California Therapist Blog

Emotional health and relationship articles by Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT.

Relationships Need Attention Now More Than Ever

Our pandemic life makes for many challenges.  We are considering how to be safe, care for our children and for many, assure even basic survival needs are met like income to pay for food and shelter.

Marriage and long term relationships are also taking the brunt of the stress of COVID-19.  Some relationships have benefitted from the additional time together but many have been pulled tight, especially if there were unresolved issues between the couple before.  Anxiety can strain an already tense relationship.  For many holding things together for themselves and their families, the marriage is not being prioritized.

If your marriage feels disconnected or otherwise in jeopardy, find time to stabilize it now, as it is the foundation under which your entire family rests.

9 Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship

  1. Put your oxygen mask on first.  When life is crazy but particularly during the emotional strain of a pandemic, those closest need you to practice self care so you can be the optimal version of yourself.  If you are chronically stressed, anxious or otherwise preoccupied, your partner will feel the impact whether you try to hide it or not.  Learn tools to stay calm and emotionally regulated during this difficult time.
  2. Re-open the communication lines.  Now more than ever you need to talk to each other. Do you know how the other is faring with everything?  Have you asked?  Do you have a sense of how your partner feels about the relationship?  Are they ok?  No matter how much is going on in your lives, schedule a weekly check-in with each other allowing the opportunity to get a read on the emotional status of your marriage.  This also provides an opportunity to process any hiccups that might have occurred before resentment has a chance to build.
  3. Practice self-care.  Households are spending more time than ever together which is understandably leading to tension.  Allow for “me time” within the marriage, even if within the home.  Identify what this time is for each of you.  For example, you like an hour of uninterrupted reading time, online yoga class, a run or home project.  Whether in or out of the home, validate each others choice of activities (ideally healthy) for overall mental health.
  4. Address differences in approaches to the coronavirus.  The divisions in the country around COVID-19; mask wearing and fear/no fear of virus are showing up in relationships when opinions diverge.  Couples conflict is increasing around these variances in opinion of how to “be” in the world.  Virus fear vs virus fatigue sometimes needs to be addressed to keep your relationship as emotionally safe as possible.
  5. Date night. This is not a “news flash” but needs to be stated repeatedly as it’s so easy to let it fall off the wagon and the next thing you know, you’re both feeling totally disconnected.  You don’t literally need a “date night” and obviously with COVID, things are a bit limited for activities but marriage time spent together (without the kids or your social group) remains no less critical.  Take turns planning even a little time together like a walk in the neighborhood, dinner at an outdoor restaurant in town or a special breakfast on the porch before the kids are up.  It doesn’t need to be lavish to have meaning.  The meaning is in the effort you both make to spend “date night” time together.
  6. What is going well?  The news has not been particularly positive for a long time which can exacerbate the negativity bias for you individually and in your marriage.  Rather than finding faults about each other and the relationship, agree to share aloud things you appreciate about each other and your relationship.  Don’t underestimate the power of even the smallest things that happen throughout the day.  “I really enjoyed the time we spent talking last night when the kids went to bed.  It was nice to finally connect.”
  7. Be reliable. One of the most important aspects of emotional safety in relationships is trust.  The more you believe the other has your back and you can safely turn towards each other, the stronger your marriage will be.  This includes loyalty and follow through.
  8. Give each other a break.  Especially now with stress levels being chronically higher as people worry about so much, mistakes will be made in your marriage.  Missteps will happen.  Not only is it important to practice self-forgiveness and avoid beating yourself up, but also to forgive each other.  If it’s hard for either of you to forgive, it can be helpful to look at this.
  9. Seek help if needed.   Sometimes you might simply be stuck and find that no matter what you try to do to make improvements in your marriage, it’s not working.  If things have gone too far or neither of you have the tools to do this work, couples therapy can be very helpful.  Video therapy sessions have become the norm (as for many others in other work settings) so help is available.

Emotional safety and relationship health between the walls of your home are more important than ever, especially when “home” is where many of us are spending so much time.  If you’ve lost sight of your relationship during this crazy time, you’re not alone.  But you can put it back into focus now.


Learn about California online couples therapy with me. If you’re out of state, check out the Psychology Today Therapist Directory to find someone in your area.

