Honoring Veterans and Addressing PTSD

As Veterans Day arrives, it's not just a time for gratitude but also a moment to shine a light on the mental health challenges faced by those who have served in the military. On a recent episode of KSL’s Dave & Dujanovic, hosts Debbie Dujanovic and Dave Noriega delved into the topic of Veteran mental health, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with Numinus therapist John Ellis.

The discussion opens with personal stories, including Dave's revelation about his grandfather's World War II experience, emphasizing the often unspoken struggles that veterans carry. John Ellis, a therapist with a background in the United States Air Force Reserves, shares insights into the importance of storytelling for veterans and the therapeutic value of sharing experiences.

"A lot of veterans do keep things inside. But they have stories to tell. And when they start to tell them, it does help." John says.

Fostering an environment of connection, empathy, and emotional understanding, the need for vets to share their experiences is paramount. Our collective society's attentive listening becomes pivotal in acknowledging the importance of veterans' narratives. So, what first steps can we take? 

Let’s start with compassion. Creating a safe and supportive environment to empower veterans to openly express their feelings will help them navigate the path towards healing.

But it isn’t all that simple to create this safe space. Veterans face challenges when opening up about the past, particularly the painful memories. These experiences don’t always flow from the memory into a story - they are sometimes haunting, and dig up old wounds. "We need to help them start telling their stories a little bit. And when they do, we need to listen. It does help them, and it's hard to tell them. Even the good ones." John continues to say. Many people feel sensitive about asking questions, fearful of saying something wrong or triggering. However, there is a balance, and approaching the conversation with delicacy, kindness, and respect can make a veteran feel appreciated. Think about starting by saying something like this: “I understand that talking about your experiences in combat can be challenging, but I want you to know that if you ever feel the need to share or discuss anything, I am here to listen without judgment. Your feelings and experiences are important, and if you choose to open up, this is a supportive space. I appreciate what you've done, and I'm here whenever you're ready.”

For veterans, the emotional connection formed through shared narratives can also be built through engagements such as individual therapy, group sessions, or community resources. "There's that emotion and empathy that can be formed in connection. I think that's really where it starts, whether it's in a therapeutic relationship, just one-on-one with a family member, or amongst veterans - combat or otherwise."  John explains. 

When discussing signs of PTSD,  common indicators include flashbacks, hypervigilance, night terrors, existential dread, and fear that can linger, making it difficult for veterans to feel safe. To begin working through these unwanted feelings, starting with the Veterans Affairs (VA) system is always a solid first step. 

The door is wide open at Numinus, where we provide therapy and utilize treatments like ketamine-assisted therapy, known for its effectiveness in reducing symptoms of PTSD and suicidal thoughts. Many Numinus therapists and staff are veterans themselves, and we always do our best to pair vets-to-vets for an added layer of empathy.

At Numinus, we strongly believe in the power of psychedelic therapy. Ongoing research favors ketamine and other psychedelic medicines, such as psilocybin and MDMA, in treating mental health conditions. Numinus is helping carry the torch for this work, alongside and partnered with long-standing companies like MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies). The promising results from recent studies show psychedelics, when coupled with talk therapy, have a highly positive impact in relief from depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more.   

We really have learned, from the 70s to now. There really is a lot of research and some real expertise – and there are people that really know how to help navigate your experience," John says. "We’re [Numinus] really helping people rewire their brain from that trauma - that medicinal kind of regeneration of neurons that happens during a psychedelic experience.

As we reflect on Veterans Day, let's carry forward a renewed commitment. Acknowledging the struggles of veterans and the importance of mental health, we extend our gratitude and encouragement. Together, let us foster a compassionate environment, embracing the healing potential of both shared narratives and therapeutic interventions. 

If you or someone you know is a veteran facing mental health challenges, remember, seeking support is a courageous and vital step. Your well-being matters, and the journey towards healing is a shared endeavor.

