Emotional Safety and How to Set Boundaries

Healthy social engagement depends on emotional safety. We need to feel safe in order to allow ourselves to be vulnerable with others and create healthy emotional connections. Relationship problems can stem from not knowing how to create emotionally safe environments through self-awareness and boundary-setting. 

New studies are revealing that we have neural pathways that respond to environmental stimuli to define a situation as safe, dangerous, or life-threatening. These evaluations are subconscious and automatic, but they trigger metabolic and chemical changes. When our nervous system senses we are “safe,” our facial muscles relax, our ears listen better, and we are able to respond in healthy social ways. If our bodies sense dangerous or life-threatening conditions, those systems shut down.

This autonomic system helps us understand the need for us to examine ourselves, our lifestyles, and our relationships for circumstances that may be creating a sense of danger within us, creating anxiety, stress, emotional outbursts, or unhealthy relationships.

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As a marriage and couples therapist, I often see people’s stressful situations spilling into their relationships. People who have high-stress jobs, for instance, should be able to come home and experience peace away from the job. However, this often is not the case, because they are still signaling a sense of danger – a tense facial expression, a heightened awareness of threats, real or imagined, and emotional distance. This is subconsciously communicated to their spouse and children, who then feel threatened by the over-stressed partner/parent. 

In these situations, when couples know they’re safe but don’t really “feel” safe emotionally, I help couples learn how to send “safe” signals to each other. 

Create boundaries

Sometimes, however, problems are more complicated. Certain people in your life may actually be unsafe for you, at least in the way your relationship currently is. In these cases, it’s important to determine the cause of these feelings and set up appropriate emotional boundaries. 

You may not have healthy boundaries if you allow a friend’s problems to affect your peace, or you take on other people’s moods when you’re around them. You may feel dependent upon another person for emotional support. You may be unable to say no to people, or you may put up with someone’s rudeness, bullying, or abusive behavior.

Concrete ways to create emotional safety

Start setting up emotional boundaries now, so that you can create an environment that supports emotional safety. Here are a few important first steps: 

  1. Recognize the need to put your own emotional, mental, and physical health first before helping others. Just as in airplanes you are instructed to put on your own oxygen mask before you put on your child’s, you must first care for yourself before you can care for others.
  2. Learn to say no to requests that make you uncomfortable, you don’t want to do, or you don’t have time to do.
  3. Create structure in your life to help you with the “saying no” part. For instance, if you plan to spend one hour of quality time with your family every evening and someone asks you to take on a task that would interfere with that time, you can more easily say, “I’m sorry, I do not have time to take that on,” or even “I have other plans.”
  4. Be willing to ask for help and accept help when it’s offered.
  5. Learn to delegate. You don’t have to do everything yourself.
  6. If you feel uncomfortable about the way you are being treated, speak up.
  7. Some people are toxic – they may talk about their own problems all the time, gossip, try to manipulate you, have bad tempers, or be abusive. Do what you can to eliminate those people from your lives. If the person is a boss, you may have to look for another job or find ways to limit your exposure to them. If that person is a family member or spouse, a counselor or even a family member willing to mediate may be able to help heal the toxicity.
  8. Do not carry guilt or allow others to make you feel guilty for not helping them. The kindest thing you can do for them is to take care of your own emotional and physical health so you can be there for them when they really need you. 

Reach out to a counselor or a support group as you begin to make boundaries and create a feeling of emotional safety in your life.

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How to Work from Home Without Feeling Alone: 8 Suggestions

Before COVID, working from home was a perk in some companies. Since the pandemic, many companies have most of their workforce working from home. And while some jobs may eventually return to the office, many will remain remote, at least for part of the work week. There are pros and cons to working from home, but you can decrease or eliminate the cons with a few small changes to your workday.

Working from home has great advantages: flexibility in your workday, time and money saved without the commute, and fewer interruptions from people stopping by your desk to chat. But it can be lonely and isolating. And in its own way, it can be distracting, especially if you start to get stir-crazy and allow yourself to be drawn away to other things (like social media) or grind and grind over some minor detail that you would have been able to get past quickly in a more stimulating environment. 

It can even bad for your health. When we work at home, we might find ourselves rolling out of bed, heading to the home office, and sitting and staring at the computer without moving for hours on end. But in the workplace, you might have gotten up for coffee, carried some papers to a coworker, or gone to a meeting. This movement, even though not much, is important for your health. 

