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From Surviving to Thriving Through the Holidays

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Its-the-Most-Wonderful-Time-of-the-YearIt can be the most wonderful time of the year, or it can be one of the most challenging

On top of our weekly responsibilities, there can be added financial stress of buying presents or hosting family and friends, answering questions that come with family visits, and managing an overwhelming schedule of events that disrupts our regular routine.

Some of us feel pressure to act happier than we actually feel, or we may feel lonely if we aren’t able to visit with family or friends. If struggling with eating disorders or alcohol use disorder, it can be difficult to stick to a plan when parties encourage eating or drinking.

Thankfully, there are many ways to navigate the holidays while keeping your mental health at the forefront.

  • Stick to a routine as much as possible. Don’t cancel your therapy sessions, or the activities you do for yourself that help calm you when your schedule feels too packed.
  • Care for your physical health. Make sure you’re eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and making time for exercise – even if it’s a light walk here and there. These tasks can get swept aside with busy holiday schedules, but caring for your body translates to caring for your mind.
  • Set realistic expectations and stick to them. Whether it’s your budget or your time, be realistic about what you can do, and recognize that this might mean that you’ll do less than in previous years.
  • Set limits for drinking. If you’re working to cut down on drinking, or to stop all together, try to avoid situations where alcohol is involved. Even if alcohol misuse isn’t a concern, don’t turn to alcohol if you’re feeling down or lonely. It will only make you feel worse.
  • Take time for yourself.This means different things for different people. It might mean taking some time away from a family party to take a walk, prioritizing your laundry, or making sure you don’t miss your monthly book club meeting. It’s very important to make time for your needs, however trivial they might seem to others.

The holiday season brings a lot of opportunities for fun, but also stress and high expectations. It’s key to keep your mental health a priority during more stressful seasons. If you feel like you need additional support, take a mental health screening and get connected to local resources at http://screening.mentalhealthscreening.org/SUMMIT

How NOT to Empathetically Listen

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Most of us want to be there for the people in our lives. We want to take care of them when they hurt and support them when they struggle. In these good intentions and attempts to help, most of us (myself included!) have a hard time empathetically listening. Here are some common mistakes:

  1. Say “I know how you feel.” Every person’s story and perspective is different. As much as we want to believe we can completely understand, the truth is we can’t fully feel how another person feels. Sometimes saying that we get it can take away the person’s chance to share and it also means we are making assumptions about their feelings.
  2. Try to fix it. Hearing about people going through something difficult can be extremely disarming and scary. It feels threatening at times and we want to help them stop feeling that way because it hurts to hear about it. Trying to fix the situation by saying, “Well have you tried…?” Or “Maybe you should…” Often makes us feel better but usually doesn’t help the person we are trying to listen to. Those statements can tend to take away from their experience and keeps us from really hearing where they are at/ what they need.
  3. Making meaning for them. When we hear someone’s pain we want to help them make sense of it by inserting things that make sense for us. Sometimes I hear myself or others say to those grieving, “Well God needed another angel” after losing a child or “There’s a reason that you lost him/her at that time”. While those statements might be helpful or meaningful to the person saying them, they often are told to someone when they are not ready to make meaning or try to understand the reason of their loss. Usually, when someone is grieving or in pain, they just want to be heard.

Empathy means “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” It isn’t about looking at the person from our perspective, it’s about trying to step into their shoes and imagine how they feel. It’s about saying “I don’t really know how you feel but I’m here and this is hard.” It’s about acknowledging the darkness and grey without trying to flood in light. It’s about being willing to be uncomfortable with someone.

Empathy means you don’t have to make it better for someone, you can just be with them.

If you need someone to listen to you or help working through something in your life, we are here for you. Please call Summit at 678-893-5300 if you have any questions about starting therapy.

More than your Diagnosis – Differentiating Between Mental Illness and Burnout

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burnout and stressIn recent months, I have noticed an increasing trend in some of my more “acute” clients. These are people who have been in therapy on and off for several years and have come to terms with their various diagnoses. They are actively committed to the treatment plan and are moving towards health.

The trend that I have noticed is called burnout.  When stress and struggles begin at work, these clients may have difficulty differentiating between whether their mental illness or burnout is contributing to their troubles.

The ability to differentiate between these two shows a great deal of growth and healing.  Identifying this difference means acknowledging that they feel off emotionally, mentally, or physically but they are unable to figure out where exactly these feelings are coming from.

What I like to do with my clients first is normalize burnout. I like to describe the difference between burnout and stress. Everyone experiences stress in some form or fashion, but burnout can look and feel completely different. It’s important to focus on how burnout impacts us and what we do with it.

