Grounding Techniques to Help with Anxiety

Living in the Moment

I work as an aide in a Preschool, and this year’s class is bursting with energy. I’m greeted at the start of each school day with bubbly stories, eager 4-year-olds ready to learn and sing, and some of the cutest faces you ever did see.

One of those faces belongs to Mikey (not his real name), one of the sweeter kids in the class. He listens and does his best to follow along when the teacher guides them through forming their letters and learning about things like the weather and what day of the week it is, and he always has a story to tell about a place he went to with his parents or the things he does over the weekends.

Now that the school year has been underway for some weeks, he’s fallen into a routine. One of Mikey’s favorite things to do just before school begins is to sidle up to either myself or the teacher, look at us very seriously while holding up a finger, and say, “I have a question.”

“Yes, Mikey?”

“How long is it until I can go home?”

And we smile and tell him that he’ll go home at the end of the school day, listing off the various things that happen before then. “There’s a lesson first,” I’ll say, “then snack time, then art class, then playtime, then lunch. And then we have recess, then rest time, another lesson, and then we go home.”

He’ll nod seriously at that, furrow his little brow, and return to his seat. And for the rest of each day, he’ll stop and ask one of us when the thing we are participating in will be over. During the morning lesson, he’ll ask when snack time is. When snack is underway, he’ll ask when art class is. During art class, he’ll ask when lunch is – and so on and so forth, for the entire rest of the day.

“Try not to worry about the next thing, Mikey,” I tell him. “Just think about what’s happening right now. The day will go faster that way.”

He has yet to master that ability. It seems like an easy thing to joke about, but his routine does make sense to me – the little guy is trying to ground himself in the midst of a churning hullabaloo – and I can’t say that I’m unlike him in my own way. True, I don’t ask the teacher what our schedule is every hour of the day, but how many times have I looked at my own calendar ad nauseum, trying to figure out what else I have coming down the pike? How often, when I’ve been worried, have I thought about what will happen next; and once I’ve gotten there, immediately worried about the next event? Too many times. And, each time, just like little Mikey, I’ve furrowed my brow, not taking my own advice – not thinking about what’s happening right now.

I’m sure I’m not alone; maybe you feel the same way too. Maybe you feel swept up in the current of worrying about what’s coming next, and you want to know the future so you can corral it, subdue it, and have some sort of handle on it so you don’t feel completely out of control. But if you are like me, maybe we can try to figure out how to calm down, take a moment (or two, or a hundred) and try to truly live in the moment.

One thing I like to do is to listen to calming music and ambient sounds, so downloading a calming-type app may be helpful (or looking up videos of quiet and calming nature scenes on YouTube may do the trick). Taking time to just sit in quietude is hard to do but incredibly worthy of your time once you get in the habit of it. Maybe a yoga class is more your style, visiting a house of worship or talking a walk – so many things can help to keep you grounded in the moment that you’re in. Every moment is special, even if it’s mundane – and anything we can do to help us stay in the moment is sure to do us a world of good.

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.

How to Work Through Your Fears

What Scares You

What was your first scary movie? I was ten when I was at a sleepover and the movie of choice was “Child’s Play.” Do you remember that one? About the creepy, evil, possessed doll named Chucky that would come to life and murder people? Not the best movie to show a ten-year-old, that’s for sure. (Especially a ten-year-old whose cousins owned a “My Buddy doll” that was Chucky’s spitting image and terrified her for quite a few months afterward.)

It was so much easier being a kid and scared of concrete, real things that could be defined. I was scared of murderous dolls. I was scared of hurricanes. I was scared of losing my parents. I was scared of walking down the stairs. I was scared of bees.

I outgrew a lot of those fears (although I’m still pretty afraid of bees – and murderous dolls). But as a grown-up, the things that frightened me became less real and a lot more nebulous, easily identifiable by the way they begin in my mind (always with a “what if?”): What if my life doesn’t have meaning? What if something I say or do hurts someone else? What if the supply chain breaks down before Christmas and my kids can’t get what they asked Santa for? What if my family dies in some weird freak accident and I’m alone forever? Those were fears that existed long before coronavirus, but now, the fear is even more amplified in some ways because of it, too. (I don’t think I need to list out the fears attached to that!)

There are ways to subdue or mitigate these fears – regular visits with a therapist to talk them out is something I’d highly recommend – but I think it’s important to acknowledge that they exist, not only for children, but for adults, too. They manifest in sometimes very similar ways, but very different ones, too – where a child and a grownup both may suffer from anxiety-induced stomachaches, maybe a grownup would be the one out of the two that would pitch a fit at Arby’s for getting their order wrong.

