At first, I didn’t recognize the symptoms that we all had in common. Friends mentioned that they were having trouble concentrating. Colleagues reported that even with vaccines on the horizon, they weren’t excited about 2021. A family member was staying up late to watch “National Treasure” again even though she knows the movie by heart. And instead of bouncing out of bed at 6 a.m., I was lying there until 7, playing Words with Friends.
It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.
Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.
As scientists and physicians work to treat and cure the physical symptoms of long-haul Covid, many people are struggling with the emotional long-haul of the pandemic. It hit some of us unprepared as the intense fear and grief of last year faded.
In the early, uncertain days of the pandemic, it’s likely that your brain’s threat detection system — called the amygdala — was on high alert for fight-or-flight. As you learned that masks helped protect us — but package scrubbing didn’t— you probably developed routines that eased your sense of dread. But the pandemic has dragged on, and the acute state of anguish has given way to a chronic condition of languish.
In psychology, we think about mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishing. Flourishing is the peak of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others. Depression is the valley of ill-being: You feel despondent, drained and worthless.
Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.
The term was coined by a sociologist named Corey Keyes, who was struck that many people who weren’t depressed also weren’t thriving. His research suggests that the people most likely to experience major depression and anxiety disorders in the next decade aren’t the ones with those symptoms today. They’re the people who are languishing right now. And new evidence from pandemic health care workers in Italy shows that those who were languishing in the spring of 2020 were three times more likely than their peers to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
We are so excited to announce that Dr. Katelyn (Katy) Grusecki, has joined Hillary Counseling.
☼ Katy is a psychologist with a diverse background. She’s worked at medical centers, clinics, inpatient hospitals, outpatient programs and forensic facilities throughout Southern California.
☼ Her clinical style is based on a holistic model that attends to all aspect of wellness. Katy uses a client-centered, strengths-based approach and incorporates Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness and other treatment modalities to help her clients reach their goals.
☼ She specializes in working with individuals and couples who need support navigating: substance abuse, relationship struggles, anxiety, depression, life transitions, personal growth, career direction/professional growth, optimal health and wellness, trauma, improved self-confidence, and living a more authentic and values-driven lifestyle (just to name a few).
MORE FACTS ABOUT KATY:
🎓 She received her Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D) from Pepperdine University in California.
🏥 In addition to practicing outpatient therapy, she maintains a full-time position as a licensed psychologist on a maximum security unit, focusing on forensic evaluations and psychological assessment.
Katy will begin seeing NEW clients Tuesday, April 20th. She offers a FREE 30-minute consultation to begin therapy. For scheduling, you can email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The brain has a natural optimism bias—we are what I call “wired for love”. This means that when we are connected to others in deep and meaningful ways, and when we are satisfied with where we are in life and where we are going (even if we have ups and downs, which are normal!), we can function at a healthy level. The brain likes it when we are in a good place!
If this is so, why does the negative seem so…overwhelming? Why do bad things and bad people tend to stick to our mind like super glue? Why is it so easy to fall into negative thinking spirals?
The negative affects us more because it is so unusual. Think about the many noises you hear at night: cars driving by your home, the chittering of crickets, the hum of the washing machine or refrigerator—these sounds are “normal” and don’t disturb your sleep because you are used to them. But, if you hear a door quickly open or a window break, you are suddenly on high alert. Something is out of place/out of balance, and your attention will stay fixed on that noise until you figure out what is going on and if you are safe.
The negative is like this “out-of-place” noise: it doesn’t make sense and your brain is not happy about this imbalance, so it tries to figure out how to fix this situation. It is easy to fix all your attention on this abnormality until it does make sense, but this can have some serious mental and physical repercussions if we are not careful, because, over time, toxic rumination disrupts the energy flow in the brain. Whatever we think about the most grows!
As I mentioned above, when we think too negatively or just focus on the bad (a pessimistic state of mind), the energy flow in the brain becomes distorted and incoherent, which can result in inflammation in the brain and body, jumps in cortisol levels, digestive issues, heart problems, mood swings and so on. In fact, this state of mind, which is what is known as a “red brain” on qEEg scans can even activate weaknesses in our genetic code! And, over time, it can become a pessimistic thinking habit—the more we think this way, the more the world seems like a terrible place.
Thankfully, we can combat and heal the effects of focusing too much on the negative by self-regulating our mind. This means focusing on how we think, feel and choose. Dr. Caroline Leaf discuss’s this in detail in her book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess. When we learn how to control our mind, we can rebalance the chemicals and energy in the brain and combat the negative health effects of toxic rumination.
This doesn’t mean that we should fear negativity. It is normal to have negative thoughts and experience uncomfortable emotions. If we think we are happy all the time, then we are lying to ourselves—we are suppressing the negative, which will only make things worse. Rather, we need to change the way we perceive the negative. We need to see negative thoughts and feelings as signals that something is going on in our lives that needs to be addressed; there is an “out-of-place noise” in our mental house that we need to get to the root of. This means asking questions like “why I am so pessimistic?”, “what are my triggers?”, “how does the negative affect me?” and “what is the thinking pattern behind my thoughts and feelings, and how can I change or rewire this?”.
The brain changes all the time because it is neuroplastic. The great news is that you can direct this change with your mind (your thinking, feeling, and choosing). You are always thinking, which is why self-regulation is such a great habit—it gives you the tools to control your mind!
