Couplespeak™ Blog

CNN Health: “5 Signs Your Coronavirus Anxiety Has Turned Serious, Threatening Your Mental Health, and What to Do About It”

Here is an excellent CNN Health article which I’m reprinting, because it deals very thoroughly with the potential impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on our mental health. The writer discusses several tools we can all use to offset some of the negative effects of living in lockdown, “hiding from death,” as I think of it.

CNN Health:  by Sandee LaMotte

Enforced lockdowns. Isolation from friends and loved ones. Loss of job, income, economic stability.

Grief and loss on so many levels — from missing milestones such as birthdays and graduations to severe illness and death.

Difficult times made worse by the fear of an invisible, deadly enemy who strikes via the very air we breathe.

pastedGraphic.png

Coronavirus symptoms: 10 key indicators and what to do

Such is the anxiety-ridden reality of living in the age of coronavirus for many people around the world. While some of us may be coping well right now, experts worry our emotional resilience will begin to fray as the threat of Covid-19 drags on.

“We’re living constantly with a level of fear, a heightened state of arousal, much like Vietnam vets and Iraqi vets live with every day,” said trauma counselor Jane Webber, a professor of counselor education at Kean University in New Jersey.

“And our sympathetic nervous system can only stay in that overwhelmed, almost frenetic state for so long before we crash,” said Webber, who counseled survivors and families during 9/11’s tragic aftermath.

“I call it ‘chronic threat response’ — the continued state of being in a hyper-aroused survival mode,” said trauma psychologist Shauna Springer, who has spent a decade working with military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD.

pastedGraphic_1.png

Why soap, sanitizer and warm water work against Covid-19 and other viruses

“Chronic threat response is an escalation of many of the same symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress — sleep problems, floods of anxiety, irritability, difficulties concentrating and a hair-trigger startle response,” Springer said.

What are some of the signs that our coping skills are becoming threadbare and our anxieties may turn dark and more dangerous?

1. Poor sleep

“When nightmares become a regular thing and our sleep quality is consistently bad, that is often the first sign that we may need to take action to improve our mental health,” said Springer, author of a new book called “Warrior: How to Support Those Who Protect Us.”

pastedGraphic_2.png

Craving carbs and sleeping badly while social distancing? Here’s how to cope

Poor sleep is a double-edged sword: Not only does anxiety create poor sleep, a lack of quality sleep can lead to anxiety, stress and depression, a sort of circular impact. The good news is that exercise and practicing good sleep hygiene can often help get us back on track.

2. A focus on bad news

As we shelter in place, a focus on watching alarming media reports on the growth of the virus and the devastation to the economy is another warning flag, according to Springer.

“If we are spending our days soaking in this general anxiety and dread about what may happen, in a sort of foxhole waiting for bad news, that’s another sign that things are getting into a more clinical range,” she said.

pastedGraphic_3.png

Smoking weed and coronavirus: Even occasional use raises risk of Covid-19 complications

“And there’s the guilt of taking our feelings out on loved ones, which is likely to happen when you’re in close quarters with people for a long time and you haven’t adjusted to that.”

3. Loss of interest and pleasure

An even more serious sign, Springer said, is when we lose the taste for connection to others and stop reaching out to friends and family.

“When we can’t find pleasure in anything and we begin to feel numb rather than connecting with others and doing things we value or want to do with our lives, that’s a sign that we may need help and support, she said.

4. Helplessness or crippling anxiety

If the current threat of Covid-19 has reawakened feelings of helplessness, such as in the face of violence at home, or from a loss of identity and purpose after being fired or furloughed from a job, that can also be a key sign of risk, experts said.

“An overwhelming feeling of helplessness is what often leads to trauma symptoms,” Springer said. “Those of us who’ve been let go from a job can feel as if we’ve lost our identity, due to the absence of the roles and relationships that give our lives meaning, and therefore we feel helpless. We can be at risk.”

pastedGraphic_4.png

Coronavirus: What to do if you or a loved one has symptoms

Helplessness can turn to a dark and crippling anxiety, which is another sign that we need help.

