Inspiring Words

Here I am sharing some thoughts from my experiences in my clinical and forensic practice, as well as through my role as a mother of three children, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a friend.

Visualize and Take Small Action

In my part of the country, we’re “opening up”, but things are far from “normal”. So much loss. Loss of loved ones. Job loss. Loss of graduation ceremonies, celebrations, family trips, and so much more.

 
COVID19 has affected people in many different ways. Probably as many different ways as there are people. One commonality for many is the loss of structure. The loss of routine. The loss of a schedule. The loss of our fundamental daily rhythm and cycle of life. This can feel quite unsettling and disorienting.
 
This, intermixed with the loss of touch, the loss of in-person contact, the loss of seeing smiles as they’re covered by masks – all of this results in a sort of collective mass trauma. This can make us feel disconnected from ourselves, disconnected from others, and even disconnected from reality at times. People are feeling lonely, confused, distractible, and empty.
 

If you are feeling this way, I want to let you know that you ARE NOT ALONE. 78% of Americans report that COVID19 is a significant source of stress, and Americans are reporting that they are more unhappy than they’ve been in 50 years.
 
It is helpful to stop looking outward at all of the unpredictability, unknown, and chaos, and instead look inward. Reflect. Grow. Or simply BE.
 
One simple suggestion regarding looking inward to cope is to use your mind and develop a positive view of the future. Remember that difficult days will pass, and visualize a positive future. Visualize your positive future in as much detail as possible. I talk about this in my upcoming book in the chapter – “Know That The Toughest Days Will Pass.” When I wrote this chapter two years ago, I never imagined how it would be applicable to COVID19. I never imagined COVID19.
 
One concrete way to develop a positive view of the future is a method called goal visualization. This involves picking a manageable, doable goal, and then writing down how you are going to accomplish that goal. Then you can spend time working on that goal every day. It need not be long. It can be as little as 10 minutes a day. Or it can be one simple, but powerful behavioral change.
 
Here is a personal example of how I used one small behavioral change to better achieve my goals. When schools closed for my 3 teens and my teacher husband, and my physical office closed, I was able to sleep in. This is a luxury I never have! I was able to go to bed without setting an alarm. At first, this was absolutely wonderful. I could not remember the last time I did not need to set an alarm because I always had to be somewhere, and often earlier on weekends than during the week.
 
So this was pure luxury, and pure bliss – for about a week.
 
Then as the pandemic continued, I found myself sleeping later and later. I still did not set an alarm, and I knew that I would always wake up before my first video session with a client.
 
Then it began to feel yucky. The lack of schedule threw me off. I was waking up leisurely, drinking coffee like I had all the time in the world, and then wondering why I was not getting anything done. I looked in my paper calendar, and almost everything I had on my calendar was canceled in those first few weeks. I’m old-fashioned and still use a paper daily planner with calendar, so I can visualize my schedule on one large page.
 
This visual image was tough to look at.
In-person Gratitude presentations – canceled
Committee meetings – canceled
Business meetings – canceled
My son’s Eastern ski championship in New Hampshire – canceled
Taking my mom out to lunch for her birthday – canceled
Book signings – canceled
Book club discussions – canceled
Returning to my home town for a speaking engagement to benefit pediatric cancer – canceled
Teaching how to make mental health/inspirational bracelets at a library – canceled
 
This lack of structure and schedule was disorienting. The coveted luxury of sleeping in soon became disorienting.
 
I thought about how I want to feel in the future looking back at this time, and it was certainly not the unproductive, lazy, confused way I was feeling. So I visualized what I wanted. I visualized a more optimistic future. I visualized being productive and accomplishing my goals, including seeing my next book in print. “Feeling Good: 36 Ways to Happiness, Even During Tough Times.”
 
When we maintain a positive view of our future, we are happier, and it becomes easier to get through a difficult time. This can involve identifying one goal, and the first step to achieving that goal. Achieving those small steps is one way that helps us feel good about ourselves. These successful attempts make us feel accomplished. Doing so has been demonstrated to decrease depression and increase happiness.
 
When we visualize a more positive, pleasant future, we become more motivated to take steps to achieve that, and more optimistic about our ability to do so.
 
For many people, we need to simplify our ideas about how we view success and not expect too much of ourselves, and others, during this time. 
 
We need to develop hope and view our daily lives through that perspective, that lens.
 
Visualize your small, achievable goal, and the simple, actionable steps to get there. Write those steps down. Then dedicate time every day toward that goal.
 
This could be cleaning the bathroom. Removing clutter from the kitchen. Washing windows. Washing your car. Organizing digital videos and photos. Organizing and preserving printed photos. Outlining your book. Washing all the sheets in the house. Pulling weeds. Writing a blog or guest blog for someone. Going through your closet and donating what you no longer wear. Trying a new recipe. Reading a chapter in a book. The possibilities are endless.
 
