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When COVID-19 struck and Ontario went into lockdown many beds at the two shelters the Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region operates were left empty.

 

However, this was not something that CEO Jennifer Hutton admits she was glad to see.

 

“We really saw a significant decrease,” she says, referring to the number of women and children who seek refuge from domestic abuse at Haven House in Cambridge and Anselma House in Kitchener. “But what was keeping me up at night was worrying about what was actually going on in those homes. The abuse that was pre-existing was likely worsening, especially when you add in the additional stress and financial worries.”

 

Jennifer estimates the shelters, which provide 90 beds between them, saw their occupancy rates drop in the early weeks of the crisis to around 40% to 50% capacity compared to the usual 90% as well as a reduction in calls to access their resources. 

 

“There’s research to prove that violence against women does tend to increase during times of stress,” she says, adding there was a great deal of uncertainty when the pandemic struck which made it even more difficult. “There are already so many barriers in place for a woman to leave an abusive relationship. Then layer it with increased uncertainty, and often women have to think about their children, so it’s hard for them to plan for the future.”

 

Besides encouraging via social media for friends and family to check in with loved ones they fear might be at risk of abuse, the Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region launched a chat feature on its website to provide women with a tool to safely connect with their services.

 

“There had been talk about it (chat feature) but now more than ever we needed to do it quickly,” says Jennifer, noting the system was up and running within a 48-hour period. “Now, a woman might be able to pull up our website discreetly on her phone and send us a quick message.”

 

Having the ability to reach out and connect during the pandemic is vital says Grace Brown, a psychotherapist and PAR (Partner Assault Response Program) Facilitator at Family Counselling Centre of Cambridge & North Dumfries. 

 

“One of the key factors that allows the abuse to continue is the person feels isolated,” she says.

 

In terms of isolation, Grace says feelings of loneliness is something she has been seeing during her counselling sessions, which have been conducted virtually or by phone, as the COVID-19 situation continues. 

 

“A lot of clients I work with talk about intense feeling of loneliness and isolation because before the pandemic they could be out with friends and doing all these fun things to offset this solitude,” she says. “If you’re more on the extrovert side of the scale, you’re probably struggling a little more.”

 

Grace says for single people who have been isolating on their own, they face a variety of anxieties which could lead to depression. And for couples who were having challenges in their relationship prior to the pandemic, she says the crisis likely has made the situation even worse.

 

“There’s only so much walking away one can do when you’re supposed to be quarantined,” says Grace, adding couples need healthy communication during this time. “Choose your battles.”

 

She offers similar advice to families, who also may find nerves becoming frayed as physical distancing rules continue to slowly ease.

 

“For most, it’s the lack of access to external fun things that really are making so many people frustrated and anxious,” says Grace. “In the old days, it was called ‘Cabin Fever’.”

But she says there are many successful examples of things couples and families have been doing to cope, besides connecting virtually with family and friends. 

 

“People have really been recapturing some of those old school entertainments, like jigsaw puzzles and board games. It’s been really neat to hear from some of my clients on how they’re making it work with that they have at home,” says Grace, adding some ‘super busy’ families are appreciating the fact they can take a break together.

She says self-care is essential at this time, starting with the basics like eating healthy, exercising and getting the right amount of sleep.

 

“I often describe it to my clients as emotional shock absorbers. Stress is always going to be in our world in varying degrees, so the more you have self-care that’s your shock absorber,” says Grace, explaining self-care comes in many different forms. “It’s really about focusing on yourself for a moment and doing anything that brings you a sense of calm and a sense of renewed energy.”

 

She tells her clients, especially women, that’s it OK to put their needs first once and awhile. 


“I caution them this (pandemic) is not a sprint, it’s a marathon and we don’t know how long it’s going to last so you’ve got to preserve your energy.”

 

At Haven House and Anselma House, Jennifer says, as predicted, capacity levels have climbed sharply to near capacity in the last few weeks once the province began to reopen. She says strict protocols are in place to keep staff and clients healthy, including temperature checks twice daily and making masks mandatory for all staff members.

 

“The shelters themselves are very busy,” says Jennifer, explaining the women and children staying there aren’t venturing as much into the community to connect with family and friends due to the pandemic. “There’s a lot of activity and not many places for them to go, and we have some pretty stringent rules in place.”

