We live in an increasingly challenging world. For teens this appears to be an especially difficult time as we see trends in increased depression, anxiety, drug use, self-harm and suicide. Netflix recently put forth a challenging series, 13 Reasons Why, that is based on the book of the same title. The premise to raise awareness and start a discussion about suicide is an important discussion. The execution of this series has raised many questions and challenges. I have had clients that are young access this series or binge watch it on Netflix without parents knowledge or anyone to discuss the subject with. I have had parents who are shocked and don't know how to respond. This is such an important topic that I encourage you to talk with your children. Encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings and be able to talk with them about hope. There is always an option, always hope. Suicide is not the option and not the inevitable option that is portrayed in this series. There is help out there. Talk with a mental health professional. At GCC we would love to talk with you and help you find the help that you need.
I discovered one high school's response to their own tragedy and this series. 13 Reasons Why Not. Please check out this link to the report on their efforts to raise awareness on this very important issue.
If you reading this and need help or would like to discuss this further, please call us at (215) 860-2525 or contact a mental health professional near you. Life is precious.
Every day, it is estimated that over 150,000 children around the country skip school because of bullying. Becoming the victim of bullying has significant impacts on the emotional, physical, and psychological health of children and the pain from the experience can be overwhelming. In spite of the frequency of this type of experience, many parents don't know the warning signs and if they do, they don't know what to do when they see it!
Common Warning Signs:
Spring is just around the corner which means warmer temperatures, bright blooms and cool breezes! It’s the perfect time to break the cabin fever and seasonal blues. But in the midst of our busy schedules and daily life, spending time outside can become just another thing to add to our list. When we are being pulled in a number of directions, it forces us to prioritize and decide what is most important for us to spend our time doing. Why is getting outside something we should choose to prioritize as the weather warms? 5 Mental Health Benefits of Going Outside 1. Overall Reduced Stress Levels Spending time in nature has been clinically shown to reduce stress levels. While a combination of other positive effects may be the explanation for this, there’s no arguing that looking at trees and feeling the warmth of the sun reduces stress far more than looking at the walls of your home or the desk in your office. 2. Vitamin D Levels Sunlight hitting the skin has been shown to increase the level of Vitamin D in the body! Vitamin D has been linked to decreased symptoms of depression. Bonus! All that sunlight helps regulate your body’s circadian rhythm and positively impact the quality of your sleep. 3. Improved Focus Outdoors, there are far less negative and distracting stimuli lobbying for our attention and robbing us of our ability to focus on the things that we really want to. Looking to devote yourself to a particular project? Desiring to shift your focus from work to your family at the end of the day? Try a 15 minute walk or bike ride outside or sitting in a lawn chair for a few minutes. Being outside can help you refocus on the thing that really matter. 4. Easy Exercise Getting outside gets you moving! The more time you spend outside, the less time you are spending watching TV or starting at a computer screen. Simply taking a walk gets your heart rate up and your body burning calories. Experience the positive benefits of endorphins, increased dopamine levels (the feel good hormone!) and get that vitamin D while you’re at it! 5. Increased Creativity A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggested that spending time in nature has a positive impact on creative production, especially when it involved walking or moving. Creating and creative expression is something adults often desire to incorporate into their lives but struggle to find the time or inspiration to do so! Whether it’s a traditional creative medium such as painting or writing or something a bit less traditional like home decor or cooking, spending some time outside can help get those creative juices flowing!
Spring is just around the corner which means warmer temperatures, bright blooms and cool breezes! It’s the perfect time to break the cabin fever and seasonal blues. But in the midst of our busy schedules and daily life, spending time outside can become just another thing to add to our list. When we are being pulled in a number of directions, it forces us to prioritize and decide what is most important for us to spend our time doing. Why is getting outside something we should choose to prioritize as the weather warms?
5 Mental Health Benefits of Going Outside
1. Overall Reduced Stress Levels
Spending time in nature has been clinically shown to reduce stress levels. While a combination of other positive effects may be the explanation for this, there’s no arguing that looking at trees and feeling the warmth of the sun reduces stress far more than looking at the walls of your home or the desk in your office.
