Loneliness. Solitude. Alone.

Such words often stir feelings deep in our souls and hearts.  As humans we tend to avoid such feelings and experiences.  And yet we have had to often face all three more deeply this year than others.  What do they mean?  Are they the same?  How are they different?  Sometimes we find we want to just brush over the words and feelings that pop up and run to find someone and be busy.  Yet some philosophies, spirituality and philosophy among them, encourage solitude at times.  And in solitude we are alone.   

Depending on the definition, loneliness is either physical isolation or the feeling of sadness over not having people around.  Or, from a philosophical and psychological perspective, it is a feeling of having insufficient relationships or accessibility to others to meet the needs a person has at that time.  It may simply be a need for companionship and with Covid-19 we cannot always get together as we’d like because it competes with need to stay at home more.  

Solitude is defined as the less painful part of not having people available – being alone and enjoying that and finding comfort or relief in the silence, or as Paul Tillich defined it, “the glory of being alone”.   

Alone is simply having no one else present.  It’s a state of being, but not related to feelings.   

Introverts often relish times of solitude and use them to recharge their batteries.  I’m partially introverted, and a quiet evening alone is sheer enjoyment for me.  I am in solitude, not feeling loneliness.  However, an extrovert who recharges with others may face alone time after a busy day as painful and lonely.  That person doesn’t have the others around to recharge with and thus the felt experience of solitude is very different.   

I read a book by a philosopher and psychologist from the 1950’s, Clark Moustakas, that was entitled “Loneliness”.  It was interesting as I read reviews of it on Amazon today – readers talk about it as not being the self-help book of the 2000’s, but rather a warm, inviting book, that asks us to look at what we are experiencing in the way of solitude versus loneliness and helping us to individually tackle the existential loneliness we are feeling at times.  I truly believe the experience of loneliness is not unique to us – but rather something we all experience at times, and based on the situation of it, may feel like solitude is pleasurable or loneliness which is painful.   

I was speaking with a friend who had cancer years ago, and one of the things she mentioned to me was that while she had family and sisters who were there to support her every step, and friends who were available and caring, the essence of her experience was a very lonely one.  She had to go under the radiation with only herself.  And eventually, she had to face her own death in some lonely ways.  Yet she also had times of solitude when she experienced spiritual growth and connection.  During Covid-19 many people are feeling lonely and depressed – others feeling solitude – and both can be in times they are alone or with others.  But it is loneliness that leads to depression.   

Depression is a reaction to longer term loneliness for some, and can leave a person feeling isolated, hopeless, and abandoned.  On a rational level, we may know that we are not abandoned at all, and yet the isolation is hurtful.  I can only imagine how isolating life is for many in senior care facilities or hospitals during this time.  The time we most need connection and love and touch is the very time we are quarantining and not connecting or touching.  And if a person has a limited memory, as many elderly do in senior care facilities, then that must feel like true abandonment.  Thankfully iPads and other devices have allowed some connection for many; but, this is still not the touch and presence that can bring us out of loneliness.  And unfortunately for many living alone and for others isolated in their living without time with friends, this is leading to higher levels of depression that has led to even higher levels of suicide than the past.  This month is National Suicide Awareness month and it’s so important we remain aware that we can turn loneliness to more of an experience of solitude – for growth spiritually and otherwise that can become more positive rather than the intensely painful loneliness that underlies the suicide increases.   

So how does a person make this shift?  Here are a few ideas from multiple sources of both spiritual and psychological literature.  Moustakas would encourage us to look within for what loneliness means to us, and how solitude might help us move out to a more healthy place.  He believed that it comes through introspection and not just trying to change the environment.  So asking yourself questions – what does it mean to you to not have people around as much?  What do you believe that means about you?  How did you come to have that belief?  What are your spiritual beliefs about loneliness?  Is there a way to walk into the loneliness and see what you might learn about yourself?  How is loneliness helpful in your life right now?  What is there for you to learn from it?  Start anywhere in these questions and begin journaling about your own experiences and internal feelings.  I would encourage you to move on to see where this goes and, if you can, look for Moustakas’ book (it’s hard to find but worth it) and take the journey he offers through it.  One of the gifts of loneliness is shifting to solitude through which we find meaning or purpose in this time.  In writing through exercises such as the above I do believe you’ll make your way through the desolation of loneliness to the peace of solitude.  

