Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Sleeping through the pandemic

by Barbra Danin

Most of us are all too familiar with the anguish of waking up in the middle of the night, struggling to fall back asleep and worrying about how we’ll manage the next day without our rest.  During the pandemic, we slept more and less:  working from home allowed many of us to turn off their alarm clocks and sleep in, but the stress many experienced made it restless, poor quality sleep. 

 

A great deal of research supports the CDC findings that sleep deprivation has many deleterious effects on our health, physiology and overall wellbeing and quality of life.  This includes fatigue, irritability, mood shifts, and difficulty with learning, concentration and memory.  Our immune system becomes compromised, our metabolism changes, and blood pressure can rise. 

 

Although the amount of necessary sleep varies from individual to individual, on average adults require a minimum of 7 hours of per night. Estimates show that 1 out of every 3 adults do not meet that minimum.  

 

There are many reasons why we struggle with getting enough sleep, including our work schedules, stress, a sleeping environment that is not conducive to deep rest (noisy, uncomfortable temperature), use of electronic devices prior to bedtime, alcohol use, and other things.  The effects of sleep deprivation underscore the importance of practicing behaviors that promote healthy sleep and help maintain a regular sleep/wake cycle

 

Many often resort to medication usage to address sleep issues; however, there are many non-medical strategies have been shown to be equally if not more effective in helping us fall asleep and stay asleep.

 

Some recommendations by the National Sleep Foundation include:

-  daily exercise

-  maximizing light exposure during the day

-  consistent mealtimes

-  avoiding food and alcohol intake 2–3 hours before bedtime

-  limiting caffeine intake

-  limiting tobacco use

-  engaging in relaxing routines before bed

-  avoiding screens before sleep

-  keeping electronic devices away from sleeping area

-  creating a sleeping environment that enhances sleep:

   (reduced light and noise, cool temperatures)

-  maintaining regular bedtimes and rise times, even on weekends

-  getting out of bed after trying unsuccessfully for 20 minutes to fall asleep

-  using a mouth guard to manage grinding, gnashing or teeth clenching

 

Various relaxation practices, including meditation, mindfulness training, breathing exercises, and guided imagery can help reduce tension. Audio recordings and sleep apps can also be effective. Other products that could improve sleep include: white noise machines, anti-snore devices, sleep trackers, wedge pillows, and other products. Alternative therapies that people have found helpful include acupuncture, acupressure, massage, melatonin, valerian root, Tai Chi and Qi Gong, and Ayurvedic Medicine. Always check with a doctor before trying any new remedy. There may be adverse effects or interactions with medications.

 

Cognitive behavioral therapy: Known as CBT, this approach focuses on recognizing thought patterns that are interfering with relaxed sleep.  This therapy has shown positive outcomes in treating sleep disorders. 

 

If these measures do not help, consultation with a healthcare provider is recommended, especially if sleep deprivation is affecting the quality of life.

 

Barbra Danin, MA, LMFT, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Clinical Art Therapist, and Certified EMDR Therapist.  She provides individual, couples, and family therapy.  Her specialties include treating children with anxiety, trauma, and behavioral issues – and empowering parents with concrete tools for lasting change.  Learn more at https://theresiliencycenter.com/practitioner/barbradanin/ and www.barbradanin.com. Contact her at (314) 477-8585 or barbradanin@barbradanin.com.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Transforming Sorrow into Connection

by Vanessa Mortillo

 

“When we come from a place of love, everything shifts for us.”

-Lama Palden Drolma

 

A powerful tool I have turned to when I find myself overwhelmed with the suffering of others is the Buddhist practice of Tonglen, or “sending and receiving.” This practice invites us to take in suffering and pain, and then move it outward into the world as greater compassion and joy. The first part of the practice includes breathing in the suffering. At first glance this sounds counterintuitive, but for many of us, the suffering is already stuck inside. In her book on Tonglen, Love on Every Breath, Lama Palden Drolma states, “many of us take in the suffering, and it simply sits in us, unprocessed, weighing us down.” She details the use of this practice to move the stuckness and hopelessness into greater compassion by turning our kindness outward. The second part of Tonglen, sending peace on the outbreath, invites us to deepen our connectedness to others in the world. This process in itself is healing. When we feel more connected we have access to our internal resources including love, compassion and empowerment. 

