By Pamela Davis-Kean
With in-person instruction becoming the exception rather than the norm, 54% of parents with school-age children expressed concern that their children could fall behind academically, according to a poll conducted over the summer of 2020. Initial projections from the Northwest Evaluation Association, which conducts research and creates commonly used standardized tests, suggest that these fears are well-grounded, especially for children from low-income families.
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By Gudrun Heise
"Although I hadn't used the stove at all, I touched every ring to check that it was off. Finally I had to keep telling myself: 'Off! Off! Off!'" Michaela says (her name has been changed by the editor).
Even when Michaela was a child, there were rituals that she always had to observe and from which her mind would not permit her to deviate. There were things that were simply not "allowed."
OCD Is a Common Illness<p>Checking compulsions often begin at a young age, but can also develop in adulthood. "It is a common mental illness, but it is usually not obvious because it is often made a taboo and concealed," says Wahl-Kordon.</p><p>Sometimes sufferers and the people around them do not really take the somewhat strange behavior seriously. People with this form of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/are-obsessive-compulsive-disorders-amid-coronavirus-pandemic-on-the-rise/a-54567173" target="_blank">obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)</a> must first become aware that their behavior is not normal and be prepared to start treatment.</p>
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back<p>To find out whether someone has OCD, therapists usually work with various screening questions, such as: "Do you clean or wash extremely often? Are you often concerned with symmetries? Are there thoughts that do not let go of you?"</p><p>Wahl-Kordon says that "what is most significant is the intensity at which such actions are carried out and the time the sufferer actually spends on them or thinks about them," he says.</p><p>"With many sufferers, we can achieve very good results through behavioral therapy. Exposure and confrontation exercises are core elements here," Wahl-Kordon says.</p><p>Michaela has also been taking part in these kinds of therapies, which force her to permit situations that she fears and would otherwise try to avoid. They are meant to help her deal with her compulsions and fears, which often have their roots in the past.</p>
'I Thought It Was My Fault'<p>When Michaela was 16, her sister-in-law died at the age of just 28. For Michaela, this was a traumatic experience and one that triggered severe feelings of self-blame.</p><p>"About a week before my sister-in-law died, I told a friend of mine that there was nothing to look forward to and that I dreamed that my sister-in-law was in the cemetery behind the cemetery wall and could not get out. When my sister-in-law died, I blamed myself a lot. I thought it was because of me, because I had moaned so much for no reason," she says.</p><p>She still has these feelings of self-blame and fears some kind of punishment if she complains about something without there being an obvious reason. And it is just one of many fears that she has developed.</p>
Trouble Leaving the Apartment<p>Michaela studied law; during her time at university, her checking compulsion continued to accompany her and became a never-ending ordeal.</p><p>"My apartment had a kitchenette within sight of the bed. In the evening I always had to start checking from left to right to make sure that all appliances were turned off: stove, coffee maker and kettle. Had I pulled out all the plugs? Then check the fridge door again to see that it was really closed. Then I'd start all over again," she says.</p><p>Sometimes the whole procedure lasted several hours, she says, and on occasion she would go and sit outside the front door at 4 o'clock in the morning in desperation because she had not managed to go to bed.</p>
Checking the Checks<p>During her studies, Michaela met her husband. She immediately got him involved, asking him to help her with her checking. "My husband was my salvation back then. I asked him to do a very last follow-up check after my check-ups. This gave me the feeling that he had taken the responsibility from me in case something started to burn because I had forgotten to check everything thoroughly," she says.</p><p>For about 20 years, Michaela checked every evening whether her husband had checked everything properly — checking the checker, so to speak. Thanks to the therapy, this, too, has now improved.</p>
'I Was Afraid of Doing Everything Wrong'<p>Michaela was a specialist lawyer for criminal law and social law. She was on committees, gave lectures and received requests from various associations to join their boards of directors. She was a successful lawyer, at least on the outside. But her constant self-doubt and her checking compulsion made her life so difficult that she finally had to give up her profession.</p><p>"I was always just afraid of not doing anything right, of not being able to do anything, of being too stupid for everything, and thought that it was just a matter of chance that I had a particular position. In my work, I never felt as though I had done enough preparation," she says. "If, for example, I had an appointment at 2 p.m. on one day, it was not possible for me to do anything else that day. I always thought I had to prepare myself more and more and more for this one thing."</p><p> At some point, her fears increased so dramatically that she was no longer able to go in to work at the law firm at all.</p><p>"At some point, compulsions determine their entire lives," Wahl-Kordon says. "Some sufferers withdraw completely, no longer eat properly and lose weight. Those are the most serious cases — when everything revolves around the compulsions."</p>
