Grieving All Types of Loss in COVID Times

What is grief?

There is a common understanding of grief: a deep sorrow that comes with the death of a friend or other loved one. And while this is one way in which grief can show up in our lives, grief isn’t necessarily only a process we go through after death. 

In fact, grief is really just the process of adjusting to a new normal after a major change or loss. 

What does that mean?

What that means, is that grief comes at all sorts of points in our lives. There are many types of loss that aren’t death that we should allow ourselves to grieve fully. These types of change or loss can be: 

  • A breakup or divorce
  • Moving away from a home you love
  • Losing a job 
  • Ending a friendship
  • Losing out on opportunities or experiences 
  • Planning for a major life change (moving, going to school, taking a new job), only for it to not work out in the end

All of these things are major changes and losses. While it may seem silly to grieve the loss of a job, grief is our natural emotional response to loss and not letting ourselves grieve the things that seem “less” than death or illness actually does us a disservice. Ignoring the grief that comes with all sorts of changes and loss doesn’t actually help us to move on from them–in fact just the opposite.  

What happens when we don’t let ourselves grieve?

When we don’t allow ourselves to grieve and mourn loss and change, it actually takes us longer to “get over” those things. Halting the process of grief doesn’t mean we skip over it, it just means we keep ourselves stuck in a place where we need to grieve, but are ignoring that emotional need. 

Disrupting our natural response to loss doesn’t erase the loss, and it doesn’t make the loss easier to deal with. And it can actually have major negative effects on our overall health and wellbeing including: 

  • Increased irritability
  • Persistent feeling of numbness
  • Increased likelihood of turning to self-harming behaviors
  • Physical illness 

Why this matters now

Right now as a culture we are experiencing a collective grief on multiple levels. 

There is the obvious grief that comes with so many friends, neighbors, family members, and community members getting sick or passing, but that isn’t the only way COVID-19 has created loss and change in our lives. 

Schools are closed which means high school students don’t get to attend their prom, or their graduation. Community events are being cancelled. The ways in which we connect with one another in the summer (concerts, local festivals and arts events) are being cancelled. Local businesses we love are suffering, changing the landscape of our community. 

And while they may seem like small problems in comparison to the widespread illness across the world–we are still allowed to grieve them. And in fact we should grieve them. 

They are important sacrifices to make in the current state of the world, and they are big losses that have an emotional impact on us. Try holding those thoughts in your head at the same time. 

If you are feeling sad because you cannot attend your graduation, or you had to postpone your wedding, or you won’t be able to visit friends from other places indefinitely, that is 100% valid. 

When we ignore the emotional impact these losses have on us and our mental health and wellbeing, we don’t help anyone. 

But when we sit with those losses and let ourselves feel them, the negative impact they have on us in the long run is lessened. Instead of carrying them with us always, we give ourselves space to feel and to heal. Without acknowledgment there is no space to feel, to heal, or to move on.  

So how can we let ourselves grieve these losses?

Stop ignoring your feelings because “others have it worse”:

Of course others have it worse. Others will probably have it worse, somewhere in the world. But ignoring your own feelings doesn’t actually help any of these people. 

Imagine a friend was telling you about losing a job they loved. Would you tell them to suck it up because others have it worse? Probably not. You would give them the space to be upset about losing something they loved. Give yourself that same space. 

Give yourself intentional time to sit with your feelings: 

Maybe you do this through journaling. Maybe you do this by talking it out with a friend. Maybe you do it by putting on sad music, and singing along loudly–recognizing your own feelings of grief and sorrow in the music without ignoring it or minimizing it. 

No matter how you decide to sit with your feelings, really be intentional about it. Don’t gloss over what you’re feeling. Give space (through a journal or a conversation with a friend) to say exactly how you’re feeling. Getting it out, expressing it in some way, helps to lessen the burden of it.

-Lindsay N. Sanner, LSCSW, RPT

Tips to Help Couples Get Along While Both Working From Home

Raise your hand if your life looks totally different right now than it did three months ago. Us too! With the current COVID-19 pandemic, we’re all just trying to manage the best we can, but it’s natural to feel frustrated and overwhelmed by the circumstances. Most of us aren’t used to being cooped up at home, especially if we’re quarantining at home with a partner. Even in the happiest relationships, couples need to spend some time apart, and stay at home orders have made alone time a rare commodity. Things can get especially stressful when you and your partner are both working from home – not only do you have the normal stresses of work, you have to do it while figuring out how to deal with your partner’s presence.  Usually, home is a place where we can go to relax from the stresses of the world, but being stuck at home takes away that option, especially for folks who are also working from home and quarantining with a partner. 

