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At What Point are Politics a Mental Health Concern?

Despite the title…politics aside. Seriously I want you to try to forget your political views for a few minutes. I’m serious! Trust me, I have a point……..

As a therapist, I don’t share with clients my political leanings. Partly because I know whatever I would say would sound ignorant because I don’t know nearly as much as I would like to about the political world…but mostly because it doesn’t matter. My political views do not directly impact my client’s mental health, therefore it’s not appropriate to talk about.

But with the election of 2020, politics were discussed a lot in my therapy office. Don’t worry, not my political leanings. But everyone’s anxiety regarding politics. I have clients who have political views all across the board and everyone, no matter what their views, was anxious. So when I say politics were discussed, I should really say that anxiety regarding politics were discussed.

Sooo, if you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you know that I gave all my clients the same advice: turn off CNN, focus on what you can control, blah, blah, blah….(seriously I even got sick of myself saying these things over and over again).

But here’s why I’m writing this. At what point does a political view turn into a mental health issue?

Let me share with you what happened this week (and I’m sorry but I am redacting some pertinent information to maintain confidentiality…but you’re smart, you can put two and two together).

So a client of mine who I’ve had for many years and I started chatting about COVID-19 and the closures in our county, the vaccine, etc. Nothing political, really just about wanting to get control of this virus so that life can go back to normal. So I made a comment about how I am curious to see what happens after January 20, 2021 (when Joe Biden will be sworn in as the POTUS). I am curious about what things will change regarding the COVID imitative, etc.

This client responded to me and said “Well, you know there’s election fraud”……………sticking with my not sharing any political views stance, I think I just smiled and nodded. And the client continued to say that the news is not telling America what is really going on and that there’s election fraud and “I thought we lived in a democracy” type talk….So I couldn’t resist. After sitting quietly and letting my client go on a bit I finally asked “Wait. If there’s election fraud that we don’t know about because the news is lying…how do you know about it?”….Well, the client responded that they knew about this from a news source (use your imagination, it’s not hard). I attempted to point out that “If all other news sources are lying, how do you know this one is telling the truth?”

Now I’m going to be honest. I do not care about my client’s political views. But what this client told me was completely irrational thinking. If this client had said a similar statement about ANYTHING ELSE, I would have for sure zeroed in on the irrational thinking of thinking that all news sources are bad except for one. That’s not rational. It’s just not.

So I need your help. And this is where I need you to put your political views aside…because at this point, it’s not about political views…it’s about how we’re interpreting the world around us. How we’re interpreting messages being sent to us. Because from everything I’ve learned about psychology…it’s not healthy…so at what point does this turn from not being about politics at all and being about mental health?

How to Survive Thanksgiving Holiday Stress 2020

So I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone when I say that there is always a lot of holiday stress…..my business is usually booming between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Normally, I talk about those two holidays together as “the holiday season” but with the craziness of life right now…I am going to focus on just Thanksgiving. (Don’t worry, I’ll do another blog post about Christmas!)

Alright so here’s what I know:

  • Thanksgiving is happening
  • COVID-19 cases are on the rise and most states have a mandate saying no family gatherings over 10 people
  • People have very different views on COVID-19 mandates
  • The presidential election is over…but not really because people are still debating who won
  • People have very different views on the election

Alright…..from what I know, listed above…this sounds like a recipe for disaster. Like seriously. I’m concerned about all of our mental health during the holidays. Anyone else? Buttt as I mentioned Thanksgiving is still happening in whatever form it may be in and family is important, ya know especially when we’re supposed to get together and all be thankful for each other. So I have compiled a list of tips and tricks to make it through Thanksgiving and maybe even have a little fun!

