Blog Articles and Resources
5 Ways to Deal with Caregiving Stress During COVID New report reveals caregiver stress at crisis levels during COVID-19 Pandemic
We’re usually aware of our own suffering, which – broadly defined – includes the whole range of physical and mental discomfort, from mild headache or anxiety to the agony of bone cancer or the anguish of losing a child. (Certainly, there is more to life than suffering, including great joy and fulfillment; that said, we’ll sustain a single focus here.)
But seeing the suffering in others: that’s not so common. All the news and pictures of disaster, murder, and grief that bombard us each day can ironically numb us to suffering in our own country and across the planet. Close to home, it’s easy to tune out or simply miss the stress and strain, unease and anger, in the people we work, live – even sleep – with.
This creates problems for others, of course. Often what matters most to another person is that someone bears witness to his or her suffering, that someone just really gets it; it’s a wound and a sorrow when this doesn’t happen. And at the practical level, if their suffering goes unnoticed, they’re unlikely to get help.
Plus, not seeing suffering harms you as well. You miss information about the nature of life, miss chances to have your heart opened, miss learning what your impact on others might be. Small issues that could have been resolved early on grow until they blow up. People don’t like having their pain overlooked, so they’re more likely to over-react, or be uncharitable toward you when you’re the one having a hard time. Wars and troubles that seemed so distant come rippling across our own borders; to paraphrase John Donne, if we don’t heed the faraway tolling of the bell for others, it will eventually come tolling for thee and me.
This week look at faces – at work, walking down the street, in the mall, across the dinner table. Notice the weariness, the bracing against life, the wariness, irritability, and tension. Sense the suffering behind the words. Feel in your body what it would be like for you to have the life of the other person.
Be careful not to be overwhelmed. Take this in small doses, even a few seconds at a time. If it helps, recall some of the happy truths of life, or the sense of being with people who love you. Know that there are ten thousand causes upstream of each person leading to this present moment: so much complexity, so hard to blame a single factor.
And then open up again to the suffering around you. To a child who feels like an afterthought, a worker who fears a layoff, a couple caught up in anger. Don’t glide over faces on the evening news, see the suffering in the eyes looking back at you.
Watch and listen to those closest to you. What’s hurting over there? Face it, even if you have to admit that you are one of its causes. If appropriate, ask some questions, and talk about the answers.
How does it feel to open to suffering? You could find that it brings you closer to others, and that there is more kindness coming back your way. You could feel more grounded in the truth of things, particularly in how it is for the people around you.
Take heart. Opening to suffering is one of the bravest things a person can do.
Photo by Pexels
Almost 30 percent of Americans 65 and older (that’s about 11 million people) live alone, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. On top of that, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many of these seniors to retreat even further away from their loved ones, making an already challenging situation that much worse.
Social isolation in seniors has a serious impact on their mental health—and can lead to some pretty devastating physical ailments, as well. Even though the pandemic is keeping many of us physically apart, seniors can use technology to stay connected to friends and family. Here’s how.
Get comfortable with your devices
Handheld devices like tablets and smartphones are as common as wearing clothes these days. While some seniors may feel intimidated by this kind of technology, there are many free online tutorials to get you set up. You can get great deals on laptops and tablets every day, but especially if you shop deals. Don’t forget to look into webcams, headphones and other digital communication devices.
Play games that boost your memory
Communicating with loved ones is an easy and effective way to stave off memory issues and cognitive decline in seniors. But with fewer opportunities to connect in person, people over 65 will want to explore new ways of stimulating their minds online. Not only can you chat with other people playing online games, but the games themselves will boost your brain. Some of the highest rated apps for seniors, like Luminosity and CogniFit Brain Fitness, have free options and trials.
Make money in retirement
Many seniors stave off social isolation by working a bit in retirement. The global pandemic has changed the American workforce, and seniors may feel too overwhelmed to find ways to participate. You can improve confidence and self-esteem by earning a certificate or license in a self-paced online program. Many of these also offer discussion forums for people to connect on group work and all kinds of topics. Seniors can then apply for telecommute part-time positions with their new-found skills. Having meaningful work that connects you to others can help reduce depression, lethargy and feelings of hopelessness.