2. Vitamin D Levels
Sunlight hitting the skin has been shown to increase the level of Vitamin D in the body! Vitamin D has been linked to decreased symptoms of depression. Bonus! All that sunlight helps regulate your body’s circadian rhythm and positively impact the quality of your sleep.
3. Improved Focus
Outdoors, there are far less negative and distracting stimuli lobbying for our attention and robbing us of our ability to focus on the things that we really want to. Looking to devote yourself to a particular project? Desiring to shift your focus from work to your family at the end of the day? Try a 15 minute walk or bike ride outside or sitting in a lawn chair for a few minutes. Being outside can help you refocus on the thing that really matter.
4. Easy Exercise
Getting outside gets you moving! The more time you spend outside, the less time you are spending watching TV or starting at a computer screen. Simply taking a walk gets your heart rate up and your body burning calories. Experience the positive benefits of endorphins, increased dopamine levels (the feel good hormone!) and get that vitamin D while you’re at it!
5. Increased Creativity
A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggested that spending time in nature has a positive impact on creative production, especially when it involved walking or moving. Creating and creative expression is something adults often desire to incorporate into their lives but struggle to find the time or inspiration to do so! Whether it’s a traditional creative medium such as painting or writing or something a bit less traditional like home decor or cooking, spending some time outside can help get those creative juices flowing!
Thanksgiving: A Prescription for Joy
As a child, thanksgiving was a day full of tradition. Stealing small tastes while my mother cooked, watching the giant balloons float through New York City, traditional foods, and after-meal football all distinctly marked thanksgiving as unique from the rest of the year. However, as I reflect, one tradition stands out. For as far back as I can remember, prior to eating dinner, the entire family would each take turns sharing what it was they were thankful for this particular year. Family, health, & monetary success were among the common gifts named. From there, grace was said and our feast would commence, marking the end of my moment of gratitude, not to be visited again for another year.
But what if that practice, giving thanks and counting our blessings, was more than a nice phrase or a tradition that takes place once a year? What if gratitude became a habit? How might our overall wellbeing be impacted if we simply began to practice saying “thanks” on not only the holidays, but on the mundane and hard days, too? When I consider adopting the practice of gratitude, the easy and happy days stand out as times when I can see God’s grace in abundance, making my ability and willingness to tell Him “thank you” and to see His work in my life a simple task! Thankfulness comes naturally in those moments when things are going my way and all seems right in the world.
But what about the hard days? What about the days when the
world seems dark, the storms of life are strong, and it feels as though God has
abandoned you? How and for what do we give thanks then? Ann Voskamp, an author
whose writings focus on the topic of gratitude explains it this way:
“Gratitude follows grace — as thunder follows lightening. And the storm is grace because whatever drives us into God, is a grace from God.”
You see, it’s all grace. The good, the hard, the painful, the joy-filled, the confusing-all grace. Every bit of it is God working for our good and His glory. And if it’s all grace, then every bit of it is a gift. And if it’s all a gift, then we must respond with gratitude. But for what? What does this thankful living produce in my difficult and sometimes dark life? 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 reads: … “be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
See, giving thanks is how we can pray continually. And this is how you get to joy. Ann Voskamp says, “Thankfulness is God’s prescription for joy.” The counting of the gifts, the intentional act of seeing grace in all things-they change our perspective. They rewire our thinking to enable us to see the hope of redemption and the works of grace in each situation, allowing us to experience joy and peace, even in the unhappiest of moments. This practice won’t change our circumstances. Those we will likely have to endure. But the practice can change our perspective and will often lead to joy, even amidst deep struggle. This thanksgiving, pause to say “thanks,” maybe even for the difficult things. Then, allow that moment to mark the beginning of a new habit that can help change the way you look at the rest of the moments of your life.
Submitted by: Courtney
Balban, Counseling Intern
In The Midst of Infertility
In our previous blog we gave voice to the struggle that many endure through infertility. As promised, here is some of my friend's story that she was willing to share as well as some things she is learning along the way. I hope you are blessed and encouraged by her thoughts and that you might find some comfort in her transparency if you or someone you love is also struggling with infertility.
