TIME TO RESET YOUR “SELF”

TIME TO RESET YOUR “SELF”

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, nothing seems as it was. Our usual routines of work, exercise, family time, visiting with others, shopping and leisure activities have all drastically changed. Even though many of us feel stuck at home, we can still find ways to feel like our old selves again … maybe even better!

Let’s face it, we all deserve to feel good about ourselves despite the uncertainty in the air.

Here are some useful tips to reclaim–or even improve upon–the old you:

RECALL

When we look back on past happy or successful moments, things look a bit brighter. We were happy; we were successful; we will be that way again! Looking through our rear view mirror at those funny or successful moments help us reset and learn to cope better with things temporarily outside our control.

ENJOY

We are all in this situation together, so we should be sure to stay connected emotionally even though we are physically separated. Our mobility has shrunken, but why not love and have fun with the ones we can connect with even if it’s just electronically? This includes family, neighbors, and former buddies from exercise, work, clubs or school. They are essentially all extended family and have been instrumental in making us the person we are today. Each of them can help us remember to enjoy ourselves, be ourselves and let our true essence out.

FIND

What better time than now to seek what we love to do and what we always wanted to do? As we grow in life our needs change and maybe it is time to give old pastimes a face lift (or find some new ones)? TV, video games and social media are okay in small doses but what about that hand-me-down watercolor kit or sewing machine in the back of the closet? Our hobbies are a true extension of our personalities. It is an activity where we can channel our creativity and feel like a new person again by creating something personal and unique.

EMBRACE

We all know how to multitask but how about slowing down enough to look at our reflection. No one is made just right. So, why not learn to like what we see and stop focusing on the flaws. When was the last time we really complimented ourselves? Started today by making a point of taking a second look in the mirror and finding traits as well as features you can fall in love with.

SEEK

Many external factors try to dictate what we should think, feel and like. We are not sheep, but individuals who can decide for ourselves what we truly want. Why not just look inside at our own preferences, history or beliefs? No one can tell us how or what will make us happy so take a moment to check out of social media and find the key to personal joy within ourselves.

ACCEPT

We are all perfectly imperfect. Once we understand and accept our flaws, we can roll with the punches. Knowing, as well as living with, our limitations can lead us to finding resources. We are more able to admit fault, embrace our humanness and ask for help. The greatest by-product of self-acceptance is the ability to live a life free of lies, reactivity and denial.

CLEAN

Like a twelve-step program, we all need to stay focused on our side of the street. If your side of the street needs some sprucing up, why not start spring cleaning now. Over time, cobwebs build up in our mind which keep us from making positive changes. If we want to be our best, this is the best time to look and begin revamping choices, behaviors and attitudes, as well as our physical environment.

RENEW

We now have the time to rethink, rebuild or refurbish our friendships. What about our relationship with ourselves? Hitting the reset button when it comes to our friends might be easy, but what about finding that friend inside ourselves? Why not begin with learning all we can about ourselves? Feeling good about what we are doing, spending quality time by ourselves, making healthy decisions and creating new boundaries will help us learn how to trust and rely on ourselves. Gradually we will notice that we can be own best friend and trusted support person.

***

Arlene K. Unger, PhD is a Telehealth Psychologist in Private Practice in Dana Point. She has been a contracted staff provider with Mission Hospital/SCMC since 2005. Arlene serves on the Mission Hospital Medical Staff Wellbeing Committee. Her other articles, blogs and her book about Mindfulness: “Presence of Mind – Mindful Affirmations” can be found on her website: www.drarleneunger.com. Quatro/Arum and Sterling Publishers have published Arlene’s popular self-help books which can be found on Amazon and Barnes & Noble: “Sleep,” “Calm,” “Courage,” and “Happy,” as well as her co-authored books “How to be Content” and “How to Make Space”. Dr. Unger is also an online therapist for several internet platforms for clients in California.

Dealing with COVID Cabin Fever

Dealing with COVID Cabin Fever

If you find yourself being forgetful, easily irritated with people around you, unable to get to bed or get out of bed, feeling bored or helpless, walking around in daze, or having sudden food cravings shortly after a meal, you might be dealing with the negative effects of being quarantined.

