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Pandemic Holidays: Different Doesn’t Have to be Bad

By Dr. Christina Carson-Sacco


This year has altered our lives in too many ways to count. The holidays in 2020 are sure to be impacted as well. With COVID restrictions, many of us will not be able to travel or gather safely. Traditions may not happen in the same way. For some there have been very real losses of family and friends, employment or financial insecurity, and estrangements over politics. Regardless of the reasons, this holiday season will likely present significant challenges at the end of an already challenging year.

Identify your Feelings: It is likely that you are more emotional than usual. Start by taking some quiet moments and sorting through the many emotions you are having. Try to identify what the exact emotions are and where they are coming from. You may be surprised to find that some of your emotions aren’t actually connected to the holidays, but are tied to other aspects of 2020.

Acknowledge your Losses: Whether it is loss of people in your life, financial security, freedom to gather/travel, routines like going into an office or participating in sports, or just a general sense of safety in the world, it is critical that you take some time and recognize what you have lost and how you’re feeling about it. It does not help to deny the significance of these losses, though once you have acknowledged your feelings, don’t get stuck dwelling on them.

Resist Romanticizing Past Holidays: It is normal to have an idealized vision of what the holidays are like. But if we are honest with ourselves it isn’t all wonderful. There is a lot of normal stress associated with our typical holidays; financial strain, relationship tension, an overwhelming number of additional chores, and trying to make things perfect. Too often, we try to make ourselves and others happy with material things. For some there are struggles with spending, food, alcohol and unhealthy relationships. Be realistic about the holidays.

Focus on What Is Really Important: Stop and take a moment to think about what is truly meaningful for you at this time of year. It may be family, but only certain ones. Maybe friends are higher on your list than family. Are the spiritual roots of the holidays the most important parts? Does charity figure heavily into what’s important to you? Maybe what you love best is having some time off for relaxation? How can you safely engage in what is most meaningful to you? Try to think outside the box. Come back to this when you lose focus.

Look for the Good: With so much negative noise in 2020, it is sometimes hard to hear the good. Turn down the television. Step away from your social media. Go outside and take a deep breath. Now, think of one thing that you are grateful for. Maybe it is small, like the smell of clean sheets. Maybe it is big, like having a safe home to shelter in. It could be a friend who checks in on you. Or it could be that you are grateful you are in a position to support someone else. Though you may have never planned to work from home, maybe you’re grateful to not have to fight traffic or pay for gas commuting to an office. If you’re a front line worker, while it is stressful, you may be grateful to be able to make a huge difference in the lives of so many vulnerable people. Your children could be sad about not attending school or activities, but they may appreciate slowing down and family time. Or maybe you’re just thankful for comfortable slippers, sweatpants and Netflix. Whatever it is for you, try to find the good.

Control What you Can Control: Keep in mind that you do indeed have control over many aspects of what your holidays will look like. This may be a chance to let go of the parts of the holidays you don’t like; cut out the traditions that don’t work for you. This may be the excuse you need to take a break from unhealthy relationships. You have control over how you wrap up 2020.
Be aware of your self-care. Especially this year, when emotions are running high, be sure to be on top of eating, sleeping, hydrating, and getting some time moving outdoors. Don’t
underestimate the value of taking a few deep breaths and doing some brief meditation. Many guided meditations are available free in apps or online. Set budgets for spending. Limit drugs and alcohol. Many support groups are now available online. If you are struggling, reach out to a psychologist or your family physician for help. Keep up good boundaries with others. Be aware of a tendency you may have to try to make others happy by forgoing your boundaries. It is ok to say no. If some family or friends challenge you, find ways to connect safely. Avoid hot-button topics or engage in structured activities with individuals that you may clash with.
Find connection. If you’re alone, the end of the year gives you the opportunity to engage in some serious self care and restoration. Consider pushing outside your comfort zone and reaching out to others you’d like to be closer to. So many people are wishing for more connection this year. Religious institutions are offering community, even if virtually. Many online groups offer connection, as well. Volunteering to help others will help you meet likeminded folks.
Different doesn’t have to be bad. If your loved ones are apart and you’re dreading another Zoom gathering, add some fun with competition. Who can make the best decorated cake, wreath, gingerbread house, cookies, or ugly sweater? Whose menorah made from things around the house does everyone like best? Which household can win the viral Tik Tok dance off? Play games over technology. If family is near by, do a socially-distant potluck. Have each household cook a dish and drop off portions on each other’s porches. Then zoom in and enjoy together. Traditionally, many families are so busy they rarely spend a lot of time talking during the holidays. This year, each member can take turns telling stories about the past or sharing their hopes and prayers for the new year. Maybe your loved ones can do a craft together over Zoom which they donate to a charitable organization. If we get lucky with mild weather, take a family walk or gather safely outside around a fire pit. Lastly, who says you cannot celebrate your holiday at a different time of year? Why not plan to have a holiday do-over as soon as it is safe to do so? Kwanza part two in February? Christmas or Hanukkah repeat in March? It may not be the same, but it can still be good and incorporate those parts of the holidays that you love the most.

