May 22, 2021
May is Mental Health month. If you still have your mental health after these last 14 months, kudos to you! (And if you don’t, give me a call.) It’s nice they picked a month with some holidays and plenty of sunshine, which generally tend to improve everyone’s mental health.
April was both Alcohol Awareness and Stress Awareness month. I’m sure there’s a joke in there, but I’ll just observe that last month I was hearing from many people who were feeling more stressed, yet not quite sure why. Pandemic fatigue? An article by Adam Grant in the NYT that resonated for many people, myself included, described “languishing,” a state somewhere between bad and optimal, not “stressed and depressed” but not exactly “flourishing.”
Being vaccinated and being able to finally get together with friends and family, in person, does wonders for one’s mental health, as I can attest. Even introverts need hugs. Although, with the easing of pandemic restrictions come new worries. The recent CDC announcement that masks are no longer required for the vaccinated came as a surprise to many, even epidemiologists and public health officials, so the confusion and uncertainty continue.
Many people are expressing a desire to hang on to some of the rituals and habits that were created out of necessity during the pandemic shelter-in-place: enjoying a slower pace, and simple pursuits like baking, reading, game nights with family, taking daily walks. If you found a silver lining in this past year, can you incorporate its benefits into your life going forward?
According to my sources, telehealth benefits are likely to continue through 2021, so clients whose therapy is covered by their health insurance should be able to continue with phone or video sessions. One change is that copays are back, after being suspended in April 2020.
Are in-office sessions back? Only on a limited, case-by-case basis. Even though I’m vaccinated and most of my clients are, vaccination doesn’t confer immunity, and some clients are immune-compromised or live with someone who is. While many indoor activities are beginning to be allowed, sitting in a closed room without outside ventilation for an hour, with someone from outside your household, is still considered somewhat risky. Meanwhile, the majority of my clients who have been using telehealth are satisfied with it and willing to continue.
Mindfulness classes will resume in September. Meanwhile, the Keeping Mindful monthly drop-in meditation group met in person this month, in a park, and we agreed to keep doing so as long as the weather and air quality conditions allow. Our next meeting will be Tuesday, June 15. If you’d like to attend, please register online and you will receive directions to the park.
Resources for Re-entry
- This blog post by one of my favorite teachers, Oren Jay Sofer, Opening Up Wisely, offers some trauma-informed guidance for re-entering the world in a way that respects your need to feel safe while challenging you to step out of your comfort zone.
- Book recommendation: Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind Written by psychotherapist Jennifer Shannon, this book shows you how to stop anxious thoughts from taking over using proven-effective cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and mindfulness techniques, as well as fun illustrations.
- Brief Mindfulness Practices for Caregivers This is a handout I created for a talk on mindfulness I gave recently for a family caregivers support group. It lists over a dozen simple mindfulness practices that you can do in 1 – 5 minutes, so “no time” is no excuse!
February 24, 2021
We are coming up on a year since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation full-force, causing the shut down of schools and businesses and forcing most of us to shelter-in-place. And it’s not over yet. As that reality sinks in, it’s easy to feel discouraged, depressed, even despairing.
It might help to reflect a little, on how this year has changed us, individually and collectively. Taking inventory not just of our losses, but also what we may have gained: perhaps a new perspective, or a greater tolerance for uncertainty, or a newfound ability to be patient, or more appreciation for simple pleasures that we used to take for granted. You can read more about how this year has changed us here.
I continue to be impressed by the resilience and resourcefulness of my patients and students. I’ve attempted to compile the lessons they’ve taught me, and those I’ve shared with them over the year, in a list of Tips for Staying Sane During a Pandemic (below).
Perhaps “Breathe!” should have been the first tip. Breathing is one of those automatic processes that we usually take for granted and are often unaware of, until we can’t breathe for some reason, or until someone or something brings it to our attention. Although breathing is automatic, and we’ve been breathing all our lives, it’s possible we’re not breathing as optimally as we could. Turns out there really are better, and worse, ways to breathe. You can read more about breathing here.
This spring I will offer once again the 8-week Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy course, for the relief of anxiety, worry, and depression, as well as an 8-week Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention course, for people in recovery from addiction or substance abuse. MBCT will meet on Tuesdays in April and May, with MBRP meeting on Thursdays. For more info/to enroll in either course.
