“Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success. Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.” – Lao Tzu
With so much pressure placed on us by modern-day society to earn money and make something out of yourself, it can become very stressful rather quickly. Before the coronavirus hit, most people can attest to the fact that they were running around like chickens with no heads, back and forth from home to work. Now that things have drastically slowed down due to social distancing, it’s time to unwind and appreciate relaxation.
Thinking positive will get you a long way in the world of today. Succeed to be happier and healthier with a positive attitude in self-regulation through private speech. Make better constructive decisions when you think positive before deciding on how to handle any situation. When people make…
Simple tools and techniques from Acceptance & Commitment Therapy
The Corona pandemic is putting us all in front of new challenges. There are economic challenges, because entire businesses can no longer operate, putting millions of people out of work. And there are health challenges – not only due to Corona itself, but because the pandemic strains the resources of our healthcare system, leading to the illness and death of people who otherwise would have received proper treatment.
And as if this wasn’t enough, we also face mental health challenges. Because of Corona, going outside is no longer “just going outside”. Instead, every trip to the supermarket is now a calculated risk, where we try to avoid contact with other people as much as possible. Meanwhile, we also need to make sure we do not accidentally touch our own face. Leaving the house thus means having to be constantly alert.
We not only fear getting infected ourselves, but that our loved ones get infected, and that we end up losing someone close to us. In fact, it is very realistic that we will experience some form of loss due to Corona, and it is important that we prepare ourselves for loss. The constant stress paired with the uncertainty of the future creates a harmful context, where psychological ailments thrive. For this reason, now more than before, we need to be attentive to our mental health. In the following, I’ve compiled six psychological steps you can do to effectively deal with the challenge of Corona. Let’s begin.
Step #1 Connect With Feelings
When we are entangled in difficult emotions like fear, sadness, or even panic, life becomes hard. Every little step becomes a chore, and our entire focus then revolves around stopping “bad” feelings. Meanwhile, we also stop doing things that would actually help us (e.g. like proper eating and exercise), and put our lives on hold.
In the middle of this pandemic, it’s important to not let our emotions run the show. This does not mean pushing bad emotions away – this has never worked well in my experience – but allowing ourselves to feel emotions, without having to act on them. Do not attempt to force “good” feelings, but try staying with your emotions in an open and compassionate manner. Hold them, like you would hold a small, anxious child. Be kind. Listen to your body. Then see if they actually contain information you can use in the next steps. For example, fear or sadness might be a good way to support connecting with others or taking steps to protect their safety.
#2 Connect With Focus
When the future is uncertain (as it is right now – more than before), our minds like to run wild. We imagine the wildest scenarios of what will happen, and how the pandemic is going to affect us. For instance, many people worry about supermarkets closing, and thus resorted to panic-buying products in bulk, like toilet paper, wine, and even condoms (yes, really). Incidentally, many of those same people are now realizing that this didn’t happen and some are even trying to get their purchases refunded (condoms, anyone?).
When your mind runs wild about all the ways of how things can go wrong, slow down and plant your feet in the now. Literally! Stand up, take a breath, and then notice your feet and how they hold you. Now that you are “grounded,” focus your attention here it matters. This is not about pushing unhelpful thoughts away. The thoughts are here, and that is alright. But instead of letting them take over, let unhelpful mental chatter pass, and focus on what is there to be done, here and now. There are many additional techniques for this, and they are worth checking out.
#3 Connect With Others
Social distancing is no fun. Due to Corona, we can no longer see our friends and families in the same way that we used to, which creates a big challenge. We are social animals after all, and the importance of physical touch for our well-being has been well documented. For the time being, we need to give up (or at least limit) touching others.
However, just because we limit contact, does not mean we need to give up connection. The New Zealand Minister of Health, Dr. David Clark, made an important distinction in a public address, where he emphasized the need for physical distancing, not social distancing. We need to maintain physical distance, while staying connected socially. Through the internet and telephones, we can do this more easily than ever before. Call your loved ones, make time to attend to them, while maintaining six feet of distance.