If you have a specific question and you would like an educational consultation only, see my Relationship Consultation service on my other site,

Online Therapy Now More Than Ever

We are in a changed world with no end in sight yet.  As people have had to adapt their work, social and family lives to more online engagement via video, we have become more comfortable with communicating online.  Online therapy is not a new concept and many had already begun doing some of that work (myself included) pre-COVID but with a pandemic in full swing, the need for emotional and relationship support has never been so high, particularly in states like California.  Generally people are staying closer to home and in many communities across the country, going to an office to see a therapist is not possible.

There are other advantages to online therapy:


If there’s one thing we’ve learned with being home more, is a new appreciation of just that.  With online therapy, a 50-minute session is just that, losing the need to factor in in drive times and even parking logistics in some cases.  For those who are challenged with doing teletherapy at home, you can get creative.  Since the pandemic I’ve had many clients “meet” with me from their cars (even while waiting for their kid’s sport practices).


If you have a good internet connection for video or even just a cell phone, you have accessibility to teletherapy.  And with so many therapists offering online services, they are at your fingertips.  In a way, therapy has never been more accessible and unfortunately, the need is now greater than ever.

Privacy concerns alleviated.

For those feeling concerned about a therapy social stigma of being “seen” going to a therapist’s office, teletherapy removes this obstacle.  Whether you are a higher profile person or simply prefer privacy, it can work well.

Increased perception of anonymity.

Over the past pandemic months, many therapists are observing that their work doing online therapy allows more quickly getting to difficult subject matter.  It is being theorized that there may be something about the client’s perception of being more anonymous in that setting.

It is important to also be aware of some of the current disadvantages to online therapy as well:

Missed Cues. 

Not being in the room with clients makes it a bit more difficult to build rapport and read emotions.  Verbal and non-verbal cues can take more time to catch and it’s helpful to connect with a seasoned therapist who has more experience doing this.

Ethical/Legal Concerns. 

Know your therapist’s license requirements and laws about where they are allowed to practice.  Many cannot legally practice out of their home states.  You will not be protected by having a licensing board to turn to should you have a legal or ethical issue that comes up with this person if they are practicing our of their zone.

Serious psychiatric situations.

In this crisis, major clinical concerns are being treated with teletherapy but keep in mind if this describes your situation, it’s important to find a therapist in your general area so they are better able to connect you to additional local support services, if needed.

If you live outside of California, I’m not legally permitted to work with you but see the Psychology Today Therapist Directory for other possible closer therapist.

If you are in California and would like to inquire about my online therapy services, CONTACT ME.

Managing the Stress of COVID-19

Aside from doing what you can do wash your hands frequently, disinfect your surroundings and check in with your loved ones, it’s important to keep an eye on your emotional health as days turn into weeks turn into months.

If you are not living alone, you need to find effective mechanisms to self-regulate not only for your own well-being but the well-being of those around you; partners, kids, roommates or other family. Remember, that emotions can be contagious too.

12 Ways to Stay Calm when Things are Not Calm

1- Breathe. Your breath is an excellent anchor to the present and oxygen is an antidote to the stress hormone, cortisol. When you notice yourself feeling worried, take 5 slow and deep breaths in through your nose and out through pursed lips. This could be a good time to start a mindfulness practice to help train your brain to more effectively drop into the now.

2- Name your emotions. Denying your emotions isn’t helpful as they find other unhelpful ways of showing themselves, (blowing up at a loved one when you’ve been holding anger, feeling angst-filled and tense when worry is ignored or minimized, etc.) In fact, naming your emotion can tame your emotion.

3- Help. Redirect your angst to reaching out to help. Are there vulnerable people in your neighborhood who need assistance getting food to them? Can you support your local restaurant by ordering takeout? Studies show that altruism reduces stress and fosters happiness.

4- Find some structure. For many, making lists and organizing what needs to happen can be soothing. Do things in manageable pieces until you feel at ease. Create a loose schedule for containment.

5- Watch for cognitive distortions. COVID-19 is clearly a very serious situation with a lot of unknowns. Yet try your best not to leap ahead to the future imagining the worst possible scenarios when they haven’t happened…and perhaps they will not. There are many “cognitive distortions” to be aware of but the few that come to mind here are jumping to conclusions and catastrophizing.

6- Cuddle with your canine or feline pet. Our furry friends can provide incredible amounts of unconditional love. Did you know that gazing into your dog’s eyes can generate the love hormone, oxytocin?

7- Take a media break. Don’t allow yourself to be inundated by the media which can lead further preoccupation. Despite the rapid-fire changing of events, try to limit your exposure and to reliable sources such as the CDC (or your country’s equivalent).

