Mental Health in the time of Corona Virus

I never thought I would need to write a post like this. But here it is. I want to offer effective and sensible strategies for managing the many stresses and the anxiety that comes with this unprecedented viral pandemic.

Know the Warning Signs

These common signs of distress are your body, mind, and soul letting you know that you may at your stress-limit:

  • Feelings of numbness, disbelief, anxiety or fear.
  • Changes in appetite, energy, and activity levels.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Difficulty sleeping or nightmares and upsetting thoughts and images.
  • Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes.
  • Worsening of chronic health problems.
  • Anger, irritability or short-temper.
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs to ‘numb out’.

You may notice that some of these resemble the symptoms of depression. That doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting depressed. It likely means that you are straining to adjust to profoundly new and challenging circumstances and your nervous system is hyper-activated or sending you towards a ‘shut down’ state.

Know How to Respond to the Warning Signs

The Basics

  • Take care of yourself physically
    Photo by Nathan Cowley on
    As one writer put it, the body is the vehicle we have available to us to navigate life on earth. And it’s the only body that we get, so we should probably treat it well and take care of it. Eat healthy and sensibly, get some exercise regularly – it doesn’t have to be a marathon, just 20 minutes, and get enough sleep. Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drugs. These things numb a person out and do not help the situation!
  • Educate yourself– Sometimes we feel more anxiety than we need to because we are missing information that is available for the asking. When you feel that you are missing information, or don’t know what to do, it may be best to turn on the news or ask a friend who might know.
    Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on


    (Men this applies to us too when we don’t know where we are going. It’s okay to ask for directions) . It is always best to go to ‘the horses mouth’; government sources, etc for the most accurate information.

  • Avoid too much exposure to news– Everything in moderation. Take breaks from the news. Fixating on the news can fuel anxiety and worry. So limit the length of time you are focused on the news.
  • Connect with others– One of the most powerful things we can do to reduce our anxiety and worry is to connect with others. Share your concerns and feelings with a trusted friend or family member. Work towards building a strong support system. Of course, at this time connecting with social distancing means making contact through phone or a video platform like Skype, face time or zoom.
  • Reach out for help when you need to and don’t wait– Stress and some anxiety is a normal part of life, but if the anxiety about the Corona Virus is getting in the way of you functioning effectively at work or at home, then that’s a sign to reach out.
    Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on


    Reach out to a spiritual leader if that is appropriate for you and/or a counselling therapist.

The Not-So-Basic Stuff

There are a number of practices that can work directly on your nervous system to calm down the stress-response (racing heart, sweaty palm, difficulty concentrating, butterfly in the stomach).  Here are a few of them. Note you may or may not notice a benefit immediately. These are called practices because they work when you practice them.

  • Diaphragmatic breathing –  Singers know that breathing from the belly, not the upper chest is ‘good breathing’.
  • Butterfly Hug – This simple practice can be used as a mainteneance practice or on an ‘as needed’ basis.
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation – This practice is easy to learn and take with you throughout your day.
  • Practicing Kindness – Okay, this is a lighter video and prescription but be assured it is clinically proven to quiet the nervous system and improve wellbeing.
  • Practicing gratitude– also lighter sounding but also clinically proven to benefit wellbeing.


Know When to Reach Out

People are generally strong and resilient. Even in trying times like this Corona Virus pandemic people generally are carrying on with life and integrating the necessary adjustments into their daily and weekly life.  Of course,  if the stresses compound and it becomes difficult to function effectively, or difficult to regulate emotions then it may be time to reach out for spiritual of therapeutic help.

Photo by mentatdgt on

The therapists at Russell & Associates are able to provide clinically proven strategies beyond what you have read above to help you handles these times.  Of course in keeping with recommendations from health officials we are not meeting in conventional face to face office appointments. We are using secure video-conferencing technologies to meet virtually.  Research indicates that distance therapy is as effective and as satisfying for clients as face to face therapy.

Contact one of the therapists today here.

A Must-Read on Depression

Finding Your Silver Lining: 3 Signs It’s Time to Improve Your Emotional Wellness

It can be hard to see the bright side of life, when suffering from a form of depression and anxiety. Overtime, these mental conditions can wear us down and put not only our mental health in peril, but also our emotional and physical health as well. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, nearly 10 percent to 20 percent of Canadians suffer from some form of depression or anxiety. If you, or someone close to you, is suffering from some form of mental illness, it’s important to check up on personal wellness and know when depression goes too far and becomes potentially dangerous.

