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But What About When “Self Care” Doesn’t Work?

By Hillary Chaney, LMHP

When you are in an airplane, the flight attendants give multiple instructions for what to do in case of an emergency by demonstrating multiple life-saving resources. These resources include an oxygen mask that will automatically drop from the overhead console for the passenger to put over their nose and mouth to ensure clean oxygen inhalation. The instruction given by the attendants is to put your own mask on BEFORE attending to a child or person in need of assistance. Any well-versed therapist will use a metaphor much like this one to encourage an individual to “take care of yourself first before trying to meet all of the needs of others.” After all, you can’t very well fill someone else’s cup if your cup is empty! This is such an important truth that it’s no longer just therapists pushing this idea of self-care…it’s our culture.

McDonalds continues to remind me to take “Me Time” with a McCafe.

LINDOR truffles encourage me to take the extra moment for myself to enjoy a bite of chocolate.

Things like massage therapy, floating (huh?), and getting a facial exist to encourage us to take time to pamper ourselves and feel better.

These are GREAT ways to avoid burnout and build resiliency. But what happens when they aren’t working? “I DRANK the dang McCafe and I am still STRESSED!!” Are we destined to an eternity of overwhelming, I-just-want-to-curl-up-in-a-ball, messy days? Well, let’s hope not!!!

Sometimes self-care doesn’t work because the stress monster still lingers overhead after the frothy beverage has been consumed and the knots have been kneaded out of our bodies. We recognize that we are stressed and overwhelmed, but we don’t necessarily identify the stress culprits.

Here are a couple of ideas that are likely to help your self-care efforts be more successful and worth your time and effort:

  1. Identify that there is an issue. You are feeling ready to snap. If you are ready to ankle-butt someone with your grocery cart for going too slow down the isle, want to literally cry over some spilled milk, or have said recently, “Oh, I just punched the door twice in the past week, everything is fine” (trust me, you are NOT fine.), your plane is going down and you need to put on your mask!!! It is self-care time. But, good for you! The first step in making anything better is identifying there is a problem.
  2. Write down all that is burdening your heart. Make a visible list. This is a two-for-the-price-of-one benefit. A list will sometimes ease the sense of stress immediately as we see that our burdens are not as drastic as they felt. The list also puts a label or name to the things you are trying to care for yourself through. I like to then put the list “away” somewhere. It is a mental note for me that I don’t have to deal with this right now. I can go get it when I am ready to tackle it. Then, when you are practicing your self-care and these thoughts or triggers pop into your head trying to sabotage the “me time” you are taking, you can consciously tell the thought to, “Go away, please.” Always be polite, even to your thoughts. Your mom will be proud. 🙂
  3. Figure out what gives you a DEEP sense of satisfaction. There is no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all way to care for YOU. For me, laughter is a great stress reliever. Take away the warm bubble bath and give me a silly comedy or time with my light-hearted friends and I will be a happy camper. Others deeply need their bubble bath, glass of wine, and People magazine! Is it art or music? Helping people? Reading? Petting a fuzzy animal? Time walking in the outdoors, away from city noises? If you aren’t sure, experiment! Your body will tell you.
  4. Put it into action. Once you have this great mystery solved (what gives you satisfaction) then it is time to PRACTICE!!! Who, growing up, practiced the piano only on the day of the recital? NO ONE! We practiced everyday leading up to the big performance. Why on earth would we wait until we are pulling our hair out to care for ourselves? Perhaps because society tells us we SHOULD NOT need extra time for ourselves, we SHOULD be able to do it all, or perhaps other responsibilities appear more urgent? Nothing could be further from the truth! Remember, put your mask on first, and then help those around you, because you are no good to anyone if you’re passed out.


Good self-care grows our emotional resilience. Dictionary.com defines resilience two ways: 1) The power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity; and 2) The ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy. Once you have practiced and mastered self-care, the things in life that appear to be consuming you will not feel as monstrous. They may drag you down momentarily, but you’ll be able to find your way back to a place of hope and joy. You’ll have renewed energy. You’ll find that you have more patience and compassion for others. You will be more RESILIENT!

Lastly, if you try all of this and are still finding that the stress continues to grow and you’re experiencing symptoms that keep you from functioning well on a daily basis, reach out via the Hope and Wellness website to someone to talk to and help you through it. That’s what therapists are here for!


Photos by Jonas Jacobsson, Jennifer Pallian, Tim Gouw, & Jonathan Fink on Unsplash

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7 Ways to Practice Self-Care Over the Holidays

By Sarah Dabney, PLMHP

Christmas and New Year’s are days that most of us look forward to all year round, and they can provide an amazing shot-in-the-arm reminder that joy, peace, love, faith and family are the beating heart of life. But statistically, they are also the time of year when depression and suicidal ideation rise, when stress levels are high for emotional, physical and financial reasons, and when sicknesses like colds and flu get passed around, as well.

While no one is immune to pressure around this time of year, families with younger children can be particularly susceptible to the fever pitch surround the attempt to create magical, wonderful memories, have the perfect, glittering Christmas morning, survive on a diet of turkey, egg nog and fruit cake, and balance big changes in eating and sleeping schedules, not to mention time off from work and school.  Life can seem like it’s just bulldozing on, and mental health issues are no respecter of holidays.

