No one, in my generation, has every experienced a global crisis like the pandemic that kicked off in 2020. The unfortunate consequence of this medical crisis will be a new global crisis that affects our mental health.
As a therapist that specializes in anxiety and trauma I have seen a dramatic increase of both in the lives of children and adults. Individuals who already struggled with these issues have increased in personal distress, substance abuse, and suicidal ideations. Even people, who never had problems with depression, anxiety, or panic are now showing symptoms that damage their jobs, health, and relationships.
Government agencies and mental health clearinghouses have ramped up funding to meet this challenge that is likely to continue for the next fear years. The cost is greater than the monies supplied to treat it. We all pay emotionally and spiritually.
Now is the time to address these issues with information, advocacy, and proven methods that help prevent and stop mental health concerns.
Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.
If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.
The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.
The Four Laws of Behavior Change are a simple set of rules we can use to build better habits. They are (1) make it obvious, (2) make it attractive, (3) make it easy, and (4) make it satisfying.
Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior.
It is tradition, at the beginning of each year, to set New Year Resolutions. We have great intentions for lasting change but soon lose motivation and drive to complete them. Consequently, most people will stop trying to set habits to avoid the disappointment of failure. There has to be a better way to see real change that actually work, isn’t there?
Enter the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. As the byline states, this book will help you “build good habits and break bad ones.” Sounds simple!
The key to making changes in your life that are successful is to take a new perspective of change from the one’s we are used to. The problem isn’t us. It is the systems we surround ourselves with that fail us and result in feelings of failure. See big idea #2 above.
The book lists 5 Big Ideas about how to create effective habits. You will have to read the entire book to get all the details for each big idea or you can read this summary here (Link) or watch a YouTube video here (Link). I have affiliate connections to there resources…
My focus for this blog article is on big idea #3: The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become. Repeats this big idea to yourself a couple of times. Let it soak in. It is possible that everything you have tried to do to change your life has been wrong. You might have blamed others for the way you are or blame your bad luck or situation. These could be serious issues that make your habit difficult but it is not the final reason. Or, as I like to say, “it is a reason but isn’t a good excuse.”
Real change occurs from the inside out. This is true of parenting, marital relationships, business endeavors, or anything you attempt to do in your life. A habit, by definition, is a the tendency to behave or act in a regular manner. Habits require very little energy because it has become an automatic way of reacting. Initially, they take a lot of energy and practice but soon become reflexes that take little to now thought to initiate. It is their strength and their weaknesses when we try to break them.
Many habits start out of a reaction to traumatic situations. They start off as ways of coping with stress and pain, splitting off parts of ourselves to manage or protect from further pain. This may be a very “normal way to react in a very abnormal situation.” Unfortunately, traumatic habits can end up being “abnormal behaviors” in a new, more “normal situation.” The ways you had to behavior in an alcoholic home, for example, may not serve you will now, in a healthier relationship and home.
Find a way to change or develop new habits can become extremely urgent to maintain a healthy relationship and avoid new forms of pain in our lives.
One place to start is with you. Work on your character issues instead of waiting for others to change. The only thing you have 100% guarantee of change is through your own growth. You can change other people. You can coerce them, threaten them, or manipulate them but that will always backfire on you. Stick with you and the big idea working on who you want to become.
Start with a vision of what character traits you wish for yourself and picture how these traits will bear positive fruit in your life. It is just imagination so you run no risk of disappointment at this stage. Be sure to write this vision down. It may change from day to day but continue to modify it till you have something that truly inspires you. People have motivation for things they really want and desire. Make this idea of a new you very attractive!
Problem are destined to get in the way of this new habit of being you. That is a good thing. What is predictable is preventable. Predict what will get in the way, how you will look your motivation, who will try to stop you, what limitations might pop up…Set a plan for how you will encounter them before they show up so you are ready.
Small changes every day will reap big results in the end. Focus on a 1% change every day. That’s not a lot, right? You can do one thing to be a new, better version of you each day. Taking on too much, too soon, will choke out your efforts.
Use the power of gratitude for positive things in your life every day. Science has demonstrated that gratitude changes the very structure of our brain and enhances motivation to healthy, positive behaviors.
You might wonder if it is possible to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during a COVID-19 pandemic crisis, but this is the situation that therapists and clients find themselves. Can we find a way to maintain effective treatment through the use of modern technology? Is it possible to treat trauma with this “new world” approach to mental health?
Since the beginning of this year (2020), countries worldwide have worked to protect vulnerable populations from the virus COVID-19. The primary strategies used to prevent the spread of the virus is social distancing and self-imposed quarantine. While this has been effective in reducing the pandemic’s physical effects, it hasn’t protected us from the psychological effects of this unprecedented life-situation. We see an increase in fear, anger, anxiety, panic, helplessness, and burnout in both children and adults. As a therapist working remotely with people dealing with stress and trauma, I have seen several extreme reactions of hallucinations and delusions due to the isolation and continual digestion of negative news media.
