It is not news that there is a mental health crisis in our county. We have been hearing about it a lot lately. In August of 2020, the CDC reported that among U.S. adults, symptoms of anxiety had tripled, and symptoms of depression had quadrupled since 2019. Pandemic fatigue, job losses and loss of income, living in a constant state of uncertainty about the future, worries about the health and well-being of our loved ones, a loss of the way of life as we had known it, living in a virtual world, and being constantly connected to our screens, juggling work and parenting…. it’s no wonder that our mental well-being is suffering.Continue reading Managing overwhelm and enhancing our mental well-being
I have been enjoying a lot of time alone in the woods lately hiking up mountains, breathing in the cold, crisp air and being in awe of the magical wintery scenery unfolding before me. These forays into the wilderness have afforded me the opportunity to reflect on 2020 and consider what I want for 2021. For many of us 2020 was one of the most challenging years of our lives. We saw or experienced egregious acts of violence, unrest, and suffering. It was a year plagued by unbelievable hardship. But 2020 may have also given us a most precious gift, the gift of reminding us of what we most value and how we want to live our lives.Continue reading Living on a foundation of values
I am about five years old and am sitting on my dad’s shoulders in my one-piece red snowsuit and big winter boots. I’m waiting with great anticipation for the parade to start. My dad said Santa will be here! It is Thanksgiving and we are at the parade of all parades, the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. The energy is palpable. The crowd is thick. I’ve never seen so many people in one place. There are people as far as I can see. People are clutching cups of hot chocolate to keep their hands warm. Street vendors are selling balloons and hot pretzels. Steam is rising from the subway grates and the noise of the crowd is almost deafening. I hear the music of the marching band coming our way and I see clowns on roller skates and they’re throwing confetti. The balloons are huge, and the floats are so beautiful. My dad is grinning from ear to ear and I love to see him so happy.Continue reading Giving thanks
5:30 am on a hot, hazy summer July morning. I sit down on my favorite spot on the couch with a cup of coffee and look out the window. I take a deep breath. I love this time of day. It always feels so peaceful…like the whole world is still asleep and I have it all to myself. The clouds are low and I can almost see the humidity in the air. It looks like the house in the clouds…like what you’d see if you were looking out the window on an airplane when you’re flying through the clouds. I can see the clouds rolling over the roof of the breezeway. I’ve never seen the clouds move like that before, move over the roof like that. In that instant I’m thinking how beautiful it looks and at same time, how odd. And then for some reason I get the sense that something isn’t right. I put my coffee down on the coffee table and step outside….and I see it…and I smell it…smoke billowing out of the attic above our garage. It wasn’t the clouds I was seeing rolling over the roof. It was smoke. I’m strangely calm as I step back into the house and yell to my husband, “The attic is on fire!”Continue reading Fire and the power of gratitude
Have you ever felt distracted or found it difficult to stay focused on the task at hand? Do you start a task and then find yourself starting something else halfway through? Have you told yourself you’re going to do this or that and then forget what it was you were going to do? I definitely have and this week those sort of behaviors and that mindlessness seem to be happening more often. My brain has been hijacked by the monkey mind. In Buddhism, the monkey mind describes a scattered state, a mind that jumps from one thing to the next just like a monkey jumping from tree to tree. It’s a feeling of being unsettled and ill at ease and if you’ve been there, you know it’s not a pleasant place to be.
While this has been happening I’ve also been getting messages from the universe about needing to slow down, to pause and to be present. It’s funny how that happens. The universe has a way of sending you the exact messages you need to hear. Taming our monkey mind, like any other skill, is something we can get better at through regular practice. In her book, “No Time to Lose”, author Pema Chodron says that “mindfulness tethers the mind to the present” (p.105) and that “all anxiety, fear and suffering disappear when we tame our mind” (p. 106). Practicing mindfulness is the cure for the monkey mind.
There is a lot of misconception about how to practice mindfulness is and what it actually is. Jon Kabat Zinn, professor of medicine and founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) describes mindfulness as paying attention on purpose without judgement. That’s it….mindfulness just means paying attention and we can do it anywhere, anytime. We can practice mindful walking, mindful eating, mindful washing dishes, mindful teeth brushing and mindful breathing. We don’t just have to sit on the floor with our legs crossed for hours on end to reap the benefits. All we need to do when we find our mind wandering is to stop, take a pause and come back to the present moment. The more our mind wanders, the more opportunity we have to practice coming back and it is this practice of coming back that enables us to be more present and focused. Over time we find that we can sustain our focus for longer periods of time. It is in this present state that we can truly experience and enjoy life. The only time our lives are happening is in this moment.
