Tired As A Mother: 7 Tips to Help Sandwiched Moms Get Their Mojo Back!

Feeling sandwiched? I can relate. Thanks largely to advances in medicine that have led to women having children well into middle age, and technologies that have led to increased life expectancy, many Gen X women are also finding themselves members of another generation: the sandwich generation. That is, we are raising children while taking care of our aging parents. Simply put, we are overstuffed and overwhelmed!

The problem is that caring for our kids and parents aren’t the only highly demanding role that we must function in. In addition to these responsibilities, we are also busy professionals or entrepreneurs,  wives or partners, we’re involved in churches and/or ministries, and may be members of philanthropic or civic organizations. And somehow, after ensuring that we don’t drop any balls, we don’t have much left for ourselves. Here are some practical tips for staying sane, keeping your head in the game, and making sure you that while you are caring for everyone else you take care of YOU!

  1. Acknowledge the situation: The truth will set you free. But the truth that you know empowers you simply because now you are responsible for doing something about it. Own where you are. Admit to yourself that you are a busy mom, you have a lot on your plate, and you’re having a challenging time balancing it all. Trust me, no one will look at you sideways. In fact, they might just pat you on the back and fess up to also admitting the overwhelm.
  2. Chunk your time: When caring for aging parents who may have emerging or chronic medical needs, try scheduling as many medical appointments and related errands on the same day as is feasible. While doctor’s appointments may take longer blocks of time, trips to labs for testing, imaging or scans, physical therapy or pharmacy visits are shorter ones that can be stacked! Careful and strategic planning, allowing extra time for traffic, doctors running late, and other snafus can decrease stress on these days. This tip definitely helps maximize the day off you took to help your parent. 
  3. Tap into your village and ASK FOR HELP!: If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes an even more extended village to raise that same child while also assisting our aging parents. Rely on your tribe, and utilize your established network which includes your spouse or partner, your siblings, adult or older children, and even trusted friends. They can help you run your parents or children to appointments, and take some of the responsibility off of your plate. Be honest with them and let them know that you need help; that the constant responsibility is wearing on you.
  4. Establish your boundaries: Many times people lean on us and aren’t aware that their leaning is causing us to be off kilter. Firm boundaries keep others from inadvertently stepping into your lane: the time that should be set aside for YOU! The boundary could be a cutoff time each day, or that you will set aside no more than 2 Saturdays a month, or whatever makes sense in your life and is in line with the needs of those in your orbit.
  5. Get support!: Resources like the National Alliance on Mental Illness and AARP have FREE community-based eldercare support groups. Here you can find solace and experience understanding from a community of people who get together and sharing stories about how they are dealing with the same challenging experiences!
  6. Implement ‘smart’ practices: We live in the i-age! The Internet and smartphones are meant to make navigating life easier. So let’s make life easier! Implement ‘smart’ practices to make caring for your aging parent easier. Place prescriptions on auto-refills, and utilize mail-order pharmacies so that it’s one less errand you’ll have to run. Schedule telemedicine appointments as clinically appropriate to help minimize in-office visits and interruptions to your workday. And UBER and Lyft are also options for transporting your parents to appointments if this is an appropriate option and if your presence isn’t needed.
  7. Take care of you: Let’s be honest, shall we? If you’re burnt out and have nothing left to give to yourself, you’re not effective in any other role with others in your life. Scheduling parent days off, alternating responsibilities weekly with a sibling or someone in your village, and being mindful of your emotional state will allow you to address your self-care needs. Self-care could include spa days, a regularly occurring exercise regimen, maintaining a healthy diet, recurring psychotherapy check-in appointments, a girl’s night out, and the list can go on. The point here is to simply pay attention to where you are emotionally and how you are feeling. And importantly, to be a little selfish and very intentional about taking care of you.

I hope that by implementing these practices, you’ll be able to find some much needed time for you, and a bit more peace and acceptance as you journey on this path!

Be well.

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Dr. Nik

 

Dr. Nicole Alford, aka ‘The Good Dr. Nik,’ is a DMV-based
clinical psychologist, prolific blogger, mental health advocate
and activist. Follow her on all social media platforms
@TheGoodDrNik


	

GIMME BACK MY HOUR: Why Daylight Saving Time Affects You More Than You Think!

