Tag Archives: pandemic

What I Learned

I was recently interviewed for a piece on mental health for VerywellMind about things I have learned from the pandemic.

The question was:
As both one who is living through this and helping others live through this, what are the lessons that most come to mind for you?

Seven things I learned from the Pandemic
1. There was no ‘Normal.’
We say, I wish we could return to normal, I miss the old days. When will things go back?
The old days weren’t so great. We have seen businesses go under, people who were barely getting by already go over the precipice, huge upticks in mental health and substance abuse problems, how separated and isolated people feel, and how difficult it is to ask for and receive support. I believe The greatest lesson of these times is the absolute necessity for a paradigm shift. The concept of a paradigm shift, originally based in physics, refers to a major change in the worldview, concepts, and practices of how something works or is accomplished. Recently, people have sometimes referred to it in employment terms as the Pivot.  Why return to a supposed normal that never worked, completely fell apart under duress, neglected the vulnerable, and is certainly not equipped to address any future challenges?

2. Nothing is more important than connection.
People have deeply hungered for love, touch, intimacy, and affection during these difficult times. It is an essential part of being human. Those who felt most isolated suffered the most challenges to their mental health. I recently wrote a piece about loneliness as a marker of danger to mental and physical health. A recent study equated deep-rooted loneliness as the equivalent of smoking chronically, with regard to the impact on longevity and wellness.

It’s literally a killer.

3. Mindfulness matters.
Groundhog Day happens. Over and over again, I have heard people say they have lost track of time. ’It feels like it’s going by so slowly, and yet so quickly’. Each day can feel the same. Learning mindfulness strategies anchors our perception of reality. We cannot live in a blur, and it’s very easy to succumb to that. Before we know it, it’s September 2021. Also see this helpful post on a mindfulness practice.

4. Pain cannot be avoided.
We can numb our feelings of fear, resentment, anxiety, grief, and terrifying uncertainty. They are still there. How to cope without being overwhelmed requires numerous strategies. I was sent a photograph from a recent trash recycling day in DC, where house after house was lined up with dozens of empty bottles; liquor, wine, beer, soft drinks. Our pain is honorable and a marker of experience. It’s not going to go away just because we want to anesthetize.

5. Looking after your health is absolutely essential.
Health care that is consistent in the middle of chaos is one of the hardest things to do. When you’re just trying to juggle bills, care for children and family, deal with virtual learning, work from home, metabolize constant health alerts and daily fears, confront financial hardship and job changes, and combat isolation and ennui, survival needs take over. Self-care often goes on the back burner. And yet, it is the absolute foundation.

6. It takes community.
In previous work, I have referred to the pandemic as the ultimate #compassionproject. In short, thinking about ourselves and our immediate circle has never worked, is not working now, and will not work in the future. Only if we pull together with our amazing range of strengths, talents, skills, and vulnerabilities, are we going to make it through.

7. Creativity can thrive under fire
I have seen innovation, creativity, flexing, and hustle like never before. In line with number six, above, I have seen projects large and small making the world a better place. Resolve, Love, and Hardwork are unbeatable.

Loneliness is Dangerous

Loneliness is the new smoking. Meta-analysis of over 300,000 patients found that social isolation poses as high of a mortality risk as chronic smoking. Thanks to the interwebs and the widespread use of social media, we are supposedly more “connected” than ever before. Yet as a nation, we are also more lonely. In fact, a recent study found that a staggering 47 percent of Americans often feel alone, left out and lacking meaningful connection with others. This is true for all age ranges, from teenagers to older adults. The number of people who perceive themselves to be alone, isolated, or distant from others has reached epidemic levels both in the United States and in other parts of the world. In the United Kingdom, four in 10 citizens report feelings of chronic, profound loneliness, prompting the creation of a new cabinet-level position (the Minister for Loneliness) to help combat the problem.
However, exactly how the subjective sense of loneliness (experienced by many even while surrounded by others) is a threat to health, may be less intuitive.

While this “epidemic” of loneliness is increasingly recognized as a mental health issue, what’s becoming more recognized to researchers is the role loneliness plays as a critical determinant of health.

Loneliness can be deadly: it has been estimated to shorten a person’s life by 15 years, equivalent in impact to being obese or smoking 15 cigarettes per day. A recent study revealed a surprising association between loneliness and cancer mortality risk, pointing to the role loneliness plays in cancer’s course, including responsiveness to treatments. Biologists have shown that feelings of loneliness trigger the release of stress hormones that in turn are associated with higher blood pressure, decreased resistance to infection and increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. There’s even evidence that a perceived sense of social isolation accelerates cognitive and functional decline and can serve as a preclinical sign for Alzheimer’s disease.

