Do Valentines' Differently

Every year people in relationship celebrate their love with flowers, cards, candy, and dinners. But, what about celebrating in a way that would help strengthen your relationship as well as celebrate it? Generally, we try to show each other our love with presents, dates, or saying “I love you”, but not everyone feels loved in those ways. This Valentines’ Day why not plan some time with your significant other growing your relationship by getting to know each other better? Most people think they know everything about their significant other’s thoughts, feelings, and stories; but even people who have been together for years can always learn something new about each other.

You can do this in a fun way like a 20 Questions game, sharing childhood and teenage memories, discussing the things you like most about the events in your relationship, or even discussing the things that each of you are interested in as hobbies.

You can also use Valentines’ Day to make goals for your relationship together for the upcoming year. Make a few short-term goals and a few goals that are a few years out. What milestones would you like to reach as a couple? This helps foster a more positive bond by making achievements together throughout the year to reach your goals. Then when this time of year comes up again you will be able to discuss your progress and achievements together.

You can also improve your emotional bond as a couple by discussing openly and honestly with your partner what you do that makes them feel truly loved on a regular basis. Evaluate what to this point has gone well and what has not gone so well for each of you in your relationship to date. Together you can make a plan to improve the things that need improving for the upcoming year. This can provide new insight into their emotional needs that you may not have considered before.

Whatever your celebration decisions are, make sure to be with your significant other without distractions like the television and cell phones if possible as this will make each of you feel like you are together in the moment celebrating.

If you find that things are not going as well in your relationship this year make a plan to have this be the year you change it. You can do this on your own as a couple or by attending a relationship enhancement workshop, marriage retreat, or simply attending some couples’ counseling sessions. Improving your relationship will only improve your lives on a regular basis and help you strive to work better together to be able to celebrate many more Valentines’ Days in the future.

The Importance of Children's Mental Health upon the New School Year

It’s that time of year again. Summer break is coming to an end and its back to reality of the school year hustle and bustle. The school year can be a challenging time for children as they struggle with fitting in with their peers, pressure of getting good grades and learning to balance extracurricular activities. Florida ranks one of the lowest states in the country for mental health funding and with the last report a couple years ago, Florida ranked #49 out of 50 states. What does this mean for our youth? In Charlotte County there is a lack of mental health professionals within the school system. High schools may each have a social worker assigned to their school but elementary schools often have one social worker to cover two to three schools each. Therefore, when your child is at school and going through something significantly stressful; domestic violence, the loss of a best friend, a bad breakup, bullying, etc. They are often limited as to where they are able to reach out for help, and they often turn to their friends who don’t have the healthiest of advice at times. Children from the beginning of their development have difficulty expressing their needs and just because as they get older they master language, sometimes it is difficult for a child to identify their feelings. Being aware of changes in your child’s behavior may help you to prompt a conversation or seek professional guidance from a therapist. 

Things to look out for; 

Missing school due to somatic complaints; stomach aches, headaches, nausea, with no other symptoms of illness. 

Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed.

Isolating themselves from the family and/or their friends.

Significant changes in their eating habits, sudden weight loss or weight gain. 

Frequent crying spells and inability to express what they are upset about.

Engaging in self-harm behaviors; make sure to notice upper thighs, stomach or areas often covered.    

We are often busy and disconnected despite being more connected technologically than ever before, but the continuous access to technology can at times, separate us from the ones we love. Have open and honest conversations with your children. Let them know that they can come with you to talk about their feelings or to have a sounding board to help them figure them out.  And if you need professional help, don’t be hesitant to reach out. 

 

LGBTQ+

Most people have seen shows or documentaries about the LGBTQ+ community or heard stories from others about their loved ones coming out to them. However, not many of these shows or stories inform you on how to handle these situations or what to do if you are in them. There are now many different ways people can identify their gender and sexuality. Additionally, people are starting to try to identify their gender and sexuality very young. This can be to confusing and there is a lot of misinformation about these topics.

What can you do if someone you know comes out to you about their gender or sexual identity? The first thing is to take a moment and think about your reaction first. How will this affect your future relationship with this person? Next, decide if you need more education on the topic. Usually the person telling you is able to give you a lot of information, if you ask. However, if you feel uncomfortable asking, seek information on your own. Third, realize that if this person is telling you, they have probably been struggling with this decision for longer than you think. Things you should not do are, try to convince them that they are confused, tell them they are too young to know yet, say “it’s just a phase, react out of fear, or tell them how horrible their lives will be if they continue on this path. They are telling you because they trust you and you should take that into account with your response. If you need more education, you can contact your local LGBTQ+ center as they usually have information for family and friends available, or you can seek information from someone who is an experienced LGBTQ+ leader or counselor in your community.

