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Coping with loss during COVID-19

April 3, 2020

The following is a guest post by RRC Counsellor Lindsay Storey-Iliffe, MSW. 

During this time of COVID-19, we’re all experiencing loss. As a student, you might be missing your daily routine, including activities like:

  • commuting to the college,
  • getting coffee with friends,
  • gathering in the Library to study,
  • having face-to-face interactions with instructors or classmates,
  • going to the gym, mall, or bar.

You might be processing the loss of plans and ideas related to school or career. If you live alone you might be missing your connection to other people or if you live with your family you might be missing your “alone” time. You might be experiencing many different losses.

What is grief?

Grief is our reaction to loss. It can affect the ways we behave, how we feel physically, how we feel emotionally and how we think. It is ever changing. In one moment, you might feel like you’re okay, you’re getting your work done, you feel like you can do this and then out of nowhere you feel angry and frustrated and like you can’t do this.

What helps?

Understand that grief is a natural response to loss. If your feelings, thoughts and behaviors are somewhat erratic and out of the ordinary right now, that makes sense. Recognize that you are probably already doing many things to cope and get through each day. There is no one thing that will help everyone, but here are a few things to think about.

Physical Strategies

Check in with your body. How is it doing? Taking care of your physical needs can help your whole system cope better. Schedule time (literally) each day to check in with your body and practice some kind of physical self-care. You might schedule 1 hour once per day or 15 minutes a few times per day. Do what works for you.

Choose activities or physical self-care that you like. This might include a walk around the block, taking a long bath, cooking or eating something healthy, cleaning or tidying your space, dancing, or practicing yoga or breathing exercises.

Emotional Strategies

Make lots of room for feelings! Whatever you are feeling, it is okay. If you can acknowledge your feelings with compassion, they will often settle. For example, “I’m feeling so anxious and that’s okay, there is a lot to feel anxious about” or “I’m feeling happy and that’s okay. I can feel happy and it doesn’t mean I’m ignoring or minimizing what is going on in the world”.

Finding ways to express your feelings can also help. That might mean talking to a friend, family member or counsellor or you might try journaling, painting or drawing. If your emotions are overwhelming you, try self-soothing or distracting exercises like, using a stress ball, spending time with your pet, aromatherapy, listening to music or trying a guided meditation.

Cognitive  Strategies

Check in with your thoughts many times per day. Your thoughts will influence how you are feeling and coping. If your thoughts are increasing your sadness, fear, worry, or anxiety, try to stop them. Try saying to yourself “this isn’t helping; I need to think about this differently” or “I need to think about something else”.

It’s hard to stop thoughts because we’re usually trying to make sense of something, figure it out or fix it. Some things that can help with shifting your thoughts include writing them down, responding to them with compassion, making a list of strengths, or keeping a gratitude journal. You could also watch a movie, play a game, listen to a guided visualization, read a book for pleasure or even sink yourself into some school work.


This is not an easy time and you are not alone. If you are struggling, please know that Red River College has supports ready to assist you. 

Join the #COVIDkindness Movement!

March 31, 2020

Daily life sure has changed rapidly. A global pandemic has forced us to alter how we work, study, and relate to one another. While there isn’t much we can do about this reality, we can take steps to help ourselves and others cope through the changes.

A fantastic way to minimize the impact of this virus on our community is to be kind to one another. That’s why we’re launching the #COVIDkindness campaign at RRC.

Even our Federal Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu, is concerned about the toll that isolation and anxiety will take on the mental health of Canadians and is encouraging people to help themselves and others with kindness.

Here’s how it works

Over the next few weeks:

  1. Pay attention to acts of kindness you witness (or perform yourself).
  2. Send a description and photo (where possible) to blsawatzky@rrc.ca.
  3. Post on your social media channels, using the hashtag #COVIDkindness and tag in RRC.

Each week, Mental Health Coordinator, Breanna Sawatzky will collate your acts of kindness and share them in a Wellness Blog post. All students and staff are invited to participate.

The Goal

This movement is meant to foster a supportive community environment along with gratitude, both of which promote good mental health.

Everyone who participates will be entered in a prize draw. Prizes are to be determined, based on availability, but will certainly lift spirits.


What are some examples of #COVIDkindness?

