1) higher confidentiality standards (no insurance accepted)
2) Email support between sessions
3) Coordinate care with your medical provider, if you wish
4) Quality Assessments done periodically
5) Progress updates every 6th session
6) Handouts to reinforce what you’ve learned
8) Testing for depression and anxiety, with actual test numbers reported
9) Reduced fee/sliding scale counseling available with Intern Therapists
10) You will leave the first session with a “Prescription” of immediate, practical suggestions
“It just never works to be in contact with my mother,” said my client as she started our session, wiping away tears. “I don’t want to cut her out of my life completely, but I can’t keep going back to be sniped at again and again.”
This client and I had already strategized ways to talk to mother assertively, addressing the hurtful comments, to no avail. Her mother flatly refused to admit fault or change her behavior.
Our next step was to set strong boundaries of self- protection in specific ways. Here’s a list of ways to do just that. If you have a difficult person in YOUR family, ask yourself:
- Do I want to limit phone calls? Yes/no
- If yes, how many per week/month/year? _________per _________________________
- Do I want to limit time of day I answer the phone? Yes/no
- If so, what are my limits? __________________________________________________
- Do I want to limit the amount of time we talk? Yes/no
- If so, what’s the limit? _____________________________________________________
- Do I want to limit time we spend face to face? Yes/no
- If so, what’s that going to look like? __________________________________________
- Do I want to remove myself when they are inebriated or otherwise inappropriate?
- Do I want to acknowledge birthdays and holidays? Yes/no
- If so, how? Card phone call visit with others present visit alone
- Other ways to protect myself: ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Let’s discuss your answers in our next session. Together we CAN find ways to protect YOU.
“What is it?”
Although the specific diagnosis is complicated, these symptoms may indicate signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder: craving for carbohydrates, excessive sleeping, lack of energy, weight gain, and all of the symptoms of depression that go along with it: excessive guilt, irritability and others.
“Who’s at risk?”
People who live at higher latitudes have a higher risk, as do people already diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder. Younger people are more at risk than older ones. Regardless of these factors, anyone can suffer with symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. ONLY A LICENSED HEALTH PROFESSIONAL can make this diagnosis!
“What makes it worse?”
Having the short days of winter upon us right after the overspending, overeating, and family time of the holidays can contribute to the exhaustion we feel. Less daytime light to feed our vitamin D needs is also a factor, as is less stimulation of the glands that provide serotonin production. Making New Years’ Resolutions can make you feel ineffective and hopeless if you are depressed; postpone until spring.
“What makes it better?”
Getting outside, even 20 minutes a day, without sunglasses. This exposes you to unfiltered light.
Leaving lights on inside the house, and drapes open to outside light.
Light boxes (available online) specifically designed for Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Therapy to offer support and new ways of viewing your world, and to prevent worsening of depression.
Exercise, exercise, exercise: again, 20 minutes a day helps. Exercise can be a ‘magic bullet’ for depression and anxiety relief! If it’s bad weather, walk at a mall or a gym.
“How can a therapist help me?”
A therapist can hold you accountable for putting these helps into place in your life, as well as help you examine how you think when depressed and challenge that faulty thinking. There’s no need to go at life alone, and untreated depression is indeed dangerous. There IS help!
“What’s wrong with me?” my patient (fictional) asked, shredding the tissue in her hands as she wept on my couch. “Shouldn’t this be a happy time of year? Why can’t I feel Christmassy and jolly?”
And she is not alone. When you think of all of the people who are grieving and/or going through their first holiday season after divorce, widowhood, or the loss of a loved one, you realize that the memories can make the holidays more painful than happy at this time of year. Add to that the additional stress the season brings in the form of activities, shopping, and school events—well, you can see the problem. It’s like adding that last too-much drop of water to an already overflowing bucket.
What to do? If you are experiencing loss this time of year, your goal is this: to make it through. This is not the time to fill your chore list with handmade gifts (or gifts at all—who’s going to blame you this year?) or high stress dinners. If ever there was a time in your life to put you (and your children, if any) first, this is it. Exercise your “say-no” muscle with a firm and assertive smile and pass on committees, obligations, and entertaining. The people who might judge you—and believe me, there are fewer than you imagine—are simply not worth a second thought.
