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How Therapy Can Help During Life-Changing Events Like COVID

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April 3, 2024 — When the COVID-19 pandemic hit 4 years ago, Jenn Kearney felt extra thankful for her years of therapy. 

The 34-year-old digital communications manager from Boston said her 11 years of doing therapy — specifically cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT – prior to the pandemic had given her skills and “ways to cope and adapt that not only benefited me, but the people around me,” she said. 

“I had spent a lot of time working with my therapist on, specifically, managing my anxiety through unexpected incidents,” she said. 

That was especially useful when her husband contracted COVID at the end of April 2020. 

“I was able to use what I knew about my anxiety to loosen its grip on my thoughts and judgment, to prepare myself in case I contracted it as well,” she said, noting that using affirmations like “This will all work out” helped her, especially when she tested positive for the virus a few days later.

“I was able to recognize when my thought pattern was turning into ‘what ifs.’ I used what I had been working on with my therapist  — making a conscious effort to reflect on what I was thankful for,” like the fact neither she nor her husband required hospital stays, no one else in their family was sick, and the couple “had the ability to rest and look after each other.” That mindset kept Kearney’s anxiety in check.      

It’s no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic caused worldwide emotional upheaval. A report from the World Health Organization found that anxiety and depression increased globally by a staggering 25% during its first year. But a new study found that people  diagnosed with anxiety who received two widely available forms of therapy experienced less stress than others during the pandemic, even during the toughest days of lockdown. 

Researchers at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School followed 764 outpatients with moderate anxiety. These patients had received one of two treatments: cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). CBT is a form of talk therapy that emphasizes the power one’s thoughts can have on their feelings. DBT helps patients identify thought patterns that may cause distress

The patients were organized into four groups: those who began treatment before Dec. 31, 2019; those who began treatment between Jan. 1, 2020, and March 31, 2020; those who began treatment between April 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020; and those who began treatment from Jan. 1, 2021, onward. (The WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020.) 

The researchers expected to find that the stressors caused by peak points during lockdown — specifically from March 2020 to July 2020 — would cause worsening of these patients’ anxiety. 

Rather, they found that patients who started CBT or DBT prior to the start of the pandemic had decreased symptoms of anxiety. The researchers found that CBT and DBT gave these patients served as a protective effect. This means patients demonstrated fewer symptoms related to anxiety than many people who never had anxiety at all but who were feeling the stress of lockdown. 

What’s more, CBT or DBT started at any time can help many people build the same resilience so that major world events or personal upheaval will not cause them to experience worsening of their mental health, the researchers said. 

“I was surprised by how robust the intervention was,” said lead study author David H. Rosmarin, PhD, a clinical psychologist at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA, and associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School in Cambridge. “Yet with CBT and DBT, we really teach people not to be afraid of anxiety. Anxiety will not kill you, even though it feels like death to some patients. We’ve been conditioned to fear anxiety, but what we really need to do is to increase our tolerance of uncertainty.”

As the patients in the study progressed through treatment, they began to demonstrate this resilience. 

“Patients felt more prepared tolerating COVID-related anxiety as they became comfortable being less prepared,” said Henry J. Eff, PsyD, supervising psychologist at the Center for Anxiety in Brooklyn, NY, where patients in the study were seen. “Those who experienced higher levels of anxiety prior to the pandemic, but who were taught CBT and DBT skills, felt better equipped to manage, and more importantly, tolerate, COVID’s uncertainty.”

Read on to better understand anxiety and how this groundbreaking research can be used preventatively to improve quality of life during unexpected times of crisis but also in in everyday life.   

What are the symptoms of anxiety? 

Signs of anxiety typically include nervousness, tension, restlessness, a fast heartbeat, and breathing faster. Sweating, shaking, fatigue, having a hard time concentrating, digestive issues, and trouble sleeping may also be symptoms. You can read more about anxiety here

How does CBT help manage anxiety? 

In a nutshell, CBT can help build your “toolbox” for when feelings of anxiety hit. 

