Author: sherri364

Art therapist, Licensed clinical marriage and family therapist, street artist, TEDxOverlandPark organizer, optimist.

Mask Making During COVID-19

The debate on wearing a mask in public is endless, and varies depending on your location on the globe. The search for medical masks is also endless, as there is a world wide shortage. Please let the medical professionals have first access to the actual medical masks, and use your creativity to create your own mask. This video will teach you how to make you own reusable mask from an old t-shirt (this requires a sewing machine for creating your mask):

 

 

 

 

Create an Emotional Safety Plan During COVID-19

img_0722The Covid-19 pandemic has brought much of the human race to a standstill. Many of us cannot leave our homes except to get basic necessities. The short term goal in this process is to stop the transmission of a rapidly spreading virus, but the long term outcome might just be how it impacted our mental health. Grief, anxiety, and depression are very real things happening as our species engages in a very non-human activity of self isolation. Finding ways to mitigate this emotional roller coaster can be essential for the here and now.

If you are feeling out of sorts today as you sit in your home, this is actually a sign of mental health. This paradox might sound odd, but it’s true.  Let’s start this chat by acknowledging that what you are feeling is REAL, OK, and NORMAL. How are you actually feeling? Please tell your loved one or someone exactly how you feel today ( or send a response in here to this blog). Acknowledging your emotions can be hugely helpful in reducing your distress levels. Please complete this sentence: Today I am feeling _______________________. If you are having a hard time filling in the blank, please use this list of possible answers: overwhelmed, scared, anxious, calm, terrified, confused, numb, spacey, angry, nervous, loved, sad, uncertain, bored, curious, content, grief stricken, relieved, etc.

When people experience trauma, they often feel a wide range of emotions,  including emotions that don’t seem to match up with the current experience. This is all a normal part of trauma.  NAMING our emotions or the thing that is happening can actually help us get a hold of the experience, and while we are still in the thick of it with this COVID-19 journey, acknowledging it in real time can reduce some of the emotional distress. We don’t want to fall down an emotional rabbit hole here, so let’s add one more tool to incorporate along with naming our emotions…. a handy, dandy emotional safety plan.

An emotional safety plan is a tool to use when your experience is so intense, it shuts down the thinking part of your brain (your pre-frontal cortex). Writing an emotional safety plan in advance of an incident can remind you to do something to pull yourself back, and bring that thinking part back online.  I worked in an inpatient psychiatric facility for many years we found so much value in this tool, that all employees (ranging from the CEO to the janitorial staff) attached our emotional safety plan onto the back of our name tag. If we got triggered, overwhelmed, or were trying to not get sucked into extremely stressful moments, we were encouraged to look at our safety plan, and use it to help us get regain a sense of equilibrium.

What would your emotional safety plan look like this week? There is no “perfect” way to make a plan, but the idea is to make a list when you are calm that you can use when you are not calm. Feel free to use a few of these prompts:

MY EMOTIONAL SAFETY PLAN

NAME IT (the feeling or thing I am experiencing):

SOMEONE I CAN REACH OUT TO SPEAK WITH: 

SOMETHING I CAN DO FOR SELF CARE:

SOMETHING I CAN TELL MYSELF TO GET THROUGH A REALLY HARD MINUTE,  HOUR, DAY (we are all having a LOT of these in our current pandemic/self isolation, maybe a little mantra here might be helpful):

An emotional safety plan is simply a list  to give you perspective on the here and now, and provide some emotional regulation. This is not designed to move you away from your emotions (remember we decided a few paragraphs ago that feeling our feelings is profoundly important. This is just an extra tool in case your emotions overpower you. If your distress is overwhelming, or if you are in  emotional or physical danger, please see the hotline numbers at the bottom of this link.

1-800-799-SAFE -Domestic Violence Hotline

1-800-273-8255 – Suicide Hotline

If you find this whole conversation a bit out of your comfort zone, please watch this excellent interview with Dr. Brene Brown on the profoundly important act of being real and expressing emotions during this really challenging time. She was interviewed this week on 60 minutes: https://www.cbsnews.com/video/brene-brown-cope-coronavirus-pandemic-covid-19-60-minutes-2020-03-29/

Porch Portrait Photo Project

IMG_0599 (1)As we entered into our first week of social distancing, I pitched an idea to friends in my neighborhood to take pictures of them standing on their front porches. This project was an instant hit, and is serving many purposes, including socializing with the limitations of social distancing, documenting this experience, and providing a creative activity to connect or reconnect with community.  I invite you to join me on this creative endeavor.