 

Despite COVID-19 and the precautions, she encourages women who are experiencing domestic abuse to reach out, even those who may not be sure if they’re ready to leave.

“That’s OK. They may just want to meet with someone to ask questions, or get some information,” says Jennifer, adding the Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region offers outreach programs. “I always suggest they get some guidance on how to make a safe exit plan.”

 

She says research shows the most dangerous time for an abuse victim is when they are planning their escape.

 

“It can become quite unsafe for a woman if her abusive partner thinks she is going to leave,” says Jennifer. “Things can really escalate at that time.”

 

Visit  wcswr.org  or fcccnd.com for more information. 

 

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What do you expect to find when you return to work after being isolated for the past few months by COVID-19?

 

Chances are it will not be the same workplace you left behind, says Human Resources consultant Frank Newman.

 

“If you just assume it will be like walking back into the office it’s not going to be that way because everyone’s expectations have changed,” says Frank, who has more than 40 years of experience in human resources to draw from and has spent the last six running his own firm called Newman Human Resources Consulting.

 

He compares the COVID-19 crisis and what we have dealt with as being similar to what astronauts face returning from space while learning to readjust to the Earth’s atmosphere.

 

“We’ve all been in the safe ‘cocoon’ of our ‘spaceships’ and suddenly we’re exposed to another environment,” says Frank. “Companies will have to take this very seriously.”

In terms of working under new guidelines and policies to ensure physical distancing, he expects many workplaces will now operate within a ‘blended’ work culture with more people working from home than ever before.

 

“You’re going to be in the office one day and half the people will be there, and half the people won’t be there,” says Frank. “It’s going to be very challenging for companies on how to manage their culture because we’re so used to having everyone in the office.”

 

Building trust, he says, between not only the company and its employees but between the employees themselves, will be key in effort to make this shift work.

“We’re going to not only have to have the right physical safeguards, but better processes in place as to how we communicate with each other. What will be the expectations if I’m working from home and my colleague is in the office? Do they have to respond to my emails in 15 or 20 minutes?” says Frank, noting there will likely be physical changes in offices also when it comes to sharing resources. “Are people even going to be comfortable putting their chicken pot pie in the microwave to warm up knowing others use it?”

 

He says it is inevitable there will be employees who may be petrified at the thought of being back in the workplace and others who will be completely callous, perhaps not respecting physical distancing guidelines or refusing to wear a mask.

To prevent these situations from escalating, Frank says there are a few steps companies can take ahead of time.

 

“They should provide as much advanced communication as possible to let everyone know what the rules of the road are,” he says. “Then they really have to figure out what’s the rhythm of work they want as people come back and how it applies for those working at home and the people working at the office.”

 

Frank says managers should aim to meet with their team, whether in person or virtually, at least once a week once people start to return and even ahead of time.

“It’s important for managers and other people to check in with their colleagues,” he says, noting some employees will be dealing with mental health issues. “We’ve all been through so much turmoil with this and some may have suffered severe losses during this time.”

 

Franks says enhanced benefit plans will be a big help to not only current employees but as a great incentive to recruit new employees. Also, he said ensuring new recruits have a space at home to work could become part of the norm during the hiring process should another lockdown occur.

 

“We need to be prepared for this at any point in time,” he says, adding companies may also be expected to reimburse employees for equipment to work from home, such as laptops and enhanced internet.

 

Frank also recommends the creation of ‘time free zones’ for those working at home, allowing them a period to complete tougher tasks uninterrupted by emails or virtual meetings.

 

“We’ve been absolutely deluged with communication at this time,” he says, referring to the numerous emails and regular Zoom calls many people working at home have been dealing with. “It’s actually draining our productivity.”

 

For more information, contact Frank Newman at 519.362.8352, or visit www.newmanhumanresources.com

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Erin Moraghan describes herself as a born mover.

 

As the founder of Revkor Fitness + Lifestyle Training in Cambridge, she has made it her vocation to help others become ‘movers’ after leaving a healthcare philanthropy career in Toronto in 2013 to make this happen.

 

Her passion to assist others centres on promoting workplace wellness which came about after a decade of working in healthcare.

 

“We can’t get through stressful times without wellness at the forefront,” says the wellness expert.

 

The current COVID-19 crisis is clearly one of the most stressful situations facing all us, not just economically but emotionally and physically. In fact, experts are predicting a ‘tsunami’ of mental-health issues to develop in wake of this pandemic.

