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Licensed Psychologist

Managing Loneliness During the Holidays and beyond

Originally posted at Beacon Lens The holidays are upon us, and the irony they bring is the potential for isolation and loneliness. Holidays’ essential identity is getting together with loved ones, but some people do not feel as connected as they would like or expect. In 2020, add COVID-19 and its quarantining dictates, and the potential for such feelings can strengthen. The holidays, therefore, present an excellent time to discuss how we can reinforce connections during a time that requires us to be apart to protect our physical health, a requirement that paradoxically can have a damaging effect on our mental health. We can, however, take charge of improving our mental health.

Loneliness and isolation and our health

What is the difference between loneliness and isolation? “Loneliness is the feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Social isolation, on the other hand, is a lack of social connections. Put differently, one can have many social connections but still feel lonely. The physical and mental health risks of loneliness and isolation are significant. They include but are not limited to:
  • Social isolation increases the risk of premature death by 29 percent, rivalling smoking, obesity and physical inactivity.
  • Social isolation is associated with increasing the risk for dementia by approximately 50 percent.
  • Loneliness is connected to higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide.
A 2020 report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) states that more than one-third of adults 45 and older feel lonely, and approximately one-fourth 65 and older are socially isolated. Add the holidays and COVID-19 to an already preexisting condition, and the time is ripe for all of us to take action to protect our mental health.

Simple steps for better mental health during the holidays

Specific to the season and the times, there are common-sense tips that we all can practice to help manage loneliness. For example:
  • Talk to someone about your sense of loneliness and isolation. There’s stigma around loneliness so it can be hard to do. However, you may well find that you’re not alone in those feelings, and sharing them can help lessen their effect.
  • Manage your holiday/COVID-19 expectations. The holidays can fall short of expectations, but this year it may be worse. Understand that the pandemic won’t last forever, and that we’re all in this together. Indeed, many people’s holiday gatherings will likely be different this year.
  • Remember to take care of yourself, now more than ever. Sleep, exercise and good nutrition — with the proper amount of holiday indulgence — go a long way in addressing mental health.
  • Avoid social media, such as Facebook or Instagram, especially during the holidays. It’s easy to negatively compare one’s life to the “perfect” lives posted on social media, forgetting that people mostly post only the positive.

Loneliness and isolation as its own pandemic

The holidays don’t last forever, and we will get through the COVID-19 pandemic. However, loneliness and social isolation may persist, which presents a challenge for behavioral health providers. The recent NASEM report explores interventions that the healthcare system can take to address loneliness as a societal condition, such as engagement in support groups, cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness, social determinants of health, social prescribing and more. Social prescribing is arguably one of the more interesting interventions in that it puts a clinical lens on non-clinical solutions. While there is no hard-fast definition of social prescribing, it is generally accepted as a way to connect people to non-clinical sources of support, according to the NASEM. Specifically, it is a “non-medical referral, or linking service, to help people identify their social needs and develop wellbeing action plans to promote, establish or reestablish integration and support in their communities, with the aim of improving personal wellbeing.” Examples of secondary services that improve social concerns affecting health include housing and food insecurity services. While known to varying community-based organizations, social prescribing is not common among practitioners, but it’s a common-sense solution. An analysis of one pilot program from the NASEM report — albeit a small one — found that social prescribing reduced inpatient admissions by as much as 21 percent and emergency room visits by 20 percent. A modern world — without COVID-19 — is more connected than ever due to social media and other technology. However, studies have shown we are more lonely now than in any other time in recent history. It’s time to think out of the box as we realize more and more how non-physiological conditions — such as issues ranging from a public health emergency to social media — can affect our health.

What Do Women Want

Originally written by Deborah Fox, MSW What do women want?" is an age-old question that rolls off the tongue of many men with alarming regularity. The nods of other men confirm the mystery. Women will be happy to tell you if you ask. And men have. What keeps the mystery going is that the answers are so different from how men think and operate that they're too often tossed out simply because the answers don't seem to make sense. Knowing what makes women tick is discoverable, but you need to suspend your beliefs about what you think she wants and be prepared to be impacted.

A woman wants to be understood for who she is, how she thinks, what's important to her, how she feels, and why she feels what she feels.

