from the heart
a blog designed to promote help, hope, healing
The holidays are upon us, and with the social gatherings, school breaks, and celebrations can often come stress and overwhelming feelings of loneliness. The holidays can often highlight our lack, bringing to the surface difficult emotions including grief, sadness, and anxiety. These emotions can feel as though they are on display in the midst of the expectations that come with the season. Practicing self-care during the holidays is helpful in getting through and enjoying this time of year as much as possible. Below are some tips and strategies to ensure that you are taking care of yourself during this season.
Be intentional this holiday season on what will be beneficial for you! Spend time with those who build you up and encourage you. Participate in activities that bring you joy. It’s important to know that you are not alone if you are feeling sad or anxious during the holiday season. If these feelings are persistent, consider seeking out a counselor for help in overcoming and coping with these emotions.
I will be the first to raise my hand and admit - the holidays bring me a special kind of stress. (Who can relate??)
My parents are divorced and the holidays put me in a mental and emotional place that makes me feel ten years old - stuck in the middle between my parents. Add to the mix that I am newly married and trying to make sure my husband’s family doesn’t get ignored and you have a recipe for disaster.
Not to mention the expectations that are represented in every Christmas commercial, Instagram post or movie - that Christmas is a magical time that brings everyone together.
You know what? Sometimes Christmas kinda sucks. And I have a theory of why that is. It is a simple formula:
Unrealistic and/or unmet expectations
+ unstated and/or disrespected boundaries
= holiday stress
1. Unhook yourself from unrealistic expectations and standards.
Christmas presents, cards, cookies, decorations, family photos - those don’t have to be perfect. It is okay if they are actually kind of terrible, in fact. Because life is not perfect - December 25th rolling around doesn’t somehow change that fact.
2. Connect with feelings of sadness or anger over unmet expectations.
It is okay if you are angry, sad or frustrated because something did not go the way you hoped it would. It is okay to be disappointed that *that* family member disappointed you yet again. Release yourself from the pressure to act like everything is happy and perfect just because it is the holidays.
3. State your boundaries clearly and SOON.
Let others know what they can expect from you. “We would love to host Christmas again but this is not a good year for us.” “We would love to see you on Christmas day but we have to do XYZ instead. We are so sad to miss it.” Be clear and firm. And remind yourself that boundaries are not unkind - but that it is kind to yourself (and others!) to set healthy boundaries.
4. Have a plan for your boundaries that are not respected.
You asked your parents not to give your kids video games and they just unwrapped an Xbox - what are you going to do? You’ve asked your mom not to mention your ex-boyfriend and she brings it up over Christmas dinner. Plan for it! Maybe it means making an appointment with your counselor to prepare or asking a friend for coffee to talk through your options.
Christmas comes around once a year, bringing lights and trees and stress along with it. The good news is, this too shall pass and you’ll have another 365 days to prepare for next year.
The bad news is, this old ‘holiday stress’ news will continue to be news until you take steps to change the cycle. Sometimes you need someone to help talk you through how to set and enforce boundaries. If you think talking with a counselor could be helpful, call Bethel Haven at (706) 310-9046 to schedule an appointment with one of our counselors.
Routine is part of all of our lives. Whether it is a cup of coffee every morning before work, a daily jog through the neighborhood, or watching a favorite TV show in the evening, we all develop patterns that create consistency in our day-to-day lives. Simple routines make our lives predictable and stable. Furthermore, rituals provide us with a sense of belonging and connection to others. Family rituals are consistent over time, but not necessarily part of the family routine. Rituals can include birthdays, religious celebrations, and other family traditions.
Children specifically thrive on routines and rituals. Creating structure through daily routines can be integral to a child’s development. In fact, the research shows that simple routines like mealtime and reading improve language development, academic skill development, and social skill development in children. Family rituals foster emotional development and trust as children grow and develop. Rituals strengthen the family identity and deepen relationships within the system.
Creating family routines and rituals can be simple, quick, and fun! Here are some routines and rituals you can try incorporating into your family:
Every family will not enjoy the same routines and rituals. It is important to find what fits the personality of you and your family!
A leading researcher in this field is Barbara H. Fiese. You can find more information and research on this topic here.
Our world often feels non-stop. We all have a million and one things that we can be doing at any point in time. For some of us, it can be hard to justify taking time for ourselves when we have so many other things that we can be doing.
We are human beings with a finite amount of energy. What we chose to spend that energy on is important. We make daily choices about where we are going to put our focus, our energy, our time. The concept of self-care easily gets lost in that shuffle.
Self-care is doing things for our own mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health. Self-care are the activities that go into making us feel more filled instead of more emptied. For those of you that feel yourself empty by the end of the day, self-care might be an important thing missing in your routine.
For those of you who were taught to put others first and to take care of everyone around you, self-care can feel selfish or counter intuitive. Why spend time taking care of me when there is so much that needs to be done?
