A Sad Person's Guide to the Holidays

It’s December- which means holiday cheer is in full swing! Music and parties and lights and laughter. The time of year happy people seem to kick up their happiness a notch or two (or ten!). It’s easy to talk about this side of the holidays- the joy and cheer and the happy people. Because who doesn’t want to talk about the good stuff. But there is another side to the holidays that also deserves some attention… the sad person’s side. The version of the holidays of those who are grieving a loss. Maybe it’s a loss of a loved one, or a job, or a relationship. The opportunities for grief are endless. Sad people and the holidays are completely awkward together. I say that as a former sad person myself. The grief and sadness are both magnified and hushed. Being surrounded by the exaggerated happiness of the holidays is a perfect reminder of exactly what is missing in a sad person’s life. 

If you are not a sad person this year, I hope these words inspire you to find empathy for the sad people in your life. They are not relatives of The Grinch. They do not want to steal Christmas. They are just very very sad. They are hurting. Be kind and gentle with them. Love them despite their sadness.

If you are a sad person this year, my heart is with you. This is for you. You matter. Your experience matters. And you deserve a little encouragement and hope about the people, dreams and memories you are grieving, while the happy people go on celebrating. You can and will get through the next few weeks. 

1.    Remember it’s okay to feel sad (or whatever you feel). Don’t try to avoid it. Don’t try to get over it quickly. Just notice your feelings without judgement. Be kind to your emotions while they are visiting and allow them to leave when they are ready.

2.    Spend time with people (you actually want to spend time with). Being around certain family members or friends (or sometimes happy people in general) can be hard during the holidays. They forget that you are grieving or make genuine (but failed) attempts at making you cheerful, and it can be exhausting. Make efforts to spend time with people you can lean on. Maybe it’s a former roommate or a cousin. Maybe it’s another sad person who understands your need to take a break from the suffocating happiness of the happy people in your life. Whoever it is, lean on them. Let them love and support you.

3.    Show some compassion (to yourself). Sad people can be really skilled at self judgement, which can be magnified when it feels like the red and green universe is conspiring against you. If you catch yourself evaluating the legitimacy or length or depth of your grief, give yourself a gentle reminder that grief is messy. It isn’t supposed to be quick or easy. And there is no right way to do it. Practice treating yourself, talking to yourself and caring for yourself the same way you would a loved one. Would you ever tell your best friend who heartbroken that he/she “shouldn’t be so sad?” Then, why on earth would you say this to yourself?!

4.    Log off of Facebook (and every other social media account). The internet is flooded with selfies and pictures of the seemingly perfect christmas tree and perfect family holiday card and perfect life. These images do not resemble anything close to reality and can feel very isolating and defeating for sad people. Don’t torture yourself. Not even happy people’s life are as perfect as their Instagram page says they are. Find other sources of entertainment such as a good book, an inspirational podcast or a Netflix comedy.  

5.    Do something active. I know. I know!! For a sad person, physical activity sounds about as enticing as eating stale bread. But there is SOO much power, and relief and a whole bunch of other physical and mental health benefits of just moving your body. Go for a walk; get some yard work done; clean the house; dance around to your favorite jams; do some yoga. Do whatever activity you can motivate yourself to do that involves moving around. 

6.    You are allowed to do strange things. You want to wrap all of your presents in zebra wrapping paper because it reminds you of your late wife. Wrap all of your presents in zebra wrapping paper. Be who you are- sad and heartbroken and everything else. Do what feels right and healing for you.   

7.    Don’t apologize. Your loss, whatever it is, it worthy of grief.

8.    Remember it doesn’t last forever. The holidays and the heartache. Neither one lasts forever. The holidays are only for a few weeks, they will be here and gone. The same is true for that feeling you have right now. There is light at the end of the tunnel. 

9.    You are not alone. You are not alone! You are not alone! You are not alone! You need other people around you as much as your need air to breathe. It’s important to talk about your feelings and experiences. You need to listen to other sad people share their grief. Seek out love and support. Join a grief group. See a therapist. Give yourself the gift of healing this holiday season. 

