Lake Norman Counselors

Prepared Not Scared

It’s a funny thing, being a Katrina survivor. I always found it amusing that people would ask me so casually, and upon meeting no less, about Katrina. It’s rare that in meeting a stranger you would ask them about their greatest traumas and losses in life so casually… unless you’re a therapist, maybe. But I had my “ready responses” – well rehearsed. “Yes, we flooded.” “About 4-6 feet in the house.” “No, it really wasn’t that bad considering some of my friends had a foot in their attics!” “Yes, my family is still there.” Blah blah blah.

I’ve lived through a disaster before, and I came out of it stronger; I believe it positively shaped my life, and I was a part of a community that was able to come together to support one another and bounce back stronger than ever, so I wanted to lend my personal and professional expertise.

-Jamie L. Cheveralls, MA, NCC, LPC

What was always so hard to impress upon people was the community impact – the daily impact of Hurricane Katrina. There was truly no escape. It’s not like a personal tragedy or loss where you’re affected, but you can go out in the world and forget for a minute. There was no way to forget Katrina. It’s literally how we measure time now in New Orleans: pre- or post-Katrina.

Katrina impacted every person I knew: my family, my friends, my teachers, my neighbors, my hair dresser, the grocers, the mailman. Everything was closed! There was no where to go. Or very limited options. No movies. No malls. Very few restaurants. And it was like that for a long time. Too long.

Until recently, this was the most difficult aspect of describing post-Katrina New Orleans. Suddenly, I have a feeling people will understand or will be able to better empathize. Because I can’t help feeling a certain sense of de ja vu… I can’t help feel like I’ve been living in the days leading up to “the big storm.”

I lived through the worst natural disaster to hit US soil before, and I came out stronger as a result. I believe that it positively shaped my life (and certainly influenced my profession – which I love!), and I was a part of a community that was able to come together to support one another and bounce back stronger than ever, so I wanted to lend my personal and professional expertise. My goal is to help prepare – not scare – in my analogy to Katrina. Because like a Hurricane, there is a lot that we can do to be proactive and stay safe in this storm.

One of my favorite therapeutic skills is radical acceptance. When I teach my clients about this skill, I always use the example of my office being on fire. You see, the longer we sit in the burning building, the more dangerous the situation becomes. If we ignore the alarms, the heat, and the smoke coming in from under the door, there’s only so long before we’re in serious trouble. Denial is dangerous. Which is why the burning building analogy is such a great analogy for radical acceptance. The sooner you come to a place of acceptance, the sooner you’re able to utilize the tools at your disposal. If you sit in the fires of denial, you’re in danger. But the moment you come to accept the situation, you can get up and run, you can call 911. You can save yourself, others, maybe some valuables. You can call your insurance company, etc. Now do you have to be happy about this situation? Hell no. In fact, radical acceptance usually indicates some level or relationship with pain.

With COVID-19, the sooner we all accept that this is our new normal, the healthier and happier we’ll be in the short & long term. Please, read that again…

Now, you don’t have to like it. I don’t have to like that my office burned down in my example. But the sooner we all accept we’re in a burning building, the less likely we are to get burned and the sooner we can utilize the tools at our disposal to make the best of this situation! Now remember, radical acceptance usually implies a relationship with pain – this is a grieving process. So please, give yourselves time to grieve. Some of you are grieving major milestones like prom, graduation. Some of you just miss the sense of normalcy, your friends, and coworkers. We miss being able to go outside, to the movies, shopping whenever we want to. Some of us really miss our baristas at Starbucks… but jokes aside, many of us have lost jobs, stability, and financial security. Allow yourself to grieve for these significant losses!

One of my biggest concerns about our community as we face COVID-19, especially having been through Katrina, is not about illness or physical health, it’s about our mental health. It’s about grief and the ways I’ve seen people “handle” (not using the word cope there) with their grief and loss. So utilizing these proactive measures is important, because it wasn’t the Hurricane that flooded the city of New Orleans and it certainly wasn’t the flood waters that was taking lives years later. It was addiction. It was unresolved complex grief and trauma. There were failures on systemic levels. Levees literally broke. So, I would much rather see preventative measures put in place now, than see too little done too late. I’ve already lived through that once & that experience is why I am in the profession that I am in today. It’s why my profession is helping people.

So, you’ve come to a place of accepting this is the new normal. You’re coping with grief and loss in healthy ways. Now what? It’s time to create routine and structure. Routine is your friend. Especially if you have kids. Children thrive and feel safe when there is structure, order, and they know what to expect. That doesn’t mean you need to have every minute planned or color coded. But a general sense of the familiar and routine is helpful – we wake up, make our beds, eat breakfast, brush our teeth, walk the dog, two hours of school work, lunch, hour of play time, two more hours of school work, hour of computer time, dinner, shower, bed. Vague but you still get a general sense of a day.

With all of the transition and change, it can also be helpful to focus on the familiar. What is the same? Even if it’s something as simple as the same scented body wash or perfume that you use. You’re in the same bed. Have the same stuffed animal to sleep with. You love to make tacos on Tuesday. Whatever those little traditions are that feel familiar and safe – now is a good time to practice mindfulness and really relish in those moments!

One of the other big themes around COVID-19 that has been coming up is control. And I am happy to report that there are a lot of precautions that you can take that are well within your control. The most important is setting healthy boundaries. If the news is scary or overwhelming, shut it off. If Karen’s Facebook posts are getting on your last nerve, unfollow her. You can control the amount of social distancing you’re doing, which is helping to stop the spread of disease. You can focus on your self-care and keeping yourself healthy by getting extra sleep, exercise, and sunshine. Sleep, exercise, and sunshine/vitamin D are all helpful in boosting your overall mood and fighting anxiety and depression as well. Which is important because a reduction in stress is correlated with better immunity. So your mental and emotional health are paramount, which is why we’re also focusing on maintaining clients’ appointments and continuity of care at this time at Lake Norman Counselors. So call your therapist and book a therapy appointment. There are plenty of proactive and preventative steps within your control that you can actively take to feel safe right now.

So to recap:

  • come to a place of acceptance
  • allow yourself to grieve
  • cope with loss in a healthy way
  • create routine & structure
  • focus on the familiar & what you can control
  • set healthy boundaries
  • remember that safety comes first but self-care should come a close second!

