Health & Wellness Blog

How to Reclaim the Family Mealtime

Written by Michael Kemp, CSW, CASC

We hear more and more today concerns about the mental health of our children and adolescents. Anxiety. Depression. Isolation. Lack of focus. While there are numerous factors in our society that contribute to this, I would like to offer one proven factor to improve mental wellness in not only children and adolescents, but the whole family.

The family table. Yes, as early as 1943, researchers have pointed out the benefits of families coming together daily to share a meal. One such study stated “Family meals allow the parents to impart values and traditions, as well as demonstrate appropriate relationships, communication techniques, and problem-solving skills.” Family meals provide the structure and support for children to feel more secure and safe, knowing what to expect. These meals also provide the opportunity to monitor children’s moods, behavior, and activities, providing parents with insight into the emotional well-being of their children. Other benefits noted from these studies included improved academics, improved nutrition/ decreased obesity, decreased risk of substance use and other high-risk behaviors, and improved relationships within the family.

Now, we live in a busy world and making family meals a priority even for several nights a week is a challenge. This is not meant in any way to criticize your lifestyle. Most parents, according to surveys, would like to increase the times the family shares a meal together, and cite the challenges of work and school schedules, increased electronic use and meal prep. If you are one of these parents, let me offer a few suggestions that research indicates will improve the quality of this time together.

  • Make a consistent set time for the meals
  • Aim to eat together 4-5 times a week; include a weekend brunch
  • Involve your children in the meal prep (skill building)
  • Make the table a device free zone (that includes you also parents)
  • Delegate meal tasks (table setting, dish cleaning, etc.)

Don’t get discouraged by setbacks. Adolescents may complain. Siblings may argue. Meals may not turn out perfect. Give everyone, including yourself, grace. Know that you are doing a healthy and beautiful thing for your family.

Bon Appétit

Helpful Principles for Dealing with Loss and Grief

Written by Dr. Lee Hildebrand

Types of Grief

Recently, I recommended that a family friend see a long-time friend of mine for counseling. When they tried to contact him, they found out that he was no longer available because he had recently passed away. When I was informed of this, I felt shocked. I recently had interactions with him several months ago and he was a similar age. He was a good man. We had coached basketball together years ago and kept in touch over the years. It seems like yesterday.

Grief can take many forms. Like the example above, it can be grieving the literal death of a friend or family member. Grief can take the form of mourning the loss of an important relationship. Grief can also take the form of experiencing the loss of our own functioning, whether that be chronic disease like cancer or injuries that prevent us from living the way that we were able to before. Regardless of the type of grief, each person has a unique experience based on their specific circumstances.

Theory of Grief

Elizabeth Kubler Ross has posited the most famous theory of grief. She was a Swiss American psychiatrist and author of the best-selling book, On Death and Dying. She describes in this work five distinct stages of grief after a loss. The first stage is Denial, when the initial shock of the situation can result in feeling like the loss is surreal and we may go numb and deny the reality of the situation. The second stage she suggests is Anger, in which you might think “why me” or “life’s not fair” and become angry with the situation or angry with God. Following this, the third stage is Bargaining, when you might seek to make a deal with God or the universe, “please, if you heal my wife, I will be the best husband I can ever be and dedicate my life to charity.” You can feel so desperate to get your life back, you’re willing to make any changes to have things be better. After this, Ross suggests that Depression follows. This can be a sense of emptiness and extreme pain about things and hopelessness. The last stage of grief, according to Ross, is Acceptance, a phase in which our emotions start to stabilize and we begin to accept the reality of the circumstances. We try our best to make peace with the loss and continue living.

Each of these can be aspects of grief. I’d like to offer an alternative perspective to this linear stage model of grief. I have found through decades of experience assisting people with grief, that the process of grief is more individualized than a linear progression of stages. Grief is unique to the individual. Here are 8 guidelines to assist you when you’re grieving some form of loss.

