Good story about NHL player Tyler Motte and his experiences with anxiety and depression
Uncertainty is a fact of life. Given the current state of things, surging uncertainty is causing a lot of personal distress in many forms and varying degrees. We have the boredom fueling uncertainty of how to fill one's time to the fear fueling uncertainty of being out of work.
In the introduction of Gregory Hays translation of Marcus Aurelius' "Meditations" it is said, "Not objects and events but the interpretations we place on them that are the problem therefore to exercise stringent control over the faculty of perception, with the aim of protecting our mind from error." I came across another description of this concept from the book "The Coddling of the American Mind" in the Buddha quote "Nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded."
A common and problematic way that the human mind responds to uncertainty is to create and dwell on automatic catastrophic predictions. A perfect example of this is why there we have shortages of hand sanitizer and toilet paper. People allowed their fear-based predictions to override rational thinking. The thought that we are on the verge of a Mad-Max like post apocalyptic existence caused people to imagine being trapped in their home and therefore we MUST have a year's worth of toilet paper. There was nothing going on two weeks ago that indicated there was a toilet paper shortage, this was the event. But it was our interpretation or judgment of the event that caused the fear, resulting in panic purchasing. I suggest everyone to work on the valuable practice of taking some control over their interpretation of life. Would you prefer to interpret the events of the coronavirus with intense fear or mild/moderate concern? I actually think the mild/moderate concern is a good thing. It is causing people to take social distancing seriously which will decrease the impact of this virus. This is an example of how appropriate and reality based worry is helpful. This is why I tell my high school and college-aged clients that their anxiety isn't all bad. Their worry of failing a test can influence them to stay in on a Thursday night to study instead of going to the party. On the flip side this same student must exert control over the same worry so it does not become an overwhelming fear that causes test taking anxiety.
Anxious thinking that is purposely kept in check by grounding them in reality can lead to resiliency and mental strengthening. Courage does not happen in the absence of fear. Courage is the act of persevering despite the presence of fear.
Anxiety that is unhinged/untethered can lead to panic or paranoia which breathes life into worst case scenarios. This is why people are struggling to find toilet paper.
More than anything people need to support and take care of one another, something that is built into our human nature. But in order to take care of those in our family and communities we must first take care of ourselves. Psychological distress hinders one's ability to effectively care for others. Take some time, which we all have an abundance of, to pay attention to anxious thoughts that are not grounded in reality. Then challenge those thoughts and replace them with predictions that are more likely to happen. For my athletes out there compare this down time as the off season. The off season provides ample time for athletes work very hard to get faster, stronger, and fitter for the approaching season. We now have ample time to work very hard to build mental strength, resilience, and psychological coping mechanisms.
We are in the middle of a series of never before experienced events and real uncertainty. We are going to have to care for ourselves and one another in new and creative means because we still need to respect social distancing. We are not out of the woods, YET.
*For a little context, I've been thinking about the concepts in this blog for a few days now. Yesterday morning I came across a Pete Yorn FaceBook post where he played a few acoustic songs from his home to entertain and help people during this challenging time. During this particular post he said he is "becoming better at dealing with uncertainty." Once I heard that, I knew I had to write and post this blog. Below is a song he played yesterday about resiliency and effort in the face of negativity. It is called "Try."
We are currently experiencing an unprecedented time of uncertainty? How long will the changes brought on by the Corona Virus last? Will my parents survive? How will this negatively impact personal, community, and national economies? How will this hurt my business and will I be able to pay bills? What if I get it? What if I'm quarantined? Are my kids going to be ok?
As the behavior specialist at the Interboro School District I've seen how this has impacted kids, plus I've given a lot of thought on how this "could impact" kids' future. I specifically chose the words "could impact" and not "will devastate" for a specific reason. Realistically, everyone is being impacted in a variety of negative way. However, how we chose to frame this unknown situation in our mind is going to drive the forthcoming emotions and behaviors. My advice, try not to catastrophize an already tense and peculiar situation. When we catastrophize toilet paper vanishes and medical facilities don't have hand sanitizer. I would like to focus this blog on two specific emotions kids will experience at elevated levels.