If depression has you, then first deal with the depression.  If it is significant and/or you have thoughts of self-harm at all – then you need to reach out for help now.  Not later.  There is a suicide hot-line at 1-800-273-8255 that is available 24 hours a day.  If you don’t feel suicidal but the depression is strong, then reach out to your family doctor, gynecologist, therapist, or spiritual director/priest/rabbi and get some help for it.  Only after this is resolved will you be able to move into the above ideas from Moustakas.  

Don’t ignore the spiritual work you may be called to during this time that can soothe the loneliness.  Starting a new practice can be helpful at times when we feel dark around us rather than the light of solitude. At other times hunkering down in a tried and true path is more comfortable.  Regardless, consider which feels right to you and perhaps try walking a handheld or land-based labyrinth, focus on a daily reading, take a mindful walk in the park, reread a special spiritual book or passage in the Bible or your faith’s tradition and take comfort in the words.   

In addition to the personal work, I would also encourage you to consider who else might be available.  Call a friend and ask to do it face-to-face on WhatsApp or Facetime or Zoom or some other modality.  Visual connection helps over only auditory and much more so than text.  I also encourage walks – get out and move and at least see others in your neighborhood as it will give you a mild sense of connection to your community in a safe way.  Other ideas to reaffirm connection can be joining an online class or service where there are regular Zoom or other meetings and you have the opportunity to interact with everyone; planning a weekend camping with a friend or a time at a cabin with friend or family member; volunteering where you feel safe such as walking a dog at a shelter- walking outdoors and cuddling with an animal might meet two needs in one; get a pet after considering what you can handle long-term, it may not be a dog or cat but perhaps a hamster or bird to keep you company.  You get the idea.   

Loneliness is a frequent feeling experienced recently, and may underlie the fatigue many are feeling in following pandemic safety.  There are ways through it, as I’ve shared.  John O’Donohue also writes about solitude and loneliness. May his words bring you encouragement, comfort, and increased solitude over pain.   

With care and best wishes for growth and comfort to your heart,  

Dr. Beth 

Dr. Beth Sikora, PhD, LPC, NCC 

Creativity in Life

The word “creativity” may make you think of artsy types, ready to craft a mask, whip up a painting, play an instrument, or pen a novel. And it is, in part, but it’s also about coming up with something new. In this case, let’s consider creative new ways to communicate, to stay connected, to motivate employees to stay engaged and do their best work even while working from home, and also, to entertain ourselves and find some joy in even the most trying of times. And, for those of you who would like to stretch yourself in the traditionally creative sense, keep reading, I have a few ideas for you too.

“Necessity is the mother of invention”-English proverb. We have found this to be true during trying times in our history which turned up products that changed lives. Take a look at the list of things we may never have had without tough times that caused someone to think outside the box.

  • Toll House Cookies: Ruth Graves Wakefield accidentally created the recipe while baking for her guests as the owner of the Toll House Inn. During the great depression, running out of baker’s chocolate, Wakefield settled for cutting a chocolate bar into pieces assuming the chocolate would melt. Instead, it hardened into tiny chips and became the first chocolate chip cookie. Families in the area of the Inn sent the cookies to their soldiers overseas who then shared them amongst the troops and began writing home begging for more–they became a global phenomenon. She eventually gave the recipe to Nestle, who compensated her with the only thing better than money: a lifetime supply of free chocolate.
  • Basketball: The game was invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, a sports coach, but for the first three years, it was actually played with a soccer ball. Then in the midst of a recession, Naismith encouraged A.G. Spalding to create a ball specifically designed for the new game. With few changes, this is the same Spalding ball you see on the courts today.
  • M&M’s: “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.” During the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, Forrest Mars, Sr. (of the Mars Company) saw British soldiers eating pellets of chocolate coated in a hard candy shell. The shell kept the chocolate from melting in the soldiers’ hands. Mars patented the product and started producing M&M’s, exclusively selling to the military in World War II.
  • Pilates: Physical trainer Joseph Pilates conceived the idea of the workout known for core strengthening, flexibility, and balance while a prisoner of war in an internment camp during WWI. He honed his method of “contrology” on fellow inmates, aiding in the rehab of injured veterans. After the war, Joseph Pilates immigrated to the US and collaborated with dance and exercise experts to nail down the system we know simply as “Pilates.”
  • Meetup: New Yorker Scott Heiferman was in his apartment on September 11, 2001, when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center. In the aftermath, he found himself surrounded by neighbors he’d never even met. Following the tragedy, Heiferman observed the desire for community and that led to the creation of social networking site Meetup, where users can meet like-minded individuals in their area and make plans for face to face meetups.

