The Importance of Optimism to a Healthy Lifestyle

The Meriam Webster dictionary defines optimism as a personal condition says to anticipate the best possible outcome.

People like others who are optimistic, but during some of the dark times in our history people questioned their happy view of the world. Oscar Hammerstein II wrote a whole song about it for South Pacific: His lyrics question if someone with a positive outlook could be a mature adult. The character Nellie sings, “…they called me a cockeyed optimist, immature and incurably green.” By the end of the song the Nellie tells us she is “…stuck like a dope with a thing called hope, and I can’t get it out of my heart.” Of course, Mr. Hammerstein also wrote songs like Oh What a Beautiful Morning, so maybe he is just reflecting his own optimistic opinion rather than just Nellie’s.

Miriam Webster’s definition and a beloved lyricist tell us that being an optimist will make us happy. What other reason to try and maintain optimism do we need? If you aren’t a fan of dancing around a stage singing pretty silly lyrics or reading the dictionary, perhaps we should pay attention to those health care advocates that tell us being an optimist is important for our general well-being. 

According to the website Heart and Stroke, a positive mindset is associated with better health and a lower chance of disease.” A survey of 15 recent studies including over 200,000 participants conducted by Heart and Stroke found a 35% lower chance of getting heart disease and a 14% lower chance of early death in people who were optimists.” Retrieved from https://www.heartandstroke.ca/articles/how-optimism-benefits-your-health. March 14, 2022. 

The University of Rochester Medical Center website agrees: “The message is that having a positive attitude can boost your physical health, no matter what might be ailing you. The researchers also noted that optimism seemed to have consistent benefits for people regardless of demographic factors such as income level or overall health status.” Retrieved from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=4511 March 14, 2022.  

Clearly, we can tell our clients, without fear of contradiction, that being one of the fortunate happy-go-lucky people who go through life often seeing the glass as half-full is a good thing. Are we then to tell those who are more pessimistic in their outlook that they are doomed to less-than-optimal health? No, we can help those who look on the dark side of every issue to find a path with better lighting.

Building Resiliency Workbook

In The Building Resiliency Workbook, authors John Liptak, EdD, and Ester Leutenberg suggest we ask these five questions of ourselves and our clients:

  1. Do you believe yourself to be an optimist or pessimist? Why do you believe this?
  2. How long have you been an optimist or pessimist? What brought this worldview on
  3. How did your childhood affect the way you view the world?
  4. How can you begin to view the world in an even more positive light?
  5. Think of a time when you viewed a situation as negative, and yet, something positive came out of it.

Think of the optimistic people in your life. Do you feel better when you are around them? Make an effort to include these people in your daily life.  The ability to look at a situation and reframe it into something positive rather than negative is an effective way to begin to look at the happier side of the issues that confront you. This exercise, Reconstructing My Attitude, is a great way to practice. Do it yourself a couple of times. Then use it with your clients who are struggling to realign their attitudes. 

One last suggestion from Liptak and Leutenberg: look for the good in people. You’ll find it in almost everyone.

Excerpts from The Building Resiliency Workbook by John Liptak, EdD, and Ester Leutenberg.

Get Over It…Does It Work?

What does it mean to get over it? In general, it means that we are no longer in the emotional grips of a past event. National Get Over It Day was created by Jeff Goldblatt in 2007 when he was having difficulty getting over a girlfriend. He realized his troubles were relatable to many people. Here’s a link to the National Get Over It website: https://nationaltoday.com/national-get-over-it-day/

Michael Friedmann’s July 1, 2021 blog on the Psychology Today site says, “…getting over it is no longer being in the emotional grips of a past event. We can remember the event, but we are not allowed to wallow in our past emotions.” Dr. Friedmann doesn’t believe that it is reasonable to simply get over it, and the people close to us who are telling us to do so don’t necessarily have our best interests at heart. They want us to get over it so they don’t have to deal with the emotional fallout resulting from our struggles.

In Friedmann’s opinion, being told by our loved ones to get over it can make things worse. The more we try to get over it, the more we suppress our emotions before we have really looked at them and determined what to do with them. We don’t want to or can’t deal with the problem now, so we avoid our pain and emotions instead of looking at it.

Most people cannot simply shut down their reactions to something traumatic from the past, nor would it be healthy to do so. Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, who is a clinical psychologist and author of A Happy You says that often getting over something brings to mind the phrase forgive and forget. Getting over something is different. She states that “while there is the forgive aspect, it’s not about forgetting — it doesn’t mean that you condone what has happened or that it doesn’t hurt — it means that you are releasing the anger, sadness, and resentment that goes along with it.”

Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a New York psychologist, agrees. She says that the implication that you are over-acting or prolonging something that isn’t real is harmful. She believes there are two reasons people suggest that you get over it. They care about you and want to help, or they want to minimize their stress about what you are going through.

Here are her 6 tips to help process your issue:

  1. Create an affirmation that will counter your negative thoughts. Remember that good affirmations are short and easily remembered. Don’t recite a whole catalog of things. Be simple. Be brief. Say it often. Post it where you can see it. If you have trouble writing your own, use a common mantra like “om.”
  2. Stay away from places that remind you of your issue. Don’t go shopping right after work if you expect to run into her running the same errand. Find a new book club. Join a running group he isn’t a part of. If you aren’t constantly reminded, you will think of it less and be better able to process it.
  3. Focus on you. Don’t let things fester and grow. Process your hurt. If you feel drained when you get home, do something nice for yourself. Healthy self-care is important. Walk, meditate, exercise, read a book, make music, go for a run, etc. Dr. Hafeez believes a healthy dose of comfort (healthy comfort, of course) will empower you.
  4. Don’t undervalue the strength you can receive from those you love. Lean on them for support.
  5. Talk about what is bothering you. Although you don’t want to expose yourself to the issue or person you are trying to get over, you need to discuss it without feeling guilty. Dr. Hafeez suggests, “Find a friend or therapist who is patient, accepting, and willing to listen can go a long way.”
  6. Even if you haven’t received an apology from whoever hurt you, you can forgive yourself. Keep using healthy self-talk to move forward.

Downloaded from https://www.wellandgood.com/tips-for-getting-over-it/ Mar 8, 2022.

One thing almost everyone believes is important no matter where we are in the process of dealing with our issues, is the ability to relax. Guided imagery is a great way to get there. According to Julie Lusk, author of two volumes of 30 Scripts, Guided Imagery for Meditation and Inner Healing, Second Edition and an expert on guided imagery, yoga, and relaxation in general, people will imagine vivid scenes, colors, images, or sounds while others will focus on what they are feeling. Therefore, a selection of scripts or exercises is helpful.

Try this one on for size, both for you and your clients. Click on this link to Magic Carpet Ride, by Judy Fulop, and included in 30 Scripts, Volume 2. If working with clients, read it at a steady pace, following the directions within the script. If you are doing it by yourself, read a paragraph, and then do as it suggests. Some find it easier if they read out loud. Others prefer reading to themselves. Try it several times until you find what works best for you and your group. Relaxation is a muscle skill just like tossing a baseball or playing the piano. Give yourself and your clients a chance to master the technique.

Rise Up, Rise Up

In response to the pandemic, most mental health practitioners have seen a rise in their caseload as well as a rise in the depression those clients present. Professionals struggle to replace solutions relied upon in the past. Time-tested solutions are challenged by the reality of pandemic living.

It is almost inevitable that this increase in our workload and the intensity of clients’ symptoms create increased stress for the therapist. Furthermore, upon leaving work, those who work in mental health are exposed to the same issues with which our clients’ struggle. Dealing with what is hoped to be the tail-end of the pandemic, almost everyone is finding personal issues are more intense than they were pre-pandemic. Finding a balance between work and the rest of our lives is more important than ever.

The symptoms of burnout are well known. To bring them to the forefront, watch for:

  • Emotional exhaustion.
  •  A lack of engagement with and/or negative feelings about one’s job.
  • A decline in work performance, efficacy, and/or sense of professional accomplishment.

How can mental health care professionals keep from sinking into a morass of depression, anxiety, and despair? How can we rise up and overcome? Resiliency is the key.  Here are some great suggestions from Diana Concannon, PsyD, dean of the California School of Forensic Studies at Alliant International University on how to increase our resiliency.

Unless otherwise noted, the following material is excerpted from The Building Resiliency Workbook, by Ester Leutenberg and John Liptak, EdD.

Building Resiliency Workbook

Resiliency will help:

  • Manage life’s challenges, stresses, changes, and pressures effectively.
  • Cope and adapt successfully to adversity.
  • Bounce back to a balanced state after facing a major disruption in life or career.

Journaling is another extremely powerful tool. Many folks have lovely journals beside the bed that are buried beneath the “I need to read this” pile, gathering dust. Many others have a blue exam book or something like it filled with their thoughts written faithfully each night. You don’t need to write daily. You haven’t failed if you miss a few. Just pick it up and go on when you feel ready to do so.

From a physical point of view, writing reduces stress and lowers muscle tension, blood pressure and heart rate levels. Psychologically, writing reduces sadness, depression, and general anxiety, and leads to a greater level of life satisfaction and optimism. Behaviorally, writing leads to enhanced social skills, emotional intelligence and creativity. It also leads to improved resiliency and the ability to deal effectively with adversity and stress in life.

Follow this link to an exercise called Hope. It is a simple journaling exercise, recalling what is often forgotten. Hope does, indeed, spring eternal. Hope will help you rise up above stress and depression.

HOPE: https://wholeperson.com/pdf/Hope-Building-Resiliency.pdf

Here are some favorite quotes about optimism, another integral part of resiliency. Choose one or two and journal about them. Remember, no one sees your journal entries except you. Don’t worry about grammar, syntax, punctuation, or the like. Just let it flow.