Some common thoughts are:

I’m too stressed out to really enjoy anything this year…which makes me more stressed.
The holidays just seem like more work instead of rest.
I’m actually dreading spending time with my family.
I’m not where I want to be in life, so it’s painful to go to these parties…I leave feeling like I didn’t really connect, like I was vague and fake.
I just want things to be like they used to.

Self-care can fall by the wayside during the holidays, to their detriment…not because we meant to let it go, but because the different demands on time and energy can simply derail what we usually do to take care of our mind, heart, and body. Maintaining a loving connection with our hearts and bodies is the way to maximize what we give and receive, and to let the season be what it is meant to be—one of a renewal of hope.

Some practical ways to do that this year might include the following:

  • Listen—Ask your body (and your family) what it really needs this Christmas. Not every holiday season has to honor the same traditions. Do you need time to grieve, to leave the decorations in storage? Or is it a year to start new traditions, welcome new family members? Are you more hungry for connection or peace and quiet…and in what ratio? What is the gift you would love to receive this year?
  • Simplify and Prioritize—Sit and down and assess which of the usual Christmas social functions are life-giving, and which ones are life-sucking. Do you love making Christmas cookies for the church program…or do you just feel you should? You only have a certain amount of energy to spend, and you have to care for your body by identifying where you would really prefer to spend it. If you’ve already said “yes” to too many things (or the wrong ones) this year, consider setting a boundary with yourself and calling them back to say “no” graciously, or make a plan around limiting your “yeses” next year.
  • Check Out Your Options—Some individuals have the opposite challenge around the holidays: loneliness. Call around to your local churches, community centers and soup kitchens or homeless shelters, and see what activities you could be involved in and connect with new relationships. You are not the only one with these feelings. Someone needs your gift of presence and conversation this year just as much as you need theirs.
  • Monitor Alcohol and Sugar Intake—Remember that alcohol is a depressant, and can increase feelings of depression and grief. A glass of wine with Christmas dinner is a wonderful thing, but consider leaning toward extra glasses of water instead of a refill for the sake of your emotions and your energy level, and to help flush out the extra salt and sugar holiday foods usually contain. A daily serving of leafy greens will also help balance the holiday diet, particularly if you are sensitive to certain kinds of carbs and sugars or dairy, and tend to feel that fog and malaise the day after eating a lot of dessert.
  • Keep Exercising—As the weather gets colder, it gets harder to go for a jog in the neighborhood or even get to the gym. But this is precisely the time of year when you need to do so. Maintain good sleep and energy/mood levels by being faithful to do at least some light cardio every other day, or Pilates in front of the TV. It’s also a good way to work off the adrenaline of tense conversations or misunderstandings.
  • Schedule in Blank Space—In the midst of increased social activity, the need for down time can be overlooked, but quiet intervals during the holidays (an hour or two between coming home from work and going out to a party, twenty minutes here and there to creep away to your room in the packed house and have a quiet moment, or a whole day a week to regroup, heat up leftovers and take naps) go a long way toward ensuring that we can actually enjoy the holiday cheer, rather than just enduring it. Unless this blank space makes it into your planner/Google calendar, you set yourself up to go non-stop until after New Year’s…because there is always something else to say “yes” to!
  • Allow for Lower Expectations—It’s OK for this year to be a little less magical. It’s OK for it to be hard. It won’t always be, but for now, it just is. The important thing is to be gentle with yourself, with where you are. To both sit and breathe with the hard moments, and to catch the great moments in your hands and enjoy them while they last. To be aware of both.

Holidays aren’t meant for burnout. The wonderful thing about practicing our own self-care is that it gives others permission to do the same! Allow your children, your roommate, your in-laws to notice you choosing to make the most of the season by not trying to consume it indiscriminately. It’s possible that your example might bring them the same relief.


Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash


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How to Practice Permission to Grieve Over the Holidays

By Sarah Dabney, PLMHP

November is an incredibly bittersweet time for many individuals and families, as they savor the changing of seasons and the anticipation of holidays…and at the same time, wonder inside how they can possibly celebrate this year. For some, the loss of a relationship or the death of someone dearly loved will leave an empty spot at the table. The loss of a job or the loss of health can cast a film of anxiety or depression that threatens to smother the joy this time of year might otherwise hold.

With loss comes grief.

Grief is hard. We don’t choose it…it chooses us. It follows its own schedule. Many of us grievers wrestle with a sort of helplessness or floundering that comes from being out of the normal rhythm of emotion, habit, and reality—a feeling that is compounded by the fact that losses are rarely singular. They tend to come in layered in bunches. For example, the loss of a job is often not just the loss of a job. Most times, it means loss of income (perhaps the loss of the ability to buy holiday gifts for loved ones!), loss of routine, loss of a work community where you regularly see coworkers and friends, loss of a sense of stability and control over the future, and sometimes even loss of an important identity—how we perceive who we are and what we contribute to the world. This type of compound loss can be difficult to verbalize and grieve, especially if we don’t feel like we have permission in our social networks to talk about some of these less obvious losses.

One of the best things we can do to facilitate our grief, whatever the cause, is to simply allow it to be what it is. We gain a lot from learning to accept the presence of grief, rather than fight it or ignore it…from learning to make space for it, both emotionally and physically (in our bodies and in our schedules). It is OK to grieve. More than OK. It’s not something we have to fix or change, get over, or hurry through to the other side. Our bodies are biologically engineered for the experience of grief…we are actually made for it, as a part of being human.