We realize that any one of these steps, alone, can be overwhelming and challenging and that this is an incredibly stressful time. As an essential business offering mental health services, Lake Norman Counselors will remain open. We are committed, as we have always been, to serving our community and providing extraordinary care and luxurious amenities. We are doing everything in our power to keep our staff and clients healthy and safe. Even with the stay-at-home order, you can leave your home for therapy appointments. But for our existing clients, who it is therapeutically appropriate for, we are offering telehealth services. We are abiding by the recommendations of the CDC & World Health Organization, have implemented a health screening questionnaire for all clients prior to the start of sessions at the office to limit community spread, and have implemented additional sanitary measures, especially in the play room.

We have always prided ourselves on creating a warm and welcoming safe space for everyone who has walked through our doors. Our mission remains the same!

Lake Norman Counselors

Hope for Tomorrow

In times of chaos and crisis, there’s a wide variety of reactions. Anxiety, grief, fear, denial – these reactions are all normal, especially in abnormal circumstances. I want to discuss each of these reactions and how therapy can help you cope if this is where you find yourself, but I also want to discuss the most important reaction and motivator: hope. And how to get there.

Anxiety. I love working with anxious clients. There’s an energy that comes with anxiety, and it’s rewarding teaching clients how to harness that energy, utilize it, and make it productive. Channeling that anxious energy into positive outlets and learning the necessary distress tolerance and emotional regulation skills takes work, but it’s very possible with the right therapist!

Grief, on the other hand, is a different beast. Grief work is exhausting. There is unfortunately no quick fix for grief. It takes time. And can feel like a slow process. But it is rewarding sitting with someone in their despair and being there for them, completely. Most of the time the most appropriate therapeutic response is a moment of silence… the moment is incredibly heavy and drenched with emotion. But it’s our job, as therapists, to help alleviate the burden of grief. To help you carry it. To remind you that you aren’t alone.

Grief manifests differently outside of the office though. It takes so many different shapes and forms. It hides behind anger, fear, sarcasm, humor, and denial. The ways in which we watch our loved ones cope with grief can be unsettling; they start to make jokes and hide behind humor, keep busy, intellectualize, or emotionally breakdown and cease to function. These reactions can be confusing and disjointing, especially if our own grief manifests differently. This is common, but it often makes the grieving process more complex and confusing. It also usually leaves us feeling alone at times as we sit sobbing while we watch our husband (or brother, cousin, Uncle Steve, etc) across the room – now the life of the funeral – cracking jokes doing his own stand up routine. This disconnect with our loved ones is difficult, especially when we want and need support the most, and adds to the burden of grief, so having your therapist validate and normalize your experience can be incredibly reassuring.

Fear is one of life’s most powerful motivators, which is particularly concerning as fear often makes us act irrationally. Fear makes us stockpile two years worth of toilet paper and all of the cleaning supplies in a five mile radius (which essential businesses like your local mental health private practice desperately need to keep their staff & clients healthy). Fear makes us over react and panic. It makes us lash out and act impulsively. For all of these reasons, and many more, fear is not the driving force or motivator we want behind our decision making, especially in life-and-death decisions or during a crisis. Fortunately, you can combat these irrational thoughts with a good CBT (Cognitive Behavioral) therapist and eliminate your fear(s).

And last, but certainly not least, denial… as scary as it is to be operating from a place of fear, I’m more concerned about those in denial, who don’t seem to fully grasp the seriousness and longevity of what we’re facing. The family and friends who are in denial, who are not willing to accept the physical, economic, and mental health ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, are dangerous. They will likely spread this disease if they aren’t strictly abiding by social distancing and quarantine protocols, which will result in unnecessary death and the delayed opening of businesses, which will continue to hurt our economy. The longer we have to be in isolation, and the longer our economy and small businesses suffer, the worse the mental health ramifications will be for everyone. We’ll see increased substance abuse, anxiety, depression, domestic violence, child abuse, overdoses, and suicides. This is a big pill to swallow. Which is why those struggling with this reality need therapeutic intervention and support the most. They need professional, compassionate help to face their fears, understand the impact of their actions on others, and ultimately come to a place of radical acceptance.

X marks the spot Katrina left on our psyches

I keep calling this time period “Katrina 2.0” but this is worse than Katrina in so many ways. Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005. There was a date of impact. There was physical damage. You could see it. Lord – you could smell it. I’ll never forget that smell. I refuse to freeze meat to this day because of that smell. My point is, Katrina was tangible. COVID-19 hasn’t been tangible for many people… yet. Which makes it so much easier to live in denial, fear of the unknown, anxiety as we wait for an invisible enemy to attack, and/or mourning for the normalcy of our lives. Again, all of these reactions are normal reactions to abnormal circumstances. I completely understand these reactions and responses. But without acceptance and understanding, there is a short-sightedness that is causing more harm than good. I hope and pray to God every day that I never see another Katrina X on my home. I am dreading the day we get to the point that the National Guard is doing welfare checks and putting a body count on everyone’s homes – not just from COVID, but from overdose, suicide, domestic violence spiraling out of control, etc. I’m hopeful it won’t get that bad, especially if we can all band together, follow the CDC guidelines, and take the proper precautions…

Hope.

If anything is going to guide your decision making or be a motivator at this time – let it be hope. Hope requires acceptance first. You need to understand and accept the reality of the world we’re living in and hope that we’ll come out of this stronger as individuals and a community. I hope we can flatten the curve. I hope that my staff stays healthy, so we can continue serving our community. I hope all of our healthcare workers stay safe! This is a time to put our positive intentions into the world and take action to make those hopes a reality.

This is an opportunity for positive change! Even if the change is that you get to sleep more than you used to, wear your pajamas to work, or spend more time with your dog. I’ll call that a win. I know my dogs are certainly considering it a win!

I’m not saying you have to move mountains at this time. I get that depending on where you’re starting and what your mental and emotional state is, that’s not realistic. But this is an opportunity to focus on your self-care and wellbeing in a way that you might not have had before. We all seem to have an abundance of time on our hands.

But if you are in a place that you are safe, healthy, and mentally/emotionally able – there is plenty of opportunities for personal growth, community outreach, and change on systemic level. I would be happy to send a long list of healthcare and/or education initiatives if you’re struggling for ideas. Volunteering is a great way to channel energy into a productive and useful means of helping others that often feels meaningful and hopeful.