Boredom and Frustration
Kids are going to be very bored and frustrated, and you know what, Good. I say good, not that it is going to be easy for parents to handle (as I get frustrated with my daughter's 15th question in 3 minutes despite telling her that I need time to type), I say good because many good things can arise out of frustration and boredom: creativity, insight, learning, perseverance, self-reliance, movement toward independence, finding new interests... As a psychologist, I see the greatest outcome as increased tolerance for unwanted but normal and unavoidable emotions
Kids are not in school and unlike the summertime they do not have camps, vacations, and the pool to preclude boredom. Boredom is inevitable. Additionally, kids are not in the normal setting where learning takes place. Thus parents are shouldering the burden of creating and rolling out unfamiliar academic lessons in an alternate environment that is typically intended for relaxation. Know that your kids are going to fight schoolwork at home much like you would fight a business meeting or conference while on vacation. Also, acknowledge that you as a parent are not responsible for your child's avoidance of boredom. You are not your child's entertainment manager. That is their job. We have gotten too caught up in making sure our kids are perpetually having fun: play dates, parties, sleep overs, Urban Air, organized sports, Betty's Fun Center...
All things unfamiliar and alternate to anyone is likely to result in frustration. Think of the basic definition of frustration: To have an expectation of how things are supposed to go, but it doesn't go according to planned. I encourage everyone, kids and parents alike, to work on being acutely aware of their frustration and work on accepting that very little is going according to planned nowadays. Understanding and accepting the frustration, rather than fighting it tends to make it more psychologically tolerable. Many parents will see their children melt down due to the new, unwanted, and unexpected modification of the living room being transformed into a make-shift classroom. A classroom with just siblings who are now classmates and a parents who are now teachers creates perfect recipe for frustration.
Frustration is a precursor to anger. The last thing a household needs are angry parents and kids fighting one another. This could be the quickest path to two problematic outcomes.
1. Angry parents are more likely to to say "forget it, I give up" which can lead to gatherings with too many people like parties or sleep overs. That anger will cloud good judgment and precipitate hopelessness. Both of which can encourage rash decision-making that goes against the recommendation of social distancing.
2. Angry parents are more likely to throw in the technology towel. Stay vigilant in the fight against the path of least resistance. Win the battle with your kids and assert your authority. Your child's goal is the path of least resistance. Technology offers no resistance to the kids, it is easy. Reading, worksheets, creative projects are all going to be resisted. Video games and IPads are desired by the kids and therefore easier for parents to surrender to. Life is hard, especially now. Stand your ground.
I assure all parents that afterward, you will feel better if you read with your kids, create some art, conduct a math lesson, go on a walk with just your family, or play a non-technology game. You will feel better because of pride. Pride is a common area of focus in sport psychology. Pride is what pushes athletes to suffer in preparation whether it's sprints, lifting, long distance runs, boring drills, missing out on a party, or physically rehabbing from an injury. They want to re-experience the pride of earning a spot on the starting lineup, hitting a game winning shot, or crossing the finish line first. They also want to feel the pride of not giving in to the path of least resistance and pursuing the harder path. Follow the recommended suggestions of social distancing, keep up with your child's academics, and do not give into their boredom and frustration and you will feel proud of maintaining your responsible role within your community and as a parent.
Feel free to provide comments about activities or ideas you have planned or have already used within your home as a resource to others. For example my daughter is going to have us paint using skittles some time this week. We will see how it goes.
I thought this blog, written about a year ago, might help reduce the anxiety that most people are unexpectedly experiencing.
Think of typical scary places. Abandoned factories, dark caves, dilapidated homes, or the woods late at night. Think of being on the threshold of venturing into any of these places. You don’t know what is in these places, but your imagination is likely creating a vision of something terrifying waiting in each of these places. Perhaps a criminal is in the hypothetical factory, an enormous bear is in the cave, some murder from an 80's slasher film is in the rub down home, and a pack of vicious wolves are in the woods. I believe our brain constructs these potential threats as a protective agent to keep us safe. This is an example of how anxiety keeps us safe hence anxiety or fear keeps us out of those environments. Now think about a more common fear of the unknown: a job interview, a presentation, a first day at school/work, a sport try out, an audition, or what the coronavirus might yield. All of these upcoming events contain the unknown, we do not know what is going to happen. But what are you choosing to put into these unknown.
