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Transitioning to Young (and not quite) “Adult”hood

Jennifer L. Farley, PsyD
Lindner Center of HOPE, Associate Chief of Psychological Services

Congratulations! Your child graduated from high school!  And now…   what?

Many are busy selecting their fall semester college courses and buying necessities for their dorm room. Others have chosen to delay college and work instead, using time to consider their future. Some opted to focus on a career trade and are doing apprenticeship work. No matter their course, these newly-minted adults can now do 3 main things in America: vote, go to jail for their own actions, and enter into contracts on their own accord.  Yet, there are some contracts for which 18-year-olds are too young, and many lack the financial independence many contracts require. Bottom line: young adults still need support. But things are different, they’re high school graduates now. And most still live at home, at least for a little while.

The length of time it takes for one’s emancipation from home is entirely dependent on the path they’ve chosen and their success with it. For college students, the biggest first leap is when they move into their college dorm. It’s their first space outside of home to call their own.  Yet, the college dorm is still a contained bubble, where rules still dictate what’s expected and complete freedom is not given. Even dorms typically shut down during extended or holiday breaks. Freshman year represents the first of a graduated series of “bubble” expansions, when by their 3rd or 4th year, students have learned how to cook some of their own meals (instead of relying on cafeteria meal plans), they have to navigate roommate tensions without the aid of a dorm resident advisor, and they’ve (hopefully) learned to be self-disciplined and self-accountable. Most college students aren’t fully emancipated from their parents until they function completely independently on their own – when they get a job and make enough money to support themselves. That stage doesn’t mean “without support” of parents, it’s just that the adult child no longer requires parents’ resources to live on their own. For any young adult, this takes time:  time to get a job, time invested in working, and time spent saving money.

Even among the healthiest of families, any young adult’s process of emancipating from home comes with tension. This is par for the course… it’s how young adults develop self-confidence and gumption.  Without “tests” involving interactions with family, without the development of gumption, young adults risk a poor transition into their independent years. Imagine going away to college, working a full-time job, or moving out feeling insecure about yourself, not being able to trust that you can assert yourself or make good decisions. Without gumption, one may be so comfortable at home that they don’t seek more independence. Gumption fuels self-decision-making and serves as a foundation towards independence. Gumption often brings tension, and tension is experienced before big changes or transitions. The changes involved with emancipation are experienced by young adults and their families, alike.

During the months leading up to one’s emancipation from home, tension is often experienced in waves. Parents, realizing the borrowed time they have with their child, may seek more time to spend together with their child. Other times, parents may engage in more activities without their child to prepare themselves for their child to leave home. Adult children do a similar dance; sometimes they may seek their parents in anticipation of being away from them, while much of the time they want to spend time with friends. You can imagine the conflicts that arise when an adult child wants freedom with friends during a time when parents seek quality time with their child. This is all natural, it’s just a matter of recognizing and understanding it. Time spent together can involve some creativity with lessons in laundry, basic cooking, and how to manage money – while times of tension make it easier for everyone to prepare to say “goodbye” and to face the changes ahead.

No matter the transition ahead, practice the cycle of a “submarine parent” – stay offshore, come up for air sometimes to check in with your young adult child, and retreat back down in the water when you see your child is doing just fine.

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Can the COVID-19 Vaccine Improve Your Mental Health?

Thirteen months ago, the world was experiencing the onset of a shared trauma … a pandemic was sweeping over the globe. The actions that were taken to keep people safe included community shut downs, stay at home orders and mandated isolation. Lindner Center of HOPE, like mental health providers around the world, began to see spikes in mental illness and addiction. Individuals who were already struggling with mental illness or a pre-disposition, saw exacerbated symptoms and an increase in severity of illness. People who were managing, saw new onset at higher levels of acuity. As time has passed since the beginning of the pandemic, the trauma has been sustained with higher percentages of people still struggling with mental illnesses and addictions. Additionally, data shows people who have experienced COVID-19 infection are also suffering with co-occurring psychiatric symptoms.

Dr. Paul Crosby, Lindner Center of HOPE

Fortunately, vaccines have been released to protect the population from the physical health threats of COVID-19. However, Lindner Center of HOPE’s President and Chief Operating Officer, Paul R. Crosby, MD, states the vaccine also offers mental health benefits as well.

“The first mental health benefit of the vaccine is simple,” Dr. Crosby said, “since the risk of COVID-19 infection diminishes significantly with vaccination, receiving the vaccine would also protect individuals from co-occurring mental illness that has proven to manifest with COVID-19 infection.”

