Author: Brittany P. Male LCSW, CADC
The holidays are over, and if you're in the Midwest, the longest part of winter looms ahead of us. Snow covers the ground, chilling cold takes our breath away, and the outside is void of any remaining life. At the time of this blog being posted, Illinois is actually the coldest place on the planet. If we’re lucky, we’re warm inside our homes, under blankets, drinking warm beverages, and dreaming of warmer days. If you’re from the midwest, you’re also aware that although it may feel like this season will last forever---it won’t. We know that daylight will remain with us for longer and we’ll soon be enjoying the warm breeze as we sit outside sipping lemonade. We remain hopeful in winter, knowing that summer will return.
In the “winters” of our lives, it’s harder to remain optimistic. But if we look back at past evidence, we find similarities in these “winters.” Much like the changing seasons, the previous challenges we’ve experienced have passed, too, and we know that our present challenge will do the same. The “winters” of our lives, though they may feel like they last forever, thankfully do not.
The challenge that the winter brings also conditions us to tolerate its harsh conditions. The winter builds resilience in us and so do the challenges we face. The American Psychology Association (APA) defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress” (2019). Going into winter, we’re soft from summer’s sun and relaxing days. But winter hardens our skin and leaves us resilient and able to overcome adversity with greater strength than before. As spring approaches, winter has prepared us for future challenges. Have you ever wondered why when the weather begins to transition to spring we’re quick to forget our jackets and enjoy the sun even though the temperature may still only be in the 30’s? Just a few months prior, we ran back inside to grab our jackets at the same temperature. We gain resilience and determination in the cold. Somewhere between September and April, we find toughness.
Thankfully, everyone is capable of developing resiliency. When it comes to the challenges we face, the APA outlines 10 ways you can build resilience:
So if you’re finding yourself in the season of winter in your life, know that it is temporary. New growth will start, the softness and warmth of summer will soon be upon you and because of the winter, you will be ever more prepared for the next winter. As a bonus, you’ll be able to enjoy summer’s rays even more than you would have without your winter. You’re building resilience through this winter of your life. If you’re finding the present challenge you face, difficult to get through, don’t hesitate to call OakHeart and schedule an appointment to meet with one of our clinicians at (630) 570-0050.
American Psychological Association (APA). 2019. The Road to Resilience. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx
The beginning of the year always motivates me to be reflective on the past year and motivated to identify the goals I have for myself in the coming year. That said, it may be easy to identify the things we want to change for ourselves, but harder to make those changes a reality. If you're struggling with accomplishing the goals you have for yourself, ask yourself the following questions:
What are the barriers to making this change?
Are there solutions to these barriers?
What will help me stay accountable to these changes?
Who can help me stay accountable to these changes?
For the purpose of moving forward, sometimes we have to take a look at the past. In previous attempts at accomplishing our goals, there may have been barriers that prevented us from accomplishing them or maintaining them. It's important to identify what has gone wrong in the past, when attempting to have a different outcome. Barriers may include a number of things, including our own fear of accomplishing the goal or of failing at accomplishing it. As a therapist, I often see clients scared to fail, and therefor make the sometimes, unconscious decision to not try, or sabotage their success. In our minds, we think that we’re saving ourselves and preventing a failure, but instead we’re only guaranteeing the outcome by not giving ourselves the chance. For example, if you want to begin eating healthier in the new year, but are afraid that you’ll end up picking up your old habits in week two, you may decide to never get started in the first place. So now, you have guaranteed that you won’t be eating healthy. Another example of a barrier, may be that your routine or schedule doesn't allow for the opportunity to work towards the goal. If that is the case, a solution may be that you need to identify where in your schedule or routine you can incorporate working towards the goal you have. Identify at the beginning of the week and block out the time you'd like to dedicate towards working towards that goals.
I have found that the difficulty is not in finding a solution, but instead utilizing the solution. Sometimes we just would prefer the easy way. We would love to say, “I want to stop smoking”, and the next day, stop smoking and never pick up a cigarette again. The reality is that we can not have this be our expectation. To make changes we need to have a plan and prepare for taking action. We don’t have to do it perfectly, but change does require effort despite our preference to simply will it to be so. Desired change does not just happen, we have to make it happen. If you are having trouble finding solutions, ask a friend, family member, find a group of those desiring the same change, or begin seeing a therapist. Brainstorming solutions with others is extremely helpful, because someone else with alternative experiences and ways of thinking may offer ideas you haven't thought of, in addition to being a great source of accountability and encouragement.
A third question to ask yourself towards the pursuit of your goals; is what can I do to help keep myself accountable? These are things that you can do on your own to help yourself be successful. You can create personal accountability in a number of ways depending on what your goal is. These may include: setting alarms on your phone reminding you to work towards your goals or to mentally "check in" with the progress you're making toward the goals, creating a reward systems that you’d actually like to receive, or reminding yourself regularly what the consequence of not changing is. It’s important to find out what works for you when it comes to personal accountability and stick with it. At any point, if you get stuck, go back to the beginning and walk through each question again.
The last thing to consider is who may be able to help hold you accountable. Although we may like to think we're independent and don’t need other people to be successful, the truth is that we do. Simply knowing someone is aware of the goals we've set, can be a powerful motivator. In addition, knowing someone else can be there if you need them to be, is helpful.