  • Your Path of Grief is Unique to You: Elizabeth Kubler Ross offers great insight into some of the aspects of grief. However, it is important to remember that each situation is unique. There is not an exact or predictable path that people walk through. Oftentimes, the emotions of grief ebb and flow from anger in one moment, to depression in the next, and to resigned acceptance in another. Like the surf in the sea, loss can be so powerful that the emotions ebb and flow in an unpredictable pattern. This is important to realize because when grieving, people place expectations upon themselves on the timing of the process and may look at particular stages and wonder why they are not in sync with this. Your experience is unique and it is important to be compassionate and understand this when you are grieving loss.
  • There is No Predictable Time Line: It is crucial to know that your path of grief will be unique to you and that there is no specific timeline. Some often lament, “it’s been six months, why do I feel these feelings so strongly. It feels like everyone else would like me to be over this.” Please know that your path through these feelings is your own. The feelings will change. The grief will feel different in one year and in five years. It will decrease in intensity. However, depending on the significance of the loss, a sense of that person or reminiscence about who or what you’ve lost will always be a part of you.
  • Talk About It: Grief can be powerful and the emotions can be so intense that it seems that those around you who are not experiencing the loss may never relate. It is crucial not to internalize your grief. Talk with safe and appropriate people who can be a witness to your emotions and offer support. We don’t need pity. We need listening and understanding, whether that be a counselor, a pastor, a family member, or a trusted friend. Find your inner circle to talk about your feelings as you seek to cope with this loss.
  • Do Not Blame Yourself: Grief can be so powerful and the emotions so overwhelming that you may seek relief from the sense of powerlessness by blaming yourself. This seems to be a human pattern. “I really should’ve known that he was under that much distress even though he never said anything.” Others may lament, “if I didn’t insist that we take that trip we wouldn’t have been on the road that day and in the accident.” There are many forms of this and the common theme is finding some pathway of blame ourselves for the circumstances of the loss or tragedy. Hindsight is a rigged game. We really didn’t know back in that situation what we know now after the loss. It is unhealthy and debilitating to blame yourself for circumstances that are beyond your influence. Feel the pain but don’t blame yourself.
  • The Pain Will Change: Know that even though the pain can have incredible intensity that this will change with time. Whatever the loss, a death, relationship, or functioning, this loss will always be an impactful aspect of your history. Trust that the intensity will eventually subside. Grief a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now will change and be very different from what you feel today. With healing and support, you will find a way to live your life fully once again.
  • Be Creative in Your Remembrance: When we experience severe loss, it’s crucial to find your own creative ways to both cope and memorialize who or what you have lost. I had a severe softball leg injury resulting in two surgeries and six months of no weight-bearing on my right leg. The rehab was long and intense. Walking is such a gift. I focused intently and patiently upon my recovery. When I came back to full strength, I went for a run to the same ballfield by myself and ran the bases one time in celebration of my recovery. I’ve had clients who have lost family members set up foundations and memorial events, like a day of offering acts of kindness in the community to memorialize their family member on the anniversary of their loss. Another decided to climb a mountain in remembrance of someone lost and said goodbye from the top. It is important to find meaningful and creative ways to help both remember and cope with these losses.
  • Don’t Turn to Substances to Cope: Oftentimes the pain of loss can be so great that many find themselves seeking soothing in a bottle. Drinking can increase, taking painkillers, or becoming over-reliant on sleeping agents like Ambien in the wake of an extreme loss. The key here is to find coping and soothing with the fewest number of negative effects. Substances often compound the situation, increase depression, foster avoidance, and delay the process of healthy grieving from taking place. 
  • Don’t Do It Alone: The weight of grief can be immense and tempt us to isolate and internalize these feelings. Research on grief suggests that we have to bring the insides out. We have to talk about things with those safe and trusted people. Talk with those that do not have pity but bring sincere compassion to your circumstances. Talk with those that know how to listen without offering flip advice because they are uncomfortable with the emotions surrounding grief. Find those who will walk beside you. For those who have a faith, turn to God and trust him to guide you through healing. Get a professional psychologist, counselor, or life coach who has experience in helping with this kind of loss to help you through this.

Remember, grief can take many turns and there is no formula or predicted pattern. Hopefully, some of these tips will be valuable to you if you are experiencing grief in your life. Take it one day at a time. Be compassionate with yourself. This is your unique journey. Loss for all of us is a very real and painful part of being human. It also gives us perspective on the value of each moment and the ways that we can continue to make our own lives valuable today.

 

Spring Cleaning

Written by Dr. Laura Kaae

As we start to approach the warmer summer months, many people take the time to re-evaluate their homes and opt for some spring cleaning.  Spring offers a perfect time to re-center ourselves, clear out the messes of winter and focus on a brighter, more peaceful space. 

A variety of trending docuseries right now highlight this concept of de-cluttering.  While each show has their own verbiage (editing, purging, tidying etc), each focus on tackling messes people have acquired, purging what is not needed and capitalizing on items that are necessary – including the things that bring homeowners joy. These programs got me thinking - what is it about watching these cleaning shows that is so alluring? 

For one, when we tune into these organizational shows, we as viewers can see other people struggle with clutter or disorganization. From a therapeutic perspective we refer to this as normalizing the behavior. In other words, if a celebrity in a fancy Hollywood mansion has a messy pantry it can make us feel a bit better about our own closet haphazardly stuffed with bulk purchased mac and cheese boxes. Beyond just normalizing, these shows can be encouraging and hopeful. Viewers are inspired to see that with an overhaul and some tweaks to their own home organization, an uncluttered life is achievable. 