More Than One Compulsion<p>In addition to her constant drive to check things, Michaela developed other compulsions. Compulsive hoarding is a particular problem for her. People with this form of OCD collect all sorts of things without any necessity or good reason: small notes, old receipts, papers that are no longer valid. Michaela even finds it difficult to part with daily newspapers.</p><p>After one three-week vacation, the newspapers piled up in the apartment, but throwing them away was impossible for her. After all, something important could be hidden somewhere among the countless pages, and then she wouldn't be able to find it again.</p><p>"It is incredibly difficult for me to throw something away. It takes me a very long time to put things in order. I never finish. There is simply no end. I always think that maybe I could use the things again sometime," Michaela says.</p><p>Your partner doing the cleaning and throwing things away does not work either, says Wahl-Kordon. "That can mean that the world collapses for the sufferer, so it doesn't work at all. Hoarding often has to do with objects that I associate with certain events or experiences and which I simply can't get rid of for that reason alone."</p><p>Disposing of those objects thus becomes a difficult and confronting task that the patient must tackle with the support of a psychotherapist. Often the compulsive need to hoard affects older people in particular. In severe cases, they literally become buried in clutter because they simply cannot bring themselves to throw things away.</p>
'But First I Have to Clean Up'<p>Michaela always tries to organize and prepare everything as perfectly as possible and have control over as many things as she can — even when she had suicidal thoughts because her condition was becoming too much for her.</p><p>"It was on a Sunday, and I had actually managed to organize replacements for my appointments for the entire coming week," she relates. After all, she was planning to not be alive the following week. But then, she says, her husband came home unexpectedly and thwarted her plans.</p><p>"Later, I always thought that I couldn't ever kill myself because I would have to clean up first. The thought of someone tampering with my things is simply unbearable for me!" she says.</p>
New Perspectives<p>Michaela has now taken up other forms of employment, including teaching social law to special education teachers. This is easier for her than her work as a lawyer. She can engage with it in a completely different way and sometimes even uses herself as an example.</p><p>After all, aspiring teachers must learn to deal with disabled people like her, she says. She says everyone in her environment knows about her obsessive-compulsive disorder — with the exception of her family.</p><p>In recent years, she has undergone trauma therapy, depression therapy and exposure therapy, which have helped. "I still check the stove and the refrigerator. I still have to do everything right. I'm still afraid that I am doing everything wrong. But compared to the way it used to be, everything is much, much better now."</p>
By Jamie Smith Hopkins
Disasters are stressful. Our warming world keeps adding fuel to the fires — and floods and hurricanes, among other calamities. What can be done about the trauma that follows?
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The psychological toll of climate change-fueled disasters, now compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, is mounting and the U.S. is unprepared. These are the findings of a project by the Center for Public Integrity and Columbia Journalism Investigations, in collaboration with 10 local and regional outlets.
One of the best things you can do for your child's well-being may be to raise them somewhere green.
<div id="c0d26" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="03960567cbd8baf0b578ce25926363b1"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1296116607794794496" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">In their latest publication, Esmée M Bijnens and colleagues reveal beneficial effects of a green environment on a c… https://t.co/vk8uzysUyh</div> — PLOS Medicine (@PLOS Medicine)<a href="https://twitter.com/PLOSMedicine/statuses/1296116607794794496">1597853254.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Farah Aqel
Overthinkers are people who are buried in their own obsessive thoughts. Imagine being in a large maze where each turn leads into an even deeper and knottier tangle of catastrophic, distressing events — that is what it feels like to them when they think about the issues that confront them.
Ruminating<p>According to the late Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a professor of psychology at Yale University, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5796420/" target="_blank">ruminating</a> involves replaying a problem over and over in your mind. We ruminate by obsessing over our thoughts and thinking repetitively about various aspects of a past situation.</p><p>It usually involves regret, self-loathing and self-blaming. Rumination is associated with the development of depression, anxiety and eating disorders. </p><p>People prone to such patterns of thought may, for example, overanalyze every single detail of a relationship that breaks up. They often blame themselves for what has happened and are overcome with regret, with typical thoughts being: </p><p>- I should have been more patient and more supportive. </p><p>- I have lost the most perfect partner ever. </p><p>- No one will love me again.</p>
