How Mental Health Experts Cope in These Uncertain Times
Uncertainty is one of the few things in this world you can be certain about. Change, often unforeseen if a part of life. We are living in increasingly uncertain times. Coronavirus, the economy, up coming elections; There is a lot of uncertainty around many things right now. It is normally to feel some amount of anxiety and worry when faced with so many circumstances that are outside of our control.
Being able to continue on a path toward a happy and successful live in the midst of uncertainty is something with help our clients with a lot. One's ability to tolerate ambiguity is an important component to mental health.
As therapists we have expert knowledge and years of clinical training to inform how we help people. Of course, as therapists, we are also people. We deal with fears, worry, uncertainty and doubt just like everyone else. So how do "the pros" handle it? Probably similar to how everyone handles it. Everyone is different and has different needs. As such everyones methods of coping will be slightly different. However, we thought it would be helpful to give some examples of how each of us at Houston Therapy cope with uncertainty and worry.
Spend time with my children
I can sometimes get so caught up in my head about all of the uncertainty in the world. To get out of that, it is helpful for me to remember what is most important to me, my children. I have two kids under age 5 and the require a lot of attention and attunement. They can force me to get out of the future worries and into the present moment. It’s really hard to worry about a pandemic while playing trains with my 2 year old. They also ground me by reminding me of the some of the most important things in life - family, and connection to those I love.
I use music to cope with a lot of the normal stresses and worries of everyday life. After a hard day I will come home and fiddle around on the piano for an hour, or find interesting chord progressions on the guitar. After verbally processing other people’s emotions all day, creating music helps gives me a way to non-verbally process powerful emotions through kinesthetic and sonic means. Expressing that worry or dread through music can have an almost magical ability to release it form my psyche.
Talk to others
Therapists, like most people, feel the benefit of venting or commiserating with a supportive and trusted person. I have a few people, mentors, friends, family, that I will call and vent to when I’m feeling bogged down with anxiety. Sometimes they will offer sound advice. Other times they will just listen and empathize. Usually though by the end of the conversation we are laughing and that worry I have been carrying feels lighter.
I didn’t really get into cooking until I had children. Something about preparing food that I am going to feed to my family makes it more meaningful. I put on some music, take out the ingredients and go to work. Within a short time, I am in the zone. The outside world, the future, all of my anxieties, just fade away. It's just me, the cutting board, the stove, and the pots and pans. Because it is an activity that I really enjoy, it is easy for me to achieve a state of flow.
Get present with my body
The Ayurvedic tradition views anxiety and worry as air energy. It’s movement and sporadic. I like to bring balance by bringing my attention to my body, a denser, more grounded form. I especially notice what is happening in my spine and in the center of my body. If it doesn’t feel like much is happening, I remember that even numbness is a sensation, and it gives me a break from the flighty thoughts in my mind.
Often, when getting present with my body, I notice uncomfortable sensations. The sensation of dread can rise up from the pit of my belly and send a burning sensation through my heart, causing me to want to fold over into a ball. When this happens, I allow my body to do what it wants. I crawl into a ball and follow the natural movement. I allow myself to exaggerate this pattern if I want. I give myself all the space I want to feel the anxiety or worry as richly as I desire. I remember to breathe big breaths and make whatever sound comes out on the exhale. When this feels complete, I give my body the option to move into the opposite posture if that feels good.
Remember the future is limitless
I remind myself of all of the times I thought I knew what was going to happen and I didn’t have any idea. There are infinite possibilities and factors influencing our reality that go way beyond what we are aware. I am surprised every single day by what happens. The truth is I don’t know what the future will hold.
Give myself a set time with no expectations
My personal defense is business and performance. If I am unaware, my go-to in times of worry and anxiety is to “try harder and do better”. I will set a timer for 10 minutes, or whatever amount of time I think I can tolerate being relaxed and practice just being. Often, I end up just lying on the couch looking at the ceiling the entire time. I don’t judge myself if my desire leads me to the kitchen to eat my 2nd bowl of ice cream for the evening. This is a no-judgment zone, a time to just be as I am, where I am
I’ve found that my days are more productive if I have structure around my schedule. I start my day with my 'ritual' behaviors. I'm the morning person in our family, so I make coffee or tea, feed our cat, and prepare for yoga and meditation. Some days, the yoga/mediation can be extended (an hour) and some days short (15 minutes). The length of the practice doesn't really matter. It's the consistency that counts. This ritual helps me focus my energy and prepare for my day.
My wife and I realized after our last cat passed that taking care of and playing with our pet was one of our ‘love languages’. So we safe-distance adopted a sweet, spunky female orange tabby, and are enjoying all of the time we have to integrate a new family member. Welcome Penny ‘Dreadful’ Workman!
My first career was as a musician, audio engineer, and producer. I still play music and mix songs for clients, now as an avocation. Being creative in this manner continues to give me a lot of joy.
My wife and I have identified another new ‘love language’: episodic television. There! I said it! We enjoy having quiet time to surf Netflix, Hulu, PBS, and Amazon Video for intriguing shows. When we find the right one, it provides us with topical discussion and a gentle connection.
We have not stopped socializing at all. We 'gather' as a family and with our friends and communities over Zoom, FaceTime, and other internet apps. I really miss the hugs, but I’m grateful to have so many people in my life, and a way to see them without traveling.
Do these sound like healthy ways of coping? Are they similar to ways that you cope? What are some healthy ways that you have been coping with uncertainty? Let us know in the comments.