The Reality of Grief

Grieving is not something that many of us are comfortable talking about.  Perhaps, talking about grief makes us think about our own mortality and most don’t want to think about that; at least not until we reach a certain age.  Also, often people do not know what to say to those who are grieving.  Yet, grief is something that each of us experience and will continue to experience throughout our lives.  My goal of this blog is to help people understand grief more and learn ways to help ourselves and others to grieve in a healthy way. 

Tomorrow is the 18th anniversary of 9/11.  Amazing how it seems so long ago yet our memories of it seem like it happened just yesterday.  We most likely remember exactly what we were doing when the first plane hit the North World Trade Center Tower.  We remember what we were feeling at that moment and likely continue to feel it today.  We not only grieved and are grieving the mass loss of life during the attacks, but we also have been grieving the sense of loss of security that most of us once felt in the United States.  In the days, months, and years following 9/11, we reached out to each other and provided comforting words and embraces and continue to do to this day.   

Grief and loss is most often associated with death.  However, grief and loss includes so much more, such as loss of a job, loss of relationships, loss of cognitive and physical abilities, and loss of tangible items such a wedding ring belonging to one’s great grandmother.  There is no set time frame for how long grieving lasts and there is no one set way to grieve “normally”. 

Grieving is very individualized and needs to treated and respected as such!  People grieve differently.  Some will block it out and move on as if nothing has happened and will not want or need additional support.  Others will experience and express deep emotion for maybe 6 months to a year; whereas others will have debilitating grief that lasts longer than a year and greatly limits their lives and this is referred to as Complicated Grief.  Many people believe that there are stages of grief and that one goes through phases ending with acceptance of the loss and “being ok again.”  However, the reality of grief is like a ball of yarn that a cat has gotten a hold of….no order with lots of twists and turns with no identified start or end point.  Furthermore, not only do you grieve the loss that you are currently experiencing, but you again actively grieve losses you have experienced previously.  For example, 10 years ago your aunt died, 5 years ago your beloved cat died, 2 years ago you lost your “dream job”, and now your best friend died.  You not only are grieving the death of your best friend, but again grieving the deaths of your aunt, and cat, and the loss of your dream job.  Thus, each loss often feels so much more painful because you are grieving again the other losses, not that you ever stop grieving entirely.   Most tend to feel the loss less intensely on a continuous basis as time progresses, but the grieving will intensify at times such as holidays, anniversaries, new life events such as marriage, and a favorite song of the person comes on the radio.  Many people will experience what is termed Anticipatory Grief which is grieving a loss that has not yet occurred.  For example, one’s mother is getting older and one’s father just died, this person will likely begin feeling grief for the parent that is still alive for they know that eventually the mother will die which could also lead to the person feeling like an orphan.

Most people are uncertain about what to do or say to someone who is grieving.  Here are some strategies that can help with what to say and do for someone who is grieving:

1.     Avoid saying platitudes:  For example, instead of saying, “They are in a better place and no longer suffering”, express “I am sorry for your loss”.  Although one may say platitudes with good intentions, the reality is even if the death of a loved one ends suffering, the person grieving is still suffering and greatly misses and wants their loved one back. Platitudes can minimize their loss.

2.    Talk about the person:  Don’t be afraid to talk about the person. People want to hear about their loved ones; people want to know that their loved ones were important to others.

3.    Reach out to the person who is grieving:  Even if the person who is grieving does not want visitors, still make the offer.  Reach out in 6 months, a year, and 5 years.  Those who are grieving often feel that once a certain amount of time has passed that everyone else has forgotten the loss and this is when those who are grieving need more contact and support.

4.    Offer to help in practical ways:  For example, offer to do lawn care, pick up children from school and babysit, make a meal. These are just few of the things that greatly help those who are grieving since so often those who have just had a loss such as death of a loved one will be in a somewhat of a state of shock and making funeral arrangements and plans and will have little time for meal prep, lawn care, and could really use some help with childcare.

5.    Just be there:  Often words are not needed nor wanted but a shoulder to cry on and a hug will be so much more of what the person grieving will need and crave yet often is hesitant to ask for.

Again, since we will all experience loss throughout our lives, here are some tips to help you with your own grief:

1.     Talk about the loss:  Be open and honest about how you are feeling and what you need from others.

2.    Maintain some traditions and start some new traditions:  For example, if you and your loved one that has died used to get the Christmas tree the first Saturday of December, continue do so and then take a branch or so from the tree and turn it into a swag and take it to the cemetery.

3.    Honor the person’s memory:  There are many ways to do this.  Perhaps, the person that died was a school teacher- what better way to honor the person by establishing a scholarship in their memory for students pursuing education on college.

4.    Allow yourself time to grief and to do so in your own way:  Many people try to tell others how to grieve and for how long but do it YOUR way such as if you don’t want to date again or get married again after the death of your spouse, DON’T.  Continue to wear your wedding band if that is what you feel you want to do. If you want to take a month off work, do so. 

5.    Seek therapy and/or join a support group:  There are others who understand and care who are not directly related to or impacted by the death such as Compassionate Friends.  Therapy is very helpful and beneficial for everyone at least at sometime in their life and can be simply talking without the need to filter your words.   There are therapists that “specialize” in grief and loss.

