Dear Therapist: Opening Envy

Opening Envy of People at Stores

Dear Therapist;
I live in a State that remains in lockdown. A few things are reopening, but the “shelter in place” order is still active and we are pretty much housebound in our community over 60 days at this point. I have family in other parts of the country that are enjoying dinner out with their friends, getting their hair and nails done, and living life somewhat back to the way it was just a few months ago. I am happy for them, but it also sort of ticks me off to not be able to have my freedom to move. It’s hard for me to be happy for them when I feel stuck. I guess I am envious. How do I keep it together?

Sincerely, Sick of It

I hear you. I think it’s wonderful you can admit to feeling envy for people in other areas gaining their freedom to move and get back to their lives. However, many people feel the risks they are undertaking is not worth it for their health or the health of others. Yet, it also is getting old to simply be indoors with take away, cooking, and watching movies and shows with the same people for months on end.

This pandemic is all about the other and the collective health of society and much less about ourselves as individuals. The problem in America is we are all about the individual and take very little care of the other. And this bears out in so many aspects of American life, but is now in full political mode as people exert their rights over the good of public health. So, continuing to shelter in place for the good of others as many Americans are given the freedom to live as we believe as Americans — for ourselves — makes it even more difficult.

Socialized nations, like Australia and New Zealand and countries in Europe, suffered with not being able to move as well, but believe that society and community comes first over themselves as individuals. In this way, it is easier to shelter in place because the entire nation has the ethos and is in it together.

There is not much we are in together as Americans anymore. The divide between the good of all v. our own personal good is on the line in a way that it has never been before. I hear in your question the desire to care for your community, and, at the same time, your envy of those who can move as we all believe we should. Being envious of this movement after months cooped up is completely understandable.

However, given you have acknowledged your envy, perhaps now frame it for yourself in a new way. Each day you maintain shelter in place you seek to protect and care for your fellow members in society. Something sorely lacking in America today. The notion of kindness is extended in this way. Although difficult, it may make it a little more bearable to remain sheltered in place even as you see your friends and family move with freedom right now.

I feel your envy, your stagnation, and frustration. It’s becoming a lot, but keeping the bigger picture in perspective will hopefully help you hold the breath a little longer. I hope your friends and family in other parts of our nation remain healthy and safe too.

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Dear Therapist: Where to Donate?

Where to donate food
What can I do to help ease others’ plight?

Dear Therapist,

I watch the news at night and I am seeing the long lines for food at our local food banks in my community and across the nation. I am moved to want to help others and feeding others during this time feels like something I can do to help others at this time. Are there any other ideas for helping people in crisis right now?

Sincerely, Wanting to Help

Good idea! Your local food bank is a wonderful idea to help alleviate the hunger many Americans are experiencing in our communities. Dropping off bags of groceries, volunteering to stock shelves (if volunteers are needed and safety measures are in place) or making a financial donation to national organizations serving food across the country are all ways to get involved in helping alleviate hunger in America. The truth is there has always been hunger in America, but the numbers have exploded and people need food now more than ever for their families.

There are many worthy causes to donate to during this exceptional period of time when economies across the country have largely been shut down. Think about your favorite charities and non-profit organizations and, if you have money to spare, consider donating to them. Perhaps put aside some money for your children to decide on an organization she wishes to support and have her make a direct contribution during this time.

When we give in these ways, it can help alleviate our sense of powerlessness in the situation. Taking action that is within our capabilities can help us feel we can help others and, as such, make this pandemic time not only a little better form ourselves, but for our neighbors too. This sense of contributing to others can be essential during a time like this.

I want to offer one additional idea for helping others during this time. As you know, many of us are still in a quarantine situation in our homes. This has caused a significant increase in the amount of Domestic Violence situations in homes. As you can imagine if this is already in play within a family, being isolated and in close quarantine quarters with no other options, an increase in abuse of family members is going to rise.

Donating to shelters and/or crisis lines serving people who are in abusive situations like this during this time is important to remember and perhaps contribute to if so moved. I think for many of us who are safe in our homes and, although arguments and fights may arise, they are not ones that are going to lead to domestic abuse it is hard to keep in mind that this situation is far from reality for many. Many others are also having these same arguments and fights, and yet they escalate to a place of danger for many. Raising awareness about the issue and contributing to alleviate this suffering may also be a cause you feel drawn to contribute to.

Quite frankly, the need is great across the country – from the arts to non-profits to animal welfare to hunger and much much more. Taking action that you can feel good about and also helps is a double joy. My best to you as you duly consider who, how, when and where you will donate during this pandemic.

