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

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

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

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

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.

Counseling, Lake Norman Counselors

Mindful Moments

News Alert: The coffee break was invented in New Orleans! As if I needed another reason for a Starbucks run? I can’t believe I didn’t know this piece of trivia.

“Well, of course the coffee break was invented in New Orleans. Even if you hadn’t before heard of the practice’s local provenance, it all just makes sense. Not only has the city long been a hub of coffee production, but it also famously embraces things of pleasure and leisure. Put them all together, and you’ve got the recipe for a mid-morning pause for caffeinating purposes — and another in the mid-afternoon, and another whenever it can be squeezed in. And if anybody wants to complain about it, you can just explain to them (over a cup of coffee, of course) that it’s simply in our DNA.” – Mike Scott

I ran across this quote on NOLA.com recently, but I think part of me always knew… maybe deep down in my subconscious my morning coffee runs (okay, and afternoon and yes, sometimes evening coffee runs as well) were a tribute to my New Orleans heritage.

For me, at least, the chemical dependency on caffeine is only a small part of what makes me love the “coffee break.” My ability to function, notwithstanding, I love starting my day with coffee. It’s always been an opportunity to take a mindful moment in the day.

In the midst of the morning rush out the door, the busy afternoon of clients back to back, the long evening hours at the office – the coffee break serves the purposes Mr. Scott mentions so eloquently: pleasure and leisure.

It’s a moment to slow down and engage the senses of touch, smell, and taste as I wrap my hands around a warm mug, inhale deeply, and enjoy the first sip with a smile on my face. In the car especially, I try to pair my morning coffee run with my favorite Spotify playlist to help me energize or relax (depending on if I’m starting or ending my day).

These mindful moments are vital to my self-care and well-being personally and professionally.

The coffee break can also be an opportunity to connect socially. I love my local baristas (shout out to my Northcross Starbucks!) & enjoy starting my day with them. I love taking the time out of my day to annoy check in with my coworkers to hear how their day is going. As an extrovert, I love the excuse to energize and connect with others socially.

So if you’re always rushing, overwhelmed, and stressed – it sounds like you need a “coffee break!” Call a friend, get in the car, put on your favorite music, and take a moment to slow down and engage the senses. Enjoy it!

Counseling, Lake Norman Counselors

Thanks-dreading?

There’s an empty seat at the table this year. You can’t make it back home. Your parents are divorcing after decades of marriage. The tension from the 2016 election still lingers.

Happy Thanksgiving?

If you are experiencing apprehension, sadness, resentment, stress, or anger this holiday season, you’re not alone. I know, I know! It’s the “most wonderful time of the year” and a time to “count our blessings” and “be grateful.” If you want to punch the next person who tells you that in the face, I promise you aren’t crazy or alone. Although, you should probably book a session & talk to a professional counselor about that because violence is only going to make an already shitty situation worse…

Despite the media’s best intentions to skip Thanksgiving altogether (pretty sure it’s been Christmas since October?), we’re days away the Big Parade & it’s coming whether we’re ready or not.

So what can you do to make it through this Thanksgiving without posting bail?

1. Be intentional in creating/finding times in the day that you’re actually looking forward to – it could be your morning run to Starbucks (most Starbucks are open on Thanksgiving! Trust me, I know these things), spending time talking with a friend, a moment alone listening to your favorite song, a hot bath, or cuddling with your pets at the end of the day. Be intentional in creating a time (or times) during the day doing something that will bring you joy or contentment.

2. Have an escape plan. Setting boundaries with family directly and calling it quits when you’ve reached your limits is always best for your mental & emotional health. But if you aren’t a fan of confrontation, it’s okay! I have great news for y’all – it’s 2017! For better or for worse, technology has advanced to a point where you have endless options to escape from a conversation or situation causing distress. The best route is to go in with a plan: distract that annoying relative with pictures so they stop asking inappropriate questions, have a code word to text your siblings when you get cornered, make plans for dessert with friends so you need to leave at a set time. Simple arrangements made ahead of time go a long way in making your day go smoothly!

3. Utilize healthy coping skills. At Thanksgiving especially, it’s easy to eat and drink our pain or discomfort away. While that might work in the moment, it’s not effective coping long term. So again, intention is key! What are the healthy coping skills you generally utilize when you’re upset, overwhelmed, or stressed? Make sure you’re intentional in how you cope, so it doesn’t lead to more feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment.

Remember, it’s only one day.

The commercials with the happy, TV families can be really invalidating when you’re in pain. The holiday season can be a very isolating time for that very reason. So please reach out to someone! A counselor, a friend, a coworker, a neighbor, a family member you trust. I promise you’re not alone!

Lake Norman Counselors

Empowering Every Step of the Way

We’re here in the good times & the bad – Empowering our clients Every Step of the Way! (Jamie still trying to convince everyone that a second line band is necessary in promoting that goal… stay tuned for updates).

Rebranding. The reinvention of self. If you’ve been following our social media presence in particular, you’ve seen Lake Norman Counselors transition from “Ready to love the life you live?” to “Laissez les bon temps rouler” to our final transition “Empowering Every Step of the Way.”

So what does this mean?

Well, as much as we loved the philosophy, approach, and New Orleans spirit behind “Laissez les bon temps rouler” (let the good times roll) it was brought to our attention that very few people knew French or were familiar enough with the New Orleans colloquialism to get it… so we’ll just utilize that one for staff time at the lake.