Optimism is essential to achievement, and it is also the foundation of courage and true progress.

~ Nicholas Butler

Too much of a good thing is wonderful.

 ~ May West

My optimism for life carried through my work.

~ John Dyer

One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn’t pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself.

~ Lucille Ball

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.

~ Helen Keller

The average pencil is seven inches long, with just a half-inch eraser – in case you thought optimism was dead.

~ Robert Brault

Go forth into the busy world and love it. Interest yourself in its life; mingle kindly with its joys and sorrows.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mindful Meditation

Many of us promote the benefits of mindful living and mindful meditation in our practice. To start our discussion on the same page, mindfulness is the process of developing your mind so that it is fully attending to the present moment – to your sensations, emotions, and thoughts, to what you are doing, and to your environment. 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 (Leutenberg, Liptak, 2019). Merriam-Webster On-line Dictionary defines it as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” Being aware of and participating in what is happening in and around you without judgment seems to sum it up nicely.

We teach mindfulness to our clients and encourage them to engage in mindful meditation. Some of the benefits Leutenberg and Liptac cite are:

  • Increased acceptance
  • Greater awareness
  • Less intense reactions
  • Relaxed approach
  • Calm demeanor
  • Mental functioning

In 2012, Daphne M. Davis, PhD and Jeffrey A. Hayes, PhD wrote for the APA, published in July/August 2012, Vol 43, No. 7 defining mindful meditation as doing the following:

  • Promotes metacognitive awareness
  • Decreases rumination via disengagement from perseverative cognitive activities
  • Enhances attentional capacities through gains in working memory

Here are some of the benefits they ascribe to mindful meditation:

  • Reduced rumination
  • Reduced stress
  • Increases focus
  • Boosts memory
  • Less emotional reactivity
  • More cognitive flexibility
  • Relationship satisfaction

They listed several other benefits as well not mentioned here.

One of the requirements of modern practice is that we have a tool for noticing the improvement in our clients. We can’t, of course, report improvement unless we understand where our participants are before we start. Published in The Mindfulness Skills Workbook: Remedies for Worry, Anxiety, and Stress, the authors present an assessment to successfully gauge where your client is when beginning. Give it at the end of your sessions to measure progress.

Click here to download the Mindfulness Assessment.

As we continue to work with our clients, we often hear of their struggle to turn their thoughts from autopilot to paying attention to the here and now. Suggest they pay attention to easy things: the texture of dishwater, the smoothness of dishes, the smell of the dishwasher when the door is opened. It seems easy until they try keeping their thoughts on mundane tasks. Doing so, however, is great training for being mindful of larger things: the giggle of children when you play with them, the lovely smell when they come out of the bath, their beautiful faces, their reaction as you read them a new story and so on.

Mindfulness Skills Workbook
Mindfulness Skills Workbook

Are You Comfortable Being with Yourself? is an exercise to help clients adjust to being alone with themselves. Explain that it is difficult for people to be alone with themselves and just do nothing. They think things they don’t want to think, rehash the day’s hassles, and can’t turn their minds off. Ask for volunteers from the group to offer what people who feel like that tend to do. (Obsessively check the phone, email, social media, watch non-stop television, or keep themselves busy every moment in some way.)

Click here to download the exercise.

Don’t forget to save some time for you. Work on your own ability to be mindful, then enjoy the fruits of your labor being focused, stress free, having less conflicts, and generally fitting better into your world.

*Much of the information in this article is excerpted from The Mindfulness Skills Workbook: Remedies for Worry, Anxiety, and Stress by John Liptak, EdD, and Ester Leutenberg.

Affirmations: How to guide your participants to create useful and productive affirmations.

Therapists and other professionals in the field often ask their clients to write affirmations. An easy assignment? Once you guide someone through their maze of negativity to a point where they can see the many good things about themselves, the rest should be easy. That is not always the case, especially for those we work with who have spent a lifetime being criticized by folks whose opinions matter to them. Here is a nice list of what should be included in an effective affirmation, excerpted from Teens: Positive Thoughts + Affirmations = Positive Actions by Ester R.A. Leutenberg and Carol Butler, MS Ed, RN, C.

A brief restatement of affirmation theory based on the work of Claude Steele, 1988.

Claude Steele proposed a particular theory behind affirmations known as the self-affirmation theory. In this theory, Steele states that we have a fundamental motivation to maintain our self-integrity, or our natural perception of ourselves as being good, virtuous, and capable to control the outcome of important events. Steele noted that affirmations allow us to preserve and support our unconscious self-integrities; thus, through time, our subconscious will accept the affirmation as being true.

Effective affirmations are…

  • Positive to create the reality you want.
  • Personal and in your own words, the way you really talk.
  • Powerful to motivate your thoughts and actions.
  • In the present tense as if you already are who you want to be, or already have what you want.
  • Believable.
  • Achievable.
  • Short and easy to remember and repeat.

So, to reiterate, participants should aim for affirmations that are positive, personal, powerful, present tense, believable, achievable, and short. Below is a list of 12 good ones.

  1. I am kind.
  2. I complete my work assignments on time.
  3. I eat healthy foods.
  4. I exercise an appropriate amount each day.
  5. I stick to my budget.
  6. I spend an appropriate amount of time each day gaming.
  7. I attend my children’s concerts.
  8. I walk my dog daily.
  9. I give to charities I believe in.
  10. I am cheerful at work.
  11. I find good in everyone.
  12. I support the members of my team.

Finding success with affirmations is like finding success with anything. Clients must understand that practice, practice, practice is key. Each time they repeat an affirmation they are closer to the ideal they are describing.

12 Affirmations Exercise

Audience: Group or individual working with esteem issues, career building, core values, etc.

Time:  1 hour +/-, depending upon how long the facilitator allows for writing affirmations and size of the group.

Tools:  Black or white board or computer screen the participants can see. Download and copy the Affirmations Participant Handouts, which includes 3 Participant Handouts: What Is An Affirmation, Positive Traits, and Monthly Affirmations.

Presenter’s Guide

  1. Hand out the 3 Affirmations Participant Handouts. Have them read Participant Handout #1: What Is An Affirmation.
  2. Discuss the theory of affirmations and how to write them effectively.
  3. Solicit from them what makes a good or not-so-good affirmation.
  4. Ask participants to consider what they learned in the group discussion and the definitions and examples you provided. Ask them to synthesize the information, writing a brief paragraph. Let them know this will not be graded.
  5. Discuss their conclusions with the participants.
  6. Introduce Participant Handout #3: Monthly Affirmations. Be clear about the steps of the activity.
  7. If they seem to be having trouble coming up with 12 attributes they like about themselves go around the group and solicit ideas from each person. Of course, remember that no one should be forced to share their ideas. If they are stuck reference Participant Handout #2: Positive Traits.
  8. After giving the participants time to write their 12 favorite traits about themselves or goals they have, proceed to the next step. Remind them again what the traits of a well-written affirmation are. (Affirmations are positive, personal, powerful, present tense, believable, achievable, and short.)
  9. Instruct them to write out the affirmation they chose for this month and put it up at home where they will see it every day.
  10. Remind them to journal about how they are feeling throughout the month.

Consciously Well Holidays

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” This cheery tune becomes an earwig for many of us as we wander through any kind of store playing holiday muzak. However, “According to a survey, 45% of…people living in the United States would choose to skip out on the holidays, rather than deal with the stress of it all.” (https://www.claritychi.com/holiday-stress/). So, what’s so bad about holidays? Time off. Connecting with family and friends. Special delicious foods. Party-time! Sounds a lot like wellness, but what’s the all too common experience? Stress!

A poll by the American Psychological Association shows:
• Nearly a quarter of Americans reported feeling “extreme stress” come holiday time
• 69 percent of people are stressed by the feeling of having a “lack of time,”
• 69 percent are stressed by perceiving a “lack of money,”
• 51 percent are stressed out about the “pressure to give or get gifts.”
https://allonehealth.com/holiday-stress-guide/


In contrast to the holiday season we have created, the natural season in the Northern Hemisphere is the polar opposite. These are the dark days that slow us down, invite us to rest, recuperate, and replenish our energy. It’s a time better suited to reflection, contemplation, intimacy, warmth and connection. The ecology of the world – which we are part of, not separate from – dives into a biological shift that allows for dormancy, hibernation and such. As larger mammals that don’t hibernate, we do remain active, yet, it seems we try to maintain an activity level that doesn’t change as the world around us changes. Electric lights and indoor heating keep us going like it’s the middle of summer. If anything, it’s not the time of year to biologically and mentally deny us what we truly crave – a break!

“Managing” our stress is only a partial solution, and often more of an illusion. What works is recovering from stress. Psycho-physiologically we need to counterbalance the over-activation of our Sympathetic Nervous System (the Fight-Flight or Stress Response) with time spent allowing our Parasympathetic Nervous System to counteract the former, bringing out the Relaxation Response. (See my previous blog post: “The Psychophysiology of Stress – What The Wellness Coach Needs To Know”)

So, how can we more consciously live in greater harmony with the winter season? How can we slow down with it and recharge our physical, mental/emotional and spiritual batteries? We can look to some cultures in the world that approach winter differently. How about some Niksen and Hygge?

In a very informative Blue Zones article, “Niksen: The Dutch Art of Purposefully Doing Nothing” author Elisabeth Almekinder shows how doing less can give us more. “Doing nothing, but with a purpose to do nothing or no purpose at all, may help to decrease anxiety, bring creativity to the surface, and boost productivity. The Dutch have perfected the practice of doing nothing, or “niksen” so well that they are some of the happiest people on earth.”

