Self-Care When You Still Can’t Touch Other People

For many of us, it has been slightly over two months since social distancing went into effect on a collective scale. Still for some, it has been even longer. With COVID-19 still in the air, it is possible many will still be living socially distant lives, at least to some degree, through the summer season. The coming of summer, under normal circumstances, is flavored with travel plans, pool days, parties, and other activities that a pandemic-tinted world does not allow for. Even as many businesses and public areas re-open, the future of large-scale social activities and the intimacies of casual interchanges are still largely uncertain. While no one can detail exactly what living in a semi-post-pandemic world looks like long-term, or even short-term, people can continue to cultivate new ways of caring for themselves and their relationships. 

If you are among the 11% of people living alone in the United States, you know what it is like to be without the pros and cons of partners, housemates, or family in your living space (Duffin, 2019). However, living without the back-and-forth of casual domestic interchange coupled with a lack of social activity outside the home can breed poignant loneliness. Even if you enjoy your alone time, at some point everyone needs the regulation that comes from emotional and physical connection with other humans. Although communication technology can help to supplement the need for emotional connection, the lack of platonic physical touch can certainly take its toll. 

A recent Texas Medical Center article responding to COVID-19 outlines the effect of touch-starvation, a condition that occurs when humans want to experience touch but are not able to do so, in this case, because of the fear of spreading COVID-19. As touch regulates the nervous system, going without touch for a long time can cause the body to release the stress hormone cortisol, ultimately exacerbating other mental health challenges and increasing susceptibility to physical illness (Pierce, 2020). 

The good news is there are ways you can attend to the mental health deficits created by a lack of physical contact from other humans. One way is to warm up your Zoom calls. Increasing physical warmth is known to have positive effects on a person’s experience of interpersonal warmth. For instance, one 2008 study exploring the relationship between warmth as a personality trait and temperature found that participants who held a hot cup of coffee perceived the qualities of care and generosity in others more so than participants who were holding a cup of iced coffee (Williams & Bargh, 2008). Similarly, it was found in a second trail of the study that participants were more likely to complete generous acts themselves if they held a therapeutic hot pad than if they held a cold pad (Williams & Bargh, 2008). Now, imagine incorporating something warm to enrich your video chat experience. Perhaps the summer is not the best time for additional heat, so perhaps try this activity on a day when you want to crank up your AC an extra notch. After all, these times call for creative measures!

Another way to expand your options for physical touch alternatives is to create pleasurable sensory experiences. Even with social distancing in effect, there are still so many ways you can get creative by engaging the senses, perhaps more mindfully and gratefully than you did before the pandemic times. With our capacity for sight, touch, sound, taste, and smell, the options are truly limitless if you put your thinking cap on and dig up a few household items. For instance, research shows that touching different textures can produce different emotional states with soft textures generally yielding more positive feelings. And of course, you can use the material that is the most available of all—your own skin! One recent Healthline article offers several ways to incorporate self-touch into your self-care routine, including noticing where touch feels the most restorative, incorporating it into a body-scan meditation, and gentle self-massage where there is bodily tension. The practice of self-touch is also beneficial to care in the context of relationships with other people. As you become more aware of what touch feels good, you can then practice communicating this to partners, family, and friends, that is, when you can touch these people again. 

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References:

Duffin, E. (2019, November 22). Single-person households United States 2019. Retrieved May 29, 2020, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/242022/number-of-single-person-households-in-the-us/

Pierce, S. (2020, May 15). Touch starvation is a consequence of COVID-19’s physical distancing. Retrieved May 29, 2020, from https://www.tmc.edu/news/2020/05/touch-starvation/

Williams, L. E., & Bargh, J. A. (2008). Experiencing Physical Warmth Promotes Interpersonal Warmth. Science, 322(5901), 606-607. doi:10.1126/science.1162548

Image Credit: https://medium.com/@m.fabienne.lang/if-you-do-one-thing-today-hug-yourself-3a03ac44a03c

Summertime SAD and Other Season-Specific Challenges

Depending on where you are in the world, the approach of summer can mean a variety of things. For those who live in climates with harsh, long winters when the sun is virtually non-existent, summer is a time to shed the layers and enjoy the rays that will soon be hidden for months on end. Conversely, summers in equatorial climates will differ from the usual swelter with only slightly higher temperatures and humidity levels. In New Orleans, LA, where TPN.Health is headquartered, the months of May through September are always intense with temperatures hanging in the upper 80s to mid-90s on a normal day and humidity levels that make you feel like you’re breathing water.

