A Parent Perspective: 2021

As part of the District 181 Foundation Board I volunteer for, I have been asked to write a series of articles as a parent reflecting on the talks given by authors who have been invited to speak in our community’s school district. All the articles for this past year are shared here in the hopes that they support the concept of keen living within the context of parenting:

A Parent Perspective June 3, 2021:  District 181 Foundation Board Speaker Series Presentation from Nicholas Epley

To capstone the District 181 Foundation’s Speaker Series for 2020-2021, the Board invited, Nicholas Epley to speak to the parent community recently on his research that is current and topical for parents and students: “Type Less, Talk More.”

The talk touched on many effects of the pandemic, and emphasized a key need today:  connecting via talking in person or over the phone or video chat as opposed to texting or email or other more socially-removed forms of communication.  His points are well-taken from a parent perspective in terms of connecting not only with our children, but also in the ways we choose to communicate with friends, colleagues, and family.  Overall his points were current and informative.  One of my main takeaways as a parent is that I need to apply these concepts in order to model for my children how I want them to behave with technology. 

His main point of removing the isolation caused by the pandemic is important.  In essense, he was espousing the, “Tend and Befriend,” theory of social interaction.  For more information generally, see: https://thriveglobal.com/stories/tend-and-befriend-to-break-down-the-pandemic-wall/.  The scientific theories he included are interesting, and I wondered where does that leave us as parents?  How do I take what he gave as research and apply it in my own parenting practice? 

One instance I see as applicable is found in his inclusion of the train ride studies from the University of Chicago.  The overall findings lean toward the maxim – “kindness matters.”  The interactions he described where a person reached out to talk to another train rider resulted as a success as measured in contentment or happiness regarding the interaction.  It seemed to boost the mood of the rider who was befriended.  The discussion seemed to be a better, more valuable, more memorable use of the time riding the train than other non-social alternatives like reading the paper, checking email, texting, etc.  Check out the recording of the talk for more details. 

The kindness it took for the research participant to attempt to talk with another train rider may be intimidating for most people.  For example, striking up a conversation out of the blue with a stranger especially on a confined train ride is not something that a lot of people like to do.  However, I admire those who don’t hesitate in being kind.  Maybe it doesn’t have to be a full conversation for a whole train ride, but people who will say to a stranger – excuse me, did you drop this?  Or to a friend, Oh! That looks so nice on you.  Small interactions fueled with kind intent can have a way of making another person’s day brighten up.  The impact left is greater than one thinks. 

One example I can think of in terms of a person sharing kindness without hesitation is my son’s 5th grade teacher at Madison school, Mrs. Melonie Jackson.  She shares kind thoughts and stories about her students and has shared kind remarks about my son with me without hesitation.  She exudes kindness and thoughtfulness in her personal interactions as well as her written communications.  What a wonderful world it would be if there were more people like her brave enough to be kind without hesitation.

Overall, Nicholas Epley’s talk taught me more than just to make a phone call instead of texting.  His research and advice boils down to the fact that trying to be kind and considerate as parents, friends, neighbors, and even strangers can create a greater sense of connectedness. 

Thank you again to the District 181 Foundation Board Speaker Series Committee for this great talk and all the talks this past school year.  I look forward very much to the announcement of all the speakers for the 2021-2022 school year!

A Parent Perspective March 11, 2021:  Julie Lythcott-Haims

Another speaker through the District 181 Foundation’s Community Speaker Series, and another great educational parenting presentation.  I find that after every speaker I listen to through the District 181 Foundation’s Community Speaker Series, I take away another piece of the parenting jigsaw puzzle.  Listening to the presentation by Julie Lythcott-Haims shifted my mindset yet again about parenting.  This time, I think my perspective on parenting shifted in the sense that she reminded me of the disciplined parenting style that allows children to learn and fail on their own.  Like Jessica Lahey, a speaker many years ago for the District 181 Foundation and author of, “The Gift of Failure,” Julie Lythcott-Haims is teaching parents to let go and let children fly as well as fail. 

I anticipated the presentation because I listened to her book, “How to Raise An Adult,” last summer coincidentally after seeing it in the Hinsdale Library app for audiobooks, “Libby.”  I decided to download it to listen as my family drove cross country to Colorado for a summer vacation.  My husband and I listened as our children enjoyed movies using headphones in the backseat.  I found that her book compiled current research on child and adolescent development and made honest points about what not to do as a parent.  For example, one of her personal stories she shared in the book and shared during the presentation was that one night she sat down for dinner with her family and began cutting her 10 year-old son’s steak.  She stopped herself when she realized that she was so bothered by how inept children are coming of age as freshmen in college and yet here she was cutting her son’s steak for him when he was perfectly capable of doing it himself. 

I found that her presentation was very forthcoming in terms of her personal experience as a mother.  I remember there being personal stories of her experiences raising her own children in the book, but during her talk she shared many more stories about her son and daughter.  It seemed to me that her parenting has evolved over the course of the six or so years since the book was published.  Her children have grown up and are now 21 and 19.  She has gone through many struggles with parenting, and her openness is refreshing and inspiring.  Her story of her son taking so many advanced classes in high school that she sat down with him and offered for him to drop a class was a striking example of her struggling with her ideals and her values as a parent.  She ultimately let him decide what he wanted to do, and he dropped Spanish class.  

The anti-helicopter parent author may be a good way to describe Julie Lythcott-Haims.  She does not represent herself as a parenting expert or a psychologist.  In fact, she is a former corporate attorney and former Dean of Freshman Students at Stanford University.  But from her experiences both as a Dean and as a parent, she has gained great perspective on how we as parents can cripple our children’s development.  She shared that she found that students seemed disconnected from their achievements when they arrived to live and learn on campus.  She questioned when these students would desire to be in the driver’s seat of their own lives?  She summarized the situation well:  there is a lack of agency and resilience in most children and young adults.  She openly declares that we as parents need to get back in our lane, live more of our own life, and let our children take ownership of theirs.  Specifically, she shared many illustrations of how this can look in our own lives including how we need to teach our children to advocate for themselves with teachers, peers, roommates, etc., and stop intervening for them.   In addition, she advocates for taking a step back from academic involvement with our children.  Her presentation has so many thought-provoking stories in it.  I would encourage listening to the whole recording including the questions and answers at the end. 

After listening to her presentation, I took to heart a lot of her advice.  I feel very similar to how I felt after listening to Jessica Lahey’s, “The Gift of Failure,” speech and reading her book after she signed it for me following the presentation at the Community House.  I am inspired yet again to give my children more independence and responsibility.  I need to give them more chores and more opportunities to fail even if it is a soft fail at their ages of 10 and 8.  Something I took immediate action on is her call to cleanse.  Basically, as recommended in her section of the Program Book sent via email to all registered participants, I sat down with my older son, and went through her advice in the cleanse.  I told him I know I ask him a lot, a lot, a lot about whether he has done his schoolwork, what he got on a test, etc., and that I realize that may make him feel like I think he doesn’t care or can’t do it himself.  I promised that I would not ask him about academics for a week, and we shook on it!  I told him I know he can do this.  He can be the pilot.  He can fly the plane, drive the bus, whatever it is, and I will be here for him.  Let’s see how this goes!  It’s a start!

Thank you to the District 181 Foundation Board’s Community Speaker Series committee for organizing and having Julie Lythcott-Haims as a speaker.  She was direct, open, and insightful, as well as inspiring. 

A Parent Perspective, February 12, 2021: Speaker Series Presentation:  Madeline Levine, “Ready or Not: Preparing Our Kids to Thrive in an Uncertain and Rapidly Changing World”

On February 10, 2021, I hastily ran to our nook office and zoomed in for the speaker series presentation one minute before 6pm.  I knew I had a limited amount of time to sit at my desk before I had to drive to pick up my daughter from dance class.  At which point, I anticipated listening to the zoom meeting while driving and then returning to the office to engage via video zoom for the remainder of the presentation.  Phew!  What happened to attending the speaker series at the Community House?  I suddenly missed that outing and experience as a parent.

