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Hotline Roundup: Your Questions. Answered.    

Hotline Roundup: Your Questions. Answered.

By Meadowlark Monahagn

We created The Local Optimist Hotline as a way to hear about the issues you’re experiencing and to provide real answers from a real person. While the Hotline is a great way to connect one-on-one, many of the topics that are discussed there may also help others. That’s why we created the Hotline Roundup.

In each column, Meadow, our Mental Health Lead, will address questions she’s received from multiple people, not one particular individual. This helps highlight the common threads running through many of our mental health issues. The language and names have all been changed to maintain the confidentiality of our users. 

If you have questions for the Hotline, make sure to send them to us here.

I can’t seem to focus on anything. I’m tired of just sitting on a computer all day. I’m stressed and I have so much on my to-do list but can’t seem to just sit down and do it. Do you have any focus or stress management techniques? 

One of your favorites (Yes, yours. Many Hotline texters swear by it) is the Pomodoro Technique or Time Blocking. The time management technique, which is named after old tomato timers, involves setting a timer, working in intervals, and taking short breaks between tasks. One approach is to work in 25-minute batches with five-minute breaks. I like to mix it up a bit and give myself a set amount of time per task on my to-do list. The goal is to eliminate distractions—these tech hacks can help—so that when that timer starts, you work on nothing but the task at hand because you know that you only have a small window to complete it.

Another strategy is to schedule productive worry time. Literally, put it on your calendar. Give yourself 20 minutes, pull out your journal, and write down your worries about each swirling thought. But make a promise to yourself that when that timer goes off, that’s it. It’s time to move on.

I’m lonely. I’m trying to be smart about Covid while many of my friends aren’t, and it’s leaving me feeling alone and isolated. 

First and foremost, feel the loneliness. It’s okay to feel emotions, even the ones deemed “bad” or “unpleasurable.” That’s also the first step in letting those emotions go. If you text the Hotline often, you’ll frequently hear me saying, “Feel through it,” because accepting the emotion and giving it space to express itself is the easiest (and arguably quickest) way to get to the other side.

Then ask questions! It’s not a bad thing to get familiar with your loneliness. Are you lonely because you are alone? Or are you lonely even within lasting relationships? Are you being vulnerable in your relationships? What do love and support look like for you? How do you show that to others? Journal all of this out. And remind yourself that this experience is only temporary. Getting a better understanding of how you feel won’t make the feeling more pronounced, it will give you a greater understanding of yourself. 

Finally, explore your loneliness. Look for some new communities that feel more impactful or nourishing to you (to get started, check out The Conversationalist or watch this video on loneliness) or make more meaningful connections within relationships you already have (try playing We’re Not Really Strangers). 

I’m on the computer so much all day that I get lost in my thoughts and can’t stay present. I feel like I’m just living digitally, not in real life. My brain feels as cluttered and chaotic as my 25 tabs I have open. What can I do? 

Listen, a chatty inner dialogue is something I know a thing or two about. 

Allow me to let you in on a secret that doesn’t seem to have spread far beyond psychologists: It takes conscious effort to tell your mind to stop thinking negative thoughts. That’s why there are so many great cognitive behavioral therapy exercises around that. You don’t just wake up and become confident one day, with zero self-doubts or cares in the world. Confident people have developed the skill over time of not entertaining self-doubt when it enters their minds. They simply say “nope” and move on. 

In that same way, you have to make a conscious effort to declutter your mind. To gain more focus, try asking yourself these questions: What are you looking at? What are you listening to? What are your thoughts like? What do you hear within your own mind? This will allow you to engage with your day more mindfully. Remember that this is a process. It starts slow and becomes easier the more you do it. Having some system of accountability, whether it’s journaling or checking in with a therapist, is a very helpful way to stay on track.

Keep the conversation going by commenting on this story below. You can also connect with us about whatever’s on your mind by texting The Local Optimist Hotline at 310.299.9414.