Is it pandemic anxiety or is it OCD? – Elian Beattie

March 17, 2022

Is it anxiety from the pandemic or is it OCD?

Over the past two years, the fear surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic caused a lot of us to take a closer look at our hygiene, where germs live in our home, and how illness might spread from person to person, even on a microscopic level. People without obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) might have found themselves wiping down groceries with Clorox wipes, fearing social interactions without distance or masks, and excessively washing their hands, for example. Some of those individuals are finding that even after the immediate threat of death or hospitalization is decreased, their behaviors persist. How do we know whether anxiety-based behaviors are OCD? Below are some initial questions to ask yourself.

Are your habits context-dependent?

If you found yourself wiping down your mail in March 2020, you are not alone. At the time, little was understood about how the virus spread or what we could do prevent exposure. Now, infectious disease experts have more information about risks to spreading the virus and provide specific recommendations regarding safe practices. If you are able to adapt to new standards of safety and shift your behaviors depending on the context, your health anxiety is unlikely OCD. Individuals with OCD experience intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and engage in compulsions (behaviors or mental acts) regardless of the context.

Someone with OCD might say, “I know the risk of spreading COVID-19 by touching something is not significant, but I still can’t stop wiping down my counters multiple times per day.”

If your habits are interrupted, do they take over your mental space?

You might have picked up some new habits during the pandemic that you continue to do and find helpful. Maybe you upped your cleaning routine and have tried to stick with it. Maybe you keep some hand sanitizer in your car to have on hand. These habits themselves are not enough to determine whether behavior is OCD related. The more important question is asking yourself what happens if you can’t do these things? Can you still eat a snack in your car if your hand sanitizer ran out? And, if you did, could you let it go? If you would spend your day thinking about the routines you missed, or the small possibility of the “worst case scenario,” then you might be experiencing OCD symptoms.

Do your habits get in the way of your values?

We have all experienced a universally high level of stress during this pandemic. Taking care of our mental health involves understanding what “refills our cup” and doing more of that. Could you skip a cleaning day if something more compelling to do came up? Flexibility is key to maintaining mental health. If you miss out on time spent with your loved ones to maintain a rigid routine, that routine might be indicative of OCD.

If you are concerned that your symptoms may be clinical OCD, there is hope. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is used to treat OCD and is one of the most effective evidence-based therapies available. If you or a loved one might be struggling, the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) is a good place to start navigating your next steps. Visit their website for more information about OCD and treatment options near you. https://iocdf.org/

The best gift you can give this holiday season – Elian Beattie

November 29, 2021

You might see a lot of posts this holiday season with lists of the perfect gift to buy for your loved ones. Somewhere in the spirit of being thoughtful, we can lose sight of the person we’re actually “buying for.” There is one thing you can give to everyone on your list regardless of age, gender, religion, or your relationship to that person; the gift of a mental health check in.

With mental health related hospitalizations on the rise both nationally and within our local seacoast community, it is clear that the mental health effects of this pandemic are still ongoing. Because mental health issues may not show up as visibly as a broken arm, we often assume that those affected are not the people we know and interact with on a daily basis. The strongest prevention tool we have for reducing the number of people needing to be hospitalized for mental health is connectedness. By strengthening our connections strong on an individual, familial, and community level, we can make a difference.

When was the last time someone asked you how you are truly doing? Not just a simple greeting, but a question that comes with the intention to listen. It can feel awkward and uncomfortable to think about talking with someone about something so personal, but it does not have to be! Below are some quick tips on how to check in with someone about their mental health.

Mental Health Check Ins: A How To Guide

  1. Lead with a statement that normalizes talking about mental health. “This year has been difficult for a lot of people’s mental health. How has it been for you?”
  1. Listen, without interrupting. Smile, nod, show them that you’re paying attention.
  1. Validate their experience. “It must have been tough to be dealing with that while also going to work/school, being a parent/student/wife/ etc., and living through this pandemic. How you feel makes total sense. Thanks for telling me.”
  1. Offer to help them navigate the next steps to getting more support, if needed. “Would it be helpful for me to be a listening ear, or would you like me to help you problem solve?”
  1. Follow up! “I was thinking of you after our conversation last week, and I wonder how you’re feeling now.”