“Cabin fever” is usually associated with a type of claustrophobia and S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder). It is a term especially used during the winter months when it’s cold, the sun rarely shines, and we can’t easily get outside. Most of us can deal with cabin fever especially when we know there is a predictable end in sight. Unfortunately, with COVID-19 authorities don’t know a specific end to our new “Shelter in Place” lifestyle. A lot depends on the population following prevention and isolation measures.

Some say it can get worse and, like in Italy, people may only be allowed out for very limited purposes and might even be given a fine for violations. Being chronically away from our usual activities, friends, family, and co-workers seems to worsen that feeling of being cooped up.

The Stresses of Isolation

During this pandemic, where social (i.e. physical) distancing is the rule, almost everywhere, the stress of isolation brings with it some personal problems. Among them are loneliness, fatigue, motivational problems, hopelessness, unwanted weight gain, anxiety, depression, mental inflexibility, apathy, inadequate nutrition, lack of fresh air, sunshine and exercise. These symptoms may show up in clusters or one at time and there is no uniformity to them between people (just like the symptoms of a COVID-19 infection).

With more people out of work, or working from home, and with school and entertainment venues closed, isolation can certainly set in, making our ability to get through quarantining even more difficult.

Coping Skills

If you notice that you have some of the above symptoms and they seem severe, it is best to reach out for help right away. We are fortunate that there are MDs, therapists, lifestyle coaches and others available online to support you during this turbulent time.
If, though, you see only a few of these symptoms and they are mild, there are things you can do now to make your situation at home better. Here are some coping skills to manage the result of being stuck at home:

  • Bed is for bedtime: Sleeping longer at night, taking longer than needed naps and hiding out in bed will add to your sense of helplessness, as will working in bed during the day. Force yourself to get up and dressed on schedule and act like you are ready to go somewhere important even if it’s just on a brief walk.
  • Put yourself on a schedule: Establish a daily routine; it is especially good if you are restless or don’t know what to do next.
  • Convert hopelessness into helpfulness: There is someone out there that you can call on and let them know that “I am here for you and want to help.” For instance, the blood supply is low now so if you are healthy think of donating blood.
  • Get a Natural High: Open the curtains, or door or take a walk outside. The combination of vitamin D, fresh air and exercise does a lot to help pep you up.
  • Limit your sugar and high fatty food intake: Start monitoring what you eat. Try to manage the tendency to overindulge by prepping your meals and eating at regular times at a table rather than in front of the TV, phone or iPad. Adjust your food intake if your activity level is lower than normal.
  • Reward yourself: This is a great time to set achievable goals, track your progress and celebrate your successes. When you make of point of completing things you set out to do, you are climbing that wonderful ladder of self-esteem.
  • Be your hobby: What better time to (re)find a craft, hobby or skill. This will help you feel less boxed-in and give you a sense of accomplishment.
  • Be active indoors: Especially when the weather is not the greatest, try embracing indoor exercise. There are many free workout videos being offered online. Kids love to participate, and it helps burn off excess energy.
  • Learn new skills: Turn off the news, your social media and sitcom reruns. Here is your opportunity to learn something new and challenge yourself. The internet is a treasure trove of learning material.
  • Reach Out: If you can’t be near your loved ones, call/text/Skype/Facebook to find out how they are doing. You will both feel better!
  • Remember to celebrate milestones: Even if you must Skype or Facetime with family and friends, don’t forget to celebrate milestones like birthdays, anniversaries, etc. Plan a theme. When we get our brain cells going, the four walls won’t feel like they are closing in on us.
    • See my Blog “Coping with COVID-19” and other Blogs on practical mindfulness, as well as my resources page.

Be positive! Problems can also be opportunities! Consider that, however bad it may get, metaphorically, this is the world’s method of resetting itself. We will have cleaner air and water, less traffic accidents, more time to develop new skills, and more to time enjoy our loved ones. Now let us try to reset our own personal priorities and habits. This means putting more effort into our own health and interactions with the people we live with and love. Mankind has survived many pandemics and other calamities in the past and we will do so again.

We are all in this together and can all do our part to make this a better world.

Arlene Unger, PhD is a Dana Point CA based Clinical Psychologist in private practice. Her approach is using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy along with Mindfulness an Acceptance Commitment Therapy. She is the author of numerous articles (www.drarleneunger.com) on the practical application of mindfulness.

