Managing Stress in the Holiday Season

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The holiday season is one of my favorite times of year, starting with Thanksgiving dinner, to Black Friday shopping, to the music of Christmas, and all the festivities that go with the Christmas season as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ! So often during this time of year the joy of the season disappears as the rush sets in. This is the time of year of family traditions, parties, and special events at school, work, and church.  The pressure to be involved at every event is high. How will we manage this stress?

Here are some tips to managing the stress of the holiday season, as well as the rest of the year:

Accept that you are busy, but do not make life about being busy. We live in a society that is busy and hurried all the time. It is rare to meet someone who is not busy and going from one thing to another all the time. This is a reality of our culture. Accepting the truth that we are busy does not mean that our life needs to revolve around being busy. Do not focus your attention on the fact that you are busy but rather focus your attention on the joys of life and the blessings God has given you! This will make your busy schedule much more enjoyable.

Choose what you do and do not do based on your values. Sit down for a few minutes and think about what is most important to you right now in your life. Write these down in order of importance. Keep that with you on a little piece of paper or as a note on your phone – whatever works for you. Whenever you are faced with a decision that will take up your time (what committees to serve on, what parties to attend, which special events you will participate in, etc.), don’t respond immediately. Look at your list of values and your calendar before deciding which parties to attend, which commitments to make, events to attend, and so on. As you begin the process of ranking your values and then living out those values with your time, pray that God will guide you in your decision making. Matthew 7:7 tells us “Ask and it will be given to you” (NIV). God can and will help you make decisions about your time and how to use it.

Make the holiday season what you want it to be. Traditions are great. We all need to have traditions in our lives. As you are making the holiday your own, look at the traditions that you have from your family and how that fits with you and your life now. There are some traditions that we carry forward from our families of origin that we value and others that we need to let go because they do not fit. I grew up with my family having the tradition that we put up our Christmas tree Thanksgiving afternoon. I loved that tradition, but it does not work with my current lifestyle because my kids, husband, and I travel to be with my family for Thanksgiving out of state. So, we get our tree and decorations up the next weekend. However, Christmas morning tradition is one that I have carried forward. We open presents and have Christmas breakfast together. Choose the traditions that you want in your life and carry those out.

Be present …really present….at whatever you choose to do. No matter what activities you choose to participate in, choose to be present and focused on that activity. If you find yourself at a party thinking about what you need to do when you get home or what is on your to do list for tomorrow, you are not really present at the party. Live in the moment and focus your attention on the people around you and the relationships you are building. The people you are choosing to celebrate with are important to you. Focus on them in that moment. The celebration you are attending is important and fits your values, so focus on the celebration. If you are at a church service, focus on Christ and the message of the service. If you are at family party, enjoy your family and focus your attention on them. If you are at a work party or a party with friends, focus your attention on building those relationships. If you find yourself wandering back to yesterday or to the days to come, refocus your attention and remind yourself “I am here right now” and be present in the moment.

Choose joy! Recognize the blessings you have daily and be thankful for them. When we get busy it is easy to forget the blessings we have in our life to be grateful for. One way to remind yourself to choose joy is to start a gratitude journal. Every day write three things you are thankful for. Another way to remind yourself to choose joy is to have a positive message you are focusing on each day and repeat that to yourself throughout the day. This is a practice that I personally have started doing recently. When I catch myself getting caught up in the stress of the day I repeat my message for the day to myself. The message should be very specific to you and what you most need to remember or what helps you refocus your attention to the things that you are grateful for. Recently my favorite message has been “I am blessed, I am loved, and I love”. This message reminds me of all the blessings God has given me in this life, the love He has given me through Christ, my family and my friends, and the love I have for Him, my family, and my friends. Focusing on this message reminds me to not let the stress take over. Focus on your blessings and choose the joy in your life!

Take time to relax and rest. The busy schedules of the holidays can sometimes keep us from getting the rest our mind and body needs. Take some time every day to rest and rejuvenate yourself. Be still and rest in God. In the beginning of time, God created us to rest. He made the day and the night so that we would know when to work and when to rest. Furthermore, Jesus taught us to rest by telling the disciples to rest. In Mark 6:31, Jesus told the disciples to “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (NIV). Rest and relaxation means that you have some time that you are just focused on your own self-care. This can be taking a soaking bath, going for a walk, listening to music, reading a book, or whatever you find relaxing. Getting a good night’s sleep is also very important.