This is your brain today. I was surfing FB this morning, and many of you couldn’t sleep last night, or are loath to peel yourself off the bed this morning. You feel the loss of the hour. It’s ONLY an hour right? WRONG! Research says it’s best thought of as one hour each day for an entire week. So make that 7 hours. This is tantamount to the worst kind of jet lag: the kind where you are chasing the sun. How can you make it through the next week? Here’s my tips:
1. Proper planning prevents piss poor performance: It helps to go to bed an hour earlier the night we reset the clocks. I know I am a bit Monday morning quarterbacking this. Didn’t do it? Not to worry. I’ve got more where that came from.
2. The body’s clock is regulated by light: Our circadian rhythms run on a 24-hour cycle regulated by the sun. And when we go doing stupid things like messing with time like we can really control such a thing, we are actually interrupting the natural balance the body has. I say all that to say this: light is your friend.  And dark is too. Practice good sleep hygiene tips by sleeping in a totally dark room. And when you can’t sleep in the middle of the night: please God puhleeeeze, don’t reach for the smartfone. The blue light emissions from it mimic the UV rays from the sun. Only sends the brain the message: It’s time to get up!
3. You will be a bit off for the next few days (perhaps): Your body will naturally begin to wind down and lose energy at the usual time until it regulates. This means you will feel sluggish at work late afternoon; early morning when you rise you are rising an hour earlier.  Keep this in mind.  Auto insurance companies have found a drastic, indeed statistically significant increase in auto accidents the couple of days following DST. DON’T drive while groggy. If you need to pull over, please do. Keep yourself, and everyone else safe.
4. Reset your body’s rhythms naturally: Melatonin is my go to for patients with sleep difficulties or diagnosable insomnia. It is a natural hormone that the brain secretes which regulates sleep-wake cycles. It is safe to take, and can help to speed up the equilibrium-seeking process that your body will go through for the next week.
5. Caffeine is NOT your friend:  Not in this instance.  While drinking your normal cup or 2 of java will help increase alertness and energy levels shortly thereafter, limit caffeine after about 2PM, particularly this week.  This includes dark sodas and chocolates (no one every thinks of these)!
Good sleep hygiene practice is essential. If you feel tired earlier this week (which you will), pop a melatonin, sleep earlier, limit caffeine after mid-day, and most importantly start winding down an hour before bedtime.  A little mindfulness meditation 30 minutes before bed will likely help you sleep better.
I hope these tips help. Until Chronos, or the US Government decides to give us our hour back!
Be well.
The Good Dr. Nik
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Nicole M. Alford, Ph.D. (aka The Good Dr. Nik) is a DC-area Clinical Psychologist, prolific blogger, speaker and media commentator. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @theGoodDrNik and learn about her services at http://www.TheGoodDrNik.com

Surviving the Trump Card: When you Hate The Playa AND The Game, What Do You Do?

The Presidential election results of 2016 left millions of Americans reeling; spiraling uncontrollably in an emotional vortex. They caught us by surprise and left us stunned and dazed and confused. The results left us wondering. Wondering what will become of us financially, medically, and socially. Wondering if families and whole communities will be deported. Wondering if the spate of violence enacted against Black men, women, and children will increase exponentially. Wondering if the anti-Muslim sentiments, swastikas and defaming of our places of worship will intensify. Wondering if our good government jobs that our mamas told us to get and retire from will remain in place so that we can continue to work and retire. For we women, wondering if our bodies would become controlled by the proverbial body snatchers. And for most, wondering if there will be a world at the end of all of this.

What to do with all this uncertainty?  What do you do when you see decisions being made that to even the most politically unsavvy of us makes utterly no sense? When billionaire cabinet picks are so far removed from the reality of the struggles of regular folk that they can’t possibly have the average American’s best interests at heart? When you believed, to borrow from the Material Girl’s very memorable Women’s March on Washington Speech, “that good would win over evil,” but evil seemed to triumph over good? When you hate the playa for so deftly playing the trump card and then winning the game?  What do you do? My clinical thoughts to help you maintain peace and presence of mind, include taking a backward glance to fuel you forward. Here we go!

  1. Exhale: (also known as Woosah or simply…Breathe):  I get it. It takes a minute to get your breath back when you get the wind knocked out of you. And that is exactly what happened on election night. But like a football player that is dazed from a hit, we’ve got to shake it off.  We’ve got to get up, dust the dirt and soot of disappointment off of us, and we’ve got to breathe. Breathing steadies us. It grounds us. It calms us. And anxiety and calm cannot exist in the same body at the same time. Breathing allows oxygen and freshness of life and new energy to fill our bodies and invigorate our minds.  And it prepares us to GO!
  2. Quit Belly-aching! I borrow this phrase from the late, great Elliott Cates; my granddaddy. There is a time and place for everything under the sun. But kvetching, complaining, and whining will not change the reality of the situation. Rather, it keeps the whiner in a perpetual state of negativity. It keeps one stagnant, and wastes energy that could be better used on problem solving and progress. To make it plain, with respect to the presidential situation; it is what it is. And when we know what things are, we can deal with them as they are.
  3. See the end from the beginning (Stephen Covey): What is the end game in all of this? How do we want things to look in 4 years? When we know these answers, we can plot out a course of action and work towards the end goal. Change is not only hard, but it is even harder when attempted alone. There is strength in numbers. And fortunately for us, we are a collective people who have big numbers. We must look at our strengths and capitalize upon them. We must take our collective anger and channel it into collective action. For example, the Black community has a buying power upwards of 1.2 trillion dollars per annum. How can we leverage this? Do we just spend as usual? Or do we prepare ourselves financially for an unknown situation. Do we prepare to fund a movement? Further to my point, we have a significant collective voting power — ask Former President Barack Obama. For too long we’ve felt that the Republicans just ignore our interests and discount our votes, and the Dems take our vote for granted. This means holding BOTH parties accountable for action.
  4. Take responsibility: I’m not into the blame game. It’s counterproductive.  But I am into taking lessons learned from a thing. Simply, in order to ensure success moving forward, you’ve got to know where you went wrong. We’ve got to do a debrief of what the heck happened on November 8th so we can make sure history NEVER repeats itself in that manner again. We sat out. We thought that just one less vote wouldn’t matter. We thought for sure the best candidate would win. There are precious lessons here for all of us if we simply look. Here’s the deal: this happened on our watch. On the watch of all of us. So I ask…what could you have done differently? And better yet, what will you do differently next election?
  5. Educate Yo’self: The history of the Black vote must change. No longer must we be uninformed voters, and no longer must we leave the politics and governing — even at the community level — to others and then complain when decisions are made that don’t reflect our reality or wishes. Like Sheryl Sandberg advises in her book Lean In, we must have a seat at the table. When you have a seat at the table, you get to speak and be heard by the others seated at the table. At The table is where the power brokers are. That’s where the decisions are made.  At the table. We must be more than marchers. We must be more than yellers and screamers and protesters only when some event occurs that leaves us feeling violated. We MUST understand the game. And we must know how to play it. And when we’ve got that down, then and only then must we engage.