When Depression Goes Too Far

Those who have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, will know that the emotional ups and downs they experience are nothing like typical bouts of sadness. Depression affects how we think, feel and perceive the world around us. When depression begins to take control of your life, you need to be wary of falling down the path of suicide and self-harm.

Here are a few warning signs that indicate if a person’s depression is taking over their life and that it might be time to seek help:

  1. Becoming Withdrawn

When people become withdrawn due to severe anxiety or depression, they almost become ghost-like in their own daily lives. Not only do they stop going out or doing activities they usually love, they also will not communicate with friends or family. They may resign themselves to their bed for hours or maybe even all day. Depression can make you a prisoner in your own mind and keep you from coming out of your shell. Becoming so detached from the outside world will only worsen the depression and could push an individual to consider the inconsiderable.

  1. Changes in Behavior

Another sign that depression has gone too far is when a person starts acting strangely or erratically. You might notice a person say or do something completely out of character for them. Depression can cause this sudden transitory behavior in people as a mental defense mechanism. Sometimes this change of behavior can verge on the extreme. Normally sober, straight-edged people may turn to drugs or alcohol to distract from their depression, which of course, only exacerbates the underlying problems.

  1. Suicidal Thoughts or Verbalization

Finally, the biggest indicator that a person’s mental health is quickly deteriorating is when they begin to express a will to end their own life. Sometimes these cues can be subtle, but they should never be ignored. Suicide begins with an idea, and as depression builds this idea may become more prominent in the mind of the individual. If you start thinking regularly about killing yourself, or if you ever hear another person openly considering it, you should take action and seek help immediately.

How to Promote Emotional Wellness at Home

The best way to take control of your depression is by taking control of various aspects of your life. For many, this begins with the home. A cluttered home reflects a cluttered mind. Keeping your home neat and tidy will not only make you feel better, but also reassure you that you have control over your life, and depression.

Lighting has also been proven to help combat serious bouts of depression. By adding a little more lighting to your home, you can encourage yourself to remain active and push back gloomy thoughts. Candles are great for setting a mood, but also can help depression through aromatherapy. These are just a few ideas to make your home a safe place and take control of your depression.

Everyone is going through something; no one lives a perfect life. The best we can do is take whatever steps we can, big or small, to make our own lives a little better. Even when facing depression, there’s always someone out there who cares, and a silver lining just around the corner.

Photo Credit:

Our deep gratitude goes out to Melissa Howard whose mission is to make the world a safer place for people struggling with mental illness, especially suicidality. Find out more at

Making Love Last: Couples Therapy

Do You Feel Alone In Your Marriage?

Has the ‘vibe’ in your marriage changed? Maybe that’s why you are wondering about couples therapy.

Have shifts like job change and kids created stress and disagreements?

Do you wish you could just push the reset button and go back in time when it was easier?

It can feel painful and difficult when the closeness and connectedness get lost along the way. The zest that was there at the beginning can be hard to sustain in the long-term.

When that zest period ends things change. Communication can get more difficult and adjustments have to made in how you show love and commitment to one another. Without those adjustments resentment and bitterness can start to creep in and create further difficulties. Constant arguments over what ought to be trivial things, can make you feel like it tempting to shut down and shut off from your partner. Maybe couples therapy can help.

Every Couple Face Seasons of Stress and Trial

Almost every couple is going to deal with strains in the relationship.  It is inevitable because a relationship is two good, but flawed people. Loss of a loved one, a challenge like job loss, or even happy events lie a promotion at work or a birth of a child can be a stressor. On top of those inevitable life events, mental health challenges like depression, anxiety, adult ADHD, loss of sexual interest to name a few. And then there can be more dramatic challenges of infertility, or unplanned pregnancy, or infidelity that can create a rift in the relationship. Over time one or both people may let other interests take over until their commitment to the marriage is overshadowed.

There is a fragility in long-term intimate relationships. The good news, though is that with the help of a compassionate, experienced couples therapist you can get your relationship back on track and feel fulfilled and satisfied in your relationship.

