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

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

Help Your Kids Make Good Choices—Special Edition Blog on e-Cigarettes

If you haven’t seen the headlines in the last couple of days and didn’t see a surge on social media a couple of weeks ago, this may surprise you. Reports are showing early data that the usage of e-cigarettes contributed to the first lung related death, and more widespread, is causing substantial damage to lungs and the numbers are alarming.

The market has exploded with e-cigarettes, Juuls, and other vaping devices to supply candy and fruit flavored nicotine to interested users. Per Juul’s website, “JUUL was developed as a satisfying alternative to cigarettes. Learn about our mission to improve the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers by eliminating cigarettes.” More reading of the website leaves a reader feeling that switching from cigarettes to this vaping device is a cleaner, safer choice.

The Juul itself is tiny, shaped like a USB drive, and with the enticing flavors, the market of users is not just cigarette converts, it’s also our teens. School districts nationwide are holding parent and child education events to provide information on this new smoking trend to teach and also encourage an open dialog among families about such nicotine usage.

But the reality is, vaping has been too new for us to have a lot of clinical data showing the toll it takes on one’s body. There are anecdotal reports of these electronic vaping devices exploding—and graphic images can be found of people who have had them in pockets, in their hands, and worse, in their mouths at the time the device ruptured and exploded causing substantial tissue damage. But what about the lungs? It’s been surmised that vaping can contribute to popcorn lung, but beyond that it was all supposition until recent weeks.

Earlier this month, a teen came forward on social media posting pictures of his hospitalization and subsequent recovery of a lung collapse. It is believed his use of a Juul for the past year and a half caused the lung issues he experienced. As his posts went viral, he launched the campaign #lunglove encouraging people to give up their electronic vaping devices in an effort to prevent more hospitalizations and deaths. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/teen-blames-vaping-after-his-lung-collapses/ Today it is being reported that the first death has been linked to e-cigarettes in Illinois and dozens more have been hospitalized for conditions similar to the teen mentioned above. https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/23/health/vaping-lung-disease-death-illinois-bn/index.html

These headlines are important, your teen knows about these devices and based on statistics alone, has likely tried one. They are present in every high school and likely every middle school in the country. Local teens are reporting they aren’t even able to use the restrooms because they’re so heavily used for vaping during breaks. Vaping devices can deliver nicotine, flavorings, and other additives; but some can also include THC—the psychoactive substance in marijuana—and other substances. Inform yourself and inform your teens. For information about vaping and marijuana, see: https://drugfree.org/parent-blog/know-kid-vaping-marijuana/  If you need suggestions on how to start a conversation with your kids, a number of resources have been written on this topic. Follow this link to a google search with a number of credible organizations that have tackled just this situation. https://www.google.com/search?q=start+conversation+with+teens+on+ecigarettes&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-1-e

And lest we forget, it’s not just teens who vape, UCLA reports that adults, too, are buying into this and many believe it is safer than cigarettes.  That’s yet to be proven.  And even for teens, scientists are still considering how vaping impacts the development of the brain – remember that the young person’s frontal lobe does not stop developing until about 25 years of age.  So with cardiovascular, lung, and brain impact we do need to be aware for our youth first, but for all adults as well (http://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/how-safe-is-vaping)

Open communication about the dangers of these devices is one of the best ways you can help your teen make good choices. And remember, the listening—and hearing—what your kids have to say can be even more important than doing the talking.

Freedom Within

The 4th of July always brings back warm memories for me. Childhood memories of family, neighbors, being in the Elmhurst 4th of July parade, a huge neighborhood picnic, mama’s potato salad, Mrs. Grosser’s Rice Krispies chicken, watermelon, and a day that ended in a trek by all of the neighborhood to a park for fireworks. According to the Elmhurst History Museum, fireworks commenced at one of several parks during this time period, one of which was Elridge Park.   Elmhurst was my home town, one in which family, friends, and neighbors counted.  Where one felt safe, and where life was measured by the seasons passing from the 4th of July picnic, to fall school and the smell of tar on the road, to winter snow storms, to spring flowers and roller skating.

Eldridge

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Swimming Pool where I learned to swim in the early 1960’s

parade
Elmhurst 4th of July Parade circa 1960’s

But the 4th of July meant that we were celebrating freedom, something that is more sought after today, and less taken for granted than it seemed to be back in the mid-1960’s. This 4th of July I want to remind you that freedom is at least as much how we own things internally as how life occurs around us.  Too many are feeling less free in this country, and feeling very much compromised, reduced, limited, and forsaken.  I am not going to address any of the politics on either side of this, that’s for other places and times.  But I do want to address how to own one’s independence of spirit.

This automatically takes me to a famous psychiatrist/neurologist named Viktor Frankl who died in Vienna in 1997 but survived four concentration camps in the 1940’s including Auschwitz.  He was a man who knew no freedom for 3 years, and yet in that time he learned mental freedom, psychological freedom, and spiritual freedom.  He developed through these experiences and times a new form of therapy he called logotherapy or existential therapy.  He believed that not only can we survive extreme times, but we do so through the spiritual self that cannot be reduced by circumstances.  I don’t know about you, but I have struggled with this thought at times; and yet, I also know this is how I’ve both enjoyed the wonderful times in Elmhurst, and some extremely difficult times in my life later.  In fact, during high school a dear friend gave me Dr. Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”; and, in reading it I found strength and power to go on.  How?  By finding meaning for my soul and heart, regardless of what might be difficult.  (Note:  I recommend this book highly – see https://amzn.to/2z64yQ8)

At this time when life in our country is rife with difficulty, I believe we must also remember the freedom that Dr. Frankl suggested, particularly when he said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”  So, this 4th of July, let us celebrate this.  And let us also remind ourselves that what we hold most dear in this country, freedom, is what we are celebrating and what some are fighting to retain or regain.  And when the parades begin in your town, or the picnics begin, and even through the last of the fireworks going off, may we remember we hold the deepest freedom within to choose our attitude.  Only then can we be fully empowered to celebrate freedom.  And only then can we begin to make real choices about freedom and take steps to further defend it.  From the child’s heart of freedom within me from the 1960’s, to the child’s heart in you, Happy 4th of July!

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