3 #covid Christmas tips for coping with loss

Many families this year have lost someone to #covid, or because of #covid. Facing grief and loss is often harder at Christmas, especially this year. So how do we cope with loss in the midst of Christmas cheer?

  1. Gather as a household and light a special candle, perhaps next to a picture of your loved one. This act of remembering permits all the sadness, anger and other emotions that loss causes, and gives it space.
  2. Share memories and stories together. It can be easy to avoid remembering, especially if those memories come with the pain of grief, but sharing memories can also bring laughter and joy.
  3. When tears come, let them come. They are a natural part of grieving someone we love, and are acceptable expressions of loss even at Christmas.

Remembering those we love at Christmas is always bitter-sweet. Making space for the joy of memories alongside mourning helps everyone to heal.

Bereavement during the #pandemic has been extremely difficult for many. If you need help processing your grief, please get in touch.

3 #covid Christmas tips for individuals

This Christmas may be more isolating for some due to the COVID #pandemic. Here at Relate we believe everyone deserves to enjoy a “Happy Christmas”. If you find yourself alone over Christmas, these three tips will help you create something special for yourself:

  1. Take time to connect with others. The Christmas season can be the best time to reconnect with old friends, to spread joy with those whom you connect to on a regular basis, or to reach out to those whom you know do not have regular communication with others. Whether in person or digital, make a date to connect with others over Christmas.
  2. Take time to care for yourself. Everyone deserves to be treated, and to feel special. Planning time to do the things you love takes us away from the mundane of everyday life. From an at-home spa experience to back-to-back action movies, any activity that absorbs and refreshes you can boost your sense of wellbeing.
  3. Take time to get moving. Get out of the house for a short run/walk. If you’re unable to get out of the house, try working out alongside an online fitness instructor. Or keep it festive and dance along to the beat of your favourite Christmas music! Don’t forget to open the windows to let that fresh air in!

The list of things to do for yourself is endless. Reflect on what brings you joy and peace of mind, and make a date with yourself, for yourself. Have a Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year.

3 #covid Christmas tips for families

The #pandemic has been an intense time for many families with younger children. Five days of semi-normal life may actually feel overwhelming for some young children and (let’s face it) some adults too. And of course afterwards, we are back into our small bubbles, with a very limited social circle. So, planning ahead for this holiday enables families to have positive time together. For our 3 #covid Christmas tips for families, we recommend:

  1. Space to be. Allow all members of the family some time and space to just ‘be’ and not having to be constantly ‘doing’. This can be done together or individually.
  2. Outdoor refreshment. Go out for a walk! It doesn’t have to be a very long one, but try and include a visit to a park or somewhere to play in fresh air.
  3. Family games. ‘Play’ together if at all possible. This can be board games or outdoor games, whatever is easily available.

Embracing this season for what it brings us can really help. The opportunities to bond and hang out as a family are ample – and set the foundation of close relationships for the coming years. A little intentional planning can help this Christmas be a precious time.

If your family needs support because of the upheaval of the pandemic, we can help you find your balance again. Find out about family counselling.

3 #covid Christmas tips for teens

This Christmas may seem exceptionally challenging for teenagers. It’s a time where friendships outside the family are a priority. Here are 3 Christmas tips to help you support your teens:

  1. Talk about and plan this Christmas break together. This helps in two ways. Firstly, it can give space to share internalised feelings (anger, sadness at not being able to socialise with friends and family) and for these feelings to be accepted. Don’t brush over them or minimise them: give them air and time. Secondly, in a year where many decisions have been out of their control they can help make some decisions about Christmas.  Do they have any ideas what they would like to do as a family or group over this different Christmas, or any ideas for new Christmas traditions? This can bring positive feelings about the Christmas break.
  2. The end of the year is an ideal opportunity to reflect on the year gone and how resilient you have been as a family or group. Why not find a way to look back together as a family. What were the highlights of the year? What helped you all get through the more challenging times? How did you look after yourselves when things felt difficult?
  3. Let them know you are available if they want to talk. You don’t need answers or solutions, just listening is enough.

These two weeks can be a positive and refreshing time for us and our teens. Bring them into the journey to help them process and reflect, ready for a new year.

