How To Revolutionize Your Self Care...just in time for 2019!

It is that time of year again…..Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and now 2019 is staring at us!  So much hustle and bustle and stress.  We are all bombarded by pressures to cook large meals, bake cookies, attend all the parties and holiday activities, decorate our homes, and purchase and give the perfect gift for everyone including donations to charities. Of course, we also are expected to maintain daily functioning of our lives such as working, caring for family, and the all too familiar paying the mounting bills.  If this all seems overwhelming, well, it is!  Our lives are busy during “normal” times of the year let alone a time of the year that has so many celebrated holidays in a 2-month time period. Please don’t get me wrong- I love all the festivities and excitement of this time of the year, but failure to set boundaries and limitations will lead to burnout and wishing the holidays would just be over instead of celebrating the joys of the season with our friends and loved ones.  

We cannot forget that this time of the year is also very hard and challenging for those who are not feeling the excitement of the season whether it is due to struggling with addiction, mental health symptoms, incarceration, financial strains, or grief and loss.  It is hard to be cheery when such sadness and stress is affecting us so deeply.  Often people will say “this is a wonderful time of the year, you should be happy”. True, it is a wonderful time of the year, but it also brings out much sadness and anxiety.  For those of us who are facing our first or umpteenth holiday without our loved ones for whatever reason, we are faced with the question, “how do I get through the holidays?”  Sadly, there is not an answer to that question.  Many people offer platitudes such as “your loved one would want you happy” or “they are in a better place”.  Be that as it may, it doesn’t change the fact of the sadness and loss facing us.  I have learned through the years that we honor those we’ve lost by continuing some traditions and creating new ones.  We still grieve and miss our loved ones, but we can also again enjoy the holidays. The holidays will never be the same, but we will learn to “survive” the holidays.

There is one major way to get through the holidays and every other day of our lives-good self-care!  Sounds simple, right?  If it was only as simple as it sounds, then we would all be “experts” at good self-care. What is good self-care?  That is the million dollar question.  I am sure many of us have some ideas about what good self-care is such as eating healthy and balanced meals and getting enough sleep. That certainly is a part of good self-care.  However, self-care encompasses several aspects of our lives including spiritual, physical, and emotional health.  Now this adds some depth to what good self-care is.  I know, I am repeating “good self-care” but perhaps if it is said enough, all of us, including myself, will pay more attention to it and focus on it more. We must have good self-care to live fulfilling lives and to be able to care for others. We must gain a better understanding of how to take care of ourselves.  Some suggestions include the following:

1.      Just say no: Yes, it sounds like the anti-drug commercials in the 1980’s ,but it is true.  It is ok to say no, and we should do so more often.  For example, it is Saturday evening and a friend calls and asks you to help them move on Sunday, I am sure many of us would want to help despite being tired or having other plans.  If we say yes, we face resentments and frustrations of having to change our plans at last minute.  To say no often leads to feelings of guilt.  Why do we feel guilty for saying no?  Good question and the answer is, there is no reason to feel guilty for saying no when that is what we want to say!  In case you forgot, we also wrote about saying no in this blog post.

2.      Stop comparing yourself to others:  Again, easier said than done!  We all have compared ourselves to others and have been groomed to do so in all areas of our lives….salary, education, relationship status, etc.  So instead of comparing ourselves with others, focus instead on our growth and positive changes that we have made within ourselves.

3.     Make good self-care activities a priority daily:  Practicing good self-care is not something you do once a week or once a month as a reward for hard work. Rather, it is a must to do daily. Some examples include taking a lunch break away from work, eat ing balanced meals, and getting enough fulfilling sleep each day.

I am challenging each and everyone of us to 14 days of self-care activities and I encourage you to continue to do them well past 14 days!  Some suggestions include:

Day 1:  Look in the mirror and say 10 things you like about yourself.  This may be challenging at first but keep practicing and it will become easier to do.

Day 2:  Go to the zoo.   Enjoy nature and seeing the awe of children.

Day 3:  Read a book or at least a chapter of a book.  Chicken Soup for the SoulBooks are great for those who do not like to read long books but prefer stories and as a bonus, they are very warming and motivating.

Day 4:  Stay off all social media…yes you can do it and I am sure you will enjoy it more than you realize.

Day 5:  Make a snow angel and if there isn’t snow, find a puddle and jump in it.  Let your inner child out.  

Day 6:  Call a friend that you haven’t talked to in a long time and I mean call, not text or email.  We have gotten too far away from direct contact.

Day 7:  Listen to soothing music. I love to listen to Orla Fallon or Chicago, but you will find what you like best.

Day 8:  Find and do a new hobby. Perhaps arranging flowers is something you will enjoy or maybe a game of flag football is more your style but the point is, just do it!

Day 9:  Sit still, even for 15 minutes and focus on nothing but breathing in and out. 

Day 10:  Laugh!  Whatever you need to do to get a good laugh, do it. Laughter is so very therapeutic!

Day 11:  Cuddle with your pet. Ok, some of us do this daily which is great, so for those of us who do this routinely, add an additional 30 minutes of doing so.  Nothing quite as calming as that of a purr of a cat, at least to me that is.

Day 12:  Do some volunteer work. Helping others in need and seeing their joy is one of the most rewarding things in life.

Day 13:  Dress up to just dress up and to feel good.  

Day 14:  Take time for a long soothing shower or bath.  It alleviates aches and is quiet time.  Sing in the shower if you choose, but just do it!

What are some of your self-care activities?  We would love to hear your ideas and experiences.

An Easy Way To Practice Gratitude Daily

In honor of Thanksgiving later this week, I’d like to address the topic of gratitude by reminding you of a previous blog post. This blog post from earlier this year addresses the idea of keeping a daily gratitude journal as a way to help you stay focused on what is going well in your life. This is a technique I often mention to my clients, because it can help shift your thinking. It’s just so easy and powerful, it’s worth revisiting, especially since it’s Thanksgiving time. If you’ve been keeping a gratitude journal since I first mentioned it, I’d love to hear how it’s going for you. If you have never heard of this idea before and want to learn more, read on!

