As a necessary precautionary measure, and to reduce the risk of community transmission of COVID-19, we modified how we deliver services on Monday, March 16, 2020. We know that the situation we currently find ourselves in is new and unnerving. For many of us, it will increase the intensity of feelings we have that are embedded in the trauma we have experienced.
To help, we developed a series of self-care strategies to help you manage your stress and anxiety while social-distancing, or if you are in isolation. The resources available on this page incude strategies for at-home crisis management, self-soothing, building a routine, and how to stay safe while self-isolating.
Please note that all our regular services, including legal, housing, and interpretation, remain available over the phone.
To access any services at the Clinic, please call Central Intake at 416 323 9149 ext. 234 and leave a message. We need to know your name, your phone number, and if it is safe to leave a message when we call you back. Someone will call you back and connect you with support.
A note to survivors
People who have experienced trauma have so much wisdom from having moved through uncertainty and instability at different points in life. It is normal to feel stressed when encountering a new threat and sweeping changes. You may feel anxious, numb or afraid. Old memories may feel fresh and dormant traumas may suddenly resurface. This does not undo the healing work you have done or undermine the steps you took to find safety. It’s okay if this is hard. There is no right way to feel.
If you’re in crisis, there are 24/7 telephone supports available to you. You may also consider calling a friend or loved one.
If you are in danger or have a medical emergency, call 911.
We are taking collect calls and can try to help if you don’t have access to a phone or the Internet.
If we return your call and it is not a safe time for you to speak to us, just say “sorry you have the wrong number,” and we will try another time.
Over the phone crisis supports include:
- Assaulted Women’s Helpline: (24/7) 416 364 4144 or 1 888 364 1210
This is also the number to call if you are fleeing violence and need to access a violence against women shelter
- Toronto Central Health: Central Intake (24/7)416-338-4766
If you are homeless and need to access shelter
- Talk4Healing(24/7) 1-855-554-4325 (For indigenous women)
- Gerstein Crisis Centre(24/7): 416 929 5200 – PLEASE SEE UPDATE
(For people of all ages, genders and sexual orientations)
- Toronto Distress Centre(24/7): 416 408 4357
(For people of all ages, genders and sexual orientations)
- YouthLine– (Sun-Fri. 4:30 – 9 pm) Peer Support. Call 416 962 9688 or Text 647 694 4275 (For LGBTQ youth age 16-29)
- Kids Help Phone(24/7): 1 800 668 6868 (For people under 20 years old)
- Crisis Outreach Service for Seniors(9 am – 5 pm daily): 416 217 207
(For people 65+ years old)
Steps to begin art-making
Inspirational words: Notice if there’s a poem, song lyric or saying that inspires you to create today.
Soundscape: Notice if certain sounds support you in creating today. You might even create a playlist.
Mindfulness: Notice if there’s a breathing technique or grounding tool that will help support you in your awareness of the present moment. It might start with noticing the colours in the room and seeing if one catches your eye or holding a stone and noticing its temperature and weight.
Creative exercises you might explore
- Art journal: Create an art journal. It may include written or visual expressions.
- For written expressions: You could start with freewriting or journaling. Circle the words that stand out to you and see if you can rearrange them into a poem. You can also cut out words you find in a magazine or write down words you see throughout the day and try to rearrange them into a poem.
- For visual expressions: You could start by creating lines on a page and notice how your hand naturally wants to move. Notice any new movements that want to happen. What is it like to create light lines versus pressured lines, straight lines versus circular lines? You can leave the lines as they are, or you can fill the spaces in with colour, using markers, pencils, pastels, magazines or fabric.
- You can also explore different themes in your journal. For instance, it might be based on dreams and used for inspiration to create visual and written expressions.
- Paint to music: Let your creativity flow by moving a pencil or marker on a page in response to music. This is one way of expressing emotions and taking care of yourself in the moment.
- Scribble drawing: Begin this exercise by creating a scribble. You might explore pressure, movement and pace to express what you’re holding at the moment. Afterwards, you may notice shapes that look like things (just as you would looking up into the clouds). The shape could inspire your creativity, or you can add colour to the forms that emerge between the lines. Let your instincts guide you.
- Draw in the dark: This is one way of creating while keeping the inner critic at bay.
- Use colours that calm you: Create an artwork using colours that you find calming.
