Archive of ‘Academic and Emotional Success’ category

5 Ways to Find Peace When So Much is Changing

For nearly six months, our world has been swirling in a lingering state of uncertainty and change. Our normal routines were swiftly pulled from under us, and we’ve quickly had to navigate changes in our homes, our work, our income, our social interactions, and on and on.

Many of us are not moving as much these days, working from home and not driving as often.

So, why do we feel so exhausted?

Our Physiological Response

I came across a meme by Chani Nicholas the other day that read, “I’ve never done so little and been so tired.

She continued with this quote from Emily Baron Cadloff:

“Nancy Sin, assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, says that in stressful situations like this, there are physiological responses in our bodies. ‘Our stress hormones increase. We prepare to fight or flee,’ said Sin. And as this pandemic continues and isolation drags on, ‘we’re having a lot of these physiological adaptations, each time we feel stressed, each time we feel worried. And over time, these repeated hits, physiologically and psychologically, can accumulate.’ That accumulation is called the allostatic load, essentially the damage on our bodies when they’re repeatedly exposed to stress. And while it feels like I’m doing nothing most days, my brain is still dealing with the anxiety and strain of this pandemic. I’m exhausted not because my body is working hard, but because my brain is.”

Uncertainty is Exhausting

While our bodies might not be as physically active at this time and while we might not have as many places to be, we are feeling the stressors of having to quickly adapt to so much change, while simultaneously holding the truth that we don’t know when this is going to end. 

Our brains are frantically searching for certainty so we can feel safe again:

When will work go back to normal?

What will school look like for the kids?

When will I have more freedom?
When will I be able to gather with friends again?

When can I relax at the coffee shop like I used to enjoy?

When will I be able to get on an airplane to visit family without worrying?

When will it all go back to normal and will things ever be the same?

That’s a lot to carry on a daily basis without getting any clear answers.

So…

First, we need to acknowledge the immense amount our brains and bodies are holding and have compassion for ourselves. This is a lot to navigate.

Second, we need to admit that self-care is not only a good idea, but essential at this time.

What might that look like?

Here are five nourishing self-care ideas aimed to decrease anxiety and increase feelings of calm and safety.

Be mindful of the energy in your home environment.

We are all spending a lot more time at home these days. Do you enjoy your home? Is it clean? Is it comforting? Does it feel like your own personal sanctuary (or at least do pockets of it)? I currently see clients from home and have been spending the majority of my day in this house of mine. As a result, I have been mindful of treating it differently. I clean my home more often. I use a diffuser that sprays essential oils into the air. I’ve purchased some new plants to fill my space. I want my home to feel ultra peaceful and comforting. I know this isn’t always possible and can be more challenging if you have young ones at home, but are there small changes you can make to create a more enjoyable home environment?

Intentionally create personal space.

BOUNDARIES are so important right now. Before quarantine, many of us had boundaries naturally carved into our lifestyles. We’d go to work and leave the home. The kids were at school for a large majority of the day, which meant parents had some time for themselves. So many of our normal boundaries have disappeared. This means less personal time to recharge. It is so much easier when our boundaries are automatically set for us. But when you are at home with everyone ALL the time, setting boundaries can be hard. Are you able to say no to your children or partner when you need personal time? Have you found new ways to create space for yourself? This is a group effort and may require creating a new calendar with new agreements. Maybe Mom decides she is not available to the family on Tuesday afternoons. She will be in her room with the door closed because she needs to take a bath or work on her own projects. The kids know that Dad is available for them at this time. Guilt can rear its head here. “Shouldn’t I be available to my kids all the time? Will they think I don’t love them?” This is about understanding that rest and personal space are necessary in order to recharge and be able to show up well for the people around you.

Double up on support.

Be proactive about creating consistent avenues for receiving support. We all need places where we feel like we can lean back and be held. Maybe this looks like meeting on a friend’s porch for coffee and conversation, going for a morning walk in nature, or finding a therapist or therapy group where you can be vulnerable. Aim for weekly support like this (the more the better).

Get in touch with your senses.

