caregivers are encouraged to hug their children and repeat that they love them and are proud of them. This will make them feel better and safer.
Manage your own emotions well and remain calm
Remember that children often take their emotional cues from the important adults in their lives, so how adults respond to the crisis is very important. It's important that adults manage their own emotions well and remain calm, listen to children's concerns and speak kindly to them and reassure them.
Keep regular routines and schedules as much as possible
Keep regular routines and schedules as much as possible or help create new ones in a new environment, including learning, playing and relaxing. If possible, maintain schoolwork, study or other routine activities that do not endanger children or go against health authorities.
Provide facts about what is going on and give child-friendly information
Provide facts about what is going on and give clear, child-friendly information about how to reduce risk of infection and stay safe in words they can understand. Demonstrate to children how they can keep themselves safe (e.g. show them effective handwashing).
Avoid speculating about rumors or unverified information in front of children
Provide information about what has happened or could happen in a reassuring, honest and age appropriate way.
Support adults and caregivers with activities during home isolation
Adults should explain the virus but also keep children active when they are not at school. For example, provide hand washing games with rhymes, or tell imaginary stories about the virus exploring the body.
Make cleaning and disinfecting the house into a fun game
Draw pictures of the virus or microbes for children to colour and explain Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to children so that they are not scared.
MESSAGES FOR TEAM LEADERS OR MANAGERS
If you are a team leader or manager, keeping all staff protected from chronic stress and poor mental health during this response means they will be better able to fulfill their roles.
Promote open dialogue about mental health at work
Regularly and supportively monitor your staff for their well-being and foster an environment that promotes open communication about mental health.
Ensure accurate information and updates are provided
Ensure accurate information and quality updates are provided so staff can help mitigate any worry about uncertainty that workers may have and help workers feel a sense of control.
Allow for rest and recuperation
Rest is important for physical and mental well-being and this time will allow workers to implement their necessary self-care activities.
Provide space for employees to air their concerns
Allow workers to express their concerns and ask questions and encourage peer support amongst colleagues. Without breaking confidentiality, pay particular attention to any staff who are experiencing difficulties in their personal life or have previously experienced poor mental health.
Support training where possible
Training in Psychological First Aid (PFA) can benefit leads, managers and workers in having the skills to provide the necessary support to colleagues.
Facilitate access to supportive services
Make sure staff are aware of how they can access mental health and psychosocial support services, including on-site Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPS) staff – if available, or other remote-service options.
Ensure you have access to the supports you need
Managers and team leads will face similar stressors as their staff, and potentially additional pressure due to their role's level of responsibility. It is important that the above provisions and strategies are in place for both workers and managers, and that managers are able to demonstrate self-care strategies to mitigate stress.
A DIFFERENT SEASON: ACCEPTING CHANGE DURING A PANDEMIC
Distinct seasons in the prairies have created rituals that have taken hold and become part of the fabric of our being. Spring is the time we greet our neighbors, shake hands and share a hug with that kind of shared neighbourly pride that says, "Yes, we have made it through another winter!" We walk our communities looking for signs of new growth as we breathe in the promise of a summer to come.
This spring has not come with that kind of connection to our neighbors and the shared joy of the anticipation of summer. Rather, we are in a global pandemic that has brought with it uncertainty, fear and anxiety. Many of us feel like we are without a blueprint or a road map – we have set out on a journey without knowing the final destination. We commit to behavior changes to slow the spread of COVID-19 and we hope that others do the same. Hand washing, physical distancing and isolating in our homes are done with the optimism that compliance will slow the pandemic.
How we experience our day-to-day lives at this time is influenced by multiple factors. Some of us are on imposed isolation and others have been able to choose to work from home. Some of us are laid off from work as our business doors are closed. Many of us are essential and front-line workers, implementing new protocols in response to COVID-19 and each day at work brings new challenges. All of us have had our work and home life dramatically altered by the global pandemic.
Why am I feeling this way?
Our lives have been turned upside down. Change and transition impact us in a variety of ways. Change often happens quickly; but transition happens more slowly and at its own pace. The current pandemic is an example of a change that is an external event in our lives, yet greatly impacts our internal world. Our transition through change is a very individual internal response. So how do we cope with our new normal?
The experience of transitioning through change (isolation, separation from family, physical distancing, fear of testing positive for COVID-19, job interruption or working extra and longer shifts) resembles the stages of loss. Many of us feel loss of control, loss of belonging, loss of meaning and loss of the future we imagined and planned for before the pandemic.
What can I do to feel better?
