Empathy. You’ve heard the word, but do you really know what it means? Counselors are deeply familiar with this word, however, it’s a concept that’s misunderstood by so many (myself included in my pre-graduate school days). Why is this? Well, we often think that empathy is synonymous with sympathy, however there is very important distinction between the two - a distinction that can be the difference in whether or not we connect or disconnect from each other.
Renowned author Brene Brown states that “empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection”. But wait! I thought sympathy was a good thing! Let’s dig a little deeper into the semantics of these two words and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Empathy involves identifying with another’s emotional pain, placing oneself in another’s position to gain understanding, and the willingness to “just be” with another. Mirriam-Webser defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another”.
So, how is this different from sympathy? Sympathy is feeling sorry for another without attempting to understand or identify with another’s pain. It can also look like trying to "lighten the mood" or "find the silver lining", which comes across as dismissing another’s pain rather than listening and acknowledging it.
Theresa Wiseman, a nursing scholar, proposed four attributes of empathy that can give us more clarity as to what empathy looks and sounds like:
Am I saying that we should never give feedback or speak truth to our loved ones? By no means. However, the moment when your friend is sharing their raw emotions and struggles with you is often not the best time for giving advice. Rather, these are the moments that they just need to feel heard, connected, and acknowledged.
There are many hurting people in our world, and now more than ever do we need to grow in empathy. Notice I said grow in empathy. Although empathy may come more naturally to some, empathy is a skill that can be practiced and developed. What does this look like? Brene Brown suggests:
“I’m so stressed”
“My anxiety is really bad right now”
“This is really stressing me out”
“I can’t control my anxiety”
“I have so much stress in my life”
These are phrases we hear as counselors all the time, and I assume you hear and/or say these phrases often in your own life. We often hear the words “stress” and “anxiety” used interchangeably, but have you ever stopped to think about what these words actually mean? They sound similar -- and they are to a degree -- but the clinical definitions of them show them to be two different experiences.
Let’s start with some definitions:
These definitions teach us an important and often overlooked fact - stress is not what happens to us, but rather how we react to what is happening to us. Undergoing stress most often results from external events/stressors rather than internal experiences. So for example, the sweaty palms, shaky hands, fast heartbeat, stomach discomfort, and anxious thoughts that come and go in relation to what’s going on in your life are probably related to your experience of stress rather than chronic anxiety.
On the other hand, if you are regularly experiencing these symptoms and can’t always identify an external trigger, then perhaps there is something more going on than just stress. While stress is typically a short term experience that dissipates when the stressor has been removed, anxiety is internal and ongoing.
Now that we’ve defined what stress and anxiety are, maybe you’re thinking,
“Yep, that sounds like me” or
“Now, I’m stressed that I might have anxiety!”
Here’s the thing -- stress is normal. It’s a process designed by God to help us be productive and stay safe. Many scholars even say that a little bit of stress is good for you! Think about it -- let’s say a bear is chasing you, and you need to escape. It’s an AMAZING thing that the appropriate hormones are released so that you can all of a sudden be faster and stronger to run away!
But, let’s be real. Most of us aren’t needing all of that adrenaline and cortisol so that we can escape from a hungry bear on a daily basis. In modern society, we are faced with stressors like an upcoming job interview or caring for a sick loved one. Stressors in our fast-paced world seem to come without end, and we usually face not one but many stressors at a time. The result is that we go about our days in a chronic state of stress response, which ends up harming us more than it helps us.
Fortunately, stress can be managed with the right strategies and a little bit of work. Here are a few research-based practices that can help you take on the stressors in your life with confidence:
As for anxiety, it can also be managed and treated with the right kind of help. The stress management strategies listed above can be very effective in coping with anxiety, however seeking professional help is always the best option. Anxiety disorders have different roots, and it’s important for a licensed clinician to perform assessments to help determine appropriate treatment. Everyone’s experience of anxiety is different, and meeting with a trained therapist can open the door to finding the best treatment plan for you.
