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  • COVID Loneliness-An Unexpected Challenge

    Loneliness during COVID-19 has become an unexpected challenge for many. Even if loneliness was never previously a concern  for people surrounded by friends and family, or  for people who have lived alone for years without discomfort, it seems to be one now.

    I’ve been speaking with clients, friends, and family and have even experienced it myself. There is a difference between simple aloneness and COVID-19 loneliness.

    What is this about? Why is it different?

    Some say it is the unknown. The uncertainty about when things will get back to normal can cause feelings of disconnection. Some say it’s about how they personally are handling the experience. For example, some have said they simply feel left out because they’re being more cautious. Some report they haven’t reached out enough and that’s why they’re alone more than they want to be.

    The feeling of loneliness is difficult because often it can seem like nothing really helps — or only helps for a bit. For example, talking with a friend is uplifting in the moment but the relief doesn’t always last.

    What tends to have a longer loneliness-reducing effect are activities like taking a walk outside, which can truly shift our mood if we take in our surroundings and breathe in the fresh air; or working on a forward-moving project like de-cluttering, which shifts us into an active state, which is super helpful, because it gets us doing rather than moping.

    What’s also different about COVID-19 loneliness is that there’s not only a sense of separation, but actual separation — and that real separation from others can really amp up feelings of loneliness.

    Groups that used to get together in person may still do so but more infrequently on Zoom, and, given what is required to go out into the world, many people now simply find it easier to stay in.

    In short, it’s the complexity of sustaining contact with others, combined with the fact that it’s so difficult to be spontaneous and spur-of-the-moment, that makes COVID-19 loneliness so different.

    Here are a few tips that may help you or someone you know feel more connected:

    1. Respect for how people are managing their safety during COVID-19 is a top priority but communication is the key. So, don’t assume what someone else’s COVID-19 contact rules are and rule them out of an invitation to a group get-together. Check it out with them. Their rules may have changed, or they may have found a way to feel safe and still participate that is mutually respectful of you and your other guests.
    2. If you tend to invite-only couples or only singles to certain get-togethers, consider mixing it up. Your single friends may appreciate an evening or afternoon invite during this time even if everyone else is coupled up, and couples may enjoy a break from the couples-only get-togethers they are likely typically invited to attend.
    3. Don’t assume that all your friends or relations are doing fine because you haven’t heard from them. Reach out. Find out what they are up to. Maybe they’ve discovered some fun COVID-19 safe activity, or maybe they could really benefit from a conversation pick-me-up right now.
    4. Send friends, family members, and/or associates you haven’t reached out to for a while something that lets them know you’re thinking about them — getting flowers, an ecard, or even a voice memo can literally make someone’s day and keep them uplifted for longer than you might imagine.
    5. Invite your friends and perhaps their whole family out for a hike, paddle, or other active outings. Creating shared memories through these types of experiences feeds our connective tissue.
    6. If you’re feeling isolated, get involved in safe volunteer activities or with community action groups. The added benefit is the consistency of contact with others these types of opportunities naturally provide.



    Giving of ourselves is the most enriching way to feel we are part of a greater whole. And you never know- you might just change someone’s life.

    Remembering How to Fight and Win

    I was struck by the speech Queen Elizabeth made a few days ago to her country about this time we are living through: The COVID-19 war.

    She said, “I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge…and those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any. That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humored resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterize this country.”

    Toward the end of her speech she spoke about the world coming together and doing what can be done to defeat this common enemy, knowing that we succeeded in accomplishing this because we all joined in a global effort.

    She also said, ““We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return…We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”

    You can access the video of her full speech and a New York Times article by clicking here.

    Much has been said in our country about bravery, about fear, about people moving past fear to do their jobs. Our heroic hospital and healthcare workers showing us what a sense of duty to something greater than ourselves actually means today.

    Stoicism and solidarity.

    Unless or until we are in the thick of it, solidarity can seem quite quiet and even private. It is only when people are clapping or cheering for the helpers at a certain time every day that it becomes a shared experience of hope.

    This is important because while news reports give us important information, headlines also trigger anxiety and it helps to remember you are not standing alone: neighbor in support of neighbor, family member in support of family member, communities in support of businesses and businesses in support of community.