To help myself practice coming back to the present moment I made a little sign as a reminder to “Be here now” and I’ve put it right next to my laptop. When my mind starts to wander, I stop, take a breath, feel my feel on the floor and come back to the present moment. If your mind has been hijacked by the monkey, try a gentle reminder like your own sign, set an alarm to remind you to pause and check in with yourself, try this mindful pause from Coach Cami, check out a meditation app like Headspace or Calm or enroll in an MBSR program online. Training our mind to stay present doesn’t have to be a big deal or be time consuming and perhaps that’s why it seems so difficult. Sometimes it’s easier to make a commitment to practice the big, hard things but it’s the little things that seem to make all the difference.
Over the past week I’ve had many conversations with our faculty and staff. Common throughout many of those conversations were people articulating feelings of overwhelm, worry, anxiety, a sense of hopelessness and a general sense of malaise. Someone recently shared a comment made by her supervisor who said, “we are not all working from home, we are at home in a crisis, and having to continue to work.” We are working in a way we’ve never had to work before, having to be teachers and caregivers, isolated from friends and family, unable to enjoy activities we once relied on as sources of energy and joy. We are staring to refer to the days as blursday. It’s no wonder we’re experiencing these feelings.
As I was thinking about these conversations and surfing the internet for some insight, I came across an article in the Harvard Business Review (March 23, 2020) titled, “That discomfort you’re feeling is grief” and a lightbulb went off. Yes! Exactly…grief. We are grieving the life we had. We are grieving the loss of the future life we had imagined. We are grieving for those that are suffering and who have lost loved ones. We are grieving for our children who are not going to experience their graduations, sports season and time with their friends. We are grieving the loss of our financial security. We are grieving about how we will move forward in this new, unforeseen reality. We are grieving our loss of our sense of safety.
We are not alone in this grief and while for many of us the desire may be to retreat and withdraw within, the best way to move through grief is to reach out to others. Friends and family want to help, to provide a shoulder to lean on, to listen, but they won’t know what we need unless we tell them. Our faith based communities are another resource for those that have that in their lives. Finally, talking to a mental health professional may be the best course of action especially if our grief is complicated and/or we suspect we may be depressed.
Cigna and your college have many wonderful resources to support you and your family through this complicated time. I encourage you to reach out and to take advantage of these resources. Taking action is the only way that each and every one of us will be able to bring our best selves to life and work every day. Take care and stay well.
Employee Family Assistance Program: see listing in school specific resource guide under Career Well-being Resources
Cigna telehealth: Telephone and web based on demand care from medical and behavioral health professionals
Happify and iPrevail: These mental well-being apps are a new addition to the Cigna suite of benefits. Happify brings you effective tools and programs to help you take control of your feelings and thoughts. Complete a few activities on your smartphone, tablet or computer each week to start seeing meaningful improvement in your life satisfaction and your ability to fight back against negativity. iPrevail is a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) based program tailored to your specific needs. Every program provides you interactive lessons, behavioral tools, tracks your progress and enables you to connect with a coach and with community support.
By now, you’ve heard about COVID-19 and its impact on world health. While the news media is filled with sensational stories designed to grab your attention, the coronavirus is real and you should take appropriate precautions based on the best data out there. Please visit the CDC website for the best, most up-to-date information.
But there is another virus spreading. The anxiety “virus” is also spreading quickly through a phenomenon known as social contagion. We hear about worst case scenarios in the media, see the impact on the stock market, and discuss what could happen with family, friends, and coworkers. This extreme level of uncertainty gets passed from person to person at the speed of social media, driving up anxiety to panic levels.
If you or a loved one is dealing with anxiety, here are three tools you can use today:
1. Understanding why our brains react this way to anxiety is an important part of controlling it. Dr. Judson Brewer, psychiatrist, neuroscientist and author recorded a short video on three specific steps to combat anxiety. Watch it here.
3. All of our member colleges provide free, confidential counseling and referral through their Employee Assistance Program. You can find out more about EAP on your schools’ human resources website or access the information here on your school’s Well-being Resource Guide under “Career well-being resources”. You can also access behavioral health support through Cigna at mycigna.com.
Stay safe, stay well.
Over the last month I’ve been talking with many of my health coaching clients about what they would like to see in their lives in 2020 and what they would like their theme of 2020 to be. Many spoke of their desire to simplify, to connect more authentically to others and to themselves and a desire to slow down and to be more present in their lives. Many also spoke of the impact of media and technology on perpetuating the speed and frenetic energy of their lives and described feeling powerless around taking back their time, energy and attention.
