The global pandemic continues to play out....
At this point, I think a lot of us are having alternating periods of better days and worse days, shifting moods and concerns, and - hopefully - blocks of time or whole days where we feel ok or even content. Some folks are, of course, struggling more than others, and if this applies to you, my heart goes out to you!
Our feelings are all real and natural, given what we're going through!
For folks with trauma histories, though, there can be more to this picture. There may be a sense of re-traumatization as they are faced with emotions that harken back to previous traumas they have survived. The current global stressors of uncertainty, fear, loneliness, isolation, conflict at home, lack of financial or food security, and/or upset at our "fathers" and "mothers" in government for failing to protect us - all of these can consciously or unconsciously trigger old feelings from prior traumas, and infuse this experience with extra intensity.
"Big T" and "Little T" Trauma
We ALL have "little T" traumas, and many (if not most) of us have "Big T" traumas too. Big T's are things we all recognize as trauma, like abuse, rape, having someone close to you die, witnessing a traumatic incident, growing up in extreme poverty, and so forth.
I think of Little T's as events that are more subjective and specific to yourself and your particular life experiences and temperament. These events might seem more subtle, random, or benign to someone else, but you recognize them as having had significant symbolic power or psychological impact upon you.
For example, something that caused you to feel deep shame as a child may leave an indelible mark, whereas another child with a different personality and history may laugh off the same event and never think of it again.
Or maybe your father once slapped you, and despite his apology and a lack of any lasting physical mark, you recognize that psychologically, this was a turning point in your life.
Trauma and the pandemic - taking inventory
Our reactions to this pandemic can sometimes be taken at face value, and other times, we may sense that there is something else "adding to" what is happening in the present. During this period of ongoing sheltering at home and experiencing the pandemic unfolding, if you find yourself struggling or feeling intense emotions, you might find it helpful to ask yourself, "Could any of my past traumas be playing a part in how I'm feeling and behaving right now?"
For example, if you're really preoccupied with FEAR, what is another situation(s) in which you felt significant fear in your life?
If tension or CONFLICT in your home right now is deeply troubling you, consider other relationships or living situations in your past when you were exposed to significant anger or conflict.
Making the connection and getting support
Connecting your feelings in the present to significant experiences in the past, when relevant, can be helpful for self-understanding, processing your feelings, and possibly reducing the intensity of your emotions as you consciously de-fuse the present from the past. Please ask for emotional support from loved ones, or a therapist or other trusted supportive person, and try to cultivate that healing attitude of self-compassion.
HBO is providing free entertainment for April!
TV and movies have an important value for us during the pandemic. We can use it as a "healthy dissociation" that allows us to take a break from news, anxious thoughts, and overwhelming emotions. It's not healthy for us to spend too much time in a heightened state of anxiety without a break. We need a variety of tools to helps us find relief, or self-regulation. So go ahead and watch more than usual if you like!
Here's a helpful article that describes and shares links to videos for 10 calming breathing exercises.
Don't underestimate the power of the breath to help us cope with overwhelming emotions and challenging situations!
In these anxious times when we lack control over some of the events happening around us, we can empower and arm ourselves with tools that help us regulate our bodies and turn down our anxious mental chatter.
It's helpful to practice these in a calm state to find what works well for you. That way, if you find yourself overwhelmed with powerful feelings, you will be ready and familiar with the tools so you can use them effectively when you most need them.
In circumstances where we feel highly anxious or traumatized, channeling anxieties into useful action and helping others can be key to restoring our sense of agency and connectedness, while reducing helplessness.
We're all scrambling to adjust to the changes, and not everyone has the time and energy to volunteer right now. But if and when you can, here are some ideas!