From here, I encourage you to take some time to reflect and write down the four questions and begin making steps towards the goals you have for this new year. When you find yourself struggling to make progress towards your goals, simply go back to the questions. Notice how I said, when and not if. It is important to remember that there is almost a guarantee that you'll meet barriers along the way towards change. I want you to normalize barriers. I want you to expect them. If your mindset is that barriers are a part of the journey you will not spend your time trying to pretend barriers aren't there. If you've met a barrier that you can't quite overcome or you're having trouble navigating through these questions, don't hesitate to call and schedule an appointment to meet with one of our trained clinicians today at (630) 570-0050 or email us at Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com.
Author: Brittany P. Male LCSW, CADC
This past June, I welcomed my second child to the world. He has been the perfect addition to our family in so many ways, and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be his mother. All that said, to say the last few months have been a difficult transition for my family would be an understatement. I found myself sleep deprived, struggling with mom guilt for not being as attentive to my toddler, and physically recovering from pregnancy as well as a C-Section. I was depleted. It was during this time, my mother told me something that I have continued to remind myself of regularly since. She said, “our children give us gifts”. After hearing that, I began taking time each day to finding the gift that my children may have given me. It may have been a tantrum free morning or a better night sleep. It could have been a sweet “I love you momma” or baby coos at just the right time. The gift could have been a toddler that ate all his food or a newborn who didn’t require a second outfit change that day. Maybe it was being able to enjoy a cup of coffee while it was still hot or taking a shower without interruption. This simple practice of looking for the gifts, helped me acknowledge that despite feeling as if everything was going poorly, in actuality, there were plenty of things going well. I found that when I took the time each day to recognize those things, I felt a sense of gratitude which in turn brought peace to my day. I’m not saying I still don’t find myself frustrated as I continue to find balance in my life, but I trust that they will come, and they do, at exactly the right moment. When I apply this same technique to other areas of my life it works similarly.
Although not everyone may be going through a life transition similar to my own, most can relate to feeling overwhelmed by challenging times in their lives. I would encourage you to take a moment each day to count the gifts, or the things that have gone well or that you’re grateful for. I’d even encourage you to make it part of your routine. When you make something part of your routine, you’re more likely to do it. So find a time that works best for you. Maybe it’s in the morning when you’re sipping on that cup of coffee or are in the shower. Maybe it’s at night before you close your eyes. Whenever it is, find a time and stick to it. Ask yourself, have I received a gift today? Be patient with yourself and this process, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s likely that you could quickly come up with a laundry list of things that may have gone poorly that day, but until you make it a regular practice, it may be harder to come up with the things that have gone well. Don’t be discouraged, continue to look for the gifts.
I also want to be careful to note that I am not saying that practicing gratitude alone can solve all your problems, nor am I minimizing the difficult time you may be experiencing. Noticing the gifts did not change the circumstances that I did not have control over, but instead it offered me some perspective that despite feeling like things were all bad, they weren’t. Identifying the gifts, provided me evidence that challenged this feeling and provided motivation to continue moving forward, knowing that there would continue to be gifts given to me along the way. Taking a minute each day to identify these gifts does not cost money and I’m sure even the busiest of people can find the time.
It’s not every day that us therapists can be as candid as I’ve been in sharing the struggles that I’ve had through this current season of my life, but I hope in doing so I’ve helped both validate your experience as well as inspire you to think a little differently about your current circumstances. If you’re finding that you would like more help navigating through this difficult season do not hesitate to call and schedule an appointment with one of our therapists at (630)570-0050 or email us at Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com. We’re not meant to do this alone.
Author: Dr. Katherine Harris, PhD
I want you to know how much I respect and admire you for coming to therapy. Finding a therapist, navigating insurance, attending that first appointment can be really hard. Trusting me, being vulnerable, asking for help can be really scary. Being willing and open to making changes is hard...changing any behavior is a challenge. I want you to know that my clients are some of the bravest, most caring, most determined people that I know.
I want you to know that you are not alone. Millions of people suffer from mental health disorders, many of whom suffer in silence. I know it can feel like everyone else has it together, that they are cruising through life, that they’re perfect people. But they aren’t. We simply don’t talk enough with each other about our imperfections, our struggles, our mental health issues. There are so many reasons for this, but one unfortunate consequence is that many end up thinking they are the only ones with depression, with panic attacks, with intense fear of being judged.
I want you to know that you are important and that you matter and your experience matters. I know that you may not feel like you are important. I know it may even make you anxious to hear that. I believe in you, I see you, I hear you. I know the sadness, fear, loneliness, or confusion you feel can be profoundly painful.
I want you to know that sometimes I will frustrate you. That I may not answer your questions looking for advise. That I may not have all the answers or may not give you the answers. That sometimes I’ll do the opposite of what you want because I believe strongly in giving you what you need. I want you to know that I may ask you to face your fears, or make room for strong emotions, or to stop engaging in behaviors that you feel like you want or need to do. I want you to know that I can be patient and support you in your readiness for change. That I will empathize and sit with you in your discomfort or distress. That I will set boundaries and help you to do so as well.
I want you to know that we are partners, a team. That we will work together to identify your values and your goals. I want you to know that there is hope. That there are many treatments that work! That you can enjoy life again. That you don’t have to always be afraid or sad. But that sometimes you may feel afraid and sad and that’s ok too. I want you to know that I’ve seen many clients get better! That they would never have imagined what they were capable of. You can too.
I want you to know that I am honored to be a part of this journey with you. That I am grateful for the opportunity to help you, learn from you, and grow with you.