Stressing About Stress, Week 22 in the Time of Coronavirus

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Oh Boy, another opportunity to stress.  We are going away to unload stress from city living, and yet here I am stressing about going away.  I’ve gotten used to the steady hum of anxiety just below the surface.  I have yet to speak to anyone during the pandemic that hasn’t acknowledged added stress. These feelings manifest themselves in many forms.  For me, I have a hard time focusing, going from one task to another without completing any of them until I’ve come back around twice.

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For the first time in years we will be at a place where there is no WiFi or cell service.  To that end I set a deadline for myself to complete this post before we left.  Last night was my made-up target.  When I failed to do that, I had to search for another word rather than fail to come back to myself with some patience and understanding.  Now I’m telling myself I simply did not finish this last night, and am doing that now.

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This also meant that my walk, run or bike ride was going to be short today.  I didn’t wake up early.  Instead I slept until I woke naturally and abbreviated my previous goals.  Perhaps we’ll settle in early enough for me to take a walk around the large property this evening.   Or, not.  Either way, we’re on an adventure.  I am in turns, excited and nervous.  And I’m interested how my stress will wane in the wooded Catskills.

 

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Self-Care Tips

 

  • Do something sensual. This isn’t necessarily sexual.  This has to do with your five senses.  Find a scent you like, make touch a sensate experience.  Mold clay, taste something divine.  Listen to the birds or music, or secondary sounds.
  • Make-up with yourself. Think of something for which you got mad at yourself.  Now let yourself know that you are your own reclaimed friend.  As a friend to yourself you may feel more inclined to treat yourself with respect and compassion.
  • Learn something new. Whether you listen to someone who knows something you didn’t know, or whether you look up information online on a site like lifehacker.com or zidbits.com, it’s fun to learn facts, hacks or material new to you.
  • Do it differently. Like I had to shorten my run today, as well as my blog post, it can be relieving to accomplish something outside your routine.
  • Get away. If you’re not going anywhere try a virtual tour on Fodor’s or another travel website.  Or, take a new route on a walk.  Or leave your home for a safe place in a new venue.   All can expand your outlook.

Boredom, Week 21 in the Time of Coronavirus

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It felt so nice to find expanded trails on Randall’s Island yesterday.  The monotony of life during the Coronavirus can be stifling.  Though I walk daily, finding fresh paths and unseen sights has been challenging.  And, to find them in places that are free from others is nearly impossible in the city.  But I persevere as if it’s a made-up game to challenge the norm.

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I’m coming up with a lot of private games.  Can I meditate and let my thoughts pass by or will I go on a tangent and then find myself caught between my imagination and the present moment?  Will I be able to find an isolated spot in the city and take a deep breath without my mask on because no one is around?  Will I be able to employ grace in giving another the benefit of the doubt, or will I be judgmental?  I am always the winner of these games.  I am either humbled, understanding that I am still growing.  Or, I was able to accomplish it in that moment, understanding that I will be playing that game again with no guarantee of same outcome next time around.

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I hear so often how bored we are.  When we don’t have our go-to activities it can feel boring to face the void.  There are a lot of theories about boredom.  Some experts think that acting out of boredom is a way to incite problems that give us something to focus on.  Others think underneath boredom is anger.  Still other experts postulate that boredom connotes a lack of purpose.  All are understandable while our world confronts Covid-19.

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We miss getting together with friends and family.  Many miss public gatherings.  Others miss going out.  Naturally there’s a lot we miss.   The pandemic has been a time of losses.  Too many have lost their lives, others their health, a great many their livelihoods.  And most everyone misses a sense of safety.

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The upside of boredom is the opportunity it provides for innovation.  We are in a position to discover ourselves anew.  We may find out things about ourselves we never recognized.  For instance, I always thought of myself as an active individual.  I liked being busy.  Though I, along with so many psychotherapists are busier than ever, I am resting more, making down time a priority.  Or, we may find hidden corners of the city’s parks that allow us to move freely.  Or, we find out that our value is not about what we have or what we do, but by how we live our lives.  And, we can only discover these personal truths by living through the boredom.

