coping skills

LifeTip: What do you 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.

LifeTip: Decisions! Decisions! Oh My!

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This time of year is fraught with decisions and not just what gifts to buy, who to have holiday meals with, or how to reconcile the year-end bookkeeping. Underneath all the minutia of details is often an undercurrent of deeper questions connected to that nagging sense of knowing the new year is ever so close and hoping that THIS year is THE year . . . the year to conquer all those habits that keep you from living the life you’ve imagined. Many of us start the year off strong, determined, and resolute in our goals, only to find our hopes dashed as the realities of life creep back in and resolutions fall to the side. I think it’s probably safe to say this has happened to all of us, at least once!

I think it’s a conundrum. The new year represents this major launching pad for intentional renewal and transformation but in reality is usurped by the hectic happenings that are so part of the end of the year.  Knee deep in holiday shopping, traffic, parties, family drama, and the like we hastily declare resolutions that in the end don’t even begin to reflect who we are, what we really want, or what we could reasonably achieve. Often they reflect culture, family, or what our best friend or romantic partner is doing. It’s as if all the chaos of the end of the year robs us of the chance to tune into those deeper currents of what could be (for the next year) that are rumbling within.

How do we deal with this conundrum, especially given the fact we are already in the frenzy of the holidays? How can we get tuned in so we can make more meaningful decisions/resolutions that stand the test of time? Following is a short but useful exercise to help you get in touch with your core values. Core values are deeply held beliefs that represent the essence of who we are, the truth of that inner being within. We each have our own unique set and while many may have a vague sense of what they are, clarifying and naming them can have a profound effect on decision-making. Decisions made through the lens of core values will naturally be more in line with the inner you. And, being more in line with the inner and real you brings about a more centered and happier you. It just makes sense, right?!

Try the short exercise below. Identify your core values. And, with your next dilemma, whether it’s how and who to celebrate the holidays with or a potential life-changing resolution ask yourself if it supports or goes against one of your core values. Try letting your core values act as a roadmap to guide and resolve both internal and external conflict. Experiment. Have fun with it! Even if you have to make a less favorable decision you will likely find meaning in that decision, making it, perhaps, a little more bearable. Many of my clients find that it works.

Happy Holidays and Happy 2018!

LifeTip: Time, Is There Ever Enough?

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Time – that never-ending beast that we seem to fight against each and every day.  Between work, grocery shopping, walking the dog, and getting that overdue oil change done, we seem to find ourselves in this strange game of time manipulation.  As tough is the game can be, we always seem to find a way to make it all work out and get our relegated tasks complete.  Often, though, we tend to leave out one of the most important tasks.  We find ourselves grumpy and tense wondering “what is it that I forgot to do?”  The checklists are complete, the laundry has been folded, dry cleaning has been picked up, and the gas tank is filled…what could possibly be left unfinished?  Well, that unfinished task is you.  Take two seconds and ask yourself, “when was the last time I spent quality time with myself?”

If you’re anything like me, you may be feeling a little bit of anxiety just thinking about trying to fit one more thing into your day.  What happens to us, though, if we don’t take that extra time for ourselves?  Perhaps we start to feel cranky, unappreciated, overwhelmed, tired, burnt out, complacent, and edgy.  That fire that used to burn brightly within us has started to die out and the excitement that we used to have has morphed into resentment.  We all keep doing our own version of the hokey pokey, but is this really what it’s all about?

The answer is no.  Life is meant to be lived and not merely survived.  We tend to spend so much time and energy in taking care of other people and other things, that we neglect the most important person that we know – ourselves.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were able to re-ignite that passion and zest for life and not feel so bogged down by the daily grind?  That fire can be re-lit and the person holding that matchstick is you.  You are the person that needs the attention, compassion, and nurturing.  It is through this continued act of self-love and self-care that we can refuel our gas tanks and regain that passion.

