What is Boredom?
By Ray Navarro MS.
What’s that quote “an idle mind is the devils playground”? I don’t know, I’ll have to look that one up later. I’m sitting here, my girlfriends is in front of me working on her crafts business, her kids are running around the house making noise and doing God knows what, I’m watching TV, my favorite thing FYI Jiu Jitsu, and yet here I am so bored that I feel like I’m going to explode at any second. Luckily I’m aware enough to understand that the thoughts telling me to yell at the kids are just a creation of my stress. My desire to start an argument with my girl is just some subconscious way of coping with my boredom. Sounds like self-sabotage if you ask me.
As a therapist and suffering over thinker, I couldn’t just let go of how my brain was influencing my behavior, it felt irresponsible. Is it possible I just wasn’t comfortable in my own skin? Or maybe this was another way of my subconscious warning me that my anxiety is really high? Have I been using my coping skills…? Have I been doing my breathing exercises? Have I been exercising as much as possible? Have I been reaching out to my support system? No I haven’t. It seems like such a burden and life is so “impossible sometimes”, getting off the couch seems like an Indiana jones mission.
I have this weird feeling that most people that are bored are bored because of their perspective and their expectations. As a therapist I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen kids with every video game system, a loving family, involved in sports, and plenty of friends, yet they’re bored and want more. Should we try to lower their expectations? Is it okay to be satisfied with what you have? Most people will tell you yes, even most therapists, but what happens with ambition when you lower someone’s expectations, does that disappear?
How about learning to live with your boredom? Living in the moment and doing a gratitude list? What about watching a movie with the family or playing some “bored” games? As soon as I wrote that they started crying, so I’ll take that as a no. As you can see I don’t have many answers to helping you with your boredom because the truth is boredom is usually relative. What I can tell you is that by processing and “playing out the tape” on it I was able to find one thing to put a dent on my boredom, I wrote this letter. Maybe your one thing was reading it? The bottom line is If you’re bored, distract yourself till you’re not.
The True Social Distancing…
By Ray Navarro MS
When most people think of social distancing they think of masks and 6 feet. Is that what you think of? Because I don’t. I think of my daughters. What’s happening to my fourteen year old terrifies me of the present, and looking at my 8 year old scares me of what the future might bring. I’m talking about social media. When I was younger I was the first to have everything in my group. A TV in my car, Bluetooth at the time when everyone assumed I was talking to myself, the first flat screen TV (that cost me 3k), hell I was even the first of my friends to have a CD player in his car. Even with all that I am still just an old man trying to catch up to what is happening.
As a therapist I’m more sensitive to behavior than most. As an empath I’m more sensitive to emotions than most. But when all is said and done I’m just a father trying to guide my children and frankly I’m at a loss. If they were my clients I could just turn down my emotions and turn up the logic but when you truly love someone, the way a parent loves a child, emotions will always be prevalent.
So why am I so concerned? Social media and electronics in general have been creating a rift in what we know as traditional “socializing” for over a decade now but its influence is increasing rapidly. Is it that I have been indoctrinated by years of my mother telling me that the TV and video games would rot my brain? Was it years of urban legends telling us sitting to close to the TV would make us go blind? Who knows why but the fear is still there and in my mind it is still justified.
As a professional counselor and an amateur philosopher I tell myself that you cannot fight change but God I want to so bad. All I see as a father is my daughter isolated in her room and the lights are off except for a glow reflecting off her face. When she wakes up her eyes are blood shot and she clearly hasn’t been sleeping. Her anxiety is up, her depression symptoms are up, and we barely talk anymore. Covid 19 was the ultimate alarm. Kind of like the light of a lighthouse finally shining through the parting clouds, but this is not relief for parents as it is for so many sailors that see the “light”. As parents we have been forced to “understand” that our children can’t go outside. Our children can’t see their friends. Our children can’t play in the sun and breathe in the fresh air. This is not human. This is torture for an entire generation that isn’t even old enough to have the awareness to know what is happening to them.
And then I hear hope, not from my daughter, but from my clients. Children tend to make an assumption that every adult will somehow tell their parents anything they tell them. Therapists are different though. As a therapist I am not allowed to say anything to anyone about what is said in session unless there is an immediate threat to themselves or others. I won’t lie, many of the kids take weeks to build this trust in a therapist, if it’s a good therapist, and some will take years. However the kids that do speak openly tell me a different story of social media and electronics.