Be mindful of bringing activities into your life that feel nurturing and grounding. Anything that helps you get out of your brain and back into your body. More cuddling. Taking a slow evening to cook a homemade meal. Preparing a candlelit bath. Going swimming. Committing to morning stretching. Getting your hands in the soil and gardening. Getting in touch with our senses is beneficial on so many levels. It slows us down, brings us back to the present moment, and regulates our nervous systems.

Connect with something deeper than circumstance.

If we look to the state of the world to determine how safe we feel right now, we’re not really setting ourselves up for success. The chaotic nature of society is not going anywhere anytime soon. This period of time is asking us to find safety in something deeper than circumstance. It is asking us to find safety in our relationships with ourselves and our relationships with others. How can you become more connected to yourself during this time? How can you be kinder to yourself? Maybe this looks like developing a meditation practice or starting to journal again or practicing any of the self-care activities I’ve mentioned here. How can you become more connected with others? Can you be more vulnerable with the people you love? How can you improve the communication in your household and find new ways to work together as a team? Are you able to find joy in the simple things again, like movie night with the family? There is beauty in this opportunity, and a lot of potential for growth as we learn new ways to be there for ourselves and others. 

No doubt, this is an unexpected time that none of us saw coming. So much change inevitably brings fear, grief, anger, stress, and fatigue. 

My hope is that you’ll acknowledge all you’ve had to navigate over these past six months and show yourself more love and compassion. Be proactive about creating the support you need right now. It’s essential, and you deserve it.

Looking for more ways to practice self-care during the pandemic? Check out this blog!

Written by: Jamie Alger, LPC-Intern Supervised By Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

Your Child’s Misbehavior May be a Clue That They Need A Routine

I’m writing this blog 6 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, however, I think this topic is helpful during any time of change, transition, and stress.  When things become unpredictable in our lives, adults and children alike experience a desire to have more control and autonomy.  For children, their brains are still rapidly developing, and they lack the years of experience that adults have to weather times of change. Children and teens are being dramatically impacted during this global pandemic, and at Austin Family Counseling (and in our own homes) we are noticing increased worry, anxiety, withdrawal, acting out behavior, and more clues that children need extra support. 

One strategy parents and caregivers can teach is the practice of creating routines. Side note: I’m a BIG FAN of routines, and have actually made a routine out of Back to School Routines (see my  blog from 2014 when my kids were 4 and 2 – now they are 10 and 8! https://austinfamilycounseling.com/back-school-morning-hustle/)

 When students go into a new classroom, there are daily tasks, activities, and rules they engage in under their teacher’s guidance. With practice, these become their new routines at school. Kids as young as age 3 can tell you their school routine – this is when we have outside time, eat lunch, etc.  With preparation and practice, parents can help children develop routines for daily living at home.  

Regardless of whether you are homeschooling, attending school virtually, going back in person, or a hybrid model, with the start of our first pandemic school year here in Texas (and all over the world), consider the following reasons that routines might be just what your child needs. 

Routines provide comfort and structure.

While plans for school, the health of our families, parent job stress, and so many other things around us are spinning, a plan for the day that guides children – “First, I do this. Now, I do this” – allows children to relax and focus on the tasks at hand.  This is a place where they have some control.  Inviting them to co-create their routine with you is so important – use the blank chart below or create one of your own to plan together.  Give choices like “would you like to get dressed before you come down for breakfast or after?” or “What are the 3 things you want to do before you come downstairs in the morning?” or “Would you like to schedule your outside time in the morning or in the afternoon?” 

Routines become the “boss” instead of the parents and caregivers.

When you co-create your routine together, you are making an agreement with your child that this will be how the day goes (consequently, if you dictate their routine or lack of routine, you are making an agreement with your child that you will be on standby to entertain them or keep them busy).  Be sure to build in things they look forward to.  At my house, we have agreed that screen time is from 3pm to 5pm each day.  Because this hasn’t changed it has become predictable, and we can check the clock together so see “how much longer” until they can get on, or my kids can see what they need to get done before being allowed to have their devices. Because we’ve agreed in advance,  I can say “what’s next in your routine?” or “What did we agree we would do from 11-12 today?” pointing to the routine as the “boss” rather than me. 

