Gain self-awareness of how much information is too much information. If you are experiencing anger, sadness, stress, or hopelessness, then turn off the negativity and find some positivity through upbeat music, positive affirmations, meditation, or self-nurturing of some sort.
As a part of my series about the things we can do to develop serenity and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Hoskins-Tomko of LCSW, Clarity Health Solutions
South Florida clinical psychotherapist Jennifer Hoskins-Tomko, LCSW owns Clarity Health Solutions in Jupiter, Fla. Since earning a Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Maryland Baltimore in 2006, she has been counseling teens, adults, and senior citizens struggling with a wide variety of issues including stress, depression, trauma, grief, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, parenting, marriage, divorce, low motivation, sexuality, domestic violence, addiction, and dissociative identity disorder and is trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). Hoskins-Tomko works with patients one-on-one and supervises multiple support groups, including an online support group specifically for people struggling with the stress of COVID-19.
Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Even as a child, I would often wonder why people behaved the way they did. I didn’t have any answers, but I would ponder the mentality of the person. I was deeply sensitive and therefore, emotionally injured often. I had very low self-esteem, but fortunately, I met the right people who appreciated me.
It wasn’t until I decided to go to college that I realized that I gravitated toward Sociology/Psychology classes. I ended up getting a degree in Sociology, only because I kept taking classes that I loved.
Finally, I was at my graduation ceremony and the Dean of Sociology was chatting with me and she asked, “So what are you going to do now?”. I responded, “What can I do with this degree?”. She suggested I get Licensed as a Social Worker and become a Psychotherapist. I was shocked and immediately enamored with the idea of becoming a therapist. I ended up getting my Masters. Suddenly, everything fell into place for me. This just made sense.
I had had therapy when I was a teen, but now I could help others and this was a life-defining moment. I had already worked on a Trauma unit at Sheppard Pratt Hospital a year prior to this conversation and I loved working there, so this instantly became the only choice for me.
Now I see my sensitivity as my superpower that I have learned to harness and use effectively. I use that superpower to help others on their paths of healthy thinking.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
1) After I was working as a clinician for a while, I started taking my own advice and I realized, “Wow, this stuff really does work!” Now, I do my best to practice what I preach and then have a therapeutic lens when I slip up, so I can grow from the mistake.
2) During my training in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), I thought I had resolved much of my own baggage (we all have some), but used the experiential training to heal from past trauma that I didn’t know I had.
For my clients:
1) I love working with trauma because the transition from victim to survivor usually happens quickly for a motivated client. Also, during this process, the client takes on a whole new and improved identity which I find inspiring and beautiful. It’s rewarding to be a part of this process from feeling powerless to empowered.
2) The first time I ever worked (I was very new in the field) with a genuine Psychopath. I was working with someone who was incapable of empathy. It was a teen who knew she was different than everyone, so we were learning what psychopathy was together. She was wondering why she had no regard for other people’s feelings and wanted to understand herself more.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Balance!!! We need to self-monitor what our limitations are and how much we can handle to avoid depletion. What are our required basic needs? Purpose, accomplishment, and connectivity are the minimum. Some of us need intellectual stimuli, spirituality, or humor. Decide what your needs are and be sure to put each of those things in your day.
Also, teach ourselves to be empathetic without absorbing the client’s pain. My clients can feel that I genuinely care, but they also trust that I can handle hearing their pain. Clients don’t want to harm us, so we need to remain healthy to give them a place to unload. We are there to guide others through their challenges, not take them on ourselves. We will not be effective clinicians if we cannot maintain our balance.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
I want my colleagues to feel safe in talking with me about ideas. I don’t have to agree with them, but I will listen and consider the ideas that come to me. I often check my ego to be sure I am always coming from a pure place when I set limits. I also want people to brainstorm on how to improve our care for our clients. I need to have space where colleagues feel safe to express themselves, so they feel safe to seek advice about how to best help our clients. This trickles down to ultimately benefit the client, which is the goal.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Non-Fiction: Anything Brené Brown. She is truly amazing. She talks about shame and vulnerability. I interweave her general philosophy with the work of Francine Shapiro who is the go-to person for EMDR. Negative beliefs, shame, and vulnerability are all interconnected. This explains many of our behaviors and helps us understand the dynamics between people. Paired with EMDR techniques equals magical work.
Fiction: “White Oleander” is one of the first books I read that made me understand how important attachment is and how challenges around instability in the home affect a young person.
“Educated” is a recent read that several clients recommended to me and one even sent it in the mail to be sure I read it. It was wonderful to read the raw details of a girl who had multiple traumatic events and managed to rise up and create a new life for herself. Very inspiring!
I suggest the “Silver Linings Playbook” for information about Bipolar Disorder in a movie.
The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious just from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to develop serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each?
This is a big issue. I have noticed a stronger response to the political uncertainty with my retirees than with my younger population. The fears related to the coronavirus are universal in my adult population. I suggest to clients to remain self-aware of what their own responses are to the news. Some people may be triggered after one segment and others may not be triggered at all. It is important to be aware of your own tolerance to the information. It is also extremely important that we stay informed, so I am not suggesting putting your head in the sand, just to be self-managing your own moods.
1) Gain self-awareness of how much information is too much information. If you are experiencing anger, sadness, stress, or hopelessness, then turn off the negativity and find some positivity through upbeat music, positive affirmations, meditation, or self-nurturing of some sort.