Worrying<p>Worrying is wanting to predict the future. It involves negative thoughts about things that might and might not happen.</p><p>- They'll not like me in the interview; they'll not give me the job. </p><p>- I haven't heard back from other employers. How long will I be unemployed?</p><p>These thoughts are energy-draining and distressing. They could happen to anyone under stress. But when you reach the point where your thoughts and worrying are preventing you from doing what you want to do — from living your life to the fullest — then you should take action.</p>
Catch Yourself Overthinking<p>Reuben Berger, a psychotherapist at the university hospital in the western German city of Bonn, recommends several practical steps that you could employ in your daily routine when you catch yourself worrying or ruminating.</p><p>One effective remedy, says Berger, is the <a href="https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uf9938" target="_blank">thought-stopping technique.</a></p><p>"When the negative thoughts come or ruminations start, you say to yourself: 'Stop!,'" he says, adding that it is more effective when you actually say the word out loud.</p><p>He even recommends having a rubber band around your wrist to ping against yourself while saying the word. Adding a visual component by imagining a stop sign also makes the technique more powerful, he says.</p><p>The main idea here is conditioning yourself to stop the loop of worrying (making future predictions) or rumination (obsessing over past events).</p><p>Berger says the technique could take up to two weeks to take effect and that it needs to be practiced every day. "Consistency is very important," he says. </p>
Thoughts Are Just Thoughts<p>Another way of dealing with negative thoughts often used in modern therapy is realizing that thoughts aren't facts, says Berger.</p><p>He says it is important when we think something to ask: Is that real? Did that really happen? What is the worst thing that could happen?</p><p>Flight anxiety is one example where untrue thoughts are accepted as facts. Although air travel is the safest way to get around, people suffering from fear of flying accept their thoughts and fears as reality, then act upon them by refusing to fly.</p>
Mindfulness<p>Berger also recommends the use of mindfulness techniques, in which attention is paid to experiences in the moment without judging them, as a way of reducing worrying.</p><p>"Mindfulness helps you to distance yourself from your thoughts and to be more present in the moment," he says.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3432145/#R2" target="_blank">Several studies</a> have shown that mindfulness has a positive impact on reducing stress-related behaviors such as rumination and worrying, as focusing on the moment makes anxiety about other problems impossible.</p><p>Mindfulness can be practiced during routine activities by paying attention to your body and your surroundings. For instance, when you leave for work in the morning, you can focus on sensing the breeze, listen attentively to birds, feel the gravel under your feet and monitor your breath. </p>
Trick Your Brain Into Happiness<p>People plagued by obsessive thoughts do not always choose healthy ways like mindfulness to distract from them, however.</p><p> Dr. Edward Selby, a psychologist at Florida state university, has shown in a study that people try to avoid rumination by engaging in a range of uncontrolled behaviors, such as binge eating and substance abuse.</p><p>But he says that a much better way to overcome such distress is by distraction and shifting attention away from problems that are obsessing us.</p><p>There are many activities that can be used to distract from rumination, he says, and people should choose the one that works best for them. Here are some examples:</p><p>- Listen to music</p><p>- Read a book</p><p>- Take a hot shower</p><p>- Dance or exercise </p><p>- Talk to a friend (not about the problem)</p><p>- Watch a movie</p><p>- Mindfulness meditation</p>
Changing the Perception of Events<p>The way people perceive a situation largely influences their emotions and behavior. It is not the situation itself that determines how they feel, but rather the way they interpret it.</p><p>Reframing negative thoughts can lead to positive emotions and, subsequently, healthier behaviors — including a reduction in damaging overthinking and worrying.</p><p>Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is currently a gold standard in psychotherapy. CBT aims to change the way people think and act. It largely involves challenging unhelpful beliefs or attitudes such as overgeneralization — thinking "I always fail at public speaking" when you have had one bad experience in front of an audience, for example — or "catastrophization," i.e., imagining the worst possible outcome to a situation. </p><p>A psychotherapist can teach people how to implement such thought-changing techniques into their lives. Techniques vary depending on their issues and goals.</p>
Solutions Are at Hand<p>Try to find ways of avoiding worrying, rumination and overthinking that make you feel most comfortable.</p><p>Incorporating any routine in your life when you're stressed isn't an easy task, but you can do it! If you feel overwhelmed, you can always seek professional help. </p><p><em>If you are suffering from serious emotional strain or suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to seek professional help. You can find information on where to find such help, no matter where you live in the world, <a href="https://www.befrienders.org/" target="_blank">at this website.</a></em></p>
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By Joe Roman and Taylor Ricketts
The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the "happiness" of people's words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.