  • A fellow student helps you figure out a new mode of technology.
  • A supervisor sets up a meeting at a time that works around your child care responsibilities.
  • An instructor is patient and understanding as you express frustration or worry.
  • A colleague shares funny memes or kindhearted humour to boost your spirits.

There are so many ways to be kind, so join the movement and share your acts of kindness.




Mental Health and Counselling Supports Available

March 19, 2020

You don’t have to go through this stressful time alone. Many of our supports are ready to assist you, using telephone or video conferencing technology.

For Students and Staff

Mental Health Coordinator

Breanna Sawatzky, the Mental Health Coordinator provides supportive listening, connection with resources, and consultation. Services are available for all students and staff, over the phone or via video conferencing.

Appointments can be made by sending an email to Breanna.

For Staff Only

Homewood Health (EFAP)

Homewood Health is an Employee and Family Assistance Program for RRC employees. It’s part of your employee benefit package and comes at no cost to you or your dependents.

Homewood offers short-term counselling and support related to a wide variety of issues.

The EFAP is completely confidential; they will not release any personal information to Red River College.

Connect via the 24-hour toll-free access number at 1-800-663-1142. You can also access support and information online.

For Students Only

Counselling Services for Students

Counselling is available for students during study week and for upcoming weeks as may be necessary. At this time, counselling is available by phone and soon video conferencing.

If you are already have a counsellor, contact your counsellor by email.

If you wish to connect with a counsellor and book a first time appointment, please complete our online form.

For students attending Regional Campuses, counselling is available through a local provider.

Please contact your Regional Campus counsellor directly for appointments. They will advise regarding their current mode of service delivery.

Indigenous Student Supports

Please email the Indigenous Student Supports counsellors directly. They will set up an appointment to talk with you by phone. Brin at brmitchell@rrc.ca and Nolin at nturenne@rrc.ca

Beacon Digital Therapy

Designed to improve your mental health and build your resilience to life’s challenges, BEACON provides Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (or CBT), an evidence-based form of psychological therapy. It’s also considered the gold standard when it comes to helping people with mild to moderate depression or anxiety. BEACON is provided by registered mental health professionals, digitally, through your computer, smart phone or tablet. Read more here.

Coping though this uncertainty

March 19, 2020

During this time of uncertainty it’s natural that our stress response will kick in. We are likely being bombarded with constant updates from the news, social media, our workplace, and our friends and family.

Our routines along with the expectations placed on us are changing quickly. We may also be in a state of waiting for answers or direction, which can be unsettling. With this heightened state of stress, it’s not surprising that our thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviours will be affected.

In addition, people who have experienced traumatic medical or other experiences in the past may have some of those feelings, memories, and fears come flooding back.

Here are some common ways that experiencing this stress can effect our body, mind, spirit and emotions.

  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Tearfulness
  • Frustration
  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Upset stomach
  • Headaches
  • Desire to use drugs or alcohol
  • Hopelessness

Everyone is different and your response is neither right nor wrong, it’s simply your response. You may be experiencing something that is not listed above and that’s okay. What matters is that we are not helpless in the face of this stress; we can do our best to actively manage it.

Think about what you normally do to manage stress and reflect on how you can adapt that to the current circumstance. If you usually spend time with friends, can you chat on the phone or have a video call? If you usually go to the gym, can you walk or run outside? Or stream an online workout video?

Here are some immediate actions that can be helpful at this time.

Limit news and social media consumption. Stay informed, but be sure to take breaks from the feed and focus on information from reputable sources like the RRC newsletter and Manitoba Health. Is there someone in your feed who is triggering extra anxiety? Don’t be afraid to mute or unfollow them for now.

Remember the basics. Be sure to eat nutritious food, get fresh air, move your body, and get enough sleep. Without those basics, it’s hard to manage stress well.

Connect with others. Telephone, text, or video calls can be a great way to stay in touch. Instead of rehashing all the details, try to focus your conversations on how you are feeling, how you are coping, and mundane everyday matters.

Practice kindness. Everyone around us is likely experiencing heightened stress as well. Be kind, be patient, and leave space for people who are not at their best. We can get through this better if we work together.