Debi Mattocks
The Anxiety Experience

“Anxiety is like fighting a war where the enemy’s strategy is to convince you that the war isn’t actually happening.”

 

anx·i·e·ty

/aNGˈzīədē/

Noun

a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.

synonyms:worry, concern, apprehension, apprehensiveness, uneasiness, unease, fearfulness, fear, disquiet, disquietude, inquietude, perturbation, agitation, angst, misgiving, nervousness, nerves, tension, tenseness

 

Everyone experiences anxiety in some form or another. It’s normal and healthy to feel worried or jittery before a big presentation, a flight or other innocuous events. This is a natural, biological process that allows the primitive part of our brain to communicate with other parts of our brain the anticipation of challenges and concern about potential negative outcomes. Essentially, anxiety, in its mild form, is our brain throwing up a yellow flag that says ‘proceed…. but proceed with caution.’ Most people can wave a slight ‘hello’- acknowledge the warning and continue on. For people who live with an anxiety disorder, this is not the case. An anxiety disorder is characterized by persistent and excessive worry, fear or panic. The worry is out of proportion to the actual circumstance, is difficult to control, and exists despite the presence of contradictory information.

There are some common errors about what anxiety really means in its disordered state that leads to difficulty in understanding for the uninitiated. These misunderstandings often create challenges for those suffering from severe anxiety to both understand their own fear, as well as, explain their experience to others. It is my hope to put a dent in this barrier by providing some alternative ways to both explain and understand anxiety disorders.

1. It’s like running on a treadmill

Imagine running on a treadmill enclosed in a clear box. The belt of the machine continues to move, and you continue to run. You are exhausted from the miles and miles you have covered. You look for the bright red “STOP” button- but there isn’t one. You can’t get off the treadmill, because you are trapped by the sides of the clear box. So, you continue to run. You glace out and see other people looking calm and relaxed walking out of their clear box with ease and getting on with their day. You think to yourself, “why can they get out?” “why am I still stuck?” 

It’s like when you are watching a scary movie and you are positive that scene is coming up- the one where someone jumps out and scares you…but it doesn’t. So, you just keep watching-waiting for it to happen. 

2. It’s not just “Worry”

“Anxiety” sounds like a rather benign word.  It sounds simple-small-controllable…like a choice. But anxiety, in its disordered state, is usually not a choice. It is not something that can be easily overcame by “letting it go” or “just calming down” or “getting over it.” Experiencing severe anxiety can feellike a tripwire in your brain has gone off, leaving you without access to more adaptive ways of reacting to a challenge. It feels like the highway has no exits, and your ONLY option is to keep driving down the panic expressway.  

3. Just because a worry is irrational, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have authority

One of the most difficult things to explain and understand about anxiety disorders is that the fear exists despite rational, contradictory information. Just because you rationally know you have a much greater chance of getting hit by a car then experiencing a plane crash, does not reduce the power of the anxiety producing thoughts flying triggers. This is because our brain has two parts; the rationalor thinking brain- which operates purely on facts; and our emotional brain- which operates purely on emotions. Our thinking brainmay be able to looks at the facts and make a logical conclusion. “You are not in danger; the loud noise is thunder- this makes sense because it’s storming and lightening.” However, that doesn’t mean that our emotional brainisn’t shouting though a megaphone “DANGER…RUN!!” Just because you know it’s true, doesn’t mean it feels true.

4. It’s all about safety

Anxiety and panic are based in fear and our natural adrenal response to escape perceived danger and seek safety. Regardless of the type of anxiety disorder experienced, there are always safety seeking behaviors. Behaviors that attempt to reduce anxiety and restore a feltsense of safety. One of the most common safety seeking behaviors is avoidance. Obsessive Compulsive suffers develop rituals to avoid anxiety by engaging in various rituals. Individuals with social anxiety may abstain from social engagements and isolate themselves to avoid the intrusive thoughts about being judged by others. Those with phobias may avoid anxiety by steering clear of snakes, heights etc. These behaviors provide short term relief but ultimately helps to maintain anxiety over the long term. 

