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During Fall 2020, we introduced the 'PSYC Self-Care Tip of the Week' intiative as a way to share self-care tips between department members and boost morale during the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff, faculty members, and students were invited to share a short blurb in response to how they were able to cope during quarantine:
- What are a few of your strategies for coping during these challenging times?
- or What helps you stay positive during this time?
- or What is one of the most important things you've learned since COVID started?
Although this page is no longer updated now that campuses are open and back to regular activities, we hope you find the tips below insightful and helpful!
Having a consistent, daily self-care routine, including daily exercise, meditation, reading, and special activities with my family. Challenging myself to learn new things has been helpful as well. I also find, given the more limited options for activities, that it’s helpful to introduce some variety into everyday life, such as by hiking on new trails or in different areas, learning to cook new meals or desserts, and so on. Even just having quick visits to the public library or going for lunch on a heated patio have an unprecedented degree of excitement associated with them!
I generally stay positive by reminding myself that we all just need to be patient. Things will change. This new COVID lifestyle might actually be an opportunity to take inventory of what we need (family, health, social support, etc.) and don’t need to do so much of (commuting, shopping, traveling, flying in planes). I try to remember the quote from Thich Nat Hanh: “All of the elements for your happiness are already here. There is no need to run, strive, search, or struggle." I’ve learned that I’m very fortunate to have a job and that I’m one of those lucky people who never get bored!'
-Alexander Chapman, Professor
-Brittany Dennett, Social Psychology Graduate student, graphic created for her PSYC960 Science of Happiness course with Dr. Lara Aknin
I have one strategy that seems to effectively address all the questions you’ve suggested— I think to myself, when I look back at how I navigated this pandemic five years from now, what would I be proud of myself for? Answering this one question helps me to identify and remember the strengths that I admire about my own capacity to cope!
-Rachelle Yu, Clinical-Child PhD Student, pictured here with her adorable dog Johnny!
It has been extremely helpful for me to section my home so that I can have “on” and “off” space. I fell into the trap of just working all the time when quarantine started because there was no “off” space in my home. I worked everywhere, on my couch, kitchen table… I found myself burning out.
Set up an actual workspace. Get a desk, a good chair, a double monitor, and/or anything else you were used to having at your desk on campus. I actually went into campus and took my monitor there, a keyboard, and my chair. Once you set up your work space, only do work there. Don’t eat there, don’t consume entertainment there, just use it as your work space.
Establishing a “getting ready for work” routine was extremely helpful for me too. When quarantine started, I wore pajamas all day every day, never did my makeup, slept in every day, and barely took care of myself. Now, every morning, I wake up at 6:30AM sharp (and this really sucked at first but it gets easier), I put on day clothes (bra included!), makeup, and get myself ready for my work day. This routine gives me a lot of motivation and it just feels nice.
-Shelbie Anderson, Experimental Psychology and Law PhD student
I am all about food and that hasn’t changed during the pandemic. I love to cook, bake, and eat! I also have some food restrictions so I often turn to the internet for new recipes and inspiration. We are so lucky to have access to tons of information and ingredients. I will never tire of trying new recipes, cooking with my family, and eating with them too. I am also an avid game and puzzle person so this has given me even more excuses to sit down at the table and do puzzles or play board games with my family.
It’s been more gratifying than ever to focus on helping others. My daughter’s friends are all musicians and were therefore out of work once COVID hit. Our family spent some time each week making food and delivering it to them. It was a fun family activity, and also gave us the chance for some “physically distanced” visits with friends each week.
We were definitely doing too much – too much driving, too much spending, too much everything out of the house. My daughter and I looked at our family calendar pre-COVID and it was insane – how did we use to do all of that? I am very grateful to have my crazy household of 7 adults and 2 cats. I’m never lonely - I just need to go into the next room to find someone to talk to.
-Ellen Kurz, Assistant to the Chair
Try to get out of the house every day to do some exercise (outdoors if at all possible). Some of my favourite activities are swimming, walking, hiking and biking. Some days it has been just me in the swimming pool with 2 lifeguards! We are lucky to have so many great places to go. I've been enjoying the Coquitlam Crunch, Buntzen Lake and Minnekhada Park.
I am very grateful for my job and my home. I am thankful for my job security, and I am happy to work from home. I feel lucky for what I have, especially since others have suffered during this pandemic.