* If you know of additional opportunities, you can mention them in the comments section *
** Donate blood to the Red Cross (who reports experiencing severe blood shortages due to cancelled office blood drives): www.redcross.org/give-blood.html
** Make financial contributions... for example:
-In the SF Bay Area the new "Give2SF Fund" is raising money to provide shelter, food, and assistance in response to coronavirus to San Francisco charities who most need it right now: www.give2sf.org
-The Marin Community Foundation has set up a #COVID-19 relief fund to soften the social and economic impacts of the pandemic: Emergency rental assistance for low-income residents/ Expanded food for economically disadvantaged families/ Expanded meals for seniors/ Wi-Fi mobile access for economically disadvantaged students/ Emergency childcare for health care workers and emergency responders
-Feed The Frontlines Marin is raising money to deliver hot meals to our beloved medical workers on the frontlines, who are reportedly struggling to find time to get to the cafeteria: https://donorbox.org/feed-the-frontlines-marin
** Jewish Family and Children's Services has volunteer opportunities. Apply online here or call 415-449-3807 (serves families in San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, and Sonoma Counties).
-Calling high-risk seniors daily to monitor their safety and security (Safe at Home program)
-Delivering food to serve housebound individuals
**NextDoor.com's Help Maps
NextDoor is like Craigslist by neighborhood, if you're not familiar with it. They have created a feature called Help Maps: "Daily activities may be risky for more vulnerable neighbors. Let neighbors know if you can help with essential needs like picking up groceries."
**Sew DIY face masks for medical personnel and deliver them to hospitals to help them as they wait for critical PPE supplies to arrive. (Note: there doesnt seem to be consensus on the safety of DIY masks, so it's a good idea to reach out to local physicians or hospitals to ask if they want these. Many groups on places like Twitter and Next Door are organizing local efforts and sharing patterns and tips).
**If you have a housekeeper, gardener, babysitter, or other service provider, continue to pay them while you're socially distancing. You can always get creative and brainstorm an arrangement with them so they can maintain their livelihood, and make it up somehow later if you need the money.
** Deliver supplies to high-risk and quarantined folks in your family or community
** Offer emotional support to those feeling lonely and/or in distress
Additional Opportunities for Licensed Psychotherapists
**THE COVID-19 PRO BONO COUNSELING PROJECT Pro Bono Counseling for Front-line Healthcare Workers Facing COVID-19 in concert with UCSF. To volunteer, click here.
**THE COVID-19 WARM-LINE INITIATIVE
Warm-line offers support daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the COVID-19 crisis. To volunteer, click here
The yoga collective is offering a free month of yoga at https://www.theyogacollective.com/
Are you worried you won't be able to make your student loan payments because the Coronavirus has impacted your finances?
From MoveOn's Student Debt Crisis:
"We’re familiar with responding to emergencies and we take seriously our responsibility to equip people with the tools they need to navigate this extraordinarily confusing and challenging time. While we are urging Congress to cancel student debt during this crisis, we don’t have to wait to immediately help student loan borrowers.
We are announcing the free ‘COVID-19 Student Loan Aid Tool’ for people impacted by layoffs, reduced hours, healthcare expenses, or any other harm caused by this crisis.
The only emergency tool helps people enroll in federal programs that can reduce or eliminate their monthly student loan payments.
Please stay healthy – and know that the Student Debt Crisis is on your side as we weather this together."
Poem for the Pandemic
by Lynn Ungar, 3/11/20
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath--
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
14 Tips for sanity and self care during the Coronavirus pandemic, from the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and me
Tip 1: Practice Acceptance
A global pandemic is not a usual occurrence. It makes sense that you are feeling uneasy. Allow for your feelings and allow for the reality of the situation. Also allow for the fact that most of us are not in immediate danger, and that we’re working together to find solutions.