The kids I talk to tell me how the internet is the only way they can talk to their friends. Some tell me that FaceTime is the only way they can see their friends. So as parents how do we take that from them? Are we being asked to pick the lesser of the two evils once again? Is this what life is about, having to choose what would cause the least damage to our children? As parents, stuck at home as well I might add, how many times have we pushed the electronics on them because we needed them quiet? Does this make us bad parents or are we accepting the situation that we are in? I don’t know.
So what do I tell the parents of my clients? I tell them moderation. I tell them to allow it but to have structure. Give them a couple hours a day as long as their responsibilities have been met. Make sure when they go to sleep their phones are not left in their rooms. Make sure they wake up and go to sleep at the same times every day. Make sure you spend time with them every day. Most importantly, and unfortunately the most difficult, is to make sure they feel the sun and breathe the fresh air every single day. Some of these can obviously be combined, and should be if possible, but all are necessary. With all that said, everything nowadays appears easier said than done and this is no different. We are being challenged, every single one of us. Life is full of tests. Will we pass this one? When I first asked myself that question I didn’t have an answer, but then I looked at my children. There is no choice here. We will pass this test, and you know how I know that? Because I can’t tell you how were going to make it, but I can tell you that if you’re reading this than you’ve already past every test that life has thrown at you. Why would this test be any different?
I’ll leave you with this. There’s an old proverb that says “it takes a village to raise a child”. As parents, as humans, we must adapt. Reach out for help. Set up those zoom play dates, go for a walk with your children, find a good counselor, but don’t give up. Maybe the village, at least for the moment, is online.
The Power of Anxiety..,
By Ray Navarro MS
I always say that every good therapist’s first client is themselves. We’re just like everyone else we’ve just learned more coping skills than most and went to school for a long time. However it was in that gauntlet of colleges, universities and grad school in which I learned the tools I needed to combat my own anxiety. I can even claim that part of the reason I became a counselor was so that I could get a better understanding of how and why anxiety occurs. Problem is it’s one thing to read about anxiety it’s another to be overwhelmed by it, how can you even function when you feel like you’re drowning in thoughts?
I like two say that anxiety usually comes in two forms, the kind where you can’t get a certain worry out of your head to the point it consumes you, and the second in which it feels like you have a thousand thoughts but you can’t identify or focus on even one. Some people don’t even realize they have anxiety because the mind is so good at defending us that it’ll bury our worries until they manifest physically, as in biting finger nails, irritability, lack of sleep, loss or increase in appetite, ticks, muscle tension, and my favorite the famous leg shake (just to name a few). Have you ever seen someone that was clearly worried about something, acknowledged they were anxious but couldn’t give you a reason why? The mind is a powerful thing.
However this article is not about the living hell that anxiety can create it’s about the power. You see life is about perspective, but to have a clear perspective you can’t be clouded by things like irrational thoughts and negative self-talk. In the world of addiction they say that a person must reach rock bottom before they can begin to recover, the same can be said for many mental health issues, including anxiety. When I was in my early twenties I had my first panic attack, anxiety attack, whatever you want to call it. The hyperventilation from the attack zapped my energy so much that I laid on the floor, not moving, and I couldn’t even open my eyes. A good friend even thought I was dying, called the paramedics, and almost gave me mouth to mouth (which thank God he didn’t). But I’ll never forget when the paramedics get there they knew right away what was going on and I heard this one hero’s voice say “take a deep breath, open your eyes or we’re taking your ass to the hospital, you just had a panic attack”. Besides the horrible bedside manner it was as if he had hit a switch in my head and I was instantly aware that there was nothing physically wrong with me. I opened my eyes, sat up, and with my tail between my legs I apologized.
I was embarrassed, but looking back I shouldn’t have been. I was just ignorant to what was happening. So I began to educate myself in everything anxiety related. I have to admit the issue with panic attacks is once you have one they seem to come back easier and faster. I had them for two years, I was prescribed Xanax which thank god I was only on for a month before my dad confiscated them for the evil they are. Instead I learned the order of my symptoms, many people feel them differently, but for me it starts with heart palpitations, sweaty hands, shaky leg, than tears out of nowhere for some reason and finally hyperventilation.
The more time that passed the better I got at identifying when my anxiety was ramping up. I began to understand that I could use preventive measures like exercise, hobbies, structure, scheduling, and sleep. The savior of the coping skills, for me at least, was always progressive muscle relaxation. No matter where I was I could implement them without people even knowing I was doing it. Another big one is that I wouldn’t run from issues anymore, I would address them immediately. I noticed procrastination just made it worse, so I stopped doing it. If that little voice in my head told me I should be scared I would tell it to shut up.