We know that this blog is likely hard to read for it brings up many emotions and thoughts and we are here to help and support you!  Please contact us to schedule a session.  Also stay tuned as I plan to host a Grieving Through The Holidays workshop that will run in early November.

 

What Is Burnout, And How Do I Deal With It?

Crying, exhaustion, increased anxiety, anger, emotionally and physically shutting down….does this sound familiar?  If so, you are like many of us and are possibly experiencing burnout.  Most of us have heard of burnout yet many of us believe that we will know when we are starting to burnout or that we can prevent it before it becomes too severe.  Unfortunately, this is not always true and can lead to many problems in our relationships, jobs, and emotional and physical health.  Furthermore, burnout is not solely related to jobs but also relationships and life in general.  Merriam Webster’s definition of burnout includes “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration”.  I like how Michael Gungor explains his understanding as “Burnout is what happens when you try to avoid being human for too long.” 

Signs and symptoms of burnout often fall into one of three categories:  Physical, Emotional, or Behavioral.  Examples of Physical Symptoms of burnout include feeling tired, lowered immunity resulting in increased episodes of illness, headaches, muscle pains, changes in appetite, and changes in sleep patterns.  Examples of Emotional Symptoms of burnout include feelings of self-doubt, failure, defeat, detachment from others and the world, loss of motivation, negative thinking, and decreased sense of accomplishment.  Finally, some examples of Behavioral Symptoms of burnout include avoiding responsibilities, isolating from others, increased procrastination, using unhealthy coping strategies such as using drugs and alcohol, taking your anger and frustration out on others, and not showing up to work or committed events. 

According to Stress and Burnout in Ministry (helpguide.org), many people associate stress and burnout as the same thing.  There are some key differences between stress and burnout.  First, stress is associated with over engagement, being overly emotional, and extreme sense of urgency.  However, burnout is associated with not being engaged in activities, not feeling or expressing emotions, and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.  One often feels and is aware of being stressed; however, one doesn’t always notice feeling burnt out.  Perhaps, what begins as stress leads to burnout.  For example, one may initially engage in too many activities resulting in feelings of stress which then often will lead to feelings of disengagement when burnout is present.  Also, one may have hypersensitive emotions when feeling stressed and will transition to lack of emotions and feelings of numbness when burnout is present.  Finally, stress is known to lead to anxiety whereas burnout often lead to depression.  Thus; experiencing both stress and burnout can and often does lead to anxiety and depression. 

Several lifestyles and personality traits are more prone to leading to burnout.  Do you work too much, not have enough time to socialize or not have quiet and alone time to recharge?  Do you have too few close relationships or take on too many responsibilities that result in lack of sleep?  If you answered yes to these questions, your lifestyle is prone to leading to burnout.  Do you struggle with perfectionism or have a pessimistic view of yourself or others?  Do you have the need to be in control or identify as a Type A Personality (constantly busy, very competitive, high ambition, schedule oriented)?  If you answered yes to these questions, your personality traits often contribute to burnout. 

If you have identified feelings of burnout or recognize it in others, what do we do now?  If that answer was as simple as turning a light switch on and off, it would be beyond awesome.  However, no awesomeness here.  However, don’t fret, there are many strategies to help prevent and overcome burnout. 

Here are 8 strategies to help prevent and overcome burnout:

1.      First and foremost, Identify that there is a problem: For example, you may start to feel disinterest in work or relationships and are beginning to feel exhaustion, sick, and angry towards others.

2.    Refocus on good self-care as a part of your daily life:  examples include saying no when you mean no, relaxation techniques such as grounding, and getting enough sleep and balanced diets.  (read more about self-care in a previous blog here)

3.    Take needed time off:  Take a vacation or staycation to regroup and reenergize.

4.    Reassess your goals:  For example, a previous goal may have been to save $1000 a month to put towards a down payment on a home and you revise it to saving $250 a pay instead….you will still reach your goal but perhaps it will take a bit longer, but you will be physically and emotionally better in the long run.

5.    Practice positive thinking:  For example, reframing a situation such as acknowledging the progress you have made on a goal rather than focusing on the areas that you have not achieved YET. Check out this blog on how to use gratitude to help you stay positive.

6.    Seek and accept support from others:  Therapy is a great option because therapy provides a safe place to process thoughts and feelings.  Also, try to increase your supportive social network to do leisure activities like going to the movies.

7.    Avoid negative people:  Negativity is contagious!  How can you increase positivity in your life if you are surrounded by negativity?  You can’t!  Find and surround yourself with positivity and if you prefer, find it in your pets or nature.

8.    Love yourself:  You are enough, and you are a good person!  If you don’t believe this now, work on learning to love yourself!  Practice complimenting yourself and accepting compliments.

Tony Robbins provided great advice when he stated “Understanding how to find the magic moments in your daily life is critical.  If you subscribe to the philosophy that says, ‘My vacation will free me from burnout,’ then you’re waiting for a few days out of the year to make up for many days of stress.  Instead, you have to be able to take mini-vacations on a daily basis.” 

