By Dr. Shelly Broder
I was in a seminar in May with two psychoanalysts who talked about how to help our patients who are health-care workers or other essential workers. These analysts have volunteered with the Red Cross in crises all over the world (Sri Lanka after the tsunami, Haiti after the earthquake, Ground Zero on 9/11 and after, and more) and shared their experience with us on how to help those in the midst of a crisis. But in contrast to a single impact crisis, such as a hurricane, COVID-19 is a disaster—an ongoing crisis. Not one impact, but a daily impact.
Everyone has their own “stress barrier”: the individual tolerance of stress until there’s a crack, the stress breaks through and then overwhelms. There are health-care workers who are able to work under tremendous stress and maintain equilibrium. Others have more difficulty. There is no right or wrong, better or worse. It is individual. But when stress leaks through to the point of overwhelming, functioning becomes impossible, sometimes evident in the “stare” of emptiness when feelings have had to be blocked too long in order to continue.
It’s important to acknowledge and respect our individual stress barrier. We are not all alike in our temperament, constitution or history of trauma. At times, specific events may consciously or unconsciously remind us of familiar feelings of loss or fear. A typical example is beginning to feel low around the time a loved one had died. Similarly, living in a pandemic has specific meaning for each of us. For example, as the child of a parent who survived the Holocaust, I consciously titrate my exposure to the disturbing news and try not to listen to the occupier of the White House (think “occupation”). So every morning when I get headlines on my phone, I read only some articles. During the day I “see” patients (via video or phone), go for a walk, listen to “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series”, and think about what I’m going to cook and bake next. In the evening, after listening to some MSNBC with my husband, I try to catch a couple of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episodes. I’m grateful that I’m able to structure my day. My dear friend Andi has found The Insider, an outlet for her love of writing, feeding the hearts of friends while using her fine mind (Jeffrey Sachs isn’t the only one with brains in that family!).
With patients, I explore what the current situation brings up for them, but gauge their level of either denial or obsession with the news. The paradox of psychoanalysis is that we unpack fantasies in order to deal with reality. In that way, each person can better understand their stress tolerance, respect it and do what they need to do to stay mentally healthy in the midst of a true catastrophe.
Keeping one’s stress barrier in mind, I suggest evaluating your own exposure to the news. Personally, I find great therapeutic pleasure in cooking and baking. I have an ongoing grocery list. It’s just my thing. It is a certain activity in an uncertain world. You know that you will end up with something satisfying, even if the news isn’t. I’ve been so impressed with my baking and cooking that I’ve been keeping a bit of a photo diary to show off. My husband, who used to make a weekly trip to the Jewish bakery, is very happy, too.
Poppy Seed Strip – Just like downtown
Chocolate Babka – Fudgy! The real deal
Polenta Bread French Toast
Using the polenta bread above, beat vanilla and orange zest with eggs and milk. Yes, I cooked them in butter. Serve with real maple syrup.
Plain Roast Chicken on Homemade Polenta Bread
(Absorbs the juices-like stuffing-OMG!) Use polenta bread above. I seasoned the chicken like my grandma used to: salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder (My grandma used onion powder.)
Sweet and Sour Stuffed Cabbage
Ina Garten’s wonderful recipe reminds me of my dad’s very Eastern European taste. I used ground white and dark turkey meat:
Ina Garten’s Lemon Yogurt Cake
(I used fat free yogurt with a bit of half-and-half)
Rosemary, Olive Oil and Orange Cake
Roast Chicken with Clementines and Arak
Ottolenghi’s most delectable chicken dish ever. I sprung for a bottle of Pernod to get the fennel flavor instead of Arak. Cooked fennel with orange is the best. Ina does it with salmon.
My Beet Apple Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette
I modified a fresh beet and apple salad using roasted beets, beet greens, 4 celery stalks, a large honeycrisp apple, ¼ cup chopped red onions, a tablespoon of good balsamic and a citrus vinaigrette. I had leftover pomegranate molasses vinaigrette that I used.. Add toasted walnuts and/or feta if you want.
Instant Pot Pulled Chicken
2 lbs skinned, boneless chicken breasts
3/4 oz chili seasoning packet (Trader Joe’s Taco Seasoning
1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle chili powder
1/2 cup favorite BBQ Sauce
1/4 cup water
1. Mix seasonings, BBQ sauce and water in the pot. Place chicken breasts in pot, “skin” side down.
2. Seal the lid for pressure cooking. Hit the “MEAT/STEW” mode and set at “MORE” (highest setting) for 15 minutes. Allow pressure to release naturally.
3. Remove chicken and with two forks, pull into shreds. Coat with about 1 cup of sauce from pot. Can reduce the rest of sauce with the Saute on “Less” function. Serve on the side.
4. Serve as a sandwich on buns or in warmed corn tortilla with BBQ Slaw* and extra sauce from pot.
*BBQ Slaw: ½ green cabbage, ½ red cabbage and a shredded carrot. Slice cabbages in long thin strings. Dress with mixture of ⅓ to ½ cup favorite BBQ Sauce, ⅓ to ½ cup mayo, 2 to 4 tablespoons cider vinegar. The volume of the cabbage will reduce after coated with dressing.
Rochelle M. Broder, Ph.D., a native Detroiter, is a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Royal Oak, Michigan. She is a high school friend of the editor, Andrea Sachs.