Rising Hope Counseling

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'Tis the Season to be Merry...or not!

December 13, 2018

Holly Garrett

Christmas is only a few weeks away, and you know what that means: ‘tis the season to be merry!


So what if you’re not feeling very merry?


There are many reasons that winter in general, or the holidays specifically, aren’t so happy for many people, and I want to talk a little bit about a couple of the big ones today.


The first is seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Here in the Midwest, this is something a lot of us are loosely familiar with. I watch most of my friends and family (and me!) start to brace themselves as summer gives way to fall; we all know that it’s coming, and none of us are ever ready. Winter does something to me; the cold, the darkness…I hate it. I’m fairly certain I was made for the tropics, and yet, here I am. Every time I’m at the store, I end up having the same conversation with strangers: “I should be used to this by now, I’ve lived here all my life!” These sentiments are echoed by nearly everyone I meet. We know that winter is hard on us. But sometimes these feelings of general irritation about winter are more than just that. According to the DSM-V, which is the diagnostic guide for mental health professionals, to be diagnosed with SAD, the full criteria for major depression must be met but only during a specific time of the year with full ‘remission’ at another specific time of the year. The criteria for major depressive disorder include


• Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day

• Feeling hopeless or worthless

• Having low energy

• Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed

• Having problems with sleep

• Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight

• Feeling sluggish or agitated

• Having difficulty concentrating

• Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide. **If you’re having thoughts of suicide, please call 9-1-1 or the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “TALK” to 741741 immediately**


Given our location, we’re at a slightly greater risk for SAD than our Southern counterparts. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the farther from the equator you are, the greater your risk. They say that folks who live in Florida are affected at a rate of 1%, while those in New England and Alaska are at 9%.


So what should you do if you’re feeling depressed or if you think you meet these criteria? There are several things that you can try:


1) Use a full spectrum lamp or lightbox. The light from these special bulbs is different from regular bulbs and mimics the sun which can, in theory, coax circadian rhythms back to a more natural groove and suppress the creation of hormones that make us feel lethargic. You can even try a dawn simulator, which works off of the same principle, but is specifically for waking up. Waking up in the dark is undoubtedly harder than being gently awoken by the sun’s rays; dawn simulators use full spectrum bulbs that gradually brighten to help wake you up in the morning, setting the tone for a better day.

2) Let the sunshine in! If the sun is shining, open the curtains or get outside for a few minutes. As effective as full spectrum lamps can be, the real thing is even better!

3) Try aromatherapy. Essential oils can be effective mood boosters for some people. Diffuse them in your home, put them in your bath, or wear them on special jewelry designed to diffuse them throughout the day.

4) Exercise! You don’t have to run a marathon. Just getting moving a little bit each day can be an effective tool in the fight against depression. Even if it’s just 10 or 20 minutes a day, and even if it’s just walking on a treadmill, something is better than nothing. Remind your body that you aren’t in hibernation.

5) Keep a regular schedule. One of the biggest complaints that comes with SAD is a lack of energy, and this is often due to a disrupted sleep schedule. Napping too much or not sleeping enough at night can both wreak havoc on a good, healthy sleep schedule. Try to commit to going to bed at the same time every day, and limit napping to reasonable times and durations.

6) Eat good food. Specifically, good food that’s good for you. There’s something to be said about comfort food, sure, and we should all indulge a little from time to time. But many of us also know that when we eat junk, we feel like junk. Do your body a favor and fuel it with the high-octane stuff!

7) Increase your vitamin D intake. A growing body of research indicates that decreased levels of vitamin D are directly linked to the symptoms that accompany SAD. Adding a supplement may help to alleviate many of them! BUT, Please, please, please make sure you talk to your doctor about this one first!

8) Enlist help. Contacting your doctor or a mental health professional is always an option. Just because SAD is supposed to go away on its own doesn’t mean that it’s any less real than major depression. Having an objective person to share with and vent to can be tremendously helpful, and they may have tips for you that you wouldn’t have come across on your own! Some people even find that taking an anti-depressant during the winter months, then tapering off come spring helps them to reduce or eliminate symptoms. Talking to a professional is always an option – sometimes, it’s the best option!


