Making a New Year Self-Care Checklist

My mom was an early riser. Up hours before the sun (and before anyone else in the house was awake), she’d be downstairs in our basement, the morning news sounding from a small portable TV. She would pore over her daily lists, notes and numbers she kept on legal pads; and with cigarette and coffee in hand, she spent all that time looking over her to-do list for the day.

It’s not a bad idea, making lists. It’s a good way to check in with yourself, to write down concretely on paper all the thoughts and feelings that may be floating around in your head. In these last waning days of 2021, making a list may very well be a good exercise in how to wring out the old year and ring in the new one.

If you’re so inclined (and have a few quiet minutes to yourself), grab a piece of paper (or a Word document). Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How have I grown in 2021? What have I done that has stretched me?
  • How have I shrunk in 2021? What has frightened me?
  • Whom did I grow closer to, and who have I drifted away from? How do I feel about that?
  • What books did I read/media have I consumed? Is it something I want to continue? Do more of, or less of?
  • What was my biggest accomplishment of 2021? What was my biggest regret?

Then, using the answers to these questions, write a letter to yourself. Give yourself some perspective – get it all out on paper. Keep it, if you want, in a journal or in a file, and return to it after some time. Did what you were worried about occur? What great things have happened since then?

I don’t know how 2021 went for you. I suspect, like it was for most people, it was a really challenging year, filled with steep valleys and cloudy skies. But maybe there were a few – and even more than a few – days where you felt happiness and joy.

My hope for you in 2022 is that those joyful days continue to increase, your path is more level and smooth, and you feel the rays of the sun on your soul.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

***

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

How to deal with Holiday Stress

Humans adapt, for better or worse. When times are turbulent, we grow more cautious and fearful, maybe even bitter. We learn how to scrimp and save, sometimes to a fault. Some of us become industrious, some of us become increasingly afraid. Some of us learn to ride the waves, and some even go with the flow.

I was thinking about adaptation recently as the holiday season approaches, about holiday gatherings and seeing friends and family. I’m sure you’ve seen the endless ads showing families happily reuniting, pre-Covid style, picking up where 2019 left off – I’ve seen them too. But what do you do if you don’t want to see other people? What if you don’t want to go back to normal because normal in 2021 isn’t what normal was back in 2019. What if it hurts to go back to normal?

In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the people who are chained to the wall in the cave, once they are persuaded to go up into the light of the sun, are in pain at first. The sunlight burns their eyes; it’s not comfortable. In a similar way, we can be in pain this holiday season, because it can feel overwhelming to act like everything is okay when we’ve been told for a very long time that it is not. It’s a lot for a person to wrestle with, and we don’t all adjust and adapt in the same way.

All of this to say: before the hustle and bustle of the season really gets underway, before you make any travel plans or do too much shopping that it’s okay (and maybe even necessary) to check in with yourself first. How are you feeling physically? Emotionally? Where are you in pain? Where do you feel the most healthy? There is nothing wrong with going slowly, if you need to. There is nothing wrong with taking some time to think about what you would like or need from those you would like to visit with this holiday season, and there’s nothing wrong with asking.

It’s not the easiest thing to do, I know. It’s hard when other people are adjusting to life at a different speed than you are, even members of your own families or close friends. That can be painful, too. But just remember that you are worth the time you need to take to figure things out in your own time.

This holiday, give yourself the gift of listening – to yourself. Ask questions and really listen to your inner voice without judgment. I wish you and your family a wonderful holiday season (no matter with how many people – or few! – you decide to celebrate with)!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

***

eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Grounding Techniques to Help with Anxiety

Living in the Moment

I work as an aide in a Preschool, and this year’s class is bursting with energy. I’m greeted at the start of each school day with bubbly stories, eager 4-year-olds ready to learn and sing, and some of the cutest faces you ever did see.

One of those faces belongs to Mikey (not his real name), one of the sweeter kids in the class. He listens and does his best to follow along when the teacher guides them through forming their letters and learning about things like the weather and what day of the week it is, and he always has a story to tell about a place he went to with his parents or the things he does over the weekends.

Now that the school year has been underway for some weeks, he’s fallen into a routine. One of Mikey’s favorite things to do just before school begins is to sidle up to either myself or the teacher, look at us very seriously while holding up a finger, and say, “I have a question.”

“Yes, Mikey?”