I hope that both individually and as communities we can find hope during this pandemic, particularly when it feels like our efforts are wasted – they’re not. I remember the sense of national pride after 9/11 – the unity. I hope we can find that same spirit of hope, unity, and support again. It worked for New Orleans after Katrina. I saw it work for Boston (#bostonstrong) after the marathon. It’s time that we show how resilient our people and communities can be – stronger together. Hope has the power to do this!

Lake Norman Counselors

Human Connection in The Age of Social Distancing: Part II

In the first part of this article, I discussed the importance of finding meaningful connection by understanding the personality differences and love languages of those closest to you. In this article, I want to discuss some practical steps to putting that into action.

Every family or friend group is likely comprised of some combination of introverts and extroverts, with a wide variety of love languages. Again, Part I discusses how and why it’s crucial to figure out where everyone stands. Once you know the defining characteristics of the key players in “your circle,” you can move on with a better understanding of what might work best for your group dynamics.

Before I offer my exciting and creative suggestions, I want to make a comment on technology. As a counselor, I have a love/hate relationship with technology. As a couples counselor, especially, I can’t tell you how many times the words “texting is not communicating” have come out of my mouth. While I stand by this statement 110%, here we are, in the Age of Social Distancing. Which means that we’re all going to have to go the extra mile to connect with one another. Because, again, texting is not communicating. Just wanted to put that in writing so we’re all on the same page moving forward.

In stressful and unfamiliar times, it can be both reassuring and comforting to focus on the familiar and the positive. So my three suggestions are playing largely on nostalgia. Now these are three special and meaningful activities to me, but these suggestions are all easily adaptable! The entire city of New Orleans eats red beans and rice on Monday’s – I’m not sure why it’s a thing, but it’s comfort food. Now, that’s not the example I used (I did Taco Tuesday) because I figured tacos were a little bit more universal than red beans & rice. But my point is, it’s important to utilize the traditions in your culture, your family, and your friend group to come up with ideas of your own! While I’m a huge fan of tacos, my New Orleans friends and I could easily adapt these suggestions to a Monday red beans dinner. Getting creative to come up with something engaging is part of the fun.

  • Taco Tuesday’s:
    • Dinner with family and friends is such a great way to connect! So whether you’re supporting a local restaurant, or cooking at home, this is a wonderful way to connect as a group.
    • Introverts: Enjoy cooking or grilling outside in the beautiful weather; look up different salsa recipes to try each week as an appetizer; play your favorite music while you cook or relax with a glass of sangria. Our introvert friends can also be helpful in organizing and planning the shopping for the evening. If you’re planning on dining out, make a list of local restaurants and pick a new restaurant each week.
    • Extroverts: Arrange the date/time everyone will eat together; encourage your friends to Facetime during dinner so you feel like you’re at a dinner party; organize “themes” of the evening and see if your friends will dress up; have everyone make the same salsa/sangria/dips/etc and then vote on your favorite.
    • Verbal Affirmations: Thank them for their contributions to the evening; offer compliments on the dish they made and the hard work they put into making the meal; ask for advice; send a thank you card after the evening.
    • Acts of Service: Purchase the groceries you’ll need for the evening; help with meal prep or the dishes after dinner; put the kids to bed while they’re cooking dinner; make them their favorite cocktail without being asked; help with a task they hate doing (like chopping onions or taking out the trash).
    • Physical Touch: Within families or couples, a thank you hug or kiss for making dinner is appropriate; putting on lively salsa music and dancing together can be another fun way to physically connect with a partner or friends within your immunity community.
    • Quality Time: Spend time connecting during dinner with no distractions – no phones, no TV, etc; Ask open ended questions that illicit more than just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response; express gratitude for the time that you have together; express genuine interest and excitement in what is being said; actively listen.
    • Gift Giving: If you’re gathering with your ‘immunity community’ for this event, bring an appetizer or dessert that aligns with the theme you’ve picked; send everyone home with a funny “gag” gift; take a picture during the night and text it to everyone.
  • Christmas in… July?
    • The nostalgia and joy of Christmas can never come too soon in my opinion. We could all use a dose of Christmas cheer, so why wait until December (or July?). Let’s break out the decorations, sugar cookies, and our Christmas spirit right now!
    • Introverts: There’s so many introvert activities associated with Christmas. Our introvert friends can make our address lists for Christmas cards, assign everyone a different type of cookie for a cookie swap, or organize a “Friendsgiving” type of potluck. (Any one else getting hungry thinking about this? Just me?) Listening to your favorite Christmas music also has been shown to elevate your mood – so it’s never too soon to start the Christmas Spotify playlist!
    • Extroverts: While the introverts are doing the behind the scenes work, our extrovert friends are ultimately the friends throwing the party. Organize an Ugly Sweater party for your family or friends – virtually or in person, as appropriate given your circumstances. Have everyone dress up and create “Christmas cards” to share online to boosts everyone’s spirits. Get a small group together and go caroling in your neighborhood.
    • Verbal Affirmations: Send homemade Christmas cards to your loved ones with handwritten notes in each one.
    • Acts of Service: In the Christmas spirit, try to do a random act of kindness for a stranger. Make a donation to a local organization or support a local, family run business that could use your support!
    • Physical Touch: Cuddle with a mug of frozen hot chocolate while watching your favorite Christmas movie; sing your favorite Christmas carols in the shower.
    • Quality Time: Plan a “Friendsgiving” pot luck or White Elephant Gift Exchange with Quarantine Essentials (cleaning supplies, toilet paper, board games, etc).
    • Gift Giving: Organize a cookie exchange with your friends & family; send a friend who is struggling a small token of love to let them know you’re thinking of them!
  • Welcome to the Magical World of Harry Potter:
    • Harry Potter not only has great messages about battling isolation, coming together as a community during tough times, and the power of human connection, it is also just an incredible story! I recommend having all of your friends take the Pottermore quiz, or another Sorting Hat Quiz, to establish which House you’re in. Depending on the size of your family or friend group, and how many people are in each house, you can create your own series of physical and academic challenges and score points towards “The House Cup.”
    • Introverts: Establishing a set of rules, especially if your family or friend group wants to have a House Cup challenge, is your time to shine! Make a list of suggestions for activities and challenges for the House Cup game and keep track of the house points. You can also make a House Scoreboard – which would be a fun craft. Re-reading the series and watching the movies will also give you plenty of time to recharge alone.
    • Extroverts: Connecting with your family and friends during House Cup challenges will help give you the connection you crave! Set up consistent times and expectations for scheduling around these events. Encourage your friends to dress up in their House colors. Post your pictures and videos on your social media pages and tag all of your friends. Read the books as well and then schedule “coffee dates” to discuss the latest in the series. You can also schedule virtual movie nights, make popcorn, and then have everyone discuss the movies afterwards.
    • Verbal Affirmations: Send your favorite Harry Potter memes or quotes from the books; send texts about funny parts in the books or movies that you thought they’d enjoy; call to discuss what you’re reading; compliment them on their extraordinary performance in the House Cup challenges!
    • Acts of Service: Offer to help with preparations for the House Challenges; make recipes from the book (like Butterbeer!).
    • Physical Touch: Cuddle on the couch with your partner and some popcorn while you enjoy the Harry Potter movies; the Harry Potter movies are a time commitment, so it’s important to take breaks… in the bedroom preferably.
    • Quality Time: Engage with each other during the House Cup challenges; schedule movie nights or coffee dates.
    • Gift Giving: Send an item in their house colors; put together a snack basket for movie night.

