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Finding our way…Together by Charity Hagains MA, LPC-S

Isolation status: It’s week two, or three, or four (for those of you who were way ahead of this), and many people are feeling frustrated. These few weeks I have heard a range of emotions: anger, concern, confusion, anxiety, disappointment, loneliness, restlessness, sadness, resolve; and I don’t think anyone is surprised by that. My clients are healthcare workers, attorneys, expectant moms, CEO’s, teachers, and grandparents. From every generation, race, faith and socioeconomic class, we are all sharing in the experience of a worldwide pandemic.

This is hard. Mostly because what we are being asked to do, is to do nothing. We are tasked with sitting still and pausing our world. Sadly, our culture is not used to doing nothing. We are a society of action and achievement. We take pride in our “pull yourself up by your bootstrap” mentality. To be asked to abandon that way of thinking is difficult, no matter how easy it sounds on the surface.

Our self worth has long been measured by action. What we do, who we help, what we achieve, what we earn, these are measures we are comfortable with. To tell American’s that their worth is measured in Netflix episodes is not an easy sell.

I work tirelessly as a therapist to convince people their worth is innate and lies beyond these measures. Clients who know me can probably hear my speech on repeat: “You are born with worth. It doesn’t increase or decrease. It’s a birthright.” Again, this has never been an easy concept. Truth be told, that belief system is one that takes me an incredible amount of worthwhile practice. Therefore, I do not expect the entire population to easily lean into that feeling of discomfort. However, there are ways in which we can lessen our pain.
Reframe
For parents, it’s easy. Does your child do something that makes you love them? Are there tasks they perform that make them more valuable or more dispensable to you? No. We love them because they breathe. We like some behaviors, and we dislike others, but we love them either way. Be it difficult or easy. You too are a child of someone, and thus, have earned the birthright for love and worthiness.

For non-parents you too have that same capacity for love. Are the people around you dispensable? Do they have to accomplish something to be worthy of being alive and valuable? Likely not. You love them because of who they are and how they make you feel. I doubt you care if they make a million this year. I mean, you might be happy for them, but it isn’t the basis of your friendship.

That being said, you get to give yourself that same grace. You don’t have to have a clean home, a plush bank account, a kid on the honor roll, the corner office or any other “achievement,” You are worthy just the same while sitting at home being “non-essential” because you are essential to your tribe (and essential even if you’ve yet to find your tribe).
Feel it
Did your promotion get postponed? Your birthday trip cancelled? Wedding on hold? Maternity photos impossible? I can’t tell you how many times in these last few weeks people have shared with me their monumental disappointment, yet followed it by, “But it’s stupid. I’m blessed. I should be grateful.” Let me say this loud and clear: There is room for both. You can feel gratitude and disappointment at the same time.

Don’t try to make this feel better before it’s time. I swear to you that you will move through these feelings, but only if you allow yourself to have them. They are valid and I can tell you that letting yourself feel them, without guilt, will help you move past them faster than denying they are valid.
Reinvent
It is easy to fall into “pre-pandemic” thinking. Hell, it’s our default. But in difficult times priorities change, as they should. This new world, new work environment, new social interaction mediums, all these new things mean we are reinventing our lives. Why not take it all the way?

Reinvent your “to-do” list with mandatory “play” time. Make evening walks with your spouse more important than laundry, make self forgiveness non-negotiable, prioritize your self-care above your company’s bottom line. This has always been possible for us, however now it is essential to us. If we want to come through these difficult times we have to change our mindset, not just our daily routines.

The reality is we are grieving. Grief on a global scale has never been something we have experienced, nor had I imagined we would. Yet, we grieve together. We grieve for missed experiences, for people we are fearful of losing, and for those we have lost to this pandemic. We grieve for normal. I implore you to allow yourself the space for that grief. Let yourself be changed by this experience, and more importantly, let yourself experience the shared human condition of those feelings.

I hope that during this most difficult and unprecedented time you are good to yourself. I hope that when you struggle, you reach out. I hope that through this experience, you find unimaginable ways to grow. I hope. Most importantly, I hope that you hope too.

