Tips From A Psychologist On How To Stay Sane During This Crazy AF Time

If you’ve been reading the news, you might be freaking out right now. For hypochondriacs, the coronavirus pandemic is like our Olympics, if there were a situation in which one would train for the Olympics with the hopes of never having to actually compete. My training is not actual strategies for preparedness, but rather, constantly pushing the boundaries of my brain’s ability to conceive of outcomes to worry about. I’m basically just living in the Charlie Day Pepe Silvia meme, but the points on the string board are new hypotheticals I can stress over. (But the crazed look in the eyes is the same.) And I gotta tell you, all that worrying is not doing anything positive for my health. I’m week two into social distancing and anyone who asks how I’m doing is treated to a page from Dorinda’s playbook: not well, bitch!

But we won’t be out of the woods just yet, and I’m told worrying doesn’t burn calories, so that means it is neither comforting nor useful to sit around all day, anxiety spiraling. So I spoke to Dr. Jenny Taitz, a certified psychologist and author of How To Be Single And Happy (thankfully, the least of my worries right now), about how to reduce anxiety in this incredibly stressful and anxiety-inducing time.

It’s at this time that I feel I must confess something to you all: I don’t like to travel. *Pauses for collective audible gasp* Yes, you read that correctly. I am one of those rare millennials who does not really like to travel. And you know why? No, it has nothing to do with coronavirus; it’s because this bitch loves her routine. And it appears there’s actually a reason why I and others find routine so comforting: because it f*cking is.

“There was a powerful research study that compared antidepressant medication to cognitive therapy to something called behavioral activation, which is basically like having a day planner and scheduling activities that may expose pleasure and mastery,” recalls Dr. Taitz. “Remarkably, the activity scheduling was found to be as helpful as antidepressants and more helpful than cognitive therapy.” Now, neither I nor Dr. Taitz is saying you should throw out your medication or fire your therapist (the opposite, please), but she says, “it just speaks to how incredibly therapeutic it is to have a routine.” And, in this time of, shall we call it, extreme spontaneity, I think we can all agree that a little predictability would be really f*cking nice right about now.

But trying to create a calendar for the next month (or even the next week) can feel overwhelming. (Even before COVID-19 laughed in the face of regularity. I was always intimidated by the idea of nailing down plans—call it commitment issues.) So instead, Dr. Taitz advises, “step one would be to think about what matters deeply to you, the values that you have for the next few months, and then create a schedule that maps onto that.” In other words, are your priorities health, productivity, and friendship? Start thinking about (virtual!!) activities that fit into those categories and create a loose schedule based off those values. Maybe you make a commitment to tune into that yoga livestream every day at 9am, then give yourself 45 minutes to answer emails, and schedule a FaceTime with your friend on what would be your lunch break. Literally open up your day planner (or iCal if you’re too cool) and block all these things out. Dr. Taitz adds, “the more you can plug in and make it so you’re not going to have to start from square one every day,” the more at ease you’ll eventually feel.

While you’re building your schedule, don’t just make time for the sh*t you have to do—that’s literally no fun. “This is a time where people could resume things that they have previously entertained but haven’t had time for,” says Dr. Taitz. The one downside is that you now officially have no excuse to not learn that thing or start that project you’ve been telling everyone you were totally going to do. Maybe, like a lot of Twitter, you’re going to go Paul Hollywood and learn how to bake bread (just make sure it’s not underproofed). For me, it’s the book I’ve spent the last two years talking a big game about wanting to write but not having the time. When it comes to planning activities, Dr. Taitz recommends “scheduling a lot of things that bring you pleasure… or expanding on something that you already do that gives you a sense of accomplishment.” For instance,  do an activity you already like, or improve upon something you want to get better at. Like, if you already do 30 push-ups a day (brag), try to up it to 40. 

She also recommends everyone practice mindfulness, which she explains is “the specific ability to learn to be present in the moment without judgment.” That means making a conscious effort to not let your thoughts spin off into a tornado of anxiety, as easy as that is to do.