These are just a few ideas that can go in so many different directions! Taco Tuesday could be Spaghetti Wednesday; If you grew up in the Twilight generation instead of the Harry Potter Generation, then go read the Harry Potter books… I’m kidding (kind of...) No, but my point is that you can alter these suggestions to use a different book or different holiday.

Like I said, coming up with the idea is half the fun! Extroverts, poll your friends. Offer suggestions based on your own inside jokes, the TV shows and movies you like, your favorite foods, and holidays. This quarantine is offering us all a chance to be creative and connect in new and exciting ways. I hope we all take advantage of that opportunity. I’m looking forward to hearing about what you do to connect!

Lake Norman Counselors

Working Apart, Together

In today’s reality of Coronavirus, quarantine, and stay-at-home orders, you might find yourself living in a “new normal” that includes working from home with your spouse/partner/roommate/kids. This is probably an enormous shift of how much time you are spending together, which can often lead to some frustration.

First, it’s important to remember that during times of change and unease, tension is extremely normal. I encourage you to acknowledge that you are in a new reality and that there will be some bumps in the road! As a society, we are having to figure out new ways to go about our day to day life and that comes with the growing pains of any transition. Working from home is no different, so here are a few tips to help you feel successful:

  1. Set up a workspace. Even if you don’t have a home office or a desk, you can still create a work-friendly environment. Any small alteration that can make your to space feel different from your regular living room or kitchen can be helpful. For instance, if you are working from the kitchen table, making sure there is no other clutter and possibly adding a desk lamp. If you are working from your couch, making sure that the TV stays off if you are easily distracted, or pulling up a small table so that you have a desk.
  2. Set a schedule. Your schedule might look completely different now than it did a few weeks ago. However, creating a schedule and giving yourself and your loved ones structure will be crucial in getting through this difficult time. Even if you don’t stick to your schedule perfectly everyday, having it as a guide will be helpful. Setup what time you want to start working, when and how many breaks you will have, and what time you want to stop working.
  3. Set boundaries. This is incredibly important!! Setting boundaries helps to establish clear expectations. It is necessary to set boundaries with yourself, your spouse/roommate(s), and even your boss/coworkers. When working from home, there is no physical separation from your workspace and your personal space, so it can be difficult to put work down. Allow yourself permission to stop checking emails or accepting phone calls at a reasonable hour. Do something at the end of your workday that helps simulate a “commute” or that time where you can physically leave your work life and enter your personal life. This can be a walk, changing clothes, calling a friend, or any other small habit you can do at the end of your workday.
  4. Keep the familiar.  When working from home, it can be very enticing to throw out all of day-to-day structure that you once knew. While your life and schedule will look different during this time, it is important to continue engaging in productive and familiar habits. For instance, waking up at your normal time and “getting ready for work.” Maybe you don’t have to put on a full face of makeup or shave, but washing your face and putting on clothes that are not pajamas, can help you get into a work mindset and ready for your day.   
  5. Have realistic expectations. It is important to remember that everyone is being impacted by this new reality.  Recognize when you are feeling frustrated, distracted, or completely overwhelmed. You are allowed to feel that way, and you do not have to perfectly uphold the schedule that you have set for yourself. This is a growing process and it is important to be kind to yourself when it doesn’t seem to be going the “right” way. Create ways to practice self-care and give yourself grace. Taking a break to watch your favorite TV show, call a friend, stretch, take a nap, etc. You have permission to rest!

All of these tips can be helpful when working from home, and it is crucial that you share your boundaries, expectations, and schedule with your significant other/roommate(s). Communicate what you want your workspace to be and ask what they want theirs to be. Discuss clear boundaries about your workday. For instance, let your partner know what that if your door is closed, you don’t want to be disturbed, or if your headphones are on, that means you are in work mode. Talk about the schedules that you have each made and include one another in them. Ask what they need from you and what you need from them while sharing this time and space.

A few questions to ask each other while working from home together:

  1. What do you want your workday to look like?
  2. What expectations/boundaries do you have about your workspace?
  3. What time, if any, will we spend together during the day?
  4. What routines do we want to have together? (For instance, making breakfast or lunch, taking a midday walk, stretch breaks, etc.)
  5. How can I help you be successful?

Remember, there is no perfect way to work from home, especially when in close quarters with loved ones! Take this time to practice new routines, love and take care of one another, and create the workspace that you feel your best in!

Lake Norman Counselors

Human Connection in the Age of Social Distancing

Hello, my name is Jamie, and I am an Extrovert.

For those of you that don’t know me, I’m a “big E” Extrovert. Like 98th percentile on the Myers-Briggs, would not do well alone on a desert island, Extrovert. Rather than being alone, I’d probably end up pulling a “Tom Hanks” and making my own Wilson to have someone to talk to…

I was the kid in school that was constantly getting in trouble for talking. Once in middle school, my English teacher separated my best friend and I for talking. She put us at opposite ends of the classroom – as far apart as humanly possible. And we still got in trouble because she was insistent that we were “communicating nonverbally” with each other… we denied it, but we totally were. So I’ve been finding ways to overcome social distancing for more than two decades now.

