If you’re one of the Canadians who has experienced layoffs due to the impacts of COVID-19 on businesses throughout the country, a Vancouver-based registered psychologist is encouraging job seekers to look at this time of uncertainty from a positive perspective.
Registered Psychologist, and Founder of MyWorkPlaceHealth, Dr. Joti Samra, has been in practice for 20 years, providing in-office and virtual therapy services, and has also been heavily involved in national policy and research with the CSA Group to create psychologically safe and healthy work environments in Canada.
In a phone interview with Style Nine to Five, Samra said that while the coronavirus is a physical illness, “the emotional impacts have been by far the most pervasive that everybody’s experiencing, in terms of fear and uncertainty.”
Samra said when people don’t have control or predictability, it’s “very unsettling to us as human beings because we’re creatures of habit.”
With some Canadians facing layoffs, or experiencing fear of losing their jobs, Samra said what’s relevant for a lot of people right now is what’s called the ‘grief reaction,’ explaining, “there’s denial, there’s anger, there’s sadness, and then eventually there’s acceptance, and nobody goes through that in any particular formula.”
“A lot of us are going through up and down rollercoaster emotions, we need to allow us to feel that, our emotions serve a function, they give us good messages about things that are important to us — but we also have a personal imperative and responsibility to do everything we possibly can to start to focus on those things within our control,” she said.
Samra said she keeps referring back to right now is a serenity prayer, which she says is more relevant than ever: “to accept the things we can not change, courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
“We literally have no other option than to accept this new reality,” Samra said about the uncertainty around how long it will take to get back to business as usual, however, people have control of how they can spend this time.
Make a Routine
Samra said now is an opportunity to do some self exploration of career and values, and to learn some new skills — which is important because it gives a person structure to a day.
“When we’re laid off and when that structure is gone, that’s very bad for our mental health and so if we don’t have a reason to get up in the morning,” Samra said, “we can very easily go down this rabbit hole of despair or anxiety or fear or sadness.”
Samra said making a plan can lift a person out of that mental space, “by no means does that solve every problem that we’re faced with, but it can help to give us some control over something that in other ways is so out of our control.”
Having a routine and structure matters for a number of reasons, Samra said, an important one is motivation, “we can cultivate that through our actions, and the science will tell us that that good old saying of ‘fake it ’til you make it,’ that it actually works.”
“Think of what you do when you’re well and you make yourself go through the motions of that — it’s not going to change overnight, it’s not going to change in a day, it’s not going to change in a week,” Samra said, but if you do those motions regularly, “it’s impossible for our mood not to get better.”
Samra said that usually means waking up at the same time most days — no sleeping in and no more staying up late binge-watching shows, “sure, we all needed a month of doing that, but it’s actually pretty bad for us in the long term and so think about simulating a regular work schedule.”
Exercising, learning new skills, and setting goals, are great ways to fill your day, Samra said, “set some short term goals, and get an accountability partner. So that’s a great way, tell somebody that you’re doing it,” because by declaring it “the science tells us we’re more likely to succeed in our goals.”
On top of getting enough sleep, Samra said to focus on your intake of fruits, vegetables, and water, “all of these things are the, what I call, the ‘usual suspects’ we can control them,” adding, “life can be falling apart, but we can still make choices about how much we’re drinking, what we’re eating.”
As simplistic as it sounds, Samra said “we know that a regular daily gratitude practice is clinically associated with changes in our neurochemistry — reduction of anxiety, reduction of depression, enhanced relationships and enhanced overall quality of life.”
Samra advises to set a reminder every single day to identify three things, big or small, that you have gratitude for.
“What you want to turn your mind toward is really immersing yourself in thinking about what life would look like if that one thing was gone. So it’s very easy for us right now to be down that rabbit hole of all the things, and all of us have, things that have been dramatically changed — but then you think, if we focus on the ‘haves’ rather than the ‘have nots’ that changes our, again, our neurochemistry and our moods,” Samra said.
Be Aware of Self Talk
Samra said Layoffs can lead to people feeling toxic emotions, such as embarrassment, shame, and feeling as though you’re letting people down, “emotions that can eat us up alive.”
“We’re negative about how we think about ourselves — we will often talk to ourselves in our own mind in ways that we would never dream of speaking to another person,” Samra said, “be very mindful of the language that you’re using and the words that you’re using.”
In those situations, Samra said it’s best to make yourself think realistically.
Using layoffs as an example, Samra said, thinking “[I’m] ‘never going to have a job’ okay well that’s catastrophic,” and, “you don’t want to necessarily think ‘oh everything’s great and I’m going to look on the bright side’ well that actually doesn’t work either.”
“What you want to do is aim for realistic thinking,” Samra said, “tell yourself ‘this is really hard, and this is going to feel like a challenge maybe for the next six months to 12 months, I’m not fully sure I have the answers for how I’m going to get through this, but I’m going to do my best every single day.’ Okay, that’s a realistic thought and when we can revise our thinking in that way — that can be extremely helpful for our mood.”
Power of Connection
Another tool, Samra said, is to socially connect, “and not just talk about whatever is in the news, to really check in, to be to able to connect with other people on how they’re feeling, they’re dealing with things,” she said, adding to express to other people how you are doing.
“We have for the first time, such a shared global experience,” Samra said, “we can carry each other through emotional pain when we have supports around us that can understand us.”
“I do believe as human beings we can go through terrible adverse times and come out the other end — not just surviving but thriving,” said Samra.
“I’ll often say ‘it’s in our DNA to survive,” adding, “it’s how we’re built from an evolutionary standpoint.”
Samra said human beings collectively can face tragedy, and still come out on the other side, “sometimes even stronger than we were going in and so I think that’s an important thing for people to keep in mind.”
Samra said the Canadian Mental Health Association has created the free BounceBack program, which helps people learn the skills needed to counter symptoms of anxiety, depression, and mental health issues, where she narrates and guides users through tips to manage moods, confidence, and a healthier life.
Earlier this month, Samra also published a free webinar: Enhancing Psychological Health, Wellness & Resilience in the Era of COVID-19.
You can also find resources on how to cope with social distancing and working from home amid COVID-19 here, and more resources, including workbooks, on the Dr. Joti Samra, R. Psych & Associates website.
By: Michelle Morton – Michelle is a Canadian multimedia journalist with a passion for telling stories, exploring the world, speaking for voices not heard, and of course, fashion!
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