How do I navigate the Holidays?

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“I do not know how I am supposed to make it through the Holidays”, “I have four family functions that I have to fake it through”, “This is the first Christmas without her being around”, “I am not going to be able to face my family”. The Holidays can be a joyous time, but can also bring up the heartache that you are currently facing. The Holidays are a time of year when everyone in the family comes together. There is a lot of pressure during the holidays to be happy and fun-loving. However, you may have lost loved ones, have to face the person who abused you at a young age, have nowhere to go for the holidays or have unresolved conflict with members of the family. You may feel your family will ask questions about your marriage that you are not ready to answer. You may not be ready to see everyone with their family intact because you are missing your loved one who has passed or your children are with their dad’s side of the family this time around.  The Holidays can bring on stress, depression, anxiety, and isolation. Following these tips can help alleviate the holiday blues:

  1. Give yourself grace. You do not have to push your emotions to the side just becausse it is the holidays. If you have lossed a loved one, are feeling lonely after a breakup, or are experiencing guilt from a seperation/divorce it is okay to experience emotions. Having the holidays without a loved one can be very difficult. Knowing the stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance may be helpful in navigating your feelings.
  2. Express your feelings. Do not be afraid to express the emotions that you are feeling inside. Having a support system is a key factor in alleviating anxiety and depression. Many times you may feel like talking about what you are feeling may be burdensome to others so you choose to withhold your feelings. However, letting unexpressed feelings build up can lead to anxiety, isolation, and depression. Others in the family may feel the same as you and may be able to help you talk your feelings through or help you have a sense of comradery and normalcy.
  3. Set firm boundaries. It is okay to say no and outline what is and is not acceptable for you. You may have mutiple functions that you are invited to and feel obligated to attend. If you feel stretched thin over the holiday it is okay to not attend or to attend for a specific amount of time that you feel is acceptable. It is okay to have an exit strategy. If you feel overwhelmed you can excuse yourself and go for a walk or take some time to regather yourself. You do not have to feel that you have to “keep it together”. Wearing a mask only makes you feel more isolated and depressed.
  4. Keep up your self-care routine. It can be easy to get so wrapped up in the busyness of the holidays that you forget about prioritizing yourself. Maintaining adequate self-care and coping skills will be the main ways to decrease anxiety and depression.  You can try deep breathing, yoga/excercise, mindfulness,  getting creative, and journaling/affirmations.
  5. Notice your triggers. Know what makes you upset during family gatherings or specific thoughts that you have going into the holidays. Change your thoughts to become more positive to break out of negative thought patterns and feedback loops that heighten stress. Try a thankfulness journal to help breed more positivity.
  6. Seek out the help of a professional if you feel unable to manage. If you feel overly anxious and stressed about the holidays or having to interact a counselor can help you navigate these feelings. Coundelors you are unable to process what is going on it is okay to seek out the help from a counselor. Counselors can help you process through your triggers and give you coping skills to alleviate the stresses you are currently facing.
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Is premarital counseling helpful?

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Statistically speaking couples who receive premarital counseling had a 30% higher marital success rate than those who did not. Premarital counseling is more educational in nature and last about 8 sessions on average. The top 5 sources of conflict once married are finances, chores, work, sex, and communication. Premarital counseling is helpful in educating couples about these sources of possible conflict and being proactive in solving the problem. In my premarital counseling sessions we will take a look into your mindset regarding marriage, individual mental health couple compatibility.

I use an assesment to guide the process of premarital counseling. Each partner takes the assessment separately and it will create a 14 page couples report.  The assessment is a test that 1) flags and lowers your risk factors, and 2) optimizes your combined strengths as a couple. The report will cover a wide range of topics:

Sex: This can become a source of frustration later in marriage. In premarital counseling desire, who is expected to initiate, and frequency will be discussed.

Finances: In relationships there tends to be a spender and a saver. Debt can be problematic and should be discussed before entering into marriage. Discussing inancial fears and the way one interacts with money is important. Being able to set a budget as a coupe and stick to it is critical.

Communication: We will look at how your partner perceives you when you are partner under stress. Fuethermore, we will discuss ways in which your partner would like to be communicated with.  Improving communication skills is of utmost importance. Intimate connections happen when each partner is able to communicate affectively, get their needs met, and feel heard. We also will talk about perpetual issues and conflict topics.

Individual wellbeing: Everyone brings scars into a relationship. In dealing with past issues you will be able to better relate with your spouse. We will also go over individual “red flags” that need to be discussed.

Social support: How do your friends, family, and faith community view your relationship? In laws and peers being on board helps to smooth the transition into marriage.

Spiritual life:  We will talk about the way each person feels close to god and how that can make the coupe grow together. Do you have a shared faith and how does that play a role in your relationship? Being in sync spiritually is helpful.

