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

Calming an Anxious Mind

Sometimes it can seem as though our minds never turns off. During these times most recently, we may find that we have ruminating thoughts about the state of our world, our nation, our state, our county, and lastly but certainly not least–our households. Trying to maintain a positive attitude at home or with others may be difficult, let alone being fully present with others.

These are concerns facing many today, and part of a larger theme of anxiety I’m hearing about routinely in my practice. Across our nation, we are seeing re-openings of businesses, and with that comes new decisions of what is truly safe to do. I’ve provided resources in past blogs (found here, here, and here) of reliable sources to look for information as well as tools to get you through this time on my website found here.

Today though, let’s talk about the anxiety itself and how to cope with it. There is a graphic circulating online which shows varying stages of acceptance, take a look below:

This is a great illustration of the process of learning to open oneself up again. In some ways, this re-opening feels a bit like the immediate post-911 world to me. There was fear of going out and resuming “normal” life directly after the attacks because we just weren’t sure it was over. Our nation faced significant losses during that time, and we will never be who we were before that event; but, as time marched on we learned to process the experience and with that, we moved forward. We will do the same with Coronavirus/Covid-19. Take a look at the graphic, see where you think you may fall in the bands radiating off of the circle of Covid–do you see that you’ve made some progress? Or are you still practicing some of the behaviors in the darkest zone, the fear zone? Do you see that some of how you are feeling or acting are examples spread across more than one zone? That is a completely reasonable reaction. Likely where most of us are.

The above graphic also reminds me of the stages of grief, in more than one way. Many of us are familiar with this model of grieving developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and I find the stages apply to more than the loss of a loved one. She defined them as, 1. Denial and isolation, 2. Anger, 3. Bargaining, 4. Depression, 5. Acceptance. Some of those examples look familiar to the handling of this Covid era too, don’t they? The initial denial that this could be happening to the people of our world, our nation; the anger at others who may not be taking the news the same way we have chosen to respond; the bargaining–if only we’d done X, then…; and the isolation which can also bring on depression.

My point to all this? We’ve handled grief likely on a personal basis, but also as a nation before. We’ve been fearful of unknown forces. We have come through it, and maybe we don’t look the same as we did before the catastrophe–on a world or national scale or on an interpersonal, familial one such as after the loss of a loved one–but we humans are resilient and even after a time that feels like it could have been the end of the world, we can again find beauty in things. So, let’s talk about how to move forward.

Mindfulness. Merriam Webster defines mindfulness as: 1: the quality or state of being mindful. 2: the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis also; a state of awareness. It’s a topic I’ve covered on a recent blog found here because I feel strongly mindfulness is one of our most useful tools in healing.

  • I came across some wonderful “attitudes for anxiety” in a blog post on Positive Psychology–to read the full post, click here. The 10 attitudes to practice for anxiety are towards the bottom but there are a number of other tools to practice she highlights–it’s worth the read. The one I find most essential is to: 1. Notice what is going on in your body. What are you feeling? Where? Is it the discomfort of reflux? The heart-pounding of panic? The headache or migraine of muscle tension? 2. Just stay with that feeling and feel it for a moment. Really let yourself become aware of what is going on internally. 3. Recognize what your thoughts are that either preceded the physical issue or are still present with the physical sensation. 4. Take a slow deep soothing breath into that part of your body that is in pain, taught, or uncomfortable. Hold it. Then blow it out as fast and hard as you can. Imagine that breath out as the difficult thoughts and feelings – blow them all out of your body. Do this several times and then attend to the area of the body with some self-care, i.e.: massage the muscles, notice the heart pounding may have slowed down with the breaths, or the reflux released just a little and if not take the medication you have for it.
  • Learn to meditate. There are countless videos and apps for meditation, some found on our website here, others a mere google search away. But here’s a good one I learned from a nun at an anxiety workshop many years ago. Spend 5 minutes looking into the flame of a candle. A well done video with an introduction to this meditation and a recorded candle’s flame for this process can be found here.
  • Deal with only one day at a time – Jon Kabat-Zinn has discussed this on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, the clip may be found here. He proposes checking in on yourself. How do you feel this morning? Are you still upset about a fight last night, or worried about an upcoming meeting? What do you want to achieve today? Understanding how you feel before you embark on your day can help you go through your day more mindfully. “Drop in on yourself and rest for a stretch of time,” Kabat-Zinn says. “And then as you go about your daily life, check in. Once an hour, once a minute. Once a day. You decide”.
  • Another technique a trusted colleague recently reminded me of when dealing with anxiety about the future and what is okay to do now or in a week about Covid-19 is to look at your watch. What time is it? What day? This is all you can make decisions about and deal with in this situation – use your watch as your reminder. See this blog for more information.