The Hedonometer measures happiness through analysis of key words on Twitter, which is now used by one in five Americans. This chart covers 18 months from early 2019 to July 2020, showing major dips in 2020. hedonometer.org<p>These same tweets also indicate a potential salve. Before pandemic lockdowns began, doctoral student <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=0P0ZYbIAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">Aaron Schwartz</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10045" target="_blank">compared tweets before, during, and after visits to 150 parks, playgrounds and plazas</a> in San Francisco. He found that park visits corresponded with a spike in happiness, followed by an afterglow lasting up to four hours.</p><p>Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as "no," "not" and "can't," and fewer first-person pronouns like "I" and "me." It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.</p><p>Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Is-risk-of-coronavirus-transmission-lower-15287602.php" target="_blank">much lower outdoors than inside</a>. As scholars who study <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=yFzb2EUAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">conservation</a> and how nature <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=CCnUeN8AAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">contributes to human well-being</a>, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans' current blues.</p>
Park Visits Are Up During the Pandemic<p>According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd's death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.</p><p>Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people <a href="https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/sd3h6" target="_blank">using green spaces more</a> since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.</p>
<div id="4c7e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc0ac146ab2a94228f32d973fc2ab272"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1289428912879964160" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">#Goldengatepark #sf #quarantinemood https://t.co/9l3ufnbkt6</div> — Suvd (@Suvd)<a href="https://twitter.com/Suvd19486406/statuses/1289428912879964160">1596258783.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.</p><p>Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.10658.pdf" target="_blank">Twitter study</a> to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.</p><p>Parks and public spaces won't cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.</p><p>In a 2015 study, for example, Stanford researchers sent people out for one of two walks: through a local park or on a busy street. Those who walked in nature showed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005" target="_blank">improved moods and better memory performance</a> compared to the urban group. And a team led by <a href="https://penniur.upenn.edu/people/eugenia-gina-south" target="_blank">Gina South</a> of the University of Pennsylvania showed in a 2018 study that greening and cleaning up blighted vacant lots in Philadelphia <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0298" target="_blank">reduced local residents' feelings of depression, worthlessness and poor mental health</a>.</p>
Creative Strategies<p>It isn't easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.</p><p>These initiatives don't have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.</p><p>Urban green space is most needed in neighborhoods that have lacked funding for parks, especially given <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/nyregion/coronavirus-race-deaths.html" target="_blank">COVID-19's disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx people</a>.</p><p>Cities can also create parklike spaces by <a href="https://theconversation.com/with-fewer-cars-on-us-streets-now-is-the-time-to-reinvent-roadways-and-how-we-use-them-140408" target="_blank">closing streets to cars</a>. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to <a href="https://thecityfix.com/blog/bicycles-slower-speeds-livable-city-paris-mayor-anne-hidalgo-plans-ambitious-second-term-dario-hidalgo/" target="_blank">reallocate public space</a>, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.</p><p>Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-15/a-brief-history-of-park-ing-day" target="_blank">transform parking spaces into mini-parks</a> with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.</p><p>Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won <a href="https://www.tpl.org/parkscore" target="_blank">national recognition</a> for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.</p>
<div id="25fd0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="383f0d2df0237e9359c30dcce6cd6c42"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1276558744835379201" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Looking to safely get outside? Check out the best parks for social distancing in this year's top ten ParkScore citi… https://t.co/HJjEtDsrTD</div> — The Trust for Public Land (@The Trust for Public Land)<a href="https://twitter.com/tpl_org/statuses/1276558744835379201">1593190296.0</a></blockquote></div>
A New Park Deal?<p>The United States has historically driven economic recovery with major infrastructure investments, like the New Deal in the 1930s and the 2009 <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/american-recovery-and-reinvestment-act.asp" target="_blank">American Reinvestment and Recovery Act</a>. Such investments could easily include nature-positive spaces.</p><p>Parks are not panaceas, as evidenced by the widely publicized <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/nyregion/amy-cooper-false-report-charge.html" target="_blank">racist confrontation between a white woman and a Black birder</a> in New York's Central Park in early July. But Hedonometer data add to a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0903?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news" target="_blank">growing body of evidence</a> that they provide <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1807504116" target="_blank">clear mental health benefits</a>. Creating and expanding parks also <a href="https://www.nrpa.org/contentassets/f568e0ca499743a08148e3593c860fc5/economic-impact-study-summary.pdf" target="_blank">generates jobs and economic activity</a>, with much of the money spent locally.</p><p>We believe investments in nature are well worth it, offering both short-term solace in difficult times and long-term benefits to health, economies and communities.</p>
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A study from a hospital in Milan, Italy has uncovered another complication to the process of recovering from the new coronavirus. More than half of patients surveyed one month after their treatment had developed a psychiatric disorder.
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For some combat veterans, the Fourth of July is not a time to celebrate the independence of the country they love. Instead, the holiday is a terrifying ordeal. That's because the noise of fireworks – loud, sudden, and reminiscent of war – rocks their nervous system. Daily fireworks in many U.S. cities in recent weeks have no doubt been interfering with the sleep and peace of mind of thousands of veterans.
