At the first sign of stress, my sister Gail would not hesitate to light up. The cigarette dangling from her mouth started as an occasional social habit in college. With the advent of her ﬁrst job as a graphic artist, however, it soon became an adult version of a baby’s paciﬁer. Like most people who smoke, Gail tried passionately to quit, but her eﬀorts met with little success. More than once I would hear her quote Mark Twain, “Quitting smoking is easy, I’ve done it hundreds of times.” Eventually, social pressures at work forced her to take her adaptive coping technique outdoors, yet the habit continued.
As Gail explained to me, “Cigarette smoking is horribly addictive. The craving for a smoke, actually it’s the nicotine, is beyond approach. I have had other addictions, which we won’t go into, but this has got to be one of the hardest.”
When Gail was pregnant with her ﬁrst child, Ashley, she kept the consumption of cigarettes to a strict minimum. “I would catch ﬂack from some people—the non-smokers who haven’t a clue. My friends who smoke were more compassionate.” With the second pregnancy she did even better; yet old habits die hard. Within a month of delivery of her son Ian, Gail went back to a pack a day.“
I am very careful not to light up around my children. I know the dangers of second-hand smoke. I don’t smoke in the house or the car. And you wouldn’t believe the nagging I get from my kids.”
One day her four-year-old son, Ian, asked his mom if he could invite a friend to stay over night. As parents do, Gail called the mother of the child to make the arrangements. The answer was a polite but deﬁnitive No!
Gail hung up the phone and called Ian over.“
Listen honey,” she said. “Curtis can not come over to spend the night. In fact, he cannot come over at all. His mom explained to me that he has only one lung and she is very careful not to expose him to any chance of cigarette smoke or anything else that would pose a threat to his health.” At ﬁrst Ian had a blank look on his face, till the message was fully understood. Then Niagara Falls started.“
The tears from Ian’s face continued for three days. He just couldn’t understand why I couldn’t quit. Looking back, I am sure I probably had a few tears too,” Gail explained. “It was one of those, Dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t, situations.”
“You know you can do a lot for your kids to show them you love them. Most of these require large blocks of time, and a lot of it seems to require money. There are sacriﬁces and compromises for sure. And to be honest, sometimes there’s resentment with these decisions. Any honest parent will tell you so. In this case, there was none of that. I had simply broken my son’s heart. Broken hearts are mended with love. I knew there was only one thing to do. I had to quit smoking.”
Smoking cessation for Gail was not an overnight sensation. It took several stressful weeks. As any of us can attest, to change habits just for ourselves is hard. Doing it for someone else doesn’t make it any easier. But when our actions are motivated by love—for those we love—then we gain footing to a new level. With a good month behind her of smoke-free lungs, Gail made another phone call to Curtis’ mom. This time she got the green light. Ian was beaming.
In simplest terms, compassion in action is an act of service. Until love is acted upon, it is merely a theory, a seed set upon inhospitable rocks. Fear is the motivating factor of stress. It undermines much of our behaviors. Compassion in action is a conscious act of love. We do acts of service not to make friends, to win brownie points or earn favors from God. When we engage in acts of service, everyone beneﬁts.
Compassion in action is nothing less than an act of unconditional love. When we give in the name of service, we give to ourselves as well.
ONE DAY, WHILE STANDING ALONG THE SIDE of the swimming pool
to start my workout, a man twice my age walked up to me and, with an accent I
couldn’t place, asked if he could share my lane. His smile was genuine and I
could have sworn I saw one of those Hollywood twinkles in his eyes. Getting in
the water is by far the worst part of swimming, so, in an eﬀort to stall the
chilling eﬀects of immersion just a moment longer, I nodded my head and waved
him in ahead of me. In he plunged, and for the next ﬁfty minutes he never
paused once to rest along the pool’s edge. I was intrigued by his good nature,
not to mention his stamina, and hoped to strike up a conversation at the end of
our workout. As I approached the wall to do a ﬂip turn, he tapped me on the
foot, waved good-bye, and jumped out of the water, heading for the locker room.
By the time I ﬁnished my workout, he was gone.
Several days passed before I saw him again. Once more he
approached me, motioned to my lane, and this time, without saying a word, dove
in and started swimming. As he entered the water, I noticed a tattoo on his
left forearm. Throughout my workout, I was puzzled by the engraved numbers,
distantly familiar, yet beyond my immediate recognition. In fact, it bothered
me all day long. Just as fast as he entered the water, he jumped out ﬁfty
minutes later, but not without tapping my foot, waving good-bye, and smiling.
My curiosity now heightened, I began an inquiry as to this
man’s identity. I learned that, like me, he was a faculty member of the American
University. His name was Arnost Lustig. But unlike me, he had a very diﬀerent
Originally from Poland, Arnost was about seventeen when he
and his family were rounded up by the German Nazis and sent oﬀ to the notorious
concentration camp, Auschwitz. Like all prisoners who entered that camp, he was
separated from his family, stripped of all his belongings, robbed of his
essence, and denied his humanity. I was told by those who knew Arnost that the
horrors of Auschwitz can never be put satisfactorily into words. The tattoo I
observed on his forearm was his oﬃcial identiﬁcation number. About a year after
he was interned there, the American Forces liberated the camp and hell came to
a gradual end. Arnost was a free man in a world riddled in chaos and grieving
lost innocence. Like many Holocaust survivors, he emigrated to the United
States to start a new life.
The next time I saw Arnost it was in the pool locker room.
He approached me and introduced himself to me. We exchanged names and then he
gave me a big hug, kissed my forehead, and, with another big smile and twinkle
in both eyes, said, “You are like a son to me!” On that day we started a
budding friendship, enjoying several workouts and conversations. I later
learned that his last name, Lustig, means humor or laughter in German, a name
he wears well. Putting his hand to his mouth, he whispered, “It’s how I got
through that horrible ordeal in Auschwitz.” Then he put his arm around me and
proceeded to tell me a joke.
Until the day I met Arnost, the Jewish Holocaust was a distant event in history to me. From the ﬁlm footage I saw in high school to the works of psychologist Victor Frankl to Steven Speilberg’s, Schindler’s List, the stories of the Holocaust were disturbingly moving. Yet on that day, Hitler’s “Final Solution” became a living memory. For those who survived, it is said that the atrocities of the Jewish concentration camps were the worst hell on earth.
The same semester I met Arnost, one of my undergraduate
students shared with me this story during a classroom discussion about anger
and forgiveness. Her grandmother, also a concentration camp survivor, had moved
to New Jersey after the war. She returned to Europe two decades later with her
daughter. Crossing a street in Poland, she saw the face of a man she could
never forget, a Nazi concentration camp supervisor. Filled with emotion, the
woman grabbed her daughter’s hand, and walked over to the man, with the intention
of slugging him. As she got within a foot of the decrepit old man, she looked
him straight in the eyes and quickly changed her mind. Instead she said “I
forgive you,” then slowly turned and calmly walked away.
Recently my intrigue with Holocaust survivors led me to a book titled, The Triumphant Spirit, by Nick Del Calzo, a collection of portraits and stories of Holocaust survivors. Although the common theme of hope, the internal sense of a positive outcome is evident amongst all survivors, there emerges another theme as well—and that is the theme of forgiveness. From the thoughts of many survivors, it is explained this way—we had to learn to forgive and move on. To hold disdain and hatred toward a person or people for such horrible atrocities only perpetuates hatred. There are many lessons to be learned, forgiveness is one of them. In the words of Paula and Klauss Stern, Auschwitz concentration camp survivors, “We didn’t survive to hate—but to hope that the world learned something from the experience, so that atrocities like these will never happen again.”
Yom Kippur is a Jewish
holiday, the Day of Atonement. It is a day to make peace with our mistakes,
injustices, and wrongdoings. Although not a national holiday, many of my
students excuse themselves from class to honor the day. I honor the day too.
For me, it is a day of forgiveness, and a day to remember.
I call Applied Improv the “Type O” of skillsets because of its universal usefulness. Each day my Google Alert (set for Improv) brings new examples of the effectiveness of Applied Improv. One day, furloughed workers are taking Improv to cope during the shutdown. Another day, it’s Improv’s role in a business leadership class. I read how teens on the autism spectrum use it to learn communication skills and why caregivers are encouraged to use it with dementia patients.
It’s certainly eye-opening to see how a simple set of games has been rebranded as the Swiss Army Knife of life-skills curricula. (Yes, I’m hooked on metaphors). How can something so ephemeral be so functional in such disparate arenas? What’s the common denominator that makes Applied Improv relevant for everyone? Can something be a jack-of-all-trades AND master of them too? (Yes, I like mixed-metaphors).
Improv groups meet regularly to rehearse. Not to collect the best endings to the games for future use, but to practice playing the games without ever needing to know the ending. By becoming comfortable with not knowing, the improviser changes the way they show up in the game. They learn how to act on things they can control and let go of things they can’t. This practice, carried out of the improv class or rehearsal, changes the way they show up in the world. In a very real way, improv practice trains us to treat life as if it were an improv rehearsal.
The PAT Equation ‒ Taking Improv Skills into the Real World.
Three transferable qualities improvisers develop are presence, acceptance, and trust (PAT). Success in Improv requires the ability to stay in the “now,” (P), deal with what you get rather than what you want (A), and rely on a process you don’t have control over (T). Substitute the word “life” for “Improv” in the previous sentence and you have the answer to “How can Applied Improv be useful for so many different purposes?”
Game to Play
This is NOT a…..(Spatula)
Objective: To develop flexible thinking by listing as many uses, real or imagined, as possible for an ordinary object. Process: Pick an object at random and find possible uses for it other than its primary function. Players: 1-5 Time Needed: 5 minutes or more depending on number of participants and their creativity.
Directions: After choosing an object, hold it and say, “This is not a (whatever it really is). This is a …..(give it a different function).” To practice, pretend that you have a spatula in your hand. “This is not a spatula, it’s a stake to hold up small plants in my garden.” Pass the item to the next player or add another yourself. “This is a cat-scarer to keep him off my couch.”
Focus Point: Notice, then let go of judgement, evaluation, or looking for best answer.
Hint: 1. Change your perspective on the item when stuck. Turn it around or get up and move away and look at it from afar. See it from the point of view of a child, space traveler, etc.
Hint 2. Use sensory prompts to see new possibilities. What does it look, sound, taste, smell, or feel like?
Variations: Add movement to your description. Make believe you are using it for the purpose you describe. Ex: If the spatula is now a microphone, hold it and sing into it when defining it.
In past generations, it was customary for people to have large
families. Members of an extended family often lived within a few miles of each
other. Few women had jobs outside the home, so the elderly and infirm were
cared for within the family. Both the primary caregiver and care-receiver had
the support of nearby relatives, friends, and community.
Circumstances are different today. Families are typically
smaller and are often scattered across the country and around the globe. A much
larger percentage of women work outside the home. People live longer, often
with chronic illnesses. These factors make caregiving much more complicated
than it was in the past.
The early stage of caregiving is often handled by family members
or by friends who live near the person needing help. They begin by doing what
they can, and often, as time passes, assume the caregiver role without
realizing it – caregiving isn’t a job that many people choose to sign up for.
The tasks caregivers perform can vary widely, from transporting
a child with disabilities to school each day, to doing someone else’s laundry,
to helping with medications, to dealing with insurance companies. Caregiving
can be temporary, aswhen
from an accident, or long-term, as when caring for a person in need of
significant ongoing support.
In an attempt to define family caregiving, the National Family
Caregivers Association (NFCA) developed a list called “Caregiving Is.” The following is inspired by their list.
Caregiving is as diverse as the individuals needing it.
Caregiving means being a person’s healthcare advocate.
Caregiving is stressful work.
Caregiving challenges people to go beyond their comfort zone.
Caregiving forces individuals to deal with change.
Caregiving is an endless search for balance.
Caregiving is a strain on relationships.
Caregiving can be a lonely world.
Caregiving requires a great deal of emotional, physical, mental
and spiritual energy. Given all that it entails, it is not a surprise that
caregivers suffer from stress. The cost of that stress – whether short-term or
chronic – on the caregiver’s health can be considerable.
