Why Massages and Mud Baths Aren’t Cutting It During this Pandemic and What to Do About It.

I attended the Massachusetts Conference for Women today and heard something that stopped me in my tracks. Lisa Damour, Ph.D., and author of the book, Under Pressure: Confronting Anxiety & Stress in Girls, was talking about anxiety and she referred to “disciplined self-care.”

I need to say it again: “Disciplined Self Care.” It feels like it should be capitalized. 

I am slightly surprised that I am not triggered by this term. Self-care, as a term, has always triggered me. It has always felt like massages and mud baths. I know it isn’t, but that is where my brain goes. That’s for another blog.

Because of this bizarre brain trickery, I have had to reframe self care to fit my needs which include boundaries, community, freedom, and choice. I love a good mud bath, but I know I am taking care of myself when I thoughtfully weigh and measure what I say yes to, what words or behavior I’ll accept in my presence, and being able to operate from choice.

And “discipline?” I have a love/hate relationship with that word. I am drawn to it and also have all kinds of stories and judgment about how my form of discipline isn’t the right kind of discipline. And maybe I judged it in the same way I judged self-care. I’ve been shining a light on that shadow in my inner work.

But I digress (duh, don’t I always?).

Disciplined. Self. Care. 

Dr. Damour talked about the Quar and her research that led her to shift what is called for as a way of establishing positive, long term, coping skills for chronic stress. Chronic stress comes when we can’t get a break from the stressor. Self-care isn’t enough.

Chronic stress calls for Disciplined Self Care.

I love it.

She described the need to build physical and emotional care into our lives as a matter of discipline. No matter what. Disciplined self care, she said, would be the practice that helps us cope for the long haul.

If you’ve worked with me, you know I talk about shining a light on our truth which requires us to shine a light in some shadowy places and name what we find there. Often, we find an emotion that we have resisted. Our loved ones often know what’s going on, but we can’t see it. We are blind to what we don’t want to see. This is resistance. 

She talked about the same thing, but she also took it a step further. When we are working with chronic stress, Dr. Damour shared that by adopting Disciplined Self Care, we are building resilience. The Quar is ongoing, so the stress will come and go, but the windows of relief can open further. 

Disciplined Self Care:

  • A sleep routine;
  • a habit of eating regularly and nutritiously;
  • getting our bodies moving; and, 
  • “getting out of our own way on someone else’s behalf.”

This will do the job. 

So there is something to this. If you are feeling the impact of the Quar in ways that feel burdensome, or someone in your family (Your mom? Your siblings? Your kids? Your friends?) is salty or withdrawn or into their negative coping in some other way, suggest they take a walk with you. Make a delicious, healthy, meal. Go to bed at the same time every night. Reach out to a neighbor or someone else in a way that sshifts your focus to be in service of them.

Check in with yourself. Check in on your pals. No one is exempt from the impact of the Quar. It calls for Disciplined Self Care.

What does that look like for you? 

And if this doesn’t do the trick, reach out to me. Or someone else. Ask for help. You might be the one who needs to benefit from the service of another. Allow yourself that. 

That, too, is Disciplined. Self. Care. 

How Do I Know Whether I Need a Life Coach or a Therapist?

My practice has seen an onslaught of beautiful seekers looking for something, many not knowing exactly what. They aren’t happy, and while they may engage in conjecture about the reasons, they just haven’t been able to get out of their own way and move towards a goal. And sometimes, the goal is to have less anxiety. It is a coach-y/therapy-y issue, but which one?

This crossroads presents a choice to the seeker:

“Who can help me?”

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1.   Do you need to see someone?

  • No one actually needs a coach. Coaching is not about treatment. Coaching is about co-creating a relationship that involves helping you to access your own, inner resources that will support the change you want. Coaches help you move from “perfect as you are,” to “always room to grow.”
  • Therapists are uniquely qualified to treat mood disorders, personality disorders, and help those who struggle to function in the world. Therapy involves healing. People need therapists. Some therapists with additional training will cross over to the role of coach, too.
  • Because of this distinction, health insurance does not cover coaching in the United States. It might cover therapy, depending on your plan and whether or not the therapist accepts your insurance. So if cost is a factor, you might look for a therapist with whom you can use your health insurance.

2.   Do you have symptoms, resulting from trauma, that you are looking to get relief from?

  • If you have experienced a traumatic event and are having symptoms like flashbacks, too much or too little sleep, loss of executive functioning, memory issues, or other symptoms, your best bet is to start with your primary care physician, followed by a therapist. The therapist might enlist the help of a coach to help with strategies related to daily functioning, but the treatment of the emotional component related to the trauma is best evaluated by a trauma-informed therapist. 
  • Caveat: Coaches can be trauma-informed but make sure the coach is able to share specifically what qualifies them to identify themselves this way. In fact, the competencies of a credentialed coach fit the model for trauma-informed work nicely, but it is not a given that all coaches are actually trauma-informed. If this is important for the work you need to do, please ask them specifically about this. Frankly, this is true if you hire a therapist, as well.

3.   Do you have a goal you want to achieve and just can’t get out of your own way to achieve it? 

  • This is a great time to enlist a coach. Coaches are excellent at seeing your own, unique genius and helping you to access your inner world in order to clear the path towards creating a life you want. They are deep listeners, accountability partners, and have your agenda as their primary focus. What you want is what they want for you. It is an incredibly powerful relationship. 
  • Things you might want to seek help with in this category include executive functioning, business goals, career issues, or parenting help. 