Working from home is the reality for millions of people right now. Even though working at home sounds pretty great (you can work and pet your animals at the same time!), it is actually trickier in practice than in theory. 

When you work at home, it can be hard to maintain boundaries between work and your personal life. It can be tricky to motivate yourself without the hustle and bustle of your workplace around you. You might have a hard time focusing on work while there’s so much else going on right now. It’s also hard to get used to working with someone new, even if it’s just your partner working in the other room. If you’re having a hard time dealing with the adjustment to working from home at the same time as your partner, you’re not alone. 

Remember, we’re not just working at home right now, we’re working at home through a global pandemic. Be gentle with yourself during this time – if you’re struggling that’s nothing to be ashamed of.  

Here are some ways to make working from home together go more smoothly: 

  1. Minimize distractions
    1. If you’re both working from home, you probably have more distractions than you normally do in the office. When you need to get into work mode, it’s easier to do so if you have a set space to work with minimal distractions. If space is tight, it’s totally fine to work from bed or the couch (not everyone has a home office ready to go!). Just make sure you take a look around and remove anything that could be distracting to you. Put your phone on “do not disturb”, turn off the TV, close the blinds if the outdoors is too distracting. It might also be helpful to work in a completely different space from your partner. Coworking sessions can be productive, but it can also be distracting to have your partner across the room from you while you’re trying to focus. See if you can split up who gets which space so you have a plan, and then stick to it. 
  2. Talk about what you each need to concentrate
    1. You might have a totally different work style from your partner. Some folks like to listen to music or have background noise, while others need silence to get things done. Talk about the ways you focus at the office and see how you can adapt them to your home office. Can you turn on a fan for white noise? Does wearing headphones mean you are in “Do not disturb” mode? If your door is closed, can you be interrupted? Go over the hypotheticals so you have a better idea of what to do when issues come up. 
  3. Don’t forget to spend time together
    1. Yes, you’re home with your partner all day, but spending all day in the same building doing different things doesn’t necessarily mean you’re connecting with your partner. Set aside time after work (or before, whatever works for you!) to spend quality time together, with no talk of work and no agenda other than to connect with one another. Even if you’ve both had long days and you just sit with each other cuddling after work, taking the time to focus on intimacy can be helpful.
  4. Make sure everyone has their own supplies
    1. Getting work done might be impossible if you’re sharing your work resources or supplies with your partner. Make sure everyone has their own computer (or if you don’t, set up a schedule so it’s clear who gets the computer and when), pens, paper, chargers, and anything else they need to get their job done. 
  5. Talk about how to talk to each other
    1. Communication! It’s the best. Before you jump into a work day together, talk about how you will communicate during the work day. If you’re home together, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be talking to your partner all day. Some people don’t like disruptions while they work, so figure out if that’s the case before you jump in. Talk about how to talk to each other – can you send messages on slack or google hangouts? Do you want to keep up an all day text thread? Do you want to not chat during the day and talk about things when you’re done with work?
  6. Keep each other posted about potential distractions or interruptions to the routine
    1. If you have important meetings or other blocks of time where you cannot be interrupted or where your work will be extra distracting to your partner, let them know ahead of time so they can plan their day around it. 
  7. Have each other’s backs
    1. One nice thing about working in close proximity to someone who knows you really well is that they might see signs of burnout before you do. You can keep an eye on each other’s state of mind and encourage each other to take breaks and make time for self-care as necessary. It can be hard to disconnect from work when you’re working from home, so you can support each other to take it easy when you’re overwhelmed. 
  8. Accept that there will be frustrations
    1. Like with all things during this pandemic, there are going to be days where nothing is going as planned. There are going to be frustrations and you’re probably going to be annoyed by each other, at least some of the time. Figure out how you’d like to express your frustration with each other beforehand. Do you need to be left alone when you’re frustrated? Do you shut down and have a hard time asking for what you need? Let your partner know that so you can work through your frustration as a team. 

Working from home with your partner can be a little trickier than it sounds, especially during a pandemic. However, taking the time to make a plan and communicate your needs beforehand can help ease the transition and make working together easier for both partners. If you need more support figuring out how to work from home with your partner, our counselors can help you come up with something that will work for you. 