In the Wes Anderson film “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” the protagonist, M. Gustave, gives a very telling quote about fear in adulthood: “Rudeness is merely the expression of fear. People fear they won’t get what they want. The most dreadful and unattractive person just needs to be loved, and they will open up like a flower.”

There’s a truth in that. Fear is a powerful motivator, but it can’t be conquered by tantrums, or dominance, or aggression – just love. (True, love isn’t what beats Chucky at the end of the Child’s Play films or its sequels, but that’s neither here nor there.)

It’s not an easy thing to overcome your fears. And it’s trite to just dismissively say that you can love your way through them, but it is a reality that if you can love and trust yourself enough to get through the things that you fear most, then you will. And that’s no small thing. It takes practice, but it can be achieved.

So think about the thing that is frightening you the most. You may have no control over it whatsoever, but that’s okay. Just try your best – however long it takes you – to tell yourself that whatever will come, you will get through it. You will come out the other side. A different person, maybe, but that’s all right too. Tell yourself you will love yourself through it, put that into practice, and see what happens to your fears. If nothing else, it’s worth a try.

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.

Managing Our Mental Health in a Polarized World

Tell Me More: Episode 5


(Music fades in) Have you found yourself feeling frustrated, angry or at odds with family and life-long friends over things like whether to wear a face mask, whether to get a vaccine or any other hot button issues? Well, if so, you are definitely not alone. Polarization in America appears to be a wide divide. It’s carving our nation into distinct camps – where compromise is, more often than not, tossed out the window. Is this a true picture of what’s happening here? And if so, what does it all mean for our relationships and our mental health?

I’m Susan Brozek Scott, and in this episode of Tell Me More we’re talking with Don Laird, licensed psychotherapist and founder of eTalkTherapy.com, who can help us understand what’s happening and what we can do about it. (Music fades out)

SUSAN: Don, good to be with you again.

DON: As always, a pleasure to be with you as well Susan.

SUSAN: Don, is the political polarization or the emotional polarization in America really as bad as it seems? What are psychologists saying?

DON: As I’ve said in previous podcasts, Susan, getting vaccinated or wearing a mask is not a political statement and it should not be viewed as such by any group or individual. This is a public health crises and it’s about demonstrating compassion and care for yourself and others. Much of the fear we are experiencing right now – let’s be frank, it’s preventable. We have to stop polarizing the issues and come together to fight the real enemy which is this virus.

SUSAN: Are we prepared, do you think, to handle the mental health crises and all of this polarization and do we have the funding to handle it?

DON: Wow, that’s a great question Susan and one that I’m quite passionate about. So, excuse me if I pull the soap box out for a moment here. So, we are not. The long and short of it is this: we talk a good game when it comes to mental health but frankly mental health has always been at the bottom of the barrel of the health care system. Insurance companies talk about it all the time, how they want to promote better mental health; agencies talk about it all the time, but the bottom line is and we see time and time again that people are being turned away for the most basic types of services that are available out there. And these are the most vulnerable folks in our society. We have to do better. We have to rise to this challenge and be able to get the funding to the folks who need it the most. That means front-line workers, the people who are out there in the trenches delivering these services. Therapists, counselors, in the community, in private practices, in agencies allowing them the opportunity to do the work that they are passionate about and not get caught up in all the rep tape – and frankly the frustrating part of whether or not I’m going to get paid for this service because I’m dealing with insurance companies. This is something that, again I’m quite passionate about, but we have to be able to rise to the occasion and meet this challenge. This is going to be the next wave of this pandemic. The mental health crisis, the hurricane that is now brewing , we are going to be dealing with for years and decades to come.

SUSAN: What, Don, can happen if we don’t start to address these feelings that people are having? We see it on TV, we see it on social media all the time – the viral videos going around. People are really in some severe crisis.

