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The new normal: a young girl attending school via online meeting software.

Mental Health and COVID-19: What’s Normal in the New Normal?

The new normal. Over the past few weeks, many of us have shifted to working, learning, grocery shopping, exercising, and hair cutting from home. Instead of spending time in person with friends, family, and co-workers, we talk at our phone and computer screens to stay in touch. The days blend into each other now that we have no places to go or people to see, and we do our best to put some sort of structure to them. And in the time of COVID-19, we consider ourselves lucky if those are our biggest concerns. Some have experienced much more devastating changes due to the loss of jobs, health, and even life. They’ve lost everything, and fear for how much worse it will get before it gets better. This would have all seemed unbelievable just a couple of months ago, and yet, it’s where we find ourselves.

It’s safe to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed things for all of us, whether it’s simply the loss of our old way of life, or a much more tragic one. And during these times, it can be helpful to understand what we’re going through in the context of grief. When we think of loss in the traditional sense, we think of the death of a loved one or the end of a significant relationship. But our feelings and reactions to this pandemic are much like what we go through when we grieve. We’re grieving the loss of the way things used to be. And just as some people have a harder time working through the grief process, some folks are finding it harder to adapt to the loss of our old way of life. In this article, we’ll explore some of the normal, common reactions to our new reality, and identify some red flags to watch out for. We’ll also offer a few suggestions about how to grieve the loss of the old normal, and shift into the new one, in a healthy way.

Common Reactions to The New Normal

Denial, Shock, and Disbelief

Much like a sudden and unexpected death, the drastic changes we had to make during the month of March seemed to happen overnight. We were caught off guard, and a sense of shock and disbelief set in. We were hopeful that schools and sporting events might start back up at best, in a couple of weeks, and at worst, maybe a month. In those first few days, we just couldn’t fathom that we might be in this for the long haul. The idea that this virus would be so contagious that we’d all need to wall ourselves off from the rest of society seemed like something from a blockbuster science fiction film, not from 21st-century America.

But it wasn’t unlike the denial phase of grief, when we find it hard to believe that a loss is real. Imagine the person, for example, who, soon after a breakup, holds out hope for a reconciliation. When a new way of being is too painful for us to bear, it takes some time to absorb the reality of it. And this denial phase of grief seems to have happened to a lot of us during those early days of quarantine.

But denying that things are different keeps us from doing the things we need to do to stay healthy – in the age of COVID-19, physical distancing, or washing your hands, for example. It can also delay our transition to a new normal, and keep us in a holding pattern of sorts that prevents us from developing new routines. Part of good mental health is having the flexibility to create new versions of our old routines when we’re forced to change our daily lives. For example, just because you can’t go to the gym for six weeks doesn’t mean you have to be a couch potato the whole time. Your new exercise routine might not look much like your old one, but the ability to find ways to approximate it is vital to transitioning into your new normal. Taking a flexible approach when shifting each part of your daily routine is one way to make the overall change seem less overwhelming.

Getting Stuck

As we made the initial adjustment to our new routines, many of us found the extra time relaxing. No more drive time meant we could stay in bed a little longer and skip ironing our pants. Some of us even scrapped the professional look altogether and went straight to sweatpants and ball caps – relaxation at its finest! Hours upon hours at home also lends itself to binge watching TV shows or movies, often snacking while doing so. Downtime is a critical piece of optimal mental health, and many of us weren’t getting enough of it until now. There’s something to be said for our newfound comfort with presenting our “real” selves to the world – long, graying, messy hair, and all. Letting go of our old pretenses around image is a sign of vulnerability, which allows us to connect more deeply with others. Because we’re getting a glimpse into the real world of our colleagues, friends, and family members, we may end up feeling closer to them, because we can see that they’re much like us.

But what happens when the media binges go on so long that we miss sleep or meals, or fall down on the job? Or when one day blends into another so much so that we lose track of hygiene and stop showering or brushing our teeth? These patterns are easy to slip into, and are very common during the grief process. When we’ve lost a critical part of our old way of life, it’s not unusual to get stuck “waiting” for things to return to normal. But putting everything on hold is a signal that adaptation to the new normal isn’t going so well.

Having balance and structure to the seemingly endless days is crucial to maintaining good mental health during these times. You don’t have to create a down-to-the-minute schedule and stick to it; remember that the point is to be flexible during this time. But having some general expectations for each day isn’t a bad thing. It may be helpful to think about this, for example, in terms of physical health, work, and relaxation. A goal might be to aspire to include some work, some rest/relaxation, some movement, and adequate sleep and nutrition. This is just a starting place, though. Think about what’s important to you (spirituality is one example that comes to mind), and consider how that might fit into your daily plan around balance.

Going into Overdrive

What about when your problem is not doing too little, but doing too much? With calendars cleared of extracurricular and social activities, hours are suddenly opened up to devote to those long-delayed household projects. Backs of cabinets and closets have been cleaned out. Lawns are immediately immaculate. And pantries and desk drawers have been organized. Many of us have even taken up new hobbies or returned to old ones. It’s felt good that we’ve been able to make the most of these strange, scary new times by being productive. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But for some, along with all this new productivity came the expectation that they should be doing something fruitful with the extra time, all the time.