Should this new world become overwhelming, or you find it difficult to create that necessary space for emotion amidst the many concerns of our era, reach out. Our therapists are waiting to give you a reprieve from dealing with this alone. We have used telehealth mediums since we opened our doors, and we are grateful at how that experience has prepared us to help others in this time of social distancing. Remember you are never alone.

Supporting Our Children Through a Pandemic How to Talk to your kids about COVID-19 By Charity Hagains MA, LPC-S

The world we are raising our children in looks different today. COVID-19 changed that world for us, and at such a rapid pace our emotions struggle to keep up with it. Unfortunately, it’s not just us adults that it changed, our children are now living in a world that is different. Not just different from yesterday, but different from the one we were raised in. This makes it hard for us to chart the path forward for our kids. It’s complicated to know what to do, or how to proceed.

An environment of fear is taking hold, and it is complicated for us parents to keep that away from our children. We have suddenly become in charge of so much more of their world. Not only are we charged with their health and safety, we are now tasked with their education and emotional well being in the midst of a global pandemic. Everything from college funding to learning how to read and write has been placed at our feet, not to mention keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table. It’s a lot, too much really.

I can’t tell you how to chart that path, or what the future holds for us or them. Fortunately, I can help guide you on how to engage your children in a positive way, and protect them from some of the fallout that COVID-19 has created (at least emotionally).

Some of this you probably already know from past mass tragedies.

Don’t keep the news on all of the time
Don’t talk too openly about COVID-19 or your fears surrounding it.
Don’t let them get too involved in social media or the internet where COVID-19 is concerned.

This is how we treat most mass tragedies, right? We know to keep our kids away from the news stations, and limit discussing “adult” concerns with them. But this situation is different, because we need them to know things, to do things. There is little they can do to mitigate mass shootings or terrorist attacks. With the pandemic they can do things, and thus it is our responsibility to instruct them on doing so. Hand washing, social distancing, forced homeschooling… These are new norms for our children, and we can’t avoid the conversation about those. Here are a few ways to talk to our children without placing too much undo responsibility or fear upon them.

Talk about germs. Not in a “Coronavirus is a thing and you have to prevent it.” way, but in a “Germs are real, and right now is a time to prioritize healthy behaviors” kind of way.
This is just like the flu. As much as the media and health specialists don’t want us to think of this as a “more serious flu” season, our kids need to. It’s a frame of reference that they understand, and one that they are comfortable with. While it is important for us adults to understand the difference in these two situations (including the increased contagion but also the severity), it isn’t for our children. Children, especially younger children, need to be able to put this into terms their mind can understand and feel comfortable with.
Resilience We adults have much more experience with resilience. We have lived through seemingly impossible situations (9/11, World Wars, Mass Shootings, infectious diseases), but they haven’t. This is likely the first, or at least the closest to home hitting situation of their young lives. They don’t have the knowledge that things get crazy, but then they stabilize and return to normal. It’s important to share those experiences with them. Tell them about hard experiences you lived through and how they got better. Explain the process of fear that was relieved by stabilization. They need to hear this, especially our older children.
Disappointment I’ll write more on this in the coming days because this is going to be a big one for our children. Some kiddos are in kindergarten, and while they don’t really know what they are missing out on, they have a sense. Some of our kids are high school seniors and are facing the possibility of not experiencing senior prom, graduation ceremonies, or their final moment of competition on the field. This is BIG for them and we can’t undo that by saying “well you lived through a moment that will be written about in history books.” They don’t care, and I feel them on that. We can’t make this better for them, and it’s insulating to try. Let them be disappointed, listen to them rant, hold them when they cry, help them feel this. I don’t have words to make it better for them, and neither do you. I implore you to let them be sad, angry, disappointed, or bitter. It won’t last forever, but it’s important they get to express their feelings now.

This isn’t a comprehensive list of how to handle our current situation. Could anyone give us that? But I hope this hits the high points of how to talk with your children in this unique time in our history. There is more…so much more and so many of us will need the support of others during this. Counseling is a gift we can give, not only to ourselves, but to our children as well. Our therapists are ready to be that boost of support and unconditional regard during these difficult times. We are always here for input for your family and are honored to hold that place in your lives. We aren’t in this alone. We have one another.