A breadth of research over the years has shown that extreme heat is linked to mood dysregulation in the form of depressive symptoms along with higher suicide and violence rates (Cooper, 2019). Similarly, a 2018 literature review exploring the biological mechanisms at work during exposure to extreme heat notes neuroimaging studies evidencing that heat-exposure negatively affects one’s ability to handle cognitive conflicts (Lõhmus, 2018). From this observation, the review offers that high temperatures have the potential to worsen symptoms in people who already experience regular behavioral health disruptions (Lõhmus, 2018).  Jarring as it can be, the new air that summer brings is just one part of this annual seasonal shift that can affect how folks think and behave. 

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as a seasonally dependent type of major depression that occurs for a minimum of two years (NIMH 2016). Most often associated with the winter season, it  affects between 4% and 6% of the U.S. population (Griffin, 2019). However, around 1% of the total U.S. population will experience SAD in the summertime (Ducharme, 2018). While winter SAD symptoms include hypersomnia, increase in appetite, and lethargy, people with summer SAD are more likely to experience a decrease in appetite, insomnia, and anxiety (NIMH, 2016).

Just as sunlight deprivation can contribute to disrupted sleep patterns during winter, the longer periods of sunlight can do the same in the summer. Prolonged exposure to the light can contribute to summer SAD insomnia by decreasing melatonin production and disrupting the body’s sleep-wake cycle (UCI 2019). A not-so-obvious environmental shift during the summer is pollen-count. In fact, several studies over the years have explored the relationship between seasonal allergens and significant mood and affect changes (Akram et al., 2019; Guzman et al., 2007). Through a self-report measure, Guzman et al. (2007) found that participants’ moods worsened during times of higher pollen count. Further exploration suggests that seasonal pollen exposure could be associated with non-winter SAD (Guzman et al., 2007). Likewise, women, people who already have major depression or bipolar disorder, and people with a family history of depression have a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with SAD (NIMH, 2016). 

A WebMD article notes that changes in wardrobe and routine can also bring to light a more common struggle of summertime, that is, comparison. As clothing layers shed, collective attention shifts to body image. The need to fit specific body standards affect the type of attention a person gives their body and could result in a self-deprecating orientation. Similarly, if one already experiences body image issues, common in eating and feeding disorders, wardrobe changes during the summer season have the potential to exacerbate these. The urge to play the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” game of comparison can also strike when routines change. Many people, such as students and teachers, go from the structure of work and school to having all the time in the world to fill as they please. Even those who don’t get a summer break will feel the draw of summer activities and want to soak in the fun. The season, much like other holiday times, can come with the pull to fill up that calendar and the fear of missing out on all the right activities. 

As the new season approaches, stay tuned for TPN.Health digital panels and CEU opportunities! Click here to create your TPN.Health clinical profile and begin connecting in THE trusted digital referral network.

References:

Akram, F., Jennings, T. B., Mohyuddin, H., Dagdag, A., Stiller, J., Brenner, L. A., . . . Postolache, T. T. (2019). T79. Mood Worsening on Hot Days and High Pollen Days in the Old Order Amish With Summer Type SAD. Biological Psychiatry, 85(10). doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2019.03.402

Cooper, R. (2019, July 30). The Impacts of Extreme Heat on Mental Health. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/climate-change/impacts-extreme-heat-mental-health

Griffin, R. (2019, August 28). Summer Depression: Causes, Symptoms, and Tips to Help. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://www.webmd.com/depression/summer-depression

Guzman, A., Tonelli, L. H., Roberts, D., Stiller, J. W., Jackson, M. A., Soriano, J. J., . . . Postolache, T. T. (2007). Mood-worsening with high-pollen-counts and seasonality: A preliminary report. Journal of Affective Disorders, 101(1-3), 269-274. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2006.11.026

Lõhmus, M. (2018). Possible Biological Mechanisms Linking Mental Health and Heat—A Contemplative Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(7), 1515. doi:10.3390/ijerph15071515

NIMH (The National Institute of Mental Health) (2016). Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml

Ducharme, J. (2018, June 05). Seasonal Affective Disorder Can Happen in the Summer. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://time.com/5287625/summer-seasonal-affective-disorder/

UCI Health (30 July, 2019). Summertime Blues Are Really a Thing. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from, https://www.ucihealth.org/blog/2019/07/summer-sad