“Especially right now during this type of crisis, it’s so tempting to think about like, ‘Oh my god, how long is this gonna go on?’ ‘I’m gonna go crazy’ ‘I can’t take one more day of this.’ It’s so overwhelming,” she admits. Instead, she advises to spend at least three to five minutes a day formally practicing mindfulness, whether that be watching your breath or trying to meditate—“doing something where you have to keep coming back to being present without judgment.” 

And while the impulse is strong to try to bury your head in the sand and ignore the news, we all need to stay informed, for our safety and the safety of those around us. So how do you ride that fine line between keeping up to date with all the current information and going down a rabbit hole where you’re convinced you’re dying? (First of all, avoid WebMD.) Dr. Taitz says, “think about what’s the sweet spot where you’re taking in information that’s prudent and productive but not like drowning in a passive consumption of demoralizing or panic-inducing.” Like, if you know you can’t start your day without a quick news update, do that. But if you know that checking Twitter before bed will lead you down a dark path, probably avoid that. Going back to your routine, as you map out your schedule, you can carve out some time to check the news—just make sure you put a time limit on it and stick to it. “Really think about what kind of data is best for you and what’s the amount that is sensible,” she says. In other words, know yourself.

And in times like these, it’s important as ever to take care of your mental health. The good news is, Dr. Taitz says, “all psychologists should be able to offer some type of compliant video therapy, so if you’ve been wanting to try therapy but you haven’t had time, consider this as a time that you can really target your mental health.” However, with jobs on the line, paying for therapy may not be an option for many, so there is also the crisis text line if you’re anxious about coronavirus, which you can reach by texting HOME to 741741.

On top of therapy, Dr. Taitz says she “can’t speak to the power of social connection enough.” The good thing about us all being marooned in our homes now, as opposed to like, in 1918, is that we have so much technology to keep us all connected to our friends and loved ones so we don’t lose our sh*t. “If you could reach out to people, not just on text, but set up FaceTime dates like you would meeting people in person,” that’s the best because, “you’re not gonna get the same sense of empathy just over text.” 

It’s pretty normal to feel nothing short of hopeless in a time like this, when so much is out of our control. When talking to my therapist last night, she told me to focus on the things I can control, and take those actions. Like, you may not be able to control living with someone who still has to go into work right now, but you can wash your hands more often, disinfect doorknobs and light switches like a maniac, and do your part to social distance. Dr. Taitz agrees, “taking action is a powerful remedy for hopelessness” and adds that we should “focus on replacing unhelpful thoughts with helpful ones.” Even though we’re in a time of absolute craziness right now, making it feel as normal as possible will bring you some comfort. Above all, I feel like we’re all going a very similar range of emotions, so don’t feel like you’re alone in this, and don’t suffer in silence. To quote High School Musical (my literary pinnacle), we’re all in this together.

Images: Joshua Rawson-Harris / Unsplash

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How Much Does Timing Matter In A Relationship? A Dating Expert Weighs in

Every time a relationship ends before we even got to really date officially, a friend always tries to console me by saying something along the lines of, “the timing just wasn’t right.” And, until now, I genuinely believed them. So what happened that made me call bullsh*t on this whole “it’s all about timing” phenomenon, you ask? A few months ago, my work crush gave a presentation at my department’s monthly meeting and then we all went out for drinks after. Let’s just say our night didn’t end when happy hour did. 

Anyway, we’ve been seeing each other pretty consistently since then and happily agreed to be exclusive, but something still felt a little off. So in the most cool girl way possible, I finessed a regular conversation into a DTR talk and, two weeks later, I still don’t really know where we stand. I know he likes me, I know he isn’t seeing other people, and I know he’s great. But here’s the thing, we aren’t dating-dating because he’s still reeling a little bit from a relatively recent breakup. In other words: bad timing.

For the first time in my life, I don’t feel weird breaking out my existential Carrie Bradshaw voice and asking, “Is timing really everything in a relationship, or is it just an excuse?” So I asked Jenny Taitz, clinical psychologist and author of How To Be Single and Happy, for her professional thoughts on the subject. 

Is Timing As Important As We Think?