Today, so many meetings via zoom are being juggled in our rapidly changing and uncertain world – the world our children face as well as the world we face as parents.  Listening to Madeline Levine, PhD., speak about her latest and certainly presciently written book: “Ready or Not: Preparing Our Kids to Thrive in an Uncertain and Rapidly Changing World,”(https://madelinelevine.com/books/ready-or-not/) made me think, how did she know to write this?  What was she anticipating that she could have written this before the pandemic? 

From her talk, I gathered that after writing her other successful books, “Price of Privilege,” and “Teach Your Children Well,” and starting the Challenge Success center at Stanford University, she felt frustrated with the lack of parental changes she saw being made.  She advocates for broadening our parental definition of success for our children.  She defines this new meaning to be outside the scope of name brand colleges attended and high GPAs.   Instead, her definition of success includes valuing kindness to family members, valuing strength to overcome fears as well as valuing unloading a dishwasher. 

To make this book different and induce more changes, she decided to back off her typical sources for her books: her fellow psychologists researching children and parents’ behavior as well as educators researching in the field.  Instead, she chose to look to the military and business leaders.  Why?  These fields deal with rapid changes all the time.

What I was impressed with was her ability to recognize that something isn’t working in her own research and writing, to admit it, and change her own approach.  She feels so strongly about the need for change in how we parent and our children grow up, that she seemingly is putting herself on the line.  She even included that because she believes she and the other authors in her area of research are not making “adequate impact on our audience,” she choose to make this book.  

Fast forward to 2021, and her presentation adapted her advice in the book to the changes caused by the pandemic.  For example, before the pandemic she cited to the fact that one-third of children may have been diagnosed with anxiety.  She has found that due to the pandemic the numbers for anxiety in children have grown to three times what it used to be.  The group most affected by the pandemic she pointed out, is the teen to young adult group.  She explained that the restrictions set in place for the pandemic provide the exact opposite environment that this group needs to develop.  Not having the ability for them to hang out with friends in person, take risks, dating, etc., is in opposition to their brain’s natural inclination.  Her advice on how to deal with this situation was insightful and helpful – help kids find something purposeful.   An antidote of anxiety and depression is contribution.  She even stated her best success cases during the pandemic utilized this technique. 

Another impactful discussion point she had related to a quote she said is commonly used in the psychology community: “Genetics load the gun, environment pulls the trigger.”  Given statistics to illustrate, she shared that anxiety has been found to be 30% genetics and 70% environment.  So that while we can’t change eye color, she explained, we can change mental illness.  I thought this was a hope-filled and empowering professional opinion.  One way that she has found success in providing an environment that reduces the risk for anxiety is by giving kids control over certain decisions.  Letting them pick the twenty minute timeframe when they practice an instrument or whether they start with math or reading during remote learning seemed like good starting points.  In addition, she emphasized how important it is to teach kids to have a good attitude.  This may seem like an intrinsic skill, but according to Dr. Levine, this can and must be taught.  Some ways to teach would seem to be by role modeling, teaching optimism by asking questions, or talking to them about the bigger picture when they are down about the little things. 

Dr. Levine segued into several stories that I found enlightening and impressive that she felt open to share with a larger audience, especially because they were about her own experience parenting her sons.  First, she shared the importance of cultivating and valuing emotional intelligence.  Her story of her son coming with her to apply for a mortgage at a bank served to illustrate how powerful emotional intelligence is and can be valued in the workforce.  She shared that her son, who was a senior in college at the time, asked her if he could go with her for a meeting at the bank in which she was applying for a mortgage.  During the meeting with the bank branch manager, she said he listened and noticed that she would need to feed the meter so he offered to go outside and do that.  Then, he noticed her voice wearing down and asked if she would like for him to make her a tea out in the lobby, followed by asking the branch manager as well.  At the end of the meeting, they were finished, and out of nowhere, the branch manager asked her son if he wanted a job.  She had noticed his perceptive and sensitive actions.  She said she could teach skills, but that he is the kind of person she would want in her office. 

Dr. Levine’s story supports her theory that we as parents are looking to the wrong indicators for success.  Society tells us to look at grades and standardized test scores to measure our children’s success and thereby our success as parents.  Instead, she emphasizes looking to their behavior.  How do they treat others?  Are they likely to stop and help a friend or just keep running? 

Even more revealing, she shared stories about how her sons got in trouble for drinking under the legal age and throwing a party at her home.  She opened up about how the experience affected her personally and professionally.  In particular, the incident at the school dance for her son resulted in a great parenting moment.  Her husband’s reaction to the three-day suspension for their son was, “This is the greatest thing that could happen!”  Not understanding at the time, but able to reflect now years later, the suspension served as a kind of deterrent for her son.  This spoke to me as a parent because being able to step back and look at seemingly negative situations as a learning opportunity for the children and teachable moment as a parent is a great perspective to have.  The stepping back technique is a tool to practice with and be able to reach for at any time with my children.

Related to her discussion of emotional intelligence, she emphasized how important self-regulation is for children and ultimately parents.  She explained that we as parents are the environment for our children most of the time, especially now during the pandemic.  We need as parents to take care of ourselves and our well-being to reflect back to our children a healthy, loving environment.  How do we teach self-regulation though?  I had to wonder myself.  This seemed to me to relate to the, “name it to tame it,” theory in that we as parents need to model expressing our feelings to our children ranging from happiness to frustration to help calm our emotional surges.  I thought she emphasized the need for children to practice self-regulation so much so that I made note to follow these steps more often and model to my own children the “name it to tame it” process.   

Dr. Levine had so many fantastic opinions and illustrative stories during her presentation.  I definitely agree with her stance that we need to broaden our definition of success.  I found her Stanford University affiliated organization online to learn more: www.challengesuccess.org.  I especially recommend listening to the District 181 Foundation’s recording of her presentation’s Question & Answer section toward the end of her presentation.  So many of her answers were on the spot and yet thoughful and again personal in nature from time to time which helped bring her point home even more.  The topics ranged from how to prepare your child for college to educating children that they are being manipulated by social media.  She even gave permission – a little – to parents to ease up on the screen time limitations during the pandemic.  Check out her explanation in the recording.

Overall, I would highly recommend listening to Dr. Levine, checking out her websites, and reading her books.  I know I have now added her top three books to my list.  Thank you to the District 181 Foundation Community Speaker Series committee for engaging Dr. Levine to speak again (2nd time speaking to our community) for this year’s program.  A timely and validating presentation.   

To learn more about the District 181 Foundation and all the wonderful programming the Foundation provides please go to: http://www.d181foundation.org/

5 Small Ways of Unplugging

Unplugging and recharging.  What does it mean?  It sounds silly, certainly, but does it have a bigger meaning?  Can it actually get rid of some negativity and replace it with positive, connected time? 

Unplugging definitely doesn’t have to mean totally checking out.  Unplugging can be done without shirking responsibilities or giving the cold shoulder to friends and family.  It can be done with purpose.  In fact, a space can be created for time with loved ones, get-togethers with friends, really anything that involves respite and rejuvenation.  When consistently done, even if it is from just a set time in the morning to the evening, carving out time in the day when there is no need to respond immediately can be a step back to tech-free days of yore.

Forty-somethings can remember that time.  We didn’t grow up with personal mobile phones attached to our hands or to sewn-in, side legging pockets.  We didn’t even have any tethers to people outside of home, school, activities, and a landline.  What does this world of constant tech connection mean for our children?  While we have been gradually acclimated to the personal technology phenomena, our children have only known life with this immediate ability to access.  How is that affecting their brains?  How is it affecting our brains now that we have become accustomed to this crazy world of tech?

Granted, I do appreciate the wonderful sides of technology and helpful automated assistance like ordering groceries online – fantastic!  However, I still feel a need to pull back the cord and unplug on a more consistent basis to get back to basics and recharge with good things that are missing or lacking like one-on-one time with my children, spouse, friends, reading a book in the sun, walking the dog without the phone, or just taking some time to rest!

Here are five ways I am trying to unplug:

  1. Finding one time of day to check email.  Batching all the email together, reading and responding in one sitting. 
  2. Putting the phone “to bed” on the charger as early in the evening as possible. 
  3. Silencing text notifications.  Keeping the ringer on.
  4. No phones at the table – breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
  5. Delaying phone use first thing in the morning.  Except if using for a devotional. 