And today there are already examples of crafty new products, businesses pivoting to meet new demand, and new uses of existing products. I’ve seen several ads for keychains that look similar to bottle openers but have been designed to open doors, press elevator buttons, and other tasks acting as a stand-in for fingers on high touch surfaces. In other countries there have been 3D printed handles attached to refrigeration doors in grocery stores that can be opened using a forearm rather than a hand. And businesses, even locally, that were previously in the space of building cabinetry that have now taken up crafting acrylic barriers for public spaces in an effort to meet the new demands of safety for businesses. School shop classes and computer labs have in some areas started implementing use of their equipment to create face shields. Shortly after the virus struck and stay-at-home orders were issued, restaurants were finding ways to create online bodega offerings by continuing to buy from their suppliers in bulk and then make household sized quantities of products available in a market that was difficult to find many products. And this next story I hear about our teens… While it may not be one of productivity, these kids are inspiring to me because this ingenuity is exactly what we need in our future generations. There was an article written about a year ago titled, “The Hottest Chat App for Teens Is… Google Docs” which describes that our teens are creating google docs, sharing them with friends—often as they sit in class—and due to the nature of Google Docs ability to see live updates by any of the document holders, are chatting with their friends much the way our older generations used to with passed folded notes.

Stories like these are inspiring to me, I love to watch the way people come together in support during times like these that are so difficult in so many ways. And to see that some businesses are able to find new ways to bring in revenue at a time many financial forecasts have flattened, it’s inspiring and has me hoping that others are looking for ways to do so themselves. I’ve also read that groups of co-workers who are now forced to work from home but are single, and thus, feeling very alone, have begun creating Zoom calls every morning with their colleagues so they can virtually sit side by side and do their jobs—and not feel so isolated. I’ve also read that there are nurses, who are understandably fatigued and stressed and overworked, that are finding ways to lighten spirits during their shifts. One story that stuck with me was a nurse who had two patients on a non-Covid floor who had to frequently get up to urinate, requiring help each time. The patients were apologetic, feeling they were pulling the nurse from more important duties. She reassured them, and realized they had senses of humor that would appreciate this boost—she created an “award” for them at the end of her shift for “most frequent use of the facilities”. The initial embarrassment was turned into a laugh for the patients and the nurse and lightened the mood all around.

And, now for the creatives and the creative hopefuls among us—let’s inspire you to keep going with your talent or your desire to learn a skill. Want to learn the guitar, or learn new songs? Fender has online classes found here in bite-sized pieces. How about the piano? Want to learn with Harry Connick, Jr showing you the ropes? Check this out. If writing is more your style, there’s playwriting, guidance for getting that novel written you’ve had rattling around in your brain, or a cool article from none other than Judy Blume, of tween girl fiction fame, with some tips on writing a children’s book. And if you’re looking for some visual art inspiration, I was impressed with this page Berkeley put together. There are also some great online art classes being offered by artist collectives like this—there is some free content to get you started and the classes utilize a number of different medias, from painting and sketching, to mixed media. And for the parents among us looking for outlets for the kids, take a look at Camp Creativity for some fun free content.