If you are someone who is struggling with your gender or sexual identity there are also many resources available to you. If you are able to, seeking counseling from someone experienced in LGBTQ+ counseling or support group. Be sure to ask if the counselor has any experience in your particular struggles as some LGBTQ+ issues are specialized and not all LGBTQ+ counselors have experience in every topic. At our offices, I run a LGBTQ+ Teen support group. If you are not able to, or do not have access to a counselor, you can contact your local LGBTQ+ center. If you prefer to remain anonymous these are the helplines you can contact: if you are under 25, 1-800-246- Pride, or for all ages 1-888-843-4564.

Healthy Family Time in the Summer Time

Think about one precious memory you have of summer time. I bet this memory involves interactions with the most valued people in your life. The hectic mundane routine of everyday life can often lead us to not enjoy our families and loved ones as much as we would like. Even vacations can become stressful because we may be too focused on the activities/schedules and forget to stop and appreciate the people around us.  Being intentional with the planning of activities that promote family bonding time is the key to nourishing those extra special relationships in our lives. Here are some tips on how to promote intentional family time:

  • Put away all technological devices. 
  • A special one-on-one time with each member of the family doing something that is different from everyday routine (date with your spouse, special ice cream outing, going to a different park, visiting a different beach, etc.)
  • Eat dinner together at the dinner table at least once per week (no technology allowed!)
  • Put your family time first before play dates, friends, work, phone calls, etc.
  • Families with multiple children plan a “date time” with each child individually doing an activity of the child’s choice. 

 

Most of us are creatures of habit and finding new and creative activities can often be difficult and frustrating. Family activities that encourage a healthy mind and body lifestyle are wonderful in building stronger relationships. Summer time can be a great opportunity for families to start new family traditions and figure out what works and what does not. You can also plant a seed for healthy family time for future generations.  Here are some healthy creative activities:

 

  • Have a weekly movie night at home.
  • Eat a special meal that is completely different than your usual meals. Go around and say what your favorite memory of the week was and what you are looking forward to next week.
  • Go to a new library, new park, new beach, new fishing spot, etc.
  • Plant a garden together (you can start very small!)
  • Paint together (set up special area for younger kids) or have a dance party in your house.
  • Go for a hike and pack lots of water and a favorite lunch!
  • Involve the family in making healthy meals: make a smoothie, fruit/veggie plate, healthy desert, etc. together.
  • Go bowling or play a board game together on rainy days.

 

Get a calendar and write down one intentional activity you will do with your family per week. Make sure to include the whole family in the planning of these new activities. The process of just planning together can be a fun and exciting family activity. Make sure to follow through with the plans and enjoy your special time together! 

Sometimes it can be difficult getting the family together or figuring out how to make family time memorable. Our qualified therapists at Southwest Florida Counseling Center can provide individual and/or family sessions to help your family thrive. Give us a call to start today!

The Aftermath of Childhood Domestic Violence

If left untreated, the residual effects of domestic violence (DV) persist throughout adulthood. Children who are exposed, not only to violence in their home, but direct child abuse are more inclined to suffer from the following: violent acts, aggression, delinquency, depression, social isolation, anxiety and low self-esteem. Children who witness violence are less likely to regulate strong emotions and can display troublesome behavior, for example lashing out in anger at home. Many stages of a child's development can be effected:

  • visual and auditory processing
  • memory
  • reading
  • learning

 

Some other symptoms linked to DV:

  • being emotionally distant
  • distrusting of others
  • sleep disturbance
  • bed-wetting, and fears of being alone
  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • eating disorders, social phobias  
  • Attention Deficient Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) have been tied to DV.

 

    The effects of stress from DV during childhood can permanently alter the brain as the violent acts occur during vital stages of development. Also, this stress can be attributed to heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and metabolic disorders.  This is not to say that DV will cause these disorders, yet there seems to be a connection between these disorders and DV.   Many adult women who have been subjected to abuse suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Depression, and/ or Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).   Additionally, men who were abused in childhood can be more likely to abuse their children compared to the men who were not abused.  Often times, individuals who were exposed to or victims of DV end up in abusive relationships, only continuing this abusive cycle.

    If you or your child are experiencing these symptoms or concerns, please contact Southwest Florida Counseling Center where we can assist in the healing process.  Our compassionate and non-judgmental therapists can help you and/or your child can gain inner freedom.

Is Life Balance Possible?

