Navigating Uncertainty

How to find your balance in today’s alternate reality

by Courtney L. Whitt, Ph.D.

health and well-being, to manage emotions, to focus on finding creative solutions to difficult problems and to simply put one foot in front of the other to take necessary action.

Focus on What Remains

Not everything will be changed by this situation. Put your attention on what you do have: family meals, prayer, enjoying the outdoors, etc.

Focus on What is Within Your Control

Nurture basic needs, such as exercise, sleep, eating healthy and staying hydrated. Having those basics in order will give you the mental and physical energy to maintain

   Much of the focus during the pandemic is on physical health and how to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. However, we must also be careful to safeguard the power of mental health and well-being, because during these chaotic times, we may all be struggling to cope.

   Unmanaged anxiety, for example, may impact sleep, activity level and diet, all of which can diminish our immune systems and the body’s ability to protect against illness.

   Now a note on stress: It’s not all bad! As uncomfortable as it may be, stress serves an important function. Stress tells us what’s at stake, and at its best, stress can be motivating, helping us take action in keeping ourselves, our families and our communities safe during this pandemic.

   However, we must be self-aware, recognizing when stress starts to cross over from the healthy, adaptive kind to less healthy, maladaptive stress. Generally, that happens when high levels of stress intensify, persist or exceed our ability to effectively cope and function.

   Over time, the true weight of this pandemic may set in, including the cascade of unanticipated consequences and loss, including loss of financial security, jobs, favorite activities or monumental life events such as a graduation, wedding, or the loss and remembrance of a loved one. Through these losses, we need to allow ourselves to cry, to be angry and to grieve.

   However, there comes a time when we must make a choice to accept; to make an essential shift to continue; to create a new normal. Here are some tips to find balance:

Find Alternate Ways

When things do change, understand what you value about the activity that has been lost, and seek another way this need can be met. If you can’t go to your place of worship, ask yourself what being there provides you.

Is it connecting with others? A sense of community? The sounds of a bell or the choir? Find an alternative way. Call someone or send a letter. Read articles or passages. Listen to music or attend an online service. Pray.

 

Connect with People

It’s important to realize you aren’t alone. Know when to engage with others, even from a distance. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.

 

Find Joy and Gratitude

Don’t forget to find little joys, to laugh and to practice gratitude. Challenge yourself to find a “silver lining,” to find something positive, or something to be grateful for.

 

It’s important to know when to reach out for help. Seeking behavioral health services does not mean something is wrong with you. Sometimes the problem lies in life and the state of being in the world, such as a global pandemic.

   Behavioral health services are for anyone who needs help finding some new perspectives or strategies to cope.

 

Licensed psychologist Courtney L. Whitt, Ph.D., is the director of behavioral health at Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida, which follows an integrated behavioral and mental health model that treats the whole person. www.healthcareswfl.org/

 

Are the Kids Alright?

Parents must monitor the impact of coronavirus on the family

   The routine so critical for essential childhood development was torn away practically overnight.

“There’s uncertainty about how education will progress and what education will look like when teachers and students can return to school,” Conley says.

   For adults, the stresses of the pandemic can trigger mental health issues in the caregivers of our society’s children, from drug and alcohol abuse, depression, sleep abnormalities and domestic violence.

   Compounding domestic matters, NAMI’s Bowden adds, “For children who already have mental health issues, current conditions can exacerbate them.”

Adults everywhere have their differences: different circumstances; different needs. So do children, and they are compounded exponentially by the intricacies of their families.

   “Although the virus poses a serious concern for our physical health,” Dr. Simeone emphasizes, “the threat to our mental health is just as important.”

 

Experts’ Guide to Help

There are ways to face things proactively, to cope when issues arise and to seek help when circumstances seem unmanageable.

   The road is not, and will not, be a smooth one. Know that there is help and guidance for children and the adults who care for them.

   The professionals cited here have provided their best advice and resources in the “Guide to Help,” provided here by èBella èXtra.