Remember that you don’t have to be a trained therapist to be the one making the biggest difference to someone’s mental health. A mental health check-in from a friend, a neighbor, a colleague, or even a stranger can save a life.

If you or someone you know is struggling, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255. The world is a better place with you in it.

Goal-setting in executive coaching – Dr. Robin

November 17, 2021

You’ve decided to work with an executive coach to help with your career goals or professional development. Now what? The platform of executive coaching is created from your goals and establishing these goals is the first step towards your success.

Executive coaching will often start with the creation of a three-tier plan. The first tier focuses on the question, “Where do you want to be?” The answer to this question creates your top-tier vision, the overall accomplishment you want to achieve, which coaching will facilitate. Once your vision is clearly defined, an executive coach will help you establish your goals towards that vision. The goals on tier two break down the vision into manageable pieces. As you focus on one or more goals at a time, you are moving forward towards the accomplishment of your vision. To move forward, however, you need more than the “what” defined by your goals; you also need a “how”; tier three addresses this. Each goal is analyzed to determine action steps to achieve the goal. You work through your action steps to accomplish each goal which will result in the attainment of your vision.

Goals must meet certain criteria to be successful:

• Your goals should be articulated in specific terms to help with the action steps.
• They should also be measurable to provide evidence of your progress or to reevaluate if the action steps aren’t working.
• Goals should be realistic regarding time frame and resources.
• Finally, successful goals are relevant in terms of your values and vision, and they should be based upon a timeline to encourage prioritization and to keep you motivated.

As part of goal setting, the executive coach may also assess your strengths and how these can be utilized in the action steps. The strength analysis will also help define how these characteristics and skills can help with any challenges hindering goal attainment.

There are different ways in which individuals set goals in executive coaching. Very often after a quarterly or annual performance review, an executive becomes aware of areas for development and the coaching goals are based on what the executive wants to work on towards self-improvement. In addition, an executive might already have an awareness of their professional vision for themselves or their organizations, and the goals can be structured from that vision.

Goals can also be established together with your coach. Information from the executive’s role, professional feedback or structured assessments can help you and your coach determine the challenges which resulted in the data. Goal setting is then focused on how to improve those areas directly connected to your vision.

Finally, goal setting could be company-directed. An organization might hire a coach to work with an executive. This might come after a poor review or as part of a performance improvement plan. In this scenario, the goals will likely be based on the organization’s vision versus the executive’s vision. The organization will then use the goals to ascertain the executive’s progress.

When you work with an executive coach, your experience is not going to be like past training or continuing education opportunities. Executive coaching is individualized. It is your time to focus on you and where you want to be. Articulating your ideal vision in coaching is an appropriate approach, not just a pipedream.

Lessons from a coach – Dr. Robin

November 8, 2021

My daughter’s high school varsity volleyball team won the State Championships this past weekend. It was an amazing experience to watch, even more so because this group of girls are incredible. They support each other, LIKE each other, visibly and audibly have fun when warming up or playing together, and credit their success to being “14 strong”. They worked hard, enjoyed every minute and achieved their goal.

But while I am happy for and proud of my daughter and her teammates, their success came due to trickle down. The team achieved success because of their coach, the leader of this group. (Knowing the coach is a private individual, I’ll refer to her as Coach R.) It was due to this woman’s integration of powerful leadership skills that the team succeeded. There were four specific things Coach R did which made her stand out as a leader and brought her team to the championship level:

1. She created a platform of unity. Coach R made sure there wasn’t a spotlight on one or two players. There was no “star” of the team. Those on the bench were as valuable as those on the court. When she was interviewed after winning the State Finals game, Coach R said, “The U.S. volleyball team, their motto is ‘23 strong’. Even though only 12 players went to the Olympics, it took 23 players to get them there. And so that’s the model that we’ve embraced this year. It takes all 14 of us to earn the state championship, even though not every player was on the floor tonight.”

In an organization, this approach is also true. Is the success of the organization reliant on one member, or the team? And if the focus is on one team member, what does that do to the organization? The other team members feel devalued. They stop giving their all. They lose sight of the goal. And where does it leave the organization if that one “star” leaves? Left behind is a disjointed, disconnected and dissatisfied group of people. The unity Coach R created became the platform for the team’s approach to the goal.