Below are a few easy yet effective ways of giving back to yourself:

  • Go for a walk
  • Make yourself a nice meal
  • Take yourself to the movies
  • Enjoy a nice latte at your favorite coffee shop
  • Set aside your phone, iPad, computer, etc. and pick up your favorite book
  • Journal – take 10 minutes every day and just write.  Put pen to paper and just let your thoughts flow.
  • Open up that sketch pad and let your creativity fly.
  • Put on your favorite music, snuggle up on the couch in your coziest blanket, and just take in the serenity.
  • Go in the backyard and play fetch with Fido.
  • Take in a yoga class
  • Treat yourself to a relaxing mani/pedi
  • Find a relaxing spot in the park, sit down, close your eyes, and just breathe

No matter how simple or mundane you may think the activity is, it is essential that you take that time for yourself.  Self-care is kind of like the airplane emergency concept.  We’ve got to make sure that the oxygen mask is secured on ourselves before we can try to take care of anyone else.  The concept of time doesn’t have to be a beast to be conquered.  If we can work our own self-care into our daily schedules we can quickly find that life is truly meant to be lived and not just survived.

Love yourself.  You are the most important person that you know.

 

TeenTip: The List

Photo by  Amy Treasure  on  Unsplash

Photo by Amy Treasure on Unsplash

Oh, coping skills. The two words that you hear over and over again from your therapist, your teacher, your mom and dad, social media, self-help books… You get told to make lists of things to do when you get unhelpful urges, make a list of things to do when you feel angry, when you feel sad. If you are like me, these lists quickly get discarded or put in the bottom of your nightstand drawer, as another list of things that DON’T WORK.

Why?

Why do we have such difficulty finding coping skills that actually work for really intense urges or behaviors? My theory (and it’s a working one, only, I’m open to suggestions!) is that when we feel really sad, or mad, or feel like using an unhelpful behavior, our nervous system is on high alert. Meaning, we go “off-line” and super-quick. We get into our deep down protective states, and the only thing we can do is run, or hide, or cry, or yell, or use the behavior. That’s the fight or flight or freeze instinct that you might have heard about, and it happens when our nervous systems get overloaded by a trigger. That overload happens and the list of coping skills gets thrown out, because who has time to take a bubble bath, or play with putty when you just want to scream or punch a wall?

Your therapist is hoping to guide you to use a coping skill so as to help you get you back “on-line.” The goal with the skill is to help you gain 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute- that gain may help get your brain back into a space where you can make a more helpful decision.

The trick is that the coping skill has to match the intensity of the urge, or the intensity of the feeling.

The best coping skills are ones that involve a mix of intensities, that can flood your nervous system, but in a more positive/helpful way. Here’s my running list:

  • listen to any music that feels right, VERY LOUD and in your ears with headphones if possible (I love Eminem/the National/Brandi Carlile/Kesha for nervous system off-line moments)
  • go outside and run hard to the end of the block (with your parents permission if possible)
  • draw 10 flowers on your body. Draw 10 more.
  • take a warm shower (sometimes heat can be too much for your nervous system, so try warm at first)
  • lay under a tree and take 10 deep breaths
  • quickly look at pictures of the ocean, of trees, of mountains
  • watch a funny tv show. Wait 30 minutes before you take any action (tell yourself you have the option of doing the action, just wait 30 minutes at the end of the show and check back in with yourself). I like Parks and Rec, The Office and Seinfeld for this.
  • write in your journal (a tried and true method for many clients, this just seems to work for so many people!)
  • text a friend before you take action, and tell them that you want them to tell you it’s going to be ok
  • tell your parents you need help and a hug. Have them hug you hard. Let them stay with you.

There is freedom in knowing you have a choice. You have a choice of whether to act on unhelpful behaviors or not.

You have a choice of whether to use coping skills or not. You can try them a little bit, or a lot. Even trying them one time (even if the next time, you decide not to try it) is a success. You have to take small steps to get started in this life.

xo~Jules   

 

A Hard Hit

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This post goes out to the parents of littles, but take note that much of what you read can easily be adapted to fit your own needs or the needs of an older child. Do not underestimate the importance of self-care and self-compassion during a hard time. Even if you have not had a “direct hit” by Hurricane Harvey (i.e. your house may not have flooded, you didn’t have to evacuate, you only had a power outage), seeing friends and family suffer, even seeing strangers suffer, can be downright difficult and exhausting. There’s so much information to digest about how to help, what to do and what not to do that it can be overwhelming. There’s enough information download and processing happening, so let’s stick to some really important fundamentals. Please feel free to pass this along, as our connection with one another is more important than ever!