Stress (or the stress response) is what you feel when your body
prepares to meet a challenge. It goes into a fight-or-flight mode, releasing a
flood of adrenaline and cortisol. The breath quickens, the heart beats faster,
and the senses sharpen. The body readies for action both when the danger is
immediate and real and when it is a matter of perception.
When short term, the stress response is beneficial. It helps us
react quickly to avoid accidents. It keeps us sharp. It provides the endurance
to keep going beyond our normal strength. When the threat – perceived or real –
passes, the stress level lessens and the body returns to normal. Long-term
stress is another story.
When a real or perceived threat to well-being or the need for
action is ongoing, the stress response remains activated, releasing hormones
over an extended period of time. The body acclimates to being in a defense
mode. It turns on the stress response more quickly and leaves it on
Many people in today’s fast-paced, complicated world live with
chronic stress. They may come to depend on the accompanying adrenalin lift and
feel down in its absence. But chronic stress has health consequences. Studies
indicate that the majority of doctor’s visits are for stress-related
The list is long. Stress exacerbates health conditions such as
asthma and arthritis. It weakens the immune system, making us vulnerable to
illness. It can cause headaches, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue,
digestive tract problems, higher incidences of diabetes, and sleep disorders.
It can negatively impact memory and judgment, cause depression and anxiety, and
lead to substance abuse.
If you’re a caregiver, your situation can be a perfect storm of
Making Life Easier
Survival Strategies for
It may sound simplistic, but it’s true: Taking time to plan your
day and organize your environment can go a long way toward reducing stress and helping
you feel you have some control over your situation. With your lists in hand,
you will not have to wonder what it is that you need to do, whom you plan to
call, where you want to go, or what you intend to buy.
If you do not accomplish everything you hoped to in a given day,
move undone items to the next day, putting those of highest priority first. If
you repeatedly move the same thing forward, ask yourself: Why do I resist doing
it? Is it essential or necessary? Can someone else do it for me?
minimizing daily stress and irritations:
1. Organize your environment (cupboards, closets, a place for your keys, etc.)
2. Go through mail daily (sort,
toss or keep.)
3. Make lists in a portable notebook/calendar you can keep with
you (to do, phone
4. Schedule a realistic day (important things first, doesn’t have to be
5. Create a “What If?” plan. (What if my care-receiver wanders off when we’re
6. Prepare the night before (prepare meds, set the table, review to-do lists.)
7. Rise before your care-receiver wakes (read, shower, meditate, or enjoy a
cup of tea or coffee.)
8. Do one thing at a time (multi-tasking isn’t always effective when you’re
9. Know your limits and learn to say No! (Protect your time, energy,
10. Be prepared (food
and postage in the house, full gas tank, extra house and car keys.)
11. Keep up with maintenance (fix, replace, maintain – yourself or ask someone.)
12. Take care of your health. (Have a physical exam, eat healthy, sleep well, exercise.)
13. Maintain good relationships (apologize if needed, forgive others, and yourself.)
What will I do to make life less stressful?
After reviewing the list above, write down the stress-relievers
you think will work for you. Use the space below or your journal. If you can,
chat with other caregivers to see what they are doing to cut down on their
stress levels. It could be anything from yelling encouragement at your kid’s
hockey game, to reading a good book, to meditating for an hour. Choose what
will work for you. Then choose two to implement in the next month. Each month
thereafter, add a couple of new stress-reducers to your repertoire.
Remember, it doesn’t have to work for anyone else, just for
Only 9 more
days until December 25th and the stress level is rising. Cortisol is racing
through your body, anger is way too likely to erupt into a scene, and burned
cookies turn into a disaster equal to global warming. What can be done over the
next few days so that the big day is one of joy and celebration and not one of
apologizing to your loved ones because you lost your temper when the dog ate a
roll of wrapping paper.
How is that
supposed to work, anyway? You can’t change the situation, the Holidays are
coming in only nine days and you have to be ready. Try reframing the issue by
saying, “The holidays will be here in nine days. I will complete the most
important tasks before me and celebrate that I managed that. I will not fret
about what cannot be accomplished.”
2. Be more organized
organized is a no-brainer. Make a prioritized list of what needs to be done.
Put a couple of easy ones at the top so you get the satisfaction of crossing
them off quickly. As you write it, remind yourself for example, that twenty
different kinds of cookies are not necessary for a happy holiday.
someone to alter his or her behavior
making you crazy? Constantly asking if you got this or that done and bemoaning
the fact that you didn’t. Ask them to alter their behavior. Nicely. Don’t
scream at them to back off right after they ask you the same question for the
tenth time. When your temper is under control tell them that their constant
questioning (read nagging) about what is and isn’t done only makes you crabby
and slows you down.
Get out of
the house for a run or go for a swim. If the weather is too bad go to the Y,
the mall, or the gym and be in the moment while you are there. Think of how
good it feels as the endorphins speed through your body. Notice how much better
you feel when you get home after a few hours away.
Engage in deep breathing, meditation, etc.
If you have tried meditation or guided imagery you already know how helpful it can be. If you are a newbie, find someone who will read you a relaxation script or purchase a relaxation CD. They are quite inexpensive and can be an amazing help. Remember, though, if you are trying this technique for the first time it might take a few attempts before it works easily. Here is a link to a good beginner’s relaxation script.
6. Be assertive
How can being
assertive help your stress levels? The thought of conflict makes many folks
cringe. However, learning to say no is an important part of maintaining your
mental health. Don’t say yes to something you don’t have time to do.
7. Alter irrational beliefs
This is one
of the best stress relievers. During the holidays many people try to replicate
what they had as a child. Handmade gifts, tons of cookies and candies prepared
to perfection, a huge dinner with all the relatives before the midnight
service, a spotless house before the kids wake up in the morning, a gingerbread
house that replicates the National Cathedral, or wrapping each stocking gift
separately and writing a poem to go on each one. Most of us work full
time. Most of our mothers did not. It is
irrational to expect to get the same amount of preparation done in the time we
have. Rewrite your expectations of what the holidays should be keeping in mind
your limited free time. Get rid of the traditions that are marginal to the
enjoyment of your family and go with a plan that is actually possible.
8. Withdraw from the situation
from the situation doesn’t have to be as drastic as it sounds. Perhaps you sing
in your church choir. Maybe you always shovel the snow for your neighbor. It
could be that you are the one who prepares the coffee and cookies for after the
service. Someone else can do those things. Trust in the fact that as valuable
as you are to the organizations you serve there are others who would relish the
chance to try their expertise on what you do.
You can, of
course, simply accept the thing that is stressing you out. Saying to yourself
I’m going to be a bit more stressed than usual because I have to finish 20
angel costumes by morning and then hitting the machine and doing it doesn’t
really relieve the stress of the moment, but if you insist on doing the task
you know is going to make you a bit crazy you can accept the stress that comes
along with it. Understanding this will help you get through whatever it is with
grace. Finishing the task will give you an immediate lift in spirits.
10. Maintain good
health by nurturing yourself
during this often frantic time of the year to take good care of yourself. You
can’t avoid holiday stress if you are overtired, hungry, or have overindulged
in your favorite treats. Don’t eat the whole fruitcake, don’t feel you have to
finish that last Tom and Jerry, remember
to take your meds on time, and don’t cheat yourself of needed sleep. Limit your
day and go to bed at least within an hour or so of the usual time. You will
find that you get lots more done if you are fully awake and rested.
Suicide rates are on the increase in every state except
Nevada. They are rising at an alarming rate: by more than 30% in half of the
states and as much as 58% in some. Suicide is the 10th leading cause
of death in the United States. Every 28 seconds someone attempts suicide. Retrieved
What can a clinician or trusted mentor do to help end this
epidemic? Where does one look to find the right avenues to follow? Will
discussing suicide with someone we are concerned about simply place suicide
ideation in their minds where it wasn’t before instead of diverting the person’s
mind to a safer place?
Not so. In their two new books, Suicide and Self-Injury Prevention Workbook: A Clinician’s Guide to Assist Adult Clients and the Teen Suicide and Self-Harm Prevention Workbook authors Ester Leutenberg and John Liptak, EdD, collaborate to create a resource “…to help clients recognize that many other people have many of the same issues, to which no shame is connected, and that self-injury and/or suicide is definitely not the answer to their problems.” Trained clinicians are given a plethora of assessments to help discover what their clients are thinking and feeling. Worksheets and handouts then provide methodology to guide clients through a process to reevaluate their situation and find reasons to continue the battle and lead them to find their own safe place.
While self-injury or self-harm are not the same as an
attempt of suicide, many of those who self-harm eventually adopt suicidal
ideation. A review of some of the myths about self-harm from the teen version
of the workbook reminds us that it isn’t just kids who self-harm.
Myths about SELF-HARM It is important to look at self-harm from an objective mindset. Below are some of the myths and misconceptions that surround the topic of self-harm.
MYTH: Only adults self-harm. People of all ages self-harm. Self-harm is not particularly meant as a suicide attempt. It is an unhealthy attempt to cope with emotional pain such as anger, frustration, loss, sadness, etc., and physical pain.
MYTH: Teens who self-harm are usually open about self-harm behavior. Self-harm in teens is usually kept private.
MYTH: Teens who self-harm do this as an occasional expression of behavior and only do it once or twice. Some teens may self-harm once or twice and then stop. However, many teens do it frequently and it becomes a long-term, continual behavior, and possibly a habit.
MYTH: Teens who self-harm use only the cutting behavior. Teens who self-harm cut or scratch with a sharp object, hit or punch themselves, carve on or pierce the skin, pull out hair, burn, pick at a wound, etc., or continually put themselves in harm’s way, i.e., engage in fights, drive recklessly, abuse substances, etc.
MYTH: Only teens with a mental illness consider self-harm. Not all teens who self-harm have a mental illness, but they may have emotional, physical, and/or social issues that create unbearable emotions that lead to extreme physical responses.
MYTH: Teens who self-harm are willing to talk about it with others. Usually, teens who self-harm do not share with other teens. It is vital for the person having self-harm thoughts or behaviors to talk with someone they trust: a therapist, friend, family member, spiritual or religious leader, etc.
MYTH: Self-harm calms the person for a long time. In fact, the person usually feels guilt, shame, and other painful emotions afterwards.
MYTH: No real damage happens with self-harm. There is a strong possibility that serious or life-threatening consequences can occur from self-injuring behaviors.
MYTH: Teens self-harm for attention. Teens who self-harm should not be considered attention-seeking. Teens self-harm for many reasons: to help themselves feel something when they are emotionally numb; to distract themselves from their emotional pain; to punish themselves; or to disfigure themselves.
Although these are only
a few of the myths and misconceptions about self-harm, they will provide you
with some insight into the thinking that is prevalent about people who
self-harm. Encourage individuals to call a trusted person, see a mental health
facilitator or medical professional, find a positive support system, and use
local or national resources and hotlines.
Erasing the stigma of mental illness. But what is stigma? A stigma is defined by Merriam Webster as “A mark of shame or discredit, a stain, such as she bore the stigma of cowardice.” Defined like this it makes us cringe. Surely an educated person in the U.S. would not think this way. Not true. In a survey published in June 2009, Vol 40, No. 6, Sadie F. Dingfelder found that:
Despite decades of public information campaigns costing tens of millions of dollars, Americans may be as suspicious of people with mental illness as ever. New research by Bernice Pescosolido, PhD, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior (Vol. 41, No. 2), finds that 68 percent of Americans do not want someone with a mental illness marrying into their family and 58 percent do not want people with mental illness in their workplaces.