“The second mental health benefit of the vaccine is the reduction in overall anxiety and stress, as risk and fear of infection is reduced. Vaccinated individuals can lift their isolation from other vaccinated individuals, can begin to see a return to other activities that improve mental health, like more exercise, improved sleep, new experiences through travel and more. A return to these healthier activities can hopefully also lead to a reduction in substance use, overeating or lack of participation in other things that bring joy.”

“The COVID-19 vaccine has significant potential in improving your mental health.”

For individuals experiencing symptoms of mental illness, it is critical to access help. Mental illnesses are common and treatable and no one should struggle alone.

Lindner Center of HOPE in Mason is a comprehensive mental health center providing excellent, patient-centered, scientifically-advanced care for individuals suffering with mental illness. A state-of-the-science, mental health center and charter member of the National Network of Depression Centers, the Center provides psychiatric hospitalization and partial hospitalization for individuals age 12-years-old and older, outpatient services for all ages, diagnostic services for all ages and short-term residential services for adults, and research. The Center is enhanced by its partnership with UC Health as its clinicians are ranked among the best providers locally, nationally and internationally. Together Lindner Center of HOPE and UC Health offer a true system of mental health care in the Greater Cincinnati area and across the country. The Center is also affiliated with the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine.

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When To Seek Treatment For Anxiety

 

By Angela Couch, RN, MSN, PMHNP-BC

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, Lindner Center of HOPE

Anxiety is a common symptom. Anxiety is a part of everyone’s lives, we have all experienced it to one degree or another. Believe it not, anxiety serves some useful purposes. Anxiety can help give you the drive to make a change, or complete task on time.Anxiety can activate the fight or flight instinct, in a “potentially” dangerous situation, giving you the drive to get out of there, or do something to prevent harm. Anxiety can occur when you are enduring multiple stressors, or there is uncertainty, and it’s not entirely unexpected.

For instance, say you hear layoffs are coming in the company, and you’re not sure if your department will be affected. You may experience physical symptoms of anxiety (which could include racing heart, nervous stomach, sweating, tremor, nausea, shortness of breath, and more), and you might also experience worry. COVID-19…yup, that can cause some anxiety, or worry, too! Situational anxiety is a part of life, and often can be managed by rational self-talk, problem-solving, and various positive self-care strategies. (For more on that, see some of our other recent blog articles, for lots of helpful ideas!) So how do we know when the anxiety is more than just “normal” or to be expected, and when to seek help?

According to the National Comorbidity Study Replication, about 19.1% of U.S. adults will have had an anxiety disorder in the past year, and 31.1% experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. In other words, it’s pretty common! There are various types of anxiety disorders, and most have an underlying common thread– difficulty in accepting uncertainty in some form. So how do you know if you may need to seek further assessment or help for anxiety, if it’s really so common? If everyone gets it, is it really a problem that requires treatment? The answer is yes, it might. Some symptoms that may indicate problematic anxiety include:

* Feeling “paralyzed” by fear.

* Anxiety is causing you to avoid things you used to be able to do without anxiety, or things that are important to you (this could include social activities, leaving your house, going to your job, driving, engaging in spiritual activities, etc.).

* You have difficulty staying present “in the moment”, which may repeatedly distract you from attending to conversations, being able to complete work or school tasks because of lack of focus.

* You are having difficulty with sleep or eating due to excessive worry or anxiety.

Anxiety is causing significant physical symptoms.

* You cannot determine a cause for the anxiety and the symptoms are persistent or very bothersome.

* You worry about “everything” or “all the time”.

* The anxiety/worry you are experiencing about situations seem excessive.

* You need to engage in compulsive or repetitive behaviors, or do things in a certain way, in order to avoid significant anxiety/worry.

* Anxiety is causing you to turn to self-medication with alcohol or substances.

So you’ve determined you should seek help, now what? Psychotherapy can be helpful for anxiety, and is a very important component of treatment. Psychotherapy may include several modalities such as cognitive behavioral therapy, addressing faulty beliefs contributing to anxiety, psychoeducation about anxiety and worry, problem-solving, exercise and wellness activities/lifestyle changes, addressing sleep hygiene, skills for time management and stress reduction, or exposure therapy, just to name a few.

How do you know if psychotherapy is enough to manage the symptoms? Medication can be a helpful component in treatment of anxiety, particularly if symptoms are not improving with other psychotherapeutic interventions mentioned above. Medications alone are rarely enough to treat anxiety disorders adequately. Medication can often make it easier to engage in meaningful psychotherapy, to make those helpful lifestyle changes, or try new ways of coping with the anxiety/worry. If you are experiencing suicidal thinking or significant depression, medication should be a consideration. If the anxiety symptoms are preventing you from being able to work or do other essential tasks, medication may be indicated. If your therapist suggests a medication consultation, you should consider it.

