Keeping Yourself Healthy: Mind, Part 2

Let’s continue our discussion of keeping healthy in the mind, following Part 1’s information on 1. instincts and 2. feelings.

What does it take to keep your mind healthy? What do you have available to you?

  1. Thoughts:  These are natural and important to understand.  They can guide you. For example, “I need to use social distance for my health and the health of others.” Or, “I don’t like social distancing. I feel alone and isolated.” They can also be overwhelming, disorienting or misleading. Ask yourself if this is a helpful thought for now or an unhelpful thought (maybe from your past or from others).   You can do this through talking with others and journaling.
  2. Images: These can come in many forms and include visual, auditory and even olfactory visions.  They are information from parts of your mind that connect to the thought and feeling and instinctual parts of your mind. They can be guiding and helpful in the present. They may also be memories from the past or from others that may or may not guide you effectively now. Take time to identify images you are having and ask if they are helpful to you now. You can do this through art, music, dreaming, play (kids are often great at this last one).

Use these techniques to keep your mind healthy and better equip yourself to find peace in difficult times. Try to schedule these into your daily calendar and share with your family. We will discuss these more in depth in future posts. Our next posting will discuss keeping your spirit healthy.


Keeping Yourself Healthy: Mind, Part 1

We continue our discussion of keeping healthy, with today’s focus being the mind. What does it take to keep your mind healthy? What do you have available to you?

  1. Instincts: These are hard wired in us and can be rapidly guiding in times of survival.  They are also sometimes difficult to understand and can be misleading.  For example, the instinct to fight, flee, faint or freeze may be helpful when a tiger is present or to step away from someone coughing in your space. These actions may not be the best first response to other stressors. What are your predictable instinctual reactions?  If those are not helpful to you today, try square breathing or mindfulness. Square breathing is breathing in for four counts, holding for four counts, exhaling for four counts, holding for four counts and then repeating. Mindfulness is focusing on the present to affect your mental state, with acceptance of your feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations.
  2. Feelings:  These are natural and important to understand.  They can guide you.  For example, if you feel anxious, that feeling can help you prepare to keep yourself safe.  If you are feeling angry it can help you protect yourself.  If you are feeling love, it can help you connect. Too much or too little of any feeling can become an imbalance.  Take time each day to identify your feelings. Ask yourself if this is a helpful feeling from the present or if it’s an unhelpful feeling about the past or from another person.  You can learn how to manage feelings to your benefit.  You can “name them to tame them,” where you effectively manage your feelings by learning how to label them. For example, David Kessler shared this week about COVID-19 that we are all having the feeling of grief.  Once you know that part of the jitters in your body and anxiety in your mind is “grief,” there is often a calming sensation in your body and with your emotions (“tame it”). This happens as we transfer the experiences from deeper structures of our brain (areas where instinct and emotions reside) to the cerebral cortex (the part of our brain where thoughts reside).  We will talk more about how to manage some of these challenging feelings like fear, anger and grief in future posts.

Look for Keeping Yourself Healthy: Mind, Part 2 in our next post.


Keeping Yourself Healthy: Body, Part 2

Today we continue our discussion of keeping healthy in the body, carrying on from yesterday’s information on 1. good sleep practices, 2. regular meals, and 3. exercise.

Body: What does it take to keep your body healthy? What do you have available to you?

  1. Hygiene: Many cultures have suggestions on this. Find what is right for you. Wash your hands often, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds. Consider washing all your clothes after venturing outdoors. Don’t forget to brush your teeth twice daily and floss each day.
  2. Routine:  If possible, stay on a schedule of these things.  Your body depends on regular, consistent periods to recharge and work at its best. If you are sick or have experienced stress, listen to your body. It will likely tell you how you may need to alter sleep, meals and exercise.
  3. Sensations: Tune in to the sensations in your body.  They can guide you to understand and cope with your environment. They can also throw you off from the present. For example, if your body is remembering how to cope with a past trauma it may be the wrong sensation for the present. Take time each day to tune into your body and understand these sensations.
  4. Your Gut: There is relatively new understanding of our gut and how the health of our gut effects our mental and physical health.  Information on this topic is extensive and evolving.  Before publishing today’s blog this opportunity for 8 free lectures this weekend popped up in my email. Take a quick moment and tap the link below to attend The Gut Health Roundtable talks on gut health, immunity and mental and emotional well-being.

Keeping your body healthy will help you to better handle the new situations we all find ourselves in. Tomorrow we’ll continue the focus on your health with a discussion on keeping your mind healthy.