“How long is it until I can go home?”

And we smile and tell him that he’ll go home at the end of the school day, listing off the various things that happen before then. “There’s a lesson first,” I’ll say, “then snack time, then art class, then playtime, then lunch. And then we have recess, then rest time, another lesson, and then we go home.”

He’ll nod seriously at that, furrow his little brow, and return to his seat. And for the rest of each day, he’ll stop and ask one of us when the thing we are participating in will be over. During the morning lesson, he’ll ask when snack time is. When snack is underway, he’ll ask when art class is. During art class, he’ll ask when lunch is – and so on and so forth, for the entire rest of the day.

“Try not to worry about the next thing, Mikey,” I tell him. “Just think about what’s happening right now. The day will go faster that way.”

He has yet to master that ability. It seems like an easy thing to joke about, but his routine does make sense to me – the little guy is trying to ground himself in the midst of a churning hullabaloo – and I can’t say that I’m unlike him in my own way. True, I don’t ask the teacher what our schedule is every hour of the day, but how many times have I looked at my own calendar ad nauseum, trying to figure out what else I have coming down the pike? How often, when I’ve been worried, have I thought about what will happen next; and once I’ve gotten there, immediately worried about the next event? Too many times. And, each time, just like little Mikey, I’ve furrowed my brow, not taking my own advice – not thinking about what’s happening right now.

I’m sure I’m not alone; maybe you feel the same way too. Maybe you feel swept up in the current of worrying about what’s coming next, and you want to know the future so you can corral it, subdue it, and have some sort of handle on it so you don’t feel completely out of control. But if you are like me, maybe we can try to figure out how to calm down, take a moment (or two, or a hundred) and try to truly live in the moment.

One thing I like to do is to listen to calming music and ambient sounds, so downloading a calming-type app may be helpful (or looking up videos of quiet and calming nature scenes on YouTube may do the trick). Taking time to just sit in quietude is hard to do but incredibly worthy of your time once you get in the habit of it. Maybe a yoga class is more your style, visiting a house of worship or talking a walk – so many things can help to keep you grounded in the moment that you’re in. Every moment is special, even if it’s mundane – and anything we can do to help us stay in the moment is sure to do us a world of good.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

***

eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

How to Work Through Your Fears

What Scares You

What was your first scary movie? I was ten when I was at a sleepover and the movie of choice was “Child’s Play.” Do you remember that one? About the creepy, evil, possessed doll named Chucky that would come to life and murder people? Not the best movie to show a ten-year-old, that’s for sure. (Especially a ten-year-old whose cousins owned a “My Buddy doll” that was Chucky’s spitting image and terrified her for quite a few months afterward.)

It was so much easier being a kid and scared of concrete, real things that could be defined. I was scared of murderous dolls. I was scared of hurricanes. I was scared of losing my parents. I was scared of walking down the stairs. I was scared of bees.

I outgrew a lot of those fears (although I’m still pretty afraid of bees – and murderous dolls). But as a grown-up, the things that frightened me became less real and a lot more nebulous, easily identifiable by the way they begin in my mind (always with a “what if?”): What if my life doesn’t have meaning? What if something I say or do hurts someone else? What if the supply chain breaks down before Christmas and my kids can’t get what they asked Santa for? What if my family dies in some weird freak accident and I’m alone forever? Those were fears that existed long before coronavirus, but now, the fear is even more amplified in some ways because of it, too. (I don’t think I need to list out the fears attached to that!)

There are ways to subdue or mitigate these fears – regular visits with a therapist to talk them out is something I’d highly recommend – but I think it’s important to acknowledge that they exist, not only for children, but for adults, too. They manifest in sometimes very similar ways, but very different ones, too – where a child and a grownup both may suffer from anxiety-induced stomachaches, maybe a grownup would be the one out of the two that would pitch a fit at Arby’s for getting their order wrong.

In the Wes Anderson film “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” the protagonist, M. Gustave, gives a very telling quote about fear in adulthood: “Rudeness is merely the expression of fear. People fear they won’t get what they want. The most dreadful and unattractive person just needs to be loved, and they will open up like a flower.”

There’s a truth in that. Fear is a powerful motivator, but it can’t be conquered by tantrums, or dominance, or aggression – just love. (True, love isn’t what beats Chucky at the end of the Child’s Play films or its sequels, but that’s neither here nor there.)