Routines that are developed by the child give them a sense of autonomy and promote confidence and responsibility. 

 If you start using routines today with your children, how proficient and confident do you think they will be after practicing for 2 years? Or 6 years? Or 8 years? My oldest will likely be moving away to college or to a work study in 8 years – I can’t wait to see how his sense of autonomy and responsibility will have grown! 

Here are some resources for ROUTINES:

Check out this article from the CDC with tips and info about the routines: https://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/structure/index.html

Positive Discipline Resources & Video about routines:

https://www.positivediscipline.com/articles/routines-tool-card

“The challenge of parenting lies in finding the balance between nurturing, protecting, and guiding, on one hand, and allowing your child to explore, experiment, and become an independent, unique person, on the other.”

Jane Nelsen (Positive Discipline for Preschoolers: For Their Early Years)

Written By: Lora Ferguson, LPC-S, AFC Founder & Co-Director


Tips from a Therapist: Ways to Adjust to Life in Quarantine

Quarantine Zoom Call

“We’re all just making this up as we go along”, a very dear friend told me recently regarding the quarantine. These resounding words have stuck with me not only in my personal life, but my professional life as well. All of my clients, regardless of their circumstances, are making this up as they go along. All of us collectively are leaning into a huge amount of vulnerability, not knowing what the rest of the year will look like.

In lieu of social distancing and the extension of the quarantine, staying at home way more than leaving has become a new norm. We have become accustomed to isolating ourselves with our living partners. We have also been deprived of the external stimulation we were experiencing the first two months of 2020 (especially in Austin where there is external stimulation galore!!).

Through months of hard experience as well as the beautiful stories of hope my clients give me, I have made a list of tips for us to do in order to better cope with the harsh reality of quarantine. As a society, we are perhaps more in need of healthy connections, self-reflection, and coping strategies now more than we ever have been. Below are five helpful ways to adapt to social distancing so that we are alone but not lonely. 

Take Time for Ourselves (TV, gaming, “you” time)

What does this look like for you? Taking time for myself means watching my favorite movie or bingeing a favorite TV show. My partner is a huge gamer and self-care for him looks like playing his favorite game. The point is to DISCONNECT. Disconnect from work emails, news sources, endless desk time that our bodies were not made for. Disconnecting from the “outside world” gives your mind and body a much-needed pause and recharge. 

Zoom or FaceTime a Friend or Family Member

What does your social support look like in these strange times? We have all become so isolated with social distance. But the thing to remember with social distancing is: Just because we are social distancing does not mean we should emotionally distance. Check on a friend you have not talked to in a while. Call a family member you are rekindling a relationship with. Facetime a former coworker you had a great relationship with! Our friends and family need to be checked in on just as much as we do.

Re-Evaluate Your Mental Health

Realistically, most of us have been struggling long before the pandemic. Whether it has been anxiety, depression, relationship issues, bipolar, ADHD, any kind of mental struggle has undoubtedly been exacerbated by staying quarantined. Being deprived of the things that have brought us joy our whole lives will bring some kind of sadness, grief, or anxiety. Our mental health matters more so now than it ever has. If you need a therapist, by all means reach out to Austin Family Counseling! We have virtual counseling to ensure the safety of all of our clients.

Re-Evaluation of Self-Care

What does self-care look like for you in quarantine? We have been forced to change our methods of taking care of ourselves. Things like going to the gym, going to concerts, going to your favorite museum (some self-care methods I used to engage in prior to the pandemic), are now changed, and we are having to be very creative. Things like going for a run, discovering new bands, and watching live concerts online all have become my new norm as they are the safest and most socially distant alternatives to my former ways of self-care.

Adopt an Animal

Studies show that having an animal improves our overall happiness and quality of life. In times like these, life quality improvement is an absolute must! There are so many animals in Austin that need homes. And if we are stuck at home most of the time, why not have a furry human to keep us company?! Austin Animal Center, Austin Pets Alive!, and Austin Humane Society are all places that are open during pandemic and are actively allowing pet parents to adopt and foster pets!

By: Ian Hammonds, LPC, LMFT

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