It’s not uncommon for people who are grieving to go to such an extreme after experiencing a significant loss. We see a lot of folks who throw themselves into work as a way to cope during the grief process. Staying busy is a way to distract ourselves from painful feelings about the loss. It’s also a way to feel like we’re taking back some control over our lives when it seems like everything has spun out of control. But that busy-ness itself can also spiral out of control, to the point that our mental health suffers. We can start using activities to push down our true feelings of sadness about the loss. Or we can start basing our self-worth on our productivity, feeling guilt and shame when we’re not getting enough done.

It’s important during these times to examine our motives for checking off to-do list after to-do list, and to check in on what emotions we might be using those activities to avoid. Such check-ins with ourselves and others about how we’re really doing with all these changes are vital to maintaining good mental health in this new normal. Don’t be afraid to identify and express whatever you’re feeling, whether on your own through journaling, for example, or with another person. If there’s not anyone in your life with whom you would feel comfortable doing this, please consider reaching out to a trusted professional. From counselors to clergy members, there are people ready to help.

Other Suggestions for Finding a Healthier New Normal

In addition to the suggestions given already, consider limiting time spent reading about the pandemic. It’s good to have information and be up-to-date on the latest recommendations. But given the tragic nature of much of the news these days, information overload can leave you feeling helpless, hopeless, and scared.

Not only can placing parameters on the time you spend consuming COVID-19 information help, but so can giving back. It can easily feel like our sense of control has been robbed from us these days. But helping others, and feeling like you’re really making a difference, can bring it back. Making masks, taking part in a quarantine birthday parade, joining in on a big round of applause for our health care providers, and donating money or food to a food bank are just some examples of ways people have been volunteering their time or resources.

And if you already struggle with stress management or mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, or addiction, or if you’re going through an additional loss during this time, you’ll need to take extra good care of yourself right now. If you need help finding someone to talk to, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Brentwood Counseling Associates. We’d be happy to help you determine who’d be a good fit for your needs and situation. Whether it’s someone in our practice or somewhere else, we just want to be sure you’re getting the support you need during this time.

Premarital Counseling: Starting a Healthy New Relationship

Premarital Counseling: Starting a Healthy Relationship

Congratulations on your engagement! Getting engaged is a thrilling first step toward a new life together with your partner. After the proposal, couples can become consumed with planning their perfect wedding. The details often become stressful and create new tension around wedding planning. There is a lot to consider: your dress, the invite list, who will be the best man, what song will be your first dance, what food should you serve, what is the budget, and more. One item, however, that should be on the top of your to-do list is Premarital Counseling.

Premarital Counseling is the first step to starting a new healthy relationship. This type of therapy allows the couple to discuss and work on strengthening communication skills, setting realistic expectations, and understanding what is important to each member of the couple.  This is an opportunity to create a vision for the future healthy marriage. Below are 5 reasons why you should consider Premarital Counseling as your first step in your wedding planning.

  1. Premarital Counseling creates space to make sure you are both on the same page. Stress and fears can create a lot of tension for new couples. This stress could develop from wedding planning, tension between what the new in-laws expect, or what type of ceremony you each want to have. Stress could also surround the budget or how the new couple will handle finances or debt. Beyond stress, couples carry fears into any new relationships. The “what ifs” (Is he going to always love me? What if she does not want children? Can I trust him again? How can I deal with her family?) often linger in the back of your mind. Premarital Counseling offers the couple a safe place to voice their fears and stress and help the couple begin to understand how each person copes with stress and what they need from their partner.
  1. Premarital Counseling helps the couple know what each person is bringing into the marriage. Some of the most important work a new couple can do is understand how growing up in their own family creates norms and expectations that will influence the new marriage. Couples need to study each person’s family of origin (How was affection shown growing up? What about discipline? How did your family define success? What are important traditions of your family and how does it compare to your partner’s family traditions?). While you are not tied to live just like your family of origin, the past may influence you in how you view the family or marriage. In Premarital Counseling, a trained therapist can help the new couple navigate these past themes and create discussion on what the new couple values from their past.
  1. Communication and the couple’s “rules of engagement” need to be a part of any Premarital Counseling. In Premarital Counseling, you can grow your communication skills and learn to identify your conflict cycle. Together, you will explore what are the common areas of conflict, and what does each partner need for a positive outcome. The goal is for the new couple to develop their own “rules of engagement” as well as begin to see the conflict cycle before it starts.
  1. Premarital Counseling also explores the relationship for strengths and growth areas. Couples will learn where they currently excel as well as areas where they can improve. This focus will help a couple set and manage expectations and roles in the relationship. It is important to explore how each person in the couple views marital roles. Premarital Counseling also allows time for the couple to name roles they enjoy and roles where they are uncomfortable. This discussion will aid in setting a couple’s expectations about how decision making and responsibilities will be shared.
  1. Creating a new vision. Premarital Counseling is a time for visioning and exploring what the couple is looking forward to and dreaming. Beyond their favorite traditions and expectations from their family of origin, Premarital Counseling offers space to voice shared goals and hopes for the new relationship. Premarital Counseling can be a fun time to dream big, name new traditions you hope to start in the new marriage, and name values your healthy marriage will stand on.

