creativity

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/

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 Power of a Pencil

Humans have been creating art for at least 64,000 years (based on a recent discovery in  Spain of cave paintings created by Neanderthals).The simple pencil, a ubiquitous item of  homo sapiens, is one we perhaps take for granted as one of the most powerful tools our species has created. Without it, we might not have accomplished as much as we have in our modern era. The engineering, collaboration and  ingenuity of how today’s pencil evolved is simply unprecedented.  Please watch this short movie, I, Pencil: The Movie for some inspiration and appreciation of human creativity:

Are interested in purchasing your very own pencils? Click on image of pencil above to go directly to Amazon!

Resilience and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election-Using Creativity to Move Forward.

sherri-jacobs-001scan-160711-0012Resilience. Regardless of whomever won the incredibly contentious US presidential election of 2016, Wednesday, November 9th was going to be a tough day in our nation’s history. Why? The virtual split in this nation, as illustrated in the almost evenly cast votes paints the true picture of a nation divided. This isn’t the first time the US has felt deep divisions, and it won’t be the last. We survived in the past. We grew from our conversations, our civil war, our protests, our disagreements, our errors, and our problems.

Rather than mourning for what we could have been had the election swayed differently, how can we use our creativity and our freedom of speech to continue creating that world we imagined for ourselves? The days following this historic election have been filled with a nation in disbelief, protestors from across the country disagreeing with the outcome, and incidents of hate crimes dotting our landscape. Sadly, this most likely would have happened regardless of which candidate won. According to the election results, it was only a matter of 50,000 or so extra Clinton voters over three of the swing states that might have altered the outcome (that is roughly the size of an average football stadium crowd). Only half of the eligible voters in the US showed up at the polls for this historic election. Where was everyone else? By not voting, they actually voted for THIS.

To the Clinton supporters, I am going to ask you a hard question: Is it possible that a Clinton win might have offered an opportunity for business as usual in your life, because you knew that someone on Capitol Hill was going to bat for you? Is it possible that a Clinton win would have given you a “hall pass” to not really get involved for change, because someone else would be doing that on your behalf?

To the Trump supporters, I am going to ask you a hard question: Is it possible that a Trump win might offer an opportunity for business as usual in your life, because you know that someone on Capitol Hill is going to bat for you? Is it possible that a Trump win will give you a “hall pass” to not really get involved for change, because someone else will be doing that  on your behalf?

Unleashing our creativity might seem like a lukewarm solution to the current climate, but creativity might be the best and only way to move forward. How can a person with zero experience in serving in a public office suddenly be elected to become the next leader of the free world? If Donald Trump can do that, what kind of untapped potential might we have to do something, big or small, in our own lives? This paradigm shift is suddenly offering everyone an unusual opportunity to reexamine everything. If we can take the time to see this as an unusual opportunity for mobilizing ourselves and our first amendment rights, we might be able to reverse the climate of hate that brewed over this campaign.

The Oxford English dictionary defines creativity as, “The use of imagination or original ideas to create something.” Apathy will perpetuate the fissure so strongly felt on both sides of the divide. Misguided anger will also perpetuate the problems clearly present in our nation. It is in this swampy, murky space we must recreate something new if we are to shape the nation we want our children to thrive in. The creative process offers us to an opportunity to sublimate our raw emotions into something bigger and better than we might currently be able to imagine.  Real solutions and coherent communication can only happen when we engage beyond the “fight, flight or freeze” responses to things happening around us, and tap into the higher part of our brains (the pre frontal cortex or part that separates us from the animal kingdom).

The real thing at stake in this brand new era is our first amendment right of freedom of speech. How will journalists fare in this new climate of a president extremely hostile to negative attention? Will news outlets criticizing Donald Trump be squashed and blacklisted? Should we sit by idly and wait to see what happens? No. This is the time to make your voice heard. How? Express yourself. Reach out to people around you. Decide how you can make your own community a better place. This does not have to be in a political realm. Waiting to see what might unfold is following the same crummy path as the folks who didn’t show up on election day.

As a nation of citizens who have exhibited resilient behavior for 238 years, I am confident that as we awake from the shock and utter surprise of our current situation, we will pull up our bootstraps, dust ourselves off, look around and ask what the heck we can do to create the type of nation we would like to live in. This change must start in our own imaginations, and then materialize through ideas and action. In the words of Viktor Frankl, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” There are about 725 days until midterm elections of 2018. What can you do in that time period to connect to and transform your surroundings?

-Image above is a hand cut paper cut created by this writer, Sherri Jacobs, MS, LMFT, MA, ATR.

 

 

Mastering Boredom

DSC_0389Snow Day? Free time? Screen time? The catalyst for this blog entry comes on a full fledged snow day in which my city has come to a screeching halt with inches upon inches of beautiful snow. After the initial hours of joy on this type of day, boredom is often the next mood that sets into the average home of homebound individuals. Our latest technology seems to dictate how we march through these kind of days, screens in hand. Before you grab a screen if you find yourself with some free time, can you find some time to just sit? The art therapy exercise today is to just sit without any distractions. Are you up for the challenge?

One of the biggest casualties of our brave new world just might be boredom. We are so over connected and overwhelmed with lack of time in the western world, and our devices most likely are the culprit. The word boredom even has very negative connotations in this era, but this constant distraction to avoid boredom at all costs just might be dampening our creativity.I am inspired by the story J.K. Rowling has shared in many interviews on her moment of inspiration for the Harry Potter series. She was on a train, without any reading materials or writing journals, and the train experienced a several hour delay. While staring out of the window wondering how to pass the time, she shared that the entire series hit her like a bolt of lightning, and had she been engaged in a book or actively writing in a journal, this entire story might not have ever been imagined.

Another source of inspiration to encourage you to find some time to be bored comes from Thomas Edison. Edison had an arm-chair in his lab that he would sit in during the day while holding two balls in his hand, with the balls facing down. When he would begin to drift off into a alpha or theta state of consciousness, the balls would drop with a thud, arousing him into a state of full consciousness. He would jump up and capture all of his thoughts on paper. He shared that this need to stop and just sit without any distractions was a key element in developing his ideas.

Try it. Record your thoughts after sitting.  Good Luck!

Neuroplasticity and art

Neuroplasticity is a newer idea emerging into pop culture. At its simplest level, it means that our brains are actually much more mailable than we ever thought possible, allowing us to stretch to the limits to learn new things and accommodate for deficits. This topic has been written about extensively, even for lay people not well versed in neuroscience. How can this apply to art and how can this apply to you? In many ways, this paradigm shift in thinking puts us front in center of having a lot of control over our lives. In the past, we could blame our genes and other factors for limitations. As new studies emerge, it is clear that we really can tap into parts of ourselves to expand our creativity and learn new things. It turns out that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

For today’s art project, we will just spend some time wrapping our head around this idea if it is a new one for you. The following link is of a TED talk on this topic if you want a more in-depth understanding of this fascinating topic: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/michael_merzenich_on_the_elastic_brain.html

For an art project to accompany this idea, please find some paper, and write down some things you didn’t think you could do ( things within reason, please avoid things like getting super hero powers etc) such as learning a new language, to speak in a public venue, master a new hobby or skill, write a book etc…Write down your fear or the first thing that comes to mind which might prevent you from following through with some of these plans. With this newfound knowledge of neuroplasticity, do these excuses for not trying something new still make sense? Can you pick one thing off of this list to try? Can you try this new thing for 30 days?