So here are a few suggestions that can help you be happy, healthy, connected, and productive while working from home. Personalities are different – extroverts, introverts, and those in between will find their favorite ways to work, so let these suggestions guide you to what works for you. 

Business calls: Plan calls in the morning or right after a lunch break, to help invigorate you to get moving first thing or to get back to work after lunch. 

Videoconferencing: Most companies have instituted regular video meetings, but if yours has not, or if you feel the need for more, go ahead and connect with some colleagues on your own. It could be to chat about a project or it could be just a weekly social call to maintain that camaraderie and connection. I recommend video calls to get the best effect, short of actually being together. If possible, meet for lunch from time to time.

Connect with local business groups: There are lots of local organizations, some purely business, some with a philanthropic aspect, that allow professionals to meet regularly, develop friendships, and network. Even if you meet via Zoom, the connections are real, and they can positively affect both your mood and your business success.

Get up and move: Set a reminder if you have to, but take a few minutes every hour to stretch, get coffee, or do some eye exercises (yes, there are eye exercises for people who stare at screens all day). You need to get your lymph moving through your body, change the positions of your muscles, and give your brain a boost of happy hormones from movement and exercise. Try to plan a dedicated period of exercise of at least 20 minutes, 3-4 times per week. 

Get outside daily: You have the flexibility, so use it! We all need fresh air and vitamin D from the sun, so go outside, even if it’s just to do your stretches on the back porch. Fresh air and exercise have also been proven to improve mood. 

Vary your workspace: How about taking the laptop out to the patio? Move to a different room every few days, or go to a café to work for a few hours? Shared workspaces are useful for people who feel they need an office environment to really concentrate. 

Give yourself some background noise: This is a personal preference. Some people prefer silence, others like classical music, others contemporary, and others just want office sounds in the background. Fortunately, you can go online and find whatever music you like, and even soundtracks of office noise (ambient or white noise). Experiment to find out what works for you, and you might find that, depending on your project, you change up your background noise to give you the greatest productivity.

Interact with a pet or family member: Often you’re not the only one in the house when you work from home. This can help alleviate loneliness. Walk the dog, have lunch with your spouse, and enjoy the extra time you have with them. 

If you have to work from home, you can make it work for you, and you’ll probably find that you love the freedom and flexibility it gives.

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Setting Marriage Goals

We often make goals for ourselves, but it’s also beneficial to make goals in our relationships. If you’re married, the most critical relationship on earth is the one with your spouse. Marriage – the blending of two very different people into a new, special unit – is challenging by its very nature, but it can and often does bring a sense of joy and completeness to life when done well. As a marriage counselor, I have the privilege of helping couples strengthen and heal their marriages so they can truly know that joy. 

Big Picture Marriage Goals

There are certain fundamentals that are necessary for every healthy marriage, and talking these out together and committing to them will put your marriage on a very strong foundation. These qualities include:

  • Committing to putting effort into your marriage
  • Treating each other with respect and trust
  • Building healthy communication
  • Committing to quality time together on a regular basis
  • Being willing to compromise, and accepting fundamental differences
  • Appreciating each other’s differences and focusing on strengths
  • Regularly fulfilling each other’s need for intimacy and tenderness
  • Forgiving each other when your imperfections hurt each other 

These qualities don’t always come easy to everyone, and as a counselor, I help couples work through them, develop them, and strengthen them. 

How to Apply the Big Picture Goals to Daily Life

Applying these fundamentals can differ from couple to couple, depending on their personalities, situations in life, and personal interests. But here is a list of some things I have suggested to couples that have been very helpful, depending on their particular needs:

  • Less time looking at the screen, more time with each other: Set a time of the night when phones, TV, etc. go off and you spend time together instead. Commit to no phones or distractions at dinner! Turn your attention to each other and your children, if you have them.
  • More date nights: Plan them into your schedule and commit to them. It doesn’t have to be dinner out, it can be a shared activity or sport, like biking together. Just plan it and do it.
  • Add a new relationship ritual: You could write each other a weekly love letter; share coffee in bed on Sunday mornings; have a daily 30-second hug; say a prayer together before bed.
  • Celebrate the day: Talk about what went well that day, and share at least one thing that you’re grateful for. Some people talk about their day’s highs and lows, but studies show that focusing on highs is healthier emotionally. This is not to say we should ignore bad days or sad feelings. Discussing what’s bothering you is very important, but focusing on the positive is a formula for healing.
  • Read a book together: Reading a book and discussing it is a powerful ritual. The book can be about a shared interest; it can be about something one of you is interested in and wants to share with the other; it can be about improving your marriage or improving communication; or it could be a work of literature. Pick something you both agree on and take the time to read and discuss it over a few weeks, building shared experience and delving deeper into each other’s thoughts.
  • Plan a romantic getaway: Depending on your budget and time, it can be a day-trip, a weekend, or a trip of a lifetime.
  • Commit to improving your communication skills: Keep the big picture goals in mind at all times when communicating. Consider reading a book about marital communication together, and find what techniques work for you. If you have a real problem, an experienced marriage counselor can help you develop the key skills necessary for healthy communication.
  • Get physically fit together: It’s fun to work out together or choose healthier foods together.

This is just a short list of possible goals you can set. Talk with your spouse about which of these ideas you might both enjoy doing, or come up with your own. There are many marriage websites, books, and support groups with other ideas. 

Marriage goals are not an opportunity to bludgeon the other spouse with something that you don’t like, for instance, “don’t be so lazy” or “stop spending so much money.” You may have those issues to work out, but these goals are meant to be shared commitments to each other to strengthen your marriage. And I have found, from my experience, that when couples focus on the big picture goals and choose specific activities to put them into practice, other problems improve. 

If you need help, don’t give up. Talk to a marriage therapist in your area, or reach out to me in the NYC region to help your marriage flourish.

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Your Mental Health Goals for 2021 and Beyond

We all know about making “New Year’s Resolutions.” Common resolutions may be to lose weight, quit smoking, or start a new hobby. These may be good resolutions in themselves, and we are now in to the third month of the New Year so did you made your mental health New Year’s Resolutions, too? 

Remember that your resolutions should be specific to your needs, not what others say you should do. Maybe you should lose weight, quit smoking, or start a hobby, but should they be priorities? Will they, at this moment in time, help or harm your mental health? If you give yourself the goal of exercising 3 times a week, will that actually cause you more mental stress if you really don’t have the internal drive to do it? Choose resolutions with your own mental health and immediate needs in mind. 

Make Realistic Goals

You may have heard about making S.M.A.R.T. goals. This acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-limited. It’s a good general guideline, but don’t stress out about making sure you hit every point! 

The idea is to choose “Specific” actions that are “Realistic” and “Achievable” for you, personally. “Measurable” might mean writing down your mood each day to see progress over time, but if this causes stress for you, try a weekly, big-picture evaluation. “Time-limited” may refer to short-term and long-term goals or goals that are connected with a specific event in life, like preparing for your wedding or graduating college. 

Mental Health Goals for 2021 – or Any Time

Some big picture goals and suggested actions include:

  • Practice self-love and self-compassion: Start every day with a positive statement about the day and about yourself – “today will be a great day” or “I can handle anything that comes my way today” or “I am a strong person”; post supportive quotes and images where you’ll see them every day and say them out loud; develop consistent self-love rituals, such as journaling, regular pampering sessions, and meditation or deep breathing.
  • Practice mindfulness or meditation: Take time daily to just be present in the moment – sit quietly and listen to your breathing, notice sounds of birds, the warmth of the air around you, and relax; take time daily to pray or to meditate on positive thoughts.
  • Set boundaries: Learn to say no to activities that overwhelm you; decrease interaction with individuals who produce anxiety in your life. If such an individual is a family member or co-worker and difficult to avoid, consider counseling or support groups to help you improve the relationship or cope in a healthy manner.
  • Care for your body: Develop an exercise routine that is realistic for you. If you have a dog to walk, that counts. Maybe “power walk” instead of just walking casually. Find a friend who also wants to get in shape and help each other with your goals.
  • Challenge negative thoughts: Develop the skill to examine your thoughts and watch for negativity. Everyone has negative thoughts sometimes, but you don’t have to believe everything that comes into your mind! Control negative thoughts by evaluating if they are actually true – often there is no evidence to support the thought. Even if it is partially true, be kind to yourself, because no one is perfect; direct your mind to thoughts that challenge the non-credible or half-truth. For instance, if you think, “I’m so stupid!” ask yourself, “Is that really true?” Of course, it’s not. Replace that negative thought with examples of your intelligence. This is an excellent habit to develop.
  • Manage stress, anxiety, depression: Evaluate stressors in your life and find ways to limit or eliminate them, possibly with the help of a friend or counselor; use of the goals above to help manage stress, anxiety, and depression. 

