Coping with Flood-Related Stress

Flooding in Colorado

Flooding in Colorado

I live and work in Northern Colorado, and this week we have been in the midst of some pretty significant flooding.  Sure, we are used to big snows, tornadoes and persistent droughts – but this flood thing is new to many of us.  What all these weather-related events have in common, though, is the anxiety, fear and worry that accompanies them.  It can be especially tough on our littlest family members.

With my own anxiety, fear and worry swirling, I am trying to use the coping strategies put forth by others before me:

TURN OFF THE TV!  Yes, I know all-caps is the typist’s form of shouting – but I think it is something to shout about.  I estimate that it takes the local news  5-10 minutes to update me on everything I need to know about the storm, the flooding and a bit about the world outside of Colorado.  After that, the pictures are repeated, the warnings more urgent and the predictions more dire.  It’s no wonder that after about 10 minutes of watching (or reading, or YouTubing or Facebooking) I notice my anxiety level soar.  So, this tip is kind of a no-brainer: watch the basics then TURN IT OFF!

Connect with the gang.  Folks often describe feelings of closeness with their community during tough times. I am seeing this all around me.  Neighbors chatting, planning and organizing; co-workers banding together to help the cause; community organizations reaching out in ways they normally don’t.  Connecting with your community can be a really effective way to combat the emotional turmoil that accompanies natural disasters.

Keep on keeping on.  Whether we realize it or not, most of us have some pretty effective stress management strategies on board already.  For example, I love to watch House Hunters as a way to wind down. Other folks might find reading, praying or walking to be particularly effective at managing stress.  The key is, now that we are REALLY stressed, let’s not forget the coping strategies that work for us. That might mean getting creative and reading by candlelight instead of lamp light, but the effect is the same.

For more ideas about managing distress related to the floods (or other natural disasters), check out the American Psychological Association’s Help Center.

 

Party at the VMA’s: Miley, Gaga and Why We Missed the Best Part

Ahhhh…the Video Music Awards.  Who can resist the yearly display of pop culture including good music, crazy fashion, wild dances; and let’s not forget the annual controversy.

Madonna kissed Britney in 2003:

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Kanye stole Taylor’s thunder in 2009:

…and who can forget Lady Gaga’s meat dress in 2010. Delicious:

When I turned on my computer this morning, everyone was talking about the performance delivered by Miley Cyrus (aka Hannah Montana) at last night’s VMA’s.  This Disney-star-turned-sex-kitten’s (was that what her costume was?) song was the most talked about of the night. She gyrated, stripped down to a skimpy outfit and danced in a super provocative way with Robin Thicke (even causing the host to comment that she might have become pregnant from all the grinding).

Here’s the thing: people are flipping out about her performance. And for the life of me I can’t figure out why. Yea, it was sexy and risque, but so was Lady Gaga’s number.  Come to think of it, there were plenty of scantily-clad women shaking their booties to hither and yon. What’s the big deal? I really have no idea.

Sadly, I think we are all missing the most provocative, exciting performance of the night: Macklemore.  Forget all the hoopla surrounding Miley and check out Macklemore’s touching performance below:

In a few years we will look back and feel bored at Miley’s gyrations, but Macklemore’s words about acceptance, human rights and loving one another are timeless and meaningful no matter when they are heard.

 

 

 

Grieving Cory Monteith and Coming Clean About Addiction

It has taken me the 13 days since Cory Monteith’s death to write this post.  And I am still not sure what to say.

Regular Dr. Stephanie readers know that I am a Gleek. I have often written about the show’s messages about mental health and diversity. More than anything I simply love the characters and the music.

So, like many others around the world I was heartbroken to hear about Cory Monteith’s death of what turns out was a mixture of heroine and alcohol.

What can I say, and what can we learn from this extremely sad event?

  • Life is short
  • The death of a friend, a lover, a co-worker and even a TV idol can be tremendously painful
  • Substance abuse can happen to anyone, any family and in any circle of friends

Perhaps it is this last bit that can be the most shocking: anyone – no matter how rich, popular, talented, loved or good looking – can fall prey to substance abuse and addiction.  Addiction knows no bounds, and it is one heck of a liar; making it tough for even the closest of friends to spot its presence. Most of us know that sheer force of will can’t stop an addict from using, but we do know that support of friends and family can help make the path to sobriety a bit less arduous.

If you have a friend or family member who you believe is struggling with addiction, or has come to you for help check out the resources below:

RIP Cory Monteith.

 

 

 

 

Un-Plugging in the Summertime

I’m excited to announce that this post on unplugging on vacation is being featured on BlogHer today! Check it out!

Summer Vacation: Plugged or Un-plugged?

Have you taken your summer vacation yet? If not, you may find yourself pondering this very question: Should I stay plugged in, or go all-in and un-plug the world? I was having this debate conversation just last night.  Are vacations better if they are completely un-plugged? Is it even possible?  Will my vacation be more beneficial if I don’t check my email, voicemail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and beyond?

