Election Week “Baker’s Dozen” of Mental Well-Being Tips

If you don’t have a plan for taking care of your mental well-being this week, I invite you to do so today. What can you do more of that fills your bucket? Here are some ideas:

1. Turn up the volume and take a music break.


Whether it is soothing ambient tunes, rage releasing metal, inspiring protest anthems, or something completely different, music has the power to help us release emotions in healthy ways.

2. Take a walk or run around the neighborhood.

Stay present during your excursion. Give yourself a scavenger hunt of things to notice: count squirrels, look for chess players in the park, notice if you see your breath in the November air…what else do you notice?

3. Find space and time to be mindful.

Whether it is guided meditation (lots of good options on @youtube or @calm) or just giving yourself time to pause throughout the day, mindful helps us stay grounded.

4. Take breathing breaks. (The long, slow kind, not the hyperventilating kind.)

Inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, and exhale for a count of 8. Extending the exhale helps to calm an anxious nervous system.

5. Sweat. Do something physical to raise your heart rate.

Exercise burns off cortisol and adrenaline (the stress hormones) and increases endorphins (the feel-good hormones).

6.Cuddle, hold hands, hug, be intimate, and simply be close to those you love*.

We are touch-deprived right now because of the pandemic. Physical touch and closeness can help us feel connected, safe, and at ease.

*Remember: Consent is required

7. Check-in with friends.

Choose a handful of people you can turn to this week who will support your well-being. Someone who can make you laugh, someone who you can be vulnerable with, someone who listens without judgment, someone who can be honest with you.

8. Get enough rest.

Sleep can be elusive during stressful times. Take the added pressure off of “OMG…I need to fall asleep!!” Instead, simply make it your goal to rest. Get rid of distractions, make your space comfortable, drink some herbal tea, and simply let your body rest.

9. Media and digital detox.

Oh boy…this is my downfall. Set down the phone and turn off the TV at least for a little bit each day. Notice if there is a time of day that news makes you more anxious? Then avoid it during those vulnerable times. For me? No news before bedtime.

9. Avoid too much alcohol.

Not only can it lead to distorted thoughts and decision impairment, it inhibits restful sleep and can actually cause increased anxiety the following day.

11. It’s ok to ask for help.

There are national and local crisis lines available 24/7. It’s ok to not be ok.

National Suicide Hotline: 800-273-8255 @SuicideHotline_

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233

12. Maintain healthy boundaries.

It’s ok to avoid conversations and people you know will be particularly triggering this week. It’s ok to say, “I don’t want to talk about this right now.” It’s ok to not engage in unhealthy dynamics.

13. Do something that brings you joy and makes you laugh! And also cry!

Schitt’s Creek is the show that is doing it for me. @SchittsCreek

The comedian Fortune Feimster @fortunefunny makes me laugh until I nearly cry.

And did I really say cry? Yes!

Like, REALLY cry it out. Did you know that the tears we cry from emotion are different than tears we cry from pain? It contains higher levels of cortisol. We are literally shedding stress through our tears.

And if this “bakers dozen” of tips doesn’t help. Try a real baker’s dozen! Just kidding. Don’t do that. There IS such a thing as too many doughnuts. Trust me. I know…

The Hopeful, Courageous Power of Anger

“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

Augustine of Hippo

There is a lot to be angry about. Skyrocketing rates of COVID, financial stress from months of quarantine, deadly racial injustice, political chaos…and that’s just the first few things that come to mind. I am angry. More importantly, I’m okay with being angry.

One of the more common misconceptions about resilience is that there is no room for anger. We are to focus on gratitude, hope, and optimism, right? Look on the bright side! Find the silver lining! Count your blessings. Yeah, well…sorta. I’ve made no secret that I used to struggle with the concept of optimism. I worked for years with survivors of trauma. I know that horrible, unjust things happen and there are no rose-colored glasses pink enough for that kind of pain. It wasn’t until I came to understand that optimism had nothing to do with head-in-the-sand cheerfulness that I could wholeheartedly embrace optimism. If we are to be optimistic and hopeful, we need to be able to feel the anger at the way things are so we can be courageous enough to change them. Rebecca Traister, in her book, “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger,” challenges us (women in particular) to not push down or push away anger, but to think, act, and integrate it into our lives just as we do with joy or sadness. Sociological researcher and author, Brene Brown acknowledges that “owning our pain and bearing witness to struggle means getting angry. When we deny ourselves the right to be angry, we deny our pain.” She warns, however, that holding onto or internalizing anger exhausts us, numbs us to joy, and makes us less effective in our efforts. This begs the question, how can anger be integrated into agents of optimism, hope, and resilience?