Breathe. Taking slow, deep breaths that fill you belly can reverse the stress response and bring some clarity to your thoughts and actions. You can find a helpful video tutorial here.

Reach out for support. Sometimes, in order to be at our best we need to consult a mental health professional. There are several people ready to assist you. Read more here.

Wellness in the time of COVID-19

March 17, 2020

We are going through an unprecedented time at Red River College. Many of us have been asked to work or study from home, and aren’t participating in our usual activities. When our usual routine is disrupted, it can have an effect on both our physical and mental health.

Below you will find some resources to help maintain physical and mental wellness during a time of social distancing. Whenever possible, the following resources are free to either Red River College staff and students (look for the ^), or free for t0 general public (look for the *). For additional information, continue to check www.rrc.ca for updates.

Fitness and Physical Health Options

RRC Recreation Services ^

Fitness Apps

Several are free, but check to ensure before you download. Some examples include:

Fitness Bloggers

Follow your favourite fitness professional on social media, or check out a new community to share your progress.

Fitness Streaming

Many fitness facilities and companies are live streaming classes or providing online content. Check your local yoga studio, gym or other fitness facility to see if they are hosting anything. Alternatively, check out one of the options below.

  • Planet Fitness – Facebook
  • Host your own! Use a video chat or meeting service to join your friends in a virtual group workout.

Subscription Services

Please note that these options may involve fees.

Mental Health and Wellness Options

Mindfulness & Meditation


  • ADAM* audio guided relaxation
  • Get outside and observe nature
  • Clear the Deck exercise to calm worry*
  • Have a cup of tea
  • Enjoy a warm bath or shower

Social Connection

  • Schedule an informal coffee break on WebEx. Grab your beverage and just chat about whatever you feel like.
  • Send voice messages or hold video calls with friends and family
  • Virtual friends/family meals
  • Proactive #COVIDkindness, while keeping physical distance
  • Send thank you notes
  • If children are home from school, consider creating a daily schedule


Remember, taking care of your wellness will help sustain you through this challenging time. Be sure to make your well-being a priority.

Better Mental Health Through Digital Therapy

March 3, 2020

For so many of us, mental health is an important topic – every day, conversations related to mindfulness or self-care come up. Frank discussions about our mental well-being are also top of mind.

There are no quick fixes to our mental health, and some of us feel overwhelmed, like we’ve lost control of things; others simply can’t shake feeling down. These are issues that many students deal with every day. But the good news is that there’s help available with BEACON digital therapy – now available to Red River College students at no cost with referral.

BEACON can empower you

Designed to improve your mental health and build your resilience to life’s challenges, BEACON provides Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (or CBT), an evidence-based form of psychological therapy. It’s also considered the gold standard when it comes to helping people with mild to moderate depression or anxiety.

How CBT works

The premise behind CBT is that, with regular practice and guidance, we can manage the distressing thoughts and behaviours that come along with stressful, challenging situations – in a way that positively impacts our lives. It can be difficult at first, but with commitment to therapy, you can see your resilience grow.

Therapy on your terms

You use BEACON wherever and whenever you choose – all on your phone, tablet, or computer – with no appointments to keep. And your BEACON therapy is guided by a registered mental health professional, to help you develop crucial lifelong coping skills.

To get started, connect with any of the following:

Students attending a regional campus may contact an Academic Success Coach at their campus.

Staff who are interested in BEACON should inquire about extended health plan coverage. Many of our employee benefit packages do cover BEACON’s services, since they’re provided by registered social workers or psychologists.

This service enhancement aligns with the Healthy Minds Healthy College strategic priority to improve access to mental health services, using innovation. If you have questions about BEACON’s partnership with RRC, please contact Breanna Sawatzky, Mental Health Coordinator.


Review Jordin Tootoo’s Visit to RRC

March 3, 2020

On February 5th, Jordin Tootoo visited RRC to share his story of hope, hockey and mental health. Many staff and students were moved by Jordin’s authentic presentation. Jordin spoke about his journey from Rankin Inlet to the NHL and then, in retirement, to suicide prevention work.

Jordin spoke candidly of being a suicide loss survivor, recovery from alcohol addiction, love of family and finding his sense of belonging.

Thankfully, you can:

  • Read all about why we invited him and the message he shared.
  • View the event photo gallery.
  • Watch the recorded presentation.