   “No one can deny that much has changed in the past several weeks,” says Gayla Bowden, Health Under Guided Systems (HUGS) coordinator for NAMI Collier County. “Children are at home; parents are working from home or may have lost their jobs. Situations are changing daily, with no end in sight,” she says.

   Kids need structure and routine to decrease anxiety, she says, yet it’s almost inevitable.

Karen Conley, president, CEO and founder of Charity for Change, agrees.

   “Our children are facing an oncoming crisis of emotions with troubling implications long after life returns to ‘normal,’” Conley says.

 

Experts’ Guide to Help

Conversation

To help decrease anxiety, talk to your children about coronavirus — not a formal conversation, but a causal chat at the dinner table, separating facts from rumors and alarming messages.

Feelings

Family members should check in with each other on how they are feeling regularly, without judging. Create an environment of trust, respect and support. Listen and be present.

Communicate Gently

Plan points you want to make and have calm conversations.

Get in There!

Let children feel helpful. Children experience confidence and empathy from it, and it gives them a sense of control.

Cut the Slack

Things are not normal, so you’re probably off your game. So is everyone else. Find humor in the moments and give yourself and everyone around you a break.

Count to 10

Everyone needs emotional respite. Before you lash out, take deep breaths and count to 10 before you say or do something that may take years to repair.

Nap

When we’re rested, we feel more relaxed and capable of handling stress.

Little Things

Look for ways to connect and find joy in small ways.

Self-Care

Stressed out people need to take time for themselves. Adults are best able to care for others when they care for themselves. Take a few minutes to indulge in what brings you calm and joy.

Seek Help

There are many free, local resources. Counselors at the Collier County School District are available.

   NAMI’s community resources can be found by visiting www.namicollier.org/community-resources/. Crisis support is available 24/7 by calling the NAMI HelpLine at 800-950-6264.

   Florida Child Abuse Hotline: 800-962-2873. To learn more, visit caccollier.org or email info@caccollier.org.

Social and Emotional learning (SEL) resources for parents: casel.org/covid-resources/

CONTRIBUTORS

Lee Health: Paul Simeone, Ph.D., vice president of mental and behavioral health

   Charity for Change: Karen Conley, founder

   NAMI Collier County (HUGS): Gayla Bowden, coordinator, Health Under Guided Systems

   Collier County Children’s Advocacy Center: Jackie Stephens, CEO

Technology (plus)

Physical isolation doesn’t mean total isolation. Children can use Facetime, Skype or social media to stay in touch with their classmates, friends, teammates and family. And what better time for parents to catch up with old friends?

Technology (minus)

Although technology keeps us connected, it should have a limit. Too much social media or news can amplify worries, fear and stress. Pay attention to what your kids are hearing and seeing online. Research has connected social media usage with loneliness and depression.

Separation

Being together 24/7 isn’t always the best solution. Depending on their age and maturity level, parents should allow children to do their own thing once in a while. Plus, a little alone time never hurts for adults, either.

Flattening the Emotional Curve

 

Experts advise families on how to make the most of unprecedented togetherness

   Now in our fourth, or fifth or sixth week of sheltering in place, folks sequestered together under one roof are likely feeling the itch, the angst and the abnormality of    the “new normal.”

   The COVID-19 pandemic has become an emotional virus for many, resulting in behaviors and actions that — typically — would not reflect us at all.

   But in particular, children are affected by external and internal stressors that can leave them bored on one end of the behavioral spectrum to downright aggressive on the other.

   Parents, too, wage their own external and internal battles as anxieties spike about lost wages, frustrations broil about unemployment compensation and helplessness underlies attempts to facilitate schooling children at home.

   Long before pressures began mounting against the unknown, experts foresaw the precipice and reached out, trying to flatten an emotional curve as perilous as the viral one we watch so closely.

   Both are very real.

In this èBella edition of Extra, we present the thoughtful contributions of area specialists who hope to alleviate the pandemic’s emotional toll in households throughout our region.

   Be safe. Be well.

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Adjusting to a ‘New Normal’ in the Time of Corona

Eight actions for individuals and families to manage relationships and changes in unprecedented times

 

by Dr. Warren D. Keller

   In psychology, “the norm” simply refers to that which occurs most often.