For many people, “doing nothing” may seem like a huge challenge. Our minds are usually firing on all cylinders, sometimes fueled by stimulants such as caffeine. We are often continually distracted by our work, our phones, our online activity, the radio we are playing, etc. We are almost bombarded by media about “mindfulness” which offers one alternative solution, but Niksen is slightly different. “It’s not mindfulness: a better definition would be a short period of mindless relaxation” is how Almekinder describes it. She urges us to “loosen your concept of time and productivity and practice this simple exercise from the Netherlands. Allowing your brain to rewire from stress by doing nothing is a wellness practice worth implementing. If you are sitting in a cafe, you can indulge in some stress-busting niksen but sipping your coffee and looking out the window. Leave your phone in your pocket and let your mind wander.” So, when that empty moment comes, don’t fill it in. How many of us have conditioned ourselves to reach for our phone if nothing else is handy and search for something to occupy our minds. You might say that niksen is a way to liberate your mind from occupation!

So, there is value in “spacing out” however you do it. I love to practice this as a form of observational meditation. I’m fortunate to have a great backyard inhabited by lots of birds, squirrels and a few lovely rabbits. Trees, bushes and plants change with the seasons and weather brings sunshine, wind, clouds, and sometimes rain or snow. I simply sit and watch as I rid my mind of thoughts about the rest of the world, what I need to do next, and such. The key is to simply observe. Refrain from connecting what you are seeing with what it might be related to. Just watch the snow fall without thinking about the meteorological implications.

Another culture that knows how to make the most of this time of year is Denmark. The Danes call is Hygge. I wrote about this last December in my blog post “Maximizing Wellbeing During Pandemic Holidays”.

“Hygge, a Danish term defined as “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” Pronounced “hoo-guh,” the word is said to have no direct translation in English, though “cozy” comes close.” (https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-year-of-hygge-the-danish-obsession-with-getting-cozy) Taking pleasure in the simple things of life that yield contentment is a great way to make it through the winter. Whether alone, or with whomever you can get cozy with, we can slow down and give ourselves permission to “indulge” in things that give us comfort. Shutting off the television and reading a good novel under a warm blanket with a hot cup of cheer on hand can start to reframe our whole mood.”

Coaching It Up

Health & Wellness Coaching clients sometimes postpone their sessions until after the holiday season passes. While this might be fine for some, it could be the time when coaching could be of great value. Inquire with your client about how you might adjust what areas of focus they are working on to fit their more immediate concerns, such as holiday stress. Ask permission to offer some resources they might find interest in such as the information above in this post.

Current wellness goals may need some specialized attention during this time of year. Weather changes may require new strategies for being physically active as outdoor options may become more challenging. Clients may worry about maintaining progress on weight loss as they face the temptations of holiday treats, parties, etc. Explore with them their attitude, fears, and assumptions about their upcoming holiday dinner. Explore the pressures they are experiencing around holiday gift giving and their financial wellness. There is actually plenty of coaching that can be done to help our clients come through the holidays successfully.

For You and Your Client

Think about what your holiday goals are this year. Consider substituting the stresses and pressures you’ve experienced before with a whole new set of intentions. Sitting down, either by yourself or in conscious deliberation with your partner/others and set intentions for a holiday that actually meets your needs. Those needs can include sharing your abundance with others through gift giving, philanthropy or through volunteer work, etc. Think through how you can create a holiday season less focused on material wealth and more on the kind of personal, spiritual, and physical wealth that enhances your wellbeing and serves others.

-By Michael Arloski, author of Master Health & Wellness Coaching

All Heroes

Whole Person Associates would like to thank all those veterans who have served or are currently serving our country and all those who waited and welcomed them home. They are all heroes. “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” ~ Christopher Reeve. The information that follows is excerpted from Veterans, Surviving and Thriving Trauma by Ester Leutenberg and Carol Butler, MS Ed, RN, C.

The veterans we work with often are hampered in their transition by visible and invisible wounds. The folks they love may have changed. They have changed. These changes can be drastic. Rejoining the family they left, stress, anger, depression, guilt, grief, substance abuse, and other issues will impact their relationships. They might need help to reconnect.

Fortunately, the bravery and resilience that sustained them during their service can help them now as they work to survive and thrive. Professionals can help them find and use the tools they need to successfully become part of civilian life again. With guidance they can learn what they need to fight their current battles. They can learn to tap into internal strengths and external resources. They can learn that receiving help is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength.

Working with veterans presents a different set of issues for the clinician. Our vets need guidance through the tumult of joy, grief, and unexpected feelings that arise as they reintegrate into a peacetime society. They need a place that feels safe to discuss their deepest feelings. They need to know they are not being judged. They need to know there are solutions.

Here is a list of some of the events and feelings returning vets might need to process.

Veterans front cover
  • I am appreciated for my patriotism.
  • People recognize my new skills, maturity, and other attributes.
  • I am a positive role model for my children.
  • My family bonds are strengthened.
  • My flexibility and adaptation to change benefit myself and others.
  • I am able to re-negotiate rules and roles better after I have been home a while.
  • I re-evaluate my relationship, and its goals, and the direction it will take.
  • I am grateful I am a survivor.
  • I feel a roller-coaster of emotions.
  • I will never be the same.
  • People do not understand what I have been through and how I have changed.
  • I question whether people will accept the new me.
  • I need time and space and resent probing questions by well-meaning people.
  • My homecoming is not what I expected.
  • My reception seemed lukewarm.
  • It is difficult to re-connect with my partner emotionally or physically.
  • My transition from being single to a couple is difficult.
  • My relationship and roles are changing because my partner and I have changed.
  • I am engaged in power struggles.
  • I encounter resistance as I try to resume my prior authority or role.
  • My parents still treat me like a child.
  • My children may remain detached because they fear another separation.
  • The kids fear my discipline; my partner warned, “Just wait until daddy or mommy gets home!”
  • Teens rebel against my rules and expectations.
  • I expect schedules and regimentation; my family is undisciplined; my home disorganized.
  • I miss contact with veterans who have been there and done that.
  • My partner does not understand my need to stay connected with buddies.I feel survivor’s guilt because I lived and some of my buddies died.
  • I dislike the whirlwind of welcoming activities.
  • I think it is too soon for household chores, school, or work; but feel the pressure.
  • I find it hard to do my old job.
  • I cannot get work; employers do not value my skills.
  • I am the supposed hero, but others want credit for responsibilities handled at home or work.
  • I am concerned about future or multiple deployments.

Veterans deal with an extraordinary amount of stress when they return to their families. They don’t always have the skills they need to keep their head above water. Follow this link to  Coping and Calming: A to Z, an excellent set of worksheets, including a facilitators page. These also come from Veterans: Surviving and Thriving Trauma by Ester Leutenberg and Carol Butler, MS Ed, RN, C

Trick-or-treat this year?

Trick-or-treat this year?

At this time of year even the busiest professional is besieged with “Please can I wear this fairy costume without a coat and go trick-or-treating without you?” Not, of course, from their clients, but from their own family. Covid statistics for children have been climbing and many aren’t sure what is safe for their children. Some of the usual activities to keep kids safe in our city aren’t a good choice this year. Pre-covid our local universities hosted safe trick-or-treat events in the dorms. Not this year. Following the guidance of the CDC and other authorities any activities for kids will be outside. Local mall activities have been restricted to a short trick-or-treat window and will keep everyone a safe distance apart. The experts seem to agree, however, that keeping kids outside and making sure you check their treats should provide the fun and safety we remember from our own childhood. Picture the treat-or-treat scenes in E.T.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Sunday encouraged families to celebrate Halloween and other holidays amid the Covid-19 pandemic, though still urged “prevention strategies. “ She continued, addressing other upcoming holidays:

It’s critically important that we gather, that we be together with family and friends during these holidays,” she said, “and we have the prevention strategies that we know work to be safe for those holidays. So what I would say is get yourself vaccinated before you gather; it will absolutely be safer if you’re vaccinated. Any activity that is outdoors is safer than it is if it’s indoors. And if you are gathering multiple households, make sure as many people are vaccinated as possible so you can protect the people who are vulnerable, who might not yet be vaccinated.

Three easy tips from Dr. Anthony Faucci:

  • Mask up! Not the masks we usually see at Halloween that often restrict vision, but the regular kind we now expect. Kids younger than 12 are still at risk and unvaccinated. The mask is a front-line protection.
  • Keep hands clean! The risk of infection from candy wrappers has proved to be low, but clean hands are still the way to go.
  • Stay outdoors! There is much less risk of infection!

A couple more good sense reminders:

Go with your kids. If they are over 12 and they are vaccinated and really, really can’t stand going with mom or dad, they should be OK as long as they understand not to go in anyone’s home or car.

Avoid parties, events, and trick-or-treating indoors. If you live in an area of single-family homes, town homes, or the like, your kids should be fine going door-to-door. Of course, younger kids need you to go with them, and be sure they stay outside. Interaction among kids outdoors should not be a threat.

Enjoy Halloween. Be safe.