I am hearing about many parts of the world where leaving one’s home is forbidden during this pandemic, and violating this prohibition can lead to jail time or hefty fines. If you live in a place where you can still roam about, perhaps this might be a great project to introduce to your neighbors. Aside from the primary issues around the COVID-19 pandemic, LONELINESS is perhaps the largest issue that will come out of this experience. 28% of Americans currently live alone. While this might have been manageable in our lives just a few weeks ago, this current dilemma of losing all elements of community can be debilitating to many people who live alone. Do you have anyone in your world who might really appreciate you dropping by (from a distance) to take their picture and send them some good vibes?

I am not a photographer, and am actually using an I-phone to take my portraits. The options for editing a photo on any smart phone are so advanced, anyone can take a pretty great photo with this small device. I would also encourage emailing a consent form (I used Google forms to create mine), offering subjects the options of them alone keeping the photo, sharing the photo in your friend group and/or sharing it publicly. Getting consent is essential to this project (especially if you are considering posting any of the images on social media). Good luck and spread the creativity to keep our communities humming along.

 

Coronavirus Coloring Page

Coronavirus with watermarkRemember the recent coloring book craze for adults? Although the trend faded, now might be a great time to return to the simple activity of coloring. This repetitive, bilateral act can serve as a very powerful medium and a self soothing activity.  Starting and completing something simple can also be helpful to people who are living through something chaotic without an end in sight.

This image of small mandalas was created to be appealing to all ages, and across cultures. Each circle looks like a microscopic Coronavirus. Humor, even during the darkest of times is essential. For seasoned therapists, we can attest to the importance of keeping low levels of humor accessible during traumatic moments and through processing trauma.

The act of anthropomorphizing or managing something that feels unmanageable can also help a person truly get a hold of or own the thing that feels overwhelming. At this writing, one third of the human race is experiencing some form of a quarantine to stop the spread of the COVID-19/Coronavirus. It might be impossible to make sense of such a staggering number. Pulling back a bit to get some perspective is really important. Coloring, and other forms of self care is a great way to “pull back” a bit. Trying to fall back on activities we normally find stimulating might be too overwhelming if you are in a state of shock.  I have found that turning off the news for small increments of time can also be helpful.

This coloring sheet can also be a great tool to share with children. Children need to understand what is happening around them. If they are not informed in any way, they might create their own narrative, and wonder if they caused all of the changes they are seeing at home. If they have too much information, they can be overwhelmed. Coloring, and using a playful Coronavirus image might be helpful for gently explaining this experience, and offering an opportunity for them to express their emotions.

Please print the image above. As you color the picture, please spend time figuring out your small piece of this experience. Print a few copies to share with your housemates or whomever you are with in your home. This will end. We cannot stay home forever. When we return to our active worlds, we will be wiser, kinder, and more appreciative of the everyday things we might have taken for granted a few weeks ago.

Cocooning vs. Quarantining- Words and Attitude

african monarch butterfly on white calla lily flower

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Let’s switch up the negative names of our new Coronavirus reality to something slightly more life affirming. We have been told to hunker down and quarantine (the word hunker is defined as to squat or crouch down low). Before we switch up the names though, we might need to re-imagine what we are doing. Can you use the metaphor of a caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly to mark your current experience of being stuck at home? Please try this project to muster some resilience.

 

  • Please find some  paper in your home, or just use your imagination to conceptualize this creative angle on our strange situation.
  • Please divide your paper up into three sections.
  • In the first section, please create a caterpillar. If you are not feeling the creativity urge, maybe just jot down a list of things you were doing a few weeks ago that might represent a less robust version of yourself (for all of us who were stretched thin, this might not be too hard to imagine). My list would probably include drinking too much coffee, not completing projects, not returning phone calls, etc
  • In the second section, please draw a cocoon or chrysalis (chrysalis is the technical term any third grader might remind you of, should you refer to the metamorphosis of a butterfly using the word cocoon). Again if this is too base or juvenile for your liking, please use this space to jot down a list of enjoyable and life affirming things you might explore during this home time.
  • In the third section, please draw a butterfly to represent a new and improved version of you who might walk out of your home when this is all over (yes- it will end). Imagine yourself reconnecting with the outside world in a new way with wings or something cool like that. A fresh perspective which is just about the same as new wings. We will all be different. Social isolation is not in our genetic makeup, so reconnecting with our species will probably be pretty spectacular. Again, if the butterfly metaphor is a bit pedestrian for you, perhaps just jot down a list of how you might envision reconnecting with the world.