 

At our next YIP virtual workshop ‘Better Work Life Balance for Young Professionals’ on May 21, Erin will offer advice and tips aimed at empowering participants with the tools they need to reduce stress and improve productivity.

 

But more importantly, she hopes to inspire them in work and life.

 

“The entrepreneur culture often celebrates the non-stop grind,” says Erin. “But the reality is, rest and a calm, controlled mind are in the key to managing challenges and staying on course.”

 

She has already helped thousands across Canada by initiating programming focused on preventing and minimizing chronic pain and depression by embracing the power of mindful movement.

 

Erin can highlight some simple habits that can help accomplish amazing results, such as nutrition shifts to alter productivity, an eight-minute morning mindset practice that can ‘train’ your brain to be goal-centred, and a few suggestions for more quality sleep.

 

“This is the information you need to get and stay on track, striving strong during this unforgettable time in history,” she says.

 

Our virtual YIP (Young Innovative Professionals) session ‘Better Work Life Balance for Young Professionals’ takes place Thursday, May 21, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

 For information, please visit:  https://bit.ly/2WCBOXU

 

The Canadian Mental Health Association offers these tips to creating better work-life balance:

 

At Work

  • Schedule brief breaks for yourself throughout the day. Your productivity and effectiveness will increase if you take even a ten-minute break every two hours and overall, you will get more accomplished.
  • At the end of each day, set your priorities for the following day. Be realistic about what you can achieve in the time you have available.
  • Only respond to email once or twice a day. Then, shut off your email program to avoid being distracted as messages come in.
  • Make a distinction between work and the rest of your life. Protect your private time by turning off electronic communications. Don’t be available 24/7.

 

At Home

  • Create a buffer between work and home. After work, take a brief walk, do a crossword puzzle, or listen to some music before beginning the evening’s routine.
  • Decide what chores can be shared or let go. Determine which household chores are critical and which can be done by someone else. Let the rest go.
  • Exercise. Even if it’s only for 15 minutes at a time, you’ll feel more energized and refreshed.
  • Create and implement a household budget. Start by setting aside some money from each pay cheque for the future.
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The economic shutdown from COVID-19 may have physically closed many doors but could be opening new ones online for those looking to upgrade their skills or seek new career opportunities.

 

“Usually we’re all so hustled and bustled by everyday life we don’t’ really get the time to reflect,” says Anna Barichello, Associate Chair, Institute of Online Studies at Conestoga College.

 

As a result, she says many people rarely take an opportunity to ask themselves some important questions: Do I like what I’m doing? Am I challenged in my life? Do I want to learn to do something better?

 

Anna says using the shutdown as an opportunity to take online courses could prove very beneficial to some of those in the business community.

 

“If you’re a small business owner and one of your challenges has always been handling accounting, maybe this is the time you could take an accounting fundamentals course?” she says, which is one of more than 260 courses Conestoga College offers as part of its Ed2Go program.

 

Currently, Anna says learning trends indicate there is an even split among people enrolled in online courses with most either looking to upgrade their skills for their current jobs or taking programs that have absolutely nothing to do with their careers.

 

“This could be the time to see if you want to do a career switch,” she says.

According to a recent Globe and Mail article, a recent survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business of the small-and medium-sized businesses it represents suggested approximately one-third that are closed due to COVID-19 aren’t sure they’ll ever reopen.

 

As well, the article states the federal government is looking at ways to speed up the introduction of skills-training to help out-of-work Canadians. The training was targeted to arrive at the end of this year in the form of an annual tax credit and time off through the employment insurance system for workers that wanted to upgrade their skills, or learn something new to help their job hunt.

 

In terms of enrolment for its Ed2GO courses, Anna says Conestoga College has seen about 135 students register this month, which is about typical, but speculates that number will increase. She says her office has been fielding many enquiries.

“At our office, it’s been business as usual.”

 

She says the wide variety of courses – from accounting to writing for children – may be an attraction and so is the convenience. The programs run four weeks in length and take about four hours a week to complete which is ideal for those working remotely at home.

 

“You can do the work on your own time,” says Anna, noting there are no textbooks. “Everything is done online, including assessments.”

 

She admits some may be intimidated at the thought of learning online, since it is not the traditional way many of us were taught.