Based on decades of research and practice, Dr. Caroline Leaf developed a self-regulation method that harnesses the neuroplastic nature of the brain through specific techniques to combat the negative influence of toxic rumination. Although there is a lot going on behind the scenes when you self-regulate your thinking and manage your mind, the process itself is not only simple but also accessible, no matter where you are, who you are with or what you are doing:
1. When you find yourself getting trapped in a toxic thinking spiral, take a 10 second pause, for as many times as you need. I recommend deep breathing during this pause, which helps bring brain energy back into balance. Breathe in for 3 counts (say, mentally or out loud, “think, feel”), then breathe out for 7 counts (say mentally or out loud, “choooooooose”).
This is like a reset button in the brain, and will increase your decision-making ability and clarity of mind. Indeed, doing this 6 to 9 times can really reorganize chemical chaos that results from negative thinking in the brain by transferring this energy from the toxic thinking pattern to cleaning up your mental mess!
2. Do a NeuroCycle, which is the self-regulation technique.
Here are the steps:
- Gathering awareness of your physical and emotional warning signals. We can only change what we are aware of!
- Reflecting on why you are feeling these things in your body and mind.
- Writing down your reflections to organize your thinking.
- Rechecking what you have written and how your thoughts and feelings have changed.
- Active Reach: taking action to reconceptualize your thinking and find sustainable healing.
If you do this daily for 63 days, you can actually rewire a negative thinking habit or a pessimistic mindset. Each of these steps essentially reset the brain, taking you deeper into your own mind and transferring energy from toxic to healthy. Doing this not only makes your mind and brain more resilient to the pull of negative rumination; it teaches you to use your mind to change your brain! It shows you how to make negativity and life challenges work for you and not against you—YOU TAKE CONTROL, which will have positive carryover effects in other areas of your life.
When you learn how to self-regulate your thinking, you change the energy flow in the brain, which has a host of positive effects on your wellbeing. You still have negative thoughts, of course, but they don’t control your thinking, you control them!
For more information on the optimism bias and self-regulation, listen to Dr. Caroline Leaf’s podcast on MindBodyGreen.
Article by: Dr. Caroline Leaf
Behavioral scientists have spent a lot of time studying what makes us happy (and what doesn’t). We know happiness can predict health and longevity, and happiness scales can be used to measure social progress and the success of public policies. But happiness isn’t something that just happens to you. Everyone has the power to make small changes in our behavior, our surroundings and our relationships that can help set us on course for a happier life.
Happiness often comes from within. Learn how to tame negative thoughts and approach every day with optimism.
Conquer Negative Thinking
All humans have a tendency to be a bit more like Eeyore than Tigger, to ruminate more on bad experiences than positive ones. It’s an evolutionary adaptation — over-learning from the dangerous or hurtful situations we encounter through life (bullying, trauma, betrayal) helps us avoid them in the future and react quickly in a crisis.
But that means you have to work a little harder to train your brain to conquer negative thoughts. Here’s how:
Don’t try to stop negative thoughts. Telling yourself “I have to stop thinking about this,” only makes you think about it more. Instead, own your worries. When you are in a negative cycle, acknowledge it. “I’m worrying about money.” “I’m obsessing about problems at work.”
Treat yourself like a friend. When you are feeling negative about yourself, ask yourself what advice would you give a friend who was down on herself. Now try to apply that advice to you.
Challenge your negative thoughts. Socratic questioning is the process of challenging and changing irrational thoughts. Studies show that this method can reduce depression symptoms. The goal is to get you from a negative mindset (“I’m a failure.”) to a more positive one (“I’ve had a lot of success in my career. This is just one setback that doesn’t reflect on me. I can learn from it and be better.”) Here are some examples of questions you can ask yourself to challenge negative thinking.
First, write down your negative thought, such as “I’m having problems at work and am questioning my abilities.”
Then ask yourself: “What is the evidence for this thought?”
“Am I basing this on facts? Or feelings?”
“Could I be misinterpreting the situation?”
“How might other people view the situation differently?
“How might I view this situation if it happened to someone else?”
The bottom line: Negative thinking happens to all of us, but if we recognize it and challenge that thinking, we are taking a big step toward a happier life.
Science is just beginning to provide evidence that the benefits of this ancient practice are real. Studies have found, for example, that breathing practices can help reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and attention deficit disorder. For centuries yogis have used breath control, or pranayama, to promote concentration and improve vitality. Buddha advocated breath-meditation as a way to reach enlightenment.
Rewrite Your Story
Writing about oneself and personal experiences — and then rewriting your story — can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness. (We already know that expressive writing can improve mood disorders and help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, among other health benefits.)
Some research suggests that writing in a personal journal for 15 minutes a day can lead to a boost in overall happiness and well-being, in part because it allows us to express our emotions, be mindful of our circumstances and resolve inner conflicts.Or you can take the next step and focus on one particular challenge you face, and write and rewrite that story.
We all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves.But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it right. By writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of our personal well-being. The process is similar to Socratic questioning (referenced above). Here’s a writing exercise:
1. Write a brief story about your struggle. I’m having money problems. I am having a hard time making friends in a new city. I’m never going to find love. I’m fighting with my spouse.