Click here for more information about premarital counseling at Brentwood Counseling Associates.

Gift Giving: Beat the Stress and Maintain the Joy of the Holiday Season

Gift Giving: Beat the Stress and Maintain the Joy of the Season

Stressed to find the best gift during the Christmas season?

Christmas is a holiday of joy and cheer.  Many of us use it as an opportunity to express how much we care for their family and friends through warm wishes, gatherings, and gift giving.

The holiday season is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can easily go from Christmas cheer to Holiday stress. Finding the perfect gifts, attending all of the festive activities, and trying to fit it all in our holiday budget can take a toll.

So how do we prevent our joyous giving from turning into overspending pressures and longing for the season to be behind us?

Why do we enjoy giving?

Let’s look into the psychology behind the pressures to give and why we are so compelled year after year to immerse ourselves into finding the perfect gift, even if it brings on unwanted stress.

According to research we give for many reasons. We give to show gratitude, empathy, and love.  We also give to increase relationship connections and because it makes us feel good.

Dave Ramsey says that the act of giving causes our brain to release ‘feel good hormones’. He mentions the phenomenon of the ‘giver’s glow’ which is that feeling of joy we get from showing generosity toward other people. Generosity comes with so many advantages; not only to those on the receiving end, but to those doing the giving too. Generosity has also been shown to reduce stress and help counteract depressive symptoms, says Ramsey.

There is a great sense of satisfaction when seeing the expression on the face of someone you’ve given a gift to. Its a way to express feelings when you can’t find the words. Giving is a way to say, “I’m thinking of you and you matter to me.”

When gift giving gets stressful

Even though giving makes us feel good, there’s definitely a tipping point. What happens when we start to lose the joy in giving and it becomes a stressor?

Gift-giving can be a mood booster and create balance. However, it can get stressful when you’re struggling to find the perfect gift for friends and family. It’s difficult when trying to find a gift that’s an affordable, thoughtful gift and within our holiday budget. I think the pressure is also surrounding the fact that we recognize gifts are symbolic, so we tend to obsess over the meaning we are trying to convey.

How to maintain the joy and pleasure in gift giving

Here are some helpful tips to remain mindful of what’s important about gifting and how to maintain joy this Christmas season.

Keep it simple

Not all gifts have to have a huge monetary value. If you enjoy spending extra on someone, go for it. Although, before you make a large purchase ask yourself, “Am I buying this because it’s more expensive or because I feel it’s what they would truly prefer?” The most meaningful gifts are sometimes homemade. In a society obsessed with commercialism, it can be refreshing to offer something more personal. Some example may be handmade cards, homemade essential oils, fresh baked goods, or wooden toys. If DIY-ing isn’t your thing, you can always gift your time such as a car wash or free babysitting.

Create some giving boundaries

For many of us, this is the season to splurge and indulge. However, it can be helpful to create some boundaries as it relates to giving to maintain our sanity and our bank accounts. So, be realistic but stick to your holiday budget as much as possible. Things like setting a budget for individual gifts and tracking your spending can be helpful.

Practice gratitude

Gift giving is not the only way we can show appreciation to others during the holiday season. Write a gratitude letter. This letter can be written to a significant person who made a positive difference in your life. This can have the same effect as a holiday gift letting them know “I am thinking of you and you matter.” Describe in specific terms what the person did and why you’re grateful.

Remember what’s important

According to an article by The Society of Happy People, when people are asked what makes them happiest about the holidays, most said connection with family and friends. So, let yourself off the hook a little bit. If you are able to spend some quality time with your loved ones, know that your presence is just as valuable as a gift.

We gain happiness around the holidays from spending time with loved ones by giving gifts, sharing meals and attending holiday festivities. It helps to remember that the holiday season is about being with the people we care about, not about giving gifts, unless giving gifts is what makes us happy.

Explore ways to turn teen anxiety into resilience at Brentwood Counseling Associates.

Teen Anxiety: Why It Can Be Necessary and What Can Be Gained

Every living creature experiences anxiety. Anxiety is necessary for survival and adaptation. Normal teen anxiety is common, and generally short-lived. In today’s fast paced world, however, we live in a culture that suggests any anxiety is bad and a person who struggles with it, including adolescents, is weak or faulty. Society is so eager to diagnose a person with an official disorder.

Teenagers have been taught the need to be perfect. They have received participation trophies for their whole lives. Social media is used as a tool to present an edited/photoshopped sense of perfection. Many students get to retake their test in school to increase their GPA. We have created people who have never experienced failure. When one has been protected and has never struggled to achieve, they are often unequipped to handle the smallest mistakes later in life. These first failures can be crippling and can lead to catastrophic feelings once the safety nest of parental protection is removed.