You may have heard the phrase that a messy space is a manifestation of a cluttered mind. From that perspective an overhaul on your “stuff” is as good for your space as it is for your brain. In my practice this generally holds true for most people. If you are looking for a good opportunity to spring clean your space and your mind – keep in mind a few tips for your process. 

  1. A good first step to decluttering both your brain and your space is to come up with a vision of the changes you desire. What do you want the space to look like? How would you feel when you entered your space? How might you be the best version of you in this area of your home? You could make a list of the attributes you value in a space (e.g. serene, productive, soothing, cheerful) that you want incorporated into your home.
  2. Pace yourself. It’s unrealistic to think you can undo years of unkept spaces in an entire house with just one long day of work. What is more achievable? Take on projects one bite at a time. Start with one small, relatively easy room in your home (a bathroom is usually a good place to start) to give yourself some momentum and build confidence. Resist the urge to “do it all in a day” or you’ll set yourself up for failure. 
  3. Think sustainability. Approach this aspect of positive changes to your home with an attitude of “can I keep this up?” It’s easy to see the picture-perfect images on the internet or a Instagramable curated space and want to make your home emulate that space. For example, an entryway with no clutter would be ideal, but realistically if you have children or pets you’re going to need some sort of hooks or storage for all their gear no matter how much cleaning you do. Any changes you are looking to implement will require you to ask yourself- is this sustainable for my lifestyle?
  4. Feeling overwhelmed? Give it 20 minutes. This is a method (also known as the Pomadoro technique) I recommend to most clients who are feeling overwhelmed by a task (any task!) and commit to just 15-20 minutes of you time. Pick a task you really are avoiding (for example vacuuming, cleaning out your closet, organizing your calendars) and set a timer for 20 minutes. See how much you can accomplish in these 20 minutes. There is something uniquely satisfying about racing the clock and telling yourself you “only” have to do the task for a finite period of time. Even better if you pair this technique with a spouse, roommate, or kids – everyone can race the clock and see who can accomplish the most in the short period before the timer goes off. 

Happy spring cleaning- may this year bring you a peaceful home and refreshed mind! 

Why Sleep Is Important & How to Get More

Written by Jeremy Schumacher, MA, LMFT

We just turned our clocks forward, partaking in the biannual celebration of messing up our circadian rhythm. Many of my clients were a little off this week, feeling more tired or more irritable, but many of them missed the connection this had with their lack of sleep. While most of us are aware that sleep is important, very few of my clients get enough sleep, nor do many folks I work with prioritize their sleep. Granted, I did work in Higher Ed, and I can say with a high level of confidence that very few college students are getting enough sleep. But how is it that so many people who know sleep is important are walking through life in a sleep-deprived haze? Culturally, sleep isn’t given much priority. Research shows starting school later helps students’ performance, yet no major schedule changes are forthcoming, lest we upset normal business hours. In school “pulling an all-nighter” is common to study for a big exam or finish a project. The early bird gets the worm, and nights out and time socializing cut into even more time for sleep. Somehow all these factors have led to people thinking they can “make it up” by taking a nap or sleeping in late one day. Unfortunately, that is not how sleep works (not to diminish the importance of resting when we need to).

One of the major paradigm shifts I talk through with clients is to think in terms of sleep hygiene. In the same way we shower, brush our teeth, hair, and moisturize, we should have regular routines that benefit our sleep just like we have routines for our physical hygiene. We have great examples of how bedtime routines look for children, but somehow we grow up and think bedtime isn’t needed for adults. Bath time, reading books, saying prayers and snuggling are a solid blueprint for how we can build bedtime back into our schedule outside of childhood. Winding down before bed is great, but typically our brain needs time to get ready to rest, and our body also needs signals that sleep is upcoming. Once we have a good routine, our body runs on auto-pilot for this, but when we are short on sleep or looking to get a better schedule we need to be intentional about setting a healthy routine. Having food or drinks high in melatonin or tryptophan are great natural sleep inducers. Chamomile tea, milk, tart cherries (or cherry juice), pistachios and other nuts are all great ideas to help signal to your body that sleep is imminent. I personally think brewing some tea is great for the physical signal, but also the ritual of heating water, steeping the leaves, waiting just a bit for it all to cool down and enjoying the warmth is a great way to get both mind and body ready for sleep. But whatever pre-bed routine works for you, having a ritual attached is great to get your body and brain on the same page. Yoga, breathing techniques, or sleep meditations are fantastic for this as well.

Typically I recommend the hour before sleep should be geared towards getting ready for bed. General tips include avoiding eating a whole meal or vigorous exercise within two hours of trying to sleep. Avoiding screens is preferred, but at least turning the brightness down and using a blue light filter can also be helpful. Pay attention to your preferences for level of light/dark in your sleeping space, as well as temperature. A common seemingly small problem that comes up with many couples I work with is a difference in sleeping temperature, so I recommend for many couples to have different sheets and blankets so each person can be comfortable.