I hate myself for saying this, but yes and no. If you’ve ever seen Sliding Doors, the only point at which Gwyneth Paltrow has ever been a relatable human being, you know that the timing of life’s random series of events can define the course of your entire life. Of course, when I ask if timing is really all we’ve cracked it up to be in this article, I don’t mean it so literally, but that movie is kind of applicable to real life. Dr. Taitz says, “My take is: rather than mull over if it is or isn’t a thing, ask if analyzing this or fighting for something to work is helpful? If someone tells you that the relationship won’t work because of timing, why fight that? You deserve more.” She definitely has a point, but I can’t help but think my—and a lot of other people’s—situation is a little more complicated than that. Of course, if someone I wasn’t that into said timing is an issue, I’d be more than happy to part ways without giving a single sh*t, but nothing is ever that easy with someone you like. So, yes, timing is important, but it shouldn’t be the thing making decisions in the relationship.

What’s More Important Than Timing?

I’m only asking because it’s human nature, for me at least, to focus only on the bad and push the good aside. So even though everything is pretty perfect for me right now, this one little thing sucks and that’s the only thing I can think about. Dr. Taitz reminded me that there are two other things that matter in the beginning of a relationship more than timing does: emotional availability and maturity. Okay, so this makes sense, and I think the former is definitely tied to timing. A guy can like you and only you, but his recent breakup is keeping him emotionally closed. Dr. Taitz then read my mind and offered, “A person could have just ended something yet have peace of mind and heart space.” So that’s why I’m not throwing in the towel just yet. Just because things aren’t perfect right now, they’re close enough that I am hopeful he’ll gain the peace of mind and heart space to slowly change his mind about not wanting to be in a relationship right now. Am I being too optimistic here? Time will tell, I guess.

What Are Other Factors That Can Determine Whether Or Not A Relationship Will Work?

Dr. Taitz says that being able to manage your feelings and having good communication is paramount, and I definitely agree. We’ve all gone out with someone we thought we were dating, but turns out we weren’t and we didn’t find that out until months later because their communication skills are worse than those of a newborn. We have to remember to appreciate a person’s ability to communicate how they’re feeling even if what they’re saying isn’t what we were hoping to hear. Like, if they are saying, “I want to take things really slow because I just got out of a relationship,” it doesn’t mean they are a terrible person for not being in the same place emotionally as you. It may be disappointing to hear, but it takes maturity to say that, rather than to just give a vague answer and lead you on for months. 

What Should People Feeling Lost In A New Relationship Do?

Unfortunately, there’s nothing specific you can do to fix things. If there were, everyone would wake up and go to sleep smiling instead of weeping into a bag of SkinnyPop while watching Sleepless in Seattle. At the end of the day, the only thing you can really do is be cool, collected, and communicative. So many people—myself included—get caught up in saying and/or not saying something because it’s considered taboo, but you know what? It’s 2019 and there are a lot worse things we could be doing than double texting, so I say f*ck it and say what you want to say. Dr. Taitz agrees and adds, “Remember that a relationship doesn’t define you and your happiness doesn’t hinge on the person you are with.” That sounds so obvious, but it’s definitely true. It’s really easy to lose sight of all of the great things going on in your life because some guy isn’t giving you what you feel like you want, need or deserve. Don’t let that be you! 

Look, at the end of the day, there is no perfect start to a relationship. It just doesn’t exist. For instance, two of my friends met while both properly blacked out, had drunken sex that night, and are now adding a heap of crap to their Bed, Bath & Beyond registry. Another pair of lovebirds met and started dating while one of them was fully in another relationship and now they are engaged. My point is, just because a relationship is a little unclear in the beginning does not mean the whole thing is doomed. More importantly, timing is not everything, and all you can do is communicate openly and honestly.

Images: Giphy (4); Unsplash

Facetune Is Ruining Our Mental Health—Here’s What We Can Do About It

How many Photoshopped pictures have you come across today? One? Two? 15 Kardashian posts in a row? It’s almost impossible to tell, considering the ease with which Facetune and other editing apps allow us to doctor ourselves. Unless, of course, you have a Photoshop wizard on retainer who will call that sh*t out in a regular column. But assuming you don’t (since apparently most celebrities don’t either), believe us when we say, photo manipulation is everywhere.

