COVID-19: Surviving and Thriving

We’re worried about our loved ones, our own health, our school work or livelihood and what the months ahead will hold for our families, our communities, and our world. Being separated from one another makes it harder. Here are some strategies that can help:
1. Establish a daily routine and keep regular hours. Get up at your usual time; go to bed as usual. Use a checklist, a schedule or whatever structure helps you stay focused on positive, constructive actions.
2. Pray! Pray alone; pray on video-conferencing with friends and family; pray while watching livestream worship services. Include in this: daily periods of silence – not just telling God what you want done; instead, begin learning to sit quietly, observe your zigzagging thoughts, and not immediately take all your ideas so seriously.
3. Physical activity: an hour or more of physical activity, if you have medical clearance to do so, will help reduce the physical and mental effects of chronic stress. If you are able to be outdoors without being in danger of infection – enjoy a walk in nature. If not, seek opportunities indoors: walk in place; dance with your kids; be creative!
4. Reach out to someone who needs encouragement every day. Call, email, text, video chat, or send a note in the mail – be a light for someone who is alone and discouraged.
5. Check for news updates twice a day – more than that and you are often reinfecting yourself with the same negative news. Even if your logical brain recognizes it as last hour’s news, your emotional brain is again jolted with a bit of fight-or-flight about the pandemic and its consequences.
6. Odds are, you have more time on your hands than usual. Why not pick something to learn about on your own, with family, or with friends as an online/videochat study group? Can you practice a new skill, start a book club (hello, e-reader plus video chat!), or study a long-neglected area of interest? If you ever purchased arts and crafts supplies for “someday,” bought and neglected a language-learning app or fondly recall an elective course you’d wished was your major – it’s time to bring those interests into the light of day.
7. Take some time each day to journal about the experiences you are having during these strange weeks. Writing things out may help you clarify your emotions and thoughts, and help you see your experiences from a slightly “outside” perspective. Close your daily journal entry with a few things for which you are grateful.
There are lots of other ways to survive and thrive as people maintain social distance, self-isolate, and shelter in place…while we can’t control everything, we can exert control over our responses. Pick the story you want to be able to tell yourself, and others, about how you handled the COVID-19 crisis. Are you going to be able to tell a story of faith, compassion and grace under pressure – the year you became passable in Portuguese, started a book club via Skype or Facetime, and became a hula hoop expert? Or will it be the year you zoned out in front of 24/7 news for untold days, slowly becoming more burdened with ennui and inertia?
Choose to persist in faith, maintain your healthy habits, nurture others and grow in wisdom.
Choose life!

Two Old Ladies

There is a kind of dignified poverty encountered in 19th century British literature. Clean, neat, quiet, well-read, hard-working and uncomplaining, these people, dwelling on the fringes of society, are portrayed as reading classics by candlelight after a long day of work, perhaps aloud, while another family member darns a tired sock for the umpteenth time. They take in mending and other tasks from their social betters, and are sometimes invited to large gatherings where they meekly take seats on the periphery. They are fictional creatures, bound up as minor characters in musty books.
My (great-) Aunt Ann and Aunt Marion lived that dignified poverty, although it was the 20th century, in the cold water flats of Jersey City. My grandmother’s younger sisters, their time spanned Jersey City’s deterioration and ended before its re-gentrification.
Passing them on the street, you would not notice them: two older maiden ladies, often arm in arm, purses tucked under their coats in fear of purse-snatchers. Who would give a thought to two old ladies? They kept an extra dollar in one shoe, just in case. They dressed neatly, and well, and cared for their few possessions so that they could be worn for many years. Cursed with a genetic tendency to lose their hair in middle age, they wore demure, neatly styled wigs. Aunt Marion, being a bit flashier, had sparkly corners on her cat’s-eye glasses, and a preference for the color red. They worked in sweat shops and at other menial jobs. Aunt Ann, for a long time, operated the elevator in a business office skyscraper, an opportunity to work in a cleaner, quieter environment. Neither had an 8th grade diploma – the meaning of “graduation” in their time and place. They could not drive. They traveled little, to visit family sometimes. Their tiny apartment was sparklingly clean. They read classic literature, were knowledgeable about history, current events, and the activities of the people they loved. They loved, it seemed, everyone. They were cheerful and generous beyond their means, unflaggingly loyal to their nieces, their nieces’ children, and their children. Devout Catholics themselves, spending considerable time daily in prayer for others, they were remarkably tolerant of astonishingly stupid and bad behavior among their extended family. It mattered not how grievous the misdeeds: the errant youth was, at heart, Aunt Ann and Aunt Marion would assert, “a good girl,” or “a good boy.” After all, look how good she is to her mother; see how thoughtful he is towards his sisters. Anyone whose deity is harsh and unforgiving never met someone like Ann or Marion. The closest they came to criticizing was sharing a sidelong look and a single, slow nod, a kind of connection possible between two sisters who grew up together, raised two nieces from ages 8 and 15 together when one of their older sisters died, and shared the same ancient double bed most of their lives.
Strolling past, you would have looked through them, and unless you are a very special person indeed, you have looked through, perhaps, thousands of people like Aunt Ann and Aunt Marion. Not out of meanness, but because the people of the remnant – that pure and poor bit of holiness – are so often, apparently, invisible. Besides that, both poverty and old age frighten people, and thus we look away. If not away, exactly, then certainly not directly at them.
They have been gone for many years now, and I still regret that I was not a good-enough niece, certainly not worthy of the fondness and praise they heaped upon me. From Florida, I sent some homemade cookies now and then; a randomly spaced letter between birthday and Christmas cards, small gifts that I thought they might like at Christmas. I mentioned, during their lifetimes, my befuddlement at their level of praise for what a good girl I was to my mother, who loved them dearly and called them often. She stopped what she was doing to look at me and said, “Please. Do you think anyone else gives a thought for two old ladies?”
A sad question, that: who gives a thought for two old ladies, or an old man or two?
How hard is it, to give a thought for any other person? “People will not remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel,” is the theme of the “most important award” at our granddaughter’s Catholic school, and one we were proud to hear she had won at the end of second grade. It is good to know that the kindness and sweetness we experience from her flows outwards, beyond the family. Her precocious insight into human nature is something she wields only with compassion. At seven, viewing Goodbye, Christopher Robin, she watched WW I veterans stomping balloons and announced, “They are doing that to learn not to be scared. “ She makes people feel special. Perhaps she has a touch of her great-great-great aunts’ spirits.
The gift of presence is that quality of attention: the attention that lets someone know that right now, they are the most important person, and whatever they are doing with you is most worthy of their attention. (My aunts, having read Tolstoy, could have told you all about it, but only if you brought it up first. They would not show off, and they would never broach a subject that might embarrass someone else.)
How powerful their capacity for presence within their humble, dignified way of life, a life that seems invisible to those who will not look at them. Then again, who would give a thought for two old ladies?

