The Challenges of Caregiving: Nurturing Our Well-Being in The Midst of StressJune 3, 2023
Thoughts on Traveling in the Age of Cell PhonesAugust 5, 2023
Of the many things I notice about myself since the beginning of COVID, is how easily I can get swept into an agitated / sour state of mind when I see or hear news reports. Perhaps you can relate. For me it is, surprisingly, less about the natural disaster reporting (which evokes a different emotional response) and more about reports featuring people who behave “disastrously.” They intentionally use disrespectful, coarse language when referring to people with whom they disagree. I interpret what is behind this behavior as a desire to dehumanize and insult another person or group of people. Whether the root is difference of opinion, ideology, or perspective, the tone is degrading, and the behavior is bullying.
I remember when, as a child, I had a profound, visceral reaction whenever I witnessed bullying on the playground at recess, in the school hallways, or in the classroom. For so many kids, these were not safe places. I did not understand what seemed like triumphing when one child (or sometimes a teacher) harassed or taunted a student. Although I probably could not articulate it then, I recognized there was a kind of darkness when someone takes pleasure in humiliating or stripping another person of their humanity.
I was often told that I was “too sensitive,” that I should develop a thicker skin because I could not “save the world.” Those admonitions disturbed me. They don’t anymore because I do not believe them. I realize that being sensitive to other people’s feelings and suffering IS a way to save the world. In the Talmud (the book of Jewish law) it is said: “He who saves one life saves the world entire.” Calling out people who say disrespectful things isn’t always possible (especially when you watch them on TV) but calling out hurtful language and behavior when we witness it in person IS something we can consider doing. To me, that seems akin to saving a life. Whether or not it is, I believe it is better than silently watching while someone attempts to destroy another person. Each of us has the power, and I feel, the responsibility, to call out those who degrade and insult others. And if, for whatever reason we cannot, we can each consider how we might model kind behavior for others.
It is nearly ¾ of a century since I was in grade school and I am aware of that same revulsion within myself when I see and hear people behaving similarly. There are plenty of school yard bullies that are all grown up, armed with insults, threats, banners, and sometimes weapons at the ready.
I recall during previous election cycles and much of COVID that I cautioned myself (and others) against watching too much news because of its potential negative effect on mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. In 2020, we became overwhelmed when we saw images of increasing numbers of sick and dying people. We were all aware of the intensified stress on health professionals and other essential workers. And then, soon after our collective empathy and compassion dissipated, the ugly interchanges began. I attempted to avoid the vitriolic dialogues but sometimes it was impossible.
What to do? When I noticed others behaving in ways that upset me, I tried to quiet myself. When I felt calmer, I could think more clearly about how I wanted to relate to others — even to the people who were exhibiting disrespect to others. To be better prepared for this, I consciously attempted to take better care of myself. In the process, I found it helpful to remind myself of my own values; what was important to me. Sometimes it was difficult to remember that we are all human beings who have the same basic needs. What I found especially helpful (and still do) is to take a moment to ask myself: “What could be a better, kinder, more effective way to get that message across?” And then I would ask myself a difficult question: “Am I capable of doing that?”
Now, at this moment, COVID is not as threatening as it was in early 2020. However, is still part of our lives, and we each try to manage our lives and our health as best we can. That management is often based on our own beliefs and habits adopted over the last few years. There are people who have attitudes and approaches with which I disagree. In some cases, my welfare may be impacted by their choices, and it is up to me to find ways to deal with those situations.
As I mentioned earlier, my state of mind and mood is still affected when I witness people harassing others when I watch the news. There is plenty of research to support the fact that when we watch or listen to distressing news, we are vulnerable to increased stress. The more we consume upsetting news, the more stress and anxiety we feel. Further, we know that if we do not manage that stress, we can suffer. Often our sleep, our digestion, and our cognition are disrupted. Managing how much and when we watch or listen to the news is important, as both can impact our reaction.