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.

Dear Therapist: Career Coach v. Career Counselor

Career Coach Sign

Dear Therapist:

With everything going on right now, I am reevaluating my career. I feel this time at home may be a good time to think about creating a new career path for myself as I’ve been pretty miserable for awhile now. I could use some help with the process and am thinking I would like to work with a Career Coach or a Career Counselor. What’s the difference? Does it even matter?

Sincerely, Looking for Career Direction

This is an excellent question because as you allude to in your question, is there even a difference? Actually there is and it’s a good moment to know what it is so you can decide the type of person who can best help you through your career transition.

Are you looking for help in exploring various industries and thinking about your strengths and weaknesses across each one? Are you interested in creating new materials to help you find a new job, i.e. a cover letter and resume? Are you thinking about ways to hone your social media profiles to support your job search? If any of these steps resonate with you, I believe you are in need of a Career Coach.

A Career Coach works with you to discern what your next job and/or career path will be, either in the same industry or a whole different one. The focus will be on who you are, your strengths and weaknesses, and creating a sense of what you want to bring to the materials you need to create to make yourself not only fit, but also stand out from all the other applicants. Concrete career steps like these are the focus of a Career Coach.

Alternatively, are you feeling stuck in your same job? Do you hate your job, know you really need to move on, but just can’t seem to take the steps? Feelings of anxiety, depression, stuckness, and internalized criticism that are hampering your progress in your career is a place to work with a Career Counselor. It is not about the job process itself, but rather what is happening to keep you somewhere you don’t want to be.

Career Counselors work with you to think about thought patterns, messages, and ideas that your have been given over the course of your lifetime that are operating to keep you immobilized professionally. By looking at these core beliefs you hold and starting to name and then unravel them are keys to becoming unstuck and moving forward to a career you are happy with. Career counseling is often a much more internal process, whereas the coaching process is about the action toward a new job.

Which space are you in? This delineation should clarify the difference for you, as well as provide you with a few questions to ask yourself in order to decide what you need. For more information on Career Counseling, what it is, how it can be approached, and feelings that are associated with difficulty in this area, click here.

Dear Therapist: Tired of Watching Shows

Tired of Watching Shows

Dear Therapist:

I am tired of watching shows during this time at home. I never thought I would admit this as there is so much good TV and content to watch out there, but hour after hour and I actually feel really tired and lethargic. I used to watch a few hours per week, now it’s a few hours morning and night. Are there any other alternatives to watching shows during this stay-at-home time?

Sincerely, Boob Tubed Out

It seems like this would be the perfect time to sit and watch shows, shows, and more shows. There is so much content out there right now and so much of it is exceptional. It seems like it would be so easy to sit there on the couch hour after hour and watch the shows without limit. It feels almost counter-intuitive to think watching shows is exhausting. Yet, it is.

If you are interested in watching stuff, but not shows, you are in luck as there are many, many options:

  1. Street Walks
  2. Opera
  3. National Theater
  4. Art Museums
  5. Historic Homes
  6. Broadway Shows

This is a time to armchair travel your way to great cities, museums, and cultural events in ways that we never could before. It is something completely different and a true delight. Yes, you are seated, but your mind is free to take in something new to feed your mind, interests, and senses.

After this, go out for a walk and let your mind be full of the wander you took – it can also serve as inspiration as you plan your next trip.

Limiting the time you use to watch shows is necessary. Give that hour or two to yourself when you really don’t want to do anything else except watch a TV show or movie. We all have those moments, but it is not something that can be sustained for days at a time.

Just say no to passive watching and yes to activities that have been taken on-line.

Dear Therapist: No Job No More

No Jobs No More

Dear Therapist:

I am out of work like 16 million other Americans at this time. I don’t feel alone, but I am scared. I don’t know how long this will last and whether will there even be a job to return to when this mess is over? Nothing is certain, except the bills I have to pay. Any suggestions on how to handle this type of stress? I am glad to be one of many, but I am scared to death wondering if I will make it?

Sincerely, Frightened Along With Everyone Else

It is a terribly bleak situation. The numbers have gone through the roof for people and small businesses applying for government benefits that will sustain them during this time of crisis. That’s the first place one must put her energy – filing for unemployment, applying for small business loans and grants, and waiting on your check from the government to help ease the pain of today.

However, I also hear your concern over the unknown facts of when will this even be over and when it is over will there be your old job to return to or will that job be gone? Those are two huge uncertain elements for everyone at this time. We cannot yet know when the orders to “shelter in place” will be officially lifted, then what businesses will reopen, and how the public responds to business being back to normal, if in fact this is the plan that is happening.

