Coping vs. Avoiding
Written by Megan Allegretti
2020 has been a year to remember! Maybe not for the reasons we initially set out to remember - but one we will never forget. Think back to January and what plans or resolutions you had set for yourself. Was learning how to manage when your life gets flipped, turned upside down one of them? I am going to say with confidence that most of us had no idea what this year would look like. So, I wanted to start by congratulating you on doing what you needed to do to get through! The object of this post is not to make us feel bad about what we are doing or not doing, but rather increase our intentionality in the behaviors we are using. By being aware, we can see if we are in fact coping or avoiding a situation, and then observe to see if our actions are serving us well, or maybe not so much.
Coping is a big buzz word currently, particularly in the COVID-19 world of uncertainty. In the context of this article a coping skill will be defined as techniques that an individual applies to manage difficult emotions. Coping is different from avoidance. They look so similar! Both reduce distress, but there is a curtail difference- avoidance does not address why you are feeling the way you are. Instead it pushes the uncomfortable feeling away or deep down. This might be rewarding in the short term, because there is a good chance you will feel better by not engaging in whatever thought or behavior that triggered the distressing emotion. But by not confronting the situation or avoiding it, that emotion will find a way to come back out. Often it will leak out when you are least expecting it.
For all of my metaphor learners out there, this one's for you! Say you have a beach ball and you try to shove it down as far as it can go underwater. You can hold it there for some time but eventually your body gets tired, and it comes shooting out of the water with explosive force. This looks a lot different than holding the beach ball where it is at, instead of shoving it down, and then slowly bringing the ball back to the surface. This way you have more control over when you do want to bring the emotions back up to be addressed. That is the difference between avoiding and coping. The following tips are aimed at helping draw our awareness to our behaviors and choosing them with more intention.
We are all doing our best given the current state of our environment. The above tips are designed to help you identify if your difficult emotions are being coped with or not addressed. This is all subjective too! The beauty of human nature is there are many factors that influence our thoughts, emotions and behaviors. The goal is to bring awareness to the unique behaviors being used when our thoughts and emotions are distressing. The practice of using coping skills over avoidance may create some discomfort in the short term but it is allowing you more regulation of your emotions in the long term.
Stay safe, and know you are enough.
A 2020 REMOTE LEARNING SURVIVAL GUIDE: PRACTICAL TIPS FOR SUCCESS
Written by Katie Sheehan, MSW
Across Illinois, many schools are beginning, or have begun their first few weeks of full remote instruction. With this, comes the potential for overwhelming uncertainty. Will they adjust? What is my role as a parent? Am I doing too little? Am I doing too much? Below are a few suggestions to ease the possible uncertainty as we move forward.
1. Maintain normalcy in the areas that you can.
If back to school usually means school supply shopping or a new outfit, it can still mean that! Work to change the definition of a school supply. Get creative! Maybe this means blue light filtering glasses, new ear buds, or a back support pillow.
2. Weekends still should = FUN.
Across the country people have been reporting the phenomenon of days running together or time not feeling concrete. It has become increasingly difficult to tell weekdays from weekends. But weekends are a necessary time for rest, relaxation, and most importantly, fun. Try to encourage activities such as socially distanced gatherings, renting the latest movies to your living room, or family game night.
3. Monitor for changes in mood or behavior.
Things to look out for may include irritability, changes in sleep or appetite, lower energy levels, isolating from friends or family, or loss of pleasure in interests or hobbies. While one or two of these changes occurring infrequently, may be a typical response, more severe changes may indicate difficulty adjusting, and an increased need for support. If you're concerned, and would like more information regarding depression and anxiety disorders that may be triggered or exacerbated by the beginning of this unique school year, get more information on our website by following the highlighted links above.
4. Validate their feelings.
Many students may hyper-focus on the unfairness of the situation. Especially those who are missing out on milestone years, such as their freshman year, or their senior year. They may be feeling a profound sense of loss for an experience that they have looked forward to, or fantasized about for years. It may be difficult for them to verbalize in ways other than “It’s just not fair.” Steer away from accidental invalidations such as “at least we’re healthy,” or “it could be worse.” While true, this is not helpful for someone navigating emotional pain. Practice leaning into their feelings and trying out something like “I know this is unfair, and I’m so proud of your resilience.” If you're needing a little more guidance take a look at our previous blog on supporting someone when they're struggling.
5. Practice patience and compassion.
Grades may slip. Pajama pants may replace jeans. Suppress the urge to come down hard on them. Try to solve the problem collaboratively. Remember that in 10 years your child will look back and remember this time full of fear and uncertainty. They will remember how hard it was to go from classroom instruction and seeing their friends in-person everyday, to their worlds existing through a screen. This is your opportunity to show them grace, understanding, patience, and compassion.