A Healthline.com survey of what COVID-19 is doing to our mental health gives a somber picture: increased worry and insecurity over finances, higher than normal depression and anxiety, prevalent feelings of sadness, and being “on edge,” and an alarming rise in suicides. In America, Federal dollars are being released to increase mental health services nationwide to stem this rising tide of trauma without fully knowing the long-term effects of trauma.
Therapists, just like the general population, use social distancing and remote work to keep themselves, their families, and their clients safe. Therapists are “front-line responders” and considered “essential workers,” but not all therapists choose to be exposed to 30-40 people a week who might have the COVID virus. Many of them, like myself, have family members who have compromised immune systems and considered to be at-risk. Working from an office and seeing individuals, face-to-face is not an option. Therefore, therapists and clients have to seek alternatives that can be equally beneficial to both.
The European Journal of Psychotraumatology studied the Telehealth models for post-traumatic stress disorder using cognitive therapy and found that clients rated it as very successful in managing their symptoms. High patient satisfaction ratings were given for both video conferencing and phone call sessions. In the later technology, the only nonverbal communication was the tone of voice, and yet it still benefited clients.
The journal defines Post-traumatic stress disorder by “a sense of serious current threat, which has two sources: the nature of the trauma memory and excessive negative appraisals.” Traumatized individuals frequently have intrusive, negative thoughts about traumatic experiences and continue to see the world with a negative lens. They have a feeling of hopelessness about their future and easily triggered by daily events.
Professional organizations are rising to the challenge and providing education and support to remote mental health workers on the unique delivery of mental health through technology. Guidelines have been created by the American Psychological Society, International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies, and the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence, specifically targeting PTSD. Governing boards for various mental health professionals are also outlining specific legal and ethical requirements for safe, trustworthy online therapy.
According to the Psychotraumatology journal article, Telehealth’s use led to “improvements in PTSD symptoms, disability, depression, anxiety, and quality of life, and over 70% of patients recovered from PTSD (meaning they no longer met diagnostic criteria). The Journal of Family Process has reported several articles on the effectiveness of Telehealth with children, adults, couples, and families.
Therapists, offline and online, can provide education and support to (1) reduce negative reactivity in thoughts and emotions, (2) build more effective coping skills, and (3) deepen the quality of life and relationships.
These three areas are healing strategies outlined in my trauma-informed training and therapy.
The foundation for PTSD work, in face-to-face or video conferencing, is to establish a sense of safety from which to utilize these healing strategies. The client has to trust the therapist, believing he can offer some hope, create an atmosphere of security, and witness the traumatic hurt for PTSD individuals. Empathy isn’t confined to the physical space of the therapist’s office. It can exist in the relational space online as well. Facial expressions on video, tone of voice, empathic responses, and supportive comments assist the connection despite distances.
Finding a private place to have a conversation is one real-world challenge of online work. Privacy can be increased by changing locations (some of my clients go inside cars, relocating to other rooms in the house, or going outside), using headphones, and letting family members know that they can’t be disturbed hour or so. Additionally, therapists can also learn about resources in the client’s living area if referrals are needed. Homework assignments can also be used between sessions and discussed online for adolescents and adults. Parents can participate online with young children, and family members can “zoom” in from different locations at an agreed-upon time. And lastly, follow up with secure emails and text messaging can further increase the outcome of this digital therapeutic medium for PTSD.
If you are looking for a trauma therapist or someone to help you or a family member with anxiety, contact Ron Huxley today at RonHuxley.com
Be sure to take advantage of our free online resources for families during the COVID-19 Pandemic at FamilyHealer.tv
According to the National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Telehealth or TeleMental Health services are an effective treatment strategy for trauma. Telehealth uses information technology, such as email, phone calls, FaceTime video, and Secure Online Video to conduct therapy services. This technology allows a therapist and a client to engage in real-time two-way interaction. Services that can be provided via Telehealth include assessments, individual and group therapy, psychoeducational interventions, and general therapeutic interactions.
Traditionally, mental health services are engaged in face-to-face, office visits. Just because this is traditional, doesn’t mean that is is more effective. There are times when face-to-face visits are preferred due to lack of adequate technology, challenges with privacy at home, or personal limitations of the client in using technology. In all other situations, TeleHealth is a unique service that provides several benefits, including:
Savings in time and money,
Overcome geographic distance for rural populations,
Increased access to care for individuals with mobility issues (lack of transportation),
Flexibility of appointment times (e.g., out of town for work, babysitting concerns, or other restriction on clients availability like a lunch hour, etc.),
Promotion of physical health by avoiding spreading a contagious illness (COVID-19 or general sickness, like a cold).
Telehealth is not new. It has been used for six decades, in the medical field, and is now being adopted by TeleMental Health as a flexible option for individuals. It is not a “lesser” alternative to mental health care. Outcome research has proven it to be very effective in many areas of mental health issues, like anxiety, depression, and trauma. It also offers convenient support for many general concerns, such as parenting education, life transitions, spiritual direction, and more.
