Election Stress Disorder

Election Stress Disorder

Election Stress Disorder? Is this even a real thing?

Yes it is and is a term was coined by Steven Stosny back during the run up to the 2016 election. From what I read in the NYT about this disorder, it’s back — bigger and badder than ever.

How would you know if you are suffering from it? Well, common symptoms include: doom scrolling, watching polls non-stop, your mind being crowded with election scenarios — who knew there could be so many? (This is probably one of the main reasons why we even have election stress to begin with!) Everybody and everyone is so divided and it feels like it has already been formally announced —

If one side wins, they cheated.

If the other side wins, the vote was suppressed.

Who can win and where does this end? Anticipating this is driving many of us to have Election Stress Disorder. So much information to scroll, so many scenarios to consider, so much worry over where it’ll all end up. Talk about frustration and anger that leads to stress related directly the the election. Often it comes off as feeling and being irritable.

What can be done? Well, first off recognize that the political landscape is causing you stress. Also, be honest — is it just the other side that you are upset with or is it also your own side and the extreme views that lie within? Or even those you respect who may be forwarding or posting news that is not true. If you can answer this question honestly, it can help to create a strategy to combat your Election Stress.

So, what can you do?

First, if you are going to engage in debate try to limit your time arguing with people. Adding to the divisiveness due to your stress simply adds to more discord. Pick and choose who you do battle with and when you engage look first to connect with someone and understand their opinions — listen! — and then bring your own thoughts to the conversation. If the whole engagement stalls, let it be. Find peace within and give yourself credit for trying to understand the other. Make sure to limit the amount of time you engage.

Yes, take time out from the news. Yet, when you do engage make sure you are reading and engaging with sources that are accurate and truthful. It is on all of us to take responsibility for how we are getting our news and where we are spending our time reading news that informs us about the election and beyond. So, yes, limit your time reading the news, but, when you do, make sure it is worth your time and not “fake.”

Take a break. It’s hard to keep all of this in perspective, but it is necessary. Let history be a guide for you in these times. In the past, people have met the challenges of war and racism and pandemics and the world continued to move forward. Some may say that the world no longer has this chance due to man’s impact on the environment. If this is your perspective, take some of your stress and channel it doing something good for whatever cause is near and dear to your heart.

From there, take heart that life will move forward — no matter the election results. Being present, doing what you can do — especially VOTING — and keeping in mind the larger perspective of where this moment in history fits into the greater history of the world can help one see that it is a moment. Yes, there will be impacts, but there is also hope that we can overcome any one moment.

Election Stress Disorder is real, especially with this final lead up to the election on November 3rd in America. Recognize it, take care of yourself, and seek perspective of this moment across the history of time.

Puppy Love

Puppy Love

Puppy Love — it’s real!

It seems everywhere I look around my neighborhood there are puppies. During this COVID pandemic I have heard it’s a thing – getting a puppy – and now I know it is true. I walk anywhere and there is a six month old puppy walking along her happy owner. Perhaps you are one of these people who got a pup at the beginning of quarantine.

And what lucky puppies they are. Everyone is at home with hardly a thing to do. What could be a better time to enjoy a puppy and give time to play, walk, train, and be with puppy. I think our little animal friends can provide a calming effect on people as we deal with these odd times. Instead of focusing on all that feels blocked and off this year, puppy gives us something to focus on and enjoy in the here and now — allowing us to be in the present moment rather than getting into thoughts of an anxious future.

Only thing — puppy costs quite a bit these days. Specialized diet, toys, training, vet bills, possibly insurance, and more — it is a significant expense to undertake a puppy who becomes a dog for the long term. So, keep this in mind. Second, keep in mind your schedule. If you are working from home for the foreseeable future, this may not be a problem, but it’s important to note your schedule and how it may change. And when it does, what will happen to puppy? Keep this in mind too.

Outside of the considerations, pets help regulate us and our own emotions, help us remain in the present, and ease our anxiety as they grow into this fun world. For them, it is fun. Keep the puppy love going and take some advice from our little furry friends.

Everything is going to be alright!

Sound Limiting

Sound Limiting
Find your inner quiet this fall at home

I was reading an interesting article in the NYT, Can You Hear Yourself Think? It focuses on the idea of sound limiting, a way to limit the sounds around you so you can actually find peace and quiet in your mind during the days.

Although strict quarantine has lifted, most people are working and schooling at home this fall. There are still many limits on our time away from home and most of our time where we need to be focusing we are in noisy environments at home. The dog barks, the cat purrs, the neighbor is having construction done on their home, the kids are fighting as they school, your spouse is on a Zoom work meeting, the doorbell rings — and those are just the noises off the top of my head.

