Category: Health & Wellness

Covid, Racism, and Turmoil

By Michael Patterson, LMSW.

The last few months have tested the patience, stamina and beliefs of this nation. Stress and uncertainty has evolved through the pandemic and the recent, yet repeated systemic racism that was sparked by the death of a black man at the knee of a white police officer, and a bat in Wuhan China. The closest I can relate this too is the Vietnam War and the civil unrest that happened in the sixties and early seventies. An invisible and virtually unknown disease has changed how we interact and run our day to day lives. But I have learned from others.

And the result:

  • We have changed how we look at interacting with others. You can no longer hug a friend of shake their hand. You are encouraged to keep the distance and talk through a mask.
  • Face timing, texting, and other technology has helped, but it does not have the comfort and closeness of touch.
  • Even though many have holed up with family, many feel alone.
  • Parents had to reassess how they parent. New rules and new social challenges.
  • Ideas and preconceived beliefs on what is the way things are, and the reality of the way people are treated have been challenged to a degree that many find uncomfortable.
  • Anxiety over the unknown. Stress over being confined. Sadness over the losses that many have experienced. Division over how to act or follow expectations of society, and family.
  • Feeling guilty or unprepared.
  • Fear of reopening our society is real.

I am considered an essential mental health worker. I don’t feel essential. But this label has allowed me to keep my business going, even though it has been on a virtual platform. I have not had to suffer lost wages. I have not had to worry about paying bills or juggling childcare. However I had to adapt my therapy to help others with the unique circumstances that have come from the lockdown, and the visual of a man dying.


There have been other times in our society where the challenges would overwhelm us. There are and still will be disenfranchised cultures and groups that endure overwhelming fear and anxiety. People will still be affected by this disease for many months to come, especially if there is no vaccine on the horizon. Most will overcome, adapt and survive. But scars on the soul and the psyche do not disappear, only fade.

Why Do Farmers Never Name Their Cows?

I was working with a 6 year old client who was raising a calf for The Chelsea Fair. With the help of his dad, they would feed it and take care of its general needs until fair time. When the fair arrived they would take it there, show it, and hopefully get a blue ribbon. Then, various businesses or individuals would bid on the livestock. The child would get a considerable amount of money that usually is saved towards college or some other future need or want. What I learned from the dad, which probably most farmers know, is that you do not name the livestock. By naming the calf, you set the child up for becoming attached more easily to the animal. This will cause problems later on when it is time to sell their cow. The scientific term is Anthropomorphism, or “ascribing human characteristics to nonhuman things.” This is why we name our pets such as dogs or cats. In our household we recently set up a fish tank and my daughter immediately named the koi fish “Carl.”
Humanizing pets or objects is a way to form an attachment to them. In psychological terms an object is something which a person can relate to. There is a whole subset of psycho-dynamic theory aptly named, “Object relations theory.”

Object relations theory differs from Freudian theory in three important ways: (1) it places more emphasis on interpersonal relationships, (2) it stresses the infant’s relationship with the mother rather than the father, and (3) it suggests that people are motivated primarily for human contact rather than for sexual …

-Sonoma State University

In the military, they use the opposite approach. They attach derogatory or dehumanizing names to the enemy in order to help soldiers be able to kill them. Occasionally when I have spoken to police officers they tend to call criminals, “Bad Guys or Knuckleheads.”

So you may be asking, “What does this have to do with my mental and emotional well-being?” When we feel rejected, abandoned, hurt, or abused by an individual who we have an attachment to, or desperately seek their love and/or approval despite rejected or in some way demeaned, it is easier on our psyche to dehumanize them versus feel the rejection from them. The sad part of this defense is we rarely are able to dehumanize someone with whom we have an intimate attachment to. Unable to do this causes us to continue to seek or crave their approval when it may never happen. This leaves us stuck in a chronic state of abandonment. I see this a lot in high conflict divorces. While the couple may state they are detached, actually their attachment turns to anger. In these scenarios, the anger boils over into rage. If children are involved they usually take the brunt of this by being put into the middle or encouraged to alienate from the other parent.
So the question is how do you detach from a relationship without it affecting you in a negative way? There is no specific or easy answer to this question. If it was a deep attachment then the first step is to grieve the loss. This is not showing weakness, but acknowledging that the person had touched your life in some way. Hopefully in a positive way. If it was abusive then you grieve the loss of a dream and move from being a victim to being a survivor.

The next step usually take time. Many confuse the opposite of love as hate. In fact, it is indifference. The state of mind and being in which the other person has minimal meaning in your life. Indifference is another way of saying detachment. You can care about the person, but they no longer hold power over your emotional state. Some try to do this the military way by dehumanizing them, but this rarely works.

