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Lessons learned: What COVID-19 Has Taught Our Team – Part 2

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In part two of our Q&A with the BEACON team of experts, we dig deeper into what the pandemic has taught them about themselves, and what coping mechanisms have been most effective over the last three months.

What has COVID-19 has taught you?

Dr. Hemal Schroff
How important social interaction is to my effectiveness when it comes to doing my job. How important having a routine is even when there isn’t need for one. How feelings of loneliness and being fed up can come and go in waves and are not static. 

Dr. Andrew Gentile, Supervised Practice
While at first I felt like I was thriving – maybe even doing better because of the ways it added flexibility to do self-care and in my roles as a psychologist – it gave me a strong sense of meaning and purpose to help people cope with such a tangible and universal challenge that we are all struggling with. Later on, as the novelty of the lifestyle wore off, the experience was much more humbling in that it was clear nobody, including mental health professionals like myself, are spared from the ways that lifestyle constraints imposed by COVID impact our basic wellbeing. 

In particular, it has taught me more about what my vulnerability factors are. For example, I live alone, and am a recent transplant to the city. So, by a month or two into isolating, I became very aware just how essential human touch is to functioning normally. It’s as if my basic body chemistry changed, my stress response became hypersensitive, and at baseline it was a bit more uncomfortable to be in my own skin. I’ve always known this was important for me in particular, but it became clear just how pronounced this was in COVID times as things went on. 

I’ve also realized just how important it is for me to have transition time between work and personal time. I learned that when working from home, and not having a physical transition from workspace to home, I needed extra time and often an activity like some kind of exercise. Without that, my body doesn’t seem to receive the cues it needs to tell myself that it’s ok to transition to “relaxation mode.” I end up preoccupied with work thoughts during personal time much more often, and life starts to feel like one big blur of work emails. 

Maksuda Akter, Psychological Associate - Supervised Practice
I have also realized that, though we are physically isolated from others, we are really connected and not alone. In particular, COVID teaches us we are in this crisis together as a human family, and as part of the world, we are deeply interconnected.

Dr. Leorra Newman
I’ve been surprised at how quickly I was able to adapt to working at home. On the other hand, I’ve become more aware of my need for solo reflection time, which used to be built in naturally on my way to and from work.

 

What did you discover was your most effective coping strategy?

 

Dr. Andrew GentileSupervised Practice
One of my favourites has been mindful breathing and a hot bath for moments I’m particularly stressed. However, I realized that the times that were more difficult were directly related to how well I was keeping up with the basic pillars of self-care: sleep, exercise and nutrition. For me, that means making sure I do some kind of exercise every day, making sure I leave time for healthy meal prep on the weekends (because I know I’m not going to want to at the end of a long work day), getting off the screens by 9:00-ish and other basic sleep hygiene. When I have trouble initiating these behaviours, I have to give myself permission to lower the bar, however much I need to not feel so overwhelmed that I skip these habits altogether, even if it means reducing my “workout” to a short walk. 

Dr. Leorra Newman
Exercise has definitely been my most effective coping strategy. Going for a socially distant run with a neighbour when I can, helps relieve my stress and improve my mood. A close second would be baking: I jumped on the sourdough bandwagon early on and have learned how to make bread. I’m always amazed by how good it smells and tastes! It’s satisfying to do something so physical and concrete that can sustain my family.

Maksuda Akter, Psychological Associate - Supervised Practice
I think the pandemic gives us opportunity to slow down. It is a great opportunity to figure out what sources of belief and comfort we have.

I have been trying to use the valuable time with my family engaging in pleasurable activities (e.g., enjoying movie nights, going out for exercise, preparing delicious or foods with my son). I celebrated our festival, anniversary and birthdays in some ways that are different than in usual times, so that it will be a memory for our entire lives.

What the pandemic has taught them about themselves, and what coping mechanisms have been most effective over the last three months?

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