 

To get started, Pema Chodron guides us through a short Tonglen practice here

Practices for Keeping Our Hearts Open

Sometimes the pain of the outer world is so great that it can feel challenging to keep our hearts open. It has been a rough two years. Throughout these unprecedented times, we have found meaning and hope, inspired by our work and supported by our connections as a community. In a recent conversation of Resiliency Center practitioners, we talked about the impact of having great empathy in a time of tremendous pain. We explored the ways we keep our hearts open and caring and how we stay resilient in the process. None of us are perfect at this. Like everyone, it is a work in progress. Below are some of the practices we have found most helpful.

1.      Self-Care. Nutritious food, quality sleep, exercise, rest, play, and time spent in connection with friends, family, and nature. This also includes being mindful about our media consumption. Like the food we eat, the media we consume has a big impact on our mood and outlook. When we prioritize the basics of good self-care, we have a greater capacity to be present with others.

 

2.      Holding the “and.” Brittiney George highlighted the importance of holding the “and,” that bridge between the anguish and the joy, the hate and the love. She spoke about how important it is to let them co-exist. Biologically, we are hard wired for survival.  That means we are set up to pay more attention to what is wrong. However, if we only let ourselves register what feels bad and don’t allow ourselves to also feel what feels good, we will be stuck in that fight-or-flight fear reaction and miss out on all the gifts life has to offer. Brittiney describes the “and” as “the color in the black and white world, the 64 crayon box with the sharpener in the back.” During times of acute distress, personally or globally, we may only see darkness. We may have to look harder for the color, for the goodness.

3.      Be present with our emotions. Jen Perry shared wisdom from Gabor Maté who states that one of the needs of humans as they are developing is the space to feel the full range of human emotions fully. Unfortunately, most of us are not given this space. As a result, we become fearful of our feelings and of other people’s feelings. When someone is expressing strong emotion we view it as a problem to fix, instead of an experience to experience. Efforts to silence our emotions can manifest in our bodies, in the form of headaches, pain, fatigue, and agitation. If we could feel safe to feel ours and others emotions fully, we could accompany each other on this journey with compassion instead of exhaustion. As we feel safe and soften, allowing ourselves to ride the wave of emotion, it is a wave: it rises, crescendos, falls again. By being present with whatever feelings arise within us, without working to stop that flow, we find a new freedom, a release, a relief, a freer inhale and exhale. Jack Kornfield in A Path with Heart writes: “What we find as we listen to the songs of our rage or fear, loneliness or longing, is that they do not stay forever. Rage turns into sorrow; sorrow turns into tears; tears may fall for a long time, but then the sun comes out. A memory of old loss sings to us; our body shakes and relives the moment of loss; then the armoring around that loss gradually softens; and in the midst of the song of tremendous grieving, the pain of that loss finally finds release.”

 

4.      One moment at a time. Resiliency Center practitioner Therese Daniels shares, “Thinking about how to help the whole world is extremely overwhelming and not possible. One moment, one person, one situation at a time. That’s what is possible. One small thing can create ripples that affect so many people. We can show up for ourselves and our people. Spread love, show love. If we think small, bigger things will happen, eventually.”

5.      Boundaries. Brittiney George reminds us that when we truly honor our needs and energy, our ability to be with, sit with, and hold space for others increases . Our ability to experience gratitude and joy does too. Begin by asking ourselves, “What do I have the capacity for that is sustainable for me?” Listen to the answer that arises. Honor that boundary.

6.      Connect to the goodness in humanity. Focus on acts of kindness. Read stories of heroism that emerge. We were moved by the story of the mothers in Poland leaving strollers at the train station for all the mothers arriving from Ukraine, the firefighters in New Jersey gathering firefighting uniforms, hats, and boots to send overseas, and the reporters risking their lives to tell the truth.

7.      Care, not Carry. It is also important to remember that while we can care deeply, we don’t have to carry what we care about. We can be with others without feeling responsible for them.