#4 Connect With Presence
It is astounding how much the world has changed over the past weeks and months. Just two months ago, everything still seemed like it has always been. And you might even find yourself longing for the days when you could mindlessly scratch your nose, and carelessly shake hands. Naturally this is no longer possible. And it is unclear how long this last, and how much longer we will need to continue to adapt to Corona.
Right now it’s easy to wander off with your mind – to romanticize the past, or to paint grim pictures of the future. And when you caught yourself wandering like this, make sure to gently guide yourself back. You are needed right here and right now. Life is happening right in front of you, and the better you can attend to your life right now, the better off you – and everyone you come in contact with – will be. Ground yourself in the presence, and gently guide yourself back whenever your mind has wandered off.
#5 Connect With Values
The Corona situation has forced us all to restructure our days. The morning coffee at McDonalds? No longer possible. The daily commute to work? Not a good idea with public transportation. In short, a big chunk of our lives is out of order, and many of our habits that once filled us with pleasure and meaning are suddenly no longer an option.
This creates a problem. Many people can no longer do what is truly important to them, and for some, it is like taking their purpose, their lifeblood. In this stressful time, it is crucial that we reconnect with our goals and values, and with whatever lies closest to our hearts. Again, there are many techniques to do this, my favorite you can find here.
#6 Connect With Action
Many people have now more free time than ever before, because they are working less, and spend less time visiting their friends and family. Naturally, this opens a big window to finally do the things we always wanted to do, but never quite found the time for. And yet, most people do not tackle their goals.
Instead, they resort to just functioning, going through the motions, and continue putting things off. There is no strict schedule that they would need to stick to, and no colleague or friend to hold them accountable. And so a day in pyjamas on the couch it is.
I get it. It’s hard. And this is exactly why we need to create accountability by choice and start taking action. Move towards your goals in tiny, small steps – bit by bit. This is not just about achieving a specific outcome, but merely taking steps with purpose can do wonders for our sense of competence and self-efficacy. Corona is posing a challenge to us all, and we can come out stronger than ever if we are willing to show up as whole human beings, connected to our feelings and to others, focused on the now and the possibilities it contains for values-based action, and then moving forward in a way that reflects who and how we want to be.
You may wonder why there is any need for you to become a modern-day warrior and adopt a warrior mindset. What is wrong with just relaxing and enjoying life? 35 more words
The practice of child custody evaluations in forensic psychology are in violation of multiple standards of the Ethical Code of Psychologists and Code of Conduct of the American Psychological Association, including Principle D Justice. Principle D Justice: The excessive expense and absence of inter-rater reliability with child custody evaluations violates Principle D Justice that ensures […]
No one is denying the impact that the coronavirus is having on our society. Over 400 deaths in the United States alone and thousands overseas, COVID-19 has earned its place in the history books. But the media has also earned its place in the history books for the paranoia that it has been instilling in people’s minds. The irresponsibility of the media needs to stop before the next generation of journalists come into power.
What is all the hype about meditation? Why bother? Are you happy inside? Truly happy inside? Can you be completely alone and happy? Peaceful, and calm? Do you get upset quickly? Do you make bad decision? Do you regret things you have done? Do you ask is this all to life? Meditation and mindfulness are […]
I’ve been afraid to say this for a while because of how it will be perceived, but my favourite book of all time is actually a textbook. Now before you think that makes me someone that you would never want to speak to, I’ll ask if you have ever read anything by Irvin Yalom, American […]
During the 2020 coronavirus outbreak, we’ve been hearing a lot about “social distancing.” That is, when out in public, you should keep at least 6 feet apart from others, as much as possible. 626 more words
Times have really changed during the last couple of months. Countries all over the world are battling a viral pandemic that is not only affecting the human body, but the mind as well. The virus is causing great damage to not only the elderly but young folks with no comorbidities. More hospitals in the U.S. and Italy are seeing younger people being admitted and even intubated! This virus is causing panic and skyrocketing anxiety levels; it has become a psychological war.