 

“Sometimes there is a hesitancy; ‘Will I be able to handle the technology?’ or ‘Will I be able to learn in this medium?’,” says Anna. “But what you get from an online course, the learning outcome, is the same as you would get in a face to face course. You are really getting a quality learning experience regardless of the medium.”

 

She says the Ed2GO programs are created by instructional designers who’ve worked to ensure the students focus on the content and not the technical aspects of how its offered.

 

“They’re designed for easy navigation. You don’t really need to have technical skills to be able to go through the course,” says Anna, adding there is tech support available if students are experiencing difficulties. “There are support officers available.”

As well, she says the college does offer career counselling for those who may be unsure what courses they should take, noting the three most popular programs are Accounting Fundamentals, Fundamentals of Supervision and Management, and Introduction to Microsoft Access 2019.

 

Anna herself says she has taken some project management courses offered via Ed2Go.

 

“I thoroughly enjoyed them,” she says.

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Just a few short weeks ago it literally was business usual for everyone.

 

But as the scope of the COVID-19 crisis began to unveil itself all businesses, both big and small, were immediately faced with making some very tough decisions.

 

“When we initially heard everything what was happening with COVID-19  we decided to adjust to the situation and maintain a very safe environment,” says Christine Grant, co-owner of Modo Yoga Cambridge, noting reducing class sizes at their Ainslie Street North studio and introducing even stricter cleaning protocols were the first steps.  “But as the situation developed and we realized we had to close our doors it was incredibly emotional. You almost feel like you’re failing the community when you say, ‘we have to close our doors’.”

 

Mike Hruden, general manager and co-founder of Four Fathers Brewing Company said the moment the province first announced the closure of non-essential services it resulted in near panic.

 

“We had a very crazy day in retail because people thought everything was closing,” he says, adding that concern subsided once a revised short list of closures was announced.

 

But like all business owners they quickly realized they would have to switch gears to operate in this unprecedented economic reality.

 

“You can try to be a trendsetter but you don’t know what’s right or wrong, or what you can or can’t do, so we really paid attention to what the government has been posting,” says Mike, referring to the steps his business has taken.

 

Sadly, he says Four Fathers Brewing had to layoff its kitchen and taproom staff but continues to offer free local delivery and curbside pickup at its Guelph Avenue location. Takeout, delivery and curbside pickup are steps many local restaurants and eateries have now undertaken as the crisis continues.

 

“The first thing which has taken off and seems to be appreciated by the local community is free local delivery,” says Mike, noting it began as a March promotion but has been extended.

 

Although most of Four Fathers’ orders are coming from Cambridge, he’s also seen orders come in from Kitchener, Waterloo and Guelph.  He says they are looking at extending the service to Fergus and Elora.

 

“It’s just something that allows people to stay inside and when we deliver, we put the box at the door and stand back and greet them,” says Mike, adding  similar safety protocols are in place with their curbside pickup which has jumped to at least 70 orders last week alone compared to the five or six they saw a month.

 

“There’s a lot of change happening right now, so you have to take it day by day,” he says.

 

Christine and her business partner, Emily Drouillard, agree and say thinking outside the box and being open to any ideas to assist customers is key.

 

“So many businesses have already made that shift,” says Christine, referring to online services now being offered by numerous local businesses, including food and supply pickups and fitness classes. “Don’t think about ‘what I’m not able to do in this situation’, but ‘what can I still do?’.”

 

She says business owners must realize that offering the same service as they did before is nearly impossible.

 

“You just have to do the best you can right now. You can sit and sulk, or you can get up and figure out how to move forward,” says Christine.

 

In their case they were fortunate the Modo Yoga community, which includes more than 70 studios worldwide, was able in just a few days time launch an online network offering numerous classes from around the world.

 

“It was pretty amazing,” says Emily, who says the Modo Yoga community initially had plans to launch this network in the fall but quickly decided to step up the process when the pandemic struck. “Four days going into this there were no videos but the whole community rallied together to send off videos and make content available, so now there’s hundreds of videos and it’s updated daily.”

 

As well, Modo Yoga Cambridge offers two live classes daily on its Instagram account, which are saved for future viewing to ensure followers can practice with their favourite instructors on their own schedules.

 

“It’s been a big learning curve for us,” admits Christine, explaining instructors themselves are learning to adjust conducting virtual classes. “But the response has been great and the support from the community has been wonderful.”

 

Emily agrees and says community support is vital to getting through this crisis.