Some teenagers will be struggling to cope with the emotional and mental burden #covid has put on them. Our counselling services for young people can help them develop coping strategies and see a way forward.

3 #covid Christmas tips for couples

#Covid has put immense pressure on our relationships, testing strength and resilience as a couple. So how do can we do Christmas well? Here are our 3 tips for couples:

  1. Make a rough plan together for your Christmas. Many disagreements can be avoided if you have similar expectations for the holiday – and you can work together on a plan that reflects both of your needs over Christmas.
  2. Don’t underestimate the value of alone time. Balance time with others, time as a couple and time alone. Give each other room to rest, emotionally and mentally, so that your time together can be blessed.
  3. Make a date night together to reflect on the past year. Talk about the things you’ve gotten better at as a couple, and how you can build on them in the coming year.

Whether this year has been difficult for you as a couple, or has brought you closer together, these tips can help bring refreshing and closer intimacy in preparation for the year to come.

Does your relationship need a bit more help? Find out how couple counselling can help you to flourish together.

Skills for Life: A Journey with Joe

This series tells fictional stories of the counselling journey. Drawn from our counsellors’ extensive experience, this story explores how a young teenager learns to name and handle complex emotions.

At the Start

13-year-old Joe’s life, like that of many young teenagers, had been in significant turmoil since March. All of a sudden, half way through year 7, he was at home with his parents. He had only just begun solidifying friendships with new classmates. His parents were both adjusting to home working and both had huge work demands on their time and energy. They were pleased that Joe seemed content to look after himself and do his schoolwork by himself, mostly in his room.

Fast forward to September and the picture is entirely different. At first, Joe’s mum thought he was just struggling with back-to-school anxiety. But his increasing anger over the following few weeks, especially in the mornings, became harder and harder to deal with. Eventually, one day, he point-blank refused school. Mum and Dad had run out of ideas.

The school were surprised too. During year 7, he’d seemed calm, capable and friendly. Now he was volatile in school or simply not showing up.

Joe’s school and his parents agreed that counselling was the next step, so they registered him with our team at Relate Northamptonshire.

Visualising complex emotions

When Joe arrived for counselling, it was clear to me that he didn’t want to be there. We spent the first session talking about what counselling was. I explained confidentiality – the fact that I wouldn’t be reporting to his parents or teachers, it was just between us. We also talked about the fact that he could choose whether to come back after this session. It was his choice.

I then made some space for Joe to tell me his story of the last 6 months. He found it very hard to verbalise what was happening for him. Like many young teenagers, he struggled to find the language for his complex emotions.

Joe did decide to come back for another session. I started this session by asking him to draw a picture of his house and where he and his parents were in it. One one half of the paper, he drew his house now, and on the other, his house before coronavirus. In his picture of now, he drew his parents downstairs, and himself upstairs on his own, in his bedroom. I gently began exploring his picture, paying attention to his body language as well as his words. He noticed that he was upstairs on his own, and we added some emoji faces to his drawing to illustrate how he felt and how he thought others were feeling.

We then looked together at his picture from the past. How did everyone feel in that picture? What was different? What had changed for them, and why?


As we looked at Joe’s pictures in our following session, we talked about the changes that had taken place. We noticed together that he used to be with the rest of the family but was now alone. He’d got in the habit of being separate from everyone, and when he thought about it he actually did want to be with everyone else.

This was a significant revelation for Joe. He realised that he didn’t want things to be the way they were.

We spent some time over the next few sessions talking about emotions and how to recognise them. Using a firework as a model, we broke down our emotional responses into chunks. We identified the “match”: the thing that starts the emotional response off. Then we thought about the “fuse” – what begins the process towards the explosion? How does his body feel at that stage? What are the signs to notice? And we talked about what it’s like for him when the firework goes off. Joe and I developed together some techniques for him to cope with the explosive emotions he was feeling. This helped him to feel more in control of his internal world.

Accepting Emotions

It came up during our discussions that he hated being angry. He hated himself for losing control in that way. But having strategies to manage his anger legitimised it as an emotion. He was allowed to feel anger – it didn’t mean he lost control of himself or his internal world.