Most of us put a fear-based prediction into the unknown because of 2 automatic mental habits
1. Preparation. “If I imagine the worst of these potential fears, then I feel like I’ve been through it, therefore it won’t feels as bad if it really happens.”
2. We feel overthinking the fear can help us avoid it. “If I ruminate about these bad things happening then I will be better at avoiding them in real life.”
These are common reasons given for putting more fear into the unknown. But essentially you are experiencing prolonged fear, anxiety, or stress prior to the actual stressful event. Take some time to think about what imagined or hypothetical threats you are putting into your unknown? Then try to put something that is less intimidating and probably grounded in reality and see what type of impact this mental approach has on your overall mood.
I often use this brilliantly articulated Amy Cuddy quote to better explain this concept:
"Before we even show up at the doorstep of an opportunity, we are teeming with dread and anxiety, borrowing trouble from a future that hasn't yet unfolded."
*I've had a handful of blogs in draft form for some time and never got around to posting them. So anticipate some information in the foreseeable future.
We were walking home from your school yesterday. An unexpected early snowfall. Authentic joy on your face because a fun walk home lies ahead and not a routine and boring car ride. You quickly followed the steps I create. You said, “I’m following in your footsteps daddy.”
I got to thinking.
Parents provide the footsteps for our children to follow. When kids are young they don’t know where to go. Without a path, without guidance, without direction a child would go the wrong way. They would wander into the woods and get lost. They would chase a ball into the street without looking both ways. They would climb the monkey bars well before they had the strength to hold themselves up. Young kids are often guided by any attractive, shiny distraction. Their impulsive joy-seeking heart leads the way.
When they are adolescents they would follow the footsteps of the wrong crowd which can lead to breaking curfew. They would follow the peers into the woods toward the case of beer. They would stroll to the back of the convenience store head down, staring at the heels of the friend who just bought a pack of cigarettes or a new vape. When they are adolescents they are often guided by their overwhelming desire to fit in and be accepted by their friends. Their insecure, social approval-seeking heart leads the way.
We are walking in the snow, getting closer to home, and you say, “Daddy, take smaller steps so I can follow easier, my steps aren’t big enough.” Initially I comply, my steps shorten and you smile. Then I take big exaggerated steps and you say, “Hey, I can't follow those steps?” I’m making the path for you now. You need a lot of guidance to stay safe and healthy. You need a path to become hard-working, smart, kind, funny… You need a trail to become aware of others and your own thoughts and feelings. I’m going to guide you, but I’m not going to get in your way, I’m not going to prevent you from failing, from feeling pain. Pain and joy, success and failure, disappointment and achievement are things which will allow you to create your own footsteps, create your own path, when you are ready. There will come a time when you pass me in the snow and you will not have my steps to guide you. What you will have is your own compass: discipline, kindness, intelligence, awareness, vision… And all of those bumps, scrapes, bruises, heartbreaks, frustrations, mistakes, failures, and moments of insecurity have created your resiliency, your grit, your ability to deal with life. When you create your own path you will get lost, feel scared, you will trip and fall. You will use yourself to find your way, to summon your bravery, to get back up, and start making footsteps again. You will do this without me, which makes me sad to think that there will be a time when you are not a few steps behind me on a happy walk home. You will do this without me which makes me proud to think that you are on your way to becoming the perfect person I see every day.
Go make some footsteps.
Most occupations, hobbies, and passions entail some form of public performance. The athlete performs on a small stage during practices and a big stage during games. The artist performs on the small stage during rehearsals and the big stage during the show. The business person performs on the small stage during meetings and on the big stage during a sales pitch. The teacher performs on the small stage when in front of a small group of familiar students and on the big stage when they teach a large group while being formally observed by an administrator. The parent performs on the small stage in their living room while telling their kids to clean up and on the big stage when managing a full blown temper tantrum at the pool in front of everyone. Performance is greatly influenced by the audience: observing, smiling, judging, belittling, applauding, condemning, criticizing, disapproving (The greater number of negative adjectives is no coincidence.) It is the quality of the performance that will influence the type of audience reaction, but sometimes there is very little the performer can do to change a predetermined evaluation by the audience. But this post is not focusing on the appraisal of the public audience. I'm talking about the imagined audience has taken permanent residence in the mind with the performer. Because I'm a sport psychologist, I'm going to use a collegiate athlete as my example, but feel free to insert any style of performer you chose.