Get active for physical and mental health
Exercise in some form is good for everyone, but especially seniors. Not only can it help battle arthritis and heart disease, but it can also improve your mood and reduce stress. With tensions running high these days, seniors can make exercise a part of their daily routine by joining live virtual yoga and workout classes. Smartwatches help you track fitness performance and promote social interaction. You can compete with friends and family members for steps, miles, calories burned and other fitness metrics.
Tech that lets you try something new
Retirement is a time for R&R, but those entering in their golden years during the age of COVID might feel a bit stifled. Seniors can take charge of their mental health by trying new things virtually with their loved ones. Take an online cooking class with your next door neighbor and share your dishes in an appropriately socially distant way. Watch interesting documentaries with your adult children or young grandchildren while FaceTiming on your iPhone. Dust off your green thumb and text pictures of your new plants to your friends or members of your gardening club.
While some people think technology isolates us, through the global pandemic we are learning amazing new ways it can bring us together. These connections are different, but they don’t have to be eliminated all together. Staying social with technology during the COVID isolation can help seniors gain new skills, wider perspective and a strong sense of belonging.
Information provided by Mary Shannon
Research demonstrates our memories are not as accurate as we believe.
While most people think their memories represent the truth, the evidence demonstrates that our memories depend very much on the circumstances we are experiencing at the time and that they shift over time. A large body of research shows that emotions, especially those provoked by negative events, can lead to inaccurate or even completely false memories.
Depression, anxiety, and stress—three mental health problems linked to the COVID-19 pandemic—consistently lead to false memories, said Charles Brainerd, a Cornell University psychologist and one of the world’s leading experts in false memories. “Continuously being in a dark mood makes it difficult to remember the details of your life,” he said. “Things that substantially elevate people’s stress levels lead to poor encoding of events as we experience them, which in turn elevates false memories.”
Brainerd and his research partner, Cornell psychologist Valerie Reyna, have developed the fuzzy-trace theory of false memory, which says that there are two types of memory: verbatim and gist.
Verbatim memory is a vivid, literal record of specific details. Gist memories are fuzzy recollections of past events, which capture their meaning and have a much more powerful influence over longer periods of time. In other words, if you are remembering an event from a year ago, you are more likely to rely on the gist of what happened than remember specific details. False memories occur when your brain attempts to fill in the blanks of a gist memory.
“Fuzzy-trace theory predicts people who experience persistent negative moods are at elevated risk of forming false memories because the memories are distorted to fit a negative take on life,” Brainerd said. “Prolonged levels of high stress from continuing financial, educational, and social uncertainty are a major cause of persistent negative moods. Thanks to the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire country has been experiencing such prolonged levels of high stress for many months. Worse, those uncertainties have been heightened by the lack of clear federal policies to contain the pandemic.”
There is another dynamic taking place this year that may also lead to false memories—the increasing incidence of misleading or false news stories.
A recent study by Irish researchers, which included more than 3,700 participants, examined how fabricated news stories about COVID-19 affected the accuracy of participants’ memories about the virus itself. People who were able to objectively assess knowledge about COVID-19 were less likely to create false memories and more likely to tell the difference between true and false stories.
On the other hand, participants who believed themselves to be very knowledgeable about COVID-19 were more likely to report a memory for any story, true or false. Those who reported high levels of “media engagement” or anxiety about COVID-19 were more likely to recall both true and false stories, but also demonstrated heightened sensitivity to the difference between true and false stories. Surprisingly, participants who felt more anxious about the pandemic were less likely to report false memories.
The researchers concluded that a person’s knowledge about COVID-19 and his or her tendency to think critically are important indicators as to whether or not they create false memories related to the pandemic.
The take-home message: Our memories are malleable and our circumstances have a surprisingly important effect on them. The experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic—including social distancing, isolation, and anxiety about the virus—are all elements affecting our memories during this time.
Many parents have been dreading the upcoming school year all summer, and regardless of what stage you're at in your parenting journey, it may feel like a big looming cloud of uncertainty is hanging over our heads. As many of us are in the midst of the transition back to school, it’s time to really sit with and acknowledge our feelings in order to consciously choose how to model the behavior we want for our kids and teens
No matter what, this fall will not look like anything we’ve ever seen. While it’s stating the obvious, it’s not “normal” back to school and the various nuances of this reality will have a significant impact on all of us and our children. We will have to make an effort to accept that there are no great choices, and adjust accordingly to whatever choices we will have available.