This acceptance as a practice often starts with a list of permissions we grant ourselves; with writing down what we need to allow ourselves in order to grieve well and fully and then repeating these statements verbally and in action. An excellent example of a list of permissions can be found in Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s “Mourner’s Bill of Rights.” Rights three through five read as follows:

  1. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.

Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don’t take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without condition.

  1. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.

Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. And don’t allow others to push you into doing things you don’t feel ready to do.

  1. You have the right to experience “griefbursts.”

Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening, but is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.

Feel free to borrow these permissions, and to write out and add your own. Take the time to feel out what it looks like for you to grieve safely this holiday season, in a healthy way. Care for and speak to yourself during this time with patience and empathy, as you would do for a friend who had experienced a similar loss. Whatever your loss has been, you have the right to grieve for as long as you need. You have a right to be heard, and seen. You have a right to your own journey toward healing.


If you would like some help writing your own Grief Permissions, please click this Hope and Wellness Center download as a place to start:

Grief Permission Slips


Photo credit: Tom Pumford on Unsplash

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Circle of Security: The 7 Basic Emotional Needs

By Hillary Chaney, LMHP


Most of us have heard it said that “behavior has meaning.” What??? Could someone please explain that? Especially when our two year old is throwing a complete tantrum on the floor at Walmart…please, tell me what it means. What is that behavior telling us? That is the million-dollar question.

One of my areas of expertise is in Circle of Security Parenting, a training which is part of an international organization for moms and dads who would like to increase their understanding of and capacity to meet their children’s needs in the home. According to the Circle of Security, there are 7 emotional needs our kids (or really any human in our lives) are asking us to meet:

Watch over me, delight in me, help me, enjoy with me, protect me, comfort me, or organize my feelings.

So, what do these emotional needs mean? I am glad you asked! I will bullet point them for you with a quick example of each.

  1. Watch over me: This need means “keep an eye on me in case I do something cool so you can cheer me on, or if I hurt myself I know you will be aware and come help.”
    For example: If I am playing on the playground, sit on the bench and watch me, so when I get hurt, you will see the sadness on my face and you will come help.
  2. Delight in me: I LOVE THIS ONE! Who doesn’t love it when you make eye contact with someone and they give you the biggest, most proud smile because they think you are neat?
    For example: You kiddo has been playing in the living room while you are doing dishes, and you think how lucky you are to have such a neat kid, and at that moment they look at you and you both smile. Not because your kid just did something amazing, but because your kid IS amazing. Let’s just take a moment and think back to that time grandma, teacher, friend, or parent gave you that look. Bask in it. You! You are neat! Feels good, right?
  3. Help me: How obvious can we get here? This is when someone is obviously struggling with something and you give them just enough assistance to be successful.
    For example: if I fall, come rushing over to help me up!
  4. Enjoy with me: Doesn’t it feel good to share what we love with someone we love?
    For example: If your kid just LOVES playing with Legos, get on the floor with them and build something too! Play. Laugh. Smile. ENJOY!
  5. Protect me: We all get scared sometimes, whether physically or emotionally, and it gives us peace of mind when we realize someone will protect us from any harm.
    For example: UMMM, there is a boogie man in the closet and I need you to Karate chop him so I can sleep because you are bigger and stronger than me.
  6. Comfort me: My feelings are confusing and overwhelming, and I need to not feel alone.
    For example: You interview for a job that you do not get, and you feel like you are not good enough, you have been rejected. A hug from a loved one eases the very natural, unavoidable pain.
  7. Organize my feelings: Here it is folks, the Grand Torino of needs. The most confusing of them all. This is when I am acting out, and I have NO IDEA WHY. We see it in tired toddlers, hungry teens, or “tough” guys who don’t show emotion. This is an opportunity to ask, “Do you need a nap?”, “are you hungry?”, or “Was it a rough day at the office?”
    For example: You pick up your kid from school and they say things like, “Why do you drive so slow?” “Nothing ever goes right!” “You forgot to put an apple in my lunch!” “My math teacher just hates me!” on your way home. And, instead of commenting on your child’s bad attitude, you say, “Did you have a hard day?” and then the most beautiful thing happens, your child feels a connection. Like you get them. And sometimes, I repeat sometimes, they open up to you about their day and all of the difficult things they faced.

When these emotional needs are not met, behaviors escalate. It’s like when you are hungry and you go out to eat, but the waiter totally ignores you or takes your order and never delivers. You might start to get agitated, and then flat out HANGRY! Your behavior is likely to escalate, right? I know mine does. But when the need is met, and the food comes, you can rest easy and cool down. All you needed was a little bread.

Imagine for a moment if these 7 basic emotional needs NEVER get met. This is what we professionals like to call trauma. Trauma is a confusing topic because much of the population thinks of trauma as PTSD in war veterans or abuse victims. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder absolutely is trauma (it is in the name, after all). However, there is also acute trauma, or “little ‘t’ trauma,” which resides in most human beings, in those that have ever had a moment in their life that was scary or confusing, during which their emotional (or physical) needs were not met. That is pretty much everyone, myself included.