As it says in the good book, one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. While I agree that four years is quite some time, I also know that it is enough time. It is enough time to roll up our sleeves, get involved, and get a winning plan. And these next four years will pass as slowly or as quickly as we want. It’s all up to us.

Be well,

The Good Dr. Nik

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Dr. Nik is a Washington, DC-area based clinical psychologist, writer and prolific blogger, speaker, healer, and compassionate activist. Follow her blog by clicking the link above, and follow her @TheGoodDrNik on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Learn more at http://www.TheGoodDrNik.com

 

ELECTION RESULTS 2016: HOW TO EFFECTIVELY COPE WITH THE WOUNDING WILL OF THE PEOPLE

For so many minorities and those who have always perceived themselves to be on the fringes of American society, the results of the 2016 Presidential election is a big and bitter pill to swallow.  For the vast majority of people of varying colors, those living proudly under the rainbowed flag, and we women who were all ‘with Her,’ it feels like a mortal wound akin to a stake in the heart. For what we have always known about America, what we have sensed and felt and experienced at work, in school and in the shopping malls has now in our minds been confirmed and made public. The schism is real.  The ‘ism’ is real.  Racism and racial hatred is no longer a covert operation.  It’s pretty much out there for all to see and hear.

Given this, how do we deal with the myriad emotions we are struggling to come to grips with?  The fear, the loathing, the disappointment, shock, the hopelessness?  How do we survive in Trumpland?  We go back to basics, and we remember some simple things that have sustained us in tougher times:

  1. Identity: During a time when we are feeling devalued as a people, like we do not fit in and don’t belong and aren’t wanted, Black people living in America must know and celebrate who we are and from whence we come.  We must celebrate all that is us and is unique to us, and help our children to accept and embrace all of what is our cultural contributions to this nation. A trip to the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, or rather a series of trips, is a wonderful place to begin. It is so important that we set the foundation for our children’s healthy sense of self and self-esteem despite the overt and covert messages to the contrary.
  2. Community: We are a communal people, and we have survived and thrived by sticking together and by having each other’s backs. It’s funny though; seems the more progress we’ve made, the less unity we seem to have. Nevertheless, we need to reflect on our history and get back to basics. Together we enacted great change in this nation. Together we elected the first African American President. Together we have overcome so much, and together we will do it again.  During this difficult time, let’s not isolate or separate but let us remember there is both strength and power in numbers and in unity.  Let’s not simply come together for protests or boycotts (though these can be adaptive ways of dealing with the upset and inequality in our country).  But let’s come together and be proactive. This could be the catalyst to healing some of the internal strife and schisms that exist within.
  3. Conversation: The election results should and hopefully will pave the way for honest conversation; both in this country and in our community. Thoughtful, ope and real conversation about our community, about problems that are seemingly endemic, about the solutions, and about how we will break the cycles of poverty, lack of education, lack of opportunity, and others that continue to plague us.  We gotta be willing to look at the man in the mirror.  Everything aint about the enemy.  Sometimes the enemy is within.
  4. Spirituality: No matter what your spiritual bent, where there is faith in and reliance on God or whatever higher power you subscribe to, there is hope.  This hope is what has gotten us over many a mountain, and it is what we need to cling to now.  As a people, we have clung to this hope when the only thing that could be seen was pure darkness. Out of our faith came an optimism and an unshakeable belief that better would come.  Because of our faith, we knew we would overcome.  And so we did.  And so we will. During these difficult times, lean on your faith. If you don’t have a religious practice or attend a religious service, try attending one as soon as possible. Or try praying, or having a conversation with God or your higher power. Even meditation can be a way of connecting with Spirit. The point is, getting back to the roots of your belief system can be a grounding force and a powerful accelerant for change.
  5. Keep it rolling: We as a people have taken a licking, and kept on ticking.  Its what we do, and a part of who we are archetypically.  While today was a difficult prelude to what might be a new reality, tomorrow will be just another day, and the world will go on. And we will wake up, and we will put on our big girl underwear or panties, and we will keep it moving.  It’s what we do.