Yet there are many positives once you learn to embrace your anxiety or face your nervousness. Studies have shown how the power of facing adversity can create resiliency. Resiliency is the ability to overcome challenges of any kind. The mastery of resiliency takes time and training. It is especially important for teenagers to have safe places where they can experiment with failing and facing their fears/anxieties.

3 Proven Ways to Deal with Teen Anxiety

SHARE INTENTIONALLY – Create a space for teenagers to share both successes and failures as well as opportunities to see others (more importantly adults) talk about their ups and downs. This expands a teen’s view of normal anxiety and overcoming failure, and can take place at the dinner table, a small group setting, or during prayer time.

HIGHLIGHT STRENGTHS – Find ways to highlight a teenager’s gifts. Too often, teenagers can overly magnify their smallest perceived flaws. Highlighting strengths over weaknesses, teens learn how to overcome anxiety and stress brought on by a hyper focus on the negative. We all have many different talents that are unique to each of us. Helping a teenager name their gift(s) allows them to see more than the negatives. The second part of this step is to brainstorm with them ways for the teenager to use these gifts in their everyday lives. Be specific. Challenge them to find ways to engage with their gifts daily and celebrate them when they do use them, even if it does not work out as planned.

NORMALIZE & FOSTER MENTAL TOUGHNESS – Remind teenagers that it is okay to have bad days and being mental strong is not about having it together all the time. Help them see past our society’s unhealthy need for perfection to learn that anxiety can be seen as an opportunity to grow rather than a threat or personal flaw. Mental toughness and resiliency are strengthened by learning to embrace anxiety/uncomfortableness and take action anyway. The more often a person steps into their challenges, the stronger and more confident they can become.

Ready to schedule an appointment? Contact Brentwood Counseling Associates and connect with one of our experienced therapists.

What are the signs your child may need counseling?

Signs Your Child May Need Counseling

So, you’re wondering if your child needs a therapist and are asking yourself, “Is this (fill in the blank) normal?” I completely understand. There are a lot of worries surrounding parenting and wanting the best for your child. I want to start by saying, parents, you are the expert of your child, no one knows them better than you. Often times, parents will come into my office saying that they can sense that there is something going on with their child but they just aren’t sure if it’s normal or if it’s something they should be concerned about. I will acknowledge that sometimes it is hard to say because there can be a fine line between normal and “let’s get some help with this.” Let’s briefly talk about the definition of a “normal” child and some signs your child may need counseling from a professional therapist.

So, what’s normal?

There’s no perfect child or parent and there is some normalcy in having fluctuations in mood and behavior that are part of normal child development. Children do break the rules sometimes. I know how frustrating it can be to have your child not follow directions but testing limits is how they learn who they are and how the world works. This also creates the opportunity for you to teach them valuable lessons while they are still within your safety net and can receive your guidance and support. Sometimes, however, persistent behavior problems can be a sign of something more serious. Another thing that can be normal is changes in appetite and sleep. Have they been on a school break recently? Are they off their routine? Sometimes changes in routine can affect things like sleep and appetite. However, these changes should be monitored and if they persist beyond a couple of weeks it could be an indication that something is up.

Here are some common experiences that may trigger signs your child may need counseling with a professional therapist:

  1. Life Transitions – Sometimes change is inevitable and not all change is bad. However, sometimes kids struggle when they experience too many life changes all at once. What could be a small change for you could be having a more difficult impact on your child. Did you and your child recently move? Or did they have a change in school? It can be normal to see a brief change in your child’s behavior when they are going through life transitions. As adults, even for us we need time to adjust and get our bearings after a recent move or change in job. However, if changes in sleep, appetite or mood persist for more than a couple of weeks it could be an indication they are having difficulty handling things.
  2. Household chaos – Every family has some sort of dysfunction. Parents are people too and sometimes may have disagreements with one another, other adults, or even their children. These disagreements don’t always have a negative effect on children, but they can. Problems arise when children witness highly emotional arguments between parents, or between parents and other individuals, physical violence (pushing, hitting, shoving, etc.), someone important to them leaves the household.
  3. Separation from parent – Separations from your child can occur for many reasons (divorce, changes in custody, parents traveling for work), some reasons aren’t controllable, it doesn’t always mean it’s going negatively impact your child. There may be times in which you are not always able to be with your child. As children get older and are gaining autonomy, this is quite normal and appropriate. However, until they reach middle school children are heavily reliant on parents to meet their emotional, physical, and basic needs. I believe what is important is that children are able to maintain healthy access to parents as much as possible. It’s important to keep a close watch on how your child is handling separations from you. Problems can easily arise if a child feels their ‘safe place’ is being threatened.
  4. Death of a family member or friend – Loss is a normal part of life, and grief is not pathology. Children are able to process the death of a loved one effectively if it’s talked about and handled appropriately. Problems arise when they don’t understand what they’re feelings, have been given untruthful information or they feel its unsafe to share their feelings. Regardless, it can always be helpful to have assistance from a counselor to foster a healthy grieving process.
  5. A frightening life event – When most people think of traumatic experiences, they immediately think of things such as abuse (physical, emotional, sexual) or neglect. In these instances, counseling is always recommended regardless the presence of symptoms.
    But what if it’s not abuse or neglect? Can other things be traumatic for children? The quick answer is yes. Again, it’s important to hold in mind the perspective of a child. Something could be scary to your child that isn’t scary to you: a traumatic doctor visit, a car accident (even minor), sickness of a parent, experiencing a major natural disaster, experience with death like attending a funeral, to name a few. Young children are highly susceptible to the ‘emotion in the room’. Were other people stressed, upset or crying? If so, this could have been a traumatic experience for a young child who doesn’t understand or isn’t able to express the event’s impact.
  6. Bullying – Parents, you are unable to protect their children from everything and unfortunately, most people will have experienced some form of bullying within their life. Most of us are able to overcome this experience with support. It’s important to engage in regular check-ins about peer relationships to create the opportunity for healthy conversation with your child. This also creates the opportunity for your child to gain skills from you on how to handle stressful situations. However, sometimes, bullying is persistent. Persistent experiencing of threats to physical safety or criticism can lead to feelings of low self-esteem or worthlessness. In these cases, if can be helpful to have support from a counselor to work on healthy ways to problem solve and cope.