 

The truth is – those who suffer from anxiety are not “crazy” or “over dramatic” or “making it up.” These individuals are more acute to circumstances, behavior, vibrations in a room. It’s not that they imagine it, it’s that they feel it where others don’t. There is some good news for those of us who suffer from anxiety- we are not alone. By gaining a deeper understanding of our own experiences and acquiring the language to seek support and explain it to others is the first step towards step towards escaping the glass box. 

Debi Mattocks
Stop “Shoulding” Yourself

“Must,” “Ought,” “Should,” “Shouldn’t,” “Have to,” “Can’t”

We hear and say these words every day with little or no awareness of the powerful effect they have on our feelings and behaviors. This type of demand thinking misrepresents reality and results in feelings of hopelessness and loss of control. Thinking that the world MUST or SHOULD or OUGHT to be a certain way involves drawing conclusions that are not based on reality. Just as thinking that we “have to” or “can’t” makes us a victim rather than creator of our circumstance.  Albert Ellis, one of the founders of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), suggested that the demands we place on ourselves, others, and the world are the core of our problem. It’s an interesting concept. The power of words. We know the old saying about “sticks and stones” has its flaws and that name calling, insults, threats etc. can hurt us. However; that concept has never crossed my mind when thoughts like “I should have gone to that meeting” or “I can’t get everything done today” fly around in my head. Let’s take a closer look at this….

Musterbating and Shoulding 

What makes this type of thinking problematic, is the irrational and unrealistic nature of these words. When we believe our ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds,’ the demands they imply set expectations, many of which are unrealistic. When these expectations are not met, we may experience anger, frustration, anxiety, disappointment and low self-worth. “All people should be nice,” “I should be perfect,” “I must be like by everyone,” “things ought to work out for the best,” “the world should be fair.” When we use this type of thinking- rather than drawing conclusions based on the way the world IS, we draw conclusions based on our assumptions about how we think the world OUGHT to be. But when you think about it…. Why ‘should’ or ‘ought’ it be that way? According to Dr. Ellis, “life is random- sometimes unfair, sometimes difficult and frustrating- and that’s just how it is.” Yelling and cursing while standing in line because “it shouldn’t take so long, “only manages to ruin our mood and raise our stress level.

Have to and Can’t 

“Have to,” and “Can’t.” Two of the most victimizing words in the English language. “I have to go to work, “I can’t go to the birthday party.” How many times have you said or heard these words? My guess is… A LOT. This type of thinking is an inaccurate reflection of reality. These words rob us of our control and make us victims of circumstance. When in actuality, we usually have a lot more control then we admit. There are only a handful of things in life that you HAVE to do, everything else is a choice. We tend to be motivated by rewards and consequences and make choices based on the perceived outcomes. I don’t HAVE to go to work; I CHOOSE to go to work- because I prefer to avoid the consequence of being unable to support my family if I choose not to go to work. No one is physically throwing me in my office and forcing me to work. The word “can’t” has a similar connotation. Although there are things in life that I literally can not do, most things I simply choose or prefer not to do. I COULD go to that birthday party. There is nothing physically stopping me, but I choose not to- because I prefer to avoid the guilt educed call from Aunt Mary if I choose not to attend. It’s not that “I can’t be late,” because I CAN be late (and I have proven my ability to do so many times over)…it’s that I would prefer to be on time. 

So now what? How do we change this way of thinking? 

1. First thing first. The first step in changing these irrational patterns of thinking is AWARENESS. Listen to the words you use and attempt to catch yourself (and others) using words like “should,” “shouldn’t,” “have to,” “ought to,” “supposed to,” “can’t” etc. 

2. Once you’ve become more self-aware. The next step is to consciously and deliberately thought stop and replace inflexible demand thinking with more realistic PREFERENCE thinking. Intentionally replacing our thoughts with words like “I’d prefer if people liked me” or “I’m choosing to cook dinner.” 

3. The last step involves repeating steps 1 and 2 over and over…and over and over…and over again until we have new hardwired thinking that respects and has unconditional acceptance of ourselves, others and the world. 