Tip 2: Make a Plan
Our brains get very overwhelmed in situations that are out of our control and have uncertain outcomes. Comfort yourself by controlling what you can. Be sure to wash your hands. Do what you need to feel safe and secure. Check out the Red Cross Safety and Readiness Guide here, and share your readiness plan with your family: http://bit.ly/REDCROSSSARG
Tip 3: Stay in the Present Moment
When we bring our mind into the present, and stop ruminating about the future or the past (what has gone wrong and what could go wrong) we realize that we’re ok. Make sure your mind is where your body is. Use a mantra if that’s helpful – “This too shall pass.”
Tip 4: Don’t Overexpose Yourself to the News
Repeatedly viewing or listening to the same scary story can really push your nervous system into full panic mode. Schedule just a few times a day to turn on the news or look at the internet, for about 20 minutes at a time. Set a timer to keep yourself from fixating on the scary stuff.
Tip 5: Pay Attention to your Body
Our brains and our bodies are intricately connected. We feel better emotionally when we feel physically rested. Make sure you are eating healthy, getting a little exercise, and practicing good sleep hygiene. Apps such as Calm offer guided meditations and “body scans” which allow us to increase awareness of the physical and emotional sensations we hold in our bodies (follow this link for a free 30-day trial with Calm).
Tip 6: Practice Deep, Slow Breathing
When you practice deep, slow breathing, you’ll feel less anxious, because your lungs will send a message through your Vagus nerve to your brain that all is well. Practice breathing ‘In’ for a count of six, and breathing ‘Out’ for a count of six, for one full minute or more.
Tip 7: Stay Connected
We are biologically wired to connect with one another, and there is real healing power in connecting with other people who are struggling in similar ways. Even though you may not be able to spend time in groups or see people in person, make sure you’re not isolating more than necessary.
Tip 8: Keep a Balanced Perspective
Even in the most challenging times, we can find a few aspects of our lives that are going well. It is important to focus on the good in times of struggle. If you realize you haven’t laughed or smiled in a while, watch a funny TV show or call a friend who makes you laugh, and remember that the world isn’t all bad. Sometimes, even in the midst of crisis, we can find silver linings.
More tips from me:
Tip 9. Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation and body scans
This is a fundamental, proven relaxation tool that effectively stimulates the body’s relaxation response. The more you practice it, the more effective it becomes. It’s also a great way to ease yourself into sleep. I’ve posted a 12-minute guided relaxation recording to my homepage, where you can stream it directly any time you feel anxious, tense, or having trouble sleeping: https://www.maysietifttherapy.com
See also body scans in Tip 5.
Tip 10: Think about what helps YOU the MOST
In times of ordinary stress, think about what have you found helps YOU the most. Getting outside/ being in nature? Making 8 hours of sleep a top priority? Eating healthy meals at regular intervals? Playing with your kids or your pet? Spending time with friends? Reading a great book? Watching stand-up comedy specials? Meditating? Cuddling with a loved one? Everyone is different, and you know yourself best. The same strategies you rely on in normal times are likely to have even more positive impact right now.
Tip 11. Look for opportunities to help others
In circumstances where we feel highly anxious or traumatized, channeling anxieties into useful action and helping others can be key to restoring our sense of agency and connectedness, while reducing helplessness. Every day we see opportunities to help... click here for some ideas. Aside from these, I bet you someone in your life or your neighborhood who is more isolated or who needs help with errands and so forth, if you have the time and internal resources to help them.
Tip 12. Create routines for the new (but temporary!) normal
Creating some structure and routines for yourself and your family can calm nerves, create a sense of predictability in an otherwise unpredictable time, and help you organize your day. It helps to facilitate acceptance of the changes that are happening, freeing up some energy for you to adapt and creatively rise to the challenge. It may not happen overnight, so go easy on yourself as you implement and revise your schedule as needed! Many parents are trying to loosely follow the rhythms of the school structure their kids are accustomed to.
Many people find it psychologically helpful to shower and groom themselves each morning as they would in normal times. Going days without showers or wearing pjs and holey t-shirts all day can lead to a sense of timelessness, lethargy, and depressed mood.