2. Now write a new story from the viewpoint of a neutral observer, or with the kind of encouragement you’d give a friend.
-Money is a challenge but you can take steps to get yourself into financial shape.
-Everyone struggles in their first year in a new city. Give it some time. Join some groups.
-Don’t focus on finding love. Focus on meeting new people and having fun. The rest will follow.
-Couples argue. Here’s what your situation looks like to a neutral observer.
Numerous studies show that writing and rewriting your story can move you out of your negative mindset and into a more positive view of life. “The idea here is getting people to come to terms with who they are, where they want to go,” said James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas who has pioneered much of the research on expressive writing. “I think of expressive writing as a life course correction.”
When people get up and move, even a little, they tend to be happier than when they are still. A study that tracked the movement and moods of cellphone users found that people reported the most happiness if they had been moving in the past 15 minutes than when they had been sitting or lying down. Most of the time it wasn’t rigorous activity but just gentle walking that left them in a good mood. Of course, we don’t know if moving makes you happy or if happy people just move more, but we do know that more activity goes hand-in-hand with better health and greater happiness.
Optimism is part genetic, part learned. Even if you were born into a family of gloomy Guses, you can still find your inner ray of sunshine. Optimism doesn’t mean ignoring the reality of a dire situation. After a job loss, for instance, many people may feel defeated and think, “I’ll never recover from this.” An optimist would acknowledge the challenge in a more hopeful way, saying, “This is going to be difficult, but it’s a chance to rethink my life goals and find work that truly makes me happy.”
And thinking positive thoughts and surrounding yourself with positive people really does help. Optimism, like pessimism, can be infectious. So make a point to hang out with optimistic people.
Article by: Tara Parker Pope, New York Times
In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity. –Sun Tsu
The past month has made it clear to us how serious the escalating coronavirus pandemic is for many people in the United States. Schools and workplaces across the country are closed, major events have been canceled, we are having to practice “social distancing” and wear masks in public. With so much going on, and so much uncertainty, it’s no wonder many of us are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious in these rapidly changing times. We want to provide you with some resources to help you cope during this time of uncertainty.
Stress & Anxiety Management:
The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety, A Guide to Breaking Free from Anxiety, Phobias, and Worry Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) put together by John P. Forsyth, Ph.D and Georg H. Eifert, Ph.D
Show Anxiety Who’s Boss, A Three-Step CBT Program to Help You Reduce Anxious Thoughts and Worry by Joel Minden, Ph.D
The Anxiety Skills Workbook, Simple CBT and Mindfulness Strategies for Overcoming Anxiety, Fear, and Worry by Stefan Hoffman, Ph.D
Living With Worry And Anxiety Amidst Global Uncertainty, This guide includes a mixture of psychoeducation about normal and excessive worry, and a selection of practical exercises that you can use to manage worry.
The Calm App, The number one app for Sleep, Meditation and Relaxation
Meditation For A Healthy Immune System, A guided meditation designed to boost your immune system and fend off unwanted health problems.
21 Day Meditation Challenge, 21 Days worth of short, guided meditations
Free 30-Day Online Mindfulness Course 30-days, Self-paced, online program featuring today’s leading mindfulness teachers, helping you support the habits that foster ease and well-being.
Accessing inner calm amidst the Coronavirus, Targeted and brief guided meditations by clinical psychologist and meditation teacher Kelly Werner, PhD
For College Students:
53 Virtual Activities to Keep College Students Engaged Includes a list of everything from TikTok videos to online painting classes
Coursera Together Free online learning and classes to help you explore a new career path, learn a new language, or pursue a new hobby
Covibook, Free downloadable book about COVID-19 for kids (versions available in multiple languages)
Free information book, For kids explaining coronavirus with
Managing Stress and Worry, (ages 5 – 15) GoZen is a site that creates online social and emotional learning programs for kids ages 5-15.
Yoga Ed, Youtube Channel – Yoga for Children
Fun Ed, A site full of educational games, books and videos, grades pre-school through eight. Read favorites like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Judy Moody or have your child sort through a plethora of fun but informative games.
Imagination Tree Blog, Resources and Activities for Fun at Home
PBS Kids Learn and Grow, Age by Age Tips & Activities for Social Emotional Learning, Literacy, Arts and More!
Mindful Schools, Free Online Mindfulness Classes for Kids
“I feel like I have 5 jobs: Moms navigate the pandemic”, New York Times article
Special Audio Series, Simplicity Parenting Podcast episodes all about parenting through COVID-19
Things To Do From Home:
Have A Virtual Netflix Watch Party This Google Chrome extension lets you stay in sync with friends while watching Netflix
12 Famous Museums Offering Virtual Tours Take virtual tours of famous art exhibits
Virtual Disney Rides That will make your couch the Happiest place on earth
Virtual National Park Tours 5 National Parks offer online tours from home
Free At-Home Fitness Classes With Planet Fitness Planet Fitness is offering free group fitness class
Do Yoga With Me Free Online Yoga Classes, choose from a variety of styles, levels, durations and teachers
“Health is not just about what you’re eating. It’s also about what you’re thinking and saying.”
A virus is spreading across the globe. Schools are shut down. People are out of work. Grocery stores are empty.
Weddings, graduations, vacations, a day in court—canceled.
This is the ultimate test in emotional resilience.
