Viral Fears

By Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW

Here in Seattle we have the unfortunate claim of being the epicenter of the US outbreak of the Novel Corona virus. Diagnostic criteria are still being refined, and confirmed cases increase daily. Most public gatherings have been cancelled, some schools have closed, and travel is being put on hold. This flu seems to be most dangerous for our elderly and immunocompromised, so it is unlike the influenza epidemic of 1918 which was especially lethal for young adults and children. It does however seem quite contagious.

For the majority of us, even if we get it and must quarantine ourselves, the most likely negative consequence is loss of income/education and a certain degree of cabin fever. These are inconvenient but luxurious concerns compared to death.

A good citizen is one who cares for the group as a whole. Even though we may be below age seventy and free of underlying health issues, we are each responsible for doing our part to care for the tribe that is the public. It is likely that a good number of us will need to quarantine to slow the progress of this virus.

Here are some measures that can be taken to reduce transmission:

  1. Wash all of your clothes each time you wear them. It appears that the virus can live on fabric for up to a week. The dryer is a germ-killing machine.
  2. Clean “high touch” areas such as door knobs, light switches, faucets and handles daily. At work don’t open doors or turn on/off faucets with your bare hands.
  3. Wipe your phone screen and computer keyboard daily.
  4. Wash your hands like an OCD person: hot water, twenty seconds of lathering, plus a paper towel equals clean.
  5. At home, switch out your kitchen and bathroom hand-towels every day. Or switch to paper towels for the duration.
  6. Try not to touch your face. This is hard! With every itch, I’m going through tissues like a fiend.

In preparation for your mental health needs, under self-quarantine:

  • Put together a list of projects for yourself and your kids in the categories of household, yard and bedroom tasks as well as creative/intellectual projects so you can still experience purpose and progress in your life.  
  • Pull out those books you’ve been meaning to read.
  • While you’re still healthy and mobile, get the ingredients to tackle cooking something new and challenging. An hour of prep is nothing for someone with two weeks of 24 hours to fill.
  • Maintain a normal sleep/wake schedule. Late nights watching Netflix plus isolation are a recipe for depression.

No matter what happens:

  1. The amygdala and limbic systems are the portions of the brain responsible for recognizing potential danger. The news is a constant amygdala stimulation event. The prefrontal cortex can calm the hindbrain down with conscious and soothing self-talk. Use your prefrontal cortex.

We will get through this.

Winter Mental Health Survival Tips

Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW

In the northwest at this time of year there is a dramatic shift in natural light.  We go from having sunny days to gray days–even weeks–without seeing sun or blue sky.  People respond by burrowing into work, homes, and offices and avoiding being outside for longer than it takes to get in or out of their cars. 

It’s no fun to be outside when it’s raining, cold, and windy.  But we still need light and fresh air.  One inexpensive way to add light is to get white Christmas lights and string them up in your home for additional sparkle.  It’s also a good idea to figure out where you sit the most and buy a full spectrum bulb for the light fixture illuminating that spot. 

The need for fresh air is both literal as well as symbolic:  we need freshness in our lives to keep our sense of vibrancy.   Learning something new, returning to a neglected creative activity that once gave us joy, and practicing self care are all life-fresheners.   Self care can be defined simply any activity whose sole goal is pleasure. 

For my fresh-air practice, I decided to expand my musical horizons.  My taste in music is lame.   I was in the sound equivalent of a cooking rut, where I kept reaching for the same three or four CD’s, not because I really liked them but because I kind of liked them and didn’t know what else to try.   Deepening the rut was the fact that my kids take piano lessons so I rarely play music at home because they need to practice morning and afternoon. 

The idea I came up with is to go to the library each week and select a musical genre I know nothing about, check out a CD, and play music at work while I write chart notes, blog, and write monthly receipts.  Over the past several weeks  I have enjoyed piano composed by prisoners at Theresienstadt, a concentration camp in Germany during World War Two, music by King Bennie Nawahi, a Hawaiian slack key guitar virtuoso from the 1920’s, and as I write this I’m listening to a modern jazz saxophonist named Houston Person.   It’s fun, fresh and free. 

Another self care practice I heartily recommend is getting massage.  My latest happy discovery is the 90 minute massage available through New Leaf Massage in Freemont  The massage therapist, Camille, specializes in working with other massage therapists so you KNOW she’s good.  She starts out with a hot neck pack and foot soak beforehand and it only gets better from there.    When you leave your entire body feels like a giant buttered noodle.   She also sells gift certificates, so if you are looking for a holiday present for your sweetie you could get them a massage or if you want them to get one for you; you can forward them this blog.

No matter what demands your life makes, you deserve to take good, loving care of yourself. 

The Importance of Being Ernest…About Self Care

University Book Store, 4326 University Way NE,...
Image via Wikipedia

I just did my very favorite November activity: I trekked down to the University Book Store to buy next year’s daily planner. For therapists, our daily planner is exactly as important as the Bible to a fundamentalist preacher.  Except we don’t tend to go around shaking it at people.

I slowly poked around the stacks and aisles of planners, comparing sizes and lay outs and covers and brands and arrived, as I always do on my very favorite type: a wildly overpriced weekly planner.

I’m proud to report that I went full-on tacky this year, with a fake alligator (!) pink (!!) cover which says both “attempt at sophistication” as well as “wishes she were a Vegas show girl.” If they had had one with peacock feathers and rhinestones, I would have gone with that in a heartbeat.

Even though I am most of the time a mature adult, I still need outlets for the googly-eyeball-loving kid in me. During this time of shrinking daylight, increased Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the stress of holiday commitments, engaging in little acts of self care can make all the difference between feeling merry and feeling quite contrary.

Right now is a great time to find a self-loving annual November ritual. Do it quick before your calendar is covered with commitments you are too busy to get away from.