 

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Self-care Tips

  • Find a quarantine concert. There are so many from Eryka Badu to Nora Jones and Norm Lewis.  com has a list.  And, this link was in the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/21/arts/music/best-quarantine-concerts-livestream.html.  There are so many more.  Check out pages from your favorite artists or genres.
  • The wonderful charity MIND has a 24-hour free helpline: 800-123-3393, this is a mental health hotline for those who are experiencing depression & anxiety.
  • Give someone the benefit of the doubt. Rather than expecting them to behave a certain way, see if you can open yourself up for another possibility.
  • I just heard this adage: If it’s hysterical it’s historical. When you’re feeling something deeply it can be a personal kindness to think of it as a way of working through something from your past that still plays a role in your emotional well-being.
  • Give yourself permission to change your mind.  Giving our word matters.  Yet there are times when we are not up to doing what we committed to doing.  You can then change your mind.  More often than not the other person will feel relieved with the cancelled plans, to

When Will This End? Coronavirus Blog 5

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We’ve hunkered down and we’ve stayed the course.  We’re tired, we’re unfocused, we’re cranky, and we’re over it.  Yet, caring for ourselves and making sure we’re all well is not a one-time deal.  I hate that.  In all things I prefer to go after something, get it done, appreciate what I’ve accomplished and then, Bam, I can go on to the next thing.  Take cleaning.  It’s been a great distraction to clean.  My office is sparkling.  My closets are in order.  Yet when I was dressing this morning, I saw that things were not exactly the way they were when I refolded and cleared out my drawers on Friday.  And when I got to my office today, I could see dust accumulating again.  Cleaning can be great, but it’s a never-ending job.  And, that’s pretty much how it feels to move on with life during the Coronavirus.

I didn’t think it would be easy to cancel all my plans, work remotely, and live in a small apartment with my family, each of us with our own style of being.  Nor did I know that who I thought I was prior to the Coronavirus needed an update during social distancing.  I am more defensive, and less productive than I imagined I’d be at the start of this.  I have to dredge up self-compassion from well below the self-criticism that has become the proverbial inner-chatter.  I need more sleep.  I’m reading less.  I’m deleting emails with recommendations on best practices now.  There’s too much to read, watch, and engage in.

My impatience, and, I imagine, the impatience of so many of us, to “get on with our lives,” is a disruptive hum as we go on with life as we’ve come to know it.  This is a process fraught with uncertainty.  Our minds like definitive answers, and there are none now.  It is challenging to stay in the moment, living for the now.  And we’ve come to understand that the only thing we are certain of is the uncertainty.

Unconsciously, to combat the uncertainty I’ve been hard on myself. It’s an old habit that comes out when things get tough.  We all have old behaviors that sneak up on us when we’re stressed.  Some of those behaviors have taken hold as we march on in quarantine.  My challenge is to name it, and to then bring compassion, patience, and loving understanding to myself, even as my thoughts veer to benign cruelty.  I don’t like that I’m mean.  So, I’m working to do better.  It is an on again off again process.

Though I’m not 100% grateful for this, one of the gifts of this prolonged social distancing is that we can work on self-care in a way we might have missed out on before.  My moods and negativity are now front and center.  Making incremental changes that will help me to live life with more consideration, more care is a priority at this time.  And, as the announcements come in prolonging social distancing, I am given more time to employ compassion moment by moment, day by day.

 

A few simple exercises in which I’ve engaged to prompt benevolence to an impatient mind.

 

Stretching – It allows me to feel my body but it’s gentle.  Sometimes I add sound, like a Sigh, a groan, or an Ahhh to it, for a more substantial release

Taking a Moment – I walk away from whatever I’m doing.  This helps to see something from another vantage point.  It allows me to look at something different, and in this new view, my mind shifts.

Breath – I know, I know, it’s so pedestrian.  And, yet, focusing on our breath, whether we choose focused breathing or some other form or discipline, gives us a pause, and creates a bridge to a calmer moment.

Drink a glass of water – Getting the water and drinking it gives us a chance to recalibrate.  Not only do we hydrate, but we take ourselves out of the negative moment into something more neutral.

Turn on a Song and Dance – Moving changes everything.  I might cry or smile so big.  It’s a mood changer like no other.