Tip #1 - Listening

Understanding can't happen without listening, really listening means being fully attentive. It means putting aside your frame of reference. It means checking your assumptions at the door. It means not interrupting. It means saying, "Help me understand why you felt dismissed?" If you ask, "Do you think you could've done...?," she'll feel abandoned. She'll let you know if she wants your help to problem-solve. Shaking your head, glancing at your phone, looking away lets her know that you're not listening to what she has to say. She gets the message you're judging her, disagreeing with her, and just waiting until she's done talking so you can tell her so. You may think you're not helpful by just listening because this isn't what men want or do. Women tend to find their way to a solution by sharing their stories. And she will ask for help if she trusts you to help her brainstorm and not take over by telling her what she should do. When my six-year-old daughter recounted the playground drama of the day at dinner one night, my husband asked her if she wanted to call her friend Susie to say something about what had transpired that day. My daughter and I looked at him as if he'd suddenly grown three horns. She and I understood that what she wanted was simply to share the story and be heard. The woman in your life needs you to tune into her emotions, not merely the facts of a situation. Men tend to be very uncomfortable when their partner is distressed. They feel their job is to make their partner feel better, so they rush into righting the wrong. This skips over what women need most, which is for their feelings to be acknowledged and understood. Period. It's highly unlikely that you woke up that morning and said to yourself, "Hmm . . .how can I hurt Stacy today?" Of course not. But you did, unintentionally, by not listening.

Tip #2 - Trustworthiness

A woman wants you to be trustworthy. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Do what you say you're going to do. She needs to feel secure with you. Be a safe person for her to be vulnerable. Don't judge or placate. She wants you to have her back. Stand up for her if there's a potential for her to be embarrassed. Be protective. A woman steps out into the world with an eye out for danger and lives with a heightened degree of vulnerability that is her "normal."

Tip #3 - Sexuality

Women do want to be desired sexually by their chosen partner. This can be a complicated one for men. You might be understandably confused about how to find a balance between being considerate and being passionate. It can be confusing when you hear women want a sensitive man and capable of talking about his feelings. It's not such a leap for you to assume this means she wants a gentle lover---and this might be true. Women can seem to be a walking contradiction because this same woman may want to be ravished or desired passionately by her partner. The answer to this mystery is good communication. Talking about sex is uncomfortable for many people, but the alternative is literally and figuratively groping in the dark. In Dr. Emily Nagoski's book, Come As You Are, she writes that stress, mood, fatigue, trust, and body image are central to the sexuality of a majority of women, not just peripheral factors. For these women, understanding that openness to sex is context-dependent and that everyday life affects that context is vital. The source of sexual desire is often relational for women. They don't tend to be frequently struck with desire walking down the street on a given day. However, a shared activity, a conversation, flirtatious banter, an affectionate note are door openers for her to feel desire. You might have to enlarge your definition of what it means to be a good lover. Men tend to make assumptions about what is satisfying to a woman, which she often finds oppressive. Again, ask her.

Tip #4 - Being Your Priority

She needs to feel she's a priority to you. Let her know she matters to you. When you have some good news, please share it with her first. When you have a problem, go to her first. Ask her what makes her feel loved. You may think that doing household chores shows your love, but perhaps what makes her feel loved is spending quality time with you or hearing what you appreciate about her. If she's distressed, assume it's something for the two of you to resolve together. Put your relationship at the top of your "to-do" list, not something you attend to after...everything else. We learn what we observe in our families as children and adopt tons of mythology from our peers and the media. With the growth in understanding of yourself and your partner, your relationship can become secure and satisfying.

Statement of APA President in Response to Mass Shootings in Texas, Ohio

WASHINGTON - Following is the statement of APA President Rosie Phillips Davis, PhD, on the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and in Dayton, Ohio: "Our condolences are with the families and friends of those killed or injured in these horrific shootings and with all Americans affected every day by the twin horrors of hate and gun violence. “As our nation tries to process the unthinkable yet again, it is clearer than ever that we are facing a public health crisis of gun violence fueled by racism, bigotry and hatred. The combination of easy access to assault weapons and hateful rhetoric is toxic. Psychological science has demonstrated that social contagion — the spread of thoughts, emotions and behaviors from person to person and among larger groups — is real, and may well be a factor, at least in the El Paso shooting. “That shooting is being investigated as a hate crime, as it should be. Psychological science has demonstrated the damage that racism can inflict on its targets. Racism has been shown to have negative cognitive and behavioral effects on both children and adults and to increase anxiety, depression, self-defeating thoughts and avoidance behaviors. “Routinely blaming mass shootings on mental illness is unfounded and stigmatizing. Research has shown that only a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for, mental illness. The rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world, yet other countries are not experiencing these traumatic events as often as we face them. One critical factor is access to, and the lethality of, the weapons that are being used in these crimes. Adding racism, intolerance and bigotry to the mix is a recipe for disaster. “If we want to address the gun violence that is tearing our country apart, we must keep our focus on finding evidence-based solutions. This includes restricting access to guns for people who are at risk for violence and working with psychologists and other experts to find solutions to the intolerance that is infecting our nation and the public dialogue.” For people who are suffering distress in the aftermath of the shootings in Dayton and El Paso, APA offers a variety of resources, including:

What Our Body Does in a Day

Sometimes you may feel like your body is beginning to creak and fail you on the outside, but do you ever stop to consider the incredible work that is taking place inside of it? There is so much going on and everything fits together so well, that it's almost impossible to comprehend it. This presentation will remind you that there are miracles going on inside your body every single day.
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