   Today, and seemingly overnight, what is normal has changed dramatically. Is it now “the norm” for children to be at home, rather than in school? How is it “the norm” for parents to be away from their offices or jobs? And is it “the new norm” that we can’t go out for dinner, celebrate birthdays and anniversaries with friends, attend concerts, festivals and social and sporting events?

   Our lives have changed dramatically in such a short period, as we engage in a war with a virus: one we will win.

   Change — either good change or bad — requires adaptability and resilience, and there are certainly things we can all consider doing to assist ourselves and our families in successfully coping and managing so many changes that are simultaneously occurring.

1. Limit News Intake

If there was ever a time to be on a diet, this is the time to be on a news diet. It is important to have access to current, valid information and to be aware of what is happening across the world. However, being plugged into the news all day long is contraindicated for one’s mental health.

   Various mental health organizations recommend limiting your exposure to the news to no more than two 15-minute periods a day, and if you find exposure to certain news outlets increases your agitation, frustration and anxiety, remove them all together, and find other sources of news. Be aware, but do not let yourself become obsessed.

 

2. Stay Cool, Calm and Collected

Anxiety is the feeling you get when you are afraid something bad is going to happen. Children experience anxiety just as adults do, although the manifestation of anxiety in children looks very different and usually manifests in agitation, noncompliance and irritability.

   If your children perceive you as anxious, they will model your anxious behavior. Parents need to present a calm, cool and collected demeanor, modeling for their children that all will be well if we follow prescribed rules and regulations.

3. Practice Social Distancing

One of the most powerful ways to manage the virus is to practice social distancing. The virus does not move itself; people move it. Similarly, while we are all confined to our homes, we must also practice social distancing.

We all can be annoying at times. There are a variety of parenting behaviors that annoy

children, and there are a variety of children’s behaviors that annoy parents. Spend some time engaging in family activities, but remember to spend some time for planned social distancing at home, as well.

 

4. Have Fun

It is hard to have fun if you spend most of the day looking at Facebook, watching the news and watching for changes on the Coronavirus dashboard, monitoring new cases worldwide. This will only increase anxiety throughout the family.

   Be creative. Start each day with a new itinerary, as if you were on a cruise. Give a couple of choices your children can select for breakfast. Have them register for activities around time slated for schoolwork, if their courses are already online.

   Give them lunch choices to select in the morning, and afternoon choices for activities during the remainder of the day.

   Evening choices could be movie nights, board games or other activities.

   By all means, do not overreact about what they are missing in school. They will catch up on what is important. 

 Children are used to having structured time at school, and if you structure their time at home (somewhat), it will give them a greater sense of what is expected and what is going to happen and when. It will decrease their boredom and anxiety.

   It is much more important that you allow them to learn to be resilient and provide the assurance they need as they adjust and experience anxiety about their “new norm.” 

   Following appropriate restrictions, involve yourself in safe outdoor activities with your children and family.

 

5. Be Honest, But Not Too Honest

Children are likely to experience greater anxiety when they are given too little or too much information.

   Children need to have a rationale and an understanding (at a developmentally appropriate level) of why there are so many changes in their lives right now. (For instance, discussing with your 7-year-old the recent MIT research about how quickly the fat molecule surrounding the virus breaks down would not be developmentally appropriate.)

   Young children just need to know that there is a pretty bad germ that you can catch from others and that it is temporarily important to be away from others.

   Older children need to understand how highly contagious this germ is, and that’s why the only form of hanging out with friends will be on social media platforms until the germ passes. And it will pass.

 

6. Keep things in Perspective

I think it is appropriate and reassuring to share with children that other epidemics we have encountered have been successfully managed.

   I recall my grandmother sharing with me when I was young that she was confined in a tuberculosis sanitarium for 16 months. This helps me to put into perspective why, this time, we all must be at home. It is fine for children to know that, at other times, there were epidemics of polio and SARS … and each time, we rose to the occasion and found cures to eradicate the problem.

