The Art of Living Virtually – For Now

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By Kristin Osborn

As a student of self-care, I’ve identified what works for me and I’ve integrated it into my daily schedule. After weeks of isolation due to the pandemic, here are four activities that have helped :

  • Taking walks
  • Developing a daily schedule with set breaks
  • Allowing time to experience my emotions
  • Connecting with others.

Una McClusky, author of Transference and Countertransference from an Attachment Perspective, stresses the importance for care providers to connect with others. I’ve taken her message to heart, integrating as many moments of connection into my daily routine. Previously, I might have shied away from the ringing phone, hoping to hold onto some silence in the middle of a busy schedule. Now I’m encouraging myself to move forward, pick up the phone, and connect.

Recently, I converted a 2-day workshop into a virtual conference. A resulting benefit was that it opened up ongoing communications with psychiatry residents, psychotherapists, nurses, physicians and students from around the world.

I also taught an online course with psychiatry residents at UC San Diego — the Basics of Affect Phobia Therapy. I felt it was essential not only to demonstrate how these principles can be used with their patients, but also with themselves to experience less anxiety and more connection.

Launching an online community

A few weeks ago, we launched Therapist Affect Phobia Community — a weekly online forum which provides a way for mental health professionals to exchange observations, learn from one another, receive support and connect. Dr. Michael Alpert, a psychiatrist from NYC, joined me as a guest one week. He explained why it can be difficult seeing our faces online, then demonstrated a technique we can use remotely at home. To practice this exercise, you’ll need to look at your reflection in the mirror, or through your phone/computer. As you look at yourself, pay close attention to your eyes and ask yourself these questions:

  • What are you noticing as you see yourself?
  • Can you accept what you are seeing?
  • What could be a barrier to accepting yourself?
  • What feelings are you experiencing toward yourself?
  • When have you felt like this in the past?

I volunteered to help Dr. Alpert demonstrate this technique then looked at my face on the Zoom video window. Immediately I noted the tiredness in my eyes. I explained that I felt as though I looked older, wiser and concerned.

Dr. Alpert asked me to pay attention to my tiredness. I felt tears come to the surface and I experienced sadness. He asked me if I was feeling more compassionate toward myself, but instead, my sadness deepened. I realized I was experiencing loss. I was missing what was familiar — my offices, my clients, my friends, my colleagues and I was feeling worried — worried about finances, my well-being and not knowing what life will look like post-pandemic.

After our forum ended, I noticed that I was teary at times and experienced discomfort. The next morning, I experienced separation anxiety with my trainees online and felt deeply sad at the loss of our in-person connection.

However, it’s important to note, that while connecting with one another, we were all feeling more alive, less tired.

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