At the risk of sounding Pollyanna-ish, I have learned how wonderful people are, and the extent to which they are willing to help out. At the beginning of the pandemic we were on call for literally 18 hours a day. I had to ask lots of people to help out and without fail they stepped up with no complaints.
-Deborah Connolly, Chair
My main strategies for coping have been getting ready every day and separating my school/work environment from my personal space/setting work hours. Separating my work space/setting with established working hours has been the most important thing I've done for my mental health following the transition online, as it helps prevent me from over working and gives me set leisure time.
Staying positive during this time has been hard for sure, but finding ways to give myself some sense of a social life, such as weekly online game nights with friends, has helped me have something to look forward to every week, which helps a lot.
One of the most important things I've learned since COVID started is being comfortable being on my own and enjoying my own company.
-Brianna Malott, current Psychology Student Union President
Listening to my 'happy' playlist or anything super upbeat by some of my favourite artists! (Taylor Swift's 1989 and Lover come to mind, as well as Charlie Puth's Voicenotes, Andy Grammar's Naive or the Good Parts). I also find that having weekly game night calls helps - I have a tradition every Tuesday night where I will go on Discord and play online games with others. Finally, staying connected with family and friends; it definitely cheers me up!
-Hilary Tsui, 3rd year Psychology student and Psychology Student Union Department Rep
My main strategy for coping with the pandemic - Yoga yoga yoga! works best for me. It keeps me stay present in my mind and body, and helps me feel calmer and less likely to overreact and catastrophize. I’ve also found when acute work issues arise that seem very urgent to someone requesting my participation or assistance (but may not, in actuality be that urgent), if I ask a question to clarify, it often opens up the conversation that the issue can be resolved without panic. This can greatly improve the way the conversation will go.
This has been an extremely challenging year. I would say it’s been the hardest year of my life and it certainly has not been easy to stay positive. One thing that helps ground me is to look at the photos of my kids that I keep on my desk.
Don’t wait to do the things you really want to do. We were often “waiting until …” xyz was complete. Once the pandemic hit, my research papers moved down to the last thing on the list. Recognize the value and importance of doing the things you really want to – for me that’s spending time with my family and my dog, and doing yoga!
-Kate Slaney, Professor and Associate Chair of Graduate Studies
I try to keep busy: getting up whenever it suits me, hiking, reading, house/yard work, a good dinner and TV in the evenings. I don’t think about or dwell on the negative aspects of the way it’s changed my life, but focus on being grateful for all I do have: good health, hiking/walking and access to the beautiful bc and the outdoors, a wonderful home/view, and enough $$$ for good food and wine.
A positive attitude about life, I guess, keeps me positive during these times. I look at the glass almost full, rather than empty, as the saying goes.
Happiness is a choice….Be happy with yourself, and your life (or make changes that result in happiness). Luckily, I’m independent and happy on my own, in fact, prefer living alone, so although I miss social interaction, cards, etc. with friends and family, I’m happy and content on my own.
-Beverly Davino, TRSS Program Coordinator
I find it helpful to keep my problems in perspective. Sure, my worries are valid, but I try not to let one bad day, or a bad week, set the tone of my life. The only thing I can control right now, and always, is my attitude moving through the world. Knowing that, what can I do to make this a good day?
Outdoor time, especially hiking, and definitely time with my dog, keeps my mood up. Looking at the mountains and watching the water (like in this photo on the left) reminds me of my place in the world.
For a while, I felt like I was "getting behind" other people my age, in reaching life milestones or reaching these big goals. I had plans for the past year that I had to change or let go of entirely. But through this, I realized that the competition I feel is mostly imagined; no one has really been getting ahead. We've all faced setbacks, some more so than others. The best I can do will have to be good enough.
-Stephanie Elder, 4th year undergrad student and former PSYC Engagement Programming Assistant
I have really been trying to take some "me time" AWAY from screens. The endless Zoom calls are exhausting and I really struggle with Zoom fatigue. I think it is important to take some time to step away from all screens and do something for yourself. For me, that has been learning to knit and working on some projects for family and friends (everyone got toques for Christmas!). I also love going to visit the cows that live down the road - they all just had calves and they never fail to to make me smile. I even tried rollerskating, although that didn't end well (I'm still sore from my fall!) Doing a little something everyday for myself that does not involve screens has been huge for my mental health. I have also been trying to reach out to friends and family. One of the things I miss most is being able to see everyone around the department and catch up, so I am trying to socialize in whatever way I can. Even just spending a few minutes at the beginning of a meeting sharing updates on how everyone is doing or what we have been up to has been a great way to feel connected. Scheduling social Zoom calls, game nights, or just sending a quick message are other good ways to touch base.
