Sunday, March 29, 2020

Self-Compassion and Emotional Resilience


by Trudy Gregson, MS, LPC

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” – Jack Kornfield

As we continue to adapt and manage our lives under the unusual circumstances of COVID-19, it’s as important as ever to make sure we’re giving ourselves the care and attention we need. In fact, according to Kristin Neff, one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion, “When we go through major life crises, self-compassion appears to make all the difference in our ability to survive and even thrive.”  

I’ve noticed that we often find it easier to feel compassion for others – for our children, our friends, our pets – than to turn that compassion towards ourselves. For some, self-compassion may feel like self-pity or selfishness or weakness, or they may believe that being hard on themselves motivates them to “do better”. We may use harsh words towards ourselves as a way to protect us from the harsh judgments of others, perhaps as an attempt to inoculate ourselves. Paradoxically, it has the opposite effect. Harsh self-judgment - our inner critic - makes us feel worse, not better.

To understand what self-compassion is, it may help to understand the difference between compassion and empathy. They’re similar in the way they both require us to put ourselves in another’s shoes. However, compassion includes the ability to stay present with another’s pain without being overwhelmed by it, and to be able to help from a place of love and kindness. Staying present with our own pain can be quite difficult, and people are very resourceful in finding all sorts of ways to escape it, but our escapes are short-lived. Self-compassion, on the other hand, is limitless once it is cultivated.

Kristin Neff describes self-compassion as, “being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate… it involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience and… taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated.” Practicing self-compassion expands our ability to achieve growth and change for ourselves, as well as to support others. When we’re able to feel compassion toward ourselves, it fortifies us from the inside out and makes us more resilient in the face of adversity.

A 2017 study published in Health Psychology Open found that “people who have higher levels of self-compassion tend to handle stress better.” Dwelling on stressful events can create chronic health issues including spikes in blood pressure and blood sugar, along with suppression of the immune system. Self-compassion is the antidote. Research has consistently shown that self-compassion decreases anxiety and depression symptoms by improving our ability to better handle stress and allows us to have more emotional resources to share with others.

To cultivate self-compassion, try using:

Physical gestures, such as placing your hand on your heart or giving yourself a gentle hug (even it feels a little silly at first). This releases oxytocin, the feel-good hormone.

Compassionate language towards yourself. Notice what you say to yourself – is it critical or is it supportive? Practice speaking to yourself as you would to a child or a good friend.

Self-care –Make yourself a cup of tea, spend some time in nature, get adequate sleep and physical activity, prioritize your own needs by saying no sometimes. Remember, it’s self-care, it’s not selfish.

Self-compassion is the salve that eases our suffering –our everyday experiences of stress, frustration, anger, or feeling badly about ourselves. It takes courage to be able to stay present with uncomfortable feelings, so be gentle with yourself as you begin to practice bringing more self-compassion into your daily life.

Trudy Gregson, MS, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor providing counseling to adults experiencing depression, anxiety, issues related to trauma, life transitions, and relationships. Trudy customizes her approach according to each client’s needs, using Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), Mindfulness, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as the foundation for their work together, helping clients to notice, bring compassion to, and acceptance of their inner experience. Trudy can be reached at trudygregsontherapy@gmail.com or at 267-652-1732.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Compassion for our struggle with social distancing



While I share the urgency and frustration that many of us are experiencing as we notice people who are not socially distancing sufficiently to meet the public health concerns, I want to make a few comments.

1. ISOLATING IS REALLY HARD EMOTIONALLY. As someone who has spent most of her life focused on emotional wellbeing, it has still been really hard to handle the waves of anxiety and emotion related to this unfolding situation. Under the best of circumstances, many people struggle to be alone or idle for even a few moments. This demands psychological resiliency which can be a weak muscle for most of us.

2. PEOPLE ARE GRIEVING. I'm not even talking about losing loved ones to the virus. I'm talking about the college students who have left their school and friends, thrown their belongings in boxes and headed (if they are lucky to have a welcoming home) back to their families. People are missing milestone events like proms, graduations, weddings, and long-planned trips. People are watching their livelihood dry up out of nowhere, their retirement accounts plunging. There are schoolkids who have nothing to do – and the parents who now have an additional full-time job of caretaking on top of working. It is hard to keep up with the emotions, and resistance to social distancing can be an instinctive coping strategy.

3. A LOT OF US DON'T DO ABRUPT CHANGE WELL. Any change can be a challenge, even good ones like new jobs or starting a new relationship. We work hard to develop a life that works. Disruption is hard, and can jangle our nerves and our managerial methods. The amount of change in the last weeks has been crazy intense, and while this is not an excuse not to make the necessary changes, it is a reason to feel compassion for ourselves and others struggling to make it.