Now, I am failing at many of these attempts.  However, it is a practice, I am finding, not a quick fix.  It is really difficult to break the chains of the phone.  I need to remind myself and make a conscious effort to model the goals for myself and my family.  Little by little, though, these ways of unplugging do help.  They become a more permanent fixture, which leads to more space and time for recharging. 

© 2021 Megan Davia Mikhail

New Surroundings

Cleansing a home from accumulated things and even clutter can provide space that is more comfortable and livable even though there is less.  To me it means moving certain objects, furniture, papers, photos, clothes, toys, and books out of the house to new homes or the landfill as a last resort.  The process can be difficult.  First, to motivate to get the cleanse started is a challenge.  Second, to physically lift and move everything can be exhausting.  Then, to emotionally process through all the sentimental objects and let them go takes a lot of preparation.  Well-being is at the heart of this process because in the end there is a greater sense of peace and keen living as a result of all the change.  It’s just getting there that is the hard part.

First, how do you motivate to clean and reorganize a home?  I have made endless plans to do numerous house projects in the past.  I have read books and watched online inspirational organizers.  What I have found over the years though is that none of these projects take place if I don’t have a deadline to work under.  Recognizing this, I met with a friend recently to discuss my ideas.  After our conversation I had new goals for my home cleanse, and I had a greater sense of urgency to make my plans happen.  This combination of factors motivated me to get the home cleanse rolling.  An additional feature of motivation for these types of home projects that I have gleaned over the years is that I need to have an accountability partner.  For example, during our home renovation project, I felt accountability to our construction team for our research and decisions.  As long as there is someone checking on progress, then the multiple steps of the home cleanse project can be pushed forward on a daily basis.  I look at this role now as a pacesetter in a race.  Some days I feel like I am hitting the mile-markers on time, and other days I am falling behind.  I just keep moving forward toward the goal, but knowing I am behind can give me motivation when I am not feeling like pressing forward at all!  Movement is the key.  Keeping any of the projects moving does lead to momentum.  Clearing one shelf leads to another for as long as that movement can be sustained.  Ultimately, there’s a wall.  Running out of time is a constant due to a home cleanse happening while the rest of life continues uninterrupted.  And sometimes there’s a wall of exhaustion.  Just like with running, the wall can hit out of nowhere, and that’s when I don’t push through.  Maybe with running a race there would be a way that I would find the strength to continue to the finish line, but with a home cleanse it is not worth it.  It’s at that point, I rest.  Literally, I lay down horizontally with a timer set for 20 minutes at minimum to feel recharged.  If there’s any energy then to finish that day, I do, but otherwise, I move on to tomorrow. 

                Second, doing a home cleanse can be demanding physically.  The various projects can cause fatigue for sure, but also injuries!  I have to remind myself to take care when I lift heavier objects or force myself to stop and ask for help.  I also need to take care when pulling boxes out of awkward crawlspaces, and to avoid cutting a hand or finger, which I did recently.  This is also a time I am finding that I need proper nourishment.  I am eating whole foods and drinking lots of water, which is great because the first part of this homegrown cleanse is still happening.  Good nutrition is actually helping sustain my efforts.  I can’t say I am drinking 100 ounces of water each day, but the intermittent fasting hours have been consistent for the most part, some days longer than expected, and I am leaning toward healthier food choices. 

                Finally, throughout the home cleanse there are times of emotional upheaval as parts of the past are held in my hands once again, addressed, and possibly given away.  I don’t know what Marie Kondo would say about giving away your children’s baby clothes, but I have found it to be overwhelming.  I recently brought many bags of baby clothes to a friend who collects for at-risk mothers and children in Chicago.  The knowledge that these tender, little clothes covered in never-again baby memories would end up helping many in need soothed my restless and hurting heart.  There are of course other objects and sentimental mementos that cause a roller coaster of emotions during a home cleanse.  Through this process, I have tried to give intention to my work through devotionals.  This is a challenge for sure, but I try to stay consistent by tying this to my morning cup of coffee in a form of habit stacking.  The verses help to give me motivation and the right meaning to the overall goal.  They also give me a chance to take a moment and reflect on what God wants me to do.  Paul’s writings to the Philippians keep coming up for me, especially in chapter 4:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7

                Overall, doing this home cleanse during springtime has been helpful.  Spring cleaning is a hot topic in the news and that boosts my motivation with creative ideas and a sense of comradery – at least thinking I am not alone in the effort.  Consulting with a friend and setting a pace is a great motivator.  Keeping energy levels high for the physically demanding process is helpful.  Being prepared for the emotions that surface through the clutter with a verse and a plan for charitable giving keeps the process positive.  Moving the past out of the house can create beautiful, new surroundings and a wonderful space to enjoy the present. 

© 2021 Megan Davia Mikhail

Roll Tide

After having spent a significantly longer amount of time in traffic in Sweet Home Alabama over the past week on our family driving trip, I had to look up the phrase, “Roll Tide.”  What I found I liked.  Other than the official greeting and cheer for the University of Alabama, this phrase can also refer to carrying on.  I like that.  Seeing the tide roll in along the Emerald coast of Florida was also a reminder that life is constantly changing and beautiful.  So now that upon our return home, locally schools have reopened fully to in person learning, it is time to roll tide and carry on.

This week, my way to start anew again and carry on has meant cleansing.  I think the phrase, “doing a cleanse,” has a negative connotation.  Doing a cleanse can mean many things to different people so I decided to create my own.  However, this is not an extreme juice cleanse or anything radical at all.  This is an overall cleanse that will be multi-faceted with the purpose of creating a renewed sense of well-being; a stride toward keen living.  The first phase of the cleanse is clean eating.  The next phase will be home reorganization and minimization.  And the third phase, running throughout, is a spiritual cleanse.

First, the way that I have attempted to reset my body  this week is with three cleansing techniques:

  1. Eating foods that are good for me – simple, but challenging. 
  2. Drinking 100 ounces of water every day
  3. Returning to intermittent fasting at least 12 hours a day

Starting Sunday, I went online to grocery shop as we drove back home.  I focused on a heavy dose of lettuce, vegetables, whole fruits, no meat, fish and tofu.  I am attempting to follow the Orthodox Lenten fast in a way (Orthodox Easter is May 2 this year), but not fully to the vegan level.  Instead, I am shooting for my best effort in a “pescatarian” diet (vegetarian plus seafood).  I knew my body was in need of clean eating.  I was out of balance from snacking on spring break and eating later than usual.  I have focused on having my breakfast later and sustaining my morning with black coffee.  This is a particular challenge because black coffee alone does not sit well with my stomach so this may change.  I try to put off breakfast for as long as possible.  I start with a lot of protein: Oikos triple zero vanilla yogurt with Hemp seeds poured on top.  For lunch, I have had salads.  I definitely feel better when I have one every day for or with either lunch or dinner.  Snacks are cheese and nuts with the occasional bites of tempting blueberry muffins here and there that were really meant for the kids’ breakfasts.  Dinners have been focused on high protein paired with a roasted vegetable.  However, I splurged with a takeout tofu pad thai yesterday following a busy day where we all needed dinner on the fly.  Nothing has to be perfect.  Each day ebbs and flows.  Roll tide.  Carry on.

Next, I am attempting to drink more water and limit other caffeinated/dehydrating liquids like coffee or wine.  The first day I definitely drank 100 or more ounces of water.  I felt great.  More alert and less weighed down.  The challenge has been keeping up with that.  Water gets boring.  I bought Collagen Strawberry lemon water and liked it.  I have spiced it up with Vitamin Water lemonades.  I drink lots of herbal teas anyway, and I have attempted to keep myself to one black coffee first thing every day.  This didn’t totally happen because I did grab a Flat White fully leaded Starbucks on a dark and dreary, rainy day this week, but that’s fine.  Roll tide.  Carry on.