It doesn’t take an expert to tell you that constantly staring at doctored photos of beautiful people will eventually take a toll on your mental health, but we checked in with one just to be safe. Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of speaking to clinical psychologist Dr. Jenny Taitz, author of How to Be Single and Happy and End Emotional Eating. We discussed the psychological effects of editing apps like Facetune, and what near-constant exposure to them will do to us. Spoiler alert: it’s not good.

The rampant use of Facetune on social media has fed into an increase of eating disorders and other maladaptive behaviors in young women across the country, and it’s not hard to see why. “They’re comparing themselves to fitness models and influencers who spend hours with makeup and Photoshop and stylists,” Dr. Taitz explains. It’s an unrealistic sample population, one that we expose ourselves to on a daily basis. To use an analogy, Dr. Taitz says, “If your social network was the top 1% of wealth you would feel poor, even if you were in the top 10%.”

Dr. Taitz is a proponent of “radical acceptance,” which is the idea of being totally and completely open to what is, as it is in this very moment, and accepting it at face value. Sounds like a given, but it’s a lot harder than it seems. For example, she advises, “Instead of judging your thighs that you deem problematic, you make space for them and maybe appreciate that your legs got you to work today.”

Once you get to the point where you can be happy with the here and now, the next step of radical acceptance is living a life focused on values. Dr. Taitz believes that how you show up in the world and what you want to be known for are more important than your outward appearance. Revolutionary, right? I shouldn’t need someone who went to school for twice as long as I did to tell me that we have worth beyond our outward appearance. And yet there I was, blown away by not only the incredibly soothing tone with which Dr. Taitz explained this seemingly obvious notion, but also by the fact that she needs to say it at all. Turns out there’s a reason for that.

“Snap judgments are based on emotion,” she goes on to tell me. “You’re just glancing at a picture and making a snap judgment without realizing it.” The innate behavior to rely on our emotions for quick decision making without taking the time to truly analyze the situation was a super useful tactic when we were Neanderthals trying to survive in the wild. But now that we spend our days glued to feeds full of beautiful people that we can’t help but compare ourselves to, it’s less helpful and more entirely destructive to our psyche.

“These apps make you think there’s something wrong with your life that you need to fix,” says Dr. Taitz. And how could they not? After staring at picture after picture of celebrities and influencers—who are already otherworldly beautiful in their own right—edited to a point of absolute unattainability, it’s hard to not try and measure up to them.

 

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Ur bitch never edits she refuses. And I feel so much prettier when I don’t do it. I’m not in my head about like how this or that looks better w a little help. That always made me feel worse so I put a ban on editing photos of me. Mags kinda didn’t like it at first but they got used to it and so did every Photgrapher I work with. So stick to your guns folks!! #thelifeofawannabemogul

A post shared by BELLA (@bellathorne) on

“A helpful intervention used in eating disorder or body image dissatisfaction treatment is to compare yourself to every third person you see,” recommends Dr. Taitz. We’ll momentarily ignore the fact that editing apps and Instagram are having the same effect as eating disorders and dive into this tactic. Your Instagram feed is a highly curated collection of images of beautiful people doing beautiful things in beautiful places that you’ve never been to. It’s as fake and overly produced as The Bachelor, but that’s easy to forget when it’s the only thing you see day after day.

So instead of comparing yourself to one of the thousands of fitness influencers in Mykonos this summer, try looking at every third person you see on the street. Those are real people. Ideally you’d get to the point where you don’t have to compare yourself to anyone at all, but let’s start with some baby steps.

Dr. Taitz also encourages her patients to try a social media detox, whatever that may mean for you. If you can’t go cold turkey, try setting usage hours, or even days to move yourself in the right direction.

What it comes down to is this: the rampant usage of Photoshop-type apps on Instagram isn’t just affecting how we feel ourselves—it’s tarnishing our quality of life. More people are pursuing elective surgeries than ever before, and while that’s totally their right, let’s not pretend that it’s an isolated event. One of Dr. Taitz’s concerns, and something that should be all of our concern, is that “life is becoming a beauty pageant 24/7 rather than a triumph of character.”

