The "Merry" in Christmas and "Happy" in New Year don't seem to fit this year.

Christmas picture.png

Grief and the Holidays  How to survive when you don't feel like celebrating.

Here's a guest blog I did for a friend and author, Dorina Gilmore Lazo,  https://dorinagilmore.com/guest-post-grief-the-holidays-how-to-survive-when-you-dont-feel-like-celebrating/of personal lessons I learned on my grief journey as a widow when faced with the holidays. Hope it helps you. Would love to hear any comment you have. 

Posted on December 7, 2017 .

Grief and the Holidays - Tips to Help You Manage

Grief and the Holidays

The holidays can bring conflicting emotions. At a time when others are celebrating and giving wishes of “Merry Christmas”, the pain of losing a loved one can be intensified. You may not feel like celebrating or joining in with the usual festivities. You may wish you could go to sleep and wake up in January, skipping the season altogether. While you are unable to skip through the holidays, there are some ways that can help you get through it.

Here are some suggestions that help.

 Allow yourself to grieve.

We grieve because we love. You may feel that you need to put a smile on your face for the sake of others during this season. However, it can tear you apart physically, emotionally and mentally if you constantly mask from others what you’re feeling on the inside. Instead, it is helpful to explain to others that this season is hard and some days you may be just too sad to do anything.

 Keep your life simple.

Try not to place too many expectations on yourself. It’s okay to give gift cards or have someone shop for you, to use fewer decorations or none at all, to not attend events, to not send Christmas cards, to not host dinner or a party, to keep baking to a minimum, to decide what you want to do, not what you think you need to do.

 Limit your activities.

You may think the busyness will keep your mind off your loved one, (in reality, nothing will). While some activity helps, too much can be overwhelming, exhaust you physically and mentally, and increase your grief. When attending an event, allow yourself an out, explaining to the host that you may have to cancel or leave early if it’s not a good day.

 Alter your traditions 

In an effort to keep “things the same”, you may try to do everything you’ve done in the past. But life is different; your loved one is not here and it may be too painful to do certain activities. It’s okay to make changes, to eliminate, or do something new. You can always return to traditions/events/etc. in the future.

Honor your loved one

Mention your loved ones name, attend a memory service, look through pictures, share stories about your loved one, light a special candle, display a special memento, or whatever may be special to you. Often family and friends are hesitant to bring up your loved one for fear of “making you sad”, but once you mention his/her name they are given permission to share precious memories.

Care for yourself

Plan something special just for you, a special outing or activity, a spa day, lunch with an understanding friend, a quiet evening at home, etc. Make an extra effort to eat regularly, drink lots of water, get enough sleep/rest and some exercise.

Reach out to someone else

While grief can be all-consuming, it is worth the effort to do something for someone else; it will lift your spirits. Make a donation in memory of your loved one, surprise a family or friend with a special gift, provide food for someone in need, or give an object of your loved one to someone who would treasure it. Reflect on the meaning of Christmas – the birth of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, brought into this world to live, die and come back alive so that you and I can live forever.

Patty Behrens, LMFT

www.counselingfresno.org

Posted on December 6, 2017 .

10 Day Thankfulness Challenge

             10 DAYS THANKFULNESS CHALLENGE

             10 DAYS THANKFULNESS CHALLENGE

10 Day Thankfulness Challenge

With Thanksgiving two weeks away, it's the perfect time to up your gratitude quotient. After all, it's proven to change your brain for the better!

Attitude of Gratitude Changes your Brain

It's not just a nice thing to do, but actually changes your brain.  It reduces your stress level, improves your mental outlook, your mood, your physical The alternative of focusing on what you don't have and what doesn't go right also changes your brain negatively and increases toxins. CHOOSE to start the holidays off in a better way and less stress. Take the THANKFULNESS CHALLENGE. (Maybe even keep it going through December!).

Here's an easy print out of the 10 day challenge to get started on the Thrive through the Holidays.

Forbes came out with an article last year with proven benefits of gratitude. Gratitude improves emotional wellbeing. It reduces emotional toxins, decreases depression, and increases happiness. Gratitude improves mental abilities and reduces stress. Physically, gratitude helps have better sleep,  fewer aches and pains and improves overall physical health. 

Start the 10 Day Thankfulness Challenge now for emotional health and wellness - body, mind spirit.

10 Day Thankfulness Challenge

 

 

Posted on November 10, 2017 and filed under thanksgiving.

Fatherless Father's Day - 5 Tips to Help

What do I do? How do I handle a day set apart for celebrating “Fathers” when my Father and husband (father of my 3 children) died 8 months apart from each other. Dreaded? Painful? There are no words to desribe the void. I couldn’t avoid it, reminders were everyone . . . . advertisements for Father’s Day gifts in the mail, on the TV, in shopping malls, radio . . . .special recognition anticipated at church (to be honest I avoided church on Father’s Day for several years after my husband and father died). 