There are ten main symptoms I look for when trying to identify burnout. They are:

  1. Severe exhaustion. Having difficulty getting up in the morning. Most activities feel as though they require an extra amount of energy or effort.
  2. Lack of motivation. Trouble feeling enthusiastic about anything or have difficulty coming up with motivation for your work.
  3. Excessive workload. When the workload is overwhelming and there is little to no time to recover this causes stress to build up.
  4. Not taking care of yourself. Oftentimes when people become very overwhelmed, they have difficulty keeping their regular routine. They may cut out physical exercise, balanced eating, or they may have trouble sleeping.
  5. When everything feels pointless and there is difficulty experiencing a sense of accomplishment. We may focus on the negative such as resentments we have about the job or the place in which we work.
  6. Emotionally draining work. If your work requires a lot of emotional energy and there’s nothing to replenish these resources, it can result in physical fatigue.
  7. Catastrophic thoughts. When we are burnt out, it can lead to dire thinking. It may sound something like, “I can’t do this anymore” or “Why bother?”
  8. Lack of rewards. If you go above and beyond in your workplace and there are no rewards or a seeming lack of support, it can cause resentment and exhaustion.
  9. Interpersonal problems at home and work. If you notice that you are having more conflict with people, this could be a sign. Or if you notice that you are beginning to withdraw from others.
  10. Being preoccupied with work, outside of work. If you have difficulty shutting your mind off and you continually think about various work problems that need to be solved.

When these symptoms are present, I like to consider burnout as an option. At the same time, I am evaluating whether or not my clients are sticking to the following guidelines:

  • Making sure they are medication compliant- that they are taking their medication as prescribed by their psychiatrist and that they are addressing any potential side effects.
  • Continuing to meet with their therapist and psychiatrist regularly, as outlined in their treatment program. Notice and discuss any unusual or concerning symptoms that may be presenting themselves.
  • Maintaining healthy sleep hygiene, exercising regularly, attending to physical ailments, avoiding mood altering substances, and eating a balanced diet.

 

If they are, then odds are its burnout. I like to shift the focus to maintaining what they are currently doing but adding in some additional forms of self-care. This may include: building up more positive events; reengaging with their support system; or setting boundaries, where necessary, at work or home.

If you think you may be struggling with burnout, are having difficulty identifying your stressors, or how to manage them, I would encourage you to set an appointment with a therapist. They can help provide you with the essential tools or resources you may need.

 

4 Tips for Co-parenting with a Narcissist

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Co-parenting is a dance to learn and it may always require effort for both parties involved, however, co-parenting with someone who is truly diagnosed with the personality disorder known as narcissism may require extra effort in order to build strength and reduce frustration and stress.

Below are 4 tips to help make this journey of parenting with another easier:

 

  1. Set and maintain boundaries

Narcissists will often not respect your boundaries, therefore, there is constant testing and pushing of them. Make a list of 5-10 important boundaries for you in your parenting relationship and stick to those. You may need to repeat them until you sound like a broken record, but this is important that you stay strong and consistent in these boundaries so that they know you wont budge.

I.E. “I need a week notice if you want to see our child over the weekend so that I can plan.”

 

  1. Focus on your home and your home only

We can only control what goes on in our own home. If we spend too much energy on what we cant control we will wind up feeling defeated and discouraged. Whatever you think is lacking in the other home (ex: structure, empathy, respect), make a priority in your home. Try to do something consistent and routine when you make the transition back to your home with the child(ren).

I.E. before we make the transition to the other parents house we go out for froyo, when you make the transition to come back to your house you listen to the same song on the way home

 

  1. Parenting Plan

 

Come up with a parenting plan and have it documented and signed. If necessary, get lawyers and notaries involved to ensure validity. Stick to the parenting plan and do not budge if they try to get you to change up or sway anything in the parenting plan because it can come back to bite you. Essential things to include in the parenting plan: drop off/pick up information, discipline, holiday info, extracurricular info, device info.

Remember: this may look different in both households but still come up with a plan for both households if necessary

 

  1. Take care of yourself

 

Although this may be cliché, it is most important. Co-parenting with someone that is constantly feeding negativity into your life can wear you down. Make sure you have a support network and therapist to listen and help guide you on this journey. Do one “BIG” thing for yourself each week and tell yourself “I’m doing this because I love you.” Live each day with little self care gifts to yourself along the way. Remember you are doing the best you can!

