Coronavirus Survival Guide - Part II
How are you doing? No, really. How are you? I know I have been so wrapped up with work, adjusting to the constantly changing landscape of the coronavirus, and the roller coaster of the news and media that I have not really checked in with myself about how I am feeling or coping through this time.
There is a part of me that knows if I slowed down and allowed my emotions to catch up to me, I am going to be overwhelmed with the grief, fear, helplessness, sadness, and anger. So instead, I fill my free time with new hobbies and projects. I have pulled out my painting supplies, jumped on the baking bandwagon, and gardened like my life depends on it. Although these hobbies are wonderful distractions in the moment, I know that they are not sufficient to help me pull through this marathon. As the pandemic stretches into the indefinite future, I want to offer some additional coping strategies to support you during this time. Writing this post is also a reminder to myself to come back to the practice of healthy coping during a crisis.
In Part I of the Coronavirus Survival Guide, I discussed the coping strategies of validating your emotions, validating others' emotions, and giving yourself time to adjust. In Part II of the Coronavirus Survival Guide, I will introduce the strategies of practicing meditation and creating new routines.
I have found that practicing meditation is even more essential during this time of uncertainty and constant transitions than ever before. In my previous blog post on meditation, I talked about how research has shown that meditation can decrease your stress level in as little as 3 days and change your brain chemistry and structure in the long term. How does meditation work? How can you harness the power of meditation to calm your fears and sooth your sorrow?
In my experience as a student of meditation, I have learned that the first step in meditation is to become aware of how much my mind wanders away into the future, the past, and the stories that I tell myself and believe to be true. The second step is to become aware of how my mind tries to push away things that I find uncomfortable, grasps onto things that I believe are desirable, and gets lost in my ego and false beliefs. When I learned to focus my minds on the present moment, I became awake to what is really in front of me and I can come closer to what is real in the moment rather than what is happening in my mind. The third step is to quiet my mind enough for the inner wisdom and truth to speak. When my mind is at peace, I often find the strength to accept what is difficult and painful as well as open myself to what is joyful and beautiful right now.
For instance, there have been times in the past few months when I have felt intense fear about getting sick and dying from COVID-19. I have woken up in the middle of the night crying with fear, panic, and dread. When I practiced meditation and quieted my mind, I was able to trace this fear back to this story that I tell myself that "there is not enough." A part of me believes that there will not be enough time in my life to achieve and experience all that I want before I die. In those moments of fear, I find myself pushing away the idea that my life can end at any moment and grasping onto my expectations of a fulfilling life. I hold onto false ideas about a life worth living (e.g., achievements, travels, wealth, etc.). I realized that the acts of pushing away and grasping were causing me anguish and suffering. When I calmed my mind, I came back to the truth and wisdom that death is as natural as breathing. I was expecting a sense of control over the length of my life when that control was never in my hands. I have a life worth living already because I am surrounded by people who love me.
Ready to learn more about meditation? Below are some of my favorite books on mindfulness and meditation. Here is a recent podcast episode from Oprah's SuperSoul Conversations with Eckhart Tolle titled "How to Find a New Spiritual Awakening During the Pandemic." Check out the Youtube video from author Thomas Hubl discussing how to stay open, vulnerable, and connected during this pandemic. Finally, Dharma Seed provides free recorded talks by meditation teachers.
Create New Routines
You may have already established a new routine since the pandemic began and the stay-at-home orders were put in place. As the nation is starting to reopen, you may be adjusting yet again to a new routine that is based on your profession, family context, financial reality, geographic location, health conditions, and many other factors. As the pandemic continues around the globe, there may be new developments that could disrupt and change your routine quickly. As you are adjusting again and again to the changes, I encourage you to identify the things that are most important to you. What are the values and aspects in your life that you do not want to compromise even during times of uncertainty? To spend quality time with your loved ones? To get out into nature? To have some down time to yourself everyday to recharge? To contribute meaningfully to your neighbors and community? I encourage you to identify the one thing that is the most important to you each day and shape your day around that.
Online Counseling During COVID-19
Are you struggling with increased anxiety and stress due to COVID-19? Are you looking for extra support during this difficult time? We are a group of exceptional licensed therapists providing online therapy. We love to help individuals and couples in the Seattle area with a wide range of mental health concerns. You can schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation to begin therapy with one of our wonderful counselors.
Three Strategies to Overcome Procrastination
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.