Sadie F. Dingfelder, Monitor Staff
Imagine what it feels like to have that stigma
applied to you when you are already struggling with mental illness. When the
people surrounding you believe that you are socially unacceptable, when they
see your illness as an unwanted attribute, it only deepens the sense of
unworthiness you are already trying to overcome.
stigmatize and /or stereotype others bring about unfair treatment rather than
help. This unfair treatment can be very obvious. For example, people make
negative comments or laugh. On the other hand, this unfair treatment can be
very subtle. For example, people might assume that a moody person is dangerous
or violent. Rather than improving, some attitudes have gotten worse over time:
For instance, people are twice as likely today than they were in 1950 to
believe that mentally ill people tend to be violent. Sadie Dingfelder reports:
Of course, the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent—though they are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of violence than members of the general population, according to a study published in 2001 in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry (Vol. 24, No. 6). And a new study, published in February in the Archives of General Psychiatry (Vol. 66, No. 2) finds that mental illness alone does not increase the chances that a person will become violent.
How can we reduce or (better yet) succeed in erasing the stigma of mental illness? Why should we bother? Compassionate reasons aside, one in four Americans will be affected by a mental health disorder in any given year, and many more will have a family member affected. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), serious mental illness costs the US $193 billion in lost earnings per year. There are ample statistics to underscore the need to remove this extra burden from those already struggling with a difficult diagnosis. Sixty percent of those with a mental illness fail to seek care, many because they fear the stigma.
Erasing the Stigma of Mental Illness Worldwide
The stigma of mental illness is a world-wide
issue. What can be done? What has been tried? In Israel Ezer Mizion offers a
variety of psychological support services and rehabilitative programs for
people suffering from psychological disorders, emotional issues and mental
illnesses. These services include:
A Big Brother/Sister Program that pairs individuals suffering
from mental illnesses with trained mentors who provide companionship, offer
assistance with basic daily function, and teach the skills necessary for independent
Rehabilitative employment centers that provide mentally
handicapped people with basic vocational training and employment, and ease
their integration into free market employment.
A psychological referral team that recommends appropriate
psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors to people grappling with emotional
disturbances, mental health issues or difficult relationships.
A network of psychiatrists and psychologists throughout
Israel who provide their services at a discount to patients referred by Ezer
A 24-hour crisis hotline for non-medical emergencies,
including mental health crises such as suicide attempts or severe
In Canada the focus has been on the prevalence of mental illness,
as well as the symptoms of the disease. JianLi Wang, Phd, found 75 percent of
Canadians could diagnose a depressed person described in a story. A follow-up
survey revealed the not-so-good other side of the issue. Forty-five percent of
the folks surveyed said they were sure depressed people are unpredictable, and
20 percent believed the depressed folks were dangerous. Wang posited, “You can
hold the belief that mental illness is a real disease and still be afraid of
people with it.”
The message that mental illness is a disease like any other didn’t
seem to work, either, according to Bernice Pescosolido, PhD, professor of
Social Science at Indiana University.
A recent campaign in Scotland called “See Me” tried a different strategy around erasing the stigma. It educated reporters and editors about the harmfulness and inaccuracy of the stereotype that people with schizophrenia are prone to violence. While it succeeded in reducing the number of stories linking violence and mental illness, other unexpected results occurred. Coverage of people with mental illness became more negative. They were often shown as being objects of pity (International Journal of Health Promotion (Vol. 10, No. 1). Neil Quinn, PhD, from Glasgow School of Social Work noted that journalists became afraid to report on mental illness.
A lesson of the Scotland campaign, says study co-author Lee Knifton, Head of Scotland, Assistant Director UK, is that anti-stigma campaigns can’t just focus on eradicating negative depictions of people with mental illness. They need to tell positive stories as well, he says. Read more about the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival at https://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/06/stigma.
The take-away: “If you focus on the competence of people with
mental illness, that tends to lead to greater tolerance,” says Pescosolido.
Canada is now telling the stories of people with mental illness.
Here in the U.S. more and more celebrities and people in the public eye are
coming forward to discuss their mental illness and show how they have been able
to succeed even though they had a mental illness. The National Alliance on
Mental Health (NAMH) has issued the following:
life with a mental health condition can be tough, and the isolation, blame, and
secrecy often encouraged by stigma can create huge challenges to reaching out,
getting needed support, and living well. Learning how to avoid and address
stigma are important for all of us, especially when you realize stigma’s
People experiencing mental health conditions often face rejection, bullying and discrimination. This can make their journey to recovery longer and more difficult.
Mental health conditions are the leading cause of disability across the United States.
Even though most people can be successfully treated, less than half of the adults in the U.S. who need services and treatment get the help they need.
The average delay between the onset of symptoms and intervention is 8-10 years.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death of youth ages 15-24 and the tenth leading cause of death for all Americans.
Almost every day we hear about a new case of celebrity sexual abuse. Is this because of things like the #MeToo movement… people feel more comfortable talking about these issues, or is there an overall increase in individual cases? The experts are divided. In a story by Kristy Totten of Nevada Public Radio it was reported that:
Daniele Dreitzer, the executive director of the Rape Crisis
Center, told KNPR’s State of Nevada said, “We’re not seeing evidence that this
is a result of more assaults happening. We really do believe that it is more
people feeling comfortable speaking out.”
Dreitzer said more people are coming forward with their own
experience or are calling to ask how to help family and friends. She attributes
the rise in calls to people breaking their silence through the Me Too movement
and the change in the national conversation about sexual violence.
“More people are recognizing I think that in some cases may be
an experience they had that they didn’t necessarily identify as being sexual
violence maybe was,” she said.
Here are some common myths about sexual abuse:
abuse only occurs to women. In
fact, both men and women can be perpetrators and victims of sexual abuse.
abuse always occurs between strangers. In
fact, most victims of sexual abuse actually know or are related to their
abuse is always violent. In
fact, many acts of sexual abuse are not violent, but all people have the right
to decide what they want to do and what they do not want to do sexually.
abuse occurs most often in same-sex relationships. In fact, sexual abuse occurs in both
same-sex and opposite-sex relationships.
Abuse always involves physical contact. In
fact, sexual abuse may not involve any physical contact at all and can include
such behaviors as repeatedly using sexual insults to other people, spying on
someone, spreading explicit sexts, ogling or leering, suggestive comments, etc.
Just as myths abound about
sexual abuse, many people who have been sexually abused develop several
critical misconceptions about themselves and their value as human beings.
goods now.” Many
survivors feel that the abuse has made them sexually inadequate or inferior to
other people. They often feel as if they can never get their adequacy back.
sexual object.” Many
survivors have lost their sexual identity due to the abuse and believe
that they must either please others,
or see themselves as easily controlled by others.
happen to bad people. I must be bad.” Many
survivors believe this about themselves and think they deserved this abuse.
This is not true. Bad things sometimes happen to good people.
“I am dirty.” Many survivors cannot push the feeling of being dirty out
of their mind and/or body.
“I’m a bad person.” “I deserved it.” “No one will
ever want or love me.” “I should have known.”
Many survivors experience feelings of guilt and shame.
Consequently, they feel like they are worthless and unlovable. Although all of
these conclusions are not true, they can cause tremendous mental, emotional,
and physical damage. They represent a negative self-concept and can be
extremely demeaning to the survivor. If these notions continue, survivors need
to see a mental health and/or medical professional.
Common Reactions of Adults Who have Been
As sexual abuse becomes a bigger problem for people on
all levels of society, it is important to make note of the specific symptoms
people may be experiencing or exhibiting. Because many of the symptoms tend to
stay with survivors throughout their lives, it is important to acknowledge
these symptoms as survivors work to recover and heal. People who have been
abused may exhibit many of the following symptoms:
Hatred of body
Inability to control feelings
Isolation from People
Detachment while having sex
Lack of interrest in sex
Unable to enjoy sex
Disturbing sexual thoughts
Unrealistic expectations of self
Negative view of sex
Unusual response when being touched
Problems with rage and anger
Fear of a physical exam
Feeling worthless or “dirty”
In order to heal and thrive after being sexually abused, people need support, trust, and understanding as they begin their healing journey.
Special Safety Considerations When Working with Survivors of Sexual Abuse
Your professional skills and familiarity with your participants is crucial. Emphasize that participants are survivors. Skills that helped in the past may help now, in addition to new strategies. They are already working toward recovery by attending this session. Reassure participants about their
safety, their control, and their empowerment.
Emphasize the following:
They decide what to disclose, when,
and how, (through writing, drawing, etc.).
Their privacy is respected: sharing is
voluntary, and what is said in session stays in session.
No one must stay in the room or be
forced to participate.
They may stop, take a break, or
request a different activity, etc., if they feel overwhelmed.
Discuss and legitimize concerns. Telling too much too soon can be overwhelming. A slower pace may be safer. People may have told them “It’s no big deal.” It is a big deal. Explain that emotional reactions are unique to each person, and reactions may range from numbness to panic. Discuss that cultural factors affect responses to abuse and to attitudes toward seeking help. Alternate between coping skills activities and trauma-related work. Plan to end each session with deep breathing, guided imagery, or another relaxation technique. Allow people to select their seats (some may want to be near an exit, etc.). Opt for the maximum distance between seats for privacy and personal space preferences. Prepare participants for exposure to others’ emotions, disclosures and sexual content. Tell people to share if they feel uncomfortable or need a time-out from an intense situation. Ask whether the majority of participants prefer brighter or dimmer lighting.
Encourage group participants to request private sessions as needed. Emphasize the importance of telling the facilitator if anyone has thoughts of violence or self-harm. Create a climate of collaboration. Demonstrate that facilitators are partners in the recovery process, not authority figures.
Encourage peers to support each
other by engaging in these ways:
Sharing thoughts and feelings within
their comfort zone.
Modeling coping skills.
Asking for help.
Demonstrating self-care and
Setting boundaries, e.g., what one
will and won’t disclose to the group.
Reinforce resiliency by assisting participants to
achieve these goals:
Develop a support system of people,
places, and resources that promote recovery.
Focus on strengths.
Recall positive experiences.
Gain perspective through spirituality,
religion, higher power, peace in nature, etc.
is about developing the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where
you are and what you are doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by daily
hassles. Mindfulness is a tremendous technique, one that is powerful for
snapping you back to where you are in the present and what you are doing and
feeling. While all people possess the ability to develop mindfulness, it is rarely
activated and utilized when daily hassles build up and begin to cause stress
Mindfulness has been described as a state of mind in which people can observe mental activity without attaching to it or evaluating it. Mindfulness is about becoming aware of your natural tendency to sleepwalk through life. When on autopilot, you navigate through the day totally unaware of what you are doing. This happens when a driver arrives at work and does not even remember traveling there, or the person who is so busy thinking about the future that the beauty of the present is overlooked.
mindfulness, people can recognize when they are operating on autopilot and step
into the present moment free from worry, anxiety, and stress. It is paying
attention on purpose, being present in your surroundings and with people, and
enjoying and appreciating life more. Mindfulness is about paying attention to
what is going on with the body, mind, and environment which leads to an
understanding of how you are getting stuck in autopilot. By developing
mindfulness, people can build a fresh perspective and start to become more
aware of personal habits that cause stress, fear, dissatisfaction, frustration,
and anger. With this awareness comes the ability to stop reacting to daily
hassles and start to begin to make more effective life choices.
mindfulness is not automatic and does not occur spontaneously, it can be
learned and practiced so that it can be accessed intentionally when needed.
Some of the characteristics of mindfulness include non-judgmental awareness,
paying attention on purpose, remaining non-judgmental, staying in the present,
being non-reactive, and remaining openhearted and compassionate.
acceptance—By not making evaluations,
participants can accept the internal thoughts in their mind and see these
messages as simple mental processes rather than pure truths.
awareness—Participants will be able to
experience expanded awareness and a clearer vision of the world and its
intense reactions—Participants will be less inclined to
react when experiencing the stress of daily hassles. Instead, they will develop
an observer stance through which they are free from evaluation, attachment, and
approach—Participants will learn to relax to be
better able to cope with worry, anxiety, and stress related to daily hassles in
demeanor—Participants develop a state of mind
in which they are mentally and physically at peace. They will be prepared to
deal more effectively with the daily worry, anxiety, and stress caused by
everyday hassles. They will experience greater overall well-being.
functioning—Participants will experience greater
concentration, focus, and self-awareness that will promote greater personal and
professional growth and development.