This article rightfully points out that Sound Proofing is super expensive and full of renovation costs. However, there is another idea where you can seek to limit the sounds around you. Perhaps there is a room in the house where it is designated as quiet. No noise no matter what. Noise cancelling headphones can take a lot of the noise away. Scheduling quiet hours for you and your family, designating a specific time to be quiet. Using inside voices together.

A good idea before all the madness at home begins this fall is to come up with a plan. Reflect on what made the home noisy this past spring and tackle these one at a time making a plan to reduce as much noise as possible for all members of your family. There will be noises that cannot be avoided, like the doorbell ringing, but some of this can be solved with a little planning.

Peace and quiet is often essential when it’s time to focus. Plan!

Money and Spreadsheets

Money and Spreadsheets

Times are tough – as they always are when it’s the topic of money.  As such, financial experts and advisors tell people to create a budget and stick to it. Indeed, I hear a lot of people are tracking their money these days.  One of the best ways people do this is by creating a spreadsheet. If you set it up right, the spreadsheet will show you all the money you have going in, going out, seeking to save, and more. 

All there, in one neat place, your whole financial life can be seen and tracked. Sounds like a great idea on one hand, and, like most everything, it can also have a downside too.

Whenever I hear someone saying they are setting this up, it always sounds like a New Year’s Resolution – something to help break a bad pattern or to gain more control or to start a new leaf with money. It always seems to begin from the premise of improving one’s money circumstances. Something has gotten the person to feel that a spreadsheet will provide the solution needed to money ails.

On the surface, a spreadsheet tracking money can absolutely be something that is good and helpful in a person’s life. However, it is rarely the answer to stopping negative ways of interacting with money that reflects how we feel about ourselves. Instead, a spreadsheet can often act like a highlighter as to all that we do wrong, which can then lead into feeling bad about ourselves.

I would suggest asking yourself what is motivating you to track your money in such a concrete way? Is it to actually track your money or is it to highlight a part of yourself that you feel bad about already and this spreadsheet will serve as a tangible reminder of this “bad” part of you?

By asking yourself this question you can get a sense if tracking your money via spreadsheet is a healthy thing for you to undertake or is it just another tool to keep you tied to bad thoughts about yourself and others.

Be honest – as this may be the costliest decision of them all.

Doomscrolling

Doomscrolling. What a clever word for something many people are doing today.

Most of us were attached to our phones before the pandemic and political craziness of 2020 had taken hold. Yet, now something different is happening when we reach for our phones. It’s like the Temple of Doom.

We turn it on, head to our favorite social media sites, and go down the doom tunnel. A horrific article about the politics of the day to the ever-widening death toll from the pandemic to the economic havoc and mayhem — and that’s just the start. Another critical part of the doom scroll is reading all of the comments. I often think the comments grab us into doom more than the news itself.

All of a sudden, we are reading, scrolling, getting amped up, becoming anxious and depressed all at once — and it just keeps going. Compulsively we continue the doomscroll barely able to take a breath away from all we are reading. Someone told me he finally stops when there is no new doom to read. Seven hours in he takes leave of his phone!

This article in the Washington Post lays out what doomscrolling is and how to reign it in so you aren’t relying on the doom all day long. Some ideas in the article include changing your screen color to gray, spending limited amounts of time on-line in these ways, finding places on the Internet that offer the exact opposite of doom – like cute pictures of animals.

A few more ideas – actually purchase a real newspaper and read it. So old fashioned I know. Here though you can enjoy all of the news of the day without reading the comments of doom. Further, it provides space for your own good thinking about the article. Also, you are deciding what you will read in depth, skim, and skip altogether. Online reading is much more difficult to discern which is which for you on any given article as you may not be so interested, but you do want to hear what others think about it. Taking a more solo path can keep the doom at bay.

Also, choose your time of day for a good doomscroll. One where you are awake, active, and alert and not seeking rest and relaxation. Align yourself with the most energy you have to take it in and then leave plenty of time afterwards to let it all go. At night, keep your phone outside of your bedroom. Do not mindlessly reach for it, but keep in mind and value your sleep and rest over the doomscroll. Don’t worry all of the doom will be there waiting for you tomorrow.

We are wired to latch on to the bad and then worry to the nth degree about it all. We also our communal beings — we are drawn to know what someone else is thinking and then perhaps try that stance on and see if we feel the same way or not. However, this muddies the waters of knowing our own minds and trusting how we are thinking for ourselves. Reading without adopting how others are thinking about something is creating space for your own independent thinking. More important than ever these days.