Third, I went back to intermittent fasting.  What is this?  Again, like cleases there are many different styles and methods.  My baseline intermittent fast is just 12 hours.  That’s it.  It is not a high bar, but it does keep me from snacking at night when I really want to or starting with breakfast too early.  It motivates me to exercise in the morning as a way of pushing the clock a little further to maybe reach a 13 hour fast.  The best part of intermittent fasting is that its effects are palpable very quickly.  There is almost immediate feedback within the first three days.  I feel leaner and lighter by doing it, which provides a great incentive and positive feedback to keep going.  If however, I take a bite of chocolate after 8pm so be it.  It happens.  I can push back the fasting clock in the morning or just try again the next day.  Roll tide. Carry on.

Throughout this cleanse and really starting over my trip last week, I am also attempting to unplug from technology to make more time for prayer.  This coincides for me with Lent.  It doesn’t have to, but having Easter as the guiding light is helpful for me.  However this might look for each individual is always going to be different, but the idea being to reset the day and fill more space with meditation and prayer.  I use the YouVersion Bible app.  This week, I tried to tweek my morning routine to put prayer first after my alarm goes off.  I tried it, but I really prefer getting up and doing my morning exercise routine first.  So what I found was that I need to do that exercise to feel awake, and I modified my prayer and journal time to tie together with my cup of coffee.  This is working.  I also have books that I enjoy reading every day or right before bed that give a spiritual boost – Emily Ley’s newest book, “Growing Boldy,” and Hoda Kotb’s, “I Really Needed This Today.”  The thing is all of these spiritual practices haven’t happened every day, even though I have wanted them to.  And my attempts at decreasing texting and checking my email only twice a day have resulted in fails to only the slightest of perceptible decreases.  That’s ok.  Roll Tide.  Carry on.

Finally, as a guiding principle for this attempt at cleansing, this verse really speaks to all elements:

Hebrews 10:22: Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

I feel like any attempt at well-being is a difficult one, but with a heart filled with good intention, it is going to be a journey toward some wisdom and self-discovery at the very least.  Any times there are frustrations or disappointments, letting that guilty conscience roll away will provide a reset that allows a new focus on the next horizon and what beauty there is carrying us toward it.   

© 2021 Megan Davia Mikhail

One Year Later

The flashback to last year this time is real. What the feelings were, the mood in the air, the strangeness of the unknowns surrounding COVID-19, are all coming back to me now.  It’s happening to everyone I talk to. 

In step with the spring bulbs appearing, the memories of last year are unveiling themselves every day.  I have been thinking over the past two weeks about where I am now and where I was last year.  I recognize what a devastating year it has been with the death toll in the U.S. from COVID-19 over 500,000, and the mental health toll the disease has caused in the country still unknown.  I wonder what the social and emotional effects will be on the students who have had to learn remotely, in hybrid, and by Zooming.  And yet, while all those negatives are out there, I have this feeling of relief growing stronger day by day.  There are many who have been vaccinated completely.  There are decreasing COVID-19 case numbers.  There are schools opening to full day in person instruction soon.  If you are reading this, you have made it to the other side and survived.  It doesn’t hurt to reflect on both the negatives and the positives of this past year. 

From my perspective, the negative side of life in March 2020 stemmed from the fear. The immediate and palpable fear set in almost overnight.  The fear felt physically paralyzing.  At times, I remember thinking to take deep breaths, especially after reading or watching the news.  I started to question and fear the end of humanity.  I thought this must be the disease to end life as we know it, and we are all going to die in isolation.  Such pessimistic thoughts, but it is the truth.  And it is partially true in that this disease did end life as we knew it – at least life as it was leading up to 2020.  Looking back, the end of life was the basis for most of my fears about COVID-19.  Having gone through the death of my mom in 2019, I didn’t want anything like that to happen to anyone in my family again. 

I have focused on the fear and tried to dissect it.  For me, the biggest part of the problem at least mentally was the way in which it felt so sudden.  It felt like being slapped in the face with my own mortality in March 2020 and the mortality of my husband and children.  I wasn’t prepared.  I had no warning or inkling this would happen to the extent that it did. No one really did.  So once I got over that need for notice, I concentrated on what the fear was about.  Death.  I feared that for me, my husband who had to still go to the hospital if he was called in, my children especially, so young and innocent, and extended family, friends, the rest of America, Italy – really any human in a country that came across the news with extensive and severe displays of death and despair.  The list went on and on.  When I dug deeper I could see that if I didn’t have a fear of the end of life on Earth and instead a steadfast belief in heaven and eternal life, the panic that set in would have dissipated.  It was a logical thought, but very hard for me to put into practice.

Over the course of many days at home starting March 13, 2020 to today, little by little, day by day, my attitude has changed to be less fearful, more faithful, and stronger.  I wouldn’t say it was overnight at all. Nor was it completely of my own volition.  I have consciously tried to will my attitude to change.  But truly, I have to believe that the relief from utter fear came from God.  Reading Bible verses, contemplating, and writing in a journal helped a lot.  Attending Bible studies and participating in discussions via zoom calls gave me strength.  Watching livestreaming church was uplifting, but difficult to stay engaged entirely.  Overall, I wouldn’t say it was a direct trajectory or a complete relief from fear, but rather a roller coaster ride throughout 2020 and still the ride continues… 

Part of my well-being practice is always to journal. To take a true, accurate look back at my journey through 2020, I have turned to the journal I wrote in every day starting on day 1 of the remote schooling: March 16, 2020.  I happened to need to start a new journal that day and so it coincided. The journal started out as a quasi-day planner effort to structure the wide open days for my kids.  The remote learning schedule quickly deteriorated and required resuscitation.  Frequently.  By Day 4, March 19, 2020, it was an overall, “horrible day from beginning to end of school.”  A long recitation of the day’s failings concluded with a list of plans for tomorrow.  Tomorrow I will do this, tomorrow I will do that, finally ending with, “need structure for the day – 30-45 min per subject.” Now I see my efforts to some degree were futile; the need for true age appropriate school structure will only be regained with full day in person instruction at school.

However, what glimmers during those first days are the signs of learning and growth that were taking place that I can see now.  For example, it is evident in the journal we all needed (and still need) outside time for exercise, walking, or literally a change of scenery.  Day 5 I wrote: “Recess @ 10am, noon, after school @ 3:15pm.” By Day 7, I started running in the morning with a friend. What was noticeable to me and my kids was that if I ran before starting managing the remote learning it made a difference in decreasing my stress level. I could attribute the exercise to my slightly increased patience level, but that didn’t always last the whole day or sometimes even until lunch.  On Day 10, March 25, 2020, I ended the detailing of the day with “make a themed schedule for spring break next week.”  That sounds silly now, but I remember thinking back then that my main purpose during this panicked time was to provide my children and husband with a haven of security and as much love as I could. 

This is only a reflection on the first ten days or so of the shelter-in-place time period.  The fears that COVID-19 caused and continue to cause are still alive.  The flashbacks probably will continue.  The need to heal from what a traumatic year it has been is evident.  What can help I see now is to seek relief from the fear.  I found it through prayer, journaling, and exercise, but it can come in many ways.  Hopefully the feeling of relief will continue to grow for everyone, across the country, and around the world. 

© 2021 Megan Davia Mikhail

State of Wonder

Wonder, a noun: “a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable” – Definition from Oxford Languages.

In anticipation of possibly soon visiting Ann Patchett’s bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee, who is one of my favorite author’s, I pay homage to her excellent book of the same name with the title today.

Wonder.  Actually allowing oneself to live for an extended period of time in a state of wonder.  How would that look?  Child-like I would imagine, and filled with freedom.  Yet I don’t usually allow myself more than a split second to stay in the state of wonder.  Why is that?  As adults, do we lose our childlike sense of wonder completely and then only feel it glimmer by us in fleeting moments?  I would say yes generally that is what it feels like.  But wouldn’t it be great to allow wonder back into adult life and travel to that state more often? 

Being in a state of wonder would help improve overall well-being in many ways.  Feeling a state of wonder more often would counteract the state of disarray that builds up inside from daily distractions like phones, texts, zooms, plans, etc .  This state of wonder is not easy to travel to though.  It can happen spontaneously and when we are least expecting it, but counterintuitively it can happen if we seek it.  This may take practice.  According to Arianna Huffington the only way to experience wonder is to live in the moment.  She explains a three-step process in her book, “Thrive,”:

“1. Focus on the rising and falling of your breath for ten seconds whenever you feel tense, rushed, or distracted. This allows you to become fully present in your life.