When something scary and unreal hits, like what Texas has experienced with Hurricane Harvey, our children need support in making some sense of it. Parents and adults can help children in adapting healthy coping strategies. Here are some simple first steps:

1. Attunement: Time is precious right now. There may be a lot going on with you and around you. As a parent, taking some time to connect with your child will have many positive effects on them and on you. This might be the time when you actually need to schedule, yes schedule, special time with your child. Go ahead and do it - carve out about 10 minutes for play time, extra cuddles, fun reading and good ‘ole fashioned one on one time. Perhaps make this a part of your new routine before bed, but slipping it in between phone calls is fine too. Just make sure that you have given yourself a chance to transition to a place of calm and focus before engaging with your child. Providing special connection time for your child during chaos will remind them of the fact that they are loved and safe. It will also give them an opportunity to be just as they need to be - a child without worry and fear.

2. Response: This might be a time when you, as a parent or caregiver, get a lot of questions. “Where will we sleep tonight?” “Why did this happen?” “When can I go back home?” “Why did my friend have to leave her house?” My go-to suggestion for parents overwhelmed by questions and feeling like they need to answer them all and answer them well is this: Pause and Breathe. Make space for you to clear out anxiety, stress and worry. Your child will not think twice if you don’t immediately answer their questions. Next step is to think: Is this an answer now or answer later question? If it is an answer now question, keep your response simple and age appropriate. The information you give doesn’t need to have a lot of detail. You can give a little bit at a time and check to see if that answers your child’s question. If you think this could be an answer later question, that’s okay too. Generally, those are for the real tough ones or when we don’t know what to say at all. Give the question the space it deserves. Respond with, “Wow, that’s a really good question. Mommy needs to think about that one. I’m not sure right now. I’m going to think about it and then answer you later.” Then, actually do think about it and answer it later. You can also ask your child what they think and how they feel about it.

3. Feelings: There are a lot of them right now. And they might not all make sense or seem totally logical. For instance, the feeling of anxiety may come up but bring into question 'why' because your family maybe hasn’t been directly affected or experienced significant hardship. Any feeling is fine right now. If you notice some behaviors or signs from your child that seem unusual to you, do you best to help them put words to their emotions. As Dan Siegel, MD, says, “Name it to Tame it.” It really does help to say the feeling or feelings out loud in order for them to be soothed and attended to. As a therapist, I love to suggest the following phrase, “I wonder if…” “I wonder if you are feeling scared. There are some scary things happening right now.” “I wonder if you are feeling tired right now. I see that you are rubbing your eyes.” “I wonder if you might be feeling lonely. It’s been a few days since you were able to play with your friends.”

Remember, in a time of crisis, much of how we cope is based on the need to survive. If you are seeing some concerning behavior in your child, DO reach out to a mental health provider to learn more about how to best address what you see and ensure that your child is being well taken care of during this time. The first priorities are providing safety, nourishment, shelter and love.

 

 

LifeTip: Constellations of Adaptive Responses

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When we experience a stressful or traumatic event our brains activate different response systems.  These are commonly referred to as adaptive responses because they help us adapt, stay safe and survive potentially threatening and/or sudden changes in our environment.

Some adaptive responses are entirely physiological and are a result of the body’s neurophysiological response to stress, threats, and/or danger.  These responses can include the fight, flight, and freeze responses, which are activated by the most primitive part of our brain, the limbic system, and at a most basic level, prepare our bodies to fight, run away or hide (freeze) in the face of danger.  

Additional physiological responses to stress include: panic attacks, hypervigilance, sleep disturbance, and the like.  Even though we are all humans, we don’t always all respond the same way to the same kinds of experiences.  For example, some of us can tolerate extreme sports and roller coasters, while others would find that too physiologically overwhelming.  The same is true in the face of traumatic events.

