two women on a bus wearing face masks looking at their phones
Christy Gualtieri

Love in the Time of Covid-19

Well, that came out of left field, didn’t it? For most people, I mean. You may have felt the tremors, but I’ll be honest with you: I certainly wasn’t expecting it. But that’s how life-changing (really, truly life-altering) things go, really: they’re sudden, even when you know they’re coming. There’s always a before, and then an after. Right now, I suppose we’re experiencing the during. But there will be an end, and then will come the befores and afters.

This cosmic blend of same and different – I’ll give you an example: I observed my neighbor getting into the car and backing out of her driveway. Same. She stopped the car to stretch blue medical gloves over her hands. Different. Here’s another: my kids learn during the day. Same. At home now, with me, rather than at school. Different. A hundred million little transitions that we need to make, and are making, sometimes without even thinking of them.

One of my mother’s favorite things to do while she was still alive was make us watch all of her favorite movies. Some were great fun (“The Birdcage”) and some were considerably less fun (“Spartacus”). The all-time great was (and I actually agreed with her) “The Sound of Music.” And now that I’m a mom, I get to make my kids watch my favorites, too. So, with great effort, I removed my much-screen-refreshed phone and settled in with them for three hours of merriment, humor, telegrams, and a wonderful puppet show. The VonTrapps, they too dealt with the same and the different. They too dealt with evil, and fear, and heartbreak against all of that beautiful mountain scenery. 

Humanity experiences suffering. Same. Humanity experiences COVID-19. Different. It is okay to feel every emotion you feel about it. It’s okay to cry when Fraulein Maria marries Captain VonTrapp, even if you’ve seen it fifty times. It’s okay to wonder what happens to Max at the end of the Austrian folk festival, because you know Herr Zeller wasn’t going to let that go. And it’s okay to be afraid when you’re fumbling around in the darkness, stumbling blindly toward the first light you see.

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As part of their new educational experience, my kids watch one episode of “Our Planet” on Netflix per day. The episode on forests was particularly striking, because it shows the resiliency of our wonderful, absolutely amazing planet. There is a segment on a forest fire, and only a few months after hundreds of miles of forestland was absolutely devastated from fire, the floor was blushing again with green, with vines, with life.

As we go through our own, very particular fire of fear and uncertainty, don’t look down only in sorrow, and in regret, and in fear. Look down to see the life that is growing just below, underneath. Invisible, but certain.

Same.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

 

Hand hygiene. Person in the bathroom is cleaning and washing hands with soap
Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk

Anxiety, Stress, Social Distancing, & Healthy Control

By Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk MSPC, NCC

Anxiety, frustration, change, and uncertainty are a realistic and at times, a stressful part of life that humans grapple with. Currently, society as a whole is in a pandemic with many feeling highly anxious, fearful, and uncertain of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the long-term impact on society, the economy, loved ones, and the outcomes of overall health and wellness. It’s natural to have fear and anxiety of the unknown; to feel your healthy controls are being taxed and possibly becoming depleted.

During this time of uncertainty in the weeks to follow, there are ways to feel reasonably prepared while decreasing stress, anxiety, and worry.

Consider the following:

Grappling with Anxiety & Stress

For those experiencing anxiety, that have anxiety disorders, and/or a predisposition to stress, the fear and worry about the health and wellness of you and your loved ones, the economy, finances, having essential medications and supplies over the next few weeks or longer can feel overwhelming for some. Others are frustrated with feeling society is over preparing. Most are hoping for a level of preparedness and a positive outcome without mass hysteria.

During times of chaos and confusion, many seek out information from the news, social media, and other sources. It’s important to stay informed, it’s also vital to find good information based on statistics, data, and facts. Choosing how much to engage in information and when to disengage (put your phone down) assists with lowering feelings of uncertainty, of being out of control, and catastrophizing what is happening in the world around you. It’s normal to feel a sense of uneasiness, vulnerability, anger, confusion, and cognitive dissonance about the future.