    Right now, we are in fact, finding togetherness even when alone.

    I love the Queen’s speech because it recalled an earlier time when people were expected to use their self-discipline to reach a collective goal or to overcome a hardship. Back then we recognized the importance of our interdependence. Our survival depended on it.

    My mother-in-law was a Londoner who came of age during WWII. There was no ego in doing what had to be done but there was pride in the doing.

    She, as did many people of her generation, found herself in the thick of the unspeakable. Doing what she could to assist or survive.

    For them, it was bombs or persecution. The enemy was quite loud and visible. For us, it is more silent and at times illusive, but we do know what it is.

    We need to be sure that we use our wits, think of each other as well as ourselves, find the light at the end of the tunnel and, like the people of an earlier generation, never give up hope.

    In short, we must build the muscles we need to thrive in an ever-changing world. This means not becoming our own enemy. Not submitting to apocalyptic thinking.

    It is we who will decide what our world will look like going forward. It is we who will decide what kind of family, community, country we want to participate in.

    While for a time we will be physically alone, we have the ability like never before to maintain connection and to make these decisions together.

    It’s not that these ideas or ideals related to our collective power are new. But what is being highlighted now is that we must use those muscles–our collective strength–wholeheartedly and differently.

    It can be as simple as having a good attitude rather than one of complaint. Taking our fears and turning them into courage to face another minute, hour, day, in uncertain and, at times, life threatening circumstances.

    Now is the time to draw on the strength that has always been there, ready and waiting to be called into action.

    Our creativity–our ability to think outside the box–will keep us focused on doing the best we can to make sure our businesses, jobs and relationships thrive. And choosing heart-opening ways to solve differences will help us succeed.

    It will all make us more productive and stronger when this crisis is over.

    We are seeing now that we have a readiness to do things differently and the capacity required for creating new solutions. There is always an answer when we believe in ourselves and in our collaborators.

    In fact, belief in self and in our family members, friends, fellow workers and communities has always been the exact ingredients needed for accomplishing our most treasured dreams.

    The Queen was correct: this virus and the weaknesses it has created or exposed, such as leadership, the economy, the environment and more, will be fixed globally. But only if we understand the lesson we’re being presented with; only if we come to truly understand and embrace working together.

    This was only the fifth time in her 68-year reign that the Queen addressed her nation other than at Christmas. She reminded us that we are made of stronger stuff.

    Let’s take heed. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and we can get to it–but only together.


    Source and to purchase:  Coronavirus Collective: Messages of Love, Light and Hope
    by Jeffrey Holst, JIllian Sidoti, et al. | May 2, 2020

    Please check out the other authors and topics on Amazon.

    100% of the proceeds will be donated to a selection of charitable organizations that together are helping to feed the hungry, provide fresh water to the impoverished, protect the innocent from the devastating effects of human trafficking, and spread their message of hope and light to the world.

    Braver Than I Knew

    “I am one.” “I am one!” I am one with the wind!” My heart shouted. Suddenly a hand on my elbow. 

    “I have a gun,” he said in a low tone. “Keep walking.”

    I was headed home from an after-school program and feeling so alive. It was 6:30 pm. November. I was 12. 

    I was in a good, well lit, neighborhood near Central Park. 

    I calculated: just one avenue to cross and three-fourths of a block and I’ll be at my building. In my head: A gun, a gun, a gun, okay keep walking. I can pull away at the right moment.

    It didn’t work. We passed a doorman and I mouthed the word, “Help!” 

     “Have a good time kids,” was all he said.

    I was shocked. That doorman saw me playing outside just the other day. Was he out of his mind? I was 12 and looked at it; the gunman looked about 17.

    We crossed the street. The Central Park side of 5th Ave. I told him how ugly I was, how my father was a cop, how my parents would come looking for me. It was clear he didn’t want money. I had just learned what rape was that year when my cousin and I had snuck away from a family gathering to read True Confessions magazines.

    Sometimes even terrifying information comes at exactly the right time. I knew that if we walked into the park entrance I was done for. I had to find a way to talk him out of whatever he wanted.

