Archive for July 2019

Creativity and self-care

July 30, 2019

Earlier this month, I took a day off from work to attend the “Wellness and Self-Care Conference,” sponsored by Mountain-Pacific Quality Health and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Hawaii. We spent the day learning about why we react to stress the way we do, as well as how we can re-train our brains to change the way we think about negative experiences.

One of the ways that I relax and release stress is through art and spending time at a ceramics studio. So I was really excited to attend the breakout session on “Culture and Creative Care.” Each of the panelists shared their personal stories of trauma, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and depression, and how creative practices aid in their recovery.

Photography. A woman dancing on the beach during sunset, body arched, arms outstretched. A powerful woman poised on the rocky shoreline, archery bow drawn, with the ocean spray exploding behind her. These were some of the photos shared by Anisa Wiseman, NAMI Hawaii Program Manager, as she talked about how photography helped her to retell old stories in new ways. She said that photography can make you aware of how your mental state affects your entire body and can help you live in the moment.

Passing out blank pieces of paper, Anisa led us through a journaling activity. She asked a series of reflection questions, like What makes you mad? How does your body respond? What makes you nervous, anxious, or stressed? How do you respond? How can you calm yourself down? We took a few minutes to write down our thoughts.

Art. A bold painting of a blue phoenix rising from the flames on the side of a building. A winged woman with arms outstretched, and hands reaching up to her from the ocean. Art therapist Kate Madigan clicked quickly through her vivid and sometimes dark paintings. She joked that she changed jobs because she ran out of spaces to paint. “Art may not have the answers,” she said, “but it asks the right questions about who we are, what is important to us.”

We had a chance to express our own creativity. Kate asked us to write a word or draw an image on natural wood discs. She passed out colored markers and some suggestions for words and fonts. We had a few minutes to create something, and then we returned it to the container. When we left, we choose a disc that was created by someone else. I gave “joy” and I received a reminder to “seek and you will find.”

Music. Music therapist Mayu Langford spoke somberly about childhood abuse. Expressing herself through music helps her to be in the moment, instead of past suffering. Music made her pain tangible, so that she could start to heal.

At the end of her talk, Mayu gathered us into a circle. We clapped, our right hand to our left hand, and then our right hand to the left hand of the person standing next to us. We sang “Lean on Me” together. It was a beautiful way to remind us that we are not alone and there are people who want to help us.

After an afternoon of creativity, I felt rejuvenated. Anisa, Kate, and Mayu courageously shared their stories and inspired us with their creativity.

How do you express your creativity? What rejuvenates you when you feel anxious or stressed?

Opiates and mental illness

July 23, 2019

It’s common knowledge that heroine and morphine are addictive. But did you know that fentanyl, a synthetic opiate, is 50 times more powerful than heroine and 100 times more powerful than morphine?

Last week, I attended a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Hawaii Members and Friends Meeting in Honolulu with guest speaker and NAMI Hawaii co-founder Dr. Denis Mee-Lee.

“NAMI is where my heart is greatest,” Denis said before he launched into an overview of opiate use in the United States, links between opiate use and mental illness, and treatment options for opiate dependence.

The information he presented was sobering. He explained how anyone could easily slide into addiction, and reminded us that there are things we can do for loved ones with an opiate dependence.

Opiates, like oxycotin, vicodin, codine, morphine, and fentanyl, are linked with mental illness. In 2011, 70,000 people died of a drug overdose, and 67% of those overdoses involved opiates. After just one month of taking opiates, 10% of patients can develop depression. Even more distressing, patients who abuse opiates and benzodiazepines have higher rates of suicidal thoughts.

Opiate addiction is a disorder. Like mental illness, there are overlapping factors, such as exposure to stress and/or trauma, underlying brain deficits, genetic predisposition, and more.

Medication is just one treatment option. Today, there is pressure on doctors and psychiatrists not to prescribe opiates. Treatment plans for individuals with opiate dependence and a mental illness include Peer group support, intensive counseling (cognitive behavioral therapy), family education and counseling, and follow-up support.