At Bethel Haven, we are primarily offering TeleMental Health services during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to promote the safety of our staff as well as our clients. Even though sessions are not taking place in the office, we are still taking new clients at this time and would love to support you as you combat stress and anxiety and work to stay well mentally, emotionally, and spiritually! If you feel that the time is right for you to start seeing a therapist, give us a call!
stig·ma (noun) “a mark of stain or discredit"
are often still viewed as “dangerous”, “bad”, or just “different”. These attitudes lead to a myriad of problems for individuals with mental disorders (diagnosed or undiagnosed), including:
-decreased likelihood of seeking help
-rejection by friends, family, community
-the list goes on…
At Bethel Haven, we seek to destigmatize mental illness in our community by providing a safe space for clients to share their struggles and work toward wellness. We believe that there is no shame in struggling with your mental health, and we want our clients (and community!) to know that they are not alone in their struggle. The media often portrays mental illness as something uncommon, scary, and shameful, however this could not be further from the truth! Statistics and research tell us that almost half of the population in the U.S. will experience a mental illness at some point in life. Think about it--one out of every two people that you know has, had, or will have a mental health disorder in his or her lifetime. If this is true, then mental illness is much more common and relatable than we are led to believe.
"At Bethel Haven, we seek to destigmatize mental illness in our community by providing a safe space for clients to share their struggles and work toward wellness."
As a Christian counselor, I believe that the enemy of your soul wants to convince you that you are alone in your suffering. He wants to instill in you that no one else struggles in the same way you do, and that there’s something uniquely “wrong” with you. In the area of mental illness, I think this can be especially true. The enemy wants you to sink your teeth into the lie that you have to face mental health issues on your own. He wants you to believe that you must remain in the darkness of isolation. However, when you bring your fears, your shame, and yes, even your mental illness into the light of safe community and welcomed vulnerability, you will begin to walk in freedom. What is hidden has power, so bringing your struggle into the light destroys the hold of shame--including the shame that results from stigma.
As a therapist, I find it immensely fulfilling when clients reject the shame they once felt regarding their diagnoses and begin to advocate for themselves and others with mental illness. Have you been hiding your mental illness? Do you find yourself afraid to open up to anyone about your diagnosis? Perhaps, you have opened up before, and been met with disdain, disbelief, and discrimination. If this is the case, my heart hurts for you. I am so sorry that stigma has harmed you. Please know…
There is no real shame in your diagnosis.
You are not alone.
You are valuable and loved.
You are worthy of care.
If you feel ready to seek counseling at this time, give us a call to see if one of our counselors is a good fit for you! We are currently offering counseling services via TeleMental Health during the COVID-19 crisis to ensure the health and safety of our staff and clients.
Like anyone else with a social media account, I have been seeing a lot of people sharing the things they have been doing during the pandemic. Some have been learning new things, others have been taking up new hobbies, and some people have been reaching out to someone different every day. It’s kind of exhausting to think about.
When we post on social media, we like to share the pretty side of things. With my work with my clients, I have seen something else. We are all feeling pressure to be productive, even while we are feeling like we have less energy than ever before, and we’re being hard on ourselves for not using this time the way we feel we “should” be.
Do you find yourself wondering why you’ve been feeling unmotivated even though you have more time on your hands? You’re stressed. Whether you’re still working or not, whether you’re caring for a family or not, and whether you’ve been personally affected by Coronavirus or not, you’re stressed.
I know you’ve heard it already, but we are experiencing “unprecedented times.” What this means for our brains is that they are working overtime to try and understand what’s going on and how we are going to adjust. Every day the news says something different, we hear new numbers, and we have to make changes to our expectations about what life is going to look like for the foreseeable future. This takes a lot of mental effort and energy that we might otherwise have devoted to other tasks.
During this pandemic, a lot of us have been experiencing a constant state of fight or flight. We know there is a threat to our livelihood and we don’t know what to do about it. So we remain in this limbo stage as we wait to see what is going to happen next.
When we are this stressed for such an extended period of time, it takes a real toll on our brains and bodies. When we are anxious, upset, or worried about something, our bodies release a stress hormone called Cortisol. Usually, this is a short-lived experience, and the cortisol helps us know that there is a threat so we can solve the problem quickly. What looks different right now is that we’ve been stressed out for almost 2 months. When we are exposed to cortisol at such levels for such a lengthy amount of time, it can result in symptoms like anxiety, depression, headaches, sleep problems, and memory and concentration impairment, as shared in this article by the Mayo Clinic.