Ahhh …the holidays …a time for friends, family, fun, parties, food, shopping and gifts. A time to enjoy some much needed time off and, unfortunately, for many of us, a time of great stress. The holidays can be a wonderful time of year but they can also bring plenty of stress. Unrealistic expectations, a perceived lack of time, worries about finances and family squabbles all contribute to one of the most stressful times of the year. This is also a time when we are less likely to maintain our physical activity routines, a time when we are more likely to indulge in high fat, high carbohydrate foods and a time when we are more susceptible to sleep disturbances, all making us less resilient to stress.
Here are some tips to help you have a positive experience this holiday season.
- Manage your expectations. Not feeling happy during the holidays is more common than we might think and pretending to be happy when we’re not can actually make us feel more sad. By acknowledging our true feelings we can respond to them in a way which is productive and helpful. Tara Brach, psychologist and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, DC suggests practicing RAIN. She describes RAIN as “an easy-to-remember tool for practicing mindfulness and compassion using the following four steps: Recognize what is going on; Allow the experience to be there, just as it is; Investigate with interest and care; Nurture with self-compassion” (Brach, 2013). You can read more about the technique here or, if you prefer, you can listen to a guided meditation using the technique here.
- Manage your time. We all know that we cannot “make” time. We all have twenty-four hours in a day and that’s all we get. What we can do is allocate our time. Consider what and who are most important to you this holiday season and allocate your time accordingly. If you need to say no, here’s a great way to do it courtesy of Neghar Fonooni, Crossfit athlete and health coach. “I appreciate the invitation, but I’m energetically depleted and I need to fill my cup. I hope you have a great time, and I’m thankful that you understand my need to decline”. By saying yes when we really want to say no, all we do is build resentment and deplete our energy.
- Practice self care. Times of stress demand good self care but this is when many of our routines fall by the wayside. Consider practicing the minimum effective dose (MED). The MED is the “smallest dose that will produce a desired outcome” (Ferriss,2010). When life is easy your exercise routine might be sixty minutes five times per week and your diet might be whole, non-processed foods. You prepare meals in advance. You get eight hours of sleep per night. You drink eight glasses of water a day. What is the MED you can do during the holidays to support consistency and prevent you from being on the “on/off” plan of self care? Perhaps it’s fifteen minutes of high intensity exercise or the seven minute workout. Perhaps it’s choosing the salad over the burger at lunch. The purpose of the MED is really just to support consistency and be a bridge to when you can get back to your regular routine.
- Take advantages of resources to help you cope. During this holiday season, remember that it is okay to feel unhappy or overwhelmed. If you or a family member need some support to manage the overwhelm, Cigna and our school’s EAP programs are here to help. To find our more about EAP, go to your school’s human resources page. If you prefer the anonymity of virtual support check out iPrevail or Happify.
The holidays can be a wonderful time and we’ve got to keep in mind that our experience depends largely on our attitude and our choices. Remember what’s most important. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Take care of yourself and enjoy.
Why couldn’t the pirate play cards? Because he was sitting on the deck! Bahahaha…..oh come on….go ahead and laugh. April is National Humor Month so there is no better time to make a commitment to interject more laughter into our lives. Laughing is one of the best things we can do to support our well-being and the best part is that we can actually fake it ‘till we make it when it comes to reaping the benefits of laughter. Forced laughter is just as good for us as spontaneous laughter. So go ahead…laugh along with that sitcom, or to your favorite comedian, or those silly talking dog videos on you tube, or check out one of hundreds of free laughing yoga videos online. It’s fun, feels good and is good for us.
Laughter, whether forced or spontaneous is good for every aspect of our well-being. People who laugh on a regular basis have a lower standing blood pressure than does the average person. Laughter eases psychological stress, strengthens the immune system, promotes muscle relaxation, reduces pain, enhances learning, enhances oxygen flow throughout the body, relaxes blood vessels, enhances cardiac muscle conditioning, elevates mood, helps us connect with others and enhances our energy (1). There isn’t much else that can benefit us like laughter can. Laughter is so good for us in fact, that a 2016 article in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine suggests that primary care clinicians start prescribing it to their patients (2). Can you imagine? You go to the doctor and you leave with a prescription for laughter. Now who wouldn’t want that?
To get you started on incorporating some laughter into your day, I’ll share a couple of my favorite videos….the ones that not only make me laugh out loud but that make my husband laugh at me because I’m laughing so hard. If talking dogs are up your alley you’ve got to check this video out. It gets me every time. Or, maybe you’ll find this video of Dennis Quaid on the Ellen Degeneres show funny. I know I did. If you’ve got a favorite funny joke, video or meme I’d love to see it. Send it my way at email@example.com.