JENNIFER BALLERINI

Therapist Blog

Resilience in Winter: Allowing Emotional Hibernation

hibernation

I just read this lovely article by AEDP therapist Eileen Russell and wanted to share it with you. Some quotes that really struck me:

“I think of resilience as comprising processes that human beings use on behalf of the self to both survive adversity and also to thrive in favorable conditions. To my mind, resilience is not about being “strong” in the sense of being unaffected by what life throws at us. Increasingly I think it is truly about flexibility. How do we stretch into spaciousness and opportunity when it presents itself for our growth and expansion and also know when and how to contract and save energy when conditions are truly inhospitable?”

“So, can human beings contract without shutting down completely? Can we find ways to surrender to the withdrawal that happens under experiences of chronic stress without turning against ourselves or each other? If we let go of the unrealistic expectation that we could be feeling so much better if only we (fill in the blank), might we experience this mid-winter period of our lives as slightly more bearable and circumscribed? Can we develop some gentleness toward our failure to “overcome” our circumstances?"

“It is true that none of us can go to sleep for the winter. But perhaps metaphorically it is helpful to imagine that nature may have endowed people with capacities to take in less and to put out less when it is necessary for our psychic survival. If we think of this state as a kind of psychological hibernation we might be less inclined to pathologize it or to fight it as if we could actually create the stimulation and possibilities that are available to us under other circumstances. If there is a season for everything, perhaps this time invites us to rest and let go of our need to turn reality into what it is not. If we allow for a certain psychological hibernation now, we might trust ourselves to welcome “spring” when it comes. Because it will come.”

The Nature Pill

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In the latest "stuff we already knew but science has confirmed" news, apparently nature is good for you! This awesome study found that just 20 minutes of walking or sitting outside someplace that makes you feel connected to nature significantly lowered cortisol levels. So, especially in the midst of this stress-hurricane we're all riding out, please make sure to take your nature pill every day!

Thriving Through Trauma

Great video from a colleague that explains how "strain trauma," caused by constant exposure to distressing events, works and how finding meaning and ways to be helpful and empowered are the key to not getting PTSD through stressful/life-threatening situations.

Self-Care in a Time of Crisis

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Wondering how to take care of yourself in a pandemic? Here are some tips to help you not just survive, but thrive:

1) Get outside. Nature works wonders. Get some fresh air every day.

2) Exercise. At least 30 minutes a day. Research affirms that cardio and yoga have excellent mental health benefits.

3) Maintain good sleep habits. Go to bed and wake up at reasonable times.

4) Stay social. Keep in touch with your peeps via FaceTime, phone calls, text, virtual happy hours, watching a bad movie online together, etc.

5) Eat well and hydrate. I truly wish I could tell you this meant eat more chocolate and drink more red wine. Truly.

6) Give everyone a lot of grace right now (including yourself). Your kids may be bonkers, your partner may be short or distant. Remember: this is hard—really hard. Be kind. (Especially to yourself. Now is a really good time to be extra patient and supportive with your sweet self, too.)

7) Limit your news intake. Stay informed, but make sure you're not spending more than 1 hour per day reading/watching. And be sure to balance out the distress by reading things like The Good News Network. Clients have also recommended Human Progress and the Reddit Uplifting News thread.

8) Look for the helpers. Do what Mr. Rogers taught us and look for the helpers. Notice every day what is good, inspirational, and moving.

9) Be a helper. Support your local restaurant by getting takeout, shop for an elderly neighbor, donate to a good charity (try Direct Relief) or food bank, find ways to pay people who can't do work for you right now (your housecleaner, your hair stylist, your massage therapist), sew masks for doctors and nurses, etc.

10) Control something. Now is the time to unleash your inner Marie Kondo upon your home office, closet, or pantry and regain a tiny shred of control. Type A's—rejoice!

11) Start a big project. Learn to play an instrument, take some online classes, start a big jigsaw puzzle, program the ultimate video game mod, watch a 7-season TV show, etc. Anything to keep you busy, distracted, and engaged.

12) Do some art. Play some music. Dance. Express yourself through whatever media works for you.

13) Laugh. Find something funny every day: silly animal videos on YouTube, a ridiculous comedy on Netflix, etc.

14) Reach out for help. Talk to your people. Feel your feels. You may have to be 6 feet away, but you don't have to do this alone.

15) Remember this is temporary. We don't know how long this will last, but we do know that at some point, this will all be behind us and we will go back to feeling free, safe, and connected.

16) Make this meaningful. What do you want to learn from this difficult experience? What needs to change about your life? In your relationships? Your priorities? Your community? Take the opportunity to make meaning from this challenge and make it an opportunity to grow.

17) Practice mindfulness. Research tells us that taking time to breathe and re-center every day can make a huge difference. Try the 5 minute meditation I posted earlier this month.

18) Keep washing your hands!

A 5-Minute Meditation

Research consistently tells us that meditation is one of the best things you can do for yourself. In the midst of all this stress and uncertainty, remember to take time each day to breathe deeply and to be in the present moment. I wanted to share a lovely, short meditation that will help you feel calmer, more present, and more grounded. Sending you peace and love.

Pandemic

Pandemic
by Lynn Ungar


What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath —
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love —
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

How to Make Stress Your Friend

When I was in graduate school, a lot of the focus was on how BAD stress is, how physically damaging it is to our bodies. As psychologists, we've been trained that stress is, well, kind of the enemy. However, Kelly McGonigal convincingly articulates in this TED talk that this is exactly the wrong approach and that we should see physical signs of stress (e.g. racing heart, faster breathing) not as something to dread, but as evidence that your body is helping you rise to the challenge.

She also makes the case that the hormone oxytocin is part of the body's incredible stress response — it motivates you to strengthen close relationships, to seek physical contact, be more empathic, offer help, or talk about your feelings. She explains to us that receiving/giving support has been demonstrated to help people recover faster from stress. As she so succinctly puts it, "caring creates resilience."

So, in times of crisis, and in the simple day-to-day bumps of life, I hope you will stay mindful of the importance of trusting your body's stress response and remember that reaching out might (literally!) save your life.





Joy Is Contagious

I just saw this lovely video set to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." It's a commercial (naturally!), but it's still quite touching. As a musician, I've often turned to music to feel grounded, to feel calm, to express myself, and to feel good — playing music just makes me happy.

Things are very unsettled in our world right now and we're all feeling that — the anxiety is contagious. So, I wanted to take a moment to share something lovely that put a smile on my face, in the hopes it will do that for you, too.

Remember as you go through this challenging time to breathe, to exercise, to meditate, to talk to loved ones, to acknowledge your worries, and also to laugh, to play, to seek things that bring you calm, connection, love, safety, and joy.


Meditation 101

Here's another amazing animated clip, by the same woman who brought us the Brene Brown empathy video. Spend 2 minutes and learn to meditate, then try to carve out 5-10 minutes a day to add this awesome practice to your life.