2. Pick an image that ignites the joy in you. It can be of your child, a pet, the ocean, a painting you love — something that inspires a sense of wonder. And any time you feel contracted, go to it to help you expand.

3. Forgive yourself for any judgments you are holding against yourself and then forgive your judgments of others. (If Nelson Mandela can do it, you can, too.) Then look at your life and the day ahead with newness and wonder.”

This is the challenge.  Following these three steps can be a challenge.  The given is that there must be a willingness to be vulnerable.  The benefit is a feeling filled with love and God’s grace.  I plan to try to follow these steps and keep myself accountable in my prayer journal.  One of my favorite verses that reminds me of this is from St. Paul:

“Always be joyful.  Pray continually, and give thanks whatever happens.  That is what God wants for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I find that advice challenging, but a good reminder to seek the good in whatever happens. Look for joy wherever possible and fill quiet moments with prayer. The state of wonder is a gift from God; something to be grateful for. 

In the end, recognizing the beauty in the moment is something that is needed for well-being.  Practicing the three steps to the state of wonder from Thrive can give you a concrete method for increasing this sense of keen living. Creating a section of prayer journaling dedicated to gratitude for all of the wondrousness in life can put you in the state of wonder more often.  This all can make traveling to the state of wonder a part of everyday life.

© Megan Davia Mikhail

Perspective on Life

Having gone through the process of letting go of my mom here on Earth and living on since her death in 2019, I wonder now how much of the experience was a gift from her.  For example, she taught me to fight cancer for as long as humanly possible.  She taught me grace while I witnessed her dying.  She taught me so much immediately after her death about the process of grieving.  She continues to this day to teach me about living life. 

Having had the greater part of a year and a half to grieve her death, I can start to see how her death is shaping my life.  Ever the mother, she continues to push me to grow.  The day after she made the decision to end all lifesaving medical treatment and go into hospice, I had the strangest discussion with her.  I look back at our talk as being guided by the Holy Spirit.  I don’t know if she had come that close to dying at that point that she was closer to heaven and she was filled with the Holy Spirit, but that’s what I believe.  She shared guidance with me that I am still working on to this day.  She didn’t know she would be guiding me for years after her death, but she is.  Specifically from that conversation, but also because of the whole experience of her death, I see my life in a new perspective. 

Before her death, I had experienced the deaths of my four grandparents, great grandmothers, great aunt, great uncles, two friends, a friend’s mother, and none of those experiences prepared me for my mom’s death.  I can’t say that I was always on the same page with my mom or never fought with her, but we had a good relationship in general.  The change I experienced going through the death process with her along with all of my family members was tremendous.  I had always known and been taught that we are dust and to dust we will return.  But never had I lived through that verse.  Now I can say I walk through life differently. 

The effect of her death is life-giving to me in many ways.  Life goes on forever if that’s your perspective, but truly knowing that there is a finite time here on Earth with loved ones in the flesh shifts your mindset.  First, it makes me realize I don’t have all the time in the world to do everything I want to.  Second, laughter truly is the best medicine.  Last, reading the Word of God is life-giving, comforting and sustaining. 

“…when you live as if you’ll live forever, it becomes too easy to postpone the things you know that you must do.”  Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, author of, “On Death and Dying,” where she first wrote about the five-stages of grief. 

I am starting to see life like this now.  Maybe it also coordinates with moving more into my 40’s in March as well, but my perspective is shifting.  I no longer wait to take next steps on bucket list items both personally and professionally.  In reality, I have realized that even deciding to take a leap and check a bucket list item off, will take time.  For a fun example, there is white water rafting.  I had never done it before, but if I ever gave myself a chance to actually write a bucket list, which I haven’t, that would have landed toward the top.  So last summer, once some travel restrictions were lifted, we planned a driving trip out west to include a white-water rafting trip.  I will never forget it.  I loved it!  Looking back, the process of deciding to go, making the plans for the trip, and actually traveling all took months.  So get the ball rolling on anything that is toward the top of the list!

Next, while every adventure and big life to-do takes time, then the lesson I have learned is that I need to be kinder, gentler, and giving grace to myself and others on a daily basis.  Part of this surprisingly means laughing more.  The seriousness of life and death overcome me.  It can bear down like a barbell filled with weights across my shoulders. However, I have found that I need to focus on the fact that there is a release valve for this:  laughing, smiling, and looking for joy.   

“Part of this is recognizing that humor is really, really important in our lives. A recent study conducted by hospice workers revealed surprising consistency about what people wish for, these regrets of the dying, and the five themes that emerged were boldness, authenticity, presence, joy and love. Now, the big secret that people don’t recognize is that humor mitigates all five of these regrets. Michael Lewis, who wrote the afterword of our book, leaves us with this last phrase: “Where there is humor, love isn’t far behind.”” Cydney Weiner. “Humor, Seriously…” Interview with researchers Dr. Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas and authors of the book, “Humor, Seriously: Why Humor Is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life (and How Anyone Can Harness It. Even You.)” Dated February 21, 2021, available at:  https://mariashriver.com/humor-seriously/

Lastly, meditating, praying, or reading the Word of God can bring comfort and sustenance in contemplating the death of a loved one or in focusing on your own longevity.  Our culture is so taken aback by any discussion of death that it is truly taboo to really talk about it in most conversations.  Having the ability to talk through the process of death is not only needed for grieving, but also important for ourselves in developing perspective on our own life.  It should be a well-being topic, and yet it is not usually. 

In terms of addressing death as a well-being topic, I would be remise if I failed to include the fact that so much peace comes from prayer when working through any issues stemming from finding perspective about death.  What I find most comforting in the grieving process is that the Word of God is always there to read and reflect on whether in mind or in writing.  One of my favorites is also a favorite in my family written by St. Paul the Apostle:

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.”  Philippians 4: 7-9.

A daily habit that I have practiced for the past few years is that of reading a daily Bible devotional or contemplating a single Bible verse and then journaling about it.  The main practice includes praise, gratitude, and requests to God all revolving around the verse or theme of the devotional.  Having this habit develop over time is a struggle and there are times of forgetting, but the main feeling is that of peace in the moment and strength in the consistency and time spent with God.  There is power in prayer in many ways, but there is also an internal strength that grows inside of you day by day fueled by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, the Great Comforter. 

Overall, processing death and especially the death of a loved one is more difficult than can ever be anticipated or imagined.  However, perspective grows more and more about life and its finite nature which can spur you to live out your dreams.  Along the way, laughter and the love that chases the laughter makes the loss feel not as harsh.  On a daily basis, the Word of God sustains and grows a quiet strength inside of the heart that can feel like a flower blossoming after a cold, harsh winter.

© 2021 Megan Davia Mikhail

2 Reasons Why Walking Outside Provides Well-Being Benefits

Recently I have increased the amount of walking I am doing outside, and I started thinking about how I was told once, by a college counselor, to “go take a walk outside.”  This piece of advice seems plain enough, but at the time I was as an eighteen year old freshman in the depths of the first and only severe depression I have ever experienced.  So to me, as the recipient of that comment, making a call for help to the counseling services office, this response fell on me like a brick.  At the time, I heard this advice as demeaning, rude, and insensitive to my concerns.  Now, looking back after years of thinking the counselor was so wrong about that comment, I can wonder if he was actually trying to give me good advice.  My hope now is that he was taking into consideration the benefits walking could provide.  Here, the current research will be explored that shows major well-being benefits from walking in nature including: 1. boosting mood and 2. increasing creative output.  

First, walking can boost mood to some degree.  The many physical benefits of walking can include better cardiovascular health and decreased diagnosis of diabetes, but the actual physical benefits discovered in the brain are the most fascinating as they relate to boosting an individual’s mood.  It must be noted that walking cannot replace medical care and treatment of depression.  “For some people it works as well as antidepressants, although exercise alone isn’t enough for someone with severe depression,” says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.  Harvard Health Letter.  “Exercise is an all-natural treatment to fight depression: Exercise is as effective as antidepressants in some cases.”  Updated: February 2, 2021, Published: July, 2013, available at:  https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-is-an-all-natural-treatment-to-fight-depression.  Walking on a consistent basis overtime can provide mood lifting benefits supported by neuroscience research.  What has been found is that walking causes, “the release of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections. The improvement in brain function makes you feel better. “In people who are depressed, neuroscientists have noticed that the hippocampus in the brain—the region that helps regulate mood—is smaller. Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which helps relieve depression,” explains Dr. Miller.” 