What are Your Daily Hassles?
big-life events such as losing a job, death of a loved one, and moving to
another location can be extremely stressful and can cloud every moment of the
day. On the other hand, it is the daily annoying or troublesome concerns that
cause enough worry, anxiety, and/or stress to wear people down over time.
Select your daily hassles from the list below. Journal about why they are
hassles for you.
Big life events Crime Disagreements Family Finances Future concerns Gossip Health Getting ahead Home maintenance Interruptions Job Loneliness Losing things Neighbors Noise Past events
Politics Pollution Responsibilities Sleep issues Social obligations Thoughtlessness Time To-do list Traffic Unkindness Vehicle Volunteer job Waiting Weight World affairs Other
Living on autopilot means to do
something without focusing on it or thinking about what is actually happening.
Many people live their lives doing the same things over and over regardless of
the results they receive. When this occurs, people lack awareness of what is
occurring in their lives, and they operate from habit.
Respond to the questions below by journaling about your day yesterday to
see how mindful you are.
What time did you wake up in the morning? What did you eat for breakfast? What did you eat for lunch? What did you eat for dinner? What snacks did you have throughout the day? Who did you see throughout the day and what did you talk about? What was your most pleasant moment of the day and how did you feel? What was your most stressful moment and how did you feel? Who was kind to you? Explain. To whom were you kind? Explain. How did your day end? What time did you go to sleep?
The more you remember about your day, the more mindful you tend to be. On
a separate sheet of paper, or in your journal pick one or two items and expand
your reflections in detail.
Celebrated each March, National Professional Social Work Month is an opportunity for social workers across the country to turn the spotlight on their profession and highlight the important contributions they make to society…. We celebrate the contributions of social workers during National Social Work Month in March.
Who are Social Workers, and what do
Social workers are
responsible for helping individuals, families, and groups of people to cope
with problems they’re facing to improve their lives. Child and family social workers protect vulnerable
children and support families in need of assistance. Social workers help people solve
and cope with problems in their everyday lives. Clinical social workers also diagnose and
treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.
Advocacy is an
important aspect of social work. Social workers advocate or raise awareness
with and on behalf of their clients and the social work profession on local,
state, and national levels.
Social workers typically do the following:
Identify people and communities in need of help
Assess clients’ needs, situations, strengths, and support networks to determine their goals
Help clients adjust to changes and challenges in their lives, such as illness, divorce, or unemployment
Research, refer, and advocate for community resources, such as food stamps, childcare, and healthcare to assist and improve a client’s well-being
Respond to crisis situations such as child abuse and mental health emergencies
Follow up with clients to ensure that their situations have improved
Maintain case files and records
Develop and evaluate programs and services to ensure that basic client needs are met
Provide psychotherapy services
Social workers who are
licensed to diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders are
called clinical social workers (CSW) or licensed
clinical social workers(LCSW). They provide
individual, group, family, and couples therapy; they work with clients to
develop strategies to change behavior or cope with difficult situations; and
they refer clients to other resources or services, such as support groups or
other mental health professionals. Clinical social workers can develop
treatment plans with the client, doctors, and other healthcare professionals
and may adjust the treatment plan if necessary based on their client’s
progress. They may work in a variety of specialties. Clinical social workers
who have not completed two years of supervised work are often called master’s
to be a social worker vary by state, but most states require social workers to
be licensed, registered, or certified in their field. For example, it generally
requires taking an exam and completing at least two years of supervised
you working with a social worker? Do you know someone who is in the field? Make
a point of giving them a shout out and a big thank you for all they do to
Myth or Fact
Continuing our focus on social workers, here are some myths and truths about mental health issues.
Myth: Mental health issues are rare. Fact: Mental health issues are not rare and affect nearly everyone either directly or indirectly.
Myth: People with mental health issues are unable to lead productive lives. Fact: Most people with a mental health issue respond to treatment, learn to cope with and manage their problems, and go on to lead productive and fulfilling lives.
Myth: People who have mental health conditions will not get better. Fact: Once diagnosed, mental health issues are treatable. While they are not always cured, they can be managed effectively. Most people with mental health conditions live productive and positive lives while receiving treatments for their mental health issues. As is the case with any illness, individuals with severe or persistent mental health conditions who respond poorly to available treatments may require more support and may not function as highly as others.
Myth: People with serious mental health issues are violent and unpredictable. Fact: While some people who suffer from serious mental health issues do commit antisocial acts, mental health issues do not equal criminality or violence – despite the media’s tendency to emphasize a suspected link. People with mental health issues are no more likely to commit violence than anyone in the general public, but they are more likely to be victimized and are more likely to inflict violent behaviors on themselves.
Myth: Mental health issues happen because of bad parenting or personal weakness. Fact: The main risk factors for mental health issues are not bad parenting or personal weakness but rather genetics, severe and prolonged stress (such as physical or sexual abuse), or other environmental influences (such as birth trauma or head injury).
Myth: Treatments for mental health issues are not usually effective. Fact: The effectiveness of any treatment depends on a number of factors including the type of mental health issue and the particular needs of the individual. A combination of psychiatric medication and psychotherapy, or social interventions is the most effective way to treat mental health issues.
Myth: Mental health conditions are caused by everyday stressors. Fact: It may seem that stress is responsible for mental health conditions; however, there is no one clear cause of mental health issues. Rather, it is a result of complex interactions between psychological, biological, genetic, and social factors. Stress, stigma, and lack of support can make it worse on the individual.
Myth: Mental health issues are always hereditary. Fact: Some mental health issues include a genetic component, which results in a predisposition or vulnerability toward the mental health problems among children and siblings, but environment also plays a key role in the development of certain conditions. If someone in one’s family has a mental health condition, that person will be a higher risk.
become sad for a variety of reasons including disappointment, grief,
frustration at not being able to accomplish a project or not getting what’s
desired, experiencing despair during holiday seasons, etc. When these feelings
of sadness and/or dysphoric moods last for hours and even days, they may not be
a cause for concern. These feelings are part of the normal “ups” and “downs” of
life. It is common for people to feel blue or down, become frustrated and/or
experience a sense of emptiness from time to time.
a sad mood which won’t let up can change the way people think and feel and may
be a sign of a more serious mood problem. When people find themselves for
several weeks taking little joy in activities they have previously enjoyed,
appear irritable a majority of the time, and feel fatigue and a general loss of
energy, they may be experiencing the symptoms of more serious problems.
more serious mood problems stretch far beyond the normal limits of
disappointment, loss, frustration, and joylessness. Mood problems can be
accompanied by an inability to cope with everyday life issues and stressors.
Rather than temporary feelings of down in the dumps, these extreme feelings
tend to last for more than a few hours or days. These feelings tend to affect
all aspects of a person’s life and leave the person feeling empty, unable to move,
and hopeless for weeks, months and even years.
who experience problems in maintaining a balanced and healthy overall mood are
often incapable of functioning well in daily life. They often experience
extreme emotional states, negative feelings, and self-defeating moods that are
inconsistent with what is happening in their environment. People struggling
with this mental condition find that they are unable to conquer their moodiness
in the workplace, at home, with family and friends, at school, and in their
community. People who experience moodiness have problems in interpersonal
relationships, ability to work effectively, study and concentrate, and in the
ways they eat, sleep, relax and live their daily lives.
Types of Serious Mood Inconsistencies for the Facilitator
Many different types of mood disturbances are conveyed and
expressed in different forms.
Major depression (often referred to as
unipolar depression) involves a profoundly sad mood and a high probability of
distorted depressive thinking that occur over time.
Some of the additional
• A persistent, sad mood most of the day accompanied by feeling empty • Experiencing a significant reduction in appetite and weight loss when not dieting, or increased appetite and weight gain • Sleeping too much (hypersomnia) or an inability to sleep (insomnia) • Feelings of inadequacy • Racing thoughts and impulsive behaviors • Hostility or aggression • Feelings of agitation or feelings of restlessness • Fatigue, loss of energy or feelings of being slowed down • Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, remember things or be decisive • Constant feelings of anxiety or feelings of irritability • Loss of interest in activities, or a decrease in pleasure in activities once enjoyed • Physical symptoms such as headaches, pain, digestive problems • Thoughts of suicide and /or danger to others
Bipolar depression involves an
alteration (like a roller-coaster ride) of down feelings (depression) and up
feelings (excessive and often inappropriate euphoric), rapid speech and
Some additional symptoms:
• Cycles of elation and depression • Thoughts of suicide and /or danger to others • Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity • Decrease in the need for sleep • Flight of ideas • Distractibility • Increased engagement in risky behavior
Milder forms of depression carry
detectable symptoms and impact daily activities in ways that demonstrate a diminished
interest in things people usually find interesting or enjoyable.
Some of these types of
• Dysthymia – Person has a mild depression that lingers for more than two years. For people with dysthymia, life has little pleasure and they tend to be cranky, irritable, and testy. • Postpartum Depression – Person experiences depression after childbirth. Sometimes called baby blues, this type of depression may be associated with psychological and physical factors. • Seasonal Affective Disorder – Person experiences depression with seasonal changes in climate and light.
Depression from unknown origins includes feelings of
sadness and emptiness, low energy, and a lack of interest that occurs naturally
when experiencing change or stress in life. Unlike the feelings of sadness and moodiness
that are part of everyday life, many people are often unable to deal with their
feelings of sadness and moodiness and their feelings last much longer. The mood
is accompanied by feelings of irritability and hostility, a growing sense of
fatigue, and a sense of hopelessness about the future.
Sources of Serious Mood Inconsistencies (Click here for a reproducible handout) Where do disturbances in mood originate? Why do some people experience changes in mood and moodiness, while others do not? That is not an easy question to answer. Because mood inconsistencies are very complex in nature, they usually do not originate from one source. Rather, many things can lead to mood disturbances in people, and often it is not one of the following sources, but a combination of several sources.
Negative Thinking Distorted, maladaptive, and irrational thinking can cause and enhance feelings of sadness and moodiness. A thorough examination should be conducted of a participant’s thought processes as they relate to and affect feelings.
Genetics and Biology Family history can influence one’s predisposition to moodiness. A complete medical and psychological history should be completed to identify family members who may also have experienced periods of sadness.
Uncontrollable Situations Situations in which people find themselves unable to control the outcomes can enhance feelings of sadness, a loss of interest, and a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. An examination of the situations in which participants experience feelings of moodiness should be conducted by a medical/psychological professional.
Life Events An inability to cope with major stressors can be a factor in moodiness. Some of the major stressors that often precede mood disturbances include separation and divorce, traumatic shock, legal troubles, feeling stuck in a situation without an exit, loss of a loved one, and loss of a job. An examination of the life events that may be causing sadness and moodiness should be conducted by a medical/psychological professional.
Medical Conditions People who have medical conditions often experience mood disturbances as a secondary symptom. A participant’s medical history can reveal conditions that might induce a mood problem and should be examined by a medical/psychological professional.
Substances People often experience mood problems from chronic use of alcohol and drugs. An examination of a participant’s drug and alcohol abuse should be examined by a medical/psychological professional.
Lack of Social Support People who have access to a social support system are much less likely to experience severe and extended bouts of sadness. An examination of participant’s support system should be conducted by a medical/psychological professional.
External Causes of Moodiness
Moodiness develops from a
variety of external causes. By becoming more aware of some of the external
causes of depressed moods, a plan can be developed to overcome them. Some of
the external causes of depressed moods are:
If you had a magic wand, and could build your ideal community, what would it look like? Clarifying who you consider your “people” will help you discover a deeper sense of belonging.
this scene: It’s a warm, sunny day in a small
city or town. You are strolling by an outdoor café. The tables are full of
people sipping coffee and nibbling pastries. Some people are talking to one
another, but most are looking at their hand-held devices. Are they feeling
connected, or lonely? It’s really hard
to tell isn’t it? And what about
you? Are you, as you walk by the café,
feeling a sense of belonging?
Finding social connection today is a different process than it was even a decade ago. But the fact is, like our ancestors, we are social animals and in most cases experience a stronger sense of well-being when we travel in a group versus flying solo. So what does it mean to feel like you “belong” in the digital age?