When I hear words like “social distancing” and “quarantine” – I look at it as a personal challenge. Was I heartbroken about my social limitations at first? Sure. But the good news for my other extroverted friends out there, is that there’s plenty of ways to connect from home!

Human connection, feelings of love and belonging, social support, fun, and community are fundamental human needs.

And for my introvert friends that think this is a godsend – let me reason with you for one second. Please hear me out. I totally understand that you recharge alone. And I’m really glad that you’re ahead of the game on this whole “work from home,” “the back porch is now considered eating out,” “pajamas are acceptable day time wear” world we now live in. If anything, please take the lead on teaching your extrovert friends about indoor hobbies – we have very few of those!

But as much as you might resist, introvert friends, connecting with the outside world is still important for your mental and emotional health. Maybe more now than before. Let’s take a look at our fundamental and basic needs as human beings:

In case you missed my last article, we’re supposed to be considering this quarantine and stay-at-home order the new normal. And if you haven’t been to the grocery store lately, we can’t provide for our basic needs at the moment. So Physiological and Safety needs have a couple strikes against them at the moment… there’s only so much we can do about that at the moment. I can’t control when the next shipment of toilet paper or Lysol wipes is coming in. I can’t control the spread of this disease.

However, I can completely work on the Love & Belonging category!

So there’s two important factors to consider here: personality and love language(s). Both are crucial to understand about yourself and those closest to you to form deep and meaningful connections. First, make a list of the people who are most important to you: your significant other, family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, pets, Starbucks baristas, etc. Do you know if each of these individuals is an introvert or extrovert?

An important note: This does NOT have any correlation to how outgoing or shy someone is. That’s a bad stereotype. Extroverts energize by being around other people and tend to externally process information (they make lists, they “think out loud” to themselves, they like to have a sounding board and talk through a decision). Introverts tend to charge by themselves and internally process information (if you ask them a question – they just give you an answer… not their entire thought process on how they got there).

If you’re really unsure, take the 16 personalities quiz which is a FREE assessment that will tell you! We all have the time… what else are you doing? Now, each of the scores is rated on a spectrum. Some people might be 50/50. So you’re a little bit of both. If you’re close to that 50% mark, it might be worth looking at two profiles (say ESFJ and ISFJ).

Now that you’ve figured out the personality portion of the equation. It’s time to discuss the Love Languages. Time for another quiz!! (Yes. Another Quiz. Seriously, Karen, what else are you doing?) Take the Love Language Quiz to see what your primary and secondary languages are and then ask your significant other and closest friends to take it as well. It’s important that you not only know your language, but theirs as well. Because here’s the interesting thing about the love languages, we often give the love that we most want to receive. It’s only natural, it is our native language after all.

What does that mean? As an example, one of my top languages is verbal affirmations (compliments or nice words). So the assumption is that because I like compliments, everyone else must like compliments too, right? So I often give the love that I most want to receive. I tend to be very complimentary.

Well, just because I speak French (verbal affirmations) doesn’t mean everyone else does. My best friend is a gift giver. She’s speaking Spanish. We’re obviously not speaking the same language. One of my favorite stories to tell is when I asked her to be my Maid of Honor, and I wrote her this beautiful card about how she’s like a sister to me, and having her next to me at my wedding will be so meaningful, blah blah blah. Now, I’m verbal affirmations – I save shit like that forever. I have a whole drawer full of every card and note and nice email I’ve ever received. But I come over to her house the next day, literally the day after I’ve given her this beautiful and meaningful card – and IT. IS. IN. THE. TRASH. Can you believe that?

I take it out out of the trash, dust off the coffee grounds – completely appalled. She literally looks at me, reaches in the trash slowly, and asks, “do I need to keep the envelope too?” I stormed out of there so fast… the nerve!

See, for her, the envelope with her name on it, meant as much as the card with all of my beautiful and kind words. Zero. That’s because it’s not her love language. It’s mine. Now I’ll be damned if that card isn’t sitting on her dresser to this day (mostly because I think she’s scared to throw it away due to my last reaction). But you can see the miscommunication that can so easily happen when two people are speaking two different languages.

So as a general rule – COVID-19 or not – in order to connect and truly understand the people in your life, and to avoid hurt feelings, you need to know if you’re dealing with an introvert or extrovert, what love languages you speak, and what languages you need to be speaking to the important people in your life.

The Five Love Languages:

  1. Verbal Affirmations
  2. Gift Giving
  3. Acts of Service
  4. Quality Time
  5. Physical Touch

Once you know what your love languages are, it’s important to define what your language means to you and give your partner/family/friends examples rather than have them guess or assume (that tends to end badly). For some, quality time is watching TV together, for others that is definitely not classified as quality time – so it’s important to be clear about your expectations and needs.

Good news: If your love languages are verbal affirmations or gift giving, these are easily done over long distances! There’s many ways that these needs can be met while still maintaining social distancing guidelines. Express your needs for communication, preferred methods of contact, and what is most meaningful to you for the most fulfilling connection with your loved ones.

Could be tricky: Depending on the circumstances, if your love languages are acts of service or quality time, these could be a little harder to fulfill. You might need to get creative! Or temporarily rely on a secondary love language to help meet your needs for connection. While virtual connection is better than nothing, it’s definitely not the same as spending time with someone. So if you do feel it’s safe, building your “immunity community” and making an effort to get in that quality time will be crucial to your mental and emotional health. Acts of services also usually rely on some sort of contact, so creativity will be key here as well. This will certainly be easier for those of you living within family units.

Blatant violation of social distancing: It’s a rough time to be a physical touch person. If you have a partner and you are both healthy and being mindful of safety protocols if/when you interact in the community, then hopefully this need will continue to be met. But as our community continues to face increased threat of quarantine, sickness, and social isolation – this will certainly be difficult. Again, relying on a secondary language will be helpful in feeling connected and meeting your emotional needs.

Learning more about your personality and love languages will hopefully lead to more insights about your needs for meaningful and fulfilling connection, which you can then communicate to those closest to you. Likewise, asking friends and family about their preferences will hopefully lead to deeper, more meaningful, and reciprocal relationships.

