Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The New Normal

 The New Normal

What an incredible time we are all living in, aren’t we? A tiny micro-organism, that can’t even be seen with the naked eye, and the entire world has bowed down to it. Indeed, if there is any superpower at the moment, it is the COVID-19 virus! Suddenly, the world as we knew it, the world in which we were busy leading our even busier lives – has come to a crashing halt.

Much of what is happening in the world right now is in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the world waits with bated breath for Life to become normal again. Yet …… what is ‘normal’ anyway? Have these few months of living in the ‘essentials’ mode changed the way we look at normal?

In many ways, our lives have become minimalistic – we are staying at home, not spending on needless things, spending a big chunk of time taking care of ourselves, our homes and our families. Paradoxically, it is also a time where we are milking technology for every drop – we’re doing everything online – be it business meetings, classroom teaching, meeting friends – we’re finding newer ways to connect in this era of social distancing. How much of this will we carry forward into our lives?

Here’s a dekko at what has probably changed irrevocably for us, and for the generations to follow:

Vocabulary Additions
The last few months have seen a rapid evolution in our vocabulary. Social distancing, lockdown, PPE (personal protection equipment), quarantine, containment zones, have become words of everyday usage. 

Altered Social Interactions
‘Social distancing’ is not just a new term in our vocabulary, it is a whole new set of social behaviours that we are adapting to. From shaking hands to folding them in greeting, from hugs to 6 feet distance waves, from blowing kisses to wearing masks – the way we relate to each other has undergone a sea change.

Our Relationship with Technology
Much of the world has been significantly dependent on technology for many aspects of daily life – work, entertainment, leisure activities. Yet, when it comes to interpersonal connect, technology has always been seen as coming in the way between ‘real’ connection between people, adding the barrier of the screen or gadget. We have all believed that face-to-face is preferable to Facetime, real is at any given time, better than virtual. The pandemic has turned this belief on its head. What would we have done in these times of social distancing and travel restrictions, had we not had Facetime, Skype, WhatsApp and other video calling applications? How would we have reached out to our loved ones, our friends, and to the community at large, had technology not come to our rescue? What the pandemic has shown us, is that our need for human connection transcends all other needs, and when ‘real’ is not an option, ‘virtual’ can indeed serve us beautifully. So, part of our new normal is probably going to be a different way to relate to technology, where we start seeing technology as an aid to human connect, rather than a barrier!

Breakdown of the Concept of Physical Space
A dedicated space and location for specific needs. You need to go to a school to learn and study. You need an office with a specific setup for work. You need a clinic to examine patients, or to conduct therapy. You need malls to shop in, multiplexes to watch movies in. Restaurants to eat out. The global response to pandemic has shattered all these beliefs. All you need is yourself, your devices, and your focus – and all of the above can happen from your home. School comes home to you on your screen, you can have virtual meetings with your co-workers without having to commute daily to office, and your work gets done just right. Doctors can examine you online, and you can connect to your therapist online too. Tele Health and Tele Mental Health options help you ensure that you’re taking the right care of yourself. While many of us have already known and adapted to the convenience of online shopping and Netflix, these have now become a way of life rather than a choice you would exercise. Of course, as we look forward to malls, theatres, and other public places to open up soon, it is highly likely that consumer behaviour has undergone a seismic shift that is unlikely to fall back to how it earlier was.

Mental Health Concerns
Unfortunately, uncertainty is going to be part of our new normal. With global economy having undergone an upheaval, with job losses and pay cuts across industries, sectors, and countries, worry and concern about the future is likely to be a topmost concern for many. This is fertile ground for anxiety, depression, and other mental health vulnerabilities to set in. 

Yet, with all these changes, it is also worth asking: what are we likely to carry with us into our new normal? What are some things that haven’t changed, and are likely to remain unchanged? 

Family at Centre Stage 
This time has brought home the fact that our family is at the heart of our life, and our number one priority. We may have been highly ambitious, accomplished, driven and distracted by the external world, but our loved ones continue to reign supreme in our hearts. When push comes to shove, when it comes down to what is truly important for us, most of us, like homing pigeons, have flown to our nests, our homes, our loved ones. We may argue and fight, we may dislike many things about each other, we may often crave space and freedom, but we don’t cease caring for and loving our families. The pandemic has given many of us the gift of time, precious time to reconnect with our family members, re-ignite the flame, and re-energise the bonds. 