The first Father’s Day with both of these men out of my life, I came up with the brainy idea to take my 14, 12 and 8 year old on a backpack trip(first time by myself) . . . . after all, their dad loved to backpack so it would be honoring to him and we could somewhat avoid the “in your face reminders” of our fathers not being present.

With all gear in tow including a back pack stove(our means for cooked food that I had just learned how to use a couple days prior), we set out for a short backpack to Twin Lakes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This journey of grief I was on was like this back pack trip, I had to learn to do things differently on the adventure called “life”. 

Tip #1  Do things differently  

Of course things are different!  I’m talking about to be intentional about doing something different coupled with something familiar. We had been to this same place a several times but not without their father. It helps to make some plans. It doesn’t have to be as intense as week-end backpack. Maybe this Father’s Day you can intentionally do something different and that’s also honoring to your children’s father. 

After arriving at the place where we parked our cars, put the back packs on (heavier than I wanted) . . . a stark reminder that my husband had always carried the bulk of the weight, but not today . . . today we would trudge ahead not knowing what was around the bend but looking for the good. I looked at our 3 children and was  proud  - all decked for the hike, hauling their own heavier than usual backpacks, none the less, ready to go. 

I was doing these things “solo” now and didn’t like it but I had no choice so I trudged ahead one step at a time. Our youngest started to complain about the weight of his pack and wanted someone to carry it for him. Not an option for this trip. My pack was already heavier than it had ever been. Instead I encouraged him to put one foot in front of the other, slow and steady.

Tip #2  Take one step at a time  

The load gets heavy. It may feel like you can’t go on.  We would like the rule book . . . .you know the  the abc’s of how to walk through grief and face days like Father’s Day. It doesn’t exist.  I encourage you to take one step at a time, put one foot in front of the other, face one moment as you walk through Father’s Day. 

Walking along the trail, I was struck with a fear of being the only one responsible for these precious children. I had to face the fear to keep from getting paralyzed in my own thoughts. Praying as I walked, I chose to focus on the present beauty around us. Dense forest of evergreen trees, colorful wildflowers in the meadow, my brave and beautiful children. Courageously we trudged along the trail, (luckily it was well marked), we came to the top of the first mountain and were met with the vast beauty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains with snow covered tops. Breath-taking. 

Tip #3  Focus on the present  

There’s temptation to live in the past with constant reminders of “how life use to be.” I urge you to look right now . . .  yes this moment  . .  at who and what is right in front of you.  . . . your children, each with their own uniqueness, other people in your life, the beauty around you (may be hard to find, but it’s there if you look for it) and the blessings. Notice it and take if all in. 

 As we descended the mountain crossing along others, we came around a bend to find snow, not just a patch, the whole area was covered in snow!! I had to chuckle . . . my husband actually liked “snow camping” something I had never wanted to experience. Here I was with our 3 children trudging now through snow, a new experience and not so easy with full backpacks strapped to our backs. It was an adventure. Their dad use to say, "The adventure begins when you leave the house."

Tip #4 Be open to new experiences                       

Do something new, something that may be an adventure or bring a chuckle to you and your children. Open their eyes to realize . . although hard, . .  life can still be good. If you only focus on “what was”, you can get stuck, unable to move forward. Being open to “what’s around the bend” New experiences, build resilience, new memories. and give hope for a future.

Fortunately we did not have to pitch our tent in the snow. We did find dry ground, we spent two days and nights in the wilderness, caught trout for dinner in the stream, gazed at the starry night and remembered the wonderful memories we had made at this same exact site. We laughed, we were silly and we shared stories. Had my husband not chosen to include his wife and 3 little ones in his love of hiking outdoors, we would not have been there on the 1st Father’s Day without him. 

Tip #5 Remember the memories   

Tell your stories, the blessings of a father’s touch on your life. This is different than being “stuck in the past.” There’s a joy to remember memories  and live in the present.  Sometimes your children need a boost to get started. Start off a story with . .”remember when we or dad” . . . . As mom begins to remember, their memories kick in gear and the blessings begin. 

These tips are not without pain and struggle. It is hard. It's difficult. I urge you to trudge forward and face the difficulties. But you do not have to do it alone. I'd love to share some resources with you. Give me a call for a free phone consultation at 559-577-3994 or email me at patty@counselingfresno.org

 

Seasonal Affective Disorder


Cold, cloudy, rainy weather or, where I live, dense grey blankets of fog day after day!
The colder months can cause many of us to have low energy, lack motivation, seek comfort of the indoors, eat more carbs and feel down, “winter blues.”  However,  there is a condition that is beyond having the “winter blues” called Seasonal Affective Disorder(SAD). 