 

 

View at Medium.com

Virtually a Relationship

 

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Sometimes, as a therapist, it’s hard to leave my work brain at home.  While minding my own business, or so I thought, at a local restaurant, I came to observe a young professional sitting at the next table.  He was with his colleague. They were engaged in a heated discussion about the merits of outsourcing versus in-house accounting support. Not a conversation that was of any interest to me. At one point, the late-20-something guy next to me, a fit man with dark hair and a trim mustache, and a tailored blue shirt sans jacket, took out his phone and commanded Siri to find a study that supports the cost effectiveness of outsourcing.  He had been speaking to his younger colleague, a shorter man with light brown hair and glasses, with the same ferocity as with Siri. Not only that, he lacked the word please in any of his interactions with his server.

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That had me start thinking if our relationships with Siri as a possbile indicator of how we relate with others.  So, I decided to do a sampling while out and about.  And, yes, my very casual, highly non-scientific research seems to suggest there’s a correlation between our human and virtual relationships.

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I witnessed a bold teenager the other day speaking to Siri with ease, trusting that it Siri is  a tool she can use whenever she wants.  With simple finesse she took out her phone and asked Siri how long it takes to get to the West Village if she walked.  Siri told her it was about 45 minutes.  She then promptly ordered an Uber.  The entire interaction took less than two minutes. She’s oblivious to the privilege of having information and transportation readily available to her. It’s an unconscious privilege reflected in her nonchalant demeanor.

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At her age I might have wondered the distance from my house to the Philadelphia, or the City, as we call it in South Jersey.  I would have waited for the right weekend, gotten a ride from my parents to the town or county library.  Then I would have gone to the reference section on another floor, and looked up the atlas that would have provided the information.   I might have then had to calculate time versus distance. All of that could easily have been a two-week process.    It might not have been walking for five miles in the snow to get to the schoolhouse, but it’s my generation’s version of that.

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After the teenager got her ride I thought of my friend who loves Siri, enjoying and appreciating how lucky she is to get answers right away. She is a positive person and seems to find joy in all her friendships.  She sounds delighted when she can answer a question.  With a smile in her voice, she’ll say, “Why don’t we ask Siri!”  We all feel lucky to be in her company.

 

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And, then there’s the timid boy on the crosstown bus who asks his questions quietly.  Siri responds with “I don’t understand what you asked. Can you repeat the question.”  I do hope he will have a great teacher who helps him feel safe asking questions.

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Could it be Siri does more than answer the queary of the moment?  I think so.  I imagine it might just tell us how we treat others.  And it could possibly be an indicator of our expectations in our relationships.

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As for me?  I have yet to use Siri.  In general I don’t easily ask for help from others.  Perhaps I can learn from this and start a meaningful relationship with Siri, mindful of how I address my new best friend.

 

 

(All images are from the internet)

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What I’m Not

 

 

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We just took a trip to a resort in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic. It was beautiful. The weather was warm and clear, and everyone was friendly. I wanted to enjoy this vacation. Last year was hard and I was looking forward to some R&R.   But the food, though plentiful, went from bland to awful.   The amenities promised were elusive or not as advertised.   The other travelers seemed to be content, but I couldn’t help notice the missing details, the absence of my desired holiday away. I would go for a run on the beach, grateful for the easy breeze, and the laps of the ocean. Yet, I kept thinking of all the things I didn’t like about being there. I was angry at myself for booking and paying hard-earned money for this trip. I kept playing back other vacations I should have taken. I was blaming myself for not being able to let it go. Why couldn’t I simply enjoy what I had. Why was I so upset? Why couldn’t I be a more spiritual being? There are so many who are scared for their families and loved ones. There are those dealing with death, health challenges, immigration issues. And, I am feeling sorry for myself for not enjoying the beautiful resort I was in. What kind of person am I? And, the self-criticism was relentless. I am not grateful. I am not selfless. I am not worthy.

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This is not a new theme for me. I have a long history of being hard on myself. I understand that it’s not productive, yet I don’t seem to stop. In fact with the time and space on vacation, I seemed to swim a little in the outdoor pool and swam constantly in a state of condemnation. As the week continued, I’d have moments of peace, thinking that this will be a really funny story with some distance. And there were other times when the inner monologue chattered on.