What Is PTSD?<p><a href="https://theconversation.com/veterans-refugees-and-victims-of-war-crimes-are-all-vulnerable-to-ptsd-130144" target="_blank">PTSD</a> can occur when someone is exposed to extreme exposure traumatic experience. Typically, the trauma involves a threat of death, serious injury, or sexual violence. Along with war veterans, it happens to refugees; to victims of gun violence, rape and other physical assaults; and to survivors of car accidents and natural disasters like earthquakes or tornadoes.</p><p>PTSD can also happen by witnessing trauma or its aftermath, often the case with <a href="https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd" target="_blank">first responders</a> and <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-many-faces-anxiety-and-trauma/202006/invisible-wounds-the-frontline-heroes" target="_blank">front-line workers</a>.</p><p>All this adds up to tens of millions of Americans. Up to 30% of combat veterans and first responders, and 8% of civilians, <a href="https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/essentials/epidemiology.asp" target="_blank">fulfill the diagnostic criteria for PTSD</a>. And that criteria is not easily met: symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive trauma memories, difficulty sleeping, avoidance of reminders of trauma, negative emotions, and what we call "hyperarousal symptoms."</p>
Fireworks Can Trigger Flashbacks<p>Hyperarousal, a core component of PTSD, occurs when a person is hyper-alert to any sign of threat – constantly on edge, easily startled and continuously screening the environment.</p><p>Imagine, for instance, stepping down the stairs in the dark after hearing a noise; you're worried an intruder might be downstairs. Then a totally unpredictable loud sound explodes right outside your window.</p><p>For people with PTSD, that sound – reminiscent of gunfire, a thunderstorm or a car crash – <a href="https://theconversation.com/veterans-refugees-and-victims-of-war-crimes-are-all-vulnerable-to-ptsd-130144" target="_blank">can cause</a> a panic attack or trigger flashbacks, a sensory experience that makes it seem as if the old trauma is happening here and now. Flashbacks can be so severe that combat veterans may suddenly drop to the ground, the same way they would when an explosion took place in combat. Later, the experience can trigger nightmares, insomnia or worsening of other PTSD symptoms.</p><p>Those of us who set off fireworks need to ask ourselves: Are those few minutes of fun worth the hours, days, or weeks of torment that will begin for some of our friends and neighbors – including many who put their lives on the line to protect us?</p>
Who Else Is Affected?<p>Millions of others, though not diagnosed with PTSD, may similarly be affected by fireworks. <a href="https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics" target="_blank">One in five Americans</a> have an anxiety disorder, many with symptoms of hyperarousal. Also impacted are those with autism or developmental disabilities; they find it difficult to cope with the noise, or just the drastic change from life routines. Then there are people who have to work, holiday or not: nurses, physicians and first responders, who have to be up at 4 a.m. for a 30-hour shift.</p><h3>How to Reduce the Negative Impact</h3><p>There are ways to reduce how fireworks affect others:</p><ul><li>For those with PTSD, the unexpected nature of fireworks is probably the worst part. So at least make it as predictable as possible. Do it in designated areas during designated times. Don't explode one, for instance, two hours after the designated time window. And avoid setting them off <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/04/fireworks-ptsd-fourth-of-july-veterans-shooting-survivors" target="_blank">on the 3rd</a>. People are less prepared then.</li><li>If you're aware that a veteran or trauma survivor lives in the neighborhood, move the noise as far as possible from their home and give them prior warning. Consider putting a sign in your front yard noting the time you'll set the fireworks.</li><li>Remember, it doesn't have to be super loud to make it fun. Consider using <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/504964-its-time-for-silent-fireworks" target="_blank">silent fireworks</a>. And you don't have to be the one who lights the fireworks. Simply enjoy watching while your city or township does it safely.</li></ul>
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By Greg Watts
Many of us have been spending more time at home than ever before, and chances are unless you live by yourself in the middle of nowhere, at some point unwanted noise will have infiltrated your lockdown.
Creating Quiet<p>Reducing noise at the source is usually the best course of action. Ideally, many of us would like to reduce the number of noisy vehicles passing our homes and gardens but unfortunately, we can't control this. In the case of road traffic, reducing the speed limit would help – as would a smoother road surface or, better still, a surface that absorbs sound such as porous asphalt. These are all jobs for the highway authority – but they may have more pressing claims on their budgets.</p><p>There are, however, things you can do around your house and garden to make things a little more peaceful. A barrier such as a close boarded fence, earth mound or wall close to the road should help – but they will have to be long enough and high enough to have much effect.</p><p>Much depends on where the house is in relation to the road. The aim would be to position any barrier so that the road is not in view from any exposed window or part of the garden.</p>
A high wall or substantial fence can reduce traffic noise if placed close to the road. Author provided
