Dear Therapist: Quarantine Envy

Quarantine Envy

Dear Therapist:

Hate to admit it, but after reading an article this week on something called “Quarantine Envy,” I think I’ve got a case of it. Everyone around me seems like they are having an easier time with staying in with whomever they are staying in with. They are either off at their summer home or don’t have any kids to have to worry about with school or just seem happier than me. How do I put it aside and be happy with just how I am quarantining?

Sincerely, Quarantine Green Eye

You must be referring to this article in the New York Times this week discussing Quarantine Envy. It was a new term for me too. I mean I would never think that people would find quarantine to be a time to envy another person. However, we are such a competitive and comparative society, I suppose it makes sense that people are looking around and seeing who has quarantine easier or more enjoyable or less complicated or something else.

Envy is wanting what someone else has, but the truth of the matter is “the grass is always greener on the other side.” We really don’t know what it is like to be in someone else’s quarantine situation. Perhaps your friends are hunkered down in their beach home with one another. From the outside, the home, the setting, and all looks like something to be envied. Yet, the truth of the matter is it may be just a bunch of miserable people inside the fabulous beach home rather than their regular old home.

Same when you look at people without children. Perhaps their lives are less complicated not having to deal with school openings, but it can also be far lonelier than those with families of kids. I think this is why many single people and childless couples have been adopting pets like crazy during this time. People are lonely. Perhaps there is freedom and quiet without kids, but there are other truths that then must be faced.

Everyone is trying to paint on a sunny, happy face for themselves and their loved ones. If someone is trying hard to sell you on their quarantine being amazing and spectacular, take it with a grain of salt. We just don’t know. My guess is the person has her share of ups and downs like all of us.

Now, step out of your own mind for a second and peer into your life. Yes, the one you are living right now. See! There is so much to envy!

Creativity Burst: Cake For Breakfast

Cake for Breakfast

Here’s a fun trick — something I often do the day after my Birthday or when my sweet tooth is really calling out to me: I eat cake for breakfast.

What’s so tricky about that? Not much, except you have to trick your mind into thinking its acceptable to eat cake at 7 am on any given morning and feel good about it. Another favorite tip is to eat breakfast for dinner — say eggs and bacon at 6 pm? Of course, there is always brunch where we get away with eating the sweet and savory all at once during a midday meal.

For me, if I remember to eat cake for breakfast, it really starts my day off fun. Just to look at the cake on a plate early in the morning is decadent. Then to give in and indulge with a nice cup of tea. Could there be anything better?

Change up your schedule and eat different types of food at different times of day. Even something as simple as this can get your creative juices flowing and inspire more creative ideas for your day.

Now, you could even get up and bake a cake to get your day off to the right start — creativity and sweetness. It almost feels like that is exactly what I am doing when I make up a batch of blueberry muffins or cinnamon rolls. Those are so cake-like and sweet, it feels like I am making cake for breakfast.

Try it. Mix up your meals and indulge in something different for you and your family. I will grab my fork and be right over. Let’s see what creative ideas spew forth as we enjoy some cake in the early am hours.

Organizing Books

Organized Books

It’s time for a summer project. Such as organizing books!

Or that is what I said to myself at the beginning of the summer. Here it is heading into mid-August and the season is flying by and I have barely begun.

My summer project was to organize all of my graduate school books, as well as to review all of my other books that I have been collecting over the years and give them some semblance of order alongside the school books. Books always seem to offer a juicy project to take on.

When I moved into my office last year, I literally dumped all of my academic books on to the shelves to deal with another day. They were quite an investment and so I wanted to make sure that at some point they were organized enough that I could find them and use them for future reference.

So, I have decided to break up my project into a few parts. First, organize the school books so that I can easily access them. Also, consolidate them into one area of bookshelves rather than taking up all of the space.

Second, go through my boxes of books looking for ones I can easily discard and keeping the others. Looks like they are also finding a home in my new office too. I want to know what I have and so it is essential to sort through the mess of it all.

Outside of my academic books, most books I read and give away or delete from my Kindle. Still, there are many books that I have been given and/or that I have bought that mean the world to me. These are the ones that are worth holding on to and spending significant time organizing over the course of a season.

Also, I know I will find some new books that I want to share with you. Even better!

Do you have a summer project like mine? Are you organizing something, getting rid of stuff, or accumulating more for a certain purpose? May your summer project be full of something good for you.

