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.

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.

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