Tip 13. Connect with others in quarantine
If you’re in quarantine and feeling isolated, you might enjoy the new app QuarantineChat at https://quarantinechat.com/ Here you can talk to others who are in quarantine and understand what you’re going through. Once you sign up, I’m told you'll receive periodic phone calls from others in quarantine, but you don't have to pick up if you’re busy. You can join and leave the line whenever you'd like. You use your phone number to sign up, but others using the app will only ever see your username.
Tip 14. Get outside for some ecotherapy!
Getting outside is one of the most refreshing and mood-supportive activities we can do during this time - especially when we can incorporate some nature (city folks... that includes walking by that neighbor’s house with the amazing rosebushes). Spring is almost here and some flowers are already sprung. If getting outside isn’t accessible for you, trying immersing yourself in beautiful, soothing nature documentary series, such as Blue Planet and Planet Earth.
IF YOU NEED SUPPORT FROM A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL, PLEASE REACH OUT TO ME, OR USE ONE OF THESE RESOURCES TO FIND A THERAPIST NEAR YOU (OR ONLINE)!:
MAYSIE TIFT, LMFT (only offering online therapy during Shelter at Home period)
If you have some concerns about your relationship with alcohol, but you want to keep alcohol in your life, one important piece of your efforts will be looking at concrete numbers. Although alcohol carries some risk at any level of consumption, staying within moderate drinking parameters can greatly reduce your risk and improve your quality of life.
One helpful starting point is to look at the guidelines health researchers have proposed for defining moderate alcohol use. Statistics suggest that the risk of developing alcohol dependence increases when a person's patterns of alcohol consumption exceed the following daily and/or weekly quantities.
Moderate Drinking Guidelines
up to 1-2 drinks* on any given day
up to 7 drinks* in a week
*1 drink is defined as 12 oz regular beer; 5 oz wine, and 1.5 oz liquor.
up to 2-3 drinks* on any given day
up to 14 drinks* in a week
*1 drink is defined as 12 oz regular beer; 5 oz wine, and 1.5 oz liquor.
Those who exceed both the daily and weekly limits are at highest risk for developing alcohol dependence. So if you're comparing your drinking habits to those around you to see how you stack up, these moderation guidelines might be a more helpful framework. They take some of the guesswork and emotional reasoning out of the conversation, so you can consider a research-informed perspective.
A great first step is to download an app such as Saying When to track your alcohol intake for a couple of weeks, and see how your numbers compare to the moderate drinking guidelines. From there, you can begin the work of defining your specific goals, so you know what you're working towards and you have a picture of what lower-risk drinking could look like for you.
Of course numbers aren't everything, and the real work for most people is taking personal factors into account. This is where individual psychotherapy or a supportive group can be helpful. Some can successfully make changes on their own - but everyone can benefit from exploring their alcohol use on a deeper level, which often leads to important insights and opportunities for personal growth. If your drinking is much higher than the moderate drinking guidelines, you'll probably need support as you embark on making changes which can be quite challenging for heavier drinkers.
Note: If you experience serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms, seek medical guidance before reducing or stopping alcohol, as it might be dangerous or even life-threatening to do so on your own.
References for definitions of moderate drinking limits
U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on moderate drinking
UK Department of Health alcohol guidelines
Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse's low-risk drinking guidelines
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended drinking limits
I know it can be challenging to develop new habits and health practices, but if you are curious about how meditation can benefit you, I'm here to encourage you to go ahead and check it out! It's more accessible than ever, and doesn't require a huge time commitment.
Let's talk about what mindfulness and meditation have to do with your mental health.
A lot! Our brains are neurologically prone to engaging in processes that can cause or exacerbate suffering, and the regular practice of mindfulness and meditation can mediate these effects so that we grow wiser and more peaceful over time.
Meditation can help you...
Maysie Tift is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Certified Master Hypnotist with offices in San Rafael, CA and San Francisco, CA.