CBT helps change the ways a patient thinks that are not helpful.  By recognizing that your thoughts affect your actions, you gain a sense of control and can make choices that help you respond better to the stresses in your life that make you anxious. 

CBT also helps you build emotional strength because it helps you face and overcome challenges. 

“CBT is like going to the gym for your emotions,” Rosemarin said. 

How does DBT help manage anxiety?

DBT, on the other hand, focuses on acceptance to bring a sense of control to those experiencing powerful feelings. 

“DBT can help us manage the intense emotions we experience with anxiety,” said Eff. For example, during the pandemic, “We worked with patients on accepting the realities of COVID: isolation, worry for our loved ones, and complete disarray of normal activity. Accepting this unfortunate situation enables better coping and reduces suffering.”

Can Anxiety Sometimes Be Positive? 

The energy that anxiety produces can be used as a powerful motivator — a great tool to push you toward accomplishing whatever you want. 

“It can feel counterintuitive to push through anxiety and feel your feelings. We think of anxiety as something we need to get rid of, but anxiety can be a catalyst to things like change,” Rosemarin said. “Anxiety can be utilized; it can be used as a tool.”  

The key is to manage the amount of anxiety you feel. 

“You typically don’t turn the dial of a stove all the way up or your food will burn,” explained Eff. “However, turn it off completely, and your food won’t cook. There are times where the burner — or your anxiety [in this case] — is higher, and that’s OK. Once we can begin to recognize and label our various levels of anxiety, we can better manage it and learn how to use it to our advantage.” 

Most people experience some level of anxiety, Rosemarin said. “We don’t want to ignore or suppress it.” 

Is CBT or DBT right for you? 

If you experience symptoms of anxiety, see your doctor, who can evaluate your overall health. If you’re diagnosed with anxiety, a psychologist can determine whether CBT or DBT can benefit you and get you ready to handle unexpected life events. 

As for Kearney, the skills she has gained through therapy have helped her in all aspects of her life, not just during the pandemic. 

“I’m a better parent, partner, friend, sibling, daughter, and colleague,” she said. “I’ve learned invaluable communication and coping skills as well as a better understanding of my mind, how it works, and how I can use my unique ways of thinking to my advantage.”



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5 Family and Community Engagement Strategies to Improve Student Outcomes

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Strong school-family-community partnerships bring exceptional value to children’s education. A recent book by Karen L. Mapp, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and four other co-collaborators synthesizes the available research to explain who benefits from these partnerships and the many advantages of family and community engagement.

Everyone Wins! The Evidence for Family-School Partnerships & Implications for Practice (Scholastic, 2022) cites various research to demonstrate how family-community-school partnerships benefit all stakeholder groups when they’re approached effectively:

  • Students have higher grades, better attendance, deeper engagement in school, greater self-esteem, and higher rates of graduation and college attainment.
  • Educators enjoy better job satisfaction, better success motivating students from different backgrounds, more family support, and an improved mindset about students and their families.
  • Families have stronger relationships with their children and better rapport with educators. They can navigate school policies and advocate for their children more effectively.
  • Schools enjoy a better climate, more support from their community, and improved staff morale—leading to better teacher retention.
  • School districts and communities become better places to live and raise children. They experience fewer disciplinary problems, greater participation in afterschool programs, and more family and student involvement in decision-making.
community members talking and hugging in matching green volunteer t-shirts in front of an outdoor mural

What elements make school-family-community partnerships particularly effective? Here are five tips for how school systems can successfully promote family and community engagement in education and drive better student outcomes.

1. Successful Family Engagement Requires Intentional Leadership

Engaging with families has to be a core activity and not just an afterthought. It requires a total commitment by school and district leaders, and this commitment must include investing in the tools and training needed to help educators effectively engage with families from all backgrounds. It must be a real and intentional focus, and as Mapp says: “It’s real when I see it on your budget sheets.”