If you are still finding that you or your children are struggling with the adjustment to the changes that this new school year is bringing, I encourage you to reach out for help. You can schedule an appointment with on of our clinicians at OakHeart by calling (630) 570-0050 or by emailing Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com.
My Experience With Grief
Written by Katie Cockrell, MSW, LCSW
My name is Katie and I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. In my years of clinical practice so far, I have seen, treated, supported and helped individuals struggling with many different obstacles. Among the challenges that I have provided treatment for, I have always felt that grief and loss is one of the most difficult things to treat. I say this for many reasons. For the longest time, I had never experienced death or a form of loss that I felt had really impacted me personally. I have experienced the death of extended family members, friends and pets. I have also experienced other forms of loss such as, the loss of a relationship, friendship, divorce in the family, moving, losing jobs, and financial loss. Secretly, I had always felt that my experience with grief and loss never seemed to quite impact me in the ways I had seen it impact my clients.
At the time, I had felt that none of my experiences with grief or loss seemed "valid". My experiences did not seem to deepen my empathy and understanding of grief and loss. At least not in the same way for those who have PERSONALLY been affected by grief. My client's seem to discuss their feelings of grief and loss in ways that logically I could understand, but not emotionally. I recognized that I had never felt the impact of grief and loss to the degree in which my client's described.
It appeared to me that my clients were experiencing very intense feelings. Some found it so intense, that it seemed difficult for them to comprehend, understand, and process it. I felt so ignorant in my experience and truly not qualified enough to provide help and support in the ways I thought I should.
Then...I had my experience. I experienced grief. I experienced thoughts and feelings that were so strong, so intense and so overpowering, that my entire life seemed to fall apart.
I want to TALK about grief. Certain thoughts and feelings that I experienced in my journey through grief, really stand out to me. I want to take a moment to be very transparent and openly discuss the ways in which I felt I was impacted by grief. Some of the things that I have experienced are very difficult to talk about, let alone be honest about. I have felt guilt, shame and disgust in myself in regard to parts of my grief journey. Honestly I feel that some of the things I am going to discuss may be viewed by some, as potentially "negative" or too "taboo" to discuss out loud, especially coming from the viewpoint of a clinician.
Commonly, when one seeks guidance for issues related to grief and loss, they are introduced to the concept of the "grieving process" or "stages of grief". As a clinician, I highly support education on the grieving process and the stages. I feel that these are wonderful tools to help guide and aid the healing process. However, I feel that there are specific thoughts and feelings that one can experience that could be deemed by others as too "heavy" or "controversial” due to the nature of these thoughts or emotions. I feel that we still live in a society where death is not often discussed, and therefore should not be discussed. If it’s discussed, then one should use "appropriate dialogue" when discussing it and unfortunately, since this "negative" viewpoint of grief still exists, many do not want to talk about it or admit to experiencing difficulties when grieving.
As a clinician, I view this as very problematic. My hope is that by sharing my experience, I can help start a new conversation about the grieving process and normalize all the thoughts, feelings and experiences that one goes through when facing grief and loss no matter how "big", "small" or “intense” they are.
On February 9th, 2018, my life was permanently changed. I remember that day perfectly. I remember what I was doing, where I was, what I was thinking, what I had planned and who I had spoken to. I was in the middle of preparing dinner for some friends that evening. Plans changed that day, when a police officer came to my door to tell me that my twin sister, Lauren, had been killed in a car accident. Everything seemed to stop at this point. I couldn't make sense of it and I didn't understand it. Little did I know that my life, my perception, my views, goals and dreams would no longer be the same.
I am going to highlight four “reactions” that I personally experience when grieving, that I feel fit into the "controversial" category. I am also going to provide ways to work through the various reactions, responses, and emotions experienced during the grieving process.
When I think of my personal journey through grief, the first word that comes to mind is "fear". Fear showed up for me in many different ways. What stands out to me the most about my feelings of fear was the moment I was able to see Lauren for the last time. My family decided to have her cremated, and we were able to view her as a final goodbye. Not only was this experience horribly sad, uncomfortable, confusing and honestly traumatizing, but I remember feeling very afraid. I was afraid to see her body. I was afraid to look at her. I kept thinking that her eyes would shoot open, like a scene from a horror movie. I remember feeling very embarrassed by this reaction and felt a lot of shame. How could I be afraid of my own sister!? Was I allowed to feel this way? I felt that I could never be honest about this experience and that I would be judged. Stereotypically, I think many view the "final goodbye" as a peaceful experience, not one that evokes fear. I felt very guilty in admitting this to myself, friends and family because in my mind it made me feel like I didn't love Lauren since I was afraid of her.
