Real talk: I had a completely different article planned for publishing today. And then, once again, we’re continuing to live through historical events. (Side note: I’d be okay if we did not have any more historical events for say, even 2 months? It’s a lot). The riot at the Capitol. High Covid case numbers. Continuing to adapt and change as we survive through a pandemic. And that’s just what has happened this week. So yes, if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably felt overwhelmed, unsure, and even anxious this week. That’s why a post about the ins and outs of counseling doesn’t really seem relevant right now.
It’s really important to me to get resources and tools into your hands right now that will help you with managing your own big emotions, processing in a healthy way, and loving each other well. There are three resources that came to mind over the last 48 hours. First, if you are a parent or adult who has kids in your life, please check out this amazing article from 2018 by Fred Rogers Productions. There’s so much wisdom in this piece for all of us! What I love is that there are practical suggestions for parents and caregivers to walk with their kids through hard, tragic events. My biggest takeaway from this is how important it is to limit kids’ intake of news and media. In our home, it’s our practice to not have the news on while our kids are awake. On their developmental level, they need to know they are safe, loved, and cared for. My son noticed I was sad yesterday and asked me why...kids are SO perceptive. They pick up how the adults in their lives are feeling! Their developing brains also are still learning how to handle scary and confusing images that we often see in the news. For our family right now, when we do discuss hard and scary things in our world, we choose to look for the helpers. Taking a lesson straight from Mr. Rogers himself. It brings a sense of calm and hope.
Second, know that there are 24/7 crisis and help lines available through phone or text. Mental Health America has several options to support mental and emotional health around the clock. You can find all of the information here. If you’re in an immediate and life threatening crisis, please call 911! We know that working with a counselor is a great, important tool in our toolbox for processing hard things, getting a “tune up” in communication skills, and managing anxiety and depression. However, most private practice counselors are not available 24/7, mostly because we would burn out and not be able to provide quality care. Crisis helplines are staffed by teams of counselors who work in manageable shifts to provide care. They’re trained to listen, help the person process through their crisis, and then recommend a local resource for additional follow up care. That’s why it’s so important to me for my clients and people in my community to know about high quality crisis care phone lines and services like those provided at Mental Health America.
Lastly, give yourself time and space. This week has been a lot. I know personally I’ve experienced a range of emotions - outrage, sadness, grief, shock, weariness. If we don’t allow ourselves the time and space to sit with our feelings, acknowledge them, and begin to process them, we will simply be stuck in them. When we are mindful and aware of how we are feeling, we can acknowledge that feeling, and begin to move through it. Here’s a great resource from Psychology Today about moving through emotions. This is a skill and it can absolutely be learned and improved on. A big challenge to this is slowing down enough, even 5 minutes, to first acknowledge how we are feeling. It’s too important not to do this! I love the skill set of acknowledging, sitting with the feeling, and then moving through it because we are then able to look to the future. Look towards hope. If we can see even a glimmer of hope, we can pull through the hard situation we are facing.
I have no hard and fast answers of how to solve the challenges we are facing right now. What I do know is that as a counselor I am committed to caring for the people the very best way that I can. I am committed to looking for the helpers, those who are caring for others when chaos is happening. I am committed even more so to listening and interacting with grace, kindness, and empathy. I’m holding tightly to who and what bring more grace, hope, and peace to my heart.
When I first moved to Austin about 11 years ago, I was part of a wonderful women’s group who participated in the practice of choosing a word for the year. I honestly can’t tell you what my word was for that year, but I remember the idea really sticking with me. There’s something very focused about sitting in reflection of a past year and thinking about what you may need, want to be more like, or aspire more of in the coming year. At the end of the year, I remember our group sharing how their word “showed up” for them throughout the year. It was really amazing and powerful to see how our words and themes came up through the year!
As I sat yesterday and was reflecting on ALL that happened in 2020, I really felt like 1 word wasn’t going to cut it for 2021. In fact, 3 words kept coming to mind.
Grace. Hope. Peace.
Let me share a bit about why these are my words for 2021.
Grace - I don’t know of anyone who didn’t need grace more than ever in 2020 and for me, right now, I don’t expect that to change much in 2021. However, I learned that I am usually quick to give my friends, family, and coworkers grace, yet very slow and reluctant to give myself grace. In 2021, I want to be quicker to give myself grace. When dinners just don’t come together and we end up getting takeout more than I think is “healthy” for our family. Grace. When I don’t get the Christmas cards in the mail by Christmas. Grace. New Years cards are just fine. I still don’t know exactly how grace will show up in my own life, but gosh, I’m just so determined to be gracious to myself as much as I am to those who I love and care about.