Brice N Sanner, LMFT & Lindsay N Sanner, LSCSW, RPT

How to Talk to a Partner About Your Depression or Anxiety

Talking to a partner about mental health issues can be difficult and scary. Especially if they have never had any sort of experience with anyone with mental health issues. 

It is an incredibly vulnerable conversation to have. But opening yourself up to being vulnerable with your partner can increase intimacy and trust in your relationship! And it is always a good thing when we tell our partners more about ourselves because it gives them the wonderful opportunity not only to know us better but to love us better. 

If you’re thinking about talking to your partner about your anxiety or depression here are 5 things to keep in mind: 

Wait until you’re ready

There is no one right time to talk to a partner about mental health issues. It’s a sensitive topic and requires a lot of trust and vulnerability. This means that until you’re ready to be open and vulnerable with them–until you trust them to honor that openness and vulnerability–you probably won’t be ready to have these conversations. Talking about it before you’re ready can make you feel nervous, defensive, and can actually make the conversation less helpful than just waiting until you’re ready. Give yourself permission to wait until that trust is there, and remind yourself you are doing something brave by sharing. And remember that you are giving your partner the opportunity to know and care for you better, which is always something to be celebrated! 

Tell them about your experience specifically 

You don’t need to teach your partner everything about anxiety or depression. You (likely) aren’t a psychologist, and as much as learning about depression and anxiety may have helped you understand your own experience, it may overwhelm your partner if it starts to feel like a class they are going to be tested on. 

Instead, stick to your specific experience. Let them know how anxiety or depression (or both) affect your life, what it means for you, what accommodations you’ve had to make, how that might come up in your relationship with them, etc. They can support you better if they know about your specific experiences, rather than a generic overview of what depression and anxiety are. 

Provide them with resources 

That’s not to say they shouldn’t keep learning! But it is not your job to teach them everything about mental illness, just because you struggle with one (or more). If there are books or websites or other resources that helped you to understand your own experience, pass them along to your partner. Let them know you’re happy to answer questions about your own experience and how it will affect your relationship with them. But encourage them to do their own research instead of depending on you for everything if they want to learn more. 

Write down what you want to talk about

When talking about something that involves so much vulnerability, it can be overwhelming. It can make us feel anxious, embarrassed, and want to hurry through it just to get it over with. 

Because of this, preparing a little beforehand can help to organize your thoughts and make sure you and your partner talk about everything you think is important. It doesn’t have to be word by word–don’t write an essay here! You can just make bullet points of things you find important and valuable to talk about. Start making the list from the moment you decide you want to talk to your partner. When something new pops into your head, that you think would add to the conversation, quickly add it to the list so you don’t forget. You can even let your partner read the list as you talk, by saying “these are the things I want to be sure to talk about, can you help keep me on track if this gets difficult?”

Give specifics

As we covered above, it’s important to keep the conversation specific to you and your experiences. This conversation is about opening up another part of yourself to your partner, not about educating them about mental health in general. But what does that actually mean? Specific things you should consider addressing can be: 

  • Your symptoms: what does anxiety/depression look like for you? How does it show up in your life?
  • Things that help: when you are in a depressive state or having high anxiety, what coping mechanisms help you? Are there ones your partner can learn to help you?
  • Things that are triggering, or areas where you’ll need extra support: let them know about things that make your anxiety/depression worse. This way they can either help you navigate life without these things, or offer you extra support when needed
  • What you need from them: is this conversation just to inform them? Let them know. Tell them you don’t need anything different from them, you just want them to understand your experience. If you do need something from them, tell them what it is! Give them the opportunity to be the best partner they can be. 

If you need more support in navigating these conversations, our couples counselors can help.

-Brice N. Sanner, LMFT

7 Ways to Improve Intimacy With Your Partner in Quarantine

We’re all learning to manage life in extreme circumstances right now due to the spread of COVID-19. We’ve been at this long enough that the novelty of staying home has worn off, and we’re all just trying to stay afloat the best we can. If you’ve been feeling a lot of complicated emotions right now, you’re not alone. A lot of us are feeling heightened anxiety, confusion, grief, fear, frustration, and sadness, just to name a few.

You might be upset with yourself for feeling so frustrated – after all, you’re just spending time at home. How is that hard? The truth is that even though it sounds simple, social distancing is anything but easy. Some folks are now completely isolated, cut off from their support systems to keep themselves and others safe. Others find themselves stuck at home with their family, loved ones, or roommates. Many people are at the extremes – either experiencing a lot of loneliness or being constantly surrounded by people. While both extreme loneliness and extreme togetherness are both problematic, today we’ll be taking a look at ways to manage living with a partner during this quarantine. 