2. She created a shared mission and vision. Winning the State Championship honestly didn’t seem like the sole purpose of the season. While going to States is a vision for most high school or collegiate teams, it seemed that for Coach R the vision didn’t smother the mission she created with the team. The mission was twofold: play their best and have fun. Watching the team the night of the Championships demonstrated that mission. The girls were singing and dancing the whole time as they waited their turn to warmup. They weren’t letting stress or anxiety get in the way of their fun. They were meeting the season’s mission even in what was the biggest athletic night for them. Coach R made sure the girls knew they didn’t have to do anything different than they did every game. She led her team in this mission which guided them to attain their vision of the state championship.

The same applies to organizations. Ensuring everyone within organization knows the long-term vision but buys in to the daily mission to get there…and then keeps the mission alive even in the face of the vision.

3. She recognized her players as individuals not just players. This was my daughter’s first season with this coach after transferring to the school. My daughter came home after practice one day and when I asked her what she did to kill time between the end of the school day and practice, she casually said, “I had my 1-to-1 with Coach today.” Huh? I had no idea what she meant. Turns out, Coach R schedules time to meet with every player during the season. She sits with each girl and while she certainly asks about the player’s goals for the season, more importantly she connects with each girl as a person. She asks real questions and they get to ask questions to her. They talk as people, not as coach and player, not as adult and kid, but as women and athletes.

Can you imagine what this creates and what the same practice could do within an organization? Coach R’s players feel a real connection to her and her to them. It builds trust. It builds commitment. It increases performance and retention whether in a volleyball program, in a family or in a Fortune 500 company.

4. She demonstrated the behavior and thinking to support the mission. Coach R never yelled other than in excitement. She never demonstrated frustration. She was either smiling, offering praise, giving motivating talks or offering coaching strategies for players to use towards the team’s mission and vision. Coach R’s team saw this every time they looked at her or heard her. Their coach’s attitude and actions became the standard they emulated. She became the model of how to be and they all adopted that model. There wasn’t room for negativity because it would’ve been an outlier, an anomaly, and in fact when typical issues came up through the season, the team quickly dealt with them and positioned themselves back in line with Coach R’s standards.

Leaders in any organization can do the same. Certainly there are times which are challenging, but does expressing anger, frustration or disgust move you close to your vision, or farther away? What behavioral, cognitive and emotional expressions help keep your team on track and focused on the mission and vision?

Overall, the leadership of Coach R worked for one reason: she led based on her own style. Coach R didn’t try to fit into a prescribed type of leadership. She didn’t base her behaviors on famous coaches in an attempt to duplicate their leadership. She created a leadership style based on her values, her strengths and her vision for her players, not the group’s State Championship vision, but her vision as the leader of a program in which each player grew, personally and athletically, because of the support they gave and received from their team. “It’s the buy in. They buy into each other so hard, it’s ridiculous,” Coach R said. “Their strength is in the group. We work really hard in the gym every day on our skills, but we know at this age level having that cohesion can bring you from a 5 to an 11. They buy into that. They work hard every day, but it’s because of each other … that’s what makes them truly special.” All due respect to Coach R, while it was due to the players’ connection and support of each other, even more it was because as a leader Coach R created and showed what it means to be part of a winning team.

Leaving the Past Behind and Choosing How to Think – Dr. Robin

October 4, 2021

My 16-year-old daughter walked into my bedroom this morning, seemingly angry. This is my kid who has always valued justice and kindness, and when she sees someone being hurt or attacked, it infuriates her. In this case, it was a teammate who had been cornered by two other players after she went to the coach regarding problems being created by the two girls. The girls were screaming at this girl in a team meeting room. Other teammates were standing outside the room, unsure of what to do, or walking away. My daughter walked in to put an end to the attack by reminding the girls it was time to set up for practice, and then waited to walk out with the girl who had been the focus of the attack.

In my opinion, a good approach and what seemed like a good resolution. Until my daughter started sobbing. Only then did she share with me that seeing that teammate cornered, a teammate who is nice to others and doesn’t stand up for herself, resonated too strongly with her. Two years ago, she had been that girl, cornered in a hotel room by half of her teammates. It was a stereotypical “mean girls” situation with a leader who wanted to be listened to and worshipped and followers who were caught up in her orbit. The coach held a team meeting but there was no resolution. “They never said they were sorry, Mom. It’s like it was no big deal to them but it changed me. I question everything I do to make sure I’m not doing something that might make people angry.”