Now it’s been over two decades since my last panic attack but every once in a while I feel it coming out. The thing is I’ve gotten so good at understanding it that the minute I feel it I’ll go for a walk or just start breathing deeply till it stops (yes that works amazing well). More often than not though it’s become a motivator. If I’m working on something and I get anxious it’s probably because I’m not comfortable with it so I change it up. If the kids are driving me crazy and I feel myself getting irritable I go out for a walk. The thing with anxiety is to not accept it and just sit in it, its energy. And how do you burn energy? You get off your ass and do something.
I’ve provided some resources on my page that you can have for free but please feel free to comment on your journey with anxiety and if you need help you can always contact me so we can talk it out. We are all given challenges in life it is how we cope with those challenges that define us as human beings, don’t ever forget that.
The Overwhelming Sound of Pain
By Ray Navarro MS
“I have learned now that while those who speak about one’s miseries usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more” (C.S. Lewis). When you think of pain do you think physical or mental? When I was growing up there was a constant debate about nurture vs nature. People argued their point vigorously to only, a few years later, accept that there is no separation among the two. Is it the same for pain?
I have been dealing with pain for over 22 years. Each year it gets a little worse. This year I had an episode that almost destroyed me, it put me in a very dark place. The pain itself kept me from walking or even laying down. Hunched over in a chair was the only place I could find relief. In a matter of two weeks I probably got 6 hours of sleep. My appetite was nonexistent. I couldn’t pick up my children or play with them. I couldn’t even brush my teeth or wipe my own ass. I thought life was over. I went from being on top of the world to not knowing if I’d get to hold my daughters again.
It wasn’t the physical pain that got me, it was the mental. The lack of sleep made me paranoid. Made me think my best friends were out to get me, that my girlfriend wanted me for money (I’m broke FYI), I “knew” for sure that I was going to get fired, which of course didn’t happen. I even considered ending it the selfish way. What bothered me most is that I was attacking everyone. I literally made people cry and I’m still trying to mend relationships to this day. I told myself I deserved the pain and that god was punishing me for something I did.
I could go on for hours on the paranoia and delusion caused by constant pain and sleep deprivation but this is about understanding and then finding solutions. I wasn’t acting like a therapist, like a father of two, like a martial arts expert, like an adult, or like the man that I am, I was being a victim and with good reason, but it was still my choice to sit there and suffer or get up and do something about. But how do you step up when you feel alone and helpless?
I have friends and loved ones. Some of which didn’t hear about my issues till recently but there were 3 that were there at the exact time I needed them, even though I kept my pain silent. They had no idea how bad the suffering was. They had no idea the dark place I was stuck in. Somehow, on my worst day, I received a phone call. A friend calling to say hello. Later that day a friend told me she loved me. The next day I spent an hour and half on the phone with a friend and she assured me that they would always be there for me. That’s when I said I’ve had enough. I will not be miserable, I will not hurt the people I love.
I put my therapist hat on and I got to work. When someone is in horrific pain it feels like someone is screaming into a speaker right into your ear and even if the pain is muffled for a few moments the negative self-talk creeps in to tell you how useless you are. I was aware of it but I had never felt it. A speaker so loud that your memory is nonexistent, your ability to hear is cut in half, you can forget normal conversations. But you know what is louder than subconscious thoughts? Conscious ones. Every time my over thinking brain started ramping up with its BS, I didn’t just say stop (which is an actual therapeutic intervention). I would repeat the same positive affirmations over and over till the negative thoughts were completely drowned. It took one day to change my mindset. Maybe not 100% but enough to get the ball rolling. I paid for that app headspace for a year and got to meditating again. The next day I started walking, getting fresh air and letting the sun hit my face. I realized that I had suffered, but more importantly I overcame the suffering.
I’m not a therapist because I love psychology, even though I do, I’m a therapist because I know suffering. I know what you’re feeling and I want to help you stop it. The question is do you? If you change nothing than nothing will change.
The Stigma of Anger
By Ray Navarro MS
When I was a kid, I was an angry one. I was bullied, picked on, and at times I was even chased from school all the way home. I grew up hating people. I used my anger as a way of not just protecting myself but also as a way of getting respect. I felt if people were afraid of me then they wouldn’t mess with me. Nothing could have been farther from the truth, people just avoided me. They didn’t see the hurt kid that was lashing out because he was sad, they saw an asshole that was making everyone else’s life a living hell.