Let this be a time of creativity. The change in perspective by introducing a new idea lightens the spirit, helps move through darkness to hope, and may prove the path to a whole new business or product. If you are a supervisor to others, take some time to consider new ways to motivate your team—the morale boost can help not only their mental health but the fiscal health of your business. If you are a health care worker, are there ways to inject some levity in your day in even small ways? Quality patient care and provider burnout are uniquely tied together, so look for ways to help ease your daily stress, even if you simply create an “award” to bring a laugh. Are you working from home and lonely? Consider starting Zoom calls with colleagues so you can still have some office chatter while sitting in your home office. And, if you’re a parent facing burnout, look for Facebook groups for your area or for parents with children of similar age, or take a look at Meetup to find some peer support. Often, having those groups can make you feel less alone in your frustration and you find humor in commiseration. All or any of these ideas can help prevent or alleviate the depression and boredom I’m seeing so often around me.  Take a chance – take a leap – and try creatively something new in meeting a need you or others around you have.  

Wishing you creativity and hope this coming week,

Dr. Beth

Sources for past inventions and products:

https://www.interestingthings.com/gallery/20th-century-inventions-in-times-of-crisis/

Covid-19: Coping with the Changes 3 Months Later

This week has been again more stressful for many than past weeks as we see the number of Covid-19 numbers going up, hospitals filling, and requirements for masks in Maricopa County and many locations throughout the state.  In addition, this isn’t the first time around – this is into month 4 of dealing with this (although just into it) and I’m hearing tempers flaring, patience waning, and what I’ll term “Covid Fatigue” hitting.  What’s a person to do when this is happening?  And it’s now impacting our relationships, we know people with Covid-19, we’ve lost friends or family to it or they have had a serious case of it, and we haven’t been able to socialize or attend church and/or work in the same ways for quite some time.  And even the possibility of in-school education or dorm life is in flux right now for the fall.  And, to top it off, it’s been at or near 109F. (Good news, though, it may be down to 98F for part of this coming week.)  What a June!
 
Well, we are a resilient people, truly, although the level and speed of it varies by person.  Resiliency is the ability to overcome obstacles and move forward.  Resiliency leads to hope – and so we are to hang in there when things seem desperate.  There is an article I wrote a number of years ago about this and it’s on the website.   So, feel free to go there for more information.  But the essence is that to build hope, we must have people around us, spiritual practices, and be aware of possibility.  I’ve always liked Elizabeth Edwards quote:  “She stood in the storm and when the wind did not knock her down, she adjusted her sails”.   It’s time to adjust our sails a bit.  Here are a few ideas that have come to me lately, some of which I’ve shared here in the past or with clients, some are newer:
 
Realize you are just not accomplishing what you want to do – from something small to large?  Download Apalon’s Productive-Habit Tracker to your phone or tablet and choose just one or two things you want to be sure you do daily or weekly.  Build some success before you add more.  And give yourself a break – it is happening to most people as they live and work at home.
 
Concerned your spiritual life is not where you want it to be?  Commit to one thing a day – maybe a meditative walk; perhaps doing a finger labyrinth; spending some time to do a guided relaxation; say a prayer you relate to – a rosary, a personal talk with God, a psalm, or a pray with others through a compline online, keep a gratitude list, or listen to music that is meaningful to your heart or spirit (you choose!).
 
Fearful about the fall and what it will mean for you?  Teaching at school or via Internet?  Needing to teach your children again or sending them to school?  Sending your young adult to live in a dorm or live at home?  Focus on bringing yourself back to the present.  None of us know what August or September will look like.  So, we must stay in today.  Perhaps using a short affirmation for this will help: “I have only this moment”, “Relax in today”, “I find stillness when I live in the present”, or write your own. 
 
