How many of us are feeling the effects of trying to balance our lives while social distancing? In this post a good friend of mine outlines her experience parenting, while working from home, while worrying about the effects of the global pandemic on her children. I think many of us can relate on all sorts of levels – parents or not.
Guest Post By: Megan Murphy, LCSW
I begin writing some scattered thoughts after the third night of tossing and turning and waking up with a sore jaw and neck, from all of the things my brain must be trying to work out at night. I notice that mornings, I tend to feel strong and hopeful. I am noticing that afternoons are really hard, and my mind truly wishes it could download or shut down, sleep or reset.
I am familiar with anxiety and depression. I have dealt with these emotions at many different times in my life, and overall, I have been able to overcome them, or at least survive, cope with, and accept them in my life.
This has been a very confusing time for my mind, like it is, for so many others. My career as a Social Worker, who works with many vulnerable populations, including the severely and persistently mentally ill, has given me more strength and hope than I could ever explain in words. I have seen people survive and thrive in circumstances, I am quite sure I would never survive. I’ve seen the communities of the homeless, helping one another, and caring for one another. I’ve seen families doing their best to support their own, with limited resources, sometimes limited intellectual capacities, and very often, with judgment from the outside world. My career has taught me so much about resilience. I am so grateful for these clients and to so many people I have worked with along the way, who put their hearts, souls, and brains into this work. I have no doubt that the clients I work with, have taught me so much more than I could ever teach them. I THANK them to no end!
It has been heartbreaking not to be able to support these people face to face, to help get them the resources that they need now more than ever. However, I am grateful for a job that knows that keeping all of us (clients included) healthy in the short term, will only help, not hurt our mission, to help them in the long term. Or, as a wise man (thanks Dad) told me, “sometimes you have to stay in the fight, to win the fight”.
Parenting has been a whole different level of anxiety, acceptance, and resilience during this time. I have two sons, ages 14 and 9. We are beginning to work on schooling from home. I have so many worries about this time in life for them. For my 14-year-old, I worry about this time in his life. He is supposed to be working on independence, separating himself from his parents and working on finding himself. Peers are also such a huge part of learning and growing at his age. It’s so hard to tell him that we don’t have answers about when life may be “normal” again. It is so hard to say “no” to so many requests. I am so proud of him. I can tell he is frustrated and worried. It always seems that right when it’s needed, he invites his brother into his room to play games with him. He is an amazing human being. I worry about my skills to work and teach him from home, while also paying attention to emotional needs.
For my 9-year-old, I worry about his enthusiastic, open view of the world and an absolute need to connect, move, and be excited about life! Lately, he has denied every request to go outside on a walk. At first, I didn’t think much of it, but then I noticed he is anxious about it. “Is it safe”, “what if I see a friend on a walk”, “Can we talk to each other”, “am I sick”, “are you sick”, “will we all get sick”. “Are we safe”. While my husband and I do our best to reassure him, we don’t have the answers. He seems to feel best when saying, “family first, right mom”?
While these things worry me, I am reminded of how much gratitude I have. I do not have to parent without a partner. We are able to do this as a team and take turns when the other is feeling overwhelmed. So many do not have this and they are HEROES! Sometimes, I get frustrated with my own anxieties and worries because I am SO aware of the hard times others have and are experiencing. My life has been so easy overall. I have never needed for a thing, and have always had an abundance of love in my life. I feel guilty and ashamed sometimes that I have so much fear.
I have parents who give me strength. My father, a Vietnam marine, has this way of saying just the right things, to keep me focused and strong, during hard times. My mom, an independent woman, who has been a caretaker of many kinds, keeps me sane with love and constant communication and ideas of ways to keep myself busy. My brothers are both amazing and show me love and support, and I hope I do the same for them.
I have an extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins, who check-in, send me love, and inspire me.
I have friends that keep me grounded, strong, and grateful. Each of them gives me something so special and unique and I cannot imagine life, or this crisis, without them. We send each other videos, love, and ideas. Let me tell you, these are amazing women!
The lack of answers is what continues to be the hardest. I told my friend Jamie the other day, that while I am so aware that I am not alone, I “feel” alone. She said, “yes, we are trying to accept and process something we have no answers to, and only fear. We feel alone because we are not allowed to be around others”. That felt so validating.