Technology is wonderful! I am
after all writing this article on my laptop, on a program that helps me catch
typos and make my points as clearly as possible. However, the pervasiveness of
technology can trick us into thinking that we are physically evolving just as
rapidly as our digital gadgets. We are much more than walking, talking,
processing systems. Our nervous system is the same as our grandparents and our great-great
grandparents. This slow-to-evolve system that we all share needs to be cared
for and tended to with connection to community and the natural world.
You may be thinking, “Well, I’m an introvert,” or “I get enough time with my friends online.” But just imagine that you have zero connection to other humans and zero connection to nature. A bit unsettling, isn’t it? Remembering that you are a social animal and part of the natural ecosystem will help you build motivation to stay connected. But we need more than this reminder. To build our ideal community we also need to feel safe in this ecosystem.
you are feeling stressed by daily life or even struggling with anxiety or low
energy, it’s going to be difficult for you to connect with your people. When I
talk to clients about building community, I first talk about emotion regulation
skills. If you are anxious, do you know how to calm yourself down? If you are tired or overwhelmed, do you have
the skills to shift your energy just enough to accept an invitation to go for a
walk with a friend? We need to find
physical/emotional balance. After we do that, finding belonging becomes much,
you are feeling safe, you can start to build compassion for yourself and for others.
Here’s one way to flex your compassion muscle: Remember that everyone around you wants and
needs a community just as much as you. My husband and I recently planned a
holiday party. When it came time to get ready, we were faced with an all-night
rainstorm. My internal dialogue started
sounding something like this: “Nobody is
going to want to make the effort to come out in the rain…. What were we
thinking?” As it turns out, people did
show up – a small but lovely mixture of old and new friends. I may have
cancelled the party and missed out on a very pleasant event if I hadn’t
continued to remind myself that I was building community by creating an
opportunity to connect. Keeping this in mind is a form of compassion and
self-compassion. We all want and need to connect. It’s okay if we don’t do it
perfectly – or if we get stuck in the rain on the way to the party.
the heck am I anyway? It would sure help
to know the answer to that question before I try to find my ideal community.” This is a universal and timeless question. Problems
arise when we think we have to be some fully formed version of ourselves before
we pursue friendships. After all, everybody seems to have it all together on
Facebook, right? Rest assured, we are
all works-in-progress. We are allowed to grow, mature, and change through the
decades of our lives. If you honor this truth about your human existence, you
are giving others the opportunity to do the same. Score another point for
self-acceptance and compassion.
There are some experiences that just can’t be
digitized, but a sense of belonging doesn’t
necessarily have to come from other people. You can also foster a greater
feeling of belonging by paying attention to your physical surroundings and
cultivating a sense of place. This develops through directly experiencing and
learning about a particular area. You can cultivate a sense of place by having
direct exposure to the history, geographical features, natural elements, and
culture of a place. What is your favorite natural element of your home
base? Where are your favorite places to
sit? Developing a sense of place will help you feel connected to a community
and less alone even if you are by yourself. You can take this a step
further by assessing the needs of you community and becoming an active member
of a local organization.
– don’t give up. Continue to honor your nervous system, your work-in-progress
identity, and your community. Even if it
feels unnatural or if you tend to lean toward the introverted side, try to connect
one of your people or your physical surroundings every day. If you hate small
talk, remember the saying, “There is no small talk.” You never know when a
“meaningless” interaction might be profound for the person you are talking to,
or for yourself.
To read more about mindfulness check out Mindfulness for Emerging Adultsby Donna Torney, as well as Mindfulness Skills Workbook: Remedies for Worry, Anxiety & Stress or the Teen Mindfulness Skills Workbook, also available from Whole Person Associates, WholePerson.com.
A recent article in the New York Times had a headline that read, “Schools in England Introduce a New Subject: Mindfulness”. In reality, the British schools have launched a study to discover in today’s world of rapid change what mindfulness and mental health relaxation techniques will be most beneficial to students as they grow up under the pressures of the modern world.
Damian Hinds, the British education secretary, said in a statement, “Children will start to be introduced gradually to issues around mental health, well-being and happiness right from the start of primary school.” The National Health Service found that one in eight children in England between the ages of 5 and 19 suffered from at least one mental disorder at the time of their assessment in 2017. Another British study, released in November, 2018, indicated a slight increase in mental disorders in five to 15-year-olds, which rose to 11.2 percent in 2017 from 9.7 percent in 1999. Disorders like anxiety and depression were the most common. (New York Times, Feb. 4, 2019)
As you will read if you the click through to the UK press release from the British Department of Education, the Department of Health and Social Care, and two current members of parliament, schools there are in the midst of the biggest trial ever of mindfulness techniques and other relaxation skills. 370 of England’s 20,925 primary schools will indeed be rolling out mindfulness as a new subject. While the value of mindfulness techniques has been tested extensively, this is the largest look at how it might make the lives of elementary students better, and how it will influence participants as they age.
Donna Torney in her book Mindfulness for Emerging Adultsgives a great example of how mindfulness techniques can influence further development by imagining the brain to be a set of nesting Russian dolls:
If one of the smaller dolls has a chip or a gap, it may not be able to fit easily into the next doll. It may require going back and reshaping the smaller doll for the entire set to fit. Far better if we can avoid the chips or gaps in the first place.
Another benefit to exposing children to mental health issues is easing the stigma of mental illness. “Fear of judgment and ridicule about anxiety [mental health] issues often compels individuals and their families to hide from society rather than face criticism, shunning, labeling, and stereotyping. Instead of seeking treatment, they struggle in silence.” (Leutenberg, Liptak 2016). Kids are more likely than adults to speak out about mental health issues just as they do about just about everything else. Who hasn’t been embarrassed by a child saying something like, “Mommy, look at that giant!” just as your favorite NBA star passes by at the mall. Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent.” Informed children will speak out. Children who have a basic understanding of mental health and bullying will help their classmate who is being taunted by others.
In schools and out, bystanders who had simply stood there and watched a fellow student being bullied can become upstanders. Witnessing bullying is upsetting and affects the bystander, too. These children have the potential to make a positive difference in a bullying situation. An upstander is someone who sees what happens and intervenes, interrupts, or speaks up to stop the bullying. Children who learn about mental health issues are more likely to become upstanders simply because exposure to mental health and what mental illness is demystifies if for them. Kids are less likely to make fun of what they understand. Furthermore, when youth who are bullied are defended and supported by their peers, they are less anxious and depressed than those who are not. (stopbullying.gov retrieved 2/4/19).
Portions of this article have been excerpted from:
But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not where my body is, I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain return to my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?
-Henry David Thoreau
Focus can be improved
can be improved using mindfulness-informed tools that are designed to increase
mental concentration and inner calm. The art and science of focusing has many
faces. It may look like a man sitting in solitude on a meditation cushion, or a
woman sitting in a café slowly sipping from a paper cup, mindfully watching her
thoughts. At other times the face of focus is a person absorbed in an art
project, or a group of friends on a ten-mile run, or a teen absorbed in her
favorite music. Of course, all of these activities can be done unmindfully –
without focus – but they are infinitely more rewarding when performed with
attention to the present moment. When we focus on our present moment experience,
the brain rewires itself in such a way that it makes the experience more
satisfying. With practice, we can gain the ability to focus on demand. Take a
minute to think of an area in your life that could benefit from more focus.
can arise when we are moving just as easily as when we are sitting. Stilling
the mind is what matters. If you are feeling especially physically or mentally
agitated or if the busyness of your life is getting you down, try these
suggestions calling for stillness or internal focus. Building mental focus will
benefit each one of the four domains of your life: balance, belonging, focus,
note of what is distracting you –
if you don’t feel ready for a meditation practice it’s okay. Start by noticing
what is distracting you.
Are your distractions fear-based – are
you worrying about some future outcome?
Are your distractions fantasy-based –
is there something you don’t have that is stopping you from living your life in
the here and now?
Start by noting what takes you out of
the present moment – just taking note of what is keeping you in a state of
distraction is a step toward mindfulness.
a single routine task mindfully –
fold laundry, wash dishes, feed the dog without slipping into autopilot. So
often, we get up in the morning and do our routine in zombie mode.
Get out of bed and stretch for half a
minute. What is the first thing you usually do in the morning? Can you do it
with all your senses engaged?
Resist automatic thoughts and mentally
rehearsing your to-do list.
You might find that the routine task is
actually enjoyable, or you may decide to change the start of your day so that
the very first task is something that feels pleasant, like reading a few pages
in a good book versus checking your email.
a slow walk or run – routine exercise is another place
where we can easily check our focus.
Take your walk or go to the gym as
usual, but consciously slow down your pace.
Notice something new about the gym or
the walking/running route you are on.
Refrain from projecting into the future
or thinking about the past. Sure, you may burn a few less calories by slowing
down, but what you gain in tranquility and calm will more than make up for it.
or play with an animal – if you have one, your dog or cat can
become your Zen master.
Take time out today to be with your pet
and just with your pet. Animals are experts in being in the present moment.
Get down on the floor and get on your
pet’s level. Gaze into their eyes as you play with or pet them.
Thank them for being your Zen master.
breathe with a baby or small child –
babies and young children can also anchor us to the present moment in a special
If you have an infant in your life, take some time to watch them while they nap. Babies have not learned the bad habit of taking shallow breaths. Take long, slow breaths like a baby.
If you have a toddler in your life, ask him or her to lie on the floor next to you. Place pillows on your bellies. Watch them as they float up and down on your belly as you take long, deep inhales and exhales.
Take some time to giggle with your toddler as the pillows rise and fall.
barefoot – if the temperature allows, kick your
shoes off and walk in the grass for a few minutes.
Walking barefoot requires mindfulness
to avoid sharp objects or other outdoor goop.
It is also immensely grounding and
Focus on how it feels to connect
directly with the earth.
This is a good start to
using mindfulness techniques to increase your ability to focus. Remember,
without mindfully focusing on the present you will miss much of the experience.
Christmas, St. Lucia Day, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, St. Nicholas Eve, New Year’s Eve, December Solstice, Boxing Day, St.Stephens Day, St. Ambrose Day, and we can’t forget December 15th – National Cupcake Day!
So, this is a time of joy, family, and good will to all…right? For lots of folks, it is. Many of us, however, find this season stressful. We expect good tidings of great joy, but end up feeling stretched to the max and unfulfilled. The holiday we remember from our childhood just isn’t there.
Are you struggling to complete shoulds?
Do you feel guilty because others are loving the holidays and you aren’t?
Are you overindulging, overscheduling, overspending, and still feeling unsatisfied?
Do you feel emptier at the end of the holidays than you did at the beginning?
Holiday Stress Habits
If you answered yes to these, you are probably trapped in some negative holiday stress habits. Now some stress is good for you and pleasurable. It can fire you up; give you energy, supply zest and excitement. Too much stress, however, can wear you down, sapping your energy.
What about last year? Make a list of the positive things you enjoyed such as caroling, midnight church services, Chanukah get-togethers, and reunions with friends and family you rarely see.
Now make a list of the other side of the coin. What wore you out? Was it last-minute gift shopping, lack of sleep, planning an open house for 50 and having 75 folks arrive, dealing with Great-Aunt Grizzelda?
To some extent, the same events can provide both good and bad stress. Your open house was a raging success, but you were really worried about running out of food. You loved seeing the rest of your family, but if you had to hear Great-Auntie say one more time, “Well, in my day it was better,” you might actually do her harm.
Popular wisdom says that negative stress is simply the way we are reacting to circumstances. You might freak out with 25 extra people while others find it stimulating. You might love baking 30 kinds of cookies for the party while your sister buys them at the bakery. Take a quick look at a couple of stressors lots of folks find difficult and make a plan to avoid having to hide in the attic with the cocktail shaker.
The Santa Claus Trap, often known as the “I’ve got too many people to buy gifts for and not enough time or money to do it.”
