Monday Required Reading

1. What Happens When No One Invites You to Their Pandemic Pod?

“We have lost the everyday distractions — the small talk at the school drop-off and pickup line, the banter at the office, the often tedious networking events. ‘We were able to avoid the fact that we were lonely before this because we could stay busy with a whole bunch of people.'”

2. Trends in anxiety among adults in the United States, 2008-2018: Rapid increases among young adults.

“The results from this study suggest poorer mental health in the US in terms of increasing anxiety overall and among most sociodemographic subgroups over the past 11 years. These findings should be considered in conjunction with other data that show increasing mental health problems of other types (e.g., depression), as well as the role of anxiety as a precursor to or indicator of severity of co-occurring mental health problems. Focusing resources on reducing anxiety, especially among young adults, is a cost-effective clinical and public health approach to stemming the tide of this problem; this would set the foundation for a healthier society in the future, as young adults age and adolescents reach adulthood.”

What resources mores specifically? 

3. Sea swimming is ‘amazing’ for mental health and menopause. Thanks to the Good Wife’s example, in the spirit of that video, I floated on my back in the Salish Sea near dusk last night despite less than ideal conditions. I can attest to the mental health assertion at least. And shouldn’t it be womenopause?

4. 8 Strategies to Improve Participation in Your Virtual Classroom. Teaching on-line makes me anxious! One week to go, wish me well.

 

We All Have Fears

The Rev. Melanie Wallschlaeger, Director for Evangelical Mission for the Southwestern Washington Synod.

“We all have fears of some kind. We can also have these fears in our lives as congregations. . . . We can have fears about the future, fear that our congregation will die, or not be relevant. Do we fear what our congregations might look like if they become more welcoming to our neighbors? Do we fear what our congregations will look like after the pandemic? Do we fear what our congregations might look like if others come and join us and help make decisions, and bring their gifts?

When we think about our congregational ministry, when we think about worship, will an openness to gifts of diversity in our congregations change what I feel is most precious? Will it mean we sing songs I don’t know or like? Does it mean I will lose what I know and hold most dear or value? Will I lose my place of privilege if we welcome others? Am I afraid of the future at this moment because it’s largely unknown?”

My sense of our congregation is yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Major props to Wallschlaeger for asking the exact right questions.

Related. Last night on NextDoor (please remind me, why am I still a member?) someone reported on a Black Lives Matter protest. Since NextDoor has no journalistic standards, a certain hysteria quickly set in. Some of the numerous commenters said they regularly check the online County police scanner to learn what bad things are happening before leaving their home.

Let that sink in.

One of two things is true. A mostly unfounded epidemic of fear has descended upon the land or I’m dangerously naive of the many risks to life and limb.

Thursday Required Reading

1. Owners and Election Day: A Chance to do the Right Thing. Two sociologists call for Congress to declare the first Tuesday in November, Election Day, a national holiday. Along the way, they destroy the “athletes should just shut up and dribble” argument.

“About a dozen states have declared Election Day a state holiday, including, in the last few months, both Virginia and Illinois, and many states give their workers time off to vote. A majority of Democrats (71%) and Republicans (59%) support having Election Day become a national holiday, but many Republicans clearly want fewer, not more, people to vote.”

2. Topless Beach Drone Scandal! Do the Golden Valley Police Department and the Minneapolis Park Police get any points for good intentions? Prob not.

“The Golden Valley Police Department’s well-intended but very wrong assumption about drone as deescalation tool is a familiar one among regular drone users. Because its people were comfortable with drones, they grossly overestimated how comfortable the average person actually is with the prospect of being looked at by a flying camera drone, much less one that’s zeroing in on their private bits.”

[Editor’s note—Major props to Ron for leading with the sociologists and not the second, click-bait reading. Role model.]

3. How Police Unions Fight Reform.

I believe The New Yorker pays its writers by the word. You would never know that by how fast Finnegan starts. Paragraphs 3-5.

“In many cities, including New York, the unions are a political force, their endorsements and campaign donations coveted by both Republicans and Democrats. The legislation they support tends to get passed, their candidates elected. They insist on public displays of respect and may humiliate mayors who displease them. They defy reformers, including police chiefs, who struggle to fire even the worst-performing officers. In an era when other labor unions are steadily declining in membership and influence, police unions have kept their numbers up, their coffers full. In Wisconsin, the Republican governor, Scott Walker, led a successful campaign to eliminate union rights for most of the state’s public employees. The exceptions were firefighters and police.