Remember, consistency is more important than perfection when it comes to mental health goals. “Perfect” is impossible. “Pretty good” is an achievement in itself! For most people, applying a few of the suggestions above does wonders for mental health. However, if you feel you need additional help, please reach out to a support group or an experienced counselor. No one needs to suffer alone. From my years as a counselor, I can assure you that it is possible for you to feel better, happier, and less stressed. Find a counselor in your area, or feel free to reach out to me in the NYC area.

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Your Mental Health during COVID-19

The restrictions that have been imposed due to the pandemic have had a dramatic effect on overall mental health, according to a Gallup poll taken in November 2020. Although the majority of adults in America currently rate their mental health as excellent or good (76%), that represents a 9 point drop over 2019 and a corresponding sharp increase in negative ratings. As a counselor, I don’t need a Gallup poll to tell me people are experiencing a decline in mental and emotional health because of the pandemic and the restrictions imposed to contain the spread. 

Now enter the second wave of COVID-19. Some states are implementing shutdowns again, which could cause continued deterioration in the mental health of both children and adults in America. If you’ve been feeling negative emotional consequences of the pandemic, you are going to have to be extra vigilant and make a strong, intentional effort to take steps to keep yourself in a positive mental state. 

Do the basics

Be very intentional about maintaining basic habits that have a significant impact on your mental health. These include eating healthy foods on a regular basis, getting sufficient sleep, and exercising. When you are feeling low or experiencing anxiety or depression, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to maintain basic healthy habits. If you’re experiencing this scenario, find a “basics buddy” to whom you can be accountable. Your buddy might also need help to keep up healthy habits, so it could really be good for both of you.

 Find more ways to connect

Maybe you were ok not seeing people for a couple of months during the initial restrictions. But if you keep it up for too long, you may find such isolation adversely affecting your relationships and your emotional and mental health. Now is the time to look into participating in online book clubs, setting up chat groups with friends, and planning regular, scheduled “visits” with family members utilizing one of the many video conferencing platforms available. 

Research new financial streams

If your income has been impacted, don’t allow yourself to give up or sit around the house. Do some research to look into side gigs that would work in this new economy. You might be surprised at the many ways you can make money! 

You can sell things on eBay or Craig’s List, look into being a distributor for a product you really love, or begin a hobby creating products you can sell, like homemade soaps. Try freelancing or consulting. Publish an ebook. Get paid to take surveys or do user tests. 

Just the act of discovering the many income options available can give you a sense of hope that things may turn out all right. By finding what works for you and starting to earn your own little side income, you could be building something that will be a source of relief. 

Get help

There’s no doubt that the longer the shutdown lasts, the more difficult it will be to maintain long-term emotional and mental health. If you are trying to implement these steps and it just isn’t giving you enough relief, do not hesitate to get help from a licensed mental health expert. Find someone in your area, or feel free to call me today to see how I can help. 

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Strengthening Your Marriage During the Pandemic

Proximity does not automatically equal connection. During the pandemic, you and your spouse may be spending many more hours together in the same location, but that doesn’t mean you’re connecting better – in fact, you may be having a harder time. Or if one or both of you are essential workers, you may not be “stuck” together all the time as many married couples are, but you may have additional stress from being out and about during the pandemic, probably working harder than usual and possibly being in greater risk of catching COVID-19.

These are the times that can try a marriage, but you can use this time to strengthen your marriage instead if you take proactive steps.

Have an attitude of gratitude. You will hear this advice in virtually every self-help or mental health recommendation, and for good reason – it works. A positive, thankful attitude colors the way you react to all the experiences of life. During this time of pandemic, when it’s so easy to focus on what we don’t have right now, focus on what you do have instead.