Maintenance, not a cure. For individuals with chronic pain, there may not be a cure. But we can help them maintain their quality of life and often “reduce the sensation of pain” by creating individual assessments and addressing the underlying conditions related to their experience of pain.

Share your story. Denis stressed that one way to increase support for government legislation and funding is to share your story of opiate use or living with someone with opiate addition. To legislators, real people sharing their real experiences is more effective than statistics.

If you live with chronic pain, what treatment plans work for you? If you know someone with an opiate dependence, do you feel you have the resources to help them?

Wellness and self-care

July 16, 2019

We all lead such busy lives, pulled in so many different directions. Many of us are struggling with work, children, finances, care-giving, and health issues. We feel overwhelmed, but often we are the last person that we take care of.

Last week, I took a day off from work to attend the “Wellness and Self-Care Conference,” sponsored by Mountain-Pacific Quality Health and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Hawaii. Thank you for a wonderful event with engaging speakers!

We spent the day learning about why we react to stress the way we do, as well as how we can re-train our brains to change the way we think about negative experiences.

As Kumi Macdonald, Executive Director of NAMI Hawaii, said: “We need to take care of ourselves on a daily basis.”

Here are three things I learned about coping with stress and avoiding burnout:

1. Positives are in abundance. Keynote speaker Paul Hutman, PhD, explains that though we tend to the focus on the negative, we can build a positivity bias. Whenever we find ourselves in a joyful or beautiful moment, we need to take time to absorb the feeling and steep ourselves in the experience. “Use the power of attention to stay in the positive moment,” he says.

There are many means of self-care, starting with the basics – air, water, food, clothing, shelter, diet, fitness, and quality sleep. Other practices include being present, setting an intention, shifting our perspective, meditation, and yoga. Like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel, choose the self-care that works for you. Then do the self-care action for itself, not its outcome.

  • When we feel worry, tension, or helplessness, we should engage in self-care practices that make us feel a sense of safety, relaxation, and strength.
  • When we feel sadness, frustration, or boredom, we should engage in self-care practices that make us feel gratitude, pleasure, and accomplishment.
  • When we feel left out, envious, inadequate, or resentment, we should engage in self-care practices that make us feel a sense of belonging, self-compassion, friendship, and kindness.

2. Mental well-being is always with us. We have the power to change how we feel, declares mental health counselor Christine J. Heath. We make ourselves stressed or unhappy, not the outside world. To change our emotions, we need to change our thoughts.

3. Make things right through forgiveness, repentance, and letting go. When we approach stress and broken relationships with ho‘oponopono, we can identify internal causes of stress and reduce them, teaches Kumu Ramsay Taum. Accept that there can be multiple truths and that we can be correct without someone else being wrong. Examine the deep-rooted problem and what is going on inside ourselves that is causing us to experience stress. Then release our negativity by focusing on preferred conditions.

The question is not, Why are you causing me stress? The real question is, What is it about me that causes me to stress about you?

How do you cope with stress and burnout? Do different self-care practices work for different kinds of stress? What is causing you the most stress right now, and what is one self-care practice you can do?

Looking back on seventh grade

July 9, 2019

Another school year has passed by so quickly, and my son finished seventh grade. In this second year of middle school, he settled into the new schedule and new commute, more familiar with the campus, his classmates, and the teachers.

In many ways, seventh grade was harder on us as parents than on the students.

Here are some reflections about our seventh grade experience:

Learning a new language (and that no one is good at everything). Seventh grade students were required to take a foreign language, and my son signed up for Mandarin. We thought it would be practical. We knew it would be challenging. But we didn’t take into account how fast-paced the class would be or consider that he doesn’t have family or friends to practice with. He spent many late nights and early mornings trying to keep up.

Letting him rebound from failure. It was hard for me to a step back and not check his homework planner or review every assignment unless he asked for my help (and he didn’t ask often). As much as possible, I tried to let him succeed or fail on his own. He needs chances to learn that there’s nothing wrong with failure, as long as you learn from it.

Asserting his independence. More than ever, he is asserting his independence – deciding how he spends his time, honing his debate skills (or arguing stubbornly, depending on your point of view), and stating his opinions, often forcefully. Sometimes he is so focused on preparing his next argument that he doesn’t listen to other people’s points of view.

