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An Interview with Dr. Kristin Reynolds, Registered Psychologist

“Whether one is facing increased stress, loneliness, social isolation, or worsened mental health over the holidays, self-compassion is key.”

->> Dr. Kristin Reynolds is a Registered Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor and Director of Clinical Training in the Psychology Department, University of Manitoba.

 

->> Together with researchers, students, and community partners from the University of Manitoba, Brandon University, and A & O: Support Services for Older Adults, Dr. Reynolds has developed The CONNECT program, a group mental health program that explores values and self-compassion and is designed for older adults experiencing social isolation and loneliness.


"For some, the holidays may intensify a reminder of relationships that have been lost, weakened connections, or challenging personal health or social changes..."


Targeting Isolation asked Dr. Kristin Reynolds about social isolation, loneliness, and mental health during the holiday season. Here is what she had to say...

  

Targeting Isolation in Manitoba (TIMA): Sometimes the holiday season can bring about different emotions in people of all ages. Can you give us a sense of how the holiday season can be particularly hard for people?

 

Dr. Kristin Reynolds, University of Manitoba: The holiday season can bring up a range of emotional experiences for people. For some, the holidays may intensify a reminder of relationships that have been lost, weakened connections, or challenging personal health or social changes that are marked by one holiday season to the next. Feelings of grief and reminders of past traditions can be increasingly challenging. This season may also cue a longing for closeness, a desire for a warm embrace, or a return to a different (perhaps simpler) time in one’s life.

 

Stress levels can also increase during the holiday season. Stress can impact regular sleep, eating habits, and movement. For some, these enhanced stresses can serve to worsen existing feelings of depression and anxiety, or lead to a new onset of mental health problems.

 

The colder weather and reduced sunlight that we typically see around this time of year can also complicate experiences of social isolation, loneliness, and mental health problems. For example, icy sidewalks and streets and the need for warm layers of clothing can impact walks to the mailbox, meeting places, or the grocery store, and can lead people to stay inside and take shelter. This can worsen social isolation, loneliness, and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

 "...Our emotions can serve as important guides for our actions, and, if we are not paying attention them, we might be missing an important guiding light."

TIMA: How can people help cope with loneliness, social isolation or mental health issues?

 

Dr. Kristin Reynolds, University of Manitoba: It can be common to try to push away or avoid challenging feelings over the holidays. However, our emotions can serve as important guides for our actions, and, if we are not paying attention them, we might be missing an important guiding light.

 

For example, in our work with The CONNECT Program, we view loneliness as a signal that we need to fill a key value domain: Connection. So how can we connect? The answer to this question differs for everyone. The winter and the holiday season can be a time that it is especially difficult to connect due to factors like recent grief and loss, cold weather that reduces people’s ability to get out and about, less sunlight, icy conditions, and changes in mobility that impact accessibility.

 

In our program, we draw on a motivational theory (Baltes & Baltes, 1990) and stress the importance of selecting connection goals and ways of connecting that are meaningful and valued, while also being open to finding different ways to fulfill these goals. For example, if sending a holiday card is an important way to connect, but the price of cards and postage is too expensive or if there are changes to vision or writing that complicate this process, a person could consider placing a holiday telephone call instead. In this case, our goal was to connect during the holiday season: but we can try to be open to finding a new or modified way to make this connection. Celebrate the traditions that you can, when you can, while considering the development of new or modified ones.

 

TIMA: What else would like to share with people at this time of year?

 

Dr. Kristin Reynolds, University of Manitoba: Whether one is facing increased stress, loneliness, social isolation, or worsened mental health over the holidays, self-compassion is key. Self-compassion entails:

 

  • Self-kindness: Noticing self-criticism and offering a kind, warm, self-supportive voice. “This is a hard time, I’m here for you.”

  • Common-humanity: “You are not alone in feeling this way throughout the holiday season.”

  • Mindfulness: Observing experiences with a present-moment, non-judgmental focus. For example, for practice, while engaging in an activity (e.g., drinking a warm cup of tea, looking out a window, viewing a painting or enjoyable photographs) engage all five senses to be fully present with the activity, noticing any judgment and coming back to the experience of that sense.

  • Self-care: Practice self-care by trying to keep to one’s typical routine with sleeping, eating, and movement. Sit by a window, have warm lights on, or spend time outside during the middle part of the day.

 

If you have a pre-existing mental health problem which is worsening or notice a new development of a mental health problem that is getting worse, reach out to a mental health professional.

 

You can contact:

 

A & O: Support Services for Older Adults

Telephone (intake line): NOTE all calls are strictly confidential.

In Winnipeg: 204-956-6440

Toll-free: 1-888-333-3121

 

 

Manitoba Psychological Society

 

9-8-8 Helpline

Now available Canada-wide to call or text if you are seeking mental health assistance:

 

Telephone or text: 9-8-8

 

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