Uncertainty is one of the main reasons we stress, along with a lack of control, and right now we’ve got it in truckloads. I’ve spent the last decade building my mental and emotional resilience to stress and adversity, and yet fighting off the anxiety is still a challenge.
I’m putting all the tools in my toolbox to good use.
And they are working. So I want to share these tools with you.
1. Talk to someone, but limit the bitching.
It can be cathartic to share with others the fear, panic, and challenges we’re experiencing. It makes us feel not alone. It validates our feelings and makes us feel connected. So talk to someone about what is stressing you out right now.
But set a time limit to focus on the negative. Maybe ten or twenty minutes each to share. Then it’s time to change the conversation.
Here are some cues:
What is going right?
What are you proud of yourself for?
What are you grateful for?
What are you looking forward to?
Despite the hardships, how are you coping?
How can you encourage and praise your friend?
When we only focus on the negative, we forget what is going well and then all we can see is the bad.
I also find it incredibly helpful to notice how differently my body feels when I’m complaining, angry, and blaming than it does when I’m grateful and optimistic. One feels tight, hot, and heavy. The other feels lighter, looser, and freer.
And as I listen to my husband, mother, or friends share their pain with me, I always make it a point when they are done to change the conversation and ask them what’s going good. I can hear the tone in their voice change as they bring their thoughts to the positive.
2. Be generous.
This doesn’t need to be a gift of money!
It can be a roll of toilet paper. It can be an hour Facetiming your grandmother who is held up in her nursing home with no visitors right now. It can be offering to pick up and drop off groceries for a neighbor or making them a plate of enchiladas.
I have a three-month-old and am blessed with an ample supply of breastmilk, so donating some of my freezer stash costs me nothing, but can mean so much for a needy mother and child right now.
Generosity can even come in the form of well wishes or prayers for others dealing with difficult times.
Giving is scientifically proven to be good for your emotional health.
It activates regions of the brain “associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a ‘warm glow’ effect. It releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the ‘helper’s high.’”
Giving has been linked to the release of oxytocin, a hormone that induces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection to others.
It’s been shown to decrease stress, which not only feels better, but lowers your blood pressure and other health problems caused by stress.
What can you give right now?
3. Take a mental break.
It’s so easy to get stuck in mental go-mode all our waking hours. Especially since our brains crave being busy or entertained.
Even when we rest, we flip through Facebook, watch TV, or daydream.
These past few weeks I haven’t been making the time to take my mental breaks. I usually meditate daily, but with a baby who doesn’t yet have an eating and sleeping schedule, plus with all the extra stresses right now, I’ve not given my mind a break!
So I could feel the anxiety creeping in. It started in the body. I felt the tension in my muscles. My jaw was tight. Breathing was shallow. And I was irritable!
I know it’s time for a mental break when something as simple as my husband leaving another towel on the banister makes me want to file for divorce. (Or end up on an episode of Dateline!)
So I put my husband on baby duty, ran on the treadmill trying to focus on my breath and not my to-do list, took a shower, and brought my attention to the warm water instead of worry over how I will get clients. Then I meditated for fifteen minutes zoning in on my breath every time my thoughts turned to worry over daycare and the coronavirus.
I felt like I’d washed my brain. The tension was gone, my mind was clear, and I no longer wanted to strangle my husband.
From our anxious place, we catastrophize as we spin out in our negativity bias. All we can see is the negative.
We need these mental breaks to create space from these ruminating thoughts. We need to hit the reset button.
A mental break is taking anywhere from thirty seconds to thirty minutes to consciously turn our attention inward, away from outside influence, as well as our flow of thoughts.
We can’t stop the flow of thoughts, but we can notice when they’ve taken our attention, and purposefully redirect that attention to something in the present moment like the breath, a mantra or sound, or a visualization.
Here are a few ways to take that mental break:
Time in nature
Walking, exercise, or dancing
Listening to music
Simple mental break breathing:
Start with a re-calibrating big, big inhale, hold it, and breathe out all the way.
Now breathe in slowly to the count of four, then hold for a second.
When you hold, hear the silence between the breaths.
Then breathe out to the count of four and hold for a second at the bottom.
When you hold, feel your mind clearing as you listen for the space between inhale and exhale.
Repeat until you feel relaxed.
4. Allow all the feels.
This stress and anxiety feel terrible. And it can be hard to muster up the strength and will to try out some of the items on this list to make yourself feel better.
But what tends to happen is we want to run from the discomfort, try to suppress it with distraction like TV or social media, or numb it with wine, food, or drugs.
It’s normal to want to avoid pain. We’re naturally geared to avoid it. However, when we block this pain from flowing, when we don’t allow ourselves to feel our emotions, they get stuck.
Emotions are energy in motion. If you stop it, it just bottles up. It doesn’t disappear.
Try this exercise to allow your emotions to flow:
Take a moment to close your eyes and sit in a quiet space or block out distraction as best you can.
Take a deep breath in and slowly breathe out.
Notice the physical feelings of stress. Where are you holding it in your body? What does it feel like?
On your next exhale, release as much tension as you can.
“I am allowing these feelings to be present.”
“I let these feelings flow through me.”
“These feelings are causing me no harm.”
Now scan your body starting from your head, jaw and neck. Shoulders and hips. Down your legs and feet. Release any tension you find along the way.