Feeling lonely or alone?  First, find a being in your home with whom you can share a hug, pet them, cuddle, or otherwise connect physically for a bit.  No one there and no pet?  Dr. Peter Levine urges us to hold ourselves.  How?  See Dr. Levine’s methods described and directions for several self-hug and holding exercises.  My favorite is to simply put your left arm across your tummy and with your right reach up and pat your left shoulder.  It will repeat what your mama did to you when she held you – and it is extremely calming.  Then reach out to a friend or family member by Facetime, Zoom, WhatsApp, or another method.  It amazed me again how much closer I felt to a friend last Saturday when we spent time talking by WhatsApp rather than only by phone.  Invite one or two friends over and socially distance in the evening while catching up.  Or do a Zoom breakfast or game night.
 
Uncertain or afraid of vacationing and feeling housebound?  Get your family together to brainstorm.  Two people have told me that they are doing camping trips and/or using RV’s to get time away with family.  Brainstorm a stay-home vacation – and here are a few ideas to get you going – https://www.realsimple.com/work-life/life-strategies/staycation?  The larger hotel chains have information out there on what they are doing, National Parks and Recreation has information on traveling to the parks and AAA has some information.   
 
My spouse is driving me nuts!  How do I cope?  We’ve heard about this on TV, in the news, and from our friends, right?  So how do we cope when we are living and working together full-time?  First, communication is essential.  And that is very hard when we’re stressed and misinterpreting the intention of others as well as struggling to find a little alone space.  Or perhaps just tired of the way they work as it’s different than ours or conflicts with our methods. CNN had a few ideas worth looking at. I’m most impressed with the couple who, in a 576 square foot apartment found ways to compromise and parent children.  What bothered you 3 months ago will now be driving you around the corner.  So, take a deep breathe, do something to relax yourself, get away from your spouse or partner, and talk to a friend before you try to talk to your partner. 
 
Feeling bored at home?  Listen to a new podcast (or two), review some of the art galleries we put on our website under Covid-19 resources awhile ago, go swimming, or put some music on and dance.  I’m very much enjoying the “Poetry Unbound” podcast each morning (under 10 minutes usually) and playing in the water with the puppy.  Both are new for me – and take me in different places that open my brain and heart. 
 
Ok, there are a few ideas.  Next Sunday I’m hoping to finish the article on growing in times of adversity.  But for now – I’m hoping these ideas help you just get through the tough moments in life.  I commit to acting on the alone and spirituality ideas above – so what is your choice?  I hope you do it even for 5 minutes. 
 
Take care and be well,
 
Dr. Beth
Beth Sikora, PhD, LPC, NCC

Decisions…Difficult but Important to Choose and Own

Our current times continue to present challenges in many ways for all of us.  From the smaller decisions of what to purchase at a grocery store and how to do so: online, via delivery, or in-person; whether we’ll follow the guidance to wear masks; to the no-brainers of breathing in and out each day, and to the largest decisions about when to retire and other big life changes.  We can say that some of these decisions are easy, whereas on others we will not reach agreement with everyone.  As Eleanor Roosevelt said “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves.  The process never ends until we die.  And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility”.  There are crucial decisions being made by governors and legislators right now related to COVID-19, the economy and businesses, as well as protecting individuals.  At this time, we are also called upon to make our own choices, and decision-making is often challenging and stressful.

Part of this stress is brought on by hearing multiple conflicting ideas about how to open a country back up, what is too soon, what is too long, how much individual health and lives should be considered versus the economy, and whose guidance should be followed in these areas.  I believe, as Eleanor Roosevelt and others have said, that we are responsible to determine what is in our own or our loved ones’ best interest.  Some of the decisions our leaders make we need to assess and determine what to follow and when, such as the recent ones, and ones to come, about reopening.  So, I thought it was time to review a few basics on decision making.    

First, get yourself in a quiet place, without distractions, and relax yourself.  Hard to do in a Covid-19 world, but perhaps these steps will be taken over a period of a day or two, and that’s fine.  This might be doing some meditation, prayer, deep breathing or yoga, or other ideas you might have.  It’s important to have our brain available, and when we are relaxed, we have more capacity to use our full brain without it being impacted by a fight, flight, or freeze change in brain reaction. 