"Once you get married, people naturally start asking you about when you're going to start having kids. This has always been a hard question for me to hear. When we first got married, it seemed like people expected us to have kids almost immediately. We had just gotten married and wanted time together to build a strong foundation in our marriage before kids entered the picture. However, deep down, I've always had an intense longing to be a mom, so when people would ask, it tugged at my heart and made me feel discontent, questioning our timeline. After several years my husband and I were in agreement and ready to begin this journey toward parenthood; we were joyful as we began the process of trying to conceive. However, each month came and went, and we were frustrated and upset that it was taking much longer than we had hoped. Then, we found out there were medical issues, which were not only hindering our ability to get pregnant all along but were also threatening our ability to ever have our own biological children. This news was completely devastating, like all of our dreams being shattered right in front of us. Despite the devastation of the news I have found hope and I am trusting that God has a plan for my husband and I and that He is preparing us for parenthood but we have no idea what that will look like - who those children will be or where they will come from. Each step, each procedure, each piece of news from the doctors is difficult and emotional. Yet I have a peace about whatever the outcome will be because I know that once we are at that point, my husband and I will be so joyful with whatever and whoever God had planned for us."
Although we may not have been dealing with this issue for as long as some couples have been, by God's grace, I have learned much along the journey so far. I hope that my thoughts can be helpful to you in your journey as well.
Here are things that I'm learning and finding to be important/helpful while walking through the journey of infertility:
- Remember that your marriage is key; protect it.
Work on being unified and make decisions you both agree on. communicate your feelings and be sensitive to each other. Avoid the trap of discussing it every time you're together. Continue to nurture your relationship and grow together by planning date nights and finding ways to have fun.
- Find helpful and supportive individuals to talk to.
This can be a very isolating journey if you don't allow others to walk with you through it. Infertility is such a personal thing that it would be easy to bottle everything up and only talk about it with your spouse. However, you need others who can support you through encouragement and prayer. On the flip side, be cautious and use discernment with what you do share with others. Protect each other and the details that should remain private in your relationship.
- Draw close to God.
Whether you already have a relationship with God or not, seek Him. He is the giver of life and has spoken everything in this world into being. He loves you, cares about your longings, and has a mighty plan for you, but He wants you to seek Him for who He is and not just for all of your dreams to come true. You may struggle with this, especially if you're going through infertility, because it would be easy to feel like He doesn't love you or care about your longings as you're going through so much pain and questioning. However, I promise that if you draw near to Him, reading His words in the Bible and seeking His will for your life through prayer, your perspective will be dramatically changed and you will begin to see His goodness and taste the sweetness in the midst of the bitter things of life. Then, you will be truly "blessed."
- Create necessary boundaries for yourself.
Limit your exposure to social media if you notice the pregnancy and birth announcements to be continuous triggers in your life. Also, continue to be supportive of others around you, whether acquaintances or good friends, who are pregnant or have kids but be mindful of the situations you put yourself in. If you're always around pregnant women and conversations that surround the topic of children, it may make it harder for you emotionally.
- Continue to live life!
Don't wallow in self-pity but continue to live your life and seek new ways to have fun. Take up new hobbies or continue with hobbies you've always loved. Remember that becoming a parent isn't your identity just like being a wife or husband isn't your identity. Yes, we long for these wonderful things in life but they don't make us who we are and ultimately, don't complete us as human beings.
My friend is not a counselor but I believe the things she is learning would be helpful for anyone who is struggling with infertility. If you are also struggling with infertility the counselors at GCC would be more than happy to meet with you. Please don't hesitate to contact us or to bring up this topic with your current counselor.
Submitted by: Sarah Loew, MS
Ganey Counseling & Consultation*ganeycounseling.com
The Silver Lining
There is something beautiful and truly awesome about the fact that we get to be a part of creating new life. It is a miracle that we can conceive and give birth to little people that look like us and someday (whether for good or bad) start to act like us. It's something that many of us, men and women, expect to happen some day. Whether or not we are conscious of it, we dream about what our future families will be like.