 "Many people feel sluggish and down because of the weather, but Seasonal Affective Disorder is not the same as the 'winter blues,'" said Blake Casher, DO, psychiatrist and medical director of the geropsychiatric program at McLaren Greater Lansing. "The depression associated with SAD is often severe enough to require treatment."

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real condition that affects many people.  SAD is a biological and psychological condition caused by lack of sunlight, shorten days, and gloomy weather. The reduced light causes a lower production of “feel good” hormones in the brain, less serotonin, dopamine and  circadian rhythms are thrown off. It usually occurs during the winter months and subsides in the spring, although, fewer, there are some occurrences during other seasonal periods. It’s more prevalent the further away from the equator. More women than men are affected, however men are not immune to it. Telling someone with SAD to “Snap out of it” or “Be happy” doesn’t help. They can’t just turn it off.  Symptoms include excessive sleeping, avoidance of others, low self esteem, negative thinking, sadness. Women are diagnosed more with Seasonal Affective Disorder, 4 times as often as men. It is often seen in young adults, but can occur at any age. 

HELPFUL WAYS TO MANAGE SEASONAL DEPRESSION


Light Therapy  Many have found relief from using special lights. Phototherapy treatment does require a one time purchase of special lights and having exposure to the light daily, usually 15 minutes to an hour. 

Go Outside    SAD is about the amount of light we take in daily. Even though it’s cold and cloudy, there are sun rays peaking through that are beneficial.Try to get outside for 10 - 20 minutes to get the benefits of natural light. Mornings are the best time for SAD; however any time will help.

Exercise  Better yet, exercise outside - double the benefit! This does not have to be an hour long exhaustive workout. Bundle up and go for a walk or bike ride. Exercise releases endorphins which are natural “feel good” hormones. 

Therapy   Speaking to a therapist can help you manage SAD. As with clinical depression, a therapist will listen to what you’re dealing with, design a individualized treatment plan and provide tools to help reduce the negative effects of SAD.

Socialize   The last thing you may want to do is be around people. However, adding a social activity or two around positive people or experiences during your week can help lift your mood. Meet with a friend for coffee, attend an event, join a small group. Check your local meetup.com to find an interest group that you may like.

Medication Some may need to go on medication or other supplements. See a doctor that has knowledge of SAD that will work with you to find the best medication/supplements to meet your needs. 

Vitamin D  Research has shown boosting our intake of Vitamin D has been helpful. Exposure to sunlight causes our body to produce Vitamin D. Naturally, lack of sunlight reduces our body’s ability to produce it. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked with depression.

Eat wisely  A unique symptom of SAD is you crave carbohydrates, sweets, starchy foods. Instead, eat complex carbs that will still satisfy the craving. Foods like beans, high fiber grains and brown rice. Add foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids which have been shown to boost serotonin (the chemical in the brain that regulates moods). 

You can get help with Seasonal Depression and feel better. Call me at 559-577-3994 for a free 15 minute consultation to talk further and decide if therapy might be right for you. 

Posted on January 30, 2017 and filed under depression, emotional health.

12 Days of Christmas to Survive and Thrive!

Click on the picture to have your own copy of Survive and Thrive through Christmas.

Click on the picture to have your own copy of Survive and Thrive through Christmas.

12 Days of Christmas!!!

Ahh! Only 12 more days until Christmas? It caught me off guard too. By now some of the events and holidays happenings are over. Count down is here. Crunch time. A great time to release, restore and remember! 

Release  You can't do it all. Let go of the those things that are "fluff", nice but unnecessary and spend your remaining days doing what matters. Make a"Have To" list, those things that mean the most. For me, that's being with family, having my home inviting (NOT PERFECT) for them and be present with them (NOT spending the majority of my time in the kitchen). Make an "Optional" list, those things that if you have time and feel like it you will do. They're not the most important and will not make or break your holiday time. Now make a  "Let Go" list, those things that you will not do this year. I let go of making a million different types of cookies several years back and have not missed it. 
Release expectations you have of yourself and the "perfect" Christmas. Seeking for perfection will keep you on a never ending cycle and exhausted before, during and after gatherings. Release and simplify. Be in the present, enjoy the moment and the people around you.

Restore  This is the time of season you have more tasks to do, more events and eat more food leaving you stressed and stuffed.
Right now, with 12 days left take a deep breath and plan "down time" to restore. Time at home relaxing, watching a movie, reading a book, eating healthy and getting enough sleep. No time. You can't afford to not take some time.
You're stress meter will be reduced and you will be able to enjoy the holidays.

