Whether it is working from home, missing time with family and friends, or dealing with children who have been out of the school setting, there have been many transitions to deal with this “new normal.”
Some people feel like they have been in survival mode, while some are finding positive benefits in their new situation. Many people are also dealing with the effects of social isolation. Area mental health professionals shared some insights and tips to help navigate this “new normal.”
Danielle (Norby) Lien is a mental health clinician and the president of A Better Connection in Park Rapids. She said people want to feel in control of their lives because that helps them feel safe.
“Trauma happens when we are not in control, so our brains and bodies can feel like we are going to die even if the situation is not life or death,” she said. “This is not a conscious thought but a ‘gut feeling’ that comes from our amygdala, which is the fear center of our brain. The need to control will send us into ‘fight, flight or freeze.’ The urge to fight becomes bigger than the punishments and creates conflict between family members.”
Lien said labeling and validating feelings can be a great start to working through a difficult time. “When people are feeling out of control, it is like they are ‘spinning out on ice,’” she said. “The person is often already overstimulated by the five senses and needs to ‘get control of the vehicle’ before they can start to listen to reason and feel safe. Decreasing the amount of information presented to the person will help slow down the ‘spinning’ and increase feelings of control and safety.”
Lien said meditation, reading, watching funny YouTube videos, turning off bright lights or sniffing pleasantly scented candles or lotion can help people feel more calm. For children, it could be sitting in a blanket fort with a stuffed animal or pillows.
“The Serenity Prayer is a great thing to say often to help cope with the new normal,” she said. “Accepting what we cannot change and changing what we can in a positive way. Also, understanding that denial is a way we cope with things that are too difficult to emotionally handle. If you are upset about something that you can control, take a break and consider all your options to make a decision that will help, and not hurt, you or your loved ones.”
Lien said it helps to write things down and discuss options with a loved one or friend. “Our brain is not fully developed until we are between ages 25 and 30, so even young adults can benefit from discussing options with a parent or older person they trust,” she said.
For those coping with something they can’t control, distracting activities and self-soothing can help.
“It is okay to cry because we cry to release the stress hormone, cortisol, which is a poison that leads to health issues,” she said.
“Parents can validate their children’s feelings and find ways to spend quality time together,” Lien said. “Children need quality time and attention each day or they will resort to negative attention seeking behaviors. If you work from home during the day and children have a difficult time allowing you to get work done, it can help to create a schedule, and schedule in quality time together throughout the day. It is easier for children to wait for that time if it’s written down, because they have proof.
“This can occur during mealtimes at the kitchen table together. You can cook meals together, and do things together that are already scheduled into your day if your time is limited. Even five minutes of quality time during various parts of the day can make a difference for a child and can shift negative attention seeking behaviors to positive attention seeking behaviors.”
“Grieving is how we heal so avoiding grief causes us to stay ‘stuck’ in our trauma,” Lien said. “The sooner someone can grieve or seek therapeutic services for help with the grieving process, the sooner a person can heal and move forward in life.
“Grieving is necessary for any type of trauma and not just for deaths of loved ones. There are a lot of reasons to grieve right now, including the loss of four months of activities, the loss of work, the loss of finances, the loss of freedom, the changes we do not have control of, loss of loved ones who passed away from the virus, delays of events and changes in routines.
“In mental health we have been calling it ‘physical distancing’ instead of social distancing,” Lien said. “We still encourage socializing through technological means such as Facetime, Zoom, phone calls, texting, social media and interactive apps and games that can be played remotely.
“Socializing with the elderly presents more difficulty because of the difficulty some have with using technology. One example of a device that can be used to keep in touch with elderly people is the Grandpad, www.grandpad.net. Another is contacting the facility they live in to schedule visits using CDC and social distancing guidelines.
“Video calling makes a big difference for all ages but can especially help with those with memory issues. Sending care packages that include favorite things from the loved one’s history can also help trigger positive memories.”
God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can and the Wisdom to know the difference.
~ Alcoholics Anonymous
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