For me, I visualized my goal of being more productive during my new work day. Implementing this began with a simple behavior change of setting my alarm to get up an hour earlier.
 
That is all I did. I simply set my alarm clock to get up an hour earlier than when I was sleeping in. That simple behavior change has done wonders for my psyche, my circadian rhythm, and my productivity.
 
What is it for you? How do you view your more optimistic future? What small goal can you visualize? What steps can you take to get there?

In Gratitude,

Peggy

The Gratitude Psychologist

Feeling Good with Dr. Peggy” – a monthly membership for cultivating resilience, joy, gratitude, love, and meaning

Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) –

Psychoneuroimmunology – the study of the relationship between psychological processes, the immune system, and the nervous system. I became interested in this field in 1994. I wanted to learn more about what we can do with our minds to boost immune functioning. We all know that stress takes a toll on our bodies. The good news is that we can use the power of our minds to improve immune functioning.

I am not saying to give up traditional medicine. I am highlighting the power of our minds on our health, and how exercises with the mind can not only benefit mood, but also have an impact on physiology and physical health.

Methods of cognitive psychology not only boost mood, but they boost physical health and immune functioning. You can use these methods both as prevention of physical illness, and to help with current symptoms of physical illness.

My favorite books in this area are oldies but goodies!

  • Love, Medicine, and Miracles, by Bernie Siegel, MD (Oncology Surgeon)
  • Peace, Love, and Healing by Bernie Siegel, MD
  • Minding the Body, Mending the Mind, Joan Borysenko, PhD (Cell Biologist/Licensed Psychologist)
  • Fire in the Soul. Joan Borysenko, PhD
  • Full Catastrophe Living: How to Cope with Stress, Pain and Illness Using Mindfulness Meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD (Founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction)
  • Anatomy of an Illness by Norman Cousins
  • And newer – autobiography Into the Magic Shop, James Doty, MD (Neurosurgeon)

There are hundreds of techniques, and they vary greatly. Discover what works well for you.

Here are two mind-body simple exercises that you can easily incorporate into your day. Remember that these enhance emotional well-being, immune functioning, and physical health.

Deep Breathing:

Box Breathing

Visualization

Every time you hear the sound of water, imagine that the water is washing away toxins in your body. You can also imagine that unwanted feelings are being washed away, leaving you with a sense of peace. You could do this while you are washing your hands, washing dishes, or in the shower.

If you are struggling with a physical, psychological, or emotional difficulty, feel free to contact me to set up a consultation where we can devise a plan tailored to your specific needs. Or you may be interested in my monthly membership program, Come Alive with Dr. Peggy, where I teach these methods. You can check that out for just $5 for your first month, and $24/month thereafter.

These methods can help you if:

  • You’re feeling overwhelmed with COVID19, feeling anxious and depressed, and are beginning to feel the stress on your body.
  • You’re experiencing racing,intrusive thoughts about the future, and feel the tightening in your chest with shortness of breath.
  • You’re finding yourself eating more than usual, or drinking more alcohol than usual.
  • You’re finding yourself emotionally numb – you can’t take it anymore – all that’s happening in the world, so you’re shutting off your feelings, to experience less emotional pain, but now you can’t feel joy.
  • You’re having trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep.

You are not alone.

I am fascinated by the mind-body connection. I am grateful for advances in science and technology that demonstrate the effectiveness of these exercises.

In Gratitude,

Peggy

The Gratitude Psychologist

Stop Chasing Happiness.

All my life, people have asked me what I do to be “so happy”.  One of those things is give up the pursuit of happiness, and instead focus on experiencing joy. That way, even during the most difficult times of my life, I make myself feel better. It is much easier to find moments of joy, even while grieving, than to experience happiness.

Many of these things that I do for emotional well-being I stumbled upon in childhood and simply kept doing them. I gave it serious thought, and I came up with 36 different small things that I do for my own mental health/emotional well-being. Stay tuned for my book coming out soon where I present these 36 simple things and provide the supportive research.

Finding joy. Experiencing joy is an important part of emotional well-being. When joy does not come easily, or does not come at all during difficult times, we need to cultivate it. We need to find it. We need to create it.

People often have resistance to finding joy. Excuses such as, “I’m too busy,” “I have too much homework,” “There’s no time to do what I really love,” “I don’t even KNOW what brings me joy,” and “That’s selfish. I’ve got kids who need me.”

I have also found that during times of crisis, grief, or tragedy, people feel that they do not deserve to experience joy. They think it is selfish, hedonistic, or inappropriate. However, it is during these times that we need joy the most.

