WHAT WE NEED NOW IS A LITTLE HUMOR

A medical face mask with smiley face against a blue background

Lexicon for a Pandemic

The New Yorker July 20, 2020 Issue By Jay Martel

Maskhole: An individual who wears a mask in a way that makes it completely ineffective—e.g., below the nose, under the chin, on the back of the head.

Face naked: The state of facial exposure that occurs when an individual declines to wear a mask in public. For example, “Pence went all face naked to the Mayo Clinic.”

Body mullet: What most people wear on Zoom calls: a nice top and, below the waist, underwear or less. (“Business up top, party down below.”)

The novid-19: The nineteen minutes after a too-close interaction with a maskless stranger during which you experience a thickness in your throat and a certainty that you’re dying. This sometimes lasts longer if frantic hand washing, antiseptic gargling, and estate planning are not readily available.

Overdistancing: When the guy in front of you in line has a metric understanding of the six in six feet, allowing twenty feet to open up between him and the next person in line, which then allows others to interpret that next person as the end of the line and to cut in front of you.

Domino distancing: When the person behind you in line stands too close, causing you to crowd the person in front of you, and on and on until everyone dies.

Emotional distancing: Deciding that now really isn’t the time to make big decisions about a relationship or, for that matter, to have a conversation about it.

Covideo: A short video featuring a quarantined individual’s child doing something adorable and/or profane, the public sharing of which falls somewhere between cute and a cry for help.

Stockholm syndrome: The assumption that everyone would be just fine without any government restrictions.

Someday, Noneday, Whoseday?, Whensday?, Blursday, Whyday?, Doesn’tmatterday: Days of the week.

Parenting: The ability to figure out why the PlayStation isn’t working with the Wi-Fi.

Body Zoom-morphia: Finding your own image on a group video call so unappealing that you are unable to focus on anything else.

Quorumtine: The minimum number of family members necessary to decide what to watch on TV.

Pan-demic: A potentially dangerous increase in the baking of bread in a quarantined home.

covid-30: Formerly covid-15; the amount of weight gained by an average adult during quarantine. Sometimes related to a pan-demic.

Helter shelter: That moment in the quarantine day when everything seems dirty and chaotic and you feel like saying, “Fuck it, let’s go outside. I don’t care if we die and a bunch of other people do, too.”

Flattening the curve: Trying to fit into your jeans after three months of sweatpants. (See covid-30.)

Germophobe: Formerly, crazy people (e.g., Howard Hughes); now everyone except crazy people.

Going viral: No longer used. ♦

Recovering from Loneliness in the Age of Covid-19

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Feeling Lonely? So many people feel like you do.

Before the social distancing and isolation brought on by Covid-19, there was an epidemic of loneliness in the United States. A recent poll identified three out of every five Americans as suffering from chronic loneliness. Among millennials the percentage is even higher. 

With Covid-19 even more Americans feel lonely. It’s not just about being physically alone. It’s a feeling that no one really cares about you. Yes, there is social contact online and by telephone. There is maybe even talking with someone six feet away. But none of this contact is the same as interacting with co-workers or others on site. The deep connection is missing.

Several of the patients in my practice as a clinical psychologist tell me they feel the pain of not being touched physically nor emotionally day after day.  They begin to think of themselves as not really mattering to anyone. 

Because I am also a psychology professor, I try to give my patients some ways of thinking about being alone that psychologists have found are helpful.

Realize Loneliness Is a Label about Yourself Put on a Feeling

Being alone can create a feeling of emptiness, anxiety, dis-ease.  Humans are social animals with a need to bond with others.  When this need is not satisfied, there is a feeling of lack.  Yet, it is not the lack itself, but the label attached to this lack that creates the pain of loneliness. 

In trying to figure out why there is not someone there for you, you might label yourself as not loveable.  Or you think that something is wrong with you, which whomever you are with will quickly notice. That lonely feeling, then, comes from thinking of oneself as a loser.  And when you label yourself as a loser you lose the motivation to begin or renew a relationship with others.  You then isolate even more, creating the very conditions that are distressing you.

Notice and Then Change What You Are Saying to Yourself

If you thought of yourself as loveable you might be more comfortable being alone. And you might also be more willing to seek out opportunities to be with others. 