Police unions enjoy a political paradox. Conservatives traditionally abhor labor unions but support the police. The left is critical of aggressive policing, yet has often muted its criticism of police unions—which are, after all, public-sector unions, an endangered and mostly progressive species.

In their interstitial safe zone, police unions can offer their members extraordinary protections. Officers accused of misconduct may be given legal representation paid for by the city, and ample time to review evidence before speaking to investigators. In many cases, suspended officers have their pay guaranteed, and disciplinary recommendations of oversight boards are ignored. Complaints submitted too late are disqualified. Records of misconduct may be kept secret, and permanently destroyed after as little as sixty days.”

4. Discovery in Mexican Cave May Drastically Change the Known Timeline of Humans’ Arrival to the Americas. Archeologists can’t agree on when humans arrived in the Americas. It may have been twice as long ago.

5. How to Handle Anxiety Over Back-to-School Decisions.

“It’s helpful to remember that in times of chaos, the dogged search for certainty can itself lead to distress. . . . the goal is not to guarantee that your child will never be exposed to a virus particle. That is impossible. The goal is to make a realistic plan that will holistically keep teachers, families and children as safe as possible.”

One excellent insight after another.

“When your mind starts moving into the slippery slope of unproductive worries, try naming them: ‘There goes my mind again.’ This highlights the difference between ‘having a thought’ and ‘burying a thought.’ When unproductive worries strike, you don’t have to go down that rabbit hole of trying to disprove them or reassure yourself, you can just let them be. It’s not bad feelings or thoughts that are the problem. It’s what we do with them that causes more suffering.”

The author, Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, M.D.  is working on a book about the tyranny of self-care. I predict that is going to be a very good read.

Tuesday’s Required Reading

1. Eddy Binford-Ross, a high school journalist, reports on protests in Portland.

2. Whales Get A Break As Pandemic Creates Quieter Oceans. Silver lining.

“The drop in noise could be helpful for endangered killer whales that live in the area, known as Southern Resident killer whales, which rose to national attention two years ago when a mother orca carried her dead calf for days.

The whales use sound to hunt Chinook salmon through echolocation, much like a bat does. They also make a wide array of social sounds. Each pod actually has its own distinct dialect of calls. But ships make noise at some of the same sound frequencies as the whales.”

3. Why Some Young People Fear Social Isolation More Than COVID-19.

“It might be tempting to think that FaceTime and Zoom provide substitutes for in-person social outlets, especially for a generation of digital natives who grew up with smartphones. But, therapists say, talking by small screen offers no replacement for a calming hug and can miss the subtleties of a compassionate expression.”

All is not well. Eight percent of American teens attempt suicide each year. Is there a more telling, damning statistic?

4. An FBI hostage negotiator explains how to persuade people to wear masks. His insights are highly relevant to bridging most of our intensifying divides. Don’t you think?

Wednesday Assorted Links

1A. Coronavirus risks. Know them, avoid them.

“The reason to highlight these different outbreaks is to show you the commonality of outbreaks of COVID-19. All these infection events were indoors, with people closely-spaced, with lots of talking, singing, or yelling. The main sources for infection are home, workplace, public transport, social gatherings, and restaurants. This accounts for 90% of all transmission events. In contrast, outbreaks spread from shopping appear to be responsible for a small percentage of traced infections. (Ref)

Importantly, of the countries performing contact tracing properly, only a single outbreak has been reported from an outdoor environment (less than 0.3% of traced infections). (ref).”

Let’s all go outside. And stay there.

A scientist who writes clearly.

“Basically, as the work closures are loosened, and we start to venture out more, possibly even resuming in-office activities, you need to look at your environment and make judgments. How many people are here, how much airflow is there around me, and how long will I be in this environment. If you are in an open floorplan office, you really need to critically assess the risk (volume, people, and airflow). If you are in a job that requires face-to-face talking or even worse, yelling, you need to assess the risk. If you are sitting in a well ventilated space, with few people, the risk is low.”

1B. Why you’re unlikely to get the coronavirus from runners or cyclists.

“Fortunately, increasing your distance, decreasing the duration of your exposure, and improving the ventilation of the air around you can all lower your risk. And being outdoors generally helps you do all three.

‘The risks of virus transmissibility in the air outdoors is likely quite low in those contexts, although this risk hasn’t been definitively measured,’ Rasmussen said. ‘Outside, things like sunlight, wind, rain, ambient temperature, and humidity can affect virus infectivity and transmissibility, so while we can’t say there’s zero risk, it’s likely low unless you are engaging in activities as part of a large crowd (such as a protest). Solitary outdoor exercise is likely low-risk.'”