“Crippling anxiety is where you feel constantly flooded with feelings of panic and this nameless dread about what may unfold,” Springer said. “You don’t have a sense of a hopeful future. Anxiety creates tunnel vision and it really puts us in a state of fight or flight.

“And when we are in that survival mode for a prolonged period of time, that’s when anxiety goes into a darker phase and it really warrants clinical support,” she said.

5. Thoughts of suicide

Being so hopeless and anxious that we begin to think of ending our life is, of course, a sign that immediate professional help is needed, experts said.

“Military veterans say this is when ‘whispers of our demons’ begin to take over,” Springer said. “When we start to script out a story in our heads of how others won’t miss us or that we’re a burden to those that we love, that is a critical sign that we need to get help immediately.”

What to do to help yourself

Reach out and connect, just not physically. The first thing to do is stay socially connected with friends and loved ones even though you’re physically apart. Technology is a great way for many of us to do that, but some in the family, such as grandparents, may be as adept at using Facebook, Facetime and Zoom, for example.

“Instead of just relying on social media, we can make a list of the 10 or 20 people that we care the most about and put them in our phone on a rotating basis,” Springer said. “We’re going to call one of those people every day.”

pastedGraphic_5.png

You can’t hide your stress from your kids, study says

Next, Springer suggested adding more people from our outer ring of friends and associates that we may not be as close to and put those people into that daily call rotation. That’s especially critical if you think those people may be especially isolated right now.

“Reaching out and connecting with people, especially those who are especially isolated, and giving them space to talk about their experience and anxiety during this unprecedented time of anxiety and then sharing our own experience is how we will get through this,” she said. “When we connect, we survive.”

Breathe deeply. In therapy sessions, Webber said, “the thing we teach most is deep breathing. It’s free, it doesn’t cost anything and it really works.”

Here’s how to do it properly, she says: Breathe through the nose, hold it and then exhale very slowly out through your mouth like you’re breathing through a straw.

“And when you breathe slowly out, you improve your whole picture of life and you reduce your nervousness,” Webber said.

Practice gratitude. Science has shown that people who practice gratitude are happier and more optimistic — and you can easily teach yourself how to do it.

“One thing I recommend to everyone in scary times is to write two or three things each day of what you’re grateful for. It shifts your view of the world,” Webber said.

pastedGraphic_6.png

Five ways to improve your mental health in 2020

“I’m grateful for my daughter because she is home with me right now. I’m grateful for my son, the nurse. I’m grateful for my other son who has figured out every possible way of getting food online that there is in the entire county,” she added with a chuckle.

Take control of your mental state. Fight back against anxiety turning darker, experts suggested, by taking control of how you think.

“One of the ways to do that is to take out a sheet of paper, put a line down the middle and on one side write down the things we can’t control right now, and on the other write what we can control,” Springer said. “And then we form a plan of action that allows us to move on those things that we can control.’

This stops us from “soaking in that feeling of helplessness or if you will just be sitting in our foxhole and waiting for more bad news to come,” she said. “We’re actually moving on things that we want to be doing with our lives, even if there are some very challenging circumstances right now.”

pastedGraphic_7.png

The meaning behind your strange coronavirus dreams

For some people that may not feel possible, especially if they lost a job or were furloughed when the economy came to a screeching halt.

“Losing a job is a seismic stressor, one of the most stressful things that can happen to you,” Springer said. “But you can sit and ponder on your negative situation or you can use the time to learn something new or deepen yourself or gain some skills.”

She points to the many high quality, inexpensive or free training programs on the internet today that can add skills to your profession or even help you transition to something new.

“So people can use this time to build skills and become smarter and stronger and more prepared for when the workforce really kicks back in and full force,” Springer said.

Establish a schedule. Our days and nights are blending together, and many people find themselves working more hours, or if they can’t work, fretting about finances. One way to fight back to is establish a schedule that separates work or job search from family and play time, especially exercise, which is critical for boosting our mental mood. Meditation or mindfulness are also excellent options to schedule into our day, experts said.