4.   When in doubt, ask. I receive inquiry calls all the time where we have a discussion about what the person is looking for and whether or not I feel like I can help them. I am really clear about the way I work, what I pay attention to, and what circumstances might have me refer to a colleague. Oh, and there’s that…I have colleagues. I refer out. I want you to get what you want in this one, beautiful whack at life you have. If you sense that the professional on the other end of the phone is working from a place of scarcity, that’s a warning sign. There are enough clients out there for all of us. You don’t owe that person anything, other than a yay or nay.

Which brings me to the final point….

5.  If this is something you are considering, go to your own, inner resources. Sit quietly. Imagine yourself working with this person. Consult the guide, Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Therapist or Life Coach. And then leap. This is not your forever family. You are hiring someone to provide a service and can operate fully in choice. To do otherwise, would be to not take that first step towards a better you.

You are the best person to choose your helping professional. 

Life Coaching and Therapy are two distinct helping professions with different codes of ethics and different competencies. Is there overlap? You betcha’. Are there times to choose one over the other? Yup. Do your homework. Ultimately, you are hiring a human being. The connection you find there is often as important, if not more important, than the framework they use. Take a leap. Make the call to the person you are most drawn to. And then bring this question to them. See what they say!

Why COVID-19 is Anything But “The Great Equalizer.”

How we’ve confused our shared vulnerability with a perceived sense of equity.

I’ve written this blog more times than I can count.

For whatever reason, I haven’t posted it. I write and I re-write. It has morphed many times.

I found myself too wordy, or feeling a little bit “soap-boxy”. I have all the drafts in my saved documents.

But I feel angst and I have to say something.

Hearing COVID-19 being referred to as the great equalizer is exhausting. Because it isn’t.

There. I said it (try to think of it as consciousness-raising and not judgement).

“Anyone can get it ~ even Hollywood is quarantining!”

I’m sure you’ve heard this or some version of this.

Don’t get me wrong… I love looking at the insides of peoples’ homes; the late night talk show hosts, the news anchors, the recording artists and the SNL cast.

But no one seems to be talking about those people for whom COVID-19 has made an already marginalized existence even more marginalized.

While the Governor emphasizes mask-wearing and social distancing as best prevention, I know people who are looking at each other, wondering, “How?”

When you are living in an overcrowded home or are doubled up because you’ve lost your housing, social distancing is a privilege for other people. Keeping high risk folks distant from low risk folks isn’t an option. When three or four generations of people live together, COVID spreads like wildfire.

When suddenly schools went on-line, we forgot about those who might not have access to the levels of information that many of us have. When information is disseminated by email, people with no internet service don’t receive the information. If you are someone who attends community college and rely on the desktop computers made available to students at the school, you didn’t have the means to do your homework once the schools closed. Adding obstacles like that to an already complicated life is just what it takes to have students drop out. The Boston Globe reported this weekend that 10,000 students in the Boston Public School system have not logged on once to access their classes.

COVID-19 has prevented many immigrant students from being able to access the one thing they came to this country for: an education. They have lost their allies in the school system. They can’t access their education because of language or internet access, and are among those still working, at risk to their health, because there aren’t other options.

I recently spoke to a social worker who was helping a high school student create a budget. This student, whose hours had been reduced, had to pay their “coyote” ~ the term used to describe the brokers who bring folks to the United States at a very high price ~ under the threat of murder to their family back home. Coyotes don’t really care that COVID-19 has gotten in the way of their payments; they want to be paid. For these young, unaccompanied minors, keeping their families safe is a priority.

Sidebar: these first generation kids who miss out on the ceremony of graduation, be it from high school or college, are still plugging along, doing their thing. Because they have to. HAVE TO. They can’t afford to lament that rite of passage. I’d like to see us lament it for them.

And masks? I would have no idea how to get a mask if I didn’t have Facebook. I know. Embarrassing. And yet, we see people of color being harassed in some areas of our country for not wearing masks.

The rate of gun violence has increased in the City of Boston. People have lost their infrastructure. They are selling their phones, cutting off their WiFi, wondering how they’ll pay back rent. They have lost their social workers and case managers.

People are lonely.

People are scared.

Because people are focusing on survival ~ maintaining an income, keeping their family healthy, and staying fed ~ their brain chemistry is actually changing. This kind of trauma closes our neural pathways and contracts our thinking. Depression and anxiety cause our executive functioning to shut down.

Asking people to jump through hoops to get services or food or medical care can feel as simple as, “This is not for you. It’s for the ‘other’ people.”

And we wonder why people rage. We judge. We separate ourselves.

Or we tell ourselves the lie that the Coronavirus has made us all the same.

It has not. It has revealed an already existing chasm and made it much bigger.

So please, stop. I know you mean well. It makes us all feel better to know we are just like John Legend or Jimmy Kimmel or Margot Robbie.

Let’s not forget about those looking to us. Many of us are the privileged; those who can get on-line and see family via zoom. Who can socially distance, even in our homes. We aren’t wondering where our next roll of toilet paper will come from (although admittedly, I have wondered this) or our next gallon of milk.

When we look to our left and see a great equalizer, but let’s also look to our right. There is a chasm there that needs to be acknowledged. We can’t do anything about it if we don’t see it. Please see it.