“We’re all just making this up as we go along”, a very dear friend told me recently regarding the quarantine. These resounding words have stuck with me not only in my personal life, but my professional life as well. All of my clients, regardless of their circumstances, are making this up as they go along. All of us collectively are leaning into a huge amount of vulnerability, not knowing what the rest of the year will look like.
In lieu of social distancing and the extension of the quarantine, staying at home way more than leaving has become a new norm. We have become accustomed to isolating ourselves with our living partners. We have also been deprived of the external stimulation we were experiencing the first two months of 2020 (especially in Austin where there is external stimulation galore!!).
Through months of hard experience as well as the beautiful stories of hope my clients give me, I have made a list of tips for us to do in order to better cope with the harsh reality of quarantine. As a society, we are perhaps more in need of healthy connections, self-reflection, and coping strategies now more than we ever have been. Below are five helpful ways to adapt to social distancing so that we are alone but not lonely.
Take Time for Ourselves (TV, gaming, “you” time)
What does this look like for you? Taking time for myself means watching my favorite movie or bingeing a favorite TV show. My partner is a huge gamer and self-care for him looks like playing his favorite game. The point is to DISCONNECT. Disconnect from work emails, news sources, endless desk time that our bodies were not made for. Disconnecting from the “outside world” gives your mind and body a much-needed pause and recharge.
Zoom or FaceTime a Friend or Family Member
What does your social support look like in these strange times? We have all become so isolated with social distance. But the thing to remember with social distancing is: Just because we are social distancing does not mean we should emotionally distance. Check on a friend you have not talked to in a while. Call a family member you are rekindling a relationship with. Facetime a former coworker you had a great relationship with! Our friends and family need to be checked in on just as much as we do.
Re-Evaluate Your Mental Health
Realistically, most of us have been struggling long before the pandemic. Whether it has been anxiety, depression, relationship issues, bipolar, ADHD, any kind of mental struggle has undoubtedly been exacerbated by staying quarantined. Being deprived of the things that have brought us joy our whole lives will bring some kind of sadness, grief, or anxiety. Our mental health matters more so now than it ever has. If you need a therapist, by all means reach out to Austin Family Counseling! We have virtual counseling to ensure the safety of all of our clients.
Re-Evaluation of Self-Care
What does self-care look like for you in quarantine? We have been forced to change our methods of taking care of ourselves. Things like going to the gym, going to concerts, going to your favorite museum (some self-care methods I used to engage in prior to the pandemic), are now changed, and we are having to be very creative. Things like going for a run, discovering new bands, and watching live concerts online all have become my new norm as they are the safest and most socially distant alternatives to my former ways of self-care.
Adopt an Animal
Studies show that having an animal improves our overall happiness and quality of life. In times like these, life quality improvement is an absolute must! There are so many animals in Austin that need homes. And if we are stuck at home most of the time, why not have a furry human to keep us company?! Austin Animal Center, Austin Pets Alive!, and Austin Humane Society are all places that are open during pandemic and are actively allowing pet parents to adopt and foster pets!
Therapy can often feel like a very mystical and unknown affair. Many of us know about therapy or know someone who has gone to therapy, but unless we have experienced therapy for ourselves, it can be hard to know what actually goes on during a therapy session or what starting therapy looks like. This can sometimes hinder us from going to therapy ourselves as it can feel very overwhelming.
Where to Start…
The first step in going to therapy, which is deciding whether or not you feel that you are ready for it, is usually the biggest step. This can take a very small amount of time for some, or a much longer time for others. This journey is completely yours, so it can be good to check in with yourself about whether or not you feel ready to start your therapeutic journey.
After that the next step in starting therapy is usually finding a therapist. There can be a lot of things to take into consideration when finding a therapist that might be a good fit for you. Things like whether or not they take insurance, their location, availability, or speciality are all good things to think about. You might also find comfort in reading a little about the different therapists you are considering. Most therapists have introductions about themselves on the internet so you can get a better understanding of what they are like. This can make a huge difference in your connection and relationship with your therapist.