2. Teachers and Administrators Must Communicate Clearly and Consistently

To encourage family involvement in their children’s education, educators must interact with families frequently—and in many ways. For instance, teachers and administrators might engage with families in person during school drop-off and pick-up periods, set up a Family Information Board in the school’s lobby, write and distribute regular newsletters or blog posts, and/or send emails or text messages to parents.

Communicating effectively is one of the National PTA’s “National Standards for Family-School Partnerships,” which guides how schools and families should work together to support student success. Teachers and administrators should learn about and meet families’ preferred methods of communication, and families should be able to share and receive information in culturally and linguistically relevant ways.

3. Develop Healthy, Positive Relationships Based on Mutual Trust and Respect

Interactions between educators and families should be positive and reciprocal, with families feeling valued and supported. Educators can establish trust and encourage healthy, two-way communications with families by sharing information about their children’s positive behaviors and accomplishments and which skills may need work. Listen to all parents and provide opportunities for shared decision-making.

4. Be Mindful of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Welcoming all families and fostering a sense of belonging is another National PTA standard. When families engage with your school, do they feel respected, understood, and connected to the school community?

To ensure equity and inclusion, learn about the families you serve and their unique needs and challenges. Use culturally responsive engagement practices. Create opportunities for connection, especially with historically marginalized families and students. Learn about and seek to remove barriers for families to participate fully in their children’s education.

5. Help Families Support and Extend the Learning at Home

Students learn more effectively when they have opportunities at home to practice, reinforce, or extend the skills and lessons they’ve learned in school. Educators can facilitate this process by giving families specific ideas for expanding their children’s learning at home, such as by incorporating core math and literacy concepts into everyday routines.

Schools can also make instructional resources such as take-home packs, activity sets, and other materials available to families to support their children’s education.

How School Specialty® Can Help

School Specialty has more than six decades of experience in providing tools, resources, and strategies that promote successful education both in school and at home. We offer arts and crafts, early childhood, ELA, math, science, STEM/STEAM, physical education, special needs, and social emotional learning resources for families, as well as games, puzzles, and general supplies.

How do you promote family engagement in your classroom and community? Let us know in the comments!





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Preteens and skincare: What parents should know – CHOC

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Published on: April 16, 2024
Last updated: April 9, 2024

Should teens and preteens be using so many skincare products with fancy ingredients? A pediatric dermatologist answers parents’ questions.

Link: https://health.choc.org/preteens-and-skincare-what-parents-should-know/



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Living With Crohn’s: My Daily Routine

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By Michelle Pickens, as told to Danny Bonvissuto

As early as I can remember, I’ve had issues with my health. When I was little, I had severe constipation, nausea, vomiting, and food sensitivities.

As I got older, those symptoms transitioned into diarrhea, irregular bowel movements, and pain. I was always very fatigued and my immune system was weak: The second someone in my class had the cold or flu, I’d get it, too. Looking back, it was a sign.

From a mental perspective, my anxiety was high. What if I need to find a bathroom? What if I’m nauseous? Doctors would say, “Oh, you’ll grow out of it. It’s just your anxiety.”

Finally, a Diagnosis

After years of misdiagnosis, I was finally diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2015. I was 23 and had just finished up college while working full time. My symptoms were getting worse. I had a lot of vomiting and pain. The fatigue was at the point where it was difficult for me to work or even get out of bed some days.

It was so bad it pushed me to seek additional care. I took a couple months off, looked for another job, and went through all the doctor appointments it took to get the diagnosis.

There’s no blood test for Crohn’s. No way to prove what you’re feeling. Eventually I saw the right doctor, who did a test with a pill camera called a small bowel capsule. (This is a pill-sized camera that you swallow, allowing doctors to see inside your digestive system.) It tracked my intestines and was able to get into a blind spot where neither a colonoscopy nor endoscopy can see inflammation. 

It was such a relief to get the diagnosis because it made me feel like I wasn’t crazy. For so many years I knew something was wrong and couldn’t name it. I also felt hopeful. Once I knew what I was dealing with, I knew I could work to get to a better place.