It’s not an easy thing to overcome your fears. And it’s trite to just dismissively say that you can love your way through them, but it is a reality that if you can love and trust yourself enough to get through the things that you fear most, then you will. And that’s no small thing. It takes practice, but it can be achieved.

So think about the thing that is frightening you the most. You may have no control over it whatsoever, but that’s okay. Just try your best – however long it takes you – to tell yourself that whatever will come, you will get through it. You will come out the other side. A different person, maybe, but that’s all right too. Tell yourself you will love yourself through it, put that into practice, and see what happens to your fears. If nothing else, it’s worth a try.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

***

eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

How Therapy Can Change Your Life

Not What I Expected

I don’t know what I expected, but here they are: the house painters we’d booked weeks ago, large men with friendly faces and a radio that plays the Classic Rock station while they work. What did I expect? What you see on TV or in old cartoons, I guess: a man in overalls and a painting cap, cheerfully swiping a paintbrush and whistling while he works.

What the painters at my home today are doing is not that. There’s a lot of banging and stripping, blasting and wrapping. They’re cheerful enough and still friendly, but bear an uncanny resemblance to what my journey though therapy has been like.

My first impressions of therapy were, again, not unlike something I’d see on TV: sitting on a couch talking about my feelings, cheerfully swiping the paintbrush of the events of my day over the siding of my mind, maybe even while whistling! But what therapy became was the same hard work as my real painters. There was a lot of work involved. A lot of noise, a lot of banging around as old memories came to the surface and hard-weathered problems needed to be stripped away. I confronted (and still do) friendships in my life as broken as the shutters that have fallen off of the front of my house during thunderstorms; and I am still grappling with how ugly the thoughts in my mind are and how much they resemble the peeling flaking ugliness of the old paint that flitters to the base of my driveway like so many chipped snowflakes.

It is a well-known fact to those who go to therapy that it is hard work, indeed.

A song plays on the painters’ radio: Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.”

Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?

Can I handle the seasons of my life?

I don’t know.

I don’t know if I can either. Actually, that’s not true. I know I can, although the difference between handling them by myself and handling them with a therapist is immense. And so I value the work, as hard as it is. I value therapy the way I am valuing the current havoc that is being wrought on my house for the same reasons: because after all that hard work, there will be something beautiful left behind. My home will look refreshed and bright and welcoming after the painters have done their good work; and I will be able to sail through the changes of my life after mine.

If you’re deciding whether or not therapy is right for you, I highly encourage you to consider the difference it can make. It may be painful at times and it may take a lot of effort in some places, but the reward is something you can look on with pride and love.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

***

eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

What to Expect in Therapy

Listen Tell Me More: Episode 3

(Music fades in) If you’ve ever struggled with depression, anxiety or relationships and feel you might finally be able to reach out for help, today’s podcast is for you. (Music picks up)

There’s no better time than right now to take that all important first step to better mental health. I’m Susan Brozek Scott and in this episode of Tell Me More, we’re talking with Don Laird, licensed psychotherapist and founder of eTalkTherapy.com, who can help us all learn more about what to expect in therapy and how to find the right therapist for you.

SUSAN: Don good to be with you today.

DON: Thank you Susan, as always it’s a pleasure.

SUSAN: Don, for a lot of people therapy may seem like a completely foreign process where they will have to share parts of themselves that they’ve never really shared with anyone before (music fades out). Talk us through how therapy actually works so people will know what to expect.

DON: Sure, good therapy provides a safe and creative space where people can explore their problems and issues. Most importantly it opens a space and time to be heard, acknowledged and understood. And that’s what we want out of life. We want to be acknowledged and understood. And let me know say this too Susan, it’s not like what you see on TV or in the movies, sometimes they get it close but most often they don’t. The other thing too is that psychiatry and psychology have done a monumental job – this is something that I say all the time – they’ve done a monumental job out of making things a little more complicated than they need to be. The therapeutic process itself, it sheds light on how we are who we are and gives people a greater understanding about living as fully, mindfully and compassionately as possible. Therapy enables people to explore their lives and be open to the choices that are available to them. Whatever the reasons are that people choose therapy, it means taking a greater more truthful look at ourselves. Through closer exploration of our anxieties, fears, hopes and dreams, therapy is a life-changing opportunity to transform our attitudes towards living and really makes some life-long changes.