So, for the moment, I plan to give myself grace. I plan to accept that some moments I will feel strong, and others I may not. I will do my best to show up for my family, friends, children, husband, and clients, with love, and understanding, that they too, will have good moments and not so good moments.
Understanding and owning your emotional experience is key to staying grounded in a variety of relationship patterns. From getting swept away with actions that may not be best for you to getting in fights and prematurely (or waiting too long) to end relationships, understanding impact and influence versus handing over your emotional power is key. Many of us avoid feeling our vulnerability in relationships by blaming the other person for “making me feel this way” instead of taking our power back and recognizing our control in our responses. The fears of being hurt and the feelings of vulnerability associated with disempowerment are scary. It is natural to work on avoiding them. However, if you can take ownership of your emotional responsibility and own your role in your feelings you do not have to fear hurt and vulnerability.
I meet with a lot of people who feel that it is someone else’s responsibility to make them happy. They are easily knocked off course when negative things happen because they have put their emotional experience in another’s hands. They often feel out of control and play games in relationships – “I’ll hurt you before you hurt me” kind of mentalities. Getting hurt is a matter of life. We love people and they leave us. We want something and we do not get it. We work really hard and we still fail. We want to feel good enough, but we don’t. In each of these situations, acceptance is the key to navigating the difficult emotions. By accepting what is in this moment just as it is we have an opportunity to objectively examine what is happening. From this place, we can determine what worked, what did not and where we can learn more about what to do next for a better chance at success.
Understanding Impact and Influence
We are not responsible for another’s feelings. This means I cannot make you mad, happy or sad. And you cannot make me mad, happy or sad. We cannot “make someone feel something”. They are 100% responsible for their feelings and actions. I am completely in control of my emotional experiences and you are in control of yours. Many want to feel the good sensations that come from “making someone happy” and work to avoid feelings of “I made you sad”. In reality, you did neither. You cannot make someone happy or sad because you cannot control how they are internally reacting to your actions. I have no control over how you experience what I say. I might be able to influence you but I cannot control you. Your experience of what I do gets filtered through your past experiences and is based on how you are feeling at a particular moment. I cannot control if you are hungry, annoyed with something else or overwhelmed by another situation. Therefore I cannot control how you will receive my actions (actions include statements, behaviors, and even emotions). As a result, I cannot control how you will react to me.
In our relationships, we often “take things personally” when the other person does something that impacts us. As I am impacted I have a reaction. I may feel sad, hurt or angry. This response may be based on similar past experiences. My reaction to another’s action(s) may be based on an expectation I had about the situation. When I am impacted it is hard to remember that what they do is about who they are, not about me. How they speak to me, the words they use, the actions they do are all about how they orient to the world. I am only responsible for how I orient to the world and how I react. I am in control of my emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.
What other people do and say reflects the experiences of the other person. However, we tend to interpret what they do as a reflection of us. This misguided interpretation leaves us dealing with our own core wounds and struggles. We feel unsafe, unheard, negated, less than, etc rather than full in our experience of being. As a result of the negative impact, we are experiencing we respond as though what is happening is happening to us rather than just impacting us at the moment. We control our response to everything that impacts us and do not have to be knocked off a positive track just because we were negatively impacted by someone else’s behaviors.
What to focus on so you don’t take people’s actions personally
To help ourselves maintain focus on our goals we need to be able to recognize what is happening. When we slow down and recognize that their actions are about them we can take control of our reaction. We recognize we can feel our full selves just because we exist. We no longer need anyone else to tell us otherwise. We can embrace our full experience and decide how to deal with it – especially when we do not like it.
In order to do this well, we have to be willing to take responsibility for our own experience and our own actions. You have to decide how you want to be in the world. What are your goals for your experiences, expectations for yourself and what do you want to accomplish? We have to look at how we speak to others, the word choices we use, the body language we project, and the actions we do or do not do. We have to take ownership of how we have hurt others. We have to notice when we are triggered back to early wounds and experiences that hurt us so we do not perpetuate the hurt. And we have to take responsibility for our own healing. This is hard work. Many people want to say – “there is nothing wrong with me, it’s so and so’s fault. I am fine and good and right”. This way we protect ourselves from our own experiences of feeling less than.