Surviving a Quarantine with your Partner (and maybe getting a little closer) during COVID-19 by Angela S. Taylor MA, LPC-S

It goes without saying that everyone is feeling the stress from the Coronavirus and its potential impact over the next couple of months/year. Throw in being confined to a small space with your partner, and we can all start to feel a little on edge. These factors could easily lead a couple to feel more tension and take that out on each other. Let’s try not to add more strain to an already stressful situation by cultivating kind and loving relationships with these ideas…

Validate each other’s feelings and emotions. Everyone is entitled to their own feelings about this, and there is no definite right way to feel. We can validate and hear our partner’s feelings without agreeing with them. I encourage couples to reflect, reflect, reflect until his/her partner feels heard. You don’t have to silver line the feelings, “but” the feelings away, or try to make that feeling different. Just sit with it, and take the pressure off of yourself to change it or make it better in some way. Remember that oftentimes, just expressing a feeling will help it dissipate. That in itself can decrease the tension and stress in the home.

Put time limits on discussing the pandemic. Set aside time to talk about what’s going on, and set clear boundaries. There’s only so much that can be said about the latest news, and after that, we’re just fostering and perpetuating more anxiety. I would set aside 30 minutes a day where you can plan, freak out, cuss, and discuss any new information you feel like you need to get out. After that, no more. Maybe come up with some kind of game. For example, anyone that brings it up has to donate a dollar to the money jar.

Laugh! Don’t forget to laugh and play – it really is a great cure. Play games, tell stories, and just have fun together. Rarely do we get this much time to remember those early days of dating when we would skip out on school, work, and other activities just to be together. Try to channel that, and really enjoy each other. Truly be in the moment and present with your partner – see them and hear them. Hold hands, cuddle, and ask questions. Be curious about your partner – maybe you’ll learn something new that makes your love grow even deeper.

Work out together. You need to move your body during this time for your mental and psychological health as well as your physical health. Why not do it together? This looks different depending on where you live. Some people can go for a walk or run together without running into anyone while others will need to find creative ways to work out at home. Either way, getting those endorphins flowing will help you connect, relieve stress, and feel a little more optimistic.

Plan a vacation. Eventually, we will get to travel again. Let’s dream a little. Where have you always wanted to go? What do you want to do there? Do you want to invite friends or family, or make it a special romantic getaway? Look into it and find that dream hotel, resort, Airbnb, etc.

Spend some time alone. This sounds counterintuitive, but you need a minute. Take time for you. Spending time with yourself is not choosing that over your partner, you need both. You need some time to breathe, refresh, and renew. Go to another room and read, take a bath, practice meditation, lean into your spirituality, etc. You and your relationship will be better for it.

Get intimate (and maybe be a little creative) – need I say more!

Be kind to one another. We’re all feeling the weight of this. The least we can do is be caring and patient with the ones closest to us. Take advantage of the time we have right now to grow and nurture your relationship. You might just feel some lasting effects of being really intentional with your partner for years to come.

For a little more help, here’s one of our favorite apps for connecting with your partner…

‎Gottman Card Decks on the App Store

Managing Anxiety During COVID-19 By Charity Hagains MA, LPC-S

And so it begins… COVID-19 is upon us, and our world looks decidedly different than it did a month or even a week ago. If you are a person who is already predisposed to anxiety, recent events have likely heightened that feeling in a number of ways.

Let me start out by admitting, in full transparency, that I am one of those people. I have battled anxiety my entire adult life. It’s a big part of why I became a therapist. I have spent 30 years learning what anxiety is on a physiological, cognitive, and emotional level. I am grateful for the years I have dedicated to understanding this disorder. That time has given me an immense arsenal to fight the thoughts and feelings associated with anxiety, and provided me with necessary tools for prevention. It has afforded me an opportunity to help others in a way that goes beyond empathy, to a deep understanding of shared experience. I say all of that to ensure you that I get how this pandemic can wreak havoc on those who are fighting feelings of irrational fear on a daily basis.