SUSAN: Everyone is different, how does a person go about finding the right therapist for their needs? How do they pick that professional they can comfortable enough with to share all those personal and very private issues?

DON: As I tell my students and supervisees it’s all about the relationship. In real-estate Susan, as you know it’s location, location, location. In therapy, it’s the relationship, relationship, relationship. It takes real courage for someone to reach out and share their most intimate fears, darkest shadows and their hopes and dreams. A good therapist wants to build a relationship with you – not just provide a quick fix or give you homework that you could’ve gleaned from in any self help book. A good therapist sees you as a whole person, not just a set of symptoms or worse yet, a diagnosis. For me, good mental health starts with a strong therapeutic relationship and ends with a person creating a life worth living.

SUSAN: Are there any guidelines that suggest how long this relationship should last?

DON: As much as it is about the relationship Susan, there are some boundaries, and a good therapist will establish these with you from the first session on. How to contact them between appointments, fees treatment planning if needed and – the million dollar question – how long am I going to be in therapy? Everyone is different. There is no one-size-fits-all nor should there be. Let me give you an example, you go to the doctor and you get an antibiotic and if you’re like me after a few days maybe a week you start to feel better and you start to question – do I really need to take this for 14 days and the answer is yes! You do. Therapy is no longer a forever thing. Let’s get that straight. On the other hand if you start out and you’re making progress and then you stop abruptly – let’s go back to that antibiotic example – what is going to happen there? It’s most likely your issues and problems are going to circle back around on you. Just like life itself, it has a beginning, middle and an end and a good therapist will discuss how the course of therapy will run in that first session or two.

SUSAN: From your experience Don, as a licensed psychotherapist, do people always know what their problems are when they start to talk about them? Do they often think they have an issue in one area when it really might be something else?

DON: That’s a great question and the long answer is yes and no, spoken like a true therapist right. But life is like that. Everyone is different and we’re all the better for that. Some folks come into therapy with a very driven agenda and that can be helpful but it can also reflect on why their relationships in the real world sometimes feel strained, rushed or even distant. Some folks look to therapy as ways of gaining better meaning into their issues and some people want to use therapy as way to figure out what’s wrong with the world or with their family and that may signal someone who doesn’t want to take on the responsibility of choice or even life itself. We all don’t do pain or change very well. It’s how we’re built and as a result we create false narratives around how and who we are. That’s an extremely creative process and one that obviously doesn’t happen overnight. So channeling that creativity into designing a new narrative is something I strive to do with every client I work with. I believe a strength based approach while acknowledging limitations but not bowing to them is the most creative and mindful way for therapists to engage others.

SUSAN: How can intervention at a critical time in a person’s life and the right treatment plan change lives?

DON: It’s so important for people to take that first step and it is an act of courage. But if you think about it this way Susan, if I am pushed up against a brick wall and I am face-to-face with that brick wall I can’t see up, I can’t see down, I can’t see to either side of me, all I can see are these bricks in front of me and that feels hopeless. By taking that step, and engaging with a therapist in creating a meaningful relationship, a creating a meaning therapeutic relationship, means taking a step back from that wall. Being able to get some perspective on this problem and this issue – having someone walk along side of you and help guide you through the process, well that’s life changing.

SUSAN: Don Laird, licensed psychotherapist and founder of eTalkTherapy.com, thanks for helping guide us through the steps to live our very best life. (Music fades in)

DON: Thank you for having me Susan.

Music continues…

This podcast does not provide medical advice. The content is for informational purposes only. Consult with your doctor on all medical issues regarding your condition and treatments. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional psychiatric or medical advice, diagnosis or treatment nor does it replace the need for services provided by a medical or psychiatric professional. Always seek the advice of a medical professional, psychiatrist or therapist before making any changes to your treatment.

Music fades out.

How to Find the Right Therapist for Mental Health Treatment

Listen to episode 2 of the podcast – Tell Me More – transcript:

(Music fades in) Nearly one in five US adults live with a mental illness that’s more than 51 million people according to the National Institutes of Mental Health. (Music picks up) And while millions of people could benefit from treatment, estimates suggest only half the people living with a mental illness actually get the help they need. What’s causing this problem and how do we fix it? That’s our topic today.