“We have to create routines in order to get through this absolutely surrealistic world right now,” Webber said. “Focus on the little things, such as making a lunch in a special way, knitting, crocheting, meditation, mindfulness, yoga or walking or running to do something physical to help us reach a more calm mental state.”

Be careful with media, especially social media. Be sure to limit the amount of time you spend watching the news, especially if you feel it makes you anxious, experts said. That can also apply to social media, said Arthur Evans, the CEO of the American Psychological Association, in a recent interview for the Washington Journal section of CSPAN.

“There is a lot of misinformation on social media,” Evans said. “When you couple that with a lot of contradictory information, it creates more anxiety for people.”

For example, he said, social media is filled with conspiracy theories and other wrong information that “is contradicting what we are hearing from professionals who really know and understand these issues … so limiting the information to reliable sources, sources you can trust, goes a long way in helping manage that stress.”

Crack a smile. It’s long been said that “laughter is the best medicine,” and that applies to the anxiety of our times, experts said.

“Remember, you can’t be anxious and smile at the same time. That’s a physiological thing,” Webber said.

So watch funny movies, listen to comedy routines, ask everyone you talk to on the phone to tell you a joke. Give back to them by doing the same.

Stay optimistic. There are so many unknowns when it comes to this new disease that is terrorizing the world. Will it ease over the warmer summer months? Get better or worse as the world begins to open back up? Even worse, will it return with a vengeance in the fall and winter?

  •  

Don’t let those unknowns shake you or take away your optimism, Webber said.

“I consider optimism both healthy and an Achilles heel, because of course, being too optimistic might let you down,” she said. “But if I had the choice, optimism is always better than pessimism. And optimism is always better than realism. If we have hope that the best will come, we might be disappointed, but that hope, I always believe, will get to the person that you love.”

Rethinking Our Notions About “Productivity”

I’m sharing this beautifully written blogpost with you from Cindy Giovagnoli about expanding our definitions of “productivity.” This is a subject I find personally and professionally very relevant, and one that I think you may too, so I’m delighted that she gave me permission to reprint it here to share with you, my readers.

Cindy is a gifted photographer, artist, writer, podcaster, website developer, adventurer and nature lover whom I did a podcast with a few years ago about “Noticing.” She’s a funny, honest, wise old soul whose thoughts and ideas can be found at: StayCurious@CindyGiovagnoli.com.

Enjoy!                                                                                                                                                                                                      Susan

 

A few days ago, I took Chili Dog over to my favorite local running trails so that he and I could both stretch our legs and breathe in some wild air away from the sounds of cars and people and busy-ness.

It was drizzly and a little raw (Seattle winter, anyone?), but I actually love the woods in that weather- it feels extra quiet and mysterious and there tends to be fewer people on the trails.

As Chili and I began, I ran through my mental list of things “to do” while I was out there. I wanted to brainstorm a writing project and some website tweaks I’m making behind the scenes. I wanted to think about possible applications for some advice I’d heard on a podcast episode. Think through the structure of a class I’ll be offering locally in 2020.

I pulled up the “notes” app on my phone, ready to jot down what came to me. As I was looking down at my screen, a bigleaf maple leaf fell from the tree above me and landed across my phone.

How’s that for a sign from the universe?

As I peeled the enormous damp leaf from my phone, I realized that I’d fallen into a mindset trap that can sneak up on us without our noticing: the idea that “being productive” is the highest value on our time.
It was a Tuesday in the middle of the day- didn’t I have to justify my hours in the woods with some kind of work product?

There are two big problems with that idea:

(1) It defines “productive” as relating solely to work product, to tangible, measurable outcomes related to how I make my living. That’s a pretty narrow definition.

What about how I do my living? As in, the quality of my life? Of my days? They’re numbered, after all. Such is the reality of mortality.

So why wouldn’t my definition of “productive” include things that bring health, wellness, wonder, awe, peace, or simple joy to my days?

It should.

Walking in the woods, reading a novel, meeting a friend for great conversation over coffee, sketching in my journal, taking in an exhibit…even binge-watching Netflix in the right circumstances- these can all qualify as “productive” tasks when we broaden the definition to include the things that make our lives richer and more enjoyable.