Change in Identity and Purpose
After losing my twin, I remember waking upone morning feeling like my life no longer made sense. I felt that my identity had been stolen from me and that I no longer had a purpose. I did not know who I was anymore, nor did my identity as "Katie" seem to make sense. When Lauren was alive, I remember working very hard to establish a different identity for myself. Let the world know and understand that I was my own person in every type of way. But the only thing I wanted at that moment was to be a "twin" again. My entire life I was a part of this duo. My person and my counterpart was suddenly gone and there was nothing I could do about it.
My life had always included my sister and so would my future. Anything that held significance in my life, was supposed to include her and this was no longer possible. Was I allowed to acknowledge the fact that I was still a twin, even if my twin was dead? Did I have permission to do this? It felt like I was breaking the "rules" or something. I wasn't allowed to be a twin anymore unless my twin was alive. How could I go on as "Katie" if Lauren no longer existed?
Thoughts of Suicide
I think this area is the most difficult for me to acknowledge. I think as clinicians, we understand that suicidal thoughts can come up and be a part of the grieving process for many reasons. Nothing prepared me for the ways that I experienced this. I was extremely suicidal. My twin was gone, which meant my life no longer had meaning. Life as I knew it and understood it, was no longer mine. Life did not feel real anymore. All I could see and feel was complete and total emptiness. These thoughts became so overwhelming at times, that I couldn't think, focus or breathe. These thoughts became my new purpose, my source of comfort, my support and my future. In my mind, since I did not exist without Lauren, why exist at all? I needed to be where she was, even if it would cost me my life.
Loss of Control
I remember feeling very out of control after Lauren died and this feeling seemed to last for a long time. I felt as if I was "out of my body" and did not feel present in my own body, mind and life. I began to experience emotions that I had either never experienced before or at an intensity I had never experienced before. My experience with anger had changed in ways that felt very unfamiliar, uncomfortable and shameful. I was irritable most of the time and I noticed that my tolerance level and patience level became non-existent. Up until Lauren's death, I was never quick to anger and did not experience anger too often. I had always prided myself in my ability to have a tremendous amount of patience, and a high tolerance for stress. Now I had no patience, felt very stressed, anxious, angry, frustrated and irritated all the time. I felt shame toward this. I noticed that I was acting out toward the people I loved and it made me feel horrible about myself. It was very difficult to process at times. I hated myself.
I felt very disconnected from reality. I seemed to experience my life in a fog. I found myself regularly dissociating, daydreaming and fantasizing about things that were very irrational. I became obsessed with the idea that Lauren was still alive. I would regularly experience two distinct thoughts that seemed to co-exist at the same time: One part of my brain could rationalize Lauren's death. I knew logically she was gone. At the same time, I experienced a complete opposite thought that suggested Lauren was very much alive and that her death never happened. I could not accept Lauren's death. It was too powerful, too intense and carried too much pain.
What does one do if they experience these emotions and reactions to grief or loss? How does one begin to heal? First and foremost, I want to acknowledge that these responses to grief and loss are very NORMAL and very REAL. I cannot stress this enough. While the reactions may feel completely uncomfortable and totally unreal, these reactions are common. Grief is a very abnormal process that is extremely complicated. It leaves one without answers and practical solutions. It robs one of peace, happiness, and at times all understanding of what "life" is.
Grief takes time to process and so does healing. It may mean experiencing the same emotions over and over again, experiencing the same thoughts, and working through difficult reactions multiple times. I find that the hard part of this process is the factor of “time”. There is no exact timeline in which one feels more "comfortable" in their grief. This looks different for all. We cannot wish the thoughts and feelings away, we cannot avoid it, we NEED to ALLOW ourselves to go through it.
Go Through It
Talk. Please TALK about it! Talk about all of it and don't stop! Choose someone that you feel safe with. Someone you can trust and can be completely vulnerable with. Someone that will support you, understand you, show you love, kindness and empathy. This can be a family member, friend, pastor, teacher or therapist.
Try a support group. Group work can be very difficult at times, especially when discussing something so personal. However, it can also be very empowering and healing. Being around others who share this journey can really help normalize the experience.
Create a routine/engage in some serious self-care: It is very important to continue engaging in life. While I understand that life may never be normal again, continuing to live life and experience life is crucial. Doing things that are mindless, fun, funny and active are a great distraction. Keeping up regularly with hygiene, eating and sleeping are a must during this time. Adjusting expectations of how one continues to take care of themselves and live their lives while healing is completely acceptable and encouraged. Patience with yourself and others is the key here.
Address/speak out/take action regarding suicide! Please, if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, feelings or actions to any degree, seek out support and help immediately. It is very important that your support system(s) are aware that you may be experiencing these thoughts and feelings. If you are without support, Please contact 911, go to your nearest emergency room or contact the suicide hotline (1-800-273-8255) if you feel that your are in any type of danger.
Keep in mind
We are not alone in this difficult time.
Grief is a very strange and complex journey.
Healing is very possible and it will happen.
