The coronavirus pandemic has been all over the news, dominating my conversations with clients, friends, and family, as well as constantly swirling in my mind. At such an unprecedented time in our global history, anxiety and stress are running high for very good reasons. There is so much uncertainty about how this invisible force can hurt each of us, our loved ones, the economy, and the world. We are in the middle of a medical, psychological, financial, and political crisis.
In times of crisis, it is critical that we prioritize our self care while we care for and serve others. We need to consider how to best survive the crisis in the present moment as well as preventing the development of mental health concerns afterwards. As I mentioned in a previous post about trauma, symptoms of PTSD can develop when we face challenges that are beyond our capacity to cope, are unable to feel and express our emotions, feel invalidated and unseen by others, and cannot return to a place of safety and security in our bodies and in our community.
To help cope with the elevated stress and anxiety related to the coronavirus pandemic and to prevent the development of trauma symptoms in the future, I want to offer several coping strategies in this survival guide for mental health. I have divided the survival guide into multiple blog posts to include new information and ideas as I gather and develop them.
It's that time of the year again. The amount of daylight is decreasing every day. Here in Seattle, the clouds, rain, and cold have moved in. People who are sensitive to the effects of weather and sunlight may notice that their moods are significantly impacted by the change in season. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a common experience here in the Pacific Northwest due to our geographic distance from the equator. According to the American Psychiatric Association, SAD affects 5% of adults in the U.S. and can last on average 40% of the year. The changes in weather and sunlight can impact our brain chemistry and circadian rhythm, which controls our sleep, exercise, eating patterns, and mood. I used to struggle with SAD symptoms when I first moved to the Pacific Northwest nine years ago but I have created a winter routine of coping strategies that really works for me. In this blog post, I offer some ideas for preventing and coping with SAD symptoms.
I recently contributed to a Seattle Times article on happiness at work. The article was in response to the CNBC Workplace Happiness Index research. You can find out more about the original research here. In a nutshell, the CNBC researchers asked 8,664 professionals a series of questions about their satisfaction at work. The researchers looked at five different categories of satisfaction: meaning, autonomy, recognition, opportunity, and pay; and they combined them into a single factor called the Workplace Happiness Index. They concluded that happiness at work is a multi-dimensional and complex outcome. In addition to my contribution that was quoted in the article, I want to add a few more thoughts in this blog post about workplace happiness in general and about this study in particular.
Living with a pattern of procrastination can be difficult because it is often a silent, invisible, and shameful inner struggle. You may feel that there is a cloud of dread hanging over your head at all times. As the deadline looms, the sense of dread can grow until it becomes too much to bear. You may say to yourself, "This feels awful and I will never do it again!" Only to find yourself back in the cycle of procrastination the next time a deadline comes around. Procrastination can be both draining and costly to our mental health and have significant consequences for our relationships, school, work, and life. As I mentioned in a previous post on cultivating self-discipline, I struggled with severe procrastination through undergrad and into graduate school. What finally broke the cycle for me was not better time management strategies, the newest productivity hack, a fancy planner, will power, or self-control (I had tried them all without success). What helped in the end was understanding that procrastination was the result of unattended emotions, shame, and perfectionism and that addressing those issues resulted in significant behavior changes and freedom from the cycle of procrastination. In this blog post, I want to share with you three strategies that have worked for me and my clients.
When we think of trauma, we often think of extreme experiences of life or death. War, combat, sexual assault, physical abuse are the examples that come easily to mind. This definition of trauma is reflected in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is the book that mental health providers refer to when identifying and diagnosing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The first criteria for the diagnosis of PTSD is direct or indirect exposure to "death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence." In this post, I want to expand the definition of trauma to include experiences of childhood emotional neglect, which are often invisible, difficult to identify and describe, and overlooked. Many of us may have grown up with these experiences and yet never know anything was wrong in our childhood or that these experiences continue to negatively impact our lives now. We may never call these experiences "traumatic" and therefore never work toward healing.