(2) If we’ve decided that being “productive” (even in it’s broadened definition) is the absolute highest value we can place on our time, we’ve disregarded the power of blank space in our lives. And blank space is where a lot of magic happens.

Part of what led me to a “to do” list of brainstorming ideas while on a walk in the woods is the fact that I often have breakthroughs and game-changing ideas when I’m out on such an excursion.

But.

The reason that those breakthroughs and ideas happen is usually due to the fact that I’ve allowed my mind free time. I’ve allowed boredom and daydreaming and for my thoughts to wander where they will at random.

It’s amazing what can pop up when we allow our brains to do their own thing for a bit. It’s why so many ideas land on people while they’re in the shower.

Connections are made. Problems are solved. Ideas take shape.

But there’s no way to force this. There’s no way to prompt it.

We simply have to leave some blank space and then see what happens.

Sometimes that space will result in ideas or breakthroughs and sometimes it won’t. You never know.

At worst, we end up with a brain that got a bit of rest. Not such a bad deal, really.

So I invite you to broaden your definition of “productive” to include the things that add richness and meaning and joy to your life, regardless of whether they have a measurable outcome that makes money or not. And also to allow for some blank space for boredom and daydreaming and letting your mind wander at will.

I’d like to hear what that looks like for you, so hit reply and tell me- how do you define productive and where do you find some space in your days?

Stay curious out there!

P.S. I’m a little late this week, but I’ll be going live in The Curiosity Cabinet tomorrow at 12 noon EST. I hope you’ll join me for 10-15 minutes of talking a bit about embracing these ideas of re-defined productivity and the value of empty space in our lives!

The Challenge of Staying Present

 

This guy, Tucker, is one of the 4-legged loves of my life. In previous posts I’ve written about how through our daily romps in the woods around my land and walks around the neighborhood he reminds me about what’s most important in life, especially as I veer off into thoughts about my unanswered emails, calls, bills needing attention, etc. (Refer to “Its’ All About the Ball!”)

I share him with our next door neighbors Peggy and Dave who inherited him, not having had an agenda or a wish for such a demanding, messy creature. They love Tucker but Dave isn’t a dog guy. So our arrangement works. I don’t have a dog of my own, so Tucker is it. He lives at Peggy and Dave’s, but his heart lives with me.

 

Here’s the thing: Tucker at 7 years old has terminal cancer. Six months after surgery to remove a huge malignant mass on his thyroid the cancer is back. After a subsequent evaluation, the vet gave him about 7 months to live. My challenge is how to manage the pain of witnessing his imminent suffering and probably losing him not long from now, without wasting precious time we have together today – time for joy and much fun. It’s a mind screw and a heartbreak – right now he has minor symptoms – some weakness in his legs and some coughing, but other than that he still acts like an exuberant toddler, full of sweetness, innocence and life. 

“Staying present” means being in the moment without preoccupation about the past or the future. Some Eastern spiritual practices say that when you’re anxious you’re not here now, but in some possible or anticipated future, and when you’re sad you’re living in the past, grieving some loss or disappointment. So, the challenge is to be here for the present moment, savoring and amplifying it. The present moment is usually just fine if we don’t mess it up with our thoughts. For me with Tucker the present moment is about enjoying his current vitality and playfulness, savoring the shared sights and smells of Autumn without obsessing about it probably being his last one. (And by the way, research has indicated that people who practice savoring and amplifying positive experiences have more happy neural pathways which show up on brain scans)!

 

If you are in a situation like this with a similar challenge, make room for your sadness and honor it when it visits you. But, so your sadness doesn’t drown out all else, when you’ve given your sadness its’ due, change the channel in your brain through the practice of noticing the specialness of this present moment, take a mental snapshot, then save it as a treasure to place in your treasure box of memories for the future. Pay attention to what is right in front of you and appreciate its meaning to you. You will be present for your life which will feel much fuller, and in the future you’ll be thankful for that!

 

 

Wanna Be Happier? Get or Borrow a Dog!

 

Look at this face!