The important things to remember are, everyone has some anxiety, not all anxiety is bad, and when anxiety does become problematic or excessive, there are evidence-based treatments to help, so don’t be afraid to reach out for help!

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Managing Suicidality During Isolation

In the United States, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death.  The rate increased 33% from 1999 through 2017 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states that “suicide most often occurs when stressors and health issues converge to create an experience of hopelessness and despair.” For some, the COVID-19 pandemic could create this experience. The pandemic has produced a condition that has increased many of the risk factors for suicide: feelings of depression and anxiety, increased alcohol and substance use, serious physical health conditions, unemployment, financial crisis, illness or death of a loved one, isolation, and decreased access to care.

Social distancing and isolating at home have limited access to coping skills and reduced suicide protective factors. People no longer have in person contact with behavioral health providers, there is decreased connectedness to support systems, and no access to gyms, art studios, massage therapy, beauty salons, barbers, etc.  With fewer physical and creative outlets, healing therapies, and self-care that improves self-esteem, people can feel lost. They also no longer have physical access to places of worship where the social connection was as important as the message or music.  It important to remember that we need to maintain physical distancing rather than social distancing – it is necessary to maintain physical separation to not contract the virus but other ways of maintaining social connections are still very important.

Another risk factor that staying at home can bring is closer proximity to abusers. Children of abusive parents who are no longer in school are now with their abusers all day and adults with abusive partners are also with their abusers more often. Adverse childhood experiences are associated with 2 to 3 times more suicide attempts later in life and victims of intimate partner violence are twice as likely to attempt suicide.

Staying at home also increases access to lethal means so it is imperative to either remove guns from the home or ensure they are locked securely and reduce access to other lethal means (such as large amounts of extra medications, excess amounts of alcohol, ropes/cords) in the home for people who are high risk for suicide.  For homes with large amounts of prescription medications due to multiple health conditions, a medication safe is recommended.

For people with loved ones who have risk factors for suicide, it is important to know the warning signs. Warning signs include talk of: killing themselves, feeling hopeless, having no reason to live, being a burden, feeling trapped, and unbearable pain; behavior: increase use of alcohol and drugs, looking for a way to end their lives (including internet searches), withdrawing from activities, isolation from family and friends, too much or too little sleep, saying goodbye to people, giving away possessions, aggression, and fatigue; and mood: depression, anxiety, loss of interest, irritability, humiliation/shame, agitation/anger, and relief/sudden improvement.  If you notice these warning signs, it is important to ask a person directly if they are having thoughts of suicide and if they are, get them help by contacting their mental health providers, calling a crisis line, taking them to an emergency department, or calling 911. Visit take5tosavelives.org or bethe1to.com to learn how to talk to your loved ones about suicide. Due to COVID-19, people have tried to avoid emergency departments and hospitals but if someone you love is unsafe do not hesitate to get them the help they need.

What are ways to increase coping skills and protective factors in our current climate? Take advantage of telephone or video appointments offered by your mental health providers. If you do not already have mental health providers, now is a good time to seek treatment – practices are still accepting new patients and insurances are covering telephone and video appointments. To reduce worry and fear, limit media consumption about COVID-19. Stick to a routine, stay physically active, get outside with appropriate physical distancing, get enough sleep, limit alcohol, and eat healthy. If you feel you have a problem with alcohol, substances, overeating, or other addictive behaviors – there are online support groups. Connect with loved ones by phone, social media apps, video apps, or writing. Consider safe altruistic ways to connect with others – making masks, running errands for vulnerable loved ones, donations, etc.

How can you get help?  Crisis Text Line: text HOME to 741741, they can also be messaged on Facebook messenger.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

YouthLine answered by trained teen peer support from 4 pm – 10 pm and by adults from NSPL during other hours 877-968-8491 or text teen2teen to 839863

Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline text or call 1-800-422-4453

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522

Mental Health America Support Group Directory www.mhanational.org/find-support-groups

Lindner Center of HOPE 513-536-HOPE

 

Danielle J. Johnson, MD, FAPA Lindner Center of HOPE, Chief Medical Officer

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Living with Anxiety During Times of Stress

Times are uncertain. The world feels scary. Our normal day to day life has been turned upside down. Let me just start by saying this, if you are feeling anxious, scared, overwhelmed, frustrated… you are allowed to feel these emotions, it makes total sense why you feel this way, you are not alone, and you are not weak. Remember, pain in life is unavoidable, but suffering is a choice. Meaning, we are going to experience stress in our life, every person on this planet will, but it is ultimately how we respond to that stress that influences exactly how much pain we will experience. Let’s walk through some ways we can live with anxiety during times of stress.