Technology helps and hinders. Most of his assignments were available online. This meant he could view the project rubrics at any time, edit assignments at school or home, and keep his work organized and backed up. There are also technology blips, like times when he submitted an assignment and his teacher did not receive it, or times when he’s lost work because he’s spoiled by auto-save.

Many teachers. As a parent, it’s very hard to have a personal relationship with his teachers because there are different teachers for each subject. If things go well, we might meet them once at the “open house” and get to know them through email updates, but there are no parent-teacher conferences. We couldn’t pop into his classroom after school to say “hi,” and I missed that.

In his own words. “I’ve developed as a student to be more aware of the real world. This includes global issues and keeping up to date in current events.” When asked what someone else would say about him, he responded, “He has grown as a student in terms of writing, presenting, etc. Yet, he still has issues with negative feelings and seeing the light in situations.”

What do you remember most about seventh grade? Do you think it’s easier or harder to be a middle school student today?

“Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss

July 6, 2019

I never thought about negotiation as both a form of empathy and a martial art, but that’s exactly how former FBI hostage negotiator and founder of the consulting firm, The Black Swan Group, Chris Voss views negotiation.

In his book, “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It” (2016), written with Tahl Raz, journalist and management coach, Voss reveals practical tips for negotiating in an emotional crisis. The key to successful negotiations, he believes, is that you should never settle. Always pursue your ultimate goal.

Voss describes how to use “tactical empathy,” or “listening as a martial art, balancing the subtle behaviors of emotional intelligence and the assertive skills of influence, to gain access to the mind of another person.” Tactical empathy is especially crucial in a “black swan” situation, “an event or piece of knowledge outside our regular expectations and that cannot be predicted.”

Practical, honest, and filled with personal experiences from real life-and-death situations, “Never Split the Difference” makes our personal negotiations seem less critical. The mindset for successful negotiations is deceptively simple: 1) treat people the way they need to be treated, not the way you want to be treated; 2) keep calm and rational; and 3) ask questions that give your counterpart the burden of finding a solution.

Here are Voss’ 8 strategies for a successful negotiation:

  1. Be a mirror. Identify what your counterparts actually need and get them feeling safe enough to talk about what they want. Mirror them by repeating the last few words that they say, showing that you are listening.
  2. Label emotions. Acknowledge your counterpart’s emotions and show you identify with how they feel. How to do this: Say things like “It looks like you want to/don’t want to…” or “It seems like…” or “It sounds like…”
  3. Do an accusation audit. Acknowledge your counterpart’s fears. Before the negotiation or meeting, brainstorm all of the things they might say, and write out your responses. For example, “It seems like you want/don’t want…”
  4. See “No” as the start of a negotiation. If you give your counterpart the chance to say “no,” they will feel more in control and less anxious. Start with “no-oriented setup questions, like “Do you want to cancel the project?” Then ask “What would you need to make it work?”
  5. Get to “That’s Right.” The turning point is when your counterpart agrees with you, without the feeling of having given in. If they say, “You’re right,” then you still have work to do.
  6. Don’t compromise. No deal is better than a bad deal. Set yourself up as an honest negotiator, and remember that “fairness” is an emotional concept. How to do this: “I want you to feel like you are being treated fairly at all times. Please stop me at any time if you feel I am being unfair, and we’ll address it.”
  7. Ask calibrated questions that invite solutions. Don’t ask “Why?” Instead, ask “How can we solve this problem?”
  8. Involve all decision-makers. Make sure that everyone supports the negotiation, not just the people at the negotiating table. Ask questions like “How does this affect everybody else?” or “How on-board is the rest of your team?”

One of the best tips I learned is how to talk to someone on the phone. Voss suggests asking, “Is now a bad time to talk?” so that the conversation can start with “no.” When you ask,“Do you have a few minutes to talk?” it’s much harder to get that first “yes.”

Do you consider yourself a good negotiator? What negotiations stand out for you? What are your best negotiating tips or stories?