Hope - Am I the only one holding my breath a little as we start 2021 today? A little cautious about being too hopeful for a better, more “precedented” year? Hope is a core value of mine. When I make decisions, it’s through the filter of hope. Hope as a verb is defined as “to expect with confidence”. That’s the version of hope that I’m walking into 2021 with - expecting with confidence. When I work with clients, I often will tell them that I’m holding onto enough hope for them and when they’re ready, they’ll pick it up themselves. I have hope that we can each work through big feelings, hard challenges, and keep moving towards a healthier in every way version of ourselves. 2020 was hard. Of course it was. But trust me when I say I’m holding onto enough hope for each of us that 2021 will be better.
Peace - When I think of peace I think of the feeling that comes after you inhale a big, huge breath, hold it, and let it all whoosh out. The second immediately after you exhale. Peace. Can you imagine having more of that feeling on a regular basis? Who wouldn’t want that. For me, peace is something that was fleeting through last year. For many reasons - there was a lot of unknown, a lot of unrest, and a lot of change. And while there will always be unknowns and change, I’m taking a hard look at what I can do to bring more peace to my mind and heart. How can I be a wife, mom, daughter, and friend who cultivates peace? I know it starts with me being grounded and present. It starts with me having quiet moments to pause, pray, breathe, and listen. In the book Atomic Habits, James Clear writes that it’s usually not our determination to hit our goals that fails, it’s our systems. For example, I know that I am never going to get up early to work out. But I also know that I want to lose weight. So, if I create a system or plan that gives me time to workout in the afternoon or evening, then I’ll exercise and lose weight. I think the same thing applies to the idea of cultivating peace. What systems in your life need a little adjusting to create more peace in your mind and heart? What are the “pressure points” in your life that are stealing peace from you? Can you change any of them? If so, take time this week to look at how you can.
However you choose to start 2021, maybe choosing a word (or 3, there are no rules here with this!) can help you start the new year on a confident, grounded note. For me, I’m excited to continue my own personal growth around grace, hope, and peace! I’m excited for the amazing people I’ve worked with last year and can’t wait to get connected with even more of you this year.
Well, we’ve finally arrived in December of 2020. Anyone else feeling a cautious sense of hope as we are in the last month of this year that has lasted 7,598 days long? Maybe it’s just me (or the fact that New Years Eve is still one of my fav holidays!), but I really do feel hopeful as we head into 2021. I don’t think anyone would argue that 2020 has been just a super duper awesome year. However, I’m hesitant to broad brush it as a total dumpster fire. Here’s why. There’s a concept in cooking that you need enough sweet to balance out the bitter and vice versa. I first read about this in one of my all time favorite books, Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist. In taking the sweet with the bitter in mind, I’ve intentionally been thinking these last few days about the sweet, positive things that 2020 has taught me. My list ended up being longer than I thought it would be, so I’d love to share a few highlights with you.
~ A slowed down pace. One thing that 2020 has taught me is the power of slowing down. With 2 kids, a husband, close friends, and family in the area, our evenings and weekends were often jam packed with get togethers, meetups, and fun activities. All of that came screeching to a halt (as did the rest of the world) in mid March. And while I definitely went through a grieving period of missed holidays and time with family (looking at you, cancelled Easter trip) and face to face time with friends, I found myself also able to focus more on the little aspects of my kids lives that would often go unnoticed simply because I wasn’t taking time to notice them. I had been too busy rushing to get from one thing to the next. But in mid-March, I was forced to slow down and began to notice little things. Like how our daughter’s face lights up when she sees her Daddy walk into the room; the way our son loves to practice golf in the backyard with my husband; chasing each other around the house to just be silly together; bringing back at home date nights to have actual adult conversation and eat anything BUT chicken nuggets. And while we’ve cautiously and safely picked back up some of the activities we regularly enjoyed pre-COVID, we’re more aware of what slowing down brought our family and thus protective of keeping a slower pace to our family’s life. I’ve realized the joy (and rest!) that can come from slowing down.