She now concentrates her practice on Telehealth. She works with numerous platforms including Telemynde, Betterhelp and Talkspace and accepts most forms of insurance. Dr Unger has 20 years’ experience with Telehealth as an early adopter and has lectured on the topic.

Coping with COVID-19

Note: Dr Unger is now offering Phone or Video sessions instead of office visits. Dr Unger has been using phone or secure video (i.e. telehealth) for therapeutic sessions since 2001. Contact her through your normal channels if you are an existing client to get instructions to set up phone or video options.  California residents only please.

Are You Overly Anxious?

If you have a history of anxiety, specifically around health issues this article is for you. Of’ course exercise, yoga and meditation through apps can help but, with all the dreadful news and social media posts surrounding coronavirus, we need to put some things into perspective and find ways to come together emotionally.

“Social Distancing” is Really Physical Distancing

It is totally normal to have some fear response to COVID-19 since it has been declared a global pandemic and humans have neither “herd knowledge” nor “herd immunity” since it is a new virus. When we are confronted with an unknown threat like this our initial response is to be fearful.

Some fear (or “concern”) is rational if the threat is real. However, turning our fear irrationally into willful ignorance, xenophobia, hoarding, or panic solves no problems. In fact, it creates more problems for the community than it solves. For example, face masks are in short supply for health workers because of panic buying by the public.

The internet is wonderful; the internet is terrible! While the internet can be a wonderful source of factual information, it can also contribute to fear and panic because there is both innocent as well as intentional spreading of incorrect or malicious information, as well as people trying to profit off of the fear and panic.

Check your sources! Only trust news outlets known for objective reporting. Do not trust social media unless you know the source is objective and not politically motivated! Avoid extremist and conspiracy theory based sources!

The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) {https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html} says to stay home if you are sick, keep up your sanitation (especially hand washing) and exercise proper social (i.e. physical) distances (6’ and only fist or elbow bump if necessary). This will help prevent the spread of the virus.

COVID-19 has a longer incubation period during which people can still unknowingly infect others as well as a high infectivity rate; the virus also attacks the lungs directly in advanced cases. These are some of the main “problems” with this virus compared to the common flu (which has a short 2-3 day incubation and lower infectivity). COVID-19 therefore can be spread to many others by people who are unaware they are infected.

The virus appears to be spread mainly by coughing which spreads droplets and some aerosolized particles (much smaller particles which last a little longer in the air, but not indefinitely, and travel a bit farther). It appears to last on various surfaces from a few hours to a few days. Therefore, cough into your sleeve and clean any surfaces you or others may have touched, keep your hands away from your face and well sanitized.

Elderly with underlying health issues are most susceptible.  Younger people may have “mild” cases (ranging from typical mild flu-like symptoms to just short of needing a respirators in a hospital), but are still infectious.

Thus the need for a community based response of avoiding interpersonal contact as much as possible.

Coping Skills

We all react to stressful situations differently but, if you know you are easily anxiety prone, keep your logical and coping mechanisms “on” at all times. This includes keeping to a routine, focusing on learning something new, bonding emotionally with those close to you or even something simple like cleaning out and reorganizing a messy space in your home. These actions can turn an anxious mind into a hopeful one.

If we don’t have hope it is probably because our social, economic, and local support systems are not strong enough. If they are not, this emergent time may be the time to make them stronger.

Here are some symptoms of fear that are not obvious:
• Perseverating on negative thoughts or ideas
• Changes in sleep or eating patterns
• Difficulty concentrating
• Worsening of chronic health problems
• Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

Here are some tools to help ease your worries:
• Avoid excessive exposure to media coverage of COVID-19 and only listen a few times a day to reliable sources to get factual updates. Avoid highly political or extremist or alarmist sources.
• Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch or use apps to help you stay in a peaceful place. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs.
• Make time to unwind and remind yourself that strong feelings will fade with time. Try to do some other activities you enjoy to take your attention off the negative.
• Connect with others at home especially if you are family quarantining. Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. Maintain healthy relationships (but physical distance).
• Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking. Society has survived pandemics in the past such as the terrible 1918 influenza, SARS, Bird Flu, etc!
• Most importantly, if you are self-isolating with a roommate, partner or spouse use your sensibilities and adopt a civility rule. This means to accept that may be some topics are off limits and we use what San Miguel taught about the four agreements: speak your words with kindness, impeccably and truthfully, no assuming or judging, and of course put your best foot forward. Use your own sense of what you is the right and kind thing to do now. It is easy to get caught up in “Herd Mentality” whether it is to run out and buy a product or to ignore warnings based on fact. Bring up neutral topics with those you are living with and try to put a halt on correcting others or being right. Keep telling yourself we are all in this together and are all taking a hit now.
• Seek professional help (mental health, help lines, etc.) to help get yourself focused and calm mentally if the above doesn’t work.

