How to respond to those living with grief

Grief is in the room, and it’s the size of an elephant.  Do you see it?  Can you feel it? 

It’s hard to know what to say…or do when a friend loses a loved one.  We can’t stop the pain someone else is living with (which is hard for us to sit with), but we can acknowledge that we see the elephant standing on their foot, which can help the person grieving feel less alone.

Relationships vary and what it’s called does not predict the experience of grief.  A best friend may be your sister too.  A grandfather may be your kindred spirit, or a pet your constant companion.  We like to define things to understand them better.  Let this one go.  We will only know what someone else tells us it is like to lose what they have lost.  Listen to them talk and try to understand. 

People process grief in so many ways.  The uncle that doesn’t shed a tear is grieving.  The neighbor that hasn’t changed out of her bathrobe in weeks could use your compassion, not your judgement.  Loss does not follow a script or a formula.  The process will take how much time it takes.  We may sincerely wish for someone to feel better, but that does not change their process.  Grief cannot be ‘fixed’.  We may feel uncomfortable with the depth of emotion we witness.  We may feel helpless, and struggle to find the ‘right’ words to say.  (See below for some suggestions)  Consider what witnessing grief stirs up for you.

I’ve heard people say they don’t want to “bring up” the loss to someone grieving by asking how they are.  I’m here to tell you that you are not bringing up something that is not already on their mind.  To share that you are thinking of someone is an act of kindness.  They may choose not to discuss how they are in depth, but that you asked and acknowledged that they are going through a difficult time is a supportive exchange. 

Sheryl Sandberg writes in her book, Option B, “Specific acts help because instead of trying to fix the problem, they address the damage caused by the problem.”  What could you say or do to soften the impact caused by loss?  I had dear friends stock the freezer and mow the lawn following a death in the family.  It was so helpful.  They took away the mystery of dinner and lightened my load in a meaningful way.

 

What can you say?

  • How are you? (Then give them your undivided attention as they answer)

  • There are no words for this.

  • This must be so hard.  I remember you saying that she/he (some personal memory).

  • If you understand or share in a belief system with the bereaved- words of faith may be a comfort.

  • I’m sorry for your loss.

  • I’m thinking of you.

  • What can I do to support you? (Give options, because this is a hard one to answer- especially for those that don’t typically ask for help)

 

What can you do?

  • Offer to sit with them/stay with them/give them a hug (depending on the nature of the relationship).

  • Organize friends to deliver dinner.

  • Walk the dog.

  • Fill the car’s gas tank.

  • Set up a carpool for the kids.

  • Donate to a charity in the deceased’s name.

  • Mail them a gift certificate to a local restaurant.

  • Start a GoFundMe page to help ease financial burdens.

  •  Send cards on anniversaries.

These are just a few ideas of what you can say or do when someone you care about has suffered a loss.  I hope you’ve found this helpful.  “I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees” writes Mat Kearney in the song Closer to Love.  This is so very true.  I ask you to offer compassion to those living with loss.  They don’t need to suffer alone.    

Thank you.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overcoming Depression

Welcome, I’m glad you’re here.  Let’s talk about depression.  Sad subject?  Are you squirming in your seat?  Finger hovering over the back arrow?  The feelings associated with depression can be so big and overwhelming that we are at a complete loss on what to do.  We may need someone to carry our hope for us until we can find it in ourselves.  Myth dispelling here- seeking help is NOT a sign of weakness.  Asking for what you need takes lots of courage.  You can do it, and I’m here to help.  

“I can’t stop crying”… “I have zero motivation”… “I want to stay in bed all day.”  These are common experiences, and are understandable.  Depression hurts.  For some people, depression is temporary and situational- triggered by the death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, being bullied, or a health crisis (to name a few).  But for others, it can be a daily uphill battle.