I’m learning to appreciate this one thing: in life and business, one should always seek to achieve the win-win situation.  Losing doesn’t have to be an all or none. There is great progress that can be made despite such disappointment, and much good that can come from what is seemingly so bad. Let’s strive for that.  And let’s maintain hope, for hope is ALWAYS here.

Be well,

The Good Dr. Nik

 

Dr. Nicole M. Alford, aka ‘The Good Dr. Nik,’ is a Washington, DC-area based Clinical Psychologist, Life-ologist, blogger, speaker and compassionate activist.  Follow her on Twitter and Facebook @theGoodDrNik and view her website at http://www.TheGoodDrNik.com.

Election Stress Syndrome: I WILL SURVIVE!

I, like all Americans, have reached a saturation point.  A point where I just can’t.  Not anymore. I can’t see their faces.  I can’t utter the name Trump, nor any word that begins with ‘trump,’ like trumpet.  And despite my feelings about him and what he stands for, this is really not about him.  I don’t want to be reminded of anything that vaguely looks or sounds like Hillary Clinton; like Bill or Chelsea.  This has arguably been the ugliest, most contentious, vile, uncivil, unfocused, and damaging election in modern US history.  But that’s not the problem.  Print, video and social medias have inundated us with the rollercoastery 2016 Presidential election for well over the last year and a half.  And we just can’t take anymore.  Many of us are keenly aware of the fact that there is so much at stake.  The future is at stake.  This is an Animal Kingdom fight to the death type of scenario, or so it seems.

So how do we survive what many mental health professionals have dubbed Election Stress Syndrome?  While not a true clinical diagnosis, it describes the cluster of symptoms that many are experiencing as a result of the drama and trauma of the approaching 2016 Presidential vote.  Feelings of worry, stress and fear, difficulty making decisions because of unease about financial markets or job situations, impaired sleep, gastrointestinal issues. All fight or flight parasympathetic responses to the fact that our brains see our futures in jeopardy.  And how about getting into heated debates or full-blown arguments, irritability, anger, or God forbid aggression?  How is one to survive over the next few days with sanity intact?

  1. Limit your exposure to elections news updates:  Turn off or restrict viewing of all stations (this includes CNN, MSNBC, nightly news broadcasts, and oh yeah Fox)!  If your Twitter feed and Facebook timelines are full of political memes and mentions, then you might just have to give them a break until November 9th.  Silence news notifications on your smartphones.
  2. Try not to engage in political discussions: We all know those folks in the office who have those off-putting, uncommon, or maybe just politically divergent views and are loud and boisterous about it, right?  Stay away from them (if need be), and avoid any situation that might steer you into a heated political debate.  You know the old adage — the one we seem to have forgotten: the two topics to NEVER publicly discuss are religion and politics. People’s emotions are running very high.  And as you’ve probably seen, the heat will only get hotter as we near Election Day.
  3. Try mindfulness meditation:  Y’all know this is my cure-all for all things stressful!  The research backs me up on this!  It will quickly and effectively focus your attention from elections drama and shenanigans to yourself (like your breathing, for example), divert your attention and tune your concentration, clear your mind, and reduce anxious feelings.  The app that I like to recommend to patients is Headspace, (Disclaimer: I have no proprietary interest nor receive any compensation from its developers, and am not endorsing this one specifically).  There are many meditation apps available for both IOS and Android. My point is, try one if you are new to mindfulness meditation.  I guarantee you that with some practice, you will see great results and can apply this to other stressful situations in your life.
  4. Relinquish the illusion of control: The underpinning of anxiety is fear.  That is the basis of it.  We fear the unknown. And so we try to tightly control the future. This is an illusion, and really, a form of denial.  I am of the belief that we mere mortals have no control over anything really, save the limited control that we have over ourselves exercised as free will. And so I relinquish the belief that there is anything that can be done or said to influence the outcome of this election, because the outcome has already been written. And for those who share similar beliefs, prayer may be a way to remind yourself that the results of November 8th are well out of our hands. You will find solace, then, in praying for the will of your higher power to be done.
  5. Know that it will all be OK:  Try having a little faith that in the end, things will work out.  History teaches us that no matter what happens on November 8th, and no matter who becomes our next President, we will accept it, roll with it, and move on.  Things will be different, and we know that change isn’t always easy.  And this will be true no matter who wins. But in the end, let hope kick in.  Have faith that things will be OK, and let us learn a very valuable lesson from all of this, lest we find ourselves in this very uncomfortable place again.

Be well,

The Good Dr. Nik

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Dr. Nicole M. Alford, aka ‘The Good Dr. Nik,’ is a Washington, DC-based Clinical Psychologist, Life-ologist, blogger, lecturer and compassionate activist.  Follow her on Twitter and Facebook @theGoodDrNik and view her website at http://www.TheGoodDrNik.com.