This, I think, is a key insight. And challenge:

“Psychologically, different people have different levels of tolerance for risk. For some people, any risk that can be minimized, should be, no matter how small. For others, the recommended 6-foot distance, with masks, and the known decay of both the amount and the infectiousness of the virus — that’s good enough.

‘The people who are 26-footers should know, though, that the 6-footers are not being foolhardy or endangering others unnecessarily,’ Kasten said.”

And likewise, “6-footers” should be as patient and kind as possible to those they perceive to be overly and unnecessarily cautious.

2A. Traffic is down, but 100mph speeds are seen on Beltway, police say.

2B. 18 year-old Canadian sees your 100mph and raises it. A lot!

“Schmidt said when he was first sent a photo of the radar gun showing 308 km/h he thought the officer was joking and had been down at an airport training his laser on planes taking off.

‘This is ridiculous. This is unbelievable. This is irresponsible and I certainly hope this person will not be any position to drive a vehicle for a very long time.'”

3. Spiky “coronavirus hairdo” makes comeback in Kenya.

Being Twenty Something Right Now

Empathy for our young adult friends and children is in order. Imagine being them and trying to:

  • cultivate a sense of purpose
  • find a job that contributes to the common good, pays a livable wage, and comes with medical benefits
  • find an affordable place of your own to live
  • afford a car or other forms of reliable transportation
  • get out of debt
  • save some money each month
  • develop the self discipline and knowledge to smartly invest for future expenses
  • find a caring, loving, compatible partner with whom to be intimate
  • decide whether to marry and have children
  • decide whether to commit to a faith community, if so, finding a compelling one
  • contend with friends and acquaintances inauthentic, curated selves on-line
  • create a close circle of friends who aren’t so overwhelmed with all above that they have the energy and desire to spend time together
  • worry about growing social inequities and the fate of the natural world
  • cultivate the discipline to eat well, exercise, and maintain decent physical health
  • manage your anxieties about all of the above and maintain good mental health

In the context of a global pandemic about which so much is unknown. How bad will it get? When will it end? How should we “reopen”? What exactly will the “new normal” be?

This pandemic presents unique challenges to many twenty somethings, whom for whatever reasons, already struggle with anxiety, depression, and related mental health challenges.

Extra patience and kindness with our young adult friends and children are in order.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Coronavirus Double Whammy

1. It’s a reminder that we’re not in control. Normally, we convince ourselves that we mostly are.

2. It’s a reminder that some day we’re going to die. Normally, we are very good at not thinking about that.

These are not normal times. What can you do? Be especially patient and kind to those who may feel a loss of control and fear dying. Even if you do not feel or fear either one.

“I Could Probably Go On”

The first year writing seminar is just past mid-semester. And somehow, despite the professor they were assigned, my first year writers have GOT IT. In place of the typical first year writer’s repeated use of the word “things” and other vague words and phrases, their third papers were peppered with specific details. That switch is almost universally positive. The exception? When they’re detailing their inner lives, like this student of mine, who gave me permission to share this with you.

“I can give a list of the things that are currently making me anxious in this moment: the anatomy test that I should be studying for (I got a 60% on it), if I’m going to pass my classes this semester, what classes I’m going to take next semester, if my friends really like me or just put up with me, the weight that I’m going to gain from the binge that I just had, if this essay is going to be any good, if I even want to go into nursing, what am I going to do with my life once I get out of college. I could probably go on but that was a long sentence as it is.”

My students seem fine on the surface, but as they get honest with themselves and me, I’m learning many are suffering in silence. Their willingness to share their stories with me is humbling.

All that I know to do is to assure them their feelings matter, a lot of their peers feel similarly, and I’m glad they’re in my seminar. Also, I encourage them to take advantage of the counseling available to them.

I don’t know if that’s enough.

Some Things I’m Learning About College Students’ Mental Health

  • Many are super stressed by their parents’ financial sacrifices.
  • Some parents from developing countries “don’t believe” in mental health challenges like anxiety and depression, so they discount its importance. They believe their young adult children can “will themselves” to feel better.
  • College is not as easy a time and place to make friends as is commonly thought. Loneliness is real.

Setting customary anxiety about academic performance aside, imagine worrying incessantly about your family’s finances and not having many friends to confide in. And then, not being able to talk to your parents about anything of substance.