If we can take responsibility for our own experiences we can determine how to heal them. We can take our power back and find ourselves strong in our sense of worth. We can embrace being good enough, smart enough, wanted, needed, etc. We can own our individual gifts while allowing others to own theirs. We do not need to tear them down so we feel big anymore. We can allow them to be who they are, doing what they do without getting caught in our own story, old hurts and core wounds. We can choose to set boundaries, choose to engage with them or not. We can decide how we want to react and who we want to be without worry about what anyone else is doing.
Easier said than done, I know. One way to make sure you are moving in a positive direction is by helping yourself focus on what you can do. Find a daily routine that helps you feel grounded. Maybe it is a morning meditation, reading, and reflection or movement plan. Your job is to focus on what you want, your goals for your future, and what helps keep you moving toward them. It might be building new behaviors or letting go of old ones. Sometimes actions needed will be clear and other times it will not be clear. Sometimes this will be small and sometimes it will be big changes in your life.
Your job is to stop and pay attention to you. What do you need in this moment? What do you need to do right now – not what you want the other person to do, or say or be. What would help you take care of you? Put your attention where you want it to go … on creating the life you want to live.
Ready to Make a Change?
And as always, if you are struggling you can schedule a 15 min Q&A appointment to see if it’s time to give yourself the gift of therapy. When else can you talk about yourself for an hour with someone trained to deeply listen to your core, not just the story you tell yourself.
When you think about psychology, do you ever consider that yoga has a lot to say about the study of the mind? Two of my favorite overlaps are Maya and Samskaras. The ancients knew a thing or two about what it means to be conscious and intentional about living a full and embodied life.
Over the last year I have been diving back into yoga. It has been a long time since I looked at the ancient texts. Last year I chose to deepen my understanding of yoga philosophy. I re-read Light on Life, Light on Yoga, dove back into the sutra translations, and the Yoga Pradipika. In my world of somatic psychology the research on yoga is flowing. I attended the United States Body Psychotherapy Association conference in 2018 and attended a number of sessions on the interplay between yoga and psychotherapy. All this exploration brought me back to why I have never given up this practice.
Over the years I have been a yogini, a yoga teacher, a yoga enthusiast, and sometimes even considered quitting the practice for the newer shiner object in the group exercise world. But I never did. Sometimes I did not even know why I continued to practice. Sometimes it felt flat, other times energizing. I continued to pay attention. Then in early 2018, my friend and yoga teacher, Sarah Klein asked me to work with her on a project to explain the psychological overlays of the ancient yoga philosophies. The path was set and we began a journey into what is yoga and why does it work.
Although I think the answer to this question is vast, I do have a better understanding of why yoga works and why it works differently than other avenues of fitness. I began to look at yoga from the orientation of psychology. When I was 5 I asked my mom why people do what they do. She laughed and said because they do. I decided I would figure that out. I have found my yoga study to be similar. A big undertaking with so much possibility that determining exactly why becomes muddled. It gets lost. The concrete answers become less fascinating than all the interplays between possibilities. This is the marker of a great system. Something so simple, yet so vast at the same time.
As I continue to read, relate, and connect the dots between these two worlds I am amazed at the wisdom the ancient practitioners brought to the world. I find myself drawn to understanding Maya and Samskaras the most. No surprise as I address them both in my psychology practice everyday.
Maya is the lens we wear to view the world. As a psychologist I work to help people see that what they might think is not always reality. That they can change perception and shift emotional states for something more positive and suiting to them.
In yoga we come to the mat to explore these lenses. How do I talk to myself about my practice, my ability to maintain the pose, my role in the room with others? We overtly ask ourselves to challenge our belief patterns.
I see this work in other group exercise classes however the intention is different, the study much more narrow, and the focus shifted to aspects of being according to the class format. In yoga we turn the lens away from how many reps, sets, and weight lifted to the inner landscape of being. This self study helps shift our view of ourselves in the world and our view of the way the world is. Thus, we have an opportunity to engage differently. We can begin to create the world we want with clarity versus the world we were handed through culture, community, and limiting self beliefs. And it all happens through our embodied experience of being.