We wanted to express our desire to motivate, encourage, strengthen, and ultimately empower our range of clients – children, teens, and adults. So regardless of where you are on the developmental spectrum of clients we see – young or young at heart – we are here to help every step of the way.

We’re here to help with the childhood bully. Through the awkward social situations in your pre-teen years. With your first broken heart. With the constant stressors of social media & trying to make what feels like an imperfect life look perfect to everyone else. To navigate through career choices. Saying goodbye to loved ones and moving away from home. Your first job, first home, first baby, first marriage, first divorce. Your second job, second home, second baby, second marriage & managing a blended family.

We’re here to help with no judgement. We’re here to offer collaborative services for the whole family to help you find passion and meaning in your life. Love Life. Let the Good times Roll. Feel Empowered. That’s who we are at Lake Norman Counselors.

Counseling, Lake Norman Counselors, Providers

Work Hard, Play Hard

Melissa gets to have all the fun!

Hi, I’m Melissa, a child and adolescent mental health counselor. I’m also commonly referred to as the counselor with, “the fun office” here at LKN Counselors. I utilize play therapy and other creative experiential approaches in my work with children and adolescents, which means my office is filled with toys and art supplies making it look a little different than a traditional counseling office.

During my training, I learned about an approach to counseling children called play therapy and immediately knew that is what I wanted to offer my clients. Children experience life stressors just like adults; they just don’t always have the words to convey their thoughts and feelings. Play allows children to express themselves in their natural medium of communication and play therapy allows them to do so in a way that promotes healing. This immediate connection led me complete a certificate in play therapy, and I now offer this service to many of our youngest clients.

Being that I am naturally introverted myself, I found myself drawn to these experiential therapy modalities that allow my clients to experience self reflection and practice new ways of being in addition to articulating these feelings and experiences verbally.

Throughout my experience working in the mental health field, I have worked with a variety of ages. My passion truly comes from working with young children and their families. There’s nothing like the genuine personality of a child, which makes working with them tons of fun and definitely keeps me on my toes! Children also possess a natural inclination towards growth, which comes with great sense of hope for the future. Working with children also involves working with their families. I realize how frustrating parenting can be at times but also how rewarding it can be as well! Coming from a relatively big family myself, I love the energy that comes in with every family that walks through my doors, and I am honored to work with families throughout their journeys.

This blog will include activities for families, behavior management skills, resources for parents, and inspirational stories on parenting. My hope is that these articles will promote understanding between parents and children and help parents re-discover the joys of parenting.

Don’t forget to play today!

Melissa

Counseling, Lake Norman Counselors, Providers

Who Dat?! ⚜️

Who Dat?! 

Hi Everyone! I’m Jamie, the owner of Lake Norman Counselors.

As an entrepreneur and small business owner, I wear many hats simultaneously. But of all my roles, the clinical work is the part that I’m most passionate about, that brings the most joy to my life, and that makes the administrative tasks worthwhile. The interior design piece is a close second! I’m one more request away from opening LKN Interior Design as my side gig.

But joking aside, I absolutely love working with my clients. I’ve worked very hard to create a beautiful, calming, peaceful space where clients can feel comfortable being vulnerable & open to the process of counseling. I truly believe in the power of the therapeutic relationship & am honored by all of those who have allowed me to be a small part of their lives. I love what I do and hope to bring the same passion and energy that I have into the lives of my clients.

If you’ve been in the office, seen any of our marketing materials, or talked to me for more than five minutes, you might have heard that I’m from New Orleans. This is another aspect of my identity I’m incredibly passionate about and if you’ve been to NOLA, you might understand why, since you already know about the amazing food and music and history and culture and did I mention the food?! (I’d give anything for a beignet right now!) What is most important about New Orleans, and the spirit of the city, is the love of life. We celebrate everything – even the funerals are fun. Dead serious.

One of my favorite journalists, Chris Rose, wrote about New Orleanians, “We dance even if there’s no radio. We drink at funerals. We talk too much and laugh too loud and live too large and, frankly, we’re suspicious of others who don’t. But we’ll try not to judge you while we’re in your town.”

Told ya the funerals were a good time…

But again, joking aside, it’s hard to find a more accurate statement of the New Orleans mentality. My mentality. I’ve learned to celebrate my victories. I’ve learned to celebrate my losses. It’s really the only way to be a Saints fan (bless you boys – love you, Drew!).

At LKNC, we work with clients to help them find their passions and what brings joy into their lives.

Not only can I offer my clinical training & evidence-based treatment, but I was raised in a culture of people who embrace the spirit of Laissez les bon temps rouler. Who are always ready to “let the good times roll.” My experiences growing up taught me how to come back stronger and more resilient after hardship. I learned the importance of being united with your community during hard times, especially if the odds are against you.

I also spent four winters in Boston during undergrad at Northeastern, so I truly believe that people are resilient and can survive anything! Y’all, Boston is really cold… this southern girl had no idea that winter was just starting in December… so if you can’t change your attitude, change your situation.

I am a proponent of change. The lure of warmer, longer, sunnier days and sweet tea is what brought my husband and me to Charlotte, where I attended graduate school. It was my second move across the country, and I’m so glad I escaped the cold. My hope is that I can help others escape their own harsh winter landscapes (metaphorically – if Charlotte actually freezes over, I’m heading to NOLA for beignets and to defrost) and help them find the passion and joy in their lives!