 

I.E. A BIG self care may look like getting a mani/pedi

A little daily self care may look like drinking your favorite tea each night before bed

Executive Function and the Regulation of Emotion in Development

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Mastery of the regulation of one’s emotions is a life-long process.  Psychiatrist Erik Erikson (1959) posited that humans must go through eight stages of social-emotional development as they mature into early adulthood and then on to later adulthood.1  Each stage involves a “crisis” of development, which is typically both cognitive and emotional in nature.  For example, during the first two years of life, a young child learns to trust others through attachment to caregivers or to develop a sense of mistrust of others when observing how his or her needs get met.  Emotional satisfaction of feeding and physical touch, in other words, goes hand-in-hand with cognitive awareness of one’s basic needs being met.

Erikson postulated that the successful resolution of crises at each stage of development is critical for healthy social-emotional development.  Conversely, emotional problems may persist and become exacerbated by a lack of resolution or poor resolution of crises in these developmental stages.  From the ages of 3½ to about 6 years, children in Erikson’s stage of “Initiative versus Guilt” learn to become independent in their play and to cooperate with others.  When the critical learning of this stage goes awry, guilt, shame, and fear may predominate a child’s emotional life.

Erikson’s theory is one of many theories of social-emotional development.  His theory is especially helpful when reflecting on the cognitive control associated with healthy emotional and behavioral regulation.   Multiple methods of psychotherapy are based on the close connection observed between thought and emotional life.  One’s beliefs about himself or herself, and one’s belief’s about the perspectives of another, are often critical to the quality of his or her social-emotional interactions.

Most of the cognitive skills associated with the development of emotional regulation are those typically classified under the umbrella term of Executive Function.  These skills include inferential reasoning, sequencing information, perspective-taking, and inhibiting automatic responses (whether cognitive, behavioral, or emotional in nature) and replacing them with more adaptive ones.  Children who have difficulty with executive function skills are more likely than others to have one or more problems with behavioral control, academic achievement, and/or emotional stability.

Emotional health has a significant impact on a child’s academic and daily life.   At the Summit Counseling Center, we provide screening assessments for attention, academic, and emotional problems, as well as comprehensive evaluations for specific learning disabilities.  Through these evaluations, we identify how children may achieve their full potential.  Please contact psychologist Rebecca L. Marshall, Ph.D., at the Summit Counseling Center (678-893-5300) for more information.

 

1 Erikson, E. (1959).  Identity and the Life Cycle.  Psychological Issues Monograph 1.  New York: International Universities Press.

Teen Interest

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Boy teenager at a psychologistWatching your teenager struggle with life’s difficulties can be challenging.  Not knowing how to help can prove to be even harder.  If your teenager is having difficulty in school or extra-curricular activities, or is struggling in relationships, therapy might be the place for them to work it out.  Here are a few ways to spark their interest in this life-giving experience.

How to get your teen invested in therapy:

  1. Normalize the Experience of Therapy: Not everyone in your community sees a therapist, but more people do than you realize. Therapy can be helpful for everyone throughout different seasons of life.  We don’t always need it, but we all could use it at some point.
  2. Attend Counseling Yourself: Teens, much like the rest of us, do not like to be singled out. Therapy is helpful for the individual.  However, just like in a marriage, when the entire system is investing in change, there is a greater chance for improvement.
  3. Discuss Ownership of Privacy: This can be a scary concept for parents and yet an exciting one for your teen. Much like an adult, teenagers also have a right to their privacy.  In therapy, this means that whatever they say is kept confidential between therapist and client.  The only time this confidentiality is broken is if the teen has communicated that they are of harm to themselves or to someone else (as well as if they have been physically and/or sexually abused).  At this point, precautions are taken, and the guardian is notified via the client and therapist together.  Having someone to talk to that is unrelated to family and outside their social network can be a huge advantage. (Just as a side note: your child’s safety is our number one concern. If we are worried about it, you will know.)
  4. Talk about the BENEFITS:
    1. Investing in yourself is always worth it. Teens invest in friends, extra-curricular activities, social media, summer jobs, hobbies, and family (when they’re lucky!)  All of which are great things to invest in.  However, investing in yourself is investing in the one relationship you are GUARANTEED to have your ENTIRE life.  Making sure you are healthy and happy is well worth the investment.
    2. You learn new ways of dealing with old and new problems. Believe it or not, teenagers pick up on their parents coping skills.  This means that if you feel like you don’t handle stress well, they likely agree, and will typically handle it similarly.  So, discussing this with them might look like…”I see that you’ve been overwhelmed lately, and I know what that is like.  Sometimes when I am overwhelmed I don’t handle it the best that I could.  Talking with a therapist could give you new ways to cope with your stress that look different than mine.  They could help me as well…”
    3. Therapy with teenagers is often different from therapy with adults. Sharing can be combined with music, sports, creativity, games, and more.  It can be fun and something they begin to look forward to.
    4. You gain an advocate. Some things are just hard to say.  Through therapy, you can learn new ways to communicate what you need and want.  Your therapist is there to listen, validate, teach, and assist.