It's late May and the academic year has recently concluded. The athlete, who will enter his sophomore season, begins to develop an off-season training plan full of weight lifting, long distance running, interval training, strict diet, flexibility exercises, and of course game-like scrimmages. The summer becomes hotter and the days grow longer, which makes adherence to this plan more challenging, but if our athlete sticks with the plan, he will set himself up for success in late summer preseason and throughout the fall season. With the exception of his infrequent scrimmages, the physical audience witnessing his long runs in the back trails, interval training on the local track, and lifting/stretching sessions in the gym is small and they are not paying much attention to our athlete. But what about the other audience? The imagined audience. The audience with greater influence. It is the audience that is always with the athlete, in his head. Always judging and dictating. The mental audience can consist of his oppressive dad whose loud sideline antics were a catalyst for embarrassment, his ex-girlfriend for whom he still has a crush, the seniors on the team who demand perfection because it is their last chance to finally win a championship, his high school friends and classmates who he would like to impress and prove that he is not an impostor, those little kids who come to his games for whom he would like to become a role model, for the unknown incoming freshman who he would like to keep off his heels and prevent from earning his starting spot on the team...
The unseen but always present audience plays a large role in every decision that our athlete makes. The negative judgment is likely to cause workouts to be abandoned or shortened with minimal effort. The condemning comments increases anxiety leading to slow decision making and poor overall play. Conversely, the praise of his imaginary spectators gives rise to confidence leading to maximum effort, extended workouts, and being in the zone during the scrimmages.
Whatever performance you undertake, pay attention to that ever present audience hiding in the crevices of your thinking. A newfound awareness might lead you to the conclusion that your particular audience needs to get kicked out and be replaced with a more supportive and appreciative one. An audience that fills the you with the confidence and the courage to strive to perfect your skill, craft, expertise. Perfect your art.
Pearl Jam released a documentary a little while ago which chronicles their two shows at Wrigley in the summer of 2016 and the Cubs World Series win a short time later. Eddie Vedder comments that there is an art form to the game which made me think about what "artist" will produce the more beautiful creation this Sunday? On one side you have the proven masters. Brady and Belichick with six championships. On the other side you have the newcomers. Pederson in his second year as a head coach and Foles where Sunday will mark his 43rd start behind center. Artists tend create their best work when they are confident and unencumbered by negative judgment from them self and others. It is obvious that the Patriots have a huge advantage in this category. Or do they? Sure, everyone on that team feeds off of the confidence of the leaders, the ones who have been there before, Brady. But the Eagles have also shown tremendous confidence which is defined as "full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing." No matter what the odds makers say and no matter who gets injured, the Eagles have remained confident in their ability to "create better art." Now, we have to be realistic, the Patriots are the favorite because of their past success contributes to a high level of confidence. But confidence cannot be measured with 100% certainty. It is not like speed, strength, and accuracy which can be measured with stopwatches, weights, and targets. Confidence is a an emotion. Although a person can label their confidence is as high, low, or use a 1-10 scale, it can often be inaccurate and the rater can be deceitful or wrong. Plus, we are talking about a collective confidence of a team, not just the confidence of the quarterback. I'm questioning whether we should automatically assume that the Patriots' confidence level is astronomically higher than that of the Eagles. But, as I've said before, we will find out on Sunday. I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge my bias toward the Eagles. Maybe all of the aforementioned information is inaccurate because of my favoritism. Maybe it is the wishful thinking of a fan who wants to see his team finally win a championship. Or maybe I'm on to something. Sunday at 6:30 cannot come soon enough. Feel free to provide your two cents on the confidence of the teams, another Super Bowl topic, or comment with a predication.
And for those of you Eagle fans who revel in the underdog roll or have repeatedly referenced David vs. Goliath during this Eagles playoff run, you may enjoy this older Nike commercial as your final hype video.