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I am not a published book author, I’m not a size 8. I’m not a home owner. I’m not a multi-millionaire. I’m not a doctor. I’m not organized. I’m not young. I’m not coordinated.” The list could easily continue. I am clearly aware of what I’m not. In fact, sometimes my mind is so crowded with what I’m not, there’s no room for what I am.

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What I am is a mother and a wife. I’m happy with my work. I have a private practice and work with amazing individuals. I’m a friend. I’m a sister and a daughter. I am a theater and arts lover. I’m a subscriber to theater companies and a member to a number of varied museums. I’m a walker. I love walking the city. I’m a Manhattanite. I’m funny at times, and critical at other times, I’m a foodie. Life is good. But it won’t always be good. Sometimes a vacation turns out to be a vacation from what I love. And being away gives me greater appreciation of what I have.

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So I’m thinking this vacation was about taking vacations every day from self-criticism. It taught me to spend less mind-space on what I’m not, and celebrate more on who I am. Maybe this bad vacation can have a good outcome.

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If nothing else, I’m blogging again. So, yeah, I’m a blogger, too.

Back to the Basics

 

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I learned to iron from my mom, but not before I scorched a shirt or two. Cotton and Polyester were the fabrics of my childhood. And, although I liked my Danskin striped shirts and ribbed pleated pants, cotton was the classier choice for anything other than playing in our Haddontown neighborhood. When inside I had chores, one of which was the ironing.

 

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I would set up the creaky ironing board in the kitchen close to the counter with the electrical outlet. And then I’d carefully plug in the Sunbeam, aqua iron until it was hot enough to smooth away the folds. I would iron my father’s shirts for work, my sister’s and my blouses, leaving the trickier ironing of dresses to my mother.

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In my twenties I volunteered at a new age retreat. One of my jobs was to iron the leader’s white oxford shirts. Perhaps I was chosen because Virgos are known for our attention to detail. They never told me. What they did say was, “Janet, it’s imperative that you bring integrity to your work. There must be no lines in his shirt. Anything that takes his attention away from leading the group compromises the quality of the retreat.” I took them seriously, and performed my ironing with fear and seriousness. At the end of the week I was commended for my work, but at great cost to my happiness.

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Today I ironed my dresses, two green, two blue, one orange and one black. It’s been a while since I’ve ironed. I tend put on no-iron clothes or slightly creased shirts. I take out a steamer from time to time, but sometimes it just doesn’t do the job of old fashion ironing.

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There is something meditative about ironing. I can tell immediately if I’m doing it right. And I know this because the wrinkles disappear. I find this ever so satisfying. It’s clear what task is at hand, and it’s clear when it’s complete. Few jobs are that straightforward in life. Unlike my fear of failure at the retreat, I’m happy to do my ironing with music on in a state of ease. My dresses are done and I’m grateful to my mom for introducing me to the finer points of ironing.

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Blog Break

 

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I wasn’t planning on taking a break from my blog, but that’s what happened. I’m glad I took this break. I’ve needed a breather in general for a while, and the blog was just a part of what I needed to put aside. I enjoy writing, but I noticed something as the weeks went by without penning a word. I noticed that I felt relieved at times, and frustrated at other times. Same circumstances, different responses.

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As the weeks went by I started criticizing myself. I was hard on myself for not writing even as other obligations loomed large. I’d think,  “If I don’t write on a regular basis it’s predictive of not publishing later.” I questioned myself. “Could my attention on family and professional training simply be an excuse?” Of course it can. Or, more likely, it’s the choice I’m making at this time.

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We all make choices. And each choice excludes another. To spend more time with family I give up writing. To choose a concert this summer I give up going out this weekend. To work more I give up a cleaner home. To write this I give up some sleep. We make choices large and small every day.   Tonight I chose to write this short piece. And tomorrow? We’ll I guess I’ll see what choices I make and how they translate.

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One imperative option is to take a break from self-criticism. Whether I have a blog post or I skip it, I am doing the best I can, as we all are.