After you find a therapist that is a good fit for you, the next step is scheduling your first appointment! This is such an exciting, but also scary thing! It takes so much courage to start something new, especially something as vulnerable as therapy. In this time it can be helpful to take time to appreciate the steps you are taking to invest in the quality of your life.
What Will the First Appointment Look Like?
Once you have made your first appointment you will usually sign a variety of forms just like you would for a doctor’s appointment! The therapist will also let you know where their office is located, or in the current state of the world, what video streaming service they will be calling you from and you will be set to go.
Each therapist has their own individual approach to counseling so no two sessions will be exactly alike. However, usually the first session is similar to a get to know you event. There is a lot of time spent on getting comfortable with each other and sharing basic information about yourself. There might be some talk about what you hope to achieve in counseling so that you have an idea of what counseling may look like.
Something to Keep in Mind
From this point, everyone’s counseling journey is so diverse and beautiful! You will develop a place in counseling where you feel safe to be authentically yourself. Some sessions might include a lot of emotions and healing, others might be a time to decompress and process what is going on in your life right now. Therapy is a journey and it looks different for everyone, but through this journey you may feel more like yourself than you ever have before.
**note: the words “therapy” & “counseling” can be used interchangeably (and are done so above).
Discovering the truth about ourselves is a lifetime’s work, but it’s worth the effort.
Curious about what this experience is like as a therapist? Check out this blog here!
Written by: Danielle Peartree, Office Manager Extraordinaire
It’s no secret that things are wonky right now…to say the very least…
When people go in public, they’re sporting a new accessory…the face mask
AND if someone isn’t wearing one, you definitely notice it
Overnight, parents became home-school teachers, activity providers, house keepers, workers/providers, partners, and caretakers…need I say more?
2020 graduates aren’t having an in-person graduation to celebrate a milestone of their lives
Iconic Austin restaurants are starting announcing permanent closures
Because of shelter-in-place & social distancing…regular facetime with friends, family, and loved ones is either REALLY limited or not happening at all
I could go on, however, that doesn’t seem necessary. What is necessary, though, is how you feel in your body RIGHT NOW after reading that list. That sensation (whatever it may be) is happening because everything listed above is a lot to manage…especially because nobody was expecting a pandemic, and even if we were, we are all first-timers at this and adjusting to new things is often scary. There are a lot of big feelings that have been happening (for everyone) and those big feelings can be confusing…scary…unwelcomed…helpful…they can be all over the place, really, and learning how to navigate all of that is MUCH easier said than done, however, it is 100% doable with various mindfulness practices.
In my dear friend, Katy Manganella’s, blog on establishing a mindfulness practice, she defined mindfulness as “simply the practice of coming into the present moment”. Again…that can be a lot easier said than done, however, there are practical mindfulness tips & tricks below to help you navigate the world of feeling your feelings and looking for ways to ground yourself (especially during a particularly uncertain time).
…yes! Start here! While this may feel like a silly (and oversimplified) suggestion, it’s arguably one of the easiest ways to start practicing mindfulness. Most of the time, we are breathing pretty shallowly…in fact, the last time a lot of us took an intentional deep breath was when a doctor had a stethoscope touching our chest or back and directed you to take deep breaths. Below are a few easy, simple ways to practice intentional, mindful, deep breathing.
This is an easy technique that involves intentionally breathing in for a particular count (for example, 3)…so you breathe in (1, 2, 3) hold your breath (1, 2, 3) exhale (1, 2, 3), hold (1, 2, 3) and repeat. This article has a great video for a guided visual for help with box breathing.
Another way to intentional breathe is to inhale for a particular count (let’s say 5) and exhale for a longer amount of time (let’s say 7). This is a GREAT way to help calm your nervous system.
Some people may try these out and realize they are still breathing shallowly…a way to learn how to breathe deeply & intentionally is to lie down on your back, put a book on your belly (probably something not too heavy) and breathe in and out with the intention of making the book move. This will require some work…and may not be the best technique for someone who has experienced trauma.