8.      Gratitude. We can find gratitude for the goodness in our own lives. And for life itself. Elizabeth Venart posted a daily gratitude post on Facebook for eighteen months. Some days featured seemingly trivial posts (catching that green arrow at the traffic light) while other days yielded more profound observations (reflecting on the kindness of a stranger, the beauty in nature, and the wisdom of a child). It not only helped improve her own outlook, but others responded that it uplifted their days as well. Seeing the old posts pop up on her Newsfeed still brings a smile. Of course, there is no need to make your reflections public. Keeping a daily gratitude journal of one to five things for which you are grateful can help shift your perspective and improve our mood. You could also experiment with writing down the positives from the day – moments of beauty, kind words spoken, favorite funny moments, a great line from a book you read, anything that uplifts or inspires. And why not include what you are looking forward to tomorrow? When we look for positives, we are likely to see more positives. What we garden (and water) grows.

Open-Heartedness in a Time of Heartbreak

by Elizabeth Venart

Facing my blank computer screen on March 7, 2022, I struggle to find words to adequately express my heartbreak at the devastation in Ukraine. I watch news reports of Russia violently invading, bombing buildings, destroying homes and neighborhoods, and sending millions of Ukrainian citizens fleeing their homeland. I watch footage of thousands escaping on foot and by train, with only a small backpack of possessions remaining from the life they cherished. I see the courage of those who stay, those who fight back, the leader who, despite the world’s estimation that he has only a fraction of the military resources of his attacker, stands up and demands his voice be heard and boundaries honored. I am awed too by the bravery of citizens in Russia who oppose their government’s actions, facing arrest, prison sentences of fifteen years, and worse.

As I watch news coverage from the comfort of my home, in my peaceful neighborhood, in a town free of explosions and terror, I am aware of my privilege. I recognize that we may be sitting on the precipice of a World War in which peace anywhere is potentially under threat. I also recognize that is not my experience in this moment. In this moment, I have the luxury of a relaxed in-breath and out-breath, the presence of my family members and pets, and the ability to reach loved ones over the phone and know they are safe. I can drive and travel unencumbered, and I know where I will rest my head to sleep at day’s end. I am acutely aware of these gifts of home and safety and peace – and sense more deeply the need not to take them for granted.  

Keeping our eyes and hearts open, our compassion intact can be some of the hardest work. Sometimes the cruelty and suffering we witness is so intense we may feel overtaken by anger and thoughts of vengeance. Or we may feel frozen in response to it. We may numb out, avoid the news, and avoid conversations for fear of hearing more news. We may become consumed in something rather mindless, like playing Wordle, Quordle, and Octordle (my favorite three distractions these days). We may tune out, shut down, pretend nothing is happening. It is natural to feel a whole host of emotions in response to suffering. It is also natural to experience these emotions in waves, rising and falling in our consciousness. 

It is painful to stand back and do nothing when our hearts feel the pull to help. If my nextdoor neighbor is struggling or has experienced a loss, I can sit with them. I can make a casserole. I can mow their lawn or clear the snow off their car. I want to help, to act, to do. But what can we do when the ones suffering are a continent away?

On a pragmatic level, there are some things we can do. We can participate in social and political activism – putting pressure on elected officials and corporations to impose sanctions and take actions that might have a positive impact. We can also make donations in support of humanitarian assistance in Ukraine. These actions do matter. (Resource links for sending aid to Ukraine appear later in the newsletter.)

Rather than succumb to a sense of futility about making a difference, we may seek an outlet for that inhibited desire. Maybe we organize a local food drive to help the homeless in our own community or volunteer for the Red Cross. Or maybe we channel that energy into training for a marathon, planning a family reunion, reconnecting with old friends. . . finding something we can do.

These are tumultuous times. Times of change, upheaval, fear, courage, heroism, and transformation. Many of us are only slowly re-emerging from a time of prolonged isolation. Connection is good for our souls. It provides a pathway through times of anguish. Invite opportunities for laughter among friends, meaningful conversation, sharing hugs and meals, reigniting our sense of community after two years of time apart. We can bolster one another.

In 1973, E.B. White responded to a despairing reader with the following letter of hope. While written in the context of that moment in history, the message's timeless and brought me some comfort. I hope his words will resonate with you as well.

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society — things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out. Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.”