Click here to read the blog.

And, to put this into practice……please comment to share with us one thing you grateful for this Thanksgiving.

4 Tips To Be A More Assertive Communicator

Do you feel like you overcommit to doing things?  Do you feel like you are always giving to others but are worn out by it?  Do you feel like others take advantage of you and your kindness? 

If you said yes to any of these questions, you might struggle with assertive communication. Oftentimes, we think we should help out anyone who asks, and say “yes” to doing anything asked of us.  We might feel guilty if we don’t help out. But, if we don’t have good self care and balance, though, this overcommitting can wear us down. 

Being assertive means standing up for yourself, your needs and your wants.  It means possibly setting limits with others-outlining for them how they can (and can’t) treat you or what they can (and can’t) expect of you.   

Even if you aren’t naturally assertive, you can learn some skills! Here are some 4 suggestions of things to think about and try to be a more assertive communicator: 

  1. How do you feel? : Paying attention to how you feel is the first step of all of these suggestions.  Do you feel stressed?  Overwhelmed?  Do you feel others really care for you and show you concern?  Journaling is a great tool to help you to recognize your feelings, and patterns with how you feel in certain situations or with certain people.  

  2. Communicate : After you know how you feel, you can express those feelings to others.  Clearly state how you feel, and/or what you need from the other person, especially when you are feeling upset.  Saying “I feel you aren’t listening to me” is a better option than walking away, feeling as if what you say doesn’t matter to your partner or friend.  Repressing your feelings is the tendency to not share your feelings, and this can harm you in the long run.  Saying something is usually better than holding those feelings inside. 

  3. Say “no” : Practice saying no, starting in situations where you don’t feel obligated to help.  Things like your child’s preschool asking for a volunteer on a day where you already have a doctor’s appointment, or participating in the neighborhood yard sale might be situations where it may be easier to say “no”.  Notice how you feel after you say “no”.  There might be feelings of guilt or disappointment, but there also might be feelings of relief and pride.  After you have had practice saying “no” in a variety of situations, then challenge yourself to say “no” to things you don’t REALLY want to do.  Remind yourself it is not your responsibility to help out everyone all the time, even if they try to make you feel like it is. 

  4. Ask for help : Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance yourself.  Let those in your life know if you need help getting both kids to their sports practices at the same time on the same night, or if you are working late, ask your partner to start dinner.  Being able to admit that you could use some help to lighten your load is a key in being an assertive communicator. 

Hopefully these tips can get you started in thinking through the things you commit to doing, and why, and will help you to be more assertive in the long run.  If you’ve tried these suggestions, let us know how it is going for you! 

8 Tips to Create a Strong Blended Family

In my 6+ years of step-parenting in a blended family, I have learned that it can be one of the most difficult things, but also one of the most rewarding and loving things. It has been a journey for me, of challenging moments, and rewarding moments. I know there are many other blended families that are struggling with the same stress, the same frustration, but looking for the same rewarding relationships in the end. 

Let’s cover the basics:

A blended family is any family that consists of a couple and their children from previous relationships. 

-       1 out of every 3 Americans is either a step-parent, a step-child, or has some other form of a blended family in some way, which means almost 100 million people.

-       It is estimated that in the US, 2,100 new blended families form everyday.

So, blended families are very common. They can be very difficult on all of the family members, but putting in the work and effort is worth it, to create a solid family foundation. It can take several years, or more, for a family to find a way that is comfortable for everyone.  It is important to remember that the relationships formed within a blended family are can be REWARDING, and what is what you are working towards.

8 Tips to Create a Strong Blended Family:

1- Communication: Open communication between all family members is key. It is important to always express how you feel to your spouse, and to others at times that you want to speak with someone outside of the blended family. It’s important to keep communication open with the children involved, and to encourage them to express their feelings and seek help when needed. Everyone involved in a blended family should have someone they can talk to, to process through bumps and obstacles along the way. (Not sure if therapy is right for you? Check out this blog which addresses that question.)

2- One on One time:  It is important to make time to be alone with the children, to work on building an individual relationship.  It is also important to set aside time for the couple involved, without children, to maintain a solid relationship between the adults in the family.

3. Support through Transitions: Support the children in their transitions if there is a custody schedule- it is hard constantly moving back and forth between houses! They need a double set of everything at each house, or need to constantly be packing and unpacking a bag. This can make them feel very unstable in their life. Make sure they have someone to talk to about these transitions, and stay positive and respectful when talking to your child about the other house. Try to offer as much stability as you can.

4. Family activities: Find activities that everyone can do together. It is important to find activities that everyone enjoys, to work on building a family unit. Some examples of this would be to go on a hike, or to play at the playground, or have a picnic in your backyard. 

5. Respect: It is important to keep an open-mind and an open heart, and understand that this is difficult for the children too. They did not ask for their biological parents to separate, or even have a conflictual relationship. Always speak of the other parent with respect- the child does not want to hear negative statements about their parent.

6. Consistency: It is important to stay consistent with your spouse, with the children, and with your beliefs and values, because all children, thrive off of structure, routine, and consistency. This is another time that constant communication with your spouse is key, so that there is consistency and structure in the household, now that two families are coming together. 

7. It’s ok that it’s hard!: It is important to acknowledge that being a stepparent or a blended family is HARD and you are doing the best that you can. There will be hard times, there will be tension at times, there will be times of crying and disagreement, BUT YOU WILL WORK THROUGH IT.

8. Self care: It is important to know that even the most dedicated (step)parent can get exhausted, overwhelmed, and on the way to burn-out. This DOES NOT mean that you are not doing a good job, or that you can’t fulfill the shoes of being a (step)parent, it just means you need a break, some “me time”, to blow off some steam and feel connected with others. 