Like so many of us, we race along at 90 miles an hour chasing this concept of life balance that somehow manages to elude us. So began the quest to find out if it is possible.
When I first began to contemplate what constituted “ life balance” I looked up synonyms for it: stability, steadiness, equilibrium, but those certainly didn’t offer an answer. So what follows are the results of my personal journey in the quest to define and maintain life balance. Initially I discovered that trying to find balance in life is a journey on a road without a map.  So I sent an email to some friends and asked them to share any insights they’ve found on the path to balance and fulfillment.
My friend Ina said, “I surround myself with those who support my need for balance, both friends and co-workers.” My friend Judy said. “It is precisely the fact that I work in my garden that makes my life feel in balance. Ruth said, “A balanced life depends on who you are and what you deem to be your most important values”. My favorite was from Charlie, a long time friend and a brilliant copywriter who said, “In my life, balance simply means not falling down”.  And that was somehow the most profound.
Can we achieve a balanced life, is it really important, and if so why?  Will insuring family, work, learning, fun, health, volunteering, and love in equal parts cause us to feel balanced? Will a pie shaped chart that rigidly divides our lives into multi-colored and roughly equal segments labeled with our top five or six core values steer us to balance? I use to think if I could; just get that chart completed, like it’s a finished piece of art to hang on the wall and admire, then all will be well. But I have since discovered that rigid adherence to my own rules actually creates more stress and anxiety. And forced divisions of time equal a life lacking in passion - like a straight line on your EKG.
If family is your main priority, and you balance your life around it, will you continue to feel balanced when your parents are gone and the kids have moved out? Is balance just about time management? Could be, but I think the answer is much simpler than that.  If we are trying to find meaning, or uncover some profound philosophical answer in our quest for balance, maybe we are just trying too hard.
A few years ago I accepted a senior management position in a very large and successful not-for-profit social service agency and my life became the most chaotic it had ever been.  Twenty previous years as an ad agency producer turned out to be child’s play compared to the demands of the non-profit. Yet I discovered that with less time, more responsibility, and busier than ever before, I felt a greater sense of balance!
I have always been a list maker and a list “checker-offer”.  And I always had a sense of anxiety because the list was always there and never completely completed. Then I read a simple but profound little book, “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff”, and one simple little line changed my life. “No one dies with their inbox empty”. I had thought for years that if I could just get “IT” all done, then I could relax.  So is balance about time management? Yes, but not entirely.
When you sit on a beach, quiet, alone, listening to the surf, reading a novel, sipping a margarita… is that balance?  No that’s peace.
When you and your spouse or kids manage to agree after a heated argument is that balance?  No that’s harmony.

So I began looking at what balance is not.   It’s not a place at which you arrive and once there you’re done and can say, “HONEY,  “WE’RE ARRIVED AT BALANCE …WE CAN UNPACK.”   It’s not someplace you’re going to spend the rest of your life because life really is a continuous balancing act!  
Our endless to-do lists have each of us juggling work and play, friends and family, heart and soul and mind and body in continuous always-changing cycles that are impossible to keep up in the air.
Many of us have watched that old variety act of a man who could spin eight or nine plates at one time and keep them up in the air. That was ultimate balance…. but that too was only momentary wasn’t it?  Did the plates go crashing down?  No, he collected them just before they crashed. Once in a while one would fall to the floor and yet he proudly took a bow and the audience applauded.
On this journey I have learned to forgive myself for not being perfect and have given myself permission to fail and try again, and fail again, and so on. Life is fluid and forever changing.
My best life balance is different everyday.  The right balance for me today will probably be different for me tomorrow. The right balance for us when we are single will be different when we marry, or if we have children; when we start a new career versus when we are nearing retirement or are already retired.
There is no perfect one-size fits all that we should be striving for. The best life balance is different for each of us because we all have different priorities and different lives. I realized and accepted that it’s not a problem that has to be solved, but an ongoing task that has to be managed. If you love to cook, each time you prepare a favorite recipe, you add, subtract, amend and revise the ingredients.
I’ve learned to accept that balance in not a natural state, it is perpetually in motion, and trying to lock it down is exhausting.  But it becomes much simpler if we look at it from a different perspective. If we look at achieving balance on a daily basis and break it down into small digestible bits rather than as a life goal it will work.  Here is what works for me.
EVERY DAY I TRY to achieve something and enjoy something,
Achievement and enjoyment are two sides of the same coin in the value of life. You can't have one without the other. Trying to live a one sided life is why so many "successful" people are not happy, or not as happy as they should be.
I cannot get the full value from life without both Achievement and Enjoyment. If you focus on achievement and enjoyment every day in life it will help you avoid the "As Soon As” trap.  This is a life-dulling habit of planning on getting around to the joys of life and accomplishments "as soon as,” I have the time, the money, the kids are grown.
Most of us already have a good grasp on the meaning of Achievement. But let's look at the concept of enjoyment a little more.  doesn’t just mean "Ha-Ha" having fun. It means Pride, Satisfaction, Happiness, Celebration, Love, A Sense of Well Being …all the Joys of Living.
So one day you’ll find yourself asking the question, “What’s my purpose in life?"  Today I actually have the answer.   I say, "You know, I just want to achieve something today and I want to enjoy something today. And if I do both of those things today, I'm going to have a pretty good day. And if I do both of those things every day I'm going to have a pretty good life."