Image Credit: https://www.tokyoweekender.com/2018/08/tokyo-2020-olympics-beating-the-summer-heat/

Gratitude Part 2: Practice Makes Progress

As mental health writer Melody Beattie puts it, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. [It] makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”  

If you read TPN.Health’s last post on gratitude, you might be thinking, “Well that’s great that a gratitude practice can help my mental health, but how do I actually do the thing?” Perhaps you have an image of sitting around a Thanksgiving table and waiting for your turn to say “I’m grateful for…” when all you want to do is eat. Maybe you’re already familiar with gratitude as a daily practice and think of busting out a list to write what you’re thankful for. Although these are not bad ideas, there are endless creative opportunities for enacting a gratefulness practice. Fortunately, gratitude does not need a special occasion to manifest, and there is no limit to the ways one can be grateful from moment-to-moment. So, here are some simple practices to get the creative juices flowing.

Stop. Look. Go.

Spiritual teacher, monk, and co-founder of A Network for Grateful Living Br. David Steindl Rast speaks frequently on living a life of gratitude and offers the idea to put up tangible “stop signs” in our daily lives to remind us to pause in awareness of the gifts that are right under our noses. For instance, moved by memories of living without amenities such as running water and electricity, Br. David puts sticky notes on light switches and faucets in his home to remind him to stop and acknowledge the miracle of having access to those simple privileges. Stop signs can take many forms. For instance, setting an alarm or putting a physical reminder-object in your pocket can be great reminders to set aside a few minutes for practicing gratitude in the moment.

Say “Thank you,” but only when you mean it.

How many times a day do you say “thank you” without thinking? Those two words are built into our social interactions as a mechanism of politeness. Because of this pattern, the power and intention of the words can often be lost. So, how can intentional gratitude and saying “thank you” happen at the same time? By shaking up the pattern! First, keep a tally of the times you say “thanks” by rote, just to get an idea of the frequency. In the days following the tally, try to refrain from saying “thank you” out of politeness. Say it only when you genuinely want to express gratitude. This may feel uncomfortable, even rude at times, but to do so can create more congruency in the words you speak and your actual inner state. By practicing this kind of awareness, you might even notice that you want to make your usual polite thank-yous more intentional. 

Write a note expressing gratitude, but don’t send it.

Wong and Brown found in their 2017 UC Berkeley study that when students struggling with depression and anxiety wrote one letter of gratitude per week for three weeks in addition to receiving counseling services, they reported better mental health symptoms than participants who did not complete the gratitude task. Interestingly, only twenty-three percent of the participants actually sent letters and showed no difference in positive effects from those who did not send the letters. This suggests that you don’t necessarily need to communicate your gratitude to experience the enriching effects of the practice. With the freedom to keep notes to yourself, you can write not only to living people but people who have died, people who have not been born, past/present situations, or any other “recipient” without a postal address. 

Light a candle.

Lighting candles has been a practice in ceremonies throughout history and, depending on the context, can symbolize things such as passion, dedication, remembrance, rebirth, illumination, warmth, sacred offering, and/or destruction. Lighting a candle in gratitude can also manifest powerful symbolism that accompanies the practice. When you light the candle and think of something for which you feel appreciation you can visualize “lighting” or activating gratefulness and see it flickering right before your eyes. This kind of visualization serves to reinforce the attention-shifting quality that makes gratitude so salient.

Gratitude expressions come in infinite shapes, sizes, and colors. By experimenting with different practices, you can find the ones that serve you best and have fun getting creative along the way.

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Reference:

Wong, J., & Brown, J. (2017, June 6). How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain. Retrieved May 21, 2020, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain

Image Credit: https://www.barringtonbhw.com/suicide-prevention-day-light-a-candle/

 

Gratitude During a Pandemic…And Beyond

It is a condition of being human to have needs and navigate ways of getting those needs met. In doing so, we come up against the senses of “not enough” and maybe even “too much,” and we figure out how to live in those spaces or create new ones. It is also a human given to think about the future, to create scenarios in our minds that elicit feelings, anywhere from joy to distress. For those of us that get a kick out of catastrophizing or dreaming, future-rumination can be an all-too-cozy space. Although the twinges of “not enough” and “What if…?” are never far from human awareness, right now they hold a specific collective poignancy.