Reaching Teenagers Effectively

If any group of therapists, counselors, or other caregivers of teenagers were asked if the pandemic has added to the mental health issues teens around us struggle with, most of them would reply with a resounding yes. The struggle of feeling alone presented by the pandemic has led many teens to question their reality, the adults around them, and their future. They are bombarded by social media influencers, the advertising industry, their parents and teachers, and their peers with conflicting messages that confuse and distress them. They haven’t had the everyday outlet of talking with their peers between classes, before and after school.

stressed teenage girl wearing a pandemic mask

By early May 2020, emergency department (ED) visit counts for suspected suicide attempts began increasing among adolescents aged 12–17 years, especially among girls. During July 26–August 22, 2020, the mean weekly number of ED visits for suspected suicide attempts among girls aged 12–17 years was 26.2% higher than during the same period a year earlier; during February 21–March 20, 2021, mean weekly ED visit counts for suspected suicide attempts were 50.6% higher among girls aged 12–17 years compared with the same period in 2019. (CDC, 2021)

Mental health professionals are tasked with creating programs and activities that will not only help but will be acceptable to a very difficult to engage group of people…teenagers. The average ratio of students to counselors is 311 to one. Only one if five high school students are enrolled in a high school with enough counselors. (https://edtrust.org/resource/school- counselor%20ratio%20is,there%20is%20a%20sufficient%20amount%20of%20school%20counselors.) Now that schools have, for the most part, reopened, we are going to have to reach teens in large groups and hope that those in need will be helped or step forward and ask for more.

Given these parameters, how do we get through to teenagers in the situation described above, or even in a classroom of thirty who aren’t in the least bit interested in listening to someone they don’t know or trust rambling on about the state of their lives? Counselors need to develop unusual ways of catching the students’ attention. If we were all born comics, we could easily invent a plethora of activities ourselves. Since we aren’t, we tend to fall back on exercises we’ve been using for years and are surprised when they don’t have the anticipated impact. We search the internet and our own toolboxes for exercises that we feel might appeal to teenagers, make note of those that work, and use them in other settings. We network with our peers to find out what they are doing and how it is working. Are students responding? Are they reaching out for the help they need? Are they waiting weeks for their turn with the school psychologist?

The following worksheets are from Teens ~ Out-of-the-Box Coping Skills by Ester Leutenberg and Carol Butler, MS Ed, RN, C. The hands-on action and the visual aids foster anticipation, participation, and revelation. Download the Stress Less Kit to use with students and teenage clients, and see how it works.

*Download the Stress Less Kit from Teens ~ Out-of-the-Box Coping Skills here.

Coaching Alignment, Patience and Pacing

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Being in alignment with our client can refer to both our cognitive and emotional congruence with them. Congruence, resonance, and even alignment itself are all ways of expressing being on the same page. This means clearly understanding the content of what our client is saying and being in touch with their emotional state and expression. This allows us to more easily and effectively provide empathic understanding, and results from the effort by the coach to relate to the client, understand them, and what they are communicating.

Alignment is achieved by a combination of effective coaching presence, a lack of judgment, active listening skills, and the way the coach creates a tempo for the session through the use of their own verbal skills. On this latter point, how is the coach matching or reflecting the speed of the client’s speech and how are they (the coach) influencing or regulating it? How fast is the client covering ground? That is, how quickly are they discussing subjects and processing? In other words what is the pace of the coaching session?

When coach and client are out of alignment, coaching, much like a car engine, tends to sputter. If the coach is ahead of the client, talking much faster, pushing an agenda, or trying to cover ground too quickly, the client may simply check out of the conversation, or struggle to keep up. The result could be awkward silences in response to questions, or a fits-and-starts type of interchange that is seldom productive.

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If the coach is behind the client, we see insufficient energy being expressed by the coach and the client is setting a pace out of sync. At some point the client will notice how the coach is not keeping up either with content or with energy. The client may become frustrated or despondent, and could even decide to drop out of coaching. The consequences of being out of alignment with our client can be serious.

Being Out of Alignment – Causes

So, what can cause a coach to be so out of alignment with their client? What leads them to become out of synchronization with the coaching conversation?

  • Coach’s personality and anxiety. Some people are naturally faster talkers and processors. These coaches have to self-monitor their own rapid speech and processing with a determined effort at patience. There is also the anxiety that comes with being new to coaching.
  • Coach’s culture and background. Some people have simply learned to talk faster because of their family of origin, their own background, or even where they grew up. It’s a common observation to see the stereotypical New Yorker speaking rapidly.
  • Pressure from a coaching system the coach is working in. Coaches sometimes work for companies that expect fast results. Coaching sessions, even with limited time, don’t have to feel rushed but easily could.
  • The coach is too up in their head. That is, they are thinking too much about what to say or ask next and their listening is suffering as a result. The coach misses vital expressions of emotion or even content leaving the client feeling unheard. The client may be baffled by why the coach is asking about something that they spoke of earlier but from which they have already moved.

How to Be in Alignment with Our Client

  • Get centered. Being centered, grounded and more calm allows the coach to be as patience as they need to be. It allows the coach to be more present and better at observing all that is going on with their client. Doing what centers you in your life on a regular basis will allow you to come into the coaching session in a more centered way.
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  • Psychophysiological self-regulation. What allows you to manage your own anxiousness? First is awareness that you may have gone beyond feeling energetic to acting frenetically. Become aware of the signs that your level of anxiety has become high. Anxiety is not always accompanied by worry. Are you jumping at sudden, loud noises? Are you breathing short and shallow? Have you exceeded the caffeine intake that you can handle without becoming wired? Practice breathing with more depth. Get enough sleep and rest. Consider using methods for deeper relaxation such as relaxation recordings, practicing Yoga or Tai Chi, etc.
  • Know yourself. If you are a person with a long history of very rapid speech (no matter where or how you learned it), your challenge is to accept the fact that unless you are matched with a very similar client, it just won’t work well in coaching. You will have to make a very conscious, concerted effort to slow down.
  • Pace with patience. Consider the work you are doing with your client as a whole, not just one coaching session. This is where coaching with a well-developed methodology that has significant coaching structure will allow you to have perspective. Such perspective will allow you to be more patient and not feel like you have to push to get steps accomplished prematurely.
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  • Dance with some rhythm. Good and great coaching appears to be like a dance between two partners that have established a rhythm that they are in sync with. There is a great two-way nature to an effective coaching conversation. The coach is actively involved, not just passively listening for long periods of time while the client rattles on. This is where effective use of active listening skills throughout the conversation keep the coach involved and keep the client better focused. There is a rhythmic back and forth in the conversation that leads to productivity. A big part of dancing is also adjusting to the changes in the music. When your client shifts, are you able to shift with them? A change in mood, energy, or topic needs to be noticed by you and requires an adjustment. To keep your client focused you might bring the shift to their attention and ask them how they would like to proceed.
  • Self-reflect. Listen to recordings of your coaching. It is much harder to self-reflect in the moment. Your lack of synchronization with your client may become much more obvious when you can observe is afterwards on a recording.

It’s easy to become far too content-focused in our coaching. Yet, what is the content bringing up in our client emotionally and/or mentally? There is so much more going on in a coaching session. This is where our threefold task of awareness comes in:

  1. Awareness of our client.
  2. Awareness of ourselves.
  3. Awareness of what is happening in the coaching relationship. 

When we are in touch with all three, we will notice more about our pacing, our speed of speech, and the whole tempo of the coaching experience. Bottom line: trust the coaching process, relax, and enjoy!

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Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, NBC-HWC is CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness (https://realbalance.com) a premier health & wellness coach training organization that has trained thousands of coaches around the world. He is the author of Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft, available now through Whole Person Associates.

Stress Levels at Work

We all know that stress is not good for us. Newspapers and magazines publish articles telling us of the negative impact of continued high stress levels. When experiencing an average level of stress, blood pressure, heart rate, and body systems return to normal when the incident has passed, including the extra levels of cortisol produced during these times. If, after a dangerous event has passed, stress levels don’t return to normal, the body stays alert to address whatever danger it perceives. Folks with too much stress without a return to a calm state will find the high level of cortisol necessary for the body to process fight or flight, stays too high. For example, a stressful meeting at work followed by an unpleasant run-in with an employee in the hallway, and a huge pile of tasks lying in wait…the body can’t return to pre-stress levels. What follows is anxiousness, headaches, being more susceptible to heart disease, memory and concentration problems, as well as problems with digestion, sleeping, and weight gain. A pretty frightening list of potential health problems from something that seems innocuous. Just a little too much stress. It doesn’t have to be all from the same source, either. Work, family, finances, relationships. The list is endless (https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-cortisol). No one’s body can handle it all. The solution: find an effective way to reduce or eliminate the stress encounter at work.

Stressed by Anger

Of course, if you are a therapist, a counselor, or another health professional you are well aware of the quagmire that results from dealing with too much stress. Both individual clients and professionals themselves tend to believe that they can handle it. It sounds easy. But no one can eliminate all stress. We know, and we tell our clients, some stress (eustress) is good for us, helps us feel alive and ready to shine. For example, performers often say that their stage fright heightens their ability to give a sparkling performance. They use it to their advantage. How do we teach our clients (and ourselves) to keep the good and get rid of the bad?

The conundrum for our clients? Work is of central importance in one’s overall life, volunteer work, satisfaction at home, and general well-being. People who love the work they do, and who feel competent at their work, are more successful and satisfied than those who do not. A large part of their identification comes from the work they do and thus it forms a significant part of folks’ self-concept. The problem is that many workplaces have changed and continue to do so. In this “new” workplace, it is important to develop the requisite work skills and ability to handle added stress that supervisors expect from their workers in today’s world.

Furthermore, while specific knowledge and technical skills gained from formal education or on-the-job-training have been necessary for people in the workplace, work-related or work skills are considered as important as technical expertise. Supervisors are requiring a much broader skill set from their workers, thus increasing the demand for more well-rounded workers. It is estimated that workers in today’s workforce will go from school to school from school to work, from work back to school and then from retraining back to the workplace in an ongoing cycle of trying to learn the necessary work skills required in most positions and demanded by the ever-changing requirements of the fast-moving workplace.