“What we’re seeing is how responsive our community has been to this shift,” she says, adding very few businesses were prepared for something like this. “Nobody really has a choice in the matter.”

 

But businesses themselves are also doing their part to support the community, including adapting their services to help the healthcare industry.

 

At Four Fathers, Mike says they’ve created a batch of beer which is being sold over the next few months to benefit the Cambridge Memorial Hospital in its fight against COVID-19. He’s hoping to raise at least $4,000 through this fundraiser towards the purchase of needed medical supplies, including masks.

 

“We’ll give them a donation and they can buy whatever it is they want from their donation list,” he says.

 

For local realtor Scott Bennett, who works at the ReMax Real Estate Centre on Hespeler Road, giving back to the community has resulted in a growing movement. Since late January, when COVID-19 was only a threat to Canada, he began a campaign of creating and delivering emergency hygiene packs to those in need, including seniors and those with pre-existing medical conditions.

 

To date, and with the support of the Cambridge Rotary Club, ReMax and volunteers, his campaign has resulted in the delivery of at least 400 kits each containing hand sanitizer, antibacterial hand soap, non-latex gloves and disinfectant wipes.

 

“There’s been such a big response from the community,” says Scott, who receives messages on Facebook regarding residents who need kits.

 

“I’ve been doing quite a bit of running around. A lot of the products are hard to find now,” he says. “I’ve had some store managers who call me when they get in a new shipment.”

 

The kits are packed at Fiddlesticks Community Centre where Scott is now including homemade disinfectant wipes created by liquid Lysol soaked in cloth purchased online in bulk.

 

“We drop off the kits on the porch and there’s no contact. I’m really surprised by the demand and the need,” says Scott, adding his real estate work hasn’t slowed down. “I’ve actually been pretty busy with that lately. I thought a pandemic would slow things down.”

 

He says conducting even more virtual tours has become the norm and that great care and the necessary precautions are being taken when showing clients’ a home.

“It’s not the ideal situation but a lot people have to move because they’re closing on other houses,” says Scott.

 

It’s expected our current situation may not change for several months, but in the meantime, staying connected and healthy is important.

 

“We feel now more than ever it’s important people keep moving their bodies and connecting with friends,” says Emily.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Self-isolation. Social distancing.

 

These are terms that have now become part of our daily life in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, which is causing anxiety worldwide both socially and economically.

 

But ensuring we maintain good mental health amidst this trying time is vital, says Angela Englander, a registered psychotherapist and trauma specialist who operates Ways to Wellbeing Therapy in Cambridge and Tillsonburg.

 

“We need to be reaching out to each other now more than ever,” she says. “We really need to be connecting with our community.”

 

Angela, who specializes in the treatment of all of types trauma, including PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), says what we’re dealing with is very similar to what the world experienced during the First and Second World Wars.

 

“We’re getting isolated and starting to get scared of each other,” she says, adding that in the years following the COVID-19 crisis we may be faced with a large number of people dealing with PTSD and a variety of mental health issues. “Many people appear to be having an acute traumatic stress response right now in that they're hypervigilant and full of adrenaline and flooded emotionally.”

 

Angela says nightmares and trouble sleeping are just a few of the common reactions to trauma people may be experiencing.  She has, however, noticed that some of her clients who are dealing with PTSD seem less concerned since many already often live in self-isolation.

 

“They’re saying, ‘the rest of the world is living like us now, and that’s kind of validating’,” she says, adding there are others who fear society will break down as a whole.

 

“People are concerned about becoming ill, experiencing pain, suffering, starving and having their neighbours and people around them turn on them, with riots in the streets.”

 

Angela says the long-term effects of PTSD could include headaches, flashbacks and mood swings.

 

“I think there will be a lot of mental health fallout but I hope the government will step up to fund psychotherapy so people can heal,” she says.

 

Currently, OHIP does not cover the cost of psychotherapy.

 

To combat these fears and anxieties surrounding COVID-19, Angela recommends not only reaching out to a professional for coping strategies and support but by creating a daily routine of self-care.

 

“Maintain routine and focus on your accomplishments,” she says. “Stay connected to others through social media or Skype or by phone.”

 

She says deep breathing, stretching and yoga are also good methods to boost good mental health.

 

“And now that we may not be distracted as much by our work, we can start connecting with more of the community,” says Angela. “This could be our golden opportunity to turn things around.”

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