I noticed with Joe that his anger was actually rooted in sadness and loss. Culture had taught him that boys don’t cry; sadness is a weakness. This build-up of sadness in him eventually would explode in anger. We thought about the idea of sadness as weakness, and whether or not it was true. We also discussed what happens when we don’t express our emotions. Joe began to understand himself and his emotions, and to see that it was better to share those emotions.

He finally found the courage to begin talking to his mum about how he was feeling. It was a huge thing for mum to realise that Joe’s anger was rooted in sadness and a sense of loss. It changed her perspective on Joe’s behaviour, and the increased understanding between them began to remove the heat from Joe’s anger. Their relationship improved as they shared his journey together.

As Joe and his mum began to understand what was going on, they made some changes together in the house. Joe began joining the family for meals again. His mum consciously invited him to join them at other times of the day. They set up better boundaries in their house around working times. They limited conversations about coronavirus and lockdown. These changes began to change Joe’s picture of his house.

Ending well

As our counselling sessions came to an end with Joe, we looked back at the journey we’d been on. We saw that he had learnt to recognise and express difficult emotions. He had better relationships with his parents, and was attending school regularly.

He’d developed some skills for life – strategies to deal with big emotions.

Perhaps most significantly, his view of himself had changed. He no longer hated himself for feeling anger or sadness. He recognised the legitimacy of how he felt, and he was able to be kinder to himself when he felt sad, angry or lost.

Not everything was fixed for Joe. But he felt empowered, with the tools he needed to manage all the chaos inside him. And his restored relationship with his mum had given him the support he needed to manage the ups and downs of the coming months.

This story was told by Annie, a Relate counsellor specialising in children and young people.

At a time of significant change for all of us, many children will be struggling to make sense of both the world around them and their internal world. We are counselling children & young people online, from ages 13+. For younger children, we can work with parents to support them in helping their child process their emotions and adjust to new circumstances. Get in touch with our support team today to discuss how we can help your child or teenager.

Reclaiming Time: A Journey with Mum & Sophia

This series tells fictional stories of the counselling journey. Drawn from our counsellors’ extensive experience, this story explores the use of mobile phones in our everyday.

Initial meeting

Laura came to Relate family counselling as she was worried about Sophia, her 15-year-old daughter. Constant arguments were making their relationship difficult and disrupting family life with step-dad Paul and brother Joe.

Mum described a familiar picture: Sophia was spending increasing amount of time online, and there was a drop in grades at school. She then discovered Sophia and her friends had been involved in cyberbullying on Facebook.  Having confiscated Sophia’s phone their relationship was at an all-time low.

We discussed inviting Sophia to join us at the next session. It was important that Sophia chose to engage in the counselling process.

Getting Started

Sophia agreed to join the next session where I invited mum to express her concerns and then asked her to leave the room so Sophia and I could explore some things together.

It was clear that Sophia was extremely angry with her mum. She was hostile towards me too, viewing me as her mum’s ally.  I explained I was here to listen to her too and invited her to express what she truly felt.

Opening up

Sophia felt isolated and alone.  She was deeply upset about what happened online and worried about what her friendship group might be saying about her. School was shut because of the pandemic and she had no social media access. She was really angry at her mum for cutting her off from her friends. It was clear that removing Sophia from social media had actually withdrawn her support network.

At our next session, I focused on discovering a bit more about Sophia’s relationship with social media. What did she like about social media? When might it be good for her? When might it be bad for her?

We also discussed the cyberbullying. Why did it come about? What happened in real life to cause it? How did it affect her and her friends? What might she do differently in the future?

These conversations gradually lead to a discussion about what Sophia wanted, and what she needed to do to get there.

Her main goal was to get her phone back. Sophia recognised for that to happen she needed to understand why her mum was so concerned about her and what her mum might want to know to return Sophia’s phone.


Our next session was with both mum and Sophia. We started by building a picture of their family culture around phones and technology. We talked about their collective habits. When were phones good for their family, and when were they not helpful?

This was not a comfortable conversation for Sophia or her mum.

Longing for Time

Sophia felt her mum never had time for her as their conversations were regularly interrupted by her phone and her mum would stop their conversation to respond.

This was a pivotal moment for mum. She suddenly saw that their phones were robbing them of precious family time together. She was shocked that Sophia wanted time with her – and that her own phone use was getting in the way.