If your child has experienced one or more of the above it doesn’t necessarily mean they will need additional support. However, it is always a good idea to monitor your child when they are going through these experiences so you can identify warning signs your child may need counseling. Some of these signals can be:

  • Difficulty managing emotional outbursts
  • Behavior that does not respond to discipline
  • Persistent difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Persistent increase or decrease in appetite
  • Behavior that interferes with school
  • Behavior that interferes with social interactions
  • Self-injury or talk about suicide

How can a therapist help?

Therapy can look different depending on the age of the client. With young children its often a misconception they cannot benefit from therapy because they aren’t able to understand or articulate their feelings. Research search tells us that children are able to express themselves through ways other than verbal expression. A common way is through play or other expressive activities like drawing. Children communicate their perception of the world through play and its therapeutic for them to share their feelings in this manner. It is necessary for parents to participate in therapeutic process. This creates opportunity for therapists or parents to assist the child in labeling his or her own feelings and experiences. Incorporating emotional identification and healthy coping strategies can be extremely effective in supporting children who have had stressful experiences. Being understood and having support increases the efficacy for behavior changes and overall positive functioning. As children get older, therapists are able to incorporate more verbal processing and problem solving. However, regardless the age a therapist can be an integral part of aiding in healthy development and overcoming difficult experiences.

Armed with a little more knowledge, the signs that your child may need counseling might be a little more evident. Ready to schedule an appointment? Contact Brentwood Counseling Associates and connect with one of our experienced therapists.

 

 

adhd testing

ADHD Testing

Testing for ADHD can be as brief as a school or pediatric screening; or, if a learning disability is suspected, it may be as comprehensive as a full psychoeducational evaluation or neuropsychological assessment. Typically, the protocol is somewhere in-between. At Brentwood Counseling, experienced psychologists and educational consultants help evaluate Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in children, adolescents and adults using the following protocol:

  • Parent Interview and Review of History
  • Parent Rating Scales (ADHD, Developmental History, Behavior/Psychological)
  • Teacher Rating Scales
  • Self-Rating Scales (older students and adults)
  • Consultation with referring therapist or physician (when appropriate)
  • Extensive Clinical Interview with child, adolescent, or adult (typically requires two sessions)
  • Observation of child in classroom (when appropriate)
  • Psychological Screening to help rule out other concerns (e.g., anxiety, depression, behavior disorder)
  • Written report
  • Feedback session with parents to review results and recommendations for treatment, etc.

It is important to remember that ADHD is not a binary (yes/no) diagnosis that a certain score on a specific test can identify.  Rather it is a continuum disorder that presents in varying degrees as a deficit in some aspect of self-regulation (attention, focus, hyperactivity, impulsivity).  An ADHD diagnosis requires concerns in childhood that continue to have a negative impact over time in more than one setting (e.g., school, relationships, family, work).  Even well-trained professionals can disagree as to causes of these problems with self-regulation, but basic symptoms are outlined in the Diagnostic of Statistical Manual (D.S.M.-5) and provide helpful guidelines for clinicians with the evaluation process. If a diagnosis is made, treatment options include behavioral/psychological interventions, environmental changes, parenting modifications, school accommodations, neurofeedback and, at times, medication.

 

If you are in need of ADHD testing, contact Brentwood Counseling Associates and connect with one of our experienced therapists.