The unknowns are the worst in a situation like this and that drives anxiety. Collectively, I think American society is on edge not only out of concern for our health, but also the financial cost of the crisis that is impacting so many people like yourself.

Grounding yourself in the moment with what you do know is one of the best courses of action for now. You and I both don’t know the answers to some of these major questions. We can focus on what we don’t know or we can be in the moment right now and take care of what needs to be taken care of in the here and now. It may be difficult, but just navigating the applications alone for assistance will take up a large chunk of time. Not only will you feel like you are moving forward by completing those tasks, your energy will also be focused.

Breathing in four counts through your nose and four counts out of your mouth four to five times can also aid in slowing down and grounding in the here and now. Although this is a terribly anxious time, we can find ways to soothe and calm our worries in the here and now and I encourage you to do so.

Dear Therapist: Running Out of Patience

Running out of patience and time
Running out of Patience?

Dear Therapist,

I am at the start of Month #2 of Shelter in Place in my town. My heart fell to the floor when the order was recently extended another whole month. At first, it was novel to work at home, bond with my family, and have more time to myself without the running around, but now I am running out of patience! How do I keep it together at this drags on — and on?

Sincerely, Running out of Patience

Ah! What a feeling! What a situation!

I think many people are in states where the people have been sheltering in place for weeks by now and are about to enter into not week, but month two of the situation. I hear that you, at first, appreciated the change in your life that this order originally had on your life, but it’s now worn off and you want to get back to your life as usual.

I am sure you are not alone with what you are feeling. There is definitely a desire to want to get back to work, to errands, to sports, to events, to coffee with friends, to networking chats, and everything else that took us out into the public to connect, produce, enjoy, and live each day. Being grounded as a kid was never fun, and now the entire world is in this state.

One thing, we know our neighbors and everyone else is in the same boat. One way to grow patience is to recognize you are not alone. Everyone in your community is in the same place and most people are probably wishing this could all be over yesterday. Knowing you are in good company can help ease the feelings.

Next, recognize that staying in is for your safety and the safety of others. It is literally the staying put that is saving lives. How can it be? Something so simple — stay home and save lives. Yet, it is so foreign and strange to stay in the majority of the time for weeks on end. Still, holding in mind the purpose that this is for something much greater than yourself may help you tolerate these days.

I would also suggest creating a list of all that you want to do once this time is over. I know it helps me to write these items down – both mundane and fanciful items – to keep my hopes up that this time will end and I will be prepared to move on to things that have been put on indefinite hold during this time. It is important to have a list in mind as to what you are looking forward to when this is over.

Finally, try to be present to this moment. It is an unusual, strange time, but one that will not last forever. Take it in as fully as possible. Use the time to learn about yourself, the ones you live with, and what about this time is realy good and what poses challenges. There is much to be learned by slowing down and observing one’s self in this unusual space.

How do we grow patience? There is no magic answer, but, in time, it will all pass. Find ways to structure the days, find meaning within, and be present to what is unfolding in the now to not get too ahead of yourself, but to find the good in here and now. Today.

Dear Therapist: Virtual Happy Hour Etiquette

Virtual Happy Hour

Dear Therapist:

Well, I’m at home most days all day long and the only way I connect with others is through technology. Most people are using Zoom, which I appreciate as I can see tons of my colleagues and friends all at one time. However, during casual Zoom gatherings, everyone is talking at one time or people take turns talking and all eyes are on that person. I know it’s a virtual Happy Hour, but it feels weird. Any advice on how to make casual Zoom gatherings easier for everyone to participate and feel heard?

Sincerely, Zooming Away

Sounds like you are a whole lot like me these days where most of our social connection outside of our immediate family is via technology. Any chance I get, I appreciate hopping on to a Zoom meeting for work or for fun to connect with others today. Recently, I too have noticed that work meetings seem to run smoother than casual meet ups on Zoom.

I think this is because when we are meeting for work or a class, the host has several rules set up that everyone must follow. The host asks the participants to “mute” themselves to clear out background noise, as well as use the “raise hand” feature when you have something to say so that people can take turns participating.

However, when you are thinking about a casual Zoom happy hour or other type of meetup, the last thing you want to do is employ rules. Yet, we may need to in order to connect in the best way possible. Sticking with the “mute” button is a good thing to use whether business or personal – the background noise cut out really helps.