Conclusion

This is a time for all of us to act as a community and take care of one another emotionally. Stress will just make you more vulnerable to illness. There are many trusted online sources, apps and skilled counselors out there to walk you through this. It is all a matter of reaching out and being open and flexible to possibilities (which you can control) rather than overfocused on calamities (which you can’t control). If everyone did just that we would be better equipped to handle the worst of anything out there.

We will all face this rough patch … but this will pass.

About

Arlene Unger, PhD is a Dana Point CA based Clinical Psychologist in private practice. Her approach is to use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy along with Mindfulness and Acceptance Commitment Therapies.

She is the author of numerous articles (https://drarleneunger.com/resources/) on the practical applications of mindfulness.

She now concentrates her practice on Telehealth. She works with numerous platforms including Telemynde, Betterhelp and Talkspace and accepts most forms of insurance.

Want The Best Medical and Mental Health Care?

All patients have the right to expect good treatment from medical and mental health professionals and staff. However, the way you are treated has to do with how you interact with these professionals.  Patients and their families need to be involved in their own care, but they also need to be cognizant of to whom they are asking questions and expressing concerns.

Here are some useful tips to get the absolute best care from medical and mental health professionals and staff:

  • Take a moment to think about what you want to ask or say so you can explain yourself clearly, completely and honestly.
  • Act and speak respectfully with all staff no matter what your condition or level of pain or discomfort.
  • Acknowledge that communication is a continuous, two-way, process which means taking turns and listening carefully to family and staff.
  • Remember that “Please” and “Thank You” go a long way.
  • You must be your own advocate, but watch your tone and loudness level; avoid being rude, crass or obnoxious.
  • Try learning your regular staff member’s names, their talents, interests and even children’s names.  Show that you realize they are people too.
  • Accept that the hospital or medical office is a very busy environment, momentary interruptions and delays are unfortunate but will likely occur from time-to-time.
  • There are usually other members of the health care team that can likely assist you with many procedural questions, e.g. in hospital a nurse manager or supervisor, or the director of nursing. Additionally, you have consumer affairs departments to reach out to if needed.

References

https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-get-the-best-care-from-the-hospital-nursing-staff-1467649623

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=5792231

https://www.amazon.com/Hospital-Warrior-Best-Care-Loved/dp/099734542X

http://www.assertivepatient.org/how.html

“Calm” and “Sleep” books now available at Barnes & Noble

My two books on “Calm” and “Sleep” are now available at Barnes & Noble, in store and online (click on titles below).

These books (the first two of a planned series) contain 50 simple cognitive behavior (CBT), emotional brain training (EBT) and mindfulness/visualizations/relaxation (MBSR) exercises to help readers learn coping skills. Each book focuses on a particular topic and is beautifully printed with rich illustrations and exercises.

They also make an excellent and thoughtful gift!

Calm: 50 Mindfulness Exercises to De-Stress

We can’t escape stress and, in fact, some stress can be helpful to us (“Fight or Flight”).

Humans are equipped to cope with small amount of stress. It can serve as a motivator, keep us focused on our priorities, or help us to detect danger. Misery replaces growth when we are bombarded by stress and can’t escape it. Unrelenting stress deprives our bodies of the homeostatic experience we need and crave.

Many of us are in search tranquility and calm, but this is hard to find when so many are combating stress related illnesses. According to the American Psychological Association (APA) the impact of stress on the USA population has substantially risen in the last decade.  The toll stress has taken on people’s live has contributed to 77% health and 73% psychological problems.  Compulsive eating, alcohol/tobacco abuse, and drug addiction are too often used to curb stress but they only compound the problem.

Rather than turning toward nonproductive methods of coping, this book offers ways to unleash our mind and bodies from the negative cycle of stress.

Fortunately, our brain, bodies and beliefs can be trained through daily practice to embrace peace while protecting us from harmful stressors.

