New Normal with COVID 19

In only a few days our ordinary, everyday normal has drastically changed, and we don’t know whether this is a long or short term situation. Regardless of how long this lasts, we are all challenged to adapt to these unexpected, unwanted circumstances.I want to share some thoughts with you. Years ago I lived in Manhattan. When my aging mom who lived in New Jersey was sick, she most often came to New York to be treated at New York University Hospital (a superb institution.) Rather than send her home upon discharge, she would come and stay with me in my apartment until we were sure she was stable enough to go home. Mom’s hearing wasn’t great and she wasn’t very mobile at the time, so she spent most of her time in the apartment with the television blaring. Honestly, it drove me crazy, but since it was time limited, I put up with it. Always relieved when she was well enough to head home.

Years later, I was still in Manhattan at the time of the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. In the days afterwards, I noticed that every time I went to my office I tried to insert the key to my home apartment in the keyhole. It told me that something in me just wanted to be safely home. One of the other things I noticed was that I kept the television on day and night, often drifting off to sleep with CNN blaring. You know what insight I gained from that? I remembered my mom and gleaned this–the blaring television was a way of staying connected and dealing with anxiety.

Since then, I have learned that it isn’t the best strategy. In fact, the constancy of the television juices up anxiety, so there’s more need for quelling it. One of the most important things is to keep your anxiety in check. Increased anxiety is not good for your overall health, especially your immune system, so anything that brings it down–GO FOR IT! Remember anxiety is almost always focused on fear about the future. It ruins the present. Even under difficult circumstances, you can make the most of the present. Buddhist priest Pema Chodron teaches–in the present moment everything is as it should be. Believe her. I want to share with you some of the strategies I’ve learned, ones I’m trying to practice myself.

–Limit your exposure to televised news. Read the newspaper either on line or paper. If you tune in, limit the time.

–While sheltering in place, create projects. Clean a closet, organize your desk, sew on buttons, paint a room, get to a small repair job, knit, cook, get a head start on your taxes, organize your photos. Any project that has been waiting–now’s an opportunity to do it.

–Do something for other people. Start a group chat. Make a donation to charity. Foster a pet. Pay your helpers for the month. Send a care package to someone who needs it.

–If you don’t already have a meditation practice, begin one. There are lots of online apps. One of my favorites is through Deepak Chopra called Ananda. Headspace and Calm are both good also.

–For those of you who struggle with a formal meditation practice, try this. Lie down for a few minutes. Bring to mind a place you love. Imagine yourself there. Take 3 deep breaths. With each out breath say to yourself, “For this moment everything is as it should be.”

–Start a family group chat so you can meet online. We met one night “for drinks.” It was kind of crazy, but fun.

–Play with your pets. If you don’t have one, foster one. Connecting with animals lowers blood pressure and can you believe this? Those who sleep with dogs get better sleep!

–Teach Fido a new trick.

–Tap into your creative talents. Write a short story. Compose a piece of music or poem. Make a collage. Sketch your favorite landscape or design a new outfit.

–Write down your dreams and keep a journal of this time.

–Play family games. Do a jigsaw puzzle. Play pictionary or charades (if you need the rules, email me–

–If you have small children, take all the bedclothes and make a fort where you can read stories, eat cookies, and be safe together.

–Walk outdoors. Plant bulbs.

–Download pictures from art history . The Louvre is closed but is allowing its collection to be available online. Make your own anthology of the art you love. Beauty is a great healer.

–Music is a healer also. Make a special play list of music that raises your spirits.

You probably can think of other creative endeavors that you could deploy during this time. What is most important is to keep your spirit lively, continue moving forward in your life, seize this as an opportunity to do something you might not have done, cherish those you love and find a way to keep them close, and figure out a way to be of service to others. I’d love to hear how you’re doing. Sending love to you and yours.

Why Make the Bed?




I am not a naturally neat person, so tasks like making the bed, doing the dishes, tidying up after myself do not come easily.  In fact, sometimes I think I’m like a walking tornado because a totally picked-up house can become a disaster in such a short time if I’m around–3 pair on shoes by the couch, two glasses and a dirty plate on the coffee table, a sweater draped on the chair…you get the picture…a wake of Katherine’s been here!  In childhood, my sister, who was really neat, and today is the tidiest person I know, put up a barrier to keep me off her side of the room!


               Well…maybe not quite that bad!