It is imperative, then, for everyone to be responsible for managing their own skill development to keep up with the changes occurring in the workplace. The development of effective work skills in order to stay competitive is critical. Supervisors will expect employees to be able to do their work, and they also expect them to be able to apply knowledge of work skills. Adaptability will also be a key to employment success. Each person now needs to be a self-manager of their own skill and work development. Learning and practicing effective work skills never stops. Each of us, client and practictioner alike, need to be a lifelong learner of skills, including stress management skills, to be an effective worker regardless of the changes in society and the workplace (Essential Work Skills Workbook, Leutenberg and Liptak).

Stressed in the workplace
Stress in the workplace

Ability to deal with workplace stress should be at the top of the list. “People are asking me for answers,” says Sharon Melnick, Ph.D., a business psychologist and author of Success Under Stress. “Everyone feels overwhelmed and overly busy.”

In an article in Forbes Magazine (https://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2013/03/20/12-ways-to-eliminate-stress-at-work/?sh=43ee5e917f29) by staff writer Jenna Goudreau, Dr. Melnick  gives suggestions for a dozen ways for all of us to cut down on high stress levels in the work place.

  1. Act rather than react – Identify what you can and cannot control. Perform impeccably on your parts of a project and let the rest go. Your skills and focus will shine through.
  2. Take a deep breath – One of the most effective methods of controlling stress is to breath properly. You can do a breathing exercise right in the middle of a stressful meeting without anyone knowing what you are doing.
  3. Eliminate interruptions – only answer emails and phone messages during certain times of the day and then close your office door. If you don’t have a door, turn your chair so your back is facing out, put up a sign that says when you will be available, and ignore those who come to see you. Your co-workers will self-train and eventually only come when they know you are available.
  4. Schedule your day so you can stay focused and on task – write a priority list before you go home in the afternoon, and then review it before you start your day. Should they be re-ordered? Did something change overnight that should be reflected in your plan for the day?
  5. Eat right and get enough sleep – provide your body with the right fuel, and sleep enough to reset yourself for a new day.
  6. Change the story – reinterpret the facts. Stressful reactions develop from looking at things through a certain lens. Change the lens. Don’t be a Pollyanna who doesn’t face facts realistically, but remember others’ opinions about you and your skill set are not necessarily negative.
  7. Cool down quickly – pull in air through your pursed lips and blow it out your nose. Done correctly you will feel a physical cooling off in your mouth that will inspire a mental coolness.
  8. Identify self-imposed stress ‒ change your focus from others’ perception of your work to the work itself. This has an added benefit: you’re more likely to impress those with whom you work.
  9. Re-order your priorities – Melnick says, “Focus on projects that will have the most impact and are best aligned with your goals.”
  10. Reset your Panic Button – learn about acupuncture points that will help you settle down. For example, Dr. Melnick suggests positioning your thumb on the side of your middle finger and applying pressure. This will instantly helps regulate your blood pressure.
  11. Influence others – in other words confront a stressful situation or employee as soon as possible. Don’t let the situation fester and grow in your mind. Help others to see things your way.
  12. Be your own best critic – internal negativity is as likely to stress you out as external negativity is. Pump yourself up! Encouraging thoughts will help you achieve at the highest levels and train others to think positively about themselves.

Here is an exercise to help you or your clients manage your workplace stress more effectively. It is from Leutenberg and Liptak’s workbook, Essential Work Skills Workbook.


The Power of Habit

Many times I’ve worked with clients who have made up their minds to change. They have determined that a change is needed and they have decided to change an old habit of their behavior that has been around for a long time (such as overeating, being sedentary or smoking). They appear motivated to change and vow to stop a certain behavior from occurring any more.

Before long they are disappointed that the behavior that they decided to end had resurfaced once again. Often the client would be disappointed not only that the behavior was back, but disappointed in their own lack of will power. They had thought, contrary to what we’ve seen Prochaska teach us, that change was an event (a decision) not a process. They made it about strength of character and gave their own inner critic plenty to berate them with.

Don’t underestimate the power of habit! Once we have adopted a new behavior there are actually neural pathways set up in our nervous system related to this behavior. Today’s neuroscience tells us that our habits are part psycho-physiological! Our bodies, as well as our minds, are in the habit of reacting a certain way, so no wonder changing a habit is not as simple as making a resolution.

Urge your client to consider these quick tips for changing habits.

  1. Practice patience. Research tells us that it takes as many as 180 days to truly drop an old habit and adopt a new one. So stay with it.
  2. No beating yourself up! Don’t put yourself down because you find yourself engaged in the old habit. Be compassionate with yourself instead.
  3. Celebrate catching yourself! Take the repetitions in stride. Realize that despite the old habit showing up again, you are committed to changing the habit. Instead of putting yourself down (“There I go again!”), celebrate the fact that you managed to catch yourself and become aware of it. As you catch yourself earlier in the practice of the old habit, you’ll have even more to celebrate!
  4. Use structures, as discussed on page 155, to help remind you of the new habits you want to adopt. Structures are little physical reminders that help you remember your goals. They may be little signs you print up for yourself reminding yourself to: “Wait to answer the call after 2 rings, not sooner!”; “Breathe!”; “Call a friend today!”;
    “30 min. of writing every day.” Another hint about structures—move them around, change the look of them so they don’t start blending in with the background again (out of habit!).
  5. Involve others in your goals. Let co-workers, friends and family know what you are working on changing. Enlist their support and possibly their awareness and feedback to help you stay engaged in the habit changing process.
  6. Get a coach! Working with a coach gives you someone to help you get clear about what behaviors you really want to change; give you support in the process and/or hold you accountable to do what you say you will do to change the habits.

Every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world’s phenomena intersect, only once in this way and never again.

-Hermann Hesse

Every person’s path to and through change will be unique. As we strive to develop ways to help people make the lifestyle changes that will maximize their wellness we must remember that they are all just offerings we make for each person to examine for themselves.

-Excerpted from Wellness Coaching for Lasting Lifestyle Change, 2nd Ed. by Michael Arloski, PhD, PCC, CWP

How are we doing?

It is the last week of Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. It seems to be a good time to take a look at how, in general, the mental health of the U.S. has fared over the last year. Perhaps we are more resilient than we thought…perhaps not. But tracking how we are doing is important to us all. These numbers will reassure us, or scare the heck out of us, depending on what they are. Let’s take a look at the findings of the CDC, one of our government’s watchdogs. Unfortunately, by the time statistics are gathered, processed, and reported time has passed and the situation “on the ground” has changed. This report covers information gathered from June 24 to 30 of 2020. Almost an entire year ago. Do they still mean anything? Can we draw useful trends and information for planning from something 11 months old? Yes, we probably can, as long as we look at current (April 2021 would be good) trends and factor them into our thinking.

The report indicates that adults in the U.S. reported their mental health was worse than it was last year, a fact that surprised no one. The numbers were worse for younger adults, minorities, essential works, and unpaid caregivers. They reported worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation (CDC, 2020). Again, nothing unexpected. Take a teen and take away all their friends, all their social circle, and all the spontaneous activity that takes place in school and it was likely that they would suffer higher rates of mental health issues.

Creating reports such as this one costs money, perhaps dollars that could have gone to treatment, to helping the homeless, to focusing more dollars to those who have been left out of the process until now. Many believe that the statistics in this report should have been foreseen without expensive polling and exhaustive research. However, today’s climate of best-practice, statistically driven action requires the facts on paper before we can send the boots where they are needed the most. (Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm on May 20, 2022.

That was a year ago. Where are we now? Are we seeing any let-up in the rate of increase as we assess the position of the mental health of Americans?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health one light in the tunnel is that the expected rise in suicide ideation did not manifest itself (Gordon, 2021). Gordon goes on to say:

The mental health impacts of COVID-19 continue. From all that we know, it is clear these impacts will outlive the pandemic itself. Therefore, it is crucial that we work together to apply evidence-based strategies to support the mental health needs of all Americans and to make these strategies broadly available, especially in vulnerable communities.

Make sure that the vulnerable members of your client base are getting the help they need. Make a survey of what your area offers mental health patients that they can access on their own. Take heed of what the disabled population is suffering. While the majority of folks were in lock-down, deliveries, zoom meetings, visits to health care professionals via the internet, and other helpful services for those in lock-down soared. Let us make sure that we don’t let those much-needed services disappear now that the able-bodied population doesn’t have to rely on them.

Check into Maslow’s basic needs and make sure they are getting met. After all, a client suffering from a lack of food doesn’t have much energy left to seek care of their PTSD. If not, help your clients create a presence where they can get help, be it financial, social, or struggling with mental issues made worse by circumstances such as homelessness, chronic mental illness, or finding their next meal.

There is a plethora of new resources to strengthen the coaching alliance as you work with clients face-to-face or online. Check out your favorite resource catalog and see what’s new, or what has been around for a bit, but is new to your practice. Look for a new way to teach coping skills, reduce the stigma of mental illness, or to find peace with the loss of a loved one. Series such as will help you dig down to what the real problem is and how you can help the client not just survive, but soar.

Sleep Problems – Is COVID-19 Keeping Us Awake?

Though sleep is called our best friend, it is a friend who often keeps us waiting.
~ Jules Verne

The events of the last year or so have impacted everyone in one way or another. One area of our lives that has been heavily hit is sleep patterns. Most folks no longer need to spring out of bed in time to get breakfast, kids to school, a quick workout at the gym, and catch the train/carpool/bus to work. The lack of structure has encouraged folks to sleep in more often and stay up later at night. For some, this has resulted in sleep problems.