    It was kind of like being in a car wreck. Everything slows down but moves super-fast at the same time. I kept talking to him about how he could do better than me, that I had a friend who would really like him, that I had my period, that my parents would find me in a matter of minutes.

    Steps away from the park entrance he inexplicably turned us around. We began walking back to the crosswalk near my building. It had begun to rain. He pushed me up against a car. Whoever invented dresses that zipped up the front unfortunately never thought of this situation. He began to feel around. I had long before left my body. I was totally in my head. How do I escape?

    Then he kissed me on the lips, and I came back to myself and screamed. 

    “I have a knife,” he said. 

    And then I knew he had nothing, and I knew I would get away. I must have kept screaming because he zipped my dress up all the way to my throat and ran like crazy. Suddenly I noticed that I was still holding my schoolbooks in one hand.

    Someone had been sitting in a car nearby the whole time. When he saw the guy run, he got out of his car and asked if he could help saying, “Get in.” 

    ARE YOU CRAZY?!?, I thought and took off across the street almost getting hit by a bunch of cars. I got home and called my parents who were at their Tuesday night get-together with friends and said, “I really think you should come home.” Well, that sounded ridiculous until I said, “I wasn’t raped but…”

    So, I was brave. I didn’t crumble. I got away by using my wits and finally my screaming voice. What if I had screamed at the beginning? I never thought about those “what ifs” until I started writing this. It doesn’t matter. I managed to escape.

    The terror that continued within me was relentless for quite a long time. More powerful in some ways than the moments I spent trying to get away. I refused to go anywhere on my own for a year. Eventually, I found a different kind of bravery: Taking baby steps.

    Each time I did something on my own was a test. Would I be safe in the world?

    When people are afraid it really helps to look at actual facts. Not what we think could happen, but what did. Then slowly take one step at a time toward health. It also helps to talk. 

    At the time though counseling was taboo and my parents, as well-educated and loving as they were, didn’t understand how counseling would help in this situation. No one talked about this kind of thing back then.

    Most importantly, know you have inner strength. That even in the aftermath of the most traumatic experiences, you have the strength you don’t even know you have. 

    Anxiety Hacks During COVID-19

    Anxiety Hacks

    Anxiety Hacks During COVID-19

    Change can be overwhelming enough. Throw in a virus that has an unusually high potential for creating disaster and anxiety shoots through the roof.

    During a time like this routine is comforting. It helps navigate the unexpected.

    And, of course, all we have right now is the unexpected; our routines have gone by the wayside.

    Sadly, no coffee at your favorite coffee shop, no leaving home in the morning to go to work or school, no carpooling or collegial chats with co-workers, no listening to that book on Audible™ during your morning commute.

    So, in order to protect ourselves and others, we must change everything.

    Even though our routines are being thrown off, systems are being recreated, the world is simultaneously on stand-by and everything is moving forward at a fast clip.

    There are worries about health and supplies, as well as confusion thanks to unclear messages about what to do and what not to do. How sequestered does one really need to be to get that “curve” down? Will other people listen and follow instructions?

    Fortunately, the antidote to worry is taking action.

    Why? Because doing something positive and focused helps us stay in the present moment.

    The question is:

    What can we do in the present moment to keep us feeling productive and positive?

    Take a deep breath. When our regular routine has flown the coop, it’s time to create a new one that fits life as it is today.

    First, take a minute. Yes! Pull out that mindfulness video and follow along. Don’t have one? You can click here to get a free guided meditation from me, or use an app like Calm or Headspace.

    Second, remaining in place– whether alone or with co-workers, friends or family – can feel restrictive. Don’t forget the importance of connecting with others via the guidelines required or requested by your local jurisdiction.

    In the old days, before the internet, phone calls had to suffice for staying connected when not in the same physical space. But today we don’t have to feel so isolated. Facetime and other on-line chats let us actually see the other person. YAY!

    Third, make sure to get some quiet time too! Sometimes we have the best ideas when we are resting or daydreaming.

    Here are a few more tips I’ve been sharing with my clients:

    #1 Organizing your day is a great way to feel calmer. If you are working at home, set your hours. Remember routine is stabilizing.