The truth is that self-care is designed to be energizing. It is hard to do our best work when we are tired and drained. Self care is a way to recenter and rejuvenate ourselves. Giving ourselves the appropriate amount of rest is important to our daily ministry. Jesus performed miracles and even he took time to rest. In fact, he took some time with his disciples to rest before performing his miracle of feeding five thousand.
“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”” - Mark 6:30-31
Take some time to identify how you’re feeling today. Have you had a chance to eat? To sleep? To exercise? To spend some time with your Savior in a quiet place and to get some rest? Don’t forget to take care of yourself so that you can be re-energized to do amazing things!
I spent a lot of my life not being the best listener. I cared about what other people had to say. I cared a little bit more about letting myself be heard. Maybe this is exclusively a “me” problem but I get the feeling that I'm not the only one having a hard time really listening.
Many of us go throughout our days feeling unheard by those around us. Sometimes we have to be assertive in order to be heard by others. And some of us may fall on the other end of the spectrum. The side where we appear to be listening, but we aren’t really hearing. This might look like nodding our heads as our friend is sharing about their lives (while thinking about our grocery lists).
My job as a counselor involves a huge amount of listening. It is important that people feel heard when they are sitting in front of me and sharing their stories. But I didn’t wake up one day suddenly a good listener. I practiced so that I could be better. I got better because I want the people in my life to feel heard and feel important.
How can we make sure people know we are truly hearing what they are saying? How can we make our significant others, our children, our friends, our small group at church feel heard and understood?
1. Be mindful and present. This is maybe one of the hardest things to do but the most important. If someone is talking to us we have to be present. That means pushing away the distractions, putting down our cell phone and truly being in the moment. Look at the person who is speaking and give them your full attention.
2. Be aware of “one-upping.” This is so easy to do and usually the person doing it usually doesn’t have bad intentions. Someone tells a story and we have one that relates so closely to theirs that we want to share. However, this can leave someone feeling ignored and like their story was not fully appreciated.
3. Say thank you. I always try to treat the words that are shared with me as a gift. Sharing your life with someone is huge! Being vulnerable is hard to do. If someone is willing to be vulnerable with you, honor the gift that they gave you. Even a simple “thank you so much for choosing to share that with me,” can go a long way.
4. Remember what you hear. A good gauge of whether you’re listening to something is what you remember. If someone tells you something that is important to them make that thing important to you. We can love on the people around us by remembering the things that are on their hearts and on their mind.
Maybe you’re living on the other side of this. Maybe you don’t feel heard by the people in your life. What you have to say is valuable and important. I hope that we are all able to find the people in our lives who we can be vulnerable with. Connection is so important and connection begins with listening to the stories that we all have to share.
Fear. Anger. Frustration. Terror. Helplessness. Grief. Confusion.
These are all feelings I felt rush through me when my sister attempted suicide. I went through the motions of checking her into the hospital, of sitting next to her while she was examined, of texting updates to our family members. I did all of these things while feeling an overwhelming rush of conflicting emotions. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to scream or cry or both.
A year later, my heart still stops when my mom calls me. Is it bad news? Is my sister okay? I can only start breathing again when my mom tells me “everything is okay, everyone is okay.”
What are we supposed to do when someone we love wants to leave the world? When they actually take steps towards doing that? I don’t have all the right answers for you, but I can share what has helped me.
Telling my people: It is a hard thing to share with others and I felt worried about burdening people close to me. But telling the people in my life who pray for me and love me was important. I needed people checking to make sure that I was doing okay. I needed people praying over my sister. And those people wanted to help me - wanted to be there for me.
Seeing a counselor: Maybe we aren’t talking enough about how much it impacts a person when someone they love attempts suicide. Because I was trying to support my sister while also processing my own fear and grief. I was trying to not make the situation about me and my feelings - even though I was in the situation and was suffering as well. Seeing a counselor helped me sort through the feelings I was having. It helped me figure out how to support my sister and my family while also taking care of my own needs.
Meeting my own needs: What a complicated thing - to care for the person you love without risking your own mental health. I had to figure out the balance of how I could stay mentally “okay” in a situation where my sister wasn’t. Part of meeting my own needs included taking a day off work, spending time with friends and seeing my counselor. Meeting my own needs gave me the strength I needed to help my sister. I couldn’t have offered her any help if I started drowning.
Being comfortable with not knowing what to do: When it comes to your loved one attempting suicide, there is no handbook. No laid out plan of how to respond or how to handle it. That’s okay. Be comfortable with not always knowing what to do or say. Don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself. Love your loved one in the best way you know how and seek professional help for the rest.
Help your loved one seek professional help: You can not be your loved one’s counselor/therapist/mental health support. You can support your loved one as they receive professional help. You can drive them to appointments or help them get into a new life rhythm. You can encourage them to go to therapy weekly. You can not save them. You can not say or do something that is going to change the state of their emotional health.