 

 

nontraditional kind of loss

What Might Have Been: A Nontraditional, but Significant Kind of Loss

Ah, spring. The time of year when a sea of gold descends upon us here in Nashville. And no, allergy sufferers, it’s not just the pollen. It’s the jersey-clad, rally-towel-waving, banner-flying, Nashville Predators fandom that takes over the city during the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs. And it was never more rabid than during the team’s Cup Final run in the spring of 2017. For a couple of months that year, it was unlike anything Nashville had ever seen. And we believed that team could win it all. But suddenly one night in June, it was over. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way. Not to a team that had been the last to make the playoffs, a team whose players had suffered injuries galore, and still had somehow made it that far. And yet, it just wasn’t meant to be. If you were around that spring, or if you’ve ever rooted so long and so hard for something that didn’t come to pass, you’ve probably experienced the same kind of heartsick letdown that followed that Game 6 loss. To be clear, sports championships aren’t exactly the stuff of life and death. But they illustrate a type of loss that isn’t talked much about: the loss of what might have been.

When we hear that someone has experienced a loss, or is grieving or mourning, we usually make the assumption that they have lost a loved one or something vital to their happiness and well-being, such as their home. It’s long been that way in our culture, though more recently we’ve expanded our notions of loss to include experiences such as infertility, miscarriage, and the death of pets. However, just like in the hockey reference described above, what happens when something that we expected to happen, doesn’t? This type of loss often goes unrecognized because it doesn’t fit into our culture’s traditional definition of something that is “worth” mourning. And when we (or others) don’t recognize something as a loss, we don’t feel like we’re allowed to grieve. But when grief goes unresolved, it can morph into something else, like depression or anxiety. In fact, unresolved loss is often the “root” of the problems that bring people into therapy. Let’s take a look at some common nontraditional forms of loss around what might have been.

In my experience, one of the most common nontraditional losses of this kind occurs in close relationships, when there is grief about what a relationship could have been. This type of loss can occur in friendships, relationships with siblings, and romantic relationships. But its impact seems to be felt most strongly when it happens in the parental relationship. Most mothers and fathers strive to parent in the most effective way possible, and don’t intentionally set out to hurt their children. But certain circumstances can lead to an ineffective, often outright hurtful parenting style. Those who struggle with alcoholism, for example, parent while under the influence, when they’re usually not at their best selves. Or those who grapple with severe depression parent while being unable to function at the most basic level, let alone at the level that healthy parenting requires. Regardless of the reason, parents do sometimes become unable to offer the unconditional love, support, and acceptance that their child needs. And just because a child reaches adulthood doesn’t mean that that need goes away. This is why most people with this kind of loss report that they continue to try to please their parent, despite having been met with rejection their whole lives. They’ve become tired of trying, yet may be reluctant to accept the loss of hope that their parent will ever truly approve of them. They often enter therapy when they just can’t try anymore. And the grief work done in therapy involves deciding whether to continue to expect anything from the parental relationship, and how to make peace with what it could have been.

Another “what might have been,” nontraditional form of loss occurs around career paths. This kind of loss can occur anytime during a person’s career. However, I’ve noticed it coming up so frequently among college and university students that I’ll use that population to illustrate it. Maybe more so than ever, students these days begin thinking about their career paths in high school, or even earlier, as they discover their talents and passions and start focusing on a particular educational track. Maybe they’ve got a knack for numbers, and they’re encouraged to pursue accounting. Maybe their talent lies in science, and they decide to shoot for medical school. Or maybe their athletic prowess has paved the way to a full scholarship and talk of professional play. But what happens when there’s a bump in the road and those plans don’t come to fruition? Consider the mathematically- or scientifically-minded student who runs up on some required classes he can’t pass. Or the star athlete who has a career-ending injury. Not only are these students left to redirect their course and find a new career path, but they’re left with the loss of what might have been. And if well-meaning parents, friends, and advisors emphasize the importance of finding that new path, the student can draw the conclusion that the loss wasn’t worth grieving. But when unresolved grief is suppressed, it can make it difficult for such students to move forward. College is stressful enough without also having to rewrite your life’s career path. But therapy can allow students to process the emotions surrounding the loss of their original career expectations, begin to heal the pain of that loss, and start writing their new career story.

Finally, let’s consider losses that alter a person’s lifestyle. These kinds of losses are often physical in nature, having to do with significant illness or other changes to the body or mind. For example, let’s say a person’s spouse develops early-onset dementia. Shifts must be made not only in the couple’s daily lifestyle, but in their expectations about the long-term. What happens to their plans of traveling abroad after they reach retirement age? Or to all those hopes and dreams they had about being grandparents together? There might also be regrets about not having gone after those hopes and dreams earlier. Or guilt about acknowledging the sadness and unfairness of the curveball life’s just thrown them – after all, the last thing the wife wants to do is blame her husband for getting sick. But it’s crucial that she give herself permission to mourn the loss of her old reality, as well as the loss of what might have been. If she doesn’t, it could complicate the grief she experiences when she faces the impending loss that will eventually come with the progression of her husband’s disease. Talking with a trusted professional in counseling can ensure that all the facets of loss, both traditional and nontraditional, are acknowledged and honored. And difficult though it is, doing the work of grief goes a long way in ensuring that it doesn’t shift into something more.

 

If you have experienced or are currently experiencing this kind of loss, and are struggling with the emotions associated with your grief, contact Brentwood Counseling Associates and connect with one of our experienced therapists.