Does the stress of (step)parenting sometimes push you to the edge? What has worked for you to help the family work together and find a good mix, or to help you recharge?

 

SOURCES:

https://brandongaille.com/20-noteworthy-statistics-of-blended-families/

https://www.handinhandparenting.org/article/step-parenting-blended-families/

When is the last time you were bored? 

Please watch this TED talk! Spare 15 minutes and then come back for some thoughts on it….

How are you filling the cracks in your day?  Instead of daydreaming while waiting for your latte, we now tend to update our social media platform, and “check in” at the coffee shop, so others know what we’re doing. 

I wanted to share this TED talk with you on boredom and the link to creativity.  This is a topic that comes up in sessions with clients: either the client is worried about their smartphone use, or we talk through how to set limits for their teen’s smartphone use.  This short TED talk by a journalist who consulted with researchers addresses our attention, smartphone use as a society, and allowing ourselves to have time where we are bored and allowing our minds to wonder.   

Our brains are not designed to multi-task.  What we are really doing is shifting our attention back and forth, using glucose and depleting neural resources each time.   There are a million things vying for our attention, and with smartphones, there are now thousands of engineers and designers all trying to capture and hold our attention.  And, with marketing endeavors, trying to monetize our attention. 

Now that smartphones are an integral part of our lives, on average, we pick them up 60 times a day (to see if we got an email or text), and spend more than 2 hours daily on them.  We use them to navigate somewhere while driving, or to check the weather to see when it’s going to rain.  We access the internet to look up the score of the game, or call to order a pizza.  But, we also have many social media apps and spend time socializing that way with others.  Zomorodi talks about a study she did with her listeners called “Bored and Brilliant”.  Watch the TED talk for details of the study and the results!  

Her final thoughts suggest asking yourself, “What am I really looking for?....  But if it’s to distract yourself from doing the hard work that comes with deeper thinking, take a break and stare out the window.  And, know that by doing nothing, you are actually being your most productive and creative self.” 

After you watch the talk, please share with us your thoughts.  And, share with us how else you spend the cracks in YOUR day?   

How Physical Exercise Benefits Your Mental Health

Are you experiencing…

-Headaches?

-Tense muscles?

- Depression?

- Weight gain and decreased metabolism?

- Blood pressure problems?

- Hair loss?

-Being sick a lot?

-Stomach aches?

-Trouble sleeping?

-Lowered sex drive?

-Jaw pain?

Stress is a part of everyday life. There are many ways to cope with stress, but exercise is an important part of coping. Besides improving your overall health, exercise helps us have more energy, improve alertness and the ability to concentrate, and increase our thought processing. These things can be very helpful when stress has made it difficult to concentrate, or zapped your energy. It has been found that regular exercise will decrease levels of stress, help to increase mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem.

Exercise produces hormones called endorphins, which act as natural painkillers, and also help with sleep, which can in turn, reduce stress. Exercise also decreases stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline.

We often suggest meditation as a way to cope with anxiety and depression. Meditation is the practice of focusing on one thought or movement and clearing your mind to an emotional state of calmness. This allows you to free your mind of all negative thoughts and stressors in the past and future, and only focus on the present thought or movement. Exercise acts as meditation in movement, as you focus on your body movements. When you exercise, you focus on your movements, your breath, and how your body feels. Your attention is taken away from the stressful events of the day, and focused on the present moment. You are able to detach from the negative thoughts or events of that day. Learning how to focus on a single task, added to the energy that exercise gives you, may help you remain calm in everything that you do. Even 5 minutes can stimulate anti-anxiety effects. You don’t have to be an athlete or in top shape, to add a little bit of exercise to your daily routine.

Along with an improved self-image and self-esteem, exercise will improve your physical health. All of these things will improve your overall mental health and happiness. 

There are many excuses one can make to not start an exercise program. When I had my son, I knew I wanted to get back into exercise as soon as I could, but it was hard to find the time and energy. I felt like I did not have enough time to take care of myself, because I had a newborn to take care of that took up all my time and energy. Once I was able to commit to exercise when he was napping, or after he went to bed at night, or while a family member watched him, I was able to care for him better because I was not as stressed and my mood was elevated. 

5 Tips On Beginning An Exercise Program:

1. Decide to make an important change in your life. Don’t be afraid!

2. Consult with your doctor, if there are any health concerns or if it has been a long time since you have been physical

3. Walk before you run- start your program slowly if you are new to it, to prevent yourself from injury

4. Do what you love-it is important to find an activity that you enjoy. Some examples are running, walking, swimming, playing a sport, yoga, weightlifting, boxing. Try new things!

5. Set achievable goals and put it in your calendar- set measurable goals that you can achieve, and pencil it in your calendar so you make sure you have time to fit it in that week. Even if you have to break up 30 minutes of walking into 3 10-minute walks, still do it! Find a friend or a trainer if this helps you to stay motivated and accountable.

Anybody have experience with exercise benefiting their mental health and overall happiness? Anyone have struggles that they overcame to stick with an exercise program? Please share your stories! 

 

Guest Blog Post by:

Stacy Martinez, LCSW

Certified Personal Trainer

Certified Health coach

Field Hockey coach

 

Sources:

https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469

https://blog.spire.io/2018/03/19/how-does-exercise-reduce-stress/

https://www.activebeat.com/your-health/10-ways-stress-can-affect-physical-health/10/

What to Expect in your Initial Therapy Appointment

(Today’s blog is the final installment in a 3-Part series regarding starting therapy. Part 1 focused on questions to ask yourself or situations that might make you want to consider therapy.  Part 2 addressed ways to find a therapist to work with, and Part 3 will focus on what to expect in your initial therapy appointment. If you missed either earlier post, click here to catch up!) 

Now that you’ve decided you want to start therapy, and you have selected a therapist to work with, what comes next? 