~ Taking good care. I tell you, if 2020 taught me one major thing, it’s this. The importance of taking good care. This phrase was first taught to me by my counseling supervisor when I was an LPC Intern. Kim, my supervisor, would ask me regularly, “JoEllen, how are you taking good care?” She usually didn’t specify about what area of life it was that needed good care, but by regularly asking me the question, she helped me stop and take inventory. How was I taking good care of my mind, body, and soul? This year, more than ever, I learned how important it is to take good care of all aspects of our life. One major breakthrough for me was picking exercise back up as a way of good care. This is crucial to me for several reasons, the biggest being exercise helps me manage my anxiety. I shared in an earlier post that even counselors get anxious! When our church, like most others, went online only, I realized how much the practice of going each Sunday morning and the collective spiritual routines grounded me and helped me get centered for the upcoming week. It took a bit to find a different routine that would also take good care of my soul, but eventually I did and learned so much in that journey, too. I found that in order for me to teach others to take good care, I had to be practicing what I was teaching. Whatever your practices are, please be sure you’re taking care of ALL of you.
~ Be where your feet are. Let me be brutally honest with you. There were days in late March, April, and May where it was much easier to zone out on my phone and escape the reality that was sheltering in place, seeing grocery store shelves empty, and what felt like more unknowns and question marks by the minute. Please hear me on this - spending time on social media and reading or scrolling through stuff on your phone is *not* bad. When you’re using that as a strategy though to stuff down and ignore big, overwhelming feelings, it’s not healthy. I realized that spending too much time on social media was increasing my anxiety and my guilt. Mom-guilt that I wasn’t creating enough fun, indoor/outdoor, Pinterest-y activities for my kids to “make up” for not being able to do the social activities we used to do. Wife-guilt that I was so tired from flipping work from in person to remote and all the huge learning curves that went along with it. Family-guilt that we weren’t supporting our families enough virtually. You get the picture...it was just easier to "numb out" on my phone. I went through an incredible personal and professional development program in October that really challenged me to be where my feet are. I’ve realized that the biggest thing my family, friends, and colleagues need from me is to be where my feet are. Not where my brain is while looking at my phone, checking email, or scrolling through Instagram. When I set down my phone and give them my complete focus, we’re all calmer, kinder, and grounded. When you can be where your feet are, you’re giving the best of yourself to those you’re interacting with.
2020 has not been easy. I’m too much of a realist to think that on January 1, 2021, our lives will magically get better and Covid-19 will be gone. What I do know is that I’m determined to carry into 2021 the best that 2020 has given me and do so with a hopeful heart for myself, those that I love, and our world. So tell me, what helpful things can you take away from 2020? I’d love to hear from you and learn alongside you!
Today is November 1st, which is normally the kickoff to one of my favorite holidays of the year, Thanksgiving. And while this weekend was full of safe, family fun with costumes, candy, and adding onto our Thankful Pumpkin (a little practice we do around the dinner table to cultivate gratitude in our kids), there’s just not the same excitement for me today. Honestly, part of it is the time change because it’s rough on people of any age when it gets dark at 5:30! But for me, the unsettled feeling goes a lot deeper than thinking about just how much Covid has changed holidays this year and the general pall that has been cast over much of 2020.
Recently, the conversations that I’ve found myself in have had this undercurrent of anxiety and tension in them. When I bring this tension up, most people’s answers have been that they are just very anxious and worried about the future, specifically of our country. This coming Tuesday is the 2020 Presidential Election along with a ton of other elected officials. I will fully admit that I am the voter that chokes back tears as I leave the voting booth. To me, voting is one of the most important and critical rights that we have as American citizens. It’s a huge responsibility to me. To live in a country where I have the freedom to vote is a privilege that I don’t ever want to take for granted and that’s what gets me emotional. And it was the same this year. But this year, part of the lump in my throat is because, I too, get anxious and worried about the future. Yes, you read that correctly. Even counselors get anxious!
So, I decided to practice some of the strategies that have come up over and over again the last 8 months of a high anxiety time for many people. Let me share a few:
None of us know the future. All we can do is take each moment of each day as it comes. I do know this for sure - the calmer and less anxious I am, the more I am able to extend grace, hope, and kindness to those around me. And those are 3 things I sure want to be able to give this month to each person I encounter.
I know the weather has been all over the place it seems like for a lot of the country. Here in Texas the past couple of weeks, though, it’s been really beautiful! In fact, it’s perfect weather to be enjoying the outdoors, getting our fill of vitamin D, and taking a much needed break from the indoors. With an active little boy on our hands, it’s also been the perfect time for him to start learning to ride a bike! And it’s been, well, a bit of an adventure. There’s been some tumbles and spills to be sure! With the help of training wheels, he’s worked really hard and (we think!) has the hang of it now.