All forms of grief and loss are legitimate and real.
Never let anyone say that your grief is "less than" because your grief is different from theirs. Allow yourself to heal in your own way and in your own time.
Allow yourself to seek out the appropriate support and give yourself permission to talk and NEVER STOP TALKING.
If you or someone you know is struggling with grief, I encourage you to reach out for help. You can talk with one of our grief and bereavement specialists at OakHeart by calling (630) 570-0050 or emailing Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com.
HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT THERAPIST FOR YOU
Written by Dr. Kat Harris
Finding the right therapist is not always as easy as it should be. I’ve talked with many people looking for a therapist who feel overwhelmed at the prospect and don’t know where to start. Or they have already started but their searches have provided an overwhelming array of options. Or alternatively, very few options that fit their needs. Then they find someone who seems like a good fit, call or email the therapist to set up an appointment, only to find out that the therapist either doesn’t accept their insurance, doesn’t have availability that matches, or isn’t accepting new clients at all.
Making the decision to see a therapist is a brave one, and it’s unfortunate that the task can sometimes be daunting. My hope is to outline a few considerations to help make the task easier. Finding the “right” therapist can be so rewarding in so many ways and worth the work to find one.
License Types and Degree Types
What are all of those letters after a person’s name? In short, the letters often indicate one of three things: degree type, license type, and additional certifications. For example, someone with the letters MA, LCPC, CADC after their name is someone with a Master of Arts degree (MA), licensed as a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) and are certified as a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor. There are many types of degrees in the field of mental health (e.g., PhD, PsyD, MA, MSW) in various areas of study (e.g,. Psychology, Counseling, Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy). And there are many different licenses (e.g., Licenced Clinical Psychologists, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Licenced Professional Counselor) that vary across states, with some denoting full licensure and some denoting partial licensure (still requiring supervision). And there are even more kinds of certifications, some that come with additional letters after the person’s name, and some that don't.
At the end of the day, what I believe is most important is not so much the letters after someone’s name, but what the therapist’s competency level is in the areas which they claim to treat, their professional value system, and the therapist-client relationship.
Where to Start Looking
Where to even start? Here are some ideas:
Therapist directories specifically designed to help consumer’s find counselors. Examples of these include Psychology Today, Theravive, and Good Therapy to name a few. Most of these directories allow you to filter out options to best match your needs such as finding a therapist who accepts your insurance or who claims to specialize in what you need help with.
Specific mental health organizations also have their own internal therapist directories that can be an excellent way of finding therapists who specialize in treating your symptoms. For example, the International OCD Foundation and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America both have therapist directories to help people with symptoms of OCD and Anxiety ind specialists.
If you have insurance, you can also contact your insurance provider or go on your insurance provider finder website page to obtain a list of providers in your area who accept your insurance.
Asking a friend or family member for counselor’s whom they would recommend is another great place to start.
Navigating Insurance and/or Affordable Therapy
Navigating insurance alone can feel like you need a direction manual. Here are some basic things to consider:
If you have insurance, you will likely want to find a therapist who is “in-network” with your insurance company. This means that they officially contract with that insurance company and have negotiated rates with that insurance company. That way you can pay “in-network” rates for co-insurance/co-pays/deductibles rather than out-of-network co-insurance/co-pays/deductibles which can often be significantly more expensive. Check your personal contract with your insurance provider to determine what your in-network and out-of-network responsibilities are as the client.
A co-pay means you are paying a set amount (e.g., $20) per session and the insurance company is paying the rest of what your therapist bills. A co-insurance means you pay a certain percentage (e.g., 20%) of the contracted rate for a therapy session and the insurance company pays for the rest. A deductible refers to the amount of money you have to pay out-of-pocket before your co-pays/co-insurance kicks in. Deductibles can range greatly and can be anywhere from $0 to thousands of dollars. Until your deductible is met, you have to pay 100% of the therapist’s session fees.
Not all therapist’s will be in-network with all kinds of insurance companies. In fact, some therapist’s choose to only be in network with one or two companies.
PPO’s do not usually require a physician’s referral for therapy sessions to be covered but may require pre-authorization depending on the service. Most therapist’s are in network with PPO’s.
HMO’s require a physician’s referral for therapy sessions and fewer outpatient therapists tend to be in network with HMO’s. If you have an HMO it would likely be easiest to contact your insurance company and ask for a list of therapist’s in your area whom they will cover.
If you don’t have insurance, community organizations such as community mental health centers, and sometimes private practices, have sliding scale options. Training clinics are also a good place to try because they often offer sliding scale fees. Open Path is an organization that can be a good start to find a therapist if you need a sliding scale as well.
