Your Pandemic Survival Guide

Living through this pandemic and the extended sheltering in place it demands has turned life as we know it upside down and posed many challenges to us all. As the horizon seems to indicate more of the same at least for the foreseeable future, here are some ideas, tips and tools to help get you through as healthfully and calmly as possible.

Feelings

As we continue to primarily spend the hours, days and weeks in our own spaces, coping with feelings of isolation and loneliness continue to challenge us all. The next best thing to the in-person contact so many of us crave is Zoom or video calling. Technology has enabled us to keep in touch and feel some level of ‘connection’ with loved ones, friends, and colleagues as well as providing a means to continue working and earning a living for many. It has also brought us relief in the form of online entertainment: theater and musical performances, virtual travel tours, and museum visits and offered social opportunities including happy hours, family reunions, and at-a-distance holiday and birthday gatherings. I cannot imagine a shelter in place world where these were not available and it is important to note here that not all of us are so privileged as to have reliable internet, good computers, and the time to enjoy these. I do not wish to sound ungrateful for this miraculous advantage that has kept me and so many others afloat in so many ways, but, like everything else, there is a powerful downside which does need discussion.

Pandemic-driven fears and frustrations and its subsequent isolation, despite Zoom and video conferencing, have taken a heavy toll on us all. While many try not to acknowledge or even think about these, it is important to keep in mind that at all times, there are factors pressing on each of us and impacting our energy levels, our ability to take in, process and understand information from our environment, and to communicate. While it perhaps has never seemed harder to do, being tolerant of differences and flaws and going easy on each other are most important now.

Professional and personal interaction have been stripped down and sanitized, relegated to the virtual world, which offers a poor substitute for the ‘real thing’. The experiences most of us crave: a hug, touch of the hand, and other signs of in-person closeness have been deemed potentially lethal. People, once a source of comfort, entertainment, excitement, and intimacy, are now the most dangerous threat to us all. We have had to insulate ourselves with masks and layers of sanitizer (and even that is not enough as we later literally wash off all of our contact) from each other. This weighs heavily on us all.

And, for others, the lack of personal space and privacy are a pressing issue. Mothers are spending day after day at home endlessly caring for children and many are also burdened by trying to carve out work time to keep their families afloat. Dads are feeling the pull of work vs family duties like never before. Children, trying hard to behave, in the face of the boredom and restlessness that result from the lack of structure and routine which school and daycare had previously provided. Anyone who thinks these factors are not, at every moment, impacting our nervous systems and psyches, is simply and dangerously, in denial.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

When faced with this question, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the where-do-I-even-begin challenge that arises. I say, start at the beginning with the basics: breathing, resting, nourishment, talking, keeping an eye on substance use, practicing good virtual habits and activity…all of these can help. (For worksheets/more info on any of these or for a ‘talk it out’ session, feel free to contact me at info@betsyrosscoaching.com)

Breathe

When stressed, do any of us breathe properly? A common side effect of anxiety and worry is a shallow style of breathing that many of us these days are doing habitually. Is it surprising that this virus so often seems to lodge itself in the lungs? At the start of the pandemic, there were a number of videos posted, made by front line medical professionals, on deep breathing techniques to help combat the impacts of COVID infections in the lungs. Deep breathing can also be used to anchor oneself, to calm your system and reduce anxiety. If you don’t already know, there are numerous books, articles, and free videos out there on how to use breathing for relaxation. (Feel free to contact me for a worksheet on deep breathing)

Rest

Getting enough sleep and relaxation can be a challenge during stressful times. The number one offender among the people I speak with, seems to be over exposure to bad news. Many feel they cannot afford to miss a thing, news- wise and are reading the headlines and stories (mostly negative) throughout the day from a variety of sources. Additionally, for news program fans, the sound effects and theme music, meant to grab attention, can be jolting and hard on your nervous system. Protect yourself from all of this tension by limiting your news exposure (once a day for the headlines is plenty) and do not listen to or read about the news within two hours of bedtime.

As we are all feeling a certain level of vigilance and worry regarding the next potential crisis event, many of us are keeping phones, tablets, and laptops close by at all times. To stay on alert, sleeping with the phone or tablet in the bedroom for many has become standard. Again, this is not helpful to anyone’s sleep routine and should be avoided. We must find time, particularly at day’s end, to unplug, let it all go, and rest. Otherwise, exhaustion will follow. All of the news you are missing tonight or today will still be there tomorrow!