Here is a sentiment I have heard twice a day everyday for about 3 weeks. “Coronavirus is coming and I’m scared. I started stockpiling water, rice, beans, and medicine. I told my (fill in the tribe members here) what I was doing and how scared I was and instead of telling me I’m nuts, they said “maybe stockpiling is a good idea!” This last part isn’t said with excitement, it’s said with trepidation. Their faces are sad and fearful. See, when you’re an anxious person you get used to people telling you you’re crazy. You yourself know that you are catastrophizing the situation and that your concern is unreasonable. Hearing a person tell you why your feelings are “extra” and “not necessary” has likely become a litmus test. So upon hearing that these non-anxious people are concerned, your anxiety spikes. That’s even before the population at large loses their shit. Which brings us to today.

Schools close, stores close, your boss tells you to work from home. Toilet paper is a prime commodity (for no reason whatsoever), and finding fresh bread is like finding a four leaf clover. The government places travel bans, and other countries are straight up closed for the first time in our lifetime. NPR, CNN, Fox News, NBC, and CBS all relay 24 hour coverage of the spread of the infection. They tell us how serious it is and how bad it could get, but even those predictions don’t stand against the apocalyptic fear that anxiety has placed into your mind. You can imagine worse, and thus you are planning for it. The entire world just confirmed you aren’t crazy. You are smart, prepared, and knew what was coming.

Here’s the thing. NO. Nope you didn’t. As much as I would like to tell you that you are prophetic, you aren’t. Anxiety breeds like bacteria, so of course you conceived the worst. Of course you planned and have already emotionally experienced the fall out. I hate that this experience has validated your anxiety, but I know it has. I also know how hard you have been fighting internally to not validate anxiety. If you have been in our offices, you have learned how to recognize anxious thoughts as just that, anxious thoughts, instead of reality or truth. However, this moment in our society has you questioning things. That’s why I’m writing this. I want to help you sift through the anxious thoughts and feelings and discern those from the reality. I aim to help you operate on a level of realism that is more firmly based in the here and now vs. the imagined catastrophized future that anxiety likes to pull us towards.
Start by paying close attention to changes in your body. It can be easy to get lost in thoughts and not realize how amped up you’re becoming. For that reason, monitoring changes in your body can be helpful so that you can change your line of thinking.

Once you are able to realize that you have ventured into an anxious narrative you can then begin to pull back from that. Statements such as: “These are scary feelings and I do not want to be afraid.” “I do not choose to keep feeling like this.” “I’m not required to think this through.” “I don’t have to figure it all out right now, or ever.” “I don’t need to understand.” can be very helpful for turning your thoughts back towards the here and now.

Anxiety usually tells us we “need to figure it out.” No, you really don’t. Most likely there is nothing you can do to actually figure out the circumstance. There is no definitive way to know if you or a loved one will contract this virus or how you will feel if you do. There just isn’t. So spending your precious mental energy on it isn’t going to help. Accepting that this is a situation that is happening, and you are limited in your ability to change that fact can help calm your inner anxious voice and begin a new narrative.

It’s important that the new narrative is positive and realistic. No, it doesn’t mean you have to delude yourself into believing everything is A-okay. It’s not okay, and pretending it is would be a lie that you couldn’t force yourself to believe. However, while the situation we find our world in right now is concerning, you actually are okay. Right at this moment, nothing horrible is happening to you directly. Right in the moment, you are gifted with an opportunity for peace.

Write this new narrative with ideas such as, “I can’t control the entire situation, but I can totally control my small corner of the world.” “I can’t force others to make changes, but I can be in control of my choices. I can wash my hands, ensure I have a reasonable amount of supplies, and social distance. Those are things within my power that I’m doing.”

Most importantly remember that, much like the toilet paper shortage, these feelings and circumstances are temporary. We never believe that our happiness will last forever and the situations we enjoy will never end. We do that with fear. We mistakenly believe that our hurting will continue indefinitely. It won’t. As you begin to change your narrative and interrupt the anxious thoughts, your feelings will begin to change and then your behaviors. By taking control over your anxious thinking you put logic back in the driver’s seat.

If you are still feeling overwhelmed I can’t encourage you enough to seek support. The therapists at Noyau are specially trained in anxiety disorder treatment, and we are available for phone or video sessions, as well as in office appointments.

New Year–Same Fabulous You!