What about when I return: Will the re-entry to my “real” life be more difficult if I have a week or two worth of messages waiting for me?

Here’s my take:

Vacations come in all shapes and sizes.  There’s the quick weekend getaway, the family reunion trip, the sightseeing/cultural trip, the boy scout camping trip, the Disney World trip and the long, lazy summer trip.  It might be no big deal to stay plugged in (meaning checking voicemail, email, etc) on short trips like weekend getaways.  In fact, staying plugged in to the “real world” might be the only thing that gets you through kid-focused trips (like to Disney) and can provide excellent excuses for escape on family reunion trips.

Camping trips and long, lazy summer trips are different in my book.  These vacations should most certainly be experienced un-plugged.  These types of trips are meant to be savored and should be a complete change of pace from your normal life. We can’t be expected to truly un-wind, re-group, and relax if we are constantly updating Facebook or responding to customer inquiries.  Sand castles and s’mores are meant to be relished – and who can do that while responding to email?

How do you decide whether or not to un-plug?

Mental Health Blog Day Update

Yesterday was APA’s Mental Health Blog Day.  They did a great job of rounding up some great bloggers to dedicate posts to mental health.  Some of the bloggers are health writers, some not – but either way there was some great information shared! Check it out:

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Some of my faves:

How clever are these blog titles? I just love discovering new, creative and entertaining bloggers.  For a full list of Mental Health Blog Day participants click here.

Oh! And you can see my contribution to the party here: Mental Health Isn’t All Sadness and Worry; Doom and Gloom

Mental Health Isn’t All Sadness and Worry; Doom and Gloom

I'm Blogging for Mental Health.

Today is Mental Health Blog Day over at the American Psychological Association (APA).  APA is rounding up lots of terrific blog posts and articles all about mental health.  This is a great place to learn more about diagnosis, treatment, resources, and what it is like to live with a mental illness.  All of this information is useful and necessary, but I think sometimes we forget that mental health can be fun – and funny – too.

For example, the blog Hyperbole and a Half has recently dealt with the issue of debilitating depression.  Yes, this is a serious topic.  And yes, it is tough to read the author’s description of her extremely low mood and long periods of helplessness and hopelessness.  But, the post is also pretty light-hearted and even funny in some sections.

Mental health and humor are two things that can be tough to combine, but there are places where the combination can be found: the TV show Monk, any of David Sedaris’ books, Chato Stewart’s mental health humor cartoons.

Creating mental health can be a good time – and it doesn’t always entail lying on a couch blaming your mother for your unhappy marriage, or taking a handful of pills everyday.  While therapy and psychiatric medication may be a piece of mental health care for some of us; many of us can find it on our own.  Gardening, baking, collecting gnomes, reading mysteries, brewing beer, playing chess in the park – these can all be ways to create and maintain good mental health.

How do you have fun while working on your mental health?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are We Giving Too Much Advice?

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There is advice everywhere I look. From the psychology and health related blogs I read (“How to Keep Your Kids Safe This Summer!” “10 Steps to Being a More Engaged Mom!”) to the home improvement blogs I enjoy (“How To Rip Out Carpet!” “Painting Your Deck with Ease!”) to the healthy living/fitness blogs I skim (“Cut Out Gluten for a Flatter Stomach!” “Train for a Marathon This Summer!”).  I have to admit I have reached my breaking point when it comes to reading advice.

Who are these advice-givers anyway?  And do they follow their own advice?  Can any of us really be expected to do all these things we’re “supposed” to do?

I know, I know, my blog is full of tips, advice, strategies too.  And believe me, sometimes I read my own words and they sound a bit like blah blah blahhhhhhhh to me as well.

Do you ever feel like you are being bombarded with advice? How do you cope? How do you choose what to tune out?

Advice, tips, coping strategies are all great things. But just like everything else: moderation is key. With that, I will follow my own advice and not offer any today.

 

A Psychologist’s Take on Leaning In

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I’m going to do it: I’m going to join the throng and add my two cents about the much-talked-about the book Lean In.  First a little back story:

Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook.  She is extraordinarily successful on many fronts: financially, professionally, socially, and it seems from her book that she also has a happy, loving family (she is married and has two youngish kids).  Ms. Sandberg decided to write this book after giving a series of talks  about why women haven’t achieved more in the highest levels of business and government.  Take a look at her TED talk.

It seems like she was hoping this book would allow her a platform to flush out her ideas about “women, work, and the will to lead” more thoroughly.  Some are calling this book a new “feminist manifesto,” a modern day Vindication of the Rights of Women (I love that book!) or the Feminine Mystique (I like that one, too).

Here’s the thing: a beautifully written call to arms to American women this book is not.  It’s not a highly-intellectualized, academic work about the role of women either.  In fact, it is a super-readable, totally understandable book that outlines, chapter by chapter, the things that women (and men) do to keep true equality in the workplace from being realized.  More specifically, why women aren’t “sitting at the table” in more board rooms and places of real power.