Once you’ve allowed these feelings to exist and flow, the following tool is a fantastic next step toward emotional health.
5. Express gratitude.
We humans have a natural negativity bias. It’s a mechanism in place designed with the intention of keeping us safe.
Being on the lookout for danger, in theory, might be a better tactic to keep us alive than ignoring any signs of danger for the sake of focusing on pleasantries. Like being on alert for a mountain lion instead of enjoying a bed of flowers.
But 99 percent of the time, or more, our lives are not in imminent danger. Yet the negativity bias remains.
As it turns out, much like generosity, gratitude is also scientifically proven to be good for our emotional health.
It’s shown that people who express gratitude are more optimistic and feel better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercise more and have fewer visits to physicians than those who focus on sources of aggravation.
In some studies, it’s also shown people immediately exhibiting a huge increase in happiness scores, as well as improved relationships.
Here are some ways to express gratitude:
Write a thank-you note or email
Thank someone mentally
Try a gratitude journal
Pray or meditate on something you are grateful for
6. Ask for help if you need it.
I am so proud of our communities coming together, staying home, helping each other out. If there is something you need, there are whole groups of people ready and willing to help a stranger out. I see it all day on my Facebook feed, people offering up formula or diapers, services to drop off food, or offering homeschooling tools and advice.
Thankfully, this pandemic has come during a time of advanced technological capabilities, allowing us all to connect digitally.
Doctors, teachers and coaches are now available online. From the comfort of your socially distant home, you can find help right at your fingertips.
Ask. It doesn’t make you look weak. You aren’t impositioning anyone. People inherently like to be helpful.
Especially if you need help dealing with the anxiety of our current situation. We don’t make good decisions coming from a place of fear. Now more than ever it is essential to have emotional resiliency to get through this tough time and come out the other end whole and ready to move forward.
We’ll get through this. Together, even though we’re physically apart. Wishing you much love, luck, and light on your journey.
Article By: Sandy Wosnicki of Tiny Buddha
In just a few weeks, the world has changed dramatically for many people. Even if COVID-19 hasn’t yet reached your area, you’ve likely heard of the new coronavirus and its widespread impact. If you follow current events, this new concern may seem overwhelming on top of the already high tensions of another contentious election season, threats to the climate, and other worries.
You’ve probably seen several handwashing reminders on social media, and your store shelves may currently lack essentials like toilet paper, soap, paper towels, and shelf-stable foods. Your school, or your children’s schools, may be closed. If you go out—carefully maintaining a distance of six feet—you might notice this new, deadly virus pops up in every conversation.
If you live with anxiety, or any other mental or physical health issue, you might feel more stressed and anxious each day. And while preventing loss of life is a key priority in the management of any disaster, the significant impact of a pandemic on mental health cannot be denied.
If you have some doubts about the reality of this pandemic, you’re not alone. After all, news and information about this virus vary—even elected officials disagree. Some people don’t consider it much of a concern at all, while others might seem ready for an apocalypse scenario.
It’s often difficult to know whom to trust in turbulent times, but try to set those doubts aside. COVID-19 isn’t a hoax, and this virus isn’t going to disappear. Medical professionals around the world emphasize that its spread will likely continue. To mitigate risk and keep yourself and others safe, it’s important to make sure you’re getting accurate information about this virus and the ways it can spread.
If you live in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website is an excellent choice for accurate, up-to-date information. Your local hospital’s website may also have current information.
COVID-19 causes the following main symptoms:
Shortness of breath
Fatigue and other flu-like symptoms
If you or someone you love has a confirmed or even possible case, you may feel terrified, but keep in mind that although the virus can cause serious symptoms, even death, many people have mild cases.
The current mortality rate is between 3 and 4 percent. However, this rate doesn’t provide an accurate picture of COVID-19’s actual mortality rate. The pandemic is still progressing, and experts don’t yet have full knowledge of how many people have the virus.
MENTAL HEALTH IMPACTS OF COVID-19
There’s no denying the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on emotional well-being. Dr. Fabiana Franco, GoodTherapy Topic Expert, explains: “When our daily routines are in turmoil, especially when this turmoil relates to how we interact with others, it can feel quite overwhelming. We should be mindful of the fact that these challenges, understandably, can cause anxiety and fear.”
Symptoms of anxiety and stress may show up in your mood and behavior, whether you recognize them or not. Signs you might notice include:
-Loss of concentration or focus
-Restlessness or jumpiness
-Anxiety-related stomach issues
-Irritability, shorter temper than usual, and other mood changes
-Ever-present feelings of nervousness or worry
ANXIETY AND COVID-19
People living with existing anxiety conditions, such as panic disorder, general anxiety, or obsessions and compulsions (OCD), may notice worsened symptoms or a sense of losing control. Symptoms of these conditions are challenging enough already without the added stress of a serious global pandemic. Increased severity of symptoms could trigger feelings of hopelessness or depression, even thoughts of suicide.
ISOLATION AND OTHER LIFE CHANGES RESULTING FROM COVID-19
If COVID-19 has reached your state, particularly if you live in one of the hardest-hit areas, your lifestyle may be changing in many ways. If you’re currently feeling more worried about how various changes will affect your life than actually getting sick, just know that these feelings are very normal.