I knew that had been a really harrowing situation for my daughter. She felt trapped and didn’t understand why these girls “hated [her]” so much. I had been furious by the way it was handled, but I hadn’t realized it had created such a lasting effect on my daughter.

This experience isn’t unique to my daughter. One of my clients began working with me because she had lost confidence in herself after being pushed out of her job. She confronted a co-worker who was being inappropriate with female employees, and then brought the matter to their supervisor, who also happened to be a friend of the co-worker. The environment became toxic, and my client’s role was “dissolved”. She was paralyzed with self-doubt after that happened, ruminating over the questions of why she was let go and not the offender, and what she did wrong?

How many of us have events in our life which resulted in negative changes in how we perceive situations, how we react to others or how we view ourselves? Some of these events might be overtly significant to others; those types of events that other people clearly see why they affected you. Other events might simply be significant to us, things that no one else might see as traumatic or major but were to us. These past events end up shaping us in ways we may not even realize.

So how do we stop the detrimental experiences of the past from influencing our future? We can start by identifying the situations that leave these long-term, unwanted effects on us. As we identify them, don’t discount them. “That was such a little thing; it shouldn’t still be bothering me.” “People deal with worse things.” “It happened so long ago.” These are certainly rational thoughts but if you don’t believe them, they only make you feel worse. Here is the reality. The event or series of situations happened. They left a negative effect on you. Now you get to decide if the result is one you want to hold on to or if it is time to employ strategies to counteract the unwanted effects.

It starts with your thoughts related to the situation. What replacement thoughts can take the place of the original thoughts? Instead of my client beating herself up over “what [she] did wrong”, we walked through an analysis of her values and compared her list to the values of her former organization. She discovered her value system contrasted with that of the organization. Her unhappiness and discomfort at her previous role started long before her whistleblowing because of this disconnect. When her brain tried to go in the direction of the habitual thought related to what did she do wrong, my client replaced that thought with “what was wrong was that my values didn’t align with the organization”. She had clear evidence of this in the organization’s support of the offender, a protocol my client was morally opposed to. She built on this thought, noting other areas which were in opposition to what she believed in. She used these additional, new thought to move her belief system away from the idea that something was wrong with her. The new thought ultimately provided her the opportunity to find an organization which shared her same values and in which she felt appreciated.

Once these replacement thoughts are implemented, practicing these whenever your brain strays towards past, detrimental thinking is the next step. Like all habits, it is challenging to break this tendency. It is easier to let our brains spin chaotically with the same pattern of thinking. At this point, ask yourself whether you want to feel the way created by these thoughts. By staying with the habitual thinking, you will continue to have the negative effects that come from the past situation and the thoughts originally created from that situation. If you don’t like how you’re feeling, then it is worth it to push back against the thoughts with your replacement thoughts to let these become your habit.

The key point to remember is that you can choose whether you want past events to shape who you are, how you think and how you feel. You can create a practice of replacement thoughts that make you feel happier, stronger, more confident and, most importantly, less cornered by your own thoughts.

Being Ambitious Doesn’t Make You Selfish

September 7, 2021

Society, parents, and organizations want you to believe that focusing on what you want is selfish and that putting others’ goals, choices, and wants before our own is beneficial. It might be beneficial to other people, but it is not advantageous for you. Neglecting our wants for those of other people can create resentment, regret, and a lack of motivation. It can cause us to disconnect from who we really are. Determining if your want is truly selfish, and thus one to reconsider, is an important part of learning to embrace our wants. The things we want can be powerful motivators in our lives.

 

So how do you ensure that your want isn’t selfish? Here are three questions to ask to determine if your want is selfish:

 

1. Does your want hurt or damage others? 

 

If your want doesn’t hurt or damage others, then it isn’t selfish. If it does, reconsider your want.