Mindfulness of Emotions. When it comes to managing our anxiety during times of stress, an important first step that we tend to overlook is mindfulness. In order to reduce anxiety, we must first acknowledge that it is there. Allow yourself to pause and put a name on what you are feeling, notice if you feel it physically in your body, observe what thoughts are running through your mind. Try using the stem “I am aware of the emotion of ______, I am aware of the thought that _______.”  By bringing mindful awareness to our anxiety in this way, we are bravely choosing to face our discomfort while also seeing it as something that we are experiencing in that given moment, not who we are or the way things will always be.

Self-Compassion. Now that you are observing your anxious mind in action, practice some self-compassion by normalizing the experience, validating its’ presence, being “kind to your mind.” We tend to create more suffering for ourselves when we judge ourselves for our emotions, when we tell ourselves we should not be feeling that way, or try to just “suck it up.” You are an amazing human doing the best you can with some really hard human things right now!

Changing Emotional Response. While part of our goal is accepting the anxiety through mindfulness and self-compassion, we also have the ability to create change in our emotional state and our response to it. First, we need to “check the facts” and get a good look at what our mind is telling us. Our minds tend to be great storytellers, mind readers, and fortune tellers. While these seem like super powers, these are actually mind tricks and traps that create more suffering. Checking the facts is seeing if your emotion and its’ intensity actually match reality (i.e., are valid), or if you are responding to a mind trick.

Next, ask yourself if the action urge associated with the emotion you are feeling is effective? For example, is being angry with your partner because they did not clean the house then throwing a shoe at them actually helpful here??  If the emotion is invalid and/or ineffective, we want to act opposite to what the emotion is telling us to do. So instead of avoiding work responsibilities because we are stressed, make a specific schedule to complete tasks. Instead of spending hours reading the news because we are scared, watch one news program then spend the rest of the day playing with the kids or watching movies.

Acceptance. Consider what is and what is not in your control. If there is a stressor that is in your control, practice problem solving. For stressors we cannot control, accept that we cannot change that reality and focus instead on what in the here and now is in your power. Remember, rejecting reality does not change reality. Instead of dwelling on how terrible it is to be stuck at home, make plans for a game night, clean out that room you have been avoiding, soak up the springtime outdoors.

Practice Gratitude. Lastly, practice gratitude every day. Spend some time thinking about what you have that you are grateful for rather than hyper-focusing on what you don’t have or what has been taken away, which tends to just create more stress. Be specific, instead of just saying you are grateful for your family, say “I am grateful that today my kids helped clean the kitchen and cuddled with me on the couch.”

We as humans are under an incredible amount of stress right now, but remember, as humans we are also incredibly strong and resilient.  Importantly, please know you do not have to struggle with this alone. Sometimes the strongest thing we can do is ask for help. If your anxiety is persistent and intense and/or is significantly interfering with your life, please reach out to a mental health therapist. Telehealth services are being offered across the region, including at the Lindner Center of HOPE, who has a whole team of providers eager to help guide you through this.

By Allison Mecca, PsyD
Lindner Center of HOPE, Staff Psychologist, Harold C. Schott Foundation Eating Disorders Program

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Isolation and Loneliness During Social Distancing

Quarantine.Isolation . Lockdown.

Who could have ever predicted that these words – so often associated with scary movies or rare, brief safety emergencies – would become so commonplace in our social language? The terms, themselves, being so casually thrown around that we’ve nearly become numb to their actual magnitude? The concept of loneliness is a broad one: certainly, this can describe distance or literal, geographical separation from others; however, it is also quite possible to experience loneliness while physically surrounded by people. This often arises in response to feeling misunderstood or “different” from those around us, or through a belief that we are truly alone in our struggles and suffering.

 

When in this state of mind, it’s easy to inadvertently fall into self-destructive patterns and habits that further worsen the depth of isolation we experience. This tends to be easier to “catch” in the “normal” world – someone is missing days at work or school, not showing up to family events, skipping appointments. However, in the midst of the COVID19 pandemic, this has become more difficult to identify, both in ourselves and in family members or friends. In this strange new reality, maladaptive coping might present through symptoms of depression:

– Withdrawing from others by declining phone calls or choosing not to respond to text messages
– Staying in bed during times when you’re not sleeping or physically in need of rest
– Deferring school assignments or work deadlines in favor of binging on Netflix series for extended periods of time
– Not leaving the house for fresh air when weather permits
– Declining hygiene practices and decreased attention to nutritional needs and physical activity
– Self-medicating through alcohol or drug use

In contrast, some individuals experience severe levels of anxiety when facing loneliness or isolation. Those with pre-existing obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety or impulse-control disorders, eating disorders, or traits of perfectionism may attempt to cope with isolation by trying to gain a sense of control over specific aspects of their lives. This could present as:

– Excessive cleaning, organizing, list-making in the home without clear need to do so
– Catastrophic thought processes with over-indulgence in news reports and social media
– Difficulty sleeping or resting due to racing thoughts
– Flare-ups of previous OCD rituals or disordered eating patterns
– Difficulty concentrating on school assignments or work due to preoccupation with above concerns

One of my favorite, go-to methods for combating these negative impulses is an emotion regulation technique called “opposite action,” a concept originating from the skill sets taught in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). This technique forces us to identify our emotion and the urges or impulses that go along with it, and to assess their degree of helpfulness or harmfulness by challenging them with facts. If found to be irrational or maladaptive, then we aim to implement the opposite of our emotion-driven impulse. We actually implement opposite action frequently through our lives without necessarily naming it as such. By identifying the technique, though, we
can consciously choose to use this skill when our level of motivation to change is low. Consider this example
(modified content courtesy of PsychPoint.com):

STEP ONE: Identify the emotion you’re looking to change. You’re really anxious about leaving home to go
on vacation.
STEP TWO: Identify the urges/impulses associated with the emotion. You actively avoid booking the
vacation by burying yourself in work and household tasks to subconsciously convince yourself that you simply
do not have the time to take a vacation.
STEP THREE: Assess whether the urge or behavior fits the facts of the situation. You have plenty of unused
vacation time and recognize that your year-end productivity will not be negatively impacted by taking the break.
You’ve taken vacations before and your family has benefited from the escape each time.
STEP FOUR: If the emotion and behavior does not fit the situation, then apply the opposite action.
Create a manageable schedule / timetable to take the steps necessary to search for and secure the logistics
required for booking the trip.
STEP FIVE: Experience the opposite emotion. Experience the excitement involved with planning activities
and excursions or buying a new outfit for the occasion. Go on the trip and enjoy the time with your family while
allowing others at work to keep things running smoothly until you return.

Used consistently, opposite action can help us to change our emotional response to stressors over time. It’s
important, though, to commit to the technique so that you can experience the full benefits of taking control of
your mood and behaviors rather than allowing them to be in control of you.

For a quick video explanation of opposite action, view the following:

If you’re experiencing the above symptoms associated with loneliness and have tried methods for self-help
without benefit, or if you’ve been previously diagnosed with a psychiatric illness or substance use disorder
that has begun to flare up in the midst of these extraordinary times, please know that psychiatric treatment
providers are still open, available, and ready to help you through this – at all levels of care.

Clinicians at the Lindner Center of HOPE are seeing patients every day through Telehealth, with options for
telephone or video sessions for both therapy and medication management. Additionally, our services are open
for emergency intake assessments and inpatient hospitalization, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient,
residential, and treatment for substance use disorders.

If you or a loved one could benefit from professional help, call the Lindner Center of HOPE at 513-536-
4673 to start the conversation and take the next steps toward healing.

Jen Milau, APRN, PMHNP-BC
Lindner Center of HOPE , Psychiatric Mental-Health Nurse Practitioner

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Pockets of Rest

“Take a rest.  A field that is rested give a beautiful crop”
– Ovid, Roman Poet, circa 20 BC

 

Pockets of Rest
By Valerie Martin, Spiritual Care Team

It is not news that poor rest and sleep can have a negative effect on health.  But look at this: On the public safety side, besides falling asleep at the wheel of your car, it can cause disasters.  According to the Div. of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School & WGBH Educational Foundation, it was found that sleep deprivation was a significant factor in the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, as well as the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl.

Then there are the personal nuclear meltdowns that can happen when we are weary.  They may present themselves in various forms: frustration, anger, being short with people, fits of crying, wanting to hit a wall (choose something softer please), withdrawing, even giving up.

We have allowed lack of rest to happen, you know.  We have allowed schedules and other people’s priorities to direct our lives, even if we do not realize it.  We do not question the flow or the huge pressure we feel to “keep up”.  We CAN and SHOULD take more control over our schedules and what we put on them.  Don’t go quitting everything!  Just be the director of your own story.  Take back a measure of control.

We have listed for you a few things that have worked for others.  Find what works for you.  Be intentional about this.  Look for pockets in your day to take a control of your need for rest.  You just might avoid going nuclear!