Doing what brings you joy or makes your soul happy actually makes you the best version of yourself. It makes your interactions with all of those around you more loving and pleasant. It makes you a better friend, mother, wife, etc. Doing what brings you enjoyment elevates mood, and that elevated mood in turn affects your behavior and interactions with others. Think of it as your positive mood being contagious, because science demonstrates that it is! So if you still are struggling with the idea that doing what you love is selfish, think of it as one way that you can give to others by “contaminating” them with your better mood, and giving them your best self.

It is also important to remember that there is only one person in charge of your life, of your happiness, and that is YOU! You have choices, and you can choose to engage in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. No one else can do that for you. It is up to YOU to make the time for it.

And if improving your emotional health is not sufficient reason for you to engage in doing what makes your soul happy, remember that it also benefits your physical health. Engaging in enjoyable activities reduces stress, and we all know that reduced stress means reduced physical illness.

Being too “busy” with school, work, and/or parenthood are the main reasons I hear why people are not doing what brings them joy. One way to address this is to make an appointment with yourself. Yes, that’s right. Make an appointment with yourself. Put it in Google Calendar, or write in on the paper calendar. And then KEEP this appointment. Block out the time and write “me time.” Make a weekly appointment with yourself to do what makes your soul happy. Block out a half day if you can.

Paradoxically, the “busy” person who takes time out for joy is more energized and productive.

It is also important for “busy” people to find enjoyment EVERY day. This need not involve a lot of time, but it is important to engage in something enjoyable every day.

There will be times in your life when finding joy and doing what makes your soul happy seems impossible, or not even desirable. When the demands of a job and/or parenthood are simply too time consuming and exhausting, or when a loved one is sick or has died. It is possible to find joy, even during pain, even during exhaustion, even during crisis.  During these times, you can make it a goal to seek joy in daily, mundane tasks. Sing while doing the dishes. Play loud music while cleaning the house. Focus on gratitude when feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

There will also be times that a life crisis is so heavy and sad that it paralyzes you. Even during these times, it is possible to find joy. When you are having difficulty finding joy on your darkest day, look for love. What love can you find around you? My late fiancé taught me this in 1994. A few days after he was told that there was nothing left that the doctors could do to treat his cancer and that he was going to die, he looked all around his hospital room at all of the cards, pictures, and gifts, and he said to me and my father with a big smile on his face, “There is so much love in this room.” If you are suffering due to difficulty in an important relationship, who is loving you and supporting you through it? And don’t forget to include yourself.

Finding joy and doing what makes your soul happy need not be extravagant. It can be a simple enjoyment. In fact, during a time of crisis, simple may be better.  It is possible to find joy in awful situations. Sometimes, it is the only thing you can do to move through it.

Take Action
1. Become aware of and attack the thoughts, or excuses, that are interfering with your ability to do what makes your soul happy. “I’m too busy,” “My kids come first,” “That’s selfish,” “I don’t deserve it.”

2. Practice positive affirmations around doing what makes your soul happy: “Doing what makes my soul happy helps me to be my best self,” “My elevated mood helps to elevate the mood of those around me,” “Doing what makes me happy improves my physical health.”

3. Make a weekly appointment with yourself and KEEP it. You are in charge of your life. It is up to you to make the time for enjoyment.

4. Find something that you can do every day for at least five minutes that you can engage in on your busiest of days.

5. Address any barriers that may interfere with following through. You may need to rearrange your schedule, arrange for child care, etc.

6. Shift your thinking to find gratitude during busy/difficult days.

7. It is important during life crises to engage in simple acts that bring comfort. Read. Laugh with a loved one. Listen to music. Write. Take a bath. Drink your favorite beverage.

8. When life feels too heavy or sad to do anything joyful, look for love. When you find it, you will experience joy. If you cannot readily find it, create it, and you will experience joy.

Finding/creating joy on a regular basis is one enJOYable way to take care of your emotional well-being and mental health. You will not only feel good in the moment while engaging in your enjoyable activity, but you are nurturing your long-term well-being.

In Gratitude,
Peggy
The Gratitude Psychologist
Come Alive with Dr. Peggy
A monthly membership for more
Joy, Gratitude, Resilience, and Meaning

For your own good – please do not be part of this 9%

Part of my job of being the best psychologist I can be is reading through lots and lots of research articles. I’m grateful for the technology and my professional psychological associations that deliver current, relevant psychology research articles directly to my email every day.

This helps me to be informed to best help you. So that I can deliver relevant, timely content.

One of yesterday’s emails was very upsetting to me. A recent study of how adults are coping with COVID-19 indicated that 9% of people reported that they are simply numbing themselves. Intentionally stopping themselves from FEELING, so they feel NOTHING.

Emotionally flat-lining.