2) Quarantine does NOT mean isolation. Social distancing is the goal. We NEED connection to others. If we are spending excessive amounts of time in bed or alone, this is dangerous for our mental health. We have dopamine rushes when we share experiences with others. Use video sessions. Passover and Easter are coming and I have some clients connecting on a group video session to gather as a family. Join a group therapy session or talk to your therapist. Play games online with a loved one.
3) Maintain a sense of purpose. For many of us, work provides a sense of purpose, but if we aren’t going to work, then what? We need to make a conscious effort to find purpose in our days. I have heard clients recently state, “I didn’t do much today, what’s the point in even getting out of my pajamas?”. The new purpose may be teaching ourselves self-discipline, reorganizing the closets to create more order, maximizing the time off, and crafting or doing things that we may have been putting off. It is time to write that book you’ve been saying you wanted to write. I have one client who loves to dance and she has time off right now. I gave her the homework assignment of choreographing a dance to an empowering song. The point is to dig deep to find out what makes you feel good…and do it!
4) Productivity/accomplishment: We NEED a sense of accomplishment to be able to thrive. No matter how small the accomplishment is, it matters. Make your bed, take a shower, and brush your teeth. Be sure to give yourself a little praise for small accomplishments. There isn’t an opportunity to get feedback from peers, so we need to give it to ourselves. Whatever you choose to do with your day that is productive, give yourself credit for the self-discipline you gave yourself. Be sure to do something that your future self will thank you for.
5) Create a schedule: A schedule is usually set for us, but now we get to make our own. We underestimate the necessity of having a schedule. It keeps us grounded and focused on tasks, leading us to feel productive. People are waking up in the morning and asking themselves, “Okay, now what do I do for the next 16 hours?”. The abundance of time begins to feel like a vast abyss. This often leads to feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, and boredom. Then, we start to look at our behaviors and question ourselves. Once we go into this phase, we will begin only to see our weaknesses. This then starts the downward spiral of negative thinking and once this starts, it’s hard to come back to healthy thinking. Let’s try to avoid getting to this point by using these tips.
From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
1) List your basic needs for mental stability each day. I feel most people need purpose, productivity, and people. Find what else you need and be sure to implement them every day. Exercise, learning, spirituality, physical self-care, humor, an update on news, etc.
2) Write out a schedule. Some people will benefit from a strict schedule of every 15 minutes being mapped out for themselves, while other people are okay with a more flexible schedule. Pay attention to how you function best and keep modifying it.
3) Do what is healthy, not what you feel like doing. Part of a normal schedule often involves us doing things we don’t want to do, such as going to work or doing laundry. This is not the time to be indulgent on just going with the flow of our emotions. We need to maintain control of our emotions by sticking with the things that make us feel healthy. For example, “I don’t feel like exercising today.” You may have pushed yourself to exercise when you had a schedule, but now it seems like it’s optional. We cannot do this to ourselves. Then we are at the end of our day feeling bad about ourselves for not accomplishing anything. By the way, once in a while, it is okay to have a lazy day, but then we need to get back on a schedule of some kind.
4) Live intentionally by watching for excuses. My gym is closed. I can’t get into the library for a book. I can’t write that book because my computer is broken. Answers: Look up at-home workouts. Download a book or listen to a book on tape. To write that book, kick it back old school and use a pencil and paper. We do this to ourselves all the time because productivity takes effort. Laziness begets laziness. We are going to have a bigger adjustment when we return to normal if we don’t maintain some sort of consistency now.
5) Fuel yourself with goodness. It’s easy to fall into a slump. Put the effort into feeling good. Some ways to do this is by creating gratitude lists. Ask the people in your life three things they liked about their day. At the dinner table, have everyone say one thing each person likes about all the others. Play games or accomplish a long-awaited chore.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
Use Youtube to learn EFT (Tapping Technique) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=085w1xlrGnU
Listen to a guided meditation such as https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_4B2HGwh1A
Connect with other people who are struggling and need someone to talk to, https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline
To help others through this time or to get help you can go to 7cups.com.
In Florida, you can contact 211 just to chat with someone who cares.
National Suicide Hotline is 1–800–273–8255.
Find a virtual support group. For Florida residents, you can contact clarityhealthfl.com/covidgroups.
Watch Funny videos/memes, standup comedians on Netflix.
Contact your therapist for a telehealth session.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” ―Carlos Castaneda
I love this quote because it reminds me that my happiness requires effort and that I have a choice. I think of this every day. It inspires my own quote, “If I am going to make assumptions, I may as well assume the best.” For example, if I find myself assuming a particular person may be talking about me, I just assume the best in that person. I am unlikely to ever know the truth, so I may as well assume the best. This doesn’t mean I remain naive. I can protect myself while assuming the best in people. It makes me feel better, so that’s part of the effort I put into my own happiness.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Grow with Clarity. Rid ourselves of the pollutants (negative thoughts) that cloud our thoughts, decisions, and feelings.
This includes redefining former beliefs on forgiveness, acceptance, non-judgment, purpose, and gratitude to help us be kinder to ourselves and others. As children, we are taught the meaning of these words, but as we get older the meanings become more sophisticated. However, we are not taught the revised definitions. For example, forgiveness is NOT a get out of jail free card, it is a form of letting go of other people’s baggage so we can learn from those and protect ourselves from future vulnerabilities that person may create in us.
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