You CAN do it, if you choose to. Good Luck!

Debi Mattocks
COPING WITH BACK TO SCHOOL ANXIETY

The start of a new school year is exciting for most families. But also, may instigate a spike in anxiety. Even kids who are usually pretty laid back and easy going may get butterflies. If you have an already anxious child, they may cling to you, cry, have behavior outbursts, complain of headaches or stomach pains, plead or bargain, or become irritable in the days leading up to school. It’s a big shift from summer’s freedom and lack of structure to the rigorous routines of school. The start of a new school year may be especially challenging for kids who are entering a transition year- going into kindergarten, middle school, high school or moving to a new school. For a majority of kids, new school year nerves will settle quickly. Here are 10 tips to help your child successfully transition back to school.

1. Start with the basics. There is a well-established link between our physical and mental health. When your child’s mind and body are nourished, tackling school related anxieties is made easier. Ensure your child is eating a balanced diet, drinking plenty of water, limiting sugar and caffeine, getting plenty of sleep and staying active. 

2. Pay attention to your own behaviors. The start of a new school year can be anxiety educing for parents too. Children take cues from their parents and feed off of their energy. It is important for you to check in with yourself and take steps to manage your own anxieties to ensure you are not passing on your stress to your child. Be intentional about sharing your calm with your child.

3. Listen and validate. When your child expresses worry about a new teacher, homework, making friends or team try outs- take their concerns seriously. Rather than dismissing these fears (“you shouldn’t be scared, you will be fine”), acknowledge their feelings. Let them know that their concerns are valid (“that makes sense that you feel that way”) and normal (“a lot of kids who start at a new school worry about the exact same thing”).  

4. Let your child be the expert. Kids often want to talk to you about their fears without expecting you to fix it. Don’t underestimate your child’s ability to solve their own problems and manage their own emotions. Let them generate solutions (“what might make you feel better?” “what could you do if that situation comes up?”). If your child needs help coming up with ideas, ask for permission to offer strategies to handle tough situations or coping skills to manage their anxiety. Boost your child’s self-confidence by reminding them of previous triumphs in similar situations (“remember last year when you felt the same way. You got through it!”).

5. Focus on the positive. Create a positive expectation. Once you have listened to your child, validated their concerns and helped (with permission!) them develop a concrete plan- redirect their attention towards the positives. Ask about things your child is looking forward to. Remind them of past experiences they have enjoyed, such as a field trip or extracurricular activity.

6. Start the routine early. It’s a no brainer that sleep is critical. When we are tired, we have less energy to manage our emotions which can make littles things feel really big. It is important to gradually return your child to their school year sleep and wake routine. It may take several days for your child to re-adjust and become comfortable with the new schedule.

7. Do a test run. New school anxiety is commonly anchored by the unknown. Giving kids a sense of familiarity can greatly reduce their fears. Visit the school several times before the big day. Walk to and from the bus stop. If it is a new school, take a tour or walk the halls and help your child locate their classroom, cafeteria, bathrooms, gym etc. If possible, take your child to meet their teachers.

8. Connect. Anxiety around friends is a common experience, especially among older youth. Who’s going to be in my class? Who can I sit with on the bus? Will I have to sit alone during lunch? It may be helpful for your child to make social connections before they start school. Arrange for them to walk to school with a sibling or compare schedules with some friends. If it is a new school, take steps to connect with other parents and coordinate a play date or meet up.

9. Arrange for a hand off. If you think your child will be resistant to separate, it is helpful to reach out to the school and arrange for someone to meet you on the first day. Having a teacher, a school counselor, an aide or a nurse primed and ready to engage your child from the moment they arrive can help take their mind off of their anxiety. It is important for parents to make the hand off quick and positive. Inform your child that you are leaving, and you will see them after school (do not sneak away!). Give them a hug and a quick “I love you” then walk away. Leaving a crying child at school is tough for any parent but dragging it out will only make it worse. Most kids recover very quickly after mom or dad leaves. 