It’s understandable to feel frustrated or stressed by this extreme change with regards to having to stay home from work or school and applying social distancing if you must go in public. If you can’t work from home, you’re probably also feeling some concern and stress around losing your job or missing more school than you can make up easily. Remind yourself again that these feelings are very normal.
Many people also feel concerned about a potential scarcity of resources. COVID-19 has already had a significant impact on the American economy, and you might worry what that means for the future—not only the far-reaching impact on the world, but the immediate impact on your life after the pandemic. A scarcity mindset can lead to panic and intense distress.
COVID-19 AND DISCRIMINATION
The population most severely affected by this new coronavirus appears to be older adults, particularly those with underlying health conditions. This fact has led some other populations to avoid older adults or actively discriminate against those most at risk. However, don’t be fooled because younger people are also at risk.
Other vulnerable populations include unsheltered and homeless communities, groups many people lack compassion and respect for even in ordinary times, and people in prisons or detention centers. While you may not be able to do much yourself to help these populations, your words and attitude can have an impact. Spread kindness instead of stigma.
While you may not be able to do much yourself to help these populations, your words and attitude can have an impact. Spread kindness instead of stigma.
You may have heard COVID-19 called “the Chinese coronavirus.” This terminology does nothing to increase awareness and compassion. Rather, it promotes discrimination and xenophobia, both of which can cause a great deal of harm in already tense times. This virus may have originated in China, but that has little to do with Chinese people living in the United States. Avoiding or fearing people of Asian descent is unhelpful. It’s also an action steeped in prejudice.
People of Asian descent living in the United States at the time of the initial outbreak are no more likely to have the virus than anyone else—including yourself.
HOW TO COPE WITH THE MENTAL HEALTH EFFECTS OF COVID-19
As mentioned above, the toll of COVID-19 isn’t entirely physical. But it’s possible to manage this emotional burden in healthy and productive ways.
These tips can help make it easier to cope with this pandemic and the rapid changes it may bring:
Prepare, don’t panic
Making preparations for quarantine or self-isolation may provide a sense of control and relief. While it’s not a bad idea to prepare for this possibility, consider that over-preparing—panic buying, if you will—may prevent other people in your area from accessing needed resources.
Most disaster recommendations encourage stocking up on two weeks’ worth of basic supplies and nonperishable food items. Avoid buying more than that, unless absolutely needed, in order to allow others to make the same preparations. This is particularly important if you live in a small town with few grocery options.
Practice mindful exposure
Keeping yourself informed on facts about the virus and new updates from federal and state governing agencies is recommended. It’s important to know what’s going on, and hearing about relief coming to your area can help relieve some of your stress.
That said, Dr. Franco cautions against “consuming every piece of media on the virus.” Constant exposure to media can increase tension and stress and quickly become overwhelming.
She recommends seeking out trusted sources, like the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO). “Follow their recommended protocols to maintain hygiene and cleanliness,” she says.
Large gatherings have been banned in many areas, but that doesn’t mean you have to forego contact entirely. You can use digital platforms like Skype, Messenger, and WhatsApp to keep in touch with friends and family around the globe. Even if you can’t spend time together face-to-face, it’s important to maintain connection with your loved ones. Physical isolation may be necessary, but total isolation is not.
Practice good self-care habits
If you enjoy regular exercise, not being able to get to the gym or your favorite yoga studio for a workout can add to your stress and anxiety. Try getting outside for some fresh air by taking a walk or run and looking into online workout/yoga classes. Exercise helps relieve mental health symptoms for many, so forced idleness can cause a lot of distress.
Feeding your body high-quality, nutritious food (as long as you have access) can also be a proactive measure to take during this time period. Whole foods and fresh produce can help promote wellness in body and mind. If you’re having trouble purchasing food for your family, look into community resources from your local schools. Many affected areas are stepping up nutrition programs to feed families during this time.
You might have trouble sleeping, but try to maintain a normal sleep schedule as much as possible. Avoiding technology, particularly news and other media, for at least an hour before bedtime, can be very helpful.
Dr. Franco also recommends meditation, deep breathing exercises, and other relaxation techniques. These practices can offer relief from stress and help you get better sleep.
-A warm bath
-Aromatherapy (scented candles, essential oils or relaxing herbs, a bubble bath, or anything else you have on hand that provides a soothing fragrance)
-A calming mantra
-Being outdoors, especially in good weather, can also offer health benefits, so get outside as much as possible, as long as you aren’t sick or potentially sick. Sunlight and fresh air from your own backyard can still boost your mood.
Do things you enjoy
If you’re staying at home, there is a bright side: You may have an abundance of free time. Take advantage of this unexpected gift to enjoy books, movies, board and video games with family, or crafts. Taking time for enjoyable activities can not only offer a distraction, it can help keep your spirits up.
Things to try:
-Learn a new language with apps like Duolingo
-Use YouTube videos to teach yourself a new skill, like knitting, baking, or household repair
-Catch up on spring cleaning or projects you haven’t had time for previously
-Pick up an old hobby, like art, music, or poetry writing
It’s normal to have some anxiety around what could happen. The current situation is unprecedented, and uncertainty can cause a lot of fear. If you’re having trouble staying positive, remember you’re not alone.
If you don’t have a therapist currently, consider reaching out to a telemental health provider who offers HIPAA-compliant support through email, video chat, or text message.