How Couples Therapy Can Help

All couples go through tough times. The therapists at Russell & Associates have helped lots of couples through those seasons and see them come out the other side. We have extensive experience and we bring hope and optimism to the conversation. Whether it is a recent problem or a longstanding one, there is always hope for change for the better.

In the first session or two we will get a clear picture of each person’s needs, frustrations and wishes. We don’t take sides. That’s not helpful. We listen to both people to understand where you are coming from. When both people feel like someone is listening to their perspective, it becomes easier to identify that forces and dynamics that are driving the disagreements and conflict.

You may feel that you and your partner have grown apart., like he or she is not the same person you married. Well, that is partly true. You have grown and developed and become a new version of yourself, just as your partner has. The trick is to grow together and continue to appreciate the person your spouse is today; appreciate the person you are today, and still remember the good of the past. Even if you feel disconnected from your spouse now, with the help of a skilled and supportive therapist, it is possible to feel heard, understood, and empowered to make some positive shifts.

Doesn’t Going to Therapy Mean That There is Something Wrong With Us?

We have not problem getting the oil changed in our car from time to time. We understand that regular maintenance helps prevent larger more expensive repairs later on. The same principle applies to your relationship that you want to last much longer than your latest vehicle. Going for therapy doesn’t mean there is some thing wrong with you: it means you value yourselves and the relationship enough to make it the best it can be.

Also, couples research has shown that long-term happy married couples have problems. Those problems don’t mean its a bad marriage or bad people, it just means there two humans trying to do the best they can.

Isn’t Couples Therapy Expensive?

Look at couples therapy as an investment in yourself and your relationship. By working out the kinks in the relationship you will significantly reduce your stress and anxiety level, and if there are kids in the home they will feel the improvement.

You Can Grow and Flourish in Your Relationship

If you are ready to get started improving your relationship with our help, we would love to help! Contact one of the therapists on our roster in Winnipeg, or in Steinbach. The following therapists are particularly interested in couples therapy.

Garry Dyck in Steinbach

Rod Minaker in Winnipeg

Lynette Sacco in Winnipeg

Daina Funk in Steinbach

Yok Knight in Winnipeg



Toward Vitality: Chronic Pain Treatment

How Counselling Therapy can Help Manage Chronic Pain

It may seem odd to get counselling for chronic pain management. Read on to find out why it may be a good idea to consider skilled counselling for pain management.

Has chronic pain taken your life away?

Are you noticing that you are slower, stiffer and more limited in your lifestyle, and it is not just age that is slowing you down?

It can feel awful and isolating to notice that pain is taking more and more of your freedom. Maybe the pain is from an accident or injury or something that has increased slowly over the years. Either way is take a toll on your zest for life, it can isolate you from friends and family, and it can be depressing.

Everyone experiences pain from time to time. Chronic pain is when that pain is not an event that comes to and end, but the pain continues. Perhaps with ebbs and flows, but the pain is more or less a new reality in your life – like an unwanted house guest!

Certainly, when a person experiences chronic pain, the first thing to do is bring it to one’s physician so it can be medically assessed, monitored and managed. As Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. says, “Pain is like the oil light on your body’s dashboard telling you that something desperately needs attention,” Dr. Teitelbaum, M.D., is the medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers. So, it just makes sense to bring the pain to the attention of one’s physician to identify what is causing the pain and see what can be done to manage it medically.

What is the Role of Counselling in Chronic Pain Managment?

Fortunately, there are often more pathways to successfully manage chronic pain. The American Chronic Pain Association states that alternative therapies often lessen the need for medications and other more invasive procedures. Alternative therapies moderate exercise, progressive relaxation and guided imagery, acupuncture and acupressure, biofeedback and EMDR, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Some of these therapies are helping the body to send less pain signals to the brain, where pain is registered. Others of these therapies work through the mind itself to change the way the pain signal arriving from the body is processed in the brain. These counselling therapies can be very helpful alongside medical management of chronic pain. This article will address some of these alternate therapies for pain management.

These forms of chronic pain management  also allow people to take a more active role in pain management.


Regular exercise and physical therapy are usually part of any pain management plan.

It is well established that light to moderate exercise is critical in the relief of pain. A large percentage of pain comes from tight muscles. These may be triggered by overuse, inflammation, or other conditions.