Finally, doomscrolling is a time suck. It sucks you right down into the temple of doom and doesn’t let you go to actually live your life. There is less time for you. Sometimes I read the comments on news and its just on and on fighting and fighting and I think to myself do people really have so much time to fill arguing with strangers? Everyone is always saying how busy they are — is this what people are busy with? Or is doomscrolling a way to escape life that feels miserable? Sometimes I feel like attracts like. We feel our personal lives are doomed and so we seek out external doomscrolling to match this internal feeling.

Take a break and take stock. Life is lived in reality. Put the phone down, pick up a real paper, after a little bit of time, put the paper down, and go out and embrace your life. May it be full of Joy Living — hopefully steps — even miles — away form the doom.

Keeping Good Humor

Family Keeping Good Humor

A friend sent me an article about laughter during a pandemic. I think my friend knew I needed a lift and sent it along to me as a reminder to keep good humor during this uncertain time. Of course, I enthusiastically asked her to send me this article as I desperately needed to read it as I sometimes feel it is not OK to laugh or be light and funny during this time. Yet, it’s actually exactly what I need — i.e. to not take the whole thing so seriously and not get caught up in the abyss of the future that is more unknown than ever.

Are you keeping good humor these days? Are you the one sending around funny memes? Are you engaging in a deep belly laugh every now and again? Are you able to see the light side of the situation and make a joke? Or are you the person scouring when others engage in these ways? Whichever your reaction, my guess is that is says something about your mental state.

To be able to laugh is mentally healthy. Yes, even during a pandemic, it is important to give in to the lighter side of life and see that we can still hold on to this part of ourselves that is resilient, courageous, and has the ability to persevere in times of crisis and/or facing the unknown. Giving ourselves permission to give in and enjoy life during this time with good humor is really very important.

Have you noticed if nothing feels fun or funny or that people are annoying you who are embracing this these days? It may be an indicator of being very stressed, anxious, or depressed or a combination of all three states. One cannot embrace good humor – either our own or that of others – if we stay stuck in a serious, dire, anxious frame of mind. Living too far into the future or just looking around at reality in despair can truly lead to bad humor which can lead to low moods, physical ailments, or a general feeling of despair and inertia.

I want to encourage you to maintain some level of good humor during this time, especially if you feel anything but. Moving out of your comfort zone of being in misery, sadness, anxiousness, or hard-heartedness will not be easy, but I want you to open up and give it a try. See if some good humor can make it any better. And don’t do it for any great reason besides lifting your own spirits. Sometimes we feel guilty for putting ourselves above the collective situation and taking care of ourselves through something like laughter.

Good humor, laughter, optimism are all important components to being mentally healthy and resilient during this pandemic. Keep this in mind and laugh away!

Creativity Burst: Puzzle Time

Puzzle Time
Pandemic Puzzle Time!

Pandemic Puzzle Time!

It seems that these days all things old are new again. And this is true when it comes to puzzles. Remember the big jumbo 1000 piece puzzles you would do as a kid with other kids or your family. The pieces would be laid out on a large flat surface. There the puzzle pieces would sit beckoning to be put together.

It would often take hours to get it done over several days. Of course, starting at the corners, building the outside edge of the puzzle, and then filling it in — often by figuring out smaller puzzles that then fit into the big puzzle. It was quite something to see 1000 puzzle pieces be pieced together to find the picture on the front of the box.

With time on our hands and people in the house, puzzles offer us a place to ground ourselves in pieces that we can touch, creating a picture that is worth a 1000 pieces. There is something very satisfying to working a puzzle. I have seen puzzles in waiting rooms of therapy offices and often someone is in front of it working a piece of the puzzle. There are no apps, no screens, nothing bright and glitzy – just little pieces to put together. In this respect it feels really old fashioned.

It can also lead one to a sense of creativity as you are building picture of some sort as you work to solve the puzzle. Something that may be fun to do with your kids is to have them create their own puzzle. This doesn’t have to be 1000 pieces, but, using a thick piece of cardboard type paper, have them cut out different shapes that they seek to fit together to create their own picture. The can color in the picture once all of the blank pieces are pieced together. From there, pull it apart and solve their puzzle. Everyone in the family could do one and then hand it off to another family member to solve.

Puzzle time is back and in full force. I don’t think they ever went away — they just took our attention again when we had some time to solve them.

Mental Health Crisis in America

Mental Health Crisis in America
Mental Health Crisis Brews in America

I read an interesting article the other day in the Washington Post regarding how the current COVID-19 pandemic is pushing America to the brink of a mental health crisis. I cannot even believe it has taken a severe public health crisis like this one for the media to begin to pick up on how difficult it is for Americans to find and receive quality mental health care today.