Keeping Yourself Healthy: Body, Part 1

Any time of crisis is an opportunity to increase your creativity, wisdom and ability to connect to peace more deeply.  It is important to be able to respond to stressors in healthy ways that allow a person to experience through their body, mind and spirit the ability to act, react, learn and share. If a person experiences being trapped and helpless without the ability to respond through these avenues they are more at risk of developing psychiatric conditions known as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, Anxiety and others.   Knowing this can guide you to setting up new routines to maintain your body, mind and spirit wherever you are and whatever you are currently facing.  Before you can help others (children, aging parents, friends, a neighbor in need, a stranger) you must first plan for how you maintain these parts of yourself in your current environment.  We start with a focus on you, working with three categories:  body, mind and spirit. Today we want to start a discussion on body.

Body: What does it take to keep your body healthy? What do you have available to you?

  1. Sleep.  Try to have the same circadian rhythm each 24 hours.  This means the same wake up time daily. Adults need an average of 7.25 hours of sleep a night, children need 9 hours and adults under age 25 need 8 hours. This helps boost the immune system, sharpen mental awareness and decrease the risk of anxiety and mood disorders to name a few. If you are having difficulty sleeping, read about sleep hygiene and how to improve your ability to sleep. The CDC has some tips on this.
  2. Meals. Eat regular meals several times a day with at least 12 hours of fasting, usually during the sleeping phase.  Brain health is improved by this fasting because ketosis takes place, a state in which fat provides most of the fuel for the body.  Keep your meals well balanced. Get a book on nutrition and make some additions to your usual menu repertoire. Since our bodies are 70% water it is important to stay hydrated.
  3. Exercise:  Daily stretching and aerobic exercise helps to clear stress from your body and keeps you strong.  We can use the change in brain chemistry we get from exercise to help us find peace during this stressful time.

Include all three of these elements in your daily schedule. Talk to someone you know about how you’re both doing with sleep, meals and exercise. We can encourage each other in finding peace. Look for Keeping Yourself Healthy: Body, Part 2 tomorrow.


Helpful Webinar

Here’s a great webinar from March 15, Parenting in the Age of Coronavirus, with authors Julie Lythcott-Haims, Cara Natterson, Lori Gottlieb, Tina Payne Bryson, Katherine Reynolds Lewis and Deborah Reber.


Finding Peace in Pandemic Parenting

Dear People,
Welcome to Finding Peace in Pandemic Parenting. As a child and adolescent psychiatrist reflecting on a week of overwhelm, quarantine, transitioning to virtual psychiatry, college students returning home, kids without school, elderly parents and high risk connections, the likelihood of exposure to COVID-19 and much more, this idea came to be. It is in collaboration with folks from around the world who share expertise in psychology, parenting, education… maintaining peace in the face of challenge. With this current crisis I wondered about who are my connections and how can they help. A long-term friend, Roxy, came to mind from my childhood. Recently furloughed from a retail job with time on her hands, I realized our collaboration could draw on her training as an electrical engineer and her many years of experience homeschooling her own children as well as serving on her state’s homeschooling association board of directors. We plan to post regularly in a free and accessible format to as many as we can reach. Each of you is an expert in your own unique ways and we welcome your sharing.
Maria, Roxy and……… you

Getting Started

Structure and routine are important to everyone’s life and even more so when things feel uncertain in the world. Sit down with those you are living with and ask how each person thinks it would be best to structure the day. This could be done daily at breakfast or weekly with a calendar like the one Roxy created below. The schedule should include the same wake up and bedtime daily (9 hours for school aged kids), regular meals, work/learning time, time for exercise, household chore time, breaks from screens (we suggest the 20-20-20 rule: 20 seconds looking 20’ away every 20 minutes), social time with others living outside the home (phone or video), social time with those you are living with, time alone, and time for creativity (ex: play/ art/ music/ hobbies, etc). Try to stick with the schedule you have planned together and reevaluate how well it is going as needed. For children and teens as well as many adults, posting a printed calendar in a central location can be quite helpful.

Here’s a sample schedule with a middle school student focus. Each family customizes their schedule based on their children’s needs and the needs of the family as a whole. When the student is doing schoolwork at home, the time guidelines can have flexibility to them, allowing the student to come to natural break points before changing to the next school subject. The clock is a good general guideline, but the student can have the luxury of finishing a line of thought instead of having to drop everything when the bell rings on the hour. The family could have a discussion about the structure of the free time periods. Some suggestions for free time are play, social time, exercise, family fun time, reading, music, art, chores, alone time and hobbies.

7:00 Wake up
8:00 Breakfast, make bed, review lesson plans
9:00 Writing, Grammar, Spelling
10:00 Math
11:00 Literature
11:30 Lunch
12:30 Science
1:30 History
2:30 Free time
6:00 Dinner
7:00 Free time
9:00 Stop using blue light electronic devices
10:00 Bedtime

During this time of teaching your children at home, we’d like to encourage you with this: no one loves your children as much as you do. Love them, listen to them, and work together in finding what schedule and what material is best for each child. Some trial and error at the beginning is normal. Practice patience with each other as you adjust to schooling at home. Let love and patience help your relationship with your child grow in new ways as you explore schooling at home together.