Finding pockets of rest in 4 main areas of your life

  • The Car
    • Turn off radio in your car
    • Turn off talk-radio in your car
    • Aromatherapy
  • At Work
    • Take your breaks
    • No work talk on your lunch hour
    • Change your position at your desk or get up and work the hall.  It’s recommended you do this every hour
    • If you are overloaded, have an honest conversation with your boss and team & call Spiritual Care Team
  • At Home
    • Stick to a bed time for the kids that is earlier than yours and stop with the to do list a couple of hours before bed.  The dust will be there tomorrow.
    • Dance while making dinner
    • Have a family dinner time ritual
      • “What’s your biggest up/down for the day”
      • Prayer
      • Tell me something funny
  • Don’t turn on your TV as soon as you get home
  • Take a hard look at all the activities your family is involved with
  • In Your Ear
    • The information we expose ourselves to daily impacts our thoughts, our stress levels, our view of life.  Be thoughtful about what these things are.
    • Classical music – especially baroque – has been proven to have calming effect on your heart rate
    • Take news breaks. TMI (Too much information) is everywhere!  It can over load us, make us feel powerless and gives us a skewed view of the world.
    • Take technology fasts – anything with a screen
    • Try silence.  A time to pray, meditate or simply be.

 

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Managing OCD During a Pandemic

Many who struggle with OCD are probably noticing a spike in their symptoms during these unprecedented times. Stress and uncertainty can often make OCD symptoms flare. Those who struggle with specific types of OCD may be having an even harder time: specifically those with contamination concerns and those concerned with harming others. Another symptom of OCD that may be particularly hard currently are perfectionism tendencies. While it may be harder to fight back against OCD with everything going on right now, it is more important than ever to not give in to compulsions and let them take over your life. One simple step you can take is to stay connected to your therapist, likely via telehealth at the moment. Having regular sessions during this time is key, especially as symptoms flare. Staying connected to others online or through social media options is also important, as the more you are connected to others the less stress you will notice. Another key piece is to continue to do things you enjoy and that bring you pleasure, as this will help lessen stress as well. Keeping a structured routine can be helpful and can help make things to continue to feel more normal. It can be important to try to continue with whatever routine you had going before that you are still able to do, for instance still getting at the same time in the morning and getting ready for work even if you are working from home. Adding consistent exercise into that routine will also be helpful, as this helps create endorphins and naturally lessens anxiety. Lastly, avoid reading the news all day, which will only lead to more stress and anxiety. It is important to limit access to only a couple of trusted sites and not get carried away with reading up on everything all day long.

Some specific OCD related steps you can take will vary depending on the type of OCD you have. For those who struggle with contamination concerns, get familiar with the CDC guidelines for the current pandemic and do not add other steps that are not recommended. For instance, they are recommending only washing hands for 20 seconds after being outside or in public, before eating, after going to the bathroom, and after you’ve coughed/sneezed/blown your nose. If soap and water are not available, they recommend you use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. They also only recommend disinfecting surfaces once per day. This should only take a few minutes per day and they suggest only focusing on the surfaces in your home that are frequently touched. It is also important to think about whether this is truly needed (for example, if you stayed home all day and had no visitors, do you really need to disinfect that doorknob?). It is also important to avoid some news sources that might not offer expert recommendations but rather their own opinions.

For those who struggle with fears of harming others, these symptoms might tackle the current pandemic and cause you to obsess about whether or not you might have infected someone or whether or not you might infect someone in the future. This might be a similar theme to past fears of contamination concerns, but it will still be helpful to alert your therapist to the new content so that new exposures can developed.

For those who struggle with perfectionism tendencies, this might be an especially trying time. The perfectionism could target all of the changes going on and adaptations people are having to make to conduct
their jobs, manage their families etc. It is important to give yourself a break and realize that it is impossible to be perfect in anything we do, but especially now during all of this change and uncertainty. Practice doing one or two things imperfectly on purpose as an exposure.

One important exercise I make sure to encourage all of my patients to do is to keep track of their victories against OCD, whether the victories are big or small. Keeping track of successes and not dwelling on everything that is going wrong is a helpful way to stay on track and to realize everything that you are doing to fight OCD, which is likely a lot. It can sometimes be hard to pick out the successes and often others only notice the failures or slips, but there are victories in there as well that deserve your attention and that can help give you confidence to fight back even harder next time

Nicole Bosse, PsyD
Lindner Center of HOPE, Staff Psychologist

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Substance Use and Stress

Chris Tuell Ed.D., LPCC-S, LICDC-CS, Clinical Director of Addiction Services

As feelings of anxiety, depression, or sheer boredom mount due to the growing pandemic of the coronavirus, the desire to turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism could become more problematic. Experts warn against self-medicating during these stressful times for a multitude of reasons. For many people who struggle with mental illness and/or substance use disorders, there is an unfortunate tendency to withdraw or isolate from others. So when we are told to practice social distancing, remain in our homes, isolate from one another, this can feed into a further deepening of an individual’s struggles and isolation with depression, anxiety, trauma or loss.