Elizabeth Venart is the Founder and the Director of The Resiliency Center and a Licensed Professional Counselor whose practice focuses on supporting Highly Sensitive Persons and other therapists (through counseling, clinical consultation and training). Her counseling and consulting work integrates EMDR Therapy and IFS to help people heal past trauma and experience transformational change. Her free offerings include  a weekly laughter yoga class, a monthly Rumi and Friends Spiritual Poetry Evening, and a monthly gathering for EMDR Therapists in the Greater Philadelphia area. To learn more, visit her website.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Healing for Helpers

2022 March Newsletter:  Healing for the Helpers

 

Healing for Helpers

by Vanessa Mortillo

 

“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.” – Fred Rogers

 

From the hospital staff who have showed up for the sick and dying, to the parents who work double duty supporting their children and maintaining normalcy, to our teachers, daycare and eldercare staff, clergy, mental health professionals, first responders, and service workers, it is comforting to know that helpers are everywhere. Yet, it is difficult to find words that do justice to their extraordinary struggles during this pandemic. Many helpers rose to meet challenges head on, and many are tired.

 

For anyone in a helping role, it is important to pay close attention to your own wellbeing. The classic airline safety instruction, “Put on your oxygen mask first before helping others,” is so true. Yet, so many helpers charge forward with little attention to their inner lives. If this sounds like you, I see you.  You may have been taught that taking time for yourself is selfish or fear that showing vulnerability will be concerning to others. As a result, you may not be asking for support when you need it.  I often hear the phrase “I am so done” from frustrated parents, teachers, and youth that I work with. Exhaustion, depressed mood, hopelessness, and frustration are all signs that it may be time to focus on your own healing. Doing so will expand your ability to help others immeasurably.

 

An oft overlooked aspect of healing is staying connected to other people and our community. Dr. Bruce Perry, a renowned child psychiatrist and trauma expert, states, “Relationships are the agents of change, and the most powerful therapy is human love.” Dr. Perry found that even short, positive 5-minute conversations with other people, spread throughout the day, can shift internal energy from distress into homeostasis. Connecting to community might look like asking trusted friends to check in, making an effort to call people more frequently, planning quality time with loved ones, or even joining a new community. This is one of the reasons the Resiliency Center offers classes and workshops. We understand that humans thrive in community.

 

Below are a few more self-care tips to support your healing journey:

 

·      Self-compassion: Understand that you are often simply doing your best with what you have available to you. You are just one human dealing with a lot, and it is okay to take breaks and attend to your own needs first. Give yourself grace if you make mistakes. Commit to loving kindness meditation practices.

 

·      Attending to your body: Moving, exercising, and massage can release tension and stress as well as relieve parts of your body that carry emotional burdens. Feed yourself foods that nourish you.

 

·      Seek therapy: If you have lost someone, have been exposed to trauma, or simply would like support as you support others or to experience your own healing, invest in therapy.

 

As many challenges as we face as helpers, there are many ways to cope. Creating a sustainable lifestyle that allows you to be your best self while helping others may involve getting to know yourself better and finding the self-care strategies that work best for you. We hope you take time for yourself and take care.

 

Vanessa Mortillo is a Licensed Professional Counselor with extensive training in play therapy. Utilizing mindfulness, expressive arts, and play-based interventions, Vanessa provides a playful space to harness creativity and imagination in the service of growth and healing. To learn more about her practice, view her profile or contact her at vmortillo@gmail.com or 267-507-5793.


Thursday, January 13, 2022

Intact not Perfect

by Brittiney George, BS, MST, ICI, CEIM

 

The world teaches you to pick yourself apart.  Resist.

If you must pick a fight, fight the urge to make yourself lesser or smaller than you are. The aim is not perfection; the aim is to stay intact.

 

The words Perfect, Whole, Entire, and Intact are often used interchangeably.  They all speak to the idea of “not lacking or being faulty.”  But a closer look (thanks to the Miriam-webster dictionary) reveals a subtle but important difference.

 

PERFECT implies the soundness and the excellence of every part… frequently as an unattainable or theoretical state.”  Ex. a perfect set of teeth. 

 

INTACT implies retention of perfection of a thing in its natural or original state.  Ex. the house survived the war intact.

 

Perfection by itself is unattainable and theoretical, but when you are intact in your original state, you are already perfect.  Let’s say that one again…

 

You are perfectly intact in your original form.

 

It can be easy to feel pulled, torn, twisted, or split apart by life.  Intact does not mean you aren’t tired, depleted, or in need of support.  Intact means you are moving from and staying true to who you are at your core, the essence of you.  That is your original form.  That is perfect. That is your true north when the world feels upside down. 

 

When you feel the war raging on around you, trust the wisdom that is in you. 