Tune into Your Senses
Another mindfulness tip is to tune into your senses. We are CONSTANTLY taking in sensory information and are typically in autopilot. Give yourself an opportunity to focus on one of your senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, or taste) and focus ONLY on that one sense for 2 minutes (set a timer if you need to so you’re not focused on the time the entire time).
For example, if I was focusing on touch in this very moment–I would notice:
My computer (not a very mindful thing…but figured I’d be honest)
The keys feel different than the touch pad
The texture of the couch I’m sitting on
The soft, fuzzy blanket next to me
My dog’s fur
…I was actively noticing those (although admittedly, I was distracted because I’m writing this), however, it was a nice moment to truly slow down. Give yourself permission to slow down and notice things around you.
Things to keep in mind: Taste may NOT be the best sense to focus on…and if you choose smell–know that it’s okay if you don’t smell anything. Don’t force it. Rather, notice what it’s like to not smell anything in that moment. It sounds woo-woo (and maybe it is), but I promise there’s a method to my madness.
Pay Attention to Your Body
…which is another tip that’s easier said than done. For as long as I can remember, I have heard phrases like “I had a gut feeling…” or “…that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up!” It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I understood that that was our bodies communicating messages to us (I promise…method to my madness) and it wasn’t until my late 20s (and MAYBE even my 30s) that I truly understand what that meant.
Even though I’m actively living what you are right now…a global pandemic…and I’m 100% aware of things that are happening around us, when I wrote the list out of changes that are happening all around us, I had a physical reaction to it…I felt a pit in my stomach and a heaviness in my chest…and as I sat with that for a while…I was able to name what was going on: feeling sad (about things happening around us), curious/anxious (about the future), and even a little stuck (because of the uncertainty of the future). That can feel like an overwhelming amount of information to realize from simply noticing a sensation in your body…and some days, it is.
However, the more you notice physical sensations that are happening, the more you can name what feeling(s) you’re experiencing, and the more you can access (and hopefully name!) what you’re needing…otherwise you might just feel foggy, agitated, anxious…or all of the above and feel like you just can’t shake what’s happening inside of you.
Side note: The Emotionary is a book of words that don’t exist for feelings that do. It’s NOT child-friendly and is a fun, great way to access some of the mixed/morphed/big feelings you have.
What comes to mind when you hear the word “meditation”? I called my best friend (a business attorney…so someone who is NOT in the mental health world) and she made a joke about lighting incense, holding hands, and chanting…while that can paint the picture of what meditation looks like for some people, that’s not what it’s always like (I promise!). You can google “guided meditation” and be gifted with SO many options–which is great! You can find meditations for specific purposes (e.g.: waking up or relaxing) or a particular amount of time (e.g.: 2 minutes or 20 minutes). Mindfulness
Note: This is not kid-friendly and uses profanity.
By definition, self-compassion involves “extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering” (for more information on it, check out Kristin Neff’s work!) I know I’ve repeated myself a few times now…but this is DEFINITELY easier said than done. An easy way to start practicing self-compassion is simply by using the word “and”.
“I feel like a failure as a parent right now….AND I’m doing the best that I can”
“I feel really anxious because of the uncertainty around us…AND thank goodness I have a therapist I can talk to about these feelings”
I’m so upset that I don’t get to have a normal graduation…AND I am grateful for ways I can celebrate in the future”
“I love my family, but am SO tired of being around them/I feel like I need a break…AND that’s okay!”
See what I did that? That’s self-compassion in a nutshell. It’s SO easy to get caught up in negative self-talk (especially when we’re surrounded by stress, anxiety, and scarcity thinking)…rather than getting bound to black-and-white & all-or-nothing thinking, embrace the beauty of “and” andallow multiple experiences to happen at once. After all, that IS the human condition…right?
You might read some of the tips & tricks and think “YES! This sounds perfect” and others you might be more like “Nope…no thanks”. Both of those reactions are completely fine and to-be-expected. Whatever tip or trick you gravitate towards, try incorporating that into your life on a regular basis…the more practice you have doing it on the daily, the more likely you will be able to pull that out of your toolbox when you’re feeling a lot of big feelings and are needing something to ground you.