HIT for the Covid-19 Era

My spouse and I take daily evening walks.  We meet neighbors also out strolling or porch sitting and ask, “How are you doing?”  And almost without fail, the answer is “Hanging in there.”  We often give the same response when asked.

We are hanging in there:  HIT.  That’s the truth.  (And I don’t mean HIIT: High-intensity Interval Training, although living through this precarious, uncertain, fluid and difficult time is like a workout. ) 

But I mean HIT.  And HIT is enough.

Before COVID19, “hanging in there” seemed an inferior space to be in, an acknowledgment that we were going through something temporarily difficult we didn’t want to talk about.

Now, increasingly, I understand HIT as strength, as a sign that we are distressed and we are getting through one day, sometimes one minute, at a time. And we all know exactly what we mean when we say we are “hanging in there.”

Because we can’t dismiss that we’re in a mess.  We’re getting frequently changing and mixed messages from our national leaders about how to conquer, or at least tame this virus. The response to Covid-19 looks like a torn crazy quilt across state and regional lines.

Here in New York, we’ve had firm, clear leadership from our governor. After first being an epicenter, our infection rate is low, but we know our borders are permeable, some citizens continue to buck the mandates, and colleges are soon opening. We wonder about the impact when students, who love to party and congregate en masse in our summer-quiet neighborhoods, return. 

Some of us are getting sick.  Some of us are bracing and planning for another disrupted school year.  Some of us are sending college students off to an uncertain semester.  Some of us continue to isolate because we’re older, have risk factors, or want to protect others. Some of us are juggling parenting and working from home.  Some of us are afraid of returning to the workplace or have no workplace to return to.  Some of us need to re-envision our careers or our daily lives in light of this pandemic. Some of us do not know how we are going to financially survive.  Some of us wanted to travel and chose not to, or can’t because so many borders are currently closed to us.  Some of us are worried for elderly family members and friends who are isolated.  Some of us are very tired, lonely and afraid.

And then there’s the reality that a significant number of Americans find this all a hoax, a “plandemic,”  or at the very least, way overblown. Everyone has a right to his or her opinion and yet, this further complicates any chance for a mostly unified response.

Along with all Covid-related uncertainty and pain is the persistent and important anti-racism movement, long overdue and with so many of us having so much to learn. 

Oh and did I mention a critical presidential election is scheduled to take place in three months? And who knows what else each of us is dealing with?

So it’s no wonder, that a lot of days, a lot of us are “hanging in there.”

And that’s a good thing; I’m glad we are.  Because in the midst of all this uncertainty, staying the course, doing our best, giving ourselves a break, and accepting that this time is hard – well if that’s hanging in there, then more power to us.

Brenda Hartman-Souder, LCSWR   July 2020

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

Watering Holes

My spouse, young adult children and I currently have two daily rituals together: late morning coffee and supper.

I’ve been thinking of those gatherings, along with other regular activities, as my watering holes; as brief, essential oases in this surreal landscape called COVID-19.

My kids laugh at this description of what we do together every day.  They didn’t grow up among the Amish, as I did, and see horses and cows at watering troughs.  They didn’t grow up in the country where ponds or springs were places animals found water.

I’m used to them rolling their eyes at me.  And they are two of my best mentors, insisting on our rituals as a place and time each day that grounds us, brings us together and allows us to process feelings and thoughts, tell jokes, and review the COVID-19 “numbers.”  We revisit and grieve our losses and, being together, acknowledge that we are fortunate.  We might even, once in a while, note that this time we have – with two young adults ready to launch – is precious. (Never mind that we also regularly get on each others’ nerves!)

I know this is not everyone’s experience and I am not sugarcoating how difficult this shelter-in-place is.  It’s really hard, devastating and destabilizing for many of our human brothers and sisters.  Every day I listen to stories that include worry, fear, uncertainty and pain.

That’s not the point of this essay.  The point is that YOU NEED WATERING HOLES to get through this crisis.

While the definition of a watering hole includes a place where animals drink or a place where people gather for socialization, to me a watering hole is anything that provides brief pause, and emotional, mental, physical or spiritual nourishment. 

You can come up with your own watering holes.  If they provide respite and nourishment, and aren’t harmful to anyone else in your sphere, they will work.

My watering holes, in addition to being with my family, include getting outside for both exercise and leisurely walks, early morning reading, texting friends and family members, meditation and yoga.  Every day if possible.  These rituals ground me, help me stay in my body, help me stay present and enrich telehealth sessions with clients.