Affirm your spouse daily. This is connected to a spirit of gratitude and positivity. While your spouse may have some annoying traits, recognize that he or she is not perfect and doesn’t have to be. Your spouse is his or her own person, as are you. You don’t want your spouse to try to mold you into the “perfect” person either. So take time to focus on your life partner’s positive traits and affirm them every day. Certainly, thank your spouse for kind acts (“Thanks so much for cleaning up that spill before someone slipped”) but also affirm qualities (“You always seem to notice what other people need before they ask. That’s a wonderful trait.”)

When you verbalize a person’s good points, not only does it make the other person feel appreciated, it makes you actually appreciate the person more. This strengthens your relationship against many stressors and creates an atmosphere in which you can, when necessary, discuss areas of your marriage that need improvement without damaging your bond.

Show mutual respect. With all the stress we’re under, either from being cooped up at home or being an essential worker, there is bound to be an increase of annoyances. If you are regularly affirming your spouse, you should be in a good place to be able to address important issues lovingly and respectfully without hurt feelings. If necessary, you can come up with a “code phrase” that evokes a sense of playful love as a precursor to the discussion. It could be a line from a movie you both know (“What we have here is a failure to communicate!”) that signals you need to talk. Admit candidly to each other that the other person might not want to hear what has to be said right now, but agree to disarm or drop barriers so that you can both discuss the issue civilly and peacefully and allow time to internalize.

Hug, kiss, and spend time together. Oxytocin is one of those hormones released from the brain that creates good feelings. This hormone is released in long embraces of 20 seconds or more and in kisses of 3 seconds or more. I recommend hugging and kissing like this at least twice a day, creating a physical and hormonal bond between you.

Still keep up your “date night,” or start one if you haven’t been in the habit. You don’t have to go out, just spend time together, away from the children, work, and chores. This can also include picking up a hobby together, like bicycling, puzzle-building, or origami. Whatever it is, let it include exercise and/or discussion, not sitting in front of the TV or video screen together. Though the occasional movie night can be fun, it doesn’t foster as much communication and bonding. 

These pieces of advice apply to marriage at any time, but during the pandemic, sensitivity, respect, communication, and spending time together are critically important. Contact me if you find your marriage needs some help from a marriage counselor to make it through these tough times.

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Creativity – Could It Be the Answer to Curbing Stress?

Most of us deal with stress at various times in our lives. Currently, while our world still struggles against the COVID-19 pandemic, that stress and anxiety is heightened in many people. However, research shows that creativity may be an important key to reducing stress and anxiety and living longer, healthier lives.

The Science of Creativity

In a recent study carried out by the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, researchers gave healthy adults some basic art supplies to use for 45 minutes. The study found that 75% of the participants experienced a drop in their cortisol level, which is the hormone the body secretes in response to stress. 

A study done by Johns Hopkins on jazz musicians found that as the musicians improvised, the frontal area of the brain used for deliberation, self-monitoring, or test-taking decreased in activity. This suggests the “turning off” of more conscious thought, freeing more experiential and emotional parts of the brain to express themselves. 

Another study followed 1,000 elderly men over nearly 20 years and found that the more creative men lived longer, healthier lives. 

Reducing Your Stress Levels

All this science just demonstrates what we counselors have known all along – that focusing on a creative pursuit helps the mind to slow down, be in the present moment, be diverted from that which is causing stress or anxiety, and ultimately, feel more peaceful. 

Creativity engages the imagination, which frees us of the taskmaster of the prefrontal cortex – as the jazz musicians taught us – while still providing enough framework for being constructive and productive. When you’re really, deeply focused on your task, you can reach a state called “flow,” technically defined as an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” When you’re in this state, you may lose track of time, not notice anything else that’s going on, and “forget yourself.”

The wonderful thing about creative pursuits is that they release massive amounts of pleasure-inducing, performance-inducing chemicals in the brain: dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, and more. All these help to improve our mood, thus decreasing stress and anxiety. These “happy hormones” really flood the system when you reach the state of flow and often last for days afterward. 

The key to applying the benefits of creativity to your life is to determine what you actually like to do that can distract you from your stressors and give you the opportunity to escape into a world of creation and expression. Any creative endeavor will do, really. Try a couple of things and find what works best for you. 