The therapist should give you a heads up as far as what the next step is after you schedule your first appointment.  Each therapist might do things slightly differently, so don’t be afraid to ask if you are not quite sure what to expect.  Some might have you come in 30-60 minutes prior to your first appointment to fill out paperwork. Some, like our practice, use electronic health records, and would ask you for an email address to send you access to a secure client portal.  In this case, you can view and fill out the paperwork at home, and electronically sign it.  Either way you complete the paperwork, expect to read about the practice’s policies and procedures, how they handle your confidential information, consent to treatment, and fill out some background information as far was why you are looking to start therapy.  This paperwork would outline things like if the practice allows interns or non-licensed therapist, if they accept insurances or their self-pay rates, if they use encrypted email and phone systems, and what their cancellation policies are.  It might seem boring, but we would suggest reading through all of this information, since at the end of the documents, you are going to sign your understanding and agreement with it.   

Each practice might handle insurance differently too.  Some practices do not accept insurance at all, and allow you to submit your self-payment to your insurance for possible out of network reimbursement.  Some expect you to verify your coverage with your insurance provider. Others, like our practice, will ask for your insurance information and will verify your benefits prior to the initial appointment.  Either way, you can follow up with your insurance provider to clarify your coverage or talk with your therapist about what your coverage might mean.  Feel free to ask questions about your benefits, as insurance is often confusing!

The initial appointment is called an intake.  In this session, the focus will be a little more administrative than future sessions.  You will probably review the documents you signed and ask any questions about them that might have come up.  Your therapist may have you complete more specific assessments (regarding anxiety or depression symptoms, for example) to gather more information.  Then, you will probably start to talk about what is bringing you into therapy, what your goals are for your sessions, and how you will know when you’ve reached those goals.  If you are using insurance, please realize that your therapist will need to make a mental health diagnosis in order for your insurance to cover your sessions.  An example of a diagnosis is anything from ADHD to Unspecified Depressive Disorder.  The background information will give your therapist information in order to make an accurate diagnosis.  Beyond a code to bill to your insurance, the diagnosis can mean very little, so don’t get too hung up on it.  Focus on your goals for therapy and what benefit you want to see rather than what your diagnosis is.  Or, talk to your therapist if the diagnosis bothers you or you have questions about it. 

Your therapist will most likely ask you, probably very pointedly, about drug and alcohol use, as well as self-harm behaviors and suicidal thoughts.  Part of our job involves your safety, and so we need to ask about these things.  Please speak honestly, so that we have all the information possible to best help you if you are struggling in these areas. 

If you didn’t have a consult prior to a first session, see the intake as your chance to ask questions and determine if this therapist is a good fit for you.  Our hope at The Counseling Collective is that you leave an initial appointment feeling (somewhat) more hopeful.  If you feel much worse, this could be a sign that the therapist, or his/her style, is not for you.  Either way, communicate openly with your therapist what your needs and expectations are. 

Hopefully, if you go through the steps we’ve suggested in this series, you will be in therapy with someone you feel comfortable with, getting help to address your problem or concern. We’d love to hear from you if you have any feedback or questions about this series, or therapy in general.  Our hope is that by sharing these topics over the past few weeks, you have a better understanding now of the beginning of the therapeutic process.  Here’s to better mental wellness! 

How to find a Therapist to Work With (Part 2 of 3)

So now that you've decided you want to pursue therapy, how do you go about finding a therapist?  (Today’s blog is Part 2 in a 3-Part series regarding starting therapy. Part 1 focused on questions to ask yourself or situations that might make you want to consider therapy.  Part 2 will address ways to find a therapist to work with, and Part 3 will focus on what to expect in your initial therapy appointment. Click here if you missed Part 1 to read it and catch up!)

We think the therapeutic relationship between therapist and client is a very important factor in how the client progresses in therapy. If the client feels self-conscious, or as if the therapist is judgmental, he/she might not open up and share completely and honestly. We tell our clients that working with a therapist is just like any other relationship-it may take time to develop and that is completely normal. There are some people you will naturally get along better with, some that you get along better with after you know each other a little more, and some that you won’t “click” with or feel comfortable with. 

As with anything else, word of mouth referrals are always a good way to find out about local therapists.  If you know someone who has been in therapy, ask them what they liked or didn't like about their therapist, or their experience in therapy.  Ask if they'd go back to that therapist, and if not, why.  You ask your friends for a recommendation for a roofer, dentist, or pediatrician, so why not for a therapist too?

Another great place to find a good therapist is to ask your primary care doctor for a referral.  Many doctors know therapists in the area, and are happy to provide contact information for local therapists.  Your primary care doctor can also give you assessments to determine your level of anxiety or depression (for example), and can make referrals based on how you answer these questionnaires.

You can also call your insurance provider and ask for a list of therapists in your area.  This way you know for sure that the therapist you contact works with your insurance, if you are planning to use it.  Just realize that working through insurances dictates some elements of treatment, such as session length or frequency.  Some insurances can filter down therapists in your area based on availability or treatment concerns to a few that most closely match what you are looking for.  From this list, you can either google them to look around their website for more information, or call the therapists directly.

After you find a therapist to contact, feel free to ask for a free consult, whether in person or on the phone.  (Not all therapist offer free consults, and how they do them will differ slightly.)  A consultation offers the chance for both the therapist and potential client to determine if them working together would be a good fit. Regardless of if you are able to do a consult or not, if you can, speak with the therapist on the phone, just to ask any general questions you may have.  By having a phone conversation, you will be able to pick up on their tone of voice, inflections, and displays of empathy. Ask yourself if your first impression is that the therapist is likable and someone you think you could grow to trust.  If so, give it a try!

When you are on the phone with the potential therapist, here are some ideas of some questions to ask:

"How often do you meet with new clients?"

"Can you accommodate my scheduling needs?"

"Do you work with my insurance?"

"How have you worked with others with “X” issue before?"

Be honest with what it is you are struggling with or are looking for help to address, so you can best assess if this therapist is a good fit for you.