If you do have a therapist and need additional support, it’s worth reaching out to ask if they offer HIPAA-compliant online counseling at this time.
Thoughts of depression, fear, and hopelessness can be difficult to manage. If you’re having thoughts of suicide or feel in crisis, consider reaching out to a national helpline through phone (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255) or text (Crisis Text Line: HOME to 741741). Trained, compassionate counselors offer free support, 24/7.
Article By: Crystal Raypole of GoodTherapy
“For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks; the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke
I was eight years old when my father and I somehow ended up in a heated, verbal struggle. I don’t remember what we were fighting about, but I remember that he was yelling at me.
I already knew by then that my father didn’t deal well with anger. It wasn’t uncommon for him to explode into fits of rage. I don’t know what I had done this time that had gotten him so upset, but I must have felt that he was being unfair. As he turned his back on me to walk away, I blurted out, “I hate you!”
It’s not an uncommon thing for a kid to say in the heat of anger, because kids haven’t yet learned how to cope with strong emotions. If you’re a parent, you know what I’m talking about.
My father didn’t respond. In fact, he didn’t say anything to me at all for several days. He gave me the silent treatment. He ignored all of my attempts to get his attention or to try to reconnect with him. He acted as if I didn’t exist.
I felt alone, sad, guilty, and scared. As you can imagine, for a child of eight, it was excruciating to be shut off from him. And that wasn’t the only time my dad punished me with silence.
Obviously, my father wasn’t a good role model for helping me to deal with anger constructively. If he had been, he might have asked me what was upsetting me and would have helped me figure out my feelings. At the very least, he might have apologized for getting so angry.
Instead, he responded in a way that was anxiety-provoking, guilt-inducing, and painful. His tendency to act in this way made an indelible impression on me and my nervous system that I have struggled with for much of my life. The message I got was clear: Anger is bad and dangerous to a relationship; it brings disdain, loss of approval, and abandonment.
It’s not that my father didn’t love me. I know now that he loved me very much. But he had a really hard time managing his emotions. This came from his own early experiences in his family where he learned the very same thing that he ended up teaching me.
During our volatile exchange, I’m sure something deep in his brain had gotten triggered and had gotten the best of him. Some old unprocessed feelings came up, and caused him to withdraw and shut down.
At the time, he didn’t understand what kind of damage his reaction was causing. He was actually doing the best he knew how. Fortunately, he’s grown and changed a lot since then and so have I.
But that kind of treatment affected the way my brain got wired. I grew up feeling anxious about feelings of anger. If I felt angry with someone important to me, I worried that if I spoke up or asserted myself, they would abandon me.
In my adult relationships, any sign of conflict with a partner, friend, or authority figure made me scared that something bad would happen, that I’d be punished in some way, rejected, or abandoned. In romantic relationships, I worried that I would lose our relationship if anything challenging came up.
As soon as anger arose in some way, my nervous system would respond as though I was in danger. I’d feel anxious and panicky. I’d question my feelings and inevitably I’d rationalizing away whatever was bothering me. I avoided the discomfort of honoring my emotions and talking to the other person about how I felt.
My adult relationships followed a typical pattern: They would start out with a lot of happiness and excitement, but as they continued, I’d start to feel anxious, worried, unsure, especially whenever there was any sign of conflict. I felt conflicted about my feelings and had a hard time working with them.
Every relationship has times when partners get angry or upset, and in healthy relationships, the partners can find a way to constructively deal with their emotions and talk it out with one another. But that was not a part of my software. I’d avoid having uncomfortable conversations, I’d repress my feelings, and I’d hide how I really felt.
As a result, I would often wonder why I felt so disconnected to other people. I would keep busy with my work, school, going to the gym and other activities just so I wouldn’t have to slow down and feel my real feelings.
Of course, none of this was apparent to me at the time. It was just how I’d been wired. It took many years before I understood what was going on.
Eventually a skilled and compassionate therapist helped me see how much anxiety was affecting my experience, that I was shutting myself off from my certain feelings because they felt threatening. I had been taught that strong emotions–particularly anger—were dangerous and would result in abandonment and rejection.
Now, many years later, I have a happy twenty-two-year marriage to my husband, Tim, and I’m a therapist, writer, coach, and speaker. Though I still sometimes feel that old wiring trying to take control, I’ve developed some skills to manage the anxiety or fear that can get stirred up when something is off between us or when conflict arises.
I see many clients who struggle with similar issues in their relationships. They feel excited to start out with their new romance, but as the relationship goes on, they start to struggle, they feel disconnected, shut down, or they and their partners fight a lot, or respond in ways that don’t support the health of their relationship.
They often ask me: why is this so hard?
I’ve learned that, while our specific relationship problems may be different, the underlying issue for most of us is the same.
At the core of our struggles, underneath many layers of conflict and complaints, is a fear of being emotionally present and authentic in our relationships. We’re afraid of truly expressing our feelings in a vulnerable way. We worry that the other person won’t like us or want to be with us if we tell them what’s really going on for us.
But why are we afraid of being emotionally present in our relationships?
The short answer is that—as you saw in the story about my dad and me—our adult brains are still operating on wiring that was created in the first few years of our lives. Depending on what our caretakers taught us about how to function in close relationships, we may have learned some unhealthy coping mechanisms.