Often projects like these not only help organize our stuff, but also ourselves.

Low Grade Depression

Photo Credit: NPR

Recently, Michelle Obama launched her own podcast, which is already successful with many people tuning in each week. The most recent episode has her discussing her “low grade depression.”

Actually, the statistics suggest that 1 in 3 Americans are suffering from a similar low mood, given all the stress we are under in our personal lives and the collective society. If you are having a consistent low mood these days, know that you are not alone.

For Obama, she noticed that she is slower in what she is doing, going to bed late, waking up in the middle of the night, not always working out — and trying to go easy on herself and accept how she is feeling in the moment without feeling guilt or shame about not getting to everything as she used to.

She notes she combats her low grade depression with exercise, routine, rituals such as eating dinner together, and finding ways to connect with her family on a regular basis. These are all sound steps to finding a rhythm that honors the current mood, but also allows one to be in the low mood without pressure to have to get out.

Americans are taught on some fundamental level that mental illness, like depression, is not real. Rather, we control our capacity to not feel depressed. If we are feeling this, there is something wrong with us. We are not positive enough, we are suffering from a condition that is not real, and more. So many of us have to pretend that we are not depressed in order to meet society’s expectations otherwise we are judged and dismissed.

I am grateful to Obama for naming her low grade depression to help name something that many, many people experience, especially during a pandemic where our lives have been significantly curtailed. I appreciate her normalizing that a low mood is something common and to be present to it rather than push it away. Naming it, being present to it, and taking action to help one’s self ease the depression are all keys to feeling better.

So, if you too are experiencing a low mood, make space for it. Create rituals and routines that will care for yourself. No need to push it away, but recognizing it and being honest that your are in a low grade depression is essential. Yes, engage with people. Yes, take a news diet. Yes, engage in activities that promote your mental health well-being. The list goes on and on, but do not deny or run from it.

If your low mood continues to persist or it worsens, seek out therapy to treat your depression. Sometimes working with a counselor can help alleviate your symptoms as well.

Be well!

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.

Dear Therapist: August Already?

August already

Dear Therapist,

Even though we are in the midst of a pandemic, I feel like the year is moving by fast. Like wicked quick! It’s strange because none of this year feels like how an actual year feels, but what are some ways to enjoy August even as life and the end-of-summer rituals are almost non-existent at this point?

Sincerely, Pining for End of Summer Normal

Wow! August already. I agree — it’s been a strange summer, but that didn’t keep it from flying right on by. Seems no matter what the circumstances summer is a fleeting season of the year.

For me, August stirs up a late summer vacation, getting ready for school with shopping and all of the paperwork, and taking advantage of the last of the long, hot days before Autumn’s familiar routines settle us into the end-of-year.

My guess is there may be a lot of disappointment on all of these fronts this August. Parents and children may be preparing for the school year, but it is one that continues at home for most without the regular routines, activities, social interactions, and more. It’s just the family together continuing on – tough. Grieving what is lost for all of you is very important, while at the same time imagining new routines and ways of being in this together that is unique and offers some thing to look forward to this month.

Those late summer vacations have been seriously curtailed this year, but how about some day trips or local weekend getaways? At this point, any time away taking in life from a new vista is refreshing. Surely there is a park, beach, or hiking path nearby that will serve as a late summer refresher for you and yours. Making time to get away is important to mark summer’s end.

We may not be able to be with loads of people, but we can grill out, take long evening strolls, harvest the garden we may have planted, head to an ice cream shop, and other simple summer pleasures that keep a sense of time during this late summer.

Even with life upside down, the yearning for those traditions that mark this time of year is important. Keeping this in mind and getting creative about how you will do this will not disappoint.

August will come around again – hopefully, by then, we will find life’s normal pace has returned. Until then, hold on to the memories of past summers and create something new too.

Needing Help and Feeling Helpless

Needing Help and Feeling Helpless

We all need help. Yet, it’s a curious thing that needing help can often leave us feeling helpless.

Help is important as we navigate life. There is a lot to wade through, challenges to meet, deadlines to honor, things we need to know — sometimes we don’t know, sometimes we are overwhelmed by everything we have to do, sometimes the challenges seem insurmountable. In those times, it is natural to reach out for help. We are a community of people who need one another.