Samskaras are those things that get in our way. They are the experiences and slights we have experienced in our past. They hook us, trigger us, and keep us stuck in old ruts repeating patterns of being over and over. These little knots are caught in our nervous system. They are part of our learning that says “danger, don’t do that again”. However, if we honestly look at them, often they are outdated old messages about a particular situation and not the one we are living in now. With study and careful attention to our experiences we can release them and find new patterns to engage our lived experiences. Ones that are more healthy for us. Ones we want rather than what we got. To me, the study of these two focal points is critical to creating your life vision.
This is the message of yoga – it is all union and we are all one. Connected beyond what we can see yet individual in our experiences of self and others. This is the simplicity of yoga – we are all one. Yet the complexity of yoga – having an individual experience.
If you find this work interesting and want to join Sarah and I on a deeper study of The Integration of Yoga and Psychology, please do.
Deepen your own practice, help your students and clients deepen their experiences of self, others, and spirit too. We teach what we need, don’t we? And it somehow fits what others need as well.
Are you looking at 2020 wondering how you will implement changes to your health goals? Feeling overwhelmed already? This year look to simplify changes by making small tweaks in your current routines and add little increments to your health behaviors for maximum success.
Guest Post By: Jennifer McGregor
Well-intentioned health goals are a dime a dozen. Everyone always has something that they want to achieve, whether it’s losing 20 pounds or running a 5K. For many, reducing stress is also a compelling objective, especially those in high-stress occupations like caregivers. Regardless of what your goals are, know that it takes more than just good intentions to meet them; you need action, too. Thankfully, with strategic tweaks here and there, you, too, can incorporate solid health practices into your daily routine. Here are a few to get you started.
Choose the good.
The fulfillment of any health goal invariably starts with one thing—making good choices. In fact, mindfulness is known to not just improve your physical health, but also your mental well-being, too.
No doubt, the thing that particularly benefits from this is your diet. The practice of mindful eating means listening to your body’s signals—that is to say, eating when you’re hungry as opposed to bored and knowing when to stop. Not only that, but it also means consciously choosing to consume food that’s healthy and nourishing, cutting back on processed food rich in sodium and sugar, which would be particularly beneficial to caregivers prone to stress and conditions like hypertension. Another way to eat healthier (and less) is to order healthy options from a meal delivery service because with pre-measured ingredients, you can control portion sizes.
Beyond just your diet, being mindful means making choices that truly serve you and your body, too. This can be as simple as going to bed an hour earlier to get more quality shut-eye, or even taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Move with intention.
Of course, regular physical activity is a must for just about any health goal. And it’s hard not to see why with the many known benefits of movement. Its physical perks such as weight loss and improved immune and lymphatic systems—to name just a few—are common knowledge, but even more interestingly, movement also enhances brain health, elevates your mood, and reduces stress.
While the idea of movement inevitably brings to mind exercise, there are other ways to go about it, too. This could be anything from stretching to dancing to gardening. Indeed, simply being on your feet will already do wonders to your well-being holistically, so it’s great practice, therefore, to always make it a point to move.
As rewarding a vocation as caregiving is, it also leaves you vulnerable to feelings of overwhelm and frustration, making caregiver stress a real problem. This is why it’s doubly important for caregivers to make relaxation and stress management a priority.
Doubtless, the easiest way to go about this is to introduce relaxation techniques to your routine, such as meditation and deep breathing. It’s also a good idea to make it a point to go on a break and take time to do something you love, like reading or pursuing a hobby. Going on vacation is another way to relax. Even a staycation in your own city will do wonders for your overall well-being.
In the same vein as taking downtime, you should also give yourself a license to indulge from time to time, as long as you make it worthwhile. For example, partaking in your daily red wine is one indulgence that’s really good for you as red wine is chock full of antioxidants that protect you from a plethora of diseases, as well as anxiety and depression. Hiring a health and lifestyle coach is another, as you could certainly benefit from a customized health plan, plus it helps to have someone hold you accountable.
Suffice it to say, health goals are just ideals when you don’t have concrete steps to follow through on them. Thankfully, being healthier need not be earth-shattering. So start making small changes and see the difference.
Holidays are full of positives and negatives for most of us. We might enjoy the excitement, schedule changes, time with family or not, but when they are over many of us feel a let down in one way or another. We might be depleted and tired, pocketbooks less full, or we might be feeling down and sad because our holiday season is full of loss, grief, past hurts, trauma, and disappointments. If you are someone who feels mood shifts during the holiday season, read on for reasons why and what to do about the holiday let down.