Today, I work hard at doing things like, make the bed, clean up the kitchen, hang up the clothes.  Not because I make a judgment, moral or otherwise, about this, but because the environment impacts me, and when the experience is positive it actually registers in the body, and likewise, when it’s negative that impacts too.


You wouldn’t think anything as mundane as making the bed could have any psychological relevance at all, but it does.  Every experience of perception impacts us, so, for example, walking into a chaotic  bedroom gives you a little dose of negativity.  Those dishes that are still in the TV room the day after–a little dose of negativity.  Believe me, I am not rooting for obsessional cleanliness, but I am suggesting that one of the ways you can improve self care is to think about how you arrange your environment to give you a little burst of  positive impact. And, for example, by cleaning up the kitchen before going to bed–there’s a double impact:  you eliminate one negative and trade it for a positive.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Make the bed
  • Do the dishes before you go to sleep
  • Put a flower in a vase
  • Display a favorite photo
  • Get a dog
  • Take a minute to look at a tree
  • Watch the sun set
  • Go for a walk and pick up something that catches your interest.  Put it on the window sill in the kitchen.
  • Use the good china for dinner
  • Light a candle
  • Bathe in lavender scented water
  • Burn incense
  • Weed the garden
  • Sweep the deck

You can add many small things to the list.  Anything that makes you smile is worth the effort which I why I include “get a dog” on the list.  Cats will also do.  Either will make you smile a hundred times a day.  See how creative you can be by devising little splashes of positive impact in your life.  It’s all about genuine self care–not about anything else!


Medications for Psychological or Psychiatric Issues


I have to write about something that really upsets me.

Just the other day I was working with a couple who had come to me because their sixteen year old daughter was having problems in school, at home, and overall seemed unhappy.  They discovered she had been drinking to the point of getting drunk, and when they made that discovery, they took her to their family doctor.  The family doctor put her on an antidepressant medication, Prozac. It wasn’t the correct medication.

If you had cancer would you let a cardiologist treat you? 

If you had a heart problem would you ask an a dermatologist to figure out how to cope with your heart condition?

The questions are ridiculous because we all know that medicine is very specialized, and we want the right person to address the situation that that person was trained to treat.

Family physicians need to refer patients to psychiatrists when there is a need for psychiatric medication–even short term medication that seems obvious.  For example, often after the death of a loved one, a person might feel unusually anxious or depressed.  Family doctors prescribe medications for these conditions all the time.  Psychiatric medications are vast and have become more particular over the years.  While family practitioners mean well, they often choose the most common medication and don’t fully evaluate the patient to make sure that person gets on the specific medication that is right for him or her.

I believe family doctors and patients collude to avoid a trip to the psychiatrist.  The stigma of “mental illness” is attached to receiving medication from a psychiatrist rather than from your friendly family doc.  This mutual collusion does not help patients and it fosters a continuing stigma against proper mental health care.  I am not a fan of excessive use of mediation, but I know that the right medication at the right time can be salvation to a person who is suffering.

Please–if you or someone you love needs psychiatric medication, make sure they get it from the right person. 

Guilt—Appropriate and Inappropriate


Feeling guilty is ubiquitous.

You feel it in small ways and big ones.

I was recently with some friends who were trying to decide on a restaurant for dinner.  One of the women said she didn’t like Greek food, and naturally her preference organized us.  We didn’t go to a Greek restaurant.  Once we were all sitting at the table of an Italian restaurant, she announced how guilty she felt.

Maybe she had stepped on someone’s toes?  Maybe somebody wanted to go Greek?  Did she have a right to organize the group?  Of course this group of great women reassured her that we were all happy to have accommodated to her preference.

Her guilt falls in the category of INAPPROPRIATE GUILT.  Had she announced that last night she had a little too much to drink, scraped the side of her car, and felt guilty, her guilt would have been APPROPRIATE GUILT.

What’s the difference?

Guilt is always a sign that some rule, value, guideline, or belief has been violated.


When I asked my friend what rule or value she had transgressed, she said she had grown up with the idea that she should always consider other people’s feelings before her own.  I wondered out loud if she had signed up for that rule?  Did she believe that she was supposed to be oriented in that way?  Was she not supposed to take note of her own preferences, desires, or needs?  Naturally she knew that this was not the case, but having grown up with a sister who had special needs, it was easy to understand how she came into ownership of this rule.