 

Please do not do this! Please do not be part of this 9%, or make this 9% increase!

I know this is painful. I KNOW this is hard stuff. I know the anxiety, fear, panic is real.

But please keep in mind that what you do to cope today is setting yourself up for your future. And when you numb yourself to cope, you are also unwittingly depriving yourself of joy. And joy IS available to you, even on a difficult day.

All my life, people have asked me what I do “to be so happy.” They are surprised, and maybe even a little disappointed when I reply that one of my “secrets” in being so genuinely happy is that I welcome sadness. I welcome frustration, betrayal, disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t WANT them to come. But I welcome them when they come naturally.

Because I KNOW that my capacity to experience joy is in direct proportion to my ability to experience sorrow. I know that when we deprive ourselves from experiencing painful emotions, we shut ourselves off from the fullness of joy. We emotionally flat-line. I don’t want that for me, and I don’t want that for you.

It is important to FEEL the uncomfortable emotions. Doing so requires: 1) Trust that you will not get “stuck” there, and 2) some tools to help you feel better after you have allowed yourself to experience these painful feelings.

One of my favorite ways to “not get stuck there” is to utilize gratitude.

Part of the beauty of practicing gratitude is that it has 3 conceptual benefits: 1) it works as prevention (when we are grateful we simply notice less of the crummy stuff), 2) it works immediately when we are in the moment practicing gratitude, and 3) we are literally re-wiring our brains to be more positive thinkers, setting ourselves up for more happiness, joy, and fulfillment in life, REGARDLESS of what is going on in our own lives and the world.

My signature talk on gratitude is being requested from schools, businesses, universities, and community groups. I shared some of these ideas when I was asked to be a speaker in World Gratitude Summit, and most recently, I shared them in a facebook live within the facebook group “Peggy’s Tips for Gratitude, Joy, and More.”

If you missed it, or if you’d like to take another look, you can click here to watch the 20 minute video. (If you are not a member, simply go to the group and click “Join”, and I will add you.)

Also, here is a printable summary of the presentation. You can download it, print it, and cut it up into 4 postcards to share with others.

I am grateful to be in a profession dedicated to helping people feel better. This is needed now, more than ever. The most affordable way for you to receive support during this time is through my monthly membership, Come Alive with Dr. Peggy. Of course I am here if you would like individual support as well.

You may click here to check it out, and sign up for just $5. The most affordable way to receive support. You do NOT need to go through this alone. You do NOT need to emotionally flat-line. PLEASE do not be part of that 9%.

I am here to help you process emotions through techniques such as expressive writing and “prescribed worrying”, and I am here to help you cultivate resilience, gratitude, joy, and meaning in your life.  This is what I teach in the membership. Simple, doable, accessible methods that are backed by research in psychology.

That is what we need for a happy, fulfilled life. That is what we need now, more than ever.

Deep Breathing – A Simple, Powerful Exercise for Physiological and Emotional Health

Deep Breathing – A Simple, Powerful Exercise for Physiological and Emotional Health

Are you feeling emotionally and physically exhausted? You are not alone. There is a reason for it. Your sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive. Normally, our “fight or flight” response is in reaction to a real or perceived threat that is an event. That event is usually a single short-lived event, or an ongoing experience with varying periods of danger and safety.

What we are experiencing now is different. We are experiencing a heightened sense of real danger, and it is all the time. All. The. Time. No wonder scientists say that this is equivalent to running a half-marathon. When we perceive a threat, our sympathetic nervous system goes into action to protect us. However, when prolonged, it has a negative impact on our physiology and our emotional well-being. It results in:

  • Digestive problems
  • Lowered immune functioning
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased release of the stress hormone cortisol
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sleep problems

The good news is that there are several things you can do to counteract this stress caused by your sympathetic nervous system being in overdrive. One is to invoke your parasympathetic nervous system. It is really cool that we have the power to do this. We have control over our bodies! And the simplest way to do it is, ready for it?  Breathing. Deep breathing.

You may say, “Breathing?! But I already do that! I breathe all day!”

This is a different kind of breathing. Normally, we take shallow breaths that bring air to our chest.  Deep breathing involves intentional effort and focus to bring it deeper, to the belly.  One way to do it is to imagine that you are filling your stomach with air, like a balloon. Rest your hands on your stomach, and you will know when you are getting the air deep into your diaphragm because you will see your stomach rise and fall, not your chest.

Simply get comfortable in a chair, rest your belly, and breathe in, and bring that breath in deep. Then exhale. That’s it! Do this for as long as you like. Aim for 2 minutes minimum.