On a global scale, people have been and are navigating “having enough,” “making enough,” “being enough,” to meet a health crisis. Navigating “enough” can be a distressing experience by itself, but when environmental factors are physically out of control to such a magnitude, the distress is kicked up a notch. The question, then, is how to handle it. What can people do about strong feelings (ie: fear, distress, despair) around finances, resources, livelihoods, and the unknowns surrounding these? One thing is to develop a gratitude practice. 

For a long time, gratitude as a feeling, trait, and practice has held interest across disciplines, including philosophy, sociology, religion, psychology and, more recently, neurobiology. But first, how can we define gratitude? In the behavioral health context, its definition has changed over time to become more inclusive of a breath of experiences. For instance, an earlier, more limited definition in gratitude study is that it is an emotion that results from receiving benefit from another person (Bock, Eastman, & McKay, 2013). Wood et al. (2010) would define gratitude in a broader scope, saying that gratitude “is part of a wider life orientation towards noticing and appreciating the positive in the world” (qtd. in Bock et al., 2013). Bock et al. (2013) also offers that this definition of gratitude lends itself to benefit people across social and personal spheres. 

Shown throughout a body of research to be positively associated with psychological well-being, gratitude supports the behavioral health of individuals through increased emotion-regulation, stress-regulation, and reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression (Sansone & Sansone, 2010; Chowdhury, 2020). Gratitude can also serve as a means to cushion the effects of financial stressors, known to negatively impact psychological well-being and increase psychological distress as well as inflammation in the body (Sturgeon et al., 2016). One 2013 study responding to research on overall health effects of the 2007-2009 Great Recession found that participants who were more grateful in a self-report measure experienced greater optimism about the economy and hope in future prospects (Bock, Eastman, & Mckay, 2013).

Practicing gratitude helps us to live in the present while priming us for a more manageable future.

Rahal (2018) compares gratitude and mindfulness practices in that both create frameworks where people can learn to work effectively with their negative emotions in the present. Neither gratitude nor mindfulness eliminate unpleasant feelings but rather offer a different way to approach the feelings. As mindfulness allows for unbiased awareness of emotions, gratitude does the work of shifting attention away from negative emotions. Researchers in a 2017 UC Berkeley study offer that dwelling on these emotions simply becomes more difficult when attention is shifted elsewhere, for example, to gratitude (Wong & Brown, 2017).

The same 2017 UC Berkeley study examined the effects of gratitude practices in college students struggling with depression and/or anxiety and receiving mental health counseling. Through self-report measure and fMRI brain scanning, the study demonstrated that practicing gratitude can have enduring effects on one’s mental health. For instance, the participants who wrote one weekly letter of gratitude for three weeks reported increases in positive mental health effects twelve weeks after the practice had ended (Wong & Brown, 2017).

When we practice gratitude, it shows up physiologically. 

In UC Berkeley’s study, some participants were assigned a gratitude “pay it forward” task. Benefactors presented participants with money and instructed that they give some of it away to a cause of their choosing when they felt grateful. When the participants’ brains were  scanned through fMRI, people who felt more grateful (gave more money to a cause) demonstrated a sensitivity-increase in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that is associated with decision-making and learning (Wong & Brown, 2017). The same activation in the medial prefrontal cortex was evident in those who complete the letter-writing task, even after twelve weeks post-task (Wong & Brown, 2017).

Gratitude has also been shown to have a chemical effect on stress and pain-reduction. In one 1998 study, participants who reported feeling grateful had better cardiac function and reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol (Chowdhury, 2020). Another study demonstrated that when participants in experiencing physical pain kept gratitude journals, their dopamine levels became more regular, hence the reduction in pain perception (Emmons & Mccullough, 2003).

Gratitude is a state and a practice.

While a few studies evidence that some people naturally have a more grateful disposition than others, this does mean one can only feel grateful naturally. Gratitude is action and practice. When one does the work of expressing gratitude, whether through a note (sent or kept), a kind spoken word, or a mindful awareness, those “feel good” neurotransmitters are released. For this reason, some refer to gratitude as an antidepressant. And like antidepressants in pill form, one must also ‘take’ the daily dose of gratitude. 

Many environmental factors will remain uncertain, and people continue to navigate attitudes around having/doing/making “enough.” And practicing gratitude offers the opportunity for people to cultivate a sense of well-being and potential long-term mental health benefits through simple manageable practices. Now is an especially good time to continue or begin a gratitude practice. Here at TPN.Health, we are grateful for our trusted community of clinicians and providers! 