During this process there were several phrases that I found myself repeating to help our Little Dude see some success in the bike riding world. And I realized they really could be useful for more than riding a bike so I want to share them with you now…
“Keep your feet moving!” Man, if I had a dollar for every time I have said this over the past few weeks of bike lessons, I could enjoy several really nice take out dinners! But really, the more I thought about this, the more connections to life I could draw. When we are in a rut, feeling like it’s just the same thing over and over again that we struggle with, it can be really hard to have the motivation to keep moving forward. I can’t stress how important it is to keep moving forward. Whatever that looks like for you! For some right now, moving forward means getting up and getting ourselves ready to face another day. For others, it means having the courage to have a hard conversation. No matter what it is that you’re trying to move forward with, just keep moving those feet. I promise it will be worth it!
“Eyes forward!” Did you know how many fascinating things there are along a sidewalk for a beginning bike rider to notice?! I do. There are approximately 139. Flowers, rocks, irrigation flags, you name it! Did you also know that when you are learning to ride a bike and aren’t keeping your eyes ahead where you are going that it’s much easier to fall? The other phrase I’ve said a lot lately to our little cycler is “Eyes forward!”. It was a much smoother ride when he could keep his eyes and focus forward, ahead, towards where he wanted to go. I don’t think I have to go into great depth here to show how helpful this can be in our own lives. What is that goal that you’re working towards? It’s easy to let things along the way distract you from moving closer to that goal. Maybe you’re wanting to improve your overall quality of life, but some things in your past are holding you back. It can be easy to let our eyes drift off to the side or even try to look backwards. As challenging as it can be, keep your eyes forward. You are worth the effort it takes!
So, who wants to get out and dust off your bike? Just remember, keep your feet moving and your eyes forward! You got this.
If you’ve been on social media or watched the news at all lately, you’ve probably heard a lot about how doctors, lawyers, and even court cases have been moving to video platforms to keep serving and working with their clients. Recently, I’ve gotten some questions about how telehealth and, specifically to me, telecounseling would work. Instead of trying to explain through writing, I made a short video to share with all of you. So, welcome and come on into my office!
I hope after watching my brief video that you get a better sense of how telehealth works with me. If you still have questions or would like to talk with me more about this, please feel free to call or email me. I know our world holds a lot of unknowns right now. And that can be so unsettling! One of the best things you can do for yourself and your loved ones is to take the time to take care of yourself. And I’d be honored to partner with you on your counseling and emotional well-being journey.
I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone when I say that we are living in very interesting times right now. Terms like social distancing, quarantine, and flatten the curve have become part of our regular vocabulary. Super heroes have taken on a new look and can be found in the halls of hospitals and care centers - doctors, nurses, and med techs all relentlessly providing care in spite of the danger to them. Parents are having to figure out how to do their full time job while also making sure their children are following along and engaging with this new world of remote learning. And that just scratches the surface to all of the many, many changes we as a society are learning to adjust to.
Today, I’d like to share with you a phrase that we could all embrace during the ups and downs of quarantine and social distancing. Full disclaimer, this phrase is not original to me. So first, I’d like to virtually introduce you to the work of Shauna Niequist. Shauna is an author, amazing cook, and someone whose body of writing has had a deep impact on me personally. (Her book Present over Perfect was one of the first things that nudged me towards taking the big steps of opening this private practice!) I, of course, follow her on Instagram and you can find her posts here. A while ago, before COVID-19 was even a thought for most of us, she posted about a phrase that she and her family were embracing after moving to New York City…
"I guess I just haven't learned that yet."
There are several reasons why I think this phrase and the idea behind it can be helpful to us right now! It helps us flip the script and re-frame the big, overwhelming feelings that can come with not knowing how to do things or how to handle something. For example, and this may sound silly, but having to, all of a sudden, cook all the meals for my family is something that was seriously stressing me out! But, when I could flip the stressful thoughts to, “well, I guess I just haven’t learned this yet” my stress lowered. How about juggling working from home full time now and turning off my brain to be able to focus on being a mom and wife...I guess I just haven’t learned that yet. The list for each one of us could legitimately go on for a while. And that’s okay right now!
Also, this phrase gives us the space to learn how to do whatever it is we haven’t learned how to yet. For example, my husband and I have (loosely!) figured out that if I make lunch, he’s in charge of dinner. Again, somewhat silly example, but it’s honestly one of the things that has been a hard adjustment! You can give yourself the grace & space to figure out how to manage working remotely full time and be a parent with kiddos whose education still needs to be happening. For me, learning new things looks a lot like calling or texting my people and asking how are they building routines in their homes, how are they encouraging movement in the kids to help get energy out, and is it really okay if they watch more TV right now?! (The answer, by the way, resounding YES). It’s also giving myself permission to not have the answers.
