Hello and good afternoon! As promised and advertised on the MindPath Care Centers Facebook page, we are live this afternoon. I would like to thank you for tuning in to this MindPath Care Centers live Facebook event. I am Dr. Shantel Sullivan, a licensed clinical social worker and the lead therapist at the MindPath Addiction Recovery Center. I want to start today by reminding you that everyone, we’re in this together, and we will get through this together. I was just talking to one of my colleagues, and he reminded me that there is a beginning, and a middle, and an end to all of this. We are currently living in the middle and learning new things, but there will be an end, and hopefully it’s upon us sooner than later. At MindPath our entire clinical team is here to support you and your mind care during this unprecedented time. We are offering telehealth services, or telemedicine, and most of our providers have converted by now, if not all of them. Certainly, they are accepting new patients, so don’t delay. You can connect in the comfort of your home. As one of those clinicians who moved to telehealth, I have to just share that I’m enjoying it, and I find that the people I get to speak to day in and day out are enjoying it as well. It’s not as intimidating as you may think.
Today I really wanted to talk about and cover how we can address what’s going on emotionally for all of us, most likely all of us, during this COVID-19 pandemic. At this point if you’re feeling anxious, I just want to remind you you’re not alone. Feeling anxious is a normal instinct, and it is a survival skill. There’s a lot of unknown right now, and so that is triggering these thoughts and emotions of concern and fear, if not just for yourself, for your loved ones. In addition to these health care concerns, our routines and the events that we were anticipating and looking forward to have been interrupted. Those significant upsets or upsets, like this particular one, can conjure up feelings of disappointment and letdown. It’s important that during this time, we honor those feelings. We don’t need to push them away or ignore them, but just acknowledge that this sucks, this isn’t what I expected, this seems unfair right now. Acknowledge that I’m scared, I’m bored right. Just acknowledge what is happening and through that acknowledging what you had planned or what you had been hoping for has been interrupted, we can then start moving forward. It’s important that in addition to finding new meaning, and adjusting to this new normal that we do take this pause and allow ourselves to feel and acknowledge the disruption. Then. and only after that we can begin to find new ways to restore, reinvent, and re-energize.
I’d like to share a couple of strategies that I might recommend for you to deal with this current situation, or you could also use these in the future if you come up against added stress or crisis. After I share these three options or strategies, that you might want to practice, I will offer some time for Question and Answer. When we get to that point, what I’ll have you do is write your questions in the chat box, and then I would be happy to answer them for you.
The first strategy that I would recommend is it’s important to breathe, knowing that breath is life. Oftentimes we’re just going about our day and we’re breathing in survival mode because that’s what we do really sort of unconsciously, we’re breathing. In this time of added stress, what we can do is pay more attention to and be aware of our breath. If you find that you are frequently feeling stressed or anxious, learning to breathe from your belly will significantly decrease the stress in your life. You can practice this by placing one hand over your heart, and then the other hand over your bellybutton, and you can take a little bit of an inventory and notice if you are breathing from your chest or are you belly breathing. Take note of which hand tends to rise and fall more than the other. If you notice that that’s happening in your chest, you will notice that these breaths tend to be thin and more narrow, and so therefore we are just taking these shorter breaths. That doesn’t really help support grounding us or reducing some of that anxiety, so what I would encourage you to do is when you’re getting ready to prepare dinner, or before you take a shower, or when you turn on the next episode of your favorite Netflix binge, put your hands over your belly button, and just try to work on noticing this intentional breath of your belly. As you take a deep breath, your goal will be to notice your hand over your belly button moving up and down. That breathing is really important, and so the more we can take time to pause and take a full breath, it will help us to reduce our anxiety and our stress.