Bully Nation: Psychological Implications Of The New Mean

We’ve become a nation of bullies. I’m not sure when it happened, but it did. It’s like I woke up one day and civility and neighborliness and smiling passersby were a thing of the past. People bang and bump into you literally and figuratively with no regard for anything other than themselves and their hustle. Even worse is the fact that nobody can agree to disagree. No one can take an insult and just walk away and let things go. Nowadays, not even kids fight fair (spoiler alert: not condoning fighting here, just making a point)!  We’ve let jealousy, envy, and our inability to directly confront negative situations fester into passive-aggression and what is called in ebonics ‘hateration.’ We have become a nation of haters. And passive-aggressive haters become bullies.

In the days of old, a bully was thought of simply as one who, as a normal course of action, intimidated a weaker individual purely for sport. Just because he or she could. But be clear: bullying, like all behavioral characteristics, has evolved. The tactics have become much more sophisticated and are not always enacted against a weaker, defenseless target. Today’s bullies react out of fear and insecurity, or revenge. Therefore, the goal is not simply to intimidate. No. Today’s bullies set out to malign, impugn, and ultimately destroy the reputations, careers and possibly even the lives of their targets. What more powerful an illustration of the psychological unhealth of a society than when its elected officials, (men and women of supposed character and integrity), behave in manners heretofore only reserved for children? When they behave towards the Commander-in-Chief with daily insolence, irreverence, and threats?  When they incite and spur racial disunity, and hatred? Just today, elder statesman and former POW Sen. John McCain issued a threat from the Republican party to block the appointment of any justice to the US Supreme Court if Secretary Clinton wins the US Presidential election. Need more examples?  Lest you think this is yet another political piece, let me get back on track. I think I’ve made my point here amply.

Bullying behavior has diffused into every segment of society.  And bullying has become the norm. Bullying is up in our schools, with 1 in 4 children reporting having been bullied. Bullying is up in the workplace, with nearly half of all American workers having been directly affected as a victim or a witness. Instances of workplace violence, school shootings, and other acts of severe aggression towards others are much more frequent, and psychological postmortems typically reveal some history of victimization from others. And lastly, dare I say, we are facing the nastiest election in US history with political candidates threatening violence, condoning violence (then offering to pay attorney fees for those arrested), and using lies, warped truths and other subversive tactics against the other.

There is a toll to pay, and the price will be high. The question is, what will you do to reduce the bill?  Tune in to Part II of this series on bullying and,

Be well.

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The Good Dr. Nik

Dr. Nicole M. Alford is a Washington, DC-area based clinical psychologist, Life-ologist, healer, author, and compassionate activist. Follow her @theGoodDrNik on Facebook & Twitter, and at http://www.TheGoodDrNik.com.

And What About Our Children?

This is just a tough piece to write.  It always would’ve been, but seems even more so now after seeing the tear-filled, emotional pleas of a 9 year-old little girl who is saying, (apparently to an audience of mostly white members of the Charlotte City Council), that “we have rights too.”  For even the most stoic of us, witnessing this broke us down.

Charlotte resident Zianna Oliphant is obviously quite moved, quite affected, and quite possibly even traumatized by the events that she has experienced.  Her city in turmoil, she feels the anger, rage and fear of those adults around her. And so I am reminded, as should we all, that in the midst of all of this chaos are our children —  and they too are affected. Children take their cues from we adults, and many of us are not coping well with this spate of police violence enacted on our Black men and women. We are angry, saddened, anxious, worried — all normal emotions given this rather abnormal situation.  Quite frankly, many of us adults are having a hard time trying to make sense of it all; to understand the utter paradox of being Black in America and feeling like you have a target on your back during the Presidency of the first-ever African American elected to the highest office in the land. The irony of witnessing history having been made in that way, while simultaneously witnessing the emergence of racial hatred and disrespect in a way that is reminiscent of the Jim Crow days of old. So if its true that children take their cues from us, the question remains, what about them? What about our children?