It can be stressful for families and for parents to know how to talk with children about what’s happening. Being open, honest, and factual is important on an age appropriate level.  In addition, it’s important to balance your own fears during conversations and to do your best to monitor your own anxiety, anger, and stress to keep from instilling an unnecessary foundation of anxiety in children to potentially grapple with. It’s an opportunity to open a dialogue for critical thinking about individual feelings, values, the meaning of exploring those feelings moving forward, and how a person can learn and grow from what is happening.

It’s natural to feel the physiological and psychological impact of anxiety, it’s a protective mechanism; the fight or flight response in humans and animals. However, it’s what you do with the anxiety and stress you’re experiencing. Check in with yourself on how intense your feelings are, how long symptoms are lasting, and how your daily life is impacted. Implementing realistic expectations, allowing for flexibility, tapping into positive coping, tolerating frustration, and adapting for what is within your healthy controls day to day can help with lowering symptoms and the long-term impact. It’s beneficial to spend time in the present moments, practice gratitude, and enjoy yourself as much as realistically possible.

Social Distancing

Social distancing puts individuals at risk for social isolation; especially when depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues are present.  It’s important to have awareness of the differences between social distancing and social isolation by checking in with yourself on how you’re feeling day to day. Consider what activities you’re engaging in or not doing at all. This is a good opportunity to carve out time to rebuild a relationship with yourself, reflect on what’s important, watch the sunrise or sunset, and connect with family and friends via phone, social media, or through email. Getting back to basics can feel healing and reaffirming; especially when focusing on significant and already established relationships. Make family time fun by keeping it simple. Hopefully, this is a time for children, adolescents, and adults to take a break from the high stress and pressures of a few daily responsibilities and obligations.

With that being said, if you’re in a stressful situation at home whether it’s due to a strained relationship with your partner or feeling overwhelmed by stress and responsibilities, take time away to rebalance. Consider listening to music, going for a walk or run, spend time with your furry friends, laugh and enjoy yourself, and do your best to focus on who and what you do have in the present moment, which includes your relationship with yourself. Check out online options in your community for working out, yoga, supports, and keeping up with physical and mental health. Focus on your strengths, tap into your supports, and treat yourself with compassion.

Healthy Controls

It’s beneficial to be present and work within what is in your healthy controls. Healthy control is different than attempting to control uncontrollable factors and attempting to control those around you in unhealthy and damaging ways. Healthy control is an internal sense of strength, presence, and balance. It’s trusting yourself and valuing where you are, what you’re feeling, and what is best in moving forward. Therefore, it’s making decisions that work well for you and your loved ones in ethical and healthy manners. Putting life in perspective, having a level of preparedness, and moving forward from there realistically.

Allowing some time to decompress and enjoying time with those in your shared environment as much as possible is within the realm of healthy control.  Check in with yourself and your loved ones; if your mental health or your loved one’s mental health is suffering and/or you or a loved one is struggling, feeling overwhelmed, and need to talk, reach out for support. Therapy where you’re meeting face-to-face online through a HIPAA secure site from the comfort of your own home is a safe, healthy, confidential, and convenient way to work with a therapist and to begin the healing process.

In conclusion, find ways you can feel content, ways you can help yourself feel balanced, and reasonably safe without adding undue stress, anxiety, and social isolation. Do your best to plan in realistic areas and to take one day at a time when planning isn’t possible. Consider where your information is from, look for statistics and data to assist with keeping anxiety and the stress of the unknown as low as possible.  There are many opportunities for self-reflection, growth, connecting with loved ones, and to engage in healthy and beneficial ways. Seek out the support of an online therapist if you’re feeling overwhelmed; even in the midst of a pandemic you can get the help you need. It’s important to treat yourself well, with compassion, and to check in on how you’re feeling.

Keep first responders, medical professionals, and individuals at increased risk for direct exposure in your thoughts, and individuals with higher risk for complications too. It’s important to come together as a community in safe and healthy ways to increase feelings of belonging and to decrease anxiety, stress, fear, and social isolation.