But, how do we do this?
Start by sitting with your emotions. Acknowledge all of the feelings that arise. You may notice that you have anxious, fearful or feelings of frustration, and that there are ways that these feelings are also showing up in your body. Be still with what makes you uncomfortable and become aware of the thoughts about your current situation that are creating your feelings. When you start to notice and accept all of your feelings, you can begin to become more proactive rather than reactive in managing them.
One of the ongoing themes that I focus on with my clients is how to learn how to manage our minds, by accepting what we have control over and what we don’t.
Worrying is the mind's way of trying to protect us from a perceived danger, and it mistakenly believes that worrying is useful. Pervasive worry leads to a spiral of anxiety that at best is a waste of time, and can lead to additional suffering if we do not learn how to focus on controlling the controllables.
Not everything that you encounter can be changed. For many of us, this global pandemic is an opportunity to accept that much of our lives is not in our control, and resisting this reality creates additional stress and anxiety. Focusing on all of the uncertainty can be overwhelming and can make you feel like you have no control. Think about how you might feel if you're in a spinning room. Reaching out to grab hold of something to stop the movement is your first step. This also goes for your anxious feelings. Look inward, and try to name and understand what you are feeling. Notice what thoughts have created these feelings based on the situation at hand. Just this simple act of naming and noticing our feelings already helps to calm our nervous system a bit.
After you’ve acknowledged your emotions, start thinking about what you actually can control. For instance, you may not know what your child’s school environment will look like, but you probably know that there is the possibility of some distance learning. Start thinking about the work schedule(s) in your family and how you can adjust the times to include shared instruction or support for your children. Perhaps you know that your child will use certain devices to accommodate online learning. Look into purchasing, or obtain access to any necessary devices or equipment, or start emailing your school administration to find out what technology is available from the school. We all know that kids going to school will likely need a mask. Use these last few days to find comfortable, breathable, or fun designed masks that fit properly and that they find comfortable. Taking the first step by controlling what you can will help ease your anxious feelings. For teens, approaching the upcoming school year in a collaborative way that includes their thoughts and feelings will likely yield less power struggles and more buy-in to the shared goal of creating habits and life skills that are the foundation for creating both personal and academic success.
Another way to maintain a warm and supportive connection with your child or teen is to approach conversations about the school year in a calm and open way. Check in on them. Ask open-ended questions periodically to see how they’re feeling. What feelings are they noticing? Remind them that you are a resource for them, available to discuss anything that they may feel concerned about or feel overwhelmed by. You can guide them to become aware of and to acknowledge their own feelings, and help them learn how to control their controllables. For instance, if they’re feeling nervous about the virus, talk with them about what measures they can take to avoid it, what they think might get in the way of them doing the things that they know will protect them, and by reminding them to limit their news intake as needed. Beginning to gradually shift routines and habits that have likely been more flexible during the summer will help. Planning a work area that includes the essential ingredients that your child or teen needs for focus and support will also be especially important this year for distance learning success.
It’s also okay to share some of your feelings. It might be helpful to them to know they are not alone. Kids and teens tend to feel more secure when they know what to expect. Try to discuss these differences when you’re emotionally available to answer their questions calmly and thoughtfully. Ideally, these conversations should not take place before bed when kids and teens might tend to ruminate and become more anxious.
Parents are the best teachers for modeling behavior. This pandemic has been really challenging so far, and it will likely continue to challenge us in new and unforeseen ways. As everything else does, this too shall pass. For now, practice managing your mind and help your children to do the same.
If you notice your child is struggling more than normal, consider connecting with a therapist or life coach. A coach can help your child develop the skills that enable them to be more emotionally flexible and the tools that they need to navigate the challenges that they are facing both during the pandemic and beyond. Do you know a teen or a college-aged girl who could use some guidance in this connective process? Visit my website WillseyConnections.com for more information and let’s connect.
Trapped in Adolescence
by Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D.
YOUNG CHILDREN MAY get a little stir-crazy and fractious with one another while being captive at home to prevent exposure to the coronavirus. However, at that age, they are more used to their lives being family-centered than are adolescents, for whom sheltering in place can be more severely disruptive on two counts.