Do you feel drained? Do you feel less motivated? Are you having trouble paying attention to things? Are you feeling anxious or trying to numb certain feelings by zoning out, spending all your free time watching Netflix? Are you having trouble sleeping or getting more headaches? These are symptoms of extended stress.
The bottom line here is that your body is doing what it knows to do in order to cope with all the uncertainty we're experiencing. Being upset with yourself for not being as productive as you used to be is going to feed the cycle. So I’m going to invite you to try something else.
Give yourself some compassion. Cut yourself some slack. Treat yourself with grace. You’re going through something tough and that last thing you need is to beat yourself up for how you’re handling it. The next time you catch yourself thinking negatively about your response to this crisis, try to pause and thank your body for taking care of you.
It’s doing its best.
So are you.
As you may already know, the month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month - a month in which we hope to:
Help. [verb] make it easier for (someone) to do something by offering one’s services or resources. At Bethel Haven, we provide help in numerous ways. One way we help our community is by making quality counseling services easy to access and afford. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on the generosity of donors to help us provide counseling services on a sliding scale. What does this look like as far as numbers go? 65% of our clients pay less than half of what it costs to provide our services. This is an unbelievable blessing to many of our clients who might not have been able to receive counseling services otherwise.
Hope. [noun] desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment. Don’t we all need an extra dose of hope these days? Sometimes life can feel so bleak that it seems like it will never get any better. Bethel Haven counselors seek to be holders and givers of hope for our clients when they find themselves in these hard places. We hold hope for our clients when they feel stuck and hopeless and have no strength to believe. We also seek to give hope through care, compassion, and effective, research based treatments and practices. Our counselors are not here to give you mere advice, but rather we do our best to help you see the good, make peace with the bad, and take hold of a hope-filled future.
Healing. [verb] to become free from injury or disease, to return to a sound state, to make well again, to restore to health. This is the heart of Bethel Haven—we want to see our community made well and restored to mental, emotional, and spiritual health. The world we live in is broken, therefore people experience brokenness. Brokenness exists in individuals, families, marriages, friendships, workplaces, and the community. Our counselors are dedicated to facilitating our clients’ paths from brokenness to healing, to being restored to health.
How can you be involved? For starters, pray. Pray for our leadership, our counselors, and our clients. Pray for God to provide the funds we need to continue our ministry of bringing help, hope, and healing. You can also give. As mentioned above, Bethel Haven would not be able to exist without the generosity of our community. For more information on how to get involved in this way, check out our Haven of Hearts.
Reach out if you need us. Do you feel stuck? Do you feel the weight of the brokenness in and around you? Do you find maintaining your mental, emotional, and spiritual to be a difficult task? Give us a call, and start your own journey to help, hope, and healing!
Click the image below to hear our very own Taylor Mason, AMFT, APC on The Jules Show! Taylor talks about coping with feelings of loneliness and isolation during the COVID-19 crisis.
Most, if not all, of us are practicing #socialdistancing by now, and many of us have been in our homes for weeks. Even as a primarily introverted person, I find myself feeling “cooped up” and longing to get out and see friends, visit stores, etc. Today, I’d like to share some tips to promote your mental health and to help you enjoy being home as we work together to #flattenthecurve and protect our vulnerable populations.
Remember, we are all in this together! Even though there is physical distance between us, we can still choose togetherness. Are you struggling to find peace and purpose during this time? Do you feel overwhelmed by fear and anxiety? Whatever your struggle may be, know that you have a resource in Bethel Haven. Our counselors are trained to offer TeleMental Health (see previous post), and we can provide counseling right to you wherever you are. Give us a call if this seems like a good fit for you! 706-310-9046
Telemental health is a hot topic that a lot of people are wondering about as we continue working to #FlattenTheCurve and reduce the spread of COVID-19. We’re hear to answer some basic questions about how Bethel Haven uses telemental health and if it is a good fit for you!
What is Telemental Health?