  1. Don’t talk politics. Just don’t do it. I say this every year and people still do it. I don’t know why. Don’t talk politics. If people start talking politics around you, BITE YOUR TONGUE. Just smile and nod and comment on how tasty the stuffing is. Seriously. You are not going to change your family’s opinion and they aren’t going to change yours.
  2. Don’t talk opinions on COVID. See above for how to not talk about it when someone else is trying to talk about it. But really, no one has any clue what they’re doing with COVID so unless you happen to have genius infectious disease doctors in your family, don’t talk COVID. Actually, even if you do have genius infectious disease doctors, they’re probably so sick of COVID they just want to eat their turkey in peace. Talking about it is literally only going to stress you and other people out. Just don’t do it.
  3. You may be thinking “Oh I need wine to deal with my mother (or insert whatever family member)”. Drinking is not going to help. It’s really not. So enjoy your wine, enjoy a beer, or whatever cocktail of choice…but overindulging is just going to make you hungover and embarrassed the next day. We’re trying to get through the holidays peacefully, we don’t want to have to call our grandma and apologize the next morning.
  4. No one. I repeat no one is at their best right now. Hopefully you and the people in your family are making the best of things and still able to enjoy some time off together. But NO ONE is at their happiest, “living their best lives” self right now. So when your mom starts crying in the gravy, yeah it’s annoying, but give her a break, it’s been rough for all of us.
  5. Okay this is mostly a list of what not to do. But, you can still: be thankful for family, enjoy spending time with these people you’re related to, enjoy having a day (or a few) off of work, and maybe, just maybe forget about everything going on in the world for a little while.

Don’t worry, we’ll get through this holiday stress together. I promise. This is just the beginning, but I’ll have more tips and tricks for Christmas, so stay tuned! Follow me on Instagram for reminders throughout the holiday season and check out the Okay-ish Podcast for more helpful information on how to manage this shit show we’re in right now!

Why it’s Okay to Cope with the News by Looking at Memes

Did you ever have the experience as a child, where you would go to one of your parents and say “Mommmm…my arm hurts when I touch it”…and then your parent would respond by saying “Well don’t touch it.”…nope? Just me? I can remember lots of instances where I would complain to my parents about something or other hurting and their solution was to “not touch it”…….it was the same with emotional pain too. I would say “Mommm, Michael won’t do (insert whatever my older brother wouldn’t do)” and my mom would respond by saying “Okay, leave him alone” AKA “Don’t touch it”.

I have been reminded of my mom a lot lately in the therapy room when talking about coping skills. In this time of an election, a pandemic, a social crisis movement, you name it…I have so many clients that come to me and say “The news is making me sooo anxious”…and guess what I want to say? I want to channel my mom and say “Don’t touch it” or more appropriately “So stop watching the news!!”

So I actually have said that on many occasions, and the responses vary from “Well I have to stay informed” to “I can’t help it I have to watch it”….but here’s my question about those responses…why? Why did me as a childhood feel the need to touch my arm if it hurt when I touched it? Why do we feel the need to hurt ourselves? ……..We thrive off of emotional pain. I could go into details about all of the reasons we thrive off of emotional pain, but that’s a whole different blog post…..the point of me saying this today is so we can recognize how we all thrive off of this emotional pain.

Okay, now if we all recognize that we thrive off of this emotional pain, does that mean we will stop doing it? Probably not. Our brains are cool like that….so we have to actively make the CHOICE to stop hurting ourselves. To recognize that yes, this is causing me pain, and then choose to stop causing ourselves pain…..it sounds simple, but as we all know, it’s not.

But let me ask you this? Have you ever benefited from:

  • Picking that scab
  • Biting your nails
  • Staying up too late when you know you have to get up early
  • Not drinking water because it’s a hassle to get up and go get a glass of water
  • Saying “I don’t need ibuprofen, this headache will go away” and suffering through it
  • Agreeing to spend time with people that you know will make you feel poorly about yourself
  • Going on your ex’s Facebook page to look at how happy they are with their new partner

This is why, it is completely okay to cope with the election by looking at the hilarious memes…because I think we can all agree that the election memes were fantastic this year. Of course we want to stay informed. Of course we want to be aware of what’s going on in the world. Of course we want to help, support, advocate, and educate. But do we want to pick that scab? Will that help us? It absolutely will not.

Follow me on Instagram for plenty more memes!

For your viewing pleasure, some hilarious 2020 presidential election memes:

The weather is nicer…Things are starting to open back up…Why do I still feel crappy?

The weather is finally nice in upstate NY (insert me jumping up and down). We are well on our way to Phase 2 of opening back up! People are having safe, distant outdoor picnics! All of this sounds great………….right?