   Spread encouragement, not doom and gloom.

7. Unite as Parents

For divorced and separated parents, if ever there was a time to put your differences aside, this is it.

   Help your kids remain healthy, and be mindful of the seriousness of the issue. Abide by rules and regulations. Do not allow play dates.

   Be transparent with each other and be understanding that this pandemic will pose economic hardships that may impact a parent’s ability to provide support.

Be compliant with court orders without conflict, and stay away from court!

 

8. Remember, Everything is Temporary!

Assure your children that this is temporary, as is just about everything else in life. The more closely we follow the rules and guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, the more temporary it will be, and the more quickly we will get back to the “old normal,” with a whole new appreciation of how great “the norm” is!

 

Naples-based psychologist/neuropsychologist Dr. Warren D. Keller has decades of experience treating children, families and adults. He performs official psychological evaluations and assists families in transition with parenting, coordination and therapy. DrWarrenKeller.com

 Dr. Paul Simeone (left), vice president of mental and behavioral health for Lee Health adds that school closures mean the cancelation of sports, clubs and after-school activities, things children really enjoy. “To top it off,”

Simeone adds, “children’s social media feeds are filled with images of empty shelves at the grocery store, politics and memes that really aren’t meant for a child’s eyes.”

   And what about children who were already at risk? The pandemic, the domestic confines and parents’ concerns about health, jobs and finances can, in some circumstances, escalate into stress, conflict and, unthinkably, child abuse. Without the daily monitoring of teachers and child care workers, says Jackie Stephens of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Collier County — without that safety net that includes grandparents and elder caregivers — children “are at risk of longer and more intense incidents of abuse.”

 

The overall view

The crisis that trickles down to children has a number of tentacles.

   “The stock market is in disarray. People are losing their jobs or having their hours cut. Supermarket inventory can’t keep up with panic buying. Retail stores and restaurants are limiting their operating hours or closing altogether,” Dr. Simeone suggests. “As adults, the coronavirus is introducing unwanted stresses in our lives. Imagine what COVID-19 is doing to our children.”

   Area specialists who contributed to this èBella Extra edition about relationship health also contributed these meaningful suggestions for keeping things cool under one roof.

   Resources can be found at the end of the page.

 

Structure and Routine

Most people are at their best with structure and routine. Establish both but be flexible and realistic. Everyone works at a different pace and responds differently.

   For parents working remotely, schedule your work and workspace to be the same every day. If both parents work from home, try to alternate work and child care times.

 

Diet

A well-balanced diet, featuring plenty of fruits and vegetables, is medically proven to improve physical and mental well-being. Foods with vitamin B, iron, omega-3 and zinc are among a long list of healthy foods that positively impact the body and brain.

 

Exercise

It’s still safe to venture outside, as long as you practice social distancing. Family walks/runs or bike rides through the neighborhood, tossing around a ball or yard games are OK. If you have a home pool, use it. Stretching is another way to keep the body active.

 
 

Ex-STREAM Activities

 

Virtual entertainment and activities can keep the brain sane in confinement

   Even the strongest of relationships can become strained when people feel trapped indoors with seemingly little to do.

   Local and national venues are likewise stymied, with fabulous entertainment ready for your enjoyment, and they’ve gotten creative in how to bring their art and entertainment to you.

   Whether you are a family, a couple, or living alone, here are some activities to entertain you while you’re ‘safer at home,’ doing your part to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.

Music

 

Theater

 

 

  • Gulfshore Opera is keeping the masses entertained by posting footage of past performances on their Facebook page, Instagram and YouTube channel. www.Facebook.com/gulfshoreopera

 

Visual Arts

  • Take a video tour of the Boca Raton Museum of Art’s haunting self-portrait exhibit, “Eye to I: Self Portraits from the National Portrait Gallery.”