First, adolescence is about gathering more social freedom out in the world, but this offline experience is now forbidden. Second, adolescence is about growing apart from parents and spending more time with one’s peers, but while trapped at home, family members become the only physical company they have.
With offline social life restricted by quarantine, it is only natural for homebound adolescents to seek more online options for compensatory contact and freedom with friends. Some parents may believe that this virtual contact provides a sufficient alternative to actual connection with friends, but it does not. Electronically mediated communication leaves out a lot of visual, nonverbal, and affective information that face-to-face contact more richly conveys.
Understanding Their CrisisThe pandemic represents a crisis, a simultaneous multiplicity of life-threatening changes that must be coped with and, we hope, survived. Crisis can be operationally defined as four concurrent kinds of change:
Just as childhood teaches the importance of building a trustworthy dependence, adolescence teaches the necessity for growing independence, and family teaches the lasting power of interdependence. As important as peers are to adolescents, it must be remembered that they are mostly of passing value when compared with family connections.
Confinement Creates IntimacyThe current crisis is a time to bring family members together. This can be a hard transition for adolescents to make, as they have been focused on growing their independence and individuality. To that end, a first unifying message from parents might be: “As stressful as it can be, a crisis is not a time for us to grow apart. It is a time to strengthen family because none of us are as strong as all of us.” Another hopeful unifying message might be: “We all have something to offer one another to weather this hard time. Let’s talk about what special contributions each of us can make.” Moving forward from these principles, specific tasks can assume a larger symbolic meaning for adolescents: Doing this shows how I’m helping my family carry on.
At a period of growth when adolescents need more privacy and separation, parents ought to consider what their teens might be observing of family life during quarantine, such as: It’s like taking a trip together in the family car, except it’s not a vacation; I feel marooned on a desert island with only my family; or Everybody’s getting on everybody’s nerves even more.
However it’s approached, prolonged confinement creates forced familiarity and more exposure to one another’s behavior. For this reason, the management of family quarantine is really the management of increased intimacy—the sensitive and vulnerable process of becoming more deeply knowing and being more deeply known. How best to manage that? I believe the best advice for parents and their adolescents remains to treat others as you would like them to treat you.
They Can Go Home Again
by Susan Newman, Ph.D.
FAMILY HAS ALWAYS been a lifeline, and the coronavirus has led thousands of young adults to grab on tight. Whether just out of college, newly furloughed or laid off, or a few years into their first jobs, sons and daughters have returned to their parents’ home to wait out the spread of the virus and its damage to the economy. For most, this wasn’t their first choice, but their parents—even those who have lost jobs themselves—have few reservations about offering adult children the comfort and emotional security of home. They see this time together, while it comes with enormous uncertainty and challenge, as a rare opportunity to fast-forward their parent-child relationship.
“My parents are psyched to have me back; they didn’t expect it to ever happen,” says Jenna*, 24, now working full time from her childhood bedroom for a nonprofit organization. “The pandemic has delivered them a gift, although under unfortunate circumstances, of more time together.”
Security and Support
The crisis has frozen the dreams of young workers across the world. “It hit me when I was unpacking my belongings from college,” says Lawrence*, who graduated in May without pomp or circumstance. “I don’t know when I will be able to leave my parents’ house. My plans to find a job have been put on hold, and nobody knows for how long.”
Disheartening prospects can make young adults feel like failures before they have even had a chance to show what they can do. But living with parents early in one’s career is not new; in fact, even before the pandemic struck, it had become the most common living arrangement for 18- to 34-year-olds in the United States, according to data from the Pew Research Center. It’s an arrangement that seems to work better for families today than it did in earlier generations, experts suggest, because parenting styles have changed. Research by Karen Fingerman, a professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas, has identified the shift: Parents have become less autocratic than their predecessors, they have more frequent contact with children because of communications technology, and, in general, they have developed closer ties that make them more appealing roommates. Living together doesn’t appear to jeopardize family relationships, either, she found: “Intergenerational co-residence does not undermine the grown children’s ties to parents or their daily mood.”
Getting to Know You Better
“When I was furloughed from my first job, I chose to go home even though my apartment is only a 40-minute drive from their house,” says Willa*, 25. “I wanted to be with my parents. I felt that if I were home, I could serve a purpose: I’m company for my mom during the day while my dad is at work, and I help out around the house—and yes, there’s more space inside and out at home than in my apartment. When I look beyond the ordeal that is the virus, being home is gratifying.”