Second, once you’ve done the above, write down what the decision is that you’re trying to make.  Tie it down to one decision, after all we can’t make more than one decision at a time.  Writing it down helps you to focus.

Third, do the research you need to do.  For decisions about work, going out of the house, deciding whether to go to salons or restaurants, or even just whether to grocery shop versus using pick-up services, I’ve found some sources of information and am providing those here.  These links provide various views so you can consider what the pros and cons are.  But seek out your own sources as well.

  1.  CDC suggestions/plan on how to reopen

**I’m providing several Governors’ plans as it will allow you to see what they are considering and that may help you in making your own decisions.

After reviewing the facts and areas to consider from the above or other information you have, the fourth step is to write down your pros and cons on choosing to take various steps, i.e.:  go out to dinner vs. picking up dinner or having it delivered, going to the hair or nail salon, working in these environments and offices, and the others you’ll be faced with in the next week to months.  Then if it is clear to you what you will do, be clear with yourself how you reached the decision.  We can only make the best decision we can on any one day and with the information available to us.  You’ll want to reassure yourself later why you made a decision if later you question it.  If it is not clear, consider talking it through with your spouse, a significant other, close friend, person you respect, or trusted other.  And then follow the above once your decision is made. 

The fifth step, that will seem familiar to all who have studied science – from junior high forward, is to re-evaluate and make sure the decision still makes sense as you go.  Feel free to change your mind if that makes sense to you later.  For example, as many have suggested from a lot of entities and as we’ve seen in other countries, the numbers are going to go up as we reopen, so you may choose to change your decision if they are going up very rapidly, or begin going back down.

I ran across this in looking for a poem on choice and decision-making.  And in the end, I loved the simplicity of it:

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Source credit: quotesgram.com

Having peace during these times is challenging – but remember that with following all the guidelines we already know from so many sources, continue to:

  1.  Wash your hands often, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  2.  Wear a mask in public.
  3.  Cover your nose with a Kleenex if sneezing anywhere.
  4.  Cover your mouth with a Kleenex if coughing.
  5.  Socially distance keeping 6’ between you and the other person/people.
  6.  Clean and disinfect touched surfaces regularly and throughout the day.
  7.  Do not touch your face or wash your hands after you do.

All of these get tiring to hear about at times – but they will be essential for a long time to come.   And they can provide you with peace within that you are doing all you can to protect yourself and others. 

Finally, remember to take time to relax, enjoy your family around you, reach out to friends in socially distant methods, pray, meditate, and use the tools we and others have provided. 

See our website for general resources.

We also have COVID-19 specific resources as well as blogs on ideas in managing these stressors.

You deserve to take care of yourself, and I encourage you to make your own decisions, and take care in all the ways you need to do so during these challenging days.  We’ll be back to the regular blog again on Sunday, but I wanted you to have these thoughts earlier as things are changing rapidly. 

Take care,

Dr. Beth

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.

Deepening: Thoughts to Consider

Deepening…the word for 2020 that we are using at The Wholeness Institute.  Angie and I spent a good deal of time on brainstorming and planning what we want to accomplish in 2020, and deepening resonated with our goals and, hopefully, with yours.  Deepening has many meanings…

            ~To become more profound

            ~To enhance

            ~To strengthen

            ~Powering up

            ~Living more deeply into something – a relationship, spirituality, one’s inner self

            ~Living with purpose

            ~Leaning into experience

            ~Result of transformation.

When I think of it in terms of my counseling practice, I think of it as being present to others as they grow, as they go within themselves more to the discover who they are. Witnessing each person transform parts of him or herself that may no longer fit or has caused pain.  It’s being privileged to be with a person as they are leaning into their gifts, owning them, allowing themselves to become better acquainted and experience life more deeply as well as broadly.  Broadly alone isn’t enough, though, if we want to feel connected with others, with those most special to us, to ourselves.  This isn’t so new, if you go back to the Quakers, the mindfulness writers, those who are Jungian in thought, there are many books and articles written.  We hope that at the end of 2020, the first year of our new decade, you feel that you have received direction or ideas from me that have resulted in deepening your life and experiences more completely. 

