By Jessica Waters, MA, NLC, MPS, MPC, CCTS, CCFP, CTSS, CCATP, CGCS, CMHIMP, CAIMHP, CDMDP, AMTP, ADHD-CS, ADHD-CE, (REAT-Candidate), EXAT. EXA-CE (Candidate)
I have an option for you. Whether it's dealing with the kids 24/7 and having to be cooped up at home (although you can venture outside) or the chaos of daily press briefings and the anxiety of wondering about your financial solvency, what we all need right now is some movement and then a calm room. That's right. A calm room. In schools where they can't create one we create calm down areas in classrooms. Head phones, bean bags, soft things, clay, slime, squishies, things to work the tension out with our hands, coloring pages (because repetitive patterning and action activates the calming centers of the brain and body--seriously). I even have yoga cards, a movement progression sheet for my kids that were super hypervigilant or ADHD (because they present the same way--that's right--PTSD behavior in children often look like ADHD). So scrolling along on FB I find this gem. Seriously. A real gem. It's the Apple Valley-Eagan School District's Virtual Calming Room. Can you heart the angel choirs singing?!!!!
What the world needs now, and lets just get to it, what we in our homes need right now, is a calming room for most of us. So here it is! Pull it up on your phone, computer, etc and enjoy alone, or with your kids.
As for the other group of people who are loving lock down (like me), I'll tell you a few tips that I use to do just that. It may not fit your style, but here they are anyway:
1. Seriously, if you haven't already, limit the news. Find a strategy. I ignore all the notifications of Live updates from politicians on my phone and my feed for that matter, and just go to the news page online that I trust. Glance at the headlines, so I am informed, then, as I get disgusted about things, or ideally before, leave it.
2. Immediately after listen to your favorite playlist or music, have on soothing things while you work outside of those Zoom meetings. Put on an inspirational speaker, guided meditation, etc. You don't have to do the meditation at the moment. Just listening to it will provide a benefit.
3. Move. Take a break every hour if you can and stretch, sit outside for 5-10 minutes, go get the mail, pull weeds for 10 minutes. I'm not talking about doing a full 30 minute workout. I'm talking about 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there, throughout the day. Graze with the activity, just like you should be with your food (we'll talk about that in a minute).
4. Answer calls, emails and attend meetings that are online. Even when you feel like you just wanna stay in bed. Nap later.
5. Get dressed. At least partially. Who cares if you wear pants though the thought of that is gross. It does however make you feel better. Shower. Seriously. Yes, we can tell when you've rolled out of bed and just pulled on the hoodie, or are still in the hoodie that you slept in. It's not that we care about your appearance per say or what you are wearing. It is when you're not taking care of yourself it aids in negative brain bias thinking and negative self talk creating , depression and lower self concept/self compassion and esteem. So... take a shower (at least every other day) and put on a clean shirt.
6. Do some art. Even if you are not an artist. Get a pen or pencil and a piece of paper and just start doodling things. Lines, shapes, make patterns over and over. THAT is a meditative process. Active meditation. If you REALLY hate the idea of doing something doodley or arty, then do something physical. Start to organize your garage. Try out new recipes. Deep clean the baseboards around the floor (yeh, have you notices how dusty those are?). Play your guitar or your piano or your ocarina. HUM. Sing to the radio. You're at home! The only judge is yourself and whomever your live with. You're kids will love it too. Dance. Free dance, line dance, cha cha slide dance. Get the joy moving.
7. Don't get down on yourself if you can't get your mind to focus or if meditation is impossible right now. Practice self compassion. Fact is, under these circumstances, a prolonged collective trauma with no end in sight, your system is on alert. If you have a trauma past, your system on a high alert and you're probably jumping out of your skin more times than not, irritable, maybe finding yourself lashing out at folks that under different conditions you could have just stated things and have been done with it. Your amygdala, the fight or flight center of your brain, is active. In people who have been through multiple or prolonged traumatic situations the amygdala over develops. Fight and flight, freeze too, are not choices. You are not consciously making them. They are survival mechanisms in the nervous system and brain that are present since birth. Can you learn to regulate them? Yes. With lots and lots and lots of practice. I would recommend that you continue to be mindful. To be aware of what you are thinking and feeling, keeping in mind that during trauma and anxiety, that may not be neurologically and physiologically possible. So don't beat yourself up.
8. Be social! Yes. I said SOCIAL. Attend Facebook Live! Events. There are a ton of home concerts and even online art events right now. Spiritual practices are flourishing with services on Sunday's, meditation groups and Buddhist Temples are having their meditations during the week, lectures and personal growth options are abundant, many of them free. So join in! If it's not your thing. Leave. No biggie. Parents and adults who work with children, there are several free live webinars and Zoom calls coming up that offer support to you in developing resilient children. And if you just don't feel like being social. Pick one day to try it during the week. Just one day, for 5-10 minutes and see how you like it. It's part of trying to get past that negative brain bias.
