5 Mental Health Tips During COVID

                            sactownmag.com

Due to COVID-19, our world has been turned upside down. Restaurants once full of lively conversation now sit empty and desolate. Schools are vacant, our educational centers now in the hands of parents and the students themselves. Sporting arenas are dark and silent, a surreal scene for many as sports has historically been our main outlet as a society during times of uncertainty.

While we have all been hit hard during these times, the autism community has been especially affected. Routine is sacred to those on the spectrum, while the fear of the unknown can cause debilitating anxiety and depression. Suffice to say these trying times can be detrimental to the personal, professional and academic progress an individual on the spectrum has made.

Many people are struggling to maintain their mental well-being right now, however as those with autism are more likely to have a mental health diagnosis, it is imperative that we offer all the resources we can to them.

Below I highlight 5 strategies you can implement into your daily schedule to help maintain your mental health during these trying times.

  1. Become Your Own Best Friend

If it is one person we can completely and entirely rely on throughout the course of our lifetimes, it is ourselves. It is important that we remember to be kind to ourselves during these unusual times. Loneliness and isolation are rampant and can have detrimental effects on our well-being. However, if looked at from another perspective, can also bring great insight and strength.

I was pretty much a societal recluse from age 11 to 23, so isolation is not new to me. I learned, however, that with isolation comes solitude, and with solitude comes wisdom. Now is as good a time as ever to look inward and learn about who you are and what your heart truly desires in this life. Writing down your life’s purpose is a great reference point to look back on during normal times when you feel like you may be lost in life or on the wrong path.

Take some time during this period to nurture yourself. Every morning before I get out of bed, I tell myself “Good Morning” and whenever I’m struggling I give myself a hug and say “I love you Russell”. It may sound corny, but when our brains process self-affirmations said out loud, they literally develop the neural networks in order to become more efficient in self-care.

Self-love is the hardest love, but it is also the best love. The Buddha once said, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the universe, deserve your love and affection”.

  1. Exercise 

Exercise has always been great for the mind, however with all gyms being closed and outside activities cancelled, it can be difficult to find ways to stay active. Personally, the gym is my number one self-care tool, so having that tool taken away has made these past six weeks extremely challenging.

When we think of exercise, we tend to think of lifting weights, hiking, jogging, sports, etc. However, there are many activities you can do around your house that are beneficial to your mental and physical health. These can include dancing to music, yoga, walking your dog, yard work and even cleaning (fun, right?).

When the weather is nice and I am not too depressed, I have been going for long runs in the beautiful Sierra-Nevada foothills, however lifting heavy weights is vital for me as it fulfills my sensory-processing needs for the day. Unfortunately, I don’t have weights at home, so I must fall back on body weight exercises such as isometric (no muscle contraction, basically you stay frozen in place) squats, lunges, pushups and crunches.

All in all, anything you can do to clear your mind of worries and accelerate your heartrate will serve as a great coping mechanism during these times, and after.

  1. Explore the Arts

Perhaps the most difficult of tasks for parents during COVID is helping their kids adjust to the changes in schedule and routine given school closures and the cancellation of most extracurricular activities.

With social interaction all but gone for now, this is a great time to introduce the arts as a vehicle to promoting emotional integration and intelligence. Whether that be through poetry, painting, music, etc. the arts have been scientifically proven to reduce stress and promote neuroplasticity in the brain.

As a poet, I can tell you that there is no better catharsis for my daily struggles then to write them down and create a piece of art from them. Reading back my poems to myself out loud also helps me process my feelings more efficiently as I am using my visual and auditory senses to dissect my emotions instead of having them just float around in my head with no outlet.

  1. Meditate

Meditation and mindfulness play an instrumental role in promoting a healthy mental state, regardless of the state of our external circumstances. Jon Kabat-Zinn once said, “You can’t control the waves, but you can learn to surf”. This I have found to be so aptly true, for we can utilize the steadiness of our inner-being as an anchor to weather turbulent times such as these.

Similar to number 1 on this list, you can use your current isolation to sit alone with yourself in order to realize that your thoughts are not real. Anxiety and depression, specifically, all boil down to our thought processes and patterns. Take this time to be curious about how you think. Meditation does not need to be sitting down in the lotus position for hours on end. It can be practiced informally throughout that day by just simply being mindful of how and why you think the way you do.