We ended this session with homework for Sophia and her mum. They needed to work on  how they might spend time together. What would that look like? How would they guard that time, and what would the boundaries be?

In the following sessions, we discussed their family culture around internet use. They realised they were “always-on” and experimented with turning phones off for a family meal – and found that it was actually quite nice.

Common Ground

On returning Sophia’s phone, the two were able to talk together about what the limits ought to be. These limits were not just about Sophia. They included the whole family’s phone use.

They started with two simple changes. When mum picked Sophia up from school their phones stayed off. And now with phone-free meal-times they are beginning to think about bed-time routines without phones too.

Finishing well

As we ended counselling, Sophia and her mum had a completely different relationship. They understand each other better. They were learning how to listen to one another. And they were learning how to cooperate to solve problems.

Discover more

This story was told by Caroline, a Relate counsellor and Clinical Supervisor at Relate Northamptonshire.

If phone and technology use is causing problems in your family, you might find Smart Kids Dumb Phones a really useful starting point. This website contains a whole selection of practical ways of tackling addiction to phones, starting with conversations and moving on to building new habits.

Family counselling is flexible. We can work with whole families, or as in the case above, part of a family and even one individual family member. For families with young children, we frequently only meet with the parents, even if the issues they face involve the children. During coronavirus, we are counselling remotely which means that we can work with children aged 13+ via Zoom. Contact our support team to book an assessment with us.


Rethinking Sex: A Journey with Steve & Jen

This series tells fictional stories using made-up names of the journey people experience through counselling. Drawn from our counsellors’ extensive experience every client’s story is unique; what remains the same is our desire to helping you with who you want to be.

At the start

When Steve & Jen came to sex therapy, they were at a loss. Ever since their marriage 2 years ago, sex had always been painful – and now Jen had been diagnosed with vaginismus, a condition where the vaginal opening contracts too much to allow comfortable sex.

Sex therapy is quite different from counselling. Its purpose is to deal with the psychosomatic causes of sexual dysfunctions – in other words, the psychological and emotional factors that make sex difficult, painful or impossible.

So to start with, we talked in detail about their history from childhood.

Jen’s parents both worked when she was a child so after school and in the holidays she would go to her grandma’s house. Her grandma was much loved, however Jen picked up many negative ideas about sex from her. She considered sex to be dirty, not fun and painful – it was only to be within marriage and necessary for producing children.

Of course, these messages weren’t conveyed outright. They were ideas that Jen picked up and understood over time, and they shaped her expectations of sex.

Jen went off to university from an all-girls school. Suddenly, there were men around her who were interested in her. Something seemed to be going on that she didn’t understand: people seemed to be choosing to have sex with others they weren’t married to… Jen couldn’t quite compute her inherited understanding with the world around her.

She got together with Steve after university. At first, sex was ok, but over a few weeks it began to get more and more painful. It became a constant challenge and struggle in their marriage.

Steve & Jen have come to sex therapy because they want to find a way of having sex comfortably.


After covering their history, I make a treatment plan for them. This is another way sex therapy differs from normal counselling. In sex therapy, clients engage in a programme of exercises that begin to rewrite their relationship with sex, usually over the course of several months.

Jen & Steve are both surprised to discover that this plan starts with no sex at all. The plan begins with booking time with each other every week to engage in lots of physical, non-sexual contact.

One of these exercises I asked Jen & Steve to do is the sensate focus exercise. It’s about paying attention to the sensations in your own body as you touch your partner. So, when Steve strokes Jen’s stomach, what does her stomach feel like? How does it relate to what he sees? And for Jen, what does it feel like when Steve touches her? And then they swap over, with Jen stroking Steve’s stomach.

The sensate focus exercise is non-sexual, not intended for arousal, nor is it a massage. It is essentially a ‘selfish’ exercise.

Each time they complete the exercise, they can talk through with each other their experience and they take notes to share with me at our next session.

This feels very strange at first for Jen & Steve, but when we discuss the outcome of the exercise, they are surprised by the impact it’s had. It has built intimacy and connection between them that they have not experienced before. Jen also admits that knowing it wasn’t allowed to be sexual has helped her to relax and feel safe when Steve touches her.

It’s about trust all along the way. Trusting that your partner will not do something that you don’t want them to do.