On the other hand, some adaptive responses manifest themselves more in the emotional, cognitive and behavioral realm.  Some examples of this include being angry, intrusive thoughts, using humor, throwing ourselves into advocacy work to prevent the traumas that happened to us from happening to another, or to avoid dealing with our own trauma history.  These examples are just the tip of the iceberg, really.  There are so many kinds of responses and each person has their own unique constellation of responses in order to get through life.

While it may be hard to understand sometimes, all of these responses are ultimately there to help us survive a given moment or experience.  It’s just a matter of teasing out whether or not they are indeed still helpful in our stimuli-laden, busy, modern lives.  Sometimes too, we find that strategies that worked in the past no longer work in the present and in fact, have become a source of trouble, or maladaptive.  When this happens it can feel like life is playing a big prank on us.

Many adaptive responses are involuntary, however we are also capable of utilizing new strategies, voluntarily, as we learn and grow.  Our work in therapy is centered on promoting self-discovery of the physiological and psychological adaptive responses.  What’s serving you?  What’s not?  What is your body, mind, heart, or spirit needing from you in order to get back in the driver’s seat of your life?  This is the work to be done.  And, this is what we are here to help with.

 

Balance: Elusive noun, Achievable Verb

In Gary Keller’s book, The One Thing, he insists that the word “balance” is best used as a verb, rather than a noun.  He believes that balance as a noun - a place of destination, or thing to be obtained - is elusive.  And that instead, balance should be interpreted as a verb - a constant, vigilant action.  

When in the act of balancing we generate a linked series of corrections, hopefully growing more delicate as we practice and improve our skill. Eventually corrections may become so small that they are noticed only to the balancer, and not to an observer - creating an illusion of effortless and perfect stillness where there is actually constant focus, feedback, and readjustment.

With this interpretation of balance, the corrections we make in our life, even unsteady and abrupt ones, can be seen as part of our deeply personal discovery of our own path through the action of straying from the gravel and into the grass on the left, and then the right, and then the left again until we develop the ability to adjust quickly after even the slightest tickle of grass on our toes.

Nothing ever achieves absolute balance. Nothing.
No matter how imperceptible it might be, what appears to be a state of balance is something entirely different - an act of balancing.
Viewed wistfully as a noun, balance is lived practically as a verb.
Seen as something we ultimately attain, balance is actually something we constantly do.
— Gary Keller, The One Thing

49 Phrases to Calm an Anxious Child

As a parent, watching your child struggle with anything can be difficult. Whether it be friendships, injuries or one of life’s many obstacles, our instinct is always to swoop in and save them by fixing the problem. But what happens when your child faces anxiety? It’s much harder to ‘fix’ a feeling isn’t it? Thankfully, as a supportive adult, helping a child feel understood is actually more important (and easier for that matter) than trying to solve the problem.

Rather than hide from anxiety or ignore it, we can actually learn a lot from it if we stay curious. Our bodies often signal to us that anxiety is approaching, and when we examine it like a detective, we can start to learn what triggers it. It can also be difficult to know what to say when your child is stuck in an unpleasant emotion, so here are some helpful phrases that you can use to show support without having all of the answers! We’ve put a few of our favorites below:

  • Can you draw it?

  • This feeling will go away. Let’s get comfortable until it does.

  • What do you need from me?

  • Let’s find some evidence.

Take a look and see which phrases fit how your family communicates. No need to reinvent the wheel, just look for the phrases that stick out to you as something you’d actually say at home.

 

ParentTip: Flipping Your Lid!

Most parents are all too familiar with the phrase “flipping your lid”... you know the feeling; that blood boiling, steam-coming-out-of-your-ears sensation right before you completely lose your cool.  But guess what? You’re not alone! We all experience this, and believe it or not, the concept is rooted in interpersonal neurobiology. Today’s video gives you a quick explanation (that you can also share with your kids, yay!) on what’s actually happening in the brain right before you ‘flip your lid.’

Many people experience times in their lives when they feel overwhelmed and need clarity. Our mission is to provide the highest quality psychological care by honoring the integrity of individuals and families who seek our services. We strive to communicate understanding, instill hope and provide direction for change and wellness.