 

Educational

 

Nature

  • Enjoy a virtual day at the beach by viewing live webcams of your favorite Southwest Florida coastlines at www.ParadiseCoast.com/naples-marco-island-beach-conditions

  • Naples Botanical Garden is helping people get the green-thumb groove, offering gardening projects on its website. Experts will answer questions on the Naples Botanical Garden’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/NaplesGarden/

  • Bring the zoo to you by visiting Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens’ Facebook page, where the Zoo is posting videos of animal exhibits, with a virtual tour of the Primate Expedition Cruise, for example. www.facebook.com/napleszoo/

  • Everglades Wonder Gardens has fired up its live “FlamCam” for those who miss visiting the flamingo lagoon. www.WonderGardens.org has orchestrated live footage of the flamingo flamboyance (the technical term for a flock of flamingos).

  • Google Earth will take you straight to Everglades National Park. Using street view, you can witness the Everglades’ spacious wetlands as if you were there. www.earth.google.com

 

Other National Offerings

  • For more fun and free online entertainment, check out Real Simple’s evolving list that includes workouts, museums and more: www.realsimple.com

  • Academy of Art University is providing free and open access to a wide selection of art and design workshops and training, including photography and fine art. View the full list here: www.academyart.edu

Dance

  • Backstage Dance Academy has gone virtual, with dance classes, coloring pages and more kid-friendly activities for budding ballerinas at www.BDANaples.com/virtual-bda

  • Dance Arts by Maria offers virtual preschool ballet, hip-hop, KidzBop and Baby Ballerinas at www.NaplesDanceArts.com

De-Stress Outdoors

 

Six ways to utilize your yard as a resource for fun and healing

   Many families are wondering what they can do to bond and de-stress over a shared activity.  

   The TurfMutt Foundation, which provides scholastic materials that nurture kids using their own yards, suggests the answer is right outside your door.

   Using one’s “own corner of the Earth” as an avenue for fun and healing is particularly important during COVID-19, says TurfMutt Foundation President Kris Kiser.

   “It’s a stressful time, as our country seeks to ‘shelter in place’ as much as possible,” Kiser says. “We’d like to remind everyone that getting outside in your own backyard is an important activity, now more than ever, for you, your family and pets.”

   With kids dismissed from school, the TurfMutt Foundation offers free online lesson plans and activities for kids grades K-8 to learn science and nature lessons in their backyards. The TurfMutt environmental education program resources are based on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) principles, and teach kids about the benefits of taking care of nature, and spending time in it. Access the TurfMutt resources here: www.scholastic.com/turfmutt/.

Here are six simple ways to tap into the health and well-being of the your yard: 

Clean Up Your Yard

The yard is an outdoor living room, so prepare it for use. Mow the lawn, trim bushes and tend to flower gardens. Garden supplies can be ordered online, or you often can have them delivered from your local nursery. Take care of your yard, and it will provide the space for recreation and relaxation.

Play with Pets

No one appreciates the yard more than a pet. Science has shown that pets have a stress-reducing effect on people (including kids). Take advantage of your four-legged friend’s calming effects and get outside with your furry family members. Let them remind you of the great joys the outdoors brings.

Dine Outdoors

Have a family picnic right in your backyard, or set up a table and chairs to enjoy family meals in the sun, shade or moonlight.

Just Be

De-stress by observing the birds, butterflies, bees and other wildlife that use your yard as habitat and food. Hang a bird feeder or two. Feel the grass between your toes. Watch the trees. Outdoor time is meditative time.

   “Your yard offers much during these challenging times. It has purpose,” Kiser says. “And that purpose is more important than ever. Get outdoors with your family, get your feet in the grass and your hands in the soil. Just do get outside.”

Dr. Christopher Lowry, a neuroscientist at the University of Bristol in England. The bacterium stimulates serotonin production, which explains why people who spend time gardening, doing yard work and having direct contact with soil often feel more relaxed.

Plant Something

Even in this day and age, getting your hands dirty (in soil) is good for you, according to science. Soil is the new Prozac, says

Play a Family Game

Take advantage of your patch of grass, badminton court or (keeping your distance and respecting closures) a local field. Throw a ball to your kids or your dog. Enjoy the pool if you have one, set up the “slip ‘n slide” or run through the sprinkler.

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