Archive of ‘Relationships’ category

An Open Letter to 2020-2021 College Students

Dear College Students,   

What a year it has been for you all. I want to speak to you directly because I feel that the unique ways you have had to adjust to the myriad changes that have occurred this year are often overlooked. I work with college students in my clinical practice, and I want to reassure you that your grief and disappointment are real and justified. 

I remember watching the news in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic and hearing that elderly individuals and college students were most at risk. I was grateful to hear someone acknowledge how difficult this time has been for you all. Not only have you had to pivot to virtual learning and face an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, but you have been isolated from your friends and social gatherings. With limited access to these social supports, it is expected that you would feel depleted.    

In college, your friends are more like family. You live with them, you go to class and study with them, and you share your life with them in ways that were not always possible with your childhood friends. These friendships engender a level of relational intimacy that is seldom replicated during other times in your life. Moreover, you are in a stage of human development wherein you are forming your identity in the context of your relationships with others. This is precisely why it has felt like such an insurmountable task to quarantine apart from your peers and refrain from connecting with them regularly. 

You have probably heard many people tell you that college will be “the best four years of your life.” College is certainly a fun and exciting time, but it is not devoid of hardship and adversity. When you feel sad, scared, or lonely, you start to think you are doing something wrong because you are not having the time of your life. The pandemic has added another emotional reaction to this lofty expectation for your college years: anger. 

I have heard so many of my clients express how frustrated and devastated they are that they are not having the college experience they always imagined. Please understand that it is normal to feel this way. We are all grieving the loss of our pre-COVID realities, and your “new normal” has been anything but normal. Your old assumptions no longer fit your current circumstances, and accepting this is no small task. 

I know how easy it can be to compare your struggles to those of others. People in our community and around the world are suffering. This pandemic has taken loved ones, jobs, and our sense of safety and security. However, you are not immune to the damage it has caused, and your distress is worthy of care and attention. 

To quote Brené Brown, “empathy is not finite, and compassion is not a pizza with eight slices. When you practice empathy and compassion with someone, there is not less of these qualities to go around. There is more. Love is the last thing we need to ration in this world. Hurt is hurt, and every time we honor our own struggle and the struggles of others by responding with empathy and compassion, the healing that results affects all of us.”

I want to remind you of how resilient you are. You forged your own path by going to college and building a life apart from your family. This requires courage, and doing so amidst a global pandemic has tested you in ways you never thought possible. I challenge you to practice self-compassion by treating yourself how you would treat someone you love. You are weathering this pandemic the best you can, and your best is always enough.  

For Reference: 

“Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” by Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW

“Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself” by Kristin Neff, Ph.D.

Written By: Claire Taylor, LPC- Associate Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S 


Helping Children Process Death During COVID-19

There is no doubt that we are living in unprecedented times, especially now that we have approached one year since COVID-19 arrived to the US. This virus has required us to adjust to so many things at once: uncertainty, constant change, fluctuating emotions and, unfortunately, how to cope with the loss of loved ones, friends, and family. For many adults, death is an unfortunate concept we have had to come to terms with at some point in our lives. However, with children experiencing the devastating effects of COVID-19 every day, death has become an unavoidable topic. The intense grief these young children have felt because of the loss of an immediate or extended family member can be especially difficult for them to process, especially if parents have not had the difficult conversation of explaining what death is and the painful emotions associated with it.  My hope for this article is to provide support to parents and caregivers by outlining relevant information to keep in mind when helping their child process grief and loss during this pandemic.

Explaining Death to Your Child

First things first is to tell the truth and be honest with your child, but in an age appropriate way. Children do not need to know every detail of how their loved one died, but it is important to provide essential facts about what happened. Children may also need an explanation of what death is and explaining this process using clear language is key. Everyone may explain death differently, but it is important that you do not use euphemisms, like ‘passed away’ or ‘left us’, because it can leave room for confusion about the permanence and finality of death.  

