LifeTip: Is It Time to Hit the Panic Button?

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Sometimes we feel like we’re about to burst. Between the pressures of work, home, school, friends, significant other, and bills, we can sometimes feel like we just can’t take it anymore. Then we get hit with an unexpected passing of a loved one, coming down with the flu, or finding out that our dog has chewed up our favorite pair of shoes. Soon we find ourselves reaching for that panic button, because we know the top is about to blow off this pressure cooker.

For those of you who have followed my blogs, you’re probably expecting me to say “take a minute and just breathe” right about now. Yes, breathing is of course essential, but when we find ourselves in the crosshairs of a full-blown melt down, we need a little more than some deep breathing exercises. We need to release that pressure valve and release it fast.

Let’s get a little nerdy and talk about what’s happening in the brain when we find ourselves in these panicked moments. When we’re calm, cool, and collected, we’re living in the “front room” of our brain; we’re able to think and act logically and make rational decisions. The more our anxiety and frustration increases, the further back in the house we go, until we land in the “back room” of our brain where we can only employ our fight, flight, freeze, or appease reactions. When we get locked into this back room, it’s almost impossible for us to think clearly, make rational decisions, and respond logically. I bring this up because the time to decide what to do when we’re in panic-mode is not when we’re locked in that back room. Rather, we need to develop our game plan when we’re calmly relaxing in our front room.

So what are you going to do? What's brought you back to center in the past? What’s helped you to walk away from that panic button? Now is the time to think through your plan. If you’ve gotten into a fight with your significant other or a friend, walk away. Remember, you’re amped up so you’re bound to say things that you don’t really mean. If you’re becoming overwhelmed with bills, set them down and go for a stroll around the block. You’re logical brain is not working well at this point; the last thing you want to do is make a mistake and end up sending two payments instead of one. You walk in the door after a long day at work and you find that Fido has destroyed your living room blinds. Let him outside to run and release some energy, then go shut yourself in your bathroom and get lost in YouTube-land; don’t take your frustrations out on Fido.  

While you’re doing your action planning, take the time to look up different de-stressing techniques. Deep breathing, grounding, yoga, and meditation are all activities that you can do by yourself. If those don’t resonate with you, think about who you’re going to reach out to in those times of stress. Who can you call and talk to when you’re feeling like your head is about to burst? Regardless of your identified action plan, do something that feels right and will work for you.

Stress and anxiety, as awful as they feel, don’t need to hold us captive. We are all capable of casting these feelings aside and deflating their power. Although, we must plan ahead and develop these strategies when we’re in a good head space. Ever hear the phrase, “the best defense is a strong offense”? Well, here is a good way to put that phrase into action. The more you plan, practice, and implement your de-stressing strategies, the less often you’ll find yourself looking for that panic button.

LifeTip: Is Anybody Listening?

 Jason Rosewell - Unsplash

Jason Rosewell - Unsplash

Feeling as though we’re not being heard can often trigger feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, and fear.  It can seem as though our words and our thoughts are not important to others, leaving us consumed with invalidation - the feeling or perception that someone else isn’t hearing you, is dismissing your thoughts, or is just flat out telling you that you’re wrong. Just as I’ve spoken about the “emotional rollercoaster” before, this is another one that can quickly zoom off from the station, launching us into a spiral of confrontation and ineffective communication.

Why does it seem so hard to stop this rollercoaster, or better yet, keep ourselves from jumping on board?  We just can’t seem to stop; we get on board and brace ourselves for the twists and turns of yelling, hurtful words, crossed arms, and ‘stink eye’ stares.  Wouldn’t it be nice, though, to just sit down and tell the other person how we’re really feeling and avoid all of this unnecessary bickering?  Effective communication is the key to avoiding these conflicts. Check out my latest blog post to learn more about the power of effective communication, as well as some tools to help beef up your communication skills.

