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“Feel it to Heal it”: Mental Health Coping Tips from Psychologist Kassandra Heap


Kassandra Heap is a remarkable Calgary-based psychologist who graciously took time to chat with nudemarket about techniques for dealing with common symptoms that may arise during this time of change and uncertainty. We asked about how we can support children during this time, especially since they may be going back to the classroom, and how we can take care of ourselves the best way possible to support others. 

“I think it's really important that we take psychology out of the therapy room and we make it a little more accessible.” - Kassandra Heap

Like Kassandra, we wanted to share some mental health coping tips with our nudemarket community which includes avid environmentalists, hard-working parents, and local-loving Calgarians. We know coming into a new season may bring some uncertainty, especially if we are being encouraged to head back to the office or send our children back to school. We wanted to find out some expert-recommended ways to deal with any feelings that may arise with the continuing uncertainties. 

We knew we weren’t experts, so we asked Kassandra any questions we had on helping children (and ourselves) manage anxiety, using techniques to help us stay grounded and dealing with social distancing. She openly answered all of them and gave us some great, applicable tips to manage mental health, including why we should “feel it to heal it”. Continue reading for Kassandra’s full, unfiltered answers to our questions.

THE INTERVIEW


How has your focus on mental health changed during the recent pandemic? 

 

 

 

Within sessions with my clients I have been seeing a lot more - not necessarily new - concerns. If someone was experiencing anxiety or depression prior to, it certainly hasn't gone away but maybe is a bit more magnified. 

I am also finding that people who typically haven’t experienced these types of concerns are noticing (maybe not at the clinical level)  more of those symptoms of depression and anxiety coming through with COVID.

 
How can we handle the disappointment that recent change has brought?
 

 

The biggest thing is letting ourselves feel the disappointment. My approach to any difficulty we have in life, if we try quickly to push it away or try to put a positive spin on everything, we are impairing our ability in the long run to cope with things. I kind of have a little motto: feel to heal it. Let yourself feel the disappointment and grief of some of these massive changes that we have all been experiencing to different degrees. 

Feeling it, people really worry that we are wallowing or we will be stuck in it, but truly if we let ourselves feel the emotion we are truly experiencing, they tend to pass really quickly. They tend to only last 90 seconds, most emotions, if we really fully acknowledge them. So I say if that emotion arises, fully acknowledge it and experience it. If you want to cry, cry. There is nothing wrong with that. We do not need to quickly change the message we have for ourselves in those moments we can just feel it.

How can we protect our mental health while we are socially distancing and possibly losing social connections? 

1 - Establish a flexible and gentle routine. Make sure that we have some consistency in our day such as a wake up time, falling asleep time, building within the routine to connect with others like scheduled every week having a call with grandparents, or parents or other family members and friends. 

2 - Making sure you can still get outdoors and do physically distanced walks and outings with people. 
Making sure you build something like this into your schedule because oftentimes when we are feeling some depression or anxiety symptoms, we tend to want to hole up a little bit and not connect as much, so I like the idea of building it into our schedule as a way to connect with other people.

3There are also ways to get creative to do this too, there are so many apps and ways to connect with other people online like watch videos together or online board games! We may have to get a bit more creative in the future as to what social connection looks like and some of those amazing digital advances that we have right now.

What are some tips to share with parents to help them cope?

1 - Being as secure and stable and regulated as you can. This may put a lot of pressure on parents, I know, but at the end of the day when a child comes to us for support, whether emotional, physical, whatever it is, they are looking for someone to be a secure and stable base. This means that we are feeling comfortable in our emotions, we are feeling grounded, our body is feeling regulated (which means our nervous system is regulated), we are dealing and coping with our own stress so when they come to us we are not getting caught up in their worries or their fears or their dysregulations, we are able to present them with that security and that stability. You are keeping yourself in check, taking care of your own mental health, you are making sure you are processing your feelings and regulating your stress.
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2 - When our kids come to us for support, make sure we are able to help talk them through it. I don't mean taking them out of it, I mean walking them through it. If they come to us and tell us they are anxious or worried about something, really being an open and receptive channel for them so they can express and feel their concerns and maybe you can help name it for them - “it sounds like you are really worried about that” and validate it “that makes sense that you are worried for that, we are in really scary times right now.” 

3 - The next piece is making sure you can provide that stability and reassurance and security. “I’m going to make sure I take care of you and whatever happens in the future I'm here” just providing that reassurance in that moment. And that is kinda with anything - talking through the emotions, meaning it, and reminding them that you are going to be there for them.

What would you say would be a good way to manage anxiety in children?

The approach to anxiety tends to be fairly similar across the board when it comes to adults or children, just presented in a different way. It just really depends on your own philosophical underpinning as a therapist. Every therapist has an approach to anxiety. Mine tends to be from a mindfulness perspective.

The main sort of thing I did when I worked at a school with children would be to teach them basic mindfulness skills. That would be learning how to focus on their breath and just let thoughts come in and let thoughts go. There are some really cool apps out there these days that are accessible for adults and children that help you cope with anxiety symptoms though mindfulness techniques. 

Kassandra also recommended that parents check out the Emotion Coaching resources available at The Gottman Institute, which helps parents support their child.

What are some techniques that help ground us to the present moment?

 

My favourite activity that I think is really accessible for little ones and adults too is called mindfulness of breath. 

With little ones, I may use a stuffy where they lay on the floor and put the stuffy on their chest and they can watch the stuffy rise and fall and focus on that anchor to the present moment. Another one is picturing blowing up a really big bubble, and the picturing sucking in and inhaling that bubble is another really fun one for kids. The goal there is to be in the present moment and try to pay as much attention and redirect our attention to our breath.

What is the benefit of grounding ourselves using breath? 

 

It really helps anchor us so we can experience the present moment a little bit more fully when we go about our day and I think about it as a muscle. If you can practice this ability that when you notice your mind wandering off into something else and you are able to bring your attention back to that breath or something else in the present moment, throughout your day you are going to reap the benefit of that, because when your mind starts getting really busy, or starts worrying about the future, or something that has happened in the past, you are better able to bring your attention back to the present moment.

What is the biggest takeaway you want to give to our readers?

Feel to heal. It's an important component to instead of turning away from these really difficult feelings right now but have ourselves interact with them in a more mindful way, observing them, maybe naming them without judgement and just letting yourself feel the sensation of that emotion as they arise. I truly believe that is coping. I don't think it’s realistic to try to put expectations on us to not have those symptoms right now. I truly believe anxiety and depression symptoms are going to come up, and no matter what for us, and it's more how we react to them. Are we really fearful of them? Do we want to push them away really quickly? At the end of the day i don't think that’s the most effective strategy. I think the most effective strategy is to just allow ourselves to be with them.  


We are so grateful that Kassandra shared these amazingly helpful strategies with us! We are looking forward to putting them into action, and letting ourselves remember to truly feel our emotions. Kassandra also has a really amazingly educational Instagram page with tons more tips, so check it out @kassandra.heap.yyc!

Did this article help? Who should we interview next?! We are collecting ideas for next month so comment below!

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*Disclaimer: the article is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Kassandra Heap Psychological Services Ltd. and Kassandra Heap are not liable for any loss or damage caused by your reliance on information obtained through the article. It is your responsibility to evaluate the accuracy, completeness or usefulness of any information, opinion, advice or other content in the article. Please seek the advice of professionals, as appropriate, regarding the evaluation of any specific information, opinion, advice or other content. Never disregard professional advice, including medical advice, or delay in seeking it, because of something you have read in this article

Kassandra's headshot was taken by Sheena Zilinski - check her out on instagram @sheen.ism

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