Procrastination is Related to Emotion Management
Research on procrastination has shown that procrastination is related to a deficiency in emotion management skills rather than time management skills. Recent articles in the New York Times, Forbes, and Fast Company provide helpful overviews of the current research. In sum, we use procrastination to manage our negative emotions of boredom, doubt, insecurity, anxiety, and overwhelm. It is a way to avoid the negative emotions related to the task in the short term. The task then becomes associated with negative emotions as well as shame for having engaged in procrastination behaviors. As you can imagine, the cycle of negativity can gather speed quickly and lead to more negative outcomes such as low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. So how do we break this cycle?
Identify Your Thoughts and Emotions
The first step in pausing the cycle is to take a moment and notice how you are feeling. Ask yourself,
Practice Radical Acceptance and Self Compassion
Radical acceptance is the practice of accepting ourselves just as we are, even when we want to change. Practice saying to yourself (even if you do not believe it at first), "It is not right or wrong that I am procrastinating. It is not good or bad that I am procrastinating. I just am." Accepting the current reality will help us move forward with what we need to do change. Self-compassion is the practice of being kind, gentle, and forgiving of ourselves. Shame is the gas that keeps the procrastination cycle running strong. The antidote to shame is self-compassion. There are three key components to self-compassion, according to self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: being kind and understanding of your struggle, reminding yourself that you are not alone in your struggle, and holding your struggle lightly so that you do not identify with it. An example self-compassionate statement can be, "This task is really boring and hard for me. I would rather be doing something else. Many people in my situation would have a hard time with initiating or completing this task. This does not say anything about my goodness as a person."
Reward, Reward, Reward.
Procrastination patterns can be hard to break because avoiding the difficult task to focus on something else is inherently rewarding. So the best way to break a cycle is to reward yourself even more for a different behavior. Breaking the procrastination cycle changes the connections in your brain. Reward-based learning is a powerful psychological system that we can tap into for behavioral change. Small rewards given often for each positive behavioral change and a large reward for completing the task are extremely helpful. When I was writing my dissertation, I came up with a list of 10 rewards that are easily accessible such as a cup of tea, a small piece of chocolate, 10 minutes of Facebook, etc. I would set a timer to write for 25 minutes and then take a 5-10 minute break to give myself a reward from that list. When I finished a chapter, I would reward myself with something bigger such as dinner out with friends or a massage. At the end of my dissertation process, I rewarded myself with a trip. Pretty soon, I found myself writing past the 25-minute mark and skipping my rewards because the writing process became less dreadful and even fulfilling. What are your 10 rewards?
What Strategies Work for You?
As a psychologist, I understand that it can be extremely difficult to find ways to get your tendency to avoid tasks under control. Have you tried other strategies that helped you break your procrastination cycle? Share with me in the comment section below.
Begin Counseling in Ballard
Have you tried addressing procrastination on your own without success? Are you looking for extra support to break the cycle of procrastination for good? Our team of trained therapists can help individuals and couples in Seattle area with a wide range of mental health concerns. We currently offer online counseling from the comfort of your own home. You can schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation or contact us for more information.
How Meditation Can Relieve Depression and Anxiety
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.
The Science Behind Meditation
There are two brain regions that are key in understanding depression and anxiety. The first region is the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). This region is located right behind our forehead. This is the region of our brain that is active when we think about ourselves, our self-worth and self-esteem, how we compare to others, what happened to us in the past, and what will happen in the future. The second region is the amygdala. This region of the brain is located closer to the center of the brain. This part of the brain regulates the emotion of fear and is responsible for our fight-flight-freeze-appease responses. Both brain regions are active when we experience depression and anxiety symptoms.
When you practice meditation, you are quieting down the mPFC and amygdala and disrupting the connections between the two. That is, you are practicing letting go of your negative perceptions of yourself and calming your fears. According to an abundance of research, in the short-term, meditation helps you calm the amygdala, which creates stress hormones; in the long-run, meditation actually shrink the size of the amygdala. Researchers have found that meditation can be as effective as antidepressant medication. One study showed that in just 3 days, meditation can make a significant difference in your stress level.
Ready to give this practice a try? Check out one of my favorite meditation apps, Insight Timer, where you can search for guided meditations by topic and length of time. You can also try one of my meditations from a previous post. As with any new practice, I encourage you to start off small. Try a 5 minute guided meditation and build up your practice from there.
Counseling in Ballard
Have you tried meditation before but struggled? Are you still suffering from anxiety and depression symptoms even after trying meditation on your own? Working with a counselor may provide more guidance and accountability to help you develop healthy habits and break free from your symptoms. Here at Thrive for the People, our licensed counselors infuse mindfulness and meditation into our evidence-based treatment. You can schedule a 15 minute phone consultation to get started.