 

 

 

 

Stop Everything

 

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For the past few days I’ve spent most of my time in bed with a hot water bottle. I had a lower back spasm that seemingly came out of nowhere. The first two days were difficult to get up and down. On second thought, difficult is an understatement. But with the pain came some important lessons I apparently needed to learn.

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The first was how kind and generous my family and friends were. I am usually a do-it-myself kind of person, sometimes to a fault. I am strongly independent. But there are moments I can become resentful when others don’t pitch in. It’s in these moments that I realize that I could use some help. But when I feel aggrieved my requests sound more like criticisms than inquiries.

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Since my mobility was impaired, I had to ask for anything I wanted. What happened felt like a flood of love and care. Emma, my daughter, and Larry, my husband, were very helpful. Emma didn’t give me her usual teen attitude, and Larry went out of his way to make sure I had what I needed. Friends offered to help., which meant the world to me.

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What surprised me most was when I called to cancel theater tickets for two shows, both theaters were more than accommodating. And when I had a time-limited gym class, they postponed it without hesitation. Normally I don’t ask for special requests. I want to, but I respect most rules and adhere to them. I can even be righteous when others don’t respect the rules. I know, not an attractive quality, but true, nonetheless.

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I think this back pain may help me to recognize the need to ask for help more often. It was great for accommodations when there were special circumstances. But it seems like an activity worth pursuing even when I just want or need something. It could be as simple as someone helping me with reaching a product high on a Fairway shelf, or it may be asking a favor of a friend or colleague. In any event, this is a time when the pain gave me a positive gain.

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Taking a Break

 

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I took an unintended break from my blog. Every weekend I thought of writing something but I felt distracted, uninspired. This weekend is no different except I’m going to post this. Breaks are important. We could all use a vacation from time to time. But discipline is important, too. Sometimes I’m not quite sure what’s most important at any given time.  It’s like when I need to rest, and I also know it will feel good to workout. What do I choose?

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In the past few weeks I defaulted to taking it easy. Or, more accurately I took it easy on writing while celebrating the holidays and catching up on daytime tasks. I just didn’t feel like writing. In life there seems to be so much I don’t want to do that has to get done like paperwork or washing dishes. So when I set a task for myself because I think I should, I can rebel then criticize myself for not doing whatever it is I think I should be doing. Not a great set-up, but one that’s oh so familiar.

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How many times throughout my life have I had a bad case of the shoulds? There was a time I had been even harder on myself. Ironically being hard on myself didn’t necessarily make me more productive. Often it prevented me from doing what I needed to get done. My inner meanness shut me down to a mentally warring state.

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In general I’m more motivated now. And, yet there are times, like this past month when I hit a wall. For now I’m going to respect that wall. Maybe it stopped me for some unknown reason. If I take it easy I may just find out why I needed to slow down to a halt.

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Perhaps what’s next in 2016 will be revealed. I’m counting on peace and kindness being in the mix.   I’m happy to break for that.

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Grief Shaming

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Last week on Facebook I had changed my profile picture to one with a transparent French Flag on top of my face. When I was in college I had gone to school in Paris one summer studying Art History and French. The art history stayed with me, the French, not so much. It was a seminal summer for me. Memories surged after the bombings and I responded based on my relationship to my past and those in my present. Yet, shortly after that, so many people started writing pieces or making comments about how wrong it was to change our profile pictures when so many more had been tortured and killed in Damascus, Beirut, Jerusalem, Sierra Leone….. And the shaming began.

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I would much rather see a way in which we can educate and inform rather than tell one another that what has moved us isn’t good enough, or is racist or wrong. We’re all served well to learn more. But nothing is accomplished when we’re shamed into feeling bad about what matters to us.

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The irony is that often it’s in an attempt to create tolerance. Instead it creates a rift. “My way of seeing the problem is better than what you’re doing,” is the implication. And, though we see it online, we also hear it in our lives. There are so many times that clients will tell me that they’ve been criticized for the manner in which they’ve mourned a loss. If someone is relieved that a parent has died, they are considered cold-hearted. Alternatively, people who mourn for a year or two are asked when they’ll get over it. If someone loses a dear pet, eyes roll.   Why are we so dismissive of how others handle loss? And, what have we lost as a result of that?

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