TeenTip: Planning Your Way to a Stress-Free Summer

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Ah, summer. It’s the time of year when the smells of backyard barbecues, sunscreen and citronella combine seamlessly in the hot Texas air. On your evening walk to the mailbox you're able to hear kids playing, cicadas chirping and lawn mowers in the distance.  If you’re an adult, you may pleasantly reminisce to those days of summer when you didn’t have a care in the world and you spent your days out on amazing adventures which brought you home, miraculously, just in time for dinner. Millennial adults remember the hours spent roaming movie theaters, three-way calling and imagining what kind of housemate you’d be if you made it on Road Rules or The Real World (or is that just me?).  It was a simpler time back then. Relaxing. Carefree.

What we often forget, however, is that summer is a time of transition. It is a time when both parents and their children experience a loss of structure, which can end up being challenging for everyone involved. It is important to keep in mind that for most young people, this structure is really about their social life. School provides ample opportunity for connection. Without it, some teens might become anxious about how they are going to continue those relationships throughout the summer. Add to that the pressure of making the team, staying on top of their college preparations, getting ready to move to a new school, feeling self-conscious about “swim suit season” and finally, having their parents remind them that summer is about having fun and relaxing! This is all but relaxing, especially for a teen experiencing anxiety or depression.  

These teens might need some extra help during the summer months. In order to keep your cool during connection attempts with your child, here are some ways this new lack of structure might affect them as a person with anxiety and depression:

1. Isolation

  • School provides opportunities for young people to build connections and relationships (ultimately building support), contribute to the well-being of others, practice social skills, and check in on how they view themselves against a more realistic barometer. Teens with anxiety or depression may isolate themselves to feel safer, but this approach can actually make negative feelings worse.

2. Free Time

  • With anxiety and depression, your teen might experience avoidance and lack of motivation. Depression feeds off of free time, and free time reinforces the distorted belief that they have no purpose or value because they are not able to self-motivate. Feeling like they have not accomplished something can stir up guilt, shame, frustration and anger.  Finding an activity for them can help structure their time, while also allowing them to explore something they feel passionate about – ultimately increasing their sense of self-worth.

3. Lack of Stimulation

  • During the year, school allows teens to focus on productive activities. It gives them natural opportunities to push away negative thoughts and feelings, because there is other work that requires their focus and attention. This stimulation has the potential to keep depression at bay. When summer comes along and there isn't a school schedule to follow it is easy for teens to lose focus and experience a lack of stimulation, which can lead to increased anxiety and depression.

Considering all the benefits that school provides for students with depression, teens and parents should look to carefully plan the summer so that the rug doesn't get pulled out from under them. Here are some natural and inexpensive ways to replicate the benefits of school:

  1. Have a Schedule – create a to-do list, even if it seems minor.

  2. Daily Physical Activity – It fills time, improves mood and is an opportunity to accomplish something and/or nurture social relationships.

  3. Employment / Volunteer Work – An effective tool against depression is helping others. Employment or volunteering opportunities can provide structure, stimulation and social interaction.

  4. Strengthen Existing Commitments – Whether through club sports, faith communities or additional learning, teens can find purpose when engaging with their community.

  5. Stay Focused on Academics – While a reprieve from the pressures of school are necessary, keeping up with academics is beneficial for some. It can also ease their transition into the next school year.

  6. Leisure  - Ideally, leisure time is given the same priority as the items listed above and is mainly social. This allows teens to take time for themselves and blow off steam by participating in activities they enjoy, with people they enjoy. * Remember that these are activities of their own choosing, and not something that you hope they will enjoy.

  7. Down Time is IMPORTANT! – There is such a thing as TOO MUCH activity. Filling every minute of the day with activities is exhausting and might even decrease their self-esteem. Regardless of age, it is important for everyone to have time to unwind and be alone, as long as it’s only one part of many.

A thoughtful and well planned summer can not only help those with depression and anxiety by avoiding certain stressors, but it could also help them make gains in managing their illness!


 

 

ParentTip: The Mayhem of May!

