Keeping Yourself Healthy: Spirit, Part 4

4. Connection to the All: This blog has shared ways to connect to your body, mind and spirit during this challenging time of the COVID-19 pandemic.  It is a daily process that requires one to care for all parts of one’s body, mind and spirit in order to feel whole. What does it mean to feel whole?  How do we know if we are whole? Perhaps this is the greatest question.  Some would say the answer is in the meaning of life.  But how does one discover the meaning?

For many, meaning can be found in connection to the part of our existence that is greater than ourselves.  This can happen from the outside or from within.  It can happen through a deeper connection with one’s body, with one’s mind or with the spiritual connection to ourselves, to others, to nature. We know that we have reached this part when we experience awe.  Awe can be found both through the metaphors of darkness and light as one can not exist without being defined by the other.   There is the potential for great energy when one reaches this place.  Or great peace. It is the well that people tap into to share creative expression.  It is the void that is unexplainable and untapped.  People have tried to define this connection in many ways and through many traditions.   What is important is to be curious and open to this connection, to look for the connection in many ways.

Here are some interesting connections while many in our world were focused on safety by sheltering in place or being an essential worker caring for others. During forty days of sheltering we had the opportunity to experience one  of the largest red moons, celebrate the 50th Earth Day, remember the 75th anniversary of the Holocaust, witness Easter, Passover and the start of Ramadan…all celebrated from a distance while in this together.

Here are some examples for discovery of the awe:

  1. One’s Body: The miraculous birth of a child. The feeling at the end of an intense physical achievement.   The ability to do something again after being sick and losing that physical function for a time. When is a moment you have felt awe within your body?  When have you witnessed awe in another’s body?
  2. One’s Mind:  The sudden instinctual action to save a life. (Remember grabbing a child’s hand before they run into the street? Or turning the car quickly to avoid a skid?) The intensity of love. The intensity of hate.  Discovering you can love a part of yourself or another that you once hated.

We hope these explorations are helping you find peace in these troubled times.


Keeping Yourself Healthy: Spirit, Part 3

4. Connection to nature: Nature heals. We are from and of nature. To remind yourself of this connection is grounding. There is much research suggesting that green spaces are healing to people and decrease anxiety and depression. This is one reason people are encouraged to walk outside in their neighborhoods while maintaining social distance. Not all people have the capacity to go outdoors during this time, but there are many ways to connect to nature. Remind yourself daily of the gift of life.

Use your many senses to take in the beauty of the earth that surrounds and cares for us. How does the earth sound in this moment? For example, you can wake up early and listen to the birds or step outside as dusk nears and you will hear them again. If you cannot go outside, listen to a recording of birds or the ocean waves, or as one astronaut who spent considerable time in space shared, the “buzzing of the mosquitoes.” Find a sound of nature that resonates with you. Notice what you hear. How does the earth feel in this moment? When you wash your hands, notice the temperature of the water you dip your fingers into, the smoothness of the soap and the softness of the towel. If you are outside, guess at the temperature of the day as you appreciate the sun warming our earth or gray clouds readying for rain. Touch a tree or a rock and ask yourself what texture and shape you experience. Notice what you feel.

How does the earth smell in this moment? Perhaps you smell her in the beverage you are drinking or the fruit you are eating. If you go outside, do you smell the blossoms perfuming the air? Or how the air smells different after a lightning storm, a new rain, in winter or on a hot summer evening. Notice what you smell.

How does the earth look in this moment? Perhaps you notice the light shaft filtering through your window and reflecting off the dust in your home. Maybe you see the many hues of green in the leaves and grasses outside your home. Look up and wonder at how blue the sky seems or how much brighter the stars appear with fewer cars and factories turned on. Notice what you see.

How does the earth taste in this moment? Some cultures do not talk during meals in order to fully focus on the experience. There is a meditation exercise in which you take one raisin and spend time looking at it, the color and the shape; then smelling it; rolling it in your fingers and then in your mouth to discern the texture and how it changes. Only after looking, smelling and feeling do you start to chew, listening to the sounds as you chew, tasting the flavors that evolve across your tongue. Notice what you taste.

If you are feeling depleted, bring nature into your space, a leaf or rock can do. If you are more confined, look out a window at the sky or search through a magazine or online to find a picture of nature that brings you joy. The national parks offered a beautiful series of photos on their website. This week celebrates Earth Day’s 50th anniversary.

What a gift to be reminded of our connection to the earth.


Keeping Yourself Healthy: Spirit, Part 2

Previously, we have discussed how to connect to your body, mind and part of your spirit (yourself and your people).  Today we’ll discuss the third aspect of Spirit.