With so much of the world feeling out of our control, if we acknowledge our feelings and shift our focus to what is important and positive, while taking good care of ourselves, we can take control of our holidays and have a meaningful end of 2020.

Dr. Christina Carson-Sacco is a clinical psychologist and a partner with The Center for Neuropsychology and Counseling, P.C. with offices in Warrington and Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania. She is available for public speaking and consultation. To learn more about her practice visit www.TheCenterInWarrington.com


Other helpful resources:
https://www.cdc.gov/
https://findhelp.org/
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
https://www.samhsa.gov/
https://www.aa-intergroup.org/
https://www.thetrevorproject.org/

Sometimes It Helps to Name It: Talking About Loss During a Pandemic

By Dr. Christina Carson-Sacco

In Pennsylvania, where I live, we are about a month into the ‘lockdown’ caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve noticed there is a shared feeling among family, friends and patients. It’s like someone draped a blanket full of heavy feelings over the world. It’s even affecting our sleep, as most are tossing and turning with vivid, scary dreams.

Because so many people are struggling, it is important to recognize the evidence that suggests giving a name to the feelings and speaking about them can be helpful. In short, I think what we are all feeling is Loss and the resulting Grief.

In this unstable and uncertain time, it is easier to identify the anxiety we are feeling. But as time has dragged on, for many this has turned into loss and grief.

  • Sadly, for some, it is tangible loss due to the death of a loved one at a time when it is impossible to gather and mourn. For others it is a loss of less tangible things like routine, freedom, and normalcy.
  • Others have felt the loss of special events like celebrating birthdays, graduations, proms and other important milestones.
  • Most people are feeling a loss of connection with others due to the need for social distancing.
  • Some have lost financial security and jobs.
  • For many, there is a loss of a sense of safety and knowing what the future holds. People everywhere are feeling the change that is happening in the world as a loss. Maybe they are grieving for what they thought the future would look like. In many ways, this pandemic reminds me of the change in our country after the tragic events of 9/11. We all are grappling with the knowledge that things will be different after the pandemic, though we don’t know exactly how.

After we name it, what can we do?