If you struggle with painful romantic relationships (or even troubled relationships in general) as I have, you may be experiencing the effects of “faulty wiring.” You may have learned ways to cope with your emotions that don’t serve you anymore.
Luckily, there are ways to “re-wire” your brain for better relationships.
The first step is to understand what you learned about expressing your emotions when you were a child. Take some time to respond to these questions (separately for each parent or caregiver):
- How did your parent(s) respond to your feelings?
- Were they generally open, attentive, and responsive to your feelings?
- Did they get uncomfortable or anxious when you expressed your feelings or certain feelings in particular (e.g., anger, sadness, fear, joy, and the like)?
- Did they get distracted or seem to ignore certain feelings?
- Were some feelings okay and others not? If so, which feelings were welcomed, and which weren’t?
- Did they get irritated, frustrated, or angry at times when you expressed certain feelings?
- Did they apologize when they hurt your feelings or reacted in an unhelpful way?
- How did they respond when you were afraid or feeling vulnerable?
- How did they respond when you were angry and asserted yourself?
- How did they respond when you were affectionate and loving?
- Could you rely on them to be there for you emotionally when you needed them?
- Overall, how did it feel for you to share your vulnerable feelings with them?
Now think about whether your answers to these questions reminds you of your romantic relationships in any way. Do you ever see yourself acting in similar ways to one of your parents or caregivers when particular feelings arise in your relationship? Does your partner ever act in similar ways? If you’re in a relationship now and your partner is willing, ask them to answer these questions about their parents as well.
See if you can identify any patterns in how you both share and react to different emotions in one another.
If you’re not currently in a relationship, think about past relationships, especially particularly difficult ones.
After you get a sense of what lessons you may have learned about how to express emotions (or not) with people close to you, you’ll be in a better place to learn new ways of reacting.
Here are some tips for growing your capacity to be emotionally mindful and present when you get triggered by your feelings. .
1. Recognize and name.
When you feel a strong emotion, you may have been triggered by old wiring. You may feel out of control in your response, which is why some people say, “I don’t know what came over me!” when they get really upset.
The first step in regaining control of your emotions is to learn to identify the ones that most often trigger you. Practice observing yourself when you feel those challenging emotions. Name them as they come up. You might even want to write down the emotions that are difficult for you to cope with. This step takes a lot of practice, but it gets easier the more you do it.
2. Stop, drop, and stay.
When we feel triggered, upset, and uncomfortable, we often want to escape that emotion. We may get irritable, yell or criticize, walk away, shut ourselves in our room, or numb ourselves out.
But in order to practice being mindful of your emotions, you’ll need to learn how to stay with them and ride them out. Rather than doing what you normally do when you have those feelings, stop. Pay attention to how the emotion feels in your body. Describe it. Ask it what it’s there to teach you. You may even want to write or draw it so you can become familiar and comfortable with it.
The point is to look at it, stay with, and learn about it.
3. Pause and reflect.
When we’re in a conflict, we often feel like there’s no choice between the time we feel the strong emotion (such as anger, rage, hatred, or fear) and our response to it (yelling, becoming violent, shutting down, or running away).
But in reality, by stretching the space between the feelings arising and responding, we can create some room in which we can chose how best to respond.
So, practice feeling the challenging emotion and not responding right away. If you normally lash out with an angry statement when your partner says or does something you dislike, practice doing something else. Tell your partner you need a moment. Breathe deeply and slowly which will help to calm your nervous system. Go for a walk. Whatever you need to do to calm your distress and choose a more helpful response.
The more often you do this, the easier it will get to make better choices.
In this space that you create, reflect on what you’re feeling underneath the reactivity. If you’re feeling like lashing out, what’s underneath that? If you’re angry that your partner forgot to call you on your birthday, is there more to it? Are you feeling hurt, disappointed, or afraid of losing a sense of connection with them? Does it feel familiar? Might it be linked to feelings you had when you were a child?
Explore the emotion. Give yourself time to figure out what you’re really feeling, what you want, what you desire, and what you’d like to happen in that situation.
4. Mindfully relate your feelings.
Once you know what it is you’re really feeling and what you’d like to happen, try relating that in a calm and open way to your partner. If your partner forgot to call you, rather than yell that she doesn’t really care about you at all, maybe you can say, “I’m realizing that I feel hurt that you didn’t call me. I worry that you don’t really care about me. I would like to understand what happened.”
This will help you and your partner connect with one another, open yourselves up to one another in a more authentic way, and share your true feelings and experiences. This way, you are less likely to fall into old patterns where you may trigger one another and cause each other pain.
By being vulnerable, open, and unafraid to express your true self, you’ll connect better to your romantic partner and you can develop a better understanding of what you want in your relationship.
I speak from experience. Once I learned how to better express my emotions and what they were saying to me, I decided that I wanted a partner who would be willing to do that as well. I made the painful decision to end a 5-year relationship I’d been in which was full of conflict and, on a deep level, I knew wasn’t all that I longed for.
But in doing so, in listening to and trusting my feelings, I was able to move forward and eventually meet my husband, with whom I’ve found the space disentangle myself from my old wiring and have a healthier, satisfying relationship. To love and be loved like I mean it.
Depression and anxiety disorders are seemingly increasing on a global level and impacting the overall health and well-being of people’s everyday functioning.