Caring for Yourself in Times of Fear and Illness

This week has been a stressful one for many people.  The combination of the coronavirus, the stock market, the grey skies and rain, school and college closures, and the world news each day has been very hard.  But . . . in all of this, did you catch any of the good news?  It’s a bit hard to find, I learned, as I went to locate some for you to try to balance the week.  I did finally find a couple of pieces: 

            The La La Land Kindness Café in Dallas has hired 9 foster kids who aged out of the foster care system and were having trouble locating jobs.

            How about the House and the President agreeing, within just a couple of days, to relief legislation for victims of the coronavirus? 

            The Dow started a rebound today – that’s very good news for most!

            All of the fast action employers and schools/universities are taking to protect their employees and students – it seems unprecedented to me, although it may not be.  From Amazon in Washington to ASU to Ford to many others many are limiting exposure by providing employees with laptops and having them work and study virtually.  

All of these are truly ideas that are very positive news – and get covered in the anxiety so many are feeling, and the care for family that is often at the root of this.  Just tonight I learned one of my sisters-in-law may have been exposed to it, and her father likely has it.  Yet of the 16 members of my family nearby, she is the only one, which is good news thus far. (Edit 3/15/20: Good news! Her father’s test results reflected negative results.) See how we can flip it?  In psychology it’s called reframing the bad or difficult situations by looking at life a bit differently, without denying the hard does exist as well.

We sent out notices about Covid-19 procedures for our office this week.  Now it’s time to also offer some concrete help along with the above reframe tool.  The American Psychological Association and the National Association for the Mentally Ill are the two sources I’m using for the ideas that follow.  I wanted you to have some resources to print or click for the coming weeks.  What I know from 911 and other events is that when we are faced with being bombarded on social media and news media with information that is difficult, we tend to seek out more information and stay focused on the difficult situation.  This merely drives fear and anxiety up further.  We do need to know what we can do to try to protect ourselves; but once we know, i.e.:  wash hands to count of 20, do not shake hands and stay a further distance from others, and isolating someone with clear symptoms including fever, cough, and shortness of breath, we need to also look at how we care for our family and selves in a way that minimizes the fear and focuses on good things in life.  And, in the situation we have right now, we also need to know how we can cope with isolation whether from working at home, not going out for social events, not being able to travel to family or friends on trips we have had to cancel, or other reasons.  And we must have a method to deal with the uncertainty, fear, loneliness, depression, resentment, and challenges we face trying to secure things we may need.  So, here goes!

  1.  Make sure you have some games to play that are age appropriate for you and your family, and especially if you have children.  If isolated, the family will need ways to entertain themselves, laugh, enjoy each other’s company, and get through the days together.  We know that closeness breeds irritation, so have some things that can break up the days and draw you together, not apart.
  2. Have a plan with your doctor.  My physician sent out a text announcement to all of his patients tonight just letting us know he’s there, where to go for trustworthy medical information on the virus, and what to do if we are having symptoms.  Reach out to your pediatrician, cardiologist, pulmonologist, or primary care to know ahead what to do and how their office is managing this.
  3. Use the tools that help your mental health on a regular basis.  So…do:
  4. Keep up your physical activity – there are some great YouTubes on how to do yoga, walk along with you to keep your steps up (I like Leslie Sansome’s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9yI2LGZRE0), and many others depending on what you prefer to do.
  5. Make sure you have enough medication or supplements like Rescue Remedy, Vitamin C and B, and other things around to keep you feeling better and less anxious. 
  6. Stay on a schedule.  We can get very loosey-goosey when at home too long or too much.  So make sure you keep an agenda to normalize your life and not fall into the doldrums too much.
  7. Make sure you can connect with Messenger, FaceTime, and the others available.  It helps for you to actually see friends, not just text.  We’re learning that the more texting that is done, the lonelier people are becoming.  So, in this time of increased stress – reach out even more and if you can’t touch one another, at least see one another.  I know someone who was separated from a loved one for quite some time, and they would watch a favorite show while connected on Facetime.  Another dad who was away who would play checkers with his children.  Get creative in your connection!
  8. I know you get tired of it – but remember to breathe when anxious.  Or start a mindfulness app during this time.  The website has a number of these on the Links page, and this is a great time to learn to do it and practice.
  9. Listen to music that uplifts you – for me that might be one thing – but what is it for you?  Listen!  Music does a lot to impact our moods.
  10.  Keep some numbers available if you need to reach out to a warm line, i.e.:  you’re not suicidal but you are feeling isolated and need to connect.  See SAMSHA’s line for disasters at 1-800-985-5990 or locally at 602-347-1100.  And remember AA, Al-Anon, and many other groups have online and phone meetings.  Take care of your sobriety as well! 
  11.  Pay attention to your spiritual practices.  I love labyrinths and downloaded the Mount Mojo Labyrinth Journey app to my cell phone quite some time ago.  I can walk it by finger on the phone even if I have only 5 minutes and can’t get to one locally.  Or, call a friend to pray.  Watch a Joel O’Steen, Beth Moore, or even your own pastor or rabbi may have something online to watch or even just listen to. 
  12. Humor, humor, humor!  You have to laugh!  I go to Bob Newhart videos, Carol Burnett, or Tim Conway as well as Friends and Frazier.  My mom loved SpongeBob Square Pants (I did not ever figure that one out!)  How about funny movies often free on Amazon Prime, Netflix, and other places you may have membership. 