  1. Connection to other people: As humans, we are wired for connection with others and are healthier when we have connections.  Find time each day to connect to others.   The other can be friends, neighbors, acquaintances and strangers.   Connection can be done through giving help when you can and receiving help when you need it.  Both are important parts of any connection.  The healthiest intimate relationships usually have both people giving sometimes and receiving sometimes.   My grandmother used to say a relationship is best if it is 60/40, meaning each person is 60% giving and 40% receiving. Not all of our relationships are deep, particularly with other people, but there can still be a give and receive.  For example, you may rely on the people in the grocery store to give to you by stocking the shelves and bagging the items you receive.  You give money to them for their work.   If you verbally share appreciation for their presence in the store you are giving even more than the money you pass to them.  Notice how the other person reacts when you share gratitude for their presence in the store.  Notice how you feel when you offer gratitude and get a response back.  This is a simple but powerful connection.  If it is unsafe for you to go to the store or you feel lonely, envision the people who planted, harvested, drove and prepared the food for you. Give mindful gratitude to those people while eating the food.  Notice how you feel when you do that. 

Nodding or waving to a stranger as you both pass with face masks on is a way of giving and may also elicit a receipt.   In this time of “social distancing” it is important that we have physical distancing but maintain a social connection from a physical distance.  Before the pandemic, that approach is still wise in situations involving strangers you do not yet know if you can trust.  If we nod and there is no response, we are giving without receiving.  When we give without the intention of receiving anything, that is unconditional giving (parents get to practice this type regularly).  Notice what it feels like to give unconditionally.  If you have joy in giving you are doing the right amount.  If you are exhausted from that type of giving then you need to be taken care of.  When this happens, look at scaling back and getting care for your body, mind and spirit.  If you get enough care you will be able to connect again with joy.   Many people believe joy is part of a healthy spirit. 

Sometimes we receive without giving. For example, when we borrow a book from the library, hear a free online musician or witness a public art piece we may not be giving back.  That is OK.  We are witnessing the creative expression of others.  If we like it, we can pass it along to others through how it inspires us.  If we don’t like it, we can be inspired to do something differently with how we express ourselves to others.   What is something you received unconditionally this week that inspired you?


Keeping Yourself Healthy: Spirit, Part 1

What does it mean to have a healthy spirit?  What do you have available to you?  Spirit is defined in many ways by different people, cultures, religions and philosophies.  A common thread is connection.   We are social creatures so we seek each day to feel connection to ourselves, our people, other people, nature, and what some may call the sublime.   The health of your spirit depends on all of these facets together.  Being attuned to just one area may lead to malnourishment in others.  Try to connect to all parts.  We will discuss each of these five areas this week. 

  1. Connection to yourself:  You can establish a connection with yourself through mindfulness, prayer, art, music, dancing, play and much more. These help you to be in touch with your body, mind and inner spirit and express these parts to yourself and others.  What medium helps you to connect inwardly?   Anne Lamott, an author, shared in an interview this week that she thinks of “Intimacy as Into me I see.”  She suggested writing about the prompt; how you have changed during this time of world change.  This is an example of how to connect within. Consider using one of these ways of showing yourself how you have changed today because of COVID-19.
  2. Connection to your people: You can ground yourself in your family and your culture.  Family can be who you are genetically connected to or who you choose to be with.  Often families are a mix of these connections. Culture can be what you grew up with or what you have chosen to represent your people.  Often culture is a mix of these connections.   Take time each day to connect to your family and your culture.  This can be as simple as calling or writing to someone.  Or, as complex as looking at a picture, listening to a song or story, or smelling an odor and recalling a memory of that person or cultural event.  Connection within your mind or directly with others you know can be a positive or negative experience.  Understanding the impact of this connection to you can be grounding.  It is an opportunity for growth. 

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend a virtual wedding.  Only ten people were in the church while the beautifully dressed bride walked down an aisle, passing all empty pews.  She shared her love to the groom in Spanish, he in English.   Many people watched through video monitors and shared comments in both languages.  The bride and groom were creating their newest family and combining several cultures.  There was little connection at the event but many witnesses virtually. Perhaps the most moving part was when they turned to the screen and shared their appreciation with one person after another confined to their homes during the ceremony.  The viewers witnessed the couple’s receiving of their guests in a very intimate way through the screen. The couple was so surprised and happy to see all the guests, tears in their eyes and in those who looked back at them.  Physical expressions of feelings such as tears can represent both joy at their union and sadness at the distance.  In that moment, many strangers shared a connection as they witnessed the couple’s new definition of themselves, their people and their culture.


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.


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.