I’m Susan Brozek Scott and in this episode of Tell Me More, we’re talking with Don Laird, licensed psychotherapist and founder of eTalkTherapy.com, who can help us understand and overcome the barriers to mental health treatment.

SUSAN: Don good to be with you. (Music fades out)

DON: It’s a pleasure to be with you as well Susan.

SUSAN: Don, what are some of the hurdles – the immediate hurdles – to getting good, potentially life-altering and in some cases life-saving, mental health treatment today?

DON: Wow! That is a great question and so timely. Right now we’re at a cross roads. Promoting health and wellness for all is so important as we emerge from this pandemic. In fact, an adult conversation around the subject of mental health is long overdue. With the growing availability of telehealth, obviously accessibility is becoming somewhat less of an issue, but there remain problems associated with affordability and stigma. Often people think, “hey you know what, I’ll just suck it up. I’ll power through this. I’m just being lazy or I just need to get my act together. I’ll wait and see if things get worse.” Well, guess what? They don’t get any better. Often times, these things won’t improve over time. They won’t improve on their own and as helpful – sometimes – as friends and family can be, they usually give us advice – things we already know. Having an objective, non-judgmental, third party is essential when discussing your fears and anxieties.

The other piece is affordability. Some folks don’t have insurance but those who do, may actually be surprised that mental health is not covered in full OR may not be in their plans altogether. Of course self pay is always an option, but finding the right therapist – finding a therapist who can offer a generous sliding scale is key.

SUSAN: What are some of the steps a person can take to actually get through that maze and then getting the help that they need?

DON: Yeah, let’s talk about that because it takes – it’s an act of courage for someone to pick up the phone and call a complete stranger and make that first appointment. So ask questions – lots of them! Find a therapist who feels like a good fit. How long have they been a therapist? Ask about their experience with the issues your facing? Ask about how flexible scheduling is with them? Make an informed decision. Remember, choosing a therapist means taking the first step toward a better life and you want to choose wisely.

SUSAN: Is there a big difference in the types of therapy available online?

DON: Absolutely, Yes! Yes, yes, yes. Most everyone went online after the pandemic hit. Some of these practitioners and agencies were new to telehealth because they always operated out of an office before. At eTalkTherapy, we’ve been doing this since 2017. I started it toward the end of 2017, and of course when the pandemic hit, we were already established to be able to provide quality telehealth for all of Pennsylvanians. Telehealth providers should always be up front about their pricing, which insurances they accept and offer therapy through a HIPAA compliant portal or by phone. Ask questions, how long have they been doing telehealth, avoid services that offer subscriptions and therapy packages through texting or email. That’s one of the many things that separate eTalkTherapy with the other services that are out there right now. We’re a local, private practice. Not some big tech company with a text-based app. We conduct our sessions on live video streaming on a HIPAA secure platform. Susan, I can’t emphasize this enough, real therapy is not done through texting or email with complicated subscriptions and automated responses and there are some really significant ethical issues for those companies who practice this kind of service. At eTalkTherapy, we provide you with one-on-one therapy just like a traditional, in-office appointment. You’ll see a licensed counselor or a mental health therapist.

SUSAN: Don, if we haven’t been touched by this ourselves yet, is it safe to say that just about everyone knows someone in their family or circle of friends whose dealt with a mental health issue? I mean, how can we support someone we love when they are struggling and do we always see that struggle?

DON: I’m a big fan of Fred Rogers, Susan, and Mr. Roger’s always told us; he always said, look to the helpers. Look for the helpers in times of trouble or worry. Be patient and listen without trying to fix it. Be a parent, sibling, friend and/or partner first. Don’t try to be their therapist. Most of all, be kind. Everyone is experiencing this time very differently, and we should act accordingly with love, kindness and patience. The struggle is not always visible but it is there. (Music fades in)

SUSAN: Don Laird, licensed psychotherapist and founder of eTalkTherapy.com, thanks so much for helping guide us through these mental health challenges to live our very best lives.

DON: Thank you Susan, it was a pleasure.

Music continues…

This podcast does not provide medical advice. The content is for informational purposes only. Consult with your doctor on all medical issues regarding your condition and treatments. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional psychiatric or medical advice, diagnosis or treatment nor does it replace the need for services provided by a medical or psychiatric professional. Always seek the advice of a medical professional, psychiatrist or therapist before making any changes to your treatment.

Music fades out.