Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Difficult Times...

How do we integrate and assimilate all of the information we are reading online and listening to  on different news channels about the COVID-19 pandemic? 
I know I want to stay informed about how to protect myself and loved ones. At the same time, I am trying to avoid being over saturated with information and keep a balance of being informed versus over stimulated by the ever changing statistics. With any type of situation where we are feeling less control over our environment, coupled with feelings of uncertainty, it can begin to affect levels of  anxiety, stress, and even raise questions or fears about our own mortality.

Different ways I have found helpful to navigate the changes that have I have been experiencing during this time.
I am not going to suggest a "to do" list as there are a myriad of them online. I think for this blog, I would like to tell you about the strategies that have been helpful for me so far. Some of them may seem like common sense and they are. However, sometimes we tend to slack a little bit when we are home and the outside world does not have direct visual access to us; or perhaps only from our waist up in the case of virtual meetings or in my case virtual sessions.

Set aside time for myself

It is extremely important for me to stay grounded and calm in the midst of the unknown. I am realizing that I can do my part by being mindful of how to take care of myself, continue to nourish my soul, and get the most rest possible at the end of the day. So many times over this past year I have tried to carve out time for self-care and it has been difficult. Well my friends, I no longer have to "carve" the time out while working from home; it is just a matter of scheduling it. For the time being, I do not have a hefty commute which provides me with several additional hours each day. Before I knew it I began to create my own schedule by contemplating what my space would look like, what my daily routine would encompass, and how personal hygiene would play a role in what I saw as I looked in the morning mirror both literally and figuratively.

The contemplation of space
I created different places in my home that have a purpose and meaning. For example, I have a space that is calming and relaxing where I do my daily meditation. I have a space where I only do my work (currently virtual psychotherapy sessions and teaching virtual graduate level courses) and a space where I rest in the evening with no distractions. Each area allows me to perform in different ways and at different capacities. They also allow me to separate business from home life given the nature of the current situation where I am not going into the office every day.

Develop a daily routine
My first week working from home I knew it would be essential to develop a daily routine in order to stay focused and be most productive. My daily routine looks something like this....
Wake up; morning coffee; meditation; run or hike; shower; get dressed and work; prepare a healthy lunch; back to work; read; take a warm bath; and go to bed. With that said, there needs to be some flexibility. If I am working early in the morning, I simply shift my exercise to evening...etc.

Personal hygiene
I have found what is paramount for me is maintaining my sense of dignity and pride through good personal hygiene and proper dress. This may sound formal; however, when people stay at home, they tend to wear different clothes like sweat pants, t-shirts, and more comfortable clothing and not shower as frequently. On one hand that makes sense that you want to be comfortable and on the other hand I find that when my hair is washed and well cared for and I dress a little more "business casual" than "sweat pants casual" while working from home, it helps me stay focused on my work and brings with it an air of confidence and self respect.

Reduce the amount of information I am taking in
I am in tune with myself enough to know that a barrage of news tends to overstimulate me. When I am overstimulated it can affect my daily concentration, increase anxiety, and keep me awake at night. Therefore; during this period of time, I am trying to filter the information that comes in. I know I need to remain abreast of what is happening regarding COVID-19 and regulations that are being put in place. However, also knowing how information overload can affect my daily life, I need to maintain a certain level of distance from reading and listening to an onslaught of repetitive narratives about COVID-19. By putting this type of boundary in place, it allows me to be healthier and more available to others in both my personal and professional life. I am viewing this approach not as denial or hibernation but as a healthy form of self-preservation.

Reach out to family members, friends, colleagues, and patients
I have tried to check in with at least one family member each day either by phone, email, or text. Sometimes it is just sending a funny meme or asking how they are doing. This has also been reciprocated; I was touched to find so many were reaching out to me as well which evokes a feeling of being loved, cared for, and connected.

Stay positive through exercise, diet and daily meditation practice
Studies have shown that daily exercise, healthy diet and meditation practice can have a positive effect on one's mood as well as one's quality of life. I made a commitment the first week home that I would pay very close attention to how I wanted my quality of life to be. Even though I am home like many others, I am not giving into eating junk food, sitting for long periods of time, or over exposing myself to negative messages. Granted I am limited to some of the physical outlets that I once enjoyed. For instance, I cannot visit my horse because the barn he is at is limiting access to barn personnel and horse handlers only. I am not sitting and brooding about not seeing my horse as I know the barn owner and trainers are doing what is best for the community. Instead, I have chosen exercises that I can enjoy in the interim. I have shared with you in the next paragraph a few recent experiences that directly relate to exercise, diet, daily meditation, and music.

Running and the sounds of bells
Yesterday was the end to a very long week. I quickly threw on my running shoes so I could get out on the road to run before dark. I was aware that it would be a fairly short run but at that point I really needed to clear my head. I ran on the road near my house which is normally quiet during the early evening hours and especially as of late. As I was running and the endorphins began to kick in, I was feeling like a million dollars. I could feel the tension in my body melt away, my head became clearer and I felt a smile come over my face. I thought, "this is good." As I was running up hill and just about a half a mile before I was done, I heard the sound of a bell ringing. Then I saw a woman in the distance standing at the end of her driveway ringing a bell. She lived on a farm so I assumed an animal got loose. As I got closer, I ran in a distant circle and yelled out "one of the animals get loose?" She yelled, "no, it is community bell ringing." As I broke the circle and continued running up hill towards home, my eyes welled up and I got a lump in my throat. I imagined it was for COVID-19. I began to imagine all the people who were suffering with this deadly virus and I began to recite the loving kindness meditation (a type of compassion meditation). When I arrived home, I looked up the bell ringing in my town and I found an article in our local newspaper "Community spreads hope amid coronavirus with bell-ringing project."