Make a list of the folks with whom you truly want to exchange gifts. Be honest with yourself. To pick on Auntie Grizzelda again, if you are stressing out buying her old-lady notepaper just to have her disparage your choice; take her off the list. Contact your friends and see if they are enjoying gift giving with your group or dreading the cost and effort. You might decide to give each other time and get together after the holidays for a celebration of absolutely nothing.
Once you’ve made an accurate list of those you really want to gift with something special develop a budget and stick to it. Many are great at the budgeting part… sticking to it is another story. Promise yourself you will be tough and won’t overspend. Plan a post-holiday reward for yourself when you succeed.
Budget and list in hand either hit the local stores or the internet. Today with free shipping readily available it is tempting to stay home and click away your shopping duties. Remember the sights and sounds of your community at the holidays. It might be worth scheduling a day to enjoy the bustle, street singing, and bell-ringing and to pick up some unique gifts at the same time.
The Activity Trap. We aren’t always good at checking our calendars before we say no and find ourselves due at a party, a dance recital, a kid’s sports event, and a date with our spouse all at the same time. On the other hand, some folks find themselves with little to do and miss the interaction with others. Again, make a list of what you need to do and what you really want to be part of. Don’t say yes without time for thought. Do you really want to go to your kid’s coach’s wife’s tea? Are you looking forward to the all high school Holiday Concert where you will sit in the same auditorium seat for four hours?
If you are over scheduled get out a pencil and delete those things that you don’t want to do. If you don’t have enough contact with others, call the Salvation Army, your local soup kitchen, the local volunteer coordinator, your mosque, church, or synagogue, or check in with your neighbor who lost her husband this year and schedule some time helping others. Nothing feels better!
The Tradition Trap. Okay, I admit it, this is my personal stressor. I want to do everything that I’ve been part of all my life, and I’m a grandmother! I want to provide the kind of environment my stay-at-home mom did. I want to have all the same decorations I had growing up. I want my kids and their kids to show up when I want them, not when it works for them because, “We always went to church together. It won’t be Christmas without everyone being there.”
Choose the traditions that really mean something to you. Accept the fact that you work full time and can’t bake sixty different kinds of cookies, have three open houses, decorate the synagogue, decorate your home, and still be alive when it is over. Traditions are great as long as they contribute to the enjoyment of the season. If they don’t, be brutal; toss them out. Find new and interesting ways of celebrating. Enjoy the process of learning something new.
Kind of in the same vein, we often fall into The Life Script Trap. When the holidays roll around we fall into feelings and roles remembered from the past.
No matter how old we are, the holidays give us permission to be childlike. Festivities become magic and full of meaning as we bring the past up to the present, still enjoying the familiar sights and sounds of the past. Celebrate your heritage, but look out for the pitfalls that have caused problems in the past. Cherish those events you hold dear. Stay away from those that cause you pain.
The Magic Trap: expecting the perfect holidays. We expect to feel just as we did in the third grade when we got new skates, or on that first holiday with our first child. If we don’t feel the way we remember feeling we are disappointed. What are we missing that the feeling isn’t there? Try to limit your expectations of others. We can only control ourselves. Think about the things that enrich the holidays for you now, and experience them to the fullest.
As Nancy Loving Tubesing andDonald A Tubesing who wrote Kicking Your Holiday Stress Habits said,
Your holiday preparation agenda resembles the space shuttle prelaunch checklist. Holiday trap or holiday treasure? It’s up to you!
You could put on your martyr’s cloak and try to fulfill your grandiose expectations in suffering silence. You could work your fingers to the bone cleaning and sewing and cooking and wrapping and writing and orchestrating and pleasing others.
OR you could take this opportunity to relinquish your stranglehold on the holidays, inviting others to share in the burden (and benefit) of getting ready.
OR you could assemble the clan for some values clarification, polling family members about what they really treasure about the holidays, and then making a plan that includes everyone.
OR you could decide that this is theyear for some kind of alternative celebration.
Tubesing and Tubesing
What moves you to choose a holiday treasure instead of a holiday trap? Often it is your belief system – your views about yourself, the world, and what makes life worthwhile that is guiding your choice. If one of your values is the value of work above all else, no wonder you are running yourself ragged. If you really want to kick your holiday stress habits you will have to decide what is really important to you. Once you’ve figured that out, the rest is pretty easy.
Ask yourself three questions:
What’s of major importance to me?
How do I hope to accomplish it?
If that doesn’t work, how else could I meet the
need – or what would be a satisfactory substitute?
Take the time to make a list of what you need to make your holiday season meaningful. Be specific… just listing holiday joy doesn’t count. What do you need to feel that joy? Then look at what values those things encompass. You will recognize what will fill your holidays with what you need. (Not what Auntie Grizzelda needs! What you need.) Ask for what you need. Don’t expect your family and friends to intuit it. Tell them. If the answer is no, give yourself permission to find an acceptable substitute.
Refuse to suffer. Do the “have tos” quickly and efficiently and get them out of the way.
Keep the things you enjoy for yourself. If you love wrapping gifts, don’t farm that out to Cousin Bill.
If you hate the whole Christmas Card thing don’t do it. Surprise folks you care about with a phone call. Not just an email or a text, but a chance to hear the joy in your voice when you reach them.
Make positive contact with folks you didn’t know. At a party seek out those you haven’t met. At the church social find someone sitting alone and get to know them. Just chat with the clerk at the store in a pleasant and friendly way. You’ll make their day.
If your list of friends and family is disturbingly short, look for others in the same boat. Reach out to the crisis shelter, local hospitals, a halfway house, homes for the elderly, etc.
Make your gifts meaningful. Rather than just tickets to an event plan to go along and share the experience together.
Write something special for those you love. Tell them how much they mean to you.
Give to some of the charities that are trying to make others’ lives better.
Don’t forget to give yourself something.
One thing especially important: Take time to laugh. Laugh at yourself, at silly things you see and hear, look for the humor in holiday dilemmas. Put the wrong color in the cookie dough? Make purple trees. Enjoy telling the story about how you did it to everyone eating them.
When all is said and done, pay attention to your spirit. Take the time to reflect. Listen to your core. Think about what you believe. What’s really important to you? Where did those values come from?
Light a candle every evening. Focus on the flickering flame and allow your thoughts and prayers to rise shimmering upwards into the silence.
Tubesing and Tubesing
Focus on the flame and allow your thoughts and prayers for others to rise up into the silence. Sit in a chair for a few moments while your family and friends are busy around you. Cherish the sounds and smells and essence of your holiday.
Make a plan. Reflect on the Tubesing’s suggestions. Choose the things that resonate with you and yours.
Excerpted from Kicking your Holiday Stress Habits by Nancy Loving Tubesing, EdD, and Donald A. Tubesing, MDiv, PhD.
Compassion for self and others is essential for building intimacy and community.
Self-compassion and compassion toward others are important social skills. They are the building blocks to forming your own community. Remember that fMRI imaging confirms that compassion-based contemplative exercises make visible changes in the structure of the brain. Self-compassion, as opposed to the ever-popular self-loathing, judging, and comparing are what help us make true, lasting connections to friends and romantic partners.
In what areas in your life where you are too self-critical or critical of others?
What would happen if you softened just a bit, toward yourself or toward others?
There are many road blocks that can come between you and the compassion for yourself and others that is necessary to create and sustain meaningful relationships.
A friend gap
Lacking a sense of place
Not knowing how and why to ask for help
Not understanding mindful communication
A lack of self-compassion
Understanding the difference between intensity and intimacy
Learning how to do the following will help you weather the difficult times we all experience:
We’ve all felt it. You’re standing at a party or sitting in a meeting at work, and you just feel like an outsider. You might be thinking: They must have made a mistake when they invited me/hired me/ accepted me. These thoughts and feelings are so distracting that your fight or flight response revs up and you start to have trouble contributing to the conversation. The worst part about this anxious chain reaction is that you feel isolated even though you are in a room full of people.
What can help?
Memorize the four tools listed below before your next social gathering. They will help you tame self-consciousness and encourage genuine, safe, human connection. Just as if you were preparing for an important presentation, practice these tools with a video camera, voice recorder, or trusted friend or mentor.
• Normalize. When the demons of self-consciousness take over, we tend to have thoughts like: What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just relax? Although everybody’s nervous system is wired differently, all humans are social animals, and social connection is vital for our well-being. Did you know that the area of the brain that registers social rejection is very near the area of the brain that registers physical pain? Ouch! That is why social rejection can feel so threatening. We learn to protect ourselves from any pain, even imagined pain. If you are somebody who has experienced social rejection in the past, as we all have, you might be on guard for the next attack at a party or at work. One of the best ways to tame this misfiring of the nervous system is to bring awareness to the chain-reaction, and correcting the internal dialogue. You might try repeating a phrase like, “Just like me, everyone here wants to be accepted. Just like me, they might feel a little nervous.” This kind of normalizing self-talk helps heal and re-wire the brain.
• Picture the face of a trusted being. When you find yourself in a stressful social situation, take a few deep breaths, and picture the face of someone you feel entirely comfortable with, someone with whom you can be your true self. This might be an old, dear friend, a family member, or a pet. For some of us this may be the face of a spiritual mentor. Get into the habit of picturing your trusted being before your social event.
• Get curious. Trust in the odds that others around you are feeling like outsiders as well. Try switching your focus toward someone else. Is there someone around you who might benefit by being drawn out? Get curious about someone near you. Ask a question about their day. What are they planning to do to relax this weekend? If this person seems nervous, take a deep breath and drop your shoulders, which will encourage them to do the same. Take the focus off of your own stress, and offer someone else the gift of your kind attention.
• Balance your external desire to impress with your internal intention to connect. A young lady I work with is a flutist. She, like most musicians, sometimes struggles with performance anxiety. After a particularly miserable performance where she was plagued with self-consciousness, she came close to giving up performing all together. She was scheduled to perform the following week, and to her surprise, this performance went much better and she was able to enjoy the process. When I asked what had changed, she said, “Well, I decided that I prepared the best I could with the time I had. Even so, I can’t control others’ reactions, so I decided to focus on what I want to express, which is my love of music.” Her internal value of sharing her love of music outshone her external desire to impress. What values do you want to carry in your pocket in social situations?
Normalizing feelings, picturing the face of a friend, getting curious, and being clear about what you want to express versus how you want to impress: Practicing these four tools will help you feel less self-conscious and more connected.
My heart is broken and I’ll never be okay again!
You are not alone! If you have recently experienced the loss of a love, mindfulness can help you through the healing process. Here are just a few suggestions to help you on your road to feeling whole again. These techniques will help you get back out there in the world where you can exercise your self-compassion and compassion for others and use your experience to further build your community.
• The pain of a broken heart may come in waves –You may feel intense feelings of grief over the next few days and weeks. Know that these feelings are a normal part of the healing process. Think of them as a bitter medicine that you must take in small doses to feel better. Watch as the waves of sadness, shock, anger, shame, and feelings of rejection rise, have a peak, and then disappear. Trust in the fact that this is a form of healing,and these emotions have a beginning, middle, and end. Notice the peace and stillness that comes after they pass. Practicing a series of long slow inhales,followed by slightly longer exhales will help calm your nervous system as you work through these waves.
• Treat yourself like you have the flu – There’s a physiological reason you may feel like you were punched in the gut. Did you know that the area in the brain that is active when we are experiencing physical pain overlaps with the area that is active when we experience social rejection? Attend to the physical manifestations of a broken heart by taking long walks, or start a totally new exercise routine. It is important to balance your waves of pain with some healthy distractions like exercise, moderate amounts of sleep, and a healthy diet. Take some time to outline a new but gentle physical routine for the first few weeks of healing.
• Don’t isolate yourself – The temptation to hide in your room might be strong, especially if you and your ex-beloved shared the same group of friends. Make attempts at connecting with new people. If you are in school,consider joining a new club. Explore community projects that might need your help. Helping others who are in need will restore your sense of self-worth. Building compassion for yourself as well as others is at the heart of mindfulness and healing. Think of three ways you can connect with others to avoid isolation. Write them in your centering journal.