 

 

Father and son on a hike can be a way to connect when parenting an ADHD adolescent.

Parenting ADHD Adolescents

Parenting teenagers is challenging enough, but when parenting ADHD adolescents is part of the equation, that challenge is almost always greater. As a psychologist who has tested, consulted and counseled for many years with ADHD teenagers and their parents, here are some thoughts, tips and encouragements (some light-hearted, some not so much). A general principal that runs through these suggestions is that neither adolescence nor ADHD are to be “fixed” or cured, but more to be experienced, processed and managed with understanding, support…and a healthy sense of humor.

General Survival Tips for Parenting ADHD Adolescent

  • Buy more liability insurance
  • Invest in the stock of your teen’s ADHD medication
  • Recommit to a life of prayer and regular church attendance
  • Have brochures of military schools on coffee table
  • Build your airline miles for parent trips only
  • Get over ethical concerns about bribing teachers

What To Expect from an ADHD Adolescent

  • Hormones and ADHD create confusing mix
  • Hyperactivity will likely diminish; inattention and impulsivity…not so much
  • Likely twists and turns on medications
  • Even more academic inconsistency
  • Higher risk for acting out behaviors including alcohol, drugs, sex
  • Lots of “knucklehead”moments
  • Entertainment, creativity, surprises
  • ADHD “spillovers” (emotional, social)

What To Try

  • Let go of control/power
  • Focus on influence that comes from relationship
  • Insist on physical activity
  • Pick fewer battles but hold forth on the few
  • Seriously reduce lecture, nagging, debating
  • Set clear expectations, limits and predictable consequences
  • Lose the emotional drama (yours, not theirs!)
  • Shorten list of things worth the battle
  • Work on your marriage
  • Don’t lose your own life/identity
  • Break negative cycle of behavior/response
  • Be open to creative options (with school, sports, activities)
  • Be intentional about finding “good news”
  • Help them find their gifts and talents

What To Remember

  • This is a season of life, not the rest of life
  • Adolescence for our kids recycles our teenage years
  • Goal is for them to leave home
  • Often parent/teen conflict is a good thing
  • Bridge to adulthood requires many travelers
  • Most likely, all will survive

If you’re parenting an ADHD adolescent, and you’d like to explore the ways you can better prepare for the associated challenges, contact Brentwood Counseling Associates and connect with one of our experienced therapists.

Resources

ADHD in Adolescence, Robin and Barkley

Driven to Distraction & Delivered from Distraction, Hallowell, Ratey

Surviving Your Adolescent, Phelan;

Smart but Scattered Teens, Guare et al

Taking Charge of ADHD, Barkley

depression counseling

Managing Holiday Depression

“’Tis the season…” You probably know the rest. It seems there’s a general expectation that this last month of the year will be merry and bright. But those who struggle with depression know that it doesn’t go away just because it’s “the most wonderful time of the year.” In fact, all those good tidings of joy might actually worsen existing symptoms. After all, depression is a hard enough battle without society sending the message that there’s something wrong with you if you don’t feel the holiday joy. If you’re finding it even more difficult than usual to manage your depressive symptoms this holiday season, read on for some tips on self-care as well as advice on when to seek depression counseling.

Set realistic expectations

When depression sets in, it can take more energy than normal to do the things you need to do to get through the day. Daily activities like going to work, taking care of your kids, grocery shopping, and cleaning the house suddenly become exhausting chores. And sometimes some of them don’t even get done. That can make the added tasks of the holidays seem particularly daunting. It’s crucial, then, for those who are managing depression during this season to prioritize. Don’t expect yourself to do it all this year. Talk with your family about realistic expectations around all the holiday extras such as card-writing, decorating, gift-preparation, baking, and attending parties and other holiday events. Decide which are most meaningful to you and your family, and figure out where you can trim or even delegate some of the responsibility. The extra time you’ll have and the reduced stress you’ll feel will go a long way toward keeping depressive symptoms from worsening during this hectic season.

Tune out some of the holiday “noise”

It’s inescapable this time of the year: the holiday music playing in all the stores, the movies showing on all the cable channels, and the endless ads on TV, the radio, and in print. It’s hard to ignore, and bright and merry as it is, it reinforces the belief that it’s a happy time of the year for everyone. But if you’re struggling with depression, it simply may not feel that way. Because depression can lead to increased feelings of guilt, anyway, why should you also feel guilty that you’re not as happy as you should be this season? You have control over how many of these holiday messages you take in, so why not consider limiting them? Be a critical consumer of all the seasonal “noise” that’s thrown your way this season. If the holiday music or movies lift your mood, immerse yourself in them. If, on the other hand, the store ads leave you feeling guilty about lacking the energy to do all the shopping this year, watch commercial-free movies instead. If you’re struggling with depression, you know that your baseline mood on most days is lower than normal. Give it a little extra TLC this season by structuring your holiday media intake with that in mind.