All of these are tools – now you just need to use them.  As I said in my letter to current clients, I’m here and I am available.  Feel free to call and schedule an in-person or video therapy session.  The teletherapy appointment is on an encrypted service that meets HIPAA standards, we don’t use FaceTime or other things that might seem easier – but don’t offer the privacy.  So, if you can’t come – we’ll walk you through how to set it up. 

May you find these ideas helpful – and know there is a hand to reach out to.  And keep reaching out to friends as well.  Do you have other ideas?  Let us know and we can share those on our Facebook page. The disasters end.  The illnesses come to an end in such large proportions.  The blue skies come out again.  Something my mama told me growing up is that “it’s always darkest before the dawn”.  Obvious, right?  But it kind of normalizes problems and difficult times.  And reassures us – that “Joy will come in the morning!” (Psalms 30:5).  And so it will!

Take good care of yourself!

Dr. Beth

Yoga and Your Brain

Yoga. It can feel like an intimidating word for the uninitiated, can’t it? Visions of perfectly chiseled bodies in spandex holding positions that look impossibly difficult. But yoga is so much more than that. I’ll leave it to the countless experts who explain that the physical movements of yoga are only a tiny part of the whole practice (google will lead you to lots of resources if you’re interested). But the physical piece which ties into the mental component and so many other benefits is a great way to move forward and “deepen” your healing.

After an accident or an acquired brain injury the sheer volume of appointments of follow up care can feel like a full-time job. But yoga is a practice that can be added at any time in the recovery process and shows great promise at helping those who have sustained a brain injury with balance, balance confidence, range of motion, pain control, strength and mobility. Studies have shown the practice to improve balance by 36%, balance confidence by 39%, lower extremity strength by 100%, and endurance by 105%. Those statistics speak volumes for the benefits of such a gentle exercise and practice. In addition, it can be helpful to so many who suffer from anxiety related to post-traumatic stress disorder after an injury or even a car accident without injuries. One study done at two centers involving a Canadian location and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in conjunction with Harvard University found a 10% reduction in PTSD anxiety symptoms following only an 8-session program of Kundalini Yoga.  Another study through Boston University and the Trauma Center found significant reduction in PTSD symptoms after 5 weeks of yoga, and individuals held an improvement for at least another 5 weeks.  So, it seems that we should be thinking about yoga much more frequently in the field of PTSD and brain injury!

There are studios throughout the country which offer yoga classes geared toward those with brain injury through the Love Your Brain Foundation and rehab centers. You can find some resources online at https://www.loveyourbrain.com/yoga though if you do a search right now you’ll find that in AZ, classes are not yet available (check back soon as a provider training is happening in April and is already full—so we should see some offerings coming!) The other place to check is the outpatient rehabilitation program through your local TBI hospital. In the Phoenix area, Barrow has some yoga classes with details found here. Although they have no specific yoga offerings at this time, Ability 360 is also a great resource for those with brain injuries and changes. A recent search of google for trauma and yoga in Phoenix brought up several studios with classes specifically for traumatic stress or PTSD. So, there appear to be some options, but take caution with these studios, doing homework to ensure their credentials are what you’re looking for and are the best choice for you.