Natural Features<p>Interestingly our <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-tranquil-spaces-can-help-people-feel-calm-and-relaxed-in-cities-82358" target="_blank">perception of tranquillity</a> is shaped not only by the sounds we hear but also what we see.</p><p>A study involving brain scans has shown that we process auditory information differently <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20600971/" target="_blank">depending on the scene in view</a>. The noise of a sandy beach and highway at distance are quite similar, but research has shown that if using the same sound recording while showing a beach scene (as opposed to a highway scene) to volunteers in an MRI scanner, the resulting brain patterns differ significantly. The rated tranquillity also differs significantly.</p><p>In fact, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273366914_Tranquillity_and_soundscapes_in_urban_green_spaces-predicted_and_actual_assessments_from_a_questionnaire_survey" target="_blank">research on tranquility has shown</a> that the rated tranquillity of a place depends on both the percentage of natural features – such as greenery, rock, sand and water – in view and the level of man-made noise.</p><p>This means there is a trade-off in the sense that if you cannot control the noise, the perceived tranquillity improves if the amount of greenery or water in view increases. This is worth bearing in mind when creating a tranquil garden space.</p>
Finding Tranquillity Indoors<p>Inside the home, some of the same principles apply. Reduce sources of noise by installing double glazing to windows and doors and add a thicker insulation layer in the loft to control aircraft noise.</p><p>If it proves difficult to control noise in the bedroom then think about changing rooms so that you sleep on the non-traffic side of the house. Another thought is to include pictures of nature as wall art – the bigger the better – as <a href="https://core.ac.uk/display/76945458?source=2" target="_blank">research has shown</a> that installing pictures of nature scenes on the walls, as well as playing relaxing sea sounds as background music, can significantly improve people's experiences of tranquillity and anxiety in a doctor's waiting room.</p><p>Many of us have enjoyed listening to the birds more often with the reduced traffic levels of lockdown. It would be nice to think the "new normal" would include some of these gains. Hopefully people will realize that many of the journeys they make by car are not strictly necessary. And it's important not to forget that nature is around us all the time – if only we just take a moment to stop and listen.</p>
By Cathy Cassata
Since your social calendar has been blank for the last few months, filling it back up can feel liberating — but it can also cause anxiety.
1. Ease Back Into It.<p>For those who live with social anxiety, <a href="https://www.communitypsychiatry.com/providers/allie-shapiro-m-d/" target="_blank">Dr. Allie R. Shapiro</a>, psychiatrist with <a href="https://www.communitypsychiatry.com/" target="_blank">Community Psychiatry</a>, says to slowly enter into a social life<em>.</em></p><p>"This will help them to ease into situations that were previously uncomfortable. As quarantine ends, the auto-avoidance will also end, necessitating their introduction back into situations they deeply fear. That's not a leap anyone should take all at once," Shapiro told Healthline.</p><p>Start by connecting with those in your closest inner circle.</p><p>"That circle is your comfort space, and people you feel most like yourself with and can be honest with and who you trust," Anhalt said.</p><p>When you're ready, she suggests reaching out to people you enjoy being with but may feel nervous around and need warming up to. Eventually, expand your circle to include people and situations that make you anxious.</p><p>"[The idea is to] give yourself a little taste of something that makes you anxious and then wait for the anxiety to calm down. Then increase your exposure a little more and wait for the anxiety to come down," Anhalt said.</p><p>If you're not ready to see people face-to-face, Abelovska suggests setting a goal to talk with a different person each day over the phone or via video chat.</p><p>"After you have had a week of calling a friend a day, why not go further and organize a group call with a few friends to get used to group interaction. If you feel ready, why not get a date [on the calendar] for a socially distanced walk with a friend," she said.</p>
2. Visualize Situations in Your Head.<p>Shapiro recommends preparing for upcoming social events by role-playing specific worries or concerns with someone you trust, on paper or in your head.</p><p>Abelovska elaborates by explaining if you have an upcoming walk planned with a friend or are about to meet them at the park, try to mentally plan your meetup and how you'd like it to go.</p><p>"Visualize your friend when you see them and what you will say. It may be awkward at first, especially as we are not able to hug or touch friends, but you will soon adapt to the new way of greeting a loved one," she said.</p><p>Another strategy Shapiro suggests is to challenge internal negative thought patterns with a reversal thought, either before or during anxiety-provoking situations.</p><p>For example, if you're going to an outing where you'll be around new people, she says, "Instead of auto-thinking, 'These people won't like me and will make fun of me,' try: 'They've been stuck inside for months just like me. We'll trade stories. They will like me and I'll probably find one new friend,'" she said.</p>
3. Allow Yourself to Be Scared.<p>Even if it seems like everyone around you isn't worried or scared to get back into the world, Shapiro says it's acceptable to have your own reaction and anxieties about the situation.</p><p>"Remember, no one has ever been through anything like this in the modern world, so no one really knows how to do it 'right.' Even the experts don't have all the answers, so it's normal to have your own uncertainties and doubts," she said.</p><p>Socialize at your comfort level, Shapiro adds.</p><p>"You're not obligated to do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or puts you at risk. There are a lot of different factors that will affect when you feel it's the best time to start venturing out. Think about your age, health history, quarantine situations, and even your own anxiety when taking that next step outside," Shapiro said.</p><p>Feelings of safety in the world validate some of our anxieties, notes Anhalt.</p><p>"There is so much unknown about what is ultimately safe, and some of our fears about being out in the world are actually warranted, so it's a good idea to be thoughtful about who you are engaging with socially, and understand if they are [on the same page] as you are," she said.</p><p>Share your feelings of panic and fear over social plans with those who are closest to you.</p><p>"You may feel slightly embarrassed about these feelings, especially if you are usually the life and soul of the party, but there's no shame in feeling slightly overwhelmed by the changes, especially after so much time spent alone," Abelovska said.</p><p>"I can guarantee that at least one of [your friends] will be going through the same thing and will be glad and relieved that you have spoken about it," she said.</p>