If the idea of a blank piece of paper and crayons causes you to panic because you “don’t know what to draw,” try adult coloring books. They are a great springboard for releasing your inner artist. Perhaps you have musical skills. Have you ever tried composing? What about creative writing? Maybe try poetry or short stories. Creative cooking, creative dance, photography – there are many avenues you can try.

Remember, the goal is to find a creative pursuit that takes your mind off what is causing you anxiety and onto the creation of something new and beautiful. Find what moves you, what lifts your spirits, and dive in.

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Politics and Your Marriage

Every couple has differences. You’re two different people with different backgrounds, different experiences, and different triggers. Some differences are inconsequential and easily overlooked, but when they are connected with deeply held beliefs and core values, as is usually the case with politics, religion, and child-rearing, much sensitivity and compassion are required to ensure peaceful coexistence. 

Of the three issues, politics may be the easiest to tackle. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy. When you and your spouse disagree on politics, you may feel threatened, as if your concept of right and wrong is being challenged. When dealing with political differences, the most important qualities that must be in play are the sincere desire to treat your spouse with respect, to understand each other, and to find common ground – or at least declare a ceasefire. You don’t have to agree on everything, and that’s ok. 

When working through your differences, try these strategies:

  • Choose love and respect. See the differences as an opportunity to get to know each other better, to understand each other better, and to grow closer by it. Attitude is just about the most important aspect of mental health and relationship health. A positive, respectful, mutually supportive attitude can carry a couple through almost any hardship in life. And there will be hardships, so consider working through this issue as practice for the big stuff that may come.
  • Discuss and listen. Approach differences with curiosity. Be interested in why your spouse has these views and discover the key issues that motivate that decision, then compare them to the key issues that motivate you. Just seeing that you’re focusing on different things might be enough to explain your differences. You might agree that, yes, Candidate A might do a better job on this issue, but Candidate B might do a better job on that issue. Recognizing the strengths each candidate has can help you both feel validated as you recognize that based on your key issues, each has a valid point.
  • Consider triggers. The person you support might remind your spouse of someone he or she was hurt by – an authoritarian parent or a bad boss, perhaps. It’s hard sometimes to separate our emotions from our judgments.
  • Your trigger might not be the person but rather an issue that upsets you in an unhealthy manner. If you feel you’re getting angry or emotionally upset, take deep breaths or take a break. Watch for this in your spouse as well, and take a break if necessary. If one issue is particularly painful, you may have to agree not to discuss that issue.
  • Look at yourself and ask, “How would I feel if my spouse said that to me?” Ask yourself if you are following the golden rule in your political discussions – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  • If all else fails, ban the subject until after the election. This also means not watching or reading political information in each other’s presence. This way you avoid overhearing what is going on and seeing each other’s reactions. When the election is over, no gloating if your candidate won; no sulking if your candidate lost; and no saying “I told you so.” The goal is to keep the peace.

If you’re having political differences in your relationship, maybe have your spouse read this article so you’re both following the same game plan. As an added bonus, the principles used to overcome or at least live in harmony with political differences can also be applied to other sensitive issues like religion and child-rearing. These have their own unique difficulties, but they, too, can be resolved amicably, when the couple is committed to each other.

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Bored and Stuck at Home? Ideas for Your Mental and Emotional Health

Life isn’t returning to normal very quickly in various parts of the country, including here in NYC. People living in urban areas, in particular, tend to be accustomed to having lots of exciting activities to engage in outside of their homes, but that’s not possible right now. Playhouses, movie theaters, and professional sports venues are mostly closed; gyms, too, are closed or considerably restricted; restaurants may allow outdoor seating with limited capacity, but as it gets colder, fewer people will want to eat al fresco. Face-to-face book clubs, sports clubs, and other group activities aren’t happening. So what can you do to get out of the house, stay active, and maintain your mental and emotional health? 

Hobbies and Pastimes for Mental and Emotional Health in COVID-19 Times

Yes, time spent watching TV or surfing the web has increased dramatically in the last few months, but I don’t recommend these as particularly good for mental health. There’s so much on mass media that can drag one down, and it does not generally engage the brain or the body. These are two important factors for mental health – engaging the brain and the body. Many people are picking up new hobbies that address both of these important factors. 