What “daily vacations” are you going to take?  How have you experienced burnout?  How are you managing burnout?  Share with us your experience on burnout below!

 

The Counseling Collective turns 2!

Tomorrow marks two years since I opened the doors to private practice! In case you missed it, I reflected on one year in private practice in a previous blog post here. What started as a small practice with 14 clients the first week has grown to more than 200 clients who we have had the pleasure of working with as we continue to serve our community.

As expected, much has changed in the last year. We expanded into three private offices within our current building, have one therapist out on maternity leave, and have another three therapists working with me to serve our clients. (Yes, you heard that right….three other therapists….so stay tuned in the next few weeks to that announcement of our latest therapist joining the group!) We increased our hours to include evenings and weekend availability. We also have an amazing client coordinator who helps with new client inquires, and gets new clients set up with a therapist who fits their needs and schedule. I am honored to work with this fabulous team of people!

To continue my yearly reflections on lessons learned, here are my newest insights:

  1. Sticking to boundaries I’ve set takes constant work! - Even as I write this, it’s late at night and I should go to bed. I admit that I check email on the weekends and on vacation, and that I do some social media management in the evenings when I’m at home. As a business owner, it’s tough to turn off my brain and not think about work. My rationale is that if I check my email Sunday, then that’s less work I’ll have to do in the office Monday morning. The problem I find though is that then I don’t ever stop thinking about work to take a break and recharge. This is an area I am fully aware of that needs more of my attention! I am working on slow and steady progress…..

  2. Surround yourself with support - As I launched my business, I was fortunately enough to have support of my loved ones. I don’t know how I would have done it otherwise! And, as I’ve expanded the business, I continue to seek out those who can encourage me with positivity. From a website developer friend who did me a (huge) favor, to lunch with another practice owner, to running business ideas by trusted confidants, to dinner with other business owners, to panicked texts to my accountant, I am grateful to have such loving, caring, supportive, and encouraging friends and family. If you are embarking on a challenge, it is so helpful to have people in your corner cheering you on.

I want to thank each of you for your support over the past two years….for “liking” our business Facebook page, for following us on Instagram, for sharing our posts, for reading our blogs, and suggesting us to your friends or family who are struggling and are considering therapy. Our best marketing tool is YOU…..a personal referral. Your support is humbling!

Dealing with Difficult Family Members

Holidays may be something you look forward to, but for others, it might mean spending time with friends or family who are difficult to get along with or who don’t respect your boundaries. Holidays can cause worry, or even conflict in these cases. Since you will probably be attending a variety of holiday events over the course of the next few days, we wanted to revisit a blog post from last year on How to Deal with Difficult Family Members.

Here’s to a safe, and happy 4th of July!

5 Ways To Keep Your Teen Entertained This Summer

Summer can be hard. Teenagers are used to having a strict school schedule and being told what to do and where to be all day long. Although they may complain about this schedule and the demands of it, they can be at a loss for what to do without it! Here are 5 ideas for you to suggest to your teen to keep them busy and occupied so you don’t hear the dreaded “I’m bored.  There’s nothing to do!”

1.    Work-I am a huge fan of teens working a part time job! Most of a teen’s life is spent with their peers.  They are in school for 8 hours a day and then often spend time with friends after school or doing sports or clubs.  And, they typically don’t want to spend a whole lot of time with parents. As a result, it can be easy to have a skewed sense of the world when the majority of your interactions are with other 14-18 year olds. That latest song or the latest episode of that popular show becomes the new “it” thing that they feel they have to know about or talk about, and they don’t get a sense of the bigger picture of life or the world. Working a part time job allows teens the chance to learn responsibly (such as when their shift starts or how to ask off for a vacation), independence (they have their own money now!), navigating interactions with customers and learning customer service, and interacting with coworkers and supervisors. Even if your teen is not interested in working at the local ice cream shop or retail store, he/she could mow lawns, walk dogs, or babysit for neighbors. 

2.    Volunteer- Maybe your teen loves animals or clothes, and they could volunteer some time this summer at the Humane League or a clothing bank. Volunteering gets teens out of house, and around other people who are giving back to the community. Especially if your teen is too young to work, this is a great option because it still teaches responsibility, independence, and how to navigate interactions with those outside of their peer group. 

3.    Summer camps-These can be a few days to a week long, and are often themed, so try to find something your teen is interested in. Or, instead of attending one, he/she could be a camp counselor for a camp of younger children. 

4.    Visit with family- This gives you a week (or even a long weekend) break and allows the teen one on one time with a relative. Even if grandpa lives a little too far away to see on a normal week, having your teen visit with him for a week over the summer can help to develop or deepen their relationship.  Don’t all great memories start with “I remember that summer I spent at my aunt’s house…..”?!

5.    Additional responsibility at home- Ask your teen to take on additional responsibility at home such as cooking dinner one day a week or doing their own laundry.  Now, your teen probably won’t like this suggestion, so you might have to sell it a bit more! But, if he/she is home all day long, why can’t he/she help out a bit more at home?! With the goal of teaching responsibility and developing life skills, being in charge of cooking a meal every Monday can be fun.  Rather than demanding they do a new chore, ask your teen what task he/she would be interested in doing to get their input so they feel heard and as if they are part of the conversation and decision.