Toward that we are restarting, adjusting, and adding some offerings, and welcome you to ask questions, reach out as you are called to deepen in during this year, or share with me how we can help you in your process throughout the year.  We are still working with many of the same populations and with similar issues, but with a slightly revised focus as we walk into 2020.  Rather than just teaching, or counseling, I hope to experience a deepening of my practice, and Angie’s work here, so that you are able to find a deeper sense of who you are and perhaps how things have moved forward in your life. So, we will be working in the next month to begin adjusting things in the following ways:

~ We will offer two blogs a month – one about a change or addition to your knowledge or understanding of what the field of psychology and spirituality are understanding today.  So perhaps an update on how yoga is used; a new treatment method for brain injury or depression; or even just a new idea to try to keep life balanced. The second will offer deeper content such as journaling exercises, ways to make your growth more experiential, and allow you the opportunity to move a tiny or larger step forward.

~As some of you know I have a new puppy – Finley.  We are going to add Instagram back with a focus on Finley’s Corner, lessons he is learning, that we also can learn from.  As an example, a lesson he learned after Christmas family celebrations? We all need rest after a long day. Look for an Instagram link soon!

~More days of retreat and mornings of information.  There are two we are looking at now, in addition to two in conjunction with others we have been invited to or are co-offering.

March 7 – Unfolding to Yourself:  Understanding Self and Spirit

May 16 – Professionals with Brain Injury:  Couples Facing Change

~Watch for the addition of concierge counseling services soon both for brain injury and personal growth clients – with special information pages, some case management built-in for no additional charge, consults with other professionals on your behalf, priority scheduling to meet your schedule, and other tips or help.

~More teletherapy appointments available to you.

So, as you are beginning your new year, here’s a deepening question for you to consider and write about:  What do I need to do to lean into my own life more fully? Write for 10 minutes and stop. Step away from the writing for a few moments.  Reread it and write down one action step to take or new awareness you have.  It might be set a reminder to write tonight before retiring for 10 minutes.  It might be to spend 5 minutes of your walk in silence, not talking with anyone with you, but taking in what you are seeing.  It might be saying a prayer or writing a prayer to your Higher Power tonight at bedtime.  Then go – live your life as it is unfolds today (including football and friends).  Begin each day with this – and just watch your life transform and deepen this year.

With care and encouragement to dare to dive more deeply into who you are,

Dr. Beth

In my own deepening understanding of myself
find my capacity to serve others is deepened as well.
The 
better I am at selfcare
the more 
genuinely nurturing of others I am able to be.
– 
Mary Anne Radmacher

On an aging mind.

I recently opened a drawer and was surprised to see an article of clothing I had no memory of buying. It is a swimsuit. A dreaded article of clothing for me to put on any given day to begin with, I remembered it but I could not remember where I’d gotten it. Was this a memory issue I should take note of? It got me thinking about a recurring theme I’ve had come up in my practice and in my personal life with friends, not only as we ourselves age, but as parents and siblings and other loved ones do too. What IS normal brain aging and what are the signs something more serious is happening and needs attention?

As we age, our brains shrink. Years of studies have shown this to be the case but it’s not always a bad thing. For the vast majority of us, aging only means some forgetfulness—a haziness of past events, not recalling names of old schoolmates (but cueing helps), the need for a grocery list, occasionally forgetting what we walked into a room to get, word finding difficulty at times. You may also find you have less ability to concentrate and pay attention. All of these are typical to the aging brain. Add stress to the mix and the above problems are exacerbated, as is the case when you are only half paying attention to someone because your mind is already on something else.

So when is it time to pay attention and get some cognitive testing done, even as a baseline? I read an article not long ago that had a great list—I’ve pulled from it a few guidelines to follow (for more of the article, see: https://www.verywellhealth.com/is-it-forgetfulness-or-alzheimers-98574). Take a look at the list below and if you see some areas of concern, don’t be frightened about getting testing, the earlier the condition is found, the better we can prepare and treat for it.