Seek depression counseling

So far, we’ve identified a couple of self-care techniques to manage depression this holiday season. They both involve setting limits in order to lift your mood and allow more time for the self-care that is so vital to staving off depressive symptoms. And if you’ve grappled with depression for any length of time, you probably already have other self-care habits in place that help. But if you find that it’s particularly difficult to continue managing it on your own, think about depression counseling as an additional option. Find a professional you feel comfortable with, whether it’s a psychologist, counselor, social worker, or clergy member, and let them share in your efforts to combat depression. Proper depression counseling can supplement the hard work you do every day to keep those depressive symptoms in check. And counselors’ understanding can help you normalize the challenges of finding the holiday joy when depression rears its head.

holiday anxiety counseling brentwood tn

Holiday Anxiety

They’re baaaaaack! It’s hard to ignore the holidays when we’re constantly reminded of them by the music, ads, and store displays all around us. But this season of gratitude, togetherness, and joy can also be a hectic and stressful one. For some, that stress is felt as an increase in anxiety, ranging from stress headaches or muscle tension to problems sleeping at night. Read on to learn more about what drives that holiday anxiety, and some tips for managing it.

Unrealistic Expectations

For some, it starts with the holiday cards. Family photos must be taken while the trees are still green and the sun hot enough to make you sweat in your holiday best. But that’s only the beginning. There’s the Thanksgiving meal to plan, the travel arrangements to be made, and the holiday decorating to do. And don’t forget all the holiday parties and those can’t-miss family entertainment options that only come along once a year! There’s an awful lot to pack in to these few weeks, and there’s a lot of pressure to pull it all off without a hitch. If you’re stressed out by the demands of creating the perfect holiday:

  • Make it YOUR holiday. Find out what’s most important to you and your family by talking about favorite holiday memories. This will reveal your “must-do’s,” and help you prioritize the most important things. Pour your heart into those few things instead of spreading yourself too thinly over many.
  • Be a critical consumer of social media and advertising. Remember that those scenes of holiday perfection aren’t so often found in real life. But if you still feel like your holiday doesn’t measure up, consider limiting time spent on social media, or taking a break from it altogether.
  • Practice gratitude. If you are on social media, you’ve probably noticed a recent trend in the month of November where folks share one thing each day that they’re thankful for. The candid nature of these posts is quite refreshing: one day the writer might be thankful for veterans who risked their lives for our country, and the next for dinner delivery kits that make life easier on busy weeknights. Such an everyday expression of gratitude, whether for things great or small, can ground us to what’s really important in life.
  • Give back. Never are volunteer opportunities more plentiful than during the holidays. Whether it’s sponsoring a less-fortunate family during the season, volunteering at a homeless shelter, or spending time talking with the elderly at an assisted living facility, seeing beyond our “first-world” holiday expectations can keep things in perspective.

Stressful Family Situations

“My family is not normal.” I’ve heard this from clients countless times over the years. And family relationships marked by a history of maltreatment or even outright abuse should never be considered normal. But many families simply have longstanding strain that, having gone unaddressed for so long, creates tension when everyone’s together. Throw the stress of the season into the mix, and you’ve got a recipe for one awkward, uncomfortable holiday. Consider these tips when you’re just about ready to walk out on your family celebration:

  • Have a game plan for awkward family discussions. Unfinished business between family members has a way of rearing its head when everyone’s together. Or someone might bring up a hot topic such as the recent election, or politics in general. Regardless, it’s worth giving some forethought to how and what you want to say should these delicate issues come up.
  • It’s also not a bad idea to plan a few escapes from too much family interaction. Locate a quiet place you can retreat when conversation goes south. Or plan an activity to do together instead of just sitting around the house talking. Unresolved family issues will still be there to work on after the holidays.

Household Guests & Changes to Routine

No, you’re not just old and set in your ways. We all benefit from structure, and the holidays are prime routine-disruptors, particularly if you’re hosting houseguests or are one yourself. Whether it’s college students returning home for an extended break or out-of-town guests just staying a couple of nights, most people bring their own preferences and routines right along with their luggage. To avoid extra stress from attempting to accommodate everybody’s needs:

  • Don’t be afraid to discuss some general house rules and expectations up front. College students, for example, frequently have later curfews than they did when they still lived at home. On the other hand, small children staying with you may need quiet for bedtime a lot earlier than you’re used to. Upon arrival, talk with your guests about their needs, as well as yours, to avoid after-the-fact misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
  • To maintain some sense of normalcy within your bustling holiday inn, pick one or two pieces of your daily routine that you’re not willing to part with. Maybe it’s your daily workout, meditation, or devotional. Or maybe it’s your bedtime. What do you do normally that grounds you, relaxes you, or rejuvenates you? The holidays are no reason to give those things up, and in fact, may actually call for a little more of them.

These are just a few ways you can reduce some of the inherent stress at this time of the year. But if you find that your anxiety seems to be out-of-proportion, or if it lasts beyond the holidays or interferes with your functioning at home or on the job, reach out to a trusted professional for more support. We at Brentwood Counseling Associates are ready to help.

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