  1. You must begin the conversation: The first thing to know is that there must be some type of conversation with your children. These events cannot go left unprocessed. And this is a teachable moment. The ‘how to begin’ and ‘what to say’ will be determined by a few key factors: first, where you as the parent or caregiver are emotionally given these events.  Gauge your own emotional state and coping.  It might not be quite the right time to engage your child in a conversation about the police-on-Black violence in our communities. Wait until you can talk calmly and rationally. Second, it will depend on your child’s or children’s ages and developmental maturation. It will also depend on how they are taking the events; how much exposure they have had to the media and to these stories, and what their response has been. Has there been behavioral acting out that heretofore did not exist? Bedwetting, suddenly feeling ill or sick with no apparent cause, wanting to miss school or not wanting to go outside, nightmares, acting fearful, anger or irritability.  All of these behaviors, and others, might be a hint that your child is having some difficulty understanding these events, and might need some assistance.
  2. Children take their cues from us: Like coping with any negative event in a child’s life, such as the death of a loved one, how they understand and cope is largely a learned phenomenon. Children learn by watching and modeling what they see in their environment. So, how are the adults dealing with this?  What are they saying and doing?  Is there anger, rage, fear or uncertainty? I’m not making any value judgments about any of those reactions — again, they are all very normal and indeed, expected given the gravity of this situation.  My point here is only to illustrate that children will ‘be what they see,’ and they will ‘do what they view.’
  3. Children need reassurance: When the adults are mucked up, uncertain, and can offer no assurance that things will be okay, the children are left in a place of great anxiety. Children need only a few things, but during times of chaos one of the really important things is a sense of stability and a sense that things will be okay.  To this end, we adults must consistently deliver this message, both in word and behavior, to our children. We must not try to sugar coat of hide the truth of what is happening. The message can be that yes, this is a difficult situation, but we have faced difficult situations before and like then, we will get through this tough time and emerge better from it.
  4. Dealing with police: What Now? So what say we then, to our children about this apparent paradox?  Again, this is very age and very gender dependent. The conversation with a 10 year-old girl will be vastly different than that with a 13 year-old African American male. For starters, we’ve always taught our children to enlist the help of a police officer, and in fact to seek one out in times of trouble. That they shouldn’t trust a stranger no matter how nice he or she seems, but that they can always trust an officer in uniform. Because this paradox (of the heroes hurting the people they are supposed to protect and save), is so illogical and nonsensical that we must help navigate their minds and behavior.
    • For ALL children, but especially younger ones, the message must be consistent from both parents/caregivers. Next, the message must deliver reassurance — remember that this is what children need above all else, to feel safe in this situation.  Third, the message should deliver hope and optimism.  And last, rely on the teachings you’ve instilled in your children to date. Perhaps a message combining all of these points sounds like this: “I’ve always taught you that there are good people and bad people in the world, but many many more good people. The same is true for police. There are good ones, and bad ones. But so many more good ones. They are not all bad.” For younger children, (and depending on their level of maturity), this should be just a part of the message. We absolutely cannot instill a sense of fear, and distrust in our children. But we must be realistic and honest.  And the truth of the matter is, not all police are bad.
    • Dealing with the police as an African-American male teen: After much thought and counsel with those who are parents of young Black males, I’ve come to this: the goal for our child is to get home, and to get home alive and unscathed. If one is stopped or pulled over, even if it seems that there is no justifiable cause, now is not the time to assert one’s disdain for police or to behave disrespectfully towards authority. The goal is to make it home, unscathed. Everything else can be dealt with at an appropriate time in an appropriate manner – legal or civil action. But now is not that time.  Unfortunately, unconscious bias and stereotypes criminalizing Black male teens have caused those they interact with to approach them with fear, or at the very least, trepidation.  And, police officers are certainly not immune to societal perceptions and their influences. The point is simply this: there is a time and a place for everything. The time to jump big and bad and mouth off  is not at the point of being questioned by armed police officers.
  5. Our children can get involved too (And we should encourage it)!  All of that nervous energy and angst that many kids might feel can be channeled and used positively.  Zianna Oliphant’s impassioned speech is only one example. Other examples have been seen nationwide: children giving bottled water to urban officers during the high heat of the summer — a gesture of good will that goes a long way towards healing damaged community relations.  Others have been giving out free hugs to police officers.  Encourage junior activism in safe and proactive ways. Perhaps children can use school as a forum to begin conversations with classmates. Hopefully, schools and educational settings can use this, and past lessons from history as a springboard to engaging in discussions about civil unrest and protesting and the positives that can come from it (such as those that spurred the Revolutionary War, the Civil Rights Movement, etc.). If the schools don’t, then certainly caregivers can.  Talk to your children about ways they can become involved int he conversation and the movement towards change.  Again, this is a huge teaching moment that should be capitalized upon.

So here we are (again). It is indeed sad that these conversations must be had.  Even sadder to have to write this article.  But it is what it is. How we handle this situation is so very important, and will have long-lasting implications.  Let’s handle it well.  And if we cannot, let us be responsible and seek help from those who can. If you or someone you know is not coping well with these recent events, or whose children might not be handling this well, please reach out to your pediatricians for mental health referrals, to your insurance company’s website for local mental health providers, to your church, or your state psychological association for further resources.

Be well.

The Good Dr. Nik

 

Dr. Nik is a clinical psychologist, Life-ologist, author, and speaker practicing in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.  Follow her @theGoodDrNik on Twitter and @theGoodDrNik on Facebook, and read more of her articles at http://www.Harvestmagazine.net

 

Featured picture reprinted from Washington Post.

 

 

THE TRAUMA IS REAL! So How Do We Heal?

Sigh.  Here we go again. Writing yet another article about police-on-Black violence in America. I know there are some that don’t get it; that in and of itself is part of the trauma and injury.  This type of existence does something to the psyche. It does something to be Black and see story after story of law abiding, unarmed, non-threatening Black man, woman, or child be shot dead for reason unknown. Better yet, for no reason. It does something. It does something for a mother to fear when her child leaves the house. It does something for a woman to fear being pulled over — a ticket being the least of her worries. It causes a pain, a wound, a psychological injury that is trauma. And the trauma is real.

Psychological trauma, like every good trauma, manifests at some point. At some point it just becomes too much to contain for even the most well-adapted individual. We saw that with our own Sheryl Underwood as she went from subdued, controlled anger to an ire-filled, escalating outrage that ended in tears. I applaud her for allowing herself to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is the beginning of healing. Admittedly, for the vulnerable to be vulnerable is indeed, paradoxical. So what do we as a community do to heal?