4. Practice Self-Care.<p>Prioritizing your physical health, learning breathing exercises, developing self-reflective practices like therapy and journaling, and talking to friends and family about your worries are all practical parts of anxiety management, says Anhalt.</p><p>"While we don't have a playbook, we can rely on coming back to ourselves and the present moment, and making sure we have [reliable] spaces in our lives so we can navigate the spaces that feel out of our control," she said.</p><p>Anhalt believes that people who work proactively on their mental health are better equipped to handle the unknowns.</p><p>"It's like doing emotional pushups, so when things get hard in the world, we have these core tools we can come back to that make us feel grounded," she said.</p><p>She compares going back into the world like participating in an obstacle course that you didn't get to see in advance.</p><p>"You might not be able to prepare for everything you're going to encounter, but you can get your body and mind ready to handle difficult things beforehand. This will put you in a better position to navigate anything that comes your way," Anhalt said.</p>
5. Get Professional Help.<p>If you've tried all you can to assimilate back into some form of socializing but anxiety and panic are interfering with your ability to do so, it may be time to reach out to a mental health professional.</p><p>Search the <a href="https://members.adaa.org/page/FATMain?" target="_blank">Anxiety and Depression Association of America</a> for a licensed mental health professional who specializes in anxiety and related disorders.</p>
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By Ann-Christin Herbe
Normally, it is easy for me to motivate myself to work out. But there are also the days when my couch seems so much more comfortable than the weight bench in the gym.
On such days, out of habit, I mostly reach for my cell phone and open Instagram to distract myself and buy a little more time. I'll go just a little later, I tell myself. Probably.
Not Good for the Self-Image<p>After just a couple of minutes on the social media platform, I am already being confronted with just how sporty other people seem to be. A muscular man is doing push-ups; a young woman in tight sportswear is holding a plate in front of the camera — hashtags: fitforlife and cleaneating.</p><p>Can this motivate me to do some sport today after all? Or does it only rub in my own weaknesses? Instagram has a bad reputation when it comes to influencing people's image of themselves. According to a <a href="https://www.rsph.org.uk/uploads/assets/uploaded/d125b27c-0b62-41c5-a2c0155a8887cd01.pdf" target="_blank">British study</a> from 2017, no other social media platform has such a negative impact on body image, sleep behavior and mental health.</p>
Instagram a Motivator After All?<p>Despite this, it would seem that it is, in fact, worthwhile spending a few minutes with the app every so often. A new study by scientists from the <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00071/full" target="_blank">Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)</a> shows that those who regularly watch motivational content on Instagram are more likely to be active and enjoy sports more.</p><p><span></span>"Our goal was to show people what their personal motivation is to do sports," says one of the study authors from NTNU, Frode Stenseng.</p><p>To test the influence of Instagram on sports motivation, the study participants were divided into two groups. One group followed an Instagram account that posted motivational sayings or images every three days over a period of four weeks, while the other one didn't.</p>
Sporting Fun Through Personal Initiative<p>The posts on the account were based on various motivation theories. They were meant to give users the feeling that they were part of a group and yet were acting autonomously at the same time.</p><p>"The participants who followed the motivation account associated many positive emotions with their sporting activities. The others did not," says Stenseng. This is because those who feel they have decided to do a workout on their own initiative because it fulfills their desire for fitness and health have more fun doing it.</p>
Targets Should Remain Realistic<p>"Reading motivational sayings in social networks can certainly trigger an initial motivation to want to do sport," says <a href="https://www.mindvisory.com/coaches/wolfram.html" target="_blank">motivation coach Petra Wolfram</a>. Nevertheless, it takes more than just motivation to get those sports shoes on.</p><p>"Before I set myself a goal, I take stock of where I am at," says Wolfram. The next step is to consider what one actually wants to achieve. "The goal is allowed to be a bit of a dream, but it should also be realistically achievable," she says. If not, she says, people who are just starting off in sports will tend to give up quickly.</p>
Set Milestones<p>Wolfram has other tips for getting people moving: "The path to the goal is important. I like to compare it with climbing a mountain. When you're at the bottom, you may not be able to see the summit yet, so you have to set in-between goals."</p><p>And if you experience a setback, you shouldn't focus on it for too long, says Wolfram. "Don't ask 'Why did this happen to me?' as much as 'What can I do better and what do I need to get ahead?'"</p>