Tips for Staying Sane During a Pandemic
- Find a way to put things in perspective. Try to take a step back and bring a wide-angle view to observe what’s happening, without getting caught up in it.
- Remember other times of adversity in your life and remind yourself that you got through them. Tell yourself, “I’m a survivor, I can do this!”
- Prioritize what’s most important to your health and mental health, and organize your time and activities around that. For most of us, this includes getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, making healthy food choices, seeking out social support, and finding a sense of meaning or purpose for our lives.
- Get comfortable with change. If you can, embrace your current circumstances, even as you wish for them to be different in the future. This will allow you to see opportunities, not just threats, in the midst of the crisis.
- Allow yourself to notice and celebrate moments of joy in the midst of suffering. Joy and happiness can co-exist with pain and loss, this is one of the great paradoxes of life. Too often we simply skip over pleasant experiences, while dwelling on negative ones.
November 23, 2020
Greetings of the cancelled holiday season! This year Halloween didn’t happen, and now we’re facing Thanksgiving without family gatherings. What’s next, Christmas without crowded shopping malls? We need to take a breath, and remind ourselves that many people already didn’t celebrate these holidays, others found little joy in them, and all of us can survive a year of being alone or without seeing loved ones for the holidays, in the interest of SAVING LIVES. Especially now that we have Zoom.
The good news: we have a new President, who has stated his intention to serve ALL Americans, whether they voted for him or not. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be? And a new VP who is an inspiration in many ways. They believe in climate science, public health and education, diversity and inclusion, and that we can come together as a nation to shut down COVID-19, without shutting down the economy.
Are you feeling hopeful yet? Or are you still feeling so traumatized from the effects of having a malignant narcissist in the White House these past four years that you need to start with healing yourself? In anticipation that you might be feeling that way, I’ve written an article on Healing the Effects of Toxic Narcissism.
Every year at this time I publish my Tips for Surviving the Holidays: 1) Limit your consumption, whether of alcohol, food, or material goods; 2) Put your anxious or angry energy into action by donating your time to help those who are suffering; 3) Be kind, especially to yourself as well as others; and 4) spend some time in quiet contemplation, preferably in nature. Even in this most unusual year, all of those tips ring true.
This year I will also acknowledge the hardships of holidays during a pandemic, especially for those who live alone, but for all of us who can’t travel or host visiting friends and family, and who may not be able to enjoy our usual holiday rituals and activities. Keep reading for some creative ideas for home-alone holiday enjoyment.
Finally, I am excited to announce that I have updated my Mindfulness East Bay website with an Event Calendar and online registration for the online classes and groups I’m offering, beginning next month and into 2021. These include the monthly drop-in meditation group, an Introduction to Mindfulness workshop, a Mindfulness for Beginners class, and the MBCT course. Please take a look, and help me get the word out by sharing on your social media!
Home Alone Holiday Enjoyment
- Cellist Yo-Yo Ma performs Songs of Comfort and Hope, online via Cal Performances at Home. Premieres Nov 27 and available on demand until Dec 12.
- Broadway Holiday at the Drive-In: A cast of Broadway performers sing and dance their way through favorite holiday tunes, on the big screen, as the Sonoma Raceway is transformed into a drive-in movie theater, Dec 11-13.
- Here’s an extensive list of other events, e.g. holiday lights at the Ruth Bancroft Gardens and at Filoli, and many live-streamed performances, including ACT’s A Christmas Carol.
- This is the year to learn how to knit, crochet, macrame, or quilt, and there are lots of YouTube videos to show you how. Research has shown that finding activities which bring a sense of mastery or pleasure, or both, help significantly to relieve depression. So do it for yourself first, and if you get good enough, then you can make gifts for others.
- And we’ll always have Paris! Here are some great ideas for how to pretend you’re in Paris.
September 30, 2020
Autumn is here, school has started, and yet students are still stuck at home. We have passed the six-month mark for the global pandemic, with no end in sight, and yet some people persist in their denial that COVID-19 even exists, let alone that it has killed over 200,000 Americans.
There have been so many losses this year: loved ones, jobs, regular routines, social connection, truth, freedoms we took for granted, hugs. Grief is present in us, though often experienced as anger or depression. There have also been new beginnings: I know people with new jobs, homes, babies, puppies. I’ve begun teaching a new 8-week Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy class, online.