The Power of Mindfulness

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Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of the present moment. This practice allows people to become aware of thoughts, emotions, and body sensations from moment to moment. Mindfulness practice also involves doing one thing at a time. Because most of us are conditioned to doing several things at a time, we often do not notice the impact multitasking or mindlessness can have on us. While we pay attention to several different tasks, we often miss what is happening around us or inside of us. We can become accustomed to drowning out our internal or external experience while we multitask which can make it more challenging to experience things in our present moment. Increasing mindfulness in our lives helps us connect more with others, our surroundings, and ourselves. Interested in practicing mindfulness? Try these helpful tips!

  1. Increase your awareness by keeping a daily gratitude journal or list. This practice increases your awareness of what you are grateful for in the moment which reduces suffering when negative experiences occur.
  2. Take 5 minutes each day to sit quietly and focus on your breathing. This practice can help you stay in the present moment without getting distracted by thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, or external things.
  3. Set a reminder on your phone to check in and ask yourself “what am I feeling?” Try to name the emotion. This practice can help you get in touch with your feelings by noticing and name the emotion.
  4. Try a mindful body scan before bed. While lying in bed, take a few deep breaths and start to scan your body for any sensations. Start with your toes and work your way up to your head. Try not to hang on to any sensation, but instead, try to allow the sensation to come into your attention and move out of your attention freely.
  5. Practice mindfulness with imagery. Try sitting quietly and becoming aware of any thoughts that arise. Imagine each thought as a cloud that is drifting through the sky. This practice can help you notice thoughts without attaching to them which can reduce the likelihood of overthinking, rumination, and suffering.

Mindfulness is a core component of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). By learning mindfulness, you can begin to implement other coping strategies to manage your emotions, tolerate painful emotions and experiences, and maintain healthy relationships. Interested in learning more about mindfulness or DBT? Contact The Summit Counseling Center by calling 678-893-5300 to schedule an appointment with an Intensively Trained DBT therapist or visit our website to learn more about our DBT program http://summitcounseling.org/dbt-program/

How to Encourage Social Skills with your Children

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The phrase “social skills” describes interactions a person has in relationships that are used to communicate our thoughts and feelings through both verbal or nonverbal. A child’s verbal expression could be a statement of “I don’t care” or constant talking about a subject without asking the listener their opinion. A nonverbal expression could be a child having little eye contact or turning his or her back on the listener. It is important to develop healthy social skills during childhood as it is a sensitive time to build communication between caregivers and friends.

What are signs that social skills may need to be encouraged with a child?

These are a few signs that social skills may be more of a challenge to your child. If these signs sound like familiar behaviors, it does not mean your child has a definite problem. These are just guidelines to seek additional help. Signs to look for are if a child:

  • Avoids eye contact (except when culturally appropriate)
  • Isolation from others
  • Does not attach emotion to relationships
    • For example: A child uses an adult for a functional purpose instead of a comforting purpose.
  • Often appears to be withdrawn or in his or her “own world”
  • In general, seems emotionally detached
  • Has little empathy towards others
  • Displays signs of extreme anxiety or sadness in difficult social situations
  • Has difficulty with transitions or changing topics
  • Thinks in “black or white” and appears rigid
  • Appears to have little friends, even if attempts are made to be social
  • Has difficulty interacting with peers of the same age
  • Tries to gain friends through fundamental ways that could be below developmental levels, such as asking a friend “Do you want to be friends?”
  • Has experienced bullying

What can caregivers do to help?

As a caregiver, you are a secure base for your child to connect to and at the same time feel comfortable to explore the world around them. Therefore, modeling healthy social skills to children is one of the best ways for them to learn these skills. Here are a few skills to encourage at home:

  • Encourage eye contact and open body language during conversations
  • Encourage the child to ask his or her peers questions during conversations and be flexible in subjects they talk about
  • Promote empathy and respect while talking together
  • Seek extra help or support as needed

5 Fun and Engaging Ways to Boost Your Child’s Confidence

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Every parent dreams of having a child who is brimming with confidence and healthy self-esteem. While some children just seem to have a natural born confidence, most of them need a little boost and parents can and should be the number one confidence booster.  However, how do you do that in such a way that kids really absorb the messages?  Here are five fun and engaging ways to boost your child’s confidence without crossing the line into too cheesy or having that fake, disingenuous feeling.