  • First, don’t compare your losses to the losses of others. All are real and important. Just because someone else’s loss seems bigger than yours, it doesn’t make your pain any less valid. Have self compassion and allow yourself the space and time to grieve for your losses. Keep in mind that there is no ‘right’ way to grieve. As long as it doesn’t harm yourself for others, however you or your loved ones are doing it, is ok.
  • Crying is a natural human way to cope with pain. Go ahead and cry; find privacy to do so if you need to. Keep in mind children may be crying more, too. Or sometimes they show their grief by throwing tantrums or being defiant.
  • Then express it. Say it out loud to those who support you. Write about it. Make art. However you prefer to do it, just get it out.
  • Taking time to meditate, while doing some deep belly breathing, can help us cope with challenging emotions. There are many great, free meditation videos online or apps for your phone. Aim to take a few quiet moments to breathe and meditate each day.
  • Try to stay present and focus on what is within your control. Sometimes our grief can take us down the path of ruminating on the ‘what ifs.’ When this happens, bring yourself back to the present moment. One way to do this is to look for 5 things in your surroundings and focus on each one for a moment. Another way is to use your 5 senses by finding one thing you see, one thing you smell, one thing you taste, one thing you feel, and one thing you hear.
  • Even in times of tragedy, there are positives, though we may have to search for them. Limit your exposure to negative media stories. Spend some time each day looking for the good around you, however small. Maybe there are wildflowers blooming along the path where you walk. Maybe there are news stories about people helping others. Maybe you find joy in the funny things your pets do or a special song. Search out at least one thing that makes you smile each day.
  • Lastly, if you are in need of support, reach out to a professional. Many psychologists are providing video or phone sessions. Some organizations are offering online support groups. See the resources below.

Dr. Christina Carson-Sacco is a clinical psychologist and a partner with The Center for Neuropsychology and Counseling, P.C. with offices in Warrington and Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania. To learn more about her group practice visit www.TheCenterInWarrington.com

Other helpful resources:

Tips for Caring for your Mental Health during a Pandemic – by Dr. Christina Carson-Sacco

I have to admit, I never imagined I’d ever type the words “caring for your mental health during a pandemic,” but I guess that is a big part of this. No one expected to experience this and most do not have a reference point of some experience to draw upon. We are in uncharted territory, which is leaving many unsettled, scared, sad, angry, frustrated, or just confused. Our everyday lives have been turned upside down, and we feel powerless to stop it. 

Here are some tips, born out of my 20 plus years as a psychologist, including my recent work helping my clients weather this storm. 

Focus on what you can control. Life may feel very out of control right now. Often, we get stuck ruminating on the things we can’t control. The people not practicing social distancing. The stock market ups and downs. What can you control? If you catch yourself focusing on the uncontrollable, take a deep breath and choose one thing to focus on that you can feel power over. One thing you can control is choosing to participate in activities that make you feel better. I sometimes say, “As long as it doesn’t hurt you or someone else, and is legal, I don’t care what it is, just do it.” 

Keep perspective. What is happening is scary and we must take precautions. However, it is easy to engage in catastrophic thinking. Most people who get sick will have mild symptoms. There are ways to protect yourself and your loved ones. Vaccines and medicines are being developed. 

Limit your exposure to media. Having tons of information at our fingertips is both a blessing and a curse. When we are stuck inside, it is normal to scroll through social media or have the news on the television in the background. 

  • Make an effort to only check the news once or twice a day. 
  • Get away from social media, or at the very least, consume selectively. Unfollow extremely negative sites or people. Purposely follow positive sites like Upworthy or Good News Network. 
  • Be aware that much of the information you receive from soft sites or family and friends may not even be accurate. Try to only get news about the pandemic from reliable sources like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 

Stay connected. While we are practicing social distancing, we may feel lonely. Being physically apart does not have to mean being disconnected. It just may require some creativity or extra effort.

  •  Using virtual ways to connect can be fun. Facetime, Skype, and Zoom are great ways to see people you haven’t seen in a while. Think about organizing virtual book clubs or religious studies. Games can be played virtually like Pictionary, Heads Up, Scategories or trivia. Netflix Party is a way to watch movies with your friends.
  • Post videos of your performances if you have a talent to share.
  • Offer to tutor someone or read to someone. 
  • You are allowed to walk, run, or bike, so go meet a friend and stay 6 feet apart. 
  • Have a picnic but bring your own food and stay apart. 
  • Garden together or help a neighbor with their garden. 
  • Even writing letters and putting them in the mail can help us feel connected to others around the world who are going through this with us. 

Have good boundaries. While we need to stay connected, we may need to do it carefully. Some people in our lives, maybe including those we are stuck in the house with, may not always be good for our mental health. Respect that everyone is dealing with this in their own way. Take some physical space away from one another. Limit contact with people in your life who are very stressful, including on social media. Ask others to respect your needs. 