Above all – remember the reason for the season is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ! Keeping Christ at the center of what you do will help you enjoy the season.

Beth A. Kitzmiller, PhD, LPC-MHSP, LMFT
Director – Covenant Counseling Center

 

 

 

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Suicide Prevention

Suicide Prevention

A few weeks ago, my pastor husband preached a message on Galatians 6:2.  “Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ,” the Apostle Paul wrote. The word “burdens” means a weight so heavy that you would be crushed underneath it without help. As a counseling agency, Covenant Counseling Center believes strongly in helping those we serve to bear their burdens. Pain is lessened when it is shared. The principle of bearing burdens is especially relevant when it comes to suicide prevention. In the sermon last week, Dr. Hood gave an illustration of a capital campaign consultant in Texas who helped our previous church design and implement the capital campaign to build a new educational space for our church.  The campaign was successful and the consultant was excellent at following up with the church and helping to ensure its success. A couple of years after the campaign, we heard that the consultant died by suicide. As it turns out, he had fallen into some financial trouble which was difficult for him as a financial consultant. He had helped numerous churches in the area who would have been happy to help him during this time of struggle, but he did not contact any of them or speak to any of the friends he had made during this process.  He tried to bear a burden that ended up crushing him because he did not share it.

September was National Suicide Prevention Month. Dr. John Draper, Director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (suicidepreventionlifeline.org), wrote that more people are dying from suicide each year in the U.S. than are dying in car accidents. Suicide numbers exceed 39,000 annually. Federal surveys reported that over 11.5 million people seriously considered suicide, 4.8 million planned to kill themselves, and over 2.5 million people attempted to kill themselves (http://M.Huffpost.com/us/entry/5790342). In spite of this, suicide is preventable.  Data tells us that in the overwhelming majority of cases, most people gripped by intense suicidal periods do not die by suicide. They find help and get through it, and go on to experience life in ways that their despairing mind could never have imagined. These seemingly miraculous but typical stories of hope and recovery are the stories of suicide prevention, and are the ones we rarely hear about.

One in 17 of U.S. individuals (5-7%) is thinking about suicide at any moment. There are several high risk groups that are more likely to die from suicide. The highest age group is 45-64 year-olds quickly followed by age 85+. Other high risk groups are teens and young adults (ages 15-24), Native Americans, men, veterans, and individuals using or abusing drugs or alcohol. There are risk signs which include previous suicide attempts, having a mental health diagnosis or a history of mental health issues, having a family history of suicide, access to a means of suicide, impulse control problems, physical illness, and a local epidemic or a series of suicides (contagion effect).

Individuals who are contemplating suicide may reach out to friends or family. Using the acronym TALK, they may need to TELL someone about their thoughts of suicide. They may need someone to ASK about their thoughts of suicide.  They may need someone who will LISTEN to their thoughts or feelings about suicide and they may need someone to help KEEP them safe from suicide.

There are behaviors you can use to help prevent suicide.  You can communicate:

“I’m here when you need me” (immediate access to help). 

“I care enough about you to remove things that could threaten your safety” (reducing access to lethal means). 

“I care enough to about you to stay with you”, check on the individual from time to time, and let them know that you are thinking about them (Follow-up care).

If you are reading this article and are being crushed under a burden, we encourage you to talk to someone around you about it or call:
National Suicide Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

If you would like to schedule an appointment at Covenant Counseling Center, please call 423-247-4536.

Paula Hood, MA, LMFT
Therapist, Covenant Counseling Center

 

Is Counseling Right for Me?

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We all go through struggles in life. We experience job loss, break ups, deaths, illnesses, and many other difficulties. We move through these life events the best we can, which may look different from one person to the next. We all have coping skills, or tools, to deal with the way we feel. Some coping skills are healthy, such as exercising and some can have negative consequences, such as eating junk food. Regardless, we engage in such activities to change the way we feel.

Many people are unfamiliar with counseling. The limited information most people have about counseling comes from movies, television, and occasionally from someone they know. Counseling may seem intimidating or pointless, depending on one’s perspective. People make comments ranging from, “Why would I want to talk to a total stranger about the most painful parts of my life?” or “How will talking change things?”

