Young sick woman in blanket with thermometer
Don Laird

Anxiety in the Age of COVID19

As human beings, we do not do very well with the unknown. Uncertainty and an undetermined future can create a level of constant worry that is often disproportionate and, at times, unmanageable. Anxiety manifests around that which we cannot control. What compounds this feeling is a sense that what is out of control should not be. When things feel uncertain, we don’t feel safe. However, it is okay to feel stressed or anxious, particularly when there is conflicting information around us.

Currently, most of us are worried about the Coronavirus (COVID-19). We may experience feelings ranging from helplessness to fear about what will happen in the weeks and months ahead. Again, it’s okay to feel this way. It may not feel good, but trying to push it away or act as if it doesn’t exist is the unhealthiest thing you can do.

In short, your mental health will likely suffer over the next several months.  You might feel on edge, nervous, angry, frustrated, helpless or sad. You might want to completely avoid any reminders of what is happening. “Normal” daily activities will alter drastically, and for those who already struggle with depression or anxiety the next few months will be quite challenging.

Remind yourself that you are in control to how you respond to any event (and anxiety thrives when you feel as though you have no choice). Yet, you are stronger than you may believe. Below are three basic things that can help you with your mental hygiene.

  1. You are not alone in this pandemic. Control what you can. Wash your hands. Remind others to do the same. Continue to exercise. Limit your exposure to the news. It’s healthy to update yourself once or twice a day, but over-consumption will have a negative effect. Checking your news feed every few minutes or every hour is not helping you stay informed, but it is helping you develop an unhealthy fixation. Also, limiting screen time is good practice regardless of the reason or situation.
  1. Social distancing does not mean hiding under a rock. Avoid crowds and close contact, but get outside. Exercise helps with both physical and mental health. Being in the sun and fresh air helps restore emotional balance and gives a boost to natural vitamin D levels. Stay grounded by being mindful to the world around you. Do this by noticing what your senses are telling you through sight, sound, taste, and touch. This will help you stay present and avoid projecting into an uncertain future. Remember, choice and change only occurs in the here-and-now.
  1. If you are feeling overwhelmed or need support, please talk to those you trust most. It’s okay to feel afraid or angry – it’s what you do with those feelings that matters. If needed, reach out for extra support or help. You don’t have to be alone, professional help is always available online with a therapist or counselor.

DUE TO THE FINANCIAL IMPACT OF CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19), eTALKTHERAPY IS NOW OFFERING LOWER PER SESSION RATES BASED ON YOUR FINANCIAL NEED.  Contact us today for further pricing details.

Be safe, be healthy, be well,
Don

 

eTalkTherapy

The Benefits of Deep Breathing on Anxiety

by Don Laird and Christina Pettinato

There are many great ways to promote physical and mental health for you and your family during this time of social isolation and distancing. One highly effective technique is quite simple and can be used anytime. Diaphragmatic breathing or deep breathing is intended to help you use the diaphragm (a muscle at the base of the lungs) correctly resulting in less effort and energy to breath. Additionally, it slows your breathing rate and heart rate and decreases oxygen demand, which in turn makes you feel more relaxed and calmer.

There are two ways to perform this exercise. In the video below eTalk Therapist and Mindfulness Expert Christina Pettinato demonstrates the chair method.


You may also perform this technique when lying down.

Lie on your back on a flat surface or in bed. You can use a pillow under your knees to support your legs. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.

Breathe in slowly, deeply, through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand – think of it as a balloon expanding and deflating. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible. Tighten your stomach muscles as you do this, letting them fall inward as you exhale through your lips.

When you first learn this relaxing breathing technique, it may be easier for you to follow the instructions lying down. As you gain more practice, you can try the diaphragmatic breathing technique while sitting in a chair, as demonstrated above.

You should practice this exercise 5-10 minutes at least two times per day. Most people prefer to do it before bedtime because it can promote a better night’s sleep. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend doing this exercise, use soft music or a guided meditation video or audio to enhance the relaxation experience.

Be safe, be healthy, be well,
Don & Christina

Don Laird

You Will Be Visited By Three Spirits

An Existential Yuletide Greeting
by Don Laird, NCC, LPC, DCC

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Illustration by Harry Furniss

“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they the shadows of things that May be, only?”

Scrooge. A word that can immediately conjure images of a bitter and heartless man concerned more with greed than humanity; a cultural archetype of someone wanting nothing further to do with his species and one who has no use for words like “compassion” or “care.” Yet, on closer examination, Scrooge’s story reveals some remarkable insights for our modern times. There are facets to his narrative that are ostensibly universal. Yes, a harsh commentary on the mores of his time, but Scrooge is more relevant today than ever.