When I was in 3rd grade I walked up to Joanna (my best friend since pre-school) at the playground to swing, and she told me that she was no longer my friend because she had found “cooler” friends. My emotional need was NOT met, and I realized that people could leave me. They could ditch me for something better. (Go ahead, wipe the tear from your eye.) Joanna did NOT delight in me. She did NOT enjoy with me. And no one was there to comfort me or organize my feelings on the playground that day. Ever since, I have been afraid of losing friends. Still to this day that feeling manifests in me when I keep my distance for a while before letting someone in. Sometimes it looks more like being a people pleaser so that people don’t leave me. Trauma. I was “little ‘t’” traumatized, and I know this because it affected the way I behaved and STILL behave. My behavior has meaning!! I am asking people, “please don’t leave me” by being a people pleaser. Or, “show me you are invested so that I can open up to you” when I am keeping my distance. BEHAVIOR HAS MEANING!!!!

When our emotional needs are met, we are secure in who we are and in the people around us. When these needs are not met, we start to question ourselves and the people who are supposed to care for us. And although we may originally have a hard time feeling loving toward the toddler throwing a tantrum in Walmart, if we look at behaviors through the “trauma lens,” we start to have empathy for the behaviors we are seeing. We create space to realize that somewhere along the line, a need was not met, and that person became scared, confused, or traumatized.

This just scratches the surface of what Circle of Security Parenting curriculum has to offer, and does not even touch how complex trauma can be—but these principles can be applied in any type of relationship at any stage of life! If you are interested in learning more about the Circle of Security (in an individual or group setting), I encourage you to contact us.

Finally, if by reading this you felt that, in fact, you experienced some trauma that you have not yet worked through, reach out! Trauma is so common, and we at Hope and Wellness are here to help.

To make an appointment at the Hope and Wellness Center, call our office at 402-639-2901 or email hope@hwcomaha.com.


Photo by Senjuti Kundu on Unsplash


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Attachment in Adoption: Practical Ways to Spend Meaningful Time

By Becky Smith, PLMHP

Becky Smith lives in the Omaha area with her husband Eric and their four beautiful children. She is a graduate of Grace University with a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health, and now practices therapy at CityCare Counseling with a focus in adoption issues. We are thrilled to share her perspectives as an adoptee and a professional who specializes in adoption issues with you in this guest post on the intersection between adoption and mental health.


The very beginning of my life involved a lot of life changing people, I think. As a kid I sometimes imagined ninjas and princesses involved in my adoption…who knows? Maybe I was an heir to some Korean throne?

There were a lot of  “someone’s” involved in the first six months of my life in South Korea: Someone maybe helped to convince my biological mother not to get an abortion. She then did decide to abandon me somewhere, but someone had to have either taken me from her arms, or picked me up from the police station where I was found and taken me to an orphanage. Someone must have taken care of me in that orphanage. Then someone had to have picked me, for some reason, to go to foster care. Did I raise my baby arm in the crib? Who knows. Then somehow, someone picked me to become adopted. My adoptive mom and dad picked me to come home from Korea to Wisconsin. There were lots of hands in getting me home; I believe there was one giant, gentle, sovereign hand especially, the hand of my Father, my Savior. As for the other hands of “someones,” I will probably never know who they were, but I have a heart of thanks for them. After coming home, I grew up in Wisconsin, with parents who loved me and love me unconditionally, my older brother, dogs, music, teenage drama, ups, downs, and everything else in between.

When asked to write this blog about adoption and foster care, I excitedly sat down at my computer and started to think about from which perspective to write. I soon found myself staring at the blinking cursor as my mind wandered in so many different directions; so many choices of what to write about and from what angle to give voice. There is the birth mom perspective, foster parent perspective, adopting older kids, adopting internationally, adopting kids from places of abuse and neglect, the adoptive parents’ perspective, the kid adoptee perspective, the adult adoptee perspective, the list goes on.

I decided to go with the perspective of the role I have tried to take since getting my Master’s in Clinical and Mental Health: the “mom and a counseling professional who wants to support adoptive families” perspective.

First, I will say that as a mom of four biological kids who are all in their teen years, I think momhood can be one of the most difficult and isolating times of life. Or not. As new biological moms, we quickly realize that we have never “given of ourselves” like we have when babies come out of us and then literally use our bodies to stay alive. We can start to feel like a cow very easily. I know I did. It becomes our responsibility to find the support we need, and receive that support as best we can. As adoptive moms know very well, there is a similar yet different type of “giving” when your child first gets home to you; one that may not be through breast feeding, but that is just as loving, just as intimate. It often looks like compassion shown when tantrums are thrown because a small child does not know whom he or she can trust. You constantly work to show compassion, working your empathy skills, working to show love, working to understand a completely new person. Now do not get me wrong, sometimes there are no tantrums and connections are made easily. But sometimes that is not the case, and if that is not the case, the adjustment is a difficult road that requires support.

In my experience as a counselor, I have noticed the importance of time for connection. When committing to counseling, we commit ourselves to time. In the area of adoption, I think one of the biggest difficulties is also TIME. It takes time to create attachment opportunities, to show compassion through eye contact, to show support through words, to get to know one another. This time of parents building connection with their children, this is the place where I want to encourage something I have come to believe both as a professional and as a fellow mom: No parent was ever meant to be alone while navigating through the area of attachment. Get connected. Ask a professional therapist for help in finding resources, ask your local church, ask me. Connection to supports and educational groups is the best choice you can make while processing everything you are going through as an adoptive family. Connection for you as the mom or dad is vital, so that you can feel like you have capacity to connect with your child.