The second option that I would offer for you, or the strategy I’d recommend, is using present moment awareness through mindfulness. There’s a lot we cannot change right now. There’s a lot we cannot control, but what we can do is be mindful. As you go through your day today, or you’re engaging in tasks that become really complacent or mundane like getting up, showering, making our breakfast, pouring our cup of coffee, or cooking dinner, what we can really do during that time is develop a new heightened curiosity in these experiences. While you are taking a shower or washing the dishes, allow yourself to notice the temperature. How hot is the water, or how cool? What temperature are you noticing? What are the sounds you hear, like the water falling in your shower? Whether it’s full from your fountain, or whether it’s a really full push of water through your faucet. Just take note of that. Notice the sense, again this will help with your breathing, really taking a nice deep cleansing breath through your nose and noticing the scent of shampoo that you’re using, or the dish soap that you’re using, or as you are cooking dinner take a breath and notice the fragrance of whatever food you’re cooking. Just allow yourself to be present in the moment and notice your surroundings, what you can touch, what you can feel, what you can hear, and what you can smell can be really helpful when things are feeling like they’re really out of control.
The third thing that I would offer is to be kind to yourself. We didn’t ask for this. It’s happening. It’s happening to everybody regardless of our race, or socioeconomic status, or geographical location, our gender, our age, so it’s important to be kind as we are asked to make transitions or are working in ways that maybe we’ve never worked before. We may be taking on new responsibilities and roles in our family or with our friend group, or we are moving to states of being alone or in isolation. Be kind! We are juggling a lot right now, and so it’s important that we make an effort to be gentle in our thoughts and practice being judgment-free of self. We are really doing the best that we can right now and so affirming yourself and being kind can really go a long way. Again, we are in the middle, but we will get to the end and we will get to the end together. At MindPath Care Centers we’re here for you, and we want to be part of this journey, not just now, but as you continue to move through your life in the weeks and months ahead. All of these things also take practice. Again, be kind to yourself. They may not come really naturally to you and they might feel funny and you might wonder “why am I doing this anyways?” but all of these are strategies for you to develop new skills and raise wellness. I hope these three strategies of breathing, being in the present moment and really aware through mindfulness in your day-to-day tasks, and being kind to yourself will help you on your way.
What I’d like to do now is just take some questions that you might have and offer you some feedback about how you can navigate new roles. Whether that is working from home, or being in your home more than you typically would, or any shift and activity or relationship in your life. Go ahead, again, and if you have any questions that you would like me to answer, or help you with, or offer some feedback go ahead and put them in the chat box and I will see them pop up and we can discuss them.
One question that has come in is “People keep suggesting to focus on the positive and find gratitude, but I’m having trouble doing that. Do you have any recommendations?” That is a great question and you know one I have to even ask myself when things get hard. How can we find gratitude? One of the ways is thinking about time. Right now you may have the time to engage in activities that life just became too full and too busy for you to fully do. Picking up a hobby or an activity that you haven’t done in a while might be something fun, and finding just gratitude, and now you have the time and space to do that. When we’re faced with difficult situations it is hard to find gratitude, but it’s there. If you have friends to reach out to you can even ask them “Hey, what are you grateful for today? What’s going well for you?” That’s one way for you to connect with people, but also you can get some feedback and ideas of what others are doing to find gratitude, and then maybe you might agree with that, or it would help validate something that you hadn’t quite thought of. There is a lot out there. I’ve noticed on social media there is so much going on around ways to connect with people and expressions of gratitude through phone calls or messaging. My sister lives in upstate New York, and the five one eight area code was placing rainbows, and I know that’s happening sort of more worldwide, but you know I’m grateful for the other day, I got to just paint some rainbows in the window with my kids, and if I wasn’t working from home or being home or I might have missed that opportunity. I’m grateful for the connections or new connections that I’ve been able to make just because I have a little bit of time right now. Another way to find gratitude is you know, just looking out the window and being able to see if the sun is shining. It might be really small things. If you’re having a really hard day “I woke up today,” maybe I’m grateful for that! It does take a little bit of effort, and again if you’re having challenges doing that, sometimes asking a friend, how they’re finding gratitude or what they’re grateful for can be helpful.