It is crucial to our mental and emotional health that we find ways to stay connected. Isolation and loneliness feed anxiety and depression. Human connection, feelings of love and belonging, social support, fun, and community are fundamental human needs. It’s important to find ways to stay healthy and safe, but to also stay connected to your support system during this stressful time. Jump over to the second part of this blog entry: Human Connection in the Age of Social Distancing Part II for practical steps and suggestions!

Photo by David Grunfeld • NOLA News
Lake Norman Counselors

The Best of Both Worlds

While play may be one of a child’s first mediums of communication, we all know that technology is a close second.

Have you heard how much kids are loving virtual counseling?

Our children’s counselor, Melissa Switek, LPC, is specially trained in play therapy, a modality that encourages counselors to communicate in a child’s natural language, PLAY! While play may be one of a child’s first mediums of communication, we all know that technology is a close second.

To prepare your child for their virtual counseling sessions provide them with:

  • A private confidential space, free from potential interruptions
  • Paper
  • Pencils or some markers
  • Play dough for creative expression
  • A favorite board game, card game, or toy (like LEGO’s) that that they may like to utilize

Then consult with your child’s counselor to schedule a time that works best for you! You can schedule with Melissa by emailing her today at melissa@lkncounselors.com. Our office is still open, and we are accepting new clients at this time.

Counseling, Lake Norman Counselors

New Year, New Me (& You)

Ahhh the new year. A time to buy discounted gym memberships and cute workout clothes. The new year brings about a season of resolutions and change. Typically this change takes the form of fitness goals, meal planning, and exercise classes – at least for a few weeks… 

While most find the need to put the time, energy, and money towards their own physical and mental health during the start of the new year (which as a holistic clinician I find essential to daily functioning), it’s just as important to invest in your relationships too.

As a couples counselor in Davidson, NC, I like to help my community focus and invest in their relationships. It can be very easy to get to a comfortable (complacent?) place with our partner. We often get distracted by other aspects of life and forget to prioritize our relationship, which is the foundation of our family. Most couples wait an average of 7 years from the onset of an issue to come to couples counseling! If your in-laws got on your nerves this past holiday season, do you really want to wait that long before you do anything about it? 

Not only is it a new year, but it’s a new decade as well. Maybe it’s time to take your relationship off the back burner this decade and put it on the forefront of your resolutions list.

Here are 3 ways to do just that: 

  1. Couples Counseling: Maybe I’m a bit bias to this one, but couples counseling is a great way to invest in your relationship. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to have an “issue” to come to couples counseling! In fact, we like to focus on your goals (such as increasing intimacy, feeling more connected, communicating better, and feeling like a strong team) rather than problems – this is much easier to do when there aren’t many serious issues. Whether you’ve been in your relationship for one year or 40 years, it’s never too early or late to come in for a session.
  2. New Experiences: Our brain loves novelty. Trying something new and exciting with your partner is a great way to form a stronger bond between the two of you. Anything that changes up your daily routine such as traveling, trying a new restaurant, or cooking classes . Or how about a couples yoga class that you bought all those cute outfits for? 
  3. Get To Know Each Other – In This Decade: Something that sounds logical, but we often forget, is that you’re not the same person now that you were in the beginning of the relationship. Shocking, I know! It’s important to continuously get to know each other through the years, and it’s as simple as asking questions. I always recommend to my couples the app “Gottman Card Decks” which has many questions and topics that can be useful.Typically I don’t encourage cell-phone use when trying to connect with your partner, but I’ll let this one slide. 

These three suggestions are just a few ways to prioritize and invest in your relationship. I hope in this new year (and decade) you choose to find joy, peace, and growth for you and your relationship! 

If you need any more tips, suggestions, or help, my door is always open for individual or couples sessions! Feel free to reach out to me at madison@lkncounselors.com – Happy New Year!

Counseling, Lake Norman Counselors

“I Am Enough.”

The new ideals surrounding body positivity and empowerment are growing on many social media platforms, helping teens and young adults create a stronger sense of self-esteem and confidence.

While the recent trend has been positive, we all still face many problems with daily use of social media and peer pressure. The constant comparison, negativity, and judgment on social media are still present. The nature of Snapchat, Instagram, Tiktok and many other social media platforms make it hard for teens to find validation, empowerment, and confidence within themselves. Instead, these platforms are conditioning us to seek external validation and praise: how many likes, how many followers, how many new comments do I have today? The numbers game is toxic.

When self-esteem is created through likes, comments, and posting what seems to be the “ideal” self or lifestyle (even if Instagram getting rid of likes) the need for external validation seems to follow teens and young adults everywhere. Yes, even in picturesque, Davidson, North Carolina.

Growing up in Davidson might seem like a dream – close to the lake and the hustle and bustle of Charlotte. But too often we hear about nightmare scenarios instead of dreams in our office. The desire to maintain a certain image, both in person and online, leads to anxiety, bullying, and negative self-talk. 

I work closely with my clients to build up their self-esteem and confidence, so that they can be the best version of themselves. I encourage my clients, teens especially, to take pride in their independence and ability to work through challenges, including the challenge of navigating the digital world.

Counseling is beneficial at all life stages, but I truly believe it to be fundamental to the success of today’s teens. With a strong sense of self-esteem and confidence, teens are more likely to engage with their family and community and create a positive network of support. Counseling can help combat the thoughts telling us “I am not good enough,” or “I am not likable,” and reframe them into positive, reassuring thoughts that promote a strong sense of self-esteem. Counseling can provide a lifetime of skills to carry into many phases of life with a happier, healthier self-image. 

 

 

Lake Norman Counselors, Providers

Transforming Tiger

Hi everyone, Victoria here! I am new to the Lake Norman Counselors team, and am excited to start my work counseling teens, adults, and families.

I received my Master’s in Clinical Mental Health right here in the Charlotte area. However, Davidson is an area outside of Charlotte that is new to me, and I am loving the beautiful views and being so close to the water. As my love for Charlotte grows, home to me is in Columbia, South Carolina. Even though I am from Gamecock country, I received my Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Clemson, and I am a huge Tiger fan- hoping for another national championship this year!

I have learned how a little bit of self-reflection, and taking time to take care of myself can be incredibly handy for getting through obstacles life presents us. I would also say, having a dog and a wonderful support system can help too! I come from a big family, and having their support means the world to me, but there is nothing compared to the love and snuggles I receive from my dog, Ollie. Ollie will soon start training to become a therapy dog, so he can join me in my passion for helping others. 