DON: One way for us to understand this Susan, one of the first things we should be looking at is how people are responding to stages in a disaster, in this case, a global pandemic. Everyone is built differently. Everyone has their own perspective. But there are shared and common grounds for our experiences. There is research, and evidence that defines the stages of stress on communities from disasters. Early, during or right after a disaster – ok – in this case a global pandemic, communities tend to pull together. People support each other, and are generally kind and create a sense of community, a sense of togetherness. Think back, Susan, to the first few weeks of the initial lock-down about 18 months ago when everyone in the neighborhood waved to everyone else; asked how they were and showed – what – genuine concern and kindness. Unfortunately, that spirit wears thin as stress and frustration builds. We get tired. “Things are taking too long!” “No one seems to know what to do here.” “Where is the leadership and who do I trust?” That’s when we hit a disillusionment stage. We begin to lose our optimism and trust and start to have negative reactions OR negative reactions to almost everything we hear and see. That’s about where we stand now as a society. People are exhausted of this and they’re taking great risks with their lives and the lives of others. They’d rather risk getting sick then getting vaccinated or wearing a mask or both. There’s a number of reason here, Susan, and social media – let me just add this – social media is the main culprit here for spreading this misinformation. People have stopped listening to the experts and they won’t follow the science. This stage that we’re talking about right now, this could last more than a year once the pandemic is under control. And we’re nowhere close that at this time.

SUSAN: Can you give us some concrete steps to help people acknowledge how they feel – all of this frustration – and steps to have them reach out to people they may strongly disagree with in a way that’s more positive rather than so negative?

DON: Sure! Absolutely and it’s a great note to end on. Set the boundaries and try to come to agreement. This is a discussion about facts not opinions. We are here to understand and explain our views not to change the other person’s mind. Let’s each try to speak for ourselves and not try to speak for any outside group. Can we avoid the talking points and otherwise this is basic and standard stuff. Stuff we already know Susan and frankly we learned it in kindergarten: Take your turn. Don’t interrupt. Listen. Be respectful – that means no eye-rolling, sighs or laughter when someone is speaking. I can’t say or emphasize this enough: an argument is just a failed discussion. Let me say that again, an argument is a failed discussion. Always bring your best self into the conversation.

SUSAN: If someone, Don, feels they need help in taking the first step to get some help, what can they do?

DON: Reach out to a professional if you’re unsure. The time is now. Don’t wait for things to get better on their own. They probably won’t. At eTalkTherapy we offer free phone consultations to help match you with the right therapist and if we don’t have that person for you, we will give you referrals that are either online or in your area. We’ve been providing telemental health services in Pennsylvania since 2017. And we’ve got a great group of experienced and licensed therapists who are ready to start helping you make changes today. Go to eTalkTherapy.com for further details on scheduling a free consultation or for your first appointment. It takes real courage to reach out and admit that you need help with an issue. So why not get started today?

(Music fades in)

SUSAN: Don Laird, licensed psychotherapist and founder of eTalkTherapy.com, thanks so much for helping guide us through these very challenging times.

DON: Thank you Susan, as always it’s a pleasure.

Music continues…

This podcast does not provide medical advice. The content is for informational purposes only. Consult with your doctor on all medical issues regarding your condition and treatments. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional psychiatric or medical advice, diagnosis or treatment nor does it replace the need for services provided by a medical or psychiatric professional. Always seek the advice of a medical professional, psychiatrist or therapist before making any changes to your treatment.

Music fades out.

Coping with Covid Fatigue

Tell Me More: Episode 4


(Music fades in) If you’re feeling exhausted from year two of the global pandemic yet find yourself wide awake half the night, you’re not alone. Despite having vaccines and treatments available and despite America starting to reopen this past summer there’s a growing realization that we’re not home yet. It’s like starting a football game playing against one team and then at half-time a new opponent takes the field. The delta variant team is faster, stronger and moving all directions all over the field and it’s going to take more time and effort to defeat this new team or the next one. (Music picks up)

I’m Susan Brozek Scott and in this episode of Tell Me More, we’re talking with Don Laird, licensed psychotherapist and founder of eTalkTherapy.com, who can help us as we try to figure out a strategy to get through this pandemic, get into the end zone and safely get on with our lives. Don good to be with you. (Music fades out)

Don: Great to be with you as well Susan.

Susan: Don, we’re at that phase in this pandemic where so many people say they are simply exhausted. They’ve done what they feel they can do and then there is always something else to deal with and they’re suffering on a lot of levels. Is this what some are calling Covid fatigue?