Marriage momentum: An overview of the momentum you bring towards marriage.

Dynamics: Personality differences can be a source of attraction in the beginning of the relationship and a source of contention later on in marriage. Each person brings strengths into relationships and can help sharpen the other. Being able to know the intricate details of your partner’s personality will help you understand the inner workings, and thoughts of your partner.

Expectations: Unmet expectations are called a “relationship killer.” Knowing what is expected of each spouse in regard to house work, and roles will alleviate anger and resentment that comes from unmet expectations.

Mindset: We will also take a look into your attitude towards marriage. Do you think marriage is “just a piece of paper” or do you believe it’s “for a lifetime”? The way you view marriage has a great influence on your relationship.

In the excitement of being engaged some people get caught up in planning the wedding and forget about the ever after. Premarital counseling helps you to see strength and growth areas you have as a couple and ways in which to work towards having a successful marriage. On average, couples don’t receive marriage counseling until 7 years after the presenting problem has appeared. Being aware of the red flags before coming together in marriage will make it easier to have tools to resolve issues later down the road.

I want to be heard: A guide to assertive communication.

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“I feel like you don’t understand me.” “We constantly fight about the same things.” “I don’t like conflict”. These are common complaints of people who are in conflict. The number one issue in many relationships is poor communication. Many people seek to find the answer of how to communicate more effectively. Being able to communicate in an assertive manner is the key to effective communication.

When you speak assertively you understand that it is alright to have your needs met and be able to speak up about what is bothering you. However, the main component of assertive communication is being able to  communicate those needs in a way that is going to be well received and heard.

Communication can be broken into five different styles:
1) Assertive- This is the healthiest style of communication. Consequently, it is the least used style of communication. When you assert yourself you know your boundaries and are able to communicte them in a way that is confident without blaming or hurting the other party.
2) Manipulative- In this style the communicator uses hidden or unspoken words to influence or control others. The communicator is tricky and persuasive.
3)Passive(submissive)-This communicator wants to avoid conflict at all cost. Therefore, the speaker may not say anything to please others and  keep the peace. A passive person interacts as if the needs of others are more important than there own. Resentment and anger can occur because the person’s needs are not being met.
4)Aggressive- These communicators are focused on winning, intimidation, and bullying. These individuals interact as if their needs are more important than others. Due to the use of scare tactics and explosive behavior it is not an affective communication strategy.
5) Passive-aggressive- This style is utilized when there is a perceived lack of power and the speaker is unable to address this directly. The speaker intends to subtly undermine the person they resent. This person appears to be passive while showing their anger/discontent in an indirect way.
Three tips to achieve assertive communication:
1) Watch out for communication hang up words: “Always, never, why, and you” when used in communicating can lead to walls being built up from the listener. When someone feels attacked in conversation the automatic response tends to be to defend. These hang up words can bread defensiveness and escalation of the situation.
Solution: try to keep the conversation in first person. By using “I statements” it is easier to take responsibility for your own feelings and lends itself to less blame.
2) Assert yourself by using the three communication F’s: facts, feelings, and fair request. Start your sentence out with pointing out a fact. Let the listener know how the fact affects you emotionally, then finish with a fair request to resolve the issue.
For example, “There are dishes left in the sink”. (Fact). I am feeling irritated and unheard. (Feeling). I would like it if the dishes could be completed by the end of the night. (Fair request).
3) Be in touch with your emotions. Find what is truly bothering you so you can communicate that effectively. It’s is easier to communicate your needs when you understand the reason behind the hurt.
It takes skill to be able to be direct and assertive in relationships. Being able to recognize your default communication style will help you to find ways to enhance your assertive communication skills. Many times you will interact out of the communication styles that were used around you in your family of origin. However, it is never to late to learn to communicate in an assertive manner. Your self esteem will increase when you find yourself able to be heard and not finding yourself being too passive or aggressive.
What is your default communication style? How can you begin to assert yourself if it is not your default style?

Finding the “new you”: New mom transitions.

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When you first look into you little one’s eyes there is a wide arrange of emotions and feelings. With a new baby comes new highs and lows. As a new mom, you have new anticipations, desires, and emotions. You may feel like a total wreck and have yet to gather your footing. You may wonder, “Who am I?”, “Why won’t my husband help more?” or “When will I get it adjust?” Your motherhood journey may be rocky, smooth, or curvy. Sometimes you may be crying, laughing, or feeling irritated/overwhelmed/inadequate. You may switch from one emotion to the next and find yourself thinking, “What is going on with me?” Be encouraged, this is all a normal part of the new mom adjustment.

There can be division in the home, bitterness, jealousy, and withdrawal. It can be hard to find a healthy work-life balance. You may feel like you are juggling way too much: home life, work, relationships, marriage, and your own sanity. You have to learn how to meet the needs of your new little one, your partner and of course yourself. Many times in the daily mom hustle and bustle taking care of you is what lacks the most.