Sitting across from my friend who is struggling with infertility I realize just how much of her grief is tied to her broken dreams. She and her husband have been dreaming of children for years; they have had names picked out for their future children and I'm sure they have imagined what their family might look like as it grows. They never imagined; however, that the start of their family would include months of disappointing pregnancy tests, numerous doctors' visits, heartache, and awaiting stressful medical results. They have hope that they will some day have children, whether it be their biological children or adopted; but the pain of dealing with the broken dreams has been hard. The same is true for women who struggle with infertility through multiple miscarriages. Some may feel as though they can't grieve or don't know how to grieve because they never got to know their child. In fact, that is all the more reason to be able to grieve. The dreams they had for their children never came to fruition.
It is infertility awareness month and so I want to give voice to the struggle that so many endure and endure rather silently. Given the intimate details and personal decisions that are tied to infertility it becomes a grief that is sometimes very difficult to share. Although many are dealing with infertility, they are often struggling alone while enduring others' birth announcements and questions about babies from kind hearted but unknowing friends. It is difficult to maintain the joy they have for others' good news while quietly enduring their own grief.
Perhaps you can't relate to the struggles that come with infertility but I'm sure you can relate to having broken dreams of your own. This is something we all can experience in our marriages, careers, families, education, talents, friendships, and even our health. I've endured some of my own broken dreams and helplessly I watch as ones I love endure their own. It seems that we are unable to escape the reality of this in our lives.
You're probably beginning to think that this is one depressing blog. This is not my intention. While I want to bring awareness to our broken dreams it doesn't end there. There is a silver lining in the dark, thunderous cloud. There is hope in the midst of our grief. Our hope is this: "And we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and who are called according to His purposes." Romans 8:28
This means that He is with
us in our grief.
We are in accordance with his purposes; therefore, nothing is happening without his awareness. No tear is falling that he doesn't see. No hurt is felt that he doesn't care about. "He is close to the brokenhearted and He binds up their wounds." Psalm 147:3
This means He gives us
strength to endure.
If His plans for us are good, then his heart for us is good. He will not abandon us in our suffering; He will not withhold His strength. In the times we feel we can't go on or we can't bear much more, we can be comforted in prayer, through the Bible, and through worship. Infertility is something my friend never thought she would be able to endure, but now that she is facing this struggle she is amazed at the peace, joy, and strength she is finding in her relationship with God.
This means that He has a new
dream for us.
Perhaps you're not ready to hear this yet. If so, then there is still grieving you need to express for the loss or losses you have experienced. But there is hope in knowing that our grief is not the end of the road. God is a Father who redeems and restores. His heart is full of love for you and his plans are always good. Nothing is too hard for the Lord and he is able to do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine. Ask him to redeem that which was lost; open your heart to the new dream he has for you.
*** In light of it being Infertility awareness month I wanted to shed some light on the topic and remind you that the counselors at GCC would be more than happy to support you in your journey. If this topic touches close to your heart be sure to check out our next online blog where I will share a follow up with more of my friend's story (with her permission of course) as well as some things she has learned along her journey.
Submitted by: Sarah Loew, MS
September is suicide prevention month. The purpose of this month is to raise awareness of suicide and increase the knowledge people have about suicide.
It is important to recognize that sometimes the warning signs are few and even if you pick up on them and try to help, help is not always wanted. It is important to do the best that we can to help someone but even if someone chooses to take their life it is important to recognize that it is not your fault.
That being said, however, it is important to be educated on the signs of someone who is struggling and contemplating or planning suicide. Thoughts of suicide can be brought on by chronic pain or by a more acute pain that is brought on by a sudden event that feels to painful to endure.