Finding a Specialist
Do I need a specialist? In short, it depends on a number of factors. These factors include severity of symptoms, symptom presentation, and prevalence of the disorder. For example, I would recommend that someone with OCD find someone who specializes in the treatment of OCD. Particularly using a form of therapy called Exposure and Response Prevention. Why? Because research has demonstrated that this is the gold-standard treatment for this disorder and not all therapists have training in this treatment or in treating OCD. Someone with mild depression on the other hand may not need to find a specialist because the majority of therapists have training and experience treating at least mild to moderate depression.
What makes a specialist? I have always suggested that what makes a specialist is someone who has the following four pillars of specialty practice: Formal Training, Supervision and/or Intensive Consultation, Experience, and Continued Education. Formal training can include graduate school training, internship or postdoctoral training, trainings at conferences and other intensive trainings. Supervision and/or Intensive Consultation means that the person has received supervision or consultation from another professional who is already a specialist in the area. Experience means that the therapist has seen a large enough number of cases to have had the opportunity to refine skills, learn from their experiences (preferably under supervision or consultation), and develop nuanced approaches for a variety of presentations. Finally, continued education means that the therapist is passionate enough about their speciality that they want to continue to learn and grow. This may mean that they seek out up-to-date research, regularly attend conferences and trainings, are members of speciality interest groups, etc. We're grateful at OakHeart to have specialists in several areas including OCD, Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia, Substance Abuse, Eating Disorders, Grief and Bereavement, Trauma, LGBTQ Related Issues, and many more.
It is impossible for a therapist to specialize in everything. Therapists who list 20 “specialties” under their profiles or in their bios are likely not specialists in all they claim to be.
It’s 100% OK to reach out to a prospective therapist by email or phone and ask a few questions to ascertain whether they would be a good match for you, including whether they meet some basic qualifications for claiming to be a specialist in a given area. If a therapist makes you feel badly for asking questions then they might not be the best match for you in the first place. Here is an example list of questions for someone interested in finding an OCD therapist authored by the International OCD Foundation: https://iocdf.org/ocd-finding-help/how-to-find-the-right-therapist/
Levels of Care
Another consideration is that there are varying levels of care. Many people think of two things when they think of therapy: traditional outpatient therapy, where you meet one-on-one with a therapist, or inpatient therapy where you are locked on the unit for safety reasons. However, there are actually several in-between options that may be a good match for your needs depending on the “dose” of treatment you need. The more severe the symptoms, the more likely a higher level of care will be indicated to best help you get better.
Outpatient: This is the most traditional level of care and will fit most people’s needs. Usually in this setting you see a therapist once or twice a week for between 40-53 minutes.
Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP): At this level of care, client’s would attend a therapy program anywhere between 3-4 hours a day. The therapy program might include group therapy, psychoeducation presentations, meetings with an individual therapy, meetings with a psychiatrist, and an experiential component (e.g, music therapy). At this level of care you go home at the end of the day and your participation is voluntary.
Partial Hospital Programs (PHP): This level of care is very similar to an IOP settings (and most of the time client’s start in a PHP and then “step down” to an IOP setting within the same location and program. With this level of care a client might attend anywhere between 5 and 6 hours a day and have additional components such as family therapy. At this level of care you go home at the end of the day and your participation is voluntary.
Residential Treatment: This level of care is similar to PHP programming; however, the client’s sleep on a unit in the program and programming might last a little longer throughout the day. At this level of care you don’t go home at the end of the day and your participation is voluntary.
Inpatient: This level of care is reserved for situations where a client’s symptoms are severe enough that the person’s safety or ability to function are at risk, and therefore the person needs to be closely monitored. This is a short-term treatment, and the person is usually “stepped down” to a PHP/IOP program as soon as possible. At this level of care you don’t go home at the end of the day and a person's ability to end treatment is sometimes partially determined by the attending physicians.
It might be helpful to be open to the possibility that you might need to meet with more than one therapist before finding a good match. My heart breaks when I meet a client for the first time and they inform me that they tried finding help a decade ago but gave up after a meeting with a therapist didn’t go as they had hoped (and there can be many reasons for this). I think of the decade lost and what could have been if they had met the “right” therapist for their needs. There are many factors that go into whether a therapist is a good match, but some of the ones that stand out most to me are whether you feel safe, whether you feel understood and heard, and whether the therapist demonstrates some level of competence in diagnosing and treating your symptoms.
Finding a therapist in some areas of the county can be considerably more difficult than other areas. Especially if someone is looking for a particular specialist or another important variable. Telehealth might be a good option for individuals with limited options in their communities.
There is a therapist for you! And there are treatments that work! Best wishes on your journey! For more information on the therapeutic services that OakHeart offers, call and speak with her intake specialist at (630) 570-0050 or email us at Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com.
Giving Yourself Permission
Written by Brittany Male MSW, LCSW, CADC
I can’t count how many times I have said, “Give yourself permission…”, to a client during a session recently.
Give yourself permission to be angry.