As the romantic poet Novalis once said, “The path of mystery leads inward”.

  1. Hone the Most Underrated Skill: Perseverance

Humans are an incredibly adaptable species, and perhaps our most underrated collective skill is perseverance. As mentioned before, the gym is instrumental in maintaining my well-being. I usually workout two hours a day, six days a week, and couldn’t have ever fathomed I’d go this long without stepping foot inside a gym. Yet when you are forced outside of your comfort zone, magical things can happen. While it is by no means an easy feat, when we are in unfamiliar territory with regard to our routine, the flexibility of our thinking increases and adapts to the new environment, stimuli and circumstances around us. If we push ourselves outside of our comfort zones on a continual basis, our self-confidence also increases and we begin to feel a sense of empowerment and fulfillment. As I always say, in order to promote your personal growth and development, you need to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable!

Throughout my life I have continuously found success through my struggles, and COVID-19 will be no different. After all, how many times, in hindsight, have we come to kiss the feet of adversity? Using our hindsight from previous struggles to develop foresight for future challenges may be one of the most beautiful gifts in life.

This is a great opportunity for parents to educate the children that the only constant in life is change. Through a controlled environment such as their home, parents can ask their kids how unexpected change makes them feel and how best to deal with the emotions that change brings up. These practices can then be generalized into the real world in the post-COVID era.

In the end, COVID-19 will serve as a permanent reminder for us all to be mindful of the challenges faced by others. Collective struggle brings us closer, and it is my hope that after this pandemic passes, we will be a more kind and compassionate society.

Follow Russell's journey on Instagram and Facebook.

 

New Cyberbullying Report Highlights Why We Need to Talk about Disability and Mental Health

Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Russell Lehmann knows firsthand the impact cyberbullying can have on your life. When rapper J. Cole used a slur in reference to autistic people on Drake’s track “Jodeci Freestyle” in 2013, Lehmann wanted to use his voice to fight back. He posted a video on YouTube of his spoken word poem performance in response to J. Cole’s lyrics that quickly went viral. The comments that rolled in were, as Lehmann said, “pretty brutal.”

Lehmann, who is autistic and now a motivational speaker, said at the time he was struggling, very isolated and didn’t have much contact with the outside world. After the backlash and cyberbullying he received in response to his video, not only did he want to retreat away even more, but his mental health suffered.

“This was the first time I was ever attacked in my life so personally and it made me never want to use my voice again,” Lehmann told The Mighty. “I used my voice and my poetry as an outlet, and now to get attacked, on top of being attacked [by J. Cole’s song]. I really fell into a depression, got very anxious, got very angry, and it made me just want to close out the world even more.”

Lehmann’s experience isn’t uncommon, in fact, people with disabilities are almost twice as likely to be bullied online. In a survey of more than 20,000 students with and without disabilities, the Ruderman Family Foundation found students with disabilities were nearly twice as likely to be cyberbullied, and experience depression and suicidal thoughts at higher rates, than those without disabilities.

The paper, which was published on Wednesday and co-authored by Ruderman Family Foundation Chief Inclusion Officer Miriam Heyman, Ph.D., found about 33% of students with disabilities experienced cyberbullying online in the last year. Only 20% of students without disabilities were targeted.

Disabled students are almost twice as likely to be involved in cyberbullying, whether they are the victim, the bully or both. Heyman said often those who cyberbully others start off as the target. When they don’t know how to deal with the painful emotions after being harassed online, they may lash out at others as the only way they know how to cope.

While we know people with disabilities face discrimination both online and off, Heyman was still surprised by what they found in the white paper. “Students with disabilities were almost twice as likely to be victims of cyberbullying. That to me actually was shocking,” Heyman told The Mighty. She continued:

We, as a society and the educational professional community, have acknowledged that social/emotional learning and teaching kids to be kind is an important part of the school experience. So we think that we’re doing that. But this is, I think, a stark reminder of the fact [that] we’re failing, as kids with disabilities are cyberbullied at twice the rate of kids without them. We, as parents, as teachers, really are missing out on a key educational component of our children’s experience.