  • Recent memory poor, and cueing and context don’t help
  • Can’t remember the order of things and who said what
  • Repetitiveness becomes obvious; memory intrusions occur
  • Unaware that a memory problem exists
  • Day-to-day functioning declines along with memory
  • Frequently demonstrating poor judgment and decision-making
  • Not being able to handle paying bills regularly
  • Often being disoriented to time and place
  • Difficulty with familiar tasks, such as making coffee every day
  • Getting lost on your way home from your daily job

Whether your memory slips are typical and bothering you or something more and you need to do some testing and work with a neurologist, talk to me. I have some things I can recommend that may help. And if you have a brain injury, your process may be a bit different– see our website at: https://www.thewholenessinstitute.com/braininjurytherapy.html for additional information. As I routinely say, there IS hope and I’m happy to help you find your way back to it.

As for me? A couple of cues helped. I knew I must have ordered the swimsuit so I looked at my older emails and found the order—as soon as I saw it I realized I bought it at a time life was extremely chaotic and it was one of many things I was handling at once. I’d been doing too much at one time and as a result, my mind automatically filtered what I needed to retain and what wasn’t important. A relief to me, for certain!

Thoughts on fall

This Saturday marks the start of a new, welcome season for me—fall begins. Growing up in the Midwest, apple farms were prevalent and roadside stands with fresh apples, apple cider, and apple cider donuts were among my favorite stops. The leaves changing, the chill in the air in the morning slowly changing from dew to frost on the lawns, the fields being harvested, and the fall décor—cornstalks, hay bales, and pumpkins appearing in lawns everywhere, were all signs of the season.

Apples are one of my favorite fruits. I enjoy them year-round, but I always love the time of year I begin seeing the Honeycrisps show up in the produce sections. Every other year my extended family gathers at our family cabin to harvest apples from our tree and begin the weekend long task of peeling and canning apples and applesauce. It is a weekend full of work, undeniably. It is a weekend where we fill up every inch of the cabin, lots of people under one reasonably small roof. But it is a weekend of laughs, of love, of bonding that I look forward to often months ahead of time. This year the crop is not as plentiful, so we aren’t going to have that time.  But I still found myself thinking of apples and looking at pictures from past years this weekend. Some years the apple harvests are showy with an abundance of fruit, other years the work is happening underground and within the body of the tree. The fruit crop may be less, but the growth cycle is just as important.

applesatcabin

Something similar happens in the cycles of our lives. We have times that our lives feel overflowing, with commitments, with friends, with family. Other times we have more moments of solitude. Those quiet moments, while at times may feel uncomfortable, are just as important. Such as it is for me this year. The end of summer and this fall will be one less harried, more intentional, and with more quiet time for me.  I spent a weekend by myself at the cabin a few weeks ago, enjoying the peace, quiet, and hikes with Murphy. While fall is about letting go, solitude allows me to stop, think, pray, dream, or do some art to sort out where I’ve been and where I’m going. This reflective time allows some of the work to be done internally and spiritually as I consider the next steps for me in life.  And it allows for contemplation of progress made – perhaps to release, as apples ripe for picking; or perhaps it is the season for growth and change, a new bud on the apple tree. So, a time to wait. And to be at peace with waiting. “Solitude is very different from a ’time-out’ from our busy lives. Solitude is the very ground from which community grows. Whenever we pray alone, study, read, write, or simply spend quiet time away from the places where we interact with each other directly, we are potentially opened for a deeper intimacy with each other.” ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen

As the apples are released from their branches, some fall and others are caught, only some make it to the applesauce.  So too with the meaning of fall – let go, release, transition.  F. Scott Fitzgerald:  “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” If you are looking to do some spiritual reflection of your own during this season of harvest, please consider joining me for my upcoming workshop—Spirituality and Psychotherapy: Hope, Courage, and Presence. Spots are limited but I do still have a few seats available, for more details see www.thewholenessinstitute.com/workshops or call us at 602.508.9190.

The apples were harvested, let’s enjoy them one bite at a time.

With hope,

Dr. Beth

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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