  Photo by  Aaron Burden  on Unsplash

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The month of May is often fraught with a unique blend of moments; the kind of moments that elicit intense highs and lows that can end up making parents feel scattered, overwhelmed, and all over the emotional map. Sometimes we refer to this feeling as an emotional rollercoaster. I certainly feel those peaks and valleys, and for years I have noticed that other parents do, too. It makes sense though, when you step back and take a look at the type of moments that get packed into this little month. Graduations! School parties! Finals! Proms! Summer internships! New jobs! Packing for camp! I could go on and on... as a parent, you get the picture.

Although the constant commotion can become overwhelming, I think each moment individually matters in a notable and remarkable way to each of us. These milestone moments are saturated with growth and meaning, whether your child is a toddler, teen, or young adult. The month of May is an extraordinary time where bittersweet endings and exciting new beginnings overlap and get entangled. It is a time for greetings and goodbyes, each of which are laden with complex, mixed emotions, whether that be a fear of letting go or an eagerness to do so. No wonder a parent can feel all over the place!

This post goes out to parents at the close of May and the opening of summer. May you find comfort in knowing that your heightened emotions make sense, and that you are not alone. Summer is on the horizon. Parents, you are almost there.  May the breath of summer bring a respite from the mayhem of May!

Meet Danielle

Hello, friend!  I’m so happy you’re here ☺

For those new to the idea of therapy, opening up and sharing pieces of yourself with a stranger can be weird, exciting and maybe a little intimidating.  Common thoughts like, “What am I supposed to say?” or “What if they think I’m weird/annoying/bad/crazy?” go through most people’s minds before meeting someone new, especially if that person is a therapist. In fact, one of the biggest misconceptions I hear about therapy is the expectation to go in and tell some deep, juicy secret to a person you’ve never met while they write and nod, filling the empty spaces with “Mmhmm” and “I see”.  Then suddenly… BAM! Four sessions later, all problems have disappeared and you are on your merry way.

As wonderful and convenient as this would be, sharing parts of your true, authentic self requires much more than a few weeks with a couch, a legal pad and a person with letters behind their name. It requires both client and therapist to be a little vulnerable in order to begin developing a strong foundation of mutual respect and trust – a necessity when building a secure, nurturing and overall safe relationship where you know you are valued and cared for. So, in the spirit of new relationship vulnerability, I’d love to open the door and share a bit of my story with you and invite you to share your story with me!

Originally hailing from Oklahoma City, OK, my understanding of empathy and desire to help others began at a very young age. Around 4 I began offering grumpy looking strangers unsolicited care in the form of band-aids (they fix everything, right?) and very lively and public renditions of my own “feel better” songs, which so happened to be  “Love Shack” by the B-52s and “Free Your Mind” by En Vogue. Though likely mortifying to my parents, they could see that I recognized emotions and wanted the world to be a better place.

As I got older, my care and concern for others continued to grow and I became fascinated with family dynamics and children in general. When I wasn’t busy with field hockey, track or choir, I was working as an after-school care provider, tutor, swim teacher and babysitter. This continued when I moved to Fort Worth, TX to attend Texas Christian University. While originally there for vocal music, I went between four (!) different majors before deciding that developmental psychology and child development was my passion and potential career path.

After graduating from college I backpacked through S.E. Asia for four months, using money saved from many, many hours babysitting, before finally moving to Austin, TX. In the four years I was here I explored different jobs, including behavioral work with children on the autism spectrum, pre-school teaching and full-time nannying for 3 different families. Though I had built a happy and comfortable life in Austin, I still knew that I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone and do something different in order to help the most people. Once I was accepted to Vanderbilt’s Human Developmental Counseling master’s program, I decided to take the chance and move.

While I have had many ups and downs in life (as most of us have), the risk of giving up my life in Austin to become a therapist in Nashville was so heart-wrenching and insanely challenging that it made me question if I had made a mistake. It was through music, yoga, meditation and lots of soul-searching, love and support that I learned how to take a pause, find strength and push beyond what I originally believed I was capable of.

I hope to share this lesson with others who are on their own journeys through the ups and downs of life. I believe that everyone has a voice and a story that is worth being heard, regardless of the number of falls, challenges or setbacks it takes to come out the other side.