On its surface, Dickens’ Victorian yarn can be simply read as “Being a Ghost Story of Christmas.” However, there is much at stake for our cultural and individual well being in this seasonal tale. In fact, I assert to you that Charles Dickens’ seminal 1843 work A Christmas Carol remains one of the finest examples of existential psychotherapy ever written (albeit in fictional form). The tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge opens a time and space for self-reflection for those who want to examine life in a meaningful and in-depth fashion. This is not about instant transformation for the client, positive psychology to sooth the therapist’s fears, or worse, wishful thinking from both parties. It is an existential crisis that is illuminated by one of the key tenets of psychotherapy – fear of death.

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Illustration by Harry Furniss

We all know the story, so it is here that I wish to briefly highlight the other side of Scrooge. No one arrives at a certain point in their development without a back story, and Scrooge’s history is one filled with disappointment and neglect. He is an ignored and isolated child, abandoned even at Christmas by his family and friends. Scrooge knows pain all too well at an early age. The world around him and its inhabitants are not to be trusted. People, above all, should be shunned. They are to be feared as they need and require emotional attachment and engagement. These qualities are easily dismissed by a young man whose growing trust in currency and greed will engulf his life for years.

In the beginning of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge exemplifies one of the central canons of existential depression and anxiety, that one has always been this way, and one always will be. There is a loss of agency and caustic determinism quickly fills in this void. When the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come points at the tombstone, Scrooge understands for the first time that life can be written differently: what seems to be etched in stone isn’t. The specter’s message is powerful; an opportunity for Scrooge to see what life on earth would be like after his death. Scrooge observes his own forgotten corpse as his peers minimize his demise. He watches in horror as strangers quickly sell his belongings, while mocking his death with no regard or mercy. In death, he can no longer be an agent of change. He is a spectator to a cruel and vicious world he created.  Yet all Three Spirits show him that he was and is agent of change as long as he is alive. It is through an encounter with one’s mortality that a fuller life may occur – to know death is to know life. Scrooge accepts the significance of death, so that he may live his final months and years embraced in the richness of his relationships with others.

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Illustration by Harry Furniss

Death anxiety is real; despite those in modern psychology who often relegate the subject of death to the closet of “let’s not go there unless we have to” (even by some seasoned practitioners who should know better). In short, beware the therapist who professes that the exploration of death anxiety is not particularly helpful in therapy. Yes, therapists can spend far too much time focusing on one area while neglecting another. It happens. Not every therapist is well-rounded enough to create a new therapy for each of her or his clients. However, that shouldn’t allow for a wave of “positivity” to sweep us away from Otto Rank’s maxim, “Some refuse the loan of life to avoid the debt of death.” Exploration of death and dying serves as a profound catalyst toward some remarkable life changes. It is the confluence of both past, present and future; an investigation of life by way of an awareness and acknowledgement of our finite time here on Earth. In this way, we are all a reflection of Dicken’s vision.

Thus, A Christmas Carol calls us to embrace some definitive questions, “How would the world be different if I were to die today?” and “Do I ever have a true sense of how many lives I’ve touched?” Scrooge’s story may, in fact, provide the answers. Our relationships with others are so intrinsic that our absence creates an entirely different existence – a ghostly existential vacuum, if you will.

In the Victorian era, people saw ghosts and had premonitions. It was a system of supernatural beliefs that was not uncommon. Freud came along and said that this was the result of repressed memories. The dead were reduced to misleading or damaged recollections that resulted in certain beliefs and behaviors. Ghosts haunted the mind, not the house. Yet, there is something within Scrooge’s narrative that calls to us, pushes us beyond cause and effect, beyond determinism, and reminds us that we can be responsible and compassionate with our life choices and that no person is indeed an island.

Be well, and remember to keep the spirit of this season in your heart today and throughout the year.

In good health,
Don

Photos courtesy http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/furniss/xmas.html#cc

Wooden welcome sign
eTalkTherapy

Welcome Therapist Kema Mesko

Therapist Kema MeskoJoin us in welcoming the newest member of our eTalkTherapy family Kema Mesko, who brings with her a wealth of clinical experience and a refreshing take on the importance of meaning and mindfulness in the therapeutic relationship. Kema’s areas of focus include postpartum depression, infertility issues, relationship discord and other women’s issues. Get to know more about Kema in this Q&A: 

  1. What does therapy mean to you?

Therapy means a safe space to speak about whatever you want to talk about. No judgement, No “I told you so”, No agenda. Therapy is a working relationship between you and your therapist to help you through this complex thing called life. Sometimes it takes the perspective of someone that does not know you in your day to day life to broaden your perspective to a much greater worldview. Therapy helped to enhance my life for the better, and if I can help even one person do the same my job is worth it.  