In a recent survey conducted by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), more than half of Americans have had increased trouble sleeping since the beginning of the pandemic.

A survey by the AASM of 2,006 adults, 56% of those questioned indicated they had increased sleep problems since the start of the pandemic. These issues are called “COVID-somnia.” Some of the symptoms are difficulty falling asleep, problems staying asleep, worse quality of sleep, and it isn’t just the elderly that are having these problems. “Those aged 35-44 had the highest rate of COVID-somnia sleep disturbances at 70%” (AASM, 2021).

As many can attest, the harder we try to fall asleep, the wider awake we become. In the same survey quoted above, the AASM found that 51% of those reporting problems were using sleep aids of some kind, while 68% of those already using sleep aids were using them more often. Only 5% of those regularly using sleep aids before the pandemic were using them less frequently. Dr. Fariha Abbasi-Feinberg, a sleep medicine specialist from Ft. Meyers, FL, reminds us that “Medicinal sleep aids should be used cautiously for people with sleep problems and should always be used in consultation with a medical provider.”

So, more sleep problems, but don’t use sleep aids and try to avoid prescriptions. What is the solution, or do we wait until the pandemic is over and hope we can catch up then? That’s not likely to work! Studies have shown that trying to reduce a sleep deficit by getting more sleep at another time doesn’t work. For example, a study found that sleeping in on weekends doesn’t reverse the metabolic dysregulation and potential weight gain associated with regular sleep loss (Depner, et.al. Current Biology, 2019).

Here are some ideas for overcoming sleep problems without resorting to sleep aids or trying to catch up later from the CDC COVID-19 site that might help (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/managing-workplace-fatigue.html).

  1. You’ll sleep better if your room is comfortable, dark, cool, and quiet.
  2. If it takes you longer than 15 minutes to fall asleep, set aside sometime before bedtime to do things to help you relax. Try meditating, relaxation breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation.
  3. Avoid sunlight or bright lights 90 minutes before you go to sleep, when possible. Exposure to light just before bedtime can cause you to feel more awake.
  4. Take naps when you have the opportunity.
  5. Eat healthy foods and stay physically active because it can improve your sleep.
  6. Before you go to sleep, avoid foods and drinks that can make falling asleep more difficult:

Other suggestions gleaned from the 2021 AASM survey include:

  • Turn off electronics at least 30 minutes before going to bed.
  • Use your bed only for sleep and sex.
  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Avoid the temptation to sleep late on days you don’t have to check in to work or on vacation. Choose a bedtime that will allow you to get 7 hours of sleep.
  • If you are still awake after 20 minutes, get out of bed.
  • Don’t eat a large meal right before bedtime. Try a light, healthy snack instead.
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
  • Cut down on the fluids, including alcohol before bedtime.

(Abbasi-Feinberg, 2021)

Here are some exercises you can download from Coping with Sleep Issues Workbook by Leutenberg and Liptak to help you take a tangible step towards better sleep.

Reflecting on My Lack of Sleep will help you pinpoint what might be keeping you awake.

Sleeping Better will help you make small but helpful changes in your sleep environment.

A brief note about the AASM survey. The March 2021 AASM Sleep Prioritization Survey involved 2,006 adult participants in the U.S. The margin of error is +/-2 percentage points with a confidence interval of 95 percent. Atomik Research, an independent market research agency, conducted the survey. To request a copy of the survey COVID-somnia results contact the AASM at media@aasm.org. Retrieved from https://aasm.org/americans-struggling-good-nights-sleep-during-pandemic/ April 14, 2021.)

Helping Negotiate the Stress of Returning to School During the Pandemic.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times;” so said Charles Dickens in a Tale of Two Cities. To some extent, that is what parents and students are experiencing right now. Most parents are tickled that their children are returning to school and on-campus learning. Helping with online classes has been difficult. Keeping that Kindergarten student engaged, helping the Intro to Calc student master new skills, managing safe playdates and the like has been exhausting. Now we seem to see a light at the end of the tunnel. How do we negotiate the maze of information and find the right answer for the family?

First, parents have to decide if their kid should go back to on-campus learning. They struggle with weighing the danger to immune-compromised folks in their household against the need for their children to interact with the teacher, fill the void that has been left by in their social lives since schools went to online learning, and the myriad other benefits of normal classes.

Next, they must convince themselves that they made the right decision. Kids quickly pick up on feelings of ambiguity that parents try to disguise. Let them understand the decision-making process and be certain that they aren’t endangering Grandma or another loved one if they go back. Even little ones will be struggling with whether or not they want to return to class themselves. If they see you haven’t decided for sure that it is safe, their anxiety will skyrocket.

Let your children talk about going back and how they feel about it. Just because you had a good student with lots of friends doesn’t mean they won’t have conflicted feelings about the change. They will wonder if they will catch the virus. They will wonder if they are endangering Mom and Dad. They will wonder if it is wrong to be happy to leave Mom and Dad with whom they have been spending lots of time. They will wonder if it will hurt their parents’ feelings if they are excited about going back. Take the time to listen and discern what concerns they have. Don’t present a list of “Are you worried about…” questions. Let them tell you what concerns them and accept their reality. Don’t tell them not to be silly when they ask if it hurts your feelings that they want to go to on-campus classes or pose any other question to you. If they tell you they are worried, accept that the concern is of importance to them.

Work through “what-ifs” with them. Telling a student that they will fit in perfectly and all will be sweetness and light to a kid who has been ignored or bullied isn’t going to help him or her face what is coming. Explain their options carefully. Treat their issues realistically. Painting a rose-colored picture of what is coming…everyone will be friends, no one will bully you…when that hasn’t been the case in the past will not reassure them. It will simply reinforce the idea that parents don’t have a clue what really goes on once they leave the house.

Here is a list of suggestions from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation to help.

  • Don’t be afraid to discuss coronavirus, but be age-appropriate and, As much as possible, try to project a sense of calm and control.
  • Help your child understand the importance of social distancing, handwashing, and wearing a mask.
  • Whether your child is going to a classroom, being homeschooled, or participating in virtual classes, try to help them focus on the positive aspects of the experience.
  • Make sure your child is eating well, getting enough sleep, and keeping physically active.
  • Try to maintain a structured daily routine at home.
  • Remind teenagers often that they are helping to protect others by following health guidelines.
  • If your child is participating in distance learning, create opportunities for them to socialize safely with friends, perhaps via video chats or FaceTime.
  • Reassure children about safety measures in place to keep students and teachers healthy. Remind children that they can also help prevent germs spreading by washing their hands with soap and coughing or sneezing into their elbow.
  • Consistently communicate with your child about your school districts and your families’ own back-to-school plans and listen to their concerns. It is important to encourage and remind children to be flexible as plans may change.

You can find more information from the Brain and Behavior Foundation at https://www.bbrfoundation.org/blog/helping-children-cope-back-school-stress-amidst-covid-19

One thing that can help both parents and children alike is to practice some of the stress coping skills that have worked in the past. Turn off the TV and all other devices. Sit in a relaxed posture where everyone is comfortable and tell a story that they have heard before. Suggest that they might close their eyes and imagine the background of the tale. Not the place, of course, for dragons and giants, but for happy children and pretty places. Begin deep breathing with them. Start counting breaths. In…1, 2, 3, 4. Blow it out, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Encourage them to imagine the breath coming from their toes, making room for a big, healthy inhale. Increase the length of the space between breaths. Encourage them to relax. When you think they are with you as you breathe, suggest that they imagine a favorite place the family has been together. A beach or a ski hill or a lake or a hiking trail or, for that matter, the family kitchen or living room. Walk them through the experience. At the end, suggest they continue deep breathing, and tell them they can open their eyes and return to the room. If they are in a good spot, begin to discuss the pros and cons of going back to campus. They will feel safe, and you might get results that would have been missed had you not prepared for the discussion.

Simple relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and progressive relaxation (where you begin relaxing at your toes and tighten and relax as you go up your body) will help all of your family settle down, ready for great interaction with each other.

If you need a refresher course on coping skills, take a look at Children and Stress published by Whole Person Associates, WholePerson.com.

Unpacking White Privilege: An Experiment in “Going There” with White Relational-Cultural Practitioners

Lisa Eible, DSW, MSW, LCSW

We were an informal group of educators, social workers, and therapists who felt deeply moved by ongoing race-related violence, and the difficulty in talking about race-related topics, even among RCT practitioners. We formed an informal group to examine our own white privilege and to address race-related issues and have been meeting for the past year and a half. As the poster describes, we are focused on further development of our personal and professional lenses in the application of RCT to racism (interpersonal and systemic). We seek to understand our individual and collective journeys and to further develop Relational-Cultural theoretical constructs related to racism. We expect and plan further work on this topic, as our group work continues. Lisa Eible may be contacted at lmeible@yahoo.com.

Transforming Community: Stories of Connection Through the Lens of Relational-Cultural Theory

From its inception and early beginnings, Relational-Cultural theory (RCT) has been characterized by co-creation. Jean Baker Miller strongly held to the notion that the work itself was “in relation”—that is, ever changing in a context of mutual learning and impact (Miller, 1976). In this rich collaborative tradition, a group of Relational-Cultural practitioners began working together on a personal, professional, and theoretical journey related to racism and white privilege after the 2015 Jean Baker Miller Institute (JBMTI) in response to yet another national race related tragedy—the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting. A call to action developed there for further RCT work specific to issues of racism and white privilege. Miller (1976) cited the importance of a “good conflict”; and authors such as Ayvazian and Daniel Tatum (1994), Daniel Tatum (2004), Jordan (1997), Tatum and Garrick Knaplund (2004), and Walker (2002) addressed racial issues. Our group thought there was another layer of “unpacking the knapsack” of white privilege which needed to be done (McIntosh, 1989).