Click here to create a TPN.Health profile and begin connecting to other behavioral health professionals and providers!

References:

Bock, D. E., Eastman, J. K., & Mckay, B. P. (2013). Exploring The Relationship Between Gratitude And Economic Perceptions. Journal of Business & Economics Research (JBER), 11(11), 445. doi:10.19030/jber.v11i11.8192

Chowdhury, M. R. (2020, May 12). The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How It Affects Anxiety & Grief. Retrieved May 21, 2020, from https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude/

Emmons, R. A., & Mccullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.84.2.377

Rahal, L. (2018, July 08). How Gratitude and Mindfulness Go Hand in Hand. Retrieved May 21, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-gratitude-and-mindfulness-go-hand-in-hand/

Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2010). Gratitude and well being: the benefits of appreciation. Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township)), 7(11), 18–22.

Sturgeon, J. A., Arewasikporn, A., Okun, M. A., Davis, M. C., Ong, A. D., & Zautra, A. J. (2016). The Psychosocial Context of Financial Stress. Psychosomatic Medicine, 78(2), 134-143. doi:10.1097/psy.0000000000000276

Wood, A.M., Froh, J.J. and Geraghty, A.W.A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical Psychology Review. 30, 890-905.

Wong, J., & Brown, J. (2017, June 6). How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain. Retrieved May 21, 2020, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain

Image Credit: https://www.livehappy.com/practice/gratitude-practice

You Are How You Cook: Effects of Food-Prep Practices on Mental Health

Amidst the many considerations of these “stay-at-home” times, it is possible that many folks are considering their relationship to food prep and cooking differently. As access to restaurants is limited, people are opting more often to create meals using their own tools and processes rather than getting their sustenance ready-made from an outside source (evidenced in the societal boom of in-home bread-baking.) 

Unless you are a strict raw dieter, a life without cooked food may be difficult to imagine. But did you know that cooking has most likely not always been a fixture in human life? That’s right. Just like many other homo sapien specific processes, it is hypothesized that cooking evolved over time as a biological survival mechanism with social benefits (Farmer, Touchton-Leonard, & Ross, 2017)

While there is no doubt that the chemical composition of what you eat affects all aspects of health, including mental and behavioral, a body of research demonstrates that very actions of cooking, food prep, and eating can be beneficial to psychosocial functioning and have therapeutic effects (Farmer, Touchton-Leonard, & Ross, 2017).

For instance, a 2018 review of literature on the psychological benefits of cooking interventions found studies demonstrating increases in self esteem, positive socialization effects, and positive affect in participants who completed cooking classes in community and inpatient settings (Farmer, Touchton-Leonard, & Ross, 2017).

In addition to going out less frequently, COVID-19 has changed the way people think about sharing food. Cooking for other people carries specific health risks, and it is likely that folks are sharing more meals with housemates or with themselves and fewer in-person meals with others. Although some benefits of cooking are specific to communal environments, the positive effects are fortunately not squelched in isolation. Because cooking involves the creation of a product, it has often been described in the clinical context as part of behavioral activation, a modality that treats symptoms of depression by increasing behaviors that allow the client to encounter environmental reinforcement. Even in a non-clinical setting, cooking and even eating alone can present the opportunities to practice mindfulness, gratitude, and creativity, similarly to other artistic and tactile processes, such as gardening or painting.

In a facilitated context, culinary therapy has gained popularity as a modality consisting of experiential guidance in food-preparation processes, such as grocery shopping, garden-tending, and cooking. Used in treatment of eating disorders, depression, ADHD, autism, and anxiety, it is often combined with other modalities in treatment plans (Culinary 2015). The adaptable facilitations in culinary therapy provide clients opportunities for improved motor function, practice in time management, boredom relief, and practice of sensory awareness (Culinary 2015). In addition to the direct benefits of immersion in food-education and handling, culinary therapy also offers people the space to examine their relationship to food, as it can often serve to mirror other relationships, including the relationship with oneself.

Thinking about getting into the kitchen and experimenting with food? There has never been a better time to try it out! 

Click here to create a TPN.Health profile and get access to the trusted digital referral network as well as CEUs and live discussion panels featuring experts in the behavioral health field!