These in-person classes are a great resource and whenever possible, I do recommend that people attend with an instructor present. That hands on advice and adjustment to a position can be very beneficial, but if it can be intimidating to try something new, can’t it? A big barrier to entry for an untried activity is the lack of understanding what the cultural norms are, what’s to be expected, and not wanting to look foolish doing something for the first time. Rest assured, the classes that are geared towards beginners, and specifically for those with brain injury, are not going to include the difficult poses that you see highlighted in yoga articles or images. Everyone in the class will enter with about the same level of expertise, that’s why there are classes for a variety of different audiences. Also, there are modifications that can be made to make this gentle stretching available to anyone, in any condition. If you’d like to see what a class may include, or would like to try something at home without an audience, there are some videos of classes for brain injury you can try at your own risk (check with your physician first to be sure you’re ready for these). Love Your Brain says it best, and I agree with their statement, “I cannot assume responsibility for any exercise and/or subsequent injury you may incur, “Yoga is for everyone. However, when online, it is up to you to assess whether you are ready for the class you have chosen. The techniques and suggestions presented here are not intended to substitute for medical advice. LoveYourBrain assumes no responsibility for injuries experienced while practicing these techniques.” And we cannot assume any responsibility for injuries experienced either through their program or others. That’s why it’s best to check with your doctor or physical therapist first. Classes online are an option for you to try if you cannot find anything available near you and once cleared by your medical health provider. Take a look at https://www.loveyourbrain.com/yoga-videos for some classes geared toward healing from a brain injury.

As we move through 2020 and we continue to explore our word for the year, deepening, I hope you’ll give some of the ideas I propose a try or use these suggestions to look for ways to incorporate new ideas into your life. I will be offering a workshop for you and your partner or spouse in April that will discuss the changes brain injury has on your work and home life. For more information, click here, and together let’s incorporate strategies to help you heal to be the very best you can be.

“Silence the mind to hear the whisper.”

I was at a meeting recently with a guest speaker, the topic unknown to me prior to attending. On my way, music on in the car, I found myself turning it down so I could let my mind wander, mulling over a few of life’s stressors. Due to some scheduling changes, I was going to be walking into the meeting just before the speaker began, not having my typical time to say hello to everyone and chat before the meeting. I sat down just before she was introduced, and among the first couple of sentences about her, she was quoted, “Silence the mind to hear the whisper.” It felt like such a timely topic for me, a divine intervention of sorts, putting the reminder directly into my stream of consciousness that I had been subconsciously working towards on my drive. The use of such a simple yet powerful sentence by way of introduction –our speaker caught the attention of all of us in the room. The concept of quieting the mind has been around for a long time and while meditation is something I practice routinely, there is always room for learning, improving, changing the practice for oneself and so, I listened, and I learned.

Mindfulness is a topic I’ve been wanting to write to all of you about for some time. The word of the year for the practice is “deepening”, as I’ve shared before. We are working towards that with greater and different offerings from the practice based on the feedback from you, wanting to offer services that are relevant and meaningful to each of you. But also, deepening is creeping into my subconscious and my own life. I want to embrace this time of evaluation and growth and would like to share some reminders with you on how to be a better steward of your mental focus and energy.

Online you’ll find a wealth of meditation resources, several apps you can download with a click, a few of which I’ve even featured under the links tab of my website and in previous blogs. But. Did you know that taking a walk can serve as a meditative experience? Taking a bike ride, being outside, a scenic drive, gardening, laying in the sun or the shade of a tree, a round of golf, going to the batting cage, going to the practice green or driving range are all activities that can promote mindfulness and meditation. It doesn’t take sitting in a pretzel shaped position on a rubber mat to qualify as meditation. It can take place wherever you feel moved to practice as long as it’s in an environment in which you feel you can relax and unwind. The idea is not the act of stillness, it’s about quieting the noise of the demands of life and taking moments of quiet.

Beginning isn’t as hard as you may make it out to be. Set low expectations for yourself, planning to spend 3-5 minutes at your first attempt–you’ll increase your level of focus and lengthen the duration with routine practice. Begin in the space of your choosing, allowing any thoughts that enter your mind to simply move past your attention as if they were a billboard you pass on a highway. Notice the thought and allow it to move on. Practice breathing exercises. Deep inhales, lungs full, holding the breath and a slow, deliberate exhale. There are exercises that guide you to count your way through breathing and those can be helpful but generally, if you exhale for longer than you inhale you are lowering your blood pressure. These breathing exercises alone are a way to calm yourself and even can be used to drift off to sleep.

A drive that previously may have brought stress due to traffic I’m now looking forward to. The forced time alone in the car is a good time for me to quiet my mind. To listen for the whisper—of intuition and my higher power which is such a help to me in times of growth. “Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment.” – Stephen Covey. As a part of mindfulness and deepening, let these ideas be a start for you. I’ll be sharing more on this topic in blog posts to come as well as in an upcoming workshop. Stay tuned!