We’re wired for connection, so reaching out is a natural response, and not one that we should be ashamed of. In fact, our desire for connection is precisely the reason that the holidays are miserable for some of us. From Hallmark movies to the ads that bombard us in magazines, papers, and online, to gushy social media posts from everyone on our friends lists, to music on the radio and more, we cannot escape the idea that the holidays are ‘supposed’ to be about spending time with our loved ones.


For some of us, though, this can bring about a great deal of pain and sadness. Some of us don’t have families with whom we can spend cherished time, either because they’re no longer with us or because being with them isn’t good for us. If you’ve lost a loved one and seem to feel the loss more strongly around the holidays, you’re not alone. If your family is toxic and you’ve made the decision to sever ties with them for your own sanity, you’re not alone. This is for you folks: you are under no obligation to be happy for the holidays. So often we feel that we have to put on a mask for everyone else; we don’t want to burden anyone with our sadness, or we don’t want to have to tell long, complicated stories about why we don’t love the holidays, so we fake it. This year, I’m giving your permission to be sad, or angry, or just not very jolly in general; to feel what you feel without shame, and without explanation. Take the time that you need to celebrate yourself; after all, you’re pretty amazing. Whatever has happened in the last year, or your lifetime, you’ve survived it. That’s reason to celebrate. I implore you to do what you have to just to survive this season; some people suggest an annual ‘giving back’ campaign so that you can focus outwardly instead of inwardly. Some people swear that mindfulness and meditation get them through. Some people create the families they’ve always wanted and have meaningful celebrations with their friends. Some people pamper themselves and have spa days and buy themselves something they’ve always wanted. Some people dive into their work to stay busy. Some people take a vacation. Some people take a social media break until the holidays are over. Some people find a professional to talk to. Whatever you do, make sure that you take care of yourself. Life is hard enough as it is; don’t take on the burden of expectation.


If you’re finding it hard to cope with your thoughts and feelings this season, Jill and I would love to help you. Call us today. 

Happy New Year, Happy New You!

January 2, 2019

Holly Garrett

I can’t believe it’s 2019! The time has just flown by. With each new year, we are bombarded, for better or worse, with the idea that we should be making changes; I just googled “new years resolutions” and was provided with 240 million results, the first two pages of which were all articles titled something like “35 Resolutions You Should be Making This Year,” and “6 Out-of-the-box Resolutions for the New Year.”


The idea that we should be consistently growing isn’t a bad one by any means, but if we aren’t careful about the way we approach it change, we can set ourselves up for failure. Here are a couple of things that come to my mind when I think about new years resolutions – or any kind of resolution for that matter:


1) Don’t let someone else decide what you should be doing. Those articles are great, I’m sure, but don’t start the year off by comparing yourself to what society thinks you should or shouldn’t do or should or shouldn't be. If you're not being authentic, the change won't be either.


2) Don’t let new years resolutions carry more weight than they're meant to hold. Concrete goals are good – we need them – but they need to be realistic. Instead of setting a huge goal that’s to somehow be ambiguously completed throughout the year, set a series of small goals with a timeline. Rome wasn't built in a day - but they worked on it every day


3) Focus on what you want in your life as opposed to what you don’t want in your life – we're more likely to make changes when we're focused on what we love as opposed to what we hate, or what we will gain rather than what we stand to lose.


4) Change is hard. Don’t let that discourage you, because it’s totally possible. It just isn’t quick and easy like we want it to be. That whole “21 days to form a habit” thing is actually a gross misinterpretation of some great research by Dr. Maxwell Maltz, and isn't even a little bit true (sorry!). You can think of your brain and behaviors functioning a little like trails and roads; your habits and fall-back behaviors are like an interstate. Quick, easy, familiar, and safe as far as your brain is concerned (even if they're actually not good for you). New behaviors are like forging your own trail through the wilderness - it might look foreboding, it's going to be rough going, and it's just simply easier to take the interstate. Failure is a guaranteed part of making changes; give yourself some grace and remember that each time you walk down the little dirt trail, it grows a littler bigger, a little wider, and a little easier for the next time.