- Draw a place: Connecting with locations that offer you a sense of safety, security, relaxed and calm can be a starting point to feeling these things within your body. You can draw a calming place or even create one in an old shoebox.
- Create an artwork based on an accomplishment: Use this as an opportunity to connect with your sense of capacity and ability to achieve things that are difficult or unexpected. Your artwork may be a reminder of that accomplishment when you’re feeling down or nervous.
Create a motivational collage: You can place this collage in a spot you visit every day to inspire and motivate you.
- Motivational collages may also include images of spaces that you find relaxing, beautiful, curious or resourcing in some way. Simply notice the images that capture your attention and allow yourself the time to enjoy what calls to you.
- Think up a wild invention: This invention might achieve something that makes you smile or fulfills a need. For example, a robotic dog that makes you pancakes in the morning.
- Think of the people who matter most to you in your life and create unique artwork for each of them. This artwork is one way of expressing gratitude and acknowledging the people who make a difference in your life.
- Draw yourself as a warrior. Think of the strengths you have within, whether that starts by exploring posture or movement or acknowledging how you’ve overcome challenges, and create an artwork that captures your inner warrior.
- Follow your instincts. Create simply to create. Welcome process over product and explore materials that capture your attention, working from intuition. This process is for you; you might be surprised by what’s made possible from this spontaneity.
Steps to closing art-making
Notice when the artwork wants to come to an end or pause. Take a moment to notice if there is one last mark or change you want to make. It can be helpful to stay connected to your creative mind to ease your way out of your art-making. Take a moment to notice and even write down what you created, paying attention to colours, textures, parts and the whole. Allow yourself to notice without judgement. This practice is called staying on the surface. A story or poem may even come from the description. One way to write a poem is to circle words you wrote down that stand out to you. You can rearrange the words, even add or subtract words to make a sentence or a poem. It might not make sense, but it might make you laugh. This is a moment to play with words as part of the creative process.
Once you’re done playing with words, you may want to reflect on how this experience has been for you. Do you notice any shifts in thoughts, sensations or feelings? What did you enjoy about the process? What was challenging? What supported you through the challenges? Is there any wisdom or learning that came from this process?
It is an especially important time to think about strategies that support our mental health while practicing social distancing. Sometimes consistency can add a sense of structure and control in otherwise uncertain circumstances, and creating a routine can help with this. Below are some ideas to consider as you begin to learn methods that work best for you.
Start your day with some consistent routines:
- Enjoy some quiet time, if you can, and explore a mindful activity. Notice the ground beneath your feet. Notice the temperature change as you breathe in and out through your nostrils. Notice which posture feels best for you. Notice unwanted thoughts arising and gently place them to the side, for now, to stay with what works. It could be the comfort of your pillow, the length of your exhalation, the temperature of a cup in your hand, or the texture of a blanket.
- Stay connected. Call a friend or family member, or schedule a hangout over Facetime, Skype or Zoom. There are even some online spaces to play your favourite games with one another.
- Tap into your creativity.Create an art journal, collage, paint to music, use colours that relax you. Notice what it feels like to play and create, and how doing this might engage and hold your attention.
If you’re not doing okay, ask yourself some critical questions about the day-to-day:
- Am I hydrated? If not, have a glass of water.
- Have I eaten in the past three hours? If not, have something now.
- When did I last shower? See if and how it shifts your mood.
- Have I stretched my legs today? If not, do so right now. Take a walk around the block if it feels supportive.
- Have I moved my body to music in the past day? If not, find a song that makes you want to move or dance.
- Have I reached out for support in some way? If not, consider talking with someone about your experience. Notice if some of the grounding, self-soothing and creative practices in “Tools for Triggers, Coping, and Feeling Overwhelmed” capture your attention.
What is Grounding?
Grounding is a technique that helps bring your focus to what is happening in or around your body to you physically, either in your body or in your surroundings. As a strategy, it helps prevent us from becoming overwhelmed by our emotions or feeling trapped by anxious thoughts in your mind. Grounding allows us to focus outward on the external world so we can better come back to the present moment.
Why practice Grounding?
When we are overwhelmed with emotional or physical pain, we need a way to come back to the present moment to gain control over our feelings and feel safe. Grounding helps us hold onto the present moment.
Many people struggle with feeling either too much (overwhelming emotions and memories) or too little (numbing and dissociation). Grounding strategies help us attain balance.