- Gain control: Identify what you have control over and take action. Remember you cannot control the change we are going through with the pandemic, but you can control your transition. Implement behaviours that public health officials have encouraged us to follow. Behavioural changes help break the mental commentary that plays in our mind. We can take a momentary break from our thoughts by attending to our bodies and our physical environment. The extra cleaning, disinfecting and washing are time-consuming rituals, but they give us a sense of control. Daily rituals help us transition through this time. We are not able to control the actions of others, but we can ensure that our own actions are creating a sense of safety and security.
- Gain a sense of belonging: Commit to staying connected and strengthening relationships. In addition to phone calls and virtual meetings, we are also enhancing feelings of belonging when we offer our time and our craft. Many are sewing masks, delivering meals and helping neighbours. These acts of kindness create connection. A felt sense that we are in this together and that we will get through this together creates optimism and brings satisfaction.
- Gain meaning: Self-care is required now more than ever. Our relationship with ourselves is the most important of all. You may be physically distancing, but this is not the time to distance from yourself and your personal power. While much in our external world is closed, we more than ever now benefit from being open to ourselves. Take time to take care. Make time to do that which anchors you – be it listening to music, walking, getting extra rest or eating well. In times such as these we often reflect on our values and beliefs, on what matters in the grand scheme and what might shift for us when this passes.
- Gain a sense of the future: The best way to trust in the future is to manage today. Notice how your thoughts influence how you feel and how you act. In times such as these, our minds are constantly scanning our environments for threats to our security. This is a survival response deeply seated in our brains. We can become exhausted with overthinking, overwhelming feelings and bodily aches, and pains such as headaches, muscle tension and general fatigue. Notice your thoughts and let them pass like clouds in the sky or like a leaf floating in a stream... allowing the commentary to go on in our minds feeds fear. If our attention is always placed on our thoughts, we are at the mercy of whatever arises. Our thoughts can be a constant source of stress. Conscious breathing (as discussed in Being Mindful!) can lead us to a deepened awareness of our body, allowing for the release of worry and tension. Focusing on the simple act of breathing can increase feelings of inner peace and well-being. Limiting media time helps us find a balance between keeping informed and not perpetuating fear. Talking with those who can assist us regarding financial, work, child or elderly care changes can help us plan for today and tomorrow.
We adapt to change by giving time and attention to the ways in which we transition. By planting the seeds for tomorrow's garden, we can be in the present today while planning for tomorrow.
COVID-19 IMPACTS US BUT IT DOES NOT DEFINE US
Reframing the current pandemic as an opportunity for community and compassion
As much as we have been encouraged to manage the physical space between one another, social distancing does not mean cutting off emotionally. Practice staying emotionally present for one another. Talk, share, live, love and laugh.
Let's encourage each other to share our fears and anxious moments. But also – let's give ourselves permission to take a break from COVID-19's emotional hold. Plan activities to facilitate this, even frivolous and light-hearted ones!
- Finding ourselves through a storm
Our inner compass, the part of us that drives our decision-making, is really tested during a storm. However, it's our values and principles that can help see us through. Take time to strengthen these by talking about what is important with your loved ones and then living out those values.
Sometimes it takes a challenge to gain a sense of mastery. When we take an active role in helping others and doing good deeds for those impacted most, we foster a sense of community. We can talk with our loved ones and ask, who is the most vulnerable right now and how can we help? We can also consider how we can do our part in the community by acting responsibly to help mitigate the COVID-19 spread. And within our own family unit, we can exercise random acts of kindness between one another.
- Modelling compassion for children
When we model kind and compassionate behaviour for our children, it is comforting for them. Engage children in talks about others and about how we can do our part to help. Children have wonderful means of expression through play, drawing and painting. When they paint a picture or make a card for someone they love, they exercise self-mastery over the conditions of worry and fear. And compassion is the best antidote to fear.
- Appreciating what is
We can also celebrate our normalcy. The surreal nature of COVID-19's influence has disrupted our sense of what's normal, our sense of routine. Mark and celebrate small achievements, appreciate moments where we are able to just be, and remember it is okay that some things are outside our control.
This pandemic has triggered hard economic times for many. We can generate a culture of understanding around not being able to do some of the "usual things" that involve money. We can take this as an opportunity to reconnect to simplicity.
Right now, there is only so much within our control, so let's put our energy into things that are within our circle of influence.
- Reframing COVID-19 as a means of connection – not one of distance
Although we are in an unprecedented time of socially distancing, our sense of community transcends the physical. We can maintain connections through whatever virtual means we have at our disposal, and encourage our children, family members and friends to participate collectively.