A stretch of uninterrupted time with your partner sounds good in theory, but in practice, it might not actually be a smooth process. Many of us aren’t used to having other people around us every moment of every day, and it can be tricky to find time to be alone with yourself to reset. However, you also don’t want to spend your time in quarantine fighting with your partner. Fortunately, there are ways to improve your level of intimacy with your partner, even in quarantine. If you find yourself looking for ways to deepen the intimacy you feel with your partner, here are our best tips: 

  1. Establish boundaries
    1. In our last blog we talked about boundaries on social media, but you can set boundaries online or offline. When you’re stuck at home with your partner, it’s a good idea to draw up some ground rules to keep the tension to a minimum. Try to include things like who will use what space and when, how meals and chores will be divided, and how to establish that you want some alone time. That way when issues come up, you can refer back to the boundaries you discussed at the beginning to work things out. 
  2. Make touch a regular part of your routine
    1. Physical intimacy is also important during this time, not just emotional intimacy. There are different levels of touch ranging from social touching to more intimate or sexual touching. Try to make room for a variety of different touches in your day to day. Gently tap your partner on the shoulder to get their attention, give them regular hugs, hold hands, cuddle, play with their hair, or give each other massages for some ideas on where to start.
  3. Fight fairly
    1. Use “I” statements if you’re feeling frustrated with your partner. You, of course, have a right to say how you’re feeling, but try to frame it through your perspective instead of assigning blame to your partner. Instead of saying “You never take the garbage out,” say, “I feel disrespected when you don’t follow through on things you said you’d do, like taking out the garbage.” That way, you’re expressing the way their behavior makes you feel instead of immediately putting them on the defensive. 
  4. Designate screen-free time
    1. We’re all doing our best to distract ourselves right now, but sometimes distractions leave us feeling further away from our partners. Make some time each week to set aside your screens and focus on each other. Play a game, solve a puzzle, listen to an audiobook, dance to music in your living room – do whatever feels good to you and your partner. 
  5. Try not to take things personally
    1. This is a frustrating time, so try not to take it personally if your partner seems frustrated or upset. Of course, if your partner is taking our their feelings on you, you can have a discussion with them about it, but for the most part their feelings are their own business to work through. If they want to talk about things you can be there for them, but allow them to take the lead. If you need specific encouragement or reassurance from your partner, make sure to let them know so they can do the same for you. 
  6. Try a yes/no/maybe list
    1. When was the last time you checked in with your partner on what you’re interested in sexually? If you’re looking for a new way to connect with your partner, try a yes/no/maybe list. This list is usually used in negotiating sexual boundaries (especially in the kink world) but any couple can benefit from communicating clearly what they are or aren’t into. You can go through a list of sexual activities you’re open to or would like to try, but you can also have it include things like body boundaries, words and terms to use inside and outside of the bedroom (for body parts, pet names, etc.), and any triggers to watch out for. You can find example lists online or make your own, and just go through each item and decide yes (into it, want to try), no (not into it, don’t want to try), or maybe (might be into exploring this more). 
  7. Focus on the positive
    1. You don’t have to do this all the time, but try looking for some positivity. Can you go for a walk outside and admire how beautiful springtime is? Share funny videos and memes with each other. Watch comedy specials or find good news sources to get a daily dose of cheer in this trying time. 
  8. Share what you’re grateful for
    1. Starting a gratitude practice is a great way to take note of the good things going on in your life. If you have a personal gratitude practice, consider sharing it with your partner. You can take some time regularly to both talk about what you’re thankful for in the moment and celebrate those small moments together. 
  9. Make sure you both have another social outlet
    1. Even if you can’t leave the house, you don’t need to rely on your partner for 100% of your social life right now. Schedule some time separately from your partner to catch up with friends and family so that you can take a little break from each other.

If you’re living with your partner during quarantine and your frustration level is climbing, don’t worry. Take a deep breath and make a plan with your partner on how to actively try to turn things around. Remember, you’re a team. It’s you and your partner versus the problem, not you versus your partner. If you need more support in keeping the peace at home right now, our couples counselors can help.

-Brice N. Sanner, LMFT

Boundaries + social media/social media self care

As we’re all adjusting to life in the midst of COVID-19, the importance of connection and staying social is more apparent than ever. And a big way we’re staying connected with one another is by relying more on social media than in person interactions. 