Many who have returned home are consciously using the idle time to deepen their connection with the people who, along with siblings, represent their closest and longest relationships. “I can talk to them more as a friend would and less like their child,” Willa says. “I ask them questions and expect their answers to be advice rather than telling me what to do. And they see me more clearly as an adult and better understand my choices. There’s more respect on both sides.”
Alexandra*, 23, is the only one of the four children in her family who has returned home, from which she now works remotely. She’s taking advantage of the time to ask her parents questions about their early jobs and their lives before they met and before they had kids. “I’ve learned so much about them—things I never knew. They have been very forthcoming.”
And yet, there are glitches and conflicts, as one always encounters in close quarters. In the two years she lived on her own, Alexandra became quite strict about her diet and exercise routines, which her parents didn’t understand at all. “In the beginning, it was a struggle,” she says. “My regimen drove them up the wall; it was a learning curve for them. It took a month or so for them to catch on. Now when we’re having dinner, my mom knows what I need, and she’ll notice and admit that there aren’t enough greens in the meal.”
The Ground Rules
Families that have made this new arrangement work credit the understanding of some core concepts. First, simply living together doesn’t mean you can read one another’s mind. Both parents and adult children need to put what they want into words, whether it’s help around the house or more emotional support. Parents need to be understanding of the pressures and fears their adult children are experiencing—and children are equally obligated to acknowledge their parents’ real anxiety about the crisis.
Sharing chores and perhaps expenses is important, but so is respecting one another’s boundaries, especially involving potentially sensitive topics of conversation. Issues like these are compounded when parents and children revert to earlier dynamics. Parents must resist returning to default supervising behavior, and children can’t go back to their teen habits and start leaving clothes and dishes all over the house for mom and dad to pick up. Still, some habits are hard to break, and twentysomethings who’ve been living on their own for years should allow themselves to appreciate the humor of parents telling them how to measure flour or clean a bathroom.
It’s a difficult time. But young adults who have returned home and made it work have been surprised at how smoothly it has gone and how grateful they are for people they long took for granted: “I love my parents,” Lawrence says, “and we’re telling each other that a weird amount.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
A Pause That May Refresh Childhood
by Peter Gray, Ph.D.
A PANDEMIC IS a terrible thing, but it never hurts to look for silver linings. I have written for years about the harm created by our overscheduling of children’s lives. Over decades, we have increased the time that children must spend in school and on their schoolwork at home, while at the same time replacing out-of-school free play with ever more adult-directed activities. The consequences have included gradual but dramatic increases in anxiety, depression, and suicide among school-age children, as well as a decline in their sense of control over their own lives, as has been documented by much research, including my own.
Then, along came the coronavirus, which closed the schools and canceled the after-school activities that have kept children so busy. Suddenly today’s children acquired what children had decades ago—free time in which to get bored, daydream, play, discover and pursue hobbies, figure out for themselves what to do, and think about the meaning of life (children can be great philosophers).
Families are still adjusting to quarantine and trying to figure out how to deal with so much together-time at home. But I have already heard some very encouraging stories from parents and children. I have heard about kids picking up musical instruments they have long wanted time to play, painting pictures for the first time in years, riding bicycles, discovering nature in the dirt and trees of their own yards, voluntarily cooking family meals with great pride, reading for their own enjoyment and interest rather than for homework, and on and on. I have also heard from families who are reading aloud together, playing games, and discovering the pleasures of just being together with no place to go and not much needing to be done. All of this is real education, and it had been sorely missing from children’s lives. I have also heard from at least one child psychologist who has said that, since schools closed, she has seen a sharp reduction in anxiety among her clients.
I don’t want to mislead anyone: Many children and families are suffering, whether cooped up with people who don’t get along well, feeling the crush of poverty in a collapsed economy, or deprived of the opportunity to gather physically with friends. But in our recognition of the negative, let us not deny the potential positives.
My fervent hope is that this pause in the busyness that we have imposed on children will lead us, as individuals and a society, to gain a renewed recognition of what childhood is all about. Children are designed to play and explore in their own chosen ways. That’s how they learn to take initiative, be creative, and solve their own problems. In short, it’s how they learn to become adults. When we deprive children of such opportunities by constantly directing them, we prevent them from developing the self-confidence required to face the world. That is why today’s children and young adults were exhibiting record levels of depression and anxiety, even before the pandemic arrived.