- Talk: If a person talks about:
o killing themselves
o having no reason to live
o being a burden to others
o feeling trapped
o unbearable pain
- Behavior: a person's suicide risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased, especially if it's related to a painful event, loss, or change.
o increased use of alcohol or drugs
o looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means
o acting recklessly
o withdrawing from activies
o isolating from family and friends
o sleeping too much or too little
o visiting or calling people to say goodbye
o giving away prized possessions
- Mood: People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods
o loss of interest
If you are concerned for someone you know:
· Be willing to talk about suicide and ask questions. Talking to someone about suicide does not make them more likely to try it.
If A Crisis Arises:
· Call 911 or transport person directly to a hospital or crisis center for evaluation and treatment.
· You may also reach the Lower Bucks Suicide Prevention Hotline at 215.355.6000.
Submitted by: Sarah Loew, MS
Navigating Classroom Drama
Only a few days into the new school year and I’m already hearing about the back to school drama. I don’t have kids myself but I’m hearing about it from friends and family members. Although we can often make light of the “drama” that goes on in the middle school and high school years it is sometimes enough to make you want to rip your hair out.
As a teenager, going through the drama first hand, it may feel impossible to figure out what to do or say. You are most likely experiencing anxiety as well as some anger or sadness at what may be going on at school. Perhaps dread rises up in you each morning as wake up for school; thoughts about the situation keep swirling around in your mind and it is hard to find peace.
As a parent, hearing about the drama at school can leave you feeling dumbfounded, angry, or helpless. Sometimes you may have no idea how to support your child. Other times you may have wisdom or encouragement to offer your child but your loving, and perhaps desperate, efforts are met with the response, “You don’t understand!”
Just as we reviewed in last week’s blog, the middle school and high school years revolve around the “need” to be accepted by peers. This desire for acceptance, coupled with constant changes in social spheres (friends, dating, who is in their lunch) is the perfect breeding ground for insecurity and… drama. Teens go to school each day trying to ride out the ever-changing social waves and sometimes they’re left feeling like their drowning in the wake.
How to Support Your Teen:
Validate their experience.
This was mentioned in the previous blog but it is so important it’s worth repeating. When your teenager is having a bad day they want someone to listen. They may also be looking for guidance in how to deal with what’s going on but their ears won’t be open to listening until they’re sure that you're listening attentively first.
· What did you hear them say? So you’re telling me that….? Wow, no wonder you had a rough day.
· What do you imagine they’re feeling? That would probably feel really embarrassing…
Ask Thought Provoking Questions.
Teens are often struggling to declare their independence. They still need you but they don’t always want you to the extent that they did when they were younger. Sometimes, as the parent, you need to step in and address a situation with a teacher or principal but often times these moments of “drama” can be solved by your teen with the proper direction. Instead of telling your child what they should do, ask them questions to assist them in sorting through the problem and potential solutions. Through thoughtful questions you can help your teen more effectively develop their moral character, forgiveness, and healthy boundaries.
Is your teen staying in their room more often and talking less about what is going on at school? Are they sad or angry and losing interest in their hobbies? Perhaps they’re not withdrawn so much as they are coming home with more and more “drama” each day. Are you beginning to wonder if it is your child’s own unhealthy patterns that are creating some of the unrest at school? The turmoil teens go through at school sometimes passes quickly but other times it tends to create a crisis that lasts for sometime. If you are beginning to worry about your child don't delay in seeking help from the school counselor or a professional counselor. We are here to help you navigate through these difficult times.
Submitted by: Sarah Loew, MS
Back to School Jitters
I remember lying in my bed the night before the first day of school, tossing and turning in my half state of sleep as my thoughts ruminated on how the next day would unfold. For the most part I enjoyed school and sometimes, come the end of summer, I even looked forward to it. There was, however, always that bit of anxiety that plagued me just before the first day.
It is normal for all kids, and let's face it, even adults that are returning to school, to experience some anxiety. For those who tend to struggle with anxiety on a regular basis, however, the feelings of anxiety are much more likely to become overwhelming.