It is essential to learn how to care for yourself if you want to keep a handle on things. When self-care is out of order it can lead to feelings of resentment, withdrawal, and anger. When these feelings are unchecked it can create walls in your relationships. Therefore, implementing adequate self-care is crucial once the baby arrives. Your mental health is more at stake due to the lack of sleep, hormonal shifts, and more stress.

Having a newborn can be a very demanding and stressful time. Have someone step in for you so you can get a nap, read a book, or do something you enjoy. One of the more common complaints of new moms is, “there was no more time for me and the things I liked doing”. Make sure you are carving out time for yourself each day to re-center. Having adequate self-care includes being able to say no, asking for help, and not doing things for others they can do for themselves helps.

Feeling overwhelmed, resentful, or that you simply “have nothing left to give” ate telltale signs of inadequate self-care.
Proper self care helps decrease burn out, stress, and fatigue. Self care can be special activities you do for yourself such as shopping, getting your hair done, or a massage. However, self care is also a daily thing you do. Going on a walk, listening to music, deep breathing, and journaling are all forms of self care.

Listed below are 4 ways to assist you in managing the new mom transition:

Reconnect with your mate. Intimacy can become strained after having a baby for a multitude of reasons. Hormone shifts, sleep deprivation, resentment, jealousy, or feeling unattractive in your post-baby body. However, your bond with your mate has to remain sacred. Being a team fosters an environment of safety and intimacy. Share in the work together, have fun, become closer. Nothing can bring you close like seeing the little human you created together. Make sure to find your new rhythm as a couple. Intimacy has more components than physical. Connect physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. Take date nights and make time as a couple. Finding the balance between your parent self, mom self, wife self, and self can be hard. However, with practice it is doable. You do not want to become roommates in this time your mate should be someone you can lean on. Many times partners find themselves jealous of having to share attention. Be open and communicate with your mate about feelings and emotions. If you find resentment walls are being built up find a professional to help you process through this period.

Master your identity Explore the “new you”. Many women want to be back to their “old selves”. You may want to be more organized, put together, and on time like you once were. Women find that transitioning into mother hood comes with feelings of loss. Time is a precious commodity and it is not spent on you as much anymore. It can be hard to manage the new pace of motherhood and the busyness that comes with it. However, do not let go of the old habits you once enjoyed.  Reframe your thinking on motherhood from losing yourself to finding more aspects of yourself. Find new ways to connect and be social. Remember that your identity is not wrapped in one facet. Some women find themselves only identifying as a “mom” and put other parts of themselves on hold.  You do not have to loose parts of yourself as you become a mom you just implement a new part of yourself to make you more complete. With time you will adjust to your new normal and be able to be more comfortable and accepting of your new skin.

Don’t fall into the expectation trap. Sadness, anger, disappointment and any other negative emotions can happen when are expectations are not met. You may have had a goal to be a “super mom”, be on time, have a spotless home, and fit into those pre-baby jeans. When these goals are not met we are left feeling disappointed. Give yourself grave to adjust to your new body, schedule, and life. Society has created an expectation for women that 6 weeks is the right amount of time for adjusting. After 6 weeks you are expected to be back at work, bright eyes, and ready to roll. However, the stress of pumping, missing your baby, and still rebounding from sleepless nights are not factored in. Assuming that you will bounce back physically, emotionally, and sexually in six weeks does not adequately reflect reality. A new study by Dr. Julie Wray states, “It can take up to a full year to recover from childbirth.”

Express your emotions and concerns. After having a baby you are hit with a barrage of new emotions. Your shifting hormones can create post-partum anxiety and depression. Even if you do not have PPA or PPD the drastic shifts in hormones still takes its toll. Furthermore, having to adjust to not having as much independent or adult time as you use to, work-life balance, adjusting to the new part of your identity,  lack of sleep, and adjusting to your new body all combined makes you feel mentally, physically and emotionally taxed. You do not have to “keep it together” and not ask for help. Be sure to express you concerns to your primary care physician so post-partum anxiety and depression can be ruled out or managed. Also, speak with your partner to enlist their help or the help of others. Talking about what’s going on can alleviate any negative emotions and feelings. Being connected with other new moms is another helpful way to adjust and voice concerns.

Feeling like you are barely keeping your head above water through the process is completely normal. Just remember that you are not alone. You do not have to feel like you have to appear like you are keeping it together as you are about to burst at the seams. All moms face an adjustment period so give yourself grace while you are in yours. It took 9 months for you to make your baby give yourself at least that much grace to get back to some type of equilibrium. Just know this too shall pass, you are enough, and these ups and downs are normal! Remember it is okay to ask for help!

What was your biggest transition in becoming a new mom?