10. Signs that it’s not normal.  Back to school jitters usually will subside naturally after the first week or two- once routine and familiarity sets in. However, for some kids, the stress and fear they experience can exceed beyond what is considered normal. Seek professional help if you notice any of the following signs;

·       Your child’s anxiety is significantly more frequent and intense than usual

·       Your child’s anxiety gets worse or does not appear to be getting better

·       Preoccupation with fear/worries

·       Changes in eating or sleeping patterns

·       Protest and resistance to attend school (that does not improve after the first few days)

·       Changes in behavior

·       Refusing to engage in activities they previously enjoyed

·       Isolating or withdrawing from family/friends

 Heather Braun, LPC

Heather Braun, LPC

Debi Mattocks
FAMILY CONNECTION

 

Family Connection:

Presence.  A term in counseling referring to being emotionally and mentally available...it's about engaging, hearing, connecting with, being in the moment together...being present with a client as they talk.  The obvious opposite is absent:  not engaging, shutting off, checking out, disconnecting, being physically there, maybe, but not an active participant in the relationship.  So, why is this relevant to parenting?  Well, glad you asked...what kind of parent do you want to be with your kids?  Present or absent.  Ok, dah, right.  Yet it is just so easy to go missing...to be hijacked, if you will.  


In our culture, media (TV, video games, IPhone, etc) is readily available.  It's fun, engaging, and ever changing.  I'm a huge fan of the IPhone, a regular facebooker, and movies are a favorite activity for me.  But I have to be very aware of just how much of all that I get in.  Because media is so engaging, time can pass without even realizing that it's gone.  Now if you work, your time with your kids is already limited.  You may have only a few hours with them at the end of the day.  After work, one of the things I really want to do is plop, turn on the tube and numb out, decompress and check out.  Be absent.  This is one of those moments where I have to choose what kind of a parent I want to be.  Do I give in and check out, or do I check in with my kids and give them the best of me.  


At work, I really try to give my all, be the best I can, and my kids should get no less of me.  They are the reason I work...they deserve the best parts of me.  They deserve for their mom to be present...checked in...engaged...interested.  Trust me, it is not always easy to be interested in coloring pages, dress up, sword fights, and such.  Not really my thing...but you know what is my thing?  My kids.  Goodness sakes, I adore them and I desire very much to show them I'm present in their lives.  I want them to know that when they talk, I listen; that when I play with them, I enjoy it; that when they need me, I'm there. 

 
There are some teens I've worked with that when I ask "have you talked to your mom/dad about that" they answer with, "no, I can't talk to them, they don't understand, they don't care, they don't listen."  Now I tend to believe that these parents would die if they knew their kids felt that way...most want nothing more than to really be there for their kids for those difficult things in life.  Parents want their kids to come to them when they struggle, need advise, etc.  But kids won't come to you with the big things, if you're not in the habit of being there in the little things.  


It's never to late to begin being present in your kids lives.  Your kids may be 2, or 17...start anyway.  Here are some suggestions to help you communicate to your kids that you're awake, engaged and interested in them:
1.  Turn off the TV, IPhone, video games.  I know, I know, some of you enjoy these kind of activities with your kids...but being present means you're looking at each other, not a glowing screen.  Try it.  It may be awkward at first, but don't give up...press through and create a new brand of memories.  
2.  When they talk, listen.  Don't correct, offer un-asked for advice, just listen.  And maybe even encourage them to talk more...invite them...welcome it, and then enjoy.  When those little windows to their souls open, it's beautiful!  I live for those moments with my kids.
3.  Try some new activities.  Family tea party, game night, try-something-new-Tuesday's, ask a question around the dinner table, go for a walk around the block, go to a coffee shop, or even google family activities.  Get creative.  Have fun, but also leave room for seriousness.  Just be present.
Love to the mamas and the papas.
-Tiffany Turner

Debi Mattocks
New Website

Welcome to our new site! Our hope it communicates our eagerness to help you in your road to wellness.  Have a look around and let us know if you have any questions.

Best,

The Oaks Team

Jalea Seals