There are a lot of misconceptions that need to be cleared up before proceeding. First, most counselors’ objectives in treatment are not to tell you how to live your life or what decisions you should make. After all, you are the expert of your life. However, counseling provides you with a safe place to explore your thoughts and decide what you want to do. We often talk to our friends our family members about our problems. While friends and family want to be supportive, it’s difficult for them to remove themselves from the situation. We’ve all been there, reaching out to our best friend to discuss something someone did to upset us and they respond by saying, “What you need to do is….” What we really want is to be heard. That’s one of the many things counseling offers, an outsider perspective with no judgment. This frees the client to see how they really feel about the situation.

“So, counselors just listen… how can that help?” Counseling offers more than just a fresh perspective and an empathetic ear. We also are highly trained with tools and concepts to help you change your way of thinking, reduce anxiety, conquer depression. So many people go through life unsatisfied, struggling with the day to day grind. It doesn’t have to be that way. Sometimes one small adjustment can make all the difference.

“But, don’t I have to have a disorder to go to counseling?” More people go to counseling than one would think. People that you know from work, church, and school. People just like you. People choose to go to counseling for all kinds of different reasons. Counseling is for people that want to improve and that are willing to make changes to get to a better place. Counselors support you on your growth journey and empower you to meet your goals.

Scripture that reminds us that everyone needs help sometimes:

At Rephidim, Amalek came and fought against Israel. Moses said to Joshua, “Select some men for us and go fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the hilltop with God’s staff in my hand.” Joshua did as Moses had told him, and fought against Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. While Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, but whenever he put his hand down, Amalek prevailed.  When Moses’ hands grew heavy, they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat down on it. Then Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other so that his hands remained steady until the sun went down. So Joshua defeated Amalek and his army with the sword. (Exodus 17:8-13)

By: Hilary Musgrove, MA
Covenant Counseling Center

 

The Unlikely Verse Crucial to a Thriving Marriage

 

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“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:1-2

If you’ve ever been at a wedding ceremony that contained scripture, I bet it was 1 Corinthians 13 or Ephesians 5. In my experience working with couples, the ones that are thriving are applying what Paul is talking about in the sixth chapter of Galatians weekly. The truth of marriage is that, when two sinful people get married, the sin does not disappear. If anything, we grow in awareness of our sin as we hurt the person we care about the most.

Verse one begins by mentioning if someone is “caught in a sin.” Couples that thrive are not without sin; each of us is vulnerable. Problems happen in relationships when we begin to hide that sin from our spouse. Husbands and wives hide their sin to avoid conflict and save face. We shy away from difficult conversations and the threat of upsetting or hurting our spouse. Many of us are weighed down by sin’s two best friends, guilt and shame. It’s no surprise that as soon as Adam and Eve had sinned, they began to hide (Genesis 3).

When husbands and wives cannot be fully honest and vulnerable with one another about their shortcomings, habits, hurts, and (ultimately) sins, they sacrifice opportunities for connection and intimacy. Many husbands and wives struggle to open up about their weaknesses because of fear and insecurity. Many people find themselves wondering, “What if I’m so messed up that if I’m honest, he/she will leave me?” I’ve had the opportunity to see couples become closer than they thought possible on the other side of affairs, addiction, and lies. These weren’t couples devoid of sin; rather, they found a way to be honest about their sin with their spouse and began talking openly about their vulnerabilities. 

This passage of scripture also speaks to the person on the other end of sin. Paul instructs that individual to “restore that person gently.” When your spouse can open up to you and hear you respond gently, with understanding and grace, a powerful experience of connection and attachment take place. Taking time to empathize instead of judge or criticize is one of the best gifts that you can give. Additionally, responding in grace is the greatest way to ensure your spouse trusts you to be open and vulnerable in the future.

Thriving marriages are those that understand the dance of being honest about sin and responding gently with grace. This pattern of interaction is so powerful and rooted in the gospel that Paul says carrying each other’s burdens in this way is to fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

Holding on to secrets in our relationships is usually an attempt to keep things happy and peaceful. The irony is, until you can be fully transparent in your relationship, you’ll never fully be happy or at peace. Sometimes making that change in your relationship can be difficult. If you need help getting started, working with a counselor at Covenant Counseling Center can help change the way you and your spouse communicate.