Plus, here are some Alshon Jeffries' quotes highlighting the brotherhood that exists on this team
This print is in my office to remind athletes of the importance of having fun while competing. In a way sport psychology is an attempt to help athletes mentally return to that time when sports were free of pressure and filled with joy; when we were six years old and pretending we were as fast as the Flash, as powerful as the Hulk, or as passionate as Brian Dawkins. When this mental state is achieved, performance is maximized and the athlete is likely to get in the zone.
Zach Ertz, tight end of the Super Bowl bound Philadelphia Eagles, wrote a great piece in The Players' Tribune (linked below) in which the following quote captures his season and one of the biggest reasons for the team's success, "I've never had more fun playing football than I've had this year." As many athletes climb the success ladder and earn a coveted spot on elite teams it is often forgotten to soak up as much fun as often as possible. Sports, unfortunately for many, become so important and serious that athletes will say to me that fun no longer matters and it is all about winning. Don't get me wrong winning is important. Athletes see me to return to winning ways. A win for the Eagles on February 4th would be incredibly important to the city of Philadelphia. Winning when embattled in fierce competition is the most fun part of the competition. But winning and fun go hand in hand and this team is a radiant example of this concept. The point is that you don't have to exclude or forego fun in your pursuit of greatness.
Ertz talks about the strong and valuable bond between the current teammates on the Eagles. He mentions last year when Carson Wentz asked him how he was doing during a rough time. Wentz emotionally picked Ertz up by telling him he was going to be fine. This team genuinely seems to care about each other which can be powerful in moments of doubt, high pressure, injury, and failure. In those moments of doubt, these players probably dig a little deeper because they want to succeed, not only for themself, but for the guys around them. This bond doesn't just exist between players. Based on press conferences, interviews, and post-win speeches it seems that head coach, Doug Pederson cares about his players both as performers and as people. This care contains an apparent mutual respect between players and coach. When a team has cohesion, love for each other, and mutual respect... Well, we will see Super Bowl Sunday.
*If you're interested in this concept, apply it to your own professional life. Think about how much the level of fun impacted your experience, motivation, anxiety, endurance, and overall performance. Those job we hated probably received the minimum effort and poor performance whereas fun jobs earned maximum effort and best performance.
Please feel free to comment, even if it is a prediction for the game.
Taking Too Much Credit For Failure And Not Enough For Success, Something The Philadelphia Eagles Are Not Doing
The title of this blog alludes to one common feature for most people, athletes, and teams. We tend to wallow in failures and permit success to fade all too rapidly. Failures and injures negatively get caught on a repeat loop in our head while the joy of success swiftly vanishes. Our brain is like Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive. This is problematic mental pattern for athletes and teams because it can cause diminishing confidence, fragile bonds between teammates, poor performance, throwing in the towel, and more failure.
Watching the Eagles this season has been an emotionally trying experience. They started out the year with expectations of mediocrity. A week two loss to the Chiefs and then very close wins in weeks three and four to the Giants and Chargers caused concern. The remainder of the season consisted of blowing out weak teams, closely overcoming good teams, and losses to the Seahawks and Cowboys (this one probably doesn't count because starters played very little.) In the midst of this great season were injuries that should have devastated. Two all-stars (running back/offensive lineman), a rising linebacker, and the new face of this franchise all went down with season-ending injuries. Needless to say, despite the injuries, this season has been a welcomed surprise for the fans. However, even with the number one seed and subsequent first round/home field advantage, many analysts, Vegas included, have counted this team out. So, why have they been wrong so far? How has this team managed to continue winning in situations where other teams would succumb to losing key players? How did this team hold onto the number one seed. How did they beat a team that was one half from being Super bowl champions one short year ago? Obviously this team is talented, but it seems that there is something else going on here. Head coach Doug Pederson seems to have instilled a firm belief of family, brotherhood, and faith in one another. No matter what happens, from Wentz's torn ACL to Ajayi's fumble in the first offensive drive of last week's game, this team remains cohesive, maintains a sharp focus, and finds ways to prevail.