But how do you see yourself as more loveable? First, notice what you are saying to yourself that is not helpful. Are you labeling yourself as flawed and that everyone eventually will see those flaws? That is a sure way to not venture out of your shell. Now change the flawed message to one that is more helpful.  Identify some of your attractive qualities and remember these each time you see yourself negatively.  In this way, the flaws are balanced out with the attractive qualities. 

Reach Out to Others

Now you are ready to connect with others. Yes, you will have to initiate the connection. That can be uncomfortable but, if you are now giving yourself the message that you have some positive qualities to share with others, it might be a little easier to reach out to others.

Yet, another thought might quickly enter your mind and keep you from taking action to connect with others. You might be thinking, “When I’m with others I think they are constantly evaluating me—what I say, how I look, what I do.” That self-talk holds you back so you have to change it into something more helpful.

Challenge that thought by saying “I will focus on the other person instead of focusing on the anxiety I feel when I feel I’m being evaluated.” Focusing on the other person instead of yourself takes the pressure off of what you are feeling.

Let the other person know what you noticed or heard instead of worrying about what you should reply. Stay with this stance. Everyone wants to be acknowledged as noticed and heard. It starts the connection and it deepens it.

Where to Find Others

If you don’t have some friends or relatives that you can reconnect with, try volunteering to help others. Volunteering increases your sense of really mattering to someone, which is the opposite of what you might have been thinking when you were isolating. 

Think about who you would get the most satisfaction from helping.  Would it be children, teenagers, adults in special circumstances, senior citizens?  Then do an online search for where you might be most needed.  The search terms would be the name of your city and the word, “volunteer”.  Or, you can make the search more specific, by adding the name of the group you would like to help (e.g. neighbors, homeless, migrants, special needs). VolunteerMatch.com and CreateTheGood.com are two sites that list volunteer opportunities in your local community.  Not only would you be making a positive change in your community, you would be meeting other people who are also volunteering. And in this time of the Covid-19 crisis, so many people need so much help.

If you want to help but still want to stay home, there are many ways you can volunteer virtually.  You won’t have quite the same experience of connection but you are taking the first step in reaching out to others.

Thus, by opening up your mind and focusing on the needs and words of others you will start to recover from loneliness.

Finding Real Love Online

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You meet someone on line.  Then you text.  Then you Zoom or, if possible, meet for coffee.   But why, as the interaction increases, do so many of these possible lovers turn into duds?

Maybe it is because what is presented online is not who the person really is.  Or maybe it is because spending so much time with people online leaves no time to build relationship skills.

So, what should you look for online in a possible partner?  And how do you best present yourself online?

To find the partner you really want, make a list of the qualities of that person that you feel are important for a good relationship.  Consider whether you are looking for a short-term or a long-term relationship because, in one study, both men and women focused on sexual desirability when evaluating a prospective short-term relationship.  They cited qualities such as physical attractiveness and athleticism.  Yet, when a long-term relationship is desired, honesty, warmth, kindness, and intelligence were cited.

Next, prioritize these qualities.  The first three priorities will then become what you will look for in online descriptions.  A person who really has those qualities will list them rather than just presenting superficial desirable qualities.

If only one of the qualities you desire is listed, you can use later interactions to ask questions that might elicit the other qualities or even some surprising other desirable qualities.  For example, you could ask what qualities the online prospect is looking for.  Then you will know whether there is a mismatch in what you both are seeking. Or you could ask about a time when the person told a lie and how they felt about it. 

What you often do not see immediately online are some qualities that are red flags.  Everyone is initially trying to present an ideal self. And you might be so enamored at the beginning that you are blind to the subtle cues that indicate that person is not a keeper. Often, it isn’t until you are much deeper into the relationship that these red flags begin to show.  For example, does the person want others to do things their way; blow hot and cold; get highly threatened by differences of opinion?  (More of these red flags can be found in Beverly Palmer’s Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life).  We all show some of these characteristics some of the time but it is the insistence and persistence of them that create problems in relationships. 

How do you find out about characteristics that do not bode well for a long-term relationship when you are just interacting online?  One strategy is to ask how they would react in a given situation.  Ask, “If someone interrupted you when you were trying to tell them something important, what would you feel and what would you do?” Or, “Tell me about a time when you were disappointed because someone didn’t think or act the way you expected them to.”