References:

Culinary Therapy What Is It? (2015). Retrieved from https://www.crchealth.com/types-of-therapy/what-is-culinary-therapy/

Farmer, N., Touchton-Leonard, K., & Ross, A. (2017). Psychosocial Benefits of Cooking Interventions: A Systematic Review. Health Education & Behavior, 45(2), 167–180. doi: 10.1177/1090198117736352

Image Credit: https://www.yesmagazine.org/issue/affordable-housing/2018/06/27/cooking-stirs-the-pot-for-social-change/

 

Lending an Ear: A Reflection on Listening

The American Speech-Langauge-Hearing Association (ASHA) dedicates each May to Better Hearing and Speech month, during which time ASHA creates opportunities for education about communication disorders and the organization’s role in providing treatment. ASHA defines a communication disorder as an  “impairment in the ability to receive, send, process, and comprehend concepts or verbal, nonverbal and graphic symbol systems” (American 1993). Whether or not you or someone you know lives with a communication disorder, it is a fact that all people communicate and experience communication challenges to varying degrees.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” (Covey, 2020).

An indispensable piece of communicating is listening. And it’s likely that much of the “listening” that happens in our lives is in service of keeping a conversation going, whether we are thinking about getting the next word in or simply about being heard ourselves.

How dependent we are upon giving patterned “appropriate responses,” especially if someone shares a particularly joyful or difficult moment. We might be so focused on saying the “right” thing in response to what we hear that we miss the person’s share altogether. Although well-crafted verbal responses and good conversation-flow have their place in the world, sometimes they can detract from more authentic relational practices. For instance, exchanges where people can be genuinely present to each other’s experience often do not follow linear patterns and do create a space where honesty and mutual trust can thrive. Let’s suspend reality for a moment and think what it might be like if our conversations were not so response-oriented and more oriented to actual listening. 

So then, what does it mean to truly listen? 

A great deal of our dependence on conversation-flow is centered in “knowing,” or thinking that we know. For instance, we assume we know what the conversation is about, what the other person is saying, and what will come next. Listening, however, requires a different sense—a sort of “not knowing.” The quality of “not knowing,” can best be described in terms of empathetic listening. A Mental Health First Aid article explains empathetic listening as “taking a moment to step out of our normal patterns of thinking and feeling to imagine what it feels like to be the person in front of us” (Hoffman, 2017).

In this way, the work listening is largely internal. This is not to say that in listening, we have to somehow delete or neglect our own experiences or knowledge. Rather, listening is about creating space in our personal awareness to house or hold another’s experience, if only just for a few moments. So the question is, what are we doing in our minds and bodies to actively create a momentary container for another person’s experience? 

An article advising school leaders in empathetic listening describes a set of mindful practices that can be helpful, namely, those involving the action of noticing (Brown 2017). Instead of jumping into a position of assuming and knowing the answers, actions of mindful noticing help to clear the area for discovery and, therefore, better listening when exchanging with another person. For instance, the person who is listening can notice what it’s like to give someone their full attention without inserting comments. Then, when distraction strikes, the listener can notice what it’s like to become distracted and what it is like to come back to presence in the conversation.

Likewise, one can notice the internal feelings that arise when hearing another person‘s experience. Often the emotional reactions upon hearing certain words or reading another person’s body language are immediate and sometimes strong. Gently acknowledging the existence of these responses rather than berating oneself for having them or projecting them into the exchange can help a person return to a space of active listening.

There is never a wrong time to begin taking small steps to practice listening. What is your friend, co-worker, or the person next to you in the grocery store aisle saying? You might be surprised by what you discover, not only about the speakers but about yourself. 

Click here to create your TPN.Health clinical profile and begin making connections in the trusted digital referral network. Stay tuned for virtual continuing education opportunities and live panel discussions featuring experts in the behavioral health field! 

References:

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (1993). Definitions of communication disorders and variations [Relevant Paper]. Available from www.asha.org/policy.

Brown, V. (2017, March 8). 8 Ways School Leaders Can Practice Empathy in Listening. Retrieved from https://www.leadsmartcoaching.com/blog/8-ways-school-leaders-can-practice-empathy-listening/

Covey, S. R., & Collins, J. C. (2020). The 7 habits of highly effective people: powerful lessons in personal change. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Hoffman, Erica (2017, July 28) . The Quiet Power of Empathic Listening. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/2017/07/quiet-power-listening/

Image Credit: https://lingportal.com/blog/articles/how-to-improve-listening-ways-to-improve-your-english/