    #2 If work feels like it has doubled because it’s being done differently, recognize that although there may be additional work, the stress of revamping the system may also be creating fatigue. Take a breath, take a rest, be kind to yourself and remember that you know what you’re doing.

    #3 If you have school-age children at home with you, plan activities that you can do together as a family. Here’s a helpful blog a colleague has written that shares great tips for children and families.

    #4 Feeling overwhelmed? Take a walk in the fresh air. Sing, paint, cook, de-clutter. These are all life-enhancing ways to refocus attention.

    #5 Find the silver lining.
    Where are there new opportunities for your family or your work?
    What’s your vision for your community and how we all can support each other during this uncertain time? Someone on my neighborhood list serve needed milk because the shelves were bare at her grocery store and someone else provided another source within minutes. Awesome!

    #6 Overwhelm or fear can cause stress and at times sharp tongues. Family members and friends are feeling it too. A “we are in this together” attitude goes a long way toward decreasing feelings of overwhelm, fear and stress. EFT or Emotional Freedom Technique is an interesting and effective tool that uses tapping on meridian points to help those who use it de-stress. Here’s a link to a good website if you’d like to try it.

    #7 Remember to focus on what you know, not what you are afraid of. Often, that will help you focus on a problem you can solve, and maybe even see the bright side. If you know shelves in the grocery store are bare by 4pm, worrying that there won’t be food to buy won’t help, but going to the store at 8am just might.

    #8 College-age folks or High Schoolers at home? It’s sometimes hard to imagine that COVID-19 is actually more serious than the flu. Enlist them in helping make sure older people in the community are safe from exposure by limiting their own gatherings. Here’s a great interactive map that shows how people going out and about has spread the virus in other countries.

    Remember, this too shall pass. We will be stronger for it, more connected and grateful for our thoughtful community. A shout out to the businesses that are being mindful and supporting us and their employees during this time.

    Be well and stay in touch,

    Liz

     


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    A Different Take on Conflict for the New Decade

    Liz Lerner works with couples to help them build strong relationshipsIt’s 2020 – the beginning of a new decade. But it’s clearly not the end of all the conflict we’ve seen over the past few years. Turn on the local or global news and you’ll see it everywhere. In fact, our environment is so politically charged right now that people are taking sides, sometimes at the expense of their relationships.

    The good news? There’s never been a better time to work on reducing conflict with those around us. Especially those we love.

    World events aside, we all experience interpersonal interactions that cause stress, whether they occur at home or work, or are related to concerns about our children, aging parents, our own health, or just about anything else. Life is full of situations that can lead to stressful conversations.

    When things get heated conversations go awry because of the way we express ourselves. We become flooded with emotion and our frontal lobe (our thinking brain) goes offline. We start talking straight from our limbic system and amygdala (where our survival instincts come from). So, instead of remaining calm and having a productive conversation, we fight.

    I know. Even though I’m a clinician and coach, I’ve been in situations where I’ve acted more from emotion than thought. My experience of being a caregiver for my very independent parents and going through a divorce helped me hone everything I teach and test it on myself. The benefit: being in potentially high-conflict, high stress-situations and remain in control over my words and actions. What a life saver that was for my family, because when one person makes a change, it affects the whole, and everyone benefits. We all want to find a way to have less conflict and experience connection rather than suffering.

    If you’d like to reduce conflict and stress in your relationships, start with these three tips:

    #1: When you’re upset, write down your thoughts and feelings. This practice uncovers the real issue (which is often not what we think it is) and will help you figure out what you really want. Stick to writing about the present issue because dredging up the past will only make the current situation seem bigger than it is.

    #2: When you’re ready to begin the conversation, use “I” rather than “you” statements (e.g. “I feel X when Y happens.”). This avoids conflict from the start by ensuring the other person doesn’t feel blamed – and the calm that results allows both parties to feel heard.

    #3: Listen actively by repeating back what the other person has said. This not only helps you be certain you’ve heard correctly but also shows the other person they’ve been understood. Active listening also slows down the conversation enough to prevent knee-jerk reactions.

    Practice these three tips alone and you’ll be well on your way to a different, more productive approach to conflict in the new decade.