These are just a few simple ideas to help keep your teen entertained a bit more this summer.  Let us know if you have any other ideas that have worked for you in the past!

 

 

An Introduction to Addiction - Part 1 of 3

Today’s blog is the first one in a three part series on addiction.  This series is to help you gain a better understanding about what addiction is, signs and symptoms of addiction, and help available for those struggling as well as their loved ones.

What are your first memories and thoughts about what a person looks like and acts like who struggles with addiction?   Was the person homeless, unemployed, living under a bridge, unkempt, and with a lack of education?  Sadly, I am sure this is what many of our first impressions were and I am sure many of us were also taught this.  However, this could not be and cannot be further from the truth or reality.  Sure, these may be characteristics of a small number of people struggling with addiction; but there are also pharmacists, doctors, therapists, teachers, clergy, pilots, truck drivers, to just name a few who have families and who are working daily but who also are struggling with addiction.  The thing about addiction is that it does not discriminate based upon age, gender, race, education, career, or socioeconomic status.  It can and does affect any and everyone.  Likely you either struggle with or have struggled with addiction yourself or know someone who is or has struggled with addiction.      

I highly doubt anyone ever had the goal or desire to become addicted to something; whether it be drugs, alcohol, gambling, or sex to just name a few.  However, manypeople tell those who are struggling with addictions to “just stop”; as if it is as easy as that!  I remember hearing at one of my many substance abuse trainings  “telling someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol to just stop is like giving someone several laxatives and then telling them that they cannot go to the bathroom”.   Quite a way to look at it from a different perspective.

So, what is addiction?  Great question and as mentioned before, there are many ideas and beliefs about what addiction is.  There are also many beliefs as to why someone becomes and is addicted.  Some have said that it is a moral defect.  Others describe it as a weakness.  Most recently, addiction has become known as a disease, yes, like Diabetes.  However, unlike Diabetes, there are still many stigmas associated with addiction and how one should “just stop and get over it”.  Again, if it was just that easy!  American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) definition of addiction is “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry.  Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic, biological, psychological, social, and spiritual manifestations”.  So, to put this more simply, addiction is very much apart of how our brain functions and responds to use of chemicals or activities that produce pleasure chemicals in the brain, especially the “reward center”.  Addictions affect every aspect of life such as financially, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and physically.  Addictions can be related to genetics, nurturing, or both genetic predisposition and the environments we grow up in.  For example, if a child is raised in a family where alcohol is consumed in excess and is socially accepted, the child is more likely to develop an addiction to alcohol and/or other substances or behaviors due to both genetic predisposition and the environment.  Addictions can “skip generations”.  Furthermore, many family have held the unspoken rule of not discussing one’s drinking too much or use of drugs and instead describe it as “that is just how uncle John is…crazy uncle John”.  It is very important to gain a better understanding of what addiction is so that instead of fearing the stigma of addiction, people will and can seek out and get very much needed help.  

This has been a brief introduction to what addiction is.  Stay tuned for the next installment which will address how you can know if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction.  

What questions do you have about addiction?  If you feel that you or someone you know is struggling with addiction and is interested in learning more and getting help, please contact us.  We care and are here to help!

How Yoga Can Improve Anxiety and Depression

Last fall, I wrote a blog about how physical fitness can help your overall mental health. I wanted to follow up with a blog about how yoga and mindfulness specifically can help with symptoms related to anxiety, depression and even trauma. Yoga is defined as a discipline that includes breath control, simple meditation, and a variety of body positions that is widely practiced for health and relaxation. Yoga, as a form of physical activity, used as a regular practice, will also increase the trait of mindfulness, as well as increase the “feel good” chemicals in your brain. As a result, it is a healthy coping skill for symptoms of depression, anxiety, and trauma. Mindfulness is the awareness of one’s body, one’s thoughts, and a greater connection of mind and body. Mindfulness teaches you to clear out distractions, with a goal of totally emptying your mind, while you are practicing yoga. 

There are many benefits of using yoga, which are not limited to but include:

            -Stress reduction

            -Sound sleep

            -Lower blood pressure

            -Improved mood

            -Increase strength and flexibility

            -Coping skill when feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed

Yoga can be used as a coping skill for worry in a way that the focus is on safety, the present moment, concentration, and relaxation. As the yoga pose is held, a mantra can be used. Breathing while in pose is important as well, as we use breath to calm ourselves. Yoga allows you to release stress and tension by helping you shift your focus to the present moment, the way your body feels right now. This allows you to let go of the negative energy and feel in control of your stress reaction. 

Yoga can be used for trauma, to represent safety in the environment and body, to be aware of body boundaries and inner body sensations, demonstrating a posture that reflects worthiness, and saying affirmations. Some examples of affirmations are “I am safe. I am alive. I choose. I feel. I speak.” Yoga is a healthy way to use your mind and body, rather than turning to unhealthy coping strategies such as drug or alcohol use or other self-medicating behaviors. 