Sitting from the vantage point of a therapist, I know this to be true for many reasons. While most articles, like the one in the Post above, focus on access to mental health care, there is something else one has to first realize. Access to mental health care starts with clinicians who are in training to work in the field and serve people in need of mental health services.

It is an unfortunate truth and one not often discussed in the media that to do the work of a therapist, or, as the traditional license is called, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, is a costly and time-consuming journey. One cannot clinically practice one-on-one therapy with individuals without holding a Master’s Degree in counseling, social work, or marriage and family work. This type of degree takes 3-5 years to complete with significant amounts of debt taken on to complete the degree, upwards and over $100,000.

Along this journey, graduate students in training are called to do an internship with a significant number of clinical hours and supervision time spent in order to earn one’s degree. Although a person may have at least 2-3 years of training experience in school, one’s internship is unpaid. People must find paid jobs as they juggle their internship demands.

This is where it strikes me that the mental health system is failing at its core. Community Mental Health Agencies that serve the poor and mentally unwell, a segment of the population that would have very little access to mental health services, are staffed with interns from graduate schools who are seeing these people for free. The core of the mental health services offered to thousands of Americans is valued at an intern level who earn nothing.

From there, graduate students leave school and are permitted their first license. Where I live it is an Associate’s license, which means you have the ability to see patients, but you must be supervised for a set amount of hours as you work toward full licensure, which is additional hours. Often Associate Mental Health Counselors use this period of time to take clinician positions in mental health agencies. Now they are no longer serving for free, but for $17 to $23 per hour. The average case load for a new Clinician is upwards to 100 clients. Then add in the math of $100,000 of student loan debt.

It is from this vantage point that I see our mental health system failing in America. From the start, when people seek to train to become a mental health clinician, no value is given to the skills that they are learning and employing to help people with their mental health needs. From weighting people down with student loan debt, to not providing any value to the intern seeing clients, and then providing a very low income to the new clinician with a caseload that no one can keep up with — not only are the clinicians burned out, but the system is overwrought with little to no support for people who need tremendous care.

What happens after one has completed her Associate’s license requirements and you are now a fully licensed therapist? Unfortunately, most clinicians leave Community Mental Health and set up their own private practice. Even if the clinician charges a reduced fee, it is often three times the amount one was earning at the mental health agencies. It is unfortunate that the very poor and mentally unwell people in America are left to be churned through by clinicians who are in some training phase of their career burning out without proper care, support, or caseload numbers.

Insurance also plays a roll in the inequity of the Mental Health system in America. Are you in network and, if you are, your patients may benefit, but the Clinician will likely make very little money for their services when all is said and done. If you are out of network, then the Clinician works with the patient to determine the fee. A patient may submit a receipt to their insurance company which may provide them with a portion of the fee they have paid. In this way, the patient has to decide what can they afford given the insurance company will only be reimbursing some of the full fee and that is often after deductibles are met.

All of this to say that when we look at the mental health crisis in America, we need to critically think about how we value our clinicians in training as well as how we value the services provided to the mentally unwell, especially those accessing care through the community mental health agencies. It begins with both parties being valued and supported in terms of money and care.

Until this happens, the system is on crumbling crutches which is going to further lead to the black hole of inadequate care, funding, and a lack of people to serve during crisis such as the one we are in currently.

Dear Therapist: Pandemic Nightmares

Pandemic Nightmares
Pandemic Nightmares Are Real!

Dear Therapist,

Ever since this pandemic took over our lives I have been unable to sleep well and, when I do find sleep, I also find nightmares. Seriously, they are disturbing! Is there any way to alleviate these terrifying dreams. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even want to fall asleep as I am scared of where my dreams will go — death, violence, isolation — this type of imagery is rampant for me. How to get good sleep during this time?

Sincerely, A Terrified Dreamer

This is so common. First, the inability to even get to sleep these days. This happens for a lot of reasons, including not maintaining one’s regular sleep regime, too many screens on too close to trying to sleep, worries and uncertainty on one’s mind — all leading to the inability to let go into an unconscious state and sleep. Which is critical to feeling rested and restored, bright and energetic to greet the next day.