I keep looking forward to all the exciting things that are coming as things start to improve. Returning back to campus, being able to see friends in person, my best friend's wedding, travelling again, live music, going to the movies. I know these things will happen at some point - whether soon or in the distant future - and I just keep holding on to the thought of all the things we will get to do again! As well, despite all the challenges we have gone through, this year has brought some good! I try to focus on the good things. Maybe working from home has allowed you to spend more time with your family, maybe you've been using your previous commute time to do something you love, or maybe you're just happy you get to attend meetings in your sweat pants!
I have really learned how important the people in my life are. This past year has certainly not been easy but I have been able to lean on my friends and family and know that I have their love and support. I have really learned how to appreciate and value the relationships I have. We have heard it again and again, but we really are all in this together and we are going to get through this together.
- Madison Harvey
PhD student, Experimental Psychology and Law,
Children's Memory Research Group
I think just enjoying the “simple” things in life has been helpful. Whether it’s gardening, reading a book, listening to music, or spending time with my cat—I try to appreciate the little day-to-day things that keep me grounded.
To be honest, I’m not the best at this. It’s a work in progress for me. :) But, I think having a solid support system from my husband and close family is what helps me cope when I’m in a negative funk.
The uncertainties surrounding the pandemic have been challenging for me since I’m someone who likes to always plan ahead. But, I’m learning to focus more on appreciating the moment and spending less time stressing about things that are out of my control.
-Donna Tafreshi, Adjunct professor
I don’t know how well I AM coping TBH. I get some relief by engaging in small self-improvement tasks. For example, I’ve been learning a little yoga with my daughter — my main skill so far seems to be “corpse pose”. I took a ham radio course online with a friend and am now a licensed radio operator (VE7NVW), thereby mastering a completely obsolete technology. I am trying to find time away from LCD screens. I am also trying to better appreciate the amazing people all around me, and be less curmudgeonly. My family are unconvinced that I have been making a serious effort on the latter item.
In terms of what helps me stay positive at this time:
Birds! Far more of them than I remember in previous years. I work in a little studio-office at the end of the garden where I’m surrounded by birdsong all day long. And in a tree about 100 metres south of here a pair of bald eagles have nested; I spy on them with a telescope from time to time.
Food! At the time of this interview, it is Cinco de Mayo — we are making tacos carnitas, some Baja fish tacos, and a Salvadoran Curtido. Recipes courtesy of our Departmental Consulting Foodie Ellen Kurz.
Dog! When she has motivation, Maisie takes me for a walk in the woods. When she lacks motivation, she encourages a snooze in the garden. Either way, I win.
-Neil Watson, Professor
I love going to the gym and so making sure I get to lift weights and do some exercise is a huge win for me – SFU gym is free for students, staff, and faculty and is on a booking system, so I know I will have a slot with a limited number of people – absolutely fantastic!
Going for a post-dinner walk is excellent! It feels like a ‘cool down’ and is nice and refreshing after a LONG day. It is a great time to reflect.
Venting! It is so nice to vent about school (when someone is willing to listen) ;) Followed by lots of laughter :D
My thought is, it can be worse, so make the most of what you have. A famous psychologist once talked about “choices” and linked a great YouTube video with him as the star (here is the link to part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81eZYf05d_w)
Essentially, I do not have to be upset – it is a matter of choice. I can choose to respond in an unhelpful way or I can reframe my thought process and choose to respond in a helpful way. By knowing it is my choice, I feel empowered, and I am more likely to find some positivity in the task at hand. It can be making time for my dissertation or making time to play video games or exercising. It helps to know that it is my choice, and it is not something I HAVE to do. In the end, I choose to be happy and focus on things I can control instead of things that I cannot control.