It is possible that the culture of family and firm belief in each other has been exacerbated by the Eagles' perception of success and failure. When injuries surfaced, they didn't dwell on it and become disheartened. It was a matter of "next man up" and the belief that this next man was going take care of business. Below are some examples:
1. The loss to the Chief's was followed by a thrilling three point win against the Giants due to a 61 yard field goal by replacement kicker, Jake Elliot. Two points here. First, teams that lack cohesion often falter under pressure because they are not connected. The Eagles remained cohesive in a pressure filled game following a tough loss. Second, simply put, next man up: Jake Elliot. Caleb Sturgis went down the previous week. Jake Elliot was cut from the Bengals on September 2nd, picked up by the Eagles on the 12th, and kicked the longest ever field goal in Philadelphia 61 on the 24th to win the game. He was the next man up.
2. The Eagles experienced a tough loss to the Seahawks in week 12 in which they were never really in it. Rumblings of this team being a fraud began to surface. Comments suggested the wins were against weak teams and the losses to the Chiefs and Seahawks were proof that the Eagles could not compete with the elite teams. However the following week on the road against the Rams proved this team was elite and could overcome any failure. The Rams high powered offense scored points, but not enough to win. During the competition Carson Wentz left the game with a torn ACL. The franchise QB this team has been looking for. The league MVP at the time. The one player who the Eagles could not afford to lose in their quest for a Super Bowl win. This type of devastating, catastrophic, heartbreaking, soul-ripping injury was certain to be the setback that crippled the team. Next man up: Nick Foles. He preserves the win in LA, throws 4 TD's against the Giants, stumbles against the Raiders but still wins, barely plays in a loss against the Cowboys, and beats the Falcons in the divisional round of the playoffs. This team may not be winning games by a lot, the games may be ugly, but a win is a win is a win.
The stats, analytics, talking heads, and Vegas all say this team should not have had the number 1 seed, should have lost to the "much better" Falcons, and will most likely lose tomorrow to the Vikings. Lets face it, the Vikings have the best defense in the league, a good running game, talented receivers, and a good QB, therefore should win. (Side note, even the NFL "knows the Vikings are going to win" because they momentarily posted a Super Bowl ad on their web page with a picture of Tom Brady and Case Keenum. Hopefully it is more fuel for the Eagles angry fire.) All of this points to the Vikings being the first team to ever play at home for the Super Bowl. But heart, confidence, and brotherhood are all things that cannot be accounted for through the analysis of numbers. This team fails, learns from it, and gets better. They succeed, gain unwavering confidence, become more connected with each other, and celebrate in hilarious dog masks.
Tomorrow's game is going to be a battle and battles are often won by fights harder and who sticks together. I cannot wait to see who fights harder.
Addiction can change the course of an individual's life in unimaginable ways. Many experts call addiction a progressive disease, meaning it worsens when untreated or it progressively does more damage. One key factor to addiction is tolerance which is medically defined as "the capacity of the body to endure or become less responsive to a substance with repeated use or exposure." Simply put, as an addict progresses with their drug use, they need to consume more of the substance more frequently to feel high.
Many runners experience a runner's high which is defined as "a feeling of euphoria that is experienced by some individuals engaged in strenuous running and that is held to be associated with a release of endorphins by the brain." It is that moment where pain becomes pleasure, confidence is soaring, and the runner feels like a powerful machine in the midst of suffering. It seems to me the runner's high has a type of tolerance opposite to that of drugs or "reverse tolerance." Previously mentioned, addicts need more of the drug to get high. Let's say it takes someone one pill to feel high as a recreational drug user. As the addiction progresses this individual now needs four times as many pills to experience the same feeling. As a runner, I've noticed that I need less of the running in order feel that powerful euphoria. For example, let's say I've returned to consistent running after an absence of a few months or I'm a "new runner." For the first two weeks, I might feel that runner's high late in the run, maybe around mile seven. It takes a lot of running for me to feel good, however, over time, I experience that same feeling at mile six, then five, then four, and so on. I'm experiencing a reverse tolerance in which I need less of the drug (running) on order to experience the high. This might be one of the reasons why people who do not run sometimes think runners are crazy. They've never run for long enough to feel great in the moment or feel the runner's high. They've only experienced the pain of miles one through six before giving up.
Go out and run, it makes you feel alive.
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