• Don’t self-medicate – Healing requires taking scheduled breaks in the day to monitor your breathing and your thoughts and these breaks will prevent your break-up from becoming a full-blown downward spiral. By coming back to the breath and the body in an intentional way several times throughout the day, you can be curious about any destructive cravings you may have, instead of giving into them. What go-to unhealthy behaviors do you want to try to avoid while you heal? Write about them in your journal. Celebrate your successes.
• Limit your social media use – If you see pictures of the one you long to see every time you go on social media, this will prolong your pain. Consider limiting your social media use. Use a phone, email, or voicemail to make plans with friends. Journal about what would help you avoid social media during this time.
• What was missing? – As you start to heal from your break-up you may start to see that you were not getting all your needs met in the relationship. Now is a good time to take a look at your values and deeply held desires. What is it that you hold most important in your life? What steps can you take to incorporate your values in your life in an intentional way? Set a timer for five minutes. Focus only on your breath, then grab your centering journal and free-write about where you want to be in one year.
• You are not alone! – One of the great outcomes of mindfulness is growth in the understanding that we are all connected – that we are not so different from everyone else. Heartache is part of the human condition and none of us is immune to this fact. Mindfulness reminds us that this condition is temporary. Stay connected with family, good friends, or mentors who can help you heal your heart and reconnect with your true self. What aspects of your true self were put on the back burner during your relationship? What activities do you want to try that reflect your true nature?
• What have you learned from your journey? –Mindfulness helps us learn from our mistakes. Trust in the fact that mindfulness engages the more rational side of the brain, helping you to move forward with clear intention. How will you use mindfulness to heal your heart?(Some examples: Gentle yoga, guided relaxation, bringing your thoughts back to the present.) Another good way to solidify a lesson is to share your hard-won wisdom with a good friend who is experiencing a broken heart. Listening to another’s pain is an act of compassion and will help you to continue to heal.
The information from the series of articles on Mindfulness focuses on learning to be mindful by, in part, regaining balance as we teach emerging adults stress reduction skills, ground participants in their present surroundings, and help them make the important connection between daily routines and health. It is designed to reset an overwhelmed nervous system so emerging adults and others are then free to focus on finding strong social connections, and meaningful, sustainable work. Emerging adults will have an easier time rediscovering motivation and happiness after anxiety, stress, and low energy are addressed, and routines that foster self-confidence are established.
October’s blog focused on food and exercise issues. This month we are looking at the all-important issue of getting a good night’s sleep.
An important part of finding balance in our lives is discovering a way to get the sleep we need. Many college students, new mothers and fathers, the elderly, and almost everyone in between seem to be overtired all the time. A few folks will sit in the coffee shop, drink their third double espresso, and brag about how little sleep they need. Surviving on a caffeine buzz and adrenaline from deadlines, they think they are still performing at their optimum level. They are ignoring the fact that all things in the natural world have rhythms and routines. Consider the phases of the moon, the waves of the ocean, the seasons of the year. Humans, too, have rhythms. Unlike the rest of the natural world, we often work against the natural cycle of work and rest by denying our bodies and brains enough sleep every night.
Sleep Tips and Sleep Facts
Read the sleep facts below and choose a couple of sleep tips to try. Remember, change doesn’t happen over-night – pardon the pun – so don’t expect results the next morning. Practice the new behaviors for a month and you will see a positive change in all aspects of your life.
Sleep fact: Memory consolidation – the ability to learn and record new ideas – is greatly enhanced by a good night’s sleep, as is our ability to be creative. This is the science behind the phrase, let me sleep on it. During sleep, neuronal pruning takes place, helping us shed neuro networks that we no longer use, experience mental clarity, and make better decisions.
Sleep tip: The next time you have a big decision to make, write down a summary of the situation. Place the summary away from your sleep area. Ask sleep to help you with the answer. In the morning notice if you slept better and have more clarity. By following this process, chances are good that you will come up with a creative answer to your problem.
Sleep fact: Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, is released when we are sleep deprived. When we deprive our body of sleep, the nervous system receives a stress signal, making us hungrier.
Sleep tip: Going to bed with a stomach that is too full or too empty may disturb your sleep. An hour before bed, have a small, easy to digest snack, like a small bowl of yogurt, whole-wheat toast, or a glass of warm milk.
Sleep fact: Studies show that one night of poor sleep inhibits the immune system by 25 to 30%. Take note of the connection between your seasonal allergies and colds and your good sleep habits.
Sleep tip: Note in your journal how many hours you slept. At the end of the day enter how your seasonal allergies and/or colds felt. Note the correlation between adequate sleep and how your body reacts to outside stimuli such as pollen.
Sleep fact: Experimenting with your ideal sleep schedule is an essential part of getting quality rest.
Sleep tip: Try to go to sleep and wake up as close as possible to the same time each day. If this seems boring or unsustainable, try adjusting your sleep/wake times to something that works for you.
Sleep fact: Shaking off physical and mental stress at the end of each day will lead to better sleep.
Sleep tip: Practice gentle stretching to release the day’s tension before you get into bed. Take note of one or two accomplishments of your day in your centering journal. Resist the natural tendency of noting what’s left on the to-do list.
Sleep fact: Make your room a sleep sanctuary by limiting activity.
Sleep tip: Keep your room cool, dark, and quiet. If noise and light are a problem, try earplugs and an eye mask. Break the habit of falling asleep in front of a screen. The blue light from electronics sends a signal to the brain to stay awake. Instead, get into bed and take some long, slow breaths with extra-long exhales. Relax all the muscles in your body staring at your feet, think about feeling heavy and relaxed. Welcome sleep!
Teens experience stress about a great number of situations and circumstances, and anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. For teens, circumstances such as speaking in public, moving to a new neighborhood, dating issues, taking tests, making good grades, and competing in athletic events may all cause stress. For some teens various circumstances or events can cause more than the usual amount of stress. This leads to anxiety. Anxiety has been defined as a state of intense apprehension, uncertainty, and fear resulting mainly from the anticipation of a threatening event or situation, often to a degree that disrupts normal, everyday physical and psychological functioning. Fear is an emotional response to a real or perceived threat.
Anxiety is anticipation of a future threat. Anxiety is normal in the everyday life of everyone and can actually be a good thing. Anxiety motivates one to accomplish goals and warns a person of a dangerous situation. However, intense anxiety can involve debilitating symptoms and affect performance in school, athletics, and interpersonal interactions. Some teens persistently experience excessive amounts of worry and fear about everyday situations and this may lead to depression. Persistent anxiety and fear can interfere with daily activities. Often, these symptoms are difficult to control.
Anxiety affects one’s general well-being and manifests itself physiologically, behaviorally, and psychologically. The following are some of the affects of teenage anxiety:
Cold or sweaty hands and/or feet
Fear of anticipation of the worst outcome
Feeling as if one’s mind has gone blank
Feelings of powerlessness
Feelings of extreme fear
Inability to act
Inability to express oneself
Inability to sit or stand still
Inability to sleep and/or remain asleep
Inexplicable feelings of dread
Over-alertness for signs of danger
Shortness of breath
Tingling of hands and/or feet
“Normal” Anxiety vs. Intense Anxiety Disturbances
Anxiety manifests itself in the everyday life of most teens in many different ways. Some of the most common types of everyday, “normal” anxiety:
Situational Anxiety – Feelings of apprehension and dread related to a specific situation such as taking a class in physics, moving to a new community, or trying out for the soccer team at school.
Anticipatory Anxiety – Feelings of apprehension and dread when one confronts something that has been frightening in the past, or that has resulted in a negative experience such as speaking in front of classmates.
Anxiety Disturbances – These can be distinguished from the everyday, “normal” anxiety because they are more intense (panic attacks), last longer (often months or years instead of going away after an anxiety-producing situation), and interfere with a person’s ability to function effectively in daily life (i.e., afraid to go to school, fear of getting bullied, etc.).
Different types of disturbances related to thinking and behavior are conveyed and expressed in different forms:
Panic Disorder: Teens have feelings of extreme terror that strike suddenly and often without any warning. Teens with a panic disorder often experience sweating, chest pain, and/or heart palpitations. They feel as if they are out of control during one of their attacks of fear, and they attempt to avoid places where panic attacks have occurred in the past.
Social Anxiety Disorder: Teens have feelings of overwhelming worry and experience extreme self-consciousness in everyday social situations. These worries include fear that others will judge them harshly, they will do something that may be embarrassing, and they fear being ridiculed by other teens. Teens with this disorder often are very anxious around other people and have a difficult time talking to others. They will stay away from places where there are other people and have a hard time making and keeping friends. This can lead to avoidance and selective mutism.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Teens exhibit excessive, extreme, and/or unrealistic worry and tension, even if there is nothing (or very little) to be worried and/or tense about. Teens with this disorder may be worried about just getting through the day and doing everyday tasks. They often have trouble falling and staying asleep, relaxing, and concentrating in school.
Specific Phobias: Teens experience intense, unwarranted fears about an object or a situation. The fear involved in a phobia is usually inappropriate for the phobia-producing object or situation and may cause people to avoid specific everyday activities in order to avoid the object or the situation. Some common phobias include snakes, speaking in public, clowns, fear of situations where escape from bad things is perceived as difficult. Phobias are intense fears resulting from real or imagined exposure to a wide range of situations.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Teens experience anxiety caused by exposure to traumatic events (i.e., child abuse, abandonment, accident, house fire, loss, victim of crime).
Anxiety Disorder Due to Another Medical Condition: Teens experience anxiety attacks directly attributed to an existing medical condition (i.e., cancer diagnosis), and it often parallels the course of the illness.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Teens have repetitive thoughts that will not dissipate (obsessions) and/or engage in ritual behaviors to dispel anxiety (compulsions)
Which Teens are at Risk?
Many risk factors or things that might make teens more vulnerable or sensitive to experiencing anxiety have been identified. Some of these risk factors include genetic factors such as living in a family with a history of mental health issues; personality factors such as high sensitivity or extreme introversion; environmental factors, such as experiencing ongoing stress or a single stressful event that occurs in the teen’s life; and medical factors such as ongoing physical illness.
When to Worry?
Symptoms related to intense anxiety can be very complex and difficult to cope with. The good news is that teens can develop the skills needed to manage the symptoms and progress forward to begin enjoying life more. Undergoing the stress that accompanies many of the mental health issues can be a very frightening way to live.
A teen experiencing anxiety and stress over time is at risk of developing a serious mental or physical illness and needs to seek a medical professional.
People who experience intense anxiety may feel suicidal, harbor suicidal thoughts, and plan to die by suicide. Sometimes they think that the only way to escape the physical, psychological, and emotional pain is suicide. Remember to take any talk about suicide or suicidal acts very seriously.
Signs of Suicidal Thoughts
Calling or visiting people to say goodbye
Drastic changes: angry person becoming super happy, style of clothes, shaving head
Dropping out of school
Engaging in reckless actions
Expressing feeling of being trapped with no way out
Expressing severe hopelessness about the future
Giving away possessions
Increasing use of harmful substances
Making a plan for dying by suicide
Purchasing a weapon
Talking about harming oneself or another person
Withdrawing from family, friends, and activities of interest in the past
Serious Mental Illness
If participants have a serious mental illness, they need to be taken seriously and facilitators can take an active role in their finding help immediately. All disturbances related to intense anxiety need to be thoroughly evaluated by a medical professional and then treated with an appropriate combination of medication and group and/or individual therapy.
A committed relationship in this article is defined as one based on mutually agreed-upon parameters that might involve exclusivity, honesty, openness, loyalty, trust and other implicit and explicit characteristics. Forms of committed relationships can be varied and might be short or long-term. These commitments may be reflected in domestic partnerships, religious and civil unions, single-sex and heterosexual couples living together, commuter (or long distance) marriages, and other arrangements.
Couples become separate entities when they break up and must chart their individual ways. Loss of a relationship can mean the end of dreams, routines, stability, emotional and financial security, companionship, and family as it existed before the breakup. The resulting trauma is one that impacts on the partners, of course. To varying degrees, children, extended family, friends and colleagues suffer from and grieve the loss as well.
