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

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!

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. 

 

 

Counseling, Lake Norman Counselors

The Art of Procrastination

You should just read this later…

When you woke up this morning, was the nagging voice in your head the first voice that you heard? The voice that said, “you should’ve gotten up earlier to go to the gym.” Or “you should’ve finished that yesterday.” “You should unload the dishwasher.” “You should get some laundry done today, how many days in a row have you worn those pants now?” “You shouldn’t go out looking like this.” “You should’ve replied to that email/text.” “You really should meal prep & plan better lunches.”

Ugh. I’m exhausted from that internal dialogue already, and the day hasn’t even started. Is it time for bed yet?

If you even had a restful night of sleep in the first place, your energy level is going to quickly be depleted if you stay on that current mental trajectory. And you know what we do when we’re drained and exhausted? Nothing. Or at least nothing productive. We procrastinate!

One of the biggest complaints I hear repeatedly from clients (teens & adults) is around lack of motivation, low energy, not accomplishing goals, and procrastination. Well, I have great news. Working with someone like me – a trained cognitive behavioral therapist – can remedy those complaints. It’s hard work. It’s a constant mental battle to change our thoughts & thus our feelings, but we can train ourselves to think differently.

When it comes to procrastination, there’s one word getting in the way – should. “Shouldn’t” is also as equally toxic for our friends caught on semantics. If you re-read that first paragraph, all those draining, exhausting thoughts are should statements.

Here’s the results of should/shouldn’t statements: obligation, guilt, fear, embarrassment, dread, exhaustion, feeling judged, feeling as if we did something wrong, anxiety, anger, rebellion, being in conflict with what we really want or our values, hostility, irritation, lack of motivation… oh! And procrastination. I could continue, but I think you get the point.

Let’s evaluate two statements:

  • I want to go to the gym this morning.
  • I should go to the gym this morning.

How are those two statements different? How do they elicit different feelings? Is one more motivating than the other as you think or say them out loud?

You might follow through and do something you “should” do, but it’s going to be because there’s a sense of obligation, guilt, fear, embarrassment, dread, etc. if you don’t complete the task at hand. When you evaluate your life choices, are those the feelings you want driving your decisions?

Or would you rather be motivated by hope, energy, passion, drive, & enthusiasm? Because we typically correlate those feelings and motivators with what we want. And as a result, we’re more likely to follow through, accomplish our goals, and feel a sense of success or accomplishment as a result. Are you more likely to do something you want to do? Yes!!

Now my biggest skeptics, who typically have a culture of “should” very deeply ingrained (we can get into that in session), usually retort, “But there are things you have to do, things you should do, that don’t make me feel negatively!” Great! Then you’ve already learned how to reframe those “should statements” into “want statements” – so you’re ahead of the game.

Yes, I realize there is a reason I should look both ways before I cross the street. But guess what – I don’t want to get hit by a car today, so I am happy to do that! I want to look both ways to ensure my safety. So that reframe of the should to the want statement is relatively straightforward. It’s much harder when you’re doing work around issues you don’t want to do or when there’s a values conflict between what society/family/religion/etc tells you that you should do versus what you actually want to do.

So what are the best steps to eliminating procrastination & feeling more motivation? Becoming aware of your “should statements” is the first step! There will be a lot of them – so if that’s the case don’t be alarmed or surprised! We all have them.

If motivation & procrastination are an issue for you, please feel free to reach out. I can’t do therapy over a blog article and this is barely scratching the surface of the complexities of this issue! So please let me know how I can help – jamie@lkncounselors.com.