PS: Looking for a great way to open relationship discussions and mindfully listen to loved ones? These would be a great way to start: https://www.shopsundaypaper.com/Sunday-Paper-Table-Topics-p/tabletopic.htm

The Grip of Anxiety: How to Find Relief

The room is too hot. I’m worried. I just need to go back to sleep. But I’m so anxious. Is that the sun peeking up already? I feel like I’m a ball of nerves. My pillow needs fluffing, my neck is sore. Should I just get up and try to be productive? But I’m so tired, and my mind won’t stop. Is the air working? It’s really quiet in here. Mind, why won’t you let me sleep? I’ll roll over and see if that helps…. Maybe I should paint my bedroom. But what color? Shhh brain, tomorrow. Let’s sleep tonight.

It can be a battle, can’t it? You enter your bedroom and catch sight of your bed and instead of seeing it as an inviting place you can’t wait to retire to, it looms large in your mind, knowing that with nightfall your worries invade the space that needs peace and rest. Something small can become large in the darkness of night; causing you worry and angst that in the light of day you realize is manageable and not something worth the cycle of sleeplessness.

“My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which have never happened.”

-Mark Twain

Sleep is one of the biggest areas affected by anxiety, but it can wreak havoc on your whole day, not only because of the exhaustion but other times it takes you by surprise, a simple text, email or phone call is enough to set you spinning. Other times that pit of fear and worry holds you by the hand all day each day. So how to get through it? Read on about a few ways to help regain control of our minds and the way we process perceived trouble or worries.

Breathing. It seems like such an automatic process, that we shouldn’t have to think about it. And we don’t for mere survival, but for optimal health this needs to be step one. But does it really work? Truly, it does, it’s proven. The studies are out there, and they are numerous, a quick google give you plenty of hits, among them is this one if you’d like to read more: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/stress-raising-your-blood-pressure-take-a-deep-breath-201602159168 The breathing exercise I most often recommend is by Dr. Andrew Weil called the Relaxing Breath or 4-7-8 breathing. The process is illustrated here, https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/breathing-exercises-4-7-8-breath/. The idea behind this breathing, and others, is to slow down the heart rate, and reset the body. It also stops the panic and anxiety attacks. If you can’t breathe out as long as 7 or 8, start lower and work your way up. Whatever exercise you choose to follow, the idea is—if the exhale is longer than the inhale, the heart rate slows, and your blood pressure lowers. I encourage you to try this and let me know how it works for you.

Meditation. It’s regarded as a big word that packs plenty of punch. Often thought of as too ‘out there’, the practice is simply about quieting the mind. And, in an anxious state, quieting the mind is exactly what we are trying to do. The easiest way to start? An app. There are plenty to choose from for your phone or tablet that will walk you through the techniques. My favorite at the moment is called Insight Timer because it is free. There is a membership you can purchase but there are lots of tools that come with the free usage, including a specific ‘coping with anxiety’ section. This is only one of many, to find a few others too consider, take a look at my website under ‘links’ to see them listed.

These are just two ideas to get you going. Other ideas I strongly encourage as they support brain changes are coloring mandalas, walking a labyrinth, or doing a finger labyrinth. There is a simple app for this called Labyrinth Journey by Mount Mojo.  These allow spirituality to enter your processes as well to calm your anxiety. And for a few outside of the box ideas, these suggestions could be fun, and would be an experience you’re unlikely to forget. Cuddling a cow? Who would have guessed? See: Cow cuddling. Or: Cat cafes. Therapy dogs. Hug therapy. And don’t forget the outdoors and how great it is for the mind: Head out on a hike.

The moral of this story? If you’re feeling anxiety, there ARE ways to help yourself. Try one or more of the ideas above, talk to a friend, family member, or therapist.  If none of these ideas work, including therapy, then know that there are also excellent homeopathics and medications with minimal side effects that do help.

Wishing you a restful night’s sleep and anxiety-free days,

Take care,

Dr. Beth

PTSD: Feel like yourself again

“It felt like a malignant tumor that was spreading through my entire life. It was a jumble of fear, depression, anxiety, irritability, and feeling jumpy all at once and it stayed with me day and night. I didn’t want to see my family and friends, and didn’t want to talk about it—what if they thought I was crazy?” This isn’t a quote from any single source, it’s the story of many. About 8 million adults have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in a year. Have you, or someone you love, gone through a shocking and dangerous event?