According to SAMHSA, (Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration), 84% of individuals who experience a substance use disorder, also experience a co-occurring mental health issue as well. During times of stress, many of us seek relief, in any way we can find it. The use of substances is not a healthy way of coping. Substance use is frequently used as a means to escape or numb-out from life’s problems. Substance use will often exacerbate a previous existing problem, making it worse.

In cities across the country, people are increasingly living under “shelter-in-place” or lockdown mandates that have closed businesses, limited social gatherings, and urged self-quarantine. These added stressors have resulted in increased levels of alcohol consumption. According to the Republic National Distributing Company, a wine and spirits distribution company, sales of spirits jumped by 50% for the week ending March 21, 2020. Nationally, the overall increase for the week according to Nielsen data, saw a 55% spike in alcohol sales.

Each of us experiences stress from time to time. However, recent events of the past few months have been unprecedented. Stress can feel overwhelming. There are different types of stress – all of which carry physical and mental health risks. A stressor may be a one-time or short-term occurrence, or it can happen repeatedly over a long time. Some people may cope with stress more effectively and recover from stressful events more quickly than others. Unfortunately for some, substance use becomes an unhealthy way to self-medicate one’s stress, mood and/or anxiety.

Coping with the impact of chronic stress can be challenging. Because the source of long-term stress is more constant than acute stress, the body never receives a clear signal to return to normal functioning. With chronic stress, those same lifesaving reactions in the body can disturb the immune, digestive, cardiovascular, sleep, and reproductive systems. Some people may experience mainly digestive symptoms, while others may have headaches, sleeplessness, sadness, anger, or irritability. Over time, continued strain on the body from stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, including mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. For some, substance abuse only adds insult to injury.

When does one’s consumption of a substance (i.e., alcohol, drugs, gambling, Internet, gaming) become
problematic? Addictive behaviors consists of the following three behavioral questions (The Three C’s).
• Is there a loss of Control? (I am unable to manage the behavior.)
• Is the behavior Compulsive? (I cannot stop doing the behavior.)
• Do I continue to engage in the behavior, despite the negative Consequences?

Coping with life stressors by the use of alcohol or any other substance, is a bad idea. If you take practical
steps to manage your stress, you may reduce the risk of negative mental and physical health effects. Rather
than reaching for that adult beverage, below are tips that may be helpful in coping with stress:

Be observant. Recognize the signs of your body’s response to stress, such as increased alcohol and other
substance use, difficulty sleeping, , being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy.

Talk to a health professional. Don’t wait for your health care provider to ask about your stress. Start the
conversation and get proper health care for existing or new health problems. Effective treatments can help
if your stress is affecting your relationships or ability to work.

Get regular exercise. Just 30 minutes per day of walking can help boost your mood and improve your
health.

Pursue calming activities. Explore relaxation or wellness programs which may incorporate meditation,
imagery, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy and
relaxing activities.

Set goals and priorities. Decide what must get done now and what can wait. Learn to say “no” to new
tasks if you start to feel like you are taking on too much. Try to be mindful of what you have accomplished at
the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.

Stay connected. Even though this may be a challenge, given our current social distancing, we need to remain
connected with one another. You are not alone. Keep in touch with people who can provide emotional
support and practical help. To reduce stress, ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious
organizations. Many community support groups (AA, NA, GA, SMART Recovery) are available online. Stay
healthy, stay connected.

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Conversacion con la incertidumbre

En esta oportunidad quiero compartir con ustedes el articulo que escribimos en mi Grupo de estudio Psicoanalisis de Cara a lo Social integrado por Manuel Llorens, Alicia Leisse, Carmen Elena Dos Reis, Claudia Alvarez, Yone Alvarez y esta servidora.  Nos reunimos de forma “virtual” cada 15 dias para discutir trabajos y temas de corte psicoanalitico y tambien social. Somos todos venezolanos conectados desde el exilio o desde la emigracion elegida.  Espero que les resulte de utilidad en estos tiempos de incertidumbre…

UNA CONVERSACION CON LA INCERTIDUMBRE

Una de las anécdotas que ha circulado ampliamente en medio de la pandemia es de la antropóloga Margaret Mead cuando un estudiante le preguntó que cuál era, a su juicio, el hallazgo que evidenciaba el comienzo de la cultura. Esperando escuchar algo como potes de arcilla o cabezas de flechas, el estudiante se sorprendió al escuchar “un fémur roto que fue curado”.

La pandemia ha servido para subrayar la íntima conexión de la humanidad entera. La manera en que los hábitos alimenticios, los sistemas de gobierno, los medios cada vez más veloces de transporte, y hasta nuestra manera de saludarnos, influyen en el curso de un virus que ha detenido todo el planeta. El coronavirus ha puesto de rodillas el poderío humano: paralizó el comercio, las olimpiadas, los aeropuertos, las protestas públicas y más.