Another question is “What kind of activities do you recommend to help those at home to reduce stress?” We’ve talked a little bit about breathing and about using mindfulness in your day today. Some actual strategies you could use, in addition to that, would be going for a walk. We know right now that we can continue to practice social distancing and get outside. If you have a walking trail near you, or if you have the privilege to have a backyard or a balcony, getting outside, and breathing some fresh air, and enjoying the nature around you can reduce stress. Another thing is cooking, drawing, or coloring. I talked to somebody yesterday through telehealth who was sharing with me that she sent spent much of her day coloring pictures and it brought back some memories of her childhood- “When was the last time that I actually just spent hours lost in a coloring book?” We know coloring can be helpful. Exercise is also helpful. Right now, because gyms and fitness centers are closed, lots of gym owners or fitness instructors have moved to some YouTube platforms. There are a plethora of classes that you could join from the sort of privacy and comfort of your living room to still get out some of that added tension and stress you’ve got going. Move a muscle change a thought. If you can get a little physically active that might be helpful.
Another question I saw roll in says “Do you have any tips about navigating the isolation? I found exploring my city, being near others to be very beneficial for my mental health, and now I’m torn between being between going out to support my health while also maintaining distance to help protect others.” Absolutely! When we are dealing with some isolation there is a benefit of technology, and that if you have a way to Skype or Zoom or FaceTime, you can still see people. I’m live today and connecting! It’s been great that a lot of museums have also offered free virtual tours through museums, so you can look at art or you could explore different historical venues that maybe you wouldn’t go to on a regular basis. But now that I’m sitting at home, you can take your place for yourself virtually to a new location. I think when we’re feeling isolated, we have to work extra hard to stay connected to people, and so it might be through virtual platforms. The other thing that might be great is using this time to write some good old snail mail, and that also allows you to get out some get outside and get some exercise and fresh air if you are able to and you’re in a location where you could walk your handwritten piece of mail to somebody else, and drop it in the mailbox and then wait to receive another piece of snail mail. That might be a nice way to connect.
All right, so here’s another question. It says, “Do I have any recommendations for parents who are coping with more time with their kids and a loss of personal freedom and flexibility?” That is an awesome question, because yes, we are spending more time in the space with the company of others. Another thing that I might recommend if you’re working from home or you’re doing homeschooling right now, is as you are able, sort of fashioning different corners of your house or spaces within your living quarters so that “this is my workspace”. I can make some transitions from “this is where I’m going to work from home over here in the right corner of the living room and then I’m going to shift over to the left side of my living room to read a book,” and so then we’re creating those really hard transitions from one physical location or another, because we don’t have those hard transitions from our workplace to our home space. Where our home has been our refuge or a place to be re-energized previously, it is now where we are just all the time. For some people who are trying to work outside of being isolated and in their home, they are now feeling pressured in those spaces. Taking a pause to go out on the balcony. You could use an egg timer or your phone timer and say, “okay, everybody we’re going to practice some personal quiet silent space,” and each person can pick a space in the same room or a separate room to go for a timed amount and just look at a book or look at pictures or scroll their phone. This creates some really structured intentional time to separate from one another. The other thing I might recommend is, like I said, being intentional and being mindful. When you’re taking a shower, if you’re not rushing, like I know that I do in the morning to quick get my shower in and get the kids to school and get to work, I could really spend that time taking in sort of the aroma of being in the shower, or washing my hair, or taking the time maybe to put on my favorite lotion on my arms afterwards. We can go to a silent space in our mind as we’re stirring dinner or taking a nap. If we need to take a nap that can also be helpful.
All right so I’m going to look for a couple more questions. Thank you for the questions that have rolled in. I hope that you can practice and apply some of these. Last night I was offering a group therapy session through telehealth, and it came up in this discussion about how on social media right now people are showing themselves, being super productive and doing these art projects, and going for walks, and trying a new hobby etc. While all of that is great and it gives us opportunity to do that, and I’ve encouraged you to do that as a way to stay active and reduce stress, I might also encourage you to take pause and be kind to the fact that it’s also okay to just be, right, and that every minute or every hour of your day doesn’t have to be accounted for or have an activity plugged into it. If you’re just being present and going with the flow as much as you can right now, it’s also ok. You don’t have to be pressured by, or you shouldn’t feel pressured by what others are doing. Give yourself permission to just say “I think that we’re just going to hang out today in our pajamas and we’re not going to try to get showered and figure out how we can be creative today- we’re just going to BE today” Making that conscious decision can be helpful.