If you find your mind wanders, you may wish to follow a guided meditation while deep breathing. Here are some information and instructional videos. Everyone is different. Listen, and repeat the one that works for you. You can simply go to Youtube and search for “deep breathing exercises”. Here are two:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wemm-i6XHr8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQjGqtH-2YI

Or download the app Insight Timer, and in the search bar, put in “deep breathing”.

This is a really effective preventative exercise. When you do it on a regular basis, you are reducing stress and inducing the “relaxation response” – a term coined by Herb Benson, MD in the 60s and 70s. If you’re interested in learning more, I suggest reading The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson. Doing deep breathing on a regular basis helps to lower stress and anxiety, improve immune functioning, and increase relaxation.

In addition, when you do it on a regular basis, you are familiar with it and comfortable, so that when you are feeling stressed and anxious, it can be something you quickly employ to help prevent anxiety from spiraling out of control or into a panic attack.

Both are great reasons for making time daily for simple breathing exercises!

Building Resilience – Reflect on What You Have Overcome

Happiness is fleeting. It is not possible, and I would argue that it is not even desirable, to maintain a constant level of happiness. But that does not mean that life cannot be good, even through difficult times.

In order to live your best life, it is important to build resilience. Resilience is the ability to recover and grow in the face of adversity. We all face adversity at some points in our lives, and the more resilient we are, the quicker and better we are at recovering, growing, moving forward and enjoying life. The good news is, you can build resilience at any age.

In addition, resilience is like a muscle. The more you work on it, the stronger it gets.

Resilience Tip – Remember All You Have Overcome

Reminding yourself of all of the obstacles that you have overcome in your life will help you to maintain the mindset that you can overcome whatever obstacle, challenge, or stress you are now facing. Since what we are going through now is “unprecedented”, we do not have a similar experience to compare this to. However, you are the same person, and even though the situation might not be the same, YOU have the same strengths. It is helpful to remind yourself of your power within.

Remind yourself every day.

 

Here is a strengths-based activity for you to download, print, and begin journaling. Remember:

  • What we think about, we bring about.
  • When we put our thoughts on paper, they become even stronger.

resilience tip – remember all you have overcome

Resources for additional reading on Resilience:

• Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by Steven Southwick, MD and Dennis Charney, MD
• Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg.

Making the Most Out of the Upcoming Days While Children are Home From School

Stick to schedules. Children thrive with consistency and predictability, especially during times of stress and uncertainty. The more you are able to stick to their regular schedule and routine, the better.

Stick to family “rituals”, or create new ones. Here is a link to an article I wrote with some ideas about family routines and rituals.

Exercise – Any type of exercise is good for mental health. Exercise is particularly important during this time because children are not receiving their typical amount of daily movement, simply because they are not going to school and doing all of the walking and other movement that being in school provides. Dance. Run up and down the steps.  Run around the house. Skip rope. Stretch. Have a plank contest. Make an obstacle course in the living room. You can use videos on the Internet for guidance and instruction regarding an exercise/stretching routine.

Get Outside – Every day, make a point to get outside and get fresh air.

Games and Entertainment – try going back to basic! Play cards, board games related to child’s age, such as Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, Sorry, Backgammon, Life, or Monopoly, if you have them.

Alone time – Children and adults may need time alone. Everyone has different temperaments, personalities, and levels of need for alone time.

Social Needs – as human beings, we are hard-wired to be social. Children receive much social benefit by being among peers at school. Some may experience a change in mental health related to the lack of face to face contact with friends. Utilize methods of connecting with video so that children are able to “see” friends’ faces. You could use Facetime, Zoom, Skype.

Mental Health  – Some children may be experiencing difficulties coping with the disruption of daily life. Here are some apps related to mental health.

If a child is really struggling, you may wish to reach out to a mental health professional. Many are providing telehealth – services through video or phone.  If you feel that your child needs help, don’t wait. You do not need to wait until the crisis is over. Many professionals are providing phone and video sessions/consultation/education with the understanding that these are difficult times. Here is an article I wrote regarding some guidance when to seek mental health services.

Here is a recent article I wrote regarding taking care of yourself and children emotionally and mentally during this crisis.

Make the Most of Family Dinners – with children’s activities and sports being canceled, this is freeing up time for families to have more meals together. Here are some simple suggestions for making the most out of this time.

Provide Comfort and Show Love – Children may not be showing a need for it or asking for it, but uncertain times can leave children feeling uneasy, increasing their need for outward demonstrations of comfort and love – even teenagers. Here are some simple ways to provide that.

Begin Early Spring Cleaning – you can use this unexpected time at home to get a head start on spring cleaning. Children can go through their bedrooms, play rooms, and drawers and make three collections: 1) what to keep, 2) what to donate, and 3) what to throw away

Engage in Arts and Crafts

Children may become bored during extended times at home.  You can engage in some simple, novel activities. These are very simple, but if they are new, they will be novel and capture children’s interest.