Sumado a las consecuencias de la salud de los contagiados, los sistemas sanitarios, la economía mundial y las adaptaciones a la vida cotidiana que ha exigido la pandemia, ha habido un repunte a nivel mundial de trastornos de ansiedad. Por ende se les pregunta a los profesionales de la salud mental: ¿cómo se lidia con las angustias que todo esto despierta?

Circulan muchas recomendaciones, ideas, gestos salvadores, actos creativos que dan cuenta de que, en lugares geográficos con mayor piso de respuesta social, los daños ciertamente están, pero el músculo creativo se reinventa al servicio del otro y de uno con el otro y del sí mismo. Muchas de las recomendaciones, útiles  sin duda, se anclan en el terreno de las acciones concretas y conscientes que podemos incluir en nuestras rutinas para sobrellevar la angustia, el tedio, la pérdida o el conflicto que desata las medidas de protección que han alterado nuestras vidas.

Creemos, sin embargo, que puede ser útil tomar un paso al costado y escucharnos desde otro lugar. Hay por lo menos dos elementos fuera de las prescripciones más concretas que valen la pena considerar. El primero, es que la pandemia nos ha colocado de manera dramática frente a la vulnerabilidad humana. Ante esto, algunos han querido continuar como si nada, como los presidentes de Brasil y México, besucones desafiantes, que parecerían estar en negación de los riesgos que implica el COVID-19. Lo cierto, es que desde el Príncipe Carlos hasta los plebeyos estamos expuestos. La omnipotencia no está resultando buena consejera.

A la vulnerabilidad se le suma una gran cuota de incertidumbre. Nuestros parámetros de control han sido trastocados. Hay recomendaciones que nos pueden ayudar a sobrellevar el día a día, pero inevitablemente necesitamos escuchar y articular el temor que surge. El miedo, lo sabemos, pero se nos olvida, es una alerta que necesita ser atendida, para poder prepararnos para lidiar con una amenaza. Lidiar con el miedo sin negarlo, pero sin quedar sobrepasado por el desespero, es parte de la tarea.

La escucha y el esfuerzo por darle palabra a nuestro mundo interno, es parte de una solución que lidia con la incertidumbre sin pretender tener las respuestas de antemano. Una de las maneras en que la psicoterapia psicoanalítica ha sido descrita es como una “conversación con la incertidumbre”. La gran verdad, es que ni los expertos tienen la respuesta completa de las dimensiones del problema ni de su solución. Lo más probable es que tengamos que hablar y escucharnos para descifrarlo en conjunto.

Lo que estamos diciendo, y que lleva al segundo elemento, es que el problema tiene que ver con la interdependencia humana, y su solución, probablemente también. Una de las medidas preventivas curiosamente se ha llamado “distanciamiento social”, cuando lo que necesitamos es distanciamiento físico, pero no social. Tanto por el proceso de concebir soluciones a un problema de dimensión sistémica, como por el funcionamiento biológico individual: la conexión humana es esencial. Sabemos que el sistema de defensa inmunológico está íntimamente relacionado con la vinculación interpersonal, la soledad nos hace más propensos a enfermar.

Nos estamos quedando en casa, aunque parezca paradójico, como gesto de profundo reconocimiento del otro. Nos quedamos en casa, para cuidar a los demás tanto como a nosotros mismos. Nos quedamos en casa, porque el bienestar del otro es indispensable para el bienestar nuestro. Visto así, nuestro encierro no es aislamiento. Las redes de solidaridad, para estar atentos a las personas de nuestro vecindario que no se pueden valer por sí mismas, el comunicar nuestra preocupación por el otro, el pedir ayuda, la música en los balcones o los aplausos a los operarios de salud, son gestos indispensables de conexión humana, necesarios para mantenernos sanos y cuerdos.

No olvidemos finalmente que los riesgos y las desventajas tienden a multiplicarse, por lo que, aquellos que vienen arrastrando desventajas, están ahora en una situación multiplicada de riesgo. Los que tienen alguna situación previa de vulnerabilidad, por edad, por salud, por pobreza, por red de apoyo limitada, están mucho más expuestos y haremos bien en pensar en el problema priorizando las necesidades de aquéllos que la van a sufrir más.

La cuarentena es un alto obligatorio que puede ayudar a hacer un parado en una vida que no deja de exigir apresuramiento, un llamado a abrir espacios para la reflexión, para recalibrar nuestras prioridades y para hacernos más conscientes de nuestra interdependencia, nuestra necesidad del otro, fomentar nuestra capacidad de construir la cultura en los términos que propuso Margaret Mead.

 

 

Margot Brandi, MD,
Sibcy House, Medical Director