 

But be careful when you answer this question. One of my clients convinced herself that she was hurting her children by working outside of the home. “I kept thinking that it would be better for them to have me pick them up from school instead of taking the bus, that it would give us time to bond, instead of realizing that by taking the bus, they’d learn some independence or hang out with their friends, and that we could make other times to bond. I just locked myself into one belief that held me back all these years.”

 

2. Does your want ask others to be who they are not? 

 

As Oscar Wilde said, selfishness “is asking others to live as one wishes to live.” If your want requires others to be or to live differently than who they are, reframe your want in terms of just you, as you want to live. If it doesn’t impact others in this way, your want isn’t selfish.

 

3. Does your want require that others work on the want more than you? 

 

Your want may pull people in who choose to be part of the plan, who believe in the vision, or who benefit from your want. But ultimately, you should be the leader of your want. By orchestrating and working on the want, it stays yours and is not selfish. 

 

An entrepreneur I knew had an idea for a new division of his growing company and when he shared the idea with his leadership team, they were excited. “We all dove in, working longer days to create this new ‘child.’ I was usually the first one in and the last to go, but it seemed like my excitement for this idea was contagious.” 

 

But then the owner came up with another idea, and started pursuing it. My acquaintance and his team were left to work on their own, with little involvement from the owner. The team began to feel resentment towards the owner, and in quick order, the new division floundered. “I think that when I wasn’t invested, my team stopped being invested.” 

 

If you see that your want is requiring others to be working longer or harder than you, consider how to reconnect with your want, or reevaluate whether your want is truly a want anymore.

 

By using a step-by-step analysis of your wants, you can fight the tendency to discount them as selfish simply because they are wants. You can then use your wants as a motivating force to generate the energy and focus needed to accomplish your professional and personal goals. You can create the life you dream about and allow yourself to live authentically.

The Mulan Complex: How this heroine illustrates the struggle for mompreneurs

August 11, 2021

In Chinese culture, Hua Mulan is an iconic female heroine. As you might remember from Disney’s depiction of the heroine, Hua Mulan lived according to Chinese cultural standards until her father was conscripted for the army. To avoid her elderly father entering the army, Mulan disguised herself as a man and took her father’s place. According to the Chinese legend, Mulan had a decade-long, distinguished military career and upon her return, was honored by the emperor with an offer in high office. The character declined the offer, instead returning home and reestablishing the traditional, female role.

A day in the life

Mulan is a good foil for many high-level, professional women in general, and mompreneurs specifically. Consider the start of a typical mompreneur’s day. She wakes up and is in full “mom mode” at varying levels. Her morning activities might include some or all of the following: waking kids up, getting them dressed, changing diapers, reminding them to get up, finding various missing items, listening to kids’ stories, signing off on permission slips, making breakfast, mom/child negotiations, reassuring worries, making lunches, reminding kids about various school or after school related activities, overseeing school bag packing, driving them to school, getting them to the bus stop, volunteering at before-school tasks. In the middle of all that, this mompreneur is also getting herself ready – showering, self-care, running through her workday schedule in her head, choosing an outfit which aligns with the tasks of the day, making her own breakfast and lunch, organizing her own work materials – but she is still in “mom mode”. She may fluctuate between feelings of intense love, overwhelmed, like she isn’t in control, like she is or is not organized, feeling rushed. This is all typically before 8am.

Once the kids are at school and on the commute into work, this woman shifts from “mom” to “professional/entrepreneur/business leader”. She leaves behind the nurturing, empathetic, sensitive parts of her to adopt the assertive, directive, objective qualities many businesses demand of their leaders. She engages in meetings, negotiations, decisions based on profitability. She portrays a cool demeanor and a composed persona, able to think rationally and react stoically. Her schedule is on her computer and phone and directs her day. In between meetings, she is answering emails, texts, and random individuals popping into her office with “just a quick question”. She expects answers, results and no excuses, and if she’s lucky, she is out the door by 6pm and commuting home.

As she walks through the door of the after school care program or the door of her home, the work persona shifts back to “mom” and the nighttime routine begins – checking in with each kid, thinking about what to have for dinner, making or ordering dinner, helping with homework, listening to kids’ stories, mom/child negotiations, reassuring worries, reminders, last minute project or baking requests, baths, pajamas, snuggling, bedtime stories, “quality time”. Add to that, if this woman is living with a partner, adult conversation, scheduling, affection, relationship/marital negotiations, and potentially {thoughts of, guilt over not, finding energy to have} sex/feel sexy/feel attractive.

