iStock Share: Coping in the New Year As we embark on a New Year, COVID-19 continues to add a layer of health worries and uncertainty. Family gatherings are being discouraged, and many Canadians are feeling the strain of financial pressure after a year that brought lost jobs and lost income for some. Compounding this is the onset of winter, the low light that comes with it and the onset of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) for some. A helpline for those under stress For those with family members in the military, this is compounded by the usual separation due to deployments or relocations, and the added anxiety and stress those bring, says Jonathan Pratt, Senior Manager of Virtual Services with Military Family Services (MFS). He says the Family Information Line is a great bilingual, confidential and personal resource for relatives and loved ones who want to discuss their difficulties with counsellors who understand their troubles. Pratt’s team gets calls from all over Canada, as well as the U.S., Europe and anywhere else Canadian military members are posted. The absence of family members is a factor of the unique lifestyle of the Armed Forces, and missing loved ones who may have been relocated or are in a high-risk location is a common challenge. Many relatives have questions on how the military is managing COVID-19 for members. According to the Canadian Psychological Association, the stress and fear of COVID-19 can change sleeping and eating patterns, worsen chronic health problems and result in the increased use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. If you’re struggling, or just have questions about the military service your loved one is performing, give the Family Information Line a call, says Pratt. The service is free and can be booked in advance. “Our counsellors are all trained and great people to talk to. They can help strategize, point you to different resources or just listen and be there for you when you’ve reached your limit,” Pratt says. They can advise on specific coping mechanisms, such as limiting news and social media intake, setting certain physical or emotional boundaries in life, look into your sleep, diet and exercise schedules, and move beyond those to figure out what realistic, sustainable changes can be made. “A lot of the time it’s about little things incorporated during the day that may help them over time,” Pratt says. They also focus on your mental health, which may be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder. “The winter blues are not a myth. [They’re] a real thing.” “It’s a popular belief that there’s an on-and-off switch between [having] mental health issues and not having them. We look at it as more of a continuum or spectrum.” When identifying whether you’re struggling with holiday blues or something more severe such as depression, which can be life-threatening, MFS stresses the importance of reaching out to a therapist or mental health professional for help. “People may travel back and forth throughout that spectrum, either throughout the day … week or … month, depending on what’s going on.” The Family Information Line’s virtual and phone sessions have no set agenda. “We don’t have a pre-set script that we just deliver to families. We listen a lot and try to find out what’s going on for them. What have they tried in the past? What do they want to work on today?” The approach to managing stress and anxiety changes for each person – reaching out is the first step to a path toward finding balance. “We’re here for you when it’s tough and you just need to talk it out. 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, we’re here to help you find answers to the questions that come up as a result of your military life,” Pratt says. For more information, visit the Family Information Line website, call toll-free at 1-800-866-4546 or email FIL@CAFconnection.ca.