As I’ve written about before, practice good self-care. Not only the physical in good hand washing practices or wearing masks; but also, the mental self-care. Remember to limit your media consumption, be gentle with yourself, and get outside daily. If you’re dealing with OCD, it can be a tough time to manage your symptoms. If your current techniques aren’t working or you’re becoming worse through this, here’s an article written first person by someone who is handling OCD related to our current pandemic. Take a look at her tips, and if they’re new to you consider implementing the ideas. Even if they were routine previously, it may be time to up your game on using them. There are also some basic self-care principles written about here.

The same basic ideas apply to how to best care for your children during this time, but I cannot underscore this point enough, talk to them. Ask questions about how they’re feeling in an age appropriate way. If they’re older, see if they have questions on the state of things related to the illness and the ability to go out in the world or what your emergency preparedness plans would be. Ask them how they’re really doing at this time, and if they’re isolated from their peers–and consider supporting them in some things you previously may not have been as open to such as gaming on a device. In limited doses, it may be a great way for your kids to stay connected to their friends–it’s often a group activity yet can be played from individual houses. Watch for behavior changes in them–and if you’re seeing signs that are worrisome get them help. At this time of tele-therapy, they may be more open to the idea of talking to someone from the comfort of their own space rather than having to go into an office for counseling. If your children are younger, don’t overlook playtime as moments that feelings surface. Role playing with dolls, or even putting names to favorite play cars and trucks may bring out “feelings” the toys may have–but could really be the feelings your child may be dealing with. Remember, just like it can be hard for us as adults to put a name on a feeling or be forthright when we are having a hard time, children feel that too. Play with your kids when you can make time. No moment is too small–from the bathtub to a walk around the neighborhood, remember to take moments to check in on your littler people. Here’s a quick read from Seattle Children’s hospital on helping children and teens cope with anxiety.

I hope this provides some tools to each of you to calm the anxiety you are facing. Remember that this, too, is just a season. It will pass, and even if we have some longer lasting changes to adapt to, as was said by the late great Maya Angelou, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”

If you need some professional help, know I’m only a phone call away. Get ahold of Angie, my practice manager, and get yourself scheduled. I’m here for you, reach us by phone at 602.508.9190.

Wishing each of you an easy mind today, a restful night tonight, and a more peaceful tomorrow,

Dr. Beth

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

COVID-19, Control, & Compassion: Choosing Our Attitudes and Being Compassionate

We can’t control our world, our family’s lives, even our own life right now, can we?  We can’t know when or where the Coronavirus will hit.  We can’t know if we’ll get it, or our neighbor, or our best friend, or our coworker.  We can’t know if we’ll come through this time financially whole or if the financial condition of the country and world will collapse. And this is scaring many of those I see or those I read about in the news or that I hear from on Facebook or other social media accounts.  And I get it – there is much uncertainty.  This morning, though, I wondered to myself – but can we ever?  Can we truly ever have power and control over all that happens to us?  All that we experience, think, and feel?  All that we so often trudge through life trying to control.  Our boss?  Our job? Our health? Our financial condition?  Or is it possible, just possible, it’s an illusion of control?  And that the truth we are living right now – that we cannot control the spread of COVID-19 more than following the suggestions of medical professionals and mandates of our government is the reality we live each and every day? 

Dr. Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who was put in a prisoner camp in Germany during the time of Adolph Hitler.  A man of Jewish faith and lineage, he was in the group abhorrently victimized and often killed by those under Hitler.  And from him came some of the most profound writing in the area of existential psychology – or the psychology of meaning and experience of life.  He survived the camp, a feat beyond my imagination, and stated, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”.  Ah – here is the kernel of hope we do have, we can always change ourselves, our reactions. He went on to elaborate: “Everything can be taken from a man [person] but one thing:  the last human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way”.  And this is how he survived the experience in Auschwitz.  And helped many others to do so – to choose their attitude to keep trying, one step, one day at a time; and to assist others by noticing them, handing them a crust of their dried bread, or a sip of the tiny bit of water they were given. 