Beautiful people have always existed, and they’ve always hung out with other beautiful people and done cool things together. But we haven’t always been able to see it—and now we’re getting to the point where we can’t escape it, even if we wanted to. It’s really difficult to feel grateful for your own life when you’re busy comparing it to Kylie Jenner’s.

So how do we even begin to reverse what already seems to be ever-present? Acceptance. Accept yourself. Accept the here and now. Accept that by abstaining from social media you may not always be in the know. But most importantly, don’t accept anything that uses your appearance to dictate your value.

Images: Spencer Davis / Unsplash; Giphy; bellathorne / Instagram

5 Common Dating Misconceptions You Should Not Listen To

Unless you met your significant other in high school, dating is really hard and anxiety-inducing for, like, every moment until you are officially in a relationship (and then that’s where the real work starts). Even God’s gift to humanity, Serena van der Woodsen, struggled on the dating scene, which is truly troubling for normal people. Yes, I am aware that SVDW is a fictional character, but even Blake Lively had to swim through a sea of Kelly Blatz’s and Penn Badgley’s before finding Ryan Reynolds. I guess the only upside to having no idea what is happening in my love life is that I have at least one thing in common with Blake Lively—kind of. Don’t ruin this for me.

So, I met someone a little over a month ago who checks all of my boxes, and even though my therapist and Hannah Montana both say nobody’s perfect, this guy is pretty damn close. Except for one thing: We don’t hang out more than like, once a week, which I didn’t realize was an issue until one of my happily married friends forced her unsolicited opinion on me shared her concerns with me. Since then, I have not been able to stop thinking about where this relationship (can I even call it that?) is heading, if anywhere. Have I been so burned by former boyfriends that my bar is set unreasonably low, or am I so smitten that I can’t see an obvious red flag? So like any neurotic New Yorker, I took to the experts and consulted Dr. Jenny Taitz, a clinical psychologist and author of How To Be Single and Happy, to make me feel better and debunk a few common misconceptions about dating.  

If You Aren’t Hanging Out Multiple Times A Week Within The First Month, You’re Doomed

Giphy

So this is obviously what initiated my downward spiral line of questioning, and I was very eager to hear a professional’s opinion on the matter. Here’s what Dr. Taitz had to say: “It’s not about quantity; it’s about quality. If you’re seeing each other once a week and spending four or five hours on a Saturday actually talking about real things, rather than meeting up at like, midnight, it’s not a bad sign.” And, as much as I hate to admit that anyone aside from myself is right, she has a point. For instance, I used hang out with my FWB like three nights a week, which was both great and horrible. It was nice because we got to see a lot of each other, which is more than I can say about the current guy I’m seeing, but all FWB and I did together was the old school definition of Netflix and Chill and then the ~relationship~ just kind of shriveled up and died. Welp.

So this horrendous experience is shedding some light on my current situation: I have to (slightly) rely on positive and negative indicators for answers about his feelings for me or where he sees us going. As cliche as it is to admit, trusting your gut is usually the right thing to do, and I def knew that FWB wasn’t going to pan out. If he’s showing you zero signs of wanting to be your boyfriend at some point in the future, chances are, he won’t be.

If You Can’t Sleep At His Apartment, You’re Not Comfortable With Him

If there is something more intimate than sleeping next to someone, LMK. Honestly, I have been told I’m low-maintenance to sleep next to because I don’t really move or make sound other than quiet breathing, which is prob better than absolute silence (creepy). Anyway, even though I’m a pretty easy bedmate, I still get so insecure sleeping next to someone until I feel absolutely comfortable with him. For instance, Mr. Almost Perfect loves to snuggle, which is adorable and sweet, but after a few hours, half my body is numb and I need to switch positions, but I can’t because I don’t want to wake him up so I just lay there in agony waiting for him to roll over on his own. Look, I’ve had plenty of sleepovers with my girlfriends and if they unconsciously make their way onto my side, I have zero issue waking their asses up and delivering them back to their side. So why can’t I do that with a guy I’m seeing? Am I becoming a nice person who’s concerned about the wellbeing and restfulness of others? Doubtful, but Dr. Taitz says, “There are a lot of reasons why people can’t sleep. Sometimes people can’t sleep because they’re excited. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with physical or mental comfort.” As someone who can fall asleep literally anywhere, I was getting a little worried about what my restless nights in Bushwick (I know) might signal for my not-yet-relationship, but I feel a bit better now!