Which is good! Social distancing can be lonely, and it’s important to stay connected. But that also means now is a good time to reflect on our social media use, and the boundaries we have regarding social media. 

Boundaries are often misunderstood. Sometimes we think they are too harsh, or that they just add restrictions to our lives. But boundaries are actually just about protecting our energy and prioritizing our mental health. They help to prevent us from burning out, and allow us a degree of control over the way we spend our emotional and mental energy. 

Setting boundaries on social media helps to honor the mental and emotional energy that goes into engaging on those platforms. It is easy to use social media mindlessly, not noticing how depleted it leaves us feeling until afterwards. So as we all shift our focus to virtual connections in this difficult time, it’s a good idea to reflect on how you use social media, how it leaves you feeling, and explore boundaries that can help to enrich the experience.

Ways to set boundaries on social media include: 

Limit how much time you spend on social media

Easier said than done, I know! But restricting social media use is actually a wonderful way to increase your actual enjoyment of your chosen platforms. Instead of refreshing your apps over and over, hoping for an update, give yourself a couple times a day that are reserved for checking in on social media. Maybe you scroll through twitter while drinking your coffee in the morning, or check instagram on your lunch break. 

Restricting the amount of time you spend on social media means you can be more intentional about how you use that limited time. You have reserved that time, so your attention can be there 100%. It also helps you to keep your feeds restricted to accounts that make that time worth it. If you only get a few minutes a day to be on instagram, you’re going to want to enjoy it, not scroll through a bunch of content you don’t care about! 

If you know you struggle to restrict yourself from mindlessly checking social media, don’t be afraid to use a website blocker. You can find ones that allow you to set a specific amount of time for any website per day. And once you’ve reached your cap, it won’t let you visit anymore!

Allow yourself to be picky with who you follow

Contrary to what it seems like, you don’t actually have to friend and follow everyone you’ve ever met! There is so much social pressure to get a high follower count or high “friend” count; but before friending or following someone, ask: what is this adding to my life? Is this someone I really want to connect with? Will the majority of their content enrich my feeds, or will it add more negativity than positivity?

Keeping healthy and firm boundaries on social media means treating your online spaces with the same attitude + boundaries as your “real life” social spaces. For example: if you were at a coffee shop and saw someone from your high school graduating class that you weren’t friends with, would you stop and ask for a detailed update on their life? Or would you just smile or wave and go about your business? 

Follow friends and loved ones. Follow accounts that offer valuable resources or make you happy. Allow yourself to say no to accounts that leave you with more negative than positive feelings. Allow yourself to let go of the pressure to connect with everyone you know, regardless of the relationship (or lack thereof) that you have with them.

Mute, unfollow, unfriend

Sometimes we feel pressure to stay connected with people on social media, even if we aren’t really friends. It can be awkward to unfriend a coworker and have to explain it the next day at work. But just because you follow someone on social media out of politeness doesn’t mean you have to see everything they post! 

If you’re following someone (a family member, coworker, acquaintance, classmate, etc.) whose posts constantly bring negativity to your feed, you’re giving them space not only in your feed but in your mind–and they are only adding negative feelings to that space. And though it is just a virtual space, it takes up valuable emotional and mental energy to sift through! 

If you’re not comfortable unfriending/deleting them, you can still remove them from your feed by using the mute option. On instagram you can mute accounts (stories + posts),  on twitter you can mute accounts and any selected words you don’t want to see on your timeline. And on facebook, you can “unfollow” someone–which means you’ll stay friends but their posts won’t ever come across your feed anymore. 

Turn off push notifications

An easy way to set boundaries with social media, is to turn off push notifications for your various apps. That way, you won’t feel the pressure to check something right now when a notification pops up. (And might even help you spend less time on your phone overall!)

 Turning off the push notifications is an easy compromise between where you are now and deleting the apps completely. While it still allows you to check in on things like twitter or instagram or facebook when you want to, you aren’t constantly being pulled back to them when your attention is elsewhere. 

Instead of stopping mid-task (or mid-conversation, etc) to check the notification that just popped up, you can reserve checking in on your notifications for when you are actively using those apps. It also helps bring a habit of mindfulness to your social media use! When you are using social media, instead of mindlessly scrolling after checking whatever notification just popped up, you’ll be intentionally choosing that time for social media use. 

Do you need help with setting boundaries in your life? We can help! Contact us today. 

-Brice N. Sanner, LMFT