Jordin also took time to connect with many attendees, signing books and memorabilia. It’s clear that his life experience resonates with so many.

If you are curious about mental health supports for staff and students, please visit rrc.ca/wellness/supports or contact Breanna Sawatzky, Mental Health Coordinator.

Anxiety Forums on Campus: Psychologists to educate on coping skills

February 11, 2020

February is Psychology Month; a time when Psychologists engage the public, educating us on how psychology works to help people live healthy and happy lives.

To celebrate Psychology Month, the Manitoba Psychological Society has organized a variety of educational seminars for the public on a wide variety of psychology-related topics. RRC is fortunate to be hosting two such events. We’ve called them “Anxiety Forums.”

Each forum will include a talk by a prominent Psychologist as well as audience Q & A. Free pizza lunch is provided during both forums!

What is Anxiety?

According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba (ADAM), everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. It’s completely normal and can even be helpful. For example, if you’re anxious about an upcoming test, your anxiety can motivate you to study well. However, anxiety can sometimes become severe and negatively affect your life. If your anxiety has reached this point, you may have an anxiety disorder.

Here at RRC we see many students who are experiencing problems with anxiety. These problems affect academic success and overall well-being.

Anxiety Forum Details

During the two forums, the speakers will share helpful coping strategies related to managing anxiety in a College setting. Although the primary target audience is students, staff and faculty will no doubt benefit from the material presented and discussion to follow.

Registration is not required. All are welcome.

EDC: Wednesday, February 12th, noon-1pm in P107, The Roblin Centre with Dr. Elizabeth Hebert

NDC: Thursday, February 13th, noon-1pm in the White Lecture Theatre with Dr. Jason Ediger


More About the Presenters

Dr. Jason Ediger, C. Psych.

Dr. Ediger has a special interest in blending cognitive behaviour therapy with mindfulness based approaches to change and coping. His practice focuses on anxiety, mood difficulties, chronic pain and health concerns in adults and adolescents. He has extensive experience with disability claims and return to work issues. Read his full bio here.

Dr. Elizabeth Hebert, C. Psych.

Dr. Elizabeth Hebert provides psychological treatment services for anxiety disorders, OCD, PTSD, and other mental health concerns. Her main research interest is the development and evaluation of psychological treatments for anxiety disorders and the cognitive-behavioural mechanisms underlying these disorders.

#BellLetsTalkDay at RRC

January 28, 2020

Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day: a time to start conversations about mental health and reduce stigma associated with mental illness. There are several ways to get involved.

Paint on our giant canvas
Join us for tea, cookies, and conversations. Paint supportive words or images on a giant art canvas.

Notre Dame Campus: Library Hallway, 10am – 2pm
Exchange District Campus: Atrium, 10am – 2pm

Several other campuses are participating, so watch for posters on your campus to stay informed.

Visit the Bell Let’s Talk website
At https://letstalk.bell.ca/en/ways-to-help you’ll find suggested actions that you can take to end stigma and create positive change.  You’ll also find instructions on how to participate in the social media fundraising campaign.

Explore Resources

Browse through the rrc.ca/wellness microsite and get up to speed on the variety of resources available to you, your colleagues, your family, and your students.

Vision Board Workshops by Rising Strong: Register Today!

December 18, 2019

We’re excited to welcome Karina Walker, founder of Rising Strong, to facilitate two vision board workshops for RRC staff and students.

Vision boards are visual representations of your hopes, goals and desires. They help you visually experience what you want to do, where you want to go, who you want to be and how you want to feel. With busy schedules and distractions, having a board representing everything you want in life can help reinforce daily affirmations, clarify your goals and help set intentions.

This is sure to be an empowering evening of crafting and setting goals! Check out Karina’s Instagram to get a sense of her work.

Both workshops will feature free tea and dainties as well as a door prize draw.  Karina supplies everything you need to make your vision board, so just bring yourself (and perhaps a friend).

Notre Dame Campus
Tuesday, January 14; 4-7pm in the Prairie Lights Meeting Room

Exchange District Campus
Thursday, January 16; 4-7pm in P107, The Roblin Centre

All students and staff are welcome and can register by emailing Breanna Sawatzky.