There is also a lesson to be learned about schooling: As a society, we have gone nearly berserk in our obsession about test scores and what we call “academic achievement,” which has very little to do with actual intellectual development. Children spend much more time at school and on homework than in the past, but they are not learning more. They are, however, burning out earlier. They are learning how to cram for tests, but that doesn’t equate to real education in any meaningful way. One thing I believe that parents will take away from their children’s missing a few months of school is that it didn’t much matter. They will not be behind. The truth is that very little is learned and remembered in a few months of school. What children learn outside of the classroom tends to be much more valuable.
I’m hoping that this pause will help us realize that policies that make children unhappy are cruel and need to be changed. Children need much more free time for play and self-directed pursuits, in school and after school, than we have allowed them. They learn best when they are happy and have some say in what they are taught. And their happiness should be the number-one priority of parents and school personnel. Their real education depends on it.
by Deborah J. Cohan, Ph.D.
COLLEGE, ESSENTIALLY, is all about individuating from one’s family of origin and forging a new path. How is that going now that most students are trying to do college far away from campus? For many, not very well.
“When you think of college you don’t think of sitting at home with your family all day,” my student Eliza* tells me. “There is no freedom. I have all the same rules and restrictions I had before. I went from being independent right back to high school.”
It’s not that life at home is necessarily bad, although it certainly can be for students with a difficult relationship with their parents. It’s that this is not how it was supposed to be. Students had made the transition to adulthood and put their childhood behind them. Now it’s in their face, along with the awkward reality that their parents may have begun to move on from those days as well. “I feel as if I don’t belong,” Eliza says. “The bedroom that was once mine is now decorated as a beachy guest room. It makes me sad when I reminisce about the days when I was in high school and had pink walls and glitter lamps and postcards and Polaroids decorating the whole room.”
College is supposed to be about educating a new citizenry and socializing for, and toward, hope. A sixty-something friend and fellow academic, Kathryn Feltey of the University of Akron, recently posted a photo of her 18-year-old self online with the caption, “I am leaving my childhood behind as I search for my life and who I will be.”
This is a generation of students now blocked from taking those steps. The various crises in which they have come of age have never made it easy. Toddlers in 2001, they have been largely over parented in a culture of fear in which worries have ranged from terrorism to school shootings. Conversations about safety and protection dominated their childhood. They emerged from it all more tethered, less comfortable with solitude, and by all accounts lonelier. After growing up hyper scheduled, they demonstrate less ease with creative risk-taking and unstructured assignments.
They want to live out Feltey’s ethos but also feel rigidly confined. The generation that might have the most to gain from firmly breaking away from their families of origin have been driven right back, where they are likely experiencing a resurgence of surveillance.
College students returning home may have expected that their parents would acknowledge a changed dynamic and respect their privacy, but for many, the reality has been disappointing. Eliza tells me that her mother has been scrutinizing her every move, from whom she texts to what she eats to what she watches on Netflix.
Some parents who grew used to monitoring their children’s academics seem to forget that their kids have been doing it on their own for quite a while; others, relieved to be unburdened of responsibility for their children’s grades, have become distractions. “My parents do not fully understand the quiet I need to write a paper or take a quiz,” Tess* says. “I was working on a project, and my mom walked in the room in the middle of an interview. I even explained to her what I was doing and asked her not to bother me, but she still proceeded with the conversation.”
If the dynamics of sheltering in place are awkward, though, students have to bear some of the blame. Specifically, a childhood spent allowing their parents to do everything for them is coming back to haunt some. “When I come home for school breaks, I’m used to not doing anything productive and letting my mother do everything for me,” Eliza admits, “from making my bed to making my coffee and doing my laundry.” Now, her mother questions why she drinks so much coffee and sleeps so much.
Even those who may appreciate the comforts of home overwhelmingly strive to recover the freedom they’ve worked hard to achieve. “I love being with my family, but I can’t do this every day. I feel trapped and irritable,” Faith* says. “I actually miss the uncertainties of my college life. I had something to look forward to every day.”