There are relationships that we do not want to lose the attachment to. The death of a loving parent is a good example. While we have to grieve the loss and not stay stuck in a chronic state of depression (Toxic grief). We can still honor the memory through various ways. This can be comforting and healing. By honoring the memory of a loved one, we allow ourselves to accept the loss even through the pain. Obviously this is a simplistic answer to a complex and prolonged event.
There are many ways to honor the memory of a loved one. Rituals, markers in a graveyard, celebrations of their life. A year after my brother passed, his daughter held a small gathering and then floated paper balloons into the sky. The candles attached to the paper balloon ascended up to the heavens. It was a simple gesture yet very moving.

If you lost a loved one, don’t forget them. If they were abusive, survive and thrive. If the relationship was contentious, let your anger dissolve and if possible forgive them. Not for their sake, but for your well-being. But, if you own a cow and you want to take it to market, don’t name it.

Expressive Writing Is Good for Your Mental Health

We know that writing with a pen and paper is good for your brain. But it’s also good for your heart and soul. Researchers have found that people who practice expressive writing — that is, writing to help make sense of your thoughts and emotions — can experience mental and emotional benefits, including a reduction in stress, anxiety and depression and greater clarity and focus. They may even experience physical benefits. What better reasons to put pen to paper?

If you’ve been paying attention to paper trends, you already know that handwriting and journaling have made a huge comeback in recent years. Daily journaling can be calming and peaceful at the end of a busy day or in the midst of an emotionally difficult time.

“Especially with social media, a lot of people are recognizing that being digitally connected is eating up a lot of time and energy,” says Tammy Tufty, Domtar’s communications manager for paper advocacy. “They’re seeing that maybe we should go back to journaling, reading more books and just being more present.”

Why Is Journaling Good for the Soul?

James W. Pennebaker has a Ph.D. in psychology and is Regents Centennial professor at the University of Texas at Austin. His groundbreaking research on the topic of expressive writing showed that journaling not only improves our sense of mental wellbeing but also triggers actual physical benefits, such as improved immune function and faster healing.

While Pennebaker and his colleagues are focused on the scientific evidence of the benefits of writing, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that the act of journaling helps people better understand their emotions.

“Writing has a healing effect, like a nice massage,” wrote a blogger for ADDitude, a magazine and website that focuses on ADHD. “It is comforting, like a cup of tea or a warm fireplace on a chilly night. … Journaling helps me make sense of happy and sad moments.”

Journaling can also help people with ADHD solve problems more efficiently: “Typically, we problem-solve from a left-brained, analytical perspective. Sometimes the better answer is found by engaging the intuition that comes from the right brain. Writing unlocks this side of the brain and brings an opportunity for unexpected solutions.”

The benefits aren’t limited to writing full sentences, either. Doodling on paper can also provide a sense of calm and help improve concentration.

“I’ve seen it with my own kids and with other professionals,” Tufty says. “While they’re doodling or drawing, it seems like they’re not paying attention, but actually they are because that activity is helping them stay focused.”

Begin Your Expressive Writing Journey

Whether you’re actively working through some emotional trauma or you just enjoy the calming effect of expressive writing or doodling, it’s clear that putting pen to paper is a great way to improve your mood.

Start your journaling journey by choosing your pen and paper. You don’t need anything fancy, but you should choose tools that make it easy and enjoyable to sit down to write. Maybe it’s a gel pen that writes smoothly in a color you love, or perhaps it’s a leather-bound journal that makes you smile when you touch the cover.

You might even choose a new journal with a cover design that uses Pantone’s color of the year: Classic Blue. “Blue is a really calm color,” Tufty says. “I find it interesting that Pantone chose it in a year where everything seems so unsettled. But it could be really helpful to choose a journal design with a calming color that inspires creativity and encourages you to connect the pen to paper for journaling.”

Pennebaker, whose work on expressive writing and healing continues to influence psychologists, counselors and other mental health professionals, offers some practical advice for expressive writing.

Find a time and a place where you won’t be disturbed. Pennebaker suggests picking time at the end of your workday or before you go to bed, but really any time of day can work as long as you can write without interruption.

Commit to writing for at least 15 minutes every day.

Once you begin, write without stopping to correct spelling or grammar. If you run out of things to write before your time is up, you can repeat what you’ve already written.

What you write and how you write it is completely up to you. There are no rules.

When you have finished your expressive writing, you can save it, burn it, erase it, tear it up or shred it. Since your writing is for you and you alone, you can decide what to do with it.

SOURCE: CSRWire Submitted by: Domtar