Some tips on getting to sleep during this time include:

  1. Maintain your normal sleep time — when you go to bed and when you get up
  2. Turn off your screen well in advance of bedtime
  3. A better activity is actually reading a real book or working on an old fashioned puzzle with a pencil – activities that can ground
  4. If you have many worries on your mind, writing them down before sleep. In this way they become externalized. You are free to pick those worries back up again the very next morning, but writing them down and letting them breathe for the night outside of you may be helpful
  5. Engage in a ritual that will relax you like a salt bath, gentle stretching or a meditation to calm one’s self.
  6. Direct your dreams! (And this will lead into your nightmares) If there is something on your mind that you want to know about or an answer to, write it down on a piece of paper. Also, as you close your eyes, have this question on your mind and repeat it to yourself again and again. Often, this type of exercise is calling to your internal world to respond with an answer that is not conscious.

I mention this last idea of dream direction to help with the nightmares you are experiencing. All of us are carrying anxiety, worry, and, some of us, even terror over what is unfolding in our daily lives. We speak to it in a myriad of ways while we are awake during the day, and we are also speaking to it in our dreams. Deep down in the places we are not aware of, we are holding these worries and frights and they come out to haunt us in our nightmares.

I hear how terrifying they can be and that they are happening on a continual basis to the point that you do not want to even go to sleep. Engaging in steps #4 and #6 that I have noted above may help you set aside consciously the concerns you are feeling terrorized about as well as direct your mind to focus on something more interesting to you.

It will take some work to actively employ these strategies, but it may very well worth it to find not only sleep, but dreams that answer something on your mind, rather than terrorize you with worries. This is not just you — so many around the globe are being terrorized by their pandemic nightmares — you are not alone. I encourage you to take the steps above to help you sleep through this time of uncertainty that plagues us all.

Zoom Exhaustion

Zoom Exhaustion
Zoom Exhaustion Setting In?

When the idea of social distancing became a thing a few months ago, there was the idea that we could all stay connected to our family and friends even as we isolate ourselves in our home. All of a sudden “Zoom” became a thing. I had never heard of it before, but all of a sudden friends were holding Zoom Happy Hours, Zoom Book Clubs, Zoom Dinners, Zoom Movie Nights and then Zoom meetings and Zoom classes for work.

WOW! I had to marvel about the fact that COVID-19 came around when man had developed technology to a point where we could all remain together even as we are apart. It sounded brilliant and every chance I could get I said yes to a Zoom this and a Zoom that. Being together while never leaving my home sounded like the best of both possible worlds.

For myself, I noticed after the first couple, I was pretty exhausted. It felt hard to hear people, only one person could really be speaking at a time, and then everyone had to ring in with a different comment regarding what was said. To try and move on to another topic without giving everyone who spoke a good amount of time for comments and feedback felt rude.

One time, someone shared a tragic piece of health news that she may have wanted only a few people to know, but with everyone gathered at the Zoom Happy Hour, her entire health diagnosis was made clear to everyone. Awkward. I was holding information that I most likely should not have been and under any usual circumstance would not know.

Of course, there are also the technology challenges — slow Internet, bad connection, in and out voices, people muting themselves or not, people’ video popping on and off. I am also doing all of these things too which I know may be adding to someone else’s stressful experience. I think, by now, we all know the ups and downs of Zoom connections – whether for personal or professional use.

So, I guess I am not surprised that all of a sudden there are a slew of articles talking about Zoom Exhaustion. This may come after having been on virtual calls all day, being more anxious and needing time on your own to sort through your feelings, general annoyance at how clunky Zoom meetings feel, obligation to have to connect this way since everyone knows you are home and not going out with supposed time on your hands, and more.

How to handle? First notice do you want to socialize virtually? If so — and I do not assume that your answer is yet — then to what extent do you want to socialize virtually and how often? Once you have these questions answered you can stay true to yourself as you with accept or decline offers to engage virtually. For myself, I engage virtually for work completely.

As a result, in my personal life, I am not too keen to engage via Zoom for fun gatherings. Rather, I prefer to have telephone chats or FaceTime one-on-one with someone. I have been invited to several Zoom gatherings, and I now just tell my friends that I find it too stressful of a medium for me and that I won’t be joining. Of course, I ask them not to take offense and I think most people respond positively, i.e. to do what I need to do to care for myself.

All of us understanding how people are feeling stress and exhaustion even when it comes to social connecting with a medium like Zoom is really important. If you are the person who is setting up the Zoom calls and want to connect, it’s important to take care of you and have the people on the Zoom who really want to be there and not just attending out of obligation to the group.

Everything is a balance, including Zoom calls these days. Remember too, if you are going to engage, keep some Zoom Etiquette guidelines in mind to make the experience good for everyone.

Zoom Exhaustion is real. Respect it and take care of yourself above all. And let us all look forward to the day we can hang out together.