As a therapist I’ve come to learn that anger is a secondary emotion. What does that mean? That means that anger can’t come from itself. You don’t automatically become angry, there is always a trigger, whether you see it or not. Cause guess what, anger also clouds the mind. There are many reasons to get angry but over the years of working in mental health I’ve broken it down to just a few. 1. Sadness. Anger is a defense mechanism for sadness because most of us perceive sadness as weak and how dare we be sad because of what someone else did to us, “they deserve to pay”. 2. Ignorance. This one usually evolves into hate. Many people are confused by what they don’t understand. And confusion can cause a whole mess of issues with self-esteem and self-confidence, so what does the brain do? It defends you. “I’ve never seen blue people like that, they must be different than me, they must want to use me or hurt me, they’re gonna mess up our country, they’re going to steal and hurt our women and children” complete idiocy through ignorance. 3. Fear. This is one that strikes home for many people. How many time have you been scared to do something but you got that nagging friend or parent that keeps insisting you do it? What eventually happens? “Leave me the hell alone I already told you I’m not doing it and I’m tired of your BS” or maybe you even blame the other person for your fear so that you can deflect your own fear without even knowing!
The last one on my list of anger triggers was given to me by another therapist, “the fear that an injustice has been committed”. Maybe you see veterans getting yelled at in the airport; or an old lady being pushed to the floor by some young delinquent; or maybe you thought you did better on that evaluation than your boss gave you credit for. All of these are good reasons to be angry, the problem is in how we react to that anger. Anger is normal. Its human nature, but it’s something that needs to be managed not controlled. We can’t hold anger forever we’ll eventually blow up. You have to let it out little by little. Use introspection, why am I angry? Use a ten second rule before responding when you’re angry, it’ll give you time to bypass the emotion and use logic. Exercise is my favorite coping skill, just run it out or go to Jiu Jitsu. The one thing I know for sure is that if you’re not using your anger to fight injustice than your anger has no point. Anger is perspective, stress is the number one killer in our country, add them together and your angry perspective will literally kill you. Or at the very least cut some years off your life.
Next time you get angry ask yourself two things, “is this worth my health” and “is this going to improve my situation”. If the answer is yes than rage away, but if it’s not, take a breath and give me a call. You are never alone.
Virus or Quarantine? Loss of health or loss of mind?
By Ray Navarro MS
As adults most of us are struggling to make sense of what we should do in these insane times. Depending on what channel you watch, it has a direct effect on how you’re handling this crisis, at least for a lot of us. But this rant isn’t about a conspiracy theory or an attack on science, it’s about our children. Right now kids are being left at home alone because their parents, people like me and you, are having to choose between watching their kids or putting food on the table. On top of that kids are starting elementary, middle, and even high school online. This shouldn’t seem like a big deal but in just a couple of weeks we’ve seen multiple system failures, a hack on an entire county school system, and that’s not even considering the technical issues with the ten year old computers that were given out and have no volume! And that’s if your child was even lucky enough to get a computer. Some are sitting at home, with no parents, just staring at the ceiling. For the kids that are lucky enough to have the materials they need, god bless and I hope you show the gratitude to not block your screen and mic so you can play fortnite.
What about the teachers? I know a teacher that has had to learn 3 different platforms in as many days because they all failed while she was giving class. Mind you shes 65, and up until recently thought zoom was to magnify her desktop screen. I’m not an administrator, i’m not a politician, and i’m not an MD, but what I am is a clinical counselor with close to ten years experience in mental health. What is happening to our kids is something we will be coping with way after the virus has left us.
So what can we do? It seems that most school boards, at least the ones down here in south Florida, appear as if they’re about to give up on their plans. They tried, they’ve adjusted, but nothing has worked. So has the time come? Are we giving up and taking our chances with the virus? Do we risk the lives of millions? I don’t know, but as a counselor and parent I know that I need to provide balance for my children. They keep the same bed times, guaranteeing at least 8 to 9 hours. At least 30- 60 minutes of exercise everyday, they need to feel the sun on their faces and the fresh air in their lungs. Find a new hobby, learn the piano, learn coding, learn how to draw, all easily found and inexpensive on the internet. Lastly try to set up face-time play dates or some movie nights with their friends. Education is crucial but so is friendship, family, sleep, and exercise. When we lack in one, the others will always suffer. Finally, and im clearly biased, but therapy and support groups are always a plus.
I’m here to help, if you have a question or just need some advice, reach out. lets talk.