More than ever, during and post-pandemic, combating the mental and medical health deficits of loneliness appears to be a crucial goal for public health. Also see 13 Ways to Fight Loneliness.

Executive functioning and COVID-19

Many of you are excellent teachers, and probably didn’t know it. I’m a clinical psychologist of 23 years with a neural science background, and I have worked with children and teens every one of those years. I have literally met and spoken in detail with thousands of children and families. They are MY teachers.

When you show your kids that they, and you, don’t wear masks, don’t social distance, hang out in public places, pick fun over health, and disregard safety of others,  you are teaching LOTS. 

  • Rules don’t apply to you.
  • Impulse control doesn’t matter, do what YOU wanna do.
  • Being uncomfortable, physically or emotionally, is just too hard.
  • Fun before safety.
  • Others don’t matter, it’s about you.
  • You are healthy right now, so why worry. 
  • Emerging research doesn’t matter; it’s changing anyway, so it’s irrelevant.
  • Uncertainty is unbearable.
  • Everyone else is doing it, so why not.

Unfortunately, children with their developing frontal lobes do not apply these rules, which are aspects of executive functioning, to a single situation. They are generalized and integrated at the neuronal level. They are learning, growing beings.

[“But Doctor, Junior will not follow basic household rules. They only think about themselves. And she goes out every weekend and does risky things. It’s so frustrating.”]

Um. 

Obviously, there are many families working hard, and I mean hard, to keep others and themselves safe. I know it’s not easy, I hear from you every day. Big respect. There are also creative solutions. May you all have a healthy summer and fall.

On pandemic and homeschooling

Several of my local school systems as well as private schools in my work in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC have made it known that they are going to have a very limited schedule or no in vivo teaching this fall.

I work with many parents and educators. It’s been an incredibly difficult process, since March, to parent, work from home, do home schooling, manage health concerns, and still try to have quality of life and self care.

I have the deepest respect for the challenges involved. But it’s essential to help children feel safe, keep healthy routines, manage their behavior and build resilience.

Here are some tips to help your children feel safe.
– Address children’s fears directly
Children rely on their parents for safety, both physical and emotional. Reassure your children that you are there for them and that your family will get through this together.

-Answer questions about the pandemic simply & honestly. Talk with children about any frightening news they hear or see. It is OK to say people are getting sick or passing, but say following rules like hand washing and staying home will help your family stay healthy. Explain to them why they may not be able to see their friends easily in a calm fashion. Making things seem like they are falsely positive it’s not helpful for children, because they will know that there is something wrong

-Recognize your child’s feelings. Calmly say, for example, “I can see that you are upset because you can’t have your friends over.” Guiding questions can help older children and teens work through issues. (“I know it is disappointing not to be able to hang with your friends easily right now. How do you think you can stay in touch with them?”)

-Keep in touch with loved ones, friends, and family. Children may also worry about a grandparent or family member who is living alone or a relative or friend with an increased risk of getting COVID-19. Video chats can help ease their anxiety

-Model how to manage feelings. Dr. Siddique calls this emotion coaching. Just like a coach can help you be a better athlete or student, emotions also require practice, feedback, and implementation.

Talk through how you are managing your own feelings. (“I am worried about Grandma or Auntie, since I can’t go visit her. The best I can do is to check in with her more often by phone. I will put a reminder on my phone to call her in the morning and the afternoon until this outbreak ends.”

-Acknowledge compromises. Yes, working from home is hard. I have to make a lot of adjustments. I know mommy is in the study all the time. It’s like being at the office but now it’s here at home. Sometimes when I’m here in the house, I can’t always talk to you. But we will have our time later.

-Tell your child before you leave the house for work or essential errands. In a calm and reassuring voice, tell them where you are going, how long you will be gone, when you will return, and that you are taking steps to stay safe. More than ever, communication matters.

-Look forward with realistic optimism. Tell them that scientists are working hard to figure out how to help people who get ill, and that things will get better.

-Offer extra hugs and say “I love you” more often. Being affectionate matters.