Regular exercise is important for treating chronic pain because it helps:

  • strengthen muscles
  • increase joint mobility
  • improve sleep
  • release endorphins
  • reduce overall pain


Relaxation techniques are often recommended as part of a treatment plan. You may find some of the information and approaches related to anxiety management can be very helpful.They help to reduce stress and decrease muscle tension. Relaxation techniques include:

  • meditation
  • massage
  • yoga

Some people find Yoga also has other benefits for chronic pain. It can help strengthen muscles and improve flexibility.

Acupuncture and acupressure

Acupuncture and acupressure are types of traditional Chinese medicine. They relieve pain by manipulating key points of the body. This prompts the body to release endorphins which can block messages of pain from being delivered to the brain.

The late Dr. John Sarno spent his career treating chronic back pain and claims to have brought relief to many, many people without expensive, invasive surgery. Briefly, Dr. Sarno maintained that some cases of chronic pain are best understood in terms of an interaction between the mind and body creating real, genuine pain symptoms. Particularly, that the brain is attempting to be helpful by distracting the person from painful and distressing emotions by generating back pain. Again, the pain is real. But the pain is psychogenetic. You can read a popular article on Dr. Sarno here.

As with any medical issue, it is critical to primarily be under the care of your family doctor. Don Russell  can bring other resources and approaches to complement you medical care.

Photo credit: Gisela Giardino. Used under license

Toward Calm: Trauma Treatment

Healing From Trauma and Abuse

Trauma and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder are much more familiar concepts these days. Most people are familiar with the terms and many people understand the signs of trauma. Fortunately, research has advanced also in understanding at a neurological level what is happening in the mind of a traumatized person. And perhaps more importantly within the past 10-20 years, we have a much better understanding of how to  do trauma treatment and bring about relief and possibly resolution of trauma symptoms. For example;

  • We know that a person who has suffered trauma can not simply ‘get over it’. Their mind is stuck in a loop of thing, feeling and reacting they can’t get out of by themselves.
  • We know that the looping the mind is doing is the mind trying its hardest to heal itself by making sense of an experience – except that the trauma experience does not make any sense.
  • We know that anxiety always accompanies trauma and depression very often accompanies trauma too.
  • We know that trauma symptoms can be caused by a traumatic event (Acute trauma); a traumatic pattern in early life (developmental trauma); or by a traumatic event very early in life, before the person has developed language, in which case the trauma is stored in the body and emotions, but not in words.
  • We know that trauma typically has to be treated with talk therapy. But talk therapy usually isn’t enough. Therapies that target and heal the body and the emotions are required for full healing and recovery.
  • We know that trauma is about an experience that was profoundly unsafe. That profoundly unsafe feeling carries on long after the traumatic event has ended. And so, trauma treatment must, first create a felt sense of safety in the therapy office.

Trauma treatment requires a competent therapist to accurately tease out these issues so that the person receives the best treatment. Effective treatments for each of trauma exists, but it is very important that you work with a therapist who is astute and up to date on treatment options. The competent clinician who treats a traumatized client needs to have a general perspective on how trauma undermines a person’s basic assumptions about how the world and their own life operate in order to help a person re-establish a coherent perspective. It is also important to take into account the cultural perspective of traumatized clients.

Acute Trauma

Acute trauma is the ‘normal’ kind of trauma that comes to mind when we hear the term. A dramatic event that the person didn’t see coming rocked their world and left them shocked and reeling. The event might be a motor vehicle accident, sexual assault, robbery or some other form of criminal violence. Trauma treatment in these kinds of cases is frequently relatively brief and efficient since the trauma is constrained to an event or a small period of time.

Developmental Trauma

Photo credit Mario used under license

In contrast to acute trauma that is discrete and contained in terms of when it happened, developmental trauma occurred as a pattern of behavior and interactions over a long period of time, in childhood. These patterns aren’t abusive in the way we normally think of that term, but they are still damaging. For example, a parent who is not able to reliably regulate their own anxiety, may unintentionally communicate to their child a) that the world is not a safe place, b) being a grown up is a scary thing, and c) that it is the child’s role and responsibility to regulate the parent’s emotions. These kinds of dynamics can create trauma effects in the child, such as a distrust of others and apprehension toward ‘being adult’ and an over-developed sense of responsibility for other’s feelings. Not the recipe for a full and abundant life. This creates a few challenges for treatment. The individual may not immediately recognize that the behaviors and interactions were dysfunctional, because the person wouldn’t know anything different.