Essential Needs
Yes, the pandemic, and the world’s response to it, has also reminded us of what our essential needs are – both physical as well as emotional! The dreaded Corona has given us a close-up view about what our priorities are, or ought to be! The needs at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy continue to be the fundamental needs, no matter how advanced civilisation becomes. Yet, our core emotional, psychological, and perhaps spiritual needs, are equally crucial, and ignoring those, could lead to various mental health or interpersonal challenges for us. These essential emotional needs are essentially our deepest yearnings for connection, peace, and harmony. Thus, we have all learned that we need to strike a balance, ensure that our essential physiological needs are met, at the same time, we are also meeting our essential emotional needs.

So …… as we take cautious steps into the future, we carry with us the blueprint of the core of humanity, unchanged and unfettered. Our new normal, I am sure, will continue to be founded on this essentially human core, and, resilient race that we are, we fill find a way to intelligently adapt to the changes that the world as we know it, has undergone. Finally, we will carry an awareness of how the littlest of beings in Nature can precipitate a global transformation of a breath-taking scale and magnitude; and this awareness will, hopefully, keep us humble and human!

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Making Lockdown Meaningful

We have all grown up with our own culturally relevant stories of an impending apocalypse. Ample versions of ‘end of the world’ stories abound across cultures. Additionally, environmentalists have been warning us for decades now of climate change and other environmental factors that could herald doomsday. None of the cultures, none of the stories, however, spoke about a microscopic organism bringing the entire world to a standstill.

Indeed, COVID-19 has managed to achieve the impossible – bring humanity to its knees, regardless of country, colour, or culture. While the world sits at home, in varying degrees of lockdown, out there, Nature is rebooting. We have seen pictures of peacocks walking our urban streets, whales and dolphins re-emerging, rivers being cleansed.

‘Social distancing’ is not just a new term in our vocabulary, it is a whole new set of social behaviours that we are adapting ourselves to. In many ways, our lives have become minimalistic – we are staying at home, not spending on needless things, spending a big chunk of time taking care of ourselves, our homes and our families. Paradoxically, it is also a time where we are milking technology for every drop – we’re doing everything online – be it business meetings, classroom teaching, meeting friends – we’re finding newer ways to connect in this era of social distancing.

There have been many videos, write-ups and articles about how to effectively use this time, which is a gift to us in a way – time snatched out of our busy-ness of Life to spend with our loved ones, to go deeper within ourselves, to do all the things that we have always wanted to do, but never got around to, because there was just never enough time! Well, we have all the time now – unexpected, unplanned, and unsolicited – and many of us don’t know what to do with it.

So ….. it brings me to the question: what is the right way to spend this lockdown time? On one hand, I see around me, focused and motivated people who are doing so much: signing up for courses online, creating new businesses for themselves, learning a language, getting that book written or that project completed. On the other hand, I also see people who are truly relaxing, and reconnecting with lost parts of themselves – picking up on long-dropped hobbies, sketching, painting, gardening, dancing, cooking; reading books; binge watching movies or web series, playing with their kids. And then there is the third set of people, those who are bored to death, who wish they could do something, anything really, but are simply unable to come out of the ennui and the mental fog. And when they look around all those super achievers or relaxed enjoyers, they feel guilty and ashamed.

Back to our question; what way is the best way to spend lockdown? The answer is, of course, that there is no one best or right way. To each his own, and as I said earlier, this time is really a gift to us, and it is up to us how we want to use this gift. If you feel it’s a golden opportunity for you to simply laze around and catch up on sleep, that’s just right for you! Go ahead and do it! If you want to catch up on that list of books to-be-read, by all means, do that. If you want to utilise the time to meditate, by all means, meditate away!