Young children that are returning to school might have some anxiety about being away from mom and dad all day. They are still getting adjusted to the routines of school and are perhaps concerned as well about their teachers and whether or not they will be nice. Teens who are returning to school are perhaps the most likely to experience anxiety, however, the reason is likely to be a bit different. While young children tend to focus on the attachment to their parents, teens begin to move away from this and focus on their attachment to their peers. It is through their peer relationships that they get feedback about themselves; they are looking to their peers to find an answer to their question, "Am I okay?" This can be most frustrating to parents because regardless of how many times you encourage and support your teen, it's not necessarily your acceptance that they are looking for.
So… how can you support your anxious teen?
1) Get them involved in after-school activities.
The benefits are two-fold. If your child does extracurricular activities it is likely that those activities include some type of art, music, or exercise. All three of these things are useful and beneficial in decreasing anxiety. In addition, getting them involved in something enjoyable that they are good will likely increase their confidence and their proximity to like-minded peers.
2) Find a mentor or counselor.
I recently learned of a young man who used to go to youth group at his church every week. The young man's dad actually paid one of the youth leaders hang out with his son for an extra 15 minutes at the end of every week. While shooting hoops the two got to talk and only later did the young man realize that those 15 minutes, once a week, truly changed his life. Sometimes having another adult to talk to, besides mom and dad, can be just what is needed.
Although this is last on the list, it is perhaps the most important. Often times when teens are struggling a parent's first inclination is to want to fix the problem or convince the teen not to worry. Before a teen is ready to listen to you they want to first know that you've heard them. 1) Hear them out 2) check in with them to make sure you heard them correctly 3) Empathize - put into words what it would be like to be in their shoes. Then, and only then, if appropriate, encourage them in how to face the things that are troubling them.
Submitted by: Sarah Loew, MS
Overcoming Evil With Good
If you're anything like me all the bad news that is constantly flooding the television, radio, and Facebook news feeds can be quite overwhelming. Sometimes it's hard enough to sort through the struggles we are experiencing in our own lives' let alone the struggles of the world. The gruesome videos, racial divides, and the constant updates about ISIS can quickly lead to feelings of helplessness or hopelessness. It seems as though these struggles are infiltrating our world at such a large scale that we merely sit back feeling broken, scared, and wondering what on earth we are to do.
As I have been contemplating some of these things I was comforted by words I found in Dr. Larry Crabb's book, "66 Love Letters." In it he quotes James Denney, a student from the 1800s, on his still relevant view of whether our world is getting more increasingly good or bad.
question is sometimes asked whether the world gets better or worse as it grows
older, and optimists and pessimists take opposite sides on it. Both… are wrong.
It does not get better only, nor worse only, but both. Its progress is not
simply a progress in good, evil being gradually driven from the field; nor is
it simply a progress in evil before which the good continually disappears: it
is a progress in which good and evil alike come to maturity, bearing their
ripest fruit, showing all that they can do, proving their strength to the
utmost against each other; the progress is not in good itself or in evil itself
but in the antagonism of one to the other."
Larry Crabb then sums up this quote by stating, "In other words, the battle is on."
In the meantime… what do we do?
Everyday, little by little, we overcome evil with good.
How do we do this?
1) Give to an organization
that supports a good cause.
You can give your time or your finances. Do some research, ask your friends; there are a lot of amazing organizations that are making a difference in your county, state, country and world. Though your donation may seem small, it is making a difference.
2) Be a part of the good
that is growing.
Seek out ways to be a blessing to others: give gifts, offer support and encouragement to the people who cross your path everyday,
3) Love your enemies.
This may seem confusing and contrasting to common sense; however, in order to overcome evil with good we need to respond with love (and justice) instead of returning evil. We need to make sure that we are maintaining healthy boundaries and a safe distance from those who seek to harm us; however, we are still called to love them. Perhaps that undeserved love might win their hearts.
4) Pray for your town,
nation, and world.
Not only are our prayers powerful but they are comforting in that they allow us to directly communicate with our loving heavenly Father; our Father who is sovereign, just, and present with us at all times. Prayer fixes our thoughts on what is good, the hope that we have, and the one who will someday bring ultimate peace to the world
Submitted By: Sarah Loew, MS