Isolation is as much a psychological state as anything. We all have times of feeling isolated or distant from others. And isolation, ironically enough, has many companions – depression, anxiety, fear and worry to name a few. It may feel as though this pandemic is here to trick us into further isolation and loneliness – and we shouldn't underestimate this situation's ability to trigger conditions from the past or reinforce loneliness. But there is more at play.
Our sense of family is one of our primary connections and one of the most powerful means to keep space from COVID-19; our ability to find empowerment in connecting collectively to a greater purpose can drive a sense of community; and through connecting with others who are facing the same struggle, we can learn that we are by no means alone.
- Leaving space for difference and practicing acceptance
COVID-19 has brought us into a world of extremes. While some have been lured, others have had a sharp entry. And as much as we share commonalities, we are different. Our unique circumstances, histories, personalities and coping styles all contribute to the impact we feel.
For some, COVID-19 is akin to the apocalypse – and for others this may seem like an over-reaction. For people who have elderly parents or a weakened immune system or personal hardships like the recent loss of a loved one – COVID-19 is a real danger. For those without such experiences, conditions or hardships – not so much.
Wherever possible, we must leave space for difference and accept where people are at, even if we are in a different space. When appropriate, encourage a balanced perspective through listening, validation and dialogue. Fear and anxiety thrive in the shadow of judgement – so too does denial.
- COVID-19 may not discriminate – but that does not mean we are equally impacted
As we are called to isolate within the safety of our own homes – what about those for whom home is not a safe place; those who are trapped in the cycle of abuse; or our homeless, who already live in adverse situations. What about those who reside in locations where access to services and supports are limited? What about our newcomers who already struggle to integrate and build stability; or our Indigenous peoples, who already face greater health vulnerabilities and fight daily for an equal footing?
If we take the opportunities available to us to care for our vulnerable populations and to cultivate a sense of compassion and community, we can help re-define this crisis.
Our compassion, ability to support one another and our sense of community are the most powerful means we have to take back space and transcend the isolation of COVID-19.
This pandemic is a condition that influences us but does not define us. What defines us is how we respond to it.
SUPPORT FOR FRONT-LINE WORKERS IN THE COVID-19 RESPONSE
Stress is something you and many of your colleagues are likely feeling right now – and it is quite normal given the current situation.
You may feel that the weight of the world is suddenly on your shoulders, that you are not meeting the expectations that have been set for you – that the demands being asked are too high. You may feel additional new pressures, including following strict Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) procedures.
How to make sure we are taking care of our own needs:
- Finding empowerment
Stress and the feelings associated with it are by no means a reflection that you cannot do your job or that you are weak, even if you feel that way. In fact, stress can be useful. Right now, the feeling of stress may be keeping you going at your job and providing a sense of purpose. Managing your stress and psychosocial well-being during this time is as important as managing your physical health.
- Remembering self-care
Take care of your basic needs and employ helpful coping strategies. Ensure you rest and have respite during work or between shifts, eat sufficient and healthy food, engage in physical activity and stay in contact with family and friends. Avoid using unhelpful coping strategies such as tobacco, alcohol or other drugs. In the long term, these can worsen your mental and physical well-being.
- Remembering self-care
Take care of your basic needs and employ helpful coping strategies. Ensure you rest and have respite during work or between shifts, eat sufficient and healthy food, engage in physical activity and stay in contact with family and friends. Avoid using unhelpful coping strategies such as tobacco, alcohol or other drugs. In the long term, these can worsen your mental and physical well-being.
- Finding social connection
Some workers may unfortunately experience ostracization by their family or community due to stigma. This can make an already challenging situation far more difficult. If possible, staying connected with your loved ones through digital methods is one way to maintain contact. Turn to your colleagues, your manager or other trusted allies for social support – your colleagues may be having similar experiences as you.
- Being gentle with yourself
If your stress worsens and you feel overwhelmed, you are not to blame. Everyone experiences stress and copes with it differently. Ongoing and old pressures from your personal life can affect your mental well-being in your day to day job. You may notice changes in how you are working, you may experience mood changes such as increased irritability, feeling low or more anxious. You may feel chronically exhausted or it may feel harder to relax during respite periods or you may have unexplained physical complaints such as body pain or stomach aches.
- Accessing support
Chronic stress can affect your mental well-being and your work and can affect you even after the situation improves. If the stress becomes overwhelming, please approach your lead or the appropriate person to ensure you are provided with appropriate support.
Inter-Agency Standing Committee. (2020, March 17). Briefing note on addressing on mental health and psychosocial aspects of COVID-19 Outbreak - Version 1.0. Retrieved from Inter-Agency Standing Committee: https://interagencystandingcommittee.org