 

Back To School With Grace: 5 Tips To Support Your Child Through The Transition

Dear Numiverse Parents, 

As the summer days have winded down, it's that time of year again – back to school!  The excitement and anticipation have been building, and we want to support this journey with grace through transitioning back to school. Following is a practical back-to-school guide to help you and your child kickstart the academic year with confidence. 

What's Our Why?

 Let’s first remember why putting forth all the effort we do to send off our children on their academic adventures, is worth it! 

Education and Knowledge Acquisition: School is the cornerstone of your child's academic journey, where they gain knowledge, skills, and critical thinking abilities that will shape their future. 

Social and Emotional Development: Interacting with peers fosters social skills, empathy, and the ability to navigate various social situations, enriching your child's emotional growth. 

Personal Growth and Independence: Through academic challenges and responsibilities, your child learns independence, resilience, and the art of taking initiative. 

Exposure to Various Subjects and Activities: Schools offer a diverse range of subjects and extracurricular activities that allow your child to explore their interests and passions. 

Preparation for the Future: School equips your child with the skills and knowledge needed for higher education or vocational training, while also teaching essential life skills. 

Cultural and Global Awareness: Schools promote diversity, providing your child with exposure to different cultures, beliefs, and perspectives. 

Development of Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving: Your child learns to think critically, analyze information, and solve problems effectively – skills they'll use throughout life. 

Communication and Language Skills: Schools emphasize communication skills, preparing your child to express themselves clearly in various contexts. 

Citizenship and Civic Responsibility: Through school activities, your child learns about their role as a responsible citizen and the importance of contributing positively to society. 

 

Dr. Jania’s Back to School with Grace Guide: 5 steps

Open Up a Conversation: Set the Stage for Success

Start by having an open and positive conversation with your child about the upcoming school year. Discuss any anxieties or worries they might have and provide reassurance. Talk about the exciting aspects of going back to school, such as reuniting with friends, new learning opportunities, and extracurricular activities. Encourage your child to share their goals and expectations for the year ahead, fostering a sense of ownership and motivation.

Establish Routines: Bring Back the Structure

During the summer months, routines may have become more relaxed, but returning to a consistent schedule is crucial for a successful transition back to school. Begin re-establishing regular bedtimes, meal times, and study periods a couple of weeks before school starts. This gradual adjustment will help your child's body and mind adapt to the new routine without the shock of a sudden change.

Prepare Together: Shop for Supplies and Plan Outfits

Make the back-to-school process exciting by involving your child in the preparation. Take a trip to buy school supplies, allowing them to pick out items that express their personality. Planning outfits for the first week of school can also be a fun activity that builds anticipation. Involving your child in these decisions not only empowers them but also gets them excited about the upcoming school days.

Set Goals: Encourage Growth and Achievement

Help your child set realistic goals for the upcoming school year. These goals could be academic, social, or personal in nature. Discuss how they plan to achieve these goals and the steps they need to take. Having clear objectives can motivate your child to stay focused and dedicated to their studies while also fostering a sense of responsibility.

Foster a Positive Learning Environment: Create a Space for Success

Designate a quiet and organized space for homework and studying at home. Help your child organize their study materials, create a schedule, and minimize distractions in this workspace. Encourage them to keep track of assignments, projects, and tests in a planner or digital tool. By providing a conducive environment for learning, you're setting the stage for academic success.  

Together, You’ll Make This School Year Shine! As you embark on this new school year journey, remember you're opening doors to a world of knowledge, growth, and opportunities. We hope this helps you and your child thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. 

Wishing you all a fantastic and fulfilling school year ahead! 