-Keep healthy routines
During the pandemic, it is more important than ever to maintain bedtime and other routines. They create a sense of order to the day that offers reassurance in a very uncertain time. All children, including teens, benefit from routines that are predictable yet flexible enough to meet individual needs. go to bed within a certain time range and wake up at the same time. Model that unfortunate times do not have to create chaos.

-Structure. With the usual routines thrown off, establish new daily schedules. Break up schoolwork and chores when possible. Older children and teens can help with schedules, but they should follow a general order, such as:
Wake-up routines, getting dressed, breakfast and some active play in the morning, followed by quiet play and snack to transition into schoolwork.
Lunch, chores, exercise, some online social time with friends, and then homework in the afternoon.

-As recommended by Dr. Siddique: Fun, food, and family time before bed.
Chat, play, read, or watch a great show. How you complete the day sets the stage for the next one.

-Avoid any physical punishment. Per pediatric research: Spanking, hitting, and other forms of physical or “corporal” punishment risks injury and isn’t effective in any scientific study. Physical punishment can increase aggression in children over time, fails to teach them to behave or practice self-control, and can even interfere with normal brain development. Corporal punishment may take away a child’s sense of safety and security at home, which are especially needed now. They can also manifest and difficult or unhealthy relationships in the future, because people who love you can hurt you.

-Neuropsychology research: Embolden reminds parents and caregivers never to shake or jerk a child, which could cause permanent injuries and disabilities and even result in death.

-Self care. Caregivers also should be sure to take care of themselves physically: eat healthy, exercise, and get enough sleep. Find ways to decompress and take breaks. If more than one parent is home, take turns watching the children, if possible.

Virtual Health & Safety Panel for Service Industry Workers

#EmboldenPsychology is committed to working with the restaurant and bar industry during reentry and beyond. This is a health and safety panel discussing information useful for all restaurant and service workers in the Washington DC area. I will be speaking on the panel from 11 to 1, today. Topics include self-care, balancing financial and family responsibilities, communication with employers and patrons, and how to manage the anxiety of transitions and uncertainty. 

DM me for Zoom information.
Link to register: www.tinyurl.com/healthandsafety2020 

 

6 Big Takeaways Regarding the Restaurant and Bar Industry

This morning I had the pleasure of meeting with government officials from the DC Department of Health and the DC Council. We discussed anxiety and coping strategies for the many service Industry employees heading back to work. Also included were local restaurant leadership/owners, business leaders, and legal experts. It was very informative, and more info to come.

Virginia is starting phase 2, Maryland is 1.5, and DC is taking a slower and more measured approach, even though throngs of protesters certainly make that a challenge.

6 Big Takeaways Regarding the Restaurant and Bar Industry

1. You can and should call in sick if you need to. You cannot be penalized or retaliated against by employers.

2. Similarly, if there are health practices in your business establishment that make you uncomfortable, you are protected as a whistle blower.

3. My point: Restaurant leadership needs to inform patrons about the procedures and protocols. Often, people who seem to have bad behavior, simply don’t know what they are supposed to be doing and not doing. Information needs to be readily available on websites and in restaurants.
People are excited to go back to restaurants, but this is not a one-sided deal. Respect those who feed you. 

4. The biggest concerns that front line restaurant and bar workers expressed to me:
–  The trade-off between potential financial hardship and risking your life and your family’s on a daily basis to do your job. Remember, that patrons do not wear masks while eating, talking, and drinking. There is inherent risk.
–  The complete uncertainty of what’s going to happen next. There could be another shut down in the near future, and there is no way to predict what’s going to happen. Business is certainly going to proceed at a lowered capacity.
–  The porous lines between Virginia, Maryland, and DC. Workers and patrons going back-and-forth, making it harder to control safety regulations. 
– The pivot. 20% of restaurant jobs, and likely restaurants that are privately owned, will be gone. How does one transfer the considerable skills that restaurant folks have to other fields?
– The importance of communication and feeling heard. I suggested that every restaurant have a team of people that are assigned to work with front of the house and back of the house workers as emotional coaches.

5. Mental health is just as important as physical health. During the pandemic, clinical depression hit the highest national average recorded, in May 2020. That month, 50% of Americans met the criteria for major depression. ( US Census Bureau)

6. Self-care is crucial. In the best of times, the industry is one of the highest for levels of stress. Sleep well, eat healthy, exercise, meditate or follow personal spiritual practices, rest, and have a strong social support network.

Seek therapy or teletherapy when needed. Resources are available.

Embolden Psychology
Embolden

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.