Hard to believe it's been over a year since the last post. During the break, I channeled my pandemic-related angst into kitchen projects. I learned how to bake with sourdough, tried scores of new recipes, and enjoyed leaving goodies on the doorsteps of neighbors and friends. I learned that sharing home-baked treats with loved ones is a surefire way to reclaim joy.
I also spent a lot of time thinking about the ways in COVID has exposed the brokenness our systems and institutions: government, policing, education, and, of course, healthcare. It was the latter that inspired a conversation with the producer of a wonderful new podcast called "The Cost Of Care" The conversation is featured in episode 5, which is called "Burnout: The Vicious Cycle."
The Cost of Care takes an in-depth look at our insurance-based, fee-for-service healthcare model, which many believe is neither ethical nor sustainable. This episode addresses the prevalence of burnout among contracted mental health providers (i.e., psychologists, social workers, therapists, and counselors) who, after years of working twice as hard for half the money, feel the only sane, reasonable choice is to leave insurance panels altogether.
The net effect of this provider exodus is three-fold. The list of experienced contracted providers shrinks, the therapists on that list are full (thus, unable to keep up with new patient demand), and the patient pays the price, literally and figuratively. Patients who don't have the means to pay for counseling don't get the care they deserve. And the patients who do have the means don't get to utilize the benefits for which they pay so dearly.
Does this sound okay to you? Me neither. Hence the conversation with Cost Of Care. I hope you'll give it a listen.
Until next time...
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor in Seattle, WA. She offers grief therapy, divorce counseling, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA.
Many of us are wondering how best to tend to our mental health whist we are hunkering down, waiting for the global, category five hurricane to pass. Aside from adhering to personal hygiene and social distancing protocols, there is little more we can do to curb spread of COVID-19. Virulent panic, however, is a different story.
In this article we will explore fear’s true purpose, the problems we are likely to encounter when we become overly attentive to fear (i.e., panic), and what we can do to step out of fear once it has fulfilled its purpose.
Healthy fear is meant to wake us from denial and get us to take action. Without fear, it is likely we would still be rubbing dirty hands all over our faces and gathering in public spaces. When we listen to fear and respond accordingly, fear has done its job. After that, the healthiest thing to do is let it go.
Continuing to ruminate about things beyond our control is a one-way ticket to panic which, like fear, also has a specific purpose. Eons ago, it was panic that alerted us to clear and imminent danger. It prompted us to run, fight, or flee to avoid being eaten by predators or killed off by neighboring tribes. Today, panic is helpful in so far as it protects us from danger that is happening in the present moment: the smoke alarm sounds and we quickly exit the building. Beyond that, panic is pretty much useless.
In states of prolonged stress, the brain can get stuck in panic mode. When the smoke alarm routinely sounds, it becomes difficult to distinguish a false alarm from a real fire. What’s more, primal fear can manifest as a state of impending doom, about which we must do something, even when there is nothing more to do.
In panic mode, our thoughts and actions will organize themselves around two themes: life (i.e, food, sex, and toileting) and death. Additionally, primal fear incites irrational competitiveness. Plentiful goods (read: toilet paper) suddenly appear to be in short supply. So we overbuy, all but guaranteeing the very scarcity we fear most. I suspect this to be the reason that supermarket shelves are empty. We are worried there will not be enough for everyone so we make sure there isn’t enough for anyone. Sound smart to you? Me neither. Like most primitive instincts, panic is neither discerning nor sophisticated.
Okay. Now we know about panic and the understandable (but not so helpful) compulsive behaviors that come with it. It’s time to talk about what we can do to turn off the panic switch.
Here are a few things to try:
Remember pandemics are both temporary and survivable. While it true (and sad) that some will not outlive COVID-19, it is also true that the vast majority of us will. The pandemic will end eventually. When it does, just as our foremothers and fathers did in 1919, we too will rebuild.
In the meantime, we must choose wisely when and how we engage with fear. If you are following personal hygiene and social distancing guidelines, then fear has already served its purpose. It’s okay to let it go.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers grief therapy, divorce consultation, co-parenting support, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA. Stuck in panic mode? Schedule a free phone consultation to find out how counseling can help you go from panic to peace.
Over the years I have encountered numerous myths and misconceptions about divorce-related grief, the most common of which is the notion that it is linear, logical and finite. We expect grief to peak immediately after separation, then slowly subside until, perhaps a few months later, we are mostly pain-free. If only that were true!