4. DENIAL OF ILLNESS AND DEATH is pervasive in our culture. We are sheltered and in avoidance and denial until we can't be anymore – when tragedy comes to us or someone we love. Our culture marginalizes and tries to hide most illness, death and disability. Now we are facing a pandemic, and the realities of what this means are not comfortable or on the radar of many. We are playing catch-up in a culture that pretty much stinks at humanizing suffering and sacrificing for others.

5. COMPASSION, COURAGE AND CLARITY are needed to get through this crisis, both as applied to ourselves and to how we respond to others. Compassion for all the parts of us that are stirred, scared, confused, avoidant, or seeking comfort, and compassion for others who similarly struggle. Courage and clarity to take necessary action, face our feelings, and urge others to do the same. And focus on what is necessary and try not to get overwhelmed with the rest.

These are not excuses; but it may help to appreciate the emotional aspects of the challenges we face. I pray we can all rise to these and more, for the health, safety, and return to social closeness that we all crave.


Tips for an Effective Teletherapy Session


We are grateful for the development of video technologies that allow us to continue to provide counseling support during such a challenging time. Research has proven the effectiveness of teletherapy as comparable to in-person therapy. We also understand that it is a new experience for many people. We encourage you to try the suggestions below in order to support yourself in having the most beneficial experience.
  • If at all possible, identify a quiet, enclosed space to protect your privacy. You may want to post a “Do not disturb” sign on the door. Please avoid doing teletherapy sessions while driving; however, some have found that sitting in their parked car is a perfect place for quiet and privacy.
  • Have whatever you need for your comfort nearby – water, tissues, blanket, etc.
  • Check in to the video session five minutes before your appointment time to insure everything is working properly.
  • For video sessions, be mindful of where you sit in relation to a window or source of light. Try to ensure your face is clearly visible, with no glare. Your visible expressions are equally as important via video as they are in person!
  • If you can, place your computer on a stable surface (not your lap) and avoid using your phone for video sessions.
  • Turn off any notifications and minimize sounds that could be distracting during the session. 

You may find the telehealth format difficult at first. We will work together to increase your comfort and ease so that we maintain connection throughout this challenging time.

Managing Anxiety during the Pandemic


by Trudy Gregson

How do you usually manage worry or anxiety? Maybe you focus on the positives, or minimize the worry, or reassure yourself it’s not so bad - “others have it worse”.  These are all true and can be helpful, but these methods may not be working as well for you right now. We’re in uncharted territory. There is much that is unknown, and this can be very unsettling.

Often our worry or anxiety works to protect us from more vulnerable feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, or fears about safety - all valid fears, especially if we’ve had experiences in the past in which we’ve felt helpless, powerless, unsafe, and most of us have at some point.

It can be helpful just to notice whatever it is you're feeling. See if you can slow down, settle yourself with a couple deep breaths, and then return to your normal breathing and notice what you’re feeling. Name it. Notice where in your body you’re feeling it, whether it’s tension, stress, or some other discomfort - however your body holds worry or anxiety. And then breathe into it. Noticing your breath. See if you can witness the sensation connected to your worry. If it feels ok, say some soothing words to yourself:  “It’s okay to feel this way. I’m here with you.” Maybe you can have a mantra: “Breathe in love, breathe out worry”, or whatever words of comfort the worried or anxious part of you needs to hear.  You can ask it, “What do you need to hear right now?”

Your concerns are legitimate and you may find it helpful to be open to the parts of you that need attention, that need to grieve the losses that our current situation is bringing about - loss of control over certain aspects of our lives, loss of our regular routines and in-person social contact, temporary loss of our usual way of life, even loss of the secure feeling that things will be as they always have been. Bringing your attention to these feelings won’t make them go away, but you may find that by bringing your presence and compassion to them, you can create some space for them and bring about greater ease and comfort.

5 Ways to Ground during a Pandemic


by Elizabeth Campbell MS, LPC

When lives abruptly change, we may be left feeling shock or fear.  This can include fear of change and the unknown on top of the very real and present fears people currently have for their health.  It is important as a parent to be a grounding force in the home.  That is extremely challenging during these troubling times.  Below are five ways to create some sense of normalcy and model coping to set an example and support kids in managing their own feelings.