For many of us, coming off a holiday weekend can be tough. Maybe things went really well and we enjoyed family, maybe we hosted the best gathering yet, or maybe we finally figured out what to enjoy and ignored all the annoying parts of being together.
It is also possible that it did not go well for us. Many of us struggle to engage with family and friends in positive ways. We continue to revisit past issues and get stuck in old patterns of behaving and thinking. Ever ended a weekend with your family only to wonder why you feel like you are 10 again?
For some, family hurts and trauma are so great that being together is one big trigger or family gathering is no longer an option. For some of us, the fun happy memories of childhood shadow the reality of our adulthood and we keep looking for ways to go back to the “good old days”.
No matter which camp you are in, the ending of a holiday usually leaves us feeling tired, sad, and a bit flat. Here are some reasons for those feelings and what to do about them.
The Gatherings That Went Well
Let’s start with the gatherings that went well. If this was your experience and you enjoyed your family and friends over the holiday, it is possible that you are feeling a bit sad to be going back to your routines. It can be hard letting go of closeness and shared experiences like cooking, eating together, or playing games with each other. Maybe you have fun traditions and foods that you enjoy, they help you feel like you belong to a group and add excitement to your regular activities.
It can be really hard to leave our family home or groups of people we enjoy and want to be with more. Especially if you have to travel, you may be feeling loss at leaving to go back to your house. It does not have to be a far commute to create sadness and sense of loss. There is often so much excitement looking forward to the holiday, time off, and living outside routine, it can be a let down when it ends. After the fun of the holiday, when you are looking forward to the mundane and regular routines of life, you may be feeling less than enthused about heading back into your world.
You might also be feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. For many of us, we enjoy the excitement of the holiday and we work hard to make it happen. We spend weeks planning the food, prepping the food, the day of making it, serving it, and cleaning up after the meal is done. We spend countless hours decorating, getting the right presentation, and shopping for supplies. During this time, we are running from work to the store and back home to put it all together, often with quite a few repetitions of this trip.
Add in any traveling and other holiday shopping and you might be a bit overstimulated in the days following the holiday. Although it is all fun, just extra trips to stores where things are crafted to engage all your senses and market to your emotions, where there are more people out making the store more crowded, energy higher, parking lots more full, and aisles harder to get through it can wear you out without even realizing it. The sights, smells, sounds, extra people to navigate and talk to, parking and walking more, and hauling supplies in, out the dishes, linens, roasting pans, etc. becomes quite a bit of work. Add in the overindulgence(s) and your body may be feeling really tired right now.
What can help
To help yourself it is time to rest. You may need a few days of clean eating, get back on your workout path, meditation, and normal sleep timing. You might need a few days to detox from any substances you may have partaken in. Give your body a break by drinking good water, resting, and making sure your diet is supportive of your health rather than adding more it has to cleanse through.
Honor your sad feelings, loneliness, and sense of loss. Grief and loss help us recognize what is important in our lives and give focus toward what we need to pay attention to.
As you recognize what you are missing, how can you speak to, tell the person, and gather more of that thing into your life on a regular basis? What can you do to make it something you have more contact with? It can be something simple like making a commitment to call more often or learn how to FaceTime. If part of your grief is about the loss of easy mornings and your regular routine is difficult, how can you shift your daily habits to create more ease in everyday mornings? It can be about re-evaluating your life and how you spend your time. You might find that you want to give up some commitments to have more time with family and friends.
As you work to honor the sense of ending you have an opportunity to shift your life focus to enjoy more of the things that matter to you every day.
The So – So Gathering
Now let’s talk about family and friends we like (or not), but do not engage with much. When we get together with them, it feels like work. We might find that we dread making the trip to visit or we fear that we will run out of endurance to stay in connection with them because they are difficult to be around, say things that violate our values, or their behaviors remind us what we have grown away from … for a reason.
When I work with individuals stuck in this group, they often feel so violated by a parent’s off-color joke or put down by a comment their sibling always makes. Yet it happens. By the time they get to the actual event they are already tired because they know it is going to happen. Read on, next time you connect with this crew you will be able to let go a little more and relax into the event rather than brace for it.