Create Your Own

You can create a watering hole by doing whatever feels nourishing to you.  Or if you can’t do that, by remembering a time of security and safety, or a restorative place – a vacation spot, for example.  And if that doesn’t work, then right now, in the present moment, you can create, in your mind, a safe and lovely space and rest in that imagery even just briefly.

Here are some watering holes I’ve heard about from friends and clients:  breathing deeply, dancing, baking, planting seeds, getting out in the garden, exercise, streaming shows, journaling and  zooming friends.  Whatever you come up with, I suggest you visit and drink from your watering hole at a regular time each day or week.

Watering holes are a way to fill us up for what the rest of each day brings: remote study or work, applying for unemployment or loans, crunching numbers, potentially becoming ill, homeschooling kids, keeping food in the fridge and on the table, etc.

So, here’s the question for this week:  What are your watering holes?

Some resources for you:

Yoga:  I’m doing a 30-day yoga challenge with Do Yoga With Me.  They’re offering two months free during the COVID-19 crisis.  You just sign up, don’t need to give any payment information, and then enjoy all their website offers.  Click here for the link,

Podcast: Tami Simon from Sounds True interviewed poet/author Mark Nepo.  You can listen to “Resilience in Trying Times” here.

There are so many podcasts, articles and resources out there to help just about anyone with any kind of challenge during this time.  Take advantage of them, don’t get overwhelmed…and stick to one or two as your watering holes.

Brenda Hartman-Souder, LCSW-R, April 2020

Photo credit: Phillip Cordts, Unsplash

What Has Hit Us? Coping Through COVID-19

Making a list of what I want to accomplish and pay attention to is one of my daily routines.  When stress increases, as it has with the COVID-19 pandemic, I write more lists than usual, including lists of ways to take care of myself and others during this crazy time. I need a constant reminder of what is most vital now to help me prioritize and focus. After two weeks since life as we knew it halted, I have a pile of 3×5 index cards with various and repeating “to-dos.” 

Perhaps these compiled lists (with a bit of extrapolation) will be helpful for you.

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  • Stick to routines as much as possible. Create new ones if, for the time being, old ones have vanished.
  • Stop surfing the news channels over and over.
  • Get outside. Walk.
  • Do yoga.
  • Meditate.
  • Volunteer/serve.
  • Stay off the news sites.
  • Allow feelings – if angry, feel anger.  If scared, feel fear. If sad, feel sad. If hopeful, feel hope.
  • Allow grief: I am so sad so many people are suffering. I am so sad my children’s school is on hiatus.  I am so sad some of my friends, family members and clients are out of work.  I am so sad my daughter’s senior college year is ending this way.  I am sad I can’t see clients in my office right now.
  • …and then also gratitude: My family is together.  We can still get outside.  We have food to eat.  Our home is warm. The peonies are poking through the soil.
  • Plan for 15-30 minutes of worry time a day – really have at your worries during that scheduled time, then end the worry time with a little meditation, movement or shifting into something totally different.  (Planned worry time is a tool from cognitive-behavioral therapy.)
  • Surrender and work to trust in whatever name you give the mystery greater than yourself.
  • Be open to opportunities – the opportunity for increased connection, new ways of doing business, for rest, and for sorting through files and rooms that need decluttering.
  • Stay connected to important others – extended family, friends, and clients. Really listen, it’s your best gift.
  • Remember you are not alone; we are in this together.
  • Remember, the children are watching you.
  • Slow down.
  • Surrender to what’s out of your control.
  • Breathe.
  • Remember, good decisions come best from a place of grounding, stillness and calm.
  • Ask:  What do I have control of?  And what don’t I?  Work to manage that which is within my control (my attitude, what I say, and what I do, including washing hands and practicing social distancing) and let go of what isn’t (the spread of the virus, orders from national, state and local officials, knowledge of how long this is going to continue).
  • Limit news sites scrolls.
  • Breathe.
  • Believe in your resiliency through this very tough time.
  • Take all health precautions.
  • Practice exquisite self-care.
  • Remember this is going to end some unknown day; how do you want to spend TODAY?
  • Limit time reading the news.
  • Breathe.

As you can see, staying off the news sites, surrender and breathing are constants repeats on my lists!  I feel my body’s sympathetic nervous system going into overdrive every time I log onto a news site. While we benefit from being informed, we hurt our capacity to stay relatively calm and grounded when we overload ourselves with alarming information.

What’s your list? What helps you during this time?  What doesn’t? What will support you to follow your own best advice? What opportunities might come from this? What’s just plain hard, awful, sad?

Recommended for you:  

CALM is sharing, for free, some of its meditations and practices.  They are really good.  I fell asleep during the one called Softening Fear, and that’s sayin’ something!   You can access the link here.