Appreciate what is good. Many of us are facing new challenges, but are being given the gift of time and being forced to slow down. Hopefully, soon our lives will return to normal and for many that means running from activity to activity in very busy lives. What can you do now that you don’t feel you normally have time for? 

  • Talking to someone you haven’t connected with in a while or who may be alone
  • Reading 
  • Crafting 
  • Learning something new like a language, a craft, a skill, or a recipe (now is a great time to teach life skills to kids) 
  • Cooking or baking 
  • House projects 
  • Games 
  • Home spa days 
  • Cuddling with pets 
  • Puzzles 
  • Exercise (look for free videos online) 
  • Meditation (there are many free apps or online videos) 
  • Exploring the outdoors including places a bit farther away than we’d normally go 
  • Doing something to help others, even small, can make us feel more in control 

One note of caution: comparing yourself to others can be harmful. Be careful not to fall into the trap of holding up your friends’ social media posts as examples of what you should be doing. You don’t have to run really far, repaint your house, or teach your child physics. Do what works for you and your family.

What to say to children. Answer their questions in an honest but age-appropriate manner. Keep the news off and their access to online coverage limited. Be a good role model for self care and know they will pick up cues from you on how to feel about this. Remember you have more control than you may realize over how they will experience this unusual event. I had a child say to me today, “I hope summer is like this but just with more freedom.” I was happy to hear they are enjoying this down time and hope that’s what they will remember when they look back on 2020.

Reach out for help. Notice if you are struggling to sleep or eat. If you are having a lot of physical symptoms of stress like muscle pain, headaches, stomach distress, racing heart, or shortness of breath, it may be anxiety. Crying often or having many angry outbursts may be signs you are struggling. Also using alcohol or drugs to cope may mean it’s time to reach out for help. Getting help may mean connecting to supportive people in your life. Maybe it means finding an online tutor for your child or financial support through a community agency. It could mean finding an online support group. For example, Alcoholics Anonymous is holding virtual group meetings. There are hotlines for those that need to talk and are in crisis through the National Suicide Prevention and SAMHSA with both text or phone options. 

Many psychologists are offering telepsychology sessions using HIPPA compliant video formats. Our office is supporting patients through these platforms in order to keep our patients and staff safe from the virus, while still caring for patients’ mental health. Let us know if we can help you through this challenging time.

Dr. Christina Carson-Sacco is a clinical psychologist and a partner with The Center for Neuropsychology and Counseling, P.C. with offices in Warrington and Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania. To learn more about her group practice visit www.TheCenterInWarrington.com

Supporting Pregnant and Postpartum Women

by Lorna Jansen, Psy.D.

Dr. Lorna Jansen
Dr. Lorna Jansen specializes in treating children, adolescents, and families. She helps clients manage stress, deal with relationship issues, and also offers academic coaching.

In mid-December, I attended a seminar on the topic of Postpartum Depression and Related Disorders. My interest in working with women who are pregnant and new mothers stems from a long-held desire to see each child loved and cared for well. That goal has carried me through 10 years of education post high school to my current profession as a Psychologist. I love nothing more than to help a family system run more smoothly, to further a connection between a parent and child so that they can communicate more freely, to help parents see each other in the best possible light so they can work together as a team.

Having recently navigated through the pregnancy, newborn, infant phase myself, I have a new appreciation for the unique time period this is in the life of a woman. It requires a new wardrobe, new vocabulary, and an entirely new way of thinking about oneself and the world. 

The presenter at my training, Hilary Waller, MS, LPC also knows about the challenges of this phase of life. Ms. Waller spoke about her work with women at the Postpartum Stress Center in Philadelphia. That facility is one of the few of its kind and is led by Karen Kleiman, who has written about every aspect of supporting this population. During the seminar, Ms. Waller shared the knowledge and insights she’s gained from working with pregnant and postpartum moms and their families. Some of what follows was gleaned from her presentation.