Reflections on the Harvest: The full moon on October 1 is known as the Harvest Moon. I’m reading Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a SUNY professor of environmental science and an enrolled member of the Potawatomi Nation. She talks about the Native American principle of the “Honorable Harvest.” Reading the guidelines of an honorable harvest, I was struck by how much we as a nation have lost, because the founders and early settlers failed to listen to and abide by what the native people knew about taking only what you need.
Reflections on uncertainty, and hope: On the last day of October, Halloween, there will be another full moon. It’s rare to have two full moons in a month, so its name, Blue Moon, is how we refer to events that hardly ever happen. Halloween falling on a Saturday, with a full moon, AND during a pandemic, is certainly one of those events – who knows what will happen? Four days after that is Election Day: will we have a once-in-a-blue-moon election? I can’t remember a more politically charged environment leading up to an election in my lifetime.
I’ll close with these words from a wise friend: “We live in extraordinary times, times that demand extraordinary responses. Holding on to hope won’t be easy, but holding on to hope is a must.” And to show us the way, here is Buddhist teacher Joan Halifax writing about Wise Hope.
Reflections on Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Others have written about her dogged determination (fighting cancer, working out) and the inspiring role model she offered to women (her egalitarian marriage, her entire career), but one thing that inspired me in her life story was her dedication to supporting the performing arts, and how her life-long love of opera led to a deep friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia, her polar opposite politically.
The arts, whether performing or in other forms, are how humans have made sense of their own experience, coped with life’s challenges, and connected with each other, across the centuries. Attending a live performance can transport us to another world, while simultaneously offering emotional resonance for living in this one. It’s been challenging during the pandemic lockdown to have the same experience online, but also amazing to see the creativity that it has inspired. I’ve included below some links to upcoming online performances you might enjoy.
- Brian Copeland’s The Waiting Period, his one-man show about his struggle with depression, is a must see. I saw it live a couple of years ago, highly recommend!
- Cal Performances at UC Berkeley is offering a weekly series of original full-length performances to stream directly to your home screen, from opera to jazz to classical as well as theater. The first of the series is this Thursday 10/1. Most can be viewed for up to 90 days after purchase (and prices are very reasonable).
- The Metropolitan Opera: While the opera house in NY is dark, each day they are offering a different encore presentation from their Live In HD series, available for free streaming here. A great way to sample opera for free!
- The San Francisco Symphony has put together a video and podcast series, Currents, with a variety of musical offerings curated by Michael Morgan, the Oakland Symphony director.
- Berkeley Rep’s What’s in a Play? It’s like a book club, but for plays!
July 30, 2020
Do you remember back in April, when epidemiologists were saying that sheltering-in-place was working, we’d flattened the curve, and the novel coronavirus might fade away by summer? Well, the light we thought we could see at the end of the tunnel turned out to be the headlamp of the COVID-19 Express, bearing down on us full throttle.
Now here we are, at the end of July. Most of us did not get the summer vacation we’d been looking forward to, and none of us got the freedom to stop worrying about catching the virus. Plus, people keep losing their jobs, and small businesses are still struggling to survive or going under. It looks like the novel coronavirus is here to stay, like an uninvited guest who has overstayed their welcome and keeps wreaking havoc on our home and family.
Baseball, or some alternate universe version of it, has finally started. Soon schools will be starting, but no one seems to know exactly how that’s going to work, so how do you plan? It’s all of the uncertainty that’s hardest to cope with. From my conversations with clients, friends, and family, I know many people are feeling more stress, more worry, more anxiety, more depression.
A couple of quick reminders: while I’m still conducting most therapy sessions via video or phone, I am now offering in-person sessions upon request, and pursuant to my new COVID-19 Office Protocol. The monthly drop-in meditation group, Keeping Mindful, continues to meet online via Zoom (next meeting August 11). I am still interested in exploring options for this group to meet outdoors, so please let me know if you have a suggestion. Please keep reading for ideas and suggestions for coping and learning!
- California’s new Surgeon General, Nadine Burke Harris MD, has written a Playbook for Pandemic Stress Relief. At only seven pages, it’s recommended reading for everyone.