Don: Yes, the answer is yes Susan. It is Covid fatigue. And I like your analogy of the football game because the goalposts in this case, they keep moving. And with Dr. Facui’s recent comment about how things may not improve with this recent surge in cases until spring of 2022, most of us have been feeling or are beginning to feel the long term psychological effects of Covid fatigue and burnout. I said this almost a year ago, the future impact of Covid will not be treated with vaccines, social distancing and masks. All things we should be doing right now by the way. We have to be able to address the sky-rocketing numbers of people diagnosed with depression, anxiety and trauma because of this pandemic. And the polarization, it – no we have caused – we are not adequately prepared to face the mental health hurricane that is now brewing. Let’s be clear, all of us, myself, you, everyone listening, everyone out there, we’re tired of staying inside, we’re tired of being careful, we’re tired of being scared, we’re tired of turning on the news or social media, and just seeing bad news. We’re tired of the rising statistics, but you know what isn’t tired yet Susan? Covid. But our collective fatigue is making some people careless; one reason Covid-19 is rising sharply throughout the US. Facing this fatigue is important for our personal health and for beating the virus that has shaken us to our very core. Most people understand this and that is what is adding to their exhaustion and stress.

Susan: These variants of Covid -19 they keep changing and mutating to get through our bodies defenses. Do we not only have to adjust our vaccines but also our mental strategies to successfully deal with this?

Don: Absolutely! There is no back-to-normal mode. We can deny it, ignore it, pretend it will just go away on its own. But this is our new reality. Yet, we shouldn’t be cowering in fear. We should be rising to the challenge. Follow the science and work on what we do have control over. Being kind, taking care of each other and ourselves, promoting good mental health starts today and with ourselves.

Susan: What are some of the simple things, Don, that we can do to handle the feeling that too much of this is out of our control?

Don: That’s a great question. Much of our fear is preventable even though it doesn’t seem that way. We have to stop polarizing the issues and come together to fight the real enemy, which is the virus. Having said that, recognizing that I don’t have control over others or their opinions, I can only control my reaction and make the best and most informed choices I can – all the while being mindful to those around me. This is not passivity, let’s be clear. This is not passivity. It is empowering ourselves in the here and now. Not being fearful or paralyzed in the shadow of an uncertain future and not trying to fix the past. Rather, focusing on how the present moment is the only place I can be a real agent of change. And part of that change can happen through some very simple steps, Susan:

  • Exercise. By the way, exercise – people throw it out there like “why don’t you just exercise more,” that is not a cure for mental health but it does help right. Exercise – it’s the number one best thing that we can do for coping in these times. A simple walk, it releases endorphins, it gets some of the adrenaline out when frustration builds up inside of us. Just getting out and moving around can be really helpful for people.
  • Talking, right, this really helps, being able to connect with another person. Finding the right places and times to do it, that’s important. Don’t try to bring up – you know – big global issues when you’re in a bad mental health space, but ignoring feelings doesn’t make them go away either. Constructive thinking, we like to think that the words that come out of our mouths are always productive always constructive, not so. Think about the words that you’re about to say. Think about how you’re thinking about them, right. Be compassionate with yourself and others. Remind yourself, “I’m doing the best I can and so is the person I’m talking with.”
  • And finally, Mindfulness: This is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days. But it’s important to understand the more you practice mindfulness, the easier some of this stress, burn out and fatigue gets, being in the moment, you’re right there, you’re listening to my voice, breathing and looking around. Put yourself in the moment, and if you’re not sure how to practice mindfulness – Google it. There are all kinds of instructional videos and podcasts out there. For now, just taking life day-by-day is so important.

Susan: Don, how does a person know whether they, or someone they know, might need more help? Are there things to look for either in ourselves or our friends and family that we should be aware of even on social media if we see something, what should we do?

Don: Reach out to a professional if you’re unsure. Now is the time to do this. Don’t wait for things to just get better on their own. They may not. At eTalkTherapy, we offer free consultations to help match you with the right therapist and if we don’t have that person for you, we’ll give you referrals to other professionals that are either online or in your area. We’ve been providing telemental health services in Pennsylvania since 2017, and we have a wonderful group of experienced and licensed therapists who are ready to start helping you make changes today. Go to eTalkTherapy.com for further details on scheduling a free consultation or your first appointment. It just takes a minute, but it takes a tremendous amount of courage to reach out and admit that you need help with an issue. So why not get started today?

Susan: Don Laird, licensed psychotherapist and founder of eTalkTherapy.com. Thanks for helping guide us through these very challenging times. (Music fades in)

Don: As always Susan, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you!

Music continues…

This podcast does not provide medical advice. The content is for informational purposes only. Consult with your doctor on all medical issues regarding your condition and treatments. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional psychiatric or medical advice, diagnosis or treatment nor does it replace the need for services provided by a medical or psychiatric professional. Always seek the advice of a medical professional, psychiatrist or therapist before making any changes to your treatment.

Music fades out.