The postpartum phase represents a significant shift for everyone around a new baby. First of all, this includes the mother. It is likely she will be experiencing significant hormonal changes, as well as healing from the birth. She will also have a number of emotions related to her pregnancy, labor and delivery. Often, she’ll be attempting to heal, adapt, and cope on very little sleep. She may wonder what happened to her world, or she may be contemplating how to include another little one into her existing nest. Her partner is also likely tired, worn out, and trying to meet his or her own needs with fewer resources. The baby’s extended family and friends of the parents will likely be jockeying for time to spend with him, which may or may not be given in a way that is helpful to the parents. All in all, this is a complicated time of transition.

Given the various stressors and physiological changes in play, it’s not surprising that one in seven women will suffer from a perinatal mood disorder. A perinatal mood disorder is one that occurs during pregnancy or for up to two years after delivery, clinically speaking. It includes diagnoses of depression, anxiety, OCD, panic, PTSD, bipolar, and possibly even psychosis. Due to the sleeplessness and additional stress surrounding this time, it can be difficult to understand what is normal (e.g., feeling very hormonal the first few weeks after the birth) versus what might warrant further investigation (e.g., crying most of the day and feeling hopeless months after birth). In fact, many parents experience scary thoughts, such as wondering what it would be like if they ran away and never came back, or how easy it might be to harm the child, even accidentally. Oftentimes, these thoughts do not indicate the presence of a mental disorder.

Given the vulnerable and extremely dependent nature of a newborn, it is imperative to support a mother who is struggling at this time. A therapist who is trained in this area can come alongside a woman who is pregnant or in the postpartum phase and offer her a safe place to sort through her feelings. This professional will be able to assess the mother’s overall well-being and make a plan to help her cope with the various challenges she is facing. The therapist can help the mother find practical solutions to everyday issues such as when to eat, how to get enough water to support breastfeeding, and what adequate sleep looks like with an infant. The pair can also discuss what is important to the mother as a person who has her own needs, separate from her role as a caregiver, and how she can continue to meet those.

Ideally, the mother can ask for and receive the help she needs from her support network. Her partner and other extended family members may attend therapy sessions as well, as a way of enlisting support for the mother and strengthening the relationships therein. Often, a mother with a young baby has a number of fears and concerns, many of which are normal. However, a professional can help a woman identify where her thoughts or behaviors are indicative of something more serious and ensure she gets the help she needs.

To close, the period of time when a woman is pregnant and raising a young child is unlike any other time in her life. It is sweet and important and perpetually exhausting. Regardless of whether or not the mother is having her first or sixth baby, or adopting, she is forging a new path. Never before has she been a mother to this child. And, like any transition, there is a lot to learn and she can benefit from caring and thoughtful individuals in her life.

If you or someone you love are experiencing some of the following, you may benefit from therapeutic support: feeling overwhelmed or sad most of the day, having trouble sleeping due to anxiety, experiencing panic attacks, or having the urge to self-harm. Please call our office at 215.491.1119 to make an appointment with Dr. Jansen.

Beating Student Stress: How to Stay Organized and On Track at the Busiest Time of the Year

As the weather is turning colder and the days are becoming shorter and shorter, college students are gearing up for that end of semester push. In high school, students are receiving initial feedback from teachers on their progress to date, and aiming to improve and remediate specific areas before the end of the semester. As a result, it is no secret that at this time of year, levels of stress and anxiety begin to increase for many students of all grade levels. Parents may also begin to notice increased tension at home, as they are busy preparing for the holidays ahead and other important tasks as the end of the year approaches, while simultaneously supporting their children during this time.