Everyone has a bad day from time to time.  A distinction for depression is when it persists…and you can’t “snap out of it.”  You feel sad, irritable, want to sleep all the time, have insomnia, have lost your appetite, or you just don’t care anymore.  Sometimes it is worse…and you want your suffering to stop.  Maybe you’ve even considered killing yourself.  Please don’t.  We want you here.  Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline # 1-800-273-8255 for immediate help.

You do not have to suffer alone anymore.  Let someone you trust know that you are struggling and need help finding support.  Look on Psychology Today to find a therapist in your area.  Talk with your doctor about how you feel.  Taking this first step is the hardest, but you can do it.  I believe in you.  If you’d like to know more about what to expect with your first call to a therapist- take a look at my blog post titled, The First Phone Call.

Treatment for depression varies from person to person.  Maybe you’ve even tried something before and felt it didn’t help.  Try again.  You are worth it.  Until then, I am holding hope for you.

Three tools to help you reduce anxiety ASAP

Three easy to use tools to help you reduce anxiety ASAP

 

Welcome!  I’m glad you are here.

You know that dream of falling on your face and losing all of your shiny brace-free teeth? (So many people have this!)   Or the dream where you show up at school/work in your underwear?  Yikes!  My beloved recently sent me a quote that said, “I’m beginning to think my husband isn’t going to apologize for the way he acted in my dream last night.”   Dreams can feel so real!  And our physiological response of waking up in a sweat with our heart racing is caused by the anxiety we felt during whatever event took place in that dream.

What about when you’re awake?  Do you ever have sweaty palms, a racing heart, shaking legs, and feel like you can’t catch your breath?  Maybe your mind is racing and you just can’t focus.  Or you feel overwhelmed and like you can’t get out of your own way?  Chances are you’ve said yes to at least one of these examples. 

Experiencing some level of anxiety during periods of stress is completely normal.  However, if you feel like anxiety is interfering with your quality of life- there is hope!  Reach out to a therapist who can help unpack this with you to get to the source to have lasting results. 

Please note- It is important to rule out any medical concerns that may cause the aforementioned symptoms.  If your doctor has addressed any medical conditions, they may suggest that you explore what else could be causing these symptoms for you.  And that’s where I come in!

Today I’m giving you three easy to use tools to help you shift those feelings of anxiety when they arise.  Please note…you will likely find your mind wandering while practicing the following.  Know that this is NORMAL.  Give yourself permission to not create a narrative out of your thoughts.  Just notice them come and go and bring your attention back to the relaxation techniques.

 

1.      Counting your breath

When you focus your attention to your body, you give yourself the opportunity to quiet your mind.  A powerful tool you’ve got at the ready is your breath.  Focus on breathing deeply into your belly.  Count your in-breath…breathe in to the count of 5 hold your breath for 5 seconds and breathe out to the count of 5.  Notice the feeling of your feet on the floor.  If you are sitting in a chair, notice the feeling of your body in the chair…of being supported.  Continue focusing on and counting your breath. 

 

2.      Body scanning

We hold so much tension in our bodies!  Actively releasing this tension can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.  Find a private place where you can sit or lay comfortably.  Again, I want you to draw your attention towards your body.   Notice any sensations in your feet.  Tense the muscles of your feet.  Curl your toes in your shoes- hold for 3 seconds and then release.  Move up to your calves.  Tense the muscles of your calves- hold for 3 seconds and then release.  Continue to move up your body actively tensing and releasing each muscle group.   

 

3.      Positive imagery

Think of a place that you associate with positive feelings.  Allow yourself to imagine what it’s like to be in that place with all of your senses.  For me, it’s the ocean.

Example…Imagine your feet in the warm sand.  The feeling of a cool breeze on your face.  The sound of the ocean waves crashing on the shore.  The smell of salt water in the air.  The feeling of warm sunshine on your skin.  The way the light looks when it reflects off the water.  Bliss!  Our minds are so amazing!  We can offer ourselves the feeling of being in one place while we are physically somewhere else.  What a gift!

 

 Practicing relaxation techniques on a regular basis will strengthen your meditative muscle and decrease your symptoms of anxiety over time.