In addition, Heyman and the foundation’s work highlights the major mental health impact cyberbullying can have on students with disabilities. Students with disabilities targeted by cyberbullying experienced depression more often than non-disabled students: 45% of disabled young people had depression compared to 31% of their peers. Cyberbullying was also connected with suicidal thoughts. Though 23% of students without disabilities said they considered suicide, 38% of students with disabilities reported suicidal thoughts after being cyberbullied.

Heyman noted the cause of mental health issues can’t be directly connected to cyberbullying exclusively, but a correlation between cyberbullying, depression and suicidal thinking can’t be ignored. This was definitely Lehmann’s experience, who said after he was ruthlessly targeted online, his mental health worsened and he considered suicide. And the mean comments online, even though Lehmann has figured out how to focus more on the positive now, still have an impact.

“There have been days when I wake up, and I see my feed and I have a breakdown,” Lehmann said. “Sometimes I have to cancel meetings. Sometimes I just lie in bed all day, because it really hits me hard mentally and emotionally.”

The Ruderman Family Foundation’s report highlights the importance of creating safer spaces online for young people with disabilities, especially because the current conversation about safety hasn’t included people with disabilities despite the Ruderman Family Foundation’s findings they are more likely to be targeted online.

Disability advocate Natalie Weaver, whose daughter Sophia recently died due to complications related to her health, faced frequent cyberbullying because of her daughter’s disabilities. Sophia had Rett syndrome and facial differences and was often the target of abuse online. Weaver advocated for Instagram and other social media platforms to update policies about reporting online abuse to include disability specifically. In 2018, Weaver advocated for a similar update to Twitter’s reporting policies. Thanks to her advocacy work, Twitter did update its harassment reporting guidelines to explicitly include people with disabilities.

“Sadly, people with disabilities are common targets for cyberbullying,” Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, told The Mighty in a statement, adding:

It is our individual and collective responsibility to take actions which ensure that adolescents can increasingly experience the benefits of social media platforms rather than their dangers, and a crucial first step in that process is making the cyberbullying of people with disabilities a greater component of the national conversation on social media activity. That is precisely what our white paper intends to accomplish.

On the flip side, the internet can be an important place for students with disabilities to find support, especially because disabled students may feel alone in their in-person schools and communities. Ruderman’s white paper found 38% of students with disabilities found online platforms an important aspect of social support, compared to 28% of students without disabilities.

The Ruderman Family Foundation, in addition to providing resources for parents and educators to help students with disabilities stay safe online, wants to focus on fostering kindness more broadly. This could include a social media profile badge (similar to the blue verification checkmark) to indicate accounts that consistently treat others on social media with kindness. Another idea to reinforce kindness is a #BullyFree hashtag.

“At the most basic level, it starts with teaching kindness,” Heyman said of proposed interventions. “How cool would it be if every single adolescent ended every single online communication with the hashtag ‘BullyFree’ as a statement of, ‘There’s nothing bullying in this content and I’m proud of that. I’m going to display this hashtag with that’?”

The Ruderman Family Foundation’s white paper continues the organization’s tradition of ensuring people with disabilities are included in every conversation we have in society, from cyberbullying to police violence. For Lehmann, who uses his online presence as an important part of his advocacy work as well, wants other young people to know they aren’t alone and find support — not hate — online.

“I would say sticks and stones may break my bones but words hurt even more,” Lehmann said, adding:

The ignorant and the mean comments actually fueled my fire to become more passionate about spreading awareness. I want everybody in this world to have the liberation of being themselves. I don’t care if you have autism, I don’t care if you’re physically disabled, I don’t care if you have a mental health illness. We all deserve to be ourselves because a huge peace of mind comes with that. And cyber bullying is getting in the way of that and causing a lot of harm on top of it.

 

Autism & Mental Health: When the Two Collide

Distraught man with hood on and facial hair gripping his head with his hands

As April nears its end and May approaches, we segue from Autism Awareness Month to Mental Health Awareness Month. As such, I thought it apropos to briefly discuss these two topics, and how a dual diagnosis of autism and mental illness can have devastating effects on an individual.