Dear reader, I am so deeply sorry if you are reading this because someone you loved has attempted suicide. My heart aches for you and for the one that you love.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
If you are interested in making an appointment with one of our counselors at Bethel Haven, please call us at 706.310.9046 to schedule an appointment.
For many of us the idea of having a difficult conversations make us feel like we are going to break out in hives. Most of us would say we don’t like conflict and that we don’t want to have hard conversations. That being said, sometimes the conversations can’t be avoided. Here is how you can successfully have a difficult conversation:
Be strategic about the time and place.
Don’t have a difficult conversation when you are: hungry, angry, tired or lonely. Make sure that you are in a safe place to have the conversation and preferably where the conversation won’t be constantly interrupted. Make sure that the time is good for the other person as well - consider their state of mind when decided when to broach the topic.
Be calm and clear.
Depending on the type of conversation, you may feel yourself start to get emotional. Do your best to stay calm and focused on the topic at hand. Be clear with the other person for why you are bringing up this topic and how you hope to move forward.
Even if the topic or conversation is contentious, consider trying a cooperative approach. How can the conversation end in a way that is helpful to both parties? If it can’t, what is the best possible outcome for both parties?
Expect a positive response.
If you go into the conversation expecting it to go terribly, you will likely be on guard or seem defensive. Imagine the best possible outcome in your mind. Go into the conversation expecting that the person will be pleasant and cooperative. This will help with both nerves and defensiveness.
Measure actions not outcomes
The win of having a difficult conversation is not how the other person responds or even the outcome of the conversation. The win of the difficult conversation is the bravery it takes to initiate such a conversation. Consider it a win that you’ve taken a risk and had a hard conversation!
If approaching conflict is difficult for you, consider making an appointment with one of our counselors. Call 706.310.9046 now to make an appointment and learn how more about how to handle conflict.
What is it that causes dissatisfaction in relationships? We get frustrated when people don’t meet our needs. We want to be known by those we are close to and we hope that they will figure out what we want them to do.
The secret is something you already know - people can’t read your mind. We have a saying in my family: “state your preference.” What that means is that if you want something, you have to tell the other person - whether that means picking a restaurant, deciding what to do on a Friday night, or even just needing some encouragement or space.
It can be hard to share your needs with others. This creates vulnerability - what if you share a need and the person rejects it? What if you ask for something and the person says no? We don’t get our needs met because we are afraid - maybe afraid of upsetting someone or afraid of causing conflict.
The secret to getting your needs met is having your needs be known. Learning to push past fear in relationships to express need. The other side of your relationship wants to connect. Help foster connection through both expressing your own need and encouraging others to express theirs.
Do you have trouble expressing your needs to loved ones? Our counselors at Bethel Haven can help you learn how. Call 706.310.9046 now to make an appointment with one of our counselors.
Dear college student,
Something happens post-college that makes some adults forget the hard parts about college and only remember the good.
Life has gotten harder for you, college student, in the nine years since I was a college freshman. The pressures are bigger than they've ever been to be successful, to pick the right major, to rush the right sorority.
We ask so much of you - make friends, fit in, made good grades, exercise and stay healthy, volunteer, do extracurriculars - run the race with blisters on your heels until they crack - until you crack under the pressure - until you want to fall down, exhausted.
Falling down doesn't feel like an option, does it?
Only perfection does.
Do all of these things with the hope - not promise - of a future where you have a great job that you love, that fulfills your life purpose, and also pays the bills.
And if you don’t get that job it will feel like it is because you did something wrong, not because society is broken and stacked against you.
Do all of these things with what seems like no real support - no one telling you to ask for help, no one encouraging you to treasure your mental health.
Do all of these things while the world looks down on you for being young, for being untried, for being immature.
Sweet student, there are those in this world who are for you.
Perhaps it is your parents, your neighbor, your counselor, your church community. Find those people and hold them close. Don’t let depression or anxiety overwhelm you. Life is hard but you don't have to walk it alone. Find community. Open up. Talk about it.
You are the generation who stands up for what you believe in. Who seeks justice and scorns inequality. You are the generation who is smarter, works harder and, yes, edits Instagram photos better than we could ever hope to do. You have an intuition about trends and disrupting the status quo.
You are seen and you are loved.
Be kind to each other and be kind to yourselves.
Do not be discouraged.
We see you.
We believe in you.
If you are interested in making an appointment with one of our counselors at Bethel Haven, please call us at 706.310.9046 to schedule an appointment.
answer, write, share, - develop, learn, grow
When is the last time I felt -
When is the last time I -
In what areas do I feel -
Final thoughts -
How could you use the answers to some or all of these prompts to develop, grow and/or learn?
Written by our counselors to help promote your help, hope, healing