This specific scientific evidence provides such motivation to walk!  I see this now as a reason why I was told to take a walk outside when I was experiencing such a stronghold of depression.  Today, I can see the benefits of walking in terms of the boost in mood I get when I am able to go out and walk.  Recently, the deep freeze that hit the Chicagoland area impacted the ability to safely walk outside.  Not only were days below zero on the Real Feel gauge, but also the ice and snow on the sidewalks and roads presented a danger of slipping and falling.  These were challenges and some days they won.  On the days when I was able to navigate the ice and freezing temperatures, I felt like a real champion of the challenge.  I can say that I found the biggest mood boost finishing a walk one morning that literally was the coldest I had ever walked.  I felt energized not only by the early morning walk, but also about defeating the winter blast!  After making it back home unscathed by the temperature and icy roads, I felt elated.  I always think of taking a walk in sunshine and warm weather being the best, especially near an ocean and sand, but I had never experienced such a high from setting out against the winter elements and winning!  It is strange, but true.  Sometimes what looks like the worst presentation of conditions for a walk can turn out to be the best, most beneficial mentally.  I would definitely add this to my list of reasons why I am a believer in walking.   For more reasons see: https://megandaviamikhail.com/2021/01/19/persevering-with-an-exercise-routine/

Next, the benefits of walking in nature can also include increasing creative output.  What does that mean?  I have seen this written before and wondered how that can be scientifically proven true.  Basically, when out on a walk it gives the brain a chance to process thoughts and generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.  Brianna Steinhilber.  “Why walking is the most underrated form of exercise.”  Dated September 2, 2017, available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/why-walking-most-underrated-form-exercise-ncna797271.  Specifically, I needed to see the science that supports this notion.  According to a study conducted at Stanford University in 2014, “[w]alking outside produced the most novel and highest quality [creative analogy generation]… Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.”  Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz.  Stanford University. “Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. American Psychological Association 2014, Vol. 40, No. 4, 1142–1152, available at: https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/xlm-a0036577.pdf.  The scientists whom conducted this research developed four studies to find out if this notion that walking is good for your mind is actually scientifically true.  They had most students and other participants walk outside and then take various analogy tests.  After seeing the results of all four studies, the Stanford scientists concluded that, “[w]alking is an easy-to-implement strategy to increase appropriate novel idea generation. When there is a premium on generating new ideas in the workday, it should be beneficial to incorporate walks.” 

Science supports walking for creative thinking and productivity.  History does as well.  It is interesting to see that many creative thinkers were also big walkers.  Surprisingly, the list is long:  Socrates, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Kant, Beethoven, Darwin, Einstein, Woolf, to name a few.   Charles Dickens reportedly walked on average twelve miles a day, which is extraordinary, all while writing creatively classic novels still read today.  Luke McKernan.  “WALKING WITH CHARLES DICKENS.” Dated February 2, 2016, available at:  https://lukemckernan.com/2013/06/09/walking-with-charles-dickens/

Overall, walking is beneficial for at least two good reasons: both to boost mood and increase creative thinking.  However, what I don’t want is for any reader to think, “This is just saying: go take a walk.”  No, I was given that advice before and experienced that negatively.  My hope is that the message taken away will be:  walking will not fix everything, but there are good reasons to actively walk on a regular basis for improved well-being, especially to brighten your outlook and improve your creativity.

© 2021 Megan Davia Mikhail

The Pandemic Hijacked Everyone’s Lives

This past year has presented drastic changes to life as we know it.  It has been traumatic.  What we still don’t know is when this will all end.  Thinking about the current state of life living amidst the pandemic can bring one to wonder what it will be like on the other side.  What will it be like when and (now more likely than not with so many healthcare advances in fighting COVID-19 including most importantly the vaccines) if we survive the pandemic?  In search of answers, I am examining hijacking survivors’ perspectives to see how they made it through, recognizing the categorization of the pandemic trauma as a “near miss,” and looking to avenues of healing from the pandemic. 

First, the argument can be made that the pandemic hijacked our lives.  Life was rolling along at the beginning of last year within the norms that we were accustomed to when – that all ended.  Imagine we were seated in an airplane thousands of miles above the Earth living life as usual in March 2020 when we heard the announcement that this plane is being hijacked.  All those months starting from March 2020 were like months inside that hijacked airplane, not knowing whether or when the pandemic emergency would end.  And more seriously, when and if COVID-19 would strike close to home or in our home.  Would COVID-19 take the plane down?  Thankfully, with the incredible efforts of the scientific community, the vaccine has arrived, and it is as if the plane has at least been landed, albeit with the hijacker still in the cockpit.  Right now, we sit as passengers in the plane waiting and wondering.  Will this standoff with COVID-19 end peacefully with all passengers of the world receiving the vaccine in time?  Or will there be a horrible situation arising with the variants leading to further deaths for the passengers aboard?

Seeking a survivor’s perspective, I thought about my father-in-law, Alphonse Mikhail.  He experienced an eleven hour hijacking aboard Lufthansa Flight 592 in 1993 and survived.  No one aboard was physically harmed, but I wonder how that experience affected every survivor mentally, what it was like during the hijacking, and how that experience can apply to all of our experiences surviving the pandemic.  He has spoken about the event briefly over the course of my years knowing him.  With the knowledge he has shared, I started researching the hijacking.  Many articles were written about the incident at the time it occurred.  One in particular was fascinating because it was written by a now famous author, but at the time in 1993, probably an on-the-beat reporter for the Washington Post, Malcolm Gladwell. 

Mr. Gladwell’s article provides insights into the chain of actions that took place that day.  Malcolm Gladwell. “11-HOUR HIJACKING ENDS IN SURRENDER AT NEW YORK AIRPORT.” Dated February 12, 1993, available at:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1993/02/12/11-hour-hijacking-ends-in-surrender-at-new-york-airport/ab517dab-6f76-4371-89ef-5497e2ca312f.  This detailed account of what transpired is helpful to understanding what occurred.  It provides insight into the cabin and what the emotional well-being of the passengers was like at the time.  His accounting includes the following:

“Several passengers described the scene in the plane as remarkably calm during the trip that included a stop in Hanover, Germany, where the plane was refueled before an eight-hour flight to New York. They said emotions occasionally ran high.”

Not many articles have been done as a follow up to the hijacking of Lufthansa flight 592.  One was done in 2000 following the hijacking of another plane.  Sally Weale. “’Ladies and gentleman, there’s a young man on board who has a gun pointed at my head’” Dated February 8, 2000, available at:  https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2000/feb/08/stansted.theairlineindustry

The reporter interviewed Reverend Timothy Kinahan, a protestant minister from Belfast:

“In Kinahan’s case, there were no shots fired, no passengers killed, no tricky demands for the release of political prisoners. But for 11 hours, he didn’t know if he would live or die. He didn’t know if he would ever see his wife and child again…Kinahan, 46, rector of St. Dorothea’s Church, was on his way to visit an orphanage in Ethiopia with three members of his congregation. They had boarded flight LH592, a Lufthansa Airbus, in Frankfurt and were bound for Addis Ababa via Cairo…”It was scary,” Kinahan recalled… “We were stunned. There was no panic. There was no screaming, no abject terror. I can remember some tears in the beginning, but our anxiety was not for ourselves, but for those we would leave behind…We didn’t talk very much for an hour. Then we began to relax quite a bit when nothing happened. There was a great mutual support. At least we did not have crazy gunmen running up and down the aisles threatening us.”

What is fascinating is that my father-in-law survived the flight praying with other passengers including with a priest who most probably is Reverand Kinahan.  His description of the event in the past has always included that there was a priest on board going on a mission trip.  They along with others prayed together in the back of the plane.  I was always struck by this image of a group huddling together physically and mentally in prayer for protection.  God’s deliverance and the power of prayer provided the group with strength during the eleven hour hijacking.

