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News & Press: Prevention and Wellness Program

Being Humane with Yourself

Thursday, April 23, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Howard Fradkin, PhD
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A self-care message from your Prevention and Wellness Program

Before the pandemic hit, I discovered a new self-help book at the library, The Rabbit Effect: Live longer, happier and healthier with the groundbreaking science of kindness (New York, Atria Books, 2019), by Kelli Harding, MD. As I look at her model of health, I am struck by how significant it is today both for our clients and for our own self-care in this Covid-19 pandemic. She describes how we are already spending $3.5 trillion dollars on health-directed resources (ironically, almost the amount of the CARES act); and yet, she observes we remain remarkably unwell. She described a rabbit study where they compared two groups of rabbits, both which were fed a high fat diet. Yet one group had 60% fewer fat deposits. The difference, it turns out, is that a new lab technician was holding the rabbits, talking to them, giving them affection, and you know what?  That is exactly what made the difference in their health versus the rabbits eating the same high fat diet. Harding named the difference of kindness the “rabbit effect.” Put more broadly, it is the social dimensions of health that have not been broadly considered in what makes the difference in what could make us healthier. 

We are at a critical time in our nation/world where all of us need to work together in order to change the face of this pandemic. It is going to take paying attention to all the social dimensions of health, as outlined in the diagram below from her book (thankfully many of which we as psychologists do pay attention to). 
She encourages us to look first at ourselves, the ways we care for ourselves when we are by ourselves, especially during these difficult times. For example, are you taking at least a few minutes each day to do some deep breathing/feeling your gratitude?  

Next, consider how we can increase the intimacy in any one-on-one relationship. This can include how we can increase the kindness we express to our intimate partners, significant others and family members—sometimes tough in this pandemic when we also are feeling frustrated, hopeless, and angry. 

Next, we can focus on our social ties—especially in this pandemic, including our neighbors and those in our social circle who may be hurting and need us to do simple things like checking in virtually, using Skype, Zoom, or any other platform where you can see them as well as hear them. It is amazing how healing it is to see people “in person.”

Our work as psychologists has radically changed for many of us. Many are practicing telehealth for the first time, and experiencing the different levels of intimacy when you invite your clients into your home -perhaps—and visit them in their homes. Another aspect of our relationships that has changed is that the usual emotional distance we often feel with our clients is gone—all of us are in this together, and each one of us is facing the same fears and struggles as our clients/patients/students/colleagues/staff. This can be challenging and uncomfortable and we invite you to reach out for collegial support (including a referral from PWP if you need it). 

A number of OPA members are students and faculty members, and of course, virtual online classes are very different and challenging. What is also challenging is that our attention is most likely much more divided than it usually is. All the unknowns are difficult too…such as when will we return to campus?  

I know I have been walking around my neighborhood much more these days, noticing houses I’ve never seen, and being so aware of how much distance is there between the people I am encountering on the streets. It is still very uncomfortable to create more distance when I am used to being so friendly, and noticing the folks who smile and offer a greeting and those who are deep in thought and seemingly so alone. 

Fairness is one of the very tough ones in this model given the unfairness of how this pandemic is putting those who are most vulnerable at the greatest risk. The economic disparity is especially unfair, as clearly there are those who will survive economically and feel little to no difference, versus the many who are desperately struggling to figure out where their next meal will come from, and how they will pay the rent. Is there anything you can do to help in addressing this unfairness?  

Environmental influences include what many of us know as ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences). It also includes this pandemic, which is wreaking havoc on all of the previous social dimensions of our lives. Just like an ACE, it is also a trauma, and it can severely impact the well-being of our physical-emotional and spiritual selves. Another wisdom we have as psychologists is the awareness that when a person has a history of trauma (ACE’s), that person will likely struggle much more with any current traumas. One thing we may be able to do is help our clients remember the resilience they may have developed in coping with those ACE’s. However, if they are in the beginning stages of understanding the impact, they may have little resilience to draw on. Hopefully, you can offer your own resilience (and remind yourself of your own resiliency skills you developed in the past).

The last ring of the model is “all of us.” Harding opens this chapter quoting Mahatma Gandhi, who observed “the greatness of humanity is not in being human, but in being humane.” Our collective health is being challenged like never before. 
Your PWP encourages you to be humane with yourself, your loved ones, and all the other people in your circle of influence. Together we can use our resiliency skills to cope and manage and even thrive.