1.     Create structure
We are used to a daily routine.  This provides predictability and comfort for us and our children.  When we suddenly don’t have to go to school or work, it can be unsettling.  Giving our family predictability, particularly if anyone in the family experiences anxiety, can help to create and set expectations and grounding.  Some possible things to include are academic time, free time, and my next recommendation for grounding…
2.     Get outside
Being outside in nature is one of the most grounding, calming experiences there is.  Whether you are walking, biking, sitting, bird watching, the list goes on and on.  It is also a great way to stave off cabin fever without risking close contact with others. 
3.     Put on your own oxygen mask first
You cannot model coping with difficult circumstances without doing so yourself.  If you haven’t felt, processed, and coped with any of the myriad of feelings related to our world right now, take care of yourself however you need to.  Whether it is taking a rest during nap time, a bath after bed time, or making sure the entire household moves during the day…the possibilities are endless.  Take.  Care.  Of.  You. 
4.     Stay connected
This is one of the most challenging ways to stay grounded in our current climate.  Thankfully, technology provides a lot of ways to stay socially connected while maintaining social distancing.  We may end up on devices more than we would usually want and that’s okay right now.  This is most important for teens, as it is one of their developmental tasks to build and maintain a social group.
5.     Have fun
There are a lot of things weighing on us right now.  But many of us have been given an enormous gift…time to connect with our loved ones.  Have a dance party, tickle war, a joke competition or whatever you do in your family that makes your heart melt. 
I hope that each and every one of you can find some peace in this global crisis and that you and all of your loved ones stay healthy and happy.

Navigating Turbulent Times with Caution and Compassion


by Elizabeth Venart, Resiliency Center Director

You matter.  Our physical doors may be closed during this time, but our hearts are open and we are here to help provide support, connection, and resources for you. As many of you already know, the practitioner community at The Resiliency Center made the decision to close our physical offices effective Friday, March 13th. We did so in response to Governor Tom Wolf’s directive for all non-essential businesses in Montgomery County to close for 14 days in order to address the COVID 19 global pandemic and prevent further community spread. We have been in the process of transitioning our services and programs to teletherapy (phone and video), so we can continue to offer support during this challenging time. 

Individual practitioners are reaching out to the people they support to provide necessary details about how we will continue to hold our sessions remotely. Additionally, Rachel has found a creative way to hold meetings for the Philadelphia Writers Workshop online. We may be offering additional online programming – and, if so, you can learn more about our offerings through our Facebook page and upcoming newsletters.

While we are saddened to have to close our doors, we are devoted to doing our part to protect the most vulnerable in our community. We hope that you and your loved ones stay healthy. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or concerns, need resources, or wish to schedule an appointment. If you don’t yet have a specific practitioner with whom you are already working, please visit our website’s practitioner page and reach out to one of us to schedule a phone consultation. We look forward to connecting and navigating these turbulent times together.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Why play?


by Lisa Grant-Feeley, MS, LPC

As founder of the National Institute of Play, Stuart Brown, MD, compares play to oxygen.  That’s a strong comparison considering that none of us have gone without breathing in even the last minute, but how many of us can remember the last time we really played?  Not every minute, but daily or often. 

Brown considers play to be a “state of being” and “purposeless fun and pleasurable.”  It is a state of being because when we play, we engage our minds, bodies, and spirits. It is purposeless because there is no real goal or consequence. I’m fortunate to be able to remember playing outside as a child for hours on end; the excitement and anticipation of running out the door filled with a sense of freedom, anticipation and curiosity for whatever the next few hours would bring. I fully committed to whatever and wherever play brought me, whether it be creating a fantasy land for fairies, (whom I was sure existed), burying a box filled with treasures to be dug up when I was “all grown-up”, finding neighborhood kids to play hide and seek or kick ball, or just climbing trees and pretending I lived alone in the forest.  The possibilities were as endless as my imagination.

Besides the sheer enjoyment of play, numerous additional benefits exist. Play gives us the chance to connect to others and increases our sense of social wellbeing.  As Plato aptly said, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”  In addition, play that utilizes our brainpower helps to maintain cognitive function and increases creativity, productivity and cooperation at home and at work. Furthermore, adults who play and are playful demonstrate higher overall life satisfaction, as reported by numerous studies.  Play adds to our social, mental and emotional wellbeing. Play is powerful!

Keep in mind that there are many ways to play, and getting in touch with your preference could enhance your life in a meaningful way. Try being light-hearted or silly or doing something out of character like tickling your spouse, whatever brings delight.  It doesn’t matter how you play, but rather, that you do play.

As George Bernard Shaw wisely reminded us: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

Lisa Grant-Feeley, MS, LPC works with children, teens and families as well as individuals.  She specializes in working with individuals with ADHD and related behaviors.  She is dedicated to helping families work to create peace in their homes by working with all members of the family.  To connect with Lisa, please call 267-625-2565 or visit her website lisagrantfeeleytherapy.com.