As an important side note to successful connection,  is so important to get educated about brain development when talking about adoption and foster care. Instead of me trying to summarize, please do yourself a favor and click this link! The book that this link mentions, The Whole Brain Child, is also worth the read, especially for those of you who have adopted children from a background of abuse or neglect. I also love the easy way that the author explains the complexity of the brain.

I want to finish with some good ol’ bullet points of great ways to spend your time with each other. One of the easiest and best ways to build connection is through play. They say that it takes about 300-400 repetitions to teach something, it takes about 20 repetitions to teach within the context of play. If you have a child who came to you later in life, after years in a different family or in an institution, there are certain building blocks of connection such as eye contact, healthy touch, soothing and comfort that were likely not present in their lives. Showing, modeling, and practicing these important building blocks through play can now help connection. The following games include ones I found online and ones I made up myself, which highlight healthy touch, eye contact, asking instead of telling, and accepting decisions:

  • Face paint with your kids. You face paint them, they face paint you. This is a great example of something that involves eye contact and healthy touch.
  • Play Hedbanz; let this game encourage eye contact.
  • Draw letters on each other’s backs and guess what letters they are; let this game highlight healthy touch, soothing voice. Maybe something to put into the bedtime routine to help calm them at night.
  • Get a “yes” jar. Everything about this jar is a “yes”. This helps to build trust. Here is a link to where I found this game: The Yes Jar.
  • Nerf-Shoot-Ask game:  Write down a bunch of questions, some silly, some fun, some serious. Put the questions on slips of paper and fold them into a grab jar or container. The child gets to pick a question out of the jar and read it to one of the parents. The other parent is standing somewhere with a cup or basket, waiting for the child to try to shoot the nerf gun dart at them and the parent will try to catch the dart. The child reads the question, then accepts the answer that the parent gives by saying, “ok.” Then the child asks. “May I shoot the gun, please?” And they try to make it in the basket. This game highlights ‘asking and accepting decisions.’
  • Brush hair while watching a movie, gently and with touch. This encourages healthy touch and feeling physically soothed.
  • Do each other’s nails.
  • The Progressive Picture: Each family member is allowed to draw on the same piece of paper  for 1 minute  (or whatever time fits your family). Go around the family twice, or an agreed upon number of times. This is a not a pre-planned picture, which can encourage creativity and laughter together. It is also something to display on a fridge that represents your family. Art is an amazing tool that helps externalize feelings.
  • Purposefully leave the dishes, leave the laundry. Snuggle on the couch under a soft blanket together and take turns reading a book together or read the book to your child.
  • Practicing re-do’s in life: have a family night that is sort of like charades, practice what it looks like to NOT show respect, then practice the opposite. Example: “I’m staying up later! I want to finish this game!” versus “Mom, can I stay up for 10 more minutes please? I would love to finish this level of this game!” Talk about the bravery and courage it takes to ask for something that you do not know you will receive.


Author’s note: Once a month, there is a group that meets at Waypoint Church at 1313 N 48th Ave, Omaha, NE 68132. We meet the THIRD FRIDAY of each month from 9:30am – 11am. This group is open to all. Please know that we share our stories with one another and pray for each other in this meeting. We are a small group at this point, usually about 5-10 moms. Our hope is that we would deeply know one another, our adoption and foster care struggles, and deeply love one another. Everything shared is expected to stay within the group, confidentiality is highlighted. The comments I have heard from this group are things like, “I felt so alone; it was so good to just hear others’ struggles in adoption.” “It is so nice to share with those who ‘get it.'” “I feel better. Nothing has changed in my circumstances, but I feel much better. I’m glad I came.”


Photo Credit: Daniela Rey on Unsplash

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How to Catch Your Breath: 8 Steps to Writing Your Wellness Plan

By Christy Denne, LIMHP


“She had a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach,
like when you’re swimming and you want
to put your feet down on something solid,
but the water’s deeper than you think and there’s nothing there.”

― Julia GregsonEast of the Sun

Have you ever had that feeling of sinking into the daily darkness of life? All you want to do is put your feet down on sturdy ground, but the more you stretch your feet out to the ground, the deeper the water feels around your legs. Depression, loneliness, and grief can all feel like the weight of the ocean crashing down over your head, crushing the air of your lungs—like drowning on dry land. If you have felt like this or feel like this, you are not alone. There is hope, and there is help.

Before jumping off the diving board into the deep end of the pool, we have to learn some of the basic strokes of swimming and floating. Ideally in life, we also learn the basic skills of wellness and health before we are thrown into a chaotic situation or an overwhelming place of grief. However, more often than not, we do not learn these skills early on, and we get thrown into the deep end to figure out it out on our own. When we attempt to tread water in life without the proper tools and skills, it can feel like drowning.

While we cannot control the circumstances which throw us into the chaos of the deep end, we can control how we respond, and we can create new habits as we begin our journey toward wellness. Writing our very own Wellness Plan is a powerful way to be intentional about our response and our future. Perhaps even the idea of creating a plan sounds incredibly overwhelming right now, but following a simple outline has helped many individuals take steps in the right direction.