My name is Russell Lehmann, and I am a motivational speaker, author and poet. I happen to have autism as well as several mental health diagnoses. In normal times, I travel for work quite frequently.

Oftentimes, to get from the airport to my hotel, I will take an Uber or Lyft. Inevitably, the drivers ask what I am in town for, and when I tell them what I do, they subsequently ask me what I speak about.

I hesitantly say autism and mental health, not because I am embarrassed or ashamed, but because I know what the driver’s response will be: “Oh wow, I would have never guessed YOU have autism! You must be doing very well!” I give a half-smile on the outside, while frustration fills my inside.

Individuals with autism are at a significantly increased rate of having a mental health diagnosis. I have 8 invisible disabilities, and usually, aside from massive public meltdowns that have taken a toll on my well-being, only those closest to me see my struggles.

The driver taking me to my hotel doesn’t see my meltdowns at home where I shake, rock back and forth, screaming at the top of my lungs while cussing and punching myself in the head.

My followers online don’t realize the excruciating thoughts that consume my mind, such as suicidal ideations and disturbing intrusive thoughts stemming from my OCD.

My neighbors aren’t aware that every day is a fight to get out of bed. Sometimes I don’t, and when I do I want to run away from being misunderstood, not fitting in with society and being extremely isolated and lonely.

Very few know of my past hallucinations, because even though I take pride in being extremely transparent and authentic, there is still too much stigma for me to walk around telling people how terrified I was when I was sobbing on my floor while the devil was yelling at me.

I can excel at the extraordinary, but I struggle with the simple. Do not for one minute think I have it “made” due to the nature of my career. I have not “outgrown” or “overcome” autism or my challenges. To be honest, I wouldn’t wish my mind on anyone unless they were readily prepared for it.

Indeed, I have beaten the odds and continue to do so every day due to my tenacity and perseverance, but don’t let that paint a false narrative. I still struggle vehemently, I get severely depressed, I get discouraged with the lack of compassion and understanding in society and I cry almost every other day.

This world is too harsh for me. However, my heart and soul drive me to speak up for others who are not heard, because I know how challenging and hurtful it is to go unnoticed.

Always remember this line I wrote a few months ago, and that I continue to find to be more and more true with each passing day:

“What you do not see is much more important than what you do see”.

Interested in having Russell speak at your event? Contact him below:

Helping Kids on the Autism Spectrum Cope During Coronavirus

Coping with Coronavirus - Autism

Q: How can parents help their kids adjust to the changes in their schedule and routine given school closures and the cancellation of most extracurricular activities?

This is a great opportunity for parents to educate the children that the only constant in life is change. Through a controlled environment such as their home, parents can ask their kids how unexpected change makes them feel and how best to deal with the emotions that change brings up. These practices can then be generalized into the real world.

With most physical activities being canceled, this is also a great time to introduce the arts as a vehicle to promoting emotional integration and intelligence. Whether that be through poetry, painting, music, etc. the arts have been scientifically proven to reduce stress and promote neuroplasticity in the brain.

Q: What should we expect to see in kids regarding increase in anxiety, including meltdowns? 

Individuals on the spectrum generally have increased sensory needs, and during a time such as this those needs may not be met.

Expect an increase in defiant behavior from younger children as well as increased anxiety, depression and perhaps OCD. Always remember, however, that a behavior is a by-product of a past experience and/or emotion. Instead of punishing your children full stop, initiate a dialogue to figure out the why and what behind their actions.

Q: How we can best support children who are experiencing increased anxiety and meltdowns?

The literal definition of the word "compassion" is to "suffer with". Simply be there for them. Listen more than you talk. Give them a hug or a shoulder to cry on. Just by simply being present with your children an increased comfort will be felt throughout the household.

Q: Any ideas for helping kids stay “busy” and engaged in activities they find rewarding and engaging. 

This is a great time to think outside of the box and get creative. Scavenger hunts, board games, dress up, old family videos. Think of what you parents did with you during a rainy day and implement that into your routine.

We keep our kids so busy these days that it is also important to give them time to simply relax and rejuvenate, especially due to the increase in stress this situation is causing.