Childhood Abuse

Childhood abuse can take a variety of forms: some obvious and some more subtle. Obvious abuse like physical violence and sexual exploitation need no explanation. Other forms of childhood abuse such as verbal violence, emotional manipulation and emotional neglect can be equally damaging, but more difficult to recover from since the wounds aren’t apparent.

Vicarious or Secondary Trauma

Vicarious or secondary trauma is equally potent but much less understood and accepted than the kinds of trauma described above. Police officers, firefighters, other emergency responders as well as counsellors and social workers witness and hear stories of traumatic events that have happened to others. But witnessing and hearing about can have the same effect as experiencing it oneself.
The symptoms can be similar, including hyper-arousal, numbing out, flashbacks or intrusive thoughts and collateral effects including substance abuse. What makes vicarious trauma more difficult to deal with is that the helper may have difficulty accepting that witnessing can have a traumatizing effect since they were doing their job helping others.

Spiritual Abuse

Since one’s spirituality is so central to who we are as people when one’s spirituality is exploited and hijacked for someone else’s advantage, the effects can be particularly damaging. This makes spiritual abuse is a special case of the abuse of power, and particularly difficult to recover from. The therapist’s at Russell & Associates can bring a reasoned perspective and an empathetic response to this kind of abuse and facilitate the recovery and healing from spiritual abuse.

How Our Trauma Treatment Can Help

The therapists at Russell & Associates are caring, patient and skilled in identifying the factors involved in these forms of abuse and they are highly skilled treating trauma and abuse with clinically proven techniques. Call us today to get started on your healing journey. Or simply contact us by email here. We will get back to you shortly.


Toward Freedom: Anxiety Therapy

Do You Need Anxiety Treatment?

Does it feel you feel that your worries are taking over your life? Do you find yourself rehearsing difficulties from the past as if that will protect you from problems in the future? Are you noticing your anxiety is preventing you from engaging in, and fully enjoying your life? Read on to learn more about anxiety treatment.

If the questions above strike a chord with you, we have good news!
Anxiety, the kind of anxiety that starts to get in the way of life is very common, in fact about a third of the population will have a diagnosable anxiety disorder during their lifetime. Since anxiety typically shows up with unpleasant and frightening physical symptoms, many people with anxiety find themselves in their doctor’s offices on a regular basis with physical complaints such as stomach aches and headaches. Anxiety can lead to social and professional withdrawal. People with anxiety often complain of restlessness, difficulty concentrating, physical tension and sleep issues. The not-so-good news is that left untreated, anxiety tends to grow and take over more and more ‘space’ in a person’s life. Part of this is because anxiety tends to trick people into doing things that maintain or even grow the anxiety, instead of reduce it. That’s why some people say, ‘I’m trying to get a grip on this, but it just seems to get worse’.
Anxiety issues are among the most common issues that brings people to the therapist’s office. The good news is that anxiety is also among the most treatable disorders.
The therapists in our group are very familiar with how anxiety works and familiar with what helps and what doesn’t. With recent advances in interpersonal neuro-science, we know more than ever what helps and why it helps.So, whether it is panic, of a trauma-related anxiety; whether it is a fear of flying, or public speaking or small spaces, let us help you get your life back.

What Can you Expect in Anxiety Treatment?

Your therapist will listen carefully to your description of anxiety so we can understand together the history, context, the triggers and the impact anxiety is having in your life. We will also listen to hear what resources and strategies you already have in place that are helping. Then will will begin treatment by working together to help you develop new strategies to manage worry and stress in your life. Likely, we will address beliefs about the protective value of worrying. In anxiety disorder treatment, we will engage in active problem solving and the development of applied relaxation techniques, mindfulness techniques, and perhaps guided imagery exercises. For some people and situations, a more advanced technique of EMDR will be offered to repair the dysfunctionally stored information processing that is maintaining the anxiety. Anxiety disorder treatment will help you implement evidence-based techniques for managing anxiety and worry in your life. Treatment for anxiety disorders will help you develop productive worry and preparation techniques, and learn to keep excessive anxiety in its place.
Contact us today to get your life back from anxiety!