A choice – we, too have choices.  Are we going to share with others compassion and love and a safe place to share what isolation is like?  Or what living at home 24 hours with children and/or spouse is like?  Either can be very challenging.  Are we going to be supportive of the grocery store clerks and employees – or grumble that we didn’t find what we wanted?  It’s a choice, isn’t it?  I will say I can sometimes be tired and grumble when someone doesn’t acknowledge what I’m experiencing – but how would they?  We’re each unique and experiencing this time differently.  So, I need to back up and possibly share it and ask for understanding or at least respect for my experience and apologize for the grumble. 

Kristen Neff talks about self-compassion, and Viktor Frankl about compassion towards others.  But Neff makes an excellent point – if we don’t have it and show it to ourselves first, how will we ever share it with others?  So, as we are facing days that are long, with limited control but room for personal choice in attitude, perhaps a little self-compassion would be a good first step.  Especially through this next week when many who are Jewish cannot celebrate Passover as they are accustomed to and Christians cannot celebrate Easter as they are.  We will need to choose attitude and show compassion. 

Kristen Neff discusses this from a place of self-compassion, Brene Brown from a place of shame and working to change that and let go of that, and Viktor Frankl from a place of making a choice in our experiences about our attitude.  All three, interestingly, have similarities in what to do.

  1. Notice what you’re feeling.  Be with it in the moment.  Be present and mindful so that you are aware and do not act out, hopefully, towards another.  So, for example, when I am feeling lonely facing Easter without the family and traditions we usually share, I need to sit with that.  Feel the pain, the disappointment, the loneliness. 
  2. Being kind to yourself in language is also important.  Rather than the voice that might say, “Oh grow up, it’s one holiday.  You’re fine.  At least you’re not in the hospital and dying of Covid-19”; we need to instead say, “I’m having a hard time. This is something I haven’t experienced so it feels new and lonely.  And it’s a change – I struggle with change in family tradition.  So, I need to be even kinder in planning and deciding how and what I will do Easter Sunday”. 
  3. Name the feeling and share it with some safe person in my life.  It might be in prayer.  It might be in text to my best friend.  It might be a call to a family member to connect at least that way and share and listen to what they are experiencing as we face the next 7 days.  (This is unique to Brene Brown’s idea of coming out of the shame spiral by facing it and sharing it.)
  4. Decide how with what attitude to face the next 7 days and what choices are available.  For example, reaching out to others is something Viktor Frankl recommends as we reach out in love.  Not in guilt or caretaking or shame.  But as he says, “Love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which [we] can aspire”.  This means both the love in self-compassion above, but also the love in reaching out.  Perhaps something special to do with the children over the coming weekend.  Perhaps sending cards of love to family we cannot see. Maybe planning our own special day of ritual and celebration and sharing it in love for the other(s) we might be with – even if that is ourselves.  Nurturing the sense of self-compassion, and care. 

So how will you face your own attitudes this week?  How will you remain mindful of what you are experiencing?  What change can you commit to?  What are the steps you might take to show yourself and others compassion?  I would encourage you to write them down.  Post them, put them in front of you, and lovingly remind yourself of them each day. 

Warmly and with compassion,

Dr. Beth

PS:  Want to learn more about these 3 theorists and clinicians?  I suggest the following books:

Daring Greatly:  How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Self-Compassion:  The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristen Neff

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.

Unfolding: From Shame to Praise

I’ve been sitting here looking at a blank piece of paper, interspersed with time searching for ideas of what to write about for this blog released to be released on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent for Christians.  I’ve had a few thoughts pass through my head:

  • The childhood years of eggs and noodles for Friday dinner and tuna fish for lunch – no meat on Fridays was required. 
  • Grade school years of giving up chocolate, candy, cookies, or something else and putting a penny in the missions’ box to collect money for those in need.
  • Junior year religion class when we were challenged to show love to someone each day instead of forgoing a favorite treat (a la Fr. Martin’s blog last year – Be Kind at https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2019/03/01/fr-james-martin-sj-be-kind-lent
  • Looking out the window this morning and wondering at the cloudy sky and my cold feet while considering how to make this day into something growth-inspired.  This afternoon revealed a bright blue sky, clean and shiny leaves from yesterday’s rain, and beautiful pink and purple flowering shrubs. And this evening it is followed by dark clouds.  Such a metaphor of life – constant evolution.
  • Finley’s facial expression, as I showed in an Instagram post and below – full of joy and expectation.  Which brought me to thoughts of C.S. Lewis via a blog by Dawn Klinge where she talks about  Lewis’s view of joy.  (You can check it out here https://www.dawnklinge.com/abovethewaves/7-thoughts-on-joy-from-cs-lewis).
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  • Searching and finding a book recommended for Lenten journeys by one of my favorite authors related to growth spiritually, Sue Monk Kidd.  She recommended Gifts from Within, written by a group in Texas at Brigid’s Place.  Interestingly, this is also tied back to my ancestral motherland of Ireland. 

What is the common thread in all the musings I’ve had?  I believe it to be there is no perfect way through Lent, or preparation for Easter or Passover.  In reality, no perfect way to reach and experience joy, resurrected hope, true presence in our own lives of and with God.  But it does take preparation, time, energy, and choices daily. 

So, whether it is by 1) sacrifice, i.e.: fasting or giving up something; or giving something like love and kindness; or 2) reading the thoughts of others as shared in Gifts from Within; or 3) reading for my Jewish friends Kurshan in her first person article in The New York Jewish Week, “Preparing for Passover Physically and Spiritually” that reminds us that the history of Passover “begins with shame and ends with praise”  (see https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/preparing-for-passover-physically-and-spiritually/); or 4) stretching and committing to really look at something around you (or within) each day like the change in the day from dreary to spring-like to stormy; or 5) watching the joy around you that comes from hope and expectation – they all count.  Each one can take you farther along your spiritual path.  And your psychological healing.  And isn’t this really unfolding – opening up to more of what you want to be, hope to be, are within; but perhaps are unaware of because of something blocking you?  Moving from shame to joy.  So, start thinking – has one of the above ideas struck you as one to use?  I’m using the book recommended by Sue Monk Kidd and a daily thought prompt from another group.  One person I know is using a specific book with a goal of reading the complete book by Easter.  Another person is writing her prayers daily.  And another is just working on breathing – with reminders to himself in his calendar to work on decreasing his anxiety. 

Pema Chodron said, “Nothing goes away until it teaches us what we need to know”.  Carolyn Myss said it a bit differently, “Always go with the choice that scares you the most, because that’s the one that is going to help you grow”.  Lent and preparation for Passover are times for such growth for all.  So…choose wisely this year.

Take care,

Dr. Beth   

2020: Goals and Goofing Off

I was thinking about the new year and recall recently hearing someone say, instead of resolutions that we often set ourselves up to break, think of the beginning of the year as a time to set one goal. And, while it feels like a blank slate and a good time to start something, I also wondered if we take a moment to pause and renew, would we all be more likely to hold to the new goals we’re trying to form? We go through the holiday season and it’s a blur. How often do we look back and wonder where 30, 60, 90 days or more have gone? We are so busy with the hustle of preparing that starts in October, maybe earlier, that when the new year comes it’s no surprise we’re all feeling ready for a new leaf. But is there room to be more mindful about how we go about all of these new practices? Instead of starting January at the gym doing more than our bodies have in weeks/months/years and going home sore, energy depleted, and looking into a refrigerator stocked in an optimistic moment with all the foods we “should” be eating is it any wonder that by the end of that week or the end of January we already feel we’re failing at what we set out to do? Here’s an idea it’s not too late to start on, the timetable is your own. Let’s bring in this new year with intention and balance.

Happy January, welcome new year, new decade! I’m going to choose my activities and set goals that are achievable, because I don’t need guilt over self-imposed ideas that make me feel a failure. And I’m going to learn to play, alone, with friends, and with my family.  Join me? Here are a few things to get you started but remember this is not an inclusive list, just inspiration:

  • Meal plan and prep on weekends. It sounds simplistic and it is, but this is the way to get the foods I want in the house. This is not the start of a strict diet; this is making healthier choices than I made during the holiday rush.
  • Create set work hours. It’s easy to allow myself to let my work spill into my evenings during times I don’t have plans or distraction, but everyone needs down time to recharge each day. It’s not a luxury, it’s what enhances productivity during the day and if I don’t consciously make this choice, I will let myself stay at my computer longer than I should.
  • Read, listen to audiobooks, listen to podcasts, or watch TV. Getting myself enmeshed in a good book is an escape nearly like a vacation. And for all the bad TV out there, there’s plenty of good to watch as well.
  • Pray or meditate. Quiet time for consideration and reflection is soul enriching and an amazing stress reducer that has been shown many times over to reduce blood pressure and improve brain health.
  • Move my body. This doesn’t mean I have to join a spin class or train for a marathon (though if those things lift you up, wonderful!) this just means a walk with my dog, or yoga at home or in a studio, a bike ride on the greenway. Again, stress reducing, heart and brain healthy, blood pressure reducing, and an aid in depression and anxiety management. 
  • Schedule physicals or check-ups. Annual exams are important to be sure any changes in blood work, blood pressure, vision, mammograms or PSA checks, etc. can be addressed before a possible issue becomes advanced.
  • Call and schedule time for coffee with a friend.  Often, we do not give our friendships the time they need, and we don’t benefit from the recharge that time will give us.  (And moms – I just read today that in order to be the healthiest mom possible you need two girlfriend outings a week.  Two!  So perhaps start with one and work it slowly up to two.)
  • Make an activity list with your family.  Have everyone list what is fun for them.  And then use this to plan your vacations, time together, and year. 

Remember, not every minute of the day is meant to be about productivity.  It’s also meant to include time for relationships, recharging our batteries, learning, and balancing our lives.  So, this year, rather than adding a list of 5 must-do’s to your daily schedule, how about taking care of you – in any of the above ways or another way you might want to embrace and enjoy.  Brene Brown reminds us that “adults goof off”, they play, and defined this as spending time doing things that are not productive but are fun.  Several of the ideas above are not “productive”, but they may be fun for you.  So, my challenge is – go have some fun this year.  Play. Meditate. Spend time with friends.  Read a novel that pulls you in.  After that – perhaps get back to the one or two goals for your year.  But don’t take the “fun” time off your calendar to get the goal met. Instead, balance both in your time.  And have a great 2020! 

A Search for Gratitude

As I’ve been pondering this blog the last few days I’ve found myself wondering about how to approach it-spiritually, psychologically, mentally?  Speak about the family perspective of Thanksgiving? Or something more related to gratitude. I’ve always thought of both thankfulness and gratitude as the same thing. But GK Chesterton’s proposition was that “thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” That very much spoke to me, the balance of thought and feeling.

So often at Thanksgiving we are celebrating food, football, and family. In that combination we are actually often only engaged in the thought of being thankful, occasionally feeling some happiness; but, how often is that thankfulness actually imbued with wonder? Wonder generally comes from something beautiful, unexpected, or inexplicable.  This is the key to much of why we likely experience actual changes in our brain when we have a gratitude journal.  Our thoughts of what we are thankful for, combined with the emotion of gratitude, is what causes both sides of our brain to process the experiences. As we cross the corpus callosum of our brain, we are changed.  Try an experiment, think of the most recent experience of a beautiful sunset, a puppy playing, or a special message of love from your best friend.  As you recall this, do you feel joy, relaxed or peaceful, or warmth deep in your heart? Then, as you consider that view, do you begin to think about how lucky you are to have that pup or thankful to have found your anam cara (see an article on anam cara here) friend? There you have it, thought and feeling, building in intensity as you allow the feelings to bubble up and impact you.  The life-changing moment of gratitude.

This Thanksgiving, enjoy the festivities and folks around you, whether solo awareness of others who are in your life or at a larger get together. But in addition to enjoying the day, I challenge you to not simply go through the motions. Instead, take some time to really consider what you are grateful for in life. Use the barometer of feeling gratitude to the point of an emotional reaction of joy, wonder, or amazement. For me it will include true joy in my experience of my new puppy Finley; deep peace that comes from memories of moments with my best friend; and heartfelt love for my dear sisters with whom I am spending this holiday. I want to cherish these thoughts and feelings along with the memories that triggered them. I choose to do as Brene Brown suggests: “[not chasing] extraordinary moments to find happiness, but paying attention and practicing gratitude” in its’ deepest sense.

Take care, and may the wonder of this holiday be yours.

Dr Beth