Thank you for allowing me to share bits of my story with you, and I look forward to hearing and helping you grow in yours ☺

LifeTip: What do mean I have to stop therapy?

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The therapist-client connection is a special one, and my clients are very, very important to me. There are a million reasons why goodbyes happen in therapy, but I have found that they all are painful on the surface, just in different degrees. Why? Most of the time, I run away from saying goodbye. My brain says, “but I don’t want to do it,” or, “I don’t like that!” in my most young, child-like voice, because the part of us that gets most affected by goodbyes is our very young self. The self that wants to be deeply connected to another person. Under the surface, however, goodbyes can provide healing and relief so it’s worth moving through the pain to get to that place.

There are two types of termination (a fancy word for goodbye) as I have come to experience and understand:

  1. When you (the client) decide to stop therapy (b/c of schedule changes, school ending, deciding you just want a break from all the talking)

  2. When your therapist makes the decision for whatever reason (schedule changes, decision to close their practice, a move, other life changes-having a baby, etc).

However the goodbye happens with your therapist, here are some general tips for handling this experience:

-Say all the things your brain is thinking to your therapist. I promise we can take it. It’s our job to hear all the things.

-Stick it out. Don’t run away. Come back. (I think that’s enough said, but I’ll clarify- goodbyes are super hard. Most humans have an instinct to run away from hard feelings, so your instinct will be to run away and never come back to another therapy session. Fight it. Come back so we can talk about it all).

-Make memories with your therapist. I know you have done incredible work together, even if you only saw your therapist for a few sessions. With my clients that I’ve seen for many months, we might make a memory book of things we have said to each other, we might make friendship bracelets, we might make a piece of art together.

-Ask as many questions as you need to ask. Ask some more. Cry. get angry. Yell. say that you feel nothing, and that you don’t care. Everything you say and do is normal.

-Clients have asked me, “why can’t we talk or communicate after our last session?” My answer is simply that it’s because sometimes relationships just have to end. The therapeutic relationship (I know, it sounds weird, but it just means-relationship between therapist and client) is a special one, one that is different than a parent-child, or friend-friend relationship, or even a teacher-child relationship. As a therapist, there are rules about communication afterwards for my license (kind of like rules for a doctor or a lawyer) that I have to follow.

In the end, I might not be able to fix every feeling about our goodbye, but I will always tell you this in our last session: “You matter to me. You are important to me. I will never forget you. I will never forget the unique person you are. I believe in you.”

When a goodbye happens that you weren’t expecting, it can feel like you don’t hold any of the cards, or you feel a bit powerless. But here’s a secret that I want to let you in on:

You are a powerful, magical being. You will survive this. You can tell me you won’t survive, and I’ll talk about that with you, but you are still a powerful, magical being through it all.

If your therapist needs to say goodbye for any reason, you’ll get the option to continue on your therapeutic journey with another therapist, or the option to take a break from therapy and rest a while. Maybe you go back, maybe you don’t. But a wise colleague said this to me, and I’m gifting it to you: the magic isn’t in the therapist, it’s in the therapy and the client itself.

I am not the secret ingredient (even though I am made of glitter and sparkles and I will always love you)- the work is. Your life is. Therapists are guides, we are listeners, we are helpers. And, you will find others who will listen, who will help and assist you in ways you never knew you needed. Carry me with you, be brave and go forth.

ParentTip: Where’s That Parenting Manual?

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Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a manual of some sort that was issued the moment you become a parent?   Unfortunately, there is no manual that can capture all of the in’s and out’s of being a parent. Just as being a kiddo is rough, a parent’s job is equally as rough.  Every day can seem like a trial and error experiment. One of the biggest questions that I get asked is, “how do I become a better parent to my child?”

At the sake of sounding like a broken record, my first response is to always stop and breathe.  Give yourself permission to put the brakes on for a few moments and relax.  I can appreciate that there are many moments where you are juggling: grocery shopping, talking on the phone with the cable company, keeping an eye out on your child, and checking out the date and time of your kiddo’s next soccer match.  With all of this multi-tasking, though, it is vital that you take a moment for yourself so that you can regroup; burning the candle at both ends can’t last forever.