 

Kobe Bryant advocated for mental health, especially for children

Kobe Bryant Mental Health

Kobe Bryant fought anxiety and obesity with a children's podcast called 'The Punies' and a campaign to keep kids in sports

  • NBA star Kobe Bryant died Sunday, January 26, in a helicopter crash. He was 41 years old. 
  • The sports legend was a vocal advocate for mental health awareness, spoke about his own fears and insecurities, and inspired all athletes, from schoolkids to pros in basketball and beyond.
  • He also worked to improve youth sports participation, with a campaign called "Don't Retire, Kid" that encouraged young people to stay active. 
  • A leadership psychologist told Insider that Bryant was the perfect blend of mentor, encouraging competitiveness but also to acknowledge your role models and pay it forward.

Basketball legend Kobe Bryant, who died January 26 in a helicopter crash at age 41, has been memorialized for his stellar career in sports, including 5 NBA championship wins.

But his legacy also included advocacy and mentorship off the court, offering one-on-one support to teammates, advice for newer athletes, and even inspiration to athletes in other sports. His contributions took many forms, from video campaigns to articles to podcasts.

At a time when children's lack of physical activity is reaching crisis levels, Bryant was a vocal advocate for youth sports participation, helping to launch the "Don't Retire, Kid" campaign to fight against an epidemic of anxiety and physical inactivity pushing children away from athletics.

Bryant also tackled mental health issues, and the rising rates of anxiety, spearheading a children's podcast called "The Punies" to share important life lessons like how to manage anger and fear of not fitting in, how to work with other people on a team, and how to learn from failure.

He also worked with Why We Rise, a campaign from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, on the importance of being open about mental health and reducing the stigma of depression, anxiety and other issues.

Most kids "retire" from sports at 11, but Bryant was determined to change that

Bryant was the lead spokesperson for the Don't Retire, Kid campaign, which he launched with the Aspen Institute in August 2019.

The campaign commissioned research that showed most US children spend just three years playing sports, and poor kids drop out of group activities even earlier — a concern as fewer and fewer kids and adults are getting enough exercise, according to government data.

Working alongside other sports stars (Wayne Gretzky, Sue Bird, Mookie Betts), Bryant advocated for giving children freedom and creativity in sports, and keeping the game fun

"Today's kids are the least active in history and, dropping out of sports at alarming rates," Bryant said in a 2014 interview alongside Bill Clinton.

"I think we tend to overlook the significance coaches have on children – their emotional development, their ability to imagine, dream and hope," Bryant said in a separate interview on the initiative.

Tom Farey, leader of the Aspen Institute's Project Play which launched the campaign, said Bryant's "legendary competitor's mindset" inspired young people in sports to "own their ambition."

He encouraged his fans to open up about their insecurities, because 'ignoring it is the worst thing we can do'

Bryant has also spoken out about the difficulties in discussing mental health. He was upfront about the importance of sharing experiences, and moving beyond the stigma of viewing mental health struggles as "weakness."

"Ignoring it is the worst thing we can do, because then it festers," he said in a video collaboration with Why We Rise.

His podcast, The Punies, also deals with emotional strength and discusses issues important to mental wellbeing, like relying on trusted friends for help and support.

"For younger kids, The Punies is just fun," Bryant said, as reported by Sports Illustrated Kids. "As they get older, we hope they'll start to understand the meanings and messages, and the show will teach them things like perseverance, commitment, hard work, compassion, and empathy. Those are things that sports naturally teach."

Kobe Bryant - Mental Health

A leadership psychologist said Bryant was the perfect blend, teaching kids to be competitive but also acknowledge their role models

According to leadership psychologist Ronald Riggio, Bryant's influence was more than just drive and skill: it was his graciousness. He was not only quick to acknowledge his own role models and people he learned from, but made an effort to pay it forward by mentoring others, Riggio told Insider.

"Clearly Kobe had very, very high self-confidence, or he wouldn't have performed at the level he did, but people can have that and realize they learned from other people," Riggio, who previously wrote about Bryant's retirement, said.

Riggio, an expert in sports psychology, explained that research shows the relationship between sports and leadership skills is complex. Athletics can be great opportunity for young people to learn good leadership skills, he said, but only if they have positive experiences and role models. The wrong kind of sports experience can lead to more selfish behavior, he said.