Telemental Health is technology used to provide behavioral health services from a distance. Counselors as Bethel Haven that provide telemental health use a secure video platform to have “face-to-face” sessions with their clients. While we cannot use video chat tools like FaceTime, our counselors can provide easy-to-follow links to use the secure platforms. For a counselor to provide a telemental health session, they have obtained extra training to ensure they understand the technology, feel capable provide quality care in this way, and understand how to maintain your safety and comfort while using this different kind of method.
Is Telemental Health a Good Fit for Me?
Here are some considerations when deciding if telemental health is right for you:
Watching the news and seeing the talk on social media regarding COVID-19 (coronavirus) is enough to work any adult into a state of anxiety - now imagine how it feels for a child to be hearing and seeing all of this! We’d like to share a few thoughts on how to have conversations with the children in your life regarding the coronavirus to help you navigate this uncertain time
1.CHECK YOURSELF. Before you engage in any conversation about the coronavirus, be sure that you are coming from a place of peace and calm. Children feed off of our emotional state. Your calm demeanor and presence can help your child regulate his or her emotional state - a process known as coregulation. Do what you need to do to cope well and take care of yourself, whether that’s through prayer, meditation, exercise, hobbies, or other healthy habits.
2. BRING IT UP. Don’t be afraid to have a conversation about COVID-19 with your kids. Rachel Ehmke with the Child Mind Institute writes, “Kids worry more when they are kept in the dark.” Bringing up the topic won’t create more fear and worry - it will actually help ease it (if handled appropriately).
3. LISTEN FIRST. Your kids, whether they go to private school, public school, or are homeschooled, have more than likely heard about the coronavirus from classmates, friends, adults, and the media. Start by asking them what they already know. It can be as simple as:
“Have you heard anything about the coronavirus?”
“What have you heard?”
It’s important to listen to their thoughts and feelings, so that you know where to start in addressing their concerns.
4. CONSIDER DEVELOPMENTAL LEVEL. When answering your child’s questions, keep his or her developmental level in mind. If your child is very young (toddler age) chronologically and/or developmentally, keep your language simple and concise. School-age children will be able to understand more, but they think in concrete terms. Therefore, simplicity and clarity are key. It's always a good idea to ask your child to repeat back to you what they heard you say. This helps you assess whether or not your child has understood you clearly.
On a related note - avoid watching the news or having intense conversations about COVID-19 while kids are within earshot. You never know what bits of information (or misinformation) they hear and misunderstand.
5. EMPOWER. Teach your kids strategies to help them stay mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy. Our kids’ mental health is strengthened by routine, so try to keep their schedule as consistent as possible. Remind them that when they feel worried, they can talk to you and that you will do your best to help. Teach them tools such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation and use fun activities to reduce anxiety. And of course, reinforce personal hygiene! All of these strategies will empower your kids and give them confidence amidst the coronavirus craziness!
For a lot of people this week kicks off the start of the holiday season, which often coincides with overloaded schedules and more visits with family. Regardless of whether you love your family or you would rather spend time anywhere but there (wherever there is for you), many people have concerns about how to handle different conversations and take care of their mental health in this season.
Reminder: You can say “No” and it be a complete sentence.
Many of us forget that no can be a complete sentence. As a society, we are used to people giving us explanations for saying no and then having those explanations judged as valid or not. But here’s the thing - if we always say yes, our yeses can become less valuable because others assume we will always say yes. Saying no can help us build a culture of consent and teach people to honor our choices. If the thought of saying “no, thanks” feels enormous, here are some other options:
Permission slip: You have permission to choose what conversations you engage in.
There is nothing like the family table to bring up tense, heated discussions. You are hereby granted, through the power of this blog post, to remove yourself from conversations you don’t want to participate in. Not sure how to side step a conversation? Here are some ideas:
Something to Note: You get to create boundaries that work for you.
Sometimes family members have exceptions about something because “it’s always been that way”. If that works for you that is great, but sometimes old systems or expectations stop working for us as we age, grow, and create our own internal ideas. This holiday season, you can create boundaries that work for you. They could look like this:
Holidays can be hard, but they don’t have to negatively impact your mental health. You can do this! You are capable and able to stand firm in your needs — don’t underestimate your personal power and conviction.
Written by our counselors to help promote your help, hope, healing