My second statement is often “it’s okay to make mistakes”.  We’re all human and all are afforded the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from our mistakes.  Yes, parents are essentially superheroes but even superheroes can’t be perfect 100% of the time. Accept and embrace that mistakes will happen as a parent and allow yourself the compassion to forgive yourself.  In doing this, you’re not only giving yourself the grace that you deserve but you’re modeling positive self-care and self-appreciation to your child.

Taking on the responsibility of rearing a child and helping to shape your kiddo’s values and decision making skills is a tall order for anyone.  Although children are always looking to you for guidance and support, they are also learning how to successfully navigate through the tough stuff.  If you’ve had a crummy day at work or you and your partner are having a spat, your kiddos are watching to see how you deal with the yucky stuff. These young eyes are absorbing everything that they see and using this to help shape how they navigate through their own rough patches.

In working with youth, I often support them as they work through concepts of identity – the good old “who am I” concept.  Through this, we identify the different pieces of child that create who that child is. I utilize the same concept when working with parents.  We are all made up of many different pieces and possesses many different qualities and attributes that make up who we are as individuals. Yes, you’re a parent, but you’re also a human being that deserves just as much love and appreciation as every other person.

As a parent, you do hold a responsibility of providing safety, security, love, support, and guidance for your children.  You also hold a responsibility to yourself as an individual. Be patient with yourself and give yourself the grace to make mistakes.  Love on yourself and take time to just breathe and re-center. When things get rough, do what you need to do in order to release that stress and calm down.  Lastly, find someone to talk to – a friend, your partner, a counselor. There’s no shame in admitting that we need a little extra support at times.

LifeTip: Light of a Clear Blue Morning

 Photograph courtesy of Chris Spicks of 396 Studios in Houston, Texas

Photograph courtesy of Chris Spicks of 396 Studios in Houston, Texas

Last month I wrote a post about the Dear Evan Hansen song “You Will Be Found.” I promised a follow up post and here it is. There’s a verse in the song that says, “So let the sun come streaming in cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again. Lift your head and look around. You will be found.” Pretty good words, right? They give me chills.

I think I’ve mentioned it once or twice that I’m in a choir. Well, in our next concert we are also singing a rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.” These two songs were made for each other. Both are songs about hope, recovery, healing and moving forward. I’d love everyone to stop what they are doing and listen to this right now.

So what do we do when it feels dark, when we are alone, when we feel down? We look to the light, we find the light, we ignite the light. Even behind the clouds, the sun is still there. This calls on a little bit of faith - trusting that the darkness isn’t a trap, a black hole or a void. This calls on a little bit work. Sure, we can wait for the clouds to move because they always do (this is a great metaphor on mindfulness…). BUT, have you ever seen that beautiful moment in the sky when the sun is so bright and powerful that it beams THROUGH the clouds? Yes! That’s what I’m talking about - look to the light, find the light, IGNITE the light.

This post seems like it’s quickly going to something on the topic of self-compassion, so let’s just go there. You know what doesn’t work for me when I’m in a dark space - hating myself, hating anything really. But gosh, hate can be so easy sometimes. Maybe hate isn’t your operative word. Maybe it’s worry, criticism, depression… I’m a fan of feelings, all of them, I really am, but I’m not a “just think positively” kinda gal. I am, however, a firm believer in all things self-compassion. People, it is not selfish to love yourself! You are not hurting anyone by giving yourself empathy, understanding, love and concern. Light is ignited by giving ourselves self-compassion. It’s a remedy for stress, anger, worry, hate, judgement, sadness...oh, so much. Light is found by finding the worth inside yourself. Light is seen by looking at all the other times the clouds parted and there was that beautiful, bright and clear blue morning. It’s there every time. Let it in.

April Updates from Anastasia

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The past few months have been full and rewarding. We've had the opportunity to connect with representatives from the Eating Recovery Center, Insight Behavioral Health Center, and Open Sky Wilderness Therapy They care for so many different people and cater to many different needs, and all are connected by a deep commitment to the individuals and families they support.