5) Sometimes, we experience fear or anxiety over making changes, even when they’re changes we really want to make. I think of it like sky diving; even if you really wanted to go sky diving, I can’t imagine that there’s not still a moment where your stomach hits the floor when that door opens up and you’re staring at the ground miles below. Even good change, desired change can feel that way; don’t let that discourage you. If you're standing on the edge of a big change and feeling apprehensive, give yourself the grace to feel that fear for a moment, collect yourself, then jump. And once again, grace, friends; you’re allowed to have a few “moments” on the way down!


I’m looking forward to seeing what changes 2019 brings for all of us, myself included; may we all do some trail-blazing and sky diving this year! If you feel like you need some guidance on any of those adventures, give us a call. It is our true pleasure to navigate them with you! 

The 'Secret' to a Relationship that Lasts

January 30, 2019

Holly Garrett

I have a confession to make.


I have watched “The Office” in it’s entirety (all 9 seasons) twice since I got Netflix. Here’s another confession: I just got Netflix last year. Okay, okay, one last confession: I got my own Netflix account last year. I was totally using a friend’s password prior to that, but it was JUST FOR THE KIDS. Mostly. Sort of. Listen, I’ve confessed enough for now.


I’m in the middle of watching it again, and I’ve been paying more attention to the dynamics of the romantic relationships portrayed; Pam and Roy, Pam and Jim, Dwight and Angela, Ryan and Kelly, Michael and Jan, Michael and Holly, etc...man, I hope you’ve all watched The Office and know what I'm talking about. 


Of course, the show is fictional, so the conflicts are just as manufactured as their resolutions, but there’s no denying that I can see a lot of real-life couples in the couples represented on screen. TV might exaggerate or romanticize certain aspects of relationships, but the truth of the matter is that relationships are hard. There is always the potential for conflict.


In fact, here’s something that might surprise you: Drs. John and Julie Gottman, who are arguably the world’s foremost experts on couples’ therapy, say that nearly 70% of the conflict in marriage is unsolvable. That’s like 2 out of every 3 things you argue about that you’ll never resolve. 2 out of every 3 things that bug you that’ll never change. Holy cow, you guys. That sounds depressing.


But the Gottmans promise that it isn’t. They came up with this number through decades of research and clinical experience, and they maintain that this figure is true of even the happiest, healthiest couples. So what are those couples doing differently? The Gottmans say that it’s just one thing.


They stick to the magic ratio of 5:1. For every negative interaction between the two of you, there are 5 positive ones. That’s it. That’s the secret.


The negative interaction can be anything that leaves one or both of you feeling badly, from something as simple as being dismissive or rolling your eyes to critical or defensive anger. Most often, it stems from one of the Four Horsemen (you should read more about that here). Negative interactions carry a lot emotional weight; they’re costly. That’s why it takes 5 deposits (sorry, I’m going to run with the financial metaphor now) to make up for them. The 5 positive interactions can be anything that highlight the good in your relationship and show respect and appreciation for your partner in ways small and large, from simply listening to and acknowledging your partner, to offering compliments and spending quality time together. These positive interactions can even be found in the middle of conflict, like when one person shows that they’re listening and trying to understand their partner’s perspective. Couples who flourish make a conscious effort to make frequent deposits into to their relationship so that their ‘account’ can weather the withdrawals that are a part of daily life.


If this seems to good to be true, I encourage you to try it. Spend a day keeping track. Make note of positive and negative interactions and see what your ratio is. If your account balance has gone into the red, you might need a good financial advisor to help you get back on track. Okay, enough of the metaphor – what I’m saying is that it’s natural and normal to need a little help in your relationship. In fact, investing (seriously, last reference!) in your relationship through couple’s counseling is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself and your partner. Call us today if you’re ready to take that step.