Business Unusual: Wellness in Crisis

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In this interview for our Business Unusual series, Ruby’s Jill McKenna talks about wellness in the midst of crisis with Amanda Soares, LCSW.

Jill McKenna:

Hello, I’m Jill. I’m the campaign marketing manager here at Ruby. And today I’m talking with Amanda Soares. Amanda is a mental health speaker, therapist, coach facilitator, and licensed clinical social worker here in Portland, Oregon. Amanda has over 20 years of client experience and specializes in challenging and crisis level circumstances. You can find her work at Hi Amanda. Thanks for being here today.

Amanda Soares:

Hi Jill, thanks for having me.

Jill McKenna:

I’m glad you’re here.

Amanda Soares:

You did a great job. That was a mouthful.

Jill McKenna:

I do what I can. I am very grateful you’re here. Our customers, our community, our employees, all of us, just like the rest of the world are going through so much change. In our particular company, we worked from home almost 600 of us within 11 days, which as you can imagine, was a lot of whiplash and as we experienced that, we all really thought about the experiences that our small business owners were having, their families, their loved ones, everybody in the community, and wanted to be able to offer some resources to all of us at this time for understanding what a baseline of normalcy is during a crisis so that we don’t feel so hopefully, bananas and out of control. Although I think that’s the name of the game.

Amanda Soares:

I think one of the most critical pieces is helping people reframe their expectations and also avoiding to be drawn to hold ourselves to January expectations or yesterday expectations or nonacademic expectations. It’s just a setup I think for lack of productivity, feeling useless or worthless and in creating a lot of anxiety and grief for people because those are not the standards of our world right now and it is physically impossible to do so many of the tasks we’re all in a position of having to do right now.

Jill McKenna:

To that point and to the point of emotional resilience but also just dealing with the change in our bodies that comes with so much catechism and trauma. You and I have spoken recently and something that really stuck with me is the idea of paying attention to where anxiety registers in your body so that you can interrupt it, can you speak a little bit to that process?

Amanda Soares:

I think when we are in a constant stress cycle our amygdala is pumping out stress hormones into our bodies and our brains that cause changes in our ability to think in our bodies and again, it’s an individualized process. People manifest that very differently. Headaches, brain fog, inability to concentrate, tightness in the jaw, the back, irritability, sleep problems, eating problems, the recurrence of old trauma. We’re seeing so many manifestations of what that can look like when the body again is flooded repeatedly with those hormones. And it takes the body typically an hour to clear one instance of those types of hormones flooding us, much less constant streaming in fight-flight-freeze stimuli.

Amanda Soares:

So some of the work I do is to really help people notice and tune into those processes as they’re happening in their bodies, so that we can take protective action to put out those fires, so to speak before they harm us. There’s copious amounts of research on the harm that unchecked chronic stress does to our bodies and our brains and a lot of the work I do right now is helping teach people concrete ways to get out of that cycle, get back into their bodies, reduce those hormones and take care of themselves.

Jill McKenna:

Thank you. And something else that we had talked about that dovetails right in with that is the idea of regression right now. When we are going through something so traumatic it raises issues and it raises physiological responses that we maybe haven’t encountered in a very long time or possibly in decades. And so, those being raised again, we suddenly become maybe not our best version of ourselves for our partners, for our families, at work. Are there tools that specifically help in the workplace with that either for employees or employers?

Amanda Soares:

I think regression typically stems from anxiety and that pressure cooker of stress and stress hormones that build up in the body. The best practice to rid the body of them is the fastest way to address the regression. And then the flip side of that might be, are we still using unreasonable expectations about what we’re expecting from people right now? I think it’s a twofold process. Number one, we have to give people the tools they need to address that kind of pressure cooker effect that we’re all experiencing right now but simultaneously we have to make sure our organization’s expectations are realistic for what we want to accomplish and what we’re expecting people to accomplish because I think if we’re holding anyone to the same standards or ourselves to the same operating standards that were completely valid in January, I think we’re missing the mark. And I think we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment and I think we’re setting our employees up for some longterm health problems.