Warm regards, 

Dr. Jania Davis, DNP, PMHNP 

How Psychological Flexibility is Cultivated Through Mindfulness

By Benjamin Schoendorff, Contextual Psychology Institute

I was first introduced to formal meditation practice in a Zen dojo in 1994. At the time, my life was chaotic and it would remain so for another 10 years. On several occasions over these ten years, I tried to build a regular meditation practice. Although I never managed more than meditating intermittently, I have no doubt that what little practice I did manage helped me. It helped me by giving me a direct experience of distancing from my thoughts. I had previously experienced what I thought as being a part of my essence, as what was defining me, and thus of the utmost importance.

Through meditation I experienced that my thoughts came and went. They were more like clouds in the sky of my consciousness than what defined that sky. The second thing I experienced was closely related. It was a sense that I was more than my thoughts and emotions, more than my experiences. That there was a part of me that was not affected by my experiences, that remained an observer no matter how painful the feelings of the moment or hooky the thoughts.

When I started getting my life in order and, after a brief course of psychotherapy, decided to make myself useful by becoming a therapist, I made a commitment to being guided by science and to somehow integrate my meditation experience into my work. I naturally gravitated toward behavioural therapies, due to the strong empirical support they enjoyed and their commitment to a scientific approach to the alleviation of human suffering. I just as naturally became interested in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy which, was then gathering its first research data supporting its possible effectiveness for depressive relapse. However, try as I might I simply could not build a daily mindfulness practice. I felt uneasy recommending it to my clients. I suspected many would, like me, not be able to engage in daily mindfulness practice.

In February 2007, I came across Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), an emerging mindfulness and acceptance-based approach that seeks to help people develop their psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility is the ability, in contact with everything that shows up in the moment, to choose and do actions to move toward one’s values, who and what matters most.

In dozens of studies, psychological flexibility has been linked both to positive life functioning and life satisfaction and to a reduction in suffering associated with depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship difficulties and a host of other disorders. The way ACT seeks to train psychological flexibility is by cultivating mindfulness, distancing from unhelpful thought patterns, acceptance of unwanted feelings, identification of one’s values and moving toward them through deliberate actions. You could say it uses mindfulness skills to get folks to behave like the person they want to be.

And here was the catch for me. The person I want to be builds a regular mindfulness practice, but couldn’t. That fed my interest in ACT which seeks to train mindfulness skills even absent a formal mindfulness practice. ACT sees mindfulness as composed of four main elements: the ability to distance from thoughts (a.k.a cognitive defusion), the willingness to experience whatever is present (a.k.a. acceptance), the ability to be present to whatever arises in the moment (a.k.a. contact with the present moment) and, finally, the ability to contact an experience of self as an observer of all experience and transient thoughts, emotions and behavior (a.k.a. self-as context). In ACT these can be trained as discrete processes that together promote the ability to move toward one’s values. One of the most effective ways to do this is through using the ACT Matrix, a simple diagram with two intersecting lines that create four quadrants. The upper left-hand side represents actions to move away from unwanted inner experience (bottom left) and the right-hand side actions (top right) to move toward whom or what is important (values, bottom left). Sorting our behaviours and experiences in these four quadrants gradually helps build our psychological flexibility.

In my case, it has helped me gradually build a daily mindfulness practice that I have been able to keep up for over four months now. I was greatly helped by joining the Numinus team in the Mindful in May challenges for the past two years. Central to the ACT model and standing as a testament to its flexibility is the fact that ACT processes are based in mindfulness, while ACT can also, as was the case for me, help with engaging in more regular mindfulness practice. This is why I believe that mindfulness-based approaches should continue to dialogue and seek integration.

Montreal Brain Imaging Study Shows Reduced Reactivity with Mindfulness

Mindfulness largely refers to a state of awareness characterized by a particular attitude of acceptance and non-judgement towards ‘events’ occurring in the realm of our attention.

These events may constitute thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, emotions, recursive thinking patterns, etc. The challenge in cultivating mindfulness lies in acknowledging these thoughts/feelings/sensations/perceptions, instead of reacting to them in habit-formed ways. Therefore, mindfulness allows us to adopt a more detached perspective on our experiences, promoting greater objectivity in selecting responses and behavior.