A 3 month study was done on people experiencing depression, and a 50% reduction of symptoms was reported in those that participated in yoga practice. More days of yoga resulted in fewer symptoms (Dr. Chris Streeter, Boston University School of Medicine Journal of Alternative and complementary Medicine, 2017). Yoga helps the autonomic nervous system to be balanced, therefore the rest of the brain works better. The autonomic nervous system is what regulates organ functioning, the fight or flight response, and relaxation. When using yoga, the fight or flight response decreases, and the rest and digest response increases. Therefore, you enter a more relaxed state. As soon as your breath slows down, you decrease your fight or flight response and calm your nervous system.

As I previously mentioned, mantras are a great practice to use while in a yoga pose, or practicing mindfulness. A mantra is a statement or sound that is repeated. An example of a self-love mantra is “My dear I am here, I am learning to take care of you”, while holding your hand over your heart and breathing deep breaths. 

Along with all of the mentioned benefits, yoga can help you find or build your sense of self. It helps you get to know your body, and create a nonjudgmental relationship with yourself. When you become more rooted in your center, your breath, and your sense of self, you develop a healthy, balanced ego. If you are more at peace and centered with yourself, relationships around you will flourish as well. 

Yoga is designed for anyone to practice, and can be suitable for all ages, body shapes, and fitness levels. Yoga is never about who is the strongest or most flexible, but finding what poses work best for you. There are many yoga studios available for use, if you are interested in participating with others. There are a variety of classes available, whether you want gentle and relaxing, or strenuous and challenging. It will benefit your physical and mental health in a positive way. Get started today!

Here are 4 steps to get started with yoga:

1)    Consult with your doctor behavior starting any exercise program

2)    Decide if you want to find a studio near you to go to for instruction, or if you want to follow instruction on YouTube, or poses off of a link like this: https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/yoga-by-benefit/anxiety

3)    If you want to follow instructors on YouTube, a few examples are “Yoga with Adriene” or “Yoga with Tim”

4)    Practice your breathing as this will be important for any program. Take a few moments everyday to take a deep breath in to the count of 3, and then let it out to the count of 3.

For those of you who do yoga regularly, please share with us what benefits you see from practicing!

 

 

Celebrating One Year of Blogging!

In case you missed it on our social media pages, last week marked ONE YEAR since we started blogging! What began as a challenge for one person has evolved into a way for 4 of us to share helpful information about mental health and topics we might not necessarily talk about very much.

First, we’d like to THANK YOU! Thank you for reading the blog, for sharing it with your family and friends, for your comments, and for supporting not just the blog but the entire practice. There isn’t much of a point to blogging if no one is reading it!

In celebration of one year of blogging, we are asking for your feedback. We would love to hear which was your favorite blog post and what made that one stick out for you. We’d love to hear what else you’d like us to address, or what other topics you want to learn about. Please give us feedback, so we can direct the next year of blogging to what you’d like to read!

Be Your OWN Valentine!

Happy Valentine’s Day 2019!  We are all being bombarded with advertisements and store displays reminding us to get our sweetheart the “perfect” Valentine’s Day gift such as candy, cards, flowers, jewelry, to just name a few of the most popular items.  Valentine’s Day has not always been associated with romance.  In fact, some of the history of Valentine’s Day is rather gruesome.  However, most of us focus on love and romance when it comes to Valentine’s Day and frankly, that is much better in my humble opinion.  

What is love?  That is a great question with so many descriptions and interpretations.  One definition found in Merriam Webster is “warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion; to hold dear”.  Sounds like a good summary of what many of us believe love is.  However, many descriptions  include “towards another person” in the definition.   Loving and being loved by others is great; however, many definitions lack “loving yourself”.   Is loving yourself not very important?  Well, of course it is!

Lucille Ball stated, “Love yourself first and everything else falls into line”.  How perfect is that!  How can we love someone or be loved by someone else if they first do not love themselves?  That is an easy answer… they can’t!

Loving ourselves sounds so easy; yet, for many of us, it is very hard to do!  Instead, many of us focus on loving others and relying on others to love us in return; that is, if we even can believe or accept that we deserve to be loved.  This sounds very sad and, it is!  The reality is, each one of us deserves to be loved no matter how many mistakes we have made and continue to make in life.   We need to love ourselves!  Robert Morley stated “To fall in love with yourself is the first secret to happiness”.  Again, many find truly loving ourselves very challenging, and again, I ask, why?  I do not believe that there is one single answer or explanation as to why we struggle with loving ourselves for it tends to be very complicated and deep rooted.  However, it is very important to learn to love ourselves for who we are.  Sahaj Kohli said “The fact that someone else loves you doesn’t rescue you from the project of loving yourself”. This is such an amazing quote to believe and live by!

  Let’s explore and practice ways to love ourselves. Here are 8 strategies to help us learn to and to continue to love ourselves:

1.     Look into the mirror daily, yes, daily! When you are looking in the mirror, and say at least 3 positive things about yourself.  It will likely be hard to do at first but with continued practice, it will become easier.  Be sure that you identify and state different things each day!  Each of us have so many good qualities!  I love the quote by Byron Katie ”Do you want to meet the love of your life?  Look in the mirror.”

2.     Practice self care daily, such as taking a nap, exercising, dancing in the rain to name just a few.  See a previous blog post on other self care ideas here.