How Therapy Can Change Your Life

Not What I Expected

I don’t know what I expected, but here they are: the house painters we’d booked weeks ago, large men with friendly faces and a radio that plays the Classic Rock station while they work. What did I expect? What you see on TV or in old cartoons, I guess: a man in overalls and a painting cap, cheerfully swiping a paintbrush and whistling while he works.

What the painters at my home today are doing is not that. There’s a lot of banging and stripping, blasting and wrapping. They’re cheerful enough and still friendly, but bear an uncanny resemblance to what my journey though therapy has been like.

My first impressions of therapy were, again, not unlike something I’d see on TV: sitting on a couch talking about my feelings, cheerfully swiping the paintbrush of the events of my day over the siding of my mind, maybe even while whistling! But what therapy became was the same hard work as my real painters. There was a lot of work involved. A lot of noise, a lot of banging around as old memories came to the surface and hard-weathered problems needed to be stripped away. I confronted (and still do) friendships in my life as broken as the shutters that have fallen off of the front of my house during thunderstorms; and I am still grappling with how ugly the thoughts in my mind are and how much they resemble the peeling flaking ugliness of the old paint that flitters to the base of my driveway like so many chipped snowflakes.

It is a well-known fact to those who go to therapy that it is hard work, indeed.

A song plays on the painters’ radio: Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.”

Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?

Can I handle the seasons of my life?

I don’t know.

I don’t know if I can either. Actually, that’s not true. I know I can, although the difference between handling them by myself and handling them with a therapist is immense. And so I value the work, as hard as it is. I value therapy the way I am valuing the current havoc that is being wrought on my house for the same reasons: because after all that hard work, there will be something beautiful left behind. My home will look refreshed and bright and welcoming after the painters have done their good work; and I will be able to sail through the changes of my life after mine.

If you’re deciding whether or not therapy is right for you, I highly encourage you to consider the difference it can make. It may be painful at times and it may take a lot of effort in some places, but the reward is something you can look on with pride and love.

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.

Effects of a Prolonged Pandemic on Mental Health

We’ve Never Not Known Together

“It’s like… I think everything’s going to be okay, but I have no idea what’s going to happen next. And like, none of you know either. Like… we’ve all never not known together.” – John Mulaney

The second Summer of Covid-19 and things look…off. On paper, everything is pretty similar to every other summer: pools are open, kids go to camps, traffic is resuming, there are BBQs galore and big fireworks shows for Independence Day. But off-paper, things are different. Take sports for example: the Olympics are happening in this sort of truncated way, with sound effects piped in to make it sound like the vast emptiness of the seats are filled with people, even though they’re not; yet the NBA championships are hosting full-to-capacity stadiums. The Stanley Cup finals were odd in that on the American side, crowds galore could cheer away together while in Canada, only a few in comparison could. Masks are highly suggested in some states, completely an afterthought in others, and rapidly becoming mandatory in places where the Delta variant of the virus is threatening to rage with impunity again. And forget even thinking about the next school year!

How does the ordinary person go through it all? Comedian John Mulaney, in the quote above, wasn’t referring to Covd when he was talking to Stephen Colbert on the Late Show – this was before Covid – but the sentiment, to me, applies exactly. I also think everything is going to be okay, but I have no idea what is going to happen next.

And all of this uncertainty, all of this unknowing… it’s not a great feeling. Sometimes I feel alone when I say that. I certainly do when so many people I know are just taking Covid in stride, declaring it a thing they just need to deal with the way we need to deal with lots of catastrophic things in our lives. And they’re not wrong; there’s a very real possibility that Covid will just be a thing that hangs around forever now, the way extreme weather does, for example. I’m just not there yet.

I don’t know if the precautions I am taking are the correct ones. I don’t know that I’m just delaying an inevitability if this thing really does keep going in its relentlessness. I don’t know when things will return to a normalcy I’m used to. And it’s true that we all don’t know, together. We are all just looking at things one day at a time.

I don’t know that it’s wrong to do that; to make decisions based on the outcome of what we’ve done before. That’s how we learn, isn’t it? We make mistakes and remember (or try, to) for next time. It is also true, however, that the stakes feel higher.

The “new normal” is everything but, but it is a reality. It’s not a reality we asked for, but it’s here anyway, and so the question becomes how we’re going to adapt. Your adaptation may look different than mine, but as we go through our days, let’s keep in mind that what Mulaney said was true: we’ve never not known together. We may indeed not have the right answers. But we’re all trying. And please know you’re not trying alone!

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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.