Mindfulness is cultivated through the practice of meditation, and has its roots in ancient Eastern traditions. Research has shown that mindfulness reduces the extent to which we react to emotional events, which is reflected not only in the way we perceive these events but in the way our body physically responds to them.

This may potentially explain why mindfulness is beneficial when introduced in treatments targeting depression and anxiety. The way in which the effects of mindfulness on emotional events are reflected in brain function, however, is not clearly established.

Therefore, our research group at Université de Montréal (laboratory of Dr Mario Beauregard) conducted a study examining brain function changes underlying a mindfulness state of awareness while processing emotionally charged pictures.

To do this, we examined a group of individuals having practiced meditation for more than 1000 hours, and another comparison group with no prior experience in meditation (but which was trained for one week before the experiment). The participants viewed pictures depicting negative emotional (eg.: war scenes), positive emotional (eg.: a grandfather smiling and hugging his grandchild) and neutral content (eg.: a common object, such as a lamp). At the same time, their brain activity was recorded inside an MRI scanner. Each group viewed these pictures in a state of mindfulness, as well as in a regular (non-mindful) state of awareness.

Essentially, both experienced meditators and non-meditators reported that they felt less emotionally aroused from the pictures when viewing them in a mindful state of awareness than when they were not in a mindful state.

Also, brain function recorded from the long-term practitioners in comparison to the non-meditators revealed the following results. While viewing the emotional pictures in a mindful state of awareness did not reduce activity in a relatively ‘primitive’ fear and arousal-related brain structure, i.e. the amygdala, mindfulness was related to reduced activity in thought-related brain areas, i.e. within the prefrontal cortex.

This potentially indicates that, with long-term meditation experience, the mechanism through which mindfulness attenuates arousal to emotional events is not attained through the initial primitive reaction, but through the secondary thoughts and judgements triggered by arousing events.

This interpretation however, needs to be validated with behavioral tasks specifically assessing mindfulness and thought-related elaboration towards emotional events.

In a second report, we also observed differences between our group of long-term meditators and non-meditators in the way their brain activity was organised during a state of rest, i.e. when participants were not engaged in a specific task. Thus, this may indicate that meditation is related to brain organisation changes which extend beyond a meditative state of awareness per se.

It is important to point out, however, that cause and event conclusions cannot be derived from the results of these studies, and that further research projects examining a group of participants before and after having acquired mindfulness experience are needed to support our findings.

Nonetheless, our studies shed light onto the brain mechanisms operating when individuals experience emotional content in a mindful way. As researchers and scientists persist in studying and uncovering these processes, we will gain a better understanding of the impact that emotional experiences and meditation have on our psyche, our body, and our brain.

Finally, with a better understanding of these processes, mindfulness can be more efficiently implemented into treatment options for disorders related to stress and emotional lability.

Anxiety Response Plan

By Bob Mcnutt, LCSW

Anxiety is a normal part of everyday life for most humans. Each of us has a different ability to cope with or accept it. Anxiety typically promotes action or avoidance depending on our response style to distress. While there are a lot of “right” ways to deal with anxiety, avoidance is an inadequate response to get past distress in the long run.  Outlined below is a response plan that combines both coping and acceptance skills for dealing with anxiety.

Notice and label the physical symptoms of anxiety. Rate their severity independent of each other.  (The fuzzy pressure in my chest: 7/10, energy in my limbs 5/10, heat and pressure in the head 3/10, increased breathing rate 5/10, increased heart rate 7/10 . . . etc.) Notice the difference between discomfort and acute pain. Many times, anxiety is uncomfortable without creating active pain in our body, and it can be useful to note that difference when it is present. If useful, try to compare it to other uncomfortable experiences such as headaches or diarrhea that affect, but don’t ruin your day.  “Well at least it isn’t as bad as a migraine.”