“It feels like I’ve reverted back to high school,” says Sydney Ocampo, 20. In December, she came home to West Suffield, Connecticut, from New York University Shanghai to spend holiday break with her parents, George and Karey. When conditions ruled out a return to China, she was able to shift to NYU’s Manhattan campus. After six weeks, she returned home to finish the semester remotely. “I'm technically independent here, but I can’t go anywhere. My mom says that when I was at college I talked to her more than I do now. I was calling her once a day or every other day, mostly just to complain. Now there’s obviously a lot to complain about, but there’s not much to update her about. Without the structure of class, I’m really just not doing much.”
Some family situations pose sterner challenges: Megan*, for example, discloses that between her hypercritical mother, who slams her appearance and tells her she needs to lose weight, and the presence of her alcoholic stepfather, she feels trapped, insecure, and depressed at home.
Other students can’t even go home. Having grown up in an abusive family where he sometimes fantasized about death as a route to happiness, David* successfully petitioned to remain in his dorm, but he knows that’s only a temporary fix. “I have been thrust into an unknown world before I was prepared for it,” he says. “I have no money, no job, and my housing situation is not sustainable.”
Despite a loving but now long-distance relationship with Faith, David says, “Daily life is unrecognizable. I have lost hope, drive, and motivation. I go to bed in the early hours of the morning, sleep until noon, wake up, eat, and climb back into bed, only to emerge a few hours later to eat again. I feel my mental health is deteriorating.”
I identify with his fears; had I been forced to return home because of a pandemic while I was a student, I would have been terrified of witnessing my parents’ blowout fights; the stress of their marriage became even more apparent to me once I left for school. Going to college, for me and so many others, has been a ticket to a new life, a new place, and a new self.
Campus becomes not just a new home, but an oasis where we can grow intellectually, emotionally, politically, sexually, and creatively. The forced return to families of origin, Eliza says, “stifles the newly discovered parts of us. Those of us who have been kicked off campus and have smothering parents are forced to hide what we have discovered with higher education.” For David, “College gave me a sense of self-expression, freedom, and independence from the constant fear that had shackled me my entire life.”
How parents handle this sensitive moment—ideally by allowing their children to do the serious work of becoming an adult—will have a tremendous effect on how a generation is able to move forward whenever campus life resumes. College is a dwelling of, for, and about hope. Conversations with my students tell me that overall, the kids are all right. But they’ll be much better off when they can truly fly back toward that structure of hope.
A 30-Minute Morning Routine that Will Clear your Mind and Banish Stress
What you do the moment you open your eyes has more impact than you may think on setting the tone for the day.
By Nicole Spector
Better by Today
Morning routines can be a struggle even for those who are naturally “morning people.” If you’re facing a busy schedule and/or managing a family, the impetus to get up and get going stat can be extreme — but for an optimal day of productivity and positivity, it’s best that we take some time to ground ourselves and start the day on a good note.
How much time? While it does depend on how early you rise and what sort of relaxation methods you prefer, we’ve determined, through conversing with mental health experts and life coaches, that a half-hour should do the trick.
We’ve broken this 30-minute routine into two, five- and 10-minute intervals. Here’s what to do, starting with the moment you open your eyes to get your day on the best possible track. You can do this all before a workout, shower and breakfast, or build these activities around those essentials.
First two minutes: Positive thoughts and no phone
Many of us (myself included) use our phones as our alarms. That’s fine — so long as you can resist the urge to read any missed messages or emails once you’re awake. If not, get an old-school alarm and keep your phone elsewhere. It’s critical that you’re not distracted at all during this routine.
“That split second when you wake up counts the most, because right then and there you can set the tone of your new day for how you want it to be,” says Jacqueline Pirtle, an energy healer, mindfulness-happiness coach, and author of “365 Days of Happiness: Because happiness is a piece of cake”. “Your first thought should be something like, ‘this will be and is already the best day ever,’ or ‘I am healthy, abundant, successful and happy,’ or ‘life loves me,’ and so on.”
These thoughts may not come automatically to you in the morning, so try rehearsing them while falling asleep the night before.
Next five minutes: Mindfulness techniques and deep breathing
Next, implement some mindfulness techniques to clear your mind. This can be in the form of meditation, prayer or affirmations of gratitude.