Death Triggers Many Feelings 

Death can bring up many different emotions for children and grieving a loved one does not look a certain way. Some may cry or be filled with anger, while others may be silent or feel scared. However your child chooses to grieve, it is important that you encourage self-expression and allow them to feel and experience their grief. Experiencing anger, sadness, or any other type of feeling is a part of coping and allows your child to process this painful, but real aspect of life. 

Coping with Death 

Reassurance and continuation of positive experiences can help your child move forward in their grief process. Your child may be worried or scared what might happen to them or other members of your family because of this experience, but reassuring them about the precautions that you are taking to keep everyone safe is important. Resuming fun and enjoyable activities can help support your child’s adjustment, letting them know that life will continue and it is perfectly acceptable to laugh and have fun even during the grieving process. Because COVID-19 has made it difficult to say goodbye to loved ones due to social distancing protocols, it is helpful to find alternative ways to thoughtfully remember the person who died, such as a virtual gathering or the participation of a family ritual. 

Books for Children Experiencing Grief 

Books are not only a wonderful resource to help parents and caregivers explain what death is in an age appropriate way, but also a gentle story can provide comfort to children who have experienced loss. 

Written By: Geetha Pokala LPC-Associate Supervised by Kirby Schroeder LPC-S, LMFT-S

Building a Strong Long-Distance Military Relationship

I personally didn’t ever expect myself to marry a military soldier due to being afraid of the possible distance. It is emotionally draining being away from your partner for months or maybe even years. No matter how many times the separation occurs, it seems to be just as intimidating. Here are some helpful hints to get in a positive groove with your military spouse or even a long distance partner. 

1. Talk about the upcoming separation

Before it even happens, it’s extremely important to sit together and share what your fears are about the soon-to-be distance. Allow each partner to share without interruption and brainstorm ideas together to make them feel less scary. Throughout the separation continue talking and bringing up new fears and emotions that pop up before they become a bigger problem. 

2. Keep active and stay busy

Whether that’s picking up a new hobby, being outside with nature, surrounding yourself with loved ones, or creating a daily routine, do whatever you can to distract yourself so you don’t feel alone at your own home.

3. Discuss how you will stay in touch

Schedule a daily or weekly time to talk on the phone or video sessions. It gives you a positive part of your day to connect and look forward to together. Even talk about the type of communication you would feel closest to.

4. Continue to make plans together

Plan vacations that you will take together once reunited again. Plan smaller activities you took for granted and want to do together again, such as biking, kayaking, or taking the dog on a walk. This really helps with providing reassurance that life will be back to normal again some day.

5. Kicking it back to pen pals

Write letters to each other and send care packages. Share about your day or how much they mean to you or what emotions are coming up for you as you’re writing. Receiving mail from your partner is a way to make anyone smile and think of you. 

6. Seek support if needed

This could mean staying at a family’s house or seeing friends over the weekends. This could also mean seeking a therapist for an additional safe space to process.

7. Distance gives you the opportunity for the heart to grow fonder

This is the chance to really test your communication skills and prove yourself as a couple. You will learn how to communicate about aspects that haven’t come up before. This distance is also a reminder of the good times and how thankful you are for them.

8. Be flexible and open-minded

The military will control your partner’s schedule and it will be frustrating when you just want to see or talk to them. If you don’t already know, ask and understand why your partner is in the military and how it benefits both of you. 

9. Have shared experiences together

Read the same book or listen to the same music playlists and compare notes and opinions. Use technology to watch movies or shows together or even play games online at the same time. This provides some type of normalcy of being together even if it’s through a screen.

10. Acknowledge this is not easy

This is an experience not everyone goes through and is extremely hard. The best way to get through this time is to work together as a couple. Establish mutual trust, honesty, respect, and remember you are both going through a challenging time. Remind your partner that you love them.

Written By: Sumayah Downey, MA, LPC-Associate, NCC Supervised by Cristy Ragland, LPC-S, LMFT-S, RPT-S


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