In light of the idea of the pandemic hijacking, I recently asked my father-in-law again about his experience.  He explained that a priest was seated in front of him and another priest was seated behind him and to the side.  Once they were finished refueling and took off from Hanburg, they didn’t know where they were going.  The moment they took off, he and a group of ten people began, “holding hands together in a circle and praying.”  They didn’t have a Bible, but instead took turns praying out loud in the circle. 

My father-in-law has always had a peace-filled demeanor, and I wondered if this experience gave him even more faith in God.  He explained that during the hijacking he always trusted in God and that he felt he was in good hands whatever happened.  He was not afraid.  He knew the flight could come down.  He put all his trust in God.  He said it gave him peace of mind to put it all to God.

He also talked with other passengers while the ordeal was happening.  They tried to figure out if the gunman had a partner on the plane.  They knew where he had been seated and looked around for a partner.  Not finding anyone, and realizing that the hijacker was acting alone gave him as well as other passengers a little confidence that he was not with a group.

After the plane landed in New York, I learned from various articles that they had to endure the FBI storming the plane and safely extricating the hijacker.   Once everyone was safe, the airline offered to continue to fly the passengers to their destinations.  I wondered how Alphonse decided what to do next.  After going through the whole hijacking, he chose to continue on to his destination of Cairo for his nephew’s graduation.  He could have been flown from New York to home in Chicago, but chose to “keep going.”   He said, “You cannot live in fear.  You ruin yourself.” 

Next, having recognized this pandemic hijacking as a traumatic event, I have wondered whether we as individuals going through the pandemic would be considered “near misses” or “remote misses.”  A Canadian psychiatrist, J.T. MacCurdy, first wrote about varying mental health states induced by experiencing traumatic events in his book, “The Structure of Morale.” He categorized those involved as “direct hits,” “near misses,” and “remote misses.”  He specifically looked at the survivors in London of the Blitz during World War II.  I first learned these concepts from reading a book written by Malcolm Gladwell, later in his now highly-acclaimed career.  His book, “David and Goliath,” explores this concept of “remote misses,” in a way that is easily understood.  More recently, Ahmad Mourad, MD, explored this concept of “near misses” in relation to COVID-19.   Ahmad Mourad, MD.  “The Remote Misses of COVID-19.” American College of Physicians Public Health Emergency Collection.  Ann Intern Med. 2020 Aug 19 : M20-4984. Dated August 19, 2020, available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7453580/

 Specifically, Dr. Mourad states:

“Exploring historical examples of population-wide responses to other large-scale, traumatic events may offer useful insights. In London during the 1940s, the populace was bracing for the devastation from German bombings. In addition to physical damage, physicians were also anticipating significant psychological damage to those living through the destruction. Several hospitals planned to increase their capacities to manage the psychological effects of war. However, most of London’s citizens did not experience the expected paralyzing effects of combat stress. Are we seeing a similar phenomenon among Americans today during the COVID-19 pandemic?”

To understand the groups after a traumatic event as categorized by Dr. MacCurdy the following are definitions provided by Dr. Mourad:

“1. Direct hits: those who suffer direct injury, leading to their death or incapacitation. This group cannot communicate their experiences or instill fear in the population. In MacCurdy’s words, “The morale of the community depends on the reaction of the survivors, and corpses do not run about spreading panic.”

2. Near misses: those who feel but are not debilitated by a physical effect, or those who witness the death of others. These persons “feel the blast, see the destruction but they survive, deeply impressed.”

3. Remote misses: those who see or hear the traumatic event and witness some of the aftermath but evade physical or emotional harm.””

Dr. Mourad argues that many Americans are exhibiting behaviors that indicate being in the category of “remote miss,” but that we all need to be in the category of “near miss,” to fully feel the effects of the pandemic.  I agree, and I would argue that all people who have gone through the trauma of the pandemic hijacking our lives would fall into the category of “near miss” just as the survivors of the Lufthansa flight 592 that my father-in-law was on would be categorized as “near miss” survivors.  Every human on Earth alive at the time of the pandemic start in March 2020 was a passenger in the cabin.  We all heard the announcement of the hijacking in different ways, but we have all been through this together.  Recognizing this will validate this traumatic experience and provide avenues toward healing. 

Finally, steps to consider when looking for avenues of healing can be found with prayer journaling, well-being coping mechanisms, including regular movement and good food choices, and also seeking professional mental health treatment to address and work through the detrimental effects of this time.  Taking the time to explore well-being practices is key to healing from this experience and an integral goal of keen living.  Here are some examples of ways to find healing amidst the pandemic:

Prayer Journaling

The need to turn to prayer during this experience is the greatest impression that I have after considering my father-in-law’s experience aboard a hijacked plane.  His statement that fear will ruin you is powerful.  What a great lesson to take away from the experience of the pandemic as well.  Do not live in fear.     Running away from the situation and avoiding God’s power is futile.  Prayer journaling provides a concrete way to put thoughts on paper while contemplating the word of God.  Whatever your religious background is, going to the word of God is helpful.  Sitting in contemplation of verses of God’s word and putting thoughts and prayers to paper is grounding.  Feeling the ground underneath us right now and a sense of certainty after experiencing the pandemic hijacking is important.  There is a real need for certainty and less fear in our world.  Placing time in God’s hands every day can lead to a peace-filled practice of prayer journaling. 

Movement

This is a great avenue toward healing and my favorite weapon to fight against the weight and disarray caused by the pandemic: movement.  It is powerful to get into nature and feel small yet nimble and able to move through the world under the power of your own accord.  Any physical activity is beneficial. 

My greatest recommendation is to go outside every day, walk or run, and sweat. Getting a good sweat has a great ripple effect. In these days of being at home, any reason to take a shower, shampoo your hair (I mean really shampoo, not just dry shampoo), and get dressed in clothes that do not involve lounging, e.g. yoga pants, sweat shirts, etc., is a good reason to do so.  https://megandaviamikhail.com/2020/03/27/attorney-well-being-ways-we-can-maintain-well-being-while-sheltering-at-home/

Surrender for a Sense of Peace

When I can take a deep breath, recognize the stress, and surrender to the fact that I am trapped to a degree, I feel better.  I can accept the restrictions and move through them.  For example, at times while I am home schooling my children, I have thought of the time I was able to spend completely focused on my writing.  It initially frustrated me that I cannot research, write, revise, or do anything else professionally for long durations.  But now that I have surrendered myself to this moment in time, to teaching my children, to creating a home where my children, my husband, and I feel comfort, security, and love amidst this outer world of death, fear, and stress, I am more peace-filled.  Peace is the goal of grief processing I believe.  Whether we are talking about grieving the death of a loved one or grieving the loss of a job, a sense of physical freedom, or the loss of hugging our friends, when we come to a feeling of peace about any of those losses, we have achieved something.  We have satisfied an inner need for peace.  https://megandaviamikhail.com/2020/04/04/attorney-well-being-surrender/

Give Yourself Grace

If you are not as productive as you dreamed you’d be at this time, take a deep breathe, and give yourself grace.  Make a plan.  Take out your calendar and schedule time.  Time is what we have now.  If you are not as organized at this time, take a deep breathe, and give yourself grace.  Read an article on organizing.  Take one piece of advice and do it.  If you are not as upbeat at this time, take a deep breathe, and give yourself grace.  Smile.  Talk with a friend or family member.  Your mood will lift.  This time will lift.  These restrictions will lift.  Our lives will lift.  We will be back to life as we knew it again.  But how will we change our lives?  Will we go back fully?  Or will we bring grace with us?    https://megandaviamikhail.com/2020/04/17/attorney-well-being-give-grace/

Overall, we all need these avenues toward healing.  Motivational mechanisms help us to survive and thrive in this time of our lives.  We have to recognize the situation and seek guidance from others who have survived similar situations.  We can make it to the other side of this together recognizing that we have been in a “near miss” and need coping mechanisms to feel back to ourselves. 

© 2021 Megan Davia Mikhail

“Tend and Befriend” to Tear Down Your Pandemic Wall

President Reagan’s famous demand, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” serves as a reminder that we too can declare for ourselves, “Tear down this pandemic wall!” 