Make home made play dough – here is a link to some playdough recipes that do not involve cooking, some that do involve cooking, and/or are edible!

Corn starch and water – use any large bowl or small plastic bin and mix cornstarch and water. Change the consistency by adding different amounts of water and cornstarch. Don’t be afraid to get messy! This cleans up really easily with water.

Water and dish soap – use any large bowl, plastic bin, or simply a clean sink. Child can play with just bubbles, or “wash” toys and dolls.

Any craft with repetitive motion – Crafts with repetitive motion are great for quieting the mind and inducing relaxation.

 

Some Suggestions for Coping with Stress/Anxiety/Crisis

I also posted this as a video on my business facebook page, if you are interested in seeing/hearing the video that accompanies this article, click  Dr Peggy DeLong Psychologist Author Speaker

I also posted on my brand new YouTube channel – view by clicking here

  1. Often when we are dealing with a problem or crisis in our lives, we experience intrusive thoughts in the middle of the night, or during the day. My go-to technique for coping with this is gratitude. Think about one thing you are grateful for. This does not make the problem go away, but can stop worrying and negative thinking from spiraling out of control. It is really hard to simply shut off your thoughts. It is more helpful to send that energy in a positive direction, and one of the easiest ways to do it is through gratitude. Simply think of one thing you are grateful for, and think about it as much detail as possible. Focus all of your thought and energy on that one, positive thing.
  2. Get support. Talk to a friend. Talk to your spouse or other family member. Talk to your therapist. If you are concerned about an in-person session, many therapists are offering phone and video sessions. While I cannot provide therapy for anyone I know personally, I am available if anyone would like mental health education/consultation.
  3. Decide what you can and cannot control. Anxiety is related to what we cannot control. When you find yourself having these thoughts, which are usually related to things in the future beyond your control, work on letting those thoughts go. But this first involves thinking about whether the thought or worry is related to something in or out of your control. If out of your control, any time or energy spent on it is not helpful.  Work on letting it go, and then focus on what is within your control. It can help you feel better by focusing your energy on things that are within your control and taking action. Taking action is one way to minimize anxiety.
  4. In times of difficulty, people have the opportunity for increased emotional closeness. This is an opportunity for increased human connection. I am talking about emotional connection, not physical. Three simple things to focus on when touching is discouraged: 1) Eye Contact – when you make eye contact with someone, it releases oxytocin in the other person’s brain, producing a feel-good, cared for effect in the other person. This is a simple, wonderful way that you can have a positive impact on someone. 2) Smile – when you smile, you are releasing dopamine and serotonin in your own brain, resulting in a boost in mood. In turn, 70% of people will smile back at you. This results in the other person having the same neurochemical response, and provides an opportunity to connect with another human being. 3) Words – tell people how much they mean to you. Call, text, or facetime an old friend. Say, “I love you.”
  5. Be mindful of possible of heightened grief reactions. If you have experienced difficulty, trauma, or loss during the recent past, you may regress or experienced heightened feelings related to grief and previous losses. This is normal. What we are experiencing involves loss – loss of plans, loss of travel, loss of interaction, loss of normalcy. Sometimes difficult times like this, particularly ones related to grief, loss, and trauma, can trigger feelings regarding a previous loss, even if the type of loss is unrelated. Have compassion for yourself – you are not “weak”, “overreacting”, or any other negative thought you are telling yourself. Be kind to yourself. Have compassion for yourself.
  6. Engage in simple self-care and stress reduction methods. I mean really simple. These are so simple that you may dismiss their effectiveness. I am keeping them simple for a reason – under times of stress, we often neglect self-care. Here are some suggestions based on science:
  • Look at something beautiful, either outside in nature, a photograph, or even with your imagination. The brain cannot distinguish the difference between living an event, or imagining an event. This is why visualization is so powerful. The reason looking at or visualizing something beautiful has a positive impact is something scientists have referred to as “the awe factor”. Awe stops us from ruminating about our problems and stressors, leading to increased happiness. Think about it. It makes so much sense! Think about the last time you witnessed a beautiful sunrise or sunset, lovely flower, or wildlife creature in nature. Were you thinking about your troubles of the day at the same time you enjoyed the awe? Probably not. Awe stops negative thinking in its tracks. One study found that people who experienced the awe related to looking at something beautiful in nature lost their sense of time. It is like we are suspended in space and time, allowing a temporary reprieve from our troubles or worries.
  • Listen to or look at water. Doing so lowers blood pressure and heart rate. It triggers a neurochemical reaction in our brains. Even pictures, recorded sounds, fountains, and being in the shower produce similar effects. You could download the app Insight timer, and in the search area, put “water”, “rain”, “ocean”, or other water-related word to listen to various water sounds.
  • Spend time in nature. Even a brief 15 minute walk in nature makes a difference – decreases negative thinking, higher levels of positive emotions, lower blood pressure, decreases muscle tension, and lowers stress hormones – particularly being around trees. Also, the mental health benefits of being in nature does not require exercise. Simply being/sitting near trees, water, or a beautiful sight has benefits.
  • Laugh and be goofy. Humor is a stress reliever. Sometimes people are reluctant to engage in humor during difficult times out of concern of appearing insensitive. These are times when humor is helpful. Laughter truly is good medicine, physiologically and emotionally.
  • Anything you like to do. If you already have an exercise routine, try to stick to your routine. You may need to make changes if this involved going to a gym. During times of stress, we need the mental health benefits of exercise. Stretch, walk up and down the stairs, do yoga. This need not be for a long period of time. Even 15 minutes of physical activity has mental health benefits.
  • Be mindful of possible of heightened grief reactions. If you have experienced difficulty, trauma, or loss during the recent past, you may regress or experienced heightened feelings related to grief and previous losses. This is normal. What we are experiencing involves loss – loss of plans, loss of travel, loss of interaction, loss of normalcy. Sometimes difficult times like this, particularly ones related to grief, loss, and trauma, can trigger feelings regarding a previous loss, even if the type of loss is unrelated. Have compassion for yourself – you are not “weak”, “overreacting”, or any other negative thought you are telling yourself. Be kind to yourself. Have compassion for yourself.