Another idea is to commit to 4-6 sessions before deciding if you think the therapeutic relationship will work for you. Typically in the first 1-3 sessions, you will be going over administrative things, and getting to know each other and your history, so give yourself a few sessions beyond that before evaluating if you want to proceed further.

Be sure to check back in 2 weeks for our final installment "What to expect in your initial appointment" in this 3-part series.  Let us know if this post was helpful, or if you have other thoughts or questions!

 

Guidance to know the answer to "When should I consider therapy"?

Today’s blog is Part 1 in a 3-Part series regarding starting therapy. Part 1 focuses on questions to ask yourself or situations that might make you want to consider therapy.  Part 2 will address ways to find a therapist to work with, and Part 3 will focus on what to expect in your initial therapy appointment.  

We find that many people have misconceptions about therapy, and I am hoping this 3-Part series will help answer some of those questions, and address some inaccuracies about therapy. 

How do I know when I should consider therapy?

Great question, and of course my first answer would be anytime!  The reason I say that is because therapy can be a time for self-reflection, a pause in your busy life to prioritize what you are doing and why.  Just like scheduling a massage, going for a run, or getting a mani/pedi allows you time to focus on YOU, therapy can offer the same benefit. A gym membership can lead to good physical health while therapy can lead to good mental health.  Maintaining good mental health is always a good idea, and therapy can help with that.

Therapy is also appropriate when you might be looking for unbiased,professional help. Therapy can be considered if you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, or are dissatisfied with your job, but can also be helpful if you don’t want to leave your house due to sadness or worry. The spectrum of people who can benefit from therapy is quite wide! As long as you are willing to open up to a therapist and are interested in having guidance to address some of your concerns or help get you back on track, then therapy is appropriate. 

A good rule of thumb is if you are consistently feeling: 

Unfulfilled

Stressed

Unhappy

Worried 

Sad

Drained

Questioning yourself or what you're doing, then therapy might be something to consider. 

Oftentimes, we feel dissatisfied, and don’t know why. You might say “I’m doing everything I can and I’m still not happy.”  This might lead to just trying harder, and doing more, which ends up leaving you even more drained.  This is when having a professional with an outside perspective assisting you could be beneficial.

Or, sometimes your friend, boss, or your spouse might suggest you talk to someone.  If someone close to you suggests this, please take a pause to consider. Might they see something that you don't ? Maybe they see you drinking too much to calm down every night, or maybe they see you pulling away from friendships due to anxiety.  As long as these are trusted people in your life, this might be another indicator that seeing a therapist would be a good idea.

“I don’t need therapy.  My doctor gave me medicine for my sadness/anxiety” – My reply to this would be that you should still consider therapy.  Medication can be helpful, but it might not target some of the underlying reasons you are feeling sad or worried.  Research studies have repeatedly shown that clients receive the most benefit when medication is combined with therapy, rather than just medication alone.

In the end, therapy can help you maintain good mental wellbeing, and adjust what you are doing so you are happier, more fulfilled, or less anxious.  And, who doesn’t want that?!

Feel free to reach out to our office if you aren’t sure if therapy could benefit you.  And, stay tuned to our next blog – Part 2 in this series on how to find a therapist!

 

Lessons Learned After One Year in Private Practice   

It just so happens that today my biweekly Tuesday blog post falls on the exact date that I opened the doors of my private practice! July 17, 2017 was the first day I saw clients in my own business.  So happy one year anniversary to us! 

In the past year, I have formed a business and expanded into a group practice.  I went from being a solo clinician going out on my own to hiring another therapist to be able to better serve the referrals I am receiving.  Through it all, I have appreciated your support.  The kind words, the encouragement, the “shares” and “likes”.  I hope that you are receiving helpful information from the business, and that you are more aware of how to strive for and preserve overall mental wellness.   

In reflection, here are some life lessons I’ve learned over the past year in private practice.  I hope that they can be valuable tips to you too! 

Be Willing To Grow And Ask For Help. I fully admit I don’t know everything. A year ago, I had no idea what was required to work with insurance companies as a private mental health practice.  I just knew others who had done it and figured I would be able to figure it out too!  Throughout this process, which was more than a year in the making, I have consulted with other private practitioners and other entrepreneurs. I regularly meet with others to “pick their brain” and get a sense of how they think, procedures they have in place, what’s working and what’s not, etc.  I would recommend that you consider surrounding yourself with people from which you can learn.  Always be looking for ways to learn and grow in your abilities.  You won’t be disappointed. 

Embrace Change.  Changes can be scary. Don’t we all like knowing what to expect?! Life is so much easier when our day to day is the same.  But, that can become immensely boring!  I would challenge you to work at not letting that fear of change stop you from doing the things that will help you pursue your dreams.  If you can learn to act despite fear, you might accomplish great things! 

The Next Important Thing. Starting a business is overwhelming.  Really stressful, with multiple moving parts to focus on and try to control.  I had to form an LLC, decide where to host my website, build my website, set up encrypted emails, contract with insurance companies, set up a bank account, go through the design process for a logo, finalize practice policies, write practice documents, decide on an electronic health record, find a way to send/receive faxes, decide on a phone system.  And, that’s just the short list!  Some of these tasks were of course exciting and fun, but when you have a huge list, it can be daunting!  And, yes, there were times I worked all day seeing clients, and then worked until midnight on this list, and never felt like I could get it all done.  The way that I stayed (mostly) relaxed through all that was focusing on the next important thing. By breaking down the tasks into more manageable steps, I was able to avoid being overwhelmed. Ask yourself, “what needs done next?” or “what is the most important thing to do next?” and then focus on that.  Sometimes all you have to do is focus on what needs done next. And then the next thing. And not get overwhelmed by the enormity of it all, by instead focusing on small steps. You can accomplish a lot by just focusing on the next important thing, and one small accomplishment at a time, you can get to where you want to be. 

Again, a sincere thank you for your support and encouragement as I formed the business, started writing this blog, and expanded into a group practice.  I’m working to live my dream, and I hope to help inspire you to do the same! 