Talk it Out

If despite confiding in friends and family during the day and regularly carving out a daily, techno-free wind down time in the evening, you are up throughout the night, worrying or with your mind racing, take action. With the legitimization (finally) of telehealth services, it has never been easier to find a skillful psychotherapist whom you can use to study your own experiencing, learn from, and try out new tools with, hopefully leading to better sleep. Think of this as, literally, talking the toxins out of your system.

Nourish

Feeling stuck at home, deprived, and having to prepare most meals oneself can be a great excuse for throwing caution to the wind regarding what and when you are eating and drinking. Increasing food intake can feel soothing in the moment, but the shift from 2-3 meals a day to 4-5 or snacking more frequently or later into the evening will not make you stronger. Over consumption, particularly in tandem with decreased exercise, will only lower your energy level and resistance, and negatively impact health. Similarly, the doomsday approach of letting go of nutrition guidelines and just eating any old nutrition free junk foods (“if I am going to get sick anyway, I might as well eat what I like now…”) can lead one down the path of carbo-craving and continuous hunger, despite consuming a greater number of calories. While chicken wings, chips, candy and the like may be calling to you, try to eat wisely. If you are struggling with this, there are many online eating and support programs that can help.

Practice Good Virtual Habits

As so much of our time is spent online these days, the what, how, and when of our virtual usage is important. Remembering to get up from your chair, though seemingly simple, can be a challenge as we are spending hours upon hours in front of our screens. (As we sit and sit, it’s easy sometimes to forget we have bodies!). Setting up an alarm or using devices that remind us to move about hourly can help.

Being mindful of the energy required for video meetings and conferencing, and planning accordingly, has never been more important. Too much time in the video fishbowl can lead to misunderstandings, decreased self-esteem, poor decision making and impulsive behavior (A few times, after too many meetings, I have wondered: Did I really just say that?). Try as best as possible to move around between online sessions as well as to change the scenery between longer meetings. Remember, the commute to and from meetings used to provide us with a restful break for our systems. Staying in one place for meeting after meeting does not provide the necessary down time we need to function well. (Contact me for a fuller list of helpful tips to maximize your virtual presence).

Alcohol, Weed, and Other Substance Use

How many memes have appeared on increased alcohol usage while sheltering at home? Jokes about bathtub sized wineglasses, breakfast cocktails, and the like seem to be everywhere, as are Zoom ‘happy hour’ invitations. Other substances may also call to us now with promises of lowered tension levels and momentary relief from worries and woes. No lecture forthcoming as hopefully, you know what your limits are, and you are paying attention to the amount and frequency of whatever it is you using. Moderation, people, please, moderation. Do remember that substance use (including caffeine) can interfere with your sleep cycle, so don’t forget to consider this if not getting enough rest is an issue for you.

Activity

As previously stated, many of us are staying in our chairs, safely in front of screens rather than risk going out into the virus filled environment. The obvious downside is that exercise for many has all but disappeared. Again, being mindful of what you are and are not doing is important. While the gym or studio may no longer feel like an option and trails and recreation areas may feel too risky, there is an abundance of online (yes, more screen time) exercise classes that are free and effective. Everything from yoga, aerobics, spinning, stretching, meditation and more is available now for you to utilize regularly. And, if all else fails, a brisk walk (with your mask on, of course) can always get your heart rate and mood up.

I encourage all of you to try each of these tools and also to find your own. I also invite anyone who could benefit to consider contacting me to “Talk It Out”, if you think it might help.

Here’s To Your Health,

Betsy Ross

You Can Have a Virtual Collaborative Divorce

While during this time of limited social contact, many have concluded that divorce is simply out of the question, others are moving forward in a virtual divorce. Collaborative divorce is a process where specially trained attorneys, a coach facilitator, and a financial professional work together, cooperatively, with clients to help them settle disputes and come to agreement. This more peaceful process (vs. divorce litigation) can be accomplished virtually when in-person meetings are not possible. While working virtually does take planning and some getting used to, there are many benefits to clients in doing so. Some of these include:

-Not having to wait until in-person meetings are possible again to move forward in your divorce process

-You do not ever have to be in your spouse’s physical presence while meeting, which is a big plus for many who find sitting with a soon-to-be-ex to be stressful

-Savings on travel time for the professionals, who no longer have to move beyond their own work spaces to attend a team meeting

-More flexibility in meeting times

-Increased opportunities for taking breaks during challenging divorce discussions and for conferring with a professional (your attorney, the coach, or a financial expert) as needed via ‘breakout rooms’

-And more

If you would like to learn more about whether or not virtual collaborative divorce is the right process for you, feel free to contact me

‘E-Therapy’: Psychological Band Aid, Effective Healing, or Both?