While mild to moderate levels of anxiety and stress are deemed healthy and can motivate us to power through these periods, it is also important to remember that too much stress can have a negative impact on our ability to function and complete tasks in an efficient manner. Therefore, as the demands placed upon us increase, simultaneously is the greater importance that organization and planning becomes to help us manage all that we have going on in our day-to-day lives. Moreover, being mindful of when we need a break is also crucial. Below are a handful of tips to help alleviate such stress and anxiety during this time:

  • Organization of Materials:Students – notice your backpack has put on some weight since the beginning of the school year, and that papers and worksheets scattered throughout are becoming increasingly wrinkled? Take some time to clean out your bag and properly file old homework assignments, exams, notes, and worksheets. We are moving into an electronic age, which means it is also time to organize your electronic files, PowerPoint presentations that you have downloaded for class, and other documents. Take the time now before final exams and the end of the year creep up on you.
  • Agendas: Are your agendas up to date? I hear from many students I work with that they use their agenda book on a regular basis at the beginning of the school year, but their initiation and consistency in utilizing this resource wanes over time. It is time to revisit; don’t worry about the past, but how you can utilize this resource to plan ahead for when the work begins to pick up. Moreover, plan for downtime, trips to the movies with your friends, and other social activities.
  • Time Management: Ever heard from your parents or teachers that cramming last minute for tests does not work? Ongoing research supports that students are more likely to retain what they have learned when they space their studying over multiple time periods, and that better time management skills in general leads to better outcomes in terms of academic performance. Therefore, space your studying over multiple days, especially when you have material from multiple classes to study for at once. This will also aid in helping to reduce the risk of interference effects, i.e., when information from one source interferences with your ability to learn new material, and vice-versa. 
  • Organized Learning: Rote memorization (learning based on repetition), is not always the most efficient way to learn and retain information. Instead, it is more beneficial for students of all grade levels to attempt to cognitively organize information to aid in learning and retention. When studying, utilize outlines, graphic organizers, and highlighting key information. Always try to think about the material on a deeper level and focus on studying information in the context provided and not solely memorizing facts in isolation.
  • Stress Management:All individuals need time to re-boot after a long day and engage in social and preferred activities that are enjoyable. As stress and anxiety increase, students have greater difficulty adapting and their awareness of when they need a break is not always satisfactory. Moreover, adequate sleep, hydration, and exercise at times can take a back seat. Take care of yourself and remember the great importance these activities have on your mood, attention, and ability to manage all that you have going on.

 

Dr. Jason Tanenbaum is a neuropsychologist at The Center for Neuropsychology and Counseling, providing testing and intervention services to children, adolescents, and adults. He is particularly interested in supporting students’ cognitive and academic needs and providing tools and strategies to help individuals overcome daily challenges in school and in their personal lives.

Tips for Divorcing Parents

Tips for Divorcing Parents
by Christina Carson-Sacco, Psy.D.

So you find yourself going through the divorce process. If you are like most parents, you’re concerned about how to minimize the stress on your children and are aware that how you handle the divorce could greatly affect them.  Though many of these tips are not easy to follow, hopefully they will give you guidance during this challenging time.