3.     Establish and maintain boundaries such as saying no and standing up for yourself. Do not let others push you into things or bully you.  This too will take practice but once you do it once and keep doing it, the feeling is so great that you will want to continue to do it all the time!  

4.     Accept you for you!  You are you and you are awesome!  Don’t compare yourself to others- instead cherish your uniqueness and your personal growth.

5.     Forgive yourself!  We all make mistakes but instead, let’s view them as learning experiences and celebrate what you have learned from them.

6.     Avoid perfectionism!  No one is perfect and if someone would be, how boring would that be!  Trust me, I struggle with it too.  It can be my worst enemy at times!

7.     Avoid negative people and instead surround yourself with others who value you and love you for who you are!  They see the true you and love you for it!  Quality of friends is so much more rewarding than quantity of friends.

8.     Treat yourself!  I love to purchase a new book to read.  Maybe you will do the same or maybe you will buy a new video game or something else, the point is, do something for you!

So, now that we have identified some strategies to love ourselves, what are we going to do for ourselves to celebrate us being our own best Valentine?  Does a nice dinner out sound good?  Maybe a nice quiet night in curled up in PJ’s with a pizza and watching a movie is more your style?  Whatever it may be, please treat yourself not just on Valentine’s Day, but on a regular basis such as once a month.  You certainly deserve it!  

We would love to hear how you practice loving yourself and what you love about yourself.  If you are struggling with loving you, we are here for you. Please reach out to us because we care!

How To Know If You Are Communicating Effectively

“Why are you not getting it? Are you even listening?”

 Are these the questions you routinely ask yourself when talking with others? Do not worry -these are common questions that come up when two people are struggling to communicate. These feelings of frustration can show up in a conversation between spouses, siblings, and parents with their children! If you're having these frustrations, both of you are probably struggling with ineffective communication.  What might cause ineffective communication you might ask?  Well, one of the quickest ways we end up communicating ineffectively is by not listening the other person. How many times have you found yourself responding to something the person did last week, last month, and sometimes years ago? When that happens conversations can get negative and confrontational quickly! When talking to someone feels like a negative experience, it can actually cause us to not see the benefit in communication and instead avoid talking about tough topics. 

But how do I know if I'm specifically bad at communication? Well, how often in heated conversation do you resort to talking over someone, placing blame, or even bringing up past incidences where they hurt you? We usually do these things because we believe we know what the other person wil say, do, or even think next. Those kinds of assumptions can be very wrong and bring about the thing we feared the most, causing our own negative thoughts to come true. That kind of communication causes people to be defensive and they will either stop talking to you or lash out to protect themselves. I mean think about it, if we bark at a dog and blame it for barking back, what are we really doing? So, let's stop and take a closer look at what communication really is. Communication is one of our primary ways of talking with someone to accomplish a goal, whether that goal be to get work done, feel closer to others, or just learn something new. This is why ineffective communication is so frustrating- nothing gets accomplished!  Ineffective communication blocks any progress that could have been made in conversation which then defeats the purpose of communicating with each other. So, if your communication isn't accomplishing its goal due to the other person feeling attacked or defensive, you could be communicating ineffectively.

Now let's talk about what effective communication is, and some small fine-tuning tips that can help you and your loved ones effectively communicate. The first thing is to remember that what both people have to say is important. Each person should be ready to hear out the other person whether you agree or not- everyone's feelings are valid even if they have different perspectives. Making good eye contact and repeating back to the person what you heard is always helpful so you know you aren't misunderstanding them. Also letting the person know what you're feeling while talking to them is important. You can do this by using “I” Statements, which can help the other person to not feel blamed or attacked and can help both of you to be on the same page about how you are feeling  and leave out any assumptions. “I” Statements are simply comments about how you are feeling that start with “I feel….”.

Example 1:

Possible assumption of wife when husband seems to be avoiding her- “He doesn’t want to talk to me again today!”

I-statement from husband- “I feel frustrated when we talk about the bills so I avoid that conversation.”

 

Example 2: 

Possible assumption of parent when teen doesn’t want to talk about school-“He probably wasn’t paying attention or was goofing off in class again!”

I-statement that teen could say“I feel overwhelmed when I think about school work.”

When you use “I” statements, it allows the person to ask “why” or “how come” and possibly increase both peoples’ interest and motivation to understand each other. Also setting boundaries helps when you want to communicate effectively.  Identifying the goal of the conversation, tone of voice, locations, and statements that will be the most helpful and/or damaging to your efforts to communicate effectively is important. Writing down these rules and making them readily available and helps each person to remember what makes your communication effective. You can talk with your family and decide what rules work best for everybody a write them down so each person knows how they can stay focused on effectively communicating.

Example of rules: 

The Don’ts- No yelling, no talking when one person is angry, no name calling, no placing blame, no talking in front of the kids, in the living room, in public, or over the phone. 

The Do’s- Talk in the car, bedroom, face to face, or in private space. Talk calmly, use I statements, be supportive, listen and wait my turn.

It's true communicating effectively can be very hard work, but it's worth it in the end so that both people feel heard. That’s why most of the problem is how we talk about the problem and not what the problem actually is. With effective communication, most problems can be solved. I hope these tips will be helpful the next time you need to communicate with one of your loved ones!