All you need to do, really, is to remain connected with yourself, and remain true to what you wish to do. I reiterate, this time is a gift to us, for us to spend the way we wish to, and no one can judge what is the right way for us. We are all dealing with this pandemic in our own way. Trust your inner wisdom, you are spending this time in a way that is exactly right for you!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

From Illness to Wellness


Isha called in sick for work, as she was down with a bad cold. The youngest child of her parents, Isha was brought up in a loving, protected, environment. As she had been small and weak as a baby, her parents had always been extra careful about her health, always that she was well protected against rain, heat and cold. She was never allowed to eat out, as her mother feared she would come down with a stomach bug. Every little physical complaint was catered to, and taken care of, with the utmost love and attention. Isha grew up with the belief that she was physiologically delicate and did not keep good health.

Sandhya, Isha’s colleague, was always at work, come rain or sunshine, come health or illness. She grew up in a family where minor scrapes, aches and pains were considered as part of day-to-day life, where she was encouraged to go about her daily work even if she were down with a fever, and where mental and physical resilience were always encouraged and appreciated. Sandhya’s self image today, vis-a-vis her health is that she is a sturdy and resilient individual, who does not crash at the first sneeze or cough.

Today, all of us, at some level, understand and accept the huge impact our mind has on our physical well being. Research has today implicated the mind, not just in psychosomatic disorders such as ulcers, blood pressure and headaches, but in chronic conditions such as diabetes as well as in terminal illnesses such as cancer and tumours! This intangible, invisible thing called the mind, which has the power to bring the body to its knees, is also a delicate entity, easily influenced by external winds. And the strongest influence on the human mind is the thoughts and messages communicated by the significant others in our life. Our close family members can, and often do, influence the way we think, the way we look at life, and at ourselves. It is only natural; then, that our thoughts about our physical health and well being can be significantly influenced by our close relationships. And we, in turn, influence the health and well being of our family members as well.

Knowing this, it is time for each of us to take charge of how we impact the health of our family members, and do so in a positive manner rather than otherwise. Let us look at some ways in which we can be a positive influence on the health of our loved ones. 

Be a Positive Support
When your loved one is feeling unwell, sympathise with him or her. Be sensitive to the illness, or condition, that is causing pain or discomfort. Communicate your understanding to your loved one. At the same time, point out the positive aspects of the situation. For instance, if your spouse is down with a viral fever and has to miss an important meeting, empathize with him. At the same time, also point out that “at least you will be well in time for the big presentation next week.” It always helps to be positive in the face of illness. It helps restore immunity, it makes you feel better, and it makes the present situation far more tolerable.

Condition Health, Not Illness
A lot of our behaviours are the result of conditioning, that usually takes place in our childhood. Behaviours reinforced by our parents in a positive manner are repeated, and those that are criticised or punished are less likely to be repeated. Thus, as parents, ensure that you condition your children to grow up as healthy adults, and not as sickly, delicate beings. Treating a child as a weak child, and giving too much attention every time the child is sick, will condition the child’s system to repeat those behaviours, and will also condition the mind to believe that he is a weak child. In contrast, if you focus on health and well being, the child will be conditioned to do so himself, and if you teach him to be tough in the face of illness, he will eventually internalise this idea. Build psychological hardiness in children, and that in turn will ensure higher resilience to and quicker recovery from illnesses.

Don’t Mollycoddle
People often mistake care with mollycoddling. It is one thing to care for a sick child and be concerned about his well being, it is quite another to fuss over a slight sprain or a little stomach ache! When a loved one is unwell, pampering him or her will always make him feel better, and there is no harm in doing so – to a certain extent. Overdoing it can backfire badly, not so much on you, but more on the person himself. Mollycoddling leads the person to believe that even a small illness or ache is big enough to bring work to a standstill, lie on the bed, and complain about the discomfort. Worse, it conditions the person’s mind to believe that the body is really suffering and is unwell, and as discussed earlier, this conditioning goes a long way in shaping the person’s belief about his or her own physical health and well being.
As a child, Parag suffered frequently from the Flu. Every time he came down with the Flu, his mother would take leave and be home with him. He would not be allowed to go to school until not only his fever, but his cold and cough were completely recovered. Eventually, every time he got a cold or cough, his parents started him off on an antibiotic course, and his mother often said to him, “You are coughing, I know tomorrow you will come down with fever.” Now, as an adult, Parag has the same mindset. Every time he comes down with a severe bout of cold, he gives up on his body, and “knows” that he will now come down with a high fever.
In psychological terms, the person inculcates something like a ‘learned helplessness’. This means, that the person does not even make an attempt to fight the illness or overcome it, but succumbs to it meekly.