There is uncertainty in this world, and that creates a lot of anxiety. We do not know what will happen tomorrow, and Covid has definitely made this more apparent. One of the things I think about during these times is “What will I do if” as opposed to “What if” because life is uncertain and constantly thinking about “what if” will only make it worse. Here is another fun video I have shared with clients that could be useful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3CU2kOBt3s
SELF-CARE! I am in the clinical program and if I do not preach self-care, then who will :) – Taking time for myself is very important to me. There will always be deadlines, but my mental and physical health is more important to me than anything else and so being mindful of this and taking that time to REST and take a breather is essential and dare I say it, MANDATORY.
PhD student, Clinical Psychology
Exercise has been a lifesaver for me! I was a regular (3x/week) runner pre-COVID, but since the pandemic, I have tried to walk daily for 50-60 minutes. The exercise is helpful (and very restorative) and I’ve seen so many interesting things in my local neighborhoods that I had never noticed when driving.
The daily walks have also been an opportunity to get into podcasts, which I never seemed to have time to do before. Storytelling (This American Life, The Moth), true crime, and humor are some of my favorite genres.
As mentioned by others, I’m doing a much better job of demarcating work time/space from personal/leisure time/space. My daily walks are one way to mark the transition from work to not work; another is when my wife arrives home from work (she manages a restaurant, so has been working outside the home for the duration), which is my signal to wrap up work for the day. Pre-COVID, it wasn’t unusual for me to do a fair amount of work on some evenings. That would be the rare exception now.
I’ve been doing a better job of adopting a more regular sleep schedule. (Much easier to do when there’s no travelling…)
Regular contact with the most important people in my life (family, friends, students, colleagues).
I have a new grandson (in the US) who is almost a year old, and FaceTime calls with him are always the highlight of that particular day. I definitely know where my first trip will be when the borders open up!
I hope that once this is “over” that I’ll maintain the appreciation for how fragile our lifestyle (and life itself) can be.
I’ve also learned that take-out food from a fine-dining establishment is almost never as good as take-out from a local neighborhood spot.
-Bob McMahon, Professor
The reality of these challenging times means going about each day with a mixture of gratitude, compassion, fear, and uncertainty. One strategy that has been incredibly useful to me is asking two yes/no questions: Do I understand why it’s happening? Is it acceptable? Is the answer to both is yes, then I feel more calm and in control.
Coming from the psychology field, I understand that life experiences are all relative—the same life event will impact different people in different ways. Harnessing emotional intelligence, our ability to understand the emotions of ourselves and others, allows us to get out of negative emotion loops (i.e. catastrophizing and doomscrollling). While we may strive for positivity, it is important to allow ourselves and others to accept negative emotions. Repressing or ignoring negative feelings will only worsen our mental and emotional health.
Here are some tips to break a cycle of negativity and increase positivity:
1. Nurture your connections. Strong support systems produce greater resilience, whether it is in a time of individual crisis (like an acute trauma) or group crisis (like the pandemic). Once I accepted that physical distancing and sheltering in place were here to stay, I made an intentional effort to virtually connect with old friends/colleagues, and make new ones. You can read more about the importance of staying connected and prioritizing mental health in an article I wrote with my “virtual” colleagues (one day we hope to meet in person!):
2. Get out to green spaces whenever possible. There is a strong connection between mental health and nature.
3. Get sufficient sleep! If you are having trouble finding or staying asleep there is no time like the present to seek help and improve your sleep quality. Your brain and body will thank you!
4. Don’t be afraid to feel joy. I have spoken with many people who have told me that their feelings of joy or happiness are often followed by feelings of guilt. Rejecting your own feelings of happiness doesn’t help anyone. Grab what joy you can whenever you can and make it count!
5. Don’t feel pressured to be productive. Sheltering in place, remote working, cancelled travel etc. are not gifts given to increase achievements, they are precautions instituted to prevent death. Putting a positive spin on very difficult circumstances is one thing, but expecting regular or increased levels of performance and productivity is another.
It isn’t groundbreaking, but what the pandemic has reinforced for me is that there are some things that are simply out of our control. When I say that it isn’t the virus I am thinking about, it’s other people. We can try to influence behavior and spread knowledge and information, but ultimately people are going to make their own decisions. I think it is really important to focus on our own small spheres of influence to shape the community we want to live in.
-Killian Kleffner, MA/PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience and former graduate student