Evolutionarily speaking, anger is important to our survival. It is a signal that something is wrong and triggers our fight or flight instinct when we are in danger. When we listen and become curious to what anger is telling us, our anger can be used more as a tool than a weapon. Only then are we able to be not just reactive, but responsive. Is our anger telling us we have been treated unjustly, betrayed or exploited? Is our anger covering for the harder-to-face emotions of grief or shame? When we fully understand it, our anger can be a great catalyst for resilience.

My friends Paul and Taylor are currently exhibiting anger-as-catalyst in beautiful and powerful ways. Earlier this year, Paul Harris, a Black professor at University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education was recommended for promotion to Assistant Professor, but was blind-sided when he learned that he had been denied tenure by his all white Tenure Committee. Paul came to the tenure process with eight years of successful research, publication, citations, and presentations. He had stellar teaching evaluations. He had years of previous academic reviews stating he was “exceeding scholarship expectations.” His work had gained him grants and awards. His tenure committee downplayed his work, questioning the validity and scholarship of work that had previously been lauded. After his first appeal was denied by the provost, Paul and his wife, Taylor Harris, put their anger into action. Paul has taken his appeal to the next level and is speaking out not just about the injustice of his case, but of the systemic injustice faced by scholars of color in academia. Those of us who are colleagues and friends, have joined grassroots efforts to see that he be granted the tenure he has earned. Taylor, an author and activist, published an article on Catapult, Whiteness Can’t Save Us. It is a breath-taking testimony not only of her husband’s stolen tenure, but of being Black in America. Theirs is a perfect example of anger being transformative. It is rooted in justice, courage, and love. Transformative anger (and the courage required to express it) is rooted in the hope that things can be different.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Taylor and Paul’s 3-year-old daughter said it best: “When I’m angry, it’s because my heart is broken.” She knows, even at her tender age, that when we listen to our anger, it will tell us something about ourselves. What we learn can help lead us forward.

Juneteenth

“From henceforth, we decree Juneteenth to be an official national holiday that is recognized & celebrated in all 50 states and territories of the United States of America.” #hellajuneteeth

RB Consulting might be a small boutique consulting firm, but this company is BIG when it comes to living its values. I know that I cannot cultivate resilience in myself or in the lives of my clients without integrity. A significant part of that is working diligently as antiracists toward social justice. This week RB Consulting recognizes Juneteenth and are joining the call to make this day a federal holiday. Juneteenth is an American holiday celebrated in 47 states that is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.

The office will be closed, Friday, June 19th, in recognition of Juneteenth.

I will spend the day working to:

  1. Formalize recognition and education of Juneteenth as a national holiday
  2. Streamline the elevation and support of Black owned entities and groups hosting Juneteenth events
  3. Provide resources to enable the Black community to spearhead their own initiatives during Juneteenth in the spirit of celebration, reform, and activism
  4. Educate myself in the continued pursuit to understand white privilege, racism, and justice.

If you are interested in learning more and getting involved, please check out this website.

Mindfulness Without The “Meditation”

Meditation has been proven to manage stress and anxiety, increase focus, and interrupt negative thought patterns. For a variety of reasons, however, many people don’t feel that traditional meditation is for them: it feels “too woo-woo” to them, that it is counter to their practice of faith, or that it is connected only to the practice of Buddhism. It needn’t be any of those things. In its simplest terms, meditation is the use of a technique to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state. Still, whatever a person’s reluctance towards meditation, no practice of resilience or mindfulness can be very effective if a person isn’t comfortable in the practice. Can the benefits of meditation still be achieved in other ways? For the purposes of mental well-being, the answer is yes.

