Of Goodness and Evil

The past week has brought the hope and celebration of a new year … and a showing of anger, narcissism, psychopathy, and hatred.  We have seen it in war, in racism, in other ways, but not in this country in this way.  As such it has left me a little uncertain how to write a blog for the new year and yet address the fears and anger and profound sadness with which this year has started given the events of January 6. 

I found myself rereading “People of the Lie” by M. Scott Peck.  He writes of the fact that we must be careful if we call another evil, for we also can go that way.  And, in fact, those who are evil will always call the other evil.  Think of the partner who treats their partner with blame, abuse, and a sick form of love; yet believes their lies that the partner truly is the one who is sick.  Or someone who tells an individual that they are “lazy” when they know that they have a learning disability or other “hidden” disability that may simply mean slow processing or difficulty learning or doing one’s job.  One may seem worse, i.e.:  the abusive spouse over the parent, teacher, sister, or friend who calls someone “lazy”; yet both can hurt the other party.  In “Dare to Lead” Brene Brown would call this time in America, or with family, or friends, or employees a time to be being willing to have ‘tough conversations” with a whole heart. My greater desire is to find a way to help you find hope and healing, not to cause pain or offense, or affront anyone.  As I found myself reviewing the writing of the psychology of evil by Peck I was reminded of his words, “The problem of evil, for instance, can hardly be separated from the problem of goodness.  Were there no goodness in the world, we would not even be considering the problem of evil” (p. 41).  And so, I am trying to point out the way we can each move toward the goodness in life.  We must remain aware of what is going on in the world and at home, and make choices much as those I am reviewing below for our own personal growth.   

January 1 is World Day of Peace each year.  Interestingly, I didn’t see a notice of this other than one brief one.  That may have been due to a holiday weekend and busy weeks leading up to it.  But I ran across a blog that addressed it, and the comments made by Pope Francis in it that are even more pertinent today, the 9th. “These and other events that marked humanity’s path this past year have taught us how important it is care for one another and creation in efforts to build a more fraternal society”.  Peck agrees that love and goodness allow us to see the evil.  And that the first step is to see it and call it for what it is.  Brene would say we must live our values, be what we believe, and bravely live into trust with others and speak truth – but with empathy.  Essentially Peck says the same.  And in doing so, we must look at both the evil (or less than healthy) in ourselves and then, with compassion, speak our truth to a trusted friend or counselor, face it, and bravely work to change it. 

As an example, it’s been a very busy week and I’ve had to deal with multiple needs of others and not had time to deal with everything that was hitting my phone, email, and texts.  In trying to keep up I didn’t get a text answered that could have caused less anxiety for one person; I skimmed a few emails from a committee and likely hurt someone on that committee; and I’ve neglected Finley (ok, so he probably took the least of the toll; but I took him to daycare to play on Friday to make up for my lack of attention and he came back exhausted and is now zonked out).  But I’ve had to go back and apologize to both people with whom I could have responded better and not caused the concerns that came up.  Did I do it from a place of evil?  No, but I did need to correct and be kind to them and trust that I can apologize and move forward.  That’s what is meant by living what we believe, then speaking with compassion in seeking to change what my act of moving too fast did to others.  Those are fairly easy things to repair.  And yet they take time and thought and self-awareness.

What about the bigger concerns?  What about a person who might be hurting a loved one of ours?  It might be a boss hurting a friend, a child’s mental health hurting a parent, a minister hurting a group within a church, or even an animal killing other animals.  While we might be able to explain each situation, there is pain, and a part of evilness, and a piece of unrest we experience in these situations.  I ran into this in the first clinical situation I ever was involved in professionally.  I was at a children’s center and was told to work with a child who had already shown a great deal of disregard for others or for human life.  I remember thinking, “what in the world do I do here?  I’m not equipped!” So, I read a lot about children like him, adults like him, spoke with some experts in town, and a couple out of town.  In the end, what mattered most to me was helping his mother, in a small a way, begin to see him and recognize him for all of who he was.  My goal became, through family therapy, to give her a tiny bit of understanding and help her to find some remnant of a human child who was good but terribly hurt by others to the point he was striking out so forcefully against all.  That came from, as Brene says, brave work and tough conversations with the mom, as well as loving hard – with courage.  Did I help the child?  Frankly, I do not think I had the ability or experience or tools with which to effectively help him.  For that I believe, even today, that he needed much more than I could offer at the time; thus, my decision to focus on the family.  

What can we each do at this time?  Rather than ignoring it, or hoping all will go away, we can take a couple of steps toward getting through a difficult time. 

  • Name what it is that causing you the most difficulty internally.  Simply stating it, writing it down, acknowledging it, is a step toward dealing with the difficulty we are facing.  Is it fear?  Is it confusion?  Is it just dealing with life in front of us every day while we try to get our heads and hearts around what happened Wednesday or news we received from a friend?    
  • Then, take some time to be vulnerable and share with another person.  Talk with a friend, email your child’s teacher for help, talk to a mentor about what’s happening in the world and what you are feeling.  Pray about the friend going through a divorce.  Write or talk to those you fear you’ve hurt – say you’re sorry or ask for forgiveness.  If it’s about the unrest here in the USA, find someone you can talk with who will not incite more unrest, but help you put a plan in place that helps you. 
  • Decide if there is something you need to do about the situation.  During one situation this week my choice was to take time to make a gift bag for a friend.  I realized what I needed was to do something, not just ruminate on the issue.  So, I took an hour to pull together what I wanted to offer her to surround herself with through the coming days and months. 
  • Finally, nurture yourself.  Take some quiet time with your spouse and just settle in for time to cuddle.  Watch a movie if you’re exhausted and on empty.  Pull your puppy in for hugs and lap pets. 

The last thing I would also recommend is that you spend more time in a way to engage your spiritual self.  For one person that is prayer or a music service.  For another it is contemplative prayer.  For still another it is taking a meditative walk and really looking at what is going on around you.  One person I know reconnects with what is happening in the world and his life overall to gain perspective using levels of consciousness as a focus.  Or, for still another reading something uplifting or writing a gratitude list.  Whatever it is – I strongly urge you to open that part of your life up more widely.    

This year, 2021, will have challenges as every year does. Some of the next days may bring more difficulty, or it may ease in other ways.  And yet we can live our lives consciously and from a place of love and connection with others.  Focus more on the love than the evil, and you will find the days easier to handle.  We will make it through these days and times.  Only a day at a time.  Only a moment.  And yet, as a very good friend reminded me at one point in the last 2 weeks, “All will be well”.  I’ll end again with the prayer of St. Julian of Norwich (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BT0P5aE2IBg for a beautiful song of this). 

All shall be well.

And all shall be well.

And all manner of thing shall be well.

For there is a Force of Love moving through the universe,

That holds us fast

And will never let us go.

~St. Julian of Norwich

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 

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

The Grip of Anxiety: How to Find Relief

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

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

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

-Mark Twain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care,

Dr. Beth

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.

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!

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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