…and still more decisions!

Decisions, decisions!

Our nephew and his wife are considering relocating. Given their jobs, they are employable just about anywhere – so the choices are as vast as these United States. They’ve created a spreadsheet to rate the places they are considering on a variety of factors: climate, culture, length of commute, ease of accessing travel to family back home…we’re looking forward to seeing how they narrow their choices as they visit cities and rate them across variables.

It’s a useful way of making difficult choices where there isn’t an obvious “right” or “wrong” choice to make. Take the job that makes less money but is more satisfying and allows for more flexibility, or take the higher-paying job that provides better long-term financial security? Take a second job or scale back on expenses? Move far from family or stay close? The problem, of course, is even ranking how important the factors are, really, in the first place.

Maybe deciding on a job isn’t the right example for you. Perhaps you have to decide on whether to downsize or stay put, or which school to attend. Whenever there are multiple factors to compare, weighing the factors in importance to you can help narrow the choice. Writing it all down – in a chart, or listing – can help, because then it’s in front of you, not rattling around in your head, where it keeps butting into whatever else you’re trying to manage in life.

Then, too, sometimes making decisions is complicated by stress and fatigue. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed and too hungry to pick something to eat, you’ve been in this state. Likewise, trying to figure out what task to handle first, when everything seems overwhelming. Just doing something – even if you change your mind and revert to a different task – is better than paralysis.

Some people are able to make decisions quickly and easily; for others, the fear of making the wrong decision impacts even minor choices where “wrong” would be, at best, a minor disappointment. If you’re the kind of person who gets stuck in decision making, experiment with some other ways to organize the choices: a spreadsheet or simple paper and pencil chart or list, or focus on what is most important to you as a factor, or, for minor issues, take action and see if that is the better option or if starting in the wrong direction helped you discern, quickly, the right path to take.

Of course, if anxiety is interfering with basic decision-making, please consult a professional.

 

 

 

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Way 28/Day 28: Make it a great year: Corral those bup-ponies.

Oh, admit it.

You’ve got bup-ponies.

You don’t think so?

Ask a little kid about why they did something wrong. You’ll hear things like,

“Yeah, bup-pony, he hit me first.”

“Bup-pony, she started it.”

“Bup-pony, it’s too hard to (clean my room, do my homework, feed the cat, etc.).”

Well, grownups have bup-ponies but we think ours are all very sensible and realistic, not like those imaginary bup-ponies that kids have. We have reasons, not excuses; we are rational, not defensive…Bup-pony, sometimes our reasons are not as powerful as we imagine. They are fears and excuses playing dress-up.

So make it a great year; get a lasso on those bup-ponies.

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Way 26/Day 26: Make it a great year: Live “as if”

How many people do you know who are postponing what they supposedly want to do/be until some mystical, mythical event has transpired, or a change has happened?

They’ll get in shape…once they start smoking.

They’ll get along better as a family…once the last kid is through those messy teen years.

They’ll get back to reading/art/gardening when…something.

They’ll be able to take better care of themselves when the job/relationship/weather cooperates.