Becoming a counselor has been a lifelong dream of mine, which is why perseverance is a big attribute that has helped guide me through life. I am a big believer in working through the many challenges life may throw at you. This is where mindfulness comes into play, which is another aspect of my work as a counselor.

I appreciate taking time to “be in the present moment.” When practicing mindfulness, we can realize challenges are only a temporary part of our life, and like so many times in the past, we can get through them! 

I am looking forward to helping others work through their own obstacles and find time for self-care!

 

Counseling, Lake Norman Counselors

What to Say When There Are No Words

What to say when you have no words: How to talk to your children about difficult topics

As many of us are reflecting on the tragedy that occurred in our city yesterday, please do not neglect the importance of talking to your kids about what happened.

Children are innately receptive to the well being of their caregivers and can pick up on the grief and nervous energy that will be among us as they return to school.

Give your child age appropriate, factual information so that if they overhear their peers or teachers discussing this tragedy they will feel informed. Remind them of the safety plans that are in place at their school and reassure them that they know the drill.

It brings tears to my eyes to even fathom that we now have active shooter drills in schools. So remember, it is ok to tell your child, “It makes me feel sad to talk about shootings, but I am really glad that we can talk about topics that upset us.”

If your child has questions that you are not quite sure how to answer or that you don’t have an answer for reflect what your child is feeling. For example, your child may ask, “mommy, why would somebody want to shoot other people?” you could say something like, “It is really hard to understand why someone would hurt others.”

Do what you need to in order to get yourself into a calm, controlled state and then initiate this conversation with your child. Stay brief, stay factual, and follow your child’s lead. If you don’t know how to answer your child’s questions you can always say, “I do not have an answer for that, what do you think the answer is?” or “tell me more about what you’re thinking.” Many times children already have the answers to their own questions and it is more important that you are listening as they process the answer than it is to give them your answer.

Some children ask many questions and other children say, “ok” and return to their play. Regardless, what is important is that you’re teaching your child that you are willing to talk about difficult topics. Nothing is more reassuring to a child than knowing their caregivers can handle their thoughts and feelings. 

For more information on this or how to talk with your kids about other difficult topics please reach out to us at LKN Counselors! 

Lake Norman Counselors

Gods Among Us

There’s a joke about the difference between cats and dogs I always appreciated.

Dogs think: “My owners feed me, provide for me, give me shelter, and love me. They must be God!”

Cats think: “My owners feed me, provide for me, give me shelter, and love me. I must be God!”

Yep… that was my cat. She turned sixteen in January. I’d say “sweet sixteen” but she was just as sassy as she was sweet. She was certainly the boss in our house, and her two younger canine brothers knew better than to mess with their older sister. She was God and Queen and certainly thought we were sent to serve her. My appreciation for this joke certainly grew out of my experience with our cat, Cutter. 

I first met Cutter at Scrapbooks, Etc where I worked in high school. She was the store cat, and she would run to greet the customers as they came in each day. She survived Hurricane Katrina in that store. She survived a lot – including being smuggled into a college dorm – and two moves across the country from Louisiana to Massachusetts to North Carolina! She was feisty and strong. She was a fighter. She always let you know what she thought and how she was feeling. She wasn’t one to hold back. I admired that about her. 

Every pet is unique and each relationship between an owner and their pet is unique, however, I do think there are a few universal truths. The first is that – despite the joke – you are your pet’s whole world. They are completely and totally dependent on you. And because of that tremendous responsibility and gift, I truly believe that our pets love us unconditionally. 

Our pets comfort us. They never judge. Ok – if you have a cat,  maybe they judge a little. But they would never betray you! Because our pets keep our secrets. They are our confidants and companions. And for the lucky among us, our pets are our family. 

When a family member dies, we have rituals to honor them. We take time off of work. People show up with casseroles. 

What about when one of our pets die? 

Where’s the casserole? Where’s the excused absence from work and school? We are so quick to dismiss these significant and long relationships with our pets. The expectation is to just move on. Why? Our pets – our beloved family members – deserve to be properly grieved and mourned. 

Disenfranchised Grief arises in any circumstance in which society denies our “need, right, role, or capacity to grieve” (Doka, 1989). 

Society says the relationship isn’t important, so grief is not acknowledged.

This often happens when your relationship to the deceased is one that society interprets as more distant and not worthy of grief. Societal rules often dictate that we grieve “blood” relatives and as we get beyond that circle we find lesser acknowledgement of the impact of a death. This commonly happens with pets. And it’s both harmful and problematic. When we’re not allowed to grieve for these significant relationships, our pain can potentially become complicated grief. 

So what can you do? 

    Allow yourself time and space to grieve! Acknowledge your love for your pet was true and significant and your loss is no less valid. Love is love. Loss is loss. Your love was real and valid; your grief is real and valid. As painful and difficult as it is, allow yourself to grieve.
    Remember that you are not alone. It is easy to fall in to isolation when you are finding no acknowledgement or support of your grief. Connecting with your support system and communicating how you feel and what you need during this time is vital.
    Create your own ritual. There are many times that, due to the nature of these losses, you are not able to take part in a funeral or closure ritual in the way you would have wanted. Consider if this is important to you and what may be appropriate. This doesn’t have to be elaborate; it could be as simple as planting a tree, making a special piece of art, or visiting a meaningful place.
    Find personal ways to express your emotions & process grief. Consider counseling, yoga, music, journaling, art, photography, and other personal expression. Though you may not have the external support you want, you can still find ways to explore your emotions and process your grief on your own.

Cutter 💔 January 2003 – March 7, 2019

Lake Norman Counselors

Hurrication: No One Prepares for Katrina

Sunday, August 28, 2005. It was a beautiful, sunny day & I was with my best friend and surrogate family at Percy Quin campground in Mississippi. It was such a beautiful day, we were delaying our departure a bit so for the first time since Friday, I turned on my cellphone.

Seventeen voicemails…

Seemed a little higher than normal…

The first was from the guy I was “talking to” at the time. But the second, third, fourth, fifth – all from my mother. In escalating panic, she started to paint an ugly picture. I started to delete through some of them to get to the last messages.

I hurried to the last two messages. Message 16: Mom – Category 5 storm heading straight for New Orleans to hit tomorrow. Message 17: Mom – Contra-flow has begun. I can’t get you even if I wanted to – you’re on your own.