I remembered the first time I tried meditation. I attended an introduction to meditation where the facilitator provided guided meditation for the first 15 minutes and then we sat in silence for the next 30 minutes. At first, I struggled with keeping my focus on my breath and allowing my thoughts to drift in and out. I started thinking about my to-do list and the conflict that I had with my partner. A few minutes into the meditation, I was fighting my desire to curl up on the floor for a nap. I learned that meditation is not easy. But with regular practice, I can see the power of meditation in my life to reduce stress, improve sleep, manage anxiety, and increase focus. I introduce it regularly to my clients because of how effective meditation can be in treating depression and anxiety. Science has shown that meditation can quickly change the function of our brains and, with regular practice, it can create lasting change in our brain structures. In this blog post, I want to share with you the mechanisms behind how meditation can alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety for good.
One of the topics that has been gaining more wide-spread attention lately is loneliness. Studies have found that loneliness can have detrimental effects on our health by impacting our healthy behaviors, cardiovascular system, stress hormones, and sleep patterns. Loneliness can impact our immune system, experience of pain, and ultimately, how long we live. Loneliness is an all too common experience in the U.S. and it is on the rise. The former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy called loneliness an epidemic. A study conducted by The Economist and the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) in 2018 found that 22% of Americans "always or often feel lonely, or lack companionship, or else feel left out or isolated." Given how many of us feel lonely and how damaging loneliness can be, I want to offer some strategies to combat loneliness and create deeper connections.
Marie Kondo has taken the world by storm with her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and the Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I know there has been so many controversies about her method. I highly recommend this article in the Huffington Post that dispels some of the misconceptions about the KonMari method and reveals the hidden xenophobia and racism within criticisms of Kondo. That topic can be a blog post in and of itself. What I want to focus on in this blog post is Kondo's philosophy of "spark joy." When deciding whether to keep or let go of an item, Kondo recommends holding the item in your hands and listening to how you body responds to the item. Does every cell of your body feel like they are uplifted by holding this item or do they feel heavy and weighed down by it? I've included a video of her explaining this process below. I think this philosophy can be widely applied to letting go of possessions, relationships, jobs, roles, goals, emotions, attitudes, and everything in our lives that no longer serve us.
I have struggled with procrastination for most of my adolescent and adult life. One time during my senior year of college, I waited until the midnight before a paper was due to sit down on the couch to finally begin writing. Before I knew it, it was morning and my laptop had fallen to the floor because I had passed out. I wrote furiously for the next two hours before submitting the assignment and prayed for a miracle. This kind of procrastination behavior followed me to grad school, where it really wrecked havoc on my life and mental health. I learned quickly in grad school that I cannot wait until the midnight before an assignment is due to start working on it because I had five other deadlines to meet and the standard of performance was much, much higher. I learned in grad school to nip procrastination in the bud after seeking help and support from therapists, mentors, coaches, and consultants. However, I developed another equally destructive habit: workaholism. The two habits are not as dissimilar as they may seem. In this blog post I will offer some tips on how to overcome both types of habits and cultivate self-discipline.
I have recently been immersed in the topic of childhood emotional neglect (CEN). Unlike the experiences of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, emotional neglect is harder to identify and acknowledge because it is about what didn't happen to you rather than what did happen to you. If you were abused, you were also emotionally neglected. If you were not abused, you could still have been emotionally neglected. Emotional neglect occurs when parents and caregivers were consistently not present, available, understanding, or supportive when you needed them.
I created this blog to share information about living a healthy, happy, and fulfilling life. I am constantly learning new things and making mistakes along the way. This blog is my way of chronicling my discoveries, musing, and lessons learned as a person and a professional. I invite you to come along on my journey of self reflection, discovery, and thriving with challenges. I also hope to exchange wisdom and enlightenment from you, my readers.
The information provided in this blog is not a substitute for professional mental health treatment.