Teach By Example
Every time Rohit feels unwell, he remembers his mother. Diagnosed with cancer at the age of 42, Rohit’s mother never lost her zest for life. Despite intensive and invasive treatment interventions, she was always smiling, and went about her life as normally as she could. Rohit could not remember a single day when his mother was not up and about every morning, waking them up with a smile for school, seeing them off, having hot lunch waiting for them, taking their studies, and going about being a mum and a wife as though there was nothing wrong with her. She maintained not just her positivity and her enthusiasm for life, but also her routine and her activity levels, right up to the last few months, when her body was racked with pain, medications, and radiation.
Actions speak louder than words. It’s as simple as that! If your children and your spouse, or any member in your family, see you taking illness or physical discomfort in your stride, it will create a far stronger impact than any words could. Thus, the way you tackle illness, both in action as well as in thought, will help shape the way your family members look at it.

Use Humour
Ill humour is often a concomitant of ill health. Naturally, when one is unwell, one feels irritable and out of sorts. Showing them the light side of the situation, helping them laugh at themselves and their condition can often create a positive change in the person. Of course, it is important to use humour sensitively. In our attempt to distract the person from his illness, we should not engage in humour that could be even remotely perceived as being derogatory, sarcastic or insensitive. Remember, humour is to be used to generate positivity and bring a smile to the person’s face, and happiness in his heart. 

Enumerate Strengths
When Bhushan got a severe asthma attack and could not accompany his daughter on her first day of nursery school, he was very upset with himself. Bhushan suffered from chronic asthma since childhood, and this had often deprived him of many opportunities. This time around, he felt really low, as he felt he was missing out on little things in his child’s life due to his asthma. Bhavna, his wife, smilingly told him that this was not the case. She pointed out how, while he did have this chronic illness, he otherwise enjoyed good health and was always around when she or their daughter needed him. She reminded him of the times when he had taken so much pressure at work and yet not subdued to an asthma attack.
As a family member, if you can support your loved one to focus on his or her strengths, it can be immensely helpful. Illness is typically a time when you feel low and down, and it is natural that at such times, you dwell on your limitations or your weaknesses and lose sight of the strengths. Having someone see those strengths can be heartening and uplifting.

Help Build Perspective
At the end of the day, what really helps change one’s mindset from illness to wellness is the way in which one sees the illness, the perspective that one is able to gain on it. Here, having a family member with a positive, sensitive, and sensible approach can help the person see things in the right light. Yes, illness can be debilitating, and at times, even devastating. Its implications range from a few missed days at work, to a complete lifestyle change, and at times, a real threat to life. Yet, when dealt with in a positive manner, each one of us can take illness in our stride and carry on with life as best as we can.

Restore Harmony
A disease is a state of dis-ease. Another way to see it would be that a disease, or an illness, upsets the internal harmony in an individual. This disharmonious state could be in the mind or the body, but usually, the repercussions are felt and experienced in the body. Anything you can do to help restore this equilibrium for your loved one, will not only make him or her feel emotionally relaxed, but will also directly impact the severity of the symptoms as he or she is experiencing them. While the mind-body relationship is a complex subject of scientific study, as a supportive family member, it is enough if we just try to understand the internal sense of upset or disharmony that our loved one is experiencing, and do whatever is in our power, to restore harmony.

Create a Wellness Culture
Every family has its own unique culture, shaped by the family members, their experiences, and their personalities. Make a proactive, conscious attempt to ingrain in your family members, this positive outlook toward wellbeing. Create a family culture that focuses on health and wellbeing, and not on ill health and illness, that can accept occasional health upsets as part of life, yet not get overwhelmed by them, and can keep the focus on becoming and being healthy.