When the memories and tears come, allow them. What we resist, grows stronger, so don’t fight the feelings that arise. Tears actually expel cortisol, a stress hormone that is damaging to the body and needs to come out in order for you to be healthy.
Ask your friends and family for what you need this year, specifically. Do you need help making decisions on the children’s Christmas list? You probably have at least one friend who would love to help you. Do you need people to just listen to your grief without advising you? Tell them that you really just need an ear, not a response, from them.
These are just a few ideas; you know best what helps you stay strong. Just remember that you WILL make it through. Rest, heal, and wait for better days.
Elizabeth Scott, MS
Holiday perfectionism is one of the main causes of holiday stress. We want things to be perfect for our loved ones and for ourselves. They (and we) deserve the best, right? We have the best of intentions. But whether it’s due to the impossible standards of holiday bliss sold to us by various marketing campaigns, to the exaggerated memories of holiday greatness that we’re trying to match (or outdo) from our own childhoods, or simply our regular-life perfectionism carried over and applied to the holidays, holiday perfectionism is all too common.
Signs of Holiday Perfectionism
Perfectionists often think they’re merely high achievers, but there are some key differences. With holiday perfectionism, the differences to look for involve happiness and satisfaction. Holiday high-achieving can mean being busy with holiday activities that will create lasting memories. So can holiday perfectionism. But with holiday high-achieving, if everything doesn’t get done, it’s okay—the focus stays on all of the fun activities that were enjoyed. Not so with holiday perfectionism—for the holiday perfectionist, if everything doesn’t get done (and done perfectly!) it’s a stressful, disappointing experience. Also, holiday high-achievers tend to cut corners here and there in order to get everything done. Holiday perfectionism, however, involves going all-out in every area of holiday activity. Holiday perfectionism involves high demands and little enjoyment.
Examples of Holiday Perfectionism
You might be dealing with holiday perfectionism if:
- Every gift must be hand-made—and you’re not even enjoying the process!
- The holiday card is two pages, single-spaced, and includes every detail of your year—along with a hand-written note for each person on your 100-address list. (And each address is hand-written on the envelope!)
- You spend an entire day on the holiday meal, and can’t enjoy it because you worry that your recipes aren’t elaborate enough.
- You’re procrastinating on major activities because you want to do an amazing job, but don’t have the time to give an activity the attention you feel it deserves. The activity goes undone, and you beat yourself up over it.
- The kids look exhausted and stressed early in December because it’s all just too much!
- You’re doing many, many things to celebrate the holidays, and aren’t enjoying most of them because you feel that your efforts aren’t good enough.
Consequences of Holiday Perfectionism
The main consequence of holiday perfectionism is holiday stress. That stress can be felt by you and everyone around you. Instead of enjoying the holiday season as a time of sharing and celebrating, holiday perfectionism causes people to feel inferior, overwhelmed, and unhappy. And these feelings can be felt by those around them. Basically, holiday perfectionism robs people of the very joy and satisfaction that they’re seeking to achieve in the first place. But it doesn’t need to be that way.
Solutions to Holiday Perfectionism
- Become Aware of Holiday Perfectionism—Now that you know the signs of holiday perfectionism, examine your thinking and behavior patterns a little more closely and notice whether or not you’re a holiday perfectionist. Just being aware can be a significant help.
- Re-Examine Your Thoughts—Practice a little cognitive restructuring by paying attention to what you tell yourself as you take on an attitude of perfectionism, and challenge those thoughts. Are you afraid that the holidays won’t be fun for your family if you don’t make everything perfect in one specific way or another? Think instead about how your mood (overwhelmed or happy) might affect their happiness.
- Practice Imperfection—Purposely challenge yourself to do things somewhat imperfectly. Take shortcuts, do things mostly-well. See how it feels, and practice coping in small increments. This will allow you to feel more in control of your situation without having to make it perfect, and can alleviate some of your holiday perfectionist anxiety.
- Find Support If You Need It—If you find yourself experiencing stress or anxiety due to holiday perfectionism, you might want to talk to a good friend about it. If you’re experiencing stress and anxiety levels that feel unmanageable, you might want to talk to a professional—there’s a lot that can be done to help.
Bottom line—holiday perfectionism can ruin the joy of the season for you and your loved ones. You can free yourself from the stress that comes from it, and simply enjoy the holidays.