New Year...New You

Are you looking to make that lifestyle change of better health for 2019?

We are excited to announce one of our therapists (who is also a certified personal trainer) will be running a group that focuses on whole body wellness. Starting in February, the “Beat the Winter Blues Fitness Group” sessions will be held once a week for 4 weeks. It will be held on Saturdays from February 2 to February 23, from 1pm-2:30pm. It will be held at Crossfit Lititz, located at 37 W. Millport Rd, Lititz, PA 17543. The group will be 45 minutes of exercise, followed by 45 minutes of group therapy. Some examples of topics that will be covered are healthy coping skills, depression, anxiety, healthy relationships, and self-care. The sessions are $60 a week, and you must commit to all 4 weeks. This group will help your overall mental health, by improving your physical and emotional health while being in a supportive environment. 

For more info or to register, contact Stacy at stacy@DiscoverCounselingCollective.com
or (717) 723-8040, ext 300

To support the premise that working out is good not only for your physical wellbeing but also your mental wellbeing, here is a reprisal of Stacy’s blog from last year on how working out is good for your mental health:

How Physical Exercise Benefits Your Mental Health

Make Lifestyle Changes, not New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year 2019!  

What are your plans for the new year? Let’s see, mine are watching Penn State win the Citrus Bowl and then having the traditional pork and sauerkraut dinner for luck throughout the year. 

Ok, so that is not exactly what I meant when I ask what your plans for the new year are; although you likely will be doing some traditions that are very special to you and I encourage you to continue celebrating them!  I am talking about the New Year’s resolutions which have been drilled into our heads since being young children. I will be frank here, I dislike the idea of New Year’s resolutions. I believe it sets us up for poor follow through with the changes and often making unrealistic resolutions “goals” that are not well thought out and lacking steps to accomplish and maintain the resolutions “goals”. Some of the most common resolutions I’ve heard are “I will eat better”, “I will exercise more”, or “I will save more money”. These are great; at least they are in theory. However, my questions are...how are we going to achieve these and how long will we maintain these “resolutions”? I personally prefer to call them life style changes. It makes them more realistic, attainable, and sustainable. I also prefer to and encourage others to make positive life changes throughout the year instead of waiting to make them on New Year’s. It is always a good time to make positive life style changes.

January 1, 1994 someone very dear to me did not make a New Year’s resolution but instead made a life style change which he continues to this day, 25 years later! He stopped consuming alcohol entirely. He was what many call “a functioning alcoholic”. He maintained employment and relationships. He paid his bills and supported his family. However, much of the time beer was his best friend and what he did to celebrate good things, to “numb negative emotions”, to socialize, and to relax. The reality is, everything was a reason or time to drink. He did not think about potential consequences related to drinking but rather the good feelings associated with drinking.  He shared that his drinking continued to increase and that he remembers drinking in excess during college.  He shared that his drinking decreased some when he had a family; although, he now understands and accepts that his drinking never decreased enough to be healthy until he stopped drinking entirely January 1, 1994.


He started his life style change when he was told by his family that they would not continue to watch him drink and that it was damaging their family more than anyone could know.  Despite his family’s desires, insistence, and ultimatum; he had to make the decision himself to stop drinking.  This was not easy for him, but he made the commitment to doing so.  He began by contacting Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and that day, an AA member came to the house and dumped all alcohol down the drain.  He then made conscious daily, and sometimes minute to minute decisions, to not consume alcohol.  He attended and participated in AA meetings.  However, what worked best for him was a commitment to change which meant changing his responses to thoughts and urges to drink and avoiding people, places, and things that were triggers for him to drink.  This was not always easy; especially after life stressors such as death of immediate family members and job loss.  However, he was more understanding and accepting that to return to drinking to numb his feelings and emotions would just make him feel better for a time but then his feelings, situations, and thoughts would be just as bad if not worse.  This life style change will be something that he will work on and towards for the rest of his life.  


Making positive life style changes is not just about addressing drinking too much or using illicit substances.  People can be addicted to anything, including working, exercise, sex, shopping, and social media, to just list a few. Caffeine is a major addiction for most people, for it is in coffee, tea, chocolate, and many other things that most of us consume at least once daily, often consuming it throughout the day. However, it seems that few people acknowledge or associate addictions with daily activities and socially accepted actions such as consuming too much caffeine.  Many say they could change these patterns and behaviors if they wanted to but don’t because either “I don’t want to” or “it isn’t a problem”.  Life style changes can and often include better self-care and maintaining boundaries as noted in previous blogs.  Making positive life changes is not easy, but anyone can make and maintain positive changes.  It takes much time and effort but the positive results are very rewarding and worth it.  Also, it is important to remember to not get discouraged about any set backs but instead learn from what has caused the set back and make different decisions and change actions in the future so that you can continue with your progress to a new and healthier you.  I know you can do it just as I knew and still know that the friend I mentioned can do it! Here are some steps to help you start your positive life changes.