As this group ends the holiday they often feel put down, despair, and a lack of belonging – like who are these people and how did they birth me? At the same time, they are not ready to cut all ties and walk away from their culture of origin. This leads to some confusing and conflicting emotions and ideas.
What can help
It is important to work on acceptance. Full-on 100% acceptance of your family and friends even when they annoy you or say uncomfortable things. With full acceptance, it does not mean you have to like it, want it, approve of it, or agree with it. All it means is you can clearly see them for who they are right now, in this moment without judgment of what you would rather see.
As you work on accepting them, you begin accepting yourself too. You will be able to reconcile the gaps in feeling secure in some of your old culture while also rejecting the parts that no longer work for you. You will not feel such a sense of “needing to get them to agree” with your worldview now. You can let them be them, set boundaries and call out hurtful things effectively ways while recognizing you do not have to fight every battle. You will be able to be selective to make shifts while using the strength of the relationship to make it successful.
Another key piece to participating in systems like this is to make sure you manage your time well. For some, they feel so suffocated by family and friends which impacts the enjoyment they have with them when they do see them. The more they feel suffocated, the more aloof they appear to said family, and the more the family and friends vie for time and energy, thus creating a tighter circle of suffocation.
If your views and values no longer match your family’s, work on accepting them as they are. This is the way they have always been. Say a silent gratitude for their work raising you and showing you want you no longer want in your life. Then allow yourself to take breaks from them. Maybe you need to offer to make a dish or bring a side you know will be healthy for you, maybe you need to bring a good book and take time to read it instead of staying planted in front of the TV that’s constantly on. Maybe you make a trip to the coffee shop, grocery store, or build in walks so you get some downtime.
It is important to stay true to activities that keep you balanced. Work on fitting in your workouts, look up classes and locations ahead of your trip, pack your rubber tubbing or yoga mat, and commit to making your movement practices happen while you are outside your regular routine. Stick as close to your sleep schedule and eat as clean as you can, while allowing yourself an opportunity to participate in late-night games, togetherness, and activities. Eat the foods you love, even if you wouldn’t make them for yourself. Remember the 80/20 rule to help you stay on track while being present to the festivities. Stick to your goals despite how differently your family and friends may be living while also honoring that they are different and do not need to approve of your lifestyle now.
It is also helpful to remember, you do not spend lots of time with these people and you are not going to change their mind during one trip. You do not have to work hard to make them see your way of life. Learn some statements you can make that help you set a gentle boundary while honoring your personal values, and let it go. Accept them as they are, and allow them to be who they are. This gives you space to be who you are.
Hard or Non-Existent Gatherings
Finally, let’s talk about family systems you are no longer participating in. For some, this means that their family is not available. Maybe it is through death or distance, maybe disease or illness, maybe financial patterns or living spaces have shifted and there is no way to go back to what was.
What can help
With these situations there is a lot of loss during the holiday season. For many, this creates great sadness, loneliness, and even anger at this time of year. It is important to honor what was, while keeping an eye on what is. Just like noted above, you do not have to like it or want it, but it is what has happened and things have changed. By honoring the changes you have a better chance of enjoying what you can. Again, by accepting what is, you have an opportunity to re-create a sense of what you are missing while allowing for the changes that have already been done. In this recreating you are not working to have an exact replica of the past, in fact that will keep you stuck, it is more about saying “this part was good” and looking for ways to make it new for you and those you are spending time with now.
It is also important to spend time working on your own healing. For some of us, the activities and experiences we had during the holiday times were traumatic, scary, overwhelming, depressing, or disappointing. If you are stuck revisiting old traumas and hurts it is time to get some help. These experiences get stuck in your nervous system and create what we call “loops” in the therapy world. Without help clearing these loops you will get sucked back into old thoughts, behaviors, and emotional states because the body and brain and not clear on accurate timing. They are trying to keep you from experiencing those things again, but have not recognized the distance you have from those past events. It keeps looping as though it is happening or going to happen again, right now. To heal them we must reset the nervous system and give space between your past and your present. Seek a qualified trauma therapist to help you get your work done.
It does not matter which end of the spectrum your holiday gathering was on – amazing or awful, as we end a holiday gathering session we all feel a sense of loss in some way or another. It is important to honor your feelings and allow yourself space to grieve, reflect, and grow from those experiences.