I am not a big fan of individuals who are “all about me.”  Self care doesn’t mean being a narcissist or trampling on other people’s needs and desires. But representing your own wishes, desires, values, and needs–if you don’t do it, who will?

Guilt has  a huge value for individual psychology.  The bad feeling has a purpose–to keep us from repeating something that transgresses important values.  It’s like a signal that says:  Something’s wrong here.  It is always worth paying attention to it, taking note.  Ah, I feel guilty.  Then it’s important to reflect on the transgression–what rule did I break?

Guilt will get your attention, and in that way can be helpful getting you to understand what rules organize you. If you ask yourself each time you feel guilty–what’s the rule?–when you reflect, you can figure out if they are rules you actually want to embrace, or are they rules that someone else imposed on you?  In small appropriate doses, guilt keeps you honest and on the right track.  Overdone, it erodes your spirit.

Who Am I in My Dream?


Thank goodness we are not held accountable for the things we do in our dreams!  Most of us have indulged in violent or antisocial behavior, been promiscuous, or conducted a business meeting topless!  These images can be frightening and shame producing if we identify with the self who shows up in the dream.

Identifying with the figure who represents you in a dream sometimes makes it impossible to deepen the understanding of the message of the dream because you feel so squeamish about what happened in the dream.  The most important thing to remember is that the figure who is YOU in the dream is not actually YOU.  That figure represents the current state of identity–the YOU you know yourself to be today or the night you had the dream.Many times the dream  is the harbinger of new and unfolding aspects of identity.  Those emerging aspects of self are always frightening or disgusting or upsetting to the self you are today.  For example, a woman who was very quiet and retiring was on the cusp of speaking up more for herself.  She dreamed that she was growing claws and fangs.  She woke horrified.  To the self she knew herself to be–retiring, quiet, and unable to express aggression, the new emerging self who would be able to do that was horrifying.

So when you find yourself doing something unexpected, or embarrassing or criminal or shocking–remember it’s only relative to an established sense of self.  The new parts of self often come in as exaggerated or extreme.  Your own wise psyche is preparing you for a change and getting your more staid, familiar self ready.  Be curious about what’s coming in, and why it might appear so shocking to your familiar identity.

Learn More About Savoring


The ventral striatum is a part of the brain where positive emotional responses are experienced.

Most of us are aware that the human brain is hard wired to remember negative experiences much better than positive ones. Our survival heritage makes sure we remember in what corner of the jungle the perilous creatures hung out. It turns out that the positive memory seat is weak.  The Journal of Neuroscience published a study titled: The Neurodynamics of Affect in the Laboratory Predicts Persistence of Real-World Emotional Responses

What the researchers found was that “Sustained ventral striatum engagement in the laboratory positively predicted the duration of real-world positive emotional responses.” This means that the folks who remembered positive experiences longer were happier.

What excites me about this is that each one of us can use this research to our own benefit.  We can work at increasing the pleasure sustaining capacity of our brains and thus open the door to being happier overall.

 The practice of lengthening pleasure–savoring. 

Try this when you are eating a strawberry…or it could be a peach or any other piece of fruit.


The key is to go slowly and notice the details.  Feel the beautiful speckled surface of the strawberry.  Smell its fresh scent.  Take in the bright ruby color.  Do all of this before you take a single bite.  Imagine the plant as it was bearing fruit in the sunny field, sending off runners to make more fruit.  Then when you are ready, bite into the strawberry.  What is the texture of its flesh?  What happens in your mouth?  Where in the mouth does the taste hit?  What do you note?  Tartness?  Sweetness?

The practice of savoring brings many experiences into high relief, and when we begin to do this over a longer period of time, we are strengthening that part of the brain.

An exercise that will help you is to make a list of 10 experiences that gave you pleasure and/or joy.  The list should include a variety of events–big events like the birth of a child and small ones like opening an Amazon box that brought a book you really wanted.  Create your list of 10 events that you would like to mine for their pleasure sustaining potential.

Then begin with one of the events, and do a savoring exercise.  It is similar to a meditation, but instead of clearing the mind, you will be focusing.  Close your eyes and bring the memory of the event back.  Bring back all of the details, as many as you can, until the feeling you had wakes up again.  Give yourself permission to come back to it several times.  If the feeling won’t arise, move on to another experience.