Addressing children’s worries:

Here are some suggestions regarding addressing your child’s needs and questions.

  1. Consider your child’s developmental level. Children have their own individual responses to information and images they may see on social media or television based on their age and developmental level. Their concerns are, “Am I safe?”  “Is my family safe?” For all of these reasons, it would be wise to limit and closely monitor what your child is exposed to via the media.
  2. Consider your child’s temperament. A sensitive child, or a child who is more prone to anxiety is more prone to experience distress. These children may be more likely to experience nightmares, have difficulty concentrating, and have concerns about the safety of loved ones and themselves. It is important to limit exposure to the media. Also monitor your child’s distress. If your child demonstrates a change in eating and sleep habits, demonstrates excessive worries, suffers from nightmares, and/or loses interest in formerly enjoyable activities, your child may benefit from additional support.
  3. Address your child’s concerns about Some experts believe that it is OK to make absolute “promises” that you may not be able to keep, such as “Nothing is going to happen to our family.” That may not always be the best approach, especially if you do not feel comfortable making such a promise. In that case, your child will pick up your cues of discomfort and receive mixed messages leading to confusion. You may feel more comfortable saying that you are doing everything to keep your child and family safe, rather than making a “promise”.
  4. Talk to children about their fears. Some parents may be reluctant to do so because they think that bringing up their children’s concerns or worries may heighten their fears. Having children keep their thoughts and fears to themselves is actually more detrimental. It may be helpful for parents to begin the conversation. Parents may begin by simply asking children what they have seen or heard on TV, social media, or at school, and what they think about it. You do not need to introduce any new information. Simply ask your children what they have heard, and what they are thinking about it. Keep open the lines of communication for ongoing dialogue. Remember that it is important to listen to whatever your child has to say. Provide opportunities for discussion, such as returning home from school, at the dinner table, or at bedtime. Do not dismiss any expressed fear or anxiety. Simply listen to your child, communicate that you understand, and provide comfort and validation.
  5. Stick to routines, or create new ones if you do not have a routine. This is helpful around mealtimes, bedtimes, activities, etc. Routines and knowing what to expect help provide children with a sense of security and familiarity, especially during times of stress. Any routine that you can maintain is helpful, particularly when other routines, such as going to school, have been disrupted.
  6. Monitor what your child views through the media. Even if you think that your child is too young to comprehend words and images from television and social media, your child can pick up on your emotional reaction and be affected. You are better off to watching the news while your child is not around to hear or see it.
  7. Provide physical comfort and extra nurturance. Hugs, saying “I love you”, or an unexpected love note can help a child to feel safe and cared for. Even teenagers, who may shrug your attempts of affection, need to be comforted.
  8. Be mindful of possible stress reactions. This includes regressing to previous behaviors, such as thumb sucking and bed wetting.
  9. Be prepared to answer questions. Prepare an answer to what your child might ask you so that you are better equipped to respond. You may want to consult with your partner and other important people in your child’s life for consistency in responding. These may include questions about illness and death, why bad things happened, will anything happen to them or someone they love, etc.
  10. Engage in an act of kindness. While we cannot take away the pain and suffering of others affected, doing something positive to help others can alleviate some of the feelings of sorrow and helplessness. Studies demonstrate that it is those who reach out to others and engage in acts of kindness during times of crisis fare better.
  11. Incorporate soothing and relaxing activities into your child’s schedule. This may include exercise such as walking together, or quiet times such as board games, listening to music, coloring, and reading books together.
  12. Remember that adults are affected emotionally as well, and we may experience a heightened concern about the safety of our family and our loved ones. Also, the changes in daily life, such as schools closed, long lines at the grocery store, and difficulty finding common household items can result in an uneasy feeling. The better you are able to take care of your own needs and feelings, the better you will be able to meet the needs of your child. Take care of yourself.