August 28th… It was a gorgeous day. Picturesque. My “uncle” was grilling. The kids were playing. The sun was warm and breeze was refreshing. And I had to go break the news that was going to ruin the day for everyone – Katrina is coming.

We wouldn’t return to Percy Quin, when the pictures above were taken, until 2009. Four years later.

We also didn’t return home from that trip.

You see, even if we had known, our “Hurrication” attitude would’ve prohibited us from proper preparation. No one prepares to lose everything they own.

No one prepares to have their community devastated. It’s hard to mentally prepare or even understand the impact of everyone being hit – your teachers, the grocer, your hairdresser, the cute guy who called last Sunday & asked you out to a restaurant that’s indefinitely closed.

No one prepares for Katrina. No one prepares for Harvey or Hugo or Sandy.

Maybe we expect some rain or power outages. We don’t expect our lives to change forever. Until you’ve been through a Katrina or Harvey or Hugo or Sandy and your life does change forever.

So Charlotte, I hope that Florence comes and goes peacefully. I hope the name “Florence” doesn’t elicit the same gut wrenching, stomach turning, anxiety that the name “Katrina” does for me. I hope you don’t learn lessons like I did: to never freeze meat; that toilet paper stored in low places becomes like papier-mâché when wet; store clothes you care less about in bottom drawers and clothes you like the best in higher drawers; always back up your pictures and important documents.

Prepare for the worst and hope and pray for the best.

I genuinely hope that Florence is no one’s “Katrina” – but for those being impacted, I hope you find the love, support, and community that New Orleans found after the storm.

Post-Katrina New Orleans… near my high school

Lake Norman Counselors, Providers

Join Us In Congratulating…

It is an exceptionally exciting week here at Lake Norman Counselors as we are celebrating our fearless leader, Jamie Cheveralls’, most recent accomplishment! Jamie was chosen as one of Charlotte’s Top 30 Under 30: The Future Leaders of Charlotte, Elevate Lifestyle’s Class of 2018! This select group of individuals are chosen each year to highlight the outstanding work that these local professionals are doing in the greater Charlotte area.

From day one, Jamie wanted to ensure that quality, evidence based services were being offered to the Lake Norman community. Jamie has hand selected specialists in the field to guarantee that each person who comes through our doors will receive high quality services that are tailored to meet her or his individual needs. Jamie has dedicated countless hours to making sure that our clients feel comfortable, welcome, and safe in our office and that each client (from 2 to 92 years old) is provided with quality and compassionate care.

We are beyond ecstatic that our colleague’s efforts are being recognized in such an honorable way and are so very proud of our wonderful colleague and friend.

Please join us in congratulating Jamie on this outstanding accomplishment!

Counseling, Lake Norman Counselors

Stronger Than Ever: A Wellness Approach

I’d like to think we’ve come a long way as a society in fighting some of the stigma around counseling, but I know we still have a long way to go in the mental health field to de-mystify what happens “on the couch.”

Most of our healthcare industry operates on the “medical model” – what I consider the “What’s broke? Let’s fix it” approach. And that’s fine if we’re talking about a broken arm; which a doctor would assess, diagnose, and then treat appropriately. A broken arm is pretty straightforward.

But mental health issues don’t get treated as neatly, on a perfect timeline, or get processed by x-ray machines. So why would mental health care operate on the same model?! We can’t operate under the same assumptions or on the same model for a number of reasons.

Most importantly, because you and/or your children are not broken!

Counselors practice by utilizing a wellness model rather than the medical model. The best comparison is to say that counseling is just like going to the gym! You don’t go to the gym because your biceps are broken. You go to make them stronger! You go to build muscle, endurance, flexibility, strength. This is the essence of the wellness model: a strength-based and goal-oriented approach.

Counselors (practicing some modalities more than others) offer clients skills and tools to help them navigate through life! Just like everyone would have different goals at the gym (toning vs building muscle vs endurance training, etc) everyone has different goals in counseling.

Ultimately, regardless of who you see, counseling is strength based and goaloriented!

Counseling, Lake Norman Counselors

Desperately Wanting

It seems like a simple question, but the fact of the matter is, “what do you want?” is an intimidating question. It can feel overwhelming, daunting. Leave you confused, unsure, tired, hopeless, or with more questions than answers. For some, the question of “what do you want?” IS the problem. You feel stuck without an answer.

I have good news! There are a few solutions & strategies to resolving this conundrum. One of my favorites is W.D.E.P.

  1. What do I Want?
  2. What am I Doing?
  3. Evaluate behaviors.
  4. Make a Plan!

So to utilize the tool effectively, if you did happen to know what you want, your ideal goal would be a S.M.A.R.T. (that’s a specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, & timely) goal. Plug that in and apply the next steps specifically to your goal.

For those of you feeling stuck and overwhelmed by the question of “what do I want?” we’re going to skip that part for now! Just ignore it completely and go to question two… what am I doing?

Write down your recent behaviors. Literally – what do you do every day? Who do you talk to? Where do you go? What’s the first thing you do in the morning? The last thing at night? As many actions as you can – especially the ones that are emotionally charged or different recently.

Moving on to the key step: evaluation. What have you done recently that’s brought joy and excitement into your life? What activities cause stress, anxiety, or doubt? Who makes you smile and laugh? And then who makes your smile fade when they walk in the door? Have you done something different recently that has had an impact on your life? Maybe you started eating breakfast, are trying out a new cologne, or reconnected with an old friend? What impact did those changes have on your day?

Ready for this game changer?? After you’ve evaluated your recent actions, we’re going to make a plan! It’s pretty straightforward and simple… looking at the positive and negative, you just need two steps:

Increase the positive and decrease the negative!

It really is that simple, ladies & gentlemen!

So many clients tell me that their goal is to decrease stress, depression, and anxiety in their lives, but when I ask what they do to bring joy into their lives there’s often a struggle for an answer.

Be intentional about creating moments – and habits! – that bring you happiness. Surround yourself with people who energize you, who validate you, who make you laugh, who are fun to talk to & who you can connect with easily. Rid yourself of any “should statements” and their resulting obligation, guilt, & fear and focus on what you want!!

If you look at what you’re currently doing that brings you joy & makes you smile, it’ll become very obvious what you want.