The key is to bring the pleasure of something that you experienced back to life.  Return to this experience and practice sustaining the pleasure.  You will be building up that part of the brain that is associated with positive emotions out in the real world. When you have successfully done one, try another.  One of the bonuses of this exercise, in addition to building up that ventral striatum, is that at other times, when you are blue, irritated, tired, or experiencing some other less that pleasurable feeling, you can pull this out of your back pocket and shift your mood.

Send me an email and let me know how you are doing with this.

Learn From the Daisy


Recently my dear friend Annharriet Buck the longtime resident psychologist, meditation teacher at the Golden Door Spa in Escondido, California recommended a book written by buddhist teacher Orygen Chowang Rinpoche Our Pristine Mind


On her advice, I dove into it.  The book teaches a particular form of meditation that essentially helps the mind settle into its natural state of being. He likens it to a snow globe–the way little bits of snow swirl around when you shake the globe, but if you let it sit, slowly the swirling settles into stillness.  The mind is like this.  This meditative practice is not focused on an object or even the breath, and the eyes are kept softly open, not closed as is the usual practice with meditation.  The aim is to be present in a natural state of awareness.  As I have tried to follow this practice, I have noticed a sense of being present in the midst of my environment and all that is part of that–the trees, the house, my dog…  This book is not a page turner, but is worth it for anyone who is interested in enhancing meditative practice.

One of the results of this practice is that I began to notice more of my surrounding and reflect more deeply about it. I am fortunate to live in a very beautiful spot, high up in the coastal redwood forest overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

In summer wild daisies pop into bloom, so if you drive to my place, as you come down the single lane road to the house, the edge of the road riots with them.

The meditation of the pristine mind, settling into the natural mind made me feel deeply connected to my environment, not in it or separate from it, but belonging to it just as much as the trees or the daisies.  The contemplation of the daisy brought me to the notion that I, and you, are just what we essentially are. You would never hear a daisy saying, “I sure wish I had those nice prickly thorns that the rose over there has.”  Or “Gee, how come I’m only yellow and white?”  We can’t do better than to settle into the essence of the unique natural being each of us is.  The daisy reigns there by the side of the road.  It waits for me to cut a few stems to put in a vase and set on my dining room table.  It waits to be picked by a lovesick individual who will pluck each petal, “He loves me; he loves me not.”  It waits for the gardener who gathers the seeds from the blossom so she can plant daisies in a new location.  The daisy can be used in many ways–always in alignment with daisy-hood.

Many of us spend time trying to make something of ourselves, when in truth, coming back to the essence of who we are, and allowing ourselves to unfold from that place is the challenge.  We need to be used in ways that are consistent with the essence of who we are and well–in that way we’re not all that different from the daisy.

 I’d love to hear from you–

how you’re unfolding from your essence

and how you’re allowing yourself to be used in that wonderful and unique way.


What your anger can teach you about yourself


Anger can be informative in so many ways, but above all anger, no matter what form, tells you something MATTERS.

Did you ever find yourself fuming when someone jumped ahead in a line while you waited patiently?  Or were you judgmental about the person who selfishly helped herself to the last piece of pie when you would never have taken that for yourself?  Or  did you criticize the friend who stood up at the party and in spite of a bad voice belted “Happy Birthday” as if she belonged on Broadway?  You probably can imagine your own situation where you feel angry, judgmental, critical, or some other negative feeling about someone else.

That feeling may point you in the direction of your own shadow–that part of yourself that is”not me” or is a part you’d prefer to keep hidden from view or  it could even be the part of you that isn’t permitted to live.

shadow self

Take note of what irritates you.   It may be objectively something most people would find irritating, but it’s worth asking yourself if you might gain any personal information from the situation.  What is this other person giving herself permission about that you might not give yourself permission for?  It may point you in a direction where you are too hard and unforgiving of yourself.  It might give you an idea where you need a little more space to be human.  It might suggest a value that hold that has never been questioned or revised (some of the rules we learned as kids need revision as life becomes more complex.)

The other important learning anger can lead you to has to do with its proportion.  If you step back and weigh your internal reaction in relationship to the event that caused it, if it seems out of proportion, then the anger definitely is pointing to something else. The situation is like the tip of the iceberg, and the underlying issue is bigger that what triggers the anger.  For example, if your husband brought you red roses for your birthday but you really love yellow ones, and you find yourself exploding about how “He never pays attention to what I like.”  Well, I think you get it.