Telling your child about the divorce is difficult and needs to be handled sensitively. Both parents should set aside their own feelings and deliver the message together, in an age appropriate manner, simply, and without any blaming or anger. Focus on your child’s needs at this time.
Stress that even if you are divorced, that you will never stop loving your child and will always be her parents. Sometimes children worry that if parent’s can stop loving each other, then maybe they can stop loving them.
Stress that they did not cause the divorce. Often, children assume things are about them. They may have overheard you arguing about them. Be clear that there is nothing they could have done to prevent the divorce.
Realize that all children have different reactions. Some will be very upset, while others may seem to have little reaction. Children may have specific questions about how the divorce will affect them. You may not have the answers, but you can assure them that you will do your best and that the family will get through this.
Set aside your feelings toward your former spouse, so that you both can focus on what’s best for your children. Let go of control and the need to ‘win.’ Think of it as a business relationship, which may make it easier to be polite, communicate effectively, compromise, and remember that the other parent loves the children and is doing their best.
Never criticize the other parent to or around your children.  Know that children are always listening and even at a young age, understand that they are made up of half of each parent.  Putting down your former spouse can damage your child’s self-esteem, as they can feel you don’t like of a part of them.
Refrain from using your child as a messenger. It is tempting to ask a child to relay a message or to report what is happening at the other house. However, this puts strain on your child and they can feel trapped in the middle.
Do not fight or argue in front of your children (or within earshot.)  Your fighting can be frightening. Role model appropriate expressions of feelings in front of them.
Do not discuss money matters with your child, no matter the age.  If the child is concerned, assure her that the adults will make sure she is taken care of. If you are ordered to pay child support, do so in a timely manner.
Stability in home and school is not always possible, but it is the ideal. If you have to move, maintain rituals, relationships with friends and extended family, or activities to create continuity.
Foster a healthy relationship between the child and their other parent, as well as that side of the family. Remind the child that even if their parent does things differently than you or disappoints them, they love them.
Transfers can be difficult for everyone. Understand that on transition days, your child is likely to be a little “off.” Strive to be courteous, be on time, and bring all the things your child needs for his stay. Do not linger or use this time to work out conflicts.
Out of guilt or fear of the child liking the other parent more, some parents will forgo rules and limits, or will buy their children lots of gifts.  This strategy will backfire, as it undermines your authority and is not in the best interest of your child.
Try to create as much consistency as possible. No two households will run exactly the same, and kids will adjust. Try to avoid power struggles with the other parent and do not disparage their parenting around your child. Unless agreed upon ahead of time, do not expect the other parent to carry out a punishment you’ve given the child. If you are having difficulty co-parenting effectively, consider working with a psychologist on ways to better co-parent.
Find a support system and take care of yourself.  It is normal to grieve the end of your marriage. If you are having trouble sleeping, eating, are relying on drugs or alcohol, having significant mood issues or need unbiased support, call a psychologist. Surround yourself with people who will support you and encourage a healthy divorce. Never use your children as confidants, caretakers, or companions. Remember, caring for your children means making sure you are a healthy, as well.

Dr. Christina Carson-Sacco is a psychologist in private practice.  To learn more about her work, visit her website at www.TheCenterInWarrington.com.

Stop Tearing Down and Start Building: 5 Ways to Enrich your Relationships Today

Frustrated by the way your relationships are going? Feeling like you’re always at odds with someone at home or at work? Here are a handful of tips you can use to revitalize your relationships and improve your interactions with others.

  1. Look for the positives and focus on the other person’s strengths. For example, you might start by noticing how well your spouse manages his or her job, commitments at home, balance between free time and family time, or anything else. As you observe him or her, begin commenting about what you’ve seen like this: “You do a really good job with __________” or “I’m impressed that you were able to accomplish _________ today.” John Gottman says the magic ratio is 5 positive interactions for every 1 that is negative. In order to compensate for the inevitable bumps along the way, make a concerted effort to recognize the positive qualities of those around you each and every day.
  1. Employ active listening skills. Active listening initially includes paying attention, withholding judgment and reflecting the other person’s words by repeating them back to him or her. This is especially important—and challenging—when there is conflict. As you take the time to slow down and focus on your co-worker’s point of view, you may find yourself less focused on making your case and more willing to reach a mutually beneficial solution. If you want additional information on this topic, look here: https://www.ccl.org/multimedia/podcast/the-big-6-an-active-listening-skill-set/
  1. Take care of yourself. As you are able, focus on eating well, getting enough sleep, drinking water throughout the day, exercising, and managing your stress. This will have a positive impact on yourself and everyone around you. If you need help remembering to do these things, enlist some support partners. You might also use an app like Wunderlist to organize your goals and set reminders.
  1. Look for common interests and seek to engage in those whenever possible. When you think of your relationships, consider whether there are any favorite activities, interests, or even favorite foods that could bring you and the people you love together. For example, you might consider setting up weekly, bi-weekly or monthly dates to spend time with each of your children. Enlist their help to come up with ideas of things they’d like to do or explore with you, and work your way through the list you compose.
  1. Before you speak, consider the things you often say. If you are frequently at odds with someone in your life, think about the phrases you find yourself repeating to that person. Perhaps you need to change what you are saying so your family member can really hear the message. For example, if you find that you are constantly telling your dad that he’s embarrassing you in some way, maybe you could tell him some things you appreciate about him (see #1) and then give him a few tips about what he could say or do when he’s around your friends.