Jill McKenna:

Wow. Are there ideas or tools that you recommend for interrupting anxiety as we do notice it arising in ourselves?

Amanda Soares:

Yes. I tend to teach the notice, interrupt, soothe model. Interrupting being, well, I’ll back up to notice. Once we notice those signs where our body is telling us we’re overloaded, be they physical, mental stomach aches, headaches. For me, it’s the sound of a pen clicking goes from a regular sound to a homicidal impulse. When we catch ourselves and notice and train ourselves to notice that we’re overwhelmed, we’ve got to interrupt that cycle. And that can be something as simple as getting into another room, going to get a glass of water, there’s many small ways we can reorganize our bodies and our brains, but then after we interrupt, we’ve got to take a second to soothe.

Jill McKenna:

How do people know at this time with so much extremity, how do they know that maybe they need a little bit of extra help right now? Maybe some of their normal tools just aren’t cutting it anymore.

Amanda Soares:

I think the first thing I have been advising people to do is check the context. Are you actually having what is a perfectly reasonable response to an intensely stressful, chaotic and frightening situation that we’re finding ourselves in? Check in there, after that, if you find yourself continually thinking, oh, do I need extra help? Has this gone too far? Well, maybe it has and it could be time to reach out to additional resources. Third way is to check in with the people who love you most and who know you best. Ask them for honest feedback, ask them if they are worried about you or if they notice changes.

Amanda Soares:

And then fourth, I think check the regular issues, right? Like, are you eating okay? Are you sleeping okay? Are you using or overusing substances to comfort yourself? Have you fallen back into habits that you know are toxic for you? If those are themes that keep arising for you or really, if you just feel super despondent and it’s not letting up, you’re having recurrent thoughts of self-harm or intrusive thoughts, it’s okay to get extra help right now. A lot of us need it and it’s completely reasonable.

Jill McKenna:

And then finally, are there some favorite recommendations for self-care that you have been suggesting right now?

Amanda Soares:

My personal favorites have been starting virtual chats with people that you love and care about, who support you, that you can be authentic with, that you can laugh with, cry with, the more people you can include at once the better, because chances are you’ll all take turns. Take time to do the things you love, make sure you’re getting enough sleep, make sure you’re getting, good nutrition for you. Try to move your body, try and not lock yourself in one small space, if you can avoid it. So many of the things that we used to do to cope or get stress relief we don’t have access to right now. So finding ways that have worked for you in the past, finding ways that have soothed you in the past, things that brought you joy.

Amanda Soares:

Taking the time to engage in those things and feeling good. Practicing even small acts of gratitude for things we’ve all had to learn. We’ve all developed a new skill, we’ve all learned or done something we didn’t think we would do and we’ve accomplished it. And I think the most important thing is to remember that you’re surviving. The standard is not am I living my personal best life right now? That’s not what we’re doing. We’re surviving in a pandemic and also trying to get work done at home.

Jill McKenna:

You and I had spoken recently and you were like, “Yeah, the idea of making the perfect bread and all of that BS in the media of what we should be doing with our time is such a tricky conversation to be having with ourselves.”

Amanda Soares:

We exist in a culture that tries to convince us that if we haven’t accomplished some kind of stretch goal or learned French in a pandemic means that I’m lacking somehow. And I encourage people to push back on that and think about what entity that type of insecurity serves because it’s not helpful to us. It’s not helpful for us to apply to live your best life standards at home, under lockdown orders in a pandemic, that’s not realistic. So constantly check-in and ask yourself with the expectations you’re trying to hold yourself to a reasonable. Are they reasonable by January standards or are they reasonable by current standards?

Jill McKenna:

Amanda, thank you so much for joining us today. I’m really glad to be able to draw upon your expertise and to be able to get some ideas for how we can cope with these times. If people want to find you, where can they find you out online?

Amanda Soares:

Thanks for having me Jill. If people want more information, they can look me up at Be well.

Jill McKenna:

Amazing. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

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