PTSD often connotes images of fatigue wearing military, veterans, and first responders. Those are certainly prolific examples of people who have faced trauma and tragedy, but they are only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Traumatic events happen to any number of people, any number of ways, on any given day. “Trauma” may be one big event like a house fire, a car accident, or an assault, or it could be a series of events– like a prolonged life-altering illness, an abusive situation, or even the act of being a caregiver. While the circumstances of trauma are wide and varied, the physical manifestations of the trauma can look quite similar.

It is typical to experience the above in the days and even weeks following the trauma, but if they continue, it’s time to reach out for help. Psychotherapy does work, sometimes therapy alone is enough and sometimes it is partnered with medications for the most effective treatment. There are a number of approaches therapists can use to help you process the feelings you’re experiencing, see the areas that the intrusive thoughts are holding you back, and help you move on to a fulfilling life once again. As a supplementary technique, music therapy has also shown to be very effective for helping those with PTSD.

If you or someone you know isn’t progressing in life after trauma, reach out for help. There is hope, and you can regain control of your life. For more information on PTSD and how we at The Wholeness Institute can help, visit https://www.thewholenessinstitute.com/ptsdtherapy.html

Managing News – Rather than Being Managed by News

Given all that is in the right now, it seems remiss to discuss something other than current big news topics. The world is full of happenings that are heart-wrenching and sometimes polarizing, and it can feel like a lot to take in. I have a couple of ideas on how to be a healthy news consumer if you find yourself losing sleep over our nation’s, or our world’s, issues.

Start by limiting your exposure. Such a task can be hard to do—popular media reports all the big, splashy headlines and many of them are horrifying to read. It can be tough to be faced with atrocities on a daily basis, yet you want to stay informed. What to do? Watch news coverage in the morning or mid-day and keep the evenings lighter, with programming that isn’t as heavy hitting.  Watch or read a maximum of an hour (ideally less) of news a day. If you’re viewing a televised news broadcast, once the highlights are over (normally about 15 minutes into the show) much of the content is repeated. Repetitious messages are what tend to turn into brain worms—things you can’t escape. Ever heard a chorus to a popular song and had it stuck in your head for days? That is a great example of how repetition stays with you. This replayed information, whether music, news related, or self-talk, has the same staying power.

Second, consider the sources where you obtain your news. The best place to get your information isn’t always your TV. Your smart phone or other electronic device is a powerful news agent. Use an app that displays the headlines, allowing you can pick and choose which articles to read instead of being offered a producer’s view on what is relevant. One of my favorite apps is called Flipboard. You’re able to pick a number of topics that you are interested in and the feed shows you headlines from each. Mix it up with some heavier hitting news, some entertainment, DIY, gardening, you get the idea—there’s something for everyone. If you choose to try an app, a quick sidenote—keep the “push” notifications turned off. Without that feature activated, you are able to open the app to view the news and allow yourself control of your exposure rather than being inundated by notifications. Another observation I hadn’t considered previously was brought to my attention by Katie Couric on her podcast. She said she still reads a paper version of a newspaper, citing that she gains knowledge on the editorial slant based on where articles are placed upon the page. On an e-reader, that layout is fluid and the editorial bias is not as easy to detect—another important factor in digesting these stories is understanding more about the reporter, the producer, and (more so) the news agency’s views or motivations for the story.

Another idea? Look for an area to take action. What in the news is troubling you most? Refugees? Take a peek at the article linked here, I love the insight it shares–both in how to help AND how to keep perspective on what your personal contribution means to the greater picture. If this touches you, then look for ways you can fit outreach into your life. One person I am aware of makes speeches, another works with her church’s refugee ministry, and another offers counseling time on a pro-bono basis. Is your hot button drinking straws and plastics in the ocean? Make a change, buy stainless steel straws, get yourself a reusable water bottle, and do your best to not buy single serving drinks. Remember, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” ― Mother Teresa

If you are still experiencing looping thoughts, limit your ruminating about the news, talking about it, and worrying about it. Pray if that works for you, do some mindful meditation to center yourself, or simply distract yourself and put your mind on something else. Practice self-care, and allow it to distract you. This may be different for each of you—unwind with a bath, take in a movie, meet up with friends for dinner—whatever makes you feel whole again. It’s important in difficult times to really take charge of what is going into our minds. Be curious. Be considerate. Be open minded. Participate to the extent you are able in order to maintain a balanced life.   And then live in the other zones of your life.

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