As we continue to see an increase in the trust and intimacy between Steve & Jen, and carry their treatment plan forward, I meet with Jen individually. It allows us to explore together the impact of her background on her experience of sex. We begin to unpack and process her experiences and her emotions, creating space to reshape her thinking.

Progression through the treatment plan continues, always at the pace that Jen & Steve are both comfortable with – in both body and mind.

We begin to introduce some sexual elements to their relationship again. Steve now begins to understand the difference between intercourse and sexual intimacy. While intercourse describes the physical sexual encounter, sexual intimacy starts with complete trust and non-sexual physical intimacy.

Jen & Steve are finding for the first time that their sexual relationship is satisfying and enjoyable – even without necessarily having intercourse.

Ending well

Over the course of their treatment plan, Steve & Jen have seen what they thought was impossible become possible.

And yet the most precious outcome for them is not that they can now comfortably have sex – but that they are enjoying a deep intimacy and trust in each other, of which sex is a part.

One thing clients realise over the course of sex therapy is the sheer complexity of sexual dysfunctions. It’s not a quick thing to fix. It’s wrapped up in so much history and emotion. It is far more complex than my clients ever foresee.

Journeying together with clients in unpacking and overcoming all the psychological and emotional barriers to a functional sex life – and seeing couples enjoy a wonderful intimacy and trust together – is tremendously rewarding.

Psycho Sexual Therapy (PST) is available for couples and individuals who face a wide range of sexual difficulties. This can be diagnosed issues, such as vaginismus or erectile dysfunction, or relational struggles caused by challenges in their sex life.

Find out more about sex therapy and how to book with our therapist.

This story was told by Chris, a Relate Counsellor qualified in Psycho Sexual Therapy.

Breaking Free: A Journey with Clare

This series tells fictional stories using made-up names of the journey people experience through counselling. Drawn from our counsellors’ extensive experience every client’s story is unique; what remains the same is our desire to helping you with who you want to be.

At the start

When Clare arrived for counselling she was in the middle of a divorce. Her marriage of 15 years had ended.  She had nothing –no job, no money, no home – and was caring for a teenage son on her own.

As she told her story, she began to reveal some of the trauma she’d been through. When they were dating her husband had loved and adored her, poured out gifts to her, been everything she sought and longed for. Stability, strength, love, appreciation… they married after a year, and he changed overnight.  She found herself, desperately doing all she could to please him and keep him happy, walking on eggshells constantly.  Occasionally, that wonderful, loving man would be back – and then disappear again all too soon.


During the counselling sessions, we were able to make sense of her experience which rings true for others in domestic abuse relationships:

  • He mirrored her: listening to her desires, hopes and dreams he became all that she wanted.
  • He love-bombed her: he was more than she expected, showering her with gifts and telling her “you’re my everything.”
  • After their marriage, she went through what we call ‘trauma bonding’. On the rollercoaster between the highs and the lows, she would desperately seek the high, doing all she could to bring the loving husband back to her
  • He isolated her: saying she didn’t need to work, he would look after her. He was cruel to her friends, so they didn’t come round anymore. He “took care” of all the money, controlling every penny.
  • He gaslighted her: he convinced her that she was crazy, that she was making things up – and she began to doubt herself.

For Clare, naming these behaviours was a revelation. She began to see his powerful and controlling behaviour and realise that she had been in a domestic abuse relationship.

As we broke down what had happened over 15 years, we drew a timeline of what she had endured.  Once Clare began to see it and understand it, she could begin to accept it. Once she accepted it, she could begin to let it go. It didn’t need to define her today.

We began to look at he

r strengths. She was a survivor. She persevered. She was brave.

We began to look at who she was, and who she wanted to be. She was a people pleaser, but she didn’t want to be that anymore. She wanted to learn to trust herself again.

Claire began to develop and practice ways of listening toherself and making her own choices in relationships, which led to a growing confidence in herself.

Ending well

Clare unpacked her life in our counselling room and as we came to the end of her sessions, we repacked her bags with the things she wanted to keep. She left behind everything she didn’t want: the past is always with us, but all the power of the past – its lies, its behaviours and its oppression – was released.