Why then is asking for help so often a challenge — one that can evoke shame and a deep felt sense of helplessness? I think about little babies who rely on someone else to “help” them get all of their needs met — the most basic ones of life actually. Food, sleep, change of diaper, active engagement with another. Baby looks to Mom and other caregivers for help with everything because baby is helpless to do any of these things for himself.

Now, here is an interesting question. Do you know how your caregiver treated you when you had all of those needs and had to have them by met by him or her? Often it is this early knowing of how our helpless selves’ needs were met that can clue us into how, as adults, we ask for and receive help from others. If, as babies, our parents did not do a good job at meeting our needs when we were helpless to meet them ourselves, it can often leave us with a felt sense in our implicit memory (the memories we hold before we consciously are aware of remembering) that to have our needs is to be too much to other people – needing help makes us feel helpless. Often out of this felt sense. we seek to help ourselves as we have had to all of our lives without relying on others.

Needing help leads to an uncomfortable feeling of helplessness that we seek to avoid. So, how can we need help and not feel the despair of being helpless? One, recognize that all of us need help at times. It may not be for every basic need we had as infants, but help is necessary and needed throughout our lives.

Second, equating needing help to being helpless is a misnomer. Often needing help is you recognizing your needs and getting them met — which is the exact opposite of being helpless. Taking action to get help is antithetical to being helpless.

Third, if this idea resonates within you or causes you anxiety, i.e. your need for help leads you to feeling helpless, it may be a good topic to bring in to your therapist to explore as this patterned thinking may have been set from your early days with how your earliest needs were or were not met. This type of therapeutic processing may help you let go of feeling that your needs, particularly for help, is something to feel ashamed of rather than applauded.

I am reminded of Dumbledore’s own advice to Harry Potter regarding help and how it is given at Hogwarts. Please remember, you deserve help.

I remember the famous Harry Potter movies and Dumbledore telling Harry about hel

Yearning for Nostalgia

Yearning for Nostalgia

I read and interesting article about Yearning for the Past in the New York Times this past week. The gist of the article is that during times of crisis, such as the COVID pandemic we are facing, people yearn to go back to the times before this time where things were easier, simpler, and uncomplicated with the concerns of the day.

Do you find yourself yearning for the days before COVID — or even times from an earlier time in your life? The article points out people are reconnecting with their old childhood friends, dressing as they did when they were teenagers, revisiting in their minds places that are full of ease, like a favorite park.

For me, nostalgia is active at this time. It plays out in the yearning for the olden days when I traveled without a care in the world. If I needed to be in Asia the next day, the ease of buying a plane ticket, packing a bag, and boarding the plane to take me far, far away. I now marvel at how I did this with such ease and confidence. Now, I wonder if I will ever travel like this again? My travel memories delight me and hold me in good stead during this crisis. I have lived and enjoyed travel when and while I could. It makes me happy to remember and allows me to hope for it in the future once again.

The article points out that having bouts of nostalgia are neither good nor bad, but noticing what is going on for you when you think of yester years and days is more the point. What is coming up for you? Are you living in those times to avoid your sorrow and depression of these days? Or are you returning to happy memories that sustain you and give you hope as you live out your present days? Noticing is the key word when thinking about how you are using nostalgia.

The good ol’ days have always been called upon by the older generations. However, even the youngest of us can now recall the “good ol days” — i.e those days before COVID. It’s perfectly fine to remember and enjoy the memories of the past. However, being in the present and remember that one day these pandemic days will also be stories we recall to younger people who were to young to remember this time or are not even yet in the world. Yes, we most likely will even romanticize a pandemic in the future.

Take a trip down memory lane when you need to and also be present and notice what that trip is doing for you in the here and now.

Dear Therapist Column

Dear Therapist Column

So, this column is meant to answer any and all questions people have related to mental health, therapy, and other topics that may be on your minds. If you check out my website pages, there is a form you can fill out with your question. Check it out at the end of the page here.

I hope to hear from you!

However, I want to mention that I have received a few messages via the form inquiring about therapeutic services. I do receive the message, of course. However, unless you put in your contact information, there is no way for me to know how to contact you as the form is HIPAA compliant, protecting your identity.

As such, please head to the Contact Lisa page to reach out to me for therapy services. From there, I will either have your email address and/or your phone number to contact you.

During this mid-summer break, I just wanted to clarify the submission form and invite your questions and I also invite your inquiry for therapy services via the Contact Lisa page.