Try some non-traditional meditative activities

Activities that involves repetitive movement can be soothing to the nervous system as well as keeping the mind focused on the present. These can involve fine motor movement like coloring, painting, knitting, or playing an instrument or gross motor movement like running, hiking, mowing the lawn, or dancing. In all of these examples, there is an opportunity (and sometimes a requirement) to pay close attention to our sensory perceptions bringing us into the present and away from rumination and worry.

Mindful eating

This isn’t about what you eat or the amount you eat. This is about how you eat. Too often when we are busy and stressed, we eat mindlessly and quickly. We barely remember what we had for lunch, let alone what it actually tasted like. Eat without the distraction of TV, phones, or reading. Take time to enjoy and actually savor what you are eating. Notice the smells, colors, textures, and tastes of each bite. It doesn’t need to be a fancy meal or anything new. Focusing on the experience at hand (in this case, eating) encourages us to slow down and be intentional. It allows our bodies to regulate and return to a baseline of calm.

Plan for unplanned time

Whether it is for 30 minutes or an entire day, be intentional about creating space to be spontaneous. I know that sounds like a contradiction. When we commit ourselves to time that is open and unplanned, we open ourselves up to creativity, curiosity, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Try something that uses a different part of your brain–or no part of your brain. Speaking of spontaneous, I purchased an above-ground pool for the kids when I realized that the pandemic was going to cancel a lot of summer plans. This spontaneous decision has allowed for more unplanned time floating in the pool during lunch, and let me tell you…I come back in ready for the rest of the day. Now…before you go tell your spouse or roommate that you have to go by a pool and get me in trouble, let me say it doesn’t have to be floating in the water. Allow yourself the time to do something frivolous. It’s not how you fill the time, it’s allowing yourself the time to fill it however you want.

Do Nothing

When I was a little girl, I would find my grandfather sitting on his front porch in his rocking chair, just rocking quietly staring out at the mountains. When I would ask what he was doing, he would smile and say, “Oh, just twiddling my thumbs.” So, I’d sit beside him and twiddle my thumbs, wondering what he found entertaining about this thumb-twiddling game. I mean…we weren’t doing anything. But that was the whole point. He wasn’t thinking about anything, planning anything, listening or reading anything. Doing literally nothing is healing to our brains and our nervous system. It’s the best, easiest, and cheapest self-care technique there is.

Whether you are a practitioner of transcendental meditation or simply just want to find a way to quiet your overwhelmed mind, these are ways to incorporate mindfulness into your every day…no mantras or yoga mats required.

On Being Anti-Racist and Resilient

Integrity. It is embedded into the practice of resilience because one cannot be fully resilient so long as behaviors are incongruent with professed values. That is why it is not enough for me to merely be passively “not racist,” but actively anti-racist in the life that I lead and the business that I run. My integrity means actively living my values out loud. There is no neutral ground in the face of racism.

To my friends, colleagues, and clients who are white, understanding what white privilege is is the first step to dismantling it. Many white folks (myself included, at first), think “but I am not racist, so why am I the problem? What am I suppose to do?” While it might be true that we don’t engage in *overt* racism, doesn’t mean that we haven’t benefited from the privilege of being white. That means we engage in racism. Whew…I know that feels uncomfortable. Let’s get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Here’s the good news: we can do something about it! Here are three things to get started:

  1. See it. Begin seeing white privilege and racism around us and within us. This isn’t something we see immediately or something we only see once and “get it.” It continues to be uncovered for me time and time again in new ways. Do the homework needed to understand. Here are some great resources here and here. We cannot expect POC to do the heavy lifting or emotional labor of the learning we need to do. This is OUR work.
  2. Call it out. When you see white privilege, name it. Don’t let it slip by. Author Austin Channing Brown wrote in her book, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, “Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origins than we are worried about our comfort.” The  article, Six Steps to Speak Up, details how to prepare, identify behavior, set boundaries, and more.
  3. Amplify the voices and follow the leadership of people of color in the work of social justice, in the workplace, in your places of worship, and in your communities. Minda Harts, in her book The Memo, writes to allies (who she refers to as “support partners”), “Being an ally means you are actively helping groups of people that are underrepresented…You have the power to modify the way the table looks…Being inclusive is not some hard code to crack; the remedy is simple–be intentional!”