To begin the process of creating your Wellness Plan, consider following the Eight Dimensions outline by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) to start implementing health and balance into your everyday life.

The Eight Dimensions of Wellness are:

  1. Emotional—Coping effectively with life and creating satisfying relationships
  2. Environmental—Good health by occupying pleasant, stimulating environments that support well-being
  3. Financial—Satisfaction with current and future financial situations
  4. Intellectual—Recognizing creative abilities and finding ways to expand knowledge and skills
  5. Occupational—Personal satisfaction and enrichment from one’s work
  6. Physical—Recognizing the need for physical activity, healthy foods, and sleep
  7. Social—Developing a sense of connection, belonging, and a well-developed support system
  8. Spiritual—Expanding a sense of purpose and meaning in life

Grab a cup of coffee or tea, a journal, and a seat in a comfortable spot. Reflect on your present—the ways the currents of life are pulling you, overwhelming you, or helping you. Next, write down specific goals under each of the eight dimensions. The more specific and practical you can be, the more likely you are to implement these into your everyday life.

Now, do you have your list? Show someone. Find a trustworthy, safe individual to share in your plan. This could be a friend, family member, or a helping professional. Having someone to ask about your progress and help keep you on the right path will greatly increase your chances of success to implementing hope and wellness into your everyday life.

By creating a Wellness Plan, you can begin to learn the practical strokes  needed to swim upstream in the hard current of life. You may be hit by wave after wave of grief or loss or chaos, but as the Wellness Plan becomes an everyday habit and the habits become muscle memory, you will find that the feelings of drowning grow fewer and farther between. And more days than not, you will be able to catch your breath.

Need help creating and implementing a wellness plan? Feeling like you cannot overcome the sensation of drowning emotionally? Please reach out today. Hope and Wellness Center counselors are currently taking new clients from all ages, backgrounds, and issues. Call or email at 402-639-2901 or hope@hwcomaha.com.

Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash
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5 Ways To Be There When a Loved One Is Suicidal

By Brandon Pedersen, PLMHP, PLDAC

When a loved one is going through a difficult time, there is much we would like to do to help them, particularly in the case of a friend or family member who is wrestling with thoughts of suicide. Sometimes we want to help but are not sure what to say or do. We might be afraid of saying the wrong things, or making matters worse. We may think they need to figure it out on their own. Some of us even worry that talking about suicide could send them over the edge, and so we avoid the topic altogether. Some believe that people who threaten suicide are just seeking attention. If you have been close to someone wrestling with suicidal thoughts, then you can probably identify with one of these feelings.

During my time counseling in a youth residential home I encountered a number of suicidal individuals. In most cases, I found that the common belief revolving around suicide is that things will never change, that these negative thoughts and feelings will remain for a lifetime. Because it is so difficult to think outside this cognitive “box” of helplessness and hopelessness, it is incredibly helpful to have others (family and friends) come around you when you are experiencing suicidal ideation, especially in the following ways:

  1. Be present with your loved one in their struggle. This means more then just physically, this means emotionally and mentally as well.
  2. Listen for understanding. This includes validating the intense emotions that they are experiencing, allowing them to be down.
  3. Don’t try to problem-solve the circumstances. Our impulse could be to try and fix, minimize or invalidate the person (“You’re gonna be ok! You just need to have a positive attitude.”) with the hopes of helping them, but these methods are not useful and sometimes can be detrimental. Sometimes being with someone who is down even requires no words.
  4. Ask the hard questions. Ask if they have made a plan, and if they have attempted before. Ask if they are seeing a counselor, or are on a medication. It can be really helpful to give them freedom to address the issue, and to give them a chance to externalize what they are already thinking. This way you also have an opportunity to connect them with some of those resources if they haven’t considered them, or encourage them to call their counselor if they need to.
  5. Take it seriously. Lastly, some may think that people threaten suicide just for attention. This may be partly true, as this person is reaching out for help. However, it is very dangerous to think that someone threatening suicide does not have some intention of attempting; it is always safer to assume the person is in need of help of some kind.

We are the first line of defense for those who are closest to us.  If you believe that a friend or family member is losing their battle against suicidal thoughts and that they are in imminent danger, call 911, or if possible, take them to your local emergency room for evaluation. Other excellent resources to provide your loved one include the National Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-8255) or the Nebraska Suicide Hotline (1-800-784-2433). To help a loved one make an appointment with a therapist at Hope and Wellness Center, call (402) 639-2901 or visit www.hopeandwellnessomaha.com.


Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

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What to do When Isolation and Rejection Become Suicide Factors?

What to do When Isolation and Rejection Become Suicide Factors?     By Sarah Dabney, PLMHP

I was five years old when I experienced my earliest memory of profound rejection. I was the new girl at a kindergarten/daycare for kids ages 3-6, and it took me a month to make my first real friend, “Marnie.” Marnie was sweet, and fun to play with. She didn’t seem to notice that I was a different color from every other kid at school except my younger sister.

About three weeks into our friendship, Marnie stopped playing with me. At first, I was confused, and kept trying to return to our budding play habits. But soon it came out that another older girl, “Britta,” had informed Marnie that I was not to be played with—I was different, a foreigner.