 

Your body knows how you are being impacted both externally and internally throughout your day.  Trust that it knows the movement you need to navigate back on course with the core of you fully intact. 

 

Brittiney George, BS, MST, ICI, CEIM, is a Master Somatic Therapist and Movement Practitioner specializing in Transformative Touch.  She is also the creator of the online comic www.thisweekwithjoy.com.  Her areas of specialty include highly sensitive persons (HSP’s), and nervous system support that helps people feel unstuck when they feel bogged down by life.  For information contact Brittiney at 610-389-7866 or movebackintolife@gmail.com. 

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Welcoming yourself home

by Jen Perry, MSEd, MA, LPC

Hello Dear Friend and welcome to the January 2022 edition of the Resiliency Center’s monthly newsletter. I feel like I’m still trying to process 2020, and here we are in 2022! The theme for this month’s newsletter is “Welcoming Yourself Home,” a phrase that I use almost everyday to begin my own meditation and frequently as I lead meditations for my clients and the participants in my Self-Compassion Group.

Welcoming yourself home acknowledges that human beings are made up of parts, little sub-personalities if you will, and that one of the most important aspects of mental and emotional health is having a healthy relationship with these parts of ourselves. Now before I go any further let me tell you that the argument about whether humans are of one mind (or mono-minded) or multiplicitous (made up of parts) has gone on for centuries. If you are a geek like me and want to learn more, Richard Schwartz, the developer of modern parts work called Internal Family Systems (IFS) has a book entitled Many Minds, One Self that provides the history. You may also want to check out his latest book, No Bad Parts. On YouTube, you can find a number of interviews with him and a series of informative lectures.   

But more important than what ancient philosophers and modern scientists who study this have to say, I invite you to take this information in and ponder it using your own good sense. Have you ever felt more than one way about something? Ever had difficulty making a decision because you actually had two or more different opinions about what to do? Have you ever been strongly convinced of your opinion in an argument one evening and by the next morning flipped completely around wondering, “What was I thinking?” If you have Disney+, treat yourself to a short animated film called “Twenty Something” to see an artful rendition of parts. One of the major objectives in IFS is to promote harmony among our parts. The other major objective is to connect our parts to Self, the mysterious presence or soul substance that connects us all with the qualities of love, compassion, calm, creativity, and courage.

Welcoming yourself home is a process that reaches out to all the parts of ourselves with respect, warmth, and curiosity. My dear friend and Resiliency Center colleague Michael Bridges shared a beautiful metaphor with me ~ “Imagine there is a “heart room” in the center of your being ~ warm, comfortable, welcoming, nourishing ~ a judgement-free zone where your parts can be held in a gentle space of understanding.” As another dear friend, mentor, and the Director of the Resiliency Center, Elizabeth Venart, taught me: “If we can’t understand just yet, we rest patiently with confidence that our parts make sense if only they have a calm space to tell their story.”

There is not a relationship you will have in this lifetime that is more important and more longstanding than your relationship with all the different parts of you. Some parts of us are easy to love, and some are more difficult. Some have been in what’s called “the shadow” for a long time. Approaching our parts purely from intellect rarely works for long and can add to inner tension, whereas an inner sense of spaciousness and curiosity invites us to soften and open up. If you have ever tried to lecture a child until you were blue in the face, not getting anywhere at all, and yet found they melted into connection with you whenever you offered the gentleness and comfort of a hug, then you know what I mean. Author and poet Jeff Foster has a beautiful YouTube video that expresses the healing that can occur when we hold our parts with tenderness.

Thank you for spending a few minutes of your day with me ~ My wish for this month is that we both to feel welcome in ourselves and experience a moment of connection with ourselves and one another. Albeit asynchronous connection as I am writing this in early December and you are now reading this in January, but connection all the same. Perhaps when I am in my heart room and you are in your heart room, we are in the same place.

Jen Perry, MSEd, MA, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Mindfulness Teacher, and Peaceful Parenting Coach. Her passion is helping Highly Sensitive People thrive in life, love, and parenting. She has been in the field for over twenty years and is devoted to studying the human psyche or soul and is often in awe of human compassion, strength, resilience, and consciousness. She loves pondering the mysteries of the Universe. In addition to seeing clients individually, she offers classes and a self-compassion group. She also loves teaching and guiding parents of Highly Sensitive Children. Learn more about Jen and her practice.