If You’re Affectionate Towards Each Other, The Relationship Is Just Physical

To clarify, I hate PDA more than I hate most things in this world. However, little things like holding my excessively clammy hand, putting your arm around me, or letting me have the first bite of whatever dessert we’re “sharing” make me happy. And in any given relationship, I am the affectionate one, which is totally fine with me, but Mr. Almost Perfect is also super warm and mushy, which is confusing to me! Is he being so touchy and sweet in response to me acting that way or is he just like that? Dr. Taitz says, “Touching is a good example of showing closeness, and being affectionate through touch is never a bad thing.” Generally, trust your gut. If it feels sweet and genuine, it probably is. Plus, there’s generally no sh*tty and disappointing meaning to an innocent hand hold.

However, if his hand always manages to find its way to your butt, well, hopefully you know what that means. Lastly, Dr. Taitz admits, “It’s really fascinating how our mind tries to undermine our joy and replace closeness with worry.” That’s literally what I am doing right now. Lastly, “You should ask yourself what you have in common besides the physical touch, because I’m sure if you want to touch someone, there’s something that’s attracting you well beyond the physical.” There is, there def is.

If You Don’t Like His Friends, You Eventually Won’t Like Him

Dr. Taitz says, “It’s safe to say he’s probably not a clone of his friends. We need to be okay with the element of uncertainty and not knowing everything we would want to know right away.” Hopefully, I’ll find out soon what the deal with his friends is, but people’s friends are not always a mirror reflection of who they are. I have a friend who knows more about what’s happening in Washington than Trump does, which honestly isn’t saying much, but he likes to bring politics into every conversation he has and it’s as annoying as it seems, if not more so. I have another friend who is like, an actual drama magnet, and seeing her is more exhausting than a SoulCycle class on a Sunday morning. But I love them and, needless to say, they aren’t shedding any negative light on my personality or self because they are the way they are, but more importantly, I am not them. Yes, sometimes “you are the company you keep” can ring true, but other times it just doesn’t—you can’t tell without getting to know the person.

If You Aren’t Texting All Day Every Day, The Communication Needs Work

Nothing bugs me more than when someone texts me “Hey, what’s up?” Like, are we supposed to have a full-fledged convo via text right now? The only reasons I text someone are when something very specific to that person just happened or if we making plans. Mr. Almost Perfect is the same way, so when we aren’t together, we aren’t really texting, like, ever. Every now and then we will say something stupid to check in and make sure the other is still alive, but we are definitely not those people who are constantly, like, tagging each other in vague memes and saying goodnight with kissy face emojis on the daily. No judgment if that’s your vibe, but gross. I kind of like it this way because I will never read into a text or lack thereof. Do you know how stressed out I used to get trying to decipher the convoluted and hidden messages buried in texts of past boyfriends? For instance, I texted a guy I had been seeing for a few weeks, “Let’s do something tonight” and he responded with “Do you want to?” Like, yes?? What kind of answer is that?! So the lack of constant texting actually takes a massive headache off the table. The only reason I am even discussing this is because after a dinner with a friend, she was shook that my boo thang didn’t call or text during the entire 75 minutes of dinner. I was not shook at all because I’ve had English Lit classes longer than that, but she thought it was so weird that she warned me to “watch out for this one.” Okay, mom, I shall. But Dr. Taitz says, “I highly recommend against texting all day because it can definitely create false feelings and a false sense of intimacy. If you are confident that when you see each other you will talk and catch up, you don’t need to have that insecure attachment to texting.” Brilliant.

The bottom line is that only you and the other person in the relationship are the ones who can take the temperature of the situation. So even if your friends have been in really similar situations, your friends and their SOs aren’t you and yours, so you can’t really listen to them. Of course, some things can seem like a red flag and others a green light, which makes the situation slightly easier to navigate, but until the “what are we?” conversation is had, the only thing we can do is know what we know, which is usually not enough to make any accurate predictions about where it’s going and what it all means.

Images: Unsplash; Giphy (3)