To my friends, colleagues, and clients who are people of color, I am working to amplify your voices and following your leadership. I am listening with an open heart to ways in which “resilience” looks, feels, and needs to be different for you. I am continually learning (or should I say, unlearning) my own internal biases and racism. I know that workplace resilience cannot be cultivated without honest conversations of systemic racism, inclusion, equity, and diversity. It is hard, uncomfortable, necessary, and meaningful work. I define resilience as the ability to bounce forward from our crisis. Anti-racism work is the work of resilience. It is the only way forward.

The Second Arrow: Avoiding Added Suffering

There is a Buddhist parable referred to as The Second Arrow. In one telling of the story, the Buddha asks one of his students, “If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful?” The student replied , “It is.” The Buddha then asked, “If the person is struck by a second arrow, is that even more painful?” The student replied again, “It is.” The Buddha then explained, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. And with this second arrow comes the possibility of choice.” Another way to state it: pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

We cannot control the first arrow of this pandemic. It is deeply painful and our fear is justified. While we cannot control the first arrow, we can learn from it. We can become adaptive, protective, and responsive. Evidence of that came very quickly in the early days and weeks of the pandemic. We transitioned to work-from-home, rallied to make masks for frontline workers and keep vulnerable people fed, and accepted the hard reality that staying home keeps us all safe. The second arrow of rumination and cataztrophizing, however, has no lesson to teach us. The second arrow is self-inflicted; something author and therapist, Jon Fredrickson refers to as self-torture. When we constantly remind ourselves of the facts of our painful situation or imagine an apocalyptical future, we are unable to be adaptive. We become frozen by our own suffering. However, we can learn to control the suffering of the second arrow when we learn to avoid rumination and catastrophizing.

Draw the Line

If I am not careful, I find myself reading seventeen different articles from five different media sites which all provide the same facts and then making it my personal responsibility to convince the doubters and conspiracy theorists . As I do, I feel panic rise up from the pit of my stomach to squeeze at my throat. Since I am not learning anything new, diving deeper into the news simply serves to prod at the pain. It is like the compulsion to pick at a painful hangnail just so we can confirm that it still hurts.

Gather the facts that you need to stay informed and safe. Then draw the line and back away. We don’t need to stand sentry awaiting each morsel of new information the moment it arrives. We can take a break.

Don’t Take the Leap

It is tempting to gather up the facts we have accumulated and mix it into a dangerous potion of catastrophe prediction. We create the worst case scenarios not only for ourselves, but for the world. The best way to avoid this (or at least tame it) is to slow down. Sometimes I even say out loud to myself, “Stop.” Then I ask,

  • Am I in immediate danger?
  • Is my belief founded in fact?
  • Can I do something about it?

If my answer is yes to any of these, I can do something about it. For example, this crisis has caused me to worry about my mortality in ways that would be considered excessive in pre-pandemic times, but are logical now. There are things I can do to make sure I try to stay out of immediate danger and I can make sure my will is up-to-date. Beyond that, if I continue to ruminate, my worry about mortality can spiral into false certainty. It quickly escalates from, “This is a life threatening illness that I need to take seriously,” to “I am going to die from this virus. It is only a matter of time.” Obsessing about horrible outcomes do not serve us well. When I start to go beyond what I can control, I gently walk myself back from the (il)logical leaps I am tempted to make.

Identify the Breeding Grounds

When we are exhausted, already stressed, and disconnected from our healthy coping mechanisms, we are much more likely to suffer the second arrow. In other words, right now we are sitting in the fertile muck of catastrophic thinking. The old adage goes, “water what you want to grow.” That makes it all the more important to water our self-care gardens: being intentional about getting rest, managing our stress, and staying connected to our support systems. It can also be helpful to slow down, and create a mental sanctuary (both literal and figurative) where you are surrounded by calming sensory experiences (music, warm sunshine, soft pillows, or hot tea).

Always curious about how you all are doing. Reach out and let me know!