We are Mulan

Mulan taught us well. We move through our days, shifting from our feminine energy and qualities to our masculine energy and qualities at work, and back to our feminine as societal or cultural roles dictate. These shifts are exhausting. For many mompreneurs, the mental and physical exhaustion is attributed to the amount of tasks we plan, juggle and accomplish in each part of our days. Yet what significantly contributes to the exhaustion are the shifts – moving between two personas and discounting one part when the other is in place. This can create a feeling of cognitive dissonance, the discomfort which comes when our thoughts and beliefs don’t match our actions. When we suppress one part of ourselves, it negates who we are and does not feel authentic, creating the dissonance.

How to avoid the Mulan Complex

Now you may not walk into a board meeting and greet each member with a hug or a pat on the head, and you likely won’t create a project management plan for your child when she doesn’t pick up her room. Finding ways to avoid flipping the switch fully from “feminine” to “masculine” traits, from who you are personally to who you are professionally, could alleviate the dissonance, the division in yourself and the exhaustion. This approach creates two outcomes:

  1. It might allow you to be who you are, authentically and fully, in all areas of your life. This will increase the experience of being fully unified as a person rather than the frequent feeling of being divided or “torn” between two worlds.
  2. You might find that the strategies and traits typically used in one role might provide new avenues of effectively managing people and situations in the other role. So while you might not engage in physical affection in the board room, tapping into the nurturing, “connector” side of you might get you to acknowledge each member at some individual, personalized way. And while you might not create a stylized, organized project management plan for your daughter, you might consider how some of parts of project management (like creating a SMART scope statement) could help support your daughter in achieving the goal more consistently.

By doing so, you become more you and less Mulan.

Musterbation: Stop rubbing yourself the wrong way

May 28, 2021

How often do you musterbate? What about the people you know? Some of them might musterbate a lot, maybe even daily. Now before you assume where this conversation is going, be sure you read that word correctly – MUSTerbate. While I wish I could take credit for creating this word, it was Albert Ellis, a behavioral psychologist, who coined the term. Musterbation is the experience of telling ourselves we “must” do things. It extends to additional words – “should”, “have to”, “need to”, and “ought to”. These aren’t just words. They are the start point in the creation of emotions which are detrimental to our growth and mental wellness. Words like these create shame, guilt, self-doubt, stress and pressure. They typically have the authoritative tone of parents, teachers, bosses, or embody the norms dictated by society or culture.

At a mild or moderate level, musterbation stops our creative thinking, inhibits problem solving, and builds limitations on our dreams and goals. This is when working with a coach trained and educated in cognitive behavioral approaches can help. Through executive, life or couples coaching, individuals learn strategies to stop musterbating. They strengthen these practices and apply them in their daily lives, replacing guilt, shame and self-doubt with functional control, confidence and abundant thinking. The coach acts as an objective, outside perspective to help clients identify the cognitive roadblocks and change the habits, resulting in improvements in their present and successes in their future.

At a severe level, musterbation contributes to the development of anxiety and depression. The tendency to use these words feeds the anxiety or depression, maintaining or building the dysfunctional emotions and experiences. This is when working with a therapist can help. Through therapy, individuals can explore where the source of the words came from to explore what experiences from their past are affecting their present. Particularly when working with a cognitive behavioral therapist, patients will then learn strategies to manage the words and thoughts contributing to the anxiety and depression. Often, a psychiatrist will be part of the approach to prescribe medications to help balance the neurotransmitters and allow the therapy to work more effectively.

Ultimately, whether through coaching or therapy, individuals learn to stop rubbing themselves the wrong way and break the pattern of musterbating.

 

Dr. Robin Buckley has her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Hofstra University and is also a certified coach. She owns Insights Group Psychological & Coaching Services in New Hampshire, a practice offering coaching (executive, elite athletes, couples), neuropsychological evaluation, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Dr. Robin works specifically with executives and high-powered couples to achieve their goals efficiently and successfully through the use of a business framework. To find out more about Dr. Robin, please go to drrobinbuckley.com, or to learn more about her practice, insightsgroup.net.