The concept of a pandemic wall has been raised since the summer of 2020.  Jennifer Senior, “We’ve Hit a Pandemic Wall: New data show that Americans are suffering from record levels of mental distress.” New York Times, dated August 5, 2020, available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/05/opinion/coronavirus-mental-illness-depression.html.  It can represent the distance we feel from friends and family as well as the larger networks of social support and social interaction that we have all been missing to some degree over the past year.  This pandemic wall has become a reality for many of us.  However, phrases like, “hitting the pandemic wall,” can serve as a sign of recognition, but not of hopelessness.  Judkis, Laura.  “‘Oh, we’re still in this.’ The pandemic wall is here.” Washington Post, dated February 9, 2021, available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/pandemic-wall-covid-vaccines-variant-winter/2021/02/08/d48e0722-6599-11eb-886d-5264d4ceb46d_story.html

The pandemic wall is not insurmountable or indestructible.  Just as in a running race, when the runner’s wall is hit, the runner has to find a way to persevere and finish the race.  This must apply here.  There must be a way. 

We can choose to tear down the wall of pandemic isolation and mental distress, and on the other side there will be newfound joys of stronger family bonds and new or renewed friendships.  Again, looking at the years the Berlin Wall was enforced – what a difference there was in quality of life between East Berlin (lockdown) and West Berlin (freedom).  To quote a German who experienced when the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989, “Nobody expected it. Nobody had the idea that it could happen. The joy about this event was just overwhelming all other thoughts. This was so joyful and so unbelievable.”  Peter Robinson, ““Tear Down This Wall” How Top Advisers Opposed Reagan’s Challenge to Gorbachev—But Lost,” 2007, available at: https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2007/summer/berlin.html.  

There are many ways to improve well-being and decrease the negative effects of the pandemic wall.  Coping mechanisms can range from exercise, to gratitude practice, journaling, sleep, or creating a garden, and more.  Keen Living regularly covers these topics.  See more Well-Being posts on Keen Living at www.megandaviamikhail.com

Today, a new way to decrease isolation and increase well-being will be explored.  Did you know the natural human instincts of tending to offspring and befriending others can improve your well-being and overall physical health significantly?  This psychological theory has been scientifically supported and will be more broadly discussed here as it relates now specifically to how to break down the pandemic wall.   

First published in 2000, the “Tend and Befriend theory” is an amazing scientific encapsulation of the positive well-being phenomenon we experience when we take care of our family and friends (tend) and reach out socially to others (befriend).  Dr. Taylor and her team at the University of California observed that, “human beings affiliate in response to stress. Under conditions of threat, they tend to offspring to ensure their survival and affiliate with others for joint protection and comfort.”  Shelley E. Taylor, University of California, Los Angeles, “Tend and Befriend Theory,” (2011), available at:  https://taylorlab.psych.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2014/11/2011_Tend-and-Befriend-Theory.pdf.  In fact, her theory declares that these are, “common responses in humans,” and familial ties, friendships, and social relationships are, “vital resources for managing the demands of the environment.”  Especially during stressful circumstances, Dr. Taylor found that, “…there are many reasons to believe that humans have used social relationships not only as a basic accommodation to the exigencies of life, but also as a primary resource for dealing with stressful circumstances.”   

More than the animalistic theory of fight or flight as a response to stressful stimuli, the “tend and befriend” theory takes a more humanistic outlook on how people really react to drastic changes in environment.  “When people affiliate in response to stress, they commonly experience social support….Social support is defined as the perception or experience that one is loved and cared for by others, esteemed and valued, and part of a social network of mutual assistance and obligations (Wills, 1991). Social support may come from a partner, relatives, friends, coworkers, social and community ties, strangers, and even a devoted pet (Allen, Blascovich, & Mendes, 2002).”

Dr. Taylor and her team studied the physiological effects of the practice of tending and befriending.  Not only does it have short-term wellness effects, but surprisingly, long-term health and increased longevity were found in those people who tend and befriend.  “The positive impact of social contacts on health is as powerful or more powerful a predictor of health and longevity than well-established risk factors for chronic disease and mortality, with effect sizes on par with smoking, blood pressure, lipids, obesity, and physical activity (House, Landis, & Umberson, 1988).”

Now, given the negative effects of the pandemic wall in the forms of isolation, sadness, anxiety, depression, and overwhelming amounts of stressors induced by all of the changes caused by the pandemic, the “tend and befriend” theory can and should be applied, where it can be safely, to break down the pandemic wall. 

First, the pandemic challenges us to get creative about how to tend and befriend.  What has been difficult since March 2020 is the inability to reach out physically to hug or meet within six feet of friends or family without necessary precautions.  While tending can happen for immediate members of the household in the form of cooking or baking together or snuggling on the couch watching movies together, tending to other family members can be more challenging.  This type of tending can still happen, but may come in the form of a gift ordered and sent directly to their door.  Or maybe this means calling a restaurant local to them and ordering a meal to be delivered.  Reaching out to connect though can simply be via calling on the phone to actually catch up on more than what can be covered in a text. 

Next, befriending can be challenging during lockdown as well, but Dr. Taylor’s theory supports the idea that keeping our friendships alive or even making new friends during this pandemic is vital to our health and well-being.  Our social nature has been restrained by the pandemic, but the need to socialize remains.  If taking time to meet a friend or neighbor can be done in a safe and respectful way, then there is so much science given in this theory to support doing so.

Of course, connecting safely is key – wearing a mask or two, keeping a 6 foot kindness bubble, keeping track of any symptoms, quarantining as needed, etc.  But, let’s get creative and push ourselves to find ways to connect face-to-face.  Run outside six feet from our friend.  Meet for coffee to go and take a walk with a friend.  Give our kids a rest from screens and refresh in the outdoors for anything – a walk, building a snowman, a snowball fight, a snow angel contest, sledding, or snow fort building (it is snowing a lot this winter!). Reconnecting with family and friends in person can be done safely and respectfully when you think outside the box.   

The well-being effects of tending and befriending can also apply to tending and befriending pets.  In Dr. Taylor’s research, social support was found to come from family, friends, peers, and also pets.  No wonder so many families and people in general have decided during the pandemic to get a pet.  Locally, a huge increase in puppies joining families has happened during the varying tiers of restrictions.  Hitting even closer to home, we chose to adopt a sweet pup in November 2020 from the Animal Rescue Foundation (www.arf-il.org) after years of begging from our daughter.  What was a choice that we made for our children’s happiness and development has turned into a choice that has brought happiness and connection to our whole family.  The delight each of us has from loving our puppy and her loving us back is a surprising and wonder-filled experience. 

The unexpected joy she brings has been the most eye-opening experience.  Never having had a dog before, the relationship has taught us all so much about ourselves and caring for others.  The experience of extending ourselves to her and rescuing her has ended up connecting us as a family and connecting us to other friends and families in unanticipated and wonderful ways.  It is an incredible experience to tend and befriend a sweet puppy.  I highly recommend considering adopting a puppy, especially from a foster-family based rescue foundation. 

“Like our animals, we are wired to connect, to reach out, to love. But unlike them, with us other things get in the way – jealousy, insecurity, irritation, anger.” Arianna Huffington, “Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder” at page 107, full chapter excerpt available at:  https://thriveglobal.com/stories/furry-friends-with-different-benefits/ .  One main inhibitor to the “tend and befriend” theory, in addition to the physical barricades of the pandemic, are our own jealousies and insecurities.  We need to reach out, to love and connect, but these issues can hold us back.  The pandemic can teach us a lot of lessons, but one may be that we don’t have long on this Earth.  We need to overcome our insecurities and break down the pandemic wall of isolation by reaching out.  Even today, calling one friend or making a plan to meet outside somehow – even in the snow – can be the first crack in the wall.    

The positive social impacts and health effects shown in the “tend and befriend” theory are incredible.  Who knew that the immediate effects of feeling happier after meeting up with a friend or taking special time to bake or play a game with your son or daughter could make you live longer?  But they do.  Putting yourself out there, extending yourself, asking questions of family and friends to connect and plan ways to get together can be intimidating, but it is a way to break down the pandemic wall that can have lifelong benefits for everyone. Now who doesn’t want that?  

© 2021 Megan Davia Mikhail