“I recommend that all my patients engage in some sort of meditation or prayer first thing in the morning,” says Dr. Nicole Bernard Washington, a board certified psychiatrist and the chief medical officer at Elocin Psychiatric Services. “The benefit is to clear your thoughts and allow you to start the day with a clear mind.”
“Gratitude affirmations are a great way to start the day as well,” Washington says. “By starting the day making gratitude statements you allow yourself to focus on the positive things in your life. In a world that tends to highlight the negative, starting your day off on a positive note can have positive effects on your mood.” You can also incorporate breathing exercises to help achieve clarity.
“While laying in bed, breath in through your nose, hold it for five seconds and then release the air through your mouth,” instructs Dr. Erlanger ‘Earl’ Turner, a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown. “Repeat these steps several times. It should help to relax the mind and body.”
Spend five minutes journaling, which can also be done in bed. The urge to pick up your phone or laptop is probably powerful now, but hold off for just another five minutes and instead take to pen and paper (ideally you should keep a journal on your nightstand).
Christie Tcharkhoutian, M.A., MFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist finds “writing upon waking” to be beneficial.
Writing continues that creative flow from your dream life into your day as opposed to automatically waking up and looking at your phone, which can put a creative block and interfere with your ability to stay present.
“Some brain research suggests that this practice is helpful for brain integration because it helps to integrate parts of the brain that involve linguistic and creative capabilities, setting a tone of creativity and balance for the rest of the day,” she says. “Writing something positive — such as three things you are grateful for or a positive intention for the day — can help to improve mood throughout the day. Our dream life and subconscious work overtime in our sleep and channeling that stream of consciousness as soon as you wake up into writing helps to feel more connected and mindful throughout your day. Writing continues that creative flow from your dream life into your day as opposed to automatically waking up and looking at your phone, reading and consuming information which can put a creative block and interfere with your ability to stay present throughout the day.”
If journaling isn’t your thing, listen to positive messages you recorded Journaling may be a practice you’re not into, or prefer to do at night. If either is the case, consider making a recording of yourself reading daily affirmations aloud and listen to them instead.
“To implement daily affirmations into your morning and set an intention by reading them aloud to yourself, or listening to a recording of yourself reading them every morning,” says Tcharkhoutian. “If positive statements about your identity are replaying like a broken record, they will combat the negative beliefs that can creep in and sabotage your day.”
Spend 5 minutes writing down the essential tasks for the day. Once you do the aforementioned practices, you can get down to the business of the day — but before your mind starts buzzing with to-dos, use these five minutes to itemize, prioritize and be super specific with what you want to achieve today in list form.
“Don’t just [write] ‘check emails.’ Write down, ‘check 20 emails in 30 minutes from x to x time,” says Stephanie Lincoln, a licensed mental health counselor, certified fitness trainer and the Founder/CEO of Fire Team Whiskey. “We all have hundreds of items on our to-do lists, and this helps us prioritize just five essentials for that day to not feel so overwhelmed.”
“Make sure your essential tasks are focused on your current priorities,” adds Lincoln. “We all suffer from ‘shiny object syndrome’; the thing that is the loudest and most flashy is the thing we will focus our attention on, but step back and ask yourself, ‘Is this really a priority, or is it just the most appealing one I want to work on because its shiny?' Identify the one task you are dreading the most and make that #1 on your list. Get that done first because most likely, the most dreaded task is usually the most important one.”
Check off each item as you go through the day so that later you, you can relish the accomplishments.
Ten minutes: Time with family (including pets)
You’ve now devoted 17 minutes to grounding yourself, meaning you have 12 minutes left. Now is the time to enjoy quality time with family.
“Set aside ten minutes for family,” advises Forrest Talley, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist. “Parents with young children will find this challenging in that they are busy getting them into their school clothes, organizing school lunch bags, etc. But for those with teens, or empty nesters, this can be a great time to connect before the business and stress of the day take on a momentum of their own.”
If you have pets, make them a part of this time.
“The bond between [pet] owners and their pets is often very strong, and a source of significant happiness,” says Talley. “Including a little quality time in the morning insures this bond is not neglected.”
What to do with those two extra minutes? You shouldn’t have a problem using them now that you can get your phone back.
I write articles based on my experience as a therapist or a training or conference attendee. Many of these articles are written by others who are experts in their field and I share their information as resources for others.