3 Quick Ways to Connect with your Teenager  

Since we work with teens, we often see distance and miscommunication between parents and their teenagers.  Teens say that their parents don’t get them, or maybe don’t care, and they think they don’t have much in common.  Parents say they don't know how to reach their teen.  Both sides seem to have a desire to strengthen their bond, but don't know how.  With that in mind, here are a few quick ways to connect with your teenager: 

1 - Conversations are a good place to start.  But, don’t just ask, “How was your day?” or "How are you?" Instead, ask some of these questions: 

“What was the best part of your day?” 

“What are you looking forward to this week/month/school year?” 

“What are you most dreading or most nervous about?” 

These questions are open ended, meaning your teen can’t just answer with a “good/bad”, or “yes/no”.  These questions are thoughtful, show that you want to try to better understand them, and can help to start more meaningful conversations.  Take the opportunity of driving in the car to chat, or when you are working on making dinner together.  It's usually easier (and more natural) to talk in situations like these where you are physically doing something.

2 - Listen to music together.  Recent research shows that listening to music together can be a great way to connect with your teen.  Have them play some of their favorite songs for you.  Then, ask what they like about the song or artist, what the song means to them, or what feelings that song brings up.  A rule here: No judgment of songs, or negative comments about the music they are sharing. Be appreciative that they are sharing their favorite music with you.  Sharing a musical experience, whether driving to soccer practice in the car together singing out loud, or at a concert, can help the two of you to bond.  And, while you’re at it, share some of your favorite songs with your teen too! 

3 - Ask them to show you how to play their favorite video game.  As long as the two of you can have patience with each other, this is a fun way to switch roles and have your teen be the expert!  Have them teach you the trick of their favorite game, and play together! 

The common thread with these ideas is spending more time together.  Developmentally, teens often want to spend more time with their peers.  But rather than just being with their friends, or alone in their rooms, these are some ideas that can bring you together.  Shared experiences, and even just more time together, can help you connect. 

6 Simple Tips to Reduce Your Anxiety so You Feel More Relaxed 

I thought I'd put together a brief list of simple ideas to help you feel more relaxed, especially if you are feeling worried or anxious.  You certainly don't need to do all of these, but if you're feeling run down, try figuring out how to add one or two of these practices into your day.  It just might help you feel better!

1- Develop a list of coping skills (things that help you to feel better when you are feeling nervous or anxious). Add things you have seen others do, or you have done in the past and helped you to feel better. Some ideas include: listening to music, getting some fresh air, and practicing deep breathing. Also, identify things you are doing when you feel anxious that DO NOT help you feel better, and stop doing them!  

2 - Build a positive support system of friends and/or family that you can talk to when you are feeling anxious (or down), when you need a reality check, or need to help remembering your coping skills.  Or, if you need a little more help than friends and family can provide, consider therapy.

3-Get moving! Exercise has numerous benefits, including helping to lift your mood. Exercise serves as an excellent outlet, and a great way to channel your “nervous” energies (if you are feeling a tendency to fidget) into something productive.    Even just taking a short walk at lunchtime can benefit your mental clarity.

4-Journaling offers a chance to do some reflective writing on your triggers to your anxiety and what coping skills are working for you. Journal nightly as a way to process your day, to find anxiety triggers and patterns in your behaviors.  You can add in gratitude journaling as well to help you focus on the positives. 

5-Practice Mindfulness. Anxiety is typically future oriented, and fear based. Practice mindfulness techniques (such as grounding) to train your mind to focus on the here and now rather than your anxiety about the future.   

6-Deep breathing. This is a quick and easy skill you can do anywhere, that requires no equipment or preparation. Take a slow deep breath in (to the count of 5), then hold it for a count of 5, then slowly exhale to the count of 5. Do this 5 times. This breathing can be combined with closing your eyes, focusing on your chest rising and falling, or picturing a place that makes you feel calm and happy. 

If you want to read more about simple techniques to help you feel less anxious, check out this article that elaborates on the above ideas.  What else would you add that helps you relax?

Updates on the Exciting Changes at our Office

Let me explain why my blog has taken a hiatus, and why I promise it will be back on the regular schedule!  

As you might have read two weeks ago on our Facebook page, I’m delighted to announce some exciting changes with my practice. A little backstory....I opened my private practice in July 2017 and by November I was turning people away because I was full.  All through the winter, I wasn’t accepting new clients, and then I realized that I could help all of these people who I was turning away if I had other therapists who could see them! So it was earlier this year that I decided to pursue the idea of expanding my private practice to be able to better serve my clients and the referrals I was receiving.

Over the past few months, there have been a lot of changes made: I created an LLC, changed the business name, I hired my first therapist and a virtual assistant, and I've been working to train them both. I've been updating my credentialing with all the insurances I work with, and switched over both my email and phone systems.  Our Facebook page has been updated, and we launched a new website.  (My previous blog posts have been reposted at this new website in case you are looking for them.)  The Counseling Collective is also now on Instagram!  Follow us @TheCounselingCollective, or leave a message below with your handle so we can follow you!  I was looking to expand to another office eventually and space opened up in my building, and so I decided to jump on it! As of mid-June, The Counseling Collective will have two offices to see our clients in the East Petersburg location. I teamed up with my sister-in-law (my interior designer!) to outfit the new office so it feels just as homey and comfy as the first office.

All of these updates and changes have been made in order to expand, so please join me in welcoming Stacy Martinez LCSW to the practice!  She and I were previous coworkers, and I know what kind of training and work ethic she has first-hand!  Stacy is an LCSW (refer to this post about what these letters mean), and also a certified health coach, trainer, and coach.  She has been helping clients for over 6 years by focusing on their strengths with a total body wellness perspective.  She enjoys working with ages 10 through adulthood, and also enjoys working with couples.  