Now focus on yourself. How are you presenting yourself online?  There is not a long list of qualities you have to have in order to be loveable.  There is only one main thing you have to do: listen to the other person.  Online communication or texting can present some impediments to getting the full message that is being communicated.  But, if you pause before shooting off your reply, you can pick up the essence of the message and you can let your partner know what that essence is.

Everyone wants to be listened to and acknowledged that they were heard.  Showing you have listened to others makes them feel appreciated and valued.  They then love you because you make them feel this way.

To listen closely enough to the other person to understand what they are trying to communicate is not easy.  First you have to de-center and focus on the other.  You have to let go of any anxiety or concern about how you should respond.  Focus entirely on the other person instead of what you are thinking or feeling.   After you have heard what was said, do not give your instant reaction.  Instead, repeat back the essence of what you heard.  After you have acknowledged that you understood what was communicated, you can say what is important to you.  Throughout your conversation you have to let the other person know you have listened before stating your point of view.

You might also want to assess how good of a listener the other person is.  Since two people showing they are really listening to each other could be the start of a loving relationship.

Regan, P.C., Levin, L., Sprecher, S., Christopher, F.S. & Gate, R. (2000). Partner preferences: What characteristics do men and women desire in their short-term sexual and long-term romantic partners?. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality. 12 (3), 1-21. https:// doi.org/10.1300/J056v12n03_0

Too Much Togetherness?

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Here’s How to Keep the People You Are Cooped Up with from Getting on Your Nerves

Sue and Sam are both working from home (and their tiny home is feeling tinier by the minute).  Alisha is bored out of her mind and has never felt so alone even though she rooms with Jordan.  And then there is Luz who is losing her mind trying to entertain kids nonstop day in and day out. 

You might be working from home or have children at home–all day long.  Does it seem like every five minutes someone wants something?  And do you find yourself sometimes snapping at those in your home or even those on the screen?

You probably have discovered that criticizing or trying to control the behavior of other people in your life just doesn’t work.  So, what, then, can you do to not have frayed nerves?

First, set aside a personal space and a time of no interruptions for each person in your home.  It’s the constant demands for attention that get on your nerves.   Even in a small home, find a corner where you can set up a table and a chair, or if you have particularly pesky people around, you might even have to close a door or cordon your space off with a rope and hang and sign on it that says “shhh”.  Some private space and a quiet moment can help everyone decompress. But don’t forget to also set aside a mutually agreed upon time to interact.  After all, you don’t want to look like you are never approachable.

Perhaps you can’t avoid those taxing people (you may even be trying to homeschool them), but if you find yourself starting to snap at others, use this phrase instead of the snippy one to state your concern. Fill in the blanks in this phrase: “When you….I feel….and I want/need to…..” For example, “When you interrupt me, I feel harassed and I need to focus on what I’m doing for the next half hour.”  A statement like this does not criticize nor try to control the other person, because there is no “you” in this statement.  It simply states what you are feeling and what you need.

Another way to respond to triggering behavior is to monitor your rising tension or anger so you can do something to reduce it before giving a curt response. Stand up, stretch, and then take 3 slow, deep breaths.  Periodically do this even if you are not tense or angry because it can head off those feelings.  The deep breaths create a relaxation response as well as giving you a moment to re-group and re-focus.  If all of this fails and you catch yourself starting to yell, take a walk outdoors (but do tell the people in your house when you will be back).

Sometimes writing your complaint down on paper instead of saying it can be helpful.  The irritation is then on the paper instead of on your mind and you can even toss that irritation in the trash.  Or you can stash it away for a time when you can voice the complaint more calmly.

A great way to break the cycle of irritation and keep the peace is to say something positive.  Psychologists John Gottman and Robert Levenson found that it is not the amount of negative statements that dooms a relationship but the ratio of negative to positive statements. For a harmonious relationship there must be five positive communications for every one negative communication.  If a complaint or criticism does slip out, follow it with telling the other person what you appreciate about them.  It will keep them from feeling attacked and defensive, and may remind you why you choose to live with them in the first place.   

It only takes one of you to follow these suggestions and improve your household vibe.  Your choices can create the model for how to treat one another.  Then the people you interact with will tend to follow your lead. An example of the other person following your lead is seen in empathetic communication.  If you put aside your concerns and listen intently to the other person, you will be able to give that person empathetic feedback.  When someone receives empathy, they are more likely to give you empathy. These minor changes can help to create a happier relationship with those at home with you during these trying times.