Eric Feltman, M.A.
Couples & Family Therapy
Covenant Counseling Center

Quiet the Noise of Eating Disorders

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The theme of the 2017 National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is “It’s time to talk about it.” This is a perfect theme and somewhat paradoxical at the same time.  For those struggling with an eating disorder, you are probably very aware that no one seems to want to talk about it, including yourself.  You and your family may even be in denial. Yet, constantly inside your head, your eating disorder relentlessly talks to you all day, every day.  The constant noise, noise, noise!!!  It’s not a hallucination; it’s your own conscious thoughts turning against you, sometimes as a result of negative life experiences and low self-esteem.  The noise lies to you and leads you to see a distorted view of yourself when looking in the mirror.  Treating eating disorders can be difficult, long term, and requires a team of professionals that includes a therapist, medical doctor, and a nutritionist.  Eating disorders are a life threatening illness and require immediate mental health care and medical attention.

One of the first goals of therapy when treating eating disorders is to help you reduce the noise inside your head by using cognitive behavioral and dialectical behavioral approaches to therapy.  The noise of an eating disorder sounds like the noise of walking through an airport or crowded restaurant all day long, every day.  You wake up in the morning and the noise starts by telling you what you can and cannot wear, telling you what you can or cannot eat, and criticizing your every move.  “You’re fat!  She’s skinnier than you! You need to work out an extra 30 minutes today because you ate that extra piece of toast!  If you take another bite, you will gain weight.  If only you could lose 5 more pounds.  The scale wasn’t accurate, weigh again, and again.  You binged yesterday, now you better make up for it.”  You walk around all day long as if walking through an airport terminal or being in a crowded restaurant.  You are unable to fully hear what others are saying because your eating disorder is speaking the loudest.  In fact, it is so loud, the only way to get it to stop is to do what it says.  And by obeying, the cycle continues and you’re trapped.

At your very core, you believe you have no value and no worth.  Your eating disorder controls everything you do, but deceives you into thinking you are in control.  Your eating disorder places value on looks, size, and perceived “health” and fuses that with self-worth.  The problem is that no matter what we look like, no matter what we accomplish, no matter how large or small we are, value only comes from one source.

My toddler son has a stuffed puppy who he lovingly named “Puppy.”  He has been attached to Puppy since he was a baby.  There have been phases during which he carried this puppy everywhere.  The puppy has been to stores, church, restaurants, vacations, grandma’s house, and has been in his bed every night for years.  The puppy has endured spilled milk, ketchup stains, colds and stomach bugs, and numerous trips through the washing machine.  Despite washing this puppy countless times and patching up a few holes, after years of wear and tear, it still looks dirty and old.  This puppy has done nothing for society and has no monetary value.  It probably couldn’t even be sold for a quarter at a yard sale.  It doesn’t speak, it doesn’t exercise, and it doesn’t go to work or school.  Yet my son loves it and sees Puppy of greatest value to him.  Why?  Puppy has value because my son has placed value on it.  Not because of anything Puppy has done, but simply because he made a decision to value this little stuffed puppy.  You and I are like Puppy.  We have value because Jesus Christ has placed value on us.  No matter what we look like, no matter how small or large we are, no matter what weight is on the scale, there is nothing we can do to gain value and worth.  We already have value and worth because Christ made the decision to place value on us. puppy-frame-edit

In the midst of an eating disorder, the noise inside your head is so loud, it drowns out truth.  The lies overshadow the truth that you are valued and you have abundant worth.  The noise makes you think you have to measure up by looking and feeling a certain way.  If you or someone you know is struggling with eating disorder thoughts and behavior, it is essential to get a team of providers to help you quiet the noise and begin working toward recovery and learn your true worth and value.

“He gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless. Youths may faint and grow weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:29-31

Heather Braddock, MA
Covenant Counseling Center

 

Listen to the Smoke Detector

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When people talk about mental health or mental wellness, there is usually a conversation about certain thoughts or feelings that we want to disappear. While I don’t want to discredit that approach, I’d like to offer up another perspective: Listen to your body’s internal smoke alarm.

Emotional difficulties like depression and anxiety can be spotted by certain thoughts:

“This will never end.”

“I’m all alone.”

“I’ll never get it all done.”

“I’m a terrible father.”