  1. We must tune out: The continuous stream of information via visual, social, audio and print media allows for constant exposure to the traumatic incident. This is countertherapeutic and indeed, only serves to deepen the intensity of the trauma and prolong healing. Tune out from media imagery and updates and allow your brain the opportunity to process and make sense of all of this.
  2. We must come together: We are a communal people, and part of the healing experience must include leveraging this cultural strength. Attend an organized community gathering at a local church, university, precinct, etc. where there are mental health professionals who can normalize the emotions (and symptoms) that many are feeling, impart information on how to cope, how to talk to our children, and to help ameliorate this suffering. We need these gatherings to be safe places; not forums for venting (though venting can be cathartic and healing in the right environment). Trained clinicians can help to set parameters and boundaries during these small, community events.
  3. We must recognize the real enemy:  We must recognize the real enemy, and place blame on the real perpetrator. The real enemy is the racism, bigotry, and hatred that has been brewing for quite some time.  That is the real enemy.  That must be the target. We must not blame police, or target them as the easy objects for which to displace our anger.  And those of us who are community leaders must communicate this message loudly and clearly.
  4. We must deal with the emotions: There will be many emotions that have, and will continue to come up. These are indicators of the individual and collective trauma that many have.  Anger, sadness, hopelessness, apathy, rage, depression — these are all normal feelings to have. But they must be dealt with. As with any uncomfortable (or frankly painful) feeling, the tendency is to want to avoid it.  Avoidance will not be your friend in this context.  Resist the urge to numb your feelings using substances, sleep, sex, or anything else that can be used to distract yourself from your thoughts and feelings.  In fact, if you feel yourself running to a numbing agent, let that be a hint that you might really need assistance with your feelings, or possibly with an addiction. Deal with the emotions. And deal with them adaptively.
  5. We must talk. Talk is therapy: Allowing yourself to talk openly with your trusted person, your group(s) of friends, your confidantes, and/or your therapist can be cathartic. Given the recurrence of this type of event in recent times, I really do recommend therapy — especially for those who are the most emotionally vulnerable or susceptible to trauma. This category includes those with histories of trauma (veterans, abuse survivors, etc.), those experiencing prolonged sleep difficulties and/or nightmares, those exhibiting behavioral acting out, and/or those whose feelings are just overwhelming. Many communities, churches, and perhaps even mental health centers are offering therapy, and many private practitioners offer reduced rate or pro bono services. Research these in your locality, and you can also look for therapists on your health insurer’s web site. Last, you can contact your state psychological association via its web site for referrals.
  6. We must do something:  My mantra has always been that playing a very active role and busying oneself with positive, philanthropic activity is in and of itself, healing. Volunteer at the community center; coach a team, be a mentor. Pour into others — especially our children who so need us now. Keep them busy, engaged, and safely off of the streets. Get involved in your community. It will be healing both for you and for them.
  7. And what about the children?  Our children, with their undeveloped minds and inability to comprehend such complexities, are likely dealing with fears that we can only fathom. After all, they see that we have no answer to this problem.  And they may feel that there are instances when not even we can keep them safe. (And to a child, when Mommy and Daddy cannot guarantee your safety, you’re in BIG TROUBLE)!  Our children have seen many examples where the same police whom we have taught them to go to in times of trouble, are the very ones who have harmed innocent citizens. How can we help our kids?   Of course much of this really does depend upon their ages and maturity levels.  You as parents and caregivers will have to gauge how much your children can handle.  So take your cues from your children, first by listening to them.  Keep an open ear for what they say spontaneously, and respond accordingly. You want to balance truth and reality with safety, reassurance and offering a solution: our kids always look to us for that. Next, look for behavioral changes in them.  Acting out, irritability, bedwetting, nightmares, academic issues — these (and other previously unseen behaviors), could all be manifestations of acute trauma and fear. Talk openly with them about how complicated this situation is even for grown-ups, and that you don’t have all the answers. Importantly, reassure them that not all police officers are bad. In fact, assure them that most are not. And that violence is not the answer, nor is looting, racial hatred or mistreatment. When we act in those ways, we only perpetuate the problem. Use this as a teaching moment, and model the responses you give your children for your children. Last, don’t feel like you need to have all of the answers.  There are many resources and professionals out there to assist you.

These are difficult times, and this is a most difficult situation. No one has all the answers. If we did, we wouldn’t be in this wretched place. All we can do is to try to cope the best we can, reach out for help when we cannot, and look out for those that we know are struggling. It is my hope that I will never again have to write this type of article. The logical me says, ‘fat chance,’ and cautions me to keep the laptop charged. But I am an eternal optimist.  In the end, I will always choose hope.  For there is always hope.

Be well,

The Good Dr. Nik

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Dr. Nik is a clinical psychologist, Life-ologist, author, and speaker practicing in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.  Follow her @theGoodDrNik on Twitter and Facebook and read more of her articles at http://www.Harvestmagazine.net

*This article was re-Tweeted by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans #AfAmEducation on 23 September 2016.

WHY WE LOOOOOVE THE OLYMPICS!