Earlier this spring I visited the Eating Recovery Center in Austin. It is a beautiful facility located in North Austin. They care for children, adolescents, and adults with anorexia nervosa, AFRID, binge eating disorder, bulimia, diabulimia, OSFED, and mood & anxiety disorders. They have different levels of care which include partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and virtual intensive outpatient program. I had a chance to meet some of their staff which included registered dieticians and mental health professionals. They were all very knowledgeable, kind, and passionate about the work they do. Their facility has many large group rooms, individual offices for private sessions, and a dining room for their clients which utilizes supervised meal support. Their treatment is grounded in ACT, DBT, CBT, and Family-Based Treatment.

The following week I visited Insight Behavioral Health Center, which is partnered with the Eating Recovery Center, located in Round Rock. It had a very similar feel as ERC; I saw the same kindness, knowledge, and passion for their work. Insight Behavioral Health Center has an intensive outpatient program and a partial hospitalization program for adolescents and adults with mood, anxiety, and trauma-related disorders as well as other behavioral issues. They have large group rooms, individual offices for private sessions, and they are in the process of expanding their office to be able to assist more individuals. Very exciting! They utilize ACT, DBT, CBT, and ERP, with trauma-informed care being the foundation to their approach in group and individual therapy. 

If you want to visit or learn more about ERC or Insight, the very kind and friendly Professional Relations Liaison, Sara Helms, is available and can offer even more information on the range of programs and services offered. Thanks for hosting us, Sara!

Later on in the month, we welcomed the Clinical Outreach Director at Open Sky Wilderness Therapy, Jill Hutcheson, to our offices. She was absolutely lovely and so passionate about the work that happens at Open Sky Wilderness Therapy in Durango, Colorado. They take an innovative and holistic approach to treatment for adolescents, young adults and families navigating a wide range of mental health issues and substance abuse, especially individuals who may be resistant to therapy. As a family-systems-centered practice, we're particularly drawn to the work they do in connecting the whole family to the treatment process. Please check out their website for more information on the services they provide. 

We are honored to work in such a strong, dedicated and passionate community. 

Much Metta, 
Anastasia

Welcome Georgia!

We are thrilled to welcome Georgia Denny, LMSW to our team! We've had the pleasure of collaborating with Georgia over the years in her previous work as a school counselor, and now we are delighted to have her co-leading the upcoming Friendship Circle with Tracy, as well as facilitating a new 8-session Saturday GirlTalk Therapy group coming later this April! Welcome, Georgia!


Georgia has a passion for working with children, adolescents, and families. Georgia approaches her work with a systemic lens, understanding that individuals are shaped by families, peers, school environments, and communities. Prior to joining GT Therapy, she was a Lower School Counselor at Trinity Episcopal School. As the first Lower School Counselor at the school, Georgia developed and implemented the counseling and social/emotional program for the Lower School.

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Georgia has a deep interest in social and emotional learning, believing that emotional intelligence helps us grow into the best students, individuals, partners, colleagues, and caregivers that we can be. While at Trinity, she met with students and families, created and delivered curriculum in the classroom, facilitated group sessions, organized parent education, and collaborated with faculty regarding student and family needs. Georgia loves working with groups, knowing that so much work and growth (right alongside fun!) can happen through learning from the experiences of others. Georgia helps people find success through empowering individuals to use new tools as they face challenges, both small and large.

Georgia’s education includes a Bachelor of Business in Marketing and a Master of Science in Social Work, both from the University of Texas at Austin. In addition to school counseling, she has worked in technology, medical social work, and special projects at the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. After growing up in Houston, attending school at UT, and a few years on the West Coast, Georgia loves calling Austin home and raising her two little girls in this special town.

Georgia helps children, adolescents, families, and groups with:

  • Anxiety and Stress Management
  • Social Skills
  • Self-Worth
  • Developing Healthy Relationships
  • Family Dynamics
  • Grief/Loss
  • Transitions
  • Parenting