Ask yourself: “am I in physical danger?” (Is there immediate harm to my body) and “am I in emotional danger?” (Is there immediate danger to my ability to maintain relationships, employment, self-worth? Is anyone emotionally attacking/berating me?).  If you feel you are in acute danger, find a way to increase your safety. If you can evaluate that you are not in danger, acknowledge that (out loud if possible) to help reduce chances of entering fight/flight/freeze mode.

Take 10 deep breaths (yes 10, not 1 or 2), and focus on connecting with the current moment and experience non-judgmentally (this is neither good nor bad, it just is). In your free time do some internet research around mindfulness skills to help with this process.

Investigate the message behind the anxiety: 

Evaluate your ability to act towards the stressor. Can you take effective action to reduce the stressor now? (This can be problem solving behavior, acceptance behavior or internal shifts in thinking).  Do you have to wait for a future condition to be met before you can take effective action towards the problem?  Are you powerless to take effective action to influence the problem?

If you can take effective action, TAKE ACTION IMMEDIATELY. Do not procrastinate or avoid an effective solution. If you are unable to act in the moment, make a plan with SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-based) to address the problem when you are able. If you are unable to take effective action, acknowledge this lack of control and power. Combine soothing skills with this attempt to accept powerlessness.

Managing Anxiety in Troubled Times

This has been a unique and challenging time for our patients, our community, and the world. But along with challenge comes the opportunity for growth. Over the next several weeks we will be periodically posting ideas for maintaining or improving mental health during this time of social distancing and increased anxiety. Covid-19 has presented us with several unique challenges all at once. These range from fear of ourselves or loved ones contracting the illness, to job insecurity, relationship stress and many others. One helpful technique that you can try today is thought labeling.

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Thought labeling has been used for thousands of years for meditation practice but can be used for more mindful daily living as well. The problem with anxiety is that it is your minds way of telling you that something needs to change or be done. That’s not always a problem, especially if it is a problem that you can take some time and work it through to a solution. The issue arises when now is not the time to solve this problem. So, when an anxious thought comes into your mind ask yourself is this a problem I can solve? If yes, then ask, is now the time to solve this? If yes, then do so. Pull up a chair and a notepad, write it all down and work out some possible solutions. If the answer is no to either of the previous questions, then it’s time to let it go.

Our brains are funny things. They like everything to make sense and each idea or mental object to have its proper place in the filing cabinet of our mind’s storeroom. Anxiety is worse when a problem or idea doesn’t have a neat place designated in that storeroom, but we can create a mental box to place it in. This is where thought labeling really works and here is what you do. When you notice a thought that is anxiety producing and you have answered no to the questions “can I solve this” or “is now the time to solve this”, you label that thought with a word. Any word will do. This is your box. I like the labels of “Past” for thoughts that come from the past or “Future” for anxieties about the future. You can also use “Useful”, “Not Useful”, or “Fear”, “Judgment”, but really anything can work.

Once the thought has been labeled you will find that it’s much easier to move past it and get on with things that you find more helpful, fulfilling, or meaningful. This is a practice and you are strengthening your mindfulness muscles. The thoughts may return but when they do be kind to yourself; just label them again and put them back on the mental shelf. Try this first with low or medium intensity anxieties and then move on to the more difficult ones. Doing this each day will bring you one step closer to a more peaceful and “in the moment” existence where you can give your full attention to what matters most.

Be kind to each other and remember, be kind to yourself.

Sincerely,

Landon Moyers, DNP

Maybe Today Is a Day for Compassion

By Landon Moyers DNP, PMHNP-BC

Depression and anxiety are prevalent in our modern culture. Anxiety and fear have been driving much of the depression and exhaustion that we are seeing right now. Currently many of us fear for our health or the health of a loved one, or fear for our family’s financial security. This fear based self-focus is the perfect storm for depression. The shortcomings of others and ourselves are brought into sharper focus, something research has shown for decades worsens depression and a sense of isolation.