More than two billion people are currently on lockdown in their homes on the planet as of this writing. That number might actually go up, as experts have warned that this week is going to look pretty grim. This unprecedented experience is perhaps the first time in human history that such a massive number of people are all essentially doing the same thing.  The quest to stop the transmission of Coronavirus is being called a variety of ominous things such as shelter in place, lockdown , quarantine, social distancing, self isolation, and other negative things. In some cities, this experience is being enforced with harsh punishments for violations, with soldiers in the streets. What would happen if we changed the languaging to conceptualize this as something more palatable to the human experience? Could we call it cocooning? hibernating? pausing? resetting our compass?  Slowing down? Respecting our elders and fragile fellow humans? Being a great Homo sapien?

How we conceptualize this whole thing will really determine our mental health throughout this experience. If we shift our experience to call this cocooning, we will be emerging from this quarantine as a completely different person, community, world, and species. Things could go wonderfully or terribly in this process, but there are some theories being kicked around that this might be a jump in consciousness caused by a radical shift in re-evaluating our values, and a radical appreciation for life we might have ignored just a few weeks ago. Stay safe and be well.

 

The Art of TIME in a Coronavirus Quarantine

black and yellow analog clock

Photo by Stas Knop on Pexels.com

TIME. When we look back at this radical week in human history, one vantage point we might observe it from is how we handled time. Many people on Earth are simultaneously experiencing a cataclysmic shift in reality, as our familiar lives have come to a screeching halt. Several of my therapy sessions with clients over the past few weeks included conversations on the possibility of a quarantine, and how that might provide some respite from our crazy, busy lives. Now that we are really experiencing that reality,  what to DO WITH ALL OF THIS TIME is proving to be a bit overwhelming. Navigating through news that is changing fast, finding provisions, worrying about our livelihoods, and just making it through each day this week is simply overwhelming.

The real question we might want to ask ourselves in this stage of this thing, is how do we  master time? All of us secretly wanted extra time and now that we have it, what should we do with it?  How do we navigate through the very confusing, very scary, and very real, new world we have entered? I would like to propose two very simple tasks to try today:

Quarantine Wish List

Please make a list of things you might accomplish for your quarantined time. Please add some practical things (my first task is doing my taxes for the US deadline of April 15). Please also add some pleasurable things that you never have time to do, and some projects you might have started awhile ago, but never had time to finish. Next, hang your list in a prominent place.  Then, and this is most important part, do not pressure yourself to jump into any of these projects too quickly. I have spoken to several people this week who are feeling guilty they have not been productive this week. Please do not pressure yourself to be productive or creative.

We are all in a state of shock, and when we are in that place, it is very hard to do anything beyond  just being in survival mode. This might looks a bit different to each of us, and might include binging on Netflix, binging on news, buying toilet paper, etc. Having your wish list handy, but not feeling pressured by it can serve as a buffer to make the time you are spending now feel more temporary, knowing that when you settle into your new reality, you will have a lot to keep yourself busy.

Make a Daily Schedule

Last night, I forced my kids to go to bed on time as if it were a regular school night. They protested, and I held my ground, explaining that as soon as our schedule goes haywire (or we stay in pajamas all day), we will have succumbed to time in a really negative way. We actually didn’t create any schedule during the first few days of our new “at home all the time” lives. I did this as a social experiment to see what would happen. As suspected, everyone kept drifting to their screens, and the days marched along in a loopy, slow, negative way.

We have since created daily schedules for each person in our home as the days drift along. These have included meal times, hang out times, solo time, together time, etc. Although we are not being super strict at following them, the lists are still serving as boundary makers to make our boundary-less new world feel more manageable. What would your daily schedule include?

In my therapy sessions last week, my clients all fantasized how great a quarantine might be, because they would suddenly have the glorious TIME we never had enough of in the lives we were living just last week. When this is all over (yes, it will end), we will walk out of our homes with new attitudes, new perspectives on humanity, and perhaps will have regrouped enough to envision a different and more beautiful life for ourselves and our loved ones. Step one of this transformation is learning to reclaim time.  

Having an accountability partner in this process can also be important. Feel free to post your lists here. Hang in there!