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!