Compassion for others and for ourselves is the antithesis of depression and isolation. Luckily, we are hardwired for compassion. In fact, most mammals are. Even mice show compassion for each other and will heal more quickly from physical injury when they are the recipient.

The Dalai Lama once said “A compassionate concern for others is the source of happiness”, and the Buddha is paraphrased as having said “what is that one thing, which when you possess, you have all other virtues? It is compassion”.

What is compassion? In the book A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives, Thupten Jinpa, says, “Compassion is a sense of concern that arises when we are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to see that suffering relieved.”

When we show compassion for others, we experience an aspect of joy that the psychologist and writer Paul Eckman calls “moral elevation.” It takes place when we act compassionately towards ourselves and others, or even witness compassion. It triggers a release in oxytocin and endorphins in the brain that are almost unmatched in their ability to stimulate joy and a sense of wellbeing. Even more rewarding is that it triggers compassion in the recipient as well that usually resonates two to three degrees of separation creating well being in your extended social group. Remember compassion is feeling for another along with the motivation/action to alleviate suffering. To paraphrase the Dalai Lama, he says that to be compassionate we don’t get under the rock that we see crushing another, we act to help remove the rock.

What are the rocks that you see in others’ lives? Are there ways you can help in a healthy way? If you can’t help fix it, can you hold a safe space for them, give them encouragement? What are the rocks that you place on yourself through negative self-talk or self-blame? Would you tolerate those same things being said if they were coming from another person? What advice would you give a friend if you knew they were telling themselves the same things?

Let us not neglect our needs for self-compassion out of fear or the drive to be more, get more, do more, or do better. Sometimes it’s about recognizing you are enough, you are lovable, you are worthwhile. We may have things we want to improve and that can be positive but only when we start from a place of recognition that we are enough, we are lovable, and we are worthwhile.

Try using compassion today, you might be surprised by how it impacts you and how far it spreads.

If you are interested in compassion and how it can impact your life take a look at The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World and A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives. 

Social Anxiety: A Modern Issue for an Ancient Brain

Written by Dr. Landon Moyers, DNP, APRN, PMHNP-BC

Consider the strange and wonderful world we live in.

Many of us are lucky enough to have what we need to survive: food, shelter, safety, and people who love us. Despite this relative security, many of us still find ourselves stuck in a cycle of social anxiety.

Social anxiety is the psychological and physiological discomfort that we feel when we are faced with potential evaluation by others. This can look like fear of meeting new people, speaking in public, or being in large crowds.

Why do humans feel strongly about what others think about us? And why do we let these feelings affect us so much that we avoid participating in the activities we love or achieving the goals we are passionate about?

The answer lies in the fact that human beings are built for connection. We are a social species that ultimately depends on group efforts, knowledge, and strength of resources for survival.

Imagine for a moment that you are living several thousand years ago. If you are like most people, you do not live in a town or city. Your social group most likely consists of 10-50 who include your immediate and extended family members.

You may occasionally meet up with other groups for weddings or rituals. It is likely that at some point, you will likely be involved in a coming-of-age ceremony or ritual as a rite of passage into adulthood, ensuring your status in the group, as well as the ability to find a mate. You have prepared for this throughout your lifetime as an event that will take place sometime just after puberty, or at the least your early twenties.

Failing this rite of passage might result in the rejection by your group, not to mention the loss of your status, the right to a mate, and the protection and support of your clan—not an ideal time to be left isolated without a social group, especially in a world of large predators, environmental exposure, and constant threats from rivals. This is the world in which the human brain developed.

Only in the last thousand to several hundred years has our world and social environment required a very different approach to life. We live next to people we hardly know. We send our children to school with hundreds (or even thousands) of fellow social competitors and we expect them to get along and learn well. We have splintered into smaller social groups or families that have much higher levels of fluidity and impermanence.

