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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

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.

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.

4 Ways to Beat the New Year’s Blues

Well, it’s January. The sparkle and cheer of the holidays have faded and ahead of us lies another, dare I say it? long year. Whatever your feelings about 2017 and what it holds, you probably have some moments where you wish the new year’s blues would fade away. Here are a couple of ideas to get you through the long winter nights and start 2017 off well.

  1. Rinse and Repeat. Remember where you were the last time you laughed really hard or had a really pleasant time? Grab your phone and call up the people you enjoy the most. Book the tickets. Plan a family fun night. Decide to make 2017 a year of joy.
  2. Be well. Each day, try to do one thing you don’t normally do to care for yourself. Could be as small as drinking enough water to keep yourself hydrated, or skipping fast food and making a meal for yourself at home. Maybe cut the late night tv and grab some extra zzz’s. Go for a walk with a friend. In time, these positive choices will become habits.
  3. Enter into your environment. Take 5 minutes each day and listen – what do you hear? Maybe you were only half paying attention to a loved one who was telling you something important. What can you see? Perhaps there is something different about the road you travel every day to work or school and you just noticed it! What do you smell or taste? If nothing, perhaps it’s time to make a favorite meal or baked good. Reach out and give a hug to someone who needs it.
  4. Give the gift of your presence. There is only one you and you only get to live today once. Put down your phone and choose to be there for yourself and those around you. If you or someone else are struggling, take the time to relax, journal, or listen. If it is a time of happiness, celebrate! Embrace the moment for whatever it holds.

Sometimes New Year’s resolutions are too lofty – work out every day, or too specific – travel to 5 new states this year. They can leave us feeling inadequate if we miss a day at the gym or only see four new places. Instead, resolve to make 2017 a year to laugh, care for yourself, notice your surroundings, and be present.

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.

Parent Group Starting Soon

Questions most frequently raised by parents…
 
• How much responsibility should I expect from my child/young adult?
 
• What consequences are appropriate for his/her age?
 
• What rules should I set up and how should I enforce them?
 
• How do I encourage good sleep and homework habits?
 
• If my child/young adult has a special need, do I adjust my expectations and how do I explain this to my other children?
 
• “Hot Topics” – social media, drugs and alcohol, sexual behavior
 
If you are interested, sign up for a 6 week group of like-minded, concerned parents to address these issues. Hosted by Jean Ruttenberg, parenting and child specialist with expertise working with families and children with special needs.
 
For more information or to sign up, call our office at 215-491-1119