Exercise comes in many forms: working out with a work-out video or channel, doing yoga, taking walks in the park or walking the dog, and bicycling are excellent options. Science has clearly proven that exercise does wonders for emotional well-being. Getting out of the house, soaking up vitamin D from the sun, and breathing in fresh air are very good for your physical health, in addition to the benefits to your muscles from the exercise. 

Other activities that engage the brain include word puzzles, reading, writing a book or poetry, learning a new language, and learning an instrument. Hobbies like knitting, crocheting, and other crafts can be fun and relaxing, as are gardening and baking, which may exercise new muscles or new areas of the brain as you work to master any of these activities.

I recommend you pick up an activity or two in both categories so that you exercise both your body and your mind. 

If you are partnered, married or have children, I recommend you also come up with some fun things you can do with your family. Board games, picnics, creating your own family reading and discussion group, playing Frisbee or some other simple sport as a family – all these will add the dimension of strengthening family bonds.

Other Benefits

Hobbies and pastimes do more for you than just keep your brain and body from turning to mush. They make you a more well-rounded person and add new layers to your personality and your own self-identity. They can expand your circle of friends and connections. The skills you learn, along with the exercise to your brain, may help you in your career path and develop motivation and creativity. When we’re stuck at home with limited activities, these activities can help you structure your time, decrease boredom, and give you something to look forward to after a tough day.

As I have encouraged my clients as well as readers of my blog articles, it’s very important to develop a mindset of finding the best in every situation. Though the shutdowns have been painful in many ways, we don’t have to be victims. Take the time to develop some new interests or pick up old interests and nurture your relationships. You might find that these times have hidden blessings!

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Exhaustion of Infertility

If you’re struggling with the issue of infertility, you know how emotionally exhausting it can be. Pressures can come from within and without, often from people who love you the most and who mean well. It’s critical for you to guard your mental health in order to guard your physical health and increase the possibility of healing infertility.

Exterior pressures

The medical interventions available to help couples overcome fertility issues run a broad range of levels, from following simple medical recommendations to pharmaceuticals and surgery. Some protocols can feel invasive and demeaning, or may eliminate the spontaneity and joy that should accompany love-making.

Having to be constantly vigilant and aware of your body in order to follow medical advice can create a sense of stress, always being in the “fight or flight” mode. If you’re taking medications, some of them also affect mood. Being aware of these side effects may help you remain calmer. When you can say to yourself, “These feelings are just caused by the medication” or “These feelings are just caused by the heightened awareness I’m in right now” you may be able to step outside of your feelings and realize they are not really “you.” 

Other exterior pressures can come from friends and family, who often are trying to be helpful, but other times may be downright rude. Asking “Are you pregnant yet?” is insensitive. In these situations, if you can do so calmly, try to let the person know how you feel. If the person is a friend, he or she will understand and be more sensitive in the future. If not, it might be best to try to avoid that person. You need to surround yourself with supporters, not detractors. 

Other times loved ones may offer a suggestion they read about that helps infertility. This is intended as a kindness. I have had clients who really appreciate these suggestions, but others who feel additional pressure from them. Whichever your response, I encourage you to keep in mind the person’s good intentions and try to discuss as needed so the suggestions are truly helpful, not adding to your anxiety. 

Interior pressures

No matter who we are, we need to be aware of our own self-talk and adjust it to be self-supportive, not self-defeating. This is especially true for those dealing with infertility. Feeling worthless or undeserving, blaming yourself for some past behavior that you perceive may have caused the fertility problems, and experiencing jealousy or sorrow upon seeing couples with children are all common reactions but they are also unhealthy. It’s critical that you learn ways to turn these thoughts around so they do not drag you down. 

We can also sometimes transfer our own emotions to others. In doing so, you are amplifying your own negative feelings by applying them to someone else. For example, you may feel terrible about disappointing your spouse. While your spouse may indeed be disappointed, your own disappointment may be amplifying your perception. Your spouse loves you and therefore is probably more concerned about you than you realize. 

If you are dealing with these kinds of emotionally exhausting and unhealthy thought patterns and are unable to find ways to control and redirect your thoughts, please reach out for help. It’s important to have a strong bond of communication with your spouse, but you may also want to find an infertility support group or a counselor who specializes in helping couples struggling with infertility. Reach out to me if you are in the NYC area to see how I can help you.

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