There were a few things I loved about this book:

  • I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  For the few days I was reading this book I found myself thinking about it while I was reading it, in the morning when I woke up, and while I was eating my sandwich at lunch.  It wasn’t that I was eager to get back to reading it, it’s just that it really made me think.  Unfortunately I was never really able to articulate what it was making me think about, or what I really thought about her message.  It is a rare thing for me to be tongue-tied, but this book left me just that.  What does that mean exactly? I’m not sure, but I do know that if people are talking/thinking about your work you must be doing something right.
  • Her passion.  Ms. Sandberg clearly has a passion for women and leadership.  Her energy and dedication to her own professional achievement, and now the achievement of other women is impressive.  While I’m not convinced that her book will spark another wave of feminism, I think hers is an important voice in our culture right now.  I am hopeful that young women will read her book and consider her ideas.
  • Her sound bites.  Ms. Sandberg offers up a few motivational passages that reportedly hang on the office walls of Facebook.  My favorite: Done is better than perfect.  So many of us get hung up on perfection (which of course is elusive) that we don’t get much done.  Ms. Sandberg is clearly someone who gets LOTS done, and it’s nice to know that she doesn’t expect perfection.
  • Her honesty.  While reading the first two-thirds of the book, I kept wondering when she was going to talk about dealing with other women.  Meaning: the moms in the school drop-off line who think she is a b*$#ch and a terrible mom.  I can hear the parking lot posse now: “She’s never home!” “She’s so full of herself” and “Why did she even bother to have kids if she’s not going to be the one to raise them?”  Finally, on page 167 she writes about this issue:

Stay-at-home mothers can make me feel guilty and, at times, intimidate me.  There are moments when I feel like they are judging me, and I imagine there are moments when they feel like I am judging them.  But when I push past my own feelings of guilt and insecurity, I feel grateful.  These parents – mostly mothers – constitute a large amount of the talent that helps sustain our schools, nonprofits, and communities.

There was something I didn’t love about this book, too:

  • It made me tired.  This just about sums up my feeling about the book as a whole.  The entire time I was reading it I felt tired and like a huge slacker.  Ms. Sandberg has clearly accomplished a lot professionally, and has done so through hard work and long hours.  She wants to see other women do this too.  She wants us “sitting at the table” and participating more equally at the highest levels of business and government.  I whole-heartedly agree.  The only problem was that I was so worn out just by reading her book, I was left with zero energy to change the world into a better place.  I am pretty sure that Ms. Sandberg wouldn’t accept tiredness as an excuse for not “leaning in” to my career, or not helping other women do so; unfortunately it’s all I’ve got.

When I asked a colleague whether she had read “Lean In,” she replied no, that she needed to do more “leaning out” in her life.  I didn’t ask her what she meant because I think I already know.  So many of us women (and men, to be fair) are so busy working, caring for children and parents, volunteering, exercising, paying bills, and squeezing in a few hours sleep that changing the gender dynamics around us just falls off the to-do list.

As I was really starting to feel lousy about how little I do in comparison to Ms. Sandberg in the fight for gender equality, I received this email from her “team” in response to an interview request I sent:

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Looks like Ms. Sandberg does a little leaning out, too.

 

 

To read more about Lean In, Ms. Sandberg’s non-profit dedicated to supporting women click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Boston Marathon Attacks and Coping with Traumatic Events

As I was brushing my teeth this morning I was thinking about whether and what to post about the attacks in Boston yesterday.  Like everyone else, I am dismayed and grieved at the trauma endured by the athletes and their supporters.  I can’t help but reflect on the multitude of traumas our people have endured over the last few years.

Is this normal?  Have these sorts of incidents increased?  What can be made of all this violence, injury and death?  I don’t know the answers to these questions.  But, I do know that it is normal to feel lots of emotions following tragedies like the one yesterday.

The American Psychological Association offered some tips on how to recognize and cope with traumatic stress.  Check out their tips here.

In looking over APA’s info, I was struck by a couple of points:

  • People respond to tragedies differently.  Some folks might feel nothing, others may cry, still others might have trouble tearing themselves away from news coverage.  I notice many folks turning to social media as a way to cope with their own grief and fear.  Still others may simply want to retreat and withdraw.  No response is right or wrong.  Just different.
  • Re-establishing routines is important.  I’m big into routines, so this tip really rang true for me.  Routines can be comforting to all of us – especially kids – so getting back to a normal schedule can go a long way in helping cope with traumatic events.  Maybe this means going back to your regular dinnertime, enjoying your favorite TV shows, or getting back to your typical workout schedule.  Even if it feels awkward at first, getting back into the swing of your normal routine can help minimize stress, fear, and uncertainty.
  • Avoid major life decisions.  This tip is new to me, but I think it is pretty interesting.  Traumatic events can produce big emotions.  Sometimes those emotions are grief and fear, but they can also be passion, anger, or excitement.  These emotions can be so intense that we may feel driven to make decisions about our relationships, work, and family lives.  APA suggests we avoid these decisions in times of high stress.

For more information about coping with traumatic events, check out the American Psychological Association.