A call was made for conference attendees and other RCT practitioners who were interested in working on issues of racism. It was decided that the group would be composed, at least to start, of those who identified as “white”. We observed, in the group’s conception, a need for “us to work on our own issues” and not place additional stress and expectations on our sisters and brothers of color to help us “get it”. This was a decision made in love and protection, not with the purpose of exclusion. It was also a place to start, not a forever decision.

Initially, two groups of social workers, therapists and educators from across the United States and Canada were established and began meeting in Fall, 2015, via on line meeting forums. While all group members identified as “white” and “female”, there was cultural, religious, and sexual orientation differences among group members. The initial goals were to raise each person’s individual awareness of their own privilege and to name how it impacted the lens through which they experienced the world. The longer-term goals of the group are to contribute to the Relational-Cultural theory literature as it relates to issues of race, diversity, and white privilege, as well as to develop some sort of individual or collective social action agenda. The two groups combined to form one group after the first series of meetings due to a smaller number of participants at that point, and has continued as such through April 2017.

A closed Facebook group was set up to share information that included materials such as worksheets, journaling, readings and videos (ex. Race—The Power of an Illusion, Wealth: America’s Other Racial Divide). Survey Monkey was used to gather data from the nine participants in the final group. In response to the question, Have you changed as a result of your participation in this group, participants answered:

• I feel more empowered to speak up on issues of privilege and racism…this group has provided connection and a safe learning place for my continued growth.
• I am angrier. In a good way.
• I am more knowledgeable about the history of racism and institutional privilege in the United States and more aware of how it has affected my habitual perceptions.
• I have become more conscious of my white privilege and have initiated numerous conversations with other white people about white privilege.
• I speak up in uncomfortable situations, whereas before I would be silent. Even if I don’t think I will change anyone’s viewpoint, I make it known that there are other perspectives.
• My self-awareness has increased though I know I have to keep learning. I also appreciate the access to resources…. I use and will continue to use these resources to expose others in my community. I see it as my responsibility to educate other white people.

In response to the question, What was your biggest learning/takeaway from this experience/group dialogue, they replied:

• I still have a long way to go with my understanding of privilege. This process is a marathon not a sprint.
• I was once again struck by the importance of taking time for the growth process to unfold, & to continue to hold the responsibility for learning rather than looking outward to people of color to educate me.
• How helpful it is to have an ongoing white affinity group to learn with.
• That I have the option to deal or not deal with racism and privilege, whereas others are confronted with it daily.
• We are all uncomfortable and will all make mistakes (embrace and acknowledge the mistakes).
• I would say becoming sensitized to the pervasiveness of my privilege. Once your eyes are open, it’s impossible to “unsee” things. And the group has given me courage to act.
• Hearing the complexity with which some of my colleagues describe their own growth in this area has helped me grow too.

When asked about their experiences and observations, they cited scheduling and technology issues as well as the emotional nature of the interactions. One participant seemed to summarize the emotional impact by writing: Several group members noted that the group provided support in tolerating the shame about unacknowledged privilege, opening participants up to greater consciousness and action.

Since the initial series of meetings, the group has continued to meet, and further published work is anticipated and planned.

*Excerpted from Transforming Community: Stories of Connection Through the Lens of Relational-Cultural Theory

Surprising Facts about Loneliness and the Pandemic

In “The Loneliness Pandemic” published by The Harvard Magazine in January 2021, written by Jacob Sweet, Associate Editor, some surprising insights have come to the surface. To make sure we are all defining loneliness in the same way: “Social psychologists define loneliness as the gap between the social connections you would like to have and those you feel you experience.” (Sweet, 2021)

In the past, there has been a stigma about admitting you are lonely. “People are typically embarrassed or ashamed about loneliness because they think it ties to some kind of inadequacy or deficiency on their part,” Sweet says. But COVID-19 presents obvious reasons for people to feel lonely—involuntary isolation, quarantining, etc.—”So what’s different about this loneliness is it actually has the potential to be unifying.” (Sweet, 2021) Perhaps this is a good time to look at how lonely we are, and if we need to find a solution to our feelings.

An article by Jamie Ducharme published in Time’s May 8, 2020 issue, discussed the difficulty in diagnosing which came first, the loneliness or a larger issue of depression. You know the vicious circle: you are depressed so you withdraw socially…you don’t see anyone, so you become lonely, which leads to a deeper depression. No matter which came first, chronic loneliness is a major contributor to dementia, depression, anxiety, self-harm, heart conditions, and substance abuse. Its impact is about the same as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Ducharme, 2020).

Coping with Loneliness

In their workbook, Coping with Loneliness, Ester Leutenberg and John Liptak, EdD identify two kinds of loneliness. They posit that almost everyone will experience loneliness from time to time. Different forms of loneliness exist. (Excerpts from Coping with Loneliness, Leutenberg and Liptak.)

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.

(Leutenberg & Liptak, 2014)

When the pandemic began, if we felt more lonely than usual, we could find comfort in “this too shall pass.” Most of us didn’t have a clue we would still be experiencing lockdown and self-quarantine.

Leutenberg and Liptak go on to define chronic loneliness:

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.

They suggest we be on the lookout for these symptoms of being lonely.

As loneliness becomes a bigger problem for people at 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

Leutenberg and Liptak reinforce what we read from Sweet and Ducharme. The 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, it is often related to addiction, various forms of anti-social behavior, disrupted sleep patterns and various mental-health conditions. People experiencing a long-term (chronic) form of loneliness are more susceptible to experiencing these wider effects of loneliness. If your clients are experiencing any of the effects listed above, suggest they see a medical professional.

If, on the other hand, you observe the general malaise that often accompanies mild feelings of loneliness this worksheet might help expand their areas of social interaction. Click here for a free copy of My Social Circle included in Coping with Loneliness, along with many other worthwhile worksheets and handouts for the professional to use when working with their clients.

Coping Styles Young Man Alone Loneliness

As we know, writing can be cathartic as folks struggle with many issues.  The following are suggestions from Leutenberg and Liptak for writing in a “Loneliness Journal”.  Click here for a printable version.

What would it be like to not feel lonely?

What could I do to change my attitude to be less lonely?

Why am I so lonely?

How can I take responsibility for being less lonely?

What steps should I now take to overcome loneliness?

Pandemic Grief

We have all been suffering from pandemic grief in one way or another. In an article “Grieving Life and Loss” by Kirsten Weir that was published by the American Psychological Association on June 1, 2020 (retrieved on January 15, 2021 from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/06/covid-grieving-life) she states what we all have heard over and over: “The pandemic has led to a series of losses, from financial security to the lives of loved ones.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is an epidemiological crisis, but also a psychological one. While the situation provokes anxiety, stress and sadness, it is also a time of collective sorrow, says Sherry Cormier, PhD, a psychologist retired from private practice who now focuses on grief training and mentoring. “It’s important that we start recognizing that we’re in the middle of this collective grief. We are all losing something now.”

Many people are confronting the loss of a loved one to the novel coronavirus—a challenge made even more difficult by physical distancing orders that prevent them from saying goodbye in person or gathering with others to mourn. Deaths aren’t the only losses that people are reckoning with, however. Millions of people are facing loss of employment and financial upheaval as a result of the pandemic. Yet even p­eople who haven’t lost anything so concrete as a job or a loved one are grieving, Cormier says. “There is a communal grief as we watch our work, health-care, education and economic systems—all of these systems we depend on—destabilize,” she says.

Pandemic Grief

Everyone’s pandemic grief is different. Those who are lucky enough to still be working, who live with supportive family members, who are financially able to keep a reasonable facsimile of their former life in place, feel that they shouldn’t be grieving as they are much better off than many friends and family members. Ester Leutenberg and Fran Zamore in GriefWork (2008) refer to grieving as

…A long, winding path that curves back on itself, traverses hills and valleys, and has many obstacles. It is a path that is challenging to negotiate, time-consuming to travel along and may provide opportunities for personal and spiritual growth. Grieving is a part of the human experience. A person attached to someone will mourn the loss of that relationship and miss that person’s physical presence. We understand this as a simple truth. Remembering this truth does help some people cope with the loss because they are able to be somewhat philosophical….

Added to this list are, of course, all the losses we have experienced because of the pandemic. According to the Mayo Clinic article Coronavirus grief: Coping with the loss of Routine during the Pandemic…

Efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have affected people’s jobs, where people work, the way kids go to school and play, and the ability to gather in person with family and friends. These measures have also changed how people shop, worship, exercise, eat, seek entertainment, and celebrate holidays and special events. As a result, the pandemic has had a major psychological impact, causing people to lose a sense of safety, predictability, control, freedom and security. Retrieved January 15, 2021 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coping-with-coronavirus-grief/art-20486392.

The following story and worksheet* are excerpted from The GriefWork Companion, by Fran Zamore, LLSW, IMFR & Ester R.A. Leutenberg.

How Do You Handle Adversity?

Are you a Carrot, an Egg or a Coffee Bean?

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her in the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes, she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me, what do you see?”

“Carrots, eggs and coffee,” she replied. Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg. Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled, as she tasted it and noticed its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, “What does it mean, Mother?”

She explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity – boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting in boiling water, its insides became hardened. The round coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” she asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Think of this: Which are you? Are you the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do you wilt, become soft and lose your strength? Are you the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Do you have a fluid spirit, but after a death, breakup, a financial hardship, or some other trial, have you become hardened and stiff? Does your shell look the same, but on the inside are you bitter and tough, with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

Or are you like the coffee bean? The bean actually changed the hot water, the very circumstances that bring the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and the flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level? How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Pandemic Grief – Limits of Control

It is important to realize the limits of what you can control. Especially during this difficult time, remember, we have control only over our own responses and reactions.