- Grounding can be done any time, any place, anywhere, and no one has to know.
- Keep your eyes open, scan the room, and turn the light on to stay in touch with the present. Focus on the present, not the past or future.
Ways of Grounding
Three grounding techniques are described below – mental, physical, and soothing. “Mental” means focusing your mind; “physical” means focusing on your senses (e.g. touch, hearing), and “soothing” means talking to yourself in a very compassionate way.
You may find that one type works best for you. It may be necessary to practice a grounding strategy more than once before you begin to notice yourself coming back into the present moment, which is both okay and normal.
- Describe your environment in detail. Using all your senses, describe objects, sounds, textures, colours, smells, shapes, numbers, and temperature. For example, “The walls are white; there are five pink chairs; there is a wooden bookshelf against the wall; I smell brewed coffee.”
- You can do this anywhere. For example, on the subway: “I’m on the subway. I’ll see the river soon. Those are the windows. I am sitting on the bench. The metal bar is silver. The subway map has four colours.”
- Play a “categories” game with yourself. Try to think of “types of dogs,” “jazz musicians,” states that begin with ‘A,’ “cars,” “TV shows,” “writers,” “sports,” “songs,” or “cities.”
- Describe an everyday activity in great detail. For example, describe a meal that you cook, e.g. “First I peel the potatoes and cut them into quarters. Then, I boil the water. Then, I make a herb marinade of oregano, basil, garlic, and olive oil”.
- Imagine. Use an image. For example, glide on skates away from your pain; think of a wall as a buffer between you and your pain.
- Say a safety statement. “My name is __; I am safe right now. I am in the present, not the past. I am in __ (location); the date is__ .”
- Count to 10 or say the alphabet, very s l o w l y.
- Run cool or warm water over your hands.
- Grab tightly onto your chair as hard as you can and feel the sensation of your hands on your chair.
- Touch various objects around you, noticing their textures, colours, materials, weight, temperature. Explore these objects with curiosity as if you are seeing them for the first time.
Dig your heels into the floor – literally “grounding” them! Notice the tension centred in your heels as you do this.
- Remind yourself that you are connected to the ground.
- Carry a grounding object in your pocket – a small object such as a rock, piece of clay, a ring, a piece of cloth or yarn, that you can touch whenever you feel triggered to bring you back to the present moment
- Jump up and down.
- Notice your body – feel the weight of your body in the chair; wiggle your toes in your socks; feel your back against the chair. Feel yourself connected to the world.
- Extend your fingers, arms, or legs as far as you can; roll your head around.
- Clench and release your fists slowly.
- Walk slowly, noticing each footstep, saying “left” or “right” with each step.
- Eat something, describing the flavours in detail to yourself.
- Focus on your breathing, noticing each inhale and exhale. Repeat a pleasant word to yourself on each inhale (e.g. a favourite colour, or a soothing word such as “safe” or “easy”).
Say compassionate statement to yourself, as if you were talking to a friend.
For example, “You are through a hard time, but you’ll get through this. One second at a time”. “ May I be safe and cared for, May others be safe and cared for”
- Think of favourites. Think of your favourite colour, animal, season, food, time of day, a TV show.
- Picture people, you care about (e.g., your children or parents) and look at photographs of them.
- Remember the words to an inspiring song, quotation, or poem that makes you feel good.
- Remember a safe place. Describe a place that you find very soothing (perhaps the beach or mountains, or a favourite room); focus on everything about that place – the sounds, colours, shapes, objects, texture. Explore this place with curiosity
- Say a coping statement: “I can handle this,” “This feeling will pass.”
Adapted from ‘Seeking Safety: A treatment manual for PTSD and substance abuse,’ Najavits (2002)
Care for your coronavirus anxiety
On managing stress and anxiety
Download a mental health app like “Shine: Calm Anxiety and Stress.”
“This situation puts us into alarm. Alarm means your sympathetic system is activated, and your entire being wants to do something. There is a huge amount of energy that is gearing up inside of you. You are ready to fight; you are ready to flee. And you are being asked to stay home. This might feel like other situations when you have felt trapped. You might feel overwhelmed and even frozen. This is normal. You need to move this energy through. You need to regain a sense of agency and control. You do not need to run a million errands. You need to move your body, you need to make something (art, food, music). You need to connect with another being.”
By Dr. Sachiko Nagasawa