  1. What makes therapy successful?

Therapy is successful when the therapist and the client are both invested in the work. One can not want progress more than the other. And when forward progress is not being made, an open and honest conversation must be able to take place as to what could be the reason that is. Unconditional positive regard and empathy on the part of the therapist, as well as a client that truly NOT only wants help but is ready to do the work.

  1. How has nursing help shape your role as a therapist?

While working as a nurse, I noticed we would do a fantastic job of taking care of our patient’s physical ailments but not so much their mental health concerns. It was very easy for me to see how interconnected the mental and physical health were connected, but in my role as a nurse I wasn’t trained to address the mental health side of things.

Now as a therapist I’m able to assist my clients with different tools but in the same manner I would as a nurse with years of experience working with patients. Nursing has helped me to understand that sometimes less explanation at a time is better. And demonstration of techniques such as deep breathing instead of just handing you a paper is much more effective. And having the background medical knowledge helps a lot to understand a lot of what the clients are going through without them having to spend time explaining it to me causing them more frustration. Nursing helped me to more aware of how I could be most useful to my clients, more than any textbook could’ve taught me.

  1. What is your life philosophy?

My life philosophy is very simple: 2 things, Progress not Perfection… and Perfectly Imperfectly

Nobody is perfect nor should we ever place the expectation on ourselves or anyone to be. We are all flawed. But we can ALWAYS but in the work to be better tomorrow than we are today and that’s all we can do.

  1. Describe yourself in three words?

Caring, Authentic, Calm

  1. If you could meet someone living or dead, who would it be AND why?

Serena Williams, because I admire strong powerful woman that are the best at their craft.  She is an example of a woman that has dominated her field and is not afraid to also show her feminine side. Life is about balance. And I strive to be an example of a strong, powerful woman that is a role model to my daughter to be the best at whatever she chooses.  

  1. What was the funniest thing you have ever experienced? Or Share something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?

Ahhh 😊 so something that people are usually surprised to learn is that I teach a mixed martial arts cardio kickboxing class called BodyCombat! I’ve been teaching it for over 10 years!! It’s my total alter ego personality when the music starts, and I put the microphone on. But it’s my best form of self-care and stress relief!!

  1. Complete this sentence “The quality I most value in a friend”

Loyalty.

  1. Complete this sentence “The quality I most value in myself”

Honesty.

If you are looking to make positive changes in your life, we can help! Please contact us today about how to register and schedule your live video-chat counseling session with Kema.

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woman walking on a back road
Don Laird

This is where I draw the line

Someone asked me recently for a short list of things that would be helpful in leading a happier life. I explained that happiness, like all emotions, is fleeting. Yet, I started thinking more about her inquiry. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked for such advice.  As therapists, we are trained ad nauseam that giving direct guidance of any kind is frowned upon and unwise.  However, there is a time and a place for directive counsel and the positive effects it can have for a person who just wants her mind to be quiet for a bit.  Often, people are so busy trying to change others around them that they forget that a firm set of boundaries will help settle even the most tempest mind.

So here listed are ten boundaries, not in any particular order, that can act as reminders. Think of them this way; if happiness is indeed fleeting and not a fixed destination then how I am opening myself up to the possibility of happiness, satisfaction and a quieter mind? These are not intended to be a road map, but rather some markers along your path that may be useful.

  1. It is not my job to fix others.
  2. It is okay to say “no.”
  3. I am responsible for supporting others, not servicing.
  4. I can only make myself happy.
  5. I am not responsible for the happiness of others.
  6. Not everyone has to agree with or like me.
  7. I have a right to my own feelings, including anger. It’s how I express those feelings that counts.
  8. I can search for my meaning and purpose without permission from another.
  9. I do not have to put the emotional needs of others ahead of mine.
  10. I am responsible for my feelings and actions.

Living a life worth living shouldn’t include sacrificing your happiness for others. Learning to value and be responsible for yourself and your feelings is not selfishness, it is an act of selflessness that is affirming and empowering. The worth of your day should not be contingent on whether those around you are “happy.” Yes, we do influence others just as they influence us, but their feelings are their feelings, nothing more you can do here. Being supportive and caring is not the same as being in service to another.

We often cling to unhappy lives because change is too frightening, but setting boundaries isn’t as scary or as complicated as it may sound. In short, real change only occurs when you attempt something different. Practicing the above list is by no means a sure bet toward a healthier or happier life, but it is a step in that direction.

If you’d like to discuss boundaries and relationships further or any other mental health concerns, please feel free to contact me or you can schedule an appointment with me.

In good health,
Don