Strengths Wall.  One of my favorite ways to boost a child’s confidence is to make a visual for how they can see their strengths and successes.  For many of us, out of sight is also out of mind.  It’s far too easy to forget what we’ve done well when all we do is focus on the negative and many kids tend to do just that.  So why not make their successes as visual as possible.  The simplest way to do this is to pick a spot on a wall in their room, get a pack of post its (in their favorite color), and start putting one post it on the wall per day with something they did well that day.  Before you know it, they will have a wall full of things they were great at.  When the space becomes too full, take them down, put them in their nightstand, and start again.

Mirror Self Talk. It’s one thing to try to pump ourselves up in our own heads.  It’s a whole other thing to say those statements out loud.  When I’m working with a child who is struggling with low confidence or even anxiety, I will often have them stand in front of a mirror and we will practice brave talk while watching ourselves.  Most kids start out with small and mousy voices but after a few tries, the tiny voice gets louder and louder and they start standing taller and taller.  This can easily be done at home in front of the bathroom mirror.  Don’t just encourage them to talk positively to themselves.  Get more active with it. Stand in front of the mirror with them and take turns speaking as boldly and confidently as possible about how great they are or how brave they are going to be.  And be specific!  If they are lacking confidence about auditioning for a school play, have them practice saying “I will remember my lines” or “I will stand up tall when I am on stage.”  The more specific the better.

Hidden Messages. Another fun way to boost your child’s confidence is to leave secret messages for around the house, in their bookbag or even in their lunch. Tuck a note under their pillow before they go to bed telling them something great they did that day.  Draw a picture on the napkin you put in their lunch box with an ”I love you” written on it.  Best of all, write them a postcard and mail it to them.  Kids love getting something in the mail with their name on it.

Find an activity you can do together. Whether it’s boy scouts or taking a cooking class together, finding an activity that you can learn together is a great way to enhance the bond between parent and child.  Nothing boosts a child’s self-esteem and self-worth more than having a parent who wants to spend quality one on one time together. I can be as simple as playing basketball in the driveway or as complicated as finding a new activity to learn together.  If you’re not sure where to begin, observe your kid for a few days and see what they are interested in.  Join them there first and show interest with them. That will open the door for many more activities to do together.

Encourage the effort and the details.  Last but certainly not least, one of the most effective ways to boost a child’s confidence is to encourage their efforts.  Most adults focus on praising a child’s success.  Encouragement focuses on the effort they are making.  Praise focuses on the end result whereas encouragement focused on the process and the details.  When we notice how hard a child is working on their homework or all the different color details they are drawing in a picture, they begin to recognize their own achievements and are built up from the inside out.  Confidence does not come naturally to all of us.  However, when parents start early, they can go a long way in creating a strong confident foundation for their children to grow from.

 

The Courage of Therapy

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Therapy is hard. If you’ve ever taken those first steps through a therapist’s doors, then you know how heavy those steps can feel. Stepping through those doors means that you’re being willing to say that something in your life isn’t working. You are saying, “I need help”; a transformative and counter-cultural statement in a society that tells all of us that we must be enough all on our own.

Starting therapy takes courage. It takes courage to sit with a therapist and let them hold a mirror up to your life. It takes courage to look at the things you don’t want to. It takes courage to be willing to acknowledge that you, like all of us, are human and imperfect.

As a therapist, I never take for granted the courage and resiliency that it takes for someone to step into my office. Every time I see someone walk in it gives me hope for the journey they are on. Starting therapy, whether for the first time or picking it again, shows me that someone is saying that they are worth being brave for. That they are worth working to create positive change. That they believe in hope and, ultimately, that they believe in themselves.

Therapy is hard, but it’s worth it. When you can be vulnerable and take that first step it opens you up to deeper healing, self-awareness, acceptance, and meaning. It starts the journey from “I’m not enough” to “I’m doing the best I can and that’s ok”.

I’m honored to partner with people on that journey and learn so much from the people I walk alongside.

If you feel like you’re at the point where therapy is something you’re thinking about, then we are here to walk with you and honor your courage. Please call our front office at 678-893-5300 if you have any questions about what that might look like or to set up an appointment with one of our therapists.

The Summit Counseling Center
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