Give yourself permission to be sad.
Give yourself permission to be disappointed, frustrated, annoyed, fearful, resistant, confused, or even UNPRODUCTIVE.
I’m noticing that a lot of us are having difficulty making the adjustments necessary due to the changes in our world. A lot of us didn’t want to skip a beat when the stay-home-orders were initially put in place.
Things are not as they were. At least not for now.
We must adapt to this change instead of trying to force the previous routines, schedules, and expectations on ourselves and others. Follow the steps below to better identify what your needs are and give yourself permission to meet those needs.
Be mindful of the emotions you're experiencing that are causing distress.
Mindfulness is a buzzword right now - and rightfully so. That said, it is also not as complicated as it may seem so don’t be intimidated. Simply identify the emotion you’re experiencing and explore how it is influencing you in this moment. Could I be called a therapist if I didn’t include an emotions list for you to utilize? Next, think about where you are physically feeling this emotion, if anywhere. If you visually were to represent this emotion, what would it look like in color, size, texture. These are all questions that can help you more mindfully define your emotions.
Explore what is contributing to that feeling.
Ask yourself questions like: Have I felt this way in the past? Are there any other emotions that I’m experiencing underneath or alongside this emotion? Oftentimes we can experience multiple emotions at the same time and it can be helpful to figure out what we need when we identify them. Are other people’s behaviors contributing to this feeling or is it self-imposed?
Explore your needs in the moment.
If you don’t already have a list of coping or self-care techniques/activities/tools that you utilize, take time now to reflect on what those things could be. It is helpful to have this list already prepared ahead of time so that when you are feeling overwhelmed with a distressing emotion you do not have to think of what may help and can instead simply look at the list. For me, some examples of things on my list include lighting a candle, opening a window or curtain, putting on some music, and doing something that brings me joy.
Another important thing is that what may have been on your list previously may not be on your list currently due to the restrictions or because your needs have changed along with the times. While previously I would have included “getting out of the house” and “spending time with friends or family” as on my list, currently there are limitations to that. Additionally, I have identified that I have adjusted the shows and movies that I am interested in watching. Instead of movies filled with deep meaning and drama, I prefer light hearted and feel good movies and shows. There is enough intensity in real life right now.
Give yourself permission to make the adjustment and take care of your needs.
Although it may seem strange, I encourage clients to actually say the words, “I give myself permission to...” as a means of accountability to follow through.
After you’ve identified how you’re feeling and exploring what your needs are in the moment, it’s action time to give yourself the permission to give yourself what you need. Now more than ever, we need to continue to take care of ourselves, to say no when we need to, to adjust our expectations, to make changes in our routines and schedules, and to rest.
If you find that you’re needing more help trying to navigate through the current changes in our world, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with a therapist. Our therapists are currently accepting intakes via Telehealth. You can find out more information by visiting our website www.OakHeartCenter.com or calling (630) 570-0500.
The Trap of Overwhelm
Written by Brittany Male MSW, LCSW, CADC
As a therapist, I often find myself talking with clients during sessions about similar concepts or issues. Not too long ago, the theme was “overwhelm” and although the circumstances may be different a few weeks ago, I think anyone would agree that there are plenty of things that we may find ourselves overwhelmed with. Despite not always living through a pandemic, it is likely that you, the reader, have felt overwhelmed. Here’s the truth: all of us experience times of complete overwhelm, and while there may be a variety of contributing factors to this, most of the time, the activity that I’m about to share with you can be applied, no matter the trigger.
The activity is called “Brain Dumping” and although I didn’t coin the name, I love using it in my life and sharing the idea with clients.
First, write down in a notebook all of the contributing factors that are driving your overwhelming feelings.
These may be thoughts, feelings, tasks, chores, responsibilities, etc. During this process, it is important not to filter yourself. In other words, don’t try to edit the list before you’ve gone through the whole process because otherwise it is likely that the thing you’ve edited out comes back into play, therefore creating the feeling of overwhelm again. This needs to be an unedited list.
There are a few functions of this task:
After you’ve made your list, start grouping them together into different categories.
Oftentimes when you review the list, you’ll find there are tasks to complete that all go together. This is called “batching”. If I have three things I need to do around my house, I would categorize all those things together so I can better plan for when I may do those things. Our ability to be productive usually increases when we “batch” similar tasks together instead of jumping around. That said, if you are someone who needs to switch it up, by all means go ahead and jump around from task to task. An example of this would be if I had work to do on my computer but after 30 minutes I know that I start getting antsy, I may plan to do some house work after those 30 minutes and then return to the rest of the work on my computer.
Next, take a look at each “batch” you’ve made and make a plan for each.