It’s nearly impossible to have a conversation without someone mentioning the novel coronavirus, which has spread to more than 196 countries and territories. With over 414,661 confirmed cases and more developing every day, someone in your own community may be affected. . .[. . .]
As every day passes, we continue to remain with unanswered questions as to how we should live our lives. Health officials tell us to practice social distancing and to remain at home, yet this is resulting in massive job losses, economic fluttering and mental health problems. It’s not easy to stay at home after you’ve been used to living a productive life.
The breath as a symbol as well as the direct observation of the arising and passing of experience. The antidote to living in our heads. Helping to develop a skillset of attention.
The real culprit of OCD may not be what you originally thought.
It is not uncommon to hear an OCD sufferer make a comment such as “OCD thoughts are ruining my life,” or “I have to get rid of these thoughts!” This refrain is echoed by many of my clients who lament their unwanted, intrusive thoughts and the seemingly endless struggle to suppress, neutralize, and explain away their thoughts.
The common belief, whether explicit or implicit, is that the presence and content of the thoughts are the problem, and getting rid of them will restore hope, confidence, and happiness.
But OCD is not a thought problem — it’s a feeling problem. In other words, if the thought did not have the accompanying painful feeling, you would ignore the thought, call it “weird,” and simply move on without compulsions or a second thought.
Allow me to unpack this as it may seem like what I’m saying is controversial or missing some important point about OCD.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a condition marked by a pattern of unwanted, intrusive thoughts, feelings, images, sensations, or urges that take the form of a Feared Story. This story tells the sufferer of a potential, and as of yet fictional, outcome or truth about their actions, intentions, character, or future. This story, being completely unwanted, makes the sufferer feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety.
To deal with this anxiety and to get back to a sense of normalcy, confidence, and comfort, the OCD sufferer will then engage in overt or covert compulsive behaviors as an anxiety management strategy. Compulsions can include avoidance, reassurance seeking, mental review, rituals, and other repetitive acts. Once done, the sufferer gets a false sense of security that unfortunately reinforces the anxiety cycle.
OCD’s deception is that you have to struggle with and resolve the content of the thought. You have to clarify, rectify, and examine the thoughts to determine whether they are true or false. For example, the contamination OCD sufferer believes he must be sure that his hands are fully clean, or at least clean enough, before they can interact with anyone.
In the brief overview of the OCD cycle above, you likely noticed that I mentioned thoughts and feelings. Wouldn’t this suggest that OCD is both a thought and a feeling issue? Yes, but in practice not really. People with OCD often get wrapped up in three potential issues; the trigger, the feared story, and the feeling. Ultimately, freedom from OCD requires you to face down the feeling, because OCD is a feeling problem.
OCD can be triggered by almost anything, including things we see, random thoughts we have, sensations we experience, and objects we encounter. Everything that you and I will ever encounter, think, feel, or experience is neutral until we place some value upon it. Meaning it is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. Is a knife good or bad? It can be used to open to letter, but it can also be used to open a person. How about therapy? It is both good and bad. It can bring about profound positive life transformation, but it can also be emotionally draining, time-consuming, and costly.
Likewise, triggers to one’s fears are also neutral. Yet those with OCD and anxiety disorders exaggerate the meaning and importance of triggering thoughts or images as they relate to the Feared Story.
Each fear has any number of neutral associations. Remember the knife example? It doesn’t have just one meaning or significance. A knife can conjure thoughts of cooking shows. It can cause someone to think of their dad’s fishing knife or Julius Caesar. The thought of a knife can also spark thoughts of suicide, harm, or crime.
If you blame the trigger (i.e. the feared thought or object) and label it as the problem, you are being misdirected. OCD, and the history of repeated compulsions, exaggerate the importance of a select number of mental associations. Over time, the other neutral or positive associations are downplayed or ignored leaving the feared associations as seemingly the only associations for these thoughts or experiences.