Remember  You almost can't NOT, (I know double negative), remember memories of past holidays with all your sense being ignited with sights, sounds, smells, sensations and tastes. This can bring up grief for those no longer with you. You may want to try to ignore and push it away. I urge you to embrace the memories, the loved ones and the stories. It will not make your holidays sad; it will add a richness and relief. Some ideas are to tell younger ones stories, make a food that was grandma's tradition, light a candle in memory of loved ones or put special ornaments on a tree.                                                                                                              

Remember the meaning behind Christmas. The "fluff", presents, food and decorations do not really give lasting joy. It's the family, friends, new memories made and for me, it's the birth of Jesus, who came to this earth to overcome death and give us eternal life.

Merry Christmas and May Your Holidays be Filled with Blessings!



Watch for more Tips to Help You Survive & Thrive through the 12 Days of Christmas!

Grieving the Loss of a Loved One

 

Are you in the midst of grief?

 

Do you wonder if you’ll ever enjoy life again?

 

You may feel like you’re going "crazy" or "losing it." You’re not!  You’re grieving the death of special person you dearly love. 

 

```We grieve because we love and this is normal.

Normal grief throws ones life into chaos, mentally, emotionally physically and spiritually. It is painful and harder then you thought it would be. Finding out what is normal will help you hang on to hope and know that healing will come.

Here are some normal reactions to grief & loss:

  • mixed up bundle of emotions
  • forgetfulness
  • numbness
  • time distortion
  • hopelessness
  • deep ache in your soul
  • disorganization & confusion
  • trouble concentrating
  • fatigue
  • changes in appetite
  • sleep disruption
  • anxious, sad, apathy, fearful, teary, angry
  • lack of motivation
  • little or no zest for life
  • questioning existence, life & death
  • physical pain
  • feeling like you're going "crazy"

This is a time to be gentle with yourselfTake one step at a time and allow yourself to heal. There is no “quick fix” or microwave solution. It takes time and effort to heal. 

The loss of a loved one is not an event it is a process, a journey. 

You do not have to do this journey alone and I don’t recommend that you do. Seek out help from others. Attend a grief support group. Maybe some counseling will be the route to take. I can come alongside you as your travel through your grief journey and offer resources along the way. Contact me at (559) 577-3994 to see if counseling might be right for you.

Posted on February 23, 2016 and filed under grief, suicide loss, loss.

5 Minutes Can Make a Difference

5 Minutes a Day Can Make A Huge Difference

You Can't Live Without This - 5 minutes a day can make a HUGE difference. 

Busy schedules, fast paced life, the unexpected  - keeps you in "ON" mode all the time. Stressed, distressed, living in survival mode,  just trying to make it through the day.  If that's you, you’re not alone and believe me, I can relate. There was a time (and to be truthful, there still are times) when I was in total survival mode, just trying to keep my head above water . . . sometimes not doing very well at that!  As a single mom, only parent(widowed), with 3 active children, I felt I was running from one event to the next, soccer, gymnastics, swimming, practices, games, meets, school, meetings, juggling a ton of things except the balls were all tumbling down. Costco became my best friend for food with their easy frozen prepared meals. Funny thing, I use to make almost everything by scratch wanting the best for my family. But that was before . . .


Then, one day, my body said stop. I felt physically ill, nauseated, all my joints screamed with pain and were swollen. I had little to no energy. I was sinking below the surface. It was time to make some changes.

It is possible for you to make changes that will help you right now. What I didn’t know back then, is you can train your brain to let go of the stresses, be calm and transform. 

Neuroplasticity is a fairly recent word in neuroscience. Basically it means the brain can change. Good news since not too many years ago, we were told the brain could not change. So what does that mean for you and I? We can change and get unstuck. Here’s  a technique called Quick Coherence from Heart Math that starts the positive change in motion. 

5 Minutes a Day Makes a Difference

  1. Set aside 5 minutes a day - right now put a time on your calendar or on your phone.
  2. Find a place a free of distractions (just for 5 minutes). Try your bedroom, your car, your yard, somewhere convenient with few distractions. It you don’t make it easy, it probably won’t happen.
  3. Place your hand over your heart (near the center of your chest/sternum). Picture your heart as you breathe into it and breathe out of it for the 5 minutes.
  4. Bonus Step Think of someone, something or an event that is positive. NO negative attachments to it. For me it's my dog, Nicky, who is always happy to great me.

This simple exercise allows your heart and brain to work congruently to gain calmness internally It has cumulative effects as you continue to do this exercise. Here’s a resource for further information. http://www.heartmath.com/quick-coherence-technique/   

For helpful tips