Regarding people talking over one another is difficult, but perhaps you should ease up. Think about meeting up people at a crowded bar. It is loud, people are all talking at once, and it is difficult to keep up. However, I think this is something we are all missing right now, i.e. a crowd of people chatting together. Only thing is given the medium, people want to hear what people are saying. In the bar, what often happens is small groups of conversation begin to form and while everyone is together different conversations are happening at the same time. This is almost impossible on a Zoom meeting.

Which then leads to the awkwardness you are experiencing. One person is speaking, everyone listens and is focused on that one person, and then everyone chimes in one at a time about what the person has said. It definitely puts that person in the “hot seat” of attention and also nothing else can be spoken about because the attention is going to only one person. And then how to move on, especially if the person has shared something really difficult?

Ah! What to do? I don’t think there is much that can be done. This medium is odd for casual gatherings. Accepting this and moving into what it does offer, i.e. a big group of people we can see at once in a time when we hardly see anyone may be worth the difficulty of easy flow connection.

Be forgiving, find energy from the field of people who have come together, and don’t take any of it too seriously. The point is to connect. Let the rest go!

Dear Therapist: Stuck in a Role

Happy woman cooking dinner

Dear Therapist,

I am married and living a traditional married life in many ways. Although I work outside the home, I also do most of the cooking and cleaning. My Mom did the same and it never looked that hard for her when I was a kid. Now, in the role, not only is it hard, I am not that interested. I am stuck in the role of “wife” and don’t know how to break out? Help!

Sincerely, Sick and Tired of Cooking & Cleaning

How easy it is to not only pick up on roles that society expects of us when we take on the role of wife, but also act on them without any thought whether or not you want the role. If you saw your Mother play this role in your family, it may be even more difficult to break out of something that just doesn’t suit you.

However, you are looking to break out and so you are recognizing that there is a choice other than being stuck in a prescribed role. There are two parts to making the change.

First, getting honest with yourself. What do you want your role of wife to look like in your marriage? Are there any chores you don’t mind doing? Or circumstances under which you don’t mind doing them? What are the things you absolutely never want to touch again? Becoming honest with what you do and do not want to take on as far as these responsibilities is the important first step.

Second step is to have a heart-to-heart with your partner. Perhaps he is just assuming that you don’t mind. Perhaps he saw his own Mother take care of all of this like you and thinks that’s the way it is supposed to be. Perhaps he has space to participate alongside you? This may not be the easiest conversation, but it may be one that leads you to a new role in your marriage.

Things won’t change overnight. You may give up the dishes to him and he may get it done in two days not in the next two hours. As your roles shift, stress points will arise. Being able to keep a sense of humor as well as a commitment to the new way of being and doing within your marriage are the keys to making change.

By all means, break out! We are told in a million ways each day from the start of life what we are expected to do, be, have in our relationships. Unwinding those ideas and finding the way forward that works for you is the key.

Dear Therapist: Why are People Still Hanging Out Together?

People Hanging Out Together

Dear Therapist:

I have heard all of the news reports and I am frustrated to see people are still out and about hanging out together even as we are told to keep social distance from one another. I feel like saying something to these people, but I also wonder if it is any of my business? What do I do? Nothing or something?

Sincerely, Wanting Everyone to Keep Distance

Ah! These are interesting times indeed. How can this even be a conundrum in our modern times? And, yet it is. We have been told to keep social distance from one another. Even if we are not at risk ourselves, we know we are all inter-connected and we may be putting others at risk when we do not follow the guidelines. It can also prolong the crisis we are in. We know our elderly population is at risk, but many others are as well who have underlying medical conditions that we are unaware of are also at risk. Each time we gather together in close proximity with others – even 3-4 people – we are putting society at risk.

This is huge. Many people get this as we can see from empty streets, businesses, planes, etc., but there are still many who do not think it applies to them. So, you may be out for a walk and see people gathered together. What to do? It is awkward as these people are strangers. I can see your reticence to now want to say anything. Also, this may bring you into close contact with strangers that is not comfortable for you.

I noticed that a friend of mine went out to a natural wonder in the local area and noticed the crowds and the many people standing shoulder-to-shoulder. Instead of calling it out to the crowd, he took to social media and spoke out about this gathering he saw. He brought the reminder message to his community and called out these gatherings that need to be avoided.

However, what if your friends are getting together and giving you a hard time for taking distance. Here is an opportunity to state your feelings and feel a bit more safe with reminding your community where you stand on this and the importance of maintaining distance. We all have to help one another as being apart in our homes is difficult.

Technology, social media, and phones allow us to stand up for what we believe. We cannot always call strangers out as we see them gather, but we can use technology to speak up and out. You never know. Someone in your community may read your post and change their actions as a result.