I have been seeing so many people post on Instagram and Facebook about how the sunshine and warmer weather has helped them finally feel better…that’s fantastic. As much as the increase in Vitamin D helps and seeing people outdoors from far away helps………………….it is okay to still feel anxious. Maybe your anxiety is even worse because now you’re starting to leave the bubble of your house slightly more, which after being inside for 10+ weeks it’s become almost a culture shock to go outside again.

I love sunshine, I have spent the past few days outside all day long…but that does not take away anxiety. It does not take away depression. It does not take away this fear that has been instilled within us for the past few months. It does not take away our worries.

Don’t get me wrong.

Sunshine helps.

Being outside helps.

Exercise helps.

Seeing friends and family help………………………..But unfortunately these things are not a cure.

In order for these things to help even more, we have to continue to work on quieting those monsters in our brains. We have to recognize that anxiety and depression want to take over our thoughts with illogical thinking but we won’t let them. We have to look introspectively, NOT listen to the anxiety and depression, and all those other things I go on and on about all day long that I’m sure many of you are sick of hearing 😉

So go out and enjoy the sunshine. Go enjoy having socially distant picnics. Do this while remembering that it’s okay that things are still hard. They will get better. I promise. But it’s okay that you aren’t out of the woods yet.

àFor more info on anxiety management skills check out: https://maryellendancecoachingconsulting.vipmembervault.com/

The Tricky Thing About Anxiety…

Recently, many people have been expressing the frustration with having to continuously practice coping skills for anxiety. I have heard things like:

“I don’t want to do this mindfulness bulls*** again!”

And

“Why can’t my anxiety just go away forever?!”

I get it…it’s incredibly annoying.

Why can’t I just do my coping skill techniques and be done with anxiety?

I am going to let you in on a secret about anxiety….the worst part about anxiety in my opinion…….it is a tricky, nasty, and sneaky little fu**er.

The second, I mean the second, we let ourselves go down a negative spiral, or fall back into nasty old habits, or don’t do our coping skills, that anxiety rears its ugly head! Our anxiety is literally just waiting in the back of our minds to sneak up on us and tear us down again. It sucks.

But, this blog post isn’t all negative, I do have some good news.

Last year, I started going to the gym. The first day I was at the gym, I couldn’t even do one burpee. Now (don’t get me wrong I still hate burpees) but I can whip out 25 in a row no problem.

Anxiety coping skills are just like a muscle. The more practice you have, the easier they will become. And beyond that! Once our anxiety coping skills get easier and more like a well practiced muscle, that nasty anxiety in the back of our minds? It gets quieter and weaker. It loses it’s strength.

So the next time you’re tempted to go down a nasty anxiety thought spiral, I want you to think “Will this give my anxiety strength, or weaken it?” We want to weaken the anxiety and strengthen allllll of our other muscles, so that the anxiety voice is so weak we can’t even hear it!

The Function of Anxiety

I go to work so I can buy shoes.

 

I mean, there’s a lot of other steps in there. I do enjoy work and I must pay my rent before I buy shoes, but ultimately, I work for shoes.

We all do things for a reason. There are functions or purposes to everything we do. A baby cries

because they need something, and the purpose of their crying is to meet whatever their need is. We go to school to get an education that will get us the career we want that will in turn get us the lifestyle we want, etc. etc. We do things to please other people, to please ourselves, to feed our egos, to ob

ey laws. Typically, people don’t go commit crimes for no reason…there’s always a reason!!

So with that…there must be a function for our anxiety. There must be some need or purpose that anxiety is filling, or else we would not have anxiety, right?!

The Metacognitive theory which is backed by a large amount of research and support suggest that people have positive and negative beliefs about worrying. I don’t think I need to explain to anyone the negative parts of worrying…but have you ever thought of the function of your worry? Of the positive effects it might have?

…People often see worrying as a useful way of coping

…or as a way to “prepare” themselves in case something bad happens

…or as a motivation for themselves.

The Metacognitive theory suggests that people hold on to anxiety because of the positive beliefs about it like the ones listed above. This theory suggests that people often worry about NOT worrying because then they wouldn’t be as motivated or prepared. This theory has a lot of support as to WHY we have anxiety…but what does this tell us about our anxiety?

What this tells me is that we need to start letting go of some of our positive beliefs about anxiety. If we let go of the belief that our worry is a useful way of coping, if we took away that function of the anxiety, would we be able to let go of our anxiety?