8- Talk it out. Find a friend or family member who tends to be emotionally balanced and practical to share your concerns. Sometimes just talking it out with feedback and suggestions can reduce the impact. If your community is practicing social distancing, use technology to connect.

9- Get distracted. What do you like to do? Dig into the things that serve as welcome distractions like art, baking, a new tv series or a home project.

10- Take care of your body. Now more than ever it’s important to try get enough rest, eat healthy and move your body. Avoid drinking too much alcohol. If your physical body is functioning optimally, it will be better equipped to stave off the impact of stress on your immune system.

11- Create a calm environment. Put some TLC into the nest you call your home, making it feel as grounding as possible. For many it will mean keeping it clean, for others it might be with music or lighting

12- Get out into nature. If you have parks, trails, bodies of water, countryside or even areas where greenery is planted in a city, make a habit of getting outside into that environment. Studies have shown that time in nature can lower blood pressure and stress hormones, decrease anxiety, enhance immune function and reduce nervous system arousal.

These times are particularly challenging for those with a tendency for anxiety in normal times. It can feel very out of control and in many ways, it is. If this is you, it’s even more important to learn to self-regulate. If you need some help, there are many therapists now working online offering support.

Be well and remember we’re in this together.

If you live outside of California, I’m not legally permitted to work with you but see the Psychology Today Therapist Directory for other possible closer therapist.

If you are in California and would like to inquire about my online therapy services, CONTACT ME.

The Pandemic is Traumatic for Many

Very few people are alive who have experienced what we are going through in these unprecedented times. The impact of this pandemic is widespread; health, life, job security, social disconnection, grief around losses and worry for the future.  The psychological impact is profound as well, as it contradicts what is familiar and expected in the world leading to confusion and uncertainty. For some, it may be impairing your ability to cope with all that is happening leading to strong emotional responses like grief, panic, anxiety or depression.  Others may still be holding their emotions tightly to their chests, shoving them in different compartments of your mind.  For now.

According to trauma experts Dr. Peter Levine, PhD and Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, MD, there are pandemic psychological risks you need to monitor including unpredictability, immobility and not being sure who to trust or they know what to do.

No one knows yet what the full impact to our society and world will be at the hands of the COVID-19. We are wired to asses threat and not knowing what’s coming makes our brains unable to do that accurately which can lead to chronic stress. Our lack of ability to move around in ways we are used to has hindered and removed normal social activities. These are unnatural states that can feel profoundly disconnecting. And the lack of a coherent narrative, conflicting information and deep division around the virus itself and what to do about is causing many to feel powerless and scared.

According to Levine and van der Kolk, there are some important things we can do to alleviate the psychological risks above. They involve reducing physiological distress by gaining mastery where it may feel lost, particularly by getting connected to the body. Self-regulation and other practices can at least help you gain control over your internal systems within the greater chaotic context. We all need different ways to calm ourselves.

Things You Can Do to Soothe a Trauma Response

  • Establish felt agency by jumping in place. Movement brings you to the here and now.
  • Self-regulate with touch.
  • Put your right hand under your arm pit and left hand around the other shoulder for a self-hug.
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • Talk about “physically distancing and socially connecting” rather than “socially distancing” to help bridge the perceived isolation gap.
  • Hold onto your circadian rhythms by keeping a sleep schedule and not going to bed too late.
  • Make contact with someone or something in the morning to start your day; kids, your pet, a text to family or a friend.
  • Create predictability with rituals like, “Every Tuesday and Thursday at 11A I do a virtual yoga class.”
  • Trauma is about losing a sense of agency so you need to find ways to restore that sense of agency by being in the rhythm of life.
  • Honor your internal and external rhythms.
  • Create internal predictability when there is so little predictability around you.

Trauma recovery is not only about being able to be held by another person – but by yourself.

I’ve worked with a lot of people over the last few months who need help creating structure and habits to self-soothe, regulate and most effectively weather this storm.  Many have suffered with high levels of hopelessness, fear and worry.  They feel lost.  I’ve found creating a container is very helpful to get through each day, create goals and things to look forward to, however small.

If you feel adrift, overwhelmed or otherwise struggling with the emotional impact of this pandemic, contact me to inquire about scheduling an online therapy appointment.

If you live outside of California, I’m not legally permitted to work with you but see the Psychology Today Therapist Directory for other possible closer therapist.

If you are in California and would like to inquire about my online therapy services, CONTACT ME.


Featured Posts

Relationships Need Attention Now More Than Ever

Online Therapy Now More Than Ever

Managing the Stress of COVID-19

The Pandemic is Traumatic for Many