Adrienne: We’ve heard about the issue of deteriorating mental health through the pandemic. And making that worse… many people are not seeking any help. Today, our Wellness Columnist, Scott McPherson, is here to explain one of the reasons that’s been happening… and how the pandemic has changed who wants to learn more about mindfulness. Hi Scott.
Scott: Happy New Year Adrienne.
Adrienne: Happy New Year to you. Before we talk about the change you’re seeing, maybe tell us more about who a typical mindfulness student is?
Scott: They fall into three basic types. The Seekers. People in Transition. And Chronic Emoters.
Adrienne: Okay, what defines a ‘Seeker’?
Scott: They’re generally feeling quite good about the world and they would like to stay that way. So they’re mostly interested in the philosophy around the subjects of reality, and identity and mindfulness. They’re a lot of fun because they ask really hard questions. And they’re primarily looking to just, ‘understand,’ and maybe they’ll develop some new life skills along the way, but that’s not the point for them.
Adrienne: Hmm. And what about the ‘People in Transition’?
Scott: Uh, we– well we all are them sometimes. Both aging and external experiences will pretty routinely force us to change. Stuff like COVID. The biggest group would be kids at the transition point into adult– adulthood. Like, a lot of parents recognize it as a great opportunity for them to mindfully choose how they approach whatever they do. I also see a lot of mid-30’s women who are contemplating ending a bad relationship, but that bad relationship might also be their only real chance to have a baby before 40. So that’s a transition from the idea of their future self being a wife and mother, to having to move forward with the idea that they may end up single with no kids, or single with a kid. Or it can be someone transitioning into the identity of an empty nester, a step parent, a chemo patient, or a new employee… even a PHD student entering the workforce. Everyone has the brain wiring for who they were.So iIt’s a daunting thing for them to know that they need to build a lot of new brain wiring before their new identity will feel familiar and comfortable to them. But those are fun for me because once they get to a point of ‘acceptance,’ people can get really excited about the potential in their new identity.
Adrienne: Hmm. And who are the ‘Chronic Emoters?’
Scott: These are the people we think of most often. They’re the more serious cases where people are struggling with one particular emotion a lot throughout their life. These are folks that are chronically depressed, or they have anger management issues, or they’re overly insecure, or anxious. Some are crippled by worry or fear. This is the group that includes suicidal people. But it also includes chronically sad people who actually getting to the point of being sick and tired of being sick and tired. That group feels good to work with because for them, the mindfulness and awareness brings relief. And that’s what they need more than any other thing.
Adrienne: And now– you say you’re seeing a new kind of client. Tell us about them.
Scott: Ya, the new group is surprising. It’s healthy people. It’s mostly osmosis from their parents, so they’re only partially conscious of their life skills. They got good at managing their emotions and their lives because they’re parents were good at that too. But they’re rarely philosophical about their capability. So they’ll struggle with transitions just like other people. But they’ve historically made it through them without help. In general it’s a group of people who are emotionally successful as well as often being successful at life in general. So if things were normal, those people are already wired for success. They aren’t people who would be looking for any kind of psychological care before the pandemic.
Adrienne: How has the pandemic changed things for them?
Scott: Well it’s got them off balance, which is something they don’t have as much familiarity with compared to people who have experienced lots of struggle. Look, it’s a good sign if someone’s struggling in a pandemic. It’s the biggest world wide crisis since WWII. If we’re not off balance something’s kind of wrong with us. Uh, but that still means that formerly healthy group has really been shoved into the group of people in a State of Transition. And they’ve been there before, but not for a year. So I’m often hearing from them after they experience their first panic attacks. But prior to that they don’t realize how serious it’s been getting because they legitimately have an identity as a healthy person. So they end up being in the uh –so they end up being the group that is bad for asking for help. It often takes a few ugly experiences before they accept that their normal skill set may not cut it, a full year into a pandemic.
Adrienne: And are they learning the same things as the other groups?
Adrienne: Yeah in part for sure. But the ‘Seekers’ and ‘Chronic Emoters’ are looking for permanent and substantial change. So they’ll invest 10-15 hours on changing their lives. They’re learning to be more mindful and aware because that helps to make reality more flexible and cooperative. But the healthy people don’t feel any need for a new world view. Their old one works fine once the world goes back to normal. But in between they need a raft to get them from here to there. So they are mostly looking for strategies, or rescue.
Adrienne: What kind of strategies?
Scott: Things like breathing exercises. Being more conscious about exercise, or eating. Maybe they’re coping by using drugs or alcohol. So if that’s the case we work on that as an acute issue rather than a chronic one. Most of them are also doing a series of daily resolution meditations that I’m currently running on my blog at relaxandsucceed. So they’ll do those each morning. They’re looking for any route to things that feel more positive and certain.
Adrienne: You also mentioned they are sometimes looking to be ‘rescued.’ So, what does that look like?
Scott: Yeah I’ve set things up differently for that group because the situation with the pandemic is so weird. So they might book an hour of time. But we found the best way to use it sometimes is four 15 minute calm-down phone calls. Or six, ten-minute calls. So they’ll text me to see if I’m available right then. And at my earliest convenience we get on the phone and I essentially talk them down from an emotional high. They’re basically micro-sessions. And they’re often done on the phone, and they’re just sort of piggy backing on my mindfulness skill set. So they’re normally fine on their journey through life. But the pandemic causes periodic floods of emotion. So they’re treating the calls like a series of emotional life-rafts. I’ve gotta say, it’s working pretty good. It quickly gets them through the tough part so they can get back to whatever they have to do with pretty good focus. The only real issue they have is that they often wait too long to initially ask for the help. So when we see the studies mentioning that 40% that are struggling but many are not seeking help, that’s usually who it is. But we shouldn’t really criticize them for that. The reason they don’t ask is because they rightfully have an identity as a healthy person. It’s just not currently as applicable thanks to COVID. So if there are folks out there in that situation, where they’re having panic attacks and they’re confused, because they’re new to them. They might be in this group and they should consider seeking some temporary help. It doesn’t even have to be from someone like me or a counsellor –the right friend or family member can also help a lot just by helping us talk through the issue. Some find just saying it out loud can be helpful. The point is, no one should be shy about taking whatever action they need to, to float themselves through the worst of this.
Adrienne: Okay, good stuff to think about as always. Thank you so much for this Scott.
Scott: Thank you. You have a great day.
Adrienne: Scott McPherson is our Wellness Columnist. He teaches mindfulness in Edmonton. Find him at relaxandsucceed.com, and on Twitter and Facebook.
For those who may be unaware of it, I regularly have the pleasure of discussing mindfulness practices with Adrienne Pan, the co-host of Radio Active on CBC Radio One.
Once the show has aired, if there is an audio version available I will add a link to it here. A listing of all of the columns is here. For those without audio versions, I will attach a transcript of the column to this post, after its airing.
Today we’ll be discussing a new group of people that has become interested in mindfulness training as a result of the pressures of the pandemic.
Consider checking us out. If you’ve never heard the CBC Radio Active show before, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. They have a great team.
Take care everyone.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.