…and we all know that when the weather cooperates or the teenager grows up and goes to college, there will be some new reason that makes perfectly good sense, for why the couple barely speak or the smoking continues or the brain hasn’t been challenged by a new author in ten years.

Make it a great year by living as if:

Today, act as if your family gets along.

Today, act as if you are already taking better care of yourself.

Today, act as if you are actually preparing for some major change by doing one concrete, specific thing that gets you closer to that goal.

Make it a great day. Do that 366 times and you have a great (leap) year.

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Day 24/Way 24: Make it a great year: Give people the benefit of the doubt

One way to reduce your stress, reduce the stress you inflict on the people around you, and generally make life a lot smoother: try really hard to assume – unless you have firm evidence to the contrary – that most people are just doing the best they can. The person who messed up your iced tea order, the cranky person behind the counter, the person who mixed up items on the shelves at the grocery – just assume that, for reasons we cannot know, they were doing the best they could.

This means that: you can let go of being angry. Maybe they messed up, and maybe it’s inconvenient, but it wasn’t deliberate and it wasn’t intended to be hurtful. You can try to make it right without being mean. You can let go of being judgmental and then feeling guilty about being judgmental. You can go from leaving the store with steam coming out of your ears thinking, “What is WRONG with them?” and instead wonder with compassion, “Wow, I wonder what’s going wrong for them.”

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

 

Way 21/Day 21: Make it a great year: Laugh out loud

Depending on the article you pick, children laugh 300-400 times a day (little kids – four or five years old) while adults laugh (again, depending on source, 4 to 18 times a day). Is being a grownup really so awful compared to being a little kid?

Laughing releases endorphins – the body’s natural painkillers and a mood lifter. Sharing humor with other people (not laughing at them) builds connections via shared fun. Throw in some oxytocin, the effect of being in the moment (mindfulness without all that concentration on being mindful) and a lot of other psychology and neurobiology – well, it’s just good for us.

Laughing at people – or being laughed at – is, however, literally poisonous. The habit of feeling and expressing contempt changes the brain to make disdain and a cruel, critical attitude become an ever-easier choice to make. Being the object of contempt batters the human immune system; over time, the person is more susceptible to disease and will experience more, and longer, bouts of even minor illnesses. So for happiness – laugh with, not at, others.

Be around happy people. Let yourself laugh.

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Way 19/Day 19: Be creative

Not the “creative type?” Not “artistic?”

Well, if you believe you were created in the image and likeness of God, then you must believe that you also have a small, human version of God’s infinite capacity to create.

Creativity requires skill, freedom to express that skill, and the ability to think outside the box and then narrow those options down to select the one(s) to use. A landscape painter views the landscape: so many choices in terms of perspective, detail, what to emphasize, what to change, what to omit. It takes skill and mental flexibility to narrow those choices and begin executing a landscape painting.

Not everyone’s creativity expresses itself in art. Maybe yours is in cooking, or developing tactical plans, or training programs, or solving engineering problems. All these pursuits require skill, flexibility and the freedom to execute your decisions.

Sometimes people develop a creative block. This can be from fatigue, severe stress, and/or becoming afraid of making a mistake. In the latter, the person has become so focused on the final result being perfect that it’s impossible to move forward because every step might be “wrong.” In these cases, I have often recommended to clients that they indulge in creative play in an area outside their expertise. This way their ego is not invested in the end result. Seriously, even if you are an accomplished professional, can you really take making a sock puppet (or clay animal, or finger-painting or decorating cookies – whatever you might choose) seriously? It’s an old sock, for crying out loud…have fun. Allowing creativity to flourish in one area can lead to it spreading to others.

Have fun!

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

 

Way 18/Day 18: Realize that sometimes YOU know better

In the film Love and Mercy, based on portions of Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s life, it is apparent that early in the Beach Boys’ success, when the stress of performing, producing, writing – and a history of abuse – were weighing heavily on Brian, that he knew what he needed. He knew and struggled to express to those around him that he needed to pull back – to reduce external stressors and focus on what was most critical. The pressures from others – his family, investors, hangers-on, his manipulative and exploitative father, and, later, the unethical therapist who became a sort of Svengali/mooch, all professed to “know better” what he needed – led to increasingly intense psychological suffering.

(I don’t know how accurately the film represents any of the characters and am describing the characters as portrayed in Love and Mercy, not on the real people)

Sometimes we know better than other people. It’s hard to discern, sometimes, the voices of those who really have our best interest at heart and those who have their own agendas foremost. Too, some people are well-intentioned and, knowing what would be best for them, presume that it must also be best for others.

Seek wise guidance. Perhaps the greatness of the year comes from careful discernment on what is actually right for you.

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Way 15/Day 15: Make it a great year – ask someone to give of themselves

Some people are aching to be asked to share of themselves.

They have stories to share; wisdom to give; experience and skills to pass along.

Instead of letting a parent or grandparent sadly give yet another gift card to add to the pile of gift cards, let them share of themselves: ask for time to record some family stories, for copies of special family photos, or ask for some lessons in their hobby or special area of skill.

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.