I’m really excited for these changes, to be better able to serve more clients, and to have Stacy join the practice.  Thank you for your support and encouragement over the past year!

How to Stop Rumination on Negative Thoughts

I recently attended a multiple day symposium in  DC on psychotherapy, and one of the trainings I attended was on disrupting rumination.  Some excellent ideas were presented there, and I wanted to share some of those ideas and my own thoughts with you. 

Let's first begin my clarifying what we're talking about.  Rumination is a repetitive focus on the negative.  (I’ve previously written about shifting your brain to focus on more positive things).  Rumination goes beyond what you tend to pay attention to or notice.  It’s a thought cycle you can’t seem to stop, thinking again and again about the same things.  It's being "stuck" on a thought.  Anxiety rumination focuses on “why” or “what if….”, while depression rumination tends to focus on feeling hopeless, helpless, inadequate or worthless.   

I was surprised to learn that one of the easiest techniques for disrupting rumination is singing.  Singing takes the focus away from rumination to a more pleasant and productive thought.  You have to pay attention to the notes, the tone and pitch, and the words, in order to sing.  Even if you are not a talented singer, singing is an excellent replacement activity to stop your rumination.  You can’t have two thoughts occupy the same space in your brain, and by shifting your focus to be the song you are singing, you naturally disrupt your ruminative thoughts.   

Tip to Try #1: If you want to try this out, I’d suggest that you start by picking a few of your favorite songs.  Chose 2 or 3 songs that you are quite familiar with, to have as you “go to” songs.  Maybe a hymn if you are a person of faith, or a song with lyrics that calm you down and resonate with you.  Decide ahead of time what your song(s) will be, so in the moment, you only have to (1) recognize that you are stuck in a negative thought cycle, and (2) remember your pre-selected song to sing.  This takes the guess work out of it! 

Another noteworthy discussion point from this training is that of the role of imagination and repetition.  Let’s say you repeatedly think about how horribly your next presentation at work will go.  You think about it in the shower in the morning, as you are getting dressed for work, as you are commuting, and while in your office preparing.  You anticipate misspeaking or forgetting an important piece of information.  Repetition strengthens your brain activity, bringing more blood (and an increase in glial cell activity) to that section of your brain.  As these pathways become strengthened, your worry pathway changes into a superhighway of worry.  And, your brain doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined.  So, those thoughts you were having of forgetting a part of your presentation your brain interprets as if it really happened.  By ruminating on a horrific or embarrassing event that you fear may happen, your brain responds as if it actually did!

Tip to Try #2: If your brain can't tell the difference between real and imagined, why cause yourself to suffer thinking about made up things?  Instead, try to imagine the life you want, and the accomplishments you would like to reach.  Try to picture yourself acing that presentation at work. 

My hope by sharing this is that the more you understand how your brain works, you can use it more to your benefit!  So, if you are going to ruminate, think repetitively of positive things.  If you are going to imagine, imagine uplifting and inspiring things happening to you.   

P.S. Breaking a repetitive negative focus is also something that you can seek professional help with, especially if it is pervasive, impairing, or significantly upsetting to you. 

How to Deal with Difficult Family Members

It's time for a quick pep talk! 

You are in charge of who you let into your life.  Just because someone is a blood relative does not give them the right to be in your life.  They must EARN the right to be in your life, to have access to you.  Do they inspire, support, encourage, and uplift you?  Or, do they just make you feel badly about yourself, physically hurt you, put you down, or yell at you often?  Are they harsh, judgmental, and critical? 

Evaluating if someone is an asset to your life, or a detriment, is hard to do.  There are specific behaviors that are easier to identify as toxic, such as physical or verbal abuse.  Insidious behaviors like always trying to one-up you, put you down, or calling you names can be just as harmful if you hear these messages long enough.  I encourage you to ask yourself if you feel better or worse after spending time with someone.  If you find you feel worse on a consistent basis, I would suggest setting limits with those difficult family members.  Limit your time with them or limit their access to you as a way to begin to stand up for yourself.  Limits could be anything from:  

-not talking on the phone for more than 10 minutes at a time, or only in person with a trusted friend present 

-designating certain topics (such as your partner, education, or job) as off limits for discussions 

-only seeing them in public.   

Let your family member know that these are your limits and if they don't respect them, that you will not continue to have contact with them.  For example, if you've decided your job is an off-limits topic for your aunt to talk to you about, then when she begins to lecture you about it, perhaps you get up and leave the room.  WARNING: Setting limits with anyone will take consistent effort to enforce.  Those close to you who are used to saying whatever hurtful or harmful thing they want will be confused by your new limits.  They will think you are joking or won't really follow through.  They will test you to see if you are serious.  So, just setting limits is not the solution.  You MUST FOLLOW THROUGH WITH WHATEVER YOU DECIDE!  Make sure you can follow through and do what you say if you are going to set limits.  Perhaps start small, with things you know you can be successful. 

It is your responsibility to look out for and advocate for yourself, because, as an adult, no one else will do that for you. Ask yourself: “Has this person earned the right to be in my life?" 

The positive side of this is that you can create a "family" of loving people surrounding you, regardless of if they are biologically related to you or not.  Surround yourself with those who you trust, who care for you, and who want the best for you.  Having cheerleaders around you can be inspiring and encouraging, especially when setting and enforcing limits with difficult people.  

If you feel comfortable sharing, I'd love to hear if you have successfully set boundaries with difficult family members. 

Let's Talk Letters: A Quick Guide To The Letters After Our Names

I realize in the counseling field there are a lot of acronyms, and I thought it might be helpful to write about what all those letters mean.  Although it’s shorthand everyone in this field uses, I think we just assume others understand it too.  The world of therapy can seem so cryptic, because it’s hard to know what goes on in a therapy office unless you’ve actually been there.  I want to try to help explain things in this field, and part of that is educating others about things as simple as the letters after our names.  The credentials become more and more specific as you have more training.  Think about it like a path, and with each turn you are getting to a more specific location.