After completing the activity, journal about your thoughts.

*Click here to download the worksheet “Control” from The GriefWork Companion.

Resiliency in Kids and Teens: A survival tool for Covid-19.

Leutenberg and Liptak tell us in their book Teen Resiliency Building that resiliency is the ability of a young person to interact with the environment, handle stresses that occur, and bounce back from stressful events. It is the process by which well-being is promoted and protection factors are activated against overwhelming feelings of stress. Kids who have developed resiliency are able to bounce back from the negative impact of difficulties. Resiliency, or a positive behavioral adaptation, is critical when people encounter any type of trauma. The Covid-19 pandemic has placed us in a traumatic situation unlike any we’ve experienced before.

How can we help our kids come out on the other side of the pandemic as the healthy, strong young folks that we knew last March?

Research indicates that resiliency can be built through skill development by enhancing communication, developing an optimistic outlook, building a greater sense of control, creating a more realistic sense of self, and learning how to effectively deal with change. We can inspire out kids to a more optimistic outlook even under these unique circumstances.

Explain to your kids in language that they will understand that an optimist, regardless of transitions, setbacks, disappointments, or Covid-19, looks at the bright side and sees the possibilities life has to offer. Optimists expect good things to happen, expect to be able to solve problems efficiently, and plan to accomplish their goals. They go through life with positive outlooks and are content most of the time. Optimists maintain a positive view of the world. Pessimists think negatively and cynically (littler kids might need to know that cynically means to be concerned only with one’s own interests and typically disregarding accepted or appropriate standards to achieve them) about the world.

Then discuss the following questions with them:

  • Which are you, an optimist or pessimist? Why do you believe this?
  • How long have you felt like an optimist or pessimist? What brought this on?
  • Think of a time when you viewed a situation as bad, or negative, and yet, something good, or positive came out of it?
  • How can you begin to view the world in an even more positive light?

Make sure your younger children understand the concept of positive and negative.

Hope is an important part of an optimistic outlook.

Explain that hope can be described as a mindset consisting of a positive or good and happy view of the future for yourself and others. Remaining hopeful over the course of your life is at the core of resiliency and the ability to bounce back while facing problems and the stresses that go along with the pandemic. Having hope will guide you with resiliency while you achieve your goals and dreams.

Discuss these points with your kids. Be sure they understand the questions.

  • Did the pandemic cause you to stop hoping?
  • Where do you believe your sources of hope, or lack of hope, come from?
  • How has your environment affected the amount of hope you currently have?
  • Where do you look for hope in your life?
  • What are three things you hope for?
  • How have your hopes changed?
  • How has hope, or a lack of hope, affected choices you have made?
  • What needs to happen before you have more hope in your life?

Here are links to generic, non-Covid-19 specific worksheets on the material above designed for teens. They are both from Teen Resiliency Building by Ester Leutenberg and John Liptak EdD: Hope and Life Outlook Worksheets

Making sure your kids are optimistic and hopeful about the future is a good start to helping them through the pandemic. Remember the other suggestions that will help them develop resiliency:

  • Enhance communication
  • Build a greater sense of control
  • Create a more realistic sense of self
  • Helping them to effectively deal with change.

Why Can’t I Sleep? Do I Have a Sleep Disorder?

Sleep Disorder

Most people, at one time or another, have experienced trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Inability to sleep occasionally is normal and is often the result of some sort of stress in life. However, when sleep problems become a regular occurrence and begin to affect one’s ability to function in daily life, the person may have developed a sleep disorder.

Do I Have a Sleep Disorder?

A lack of adequate sleep may not seem like a big problem, but it can seriously affect one’s performance at school or work, ability to concentrate, ability to control emotions, and ability to handle stress. Lack of sleep is a challenge to one’s own general health and well-being.

Adequate sleep is a great buffer that helps to protect people from everyday stress. Sleep is a vital support for one’s ability to rejuvenate the mind and body.

Any type of sleep deficiency can seriously increase one’s vulnerability to a variety of physical disorders and to a host of negative feelings, emotions and behaviors:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Frustration
  • Irrational thinking
  • Irritability
  • Sadness

Inadequate sleep:

  • A reduction in the amount of sleep one experiences. This occurs when people find that they are not sleeping enough hours each night.
  • A reduction in the quality of sleep one is receiving. This occurs when people find that they are having a hard time falling asleep, often awaken, and then may have difficulty going back to sleep. This reduction causes a dramatic break in the sleep cycle.

What is the Sleep Cycle?

Sleep is an altered state of consciousness in which brain waves pass through distinct stages that keep cycling between REM (Rapid-Eye Movement) and Non-REM sleep. This is referring to the sleep cycle, and this is how the sleep cycle works:

There are four stages of sleep: Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, and REM. These stages do not always occur in order. In fact, they rarely occur in order. The sleep cycle begins with three Non-REM phases that people typically go through before reaching REM sleep:

Stage 1 – TRANSITION

This stage between asleep and awake is almost always first. It may be just a minute or so long, but is usually less. It is just a transition from awake to Stage 2 where one spends about seventy-five percent of the night. Typically, a person will drift straight through Stage 1 for a minute or two, and be in Stage 2 for some time. One’s eyes are closed, but it’s easy to wake the person up.

Stage 2 – LIGHT SLEEP

This is a light sleep. One’s heart rate slows and one’s body temperature drops. The body is getting ready for deep sleep.

Stage 3 – DEEP SLEEP

This stage is tricky. Deep sleep is also called delta sleep. It is the restorative sleep for the body, when the brain secretes growth hormones, and when our breathing is most regulated. Children have a long period of delta sleep. As we age, the amount of delta sleep that we have decreases by a certain percent each year, so that by the time we reach ages 60 to 70 we have little to NO delta sleep. Men begin to bypass the delta sleep stage sooner than women. So, it is likely that in an adult population, a researcher will not see delta when studying a normal night of sleep. There will be a night here and there when an adult will have an instance of some delta activity, but it is not a stage that they go through on a nightly basis. It is harder to rouse one during this stage, and if someone wakes one up, one would feel disoriented for a few minutes. During the deep stages of Non-REM sleep, the body repairs and re-grows tissues, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system.

The Sleep Cycle now moves into deep REM sleep: Usually, REM sleep happens approximately 90 minutes after one falls asleep. The first period of REM typically lasts 10 minutes. Each of the later REM stages gets longer, and the final one may last up to an hour. One’s heart rate and breathing quicken. One tends to have dreams during REM sleep. The cycle then begins all over again. The last REM cycle is the longest and most restorative and awakening during this cycle can leave one feeling disoriented.

Common Types of Sleep Disorders

Many different types of sleep disorders are listed below. Check if you think any of them might apply to you.

Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder is a disorder in which a person’s sleep is delayed by two or more hours beyond the conventional bedtime. This delay in falling asleep causes difficulty in waking up at a desired time.

Insomnia is the most common type of sleep disorder. Some of the symptoms of insomnia include difficulty getting to sleep, waking many times during the night, and often waking before it is time to actually get up. Insomnia can affect normal daytime activities. Insomnia is most often caused by stress, anxiety, certain medications, depression and/or inadequate sleep habits.

Narcolepsy occurs when people feel excessively sleepy in the daytime. The sleepiness felt with narcolepsy is overwhelming. Some people with narcolepsy have uncontrolled sleepy periods that can occur regardless of what they are doing, while others have constant sleepiness throughout the day. The person has this feeling for a period of time longer than three months, and it is accompanied by a higher than usual percentage of REM sleep.

Nightmares are frightening dreams that occur during deep, REM sleep.

Periodic Limb Movement Disorder is the movement of hands, arms, feet, and legs during sleep that frequently causes arousals and disturbs the sleep cycles. Whether the person remembers waking or not, the brain often shifts from sleep to wake in a response to the jerking of the limbs causing the sleep cycle to be disrupted and worse excessive daytime sleepiness.

Restless Leg Syndrome occurs during wake hours and is often worse in the evening and before bedtime, which can lead to sleep onset insomnia. This discomfort can come in the form of an urge to move one’s legs and feet to get relief. People find themselves experiencing excessive and rhythmic movements while they are sleeping.

Sleep Apnea occurs when soft tissue covers the airway, either partially or completely, causing a cessation of breathing for ten seconds or longer repeatedly through the night. This can cause frequent arousals and disruption of the desired sleep cycle. These disruptions cause those suffering from sleep apnea to be very tired during the day.

Sleep Talking is a sleep disorder defined as talking during sleep without being aware of it. Sleep talking can involve complicated dialogues or monologues, complete gibberish, or mumbling. The good news is that for most people it is a rare and short-lived occurrence.

Sleep Terror Disorder occurs mostly in children but can be found in adults. Night terrors are frightful images that appear in a person’s dream but are often difficult to remember upon awakening.

Sleepwalking is a disorder that causes people to get out of bed and walk while they are sleeping. It usually happens when a person is going from the deep stage of sleep to a lighter stage, or into the wake state. The sleepwalker can’t respond during the event and usually does not remember it.

My Self-Care Sleep Habits

Sleep habits are often dependent on wellness habits that you display during the day. Think about some of your wellness habits and how they may be negatively affecting your ability to sleep at night. In the chart on the attached worksheet, write about how you can make positive change in your wellness habits.

Click here to download the My Self-Care Sleep Habits worksheet.

This material was excerpted from Coping with Sleep Issues by Ester R.A. Leutenberg and John J. Liptak, EdD.