We are 10 days into this new year, new decade, and some of you may already be over the whole “fresh start” idea. About this time every year I start hearing people talk about feelings of lost hope. It doesn’t take the entire month for that initial enthusiasm to wear off and for us to realize that nothing magical happened at midnight. The world did not suddenly decide to bend to our will, and we are stuck with the same difficulties we had on December 31st.

The new year, and holidays in general, really put a lot of pressure on people. We love the idea of a clean slate–some place we can work from scratch without distraction. In December, we see the holidays as a finish line, and most of the time it does feel that way. “If I can just get through this week at work, then I’m on vacation for the holidays.” “If I can just get through Christmas with my family, then it’s relaxation station.” “I will celebrate and enjoy myself when fill in the blank is done.” We hustle, bustle and we fight our way through the holiday madness. This explains why December 31st is likely to leave us feeling deserving of a finisher’s medal and our trophy–a glass of champagne.

If the new decade hasn’t been all you had hoped for, fear not, change is afoot. The thing about resolutions is they are simply choices we have elevated to important commitments and stamped “I resolve” on. We come up with a list of changes we want to see in our lives and then pinky swear that “this is the year it all changes.” Good people I tell you, stop it. Just. Stop. It. Put the list away, erase each and every bullet point, and close out the Pinterest board. Change is not a list or a vision board (though I do love those). Change is not something we can do all at once, nor can we do it overnight. I know you know this, logically, but emotionally, not so much.

Our logical brain knows a lot of things that make zero sense to our emotional brain. Our feelings are the driving force behind our expectations, decisions, and ultimately our actions. January 1st is so exciting because our emotional brain thinks everything is going to be different now. It’s expecting greatness! It has been told daily for weeks that “New Year = New You” and so it compiles a list of everything it wants changed with the thought that these changes will equate to happiness. Logical brain is off to the side going, “Hey man, dropping 20 lbs isn’t that easy. It’s not going to happen quickly, or maybe at all. If it was easy, we would have done it already.” While our emotional brain is too keyed up to care, replying, “I know, but this year is different. We are NEW now! Don’t be a pessimist! This is our year!” And so we keep making lists, sort of like the mental lists we make when there’s a big lotto jackpot and we imagine all we would do with $300 billion.

This year let’s try something different. Make no lists. Don’t sit down and decide on all the changes you want for yourself over the next 12 months. Instead, pick one thing. Maybe it’s the thing that has bothered you the most over this last year like not being able to park your car in the garage. Then, choose a small area to work on to accomplish that one thing. Pack up one box to take to the donation center. Unclutter one square foot of that cram packed garage, then celebrate that. Unclutter one more, and celebrate that. Lather, rinse, and repeat until you’re parking a full sized automobile in that bad boy.

Sometimes, it’s all of the changes that keep us from changing. If the garage is but one item on a sizable list, you are unlikely to ever complete it. There are simply too many things vying for your attention, not to mention all of the normal day to day stuff you have to do even though it’s a “new year” with a “fresh start.” The truth is, we are not starting from scratch with a clean slate just because we flipped a calendar page.

Maybe you have something more important than household organization on your list. Something like “Get Healthy.” Maybe there’s a pressing feeling that if you don’t complete this item things will likely get pretty bad for you. Maybe this goal is life or death. No pressure, right?

Just like with the great garage clean-out of 2020, the first thing we do is cut everything down to one thing. Don’t start exercising and eating well all at once. Don’t decide to go from the couch to the race track. Pick just one thing. Maybe it’s walking 30 mins a day 2 days a week. Great! Maybe it’s cutting 100 calories a day. Perfect! Maybe it’s just going and getting your physical. Awesome! Because “getting healthy” sounds like a giant pain in the ass. I mean the term itself is so vague, which measure do we even use to know if we are successful?! Walking 30 minutes twice a week? I can easily measure that, and I’m likely to be successful because it’s not a giant pain in the ass. Cut one hundred calories? That’s one soda or glass of wine. That’s doable and measurable.

In short, it’s a New Year with the same Fabulous You, who is going to evolve one tiny bit at a time, one quick minute at a time, each day for 365 days.

Quick side note: This doesn’t have to be a solo journey. Grab a friend or a family member and let them cheer you on. For more concentrated support, give us a call and let us help guide and encourage you as you move towards your ultimate goals! Helping others make profound, life long change is our mission at Noyau!!

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