It’s difficult to explain this portion without knowing specifically what’s on your list. When I have clients do this in my office, we usually go through each batch and figure out a plan of when the client will work on this. By the time we get to this part of the brain dump, the client is usually feeling less overwhelmed because they realize that although it “feels” like there are a lot of things to do, ultimately after seeing them all on paper, they realize that there are only a few items that they can do in the moment. Creating a plan for when each item can be accomplished also helps instead of thinking that everything has to get done right at this moment.
Finally, focus on one task at a time.
Once you’ve dumped all the tasks out on paper, batched them, and figured out a plan for when each item will be marked off and how long it will take, it is important to focus on one item at a time. This is easier after doing the “brain dump” because you’ve assigned a plan to each task so you’re better able to focus on one task at a time. You cannot do two tasks at a time, this is a proven FACT (Feel free to read more about why in this article https://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask) and you’re more efficient with your time if you focus solely on one.
It’s that simple.
Hopefully taking these additional steps can help reduce feeling overwhelmed and help make you more productive. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed and would like more help, For more information on the therapeutic services that OakHeart offers, call and speak with her intake specialist at (630) 570-0050 or email us at Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com.
Surviving 'Social Distancing'
Written by Brittany Male MSW, CADC, LCSW
All of us are adjusting to a new, and hopefully temporary, normal and may need some direction on how to mentally survive. It’s important to have compassion and patience with yourself and others, as we transition our lives to even more of a virtual one then we were just a few weeks ago. We’re all being impacted by this pandemic. Hopefully the following can help as you navigate the next few weeks.
Create a Daily Routine
Whether you are beginning to work at home, you've been temporarily laid off, or you are finding yourself balancing being a ‘Stay at Home Parent’ and ‘teacher’, having a consistent daily routine can help create some normalcy during this time.
Things to Consider:
Be Creative with Socialization
There are so many FREE apps and resources out there that people can access in order to continue socialization despite the 'stay-home-order'. Utilize them to continue Friday Pizza and Movie night with the Grandparents or Friends, workouts, lunch dates, or play-dates.
Filter your News Sources
Practice Continued Self-Care
For more information on the therapeutic services that OakHeart offers, call and speak with her intake specialist at (630) 570-0050 or email us at Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com.
Being Present in the New Year
Written by Dr. Lindsay Tobin, PsyD
As we find ourselves in month two of 2020 and the winter weather really kicks in we may find ourselves looking back on some of the goals we have resolved to achieve this year. Maybe we want to improve our health and fitness, spend less time on our phones, improve our relationships and deepen our connections. We may even have started out strong in January but find ourselves falling back into old routines and habits. We think to ourselves, “This happens every year. Why can’t I make these changes? What is wrong with me?” From there we spiral down the rabbit hole of self-criticism, reflecting on and reliving all of our perceived failures and short-comings. This year, let’s try something different.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) provides us with tools that allow us to be more fully present in our lives, reducing depressive spirals into our pasts and anxious ruminations about our futures. MBCT is an evidence-based practice developed from Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). MBSR was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. MBCT helps individuals develop a different relationship with their thoughts and feelings.
Lessons in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) :
For more information or to start your own mindfulness journey following the MBCT approach, I highly recommend the book MIndfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World, by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. Other resources include:
The Mindful Way Workbook: An 8-Week Program to Free Yourself from Depression and Emotional Distress, by John Teasdale, Mark Williams, Zindel Segal, and John Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression, by Zindel Segal, Mark Williams, and John Teasdale
The Mindful Way THrough Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness, by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and John Kabat-Zinn
The Mindful Catholic: Finding God One Moment at a Time, by Dr. Gregory Bottaro
For more information on the therapeutic services that OakHeart offers, call and speak with her intake specialist at (630) 570-0050 or email us at Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com.
IT’S (NOT ALWAYS) THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR: GRIEVING THROUGH THE HOLIDAYS 101
Written by Erin Mitchell MSW, LCSW
To start, let me introduce myself (I promise to make it short). My name is Erin and I am new to OakHeart. I have been doing counseling for 12 years and one of the topics that I am very passionate about is grief. I worked as a hospice bereavement coordinator (a fancy way to say grief counselor/therapist) for 3 of those years. There is just so much that is misunderstood about the grieving process and I would like to share with you some of the ways that people I have worked with have found to survive the holidays.
Many grieving people who are facing down the remainder of December find themselves dreading what the holidays are bringing. We have the cultural expectation that the holidays are a time for unfettered joy and celebration, which creates an enormous amount of added stress when you are grieving. When you feel like getting through everyday forces you to put on a mask to hide your grief, the disparity between what you actually feel and the expectations of “joy” and “cheer” that bombard you during the holiday season makes it feel impossible to get through. You may even feel like you need to hide out and sleep through the next month to emerge once January is upon us.
If this resonates with you, then read on for some suggestions that can help you survive the season.