Last Friday night was well worth the four year wait!  At exactly 8PM, with a glass of sangria in hand I tuned in, (in HD of course), to watch the Opening Ceremonies of the XXXI Olympiad (also known as Rio 2016).  Forget the fact that critics were expecting the nation with the second highest number of Africans living outside of the Continent to flail, (and fail miserably might I add) [but that’s a subject for another blog].  No no, my intentions for watching were much more noble.  My observance of this quadrennial milestone is steeped in tradition; just as the games themselves are steeped in Greek history and tradition. I watch for the sheer fanfare; the pomp and circumstance; the parade of nations and the opportunity to see the best athletes from countries I have no idea where to pinpoint on a globe. I wanted to see the best of the best sportsmen and sportswomen in the world walk proudly next to their countrymen. And of course, I needed to critique the official uniforms; because hey, that’s just an important part of the Olympic experience!

All of this pageantry and excitement got me to thinking: just why do we love the Olympics so much anyway?  Is it really just all about which country wins the most medals?

After much thought I’ve come up with three key reasons why pretty much all citizens of the world are fascinated with these games:

  1. UNITY:  These games remind us that we share a certain commonality: humanity.  The Olympics remind us that we are more alike than different, and that it is the human condition that binds us. In a time in the world’s history when there is such strife, schism and separation; such darkness and despair, and when hatred for those born outside of our borders seems so conventional — during these times we do what humans under stress and strain do.  We regress to that which is instinctual, and that which is familiar.  It is an attribute of humans to be relational, and to move towards that which is similar to us in a relational way.  And they, even though they may live on the other side of the world or just a few hundred miles north of us, even though they may speak in a different tongue and dress in different garb, they are us.  And these two weeks have an eery way of allowing us to forget the differences just for a while. We become, just for what seems like a long moment, acutely aware of the fact that underneath it all, they are us.  These games remind us that we are one.  For two weeks, under that flame, within those concentric rings, we are one world united.
  2. HOPE:  In these games we see not only the best of the best, but we see the best that has somehow emerged out of the worst of circumstances.  We see athletes who have overcome hardships that will take out even the strongest of men. We hear the commentators narrate the carefully edited segments of those born palsied, with parents having been told the child would never walk unassisted.  At the end of the reel, and at the end of the Games, that child goes on to win gold.  We hear tales of people who just a few years prior lost their entire families to war.  Who had no parents, no food or shelter. No state of the art training facility.  And during these Games, they go on to win gold.  We become familiar with the story of a young Black girl whose mother was addicted to drugs, and whose father abandoned her, overcome her circumstances and go on to be called one of the best gymnasts ever. It does something to the human spirit to hear those stories, and to see men and women push their minds and bodies despite the pain and in spite of the pain — to lengths that to us are unimaginable. These games give us hope in something good. They give us childlike faith. These games let us believe again, like children, in superheroes.  As we watch mere mortals become immortalized through their superhuman achievements, we are reminded that miracles really do happen.
  3. TRANSCENDENCE OF TIME:  These games, like greatness, transcend time.  Beginning in 776 BC and lasting for centuries, outlawed for 1503 years and resurfacing again — the Olympiad has clearly weathered the passage and test of time.  The Olympics — complete with the thrilling victories, and the agonizing defeats — they remain etched in both our collective and individual memories.  For the three year-old girl who in 1972 watched Mark Spitz swim his way to Olympics history on our big screen Zenith floor model color TV — that event has become crystallized in the annals of my mind.  For me these games are more than just an every four year event; they have become a way to mark my life. Just as I vividly remember that cold day in 1994 when Tonya whacked Nancy in the knee, I remember when Nancy went on to win gold three weeks later. I remember that opening ceremony in Lillehammer where a skier skied off of the slope, Olympic torch in hand, to light the Olympic flame. I remember when Muhammed Ali lit the Olympic torch in Los Angeles.  And by God we ALL remember Lake Placid, NY in 1980. The day the cold war became even colder following the thrilling US win over the Russian ice hockey team. We remember the events of these Olympiads just like they happened yesterday. We remember them despite the many years that have passed.  And we will continue to remember them.

There is magic in these games. There’s goodness in the unity they bring. There’s specialness in the way they make a young boy eat his Wheaties. There’s magic in anything that can lead anyone to rise above her natural limits into a realm where just for a moment, she is no longer human, but superhuman.  There’s virtue in anything that can do that.

Al Michaels once screamed into a microphone a long long time ago, “Do you believe in miracles?”   All I can say to that is Mr. Michaels, we see them every four years.

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Dr. Nik is a Clinical Psychologist, Life-ologist, author, educator and compassion activist in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.  Follow her on Twitter @theGoodDrNik.

 

WHY NOT VOTING IS NOT THE ANSWER (Or How Bush Won the 2000 Election: The 7th Grade Breakdown)

I’ve been watching. Its always good to stop, look, and listen.  And as a psychologist, I am of course a trained observer of human behavior, and indeed a very good listener!  But as I’ve been …

Source: WHY NOT VOTING IS NOT THE ANSWER (Or How Bush Won the 2000 Election: The 7th Grade Breakdown)