These five tips may seem simple, but will require a concerted effort on your part. If it seems overwhelming to implement all five at once, start with the one that seems the most likely to create positive change and work your way through the rest as you are able. Though you may encounter resistance at first, you will soon notice small differences in the relational atmosphere. If you or someone in your life would benefit from the help of a trained therapist as you work to improve your relationships, please call our office at 215.491.1119.

 

Dr. Lorna Jansen is a psychology resident at the Center for Neuropsychology and Counseling in Warrington, PA. She provides therapy, academic coaching and assessment for children and adolescents who struggle with academic demands, anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Additionally, Dr. Jansen works with adults who are navigating life transitions, including college, marriage, divorce, and parenting.

Annual BIAPA Conference

Are you planning on attending the Annual BIAPA Conference in Lancaster? They offer family and survivor scholarships to cover the cost of the conference.

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If you are a family member, survivor, or care provider please click here:

2017 Scholarship Information & Application

If you don’t already know about the Brain Injury conference, please visit the BIAPA website for more information.

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month

March is Brain Injury awareness month, so it seems appropriate to discuss some memory strategies. Memory is defined as “the ability to recall events on command.” We all would love to have better memories, however, sometimes life events occur that alter this ability, but there are strategies that can help.

 

Adapt your environment: Hang a dry erase board in your kitchen or office to write down reminders or needed grocery items. You can also keep a dry erase calendar in a central area of your house or office to keep track of your daily/weekly activities. Some of you may be saying that you already do this on your Smart Phone, which is great, but for some folks after a brain injury, they need to “see” reminders to help improve memory skills – a visual reminder. If you want to use your Smart Phone for reminders, make sure to alarm your reminders. You could even set a daily alarm to remind yourself to look at your schedule! If Smart Phones are confusing, you can carry a datebook and get in the habit of reviewing the datebook every morning to review your day’s activities. Make sure you put things back in the same spot (e.g. keys on the hook by the door, coat in the closet, briefcase on the desk in the home office, bills in a basket, etc.) this will help build a routine of where items are to be found and it will significantly decrease your frustration when searching for the items (especially if you are in a hurry!). Routines are very important for memory because they help build long term memories, which is where information we want to retrieve exists.

 

Improve your wellbeing: Anxiety, stress and depression can significantly decrease memory skills. You need to have a balance between work and relaxation, so seek out/plan enjoyable activities outside of your work day. Maintain friendships and talk about your difficulties and frustrations, you never know who will give you some good strategy suggestions! Stay physically active, even simple exercises like taking the stairs instead of the elevator can help. Be assertive; learn to say “no” to excessive demands. This one is really important, manage you time and take breaks. Sometimes after sustaining a brain injury people want to “push” themselves to get better, but this is actually counterproductive. Your body and brain need time to heal and taking breaks is the best way to make progress. Do one thing at a time; establish a goal and break the steps down into smaller, more manageable parts.

 

Other helpful cognitive strategies: Attention is the key to a better memory, so try to focus on information you want to remember and reduce the background distractions. When trying to remember new information, make associations with existing information in your memory. Mentally retrace your steps to trigger your memory for where you may have left an item. Hang reminder signs or use sticky notes to trigger memories of activities you want/need to do. When trying to recall a list of items, chunk the like items together to be able to recall them more easily.

 

As a neurorehabilitation specialist I have taught many of these strategies to my clients over the years and the majority had a lot of success. Recovering from a brain injury can take time, but using strategies consistently can definitely help.

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Carol Bardsley, M.A., CPCRT, CBIS – At The Center I facilitate the Therapeutic Activities Group, which is an educational group for people who have sustained a traumatic brain injury.  I also provide one-on-one Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy to clients either in their homes or in our office. In addition, I assist Dr. J. Stone with the neuropsychological evaluations.