 

How to cope with loss

received_10105162298534247Each of us will face some sort of loss during our lifetime. Loss can include the passing away of a loved one, the loss of a job, divorce, decrease in mobility or body functions, and the loss of self after a life transition. There are many reactions to loss and each varies in severity based on coping skills, temperament, and social support.
Some ways to deal with grief are as follows:
Find a support group: This can be family, friends, or people at work or Church. It is helpful to have people that you can reach out to for guidance and a listening ear. Feeling alone and withdrawing from others can lead to depression. Find someone you trust to share your feelings with.
Express yourself : Artistic expression is a great way to cope. This can be done by drawing, journaling, and getting creative.
Spirituality: Meditating, deep breathing, paryer/fasting, and being in nature are ways you can feel more connected.
Keeping your routine: Make sure your sleep, excercise, and eating habits are in tact. Structure helps decrease chaos and stress. If you begin to slack off in one area it is easier to let the other areas of your life go.
Counseling: If you find yourself unable to cope more effectively 6 months after yoir loss it may be time to seek outside help. This can be a sign of what is called complicated grief. When left unchecked this can lead to substance abuse, major depression, and/or post traumatic stress. EMDR Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy helps with trauma, PTSD, and depression.
Untreated complicated grief can lead to the use of negative coping skills such as drugs, alcohol, and self harming behaviors. You want to avoid things that “numb out pain”. Implement healthy coping skills early on when the loss first occurs. When proper coping skills are put to use loss becomes easier to manage.

Thinking errors of an anxious mind.

An anxious mind processes things differently. When anxious the brain becomes hypervigilent and begins operating out of the fight or flight mode in the brain. In this fight or flight state the brain is more likely to make critical thinking errors. These thinking errors can be broken into four different categories.

1.Biased. Biased thoughts are one-sided. For example, if someone you have had an issues with before walks by and does not say hello you automatically assume that they don’t like you. However, there could be multiple explanations for their behavior.

2. Dysfunctional. Dysfunctional thoughts do not serve you well. For example, ” I shouldn’t even try.” Dysfunctional thoughts only set you up to fail.

3.Irrational thoughts fundamentally do not make sense when you thoroughly examine them. For example thinking, “everyone is talking about me” when you see people whispering.
4. Distorted. Distorted thoughts don’t accurately reflect reality. Using extreme terms such as, “always,” “never,” and “nobody” are inaccurate. For example, You may assume that, “I am never going to have friends” after one friend treats you in an unkind manner.

You can train your brain to challenge your thinking errors. Begin to change your perspective and find alternatives to your thoughts. Look at evidence for and against your thoughts. Become more mindful, and use coping skills such as deep breathinh to get your brain to move from the fight or flight to more rational processing.

Tips to manage anxiety

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I feel like I can’t escape my thoughts”. “My chest feels like it’s about to cave in and my heart starts racing”. “I want to stop overthinking things”. “I tend to overanalyze things”. These are common concerns for those who suffer from anxiety.

Anxiety can swoop upon before you know it and it feels like a heavy cloud on your mind. Anxiety gives you a restless and distracted feeling.

Here are 6 ways to manage anxiety:

1. COMBAT NEGATIVE THOUGHTS. When you are anxious your thoughts fall into a negative pattern. You want to combat your negative beliefs to see if they are rational. You can combat your thoughts by comparing evidence for and against your negative thoughts. Many times after doing this activity you will find that there is not reasonable evidence for your negative thought which helps you reach a calmer state and thought behind an event.

2. ENGAGE IN DEEP BREATHING. A great way to deep breathe is the 4/7/8 technique. In this excercise, you breathe in deep for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7, and exhale for 8 seconds. Repeat this as many times as needed to reach a calm point.

3. TAKE A COLD SHOWER/ USE A COLD TOWEL ON YOUR NECK. The cold temperature acts as a “shock to the system” that is able to ground you back to the present moment.

4. GET ACTIVE. Find a form of the exercise that you can do daily. Exercise has been shown to increase endorphins and the “feel good hormone” serotonin.

5. TAKE A TIMEOUT. Whenever you begin to start feeling overwhelmed you want to enlist your coping skills. TAKE time to do yoga, listen to music, journal, get a massage or anything that allows you to gather your thoughts.

6. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. It is essential to get enough sleep and maintain a balanced diet. Self care is an essential component to being able to manage stressors more effectively.

Knowing your triggers and body reactions is key to managing your anxiety. You want to use the anxiety managment tips before you reach your “boiling point”. On a 10 point scale where 0 is no disturbance and 10 is the most disturbed you can be, you want to start using management techniques when you feel yourself getting to a 4. It’s easier to alleviate the effects of anxiety when you tune into your body and begin using your management techniques early on. Everyone has anxiety from time to time, however if these feelings begin to consume you and affect daily functioning it may be time to seek out some help.