Simple Ideas to Get Through a Difficult Day

(Heck – do these EVERY day!)

1. Get outside. Spending just 5 minutes outside can elevate mood and help you get through the day. Go outside for a few minutes during your lunch break.

2. Move. If you are working at your desk, make a point to get up and move your body every hour. Through deliberate body movement, we can influence our emotional states. This is a basic idea used in dance/movement therapy. Body movements associated with happiness, such as skipping, have been used to purposefully boost one’s mood. If you’re at a home office, skip from your office to the kitchen to get your lunch. If you’re at the office, shock your coworkers and skip down the hall! And if you don’t feel like skipping, don’t worry. Any kind of movement will help your emotional state.

3. Plan for enjoyment. Have something to look forward to at the end of the day. Get together with or plan a phone call with a good friend. Read a good book. Watch your favorite movie. Engage in your favorite physical activity. Eat a good meal.

4. Visualize. When you cannot escape your physical situation, escape with your mind. Visualize a favorite spot or experience. Remember it with as much detail as possible. Did you know that your brain cannot distinguish between living an event and remembering an event? The same feel-good neurotransmitters are firing, resulting in a boost in mood.

5. Hydrate. Drink plenty of water. One study found that drinking water decreased confusion, depression, and tension.

6. Smile. The act of smiling releases dopamine in your brain, which increases feelings of happiness. It also increases the release of serotonin, which is known to reduce stress and help the body relax. In turn, this lowers heart rate and blood pressure. And get this: it doesn’t even need to be a genuine smile. So if you’re feeling emotionally down in the dumps and have no reason to smile, then force one. The brain cannot distinguish the difference between a genuine smile or a forced smile. You can actually “trick” your brain to release serotonin and dopamine—and get yourself into an improved mood!

Mental Health Goal Setting for 2020

When setting goals for 2020, don’t forget about your emotional and mental health! Make your/your family members’ mental health a priority. Set some concrete goals where your whole family can benefit. Here are six simple ideas:

  1. Less technology and social media…. Studies demonstrate a correlation between depression and the amount of time that teens (and adults!) spend on social media. Keep personal devices out of bedrooms, off the dinner table, and avoid use in the morning before school/work.  Here are some additional suggestions regarding limiting screen time.  http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd/six-suggestions-for-limiting-screen-time/
  2. Be still. Sit in a comfy chair and just breathe for five or ten minutes. Clear your head of your thoughts, particularly negative thoughts and to-do lists. Bring your focus back to your breath. This may feel funny at first and take some practice, but stick with it. The benefits are less stress and anxiety, and less emotional reactivity. And when you’ve mastered just breathing and clearing your mind of your thoughts, practice visualizing what you would like for your day, what you would like for your life. Then envision yourself already having it. If you would like some guidance and convincing regarding this powerful exercise for every day living, read “Into the Magic Shop” by James Doty.
  3. Get outside, and better yet, with others! Research demonstrated that walks in nature with others were associated with decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety, and an overall enhanced sense of well-being. Here is a relevant study – http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/10/18/ease-stress-and-improve-mental-health-with-group-nature-walks/
  4. Express appreciation every day. This can be formally, through a Gratitude Journal, or simply by telling others that you appreciate them, and what you appreciate about them. One study found that a simple way to improve a relationship was to express appreciation for that person.  Here is an article about expressing appreciation in a relationship http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd/one-simple-way-to-improve-a-relationship/. and another article about ways of practicing gratitude http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd/one-simple-thing/
  5. More family dinners. Studies demonstrate that children who have regular family dinners have improved mental health and overall well-being (they also have improved grades and make better decisions regarding risky behavior).  Here are some additional suggestions regarding making the most of family dinners.  http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd/ten-ideas-to-make-the-most-of-family-dinners/
  6. Don’t be afraid to seek professional support!  A recent study found that one in five children has or has had a debilitating mental health disorder.  But you/your child do not need to have a mental health “problem” to seek support and advice.  Just like we take our children for annual physical check-ups, mental health check-ups and check-ins are helpful as well, and sometimes can make all the difference in the world in a child’s overall sense of well-being.  http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd/some-guidance-regarding-when-to-seek-mental-health-services/