Separation and divorce shakes our snow globe, causing its vulnerable particles to erratically float around with no end in sight. So it's no wonder that any human being would want those particles to settle quickly, in an orderly, predictable way.
Unmet grief expectations are frequently construed as failure. We don't feel the way we think we should, so we conclude that we are not "doing it right." This adds unnecessary suffering to pain.
We can create a more accepting relationship with ourselves and our grief when we understand its true nature. To that end, I have created the following list of often-experienced-but-rarely-discussed, long-term emotional truths about divorce:
If you’re still reading this, I imagine you may wondering what can be done to help mitigate the pain of these truths.
One of the most important things we can do, post-divorce, is clarify our values (e.g., family, commitment to service, personal accountability, kindness toward others, etc.) and commit to living those values.
This sounds simple. But it is not always easy. Furthermore, habits of intentional living take time--sometimes years--to develop. Now is the time to be kind and patient with yourself.
Keep in mind that few roads are perfectly smooth or straight. If you find yourself straying from your values, recommit to them. Repeat this process as many times as needed.
Finally, keep in mind that the presence of difficult emotion does not signify the absence of coping. All emotions, even the unpleasant ones, signify our humanity. Feelings are a normal, natural part of any living finish.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers grief therapy, divorce consultation, co-parenting support, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA. If you would like help coping with the long-term emotional impact of divorce, follow the link below to schedule a free consultation.
On the cusp of a breakup, separation, or divorce, it is common for people to focus mostly on what they will lose: a spouse or partner, time with their children, relationships with the ex's family and friends. The list goes on and on.
As a separation and divorce counselor, I like to help clients honor the pain of loss while reminding them of what will also be gained: relief from the tension of a relationship that wasn't working, the confidence of knowing they can thrive on their own, new experiences with people they've yet to meet. This list, too, can go on and on.
When the basic business of just getting by (e.g., getting out of bed, taking a shower, going to work, etc.) seems herculean, it's hard to trust that the future will be bright. But, with a little mindfulness, some time, and some effort, it is possible to thrive after a breakup, separation, or divorce.
If you are in the pain trenches of acute loss, here are a few tips to help guide you toward a brighter future:
Even if you don’t believe it right now (which is okay), you are heading toward wherever you are meant to go. What if this ending is an invitation to feel as whole as you already are?
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers grief therapy, divorce consultation, co-parenting support, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA. If you would like support in finding the forward path, schedule a free consultation to see how divorce counseling can help.
Counselors and therapists once conceptualized grief as a linear process. It was meant to unfold in predictable stages: denial, followed by anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. We used to think grief had a beginning, a middle, and an end. Grief experts think differently now.
The grief model has considerably expanded over the last decade. While the above described experiences depict what many grievers encounter after a loss, we now know that the "areas" of grief are neither linear nor universal. What's more, grief has proven itself to be cyclical, free-flowing, and without an endpoint.
Though our understanding of the grieving process has evolved, many of the grievers I see in therapy judge themselves harshly when their grief does not look or feel the way they think it should. They should feel more of this or less of that. They admonish themselves for moving forward too quickly; flagellate themselves for lagging behind. This happens even when I remind them that grief is both unpredictable and specific to the griever.
Grievers will cling to the idea that, somehow, they are doing grief wrong--even though doing so makes them feel worse than they already do.
It's normal, when faced with uncertainty, to yearn for order and predictability--both are associated with our sense of emotional safety. Yet telling ourselves we should feel something other than what we do feel is akin to tossing a boulder into the middle of a stream. It interrupts what would otherwise naturally flow toward its intended destination. Take Sylvia* for example.
Silvia was 35 when she sought grief counseling to deal with the death of her beloved father. Sylvia and her father were so close everyone, including Sylvia, expected she would fall apart after his death. But that did not happen. In fact, Sylvia sought therapy because she was concerned about what she described as "a disturbing lack of emotion." We explored this together.
When I asked Sylvia to tell me more about her father, her face lit up. She spoke at length about a robust, generous, sharp-witted family man. He was a present and engaged father to Sylvia and a wonderful grandfather to Sylvia’s two children--until he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. The diagnosis was followed by a rapid decline in physical and mental health, which sent the whole family into turmoil.
Sylvia’s demeanor shifted as she described what it was like to watch the disease whittle away at her father. Just before his death, Sylvia's once-independent role model could no longer feed or bathe himself. He was unable to recognize a single member