Wait a minute, that whole “What you focus on grows” thing actually works?!

I don’t know about you, but I have heard the phrase “What you focus on grows” since I was a child. It is actually used as the tagline for the church I grew up in. Going through daily life, I have heard about the importance of making gratitude lists and “the power of positive thinking”. And then, going into the field of psychology, I learned all about the structure of the brain and different types of therapeutic models and all things pointed towards this phrase………but despite all of this, I wasn’t sure of the evidence.

Yes, I always believed that focusing on good things couldn’t hurt…but I have anxiety, so of course there was that part of my brain that thought “is this just a bunch of bulls***?”

Guess what? It’s not bulls***!

So I won’t go into all the dirty details (because unless you really love brain science, it’s a little boring). But basically, there are these neural pathways in our brains comprised of all sorts of neurons. These neural pathways in our brains are created by habits and the things we do! So the more we do something, the stronger that neural pathway gets.

For example, I never used to exercise. About a year ago, I joined a gym that I really love (check them out actually they’re awesome: burn boot camp) and that new activity created a new neural pathway. The more I went to the gym, the stronger that neural pathway became. So now, even in quarantine, I am still doing burn boot camp exercises, talking to people from burn, and thinking about burn often….that’s because my habit, strengthen my neural pathway….this sounds great, right?

It’s not always great…..what if what you’re focusing on is the death rates from COVID-19. Or all the possible ways that you could have been exposed. Or basically anything scary about what we’re living in right now…..how strong do you think those neural pathways are in your brain?

Look, I’m not saying to think about the bad stuff. We want to stay well informed, we need to look at the tough, nasty stuff to work through those things (a lot of what I do with people in therapy)…

…but if we’re only focusing on the negative…

…if we’re only focusing on our anxieties…

…if we’re only focusing on our fears…

Those neural pathways are going to be so strong it’s going to be near impossible to build up new pathways.

So next time you see someone on Instagram tell you to make a gratitude list…try it. Maybe some of those things on the list will stick in your mind and create a new pathway.

Anxiety and COVID-19

“Excuse me, you’re really going to talk to me about managing my anxiety during a global pandemic? You must be the crazy one.”

As a Licensed Mental Health Therapist, I am getting a lot of comments like the one above. I hear so many people telling me that they have just accepted they are going to live in a puddle of anxiety until this is all over. Well, that sounds miserable to me. Of course we are going to feel a bit more anxious than usual during this time in the world, but we don’t have to just sit and let our anxiety take over.

If I had to guess, we are doing other things that actually increase our anxiety. Some of the top triggers for anxiety are boredom, fear, and loneliness.

Can any of us relate to these feelings right now?…..I know I can!

Although we can’t directly do anything to stop the global pandemic, we can work on our boredom, fear, and loneliness which ultimately lead us to managing our anxiety. I want to share with you some of the best and easiest ways to manage your anxiety during this time!

  1. Recognize that you have anxiety. It’s okay to admit that right now is a stressful time in life. If we ignore anxiety, it has this tendency to bubble up underneath the surface until we feel like we’re losing it! Talk about it. Share with a loved one how you’re feeling. Have compassion for yourself for feeling this way.
  2. Stop reading the news!! Okay, maybe not completely, because it’s important to stay informed. But we are inundating ourselves with news articles with so many statistics, opinions, and hypotheticals. Stay up to date, but put the phone down!
  3. Stick to a schedule. Just like babies have feeding and sleeping schedules, so do we! To keep some sense of normalcy try to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day as well as eating three meals around the same time each day.
  4. Breathe! Breathe! Breathe! If you notice your shoulders going up and down, you’re breathing shallowly which can increase anxiety. Put your hand on your stomach and try to breathe in deep in your belly, your stomach should grow when you inhale and shrink back when you exhale.
  5. Distract yourself. Make a quarantine bucket list of things you want to accomplish during this time and every time you feel bored, go to something on the bucket list. Call a friend. Read a book. Go outside. Anything to distract from the spiral of anxious mush in your brain!

Please don’t put your mental health last. Please don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed, anxious, stressed, and panicked to reach out for support. Right now, (not all) but most insurance companies are even waiving copays for mental health therapy to meet the growing needs of the community.