Wings of a hawk
A few days into the first week at home the weather was beautiful so I decided to go for a hike at the local Airline Trail. I hiked for a few miles without seeing one person. I hiked up hills and deep into the woods smelling the damp leaves and seeing the bright sunshine through the trees. When I came out from the woods onto the paved part of the trail, the silence was deafening. As I was walking, I heard this strange sound behind me in the air. It almost sounded like metal sheet thunder. I could not identify what this sound was above my head...and it was getting closer. I then looked up and there was a huge black hawk flying overhead and what I heard was the sound of his wings flapping in the air. It was absolutely mesmerizing. I was in awe as my jaw dropped open and my eyes fixated on the hawk for as long as it was in my sight. I wanted it to return, to let me hear the reverberation again. I was totally captivated by its intense presence, struck by the powerful sound and jolt of energy that surged through my body as it flew directly over me.

I have enjoyed music most of my life. I believe music to be one of the most beautiful, inspiring, healing, and spiritual art forms that exist. Music has the power to change my mood and reach my heart and soul in a very deep and lasting way. Lately, I have been playing music throughout the day which is a real treat for me. I like to listen to everything from classical to reggae. Sometimes I find myself dancing in my living room in between sessions. Have you ever heard the saying "dance as though no one was watching?" Well, I have it down now. The point is, I am having some fun and enjoying the space, the musical vibrations, and the relationship with music that I had almost forgotten I had.

I usually eat a vegetarian, dairy, gluten, and sugar free diet most of the time (not to say I don't sneak in an egg now and then). The good news about being home is that I can plan my meals better and now have the time to cook. I have been trying to focus on healthy proteins, low carbs, low sugar, and a variety of vegetables. So far, I am saving money and feeling much healthier as the days pass. Today, I made homemade hummus for the first time. It was delicious!!! Lastly, I take vitamins on a daily basis and usually do so during the beginning of the flu season until late Spring. I truly believe this regimen has played a key role in keeping me healthy and strong.

Daily Meditation
Meditation has been part of my life for 26+ years now. It is a vehicle to slow down, focus on the breath, and become more synchronized in my body and mind which then helps me relate to the world in a less distracted and more wakeful way. Daily meditation helps cut through the stress and anxiety, settles my mind, and provides clarity, strength, and stability. I am using my practice as a way to sit with whatever thoughts and feelings emerge during these uncertain times. Some thoughts and feelings that emanated from my practice lately are anxiety, sadness, fear, joy, and yes, even thoughts of my own mortality/impermanence/death.

Private Practice
Staying connected

There are many benefits of having my own private practice such as independence and autonomy. For someone like myself it is a perfect combination of the type of professional environment I set my sights on having early on in my studies. I also knew that having a connection with colleagues would not only benefit my work within my practice, it would help keep me connected and reduce isolation. That step alone is now showing how important peer connections are. A few years ago a group of my colleagues and I decided to form a peer supervision group where we could talk about different issues in our own life (blind spots) that might be interfering with the quality of our sessions. It is also a group that supports and celebrates successes within our personal and professional arena. A few ways we are staying connected since COVID-19 are by checking in on each other throughout the week; sharing important professional articles with the group; providing updates on federal and state regulations; and brainstorming which virtual platforms work best.

Check in
I cannot express enough how important it is to stay in touch with colleagues during this time. My peer supervision group has been a platform to express my emotions, my fears, my successes, and my anger. We support each other no matter what; we understand what it is to be human and we embrace each other's darkness until it is healed by light. We check in on each other like a caring neighbor or friend. We stick together to learn how to continue to work in a field that often can produce burn out if we are not careful.

Professional Articles
Our peer supervision group is not only providing emotional support to one another, we are sending each other scientific articles that will help us in our private practices. It is a great way to stay informed, knowledgable, and consistent in the way we approach our work.

Updated regulations
For the past few weeks there has been daily emails as well as news broadcasts that supply an update of new federal, state, and local community healthcare regulations. We use our supervision group as a way to assist each other in maintaining our ethical standards by discussing how to adhere to the new guidelines and discuss those that we may have difficulty interpreting.

Virtual therapy platforms
 Most of the peers in the group had to quickly accommodate and acclimate to virtual therapy. We all discussed what we currently had in place and gave suggestions of platforms that were most user friendly, which ones were HIPPA compliant, and how to navigate bringing our practice up to speed. I cannot even begin to describe the camaraderie, respect, and tenderness that I felt in my heart as a result of these interactions. Sometimes we send a little joke or spiritual saying that is usually needed right at that moment.

My days
My days are far from perfect and I am finding flexibility to be the core of my daily practice. I struggle some days with not knowing when I will be able to embrace a friend, ride my horse, see an individual, couple, or family face to face in my practice again. But for me, I will not allow this to get me down. I feel blessed that today I am not sick and I can continue to provide care to others even if from afar. I see so much good happening in the world as a result of COVID-19. It feels as though all of humanity is standing arm in arm in order to provide care for the ill, support for the lonely, and bring solidarity to a world that was so separate only three weeks ago.

To all of you....
I wish you good health, fortitude to face the day, and moments of grace throughout this difficult time.
~ Normajean

Difficult Times...

How do we integrate and assimilate all of the information we are reading online and listening to  on different news channels about the COVID...