Cognizance of emotional health is key, say local professionals
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COVID-19Maintaining self-care

Cognizance of emotional health is key, say local professionals

Pay attention to body signals and emotions, and know that resources are available.

Community members gathered at the 10.27 healing partnership in February 2019 for a mezuzah hanging ceremony. Photo courtesy of Maggie Feinstein
Community members gathered at the 10.27 healing partnership in February 2019 for a mezuzah hanging ceremony. Photo courtesy of Maggie Feinstein

In navigating a COVID-19 world in which the familiarities of work, family life and institutional connections have been upended, community members are being forced to readjust. Whether that means working from home and simultaneously serving as an IT manager for children’s educational learning, determining how best to socially distance in a grocery store’s narrow aisles or finding methods of human connection when social media feels tired, people are undergoing novel constraints.

As a result, some have been experiencing unsettling feelings, explained Maggie Feinstein, director of the 10.27 Healing Partnership.

“I think the two biggest emotions that are experienced right now are fear and loneliness,” she said. “Fear and loneliness are really uncomfortable emotions — when we think about anger, a lot of the time although anger can be problematic, it’s actually more comfortable — loneliness is one of the most uncomfortable emotions to experience.”

Similarly, for many people, anxiety and uncertainty are emanating from the disquietude that’s permeated so much of contemporary life, said Stefanie Small, director of clinical services at Jewish Family and Community Services.

“I think you check in with any number of people, as maybe we all have, and there are so many varying levels of emotional experience around this,” noted Angelica Joy Miskanin, psychotherapist at JFCS. Whether it’s confusion, calm, or any feeling in particular, “the most important thing I think for any of us who may be kind of vacillating emotionally is to really pay attention to our body signals and those sensations.”

“When people are having a hard time, the first thing they should do is just kind of take a break. And again, that break could just be closing your computer, standing up and looking out the window, standing on your porch and taking a deep breath, taking a walk around the block or stopping and going to have a cup of tea,” said Small.

Adopting these measures can be beneficial, explained Miskanin: “I’m an art therapist so I made sure to grab an ongoing art piece that I had in the office, because that’s helpful to me, but if it’s music or movement or dance, finding ways to incorporate those things into your daily life” is important, because “you’re helping yourself regulate your nervous system and therefore being able to be more productive in the times when you have to be.”

Angelica Joy Miskanin will work on her “inside/outside box,” an art project, during periods at home. Photo courtesy of Angelica Joy Miskanin

Perhaps surprising to some is that even amidst a global pandemic, life persists. Responsibilities, both personal and professional, continue, so ensuring one’s well-being is critical, agreed the professionals.

The current irony, however, is that for so many individuals in relative isolation the primary mode of communicating, maintaining relationships or receiving information is also potentially damaging.

“Facebook, or Instagram or any other social media can help ward off loneliness because it can increase connectivity. It also can increase loneliness because it can feel like everybody else is together somewhere and you’re not,” said Feinstein. As a result, people should “notice the emotions it brings up. If it gives some sense of relief, continue doing it. If it gives some sense of desperation, or it starts to make any of those feelings worse, then don’t continue.”

Along those lines, “if you’re finding yourself reading article after article, or watching news story after news story, and then you start to notice that you’re getting a little bit of a bellyache maybe that’s the time to shut down for a little bit and back away and do something else,” said Miskanin.

Along with maintaining self-care there are ways to “exert control over the situation,” said Small.

For starters, establish boundaries between home and work.

Employees who have been instructed to remain at their residences can begin by avoiding the desire to stay in pajamas, Small said: “People should get dressed and wear some approximation of what they would wear to work, because psychologically it is giving you an ability to make the differential between home and work.”

Similarly, keeping to a daily schedule can help, explained Miskanin. “While I would leave that up to the individual, because that experience is so subjective, I do happen to believe that when we create a sense of routine that can be really powerful for a lot of people, particularly in a time when it’s hard to know what to expect tomorrow.”

Consistent with a theme of regularity or predictability is establishing designated at-home areas for work or school, explained Small.

“The ideal is if everybody can be in separate locations throughout the house, and everybody has their assigned location” with a clear workspace, she said. “That is what allows you to keep those boundaries between home and work and allows you to have the separation in your brain that your physical location is not currently letting you do. Without those boundaries everything just bleeds right into each other and then you just have a 24-hour workday, and a 24-hour school day, and none of that is good.”

Angelica Joy Miskanin will work on her “inside/outside box,” an art project, during periods at home. Photo courtesy of Angelica Joy Miskanin

With schedules and spaces likely blurring, there’s going to be some messiness to most people’s attempts at creating an optimal work/home divide. For that reason, Small recommended returning to language found in Genesis 1.

When God completed the efforts of several days, the Torah doesn’t say that God saw that the work “was ‘perfect.’ It doesn’t say, ‘excellent.’ It doesn’t say, ‘awesome.’ It says, ‘good,’” noted Small. “In American society, and especially in Jewish American society, we always hold ourselves up to be amazing and excellent and awesome, and we need to go back to the basics of what God expected of Himself and go with just ‘good.’ And ‘good’ needs to be good enough for now.”

In addition to such recommendations, communal resources are readily available to those who need them, explained Feinstein. People can visit online at 1027healingpartnership.org, or, for those interested in speaking with someone from the 10.27 Healing Partnership, they can call 412-697-3534.

Small offered similar advice.

A list of local resources is available at jfcspgh.org, she said. Or, “if people need someone to talk to, it doesn’t matter if they’re a client or not, if they need someone to talk to they can call our number (412-521-3800), leave a message with the answering service and someone will call them back.”

“The Jewish agencies are really trying hard to work together to support our community,” said Miskanin. “These are unprecedented times and the agencies are really trying to step up to provide what’s needed in the ways that they can.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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