In our increasingly secular society, we have removed many of the traditional rights of passage and replaced them with an academic/career system that often does not award any level of achievement or status until our late 20s-30s. This aligns perfectly with the age groups in which social anxiety is most prevalent (ages 15-35) where it is at its worst in the early twenties and decreases as people age.

Interestingly, we are wired for anxiety because we are wired for connection. We are wired to respond to rejection or lack of status as a threat to our survival.

Today, the significance of rejection is far less and the opportunity for it is far higher. But our alarm system still says it is significant and it makes us feel terrible. The problem is that human brains have not evolved as fast as our modern world.

The ancient alarm system built into the amygdala—the feeling part of the brain—tells us we will die or lose the chance for a mate or access to resources if we are “rejected.” Our neocortex—the thinking part of the brain—however, can be used to calm our brain’s ancient structures and help us recognize that the threat is not as dangerous as it may seem.

In moments of social anxiety, taking a moment to thank your body for the natural responses it provides to your environment. Second, recognize that the threat is not as dangerous as your amygdala says it is.

Finally, take a moment to reorient yourself to the here and now. Breathe in deeply for several seconds or try to focus on and name the things you can see. Choose to move forward mindfully, with a deep respect for the past and a strong commitment to living in the present moment.

Social Isolation Impatience Syndrome

By Bob Mcnutt, LCSW

The last year and a half of social isolation seems to have some unexpected impacts on our patience and distress tolerance. This seems somewhat paradoxical since we have all practiced being bored and lonely since 2020, which seems like it could increase our tolerance for discomfort. Instead, it seems that the decreased stimulus is causing many to retreat into physical and emotional caves of comfort, making it difficult to integrate back into normal life.  The following is a list of common issues caused by the changes of the COVID era and what you can do about them.

1) We all have different expectations regarding protections and connections, we want everyone to comply with our personal style of health protections in interactions.  Seeing someone near you practice alternate styles of protections in interactions can create some severe judgements towards the other.

2) Isolation in person and connection through social media seems to have further engrained people’s held biases.

3) We are not used to other people getting in our way as much. Roads were emptier, food was delivery or pickup at restaurants and stores, more online shopping, and less overall interactions with people who slow us down by being in front of us in line.

4) We have less interactions with casual teasing banter and are now more prone to offense.

5) The favorite or easiest coping/avoidant behavior has been too accessible at home and we haven’t needed to accept and push through distress as much.

6) Feedback from work has not been face to face for many of us, we become more sensitive to light criticism when we cannot see the response from the other person. We get more fearful of negative responses in person.

7) Fearmongering on all sides of media, the news cycle is not friends with contentment. When media is constantly stimulating fear and anger responses, our ability to manage small distresses lowers.

What to do about it:

1)  Focus on your own version of health protection in interactions. If you feel unsafe because of other people, how can you feel safer without completely isolating in your home. If you feel frustrated by restrictions on behaviors or protective behaviors of others, try to empathize with the fear or vulnerability that they may be experiencing. I do not recommend trying to change the behavior of a stranger.

2) Expand your in-person or online sources of interactions, reduce your impersonal sources of information. In person interactions allow for greater levels of connection, empathy and differing perspectives. Before you block someone online, ask what can be learned from this interaction first. Be cautious on quickly labeling others as trolls, try to understand perspective and intent before reacting.

3) NEVER BE IN A RUSH TO SIT ON THE COUCH. If I am impatient in traffic or at the store, what am I telling myself is so crucially important to get home to.  Live in the moment when possible. Standing in line and sitting in traffic is far from torture when we connect with the moment non-judgementally.

4) Watch for intent first and be quick to forgive unintended offenses, when in doubt- assume the best. Try laughing/playing along.

5) Listen to your body and acknowledge the physical symptoms of your emotion. With each symptom, we can enhance the discomfort of these by worrying about them or lower the discomfort by accepting them. If symptoms are isolated and examined with curiosity they can be objectively labeled to dilute the intensity (rather than saying “I am anxious”, state “I am having the following symptoms of anxiety _____”). Look into expanding your coping skills by doing some light research into popular coping mechanisms.