This is Tucker, my morning cup of joy. Every day at 9 AM he arrives at my breezeway door, sent by my next door neighbor, ball in mouth, ready for action. (Some days I wonder why I’m voluntarily getting out of a warm bed an hour early and heading into the “arctic” outdoors with this rambunctious canine)!  

We traipse around our land playing Fetch or Tug of War for awhile, then we head onto the adjoining trails leading to either the bog or the nature path which goes through miles of farmland and woods. Tucker runs ahead, then waits at every turn for me to show up and cheer him on. When he’s naughty he drops the ball and eats deer droppings or grabs onto giant five foot logs which he swings around, intending to haul back home. Once in awhile he obeys when I tell him to drop either the poop or the log. I’m persistent, so he’s minding me more often lately. It’s a work in progress…

For about four months here in Maine, any doubt I may have felt earlier in the morning about the effort to get up and out disappears completely once we’re immersed in this winter wonderland. After the walk I take Tucker downstairs into my gym where he works at the peanut butter inside his Kong while I’m working out. When he’s done he thanks me profusely with sloppy kisses, and I remind him how much I adore him. I then take him home next door, and return to the rest of my day feeling loved, useful, grateful, and filled with joy.

This is my happy place, communing with nature and a big, sweet, loving creature who enjoys the experience as much as I do. It’s a morning ritual which sets the tone for good energy and connection with clients, family and friends. I start each day “in the moment” with intention and gratitude.

So, if you have a dog and can’t roam the woods like I do in the morning, you can still make their walk a ritual of immersion in nature and love by just being present. If you don’t have a dog, borrow one as I do, so you can also borrow their capacity for spontaneity and pleasure. Chances are, your friend or neighbor who loans him to you will appreciate the help, and you and the dog will benefit immensely from your special time together. Any affectionate touch will ramp up the happy bonding hormone Oxytocin in both of you. You’ll begin the day with great self care and a full heart, and you’ll be readier for whatever comes your way!

Cheers,

Susan                                                                                                                                                                                   

*PS. If you need help with the whole issue of self care and practices which promote positivity and joy, feel free to call me at 603-431-7131 to set up an appointment. I’d be glad to help! 

 

Getting Away

My husband and I recently went to beautiful Portugal for a long awaited vacation. We rented a car, and drove all around the country, excluding the far northern Douro region, so we’d have sufficient time to really see places. I can’t say enough about what this does, not only for one’s joy and learning levels, but also for a marriage.

Getting away from your everyday routines and responsibilities allows you to reset an appreciation level, not only for other people and places, but also for each other. A self-guided road trip is especially useful in ramping up teamwork and trust. In our case, I was the Navigator, and my husband Thom was the Fearless Driver, negotiating hairpin turns on sky-high mountain roads, and well marked highways with signs somehow not illuminated at night! I guided us through ancient towns with tiny cobblestoned streets barely big enough to fit a car, (let alone two!), while Thom plowed forward in our tiny Citroen.

We sampled wines, cheeses, and exotic fish dishes we’d never experienced before. We had to be a well oiled machine, hauling our overloaded suitcases up dark staircases in remote Air B&B’s.  We walked through orchards and vineyards, went to dinner in medieval towns late at night, and toured ancient castles and cities on foot for hours and hours, (something I’d usually love, but an act of generosity by Thom, who’s not so crazy about walking all day and night). Together, we had to communicate with the Portuguese, many of whom don’t speak other languages clearly.  We had to negotiate where to go, and what to forego, given our time constraints.

We returned home with a much greater appreciation for the sensual European way of life, but also thankful for American conveniences, and vastly more thankful for each other!

If you haven’t gotten away in awhile together, either to an exotic place like Portugal for a vacation, or to somewhere in your home state for a weekend, I’d recommend that you begin doing it again whenever you can. Your marriage will thank you for it!

Blog Talk Radio Host

Get My Free Original Articles

  • - Communication
  • - Resolving Conflict
  • - Intimacy
  • - Relationship Tools

Contact Me

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

About
Susan Lager

I am a licensed, board certified pyschotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Through my psychotherapy or coaching services, I can provide you with skills and tools to transform your life.

Connect With Me


Find My Office

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.