1. Be gentle with yourself. It is incredibly important to be kind to yourself in your grief. You may feel that you “should” or “shouldn’t” do or experience so many different things. The truth is that grief is a lifelong journey. You don’t “get over it” and there is no time limit. It has the horrible side effect of making it seem like it has been a very long time and just yesterday all at once. If this is your first year of grief or your tenth, grief has a way of leaving its mark.
2. Consider your grief triggers. I’m sure that you probably have some things that you are positively dreading in the upcoming season. Think about what those are and why they seem so painful. Consider if these are things that you absolutely have to do this year and change your plans accordingly.
3. Be flexible. One of the most important things is to follow how you feel. Grief tends to be constantly changing our emotions. Maybe last week it seemed like a great idea to go to that office party, but today it seems like a nightmare. Follow how you feel and be kind to yourself. If you don’t want to go, chances are that you don’t actually have to.
4. Consider changing old traditions. Traditions can be absolutely wonderful. They can be reminders of happier times and a way to connect with the past. However, when traditions become painful there is no reason that you cannot make changes. These don’t have to be permanent changes, but maybe just the next year or two. I have worked with individuals that couldn’t put up a Christmas tree, so they got out a tree they decorated for another holiday and used that instead. Maybe the mashed potatoes that mom always made are just something that cannot happen this year, so just allow those to be skipped this year. Maybe instead of personalizing all of those holiday cards, you can write a general letter letting people know what happened in your life and send that out in all those cards (or just skip them this year). Talk with your loved ones that you celebrate with to let them know that you plan to change things up for this year ahead of time. That way they will know in advance and can possibly help make those changes.
5. Make an escape plan. This is something that is useful during any upcoming events that you are dreading. If you are concerned about having a “breakdown” in front of others or are just worried about what to do in situations where you cannot easily just leave; come up with an escape plan. Have a pre-planned excuse for leaving early. Think of the place that you can be alone if you need to be during that holiday gathering. If you have a planned way to get out of the situation, you will most likely have less anxiety going into that situation about the potential “what ifs”.
6. Create new traditions. Consider ways that you could possibly honor or remember your loved one during the holiday season. Some people volunteer in their loved one’s memory. Some people will write letters to their loved one. Some will attend a memorial. What appeals to you and your family? What new tradition can you think of that would be right for you?
7. Beware of overindulging. Many of our holiday festivities have alcohol readily available and encouraged. While alcohol (and other substances) may seem like the answer to drown out those feelings of grief, it really only delays those feelings until later. If you are going to be drinking, please make sure that you are being safe.
8. Find support. This support can come from any area of your life. If those friends and family members are helpful to you in your time of grief, then try to open up with them about what you are experiencing. No one knows what you are currently experiencing unless you tell them. Something to keep in mind is that we tend to believe that those we are closest to and love the most will be the most supportive, sadly that is not always the case. If your closest loved ones are not able to be supportive to you in your grief, or just don’t understand, there are other avenues of support available. You may find that a grief support group is helpful, or a grief therapist, or an acquaintance that you never knew had been through something similar. There also tend to be remembrances or memorials held around the holidays. Contacting local support groups or hospices can be a good start.
9. There will be “grief bursts”. Even if you have evaluated everything coming up on your schedule, you will still have times where the grief just seems to come out of nowhere or you stumble headfirst into an instant grief trigger. Don’t be shocked if this happens to you. Grief is not always predictable and it does not mean that you are “getting worse” or being unhealthy in any way. It is just that our grief is constantly changing and makes us more sensitive to the world around us at times. That is not bad or wrong, it just is.
10. Take care of you. When you are feeling overwhelmed by grief, it can be very easy to ignore your physical needs. Your emotional needs seem to take center stage and make it very difficult to maintain those necessary functions, like sleep and healthy appetite. For many grieving people, your appetite and sleep habits are the first things to be heavily impacted. Grief is an enormous stressor and tends to make you more susceptible to health issues and general illnesses. Try not to be constantly busy and to make sure that you are checking in with yourself physically. If you find that there are small (or large) things that you can do to make your grief a little more bearable, do them.
Hopefully these tips will be helpful in getting through the holiday season. For more information on grief and bereavement as well as to learn more about her grief and bereavement specailists, visit our speciality page. If you believe that you may want to seek professional help getting through this difficult time, contact OakHeart to schedule an appointment to meet with one of our clinicians at 630 570-0050 or email Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com.
Helpful Grief Resources:
Dr. Alan Wolfelt article on getting through the holidays. https://www.centerforloss.com/2016/12/helping-heal-holiday-season/
Hospice Foundation of America’s support group list. https://hospicefoundation.org/Grief-(1)/Support-Groups
Share Miscarriage & Early Infant Loss Support website. http://nationalshare.org/
8 WAYS TO MANAGE SEASONAL DEPRESSION
Written By Dr. Emily Frey, PsyD