Dr. Jennifer Chain is the President and Owner of Thrive for the People.
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.
Dr. Jennifer Chain is the President and Owner of Thrive for the People.
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.
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.
Recently I listened to a podcast episode called Trust Your Body on one of my favorite podcasts, Dear Sugars. In the episode, the hosts, Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed, and guests, Hilary Kinavey, M.S., L.P.C., and Dana Sturtevant, M.S., R.D., discussed the never-ending cycles of dieting that affect so many women. One of the women who wrote to the Sugars talked about how tired she feels about "being on the roller coaster" of weight loss and self-esteem. I can relate to her struggles as I have been on the roller coaster myself for most of my adolescent and adult life. The struggle with our bodies is so pervasive, oppressive, and multi-generational, as Cheryl Strayed asked, is it possible to ever be free of it? How can we dismantle the connection between morality, worthiness, and femininity with women's body image? The hosts discuss how women's appetite and desire are controlled by a male-dominated society. They talk about Naomi Wolf's book The Beauty Myth that links women's appetite for love, sex, money, food, care, etc. to women's rights and equality in the home, in bed, in the work place, and in the world. Women are hungry for so much more.
One of the struggles that I often see with my clients, my friends, and within myself is the balance between caring for others and caring for ourselves. The dilemma of whose-needs-come-first is one that I am intimately familiar with as an Asian American woman. Both as a woman and as an Asian American, I was taught from a young age to put the needs of others before my own as the highest virtue. It sometimes feels impossible to give to myself what I so readily give to others (e.g., time, attention, compassion, love, rest). The reasons why it is so hard to balance self-care and caring for others can include: there isn't enough time or energy to do both, I would be selfish if I focused on my needs, I don't really deserve to be cared for, and I feel loved only when I am needed. What I have learned over time is that always putting other people's needs before my own is not a sustainable way to live and it is the fastest way to reach burn out, resentment, and the ending of a relationship. In this blog post, I want to present a different way of thinking about this struggle. Instead of framing it as an impossible and unending dilemma, it might be helpful to see it as a stage of growth and development that is very normal and very human.
Happy new year every one! The beginning of a new year always holds such promise, hope, and significance for me. It marks the passage of time, which I tend to forget when I am busy going from day to day. The new year offers the opportunity to pause and reflect on what just happened in the past 365 days. And what a year it has been! I love the Seven Questions to End 2017 with Clarity and Start 2018 with Intention from my favorite podcast On Being with Krista Tippet. I love these questions because they are great prompts for journaling. Journaling can provide so many benefits, as outlined here and here, including improving our memory, improving our communication skills, healing our wounds, and boosting our self-confidence. In this blog post, I will take a moment to answer these seven questions for myself:
I have been struggling with getting enough quality sleep lately. I used to be a really good sleeper. I could fall asleep just about anywhere. On my flights back to China to visit family, I used to be able to sleep a solid 10 hours out of the 14 hour flight. I used to be able to sleep from the moment my head hits the pillow to the time my alarm sounded in the morning. Then things began to change as I got older, busier, and more stressed. I know that I function best when I get 9 hours or more of sleep per night but sleep was the first thing to go in college and grad school. Now good quality sleep is as rare and elusive as sunshine in the Seattle winter. I recently listened to two podcasts on the importance of sleep, which help me reflect on my quality of sleep and think of ways I can make sleep a priority again.
Now that I work in an integrated behavioral health setting with medical providers, I know there are real limitations to Western medicine to treat some of the most common problems such as chronic pain, headaches, fibromyalgia, insomnia, fatigue, depression, and anxiety. As a patient, I have also been disappointed by Western medicine for its limitations to diagnose and treat my chronic shoulder pain or a mysterious pain in my abdomen that makes me want to faint when I stand up. The only answer my doctor gave me was, "I don't know. Take some Ibuprofen and see?" This led me to do some more research and explore other forms of treatment.
My partner and I recently started couples therapy. Phew! There, I said it. Admitting that I am going to therapy, especially couples therapy, makes my heart race and my face flush. Although I work in the mental health field, there is a stigma against the therapist having problems and seeking help. We expect ourselves to be superhumans who have it all figured out. After all, we can apply our training in helping others to help ourselves, right?
I spent this past weekend on the Oregon Coast with my parents, my partner, and our two dogs. I didn't realize how much I needed this time away until I came back on Sunday night and I noticed that my shoulders were a little less tense and my outlook a little more optimistic. Taking a walk on the beach, even on a cloudy day, was so healing. Research shows the sense of awe that I felt from taking in the beauty of the ocean can biologically boost my immune system and my mood.
We created this blog to share information about living a healthy, happy, and fulfilling life. We are constantly learning new things and making mistakes along the way. This blog is our way of chronicling our discoveries, musing, and lessons learned as people and professionals. We invite you to come along on our journey of self reflection, discovery, and thriving with challenges. We also hope to exchange wisdom and enlightenment from you, our readers.
The information provided in this blog is not a substitute for professional mental health treatment.