The other thing is, I think that as we’re working from home and juggling different spaces within our self and in our relationships with others, just to know that if you are feeling like you could benefit from talking to somebody, that all of the clinicians here at MindPath are here and available to you. We want to support you through this unprecedented difficult time, so we are here and available. Feel free to make an appointment as you as you see fit and that would benefit you.
The last question I just saw that came in has said “Any advice for nurses on the front lines?” Thank goodness, thank goodness for those who have selected a career path, and are so brave and courageous and caring to be out there combating this for us, and taking care of our loved ones, and our friends and people that we don’t know, you know. I certainly would like to take a minute to thank all of those who are on the front lines, those working in the grocery stores, and restaurants, and in the healthcare or emergency management services, who day in and day out are putting themselves at risk of the benefit of you and me, our friends, and family. The best advice that I could offer, or share is know your own limits. Ask for help. I have written some articles talking about that one of the things with health care workers is that it’s what we’ve signed up to do. That is our job. But that doesn’t discount the fact that you’re human and you feel, and you are feeling anxious, and scared as well, and so we hear you. We see you. We want to support you. One of the things that I think can be helpful is riding the wave of the emotions, acknowledging those emotions. After each day, before you go from work to home is important. Taking a few minutes in your car even to just practice that deep breathing. Ground yourself. Affirm the fact that you are really contributing something incredible for the greater good of everybody, and we are so thankful to our emergency management personnel, nurses, and doctors on the front lines. Again, don’t ignore your own feelings and your own humanity. I’ve loved seeing nurses post pictures and videos and really rally for each other and for our communities. Thank you for all of that.
I have about two more minutes, and so if there’s any other questions that anyone would like to ask, go ahead. These are all great questions. I really appreciate the feedback to what I’ve talked about and the questions that you’re posing. I’m sure that lots of people are asking these questions or even maybe are afraid to ask these questions and so I appreciate your courage in doing this for everybody. One last question “How do I balance being a teacher, working my job, and being a wife and a mother?” The other day I was saying “Okay, right now I’ve taken on the role of a lunch monitor, and teacher, and therapist” and wearing all of these hats. I think it all goes back to one, being kind to yourself, and acknowledging that all of those are separate jobs and roles in and of themselves. You don’t have to be the best or perfect at any of them or all of them at one time. Allow yourself to take the time to really be mom or mother. I saw something the other day that said “Instead of really figuring out how to grapple with this math problem, we could teach our kids how to do the laundry, and so there might be a story later that we share about “Oh my gosh I remember during this COVID-19 thing and I was ten and you taught me how to sort my laundry and wash my laundry,” and there is a huge lesson in doing that. It all goes back to being able to acknowledge the fact that we’re taking home so much right now, and we have to be kind. We can do the very best that we can. Be gentle and try to be non-judgmental of yourself- it’s really important.
Thank you for all these great questions! I appreciate them, I’m just scrolling down right now to see if there’s anything that I’ve missed. Teenagers- “How can teenagers cope was being confined to home?” Certainly, that’s a time of exploration and the last sort of place you want to be all the time is being stuck there at home. I think we have to be as creative as possible. Calling people, setting up Zoom meetings, or Skype sessions with our friends, so we could virtually chat with multiple people at one time. I saw one of my high school friends posted a video of a birthday party. I’ve seen this a couple of times now on various platforms, where it’s somebody’s birthday and maybe they were really looking forward to getting together with a whole bunch of people, and we can’t do that right now, and so everyone jumped on this meeting, and he still had a birthday cake and everyone could still sing happy birthday. There was a patient sharing with me yesterday that they did the same thing for a co-worker. They had planned on having a cake in the break room and no one’s working at the office right now, and so they coordinated a zoom meeting and everyone sang happy birthday and they connected. Is it ideal? Is it what we had hoped for? No. Again going back to my first point, really acknowledging the fact that it’s not what we had anticipated, but it is what it is right now. I hate to ever put a silver lining around anything and I’m certainly not trying to do that, but trying to figure out how we can do the best that we can with what we have at this present moment, and being creative and flexible and kind, I think is the best that we can do for ourselves and for each other.
Thank you so much again for all of your questions! I wish you continued well-being or healing, and we are here to support you now and in the future. Please feel free to reach out to us and be well today. Thank you so much!