And I think that's true for all of us. Life will deliver the value and balance we want when we are achieving and enjoying something every single day…in all the important areas that make up our lives. They don’t have to be big. Sometimes it’s getting to work in traffic without honking my horn and having an inappropriate silent conversation with the car in front of me.  If this is a new behavior then I have achieved something!!
 So for me, a good working definition of Balance is: meaningful daily Achievement and Enjoyment in each of my five life areas: Work, Family, Friends, Service and Self.
Why not take 20 minutes today and do something just for yourself? Think about what you want to focus on achieving or enjoying today. Then give yourself permission to do just that. Sometimes that one act can accomplish both, for me it’s my garden.
These are simple concepts really, but once you focus on them as key parts of your day, they are not that hard to accomplish. So, make it happen…. for yourself, your family and all the important people you care about…every day for the rest of your life… Achieve and Enjoy… AND ONE LAST THING, be grateful, every day about something.  Give thanks for being alive, for having long lists, or for the ability to sit and feel blessed for the ability to achieve and enjoy.   

 

Grief and the Holidays

Festive decorations, twinkling lights, melting candles, family, friends.  The holidays can be a joyous time for many.  It is a time of reflection and a time of looking ahead.  It adds fresh excitement and fun, but also stress and reminders.  While many reminders can be happy, there is also a big sense of nostalgia during the holidays.  This nostalgia can be difficult for many to cope with, but even more difficult if you have recently lost someone you love, someone who was always a part of your holiday celebrations. 

Grief is a funny thing, not haha funny, more like punch in the gut funny.  You can feel like you have a handle on things; that everything is under control, and then something happens to trigger it again and boom, you’re in tears.  While over time grief does get easier, at the holidays it can become a bit more raw and harder to deal with.  Add to that, that most holiday songs are in minor keys and about times gone by, and it’s a recipe for disaster.  There are things you can do to help you cope and still enjoy the holiday season, despite your loved one not being there. 

1.       Don’t’ be afraid to remember.  Remembering can be difficult, especially when we are grieving.  It can be tempting to run from things that remind us of who is missing.  Memories have a way of making the loss feel unbearable; it is in letting ourselves remember that we can honor our loved one and help ourselves to heal.  It can be family remembering all together, or it can be in a journal all by yourself. 

2.       Don’t fear old traditions, but feel free to create new ones.  When we lose someone, usually our biggest thought is that nothing will be the same.  By keeping old traditions, we can remember the person we lost, and also still have the celebration we have always had.  It may mean changing the old tradition slightly.  Perhaps grandma is gone and she used to always make pumpkin pie, well, maybe someone can make her recipe.  Of course it is never going to taste the same as though grandma made it, but you can have the tradition and the memory still intact.  If keeping an old tradition isn’t possible or is too painful, perhaps you can create a new one.  If mom always cooked, well maybe this year, it can be potluck style and that can be a new tradition. 

3.       Don’t run from your feelings.  Grief is hard, especially at what for so many is a happy time of year.  Sit in your feelings and don’t run from them.  When we stuff our feelings, is when we make ourselves sick and end up with anxiety and panic attacks.  Crying isn’t fun, pain isn’t fun.  It’s human to want to run from these.  Find time though to sit in the moment and just feel.  Allow yourself to acknowledge your feelings.  The only way out is through, the longer we stuff our feelings, the harder we make the grieving process on ourselves.

4.       Take care of yourself…and othersIn the crazy business of the holiday season, it can be tempting to just throw ourselves into the business with full abandon.  When we are busy, we don’t give ourselves time to think and feel, we stuff everything and keep moving.  Be sure you don’t over book yourself.  When you are grieving, self-care is even more important than usual.  Take time out to color for a few minutes, take a walk on the beach, drive around and look at decorations, take your dog to the dog park, go on a trail ride, talk to your counselor or do whatever you do that makes you feel in the moment and rested.  It can also be helpful to do unto others.  You can buy gifts for the less fortunate, volunteer at a homeless shelter or even volunteer at an animal shelter.  In helping others, we get the focus off of ourselves and it helps us to realize that we can go on. 

5.       Find a grief support groupMeeting others who are struggling with a loss can be a helpful thing.  It can help normalize some pretty big emotions and feelings.  A support group is not a pity party, its strong people struggling with a loss, going to a safe place to support others struggling with similar losses.  Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you understand your own limits and are doing something that is good for you to help you. 

Grieving can make us feel weak.  We have a false association that the expression of feelings and emotions is a show of weakness, but it takes a lot of strength to allow ourselves to feel.  It takes a tremendous amount of courage to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.  In allowing ourselves to feel and be vulnerable is where we find our healing.  Whether your loss is recent, or happened a while ago, know that you aren’t alone.