6) Nobody is perfect for more than 1/8th of a second at a time. You will make mistakes. You will disappoint others. You will cause disruption in others’ lives. You must accept this reality if you wish to interact with the world around you.  Separate failures from character (Unhealthy: I’m a failure! Healthy: Welp, I failed on that attempt, I’ll try again/learn from my mistake). Look for intent behind negative feedback: seldom is the intent “stop trying and leave me alone forever.”  - most intents in negative feedback are: “I noticed this issue, try to resolve it and learn from this.”

7) Ask what you actually achieve/learn/grow from social media and news outlets. Look at the intent behind the social media and news outlets (They want your money or personal information to sell).

Bonus: Desensitize yourself to minor discomforts: start or end you shower with cold water for 15 seconds; be bored without filling the space with phone tapping or TV; keep the air conditioner at 74 instead of 72; exercise. Bonus feature of this is a slightly lower energy bill each month.

Bob McNutt

About the author

Bob McNutt, LCSW specializes in substance use, behavioral issues, depression, trauma, and PTSD. In his practice, Bob addresses the social and spiritual concerns of his clients, helping them to restructure negative cyclical thoughts.

Bob McNutt earned his bachelor’s of behavioral science from Utah Valley University and his master’s of social work from the University of Utah.

The Healing Power of Gratitude

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Humans are good at feeling bad. It’s called the “negativity bias” and we are hardwired for it. We remember negative experiences better than positive ones. We recall insults better than praise. We react more strongly to negative stimuli than we do to positive stimuli.

This bias affects us all to varying degrees. For some, it leads to mild discouragement. For others, it’s a symptom of a serious mental illness like depression or anxiety.

Regardless of how this feature of human consciousness wears you down, gratitude can help build you back up.

Psychological research shows that people who deliberately and consistently focus on what they are thankful for tend to be happier and more satisfied with life. Practicing gratitude can boost other positive emotions, too, like optimism, pleasure, hope, and enthusiasm.

Gratitude can also improve our physical health. Researchers have shown that gratitude reduces stress, strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, improves sleep quality, and increases pain tolerance.

Gratitude heals social wounds as well. When we express gratitude to others, we are more likely to forgive, less likely to feel prejudice, and more willing to purge poisonous attitudes like envy, jealousy, and greed.

To appreciate the healing power of gratitude, however, it’s important to understand what gratitude is not. Gratitude is not starry-eyed, naive optimism. It is not pretending your problems don’t exist. You can be a realist and still practice gratitude. In fact, gratitude works best as a healing force when it is felt in an authentic, honest way.

So how does one practice gratitude? Here are some practical tips:

Keep a Daily Gratitude Journal 

Simply write down 3 things every day that you are thankful for. These could be things that happened that day (e.g., I’m thankful that my boss complimented my work today) or more general things about your life (e.g., I’m thankful that I have indoor plumbing).

Express Gratitude to Someone You Care About 

Reaching out via email, text message, phone call, or face-to-face, is a small gesture that not only strengthens your bond with that person, but also improves your mood.

Imagine What Life Could be Like Without the Things You Take for Granted

This is especially effective when you’re stuck in a negativity bias feedback loop and don’t think you have anything to be thankful for. Most humans are better off today than they would have been a few hundred years ago. Start mentally subtracting your modern conveniences from your life and you’ll quickly realize how good you have it.

Focus On and Savor Something You Enjoy 

Spend time really looking at the beauty around you. Take a bite of some good food and pay attention to how much you enjoy it before swallowing. Allow your favorite song to completely capture your attention. All these things you enjoy are gifts. Spend time with them and let your appreciation for them fill up every corner of your awareness.

Whether you’re depressed, anxious, afraid, grieving, annoyed, angry, or bored, gratitude can help you heal.