- If there’s one thing we can count on these days, it’s uncertainty, so why not use this time as an opportunity to practice getting comfortable with it? Here’s an excellent article from Christine Carter of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, on Seven Ways to Cope with Uncertainty
- If you’ve ever considered learning to meditate, there’s never been a better time. Meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, strengthen coping skills, build resilience, as well as improve many measures of health and mental health. These benefits can accrue from just minutes a day of practice. Expert meditation teachers Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach have joined forces to offer Mindfulness Daily, a free course with talks and guided meditations.
- One of my favorite meditation apps is Calm. It offers a wide variety of guided meditations as well as “Sleep Stories,” narrated by celebrities as well as meditation teachers, to help you let go of the day’s stress and ease into sleep (milk and cookies not provided). First 7 days are free.
June 10, 2020
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 12 weeks of sheltering-in-place and working from home! While here in the SF Bay Area we succeeded in flattening the curve of coronavirus infection rates, the risks of COVID-19 still exist and may be with us for a long time. Meanwhile, we are recognizing the risks of remaining in lockdown for so long, not only to the economy and our jobs but also to our mental health. Those who live alone have been deprived of basic human contact; those living with others are getting on each others’ nerves; and we are all reminded of “the constant presence of each others’ absence,” as a colleague so aptly put it.
So beginning later this month, I will begin scheduling some in-office sessions. This is not a return to business as usual, but rather an opportunity for those who have not been able to do telehealth sessions to meet with me, as well as an opportunity for those who have been doing phone or video sessions to have an in-person session for a change. I’m thinking that one way to minimize contagion risks is to meet in person no more often than once a month, for example.
If you would like to have an office visit, please contact me. We will review the new protocols for health screening, physical distancing, and other changes that have been made in keeping with federal, state, and county guidelines. And if you’re still not comfortable coming in, don’t worry, I intend to continue offering sessions by phone and video, probably through the end of the year and likely beyond.
The monthly drop-in meditation group,Keeping Mindful, continues to meet online via Zoom (and we just had a great meeting last night). I am exploring options for this group to possibly meet outdoors, or in a larger indoor space, where we can maintain physical distancing.
Since rates of anxiety and depression have been increasing, I am ready to offer another MBCT (Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy) course. If you’re interested, contact me. When there are enough people, we can discuss a day and time to meet, also via Zoom. And since rates of substance abuse and addiction relapse have also increased, I am also taking names of those interested in an MBRP (Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention) course. Both courses meet for two hours once a week for eight weeks, so it’s a commitment, but they’re effective!
Finally, I’d like to speak to what’s been happening around the world these past two weeks, triggered by the killing of George Floyd. Some have said this is the tipping point, that we can no longer ignore the issue of police violence against people of color, and the insidiousness and persistence of racist and white supremacist attitudes in our country. I wholeheartedly agree. Furthermore, I believe this issue connects directly to mental health, addiction, and trauma. It is the “elephant in the room” of the dysfunctional family that is our nation, and we have to be willing to talk about it in order for healing to begin.
As a mental health professional, I believe I have a responsibility to initiate and support these conversations. And as a white person, I have a responsibility to acknowledge my privilege, and to use its power for good, which includes not just saying that “All Lives Can’t Matter Until Black Lives Matter,” but doing what I can to support efforts to address and end racism in our families, communities, laws, and institutions. In that spirit, I’ve listed below a few resources that have enriched my own understanding of this issue.
- Biased – an illuminating book by one of the world’s leading experts on “implicit bias,” Stanford professor Jennifer Eberhardt. Through examples from her 15 years working with law enforcement agencies, including the Oakland PD, as well as from personal experience, she illustrates how we are all vulnerable to unconscious or implicit racial bias, and how we can work to overcome it.
- Dog Whistle Politics – a fascinating read by Berkeley Law Professor Ian Haney Lopez, who explains how politicians since the 1960s, Democrat as well as Republican, have used coded language with racial undertones to manipulate working-class and middle-class voters into voting against their own economic interests.
- Not a Genuine Black Man: My Life as an Outsider – this book by Brian Copeland is based on his long-running one-man show, about growing up in nearly all-white San Leandro in the 1970s, his career as a comedian, television and radio host, and the challenges of being a single parent.
- The Color of Law – an eye-opening expose by Richard Rothstein, a Distinguished Fellow of the Economic Policy Institute, about how practices like redlining, urban renewal, and gentrification over 150 years have led to the destruction of black and brown communities across the country and perpetuated segregation and racism.