A recent article from the Washington Post points out how global pandemics, like the COVID-19 virus, have shifted the landscape of mental health services through the use of technology allowing more people to attend to their mental health needs. Therapists and individuals may be just blocks away from one another geographically, but medical issues isolate and create an insurmountable “distance” between them. The use of Telehealth or TeleMental Health eliminates geographic and social distance.
The reality is that people around the world are suffering and in need of mental health treatment, education, and support. Children and adults who have experienced trauma cannot wait for medical cures or be punished for lack of mental health access. Telehealth/TeleMental Health is a powerful tool to bring immediate hope and healing.
In this first video of five total video series on Building Family Resiliency we talk about how to manage anxiety in a time of uncertainty. Learn powerful tools that will help you and your children find freedom from anxious thoughts. Discover bodily-based strategies that don’t require lecture, rationalization, or complex ideas to bring peace to your life.
Get more free tools at FamilyHealer.tv or schedule a time to talk to Ron today!
Parent Connection Coach and EducatorRon Huxley, L.M.F.T., is here to help you and your family build resiliency during these stressful times.
Watch the video and learn how to: 1. Gain new perspectives. 2. Teach your children to be problem solversHelp parents become resiliency coaches and avoid power struggles. 3. Eliminate negative game playing to develop loving and cooperative relationships.
Ron Huxley has over 30 years experience helping families heal and serves as a parent coach and educator with Parent Connection of San Luis Obispo County. In his capacity as a parent coach, Ron specializes in working with families who’ve experienced trauma. He believes in taking a strength-based approach that builds on solutions and he creates strategies that fit each family situation in the shortest time necessary.
Ron Huxley is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist providing trauma-informed therapy for individuals and families. Currently practicing on the Central Coast of California, Ron travels internationally educating parents and professionals on trauma-informed care.
In this healing video, Ron Huxley, explains what forgiveness is and isn’t. Learn the benefits of forgiveness to release angry toxins from your life even if you can’t reconcile or ever be with another person ever again.
During this season we hear a lot about comfort and joy but many people feel only pain and loss. Comfort and joy are the perfect antidotes to this suffering. It is what a broken world needs most. It may be that we can’t find comfort and joy because we believe that when we do we will stop feeling hurt. This is not always true. Our heart is to create more space not to eliminate hurt. That would be a nice result but isn’t reality. We strive to allow comfort and joy to coexist with our pain and loss. This inner act expands our heart of compassion. We now have a greater capacity for feeling both comfort and pain, joy and loss. It is a spiritual paradox but it is a direction for our own healing.
Science confirms this idea. Our hearts literally do expand when we entertain compassion and allow more space for comfort and joy. Choosing compassion releases neurotransmitters in the brain and hormones in the body and calm down the hyperaroused nervous system, reducing fear, anger, anxiety, and depression.
Studies on the practice of compassion reveal improved autoimmune functioning, decreased inflammation, improved digestion, increase mental focus, motivation, and even sleep. Dr. Caroline Leaf, a noted cognitive neuroscientist, and researcher on the mind-body connection report that compassion increases the grey matter in the brain, allowing improved thinking and sensory processing.
So how does compassion start? How do we allow comfort and joy into our lives when we feel stuck emotionally? The answer is where we put our focus.
Right now, at this moment, you have a choice. Whoops, there it went but don’t worry, here comes another. Missed that one. Just wait…
We have thousands of opportunities to choose comfort and joy. Every moment is a chance to change the directions of our lives. It will not remove pain and suffering but it will allow us to build a mindset that allows comfort and joy too. Take a deep breath and make one statement of comfort and joy. Maybe it is gratitude for that cup of coffee or tea in front of you. Is it warm and comforting however brief? Maybe you heard someone laugh and it made you smile? Perhaps, someone opened the door for you when your hands were full? Life is constantly presenting micro-moments of comfort and joy. You just have to notice them.
The problem is that we allow suffering to be our filter for living. We get angry expecting things to be different than they are. We resent people for not treating us the way we deserve. Just allow those challenges to exist alongside the next moment of gratitude and pleasure. Build those moments up, one after the other, and live a day full of tiny, joyful experiences. Tip the emotional scale in your direction.
The brain likes to automate our life. It will take any repeated experience, good or bad, and make it a habit. This is how we can do so many tasks and face so many diverse problems. It makes us efficient and skilled. It can also make us miserable if we stop being aware of what is going on around us. A lack of moment to moment awareness makes us a machine, driven to self-protect and insulate from anything that smells dangerous or out of the norm. We don’t want the norm. The norm is hurt. We want the new which is comfort and joy. This will cost you some mental energy until the new norm becomes a happy habit.
Test these ideas out today. Stop three times today to recognize a moment of comfort or joy. Write them down on a post-it note. Remember, in as much detail as you can muster, throughout the day, what it felt like. Do this for a week and see if your pain, your suffering, starts to lessen and a life of greater compassion takes over.