There’s a website dedicated to all kinds of resources for those of us feeling more anxiety during the COVID-19 crisis. You can find it here.

Tara Brach, a well known leader in the mindfulness/meditation field and author of several books on the subject, has recently posted a page of resources, you can access it here.

And one of my favorite bloggers, Heather Plett, just posted “Holding Space For Yourself in a Time of Isolation and Liminal Space.” It’s worth reading and you can do so here.

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Update:  I’m only doing video and sometimes phone sessions, within New York state, until further notice.  I’m pleasantly surprised at how well the technology works and thankful I can continue to serve current and new clients.  Most health insurances are covering video and phone sessions during this COVID-19 crisis.  Please call me at 315-870-0154 if you are a potential new client interested in starting therapy.

Coronavirus Conundrums

I’m unnerved by the novel coronavirus. Watching it travel throughout the world and now affect our country and state, I don’t know how our national and local governments will lead and support its citizens during this uncertain time, who will become ill, how long the crisis will continue, or if it will re-emerge later in the year or next year.  So much is not known. 

My nervous system is easily upset as I tend to expect the worst possible outcomes in situations, so my response is nothing new.  But I’m listening to others’ worries every day now, both in my office and at home, and I know I am not alone. This is important for all of us:  we are not alone.

My daughter’s final college semester is going to be finished “online” -upending just about everything she and countless others thought their final months at college would be like.  My son, a high school senior, is also worried about the implications for finishing out his year. My sister and father, and other loved ones, are in poor health with weakened immune systems.  Anything planned could be cancelled.  How we work is already changing. The economic impact is unknown, but clearly happening.

Clients and friends are rethinking travel plans, worried about loved ones and recognizing the disruption to their work, social and home lives.  Anxiety is high.

In other parts of the world and country the disruption and death are already painful realities. It’s becoming clear that in order to slow and “flatten the curve” of the virus’s spread, we have to make drastic life changes.

Difficult, uncertain times call for us to dig deep and remember what centers and grounds us, and to clarify what options are open to us.  When I’m tempted to yet again comb through all the news sites for something definitive about the virus, I now work hard to not “go there” – to go instead to getting clear on what I can do, what’s possible and what’s not.   And sometimes I do my best to simply breathe.

We know the best advice about hand-washing, not touching your face, making sure you’ve got extra food and supplies in your home, etc.   Suggestions about how to manage strong emotions and worrisome thoughts during this time is less available.

I follow several bloggers and one of my favorites, Sandra Kornblatt, recently posted, “How to Decontaminate Your Mind.”  She wrote from an early epicenter of the virus in the United States:  Seattle.  She’s thoughtful and honest and recommends a procedure to get grounded and recognize our larger connection to others, to the mystery of life, to the divine, to whatever helps us recognize a bigger picture and reality.

You can read her post here.

Jason Stephenson shares YouTube music and meditations for those with sleep and stress challenges.  Hailing from Australia where wildfires destroyed so much already, he intimately knows disaster and upset. His most recent post lists some suggestions, including:

Refocus on your highest intent: Take a moment to become aware of any fearful thoughts. Only when we are aware of what is here can we shift our attention to something new. Spend a few minutes considering your highest hopes for the future. Then visualize what this looks and feels like for another few moments.

Come down to your heart: What does it offer at this moment? With your eyes closed, invite all uneasy thoughts down to the heart. As you sink into the peace and stillness of this space, let it be okay to not have certain answers or insights yet. What wisdom or virtues can your heart offer you in place of mental understanding?

Seek support: When we fear the future, it can be so deeply healing to turn to a loved one, friend, or professional who can lend an ear.  Our human fears are universal; take this as an opportunity to connect rather than to pull away.  Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you have made it through tough times before.”

You can sign up for his meditations and articles here.

It’s impossible to know how the virus is going to change our lives and world.  It already has and it’s going to keep changing.  Surrendering to this reality is wiser than fighting it.  At the same time we can work to care for ourselves and others in ways that use our inherent strengths. And we’d do well to remember that old Buddhist truth: Everything changes, nothing is permanent.  

This too shall pass, but it’s going to be awhile.

The Telemental Health Option

I’ve started providing video therapy sessions to clients who moved to another part of the state, were unable to leave their home, or when a snowstorm made travel ill-advisable. I use doxy.me, an encrypted and HIPAA approved platform. 