Most importantly, this phrase has helped me to pause and acknowledge that I’m getting ramped up. Pause my stress. Pause my anxiety. Pause the overwhelmed feeling. When I can remind myself that living through this crisis is something we all haven’t done before so we all haven’t learned how to do this, it reminds me that together, we can and will learn how to do this. It also helps me pause and pray for the many medical heroes helping the hurting and sick. It helps me pause and think about the loved ones we haven’t seen in a long time (and then pick up the phone to call them). It reminds me that we are better together because we absolutely can learn how to settle into our temporary new normal.
Tell me, is there a phrase, song, mantra, or thought that is helping you right now? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Stay safe, wash your hands, and most of all, be well!
I don't think anyone would argue that the world around us today is new territory for most people as the Coronavirus has made its way around the globe. Understandably, people are experiencing high levels of anxiety, uncertainty, and fear. As I've been in discussions with people this week around how to work through the fear that seems to surround our communities right now, three words kept coming to my mind: Kind. Calm. Safe.
First, let's be kind. Kind to ourselves - which may mean limiting our news and social media intake. Kind to our loved ones by offering to be a safe harbor in the chaos around you. Kind to those around us. One of the values I try my very best to live out is assuming positive intent. And right now, more than ever, I think it is critical to extend kindness to the people we live with, work with, and are doing life with.
Second, let's be calm. Is this outbreak serious? Absolutely. I don't think anyone is denying this point. Is it wise to follow trusted sources on how to best keep healthy? Yes. However, did you know that prolonged stress can negatively impact your health and immune system? Read more about that here from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. As hard as it is, when we can stay calm during chaos, our overall health and quality of life is better for it in the long run.
Lastly, let’s be safe. Please follow the guidelines for washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, and taking care of yourself by seeing a doctor if you are feeling sick. If you’re wanting more resources on how to best be kind, calm, and safe, here are a few to consider checking out.
To help navigate conversations around the Coronavirus with children, here are a few helpful resources: For your own well-being:
One of the movies I grew up watching was Mary Poppins with Julie Andrews as the incredible fun-loving, yet proper Mary Poppins. I was absolutely convinced a spoonful of sugar would help any foul tasting medicine go down, even if my Mom was not so convinced! As I think back on my childhood, I can remember the freedom I had to go outside, play, and explore. Today, I want to focus on the idea of play in children’s lives. If we are ever going to connect with and help our kids become well-adjusted adults, it starts with getting back to the basics.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has done extensive research (found here) on the developmental effects of play on kids. Basically, children’s brains develop by learning about their world through exploring around them, modeling roles they see adults doing, and growing their imagination through free, undirected play. Equally important is for adults to join in the play with the kids in their lives. Allowing kids to have the time and space to do all of this is critical to them becoming whole-person healthy people.
So, from a practical standpoint, what can this look like in our everyday, often crazy busy lives? Here’s a few ideas:
Can I be very transparent for a moment? In late December, I spent time and planned out 4 months worth of topics to write about. February was supposed to be all about the different types of relationships in our lives. And we’ll still get there. However, life has been a little up and down since then - nothing major - just the normal winter illnesses, cranky kids (and parents, too, at times!), and a touch of the winter blues as I am 1000% a sunshine and blue skies girl. But today I want to focus on one of the major things that helped me get through the first 6 weeks of 2020.
My Square Squad. First off, this idea is not my own and I give all the credit to the incredible Brene Brown. Her book Dare to Lead is where I first learned about the idea of having a Square Squad. Let me explain. Take a 1x1 inch square. In that square write the names of the people you consider your closest friends. I’m not talking about the friends you see maybe 2-3 times a year. I'm talking about the friends you can, without hesitating, call at 3:00 am to come over and stay with your oldest child so both you and your husband can take your other child to the ER. The friend who has the relational capacity to have the hard, honest conversation with you when your coping skills have crossed over into an unhealthy coping pattern. The friend who cheers you on when you’re chasing after that big, audacious dream you’ve had for years.
For me, I have 5 names in my Square Squad. This wasn’t a hard exercise for me because ever since I was a middle school student, I’ve preferred to have a small group of close friends rather than a slew of friends. And I’m also a highly functioning introvert. If you’re an extrovert, this exercise may be harder for you. Regardless if you’re an extrovert or an introvert, I’d encourage you to put some thought into who your 3:00 am phone call would be to. And, since this is February and the month of love, give your Square Squad a text, call, or even a note in the old fashioned mail to thank them and tell them how awesome they are!
I'm JoEllen and I'm so glad you're here. Thanks for visiting and let me know how I can best serve you!