At Relate, we are always clear how many sessions a client has with a counsellor; this was really important for Clare to know. So that at her last session, Clare left free from the trauma of her past relationship, and free to be who she wanted to be.

We often think of domestic abuse relationships as being physically violent, but they are not always like that. Check out this helpful chart for the eight signs that can help you diagnose abuse in a relationship.

You may recognise some of what we have covered here and suspect that your relationship is abusive; you may, like Clare, be leaving an abusive relationship or perhaps feel like you’re carrying the baggage round with you from a past relationship. Wherever you are in your journey, you can book counselling with us. Please get in touch today – we’d love to share your journey to freedom. 

This story was told by Debbie, a Relate counsellor specialising in mental health.

Top tips for managing panic attacks

Panic attacks are increasingly common. They are also treatable and you can make a full recovery and never have another one.

Whilst they can be very frightening they are not dangerous. Some of the things you may experience can be scary but remember these will pass. Panic attack symptoms include:

  • racing heart
  • sweaty hands
  • breathing faster
  • dizziness

In this video, Annie gives some tips on how to manage panic attacks.

Annie’s top tips for managing panic attacks

  1. Remind yourself ‘This will pass’, ‘I am safe’
  2. Open your eyes look at the space you are in
  3. Stamp or ground your feet into the floor
  4. Say your name and the day
  5. Slow down your breathing
  6. Find five things around you and pay extra attention to them. Use all 5 of your senses.

Tip 6 is particularly useful. Here’s an example of how to engage all your senses:

You’re at school and you focus on your jumper as one of your five things.

  • Really look at your jumper: what do you see?
  • When you touch it how does it feel?
  • Does it make a sound (maybe you could gently flick the sleeve, can you hear anything)?
  • Does it smell of anything? 

You may want to carry a mint or a sour sweet for one of your 5 items and really focus on that using all your 5 of your senses including taste. 

If you know you are experiencing panic attacks and would like more support you can of course contact us. You are not alone. This will pass.

More information

If you aren’t sure if you are having a panic attack, we would recommend you talking to your GP. If you live in Northamptonshire message CAMHS LIVE (details below). There is also plenty of information and support on the sites listed below.

No Panic

No Panic offers advice, help and support for those suffering from anxiety based disorders for 13-20 year olds (including OCD and phobias).

You can find out more about them here or ring to chat to someone on 0330 606 1174.


YoungMinds logo

Young Minds Crisis Messenger is a free text service provides 24/7 crisis support if you are experiencing a mental health crisis and need support. It is simple to text them, you could just put something like ‘I am struggling’ and they will message you back.

You can find out more about them here – or text YM to 85258.


Anxiety UK

Anxiety UK offers advice & support for people with anxiety stress.

You can find out more about them here. They are also available from 10am-8pm on 03444 775 774, or text them on 07537416905.

Papyrus is a charity dedicated in supporting children and young people under 35 who are having suicidal thoughts. They are open weekdays 9am-10 pm and weekends & Bank Holidays 2pm-10 pm.

Papyrus is also there for you if you are an adult or young person worried about someone experiencing suidical thoughts.

Visit their website, text them on 07860 039967 or ring them on 0800 068 41 41.


Childline logo 2018.png

Childline is a charity you can call or chat with.  For the 1-2-1 chat you need to be registered – it only takes a few minutes but it is a good idea to do this when you are feeling okay so you can quickly access it if you are struggling.  Childline is not 24 hours at the moment (this may change). You can chat to a counsellor between 9 am and midnight (you can not join live chat after 10.30 pm).

Find out more here or call them on 0800 1111.


the lowdown - supporting young people

If you live in Northampton The Lowdown runs a crisis cafe once a week for anyone aged 12-18. You do not have to go to the cafe at the moment – you can chat to them remotely as well.

Check out their opening times on their website.


Back to Home

Another crisis cafe once a week is run by Youthworks in Kettering for anyone aged 12-18.

You can go to the cafe – just ring ahead, or find out more on Twitter. Visit their website or ring on 01536 518 339.


Camhs live image

CAMHS Live is a run by the child and adolescent mental health service in Northamptonshire  and you can live chat with them on weekdays. It is for Young people 13 years and older and parents or carers wanting advice and information about emotional wellbeing and mental health services.

Visit their website to start a live chat with them.