I was crushed. It took me months to find a new playmate…and for the rest of my year at that kindergarten, all my playmates were boys. Britta made sure of that.

Rejection and isolation (particularly when they are systematic and intentional) are two of the most devastating parts of the human experience. A need to give and receive love and to experience community are built-in elements of human DNA, regardless of introversion and extroversion. Isolation is also one of the key factors in suicidal thinking—an active belief that we are completely alone (and often trapped) in our experience. It is something to be taken very seriously, both in our own lives and in the lives of young children, who often have less control over their circumstances than adults do.

Relational/social bullying of the type I’ve described is one of the hardest to eradicate in educational, workplace, and/or home environments, because it tends to be more subtle and difficult to pinpoint than a pointed racial slur or getting stuffed in a locker. But micro-aggressions such as being passed over for invitations or projects, being expected to follow certain group “rules” in order to be included or accepted, and withholding or granting “friendship” or affection every other day as a tool of manipulation can all be emotionally overwhelming behaviors, especially among girls and women, who tend to bully differently than the male gender does.

However, there are several effective ways to improve our resilience and change the outcome.

Learn to manage our emotions well: First, learning to calm the body through repeated slow exhaling and the relaxing all of our muscles is an important first step when we are overwhelmed with the emotions of rejection. Second, naming all of the emotions we feel without judging them as weak or inconvenient can help us accept them, even though they are uncomfortable. Third, we can learn to wait patiently for the emotions to pass, as every experience does, and cut ourselves some mental slack until they do.

Find our safe people: This might be a family member, a teacher, a mentor or supervisor, a counselor, or someone else. Drs. Cloud and Townsend interviewed many, many people and came up with this list of what makes a person “safe.” At times, it can feel like there are no safe people left in our circles…but I promise, there are many, many truly safe individuals out there, who want to help. Don’t give up looking. Your safe place might even be a support group for individuals who are going through a similar experience.

Ask our safe people for help: Next, we describe what is going on, and ask our safe people to help us brainstorm solutions to the situation. We keep their phone numbers close, and ask for help as often as we need.

Examine our own behavior: Sometimes we need to adjust our own boundaries to help others treat us the way we want to be treated. Learning to practice a good “NO,” deciding ahead of time how much stress we can handle well, speaking to ourselves internally the way we would like others to speak to us, and asking for what we need and want can go a long way toward improving our situation. To learn more about this, ask one of your safe people or a counselor what it looks like to have good boundaries, or read this book.

Define who we are through the experience: Painful experiences can be redeemed through their ability to teach us what kind of person we do and do not want to be. One mother writes of how she used what she called a “Pledge Book” to empower her daughter to integrate her experiences of rejection into her worldview by making them into positive intentions. In the book they wrote things such as a pledge to be honest, or to not jump to conclusions, or to be nice to lost people. Ultimately, pain can move us to be the change we want to see.f

• Lean into the good: The other half of good mental health during tough times is learning to better savor the pieces of our lives that build us back up. Time in the sunshine, creating beautiful art, spending time cuddling cats or dogs at an animal shelter, practicing gratitude statements, or talking with a safe person are all great examples of this. Sometimes our brains just need a break from the hard stuff.

Know when to make a change: Sometimes we’ve tried all of the above already for months or years, and we still find ourselves sliding toward depression or anxiety. If that is the case, it may be time to start looking for a new job, school, or even living situation. Not every circumstance is fixable, but there is always a way out. Open this up for discussion with your safe people.

Lastly, if you have already considered or are considering suicide due to repeated, manipulative rejection or feelings of profound isolation, don’t wait. If you need help now, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (available 24/7), or call 911 in an emergency. To speak with a counselor at the Hope and Wellness Center, call (402) 639-2901 to schedule an appointment. We want you to know that you are not alone.


Photo Credit: Cristian Newman on Unsplash

To Journal or Not To Journal….That is the Question!

It’s one of those things you’ve thought about doing or maybe you’ve actually started a journal, or two, or ten over the years. Most likely, you either love it or you hate it. You know it’s probably a good idea and you’ve reaped the benefits. But, sometimes it’s so hard to be consistent! Guess what?? You do not have to journal every day, write down every thought or feeling, or pour out your soul onto paper to experience the healing power of journaling in your life.

Tell Your Story

Journaling is a chance for you to “Tell Your Story!”  Everyone loves to talk about themselves and to be heard.  Journaling gives you a chance to share your heartaches, your triumphs, your tears, your joy, and your daily mundane.  Telling your story is one of the most powerful and healing things you can do for yourself and only you can tell your story. So, whether you shout it from the rooftops or whisper it onto the pages of your journal…Tell Your Story!

Prompts for Telling Your Story

  • What is your earliest memory from childhood? How has it impacted your life today?
  • What is a family tradition that is special to you? Holidays? Back to School?
  • What is a value that is important to you? Why?

Not Just Words

Journaling can be as unique as you!  Do you have an artistic or creative side? Do you like to scrapbook? Paint with watercolors or finger paints?  Draw? Make a collage? Enjoy photography? Sometimes, there are no words to truly describe how we are feeling and we need another way to express ourselves. So, hit play on your favorite playlist, grab a paint brush or pen, get those creative juices flowing, and begin to tell your story through colors, pictures, and textures.