These are uncertain and stressful times and for those who like to feel ‘in charge’ of themselves and their life’s direction, it can be even more challenging. Help and support are available, but, like everything else these days, assistance comes primarily virtually. And, beginning or shifting to virtual or ‘E-Therapy’ can pose challenges to us as we juggle our work and our children’s schedules, struggle to find quiet and privacy (many sessions are conducted in cars), and contend with the ebb and flow of our own energy levels (it takes a lot of energy just to move through the day, no less accomplish anything).

What can we expect then to achieve in E-Therapy at this time? As reported by a number of my patients, many are viewing their sessions as a lifeline connecting them back to their sense of themselves through this time of uncertainty and constant change as well as providing an emotional resting place or ‘time-out’, amidst the chaos. Others talk of gaining deeper insights to previously unknown strengths and aspects of themselves as well as a re-prioritizing of important values such as connection, kindness, and community. Others still are focusing primarily on problem solving the new challenges that 24/7 life at home in a pandemic has brought to them and to their families.

Whatever your need, a psychological band aid to get you through the rough spots or deeper exploration to move you toward potential healing, talk therapy on the telephone or via video chat can help. Whatever your circumstances, life at home these days seems to offer an abundance of free time, so, what better time is there to consider giving talk therapy a try?

To learn more or to set up an initial consultation, feel free to email me at info@betsyrosscoaching.com

To Your Health,

Betsy Ross, LICSW, CGP

coparents

Co-Parenting Questions: What is a good parenting plan for my family and me?

From: LM, in Norfolk County

Excellent question, LM!

An effective parenting plan is created just for you and your family and is not a one size fits all (or ‘template’) plan. Crafting your plan (like making a scrumptious meal from scratch) will take some time and skill. Working with the right professional, who can truly LISTEN and LEARN about you and your family, ask the right questions to develop an understanding of how you have done things in the past (and even present you with good ideas on what might work for the future) is essential. The plan with the best fit for your family will be based on:

-Your particular children’s ages, personalities, temperament, and coping skills

-Yours (and your Ex’s) own personalities, relationship skills, and how communication abilities

-Your past marital/couple relationship style and your co-parenting relationship goals

Keep in mind that all of the above change over time, too, so your parenting plan should regularly be reviewed and updated to better suit the needs of your ever growing/changing children and family. The best Parenting Plan is one that is customized to fit the needs of your particular children, of your particular co-parenting relationship (accounting for each of your communication and decision making styles) and for your family’s work/school/activity schedule.

Talking With Your Children About Divorce

If only there were a fool-proof formula that parents could follow and feel reassured that they were saying the right thing, the right way, and at the right time when it comes to telling the children about your separation or divorce. Unfortunately, there is not because every situation is different and every family (in terms of communication styles, personalities, history, etc.) is different, too. But, luckily, there are some guidelines to follow that will surely help. These include:

Read more

Should Unhappy Parents Stay Together?

Many of the unhappily married parents I speak with talk about staying married for the sake of their children. “We’ll wait until the kids leave for college, so they can grow up in a home with a mom and a dad” is an all too common refrain. The problem with this logic, though well-intended, is that it doesn’t consider the negative impacts on children of growing up in a home with parents who are not true partners, who don’t love or even like each other, who fight or ignore each other, or worse. Read more

A Divorce Coach Can Save You.

You may have heard about divorce coaching, but did you know that a skillful divorce coach can save you and your family: time, money, and aggravation? Here’s how:

A Divorce Coach Can Help You Know What You Need. Many divorcing clients have difficulty sorting through the options and possibilities to pinpoint what is most important. It’s easy to get off track or feel overwhelmed Read more