Be well. Stay resilient.

R.

Well-Being Open Forum Call, Friday, April 24

I am looking forward to Friday when I will be holding a free Well-Being Open Forum Call on Zoom on Friday April 24th from 12pm-1pm EST. I will be sharing ideas for how we can cultivate our resilience during this time of turbulence and crisis. We will also talk about how to be a well-being champion in your (now remote) workplace. Most of all, I want to give you the opportunity to ask questions, discuss concerns, share successes, and swap ideas.

This is a free meeting, you simply need to register below. If there is anything in particular that you are hoping to hear about or learn more about, shoot me an email before the 24th. I want to focus on what you need the most.

Click to Register

I am looking forward to our time together!

Be well. Stay resilient.

Maintaining Emotional Safety & Healthy Work Boundaries from Home

When I worked at the Community Counseling Center in Denver, Colorado, I knew that no matter what kind of crisis, trauma, and grief I had witnessed in my clients, I had a 40 minute-drive home in which I could decompress and reorient myself into home life. My front door was the threshold that once I crossed, the weight of the work was left behind me. It is not only good self-care, but also ethically imperative to practice and maintain healthy boundaries. The sudden shift to work-from-home has been a challenge for many. Change is hard anytime; change in the midst of crisis can feel flat-out painful. There is an added strain being faced by professionals like therapists, social workers, lawyers, and caseworkers. Their work requires them to provide tele-therapy, psychological assessments, case management, legal counsel, and more from their homes. Most of the time the biggest challenge working from home is finding space that will keep the outside distractions of home out. However, when work exposes a professional to trauma and acute emotional distress, their biggest challenge is keeping that distress from seeping into the safe sanctuary of their homes. Here are some things that can help create healthy boundaries of work within the confines of home:

Create Dedicated Space:  As much as possible, set aside one room or specific location from which to work. Avoid, however, working from your bedroom. Your bedroom should be preserved as a sanctuary of rest and peace. If you don’t have a separate room, keep the location as consistent as possible. If you are working from the kitchen table, for example, do something different with the table during “work hours.” That might mean something simple like covering the table with a different tablecloth or turning the table in a different orientation. If you were able to pick up things from the office, set out a few desk items (photo or knick-knack) that you only put out during work. As much as possible, have your work ‘stuff’ completely out of sight when you are not working.

Beginning and End of Work Ritual: Be intentional about the start and end of each work period. When you don’t have the ritual of walking through office doors, saying good morning to colleagues and grabbing your lunch bag from the refrigerator at the end of the day, it is all the more important to create stand-in rituals at home. They can be serious and functional or silly and fun.

  • Change clothes for work. I’m not suggesting dressing up for work (although, if it works for you, do it!). What you are wearing isn’t as important as the fact that it is different. Think of Mr. Rogers changing from his jacket to his cardigan.
  • Have a song that you play right before working and a different one you play at the end. One that pumps you up and one that helps you calm.
  •  Do a little dance at the end of the day to shake your body into a new space. Our bodies hold our stress and strain. Movement releases that anxiety.
  • Take a drive around the block before and after working (bonus points for listening to your song while driving).
  • Take 10-30 minutes of after work before re-engaging with family/housemates. Let them know that you will need space for “re-entry” and when you are ready, greet them with a “Hi. I’m back home.” 

Mindfulness: In the practice of meditation, “coming home” is to an internal spiritual place, not an external physical one. Taking a few moments of mindfulness can reestablish the feeling of coming home. We can create a safe space within our bodies to come home to no matter what it going on in our external lives. If you are not a practitioner of mindfulness or meditation, choose an activity during your “re-entry” period between work and home that is repetitive and mindless: chop veggies for dinner, fold clothes or play a game of solitaire. Put headphones on and think of nothing other than the simple task at hand. I am a terrible gardener, but when my family sees me in the front yard pulling weeds, they know to give me space.

We all need safe sanctuary from the outside world. Ironically, the need for us to work inside our homes to keep ourselves physically safe right now, can make it more challenging to stay emotionally safe. My wish for you is to discover that the safe harbor that you need is within you.

Be well. Stay resilient.