I prefer in-person sessions and yet find this a suitable alternative for clients with whom I already have an established relationship.  I offer this option should the coronavirus response prevent office sessions.  You’ll need a laptop or tablet, a quiet place that preserves your confidentiality and a decent internet connection.  You’ll also need to confirm that your insurance company reimburses for telemental health; some plans don’t.  More on all this in another post.  For now, just be aware that video therapy sessions are an option.

Brenda Hartman-Souder March 2020

When You “Mess Up”

At some point in therapy, clients may come into session and begin with something like, “I really goofed up,” (Okay, sometimes the language is more colorful!) or, “I’m not proud of this, but….” Or something like that. 

And I’m not surprised. Active participation in therapy involves willingness to learn and make changes.  You get to know your thoughts and beliefs, feelings and physiological reactions in all kinds of situations.   You start being able to observe yourself in your family, work and life systems. You take responsibility for your self and surrender the hope that others will change along with the belief that if they do, THAT will finally make your life better.   People sometimes leave my office in anger when I tell them I cannot help them change someone else.

And following this path of self-responsibility also means that as you learn and bravely make changes, trusting your gut for what resonates and staying on course as well as possible, you will also mess up.   

Boy will you. 

After messing up, you might then blame yourself or others, feel ashamed, lose hope, throw your hands up in despair or declare that this work on self and making changes is too hard.

And what I’ll tell you from deep knowing and experience, because I am a human being working on my self right along with you, is this:  It’s all normal.  It’s all expected.  And it’s all alright.

I’m not saying that it’s fine to lash out at yourselves or others, repeat a hurtful pattern in a relationship, gulp multiple glasses of wine, buy or eat something to make yourself feel better, or avoid life by binge watching Netflix.  But I do understand those choices as common ways to avoid your pain and temporarily alleviate your suffering. And I know that lasting change takes time.

So after making a mistake, it’s important to remember that in order to be brave, awake, and self-responsible, you must turn toward yourself with kindness and forgiveness, identify what triggered the “mess up” and return to what you have decided is a healthier path for you. You may need to apologize to yourself or someone else.

You will do this over and over.  You will “mess up” over and over.  And part of what determines how you learn to navigate the world with greater ease, courage, and strength is how you decide to handle your mistakes.

I know this because I live it.  I revert to old, non-productive ways of managing stress, thoughts and feelings.  I blame others.  I stew.   I forget my ways to deeply care for myself and stay engaged in the world.  I forget that I am part of a wider family, cultural, economic and social system.  

Recently I really “messed up.”  One of my significant triggers, which I’m mentioned in an earlier post, is worry about money.  I come from a long line of money worriers, Swiss and Germans who worked hard, lived frugally and didn’t have a lot extra.  When I am calm, I can remember the patterns in my family history, and the way I am prone to absorb similar worries about money.

When I am triggered, however, all of that dissipates. If I forget to slow down and comfort that scared part of me, I will lose it.  I’ll target my spouse for my worries.  I’ll lose sleep and start to spin catastrophic scenarios of poverty, bankruptcy and humiliation.  Yup, that’s what I do.  Even while, at the present moment, I have a warm home, plenty of food and clothing, savings in the bank and a robust private practice.

I’m human and it feels awful to careen down that particular lane. That lane is narrow, rutted and filled with potholes where dark clouds loom overhead, where I believe I am unprotected and alone, the only one facing these worries.

But I’ve learned I can return to my truth and my tools for calming myself  – these constitute a much broader, smoother lane:  deep breathing, journaling, meditation, recalling my deepest values (and how I can live them regardless of any financial statement), talking to trusted friends, gratitude, and sometimes calling my own therapist!  That lane is smooth and lined with leafy trees and benches for resting, friends are available down side lanes and I can be grateful for all the resiliency and muscle I’ve built from years of working with this.

So, if you are a perfectionist, or think working in therapy will produce instant results with a clear upward trajectory, I am here to ruin that delusion.  But all is not even remotely lost. Therapy, undertaken by those who own responsibility for self, while letting go of what is not theirs to focus on, can be an invaluable accompaniment to lasting change, reduced symptoms, and a lifelong commitment to learning and re-centering after you “mess up.”

I’ve always liked the following poem, Autobiography in Five Chapters, by Portia Nelson.

Chapter 1

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am hopeless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there.
I still fall in… it’s a habit… but,
my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter V

I walk down another street.

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Change, however, is usually not linear and sometimes, despite hard work, we revert to early chapters.  The difference that work on self makes over time is the ability to more quickly pick yourself up and walk down a different street.

I close with a quote by Daniel Hillel:   

“I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing.”

Brenda Hartman-Souder, LCSWR

January 2020

(photo by by chuttersnap on Unsplash)