Sharing My Story

In 2016, I started a blog called Crohnically Blonde as an outlet to connect with people as I go through the stages of dealing with Crohn’s. When I first started to share, there weren’t as many people talking about it.

I’ve been able to form relationships in an online community through shared experiences. I hope someone can see my story and feel that, if they’re at the beginning of their journey, there’s a way to get through.

Managing My Medication

At first, I was on a lot of medication that wasn’t working well and was a huge imposition on my schedule. Now I get infusions of an immunosuppressive drug every 7 weeks.

It means being away from my family and job for 4-5 hours, and managing child-care coverage during the treatment and the weekend after, because I feel almost flu-like. The extra help allows me to rest and fuel back up after the treatment.

I have the option to be on more medications to control my symptoms. But I try to shy away from those and manage it on my own because I don’t want to be on medicine for every single thing.

Before I had my son, I was more willing to try different medications. But while I was pregnant, I could barely be on any of the Crohn’s medicines. After I had him, it didn’t make sense to be reliant on them.

Crohn’s, Pregnancy, and Motherhood

Crohn’s affected me throughout my pregnancy. I got very sick in my third trimester because I went off my immunosuppressive drug to avoid passing any on to the baby. I ended up having to be induced early so I could get back on the medication as soon as possible.

My son, Maddox, is 1 now. Crohn’s changed my expectation of what I thought motherhood would be.

I’ve learned that I’d rather be present and able to enjoy him in the good moments than push it when I’m sick. It’s been difficult. But if I’m not well, I can’t be there for my child. I try to be with him as much as I can, but there are times when I need to step back and take an hourlong nap.

I have a great support system: My husband, mom, or mother-in-law can step in and help out for a little while, and when I feel better, I can be a better mom. There are also days when I don’t have accessible help. In those situations, I’ll do lower-key activities that I can enjoy with him but that aren’t physically demanding on me.

Schedule and Adjust

Right now I’m in a pretty good spot. I work from home now, as a recruiter for a tech company, and that makes a huge difference. A lot of my anxiety in the past was around being in an office and being sick. Now that I can work remotely, it’s such a game changer.

But Crohn’s still affects my day-to-day. I have days where I’m feeling sick, and need to rest and change my plans so I’m home and not out somewhere.

No matter how planned-out I have my day or week, if I’m not feeling well that takes precedence. I like to be a very scheduled person. But I have to roll with the punches and have a plan B.

The biggest challenge is managing my sleep and stress. They’re both very influential in symptom flare-ups. I have to get at least 8 hours of sleep, no matter what. And I try to incorporate time to de-stress, like reading a book or relaxing at the end of the day.

Going to therapy helps offset stress as well, and is now part of my ingrained self-care schedule.

Social Life Strategies

My co-workers, family, and friends are very understanding. But that wasn’t the case at first. The more open I’ve been about Crohn’s, the more people understand that I’m not flaking out if I have to change plans; there’s an underlying reason.

I only have a certain amount of energy, so now I pick and choose. I know I need to work and be with my family, which means I have less energy to put into social situations.

I plan out what I’m comfortable doing, but have also become comfortable with changing plans. Even if I’m excited to go out to dinner with a friend, I don’t push it if I feel terrible that day.

Food in Flux

I’ve followed a gluten-free diet for years. I started with an elimination diet and realized that gluten was bothering me.

Other foods aren’t as black and white. I can eat a salad one day and it’s fine, and eat the same salad the next day and it makes me sick. I repeat the safe foods that don’t make me sick and stick to a general schedule of three meals a day that are pretty much all gluten free.

Sometimes the timing matters: I’ll wake up and feel nauseated and need a starchy food like dry cereal. If I’m going on a road trip, or have a big event, like a wedding, I plan it out and try to be careful about what I eat leading up to it because I don’t want to be sick. But it’s hard because you never really know. It’s kind of a gamble.

Flexibility Is Key

I’ve learned to be as flexible as possible. I never know what each day is going to bring, I just have to trust that my body is telling what it needs for that specific day. That’s my priority, and everything else can wait.

 



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