“No one respects or loves me.”

Pick your poison, but everyone’s got shades of negative thinking swimming around upstairs. These thoughts usually travel with some strong feelings: Fear, sadness, anger, guilt, or emptiness.

Let’s take a different approach: I’d like to invite you to notice the bodily sensations that accompany these thoughts and feelings. In other words, where do you feel stress, anxiety, depression, etc.? If we let them, these intense physical sensations that accompany our emotional distress can be incredibly helpful! Here’s how:

Step 1: Figure out the smoke detector

When your body starts to send you uncomfortable signals, it’s like the smoke detector going off in your home. When you move into a new house or apartment, it’s important to learn where the smoke detectors are, and make sure it has batteries! For some of us, myself included, our stomach or gut is like a thermostat for our internal processes. For you, it might be in your chest, back, or head. Next time you find yourself feeling depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, scared, or stressed, notice where and how your body decides to let you know something isn’t right.

Step 2: Make a plan

Just like in your home, the smoke detector doesn’t put out the fire, it just sends a deafening signal that action needs to be taken. If you are like me, I’ve spent hours feeling my body’s smoke detector and not doing anything about it. When you were in school, you had to do fire drills, and I don’t imagine your teacher let you sit in the room all by yourself in case of a fire.

  • Maybe that tightness in your chest is your body’s lovely reminder that loneliness isn’t the way to live life, and it is time to reach out to a friend.
  • Maybe that hole in your stomach is the timer signaling your need for physical activity such as a walk outside, yoga, or weightlifting.
  • Maybe that ache in your back means it is time to engage in a productive hobby like cooking, music, or art.
  • Maybe that numb, lifeless feeling in your shoulders is a reminder to do something good for someone else.

As a note, it’s not best practice to make plans for an emergency in the middle of a fire. Make a plan of some things to try before emotional distress comes to visit, not in the middle of a fire drill.

Step 3: Practice

We’re all guilty of being stuck in some unhelpful patterns. Getting out of those takes time, practice, and sometimes a little help from our friends. The good news is your body won’t stop reminding you when a change needs to be made, as long as you’ll listen to the smoke detector and be willing to respond to it. Seek out support from friends, family, a mentor, or a counselor. Write out your plans for responding to your body’s natural signals of emotional distress.

My hope for you is that when that sinking hole in your stomach shows up, you won’t see it as depression showing up to claim victory over your joy. My hope is that you’ll understand it as a need that needs to be met, and that you’ll feel empowered to respond.

By: Eric Feltman, MA
Covenant Counseling Center

Giving Back – I Dare You

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Let’s face it – this time of year can get a bit frenzied.  Going here and there, trying to find the best deals, and often times buying gifts for those who really don’t need anything with money we cannot afford to spend.  The holidays can also bring stress when there is pressure to visit with family and extended family as well as business dinners, church programs, and various Christmas parties.  I can remember when my children were small.  By the time Christmas night rolled around I was frazzled, my kids were frazzled and suffering from sugar and sensory overload which left us all ready for a break (mentally, emotionally, and physically).

For others this time of the year is extremely difficult because the loss of a loved one is intensified.  No amount of decorations or gifts seems to soften the pain of the loss.  It feels like it would be easier to isolate and hibernate until the holidays are over.

Whether we need to reconnect with the spiritual aspect of Christmas and the holidays or whether we are in the healing process of reconciling the loss of a loved one, giving back can be that missing element that “hits the spot” so to speak.  The beauty about giving back is it can be done with no expectations and no strings attached.  We can do it in the line at the drive thru, in the aisle at the grocery store, by volunteering in the community, or visiting a senior life care center.  Giving back has no price tag and can look so many different ways.  However, the by-product and outcome in the heart and spirit of the giver tends to be the same.  When we give back it does something in us at the spirit level.  Ministering to others can often minster to us; touching and healing something in us that nothing else can.

Why does this phenomenon occur?  Because we were created to operate this way.  Because in giving back we are operating in the nature of God.  Christ’s birth is one of the most beautiful examples of giving. Take a moment during this holiday season and find a way to give back.  It does not have to be big, time consuming, or expensive.  It is about the heart of giving. Try it and see what happens.  I dare you!

Written by Jessica Owen, MSMFCT
Covenant Counseling Center