On Acceptance

Yesterday, my morning mindfulness practice focused on acceptance. I left the practice feeling ready to embrace the present reality. Then, the governor of Virginia announced that in response to the rapid rise of coronavirus, mandatory stay-at-home orders would last through June 10. Although we had already been practicing stay-at-home for more than two weeks, a date eleven weeks into the future was a new tsunami wave of reality. My newly planted sapling of acceptance was uprooted.

My mother tells me that my first complete sentence was “I don’t want it.” I was sick and my poor mom was doing her best to cajole me to take the pungent cough medicine the doctor had prescribed. If there is any stronger resistance than that of a toddler, I have yet to see it. Yesterday, my reaction to new realities was exactly that of my two-year-old self: No. I don’t want it. This is unacceptable. I cannot do this. I listed all of the ways that it would be impossible. It’s too long, too hard, too unmanageable. I felt my chest and muscles tighten as if I was preparing to literally push something away. And yet, my rejection of the present did not—could not—change the reality of the present. The only thing my resistance did was amplify my suffering.

As my energy narrowed around the word “no” in response to the thing I cannot control, I was less able to be expansive, open, or creative around what I actually can control. Acceptance, as my trial-by-fire crash course is teaching me, is not about surrendering our self-efficacy. Acceptance does not ask us to lie down and give up. Acceptance says to us, “This is where you are right now. If you can embrace the present with honesty and compassion, you can find new ways to live and thrive.”

I’m not there yet. The edges of the picture of what I could make this look like are just beginning to develop. Sometimes my resistance pushes its way forward and the picture blurs again. That’s ok, I tell myself. This is hard. I allow myself to feel the resistance in my body, thank it for its desire to protect me, and then give myself permission to release it. I invite acceptance into the space that resistance tried to claim. Resistance is a limiting and small clinched fist. It cannot provide us with what we need. Acceptance is an expansive and abundant open palm. It provides us space to create anew what we need.

Meditative thought:

“My resistance amplifies my suffering. My acceptance amplifies my enlightenment.”

Quarantine: Am I Doing It Right? A Guide for Over and Under Achievers

When my children were younger, I wrote a blog called Fork Mom (it’s still out there on the interwebs, folks). It was called such because I am a Fork Mom—the mom who volunteers to bring the plastic forks to the school party and not the Pinterest-worthy cupcakes. Someone has to bring the forks, right?  I wrote my blog about my parenting foibles while drinking out of my “World’s Okayest Mom” mug. Don’t think I didn’t love my Cupcake friends. I adored them. I admired their creativity and energy. I was grateful that they remembered to bring three different kinds of snacks to the park for the kids when all I had was a half a pack of Tic-Tacs in my pocket. They inspired me to try new things. How hard could it be to create a bulldozer-shaped birthday cake with a fondant candy version of my son sitting behind the wheel, anyway?  Very hard, I discovered. (Thank you, grocery store bakery, for rescuing me.) My point is, Cupcake parents are doing that whole parenting thing just right! And so am I. 

What in the world does this have to do with the coronavirus and half of the U.S. population being under mandatory quarantine? During this time of quarantine there will be both “Fork” and “Cupcake” people. Yesterday, a good friend only half-jokingly said to me, “It’s great you are writing all these blog posts and being super productive. I only managed to cry in the shower while washing my hair and count it as multitasking.” As she said that, I thought, “Oh right…shower. Damn.” Here are some things I’ve read or heard from friends about “how to quarantine”:

  • Now the time to change your life! This moment is a chrysalis! 
  • Now is the time to lower our expectations for ourselves. No…even lower.
  • I have great ideas for keeping my kids engaged and educated during homeschool.
  • My kids read the back of the cereal box this morning. Reading lesson? Check!
  • This is a time for relationship renewal with my partner. 
  • Can I apply the 6-foot distance policy to my spouse, please? 
  • I just cooked a gourmet meal that I rarely had time to do before. 
  • I finally used up those frozen fish sticks from the back of the freezer! 

So…to answer the $64,000 dollar question, “Am I doing this quarantine right??”

Are you staying at home? 

Yes? 

Then you are doing it right.