Good luck letting your anger be a helper to find out something new about yourself.  Let me hear from you when you find out something you didn’t know!


Reduce Stress: An Unexpected Way


One of the wonders of being alive today is brain research. Many ideas that we have intuitively believed to be true are now being documented with hard scientific facts. It is well known that receiving social support is associated with reduced stress and vulnerability. However a study published in  Psychosomatic Medicine  in 2016 documents via neuroimaging that another way of reducing stress shows up in three parts of the brain.


We spend lots of time and energy figuring out how to manage and reduce the stress of modern life. To name a few (some better than others):

  • Meditation and mindfulness practice
  • Exercise
  • Recreation
  • Alcohol and drugs
  • Vacation
  • Chilling out
  • Television and movies


But this study has implications for all of us are incredible:

If you want to reduce stress for yourself, then give someone else support!



 This information is especially important for individuals who are ending a big project, locating to a new place, changing or retiring from a career. With a little more time available, you have the opportunity to do something wonderful for yourself—by doing something wonderful for someone else.  Think about it: How can you add an act of supporting someone else into your busy schedule?  And write it into the category of: SELF CARE!

Learning to want what you want to want



Is there anyone who doesn’t struggle with habits, desires, or urges that point toward something they wish they didn’t want?  Sugar? Cigarettes?  Alcohol? Cookies?  Ice cream? Hours of procrastination?

How do I learn to want what I want to want rather than what I want right now?  That is the question.

Most of us are able to carry a big stick of “SHOULD” over our heads for periods of time.  The problem with the should is that it’s like a dam–one that isn’t so strong.  Oh, it will hold back the flow of desire for a while, that is until it gets stronger, and then the dam isn’t strong enough to hold back the compelling desire that takes over and breaks through.

I have had my own battle with trying to want the things that are good for me.  Here’s what helps:

  • A meditation practice
  • Cultivating a nurturing inner partner
  • Learning to surf urges

Meditation practice

The reason they call it “practice” is because forever it is a learning process.  The process of quieting the mind, learning to focus away from thoughts, desires, conflicts, etc. makes a huge difference in how we respond to the feelings that take us over.  Meditation gives a person a safe place to rest or stand–this is a mind space where you are not taken over by the turmoil that can so easily overwhelm you.  This safe place that is cultivated by meditation is a place that makes CHOICE possible.  

Cultivating a nurturing inner partner

The stick of SHOULDS that you hold over your head is like a strict, unrelated parent or teacher.  It includes little understanding about what you are feeling and just wants you to obey the rule–one you might not even have fully bought into.  A nurturing inner partner is kind, gentle, and only wants what’s best for you.  This helper will listen to what’s hard for you, and may even have interesting ideas for new strategies to help you achieve your goals.  Unlike the dam of shoulds that will always collapse when desire gets stronger, the nurturing inner partner is strong.  Spend some time conjuring an image of this helper–like a guardian angel, the captain of my ship, the best mother anyone could have…there are many possibilities.  The next time you are overcome with a desire for something that isn’t good for you, have an imaginary conversation with this figure.  See what happens.

Surfing the urge 

I learned about surfing the urge when I quit smoking.  It’s a long story, but many years ago one day after too much smoking and a little too much red wine, I got the worst headache I’ve ever had.  I woke up in the morning, and instead of reaching for a cigarette, I was afraid of the headache coming back, so I just postponed the smoke till after breakfast.  Then after breakfast, instead of lighting up, again afraid, I decided to wait till lunch time.  I think you get the picture.  After two days of postponing the next cigarette, I went to an acupuncturist I was seeing, and she said, she could help me with this.  She could put a little bead in my ear, and each time the desire to smoke arose, I could just rub that bead into the acupressure point and the urge would pass.  Ride out one urge at a time.  That is surfing the urge.  Take it one urge at a time and know the urge passes.  You don’t have to gratify it.  I had the help of the fear of the headache, but even years later, I still occasionally get the urge–but it passes.  To read more about this I recommend a great book by Kelly McGonigal The Willpower Instinct.

Learning to want what you want to want is a process.  Deep within each one of us is an amazing healing potential, a part of us that only wants what’s best for us in a gentle, loving way.  It takes time and focus to give that inner part a place to grow.  My suggestion is to begin with very small, achievable goals, and work with these three strategies.  Let me know how you’re doing!