Stay safe, healthy, and well!

Learn, grow, & enjoy,
Mandi

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MandiTurk[1]Mandi Dalicandro-Turk writes about a variety of topics related to mental health, behavioral health, relationships, stress, anxiety, aging, grieving, self-care, therapy, and improving one’s overall quality of life.

girl running through flowers in spring time
Christy Gualtieri

We Get Spring

There’s a catchy pop song that was a big hit a few years back, and part of it echoes so plainly in my ears now: “How am I going to be an optimist about this?”  That song was about Pompeii, and what’s swirling around us these days is, no doubt, just as much of a candidate for the history books.

I don’t really know how I’m going to be an optimist about this, but I may have one little idea: I will sleep when the baby sleeps.

For those of you who aren’t parents, the phrase “sleep when the baby sleeps” is given to new* parents to remind them that they too need rest, and that you’d better get while the getting is good.  Of course you want to stay up and fret about whether your baby is breathing in the night. Of course you want to gaze for hours at their features while you hold them in the moonlight. But babies wake up, and cry, and nurse, and because you didn’t sleep while the baby slept, you’ll be tired and cranky the whole time, and possibly want to throw anything within arm’s reach at your napping husband.

And so it is in these long, languishing days of quarantine, I will sleep when the baby sleeps. Not really sleep, of course, because my kids are much too fond of crawling all over me and incessantly asking me questions, but I will just focus on what the immediate need is, at this moment. It’s all I can do. It’s all anyone can do.

Farmers have a similar saying: “Make hay while the sun shines.” There’s no point in making hay while it’s raining; it’d get ruined.  So instead, you clean the dishes or wash the walls or count raindrops sliding down the window. You do what you can with what you have in front of you.

We all want to make hay, I get it. We all want to watch the baby sleep. But most, if not all of us reading this will need to pretty much be sitting in their homes, where those things just cannot – or should not – get done. So what can you do? How can you be an optimist about this?

I can’t answer that for you. But for me, it’s truly getting down to the brass tacks. The minutiae of it all – what’s in front of you.

We have more time for walks, the kids and I, because we’re homeschooling now and there’s no one to tell us no. The smallest buds are coming out, and the robins have soared back into the yard, looking for bits and bobs to feather their nests. My kids are excited that Spring is earlier this year. “Because the groundhog didn’t see his shadow!” Says the oldest. “Yeah!” chimes the younger. “Punkshatawney Film didn’t see it! We get Spring!

We get Spring. Yes, we get trouble, too. But we get Spring. Enjoy it! And take a nap, when you can.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

*This advice is only for first-time parents, because once you have more kids all bets are off…unless there’s a tremendous gap in age between your kids and you have one newborn and one teenager who works and can drive themselves anywhere they like. Well done to you, I say.

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About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

People are celebrating Thanksgiving day
Christy Gualtieri

Holiday Self-Care

It’s that time of year again! Pumpkin-spiced everything’s been overtaken by chocolate peppermint; the sun won’t come out all day again until March; and shopping malls are striking up the Christmas songs and lining families up for photos with Santa.

It’s time for family gatherings, class parties, and office gift exchanges – and before you know it, it’s time to meet up again for celebrations ringing in the New Year. It’s a lot, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed!

The holidays can be difficult for everyone for a wide variety of reasons.  Here are a few tips to help you through the next few weeks!