Just one word of caution, though! Having an illness focus by no means implies that you have to be insensitive to an unwell family member, that you must expect every member in your family to be on his two feet no matter what. Far from it! What it does mean is that you see, and help that family member see, that occasional illness or disease is part of Life, and must be treated as such. It means being sensitive to the discomfort the person may be suffering, at the same time, encouraging the person to see that it is a small part of his existence at any given point in time and help him focus equally on other things that are happening in his life.

Article first published in Complete Wellbeing magazine, July 2011

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Psychotherapy and Healing: The Twain Shall Meet …….

First published in Just Let Go, a magazine released at the World Congress for Regression Therapies (WCRT-6), in September 2017

Psychological Counselling and Healing both use techniques that are very diverse, and on the surface, there seems to be no common ground. Psychology is a social science, it scientifically studies human behaviour, creates postulates about what drives normal V/s abnormal behaviour, and comes up with theories about the same. Based on this, various therapeutic interventions have been developed by psychologists over the years, to help clients deal with issues and problems. Right from Freudian psychoanalysis, to Rogerian person-centred therapy, to the currently more popular REBT and CBT, all these therapeutic interventions have been developed after years of research by some of the best psychologists our era has ever produced. Their efficacy has been proved over the years, and it takes years and years of rigorous training and certification to be able to practice these therapies.

The mental illness model is a bio-psycho-social one. In other words, it posits that mental illness is caused by a combination of biological (neurochemical, electrical, hormonal, or structural abnormalities), genetic, psychological (personality and temperament) and environmental (family dynamics, society, peers) factors.

Healing, on the other hand, is based on a very different approach. Healing works on things that may not be immediately and tangibly measurable scientifically. Many (though not all) healing modalities are based on the energy or chakra model (Reiki, Pranic Healing, Crystal Healing, Aromatherapy, Flower Remedies) or variations of the same. Healers work intuitively, psychotherapists are trained to work scientifically. Healers deal with the intangible (aura, energy, soul, spirit), therapists on the tangible (behaviours, responses, cognitions and beliefs). While every healing modality has its own conceptual framework, primarily it works on the mind-body-soul inter-relationship.

Coming from a background of Clinical Psychology, the world of ‘healing’ seemed like an unreal one. When I first started working with clients, I was armed with (or so I thought) all the various therapeutic tools and interventions to help them work on their issues and problems. My journey was initially a very fulfilling and satisfying one. As the years progressed though, I felt the need to equip myself with more tools. The more I engaged with clients, understood their issues and held their hand as they walked their often painful paths toward recovery, I felt I needed to do more. There were things I sensed that no therapeutic model or theory could explain.

My journey to seek for more tools, more ways to help clients led me to various healing modalities – hypnotherapy to begin with, and later, Reiki, crystals and so forth. Today, I still retain my conceptual bio-psycho-social training and approach and use this to remain grounded and keep my clients grounded. But I also do not hesitate to use my intuition, my ‘gut’ and my innate sense of what needs to be done in the moment with the client to make sure I am able to help them to the best of my abilities.

Essentially, my journey has taught me this: while classical psychotherapy and healing may seem like two ends of a spectrum, they are both driven by the same goal – that of helping clients overcome issues and arrive at a higher level of functioning. While we have some exceptionally effective psychotherapists, and some amazing healers in this world, combining the two approaches can bring benefits to the client that are priceless. Helping clients transcend their blocks and difficulties, while at the same time keeping them grounded in the current reality of their situation, is a feat that can easily and repeatedly be achieved through this combined approach.

Thus, healers and psychotherapists have much to learn from each other. Healers can learn the art of listening without judgement, the ability to maintain objectivity and give empathy, the ability to refrain from giving advice, challenge irrational thoughts, use confrontation wisely and empower clients do fight their own battles from psychologists. Psychologists on the other hand, would benefit immensely by learning to at times simply ‘be’ with the client in the therapy, learn to trust their gut and sixth sense, at times go with that sense and provide a soothing, healing space for the clients for their healing to take place. Instead of seeing each other as adversaries, if we learn to accept the best from every healing modality and integrate  it in our work with clients, we would have achieved what we all set out to do in this journey – help ease the path for people in pain.