 

Wishing you a peaceful day…and night!

 

The First Phone Call

Reaching out to a therapist is an act of bravery and self-preservation.  Fear not.  You are about to do something that can change your life for the better!  Empowering, right?  I explain here what you can expect during that first phone call to demystify it for you.  Let's dig in and get you one step closer to feeling better.

Here’s how that first call typically goes… You call me (insert muzak).  I want to talk with you, but I may not be available to answer (I turn my phone off when I’m with clients so that they have my undivided attention).  Please leave me a message.  Tell me your name, your phone number, and a good time to reach you.  I try to get back to people ASAP (within 24 hours).  If I don’t reach YOU when I call, I’ll leave a message and so the game of phone tag begins. ;)

When we connect (free 15 minute phone consultation) this is a conversation.  In part, it’s our first dress rehearsal to see if we feel like a good fit.  I want you to get your needs met.  You may decide you want XYZ and not me- (though a friend recently told me my voice sounded like “buttah”…insert Massachusetts accent).  If for some reason I don’t think I can offer you what you are looking for, I’ve got a list of other therapists I trust and respect to refer you to.  FYI- It is typical to take a few sessions together to decide if we are a good fit.  As a therapist, I expect this.  If you feel like you’d prefer a different style etc.- you will not hurt my feelings by saying so.  This is all about YOU.  It can take a few tries to meet a therapist that you feel connected to.  Don’t be discouraged, getting the right support will bring you closer to your goals and is worth the effort.

The following are typical questions you can expect during that first phone call--- 

  • Why are you seeking counseling at this time?  Examples…I just don’t feel like myself.  I’m anxious at work.  I can’t seem to shut my brain off.  I had a loved one die.  I’m sad all the time…

  • Have you ever been in counseling before?  If yes, what did you find helpful or not helpful?  When you answer this, it is such valuable information for me.  If you tell me that your previous therapist gave you a suitcase of books to read and you don’t actually like to read, I’ll make a mental note of that.  If you love, love, love to read and have found in helpful in the past, that’s good for me to know too J

  • What will be your method of payment be (more on this later)? 

  • What is your availability for appointments?    If you tell me you work days and need an evening appointment (high real estate) I may or may not have an opening.  I encourage people to explore creative options.  Some employers will permit flexing schedules for on-going medical appointments.  Perhaps a lunch appointment would be feasible.  I get that it’s tricky.  A number of my clients have to arrange for babysitters to make their appointments.  If feeling better is important to you, be creative.  You are worth it!

  • I will ask you if you have any questions for me.  Remember, you can decide if I’m the right fit for you.  What is important to you in a therapist?  Maybe you don’t know the answer to that question yet, which is perfectly normal.  You can figure it out along the way.  I check in with clients periodically to see how they think things are going.  I welcome your feedback.  Remember…this is all about YOU.  Seeing you practice self-advocacy delights me!  Tell me no, tell me such and such doesn’t resonate with you.  It’s super helpful for me to know that, and helps us tailor our sessions towards what works best for you.

  • If we both choose to move forward with scheduling, I will ask you to call the behavioral health phone number on the back of your insurance card (if you are paying with insurance) to clarify as to what your benefits are. 

  • Questions to ask insurance are-

  1. Am I in a deductible period?  If so, what is it?  If they say yes, that means you will be expected to pay for your session at the time of service, and I will provide you with a super-bill to be applied towards your deductible. 

  2. Do I have a co-pay? 

  3. Do I have any limits on the length of my session (45 minutes or 55 minutes) or the number of sessions?

  4. Is a prior-authorization required? 

  • I will ask you for your email address.  I email the intake packet to clients and ask that it be filled out and brought to your first session (a map with parking options is included).  Bring your insurance card along too.  I will ask to make a copy of it at the end of your first session.

  • Lastly, I will ask if you have any questions about what we discussed during our phone call.  I want you to feel ready for your first appointment!

And that’s all, folks (did you think of Bugs Bunny too?).

I look forward to receiving your call!