  1. Breathe. I know, I know. It sounds so basic. But aside from it being the most important thing you ever do (…because what happens if you don’t?), it’s important to do it slowly.  Slow breathing is key to calming your overexcited nervous systems and keeping your mind clear. (For a visual, it’s helpful to slowly breathe in like you’re luxuriously smelling a flower, and to breathe out like you’re blowing out a candle.)
  2. Give yourself space. If you’re at a gathering and you need a break from time to time, take one! You don’t need permission – you’re a grown-up! Just do it. When you’re eating a sit-down meal, seat yourself (or ask to be seated – I don’t know how fancy the party is!) at the end of the table or nearest the doorway so you don’t have to crawl over fifty people to get some fresh air. Take a few minutes to yourself, also with some calming breaths if you need them, and rejoin the activity when you’re ready – not when someone else is dragging you back in.
  3. Share your feelings – either with yourself by writing them down or drawing them in a sketchbook, or by opening up to someone who is close to you and who you know will try their best to help you feel better. Getting your fears, worries, frustrations, and your grief out in the open will keep you from bottling them up inside and making you sick.
  4. Drink more water. Full disclosure: water is my least favorite drink and I know how hard it is to make an effort to drink more if you don’t like to, but it really is important. It flushes out stress hormones and really cold water will give you something to focus on as a distraction from over-anxiety. It’s also a good idea to drink a glass or two in between samplings of holiday punch!
  5. Look at a calendar. Because shopping is such an integral part of the American holiday experience – and because companies essentially lose an extra shopping week due to a late Thanksgiving this year – holiday sales and holiday everything seems to be in the air for an extremely long amount of time. It’s perfectly okay to realize that the holiday season, if it is a hard time of year for you, will end this year. Hanukkah does last for eight days and there are twelve days of Christmas, but the celebrations will eventually come to an end…and there is a brand new year just around the corner waiting for you to enjoy it.

No matter how you spend your holidays, remember to find something in your life for which you’re thankful. It may be family, it may be your home or your job or something as simple as your streaming service subscription – but no matter the thing, focus on the thankfulness – and keep looking for more!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Woman hand holding a card with text can't over cement background
Christy Gualtieri

Rising to the Challenge

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it, but November is “NaNoWriMo” (National Novel Writing Month).  Writers all across the country take up the challenge to write – or complete – a novel in only one month, relying on their wit, their perseverance, their talent, and a strong online community of other writers and editors to get the job done. Although most novels completed during NaNoWriMo challenges don’t make it to publication, some do, most famously Sara Gruben’s “Water For Elephants,” which was also adapted into a film starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon.

I have half-heartedly attempted to consider starting a NaNoWriMo challenge – I never got as far as typing a single word – but, ultimately, I’ve decided that it wasn’t for me, at least not in this particularly busy season of my life. I do appreciate the value of challenges, however, especially ones set in constrained time periods. The Whole 30 challenge was pretty popular for a while too, and on social media it’s not uncommon to see creative challenges that center around posting pictures or blog posts each day based on a particular theme.

The idea of challenges is really interesting to me. I can see the value in it – it’s neat to see how we act differently when we are exposed to things that change our routine so steadily over such a long period of time. And those changes can work for the better, too. (I’m Catholic, and I see the benefits of fasting/small acts of self-denial that we partake in every year for the weeks of Lent, just before Easter.) Community plays a big role too, and an important one: you get a great sense of “we’re all in this together.

But for people who suffer from anxiety or low self-esteem, the idea – or the reality – of not meeting those challenges can be difficult to bounce back from. Not finishing a NaNoWriMo project, a Whole 30 food challenge, or whatever you tried can bring on the negative self-talk pretty much instantly: “I’m a failure. I knew I couldn’t do it.” It’s enough to not make us want to try again.

So what’s the secret to a successful challenge? I’m not 100% sure, but I think it probably has something to do with not taking them too seriously and adapting more of a “so what?” attitude. “If I don’t write a whole novel, so what? I wrote a lot more than I would have!” “If I eat some cheese on the elimination diet, so what? It’s helped me figure out that I feel worse when I do eat it, so it’s a bonus.” Trying to bring up the positives takes a lot of work, but it might also lead to success. That same positive self-talk works well in real life too, not just in a challenge setting. Maybe this month we can think about some ways we can change our thinking from negative to positive and see where that takes us!

Do you like to take up monthly challenges? What’s been your experience so far? Make sure to let us know any tips for success in the comments!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.