When you scapegoat the trigger as the problem, you believe minimizing your contact with it will make the obsession about it go away. Unfortunately, avoiding the trigger leads to isolation and reinforces the false notion that the trigger is the problem, resulting in greater fear of the trigger and the feared story it spawns.
The Feared Story
Our brain tells us stories all day. Some we like. Some we don’t. OCD tells us stories too, and they are catastrophic, threatening, and at odds with who we are. These Feared Stories are a combination of distorted thoughts and mental images about the result of actions, one’s character, or an inevitable future that concludes in something terrible.
Some people blame the Feared Story as the problem within OCD. They think that if they were to simply get rid of the thoughts, think the opposite of the thought, prove that the thought is wrong, or simply “just think right” that their OCD would evaporate. They believe OCD is a thought problem.
To their point, treatment for OCD and anxiety disorders commonly begins by challenging the feared story using rational thought to develop a broader, reality-based view of the fear. This exercise helps the sufferer develop confidence that their intrusive thoughts are likely irrational, overvalued, and not deserving of excessive and exhausting compulsive responses.
When I challenge the Feared Story in session, my clients are quick to point out how their Feared Story is wrong. They usually say, “I know this doesn’t make sense,” then proceed to point out all the reasons why it doesn’t make sense, and they are right!
For example, a client with Pedophile OCD (POCD) might say, “I’m not a pedophile because I’ve never been attracted to a child in the past. I’ve never wanted to do anything sexual with a child. Whenever I have the thought about molesting a child, I always get anxious and have never felt feelings consistent with my typical feelings of attraction when I think about adults.”
Here is the actual problem of OCD. The feeling. More specifically, it is the feeling that makes you engage in compulsive behavior, which subsequently reinforces the OCD cycle. Chasing down and embracing that feeling with a welcoming and accepting posture desensitizes you to the feeling over time. Conversely, if you are unwilling to feel the feeling, but instead rely on compulsions and avoidances, desensitization cannot happen.
Remember, we are able to acknowledge that the trigger is neutral, and has a number of alternative associations. Additionally, we are very capable of telling ourselves why the Feared Story is irrational and wrong. However, we are unable to convince ourselves to not feel something because feelings are largely out of our control.
While not bad or wrong, feeling anxiety in an OCD moment is unwanted. Typically speaking, we say anxiety feels bad, but it by itself is not “bad.” It is an unwanted feeling state at the moment you’re feeling it. When we ride a roller coaster or see a horror movie, we expect to feel butterflies in our stomach, feel our heart racing, and feel jumpy. You know, anxiety feelings. But in this context, we paid good money for the experience! So, the feeling itself is not bad, just unwanted at that moment and inconsistent with the level of actual risk.
Generally speaking, people with OCD are capable of combating their feared thoughts with rational alternatives. However, compulsions exist because a feared thought comes with, or takes the form of, an uncomfortable and unwanted feeling that overwhelms the sufferer.
Despite developing a list of rational observations and objections to the Feared Story, it does nothing long term because the issue has never been a matter of “right thinking,” but of an intolerance of the feeling brought on by the Feared Story.
Similarly, when it comes to OCD, sometimes the feeling isn’t just anxiety, but sadness, loneliness, anger, apathy, or emptiness.
The goal of Exposure and Response Prevention treatment is to intentionally feel this feeling, acknowledge this inconsistent emotional response, and let it remain without compulsive behaviors until it passes. Remember, it will always pass.
Counterintuitively, your job in Exposure and Response Prevention is to engage the feeling. It’s the enemy and the problem. The solution is to show that you’re stronger than it by calling its bluff that the feeling is heralding in something terrible and that you are not strong enough to shoulder the uncomfortable experience. You are strong enough, and the terrible outcome probably is not coming. Stand firm and let the storm pass.
Feel the Pain, See the Results
If you are not ready to do this, you are going to have a hard time overcoming your anxiety. But you can start small, and progressively work up. If you are consistent and keep pushing yourself, you will eventually find more mental and emotional strength and freedom.