9. Watch your diet. Yeh. I know. Stress plus stress plus trauma equals.... candy bars, comfort food, potato chips and grease. Give yourself a break once a week. Maybe even twice if it's just one thing. If you take an entire day of eating like crap (candy, sugary drinks, chips, fast food) then do a reset the next day. Flush your system with lemon water and have 2 eggs for breakfast, a bowl of veggies or soup for lunch and roasted veggies with a fish proteins for dinner. That will get you back on track after a day or two. But if you find yourself reaching for the ice cream and chips and processed food everyday or craving sugar everyday, that's your stress hormones kicking in. And it gets worse at night and especially when you are tired or have slept poorly. It's pure hormonal, addictive response. Yep. Addictive. Sugar lights up the same neuropathways as cocaine in the reward system of the brain. So that Hershey bar I love.... when I think about it that way... I don't want it anymore. Instead counter those sugar cravings with dried fruit (yes still high sugar but it's natural), fresh fruit or better yet, a non sugary protein shake... because protein will kill the craving for sugar. If you drink your protein, many times the flavor of the shake will satisfy that desire for sugary tastes too. Is it 100%? Nah. We're human. What's 100%? Nutrition correlates with mood and mental health. So if you're fighting anxiety and depression, which come along with grief (grieving social loss, change loss, job loss, etc), eat well.
I hear several people complaining in different social media groups about the "pressure" to make this a productive time to learn a new skill or develop your mindfulness practice, etc. Yes. It is a great time for that for some people. You may not be one of those people, and that's ok. It doesn't make you defective. There is no one "telling you" you HAVE to do anything or "pressuring you" to learn a new skill unless it's workforce development or someone you live with or.... your own inner critic. And in that case maybe compromise.
Here's the thing. Just like with trauma therapy, you don't jump in during the middle of the trauma and try to resolve the entire trauma experience. It's impossible to do that neurobiologically. You will get nowhere and nothing but frustrated. The thing for right now is to work on regulating your system. Trying to get to a persistent state of calm. Movement is necessary for that (even if you are 500 lbs and can't exercise--and that's ok). ANY type of movement can help get rid of the stress hormones and muscle tensions in the body from anxiety and stress. There are things like Progressive Muscle Relaxation, a
series of tightening and releasing muscles in the body, ecstatic and chakra dancing, Nia, Tai Chi, QiGong, Chair yoga, of course any of the other yoga's, but for those of you that can't move very well, even doing circles with your ankles and wrists, shrugging your shoulders up and down, twisting your waist while sitting, can help. It helps move your lymph fluid too, which is another issue.
For me, I give thanks when I wake up. I say a mantra, sometimes I find it in one of my inspirational emails that I open in the morning, I read Richard Rohr's Daily Devotion and Mile Hi Church's daily email. I make coffee, sometimes I sit in silence and just look out the window and enjoy the sunshine. Other days, I jump in and "see the weather" and try
to avoid the headlines. Then I stretch for a couple minutes, get ready for Zoom calls, yep, shower, shirt, whole 9 yards. I usually have some time before that starts so I'll go through email. I'll put on a meditation, music or a spiritual practice lecture. After the Zoom meetings I always get up and move around, get water, drink lots of water to flush the system from sitting so much, come back with a fruit or fresh veggie snack and do more work (usually answering emails, grading student assignments, writing courses and lessons and prepping for classes). As my day does on, I continuously return to the inspirational and the positive for respite. Some will say, but that's not real, you aren't feeling your feelings. I'd disagree. I am indeed, just at a different time during the day. I'm also using active strategies from my toolbox for self regulation. And THAT my friend, is what therapy and behavior intervention is all about.
Someone asked me the other day if it was ok to detach. To check out during this time. We call this depersonalization or derealization. They are two separate things. One is that surreal feeling where you are out of your body and the other one is when your world seems unreal and flat. My answer was yes. It's a survival mechanism right now. The task of even trying to be present in the moment can be too overwhelming at this particular moment in time given our state of world collective trauma. Get used to hearing that term too. If any guru or mindfulness teacher tells you otherwise, they don't understand the neuroscience of trauma. What isn't ok though, is to stay in that state all the time. At a point, you have to come back into the body, feel yourself in your body again and be present. Maybe that happens in the evening when everyone is asleep and you can do some grounding and breathing and bring yourself back in to present moment consciousness. Again, if it's not happening for you right now, you are not defective. You are a living breathing miracle that is surviving a the biggest world crisis in over 100 years. Give yourself credit for that. And let's work on moving and breathing for now.
If you need assistance in any way, coaching, expressive arts based holistic person centered therapy, please reach out. I have appointment slots available with sliding scale fees, love donations and payment plans. You can also go through Open Path and for a 59 dollar fee they can connect you with any of the therapists in that collective (I am apart of it) that have agreements to offer session fees for 30-60 dollars for Open Path qualifying clients. My personal dedication is to help those who need the help and can't afford to pay for mental health services and wellness. Talk to me if you are interested and check out Open Path.