Balancing being “well informed” without feeling overwhelmed isn’t easy, but it is a worthwhile goal. Keeping the news feed on in the background as we “go through our daily routine” can contribute to our sense of staying in a state of high or near-high alert. Rather, we can choose the “right time” to listen or watch or read news. Just as most of us have a time when we eat, we can schedule a time to pay attention to the news. It’s just not healthy to do it all day long! And in these days of newsletters, podcasts, and other news sources, we can be selective about how and when we receive information. It is beneficial to our overall well-being to create our own healthy news report boundaries. Also, it can be helpful to pay attention to what we are doing before and after we tend to the news. It is significantly healthier to engage in a positive thought or activity immediately before and after exposure to newsfeeds. We can be in nature, talk to a friend, play with a pet, read inspiring or meaningful passages, work on a hobby, listen to music, absorb ourselves in an art project or a sport and notice how these choices help us to manage our stress responses.
In a world where negativity and disrespect seem to dominate, choosing compassion, setting healthy boundaries with news consumption, and nurturing our own well-being can pave the way towards a kinder, more resilient society.
Navigating Conversations: Five Things to Keep in Mind When Talking to Someone Who Has a Chronic Illness
When engaging in conversations with individuals who have chronic illnesses, it’s helpful to be mindful of our words and expressions. Our well-intentioned words can unknowingly cause distress or discomfort to those living with chronic conditions. Consider these five tips to help guide interactions and ensure supportive and empathetic conversations.
1. “You don’t look sick”: It’s important to remember that chronic illnesses often have invisible symptoms, making it difficult for others to fully grasp the daily struggles individuals face. Statements like “You don’t look sick” can inadvertently diminish a person’s experiences and make them feel invalidated. Instead, think about expressing admiration for their strength and resilience in the face of challenges.
2. “Have you tried …[an alternative treatment]”: While offering suggestions for treatment might come from a place of concern, we must do so in a way that conveys respect for the person’s autonomy as they manage their illness. Unsolicited advice can imply that they haven’t taken necessary steps or explored all available options. Instead, consider asking open-ended questions such as, “Have you had any experience with other treatment options?” Would you share your thoughts about them with me? This can help encourage a dialogue without imposing our opinions.
3. “I know how you feel”: Empathy is important when communicating with someone who has a chronic illness. However, claiming that we understand their experiences can be misleading and make them feel that we are minimizing or not understanding their unique challenges. Instead, we can express empathy by saying, “I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you. Is there anything you would like to talk about?”
4. “You’re just being lazy”: Chronic illnesses can cause fatigue, pain, and limitations that may affect a person’s productivity and daily activities. Implying that they are lazy or exaggerating their symptoms is often hurtful and dismissive. Instead, try offering support and understanding by saying, “I understand that you may not be feeling great, and I’m here to help if there is anything you think I can do to make things more manageable.”
5. “Everything happens for a reason”: It can be tempting to search for meaning or solace in someone’s struggles, but we risk downplaying the emotional and physical challenges faced by those who are living with chronic illnesses. This kind of comment can be perceived as dismissive of their pain and struggles, even though that is not our intention. Instead, we can be a source of comfort by saying, “I’m here to support you, and I believe in your strength (even when you may not feel as if you have what it takes) to overcome these challenges.”
Effective and empathic communication plays a vital role in supporting individuals with chronic illnesses. By using these tips as a guide, we can promote understanding, validation, and emotional well-being for those dealing with the complexities of chronic conditions. Listening attentively, with compassion, and offering heartfelt support can bridge chasms between people. Those who are living with chronic illness want to feel valued and heard and respected. We can offer a safe and accepting place for this to happen as we accompany them on their journey.
The Power of Daily Boundaries and Nurturing Well-Being and Balance
In our fast-paced and interconnected world, establishing daily boundaries has become essential for preserving our mental and emotional well-being. Setting boundaries allows us to create space for self-care, recharge our energy, and maintain a sense of balance while juggling the requirements of our daily life.
One effective daily habit is to allocate dedicated time for activities that nourish our mind, body, and spirit. Whether it’s practicing mindfulness, engaging in physical exercise, pursuing creative endeavors, or spending quality time with loved ones, intentionally carving out these moments helps us reconnect with ourselves and cultivate both fulfillment and perspective.
By practicing daily boundaries, we can reclaim control over our time, energy, and overall well-being. It is through these intentional acts of self-care and self-compassion that we create a life that is aligned with our values, fostering a sense of balance, fulfillment, and resilience.