Sleep: 50 Mindfulness Exercises for a Restful Night’s Sleep

One of the most troubling behaviors that effect one out of every 3 people is sleeplessness. So why do we need sleep? First it occupies so much of our 24 hours each day! According to the National Sleep Foundation our bodies need sleep for restoration and rejuvenation. Similar to nutrition, sleep helps our body repair itself on many levels. Sleep has been touted as a necessary luxury, but research shows that we need sleep to function both mentally and physically at our peak levels.

We do know is that our sleep can improve with treatment. Medication does help, but, in most cases, sleep sufferers do better with psychotherapeutic strategies and suffer fewer (or no) side-effects.

Sports and neurological research points out that mental imagery can have a positive impact on our mental health.

The next two books in the series “Happy” and “Courage” are currently in press.

Office Clients Note: I have a small supply of the “Calm” and “Sleep” books as well as my book  “Presence of Mind – Mindful Affirmations” available in my office just for office clients.

Mindfulness and Finding Life Balance – Part 9 – Fitness and Mindfulness

Staying Fit Supports Mindfulness

The old adage “sleep begets sleep” applies to exercise too: the more active you are the more active you’ll want be.

According to the staff of the Mayo Clinic, every time we move we’re essentially relieving stress. Scientist have shown that any form of exercise can boost our endorphins and keep our daily worries at bay.

But, not everyone is an athlete, or even athletic, for that matter. Even if you don’t have a gym membership or belong to a yoga group, just walking, house cleaning or yard work are all forms of aerobic activity. You just have to do enough of it, and with the right mindset.

So how can the act of moving prevent burn out and keep us mindful? Burn out is the imbalance of inputs and outputs. If we put out too much energy and have little or nothing to show for it, we feel depleted because there is no corresponding mental balance to offset the physical effort. Exercise can replenish us because it is something good that we are doing for ourselves and, in turn, we receive direct benefits.

The adrenaline can pep us up but, more importantly, afterwards the endorphins can relieve our daily tensions and make us feel good.

Lately, the medical literature has noted that mindfulness is a key ingredient to being happy. In a special report published by the Harvard Health Publication “Mindfulness” is referred to the practice purposely focusing your attention on the present moment—and accepting it without judgment.

A key goal of any mindfulness activity is to achieve a state of alert relaxation by deliberately paying attention to our thoughts and sensations without bias. Mindfulness uses meditation as a technique to calm the body and ease the mind from racing thoughts.

Being “In the Zone”

Likewise focused exercise has been shown to clear the mind of unnecessary distractions and stressors. Regular, focused exercise can definitely support mindful practice by emptying our mind of what we can’t control and allowing our mind to refocus on what we are actively doing.

Athletes sometimes call this “being in the zone,” which is similar to mindfulness concepts (see my earlier blogs).

Here are some ways that staying fit can bust through our stress, prevent burnout and keep us mindful:

  • Motion is like meditation. Activity can help you forget the traffic jam you were in this morning and concentrate on your body in action.
  • World becomes clear: Fitness can give us more optimism and bandwidth. Our inner world feels calmer and everything around us more clear.
  • Mood over madness: Exercising regularly acts as a relaxant while giving us more life satisfaction and wellbeing. It can stimulate positivity and lower the effects of depression or anxiety.
  • A runner’s high: Exercise helps pump up our endorphins (as well as adrenaline), our feel-good brain transmitters. You don’t have run to experience this high; there is also hiking, gardening, volley ball and mopping the floor. Just concentrate and keep your hear trate up for a few minutes a day.
  • On top of the world: Making fitness a top priority also gives us more command over our life circumstances and body. It is the only “medication” that reduces our frustration, opens our senses, makes us aware of our bodily sensations and increases our capacity to stay present.

If you are thinking of adding exercise to your regime, consult your physician, start gradually, make it a labor of love and repeat on a sensible schedule.

Whatever you do, don’t think of exercise as “have to,” but rather make it enjoyable. You deserve to unwind, stay in touch and ease your stress levels.

References

Positive Psychology: Harnessing the Power of Happiness, Personal Strength, and Mindfulness, a special health report published by Harvard Health Publications

Book: Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living, Mayo Clinic Healthy Lifestyle Stress Management Publication

How to Reduce Stress with Exercise (video)