Prioritizing your sleep has a plethora of benefits. Healthy sleep promotes better brain functioning in areas of concentration and memory, improves emotional regulation, and helps your body to balance energy levels and appetite. Your cells regrow while resting, and your brain actually does its own self-cleaning while we sleep and flushes out the toxins it accumulates over the day. So, make sleep a priority! Getting better sleep hygiene is a process, not an event, so plan for at least two weeks of being intentional with your pattern before it starts to feel more like a habit. Happy sleeping!

Revamp Your Social Life

Written by Dr. Gisela Berger

So, you’ve successfully survived being at home for months: working from home, playing at home, and doing everything AT HOME. And, you’re really tired of your own company. So, now it’s time to meet new people and try new things. But, how to do that? Well, here are a few suggestions for those wishing to get out, meet new people, be among others for the first time in a while.

  1. Volunteer in the community. When you have a passion for giving back, it is easy to find others who share that passion.  Sharing a few hours of your time each month will benefit both your organization of choice and you.
  2. Join an amateur sport’s team. You don’t have to be an Olympian to join a gym, team, or find a group that just gets out to have fun. Find a league in your area with sites like ZogSportsor Sportsvite.
  3. Run a local road race. Every runner will tell you that road races are fun, communal events. Races and running clubs offer fun ways to meet new friends, see your town from a new perspective, and break a sweat. Experienced runners and novices alike can enjoy the benefits of getting involved in the runner community (don’t worry, it’s not an elite club!).
  4. Join your local Chamber of Commerce or a Professional Networking Group. If you own your own business, joining the Chamber of Commerce is a highly effective way to meet new people and build a network of referrals. People who start off as network acquaintances can turn into lifelong friends. The passion shared by business owners and dedicated professionals is contagious. If you don’t own your own business but take great pride in your profession and want to meet new friends who share that drive, networking events are the number one way to do it.
  5. Join a faith-based organization. Certainly, one of the best ways to meet new friends is through a shared love of your faith. Becoming active in a local church, synagogue or mosque will ensure that you engage with a community of like-minded people who will support you.
  6. Join a cultural club. If you have strong ties to your culture, consider seeking out the local club or chapter that represents your culture in your city. This can be an enriching experience and opportunity to meet others sharing the same culture.
  7. Join a wine club. If you enjoy a nice glass of wine and good conversation, it won’t be hard to make new friends in a wine club. Many cities have wine clubs that tour the local wine bars and wineries (where applicable). Learn more about wine and make friends on the journey!
  8. Join a book club. Not only are book clubs one of the best ways to meet new friends, reading is widely known to be excellent for the brain and overall emotional health. Unwind with a new book each month and join a club where you can find new friends and enjoy a discussion. Finding the right book club is easy with websites like My Book Cluband Reader’s Circle.
  9. Join a sports team fan club. Do you love your team? You aren’t alone! It doesn’t matter where your team is from or what sport they play, chances are there are others in your city who also love them. Joining a fan club is one of the great ways to meet friends online! If you are up for cheering on games together, you can probably find a local bar dedicated just to your team! The easiest way to find these clubs is through your team’s official website.
  10. Visit a museum, zoo, aquarium or national park. Spending time at one of these public places can be a great way to enjoy the day and meet new friends who share your interests. Many cities offer a variety of museums featuring collections of all kinds. If you are more inclined to spend the day with animals, many zoos and aquariums offer walking tours or wildlife classes.
  11. Go to a local music, food or art festival. Attending festivals is one of the best ways to meet new friends. Festivals are very communal, centered around having fun, and often include group activities like games, competitions, and demonstrations. Your local city or town newspaper has more information.
  12. Shop at local businesses. Local business owners are eager to meet and serve their community. Spending time in the local boutiques and restaurants in your town ensures that you can build relationships with the hard-working people who own the shops. Patronizing these businesses also create opportunities to meet other members of the community who “shop local” and could become shopping buddies.
  13. Go to a farmer’s market. Many towns offer monthly farmer’s markets full of great produce and local products. Like shopping locally, farmer’s markets create a fun way to support your community and surround yourself with neighbors who are interested in doing the same. If you enjoy healthy living, farmer’s markets are one of the best ways to meet new friends in a new city, because of the diverse group of people who attend.
  14. Take a local brewery tour. Craft beer has exploded onto the scene in recent years and. In addition to great beer, these breweries often offer tours and classes making them a great place to meet new people and have fun.

Adjusting can be difficult, but always remember that you’re not alone! If you’re wondering, “How do I meet new friends?”, try some of the ideas in this article.

Be confident, be yourself, and be open to new social connections.

Sometimes, anxiety can get in the way of meeting others. If that is a concern of yours, feel free to reach out to a professional. We are here to help and can even meet virtually!