In addition to grieving the loss, those in the midst of ending a committed relationship face a great many practical challenges:
Division of property
Establishing an independent life
The legal break up of couples through divorce adds significantly to the complexity of working through the emotional and practical issues inherent in the process. Divorce involves legal considerations, binding agreements, and an economic reality that can alter the expectations and security of all family members.
Ending a committed relationship is an extended process with different phases. Educating your clients about this progression is an important part of working through the confusing, challenges and difficult experiences of breaking up. The following are phases your clients might encounter:
Significant relationship distress over time
Increased distance from each other
Confrontation(s) with partner and family
Permanent or temporary separation
Decision to end the relationship permanently
Selection of legal representation in the case of a divorce
Negotiations for the financial break up
Creation of a co-parenting plan
Day by day co-parenting
Creating a new, single life
Divorce is a legal dissolution of a marriage by a court or other competent body. Many of the same concerns involved in divorce can apply to domestic partners and others in a committed relationship even though resolving legal issues associated with marriage may not be necessary. Laws governing divorce differ from state to state, and from country to country. Facilitators need to be particularly sensitive to the cultural differences that may have a significant impact on the way in which individuals, families and communities think about and handle divorce.
The following will help your clients work through these tough issues.
Discuss these aspects about your client’s present situation:
Trust – How safe do you feel emotionally? How safe do you feel physically? Safety – How safe do you feel sexually? Love – Is your love romantic, platonic, intermittent, evaporating, or other? Cooperation – How do you help each other with day-to-day responsibilities? Respect – What level of respect does your partner have for you? What level of respect do you have for your partner? Physical intimacy – How are you and your partner “in sync” about intimacy and sex? How are you and your partner not “in sync” about intimacy and sex? How would you describe your sex life? Communication – Do you talk to each other about finances? Are you only sharing information or are you able to discuss feelings, worries and excitement? Values – How much do you agree on ethical and moral issues? How does that influence your relationship? Religion and spirituality – Describe how you share a religious and/or spiritual belief system. If you do not, describe how that works in your relationship. Raising children – If you have children, describe how you have or have not been able to find common ground regarding discipline, guidance, medical decisions, educational plans and goals. Family-of-origin relationships – Do you believe you and/or your partner are more loyal to your own families-of-origin than to each other? In-Law relationships – How have you or have you not worked out relationships that avoid high levels of conflict with each other’s families? Do you have close relationships with your in-laws? Is that likely to continue if your relationship breaks up? Why or why not? Finances – Are you both contributing to the family economy, either by working outside the home or inside? How does that work for you? How do you agree or disagree on methods of spending money? How do you agree or disagree on a budget or saving money? Arguing – Do you and your partner stick to the issue at hand when you argue? Do you or your partner bring up wrong-doings of the past when arguing? Does your fighting ever become physical? When you are arguing with your partner, how safe does everyone in your family feel? Future – How do you believe your life (and that of your children, if applicable) would be better without this committed relationship? How do you believe your life (and that of your children, if applicable) would be worse without this committed relationship? Explain.
Discuss which answers were surprises. What is the take-away for your client?
Ending a committed relationship is very difficult, full of twists and turns and unexpected potholes. As you help your participant on their personal journey the following worksheets (from the workbook, Breaking Up Is Hard To Do) will help them clarify their position. The worksheet versions of To Stay or Go, Being Left, The Quality of Current Relationship, and Goals are available to download here.
Mindfulness for Emerging Adults in the Digital Age
Mindfulness has been a hot trend this year. We hear all kinds of inspiring stories about how folks have used this ancient tool to become a better employee, student, partner, and person. Since the scientific community has become interested in mindfulness and other age-old contemplative arts, studies have proven the value of the ability to be fully present in what you do.
Mindfulness has been described as, “A state of mind in which people can observe mental activity without attaching to it or evaluating it.” (Leutenberg, Liptak, 2013) Using mindfulness, people can forge a path to find authentic identity and healthy personal and community connections, creating a good life in the digital age.
Emerging adults who are today defined loosely as those between 18 and 33 years-of-age, have always had rites of passage as they move from youth to a fully functioning adult. In today’s world of constant change and pressure to succeed, these milestones have changed drastically, even since our grandparents time. Although we can now communicate with the world at the drop of a cell phone, more and more people are finding themselves disconnected and lonely.
As they learn about mindfulness and how to incorporate it into their lives, both young adults and their mentors will become more grounded in the present moment and experience more ease, contentment, and life satisfaction – a state that positive psychologists refer to as well-being. From this place of growing comfort and ease, young adults will become more discerning and forward thinking, ready to take on the challenges of emerging adulthood with youthful common sense.
We at Whole Person Associates will present a series of articles which will include materials to clarify the problems facing emerging adults and a path to overcome these issues. We hope you find them useful and encourage your comments.
Why do we need Mindfulness for Emerging Adults in the digital age?
Just as it is a toddler’s developmental task to master walking and talking, it is the developmental task of emerging adults (young adults roughly 18 to 33 years old) to build independence and intimacy. However, if we want these emerging adults to truly thrive in our society, we need to go beyond the developmental basics. We know toddlers need to feel loved and safe for optimum development to occur, but we sometimes forget that emerging adults need to be resilient, compassionate, optimistic, and connected to community to reach their full potential.
There are many advances in neuroscience that encourage seeing mindfulness and other contemplative practices as indispensable life skills. These ancient and now rigorously researched practices are more important than ever in our age of accelerated change, media overload, and chronic busyness. Because of the large interest in mindfulness by the scientific community, we now have evidence that these practices create positive change in the mind and body. By exploring and adopting mindfulness and other contemplative practices, emerging adults can forge a path to find authentic identity and healthy personal and community connections, creating a good life in the digital age.
Universally and eternally emerging adulthood is a transition time full of excitement and potential as well as risks and challenges. Facing our fears during times of transition is brave work. It may seem counterintuitive, but staying open-hearted and open-minded during the rollercoaster ride to adulthood gives us an opportunity to employ values-based decision making that will lead to balance, connection, and contentment.
In a series of eight articles we will explore four important categories: Balance, belonging, focus, and meaning. Each category will enable readers to build a personalized toolbox of skills. These skills will empower emerging adults to take control of stress and navigate difficult emotions. Both young adults and their mentors will become more grounded in the present moment and experience more ease, contentment, and life satisfaction – a state that positive psychologists refer to as well-being. From this place of growing comfort and ease, young adults will become more discerning and forward thinking, ready to take on the challenges of emerging adulthood with youthful common sense.
The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation and Conscious Breathing.
No matter what our personal stress style, all human bodies respond physically to stress in the same way. Fortunately we have some simple and free tools at our disposal to help us counter the stress response. These tools can be practiced anywhere! Deep breathing allows us to access the underutilized rest and digest response. This response causes blood pressure to decrease and slows the heart rate. Gastric juices are released so that the body can digest and absorb the maximum amount of nutrition available in food.
The opposite of the rest and digest response is the over-utilized fight or flight response. In fight or flight mode, the heart rate increases, pupils dilate, and blood flow is rushed to the limbs to help us escape danger. This response happens whether the stressful situation is at work or at home; whether it is real or imagined.
The fight or flight response helps us remove ourselves from dangerous situations. Problems occur when these stress reactions happen too frequently and/or too close together. Then occasional stress becomes chronic stress. The body is then bombarded with stress hormones such as cortisol, and we run the risk of developing conditions such as sleep disorders, depression, heart disease, and chronic fatigue, among others. Stress can make us more vulnerable to illness and can prematurely age us. How we respond to chronic stress – going for a walk as opposed to smoking, for instance – will ultimately slow down or speed up these unwanted processes.
The exercises that follow will help with food issues and exercise issues.
In November of 1960 Elvis Presley sang Roy Turk’s lyrics to teenagers through their transistor radios:
Are you lonesome tonight Do you miss me tonight? Are you sorry we drifted apart?
-Roy Turk – 1926
The theme was so popular the song was released by popular singers and bands more than seven times…each time becoming a hit.
What is Loneliness?
Human beings are social by nature and need human interaction and connectedness. When people experience adequate levels of human interaction and connectedness, they feel a sense of satisfaction. On the other hand, when people are experiencing inadequate levels of interaction and connectedness, they feel lonely – something’s missing.
Therefore, loneliness is a noticeable difference between people’s desired level of social interaction and the actual level of social interaction. Loneliness is a sense of connection to others who help to satisfy one’s needs. It is the feeling of no one to talk, relate, or share with – even though people are all around. Being with loved ones does not guarantee absence of loneliness.
Loneliness is not synonymous with being alone. People who are alone are by themselves and not with other people. Some people view aloneness as a positive and others see it as negative.
In our society filled with people who communicate primarily with a wide variety of technology, face-to-face social interaction has become less common, feelings of connectedness are rare, and people are lonelier than ever before. Technology can provide a false sense of being connected twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. This feeling of virtual connection, however, may be deceiving, and people benefit with social face-to-face connections with other people.
People experience loneliness for many different reasons. Most of these reasons are related to feeling a lack of social support and fall into five basic categories:
Life Changes – Loneliness often occurs in the midst of major life changes such as loss of loved ones, moving to a new city, or not being able to work because of an illness or disability. These types of major life changes often discourage people to meet others.
Getting Older – As people age, they experience the death of friends and family and often feel as if they have fewer people who share their life experiences.
Inadequate Social Skills – When people are unable to communicate with others because they have weak social skills, they are at risk for loneliness. A lack of adequate social skills can make it difficult for people to develop and maintain relationships with others.
Personality Characteristics – People often are shy or lack the power of self-esteem to make friends easily, and therefore receive fewer responses to their overtures and less support from other people.
Situational – People often experience loneliness when they are surrounded by people who have different ideas, values and interests. Therefore, when people do not have friends, family members, and acquaintances with whom to share experiences, they perceive themselves to be different, and feel lonely.
Almost everyone will experience loneliness from time to time. Different forms of loneliness exist.
Situational Loneliness –people feel lonely due to a situation or experience. This is a temporary situation. An example would be moving to a new city where a person does not have any friends and has not made any acquaintances. Even though this situation brings on feelings of loneliness, these feelings will naturally disappear once the person has made new friends. This state of loneliness is usually a transient form of loneliness that changes as the situation or circumstances change.
Chronic Loneliness – This is a form of loneliness that persists over time, regardless of the situation or circumstances. This chronic form of loneliness usually results from having a weak or non-existent support system, a lack of social skills, shyness, and/or low self-confidence. An example would be a person who lacks the self-confidence to initiate conversations when meeting new people, or a person who fears being alone. This type of loneliness often requires the person to take action and build a new set of social skills. A specific type of this loneliness involves people with mental health issues. Even if they have a great support system and are surrounded by those who care, their issues cause them to feel alienated and lonely. They need to see a medical professional if it continues.
As loneliness becomes a bigger problem for people on all levels of society, it is important to distinguish the specific symptoms of loneliness. Because loneliness is an extreme emotional state in which people experience powerful feelings of isolation from others, it is accompanied by a variety of thoughts and feelings. People who are lonely will exhibit many of the following symptoms:
• Crying a lot of the time
• Feeling “hollow” inside
• Feeling alienated from other people
• Feeling as if you are alone, even though you
are surrounded with others
• Feeling as if you are not accepted
• Feeling as if you are not as worthwhile
• Feeling as if you are not loved
• Feeling as if you cannot make friends or build
stronger relationships with acquaintances
• Feeling as if you do not have the same
interests and values as those around you
• Feeling as if you have nobody with whom to
share personal concerns and experiences
• Feeling cutoff or disconnected
• Feeling damaged and unloved
• Feeling empty
• Feeling lost with no direction
• Feeling physical pain akin to a “broken heart”
• Feeling sad
Effects of Loneliness
Negative feelings of loneliness can lead to a variety of other health-related concerns and stress-related conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. In addition, loneliness is often related to addiction, various forms of anti-social behavior, disrupted sleep patterns and various mental-health conditions. People experiencing long-term (chronic) form of loneliness are more susceptible to experiencing these wider effects of loneliness. If your participants are experiencing any of these effects, suggest they see a medical professional.