Steps to make positive life style changes include:

1.    Identifying what you would like to change for example “I want to spend more time doing self-care activities.”

2.   Identify strategies to make the change for example; “I will read daily and I will maintain boundaries.”

3.   Identify what may not be working with regards to making the changes and learn from them- for example deciding to exercise for an hour a day 7 days a week may not be realistic or even the best practice initially so first try small steps such as exercising for 15 minutes a day at least 3 days a week.

4.   Review and celebrate your progress, acknowledging even the small progress such as “I said no to working overtime when in the past I would have agreed to do so.” 

5.   Seek and accept support, help, and encouragement from others.  Positive self-change is most successful when you have a positive support network in place which often includes family, friends, and other peers making similar positive life changes. 

6.   Most importantly, DON’T GIVE UP OR GET DISCOURAGED!!!!!!!!!  We are all “a work in progress” and we can and will do this! 

If you are struggling with addiction or have a desire to make positive life changes, I encourage you strongly to seek help doing so and we are here to help you!  What are some areas of your life that you would like to change?  

But I'm Just A Teen...How Can I Set Boundaries?

I am writing this post for teens to read, and for parents and caregivers of teens to read. It can be difficult for teenagers to set boundaries in relationships, whether it is a friendship or an intimate relationship. It is hard for teenagers to know what their personal values and beliefs are, and furthermore, to stand up for those values and beliefs when they engage in a relationship. However, it is a very important thing to do. With alcohol use, drug use, and the growing population of young people engaging in sexual activity, it is easy to let their guard down and give into peer pressure or “what’s cool and popular”. It could be hard for teenagers to be leaders, especially if they feel like they are outnumbered in their beliefs. 

Anyone in a relationship has the right to stand up for what they believe in and say “no” if they don’t agree with something. If you tell a friend or a partner how you feel, and they decide not to listen to you or understand your opinion, then it may not be a good relationship. A true friend or partner would listen and respect what you are saying. 

Some qualities of a good friendship or relationship are:

Listening- Actively listening to the person who is talking means using eye contact, body language such as head nodding to show that you are paying attention, and rephrasing pieces that they talk about when responding.

Talking to each other- Not yelling, taking turns, expressing yourself.

Respecting each other- Actively listening, giving feedback, and understanding each other’s perspectives even if they are different.

Compromising- If you have different beliefs about something, find a way to make both of you happy.

Trust and honesty- You want the other person in the relationship to feel like they can tell you anything, and you won’t share it with others if they ask you not to.

Sharing- In any kind of relationship, it is important to share time together, things that each of you have, and communicate about things that happened to each of you.

Being supportive- No matter what the other person in the relationship says, show that you support their opinion or belief.

Not teasing them- If they have a different belief or opinion, you should listen and respect their viewpoint, not tease or make fun of them for it.

Apologize if you are wrong- We all make mistakes, and that’s ok, it’s part of life! It is important to apologize when we are wrong if the relationship is important to you.

In romantic relationships, whether it is an emotional or physical attraction, it is also important to express how you feel about something. If your partner does not respect your word or your belief, then it is not a healthy relationship to be in. Talking about your beliefs and boundaries is a great way to communicate with your partner, to make sure the relationship will be healthy and that you feel safe in the relationship.

Setting boundaries defines what your property is- physically, emotionally and mentally. It defines what is yours. You have control over your body, mind and heart. Boundaries protect you. They keep the good in and the bad out. You have control over how others treat you. And, you have control and choice over what boundaries to set. You deserve to be yourself and be respected for who you are and what boundaries you choose to set.  You have the right to be treated with respect, no matter what your values, opinions and beliefs are.

Some values to set boundaries around about are:

How physical or intimate to get with each other- In a healthy relationship, your partner should respect you if you do not want to “go all the way”, or become sexually involved. 

How fast to say “I love you”- One partner may feel this way faster than the other, but that does not mean the other partner has to say it. Say it when you are ready, not just because you feel like you need to.

Time together vs. time apart- It is important to have time away from your partner, even when you are in a relationship. If your partner wants to be with you or talk to you constantly, this is a sign of an unhealthy relationship.

Being around alcohol and/or drug use- Whatever your values and beliefs are about alcohol and/or drug use, communicate them and your partner should respect them. Do not give into peer pressure! Communicate how you feel about alcohol and/or drug use, and being around others that use these substances.

Social media use and sharing- With all of the social media out these days, it is important to set boundaries and express how you feel about being “tagged”, following each other’s friends, commenting on each other’s posts, posting pictures, and sharing passwords, etc.

If you are a teenager, or a caregiver of a teenager and you want help identifying your beliefs and values, there are some activities you can do. You could do role playing where you act out a situation where the teenager is put in an uncomfortable situation, and talk through what they would do and say. You could look at your values, beliefs and opinions and how you can use them to set boundaries in relationships. You could watch or read something, and talk about the relationships in that movie or book, and discuss if they are healthy or unhealthy, or what boundaries are being set between the two people.

Do you have any personal stories or advice for teens having difficulty setting boundaries in their relationships?

Sources:

https://www.livestrong.com/article/560486-activities-to-reinforce-healthy-boundaries-in-teenagers/

http://tentotwenty.com/teaching-teens-boundaries-and-harmful-relationships/

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/