The Business of Fitness Influencers<p>Instagram is the perfect platform to market your own sporty lifestyle. Fitness influencers provide their followers with recipe ideas and self-designed training programs — some free of charge, some for large sums of money. Along with this comes the daily message: "You are part of the community; we'll get fit together."</p><p>As well as likes and comments, the influencers profit above all from the willingness of their community to spend money. In an American study, 82% of people surveyed said they would buy a product if an influencer recommended it to them. The more people the influencers reach, the more companies pay them for cooperating.</p><p>"Influencers have an enormous reach and impact these days," says psychologist Silje Berg. But she says there is a problem in that much of the content propagated by influencers in the fitness scene is not based on scientific knowledge.</p><p>"The study showed that content based on theory can have positive effects, which is why it is important that more people in this area make good use of their reach," says Berg. It is also important for users to approach the content on the platform with a critical eye, she says.</p>
Negative Feedback Through Comments<p>So-called transformation journeys — when a person's sporting development is accompanied from the very beginning — are also popular. "The encouragement and recognition that people experience through comments can have a motivating effect," says motivation coach Wolfram. "And people start talking with one another and giving each other support."</p><p>But not every interaction on Instagram is positive. Comment sections are never without expressions of hate, envy and negativity. Wolfram warns that reading such comments can be demotivating. "It's important to develop a thick skin against such comments to protect yourself," she says.</p><p><span></span>When she works with competitive athletes, she gets them to completely avoid social media for a few days before a top event or after a big failure as a way of protecting themselves.</p>
Relevance of Health and Sports<p>But despite the disparaging remarks to be found in comment sections and the negative influence Instagram seems to have on people's body image, the researchers from Norway found several good aspects to the social media platform.</p><p> "The study showed that social media can also have a positive influence and is useful in drawing attention to the relevance of health and sports," says Berg.</p><p>And for me, that now means it's high time to get off the couch and go do some sport!<span></span></p>
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By Nicholas Joyce
The coronavirus has resulted in stress, anxiety and fear – symptoms that might motivate a person to see a therapist. Because of social distancing, however, in-person sessions are less possible. For many, this has raised the prospect of online therapy. For clients in need of warmth and reassurance, could this work? Studies and my experience suggests it does.
Telehealth Versus Traditional Therapy<p><a href="https://www.cigna.com/hcpemails/telehealth/telehealth-flyer.pdf" target="_blank">Private insurance companies</a> like Cigna and Aetna, have come around; they now provide coverage for what they see as a "legitimate" service. And <a href="https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/american-wells-2019-consumer-survey-finds-majority-of-consumers-open-to-telehealth-adoption-continues-to-grow-300906438.html" target="_blank">surveys show</a> consumers are receptive to telehealth counseling: no driving to an appointment, no searching for a parking space, no worries about childcare while they're away, no need to switch providers if they move, and no problem if the specialist happens to be far away.</p><p>Online therapy opens doors for clients who wouldn't otherwise seek help, <a href="https://www.worldcat.org/title/empirical-examination-of-the-influence-of-personality-gender-role-conflict-and-self-stigma-on-attitudes-and-intentions-to-seek-online-counseling-in-college-students/oclc/941976505" target="_blank">particularly patients</a> who feel stigmatized by therapy or intimidated by a stranger sitting across the room from them. Often, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1089/1094931041291295" target="_blank">people open up</a> more easily in telehealth sessions. Firsthand accounts have detailed <a href="https://www.romper.com/p/i-tried-online-therapy-for-a-month-this-is-what-happened-13630" target="_blank">positive experiences from consumers</a>.</p>
Overcoming Prejudices About Online Counseling<p>Now COVID-19 is forcing most traditional psychotherapists to adapt their practice to <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/expressive-trauma-integration/202003/covid-19-etherapy-in-times-isolation" target="_blank">online counseling</a>. After experiencing the medium, they are <a href="https://www.wecounsel.com/blog/why-every-therapist-in-private-practice-needs-a-telehealth-option/" target="_blank">overcoming their prejudices</a>. Many will convert some or all of their caseloads to telehealth after the pandemic ends. Most of our clients seem to be good with it: responding to a satisfaction survey, 85% of USF students strongly or somewhat agreed their telehealth experience was comparable to an in-person visit.</p><p>All this allows a continuity of care for clients that before was impossible; there is, however, a caveat. Because of the coronavirus, some of my clients at USF who live out-of-state have moved back home. That means, legally, I can no longer serve them. Even though they are still USF students, my license is valid only in Florida.</p><p>For telehealth to work effectively, our national system of licensing and regulation law needs to adapt. Although the federal government temporarily halted HIPAA regulations to promote telehealth during this time, not all states are allowing out-of-state practice. The coronavirus may not be here forever, but spring break and Christmas holidays always will. We need seamless telehealth across state lines.</p>
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