Prompts for Creative and Artistic Expression

  • What is your favorite color, song, book, or movie? Why? How does it speak to you?
  • Begin a Pinerest board for your creative expression. Pin quotes, pictures, and meaningful blogs to tell your story.
  • Color your stress. Pick a color that represents your stress or anxiety and begin to draw, scribble, or jab your stress and problems away.
  • Other ideas here: http://www.expressiveartworkshops.com/expressive-artists/100-art-therapy-exercises/


No Pen, No Problem!

Technology is woven into almost every aspect of our daily lives, sometimes to our detriment.  But it can be a great tool in helping you journal your story.  Do you have a smart phone or personal tablet like a Kindle or iPad? There are numerous apps available to record your thoughts, feelings, and daily happenings.  Many laptops and computers also have basic note taking or word processing programs that can be utilized.  Another great benefit to electronic journaling besides the convenience of having your journal available at your fingertips in your phone is that you can password protect your journal.

Journaling Apps


Mind, Body, and Spirit

As mentioned above, journaling is beneficial to your mind and heart (spirit). But did you know that journaling can also benefit your physical health?  Are you experiencing headaches, high blood pressure, or other negative effects of stress? Research studies conducted by Dr. James W. Pennebaker have shown that writing down your thoughts and feelings for 15 to 20 minutes a day for four days in a row will have significant positive effects on  health, such strengthening the immune system, decreasing the symptoms of asthma and arthritis as well as lowering blood pressure.

Benefits and Statistics

  • Dr. Pennebaker’s Wrting Assignment:
    • Over the next four days, write about your deepest emotions and thoughts about the emotional upheaval that has been influencing your life the most. In your writing, really let go and explore the event and how it has affected you. You might tie this experience to your childhood, your relationship with your parents, people you have loved or love now, or even your career. Write continuously for 20 minutes.
  • http://www.mymotivator.com/journal_top10.htm
  • http://www.appleseeds.org/100_journaling.htm


The Answer: To Journal

Now is the time to tell your story. It doesn’t have to be perfectly gift-wrapped and topped with a bow; it just needs to be yours.  Remember, journaling doesn’t need to be difficult or another task added to your “to-do” list.  Let it be an extension of you. Let it be an avenue to deeper healing from the painful experiences in your life. Let it be your joyful noise.  Just… go tell your story!


Just a few nuggets to get the journaling juices flowing!



Self-Care is not Selfish: It’s a Life Long Journey…

A few years ago I was in the Omaha airport after returning from a very restful and healing trip to Florida with my husband. Since it was just the two of us traveling, my husband went to get our car and I went to get our luggage. I scooted up next to the carousel so that I could quickly grab our bags as they came by. One by one I grabbed the bags. Once I had the bags all around me I surveyed my situation and knew I needed to move out of everyone’s way. I picked up the bags and attempted to balance them and move out of the way. I leaned down to grab the handle of the last bag and then I realized….”Uh oh”! Just then I could feel myself falling backwards. Thud! I just burst out laughing as everyone around stood in shock for a moment and then began to help me get up, ask if I was okay, and help pick up the bags. Whoops!

I love how God uses humor to speak to us and help us to understand His plan for us. In this event, I learned a few things. One, I was out of balance. Two, I need to learn to ask for help. Three, I don’t need to be carrying bags that aren’t mine. Four, laugh!

I have learned much about myself and self-care in recent months. After 10 years in the field of counseling and care giving as well as personal challenges I found myself in a place of extreme burnout and experiencing Compassion Fatigue. I realized that I was no longer able to be effective as a counselor/caregiver. I needed time to heal and be restored and I needed to make changes as I move forward so I didn’t end up in this place again. I was carrying way too many bags that did not belong to me!

As part of my healing and recovery, I saw a doctor (Dr. J. Eric Gentry) in Florida who specializes in recovery for Compassion Fatigue.  Dr. Gentry shared a strategy of five “antibodies” to utilize as I move forward to prevent a recurrence and to share with other counselors and caregivers to help promote the importance of self-care. Hopefully these five antibodies will help you to become a stronger and healthier counselor who is resilient to burnout and Compassion Fatigue.

The Five Antibodies by Dr. J. Eric Gentry (www.compassionunlimited.com)

1.)    Self- Regulation – moving from the SNS to the PSN (sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous systems) relaxation, breathing, etc.

2.)    Intentionality – being mindful of and staying true to your core values/beliefs.

3.)    Self-Validation – many in care giving professions are other-validated. Give yourself acknowledgement and validation for the work you. Know your identity in Christ.

4.)    Connection/Support – Find 3 or more people who you can trust and can “download” your personal and professional stresses and trauma. Tell YOUR story! It’s therapeutic!

5.)    Self-care – Physical (20 min of aerobic activity 3x’s a week min), Spiritual, Emotional, Professional, etc. What re-fuels you? Massage? Walk in the park? Reading?



Compassion Fatigue: Also known as Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder, Vicarious Trauma and is similar to PTSD in its symptoms. It is a physical, emotional and spiritual fatigue or exhaustion. It is directly related to the caregiver/counselor interaction with a client’s traumatic experiences.

Burnout:  is a long-term exhaustion and diminished interest that is related to work environment.