Let’s talk letters!

General Counseling Field:

In general, therapists diagnose and treat mental disorders, and address problem behaviors. 

MS, MA: Master’s degree in either science (MS) or arts (MA) -  Someone in the counseling field may have either of these designations, depending upon how their school classified their program.  This means that the person completed 4 years of their Bachelor’s degree, and then did another 2-3 years in a Master’s program.  This helps narrow their focus and deepen their training on a specific topic, so they are then a “Master” at that topic.

LPC:  Licensed Professional Counselor – This is the highest level of training someone with a MS or MA can receive after completing a certain amount of hours of supervised work and passing a clinical exam.

Social Work:

In general, social workers focus on helping people cope with their everyday lives.  This includes connecting them to resources, advocacy, and treating and diagnosing mental disorders.

MSW: Master’s degree in social work -  Someone would receive their Bachelor’s in social work, then get their MSW.

LSW: Licensed social worker – After receiving a MSW, someone would pass an exam to achieve this designation.

LCSW: Licensed Clinical Social Worker -  For a Social Worker, this the highest level of training they can achieve after completing a certain amount of hours of supervised work and passing a clinical exam.

Other categories:

MFT: Master’s degree in marriage and family therapy – Someone who has extensive training in family dynamics and relationships.

LMFT: Licensed marriage and family therapist – Received supervision beyond their Master’s degree.

CADC: Certification as a Drug and Alcohol Counselor – This person has been trained regarding drug and alcohol use.  This is not a Master’s degree, but this person has a Bachelor’s degree and then received further training.

RPT: Registered Play Therapist – This person received additional training beyond a Master’s degree to use play therapy with young children as a way to express themselves.

A few other things to note:

Some insurance companies will allow any Master’s level clinician to offer therapy.  Some require a license beyond the Master’s degree.  This is why you have to verify with your insurance to make sure who you are seeing or want to see has the appropriate credentials that your insurance will cover.

This is just a basic introduction on the acronyms within the counseling field, and there are a few other less common acronyms I didn’t cover (especially for children in play therapy and BHRS).  And, there might be some exceptions to what I’ve shared.

Please let me know if you have specific questions and I’d be happy to address that.

Practicing Gratitude

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” —Oprah Winfrey

“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” —Zig Ziglar

Gratitude is often a word we hear thrown around near Thanksgiving time, but I think it is something we should talk about more often. Gratitude is more than just something related to turkey dinners.  Gratitude is being thankful and grateful for what is present in your life, rather than focused on what is missing.  Practicing gratitude can help change your perspective.  In one of my favorite books, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Viktor Frankl writes,

“A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes - within the limits of endowment and environment- he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.”

Frankl is saying is our decisions, how we behave and what we focus on, then determines who we become.  Wouldn’t you rather become someone who sees possibilities, who believes in and looks for the good in the world, who can uplift another with a smile?  I know I would like to be this kind of person.

To practice gratitude on a more regular basis, why not start to keep a daily gratitude journal?  You can write 3-5 the things you are grateful for that day, or something that you are proud of yourself for accomplishing.  This can help shift your thinking from negative to positive, and help you to notice the good things in your life.  Try to think of things unique to the day, rather than repeating the same basic things like food or shelter.

I’m grateful I was able to have coffee with my friend today.

I’m grateful the kids slept all night in their beds last night.

I’m grateful that my spouse folded and put away the towels yesterday.

I’m grateful I have a job.

I’m proud of myself that I called and made a doctor appointment (even though I hate talking on the phone).

I’m grateful to have one kind neighbor who said good morning to me today.

It might initially be hard to come up with 3-5 things that are positive every day.  So, aim for one or two.  After that becomes easier, than increase to 3-5 things for every day.  To go a step farther, you can elaborate on these daily gratitudes by journaling more about your day, and how you feel.  Especially on days that are harder, journaling more might be a good idea to help you process your day.

For those of you who want more physiological details about how gratitude can shift our perspective, google and read about the Reticular Formation and Reticular Activating System (RAS). Basically, focusing on the positives rather than the negatives tells this part of your brain, responsible for conscious awareness and attention, that positive things are important to notice.

This increased attention applies to anything though, not just positive things.  For example, a few years back I was looking to getting a new car.  I was set on getting a Nissan Maxima, and because I told my RAS that these were important cars, I began to notice them everywhere I went!  It's not that all of a sudden there were more Nissans on the road.  They were always there.  Previously, my brain had just decided they weren't important to notice.  But, once I started researching them, my brain picked up on the fact that they WERE important to me, and I started to see them everywhere! Ah, the power of our brains!  (The neuroscience nerd in me loves this brain stuff!)

How can you express more gratitude in your daily life?  I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

More Tips on Sleeping Well, part 2

As a follow up to last week's blog post on tips for sleeping well, I wanted to share a recent article on the same topic.  This article discusses 12 ways to improve your "sleep hygiene" (which is just a fancy way of saying anything that helps your sleep).  I'm excited that some of the tips I've shared with you last week are included in this article! I will offer a quick snapshot of the ways to improve your sleep, but also suggest you read the full article for more detail.

Tip #1 to improve your sleep hygiene: Go to sleep at the same time every day

Ideally, your sleep/wake time shouldn't vary by more than one hour.  Yes, I know that you look forward to sleeping til noon on a Saturday, but in the big picture of "sleep", this can do more harm than good.  Try to wake up and go to sleep at about the same time every day.

Tip #2: Reserve your bed for sleep (and sex)

Don't watch tv in bed, or do work in bed, because then your brain will associate your bed with more stimulating things than sleep.

Tip #3: Unplug

This is one of my biggest suggestions (see my #5 tip)!  Turn off electronics to allow your body the opportunity to naturally produce melatonin, which will cause you to feel sleepy.

Tip #4: Be active during the day

Living an active lifestyle, or exercising can help you to sleep better.

Tip #5: Watch what you eat (and drink) at night