Bryant's legacy was also complex, including a 2003 accusation of sexual assault followed him through the rest of his career, and he was fined in 2011 for using an anti-gay slur against a referee, both incidents for which he later apologized.

In spite of that, Bryant's exceptional work ethic was uncontested, and part of his hard-earned legacy as a leader on and off the court. Bryant was legendary for early-morning practices and his relentless drive to become better.

"That behavior sets the standard, making people realize how hard he worked to make himself the player he was, and it sets a great example for other players and for kids who want to excel in athletics," Riggio said.

Bryant was a father figure who mentored all players, including his daughter, Gigi

Riggio also noted parallels between leadership and parenting.

Bryant had previous acknowledged that his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna "Gigi" Bryant would carry on his legacy. Tragically, she died in the same helicopter accident.

Riggio said that relationship exemplifies Bryant as both a role model and a parent, even in his last moments.

"It's bittersweet that he was parenting, developing other people, when he died. He was doing what he loved," Riggio said.

You Matter

Russell Lehmann - You Matte and You Are Loved

 

“Do you ever wake up, wishing to stay in bed?

Your head is clouded, you dread the day ahead?”

©Lehmann

I often do, and the best thing I can do for myself is to get up, look in the mirror and say “Russell, you matter”.

Of course, this phrase is much more powerful coming from somebody other than ourselves. So today I just want to simply tell you:

YOU MATTER, YOU ARE LOVED and YOU ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE WITH EACH BREATH YOU TAKE

We don’t hear these words enough. When we have a challenging day, society has conditioned us to wear a mask, and cover up our struggle. We fight through the day in silence, wishing for someone to take our mask off for us and to simply let us know that we’re not alone.

And so I say to you again, no matter who you are, what you’ve been through or what you are going through:

YOU MATTER, YOU ARE LOVED and YOU ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE WITH EACH BREATH YOU TAKE

“It’s okay to let the pain show, to fail…to cry…to be in woe

These plant the seeds that in turn proceed to grow

A fervid force within you, that you would never know

Has the power to bring this world together, bonding in sorrow for a better tomorrow”

©Lehmann

On May 11th I'm heading out to Cambridge to take part in LEAD20 @ MIT (https://lead20mit2019.rudermanfoundation.org) then I’m heading straight to London to present for King’s College.

As always, thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for supporting me and following my journey as I use the lessons learned and insights gained from my painful experiences to help make this world just a little bit better.

If you haven’t checked out my new book yet, find it on Amazon here, and if you have enjoyed reading it, I would greatly appreciate an Amazon review!

Sending Strength & Love,

Russell

 

 

Autism and Mental Health Advocate Releases New Book

Russell Lehmann releases second book chronicling a life with Autism

Rusell Lehmann_MediaPhoto
Reno author and autism activist, Rusell Lehmann, debuts his second book about life on the autism spectrum.

 

(RENO, Nev.) – Author and internationally recognized speaker Russell Lehmann debuted his newest book, “On the Outside Looking In: My Life on the Autism Spectrum,” (Lucky Bat Books, 2019) on Wednesday, March 27, 2019 at Lark & Owl Booksellers in Georgetown, Texas, an Austin suburb.

The event began at 7 p.m. and featured Lehmann reading excerpts from the new book as well as a group conversation about Autism in our society. In addition to purchase availability for the book at Lark & Owl, copies may be purchased on Amazon or at local independent book sellers.

“On the Outside Looking In” is Lehmann’s story of overcoming the odds and achieving immense personal growth. Exposing his vulnerabilities, naiveties and painful personal experiences, Lehmann relays the many lessons learned and insights gained throughout the circumstances in his life. Emotionally powerful stories and intense poetry give a raw and transparent insight into Lehmann’s life on the autism spectrum.

This is Lehmann’s second book. His first book is entitled “Inside Out” and features his gripping and personal poetry.

About Mr. Lehmann:
Russell Lehmann was named a 2018 “Most Outstanding Young Professional” in Reno-Tahoe and has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, NPR, USA Today and numerous other national publications. He is a globally recognized motivational speaker, poet and advocate who happens to have Autism. He is a member of the Nevada Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities and an ambassador for several national Autism programs. He speaks to organizations around the world.