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Carry the Load

books

Living with someone that suffers from depression challenges even the most loving families. It’s difficult to empathize with depression if you have never experienced it. Many of us have experienced loss and grief, but depression completely consumes a person in hopelessness.  I want to share an analogy that might help describe how it feels. Disclaimer; I have never personally experienced clinical depression. Clients of mine bravely shared that it really captured what they were going through.

During my First Responder Certification training with Academy Hour, Amy Morgan, MSC, had a powerful analogy for someone struggling with depression to the point of suicidal ideation. She described it this way: Imagine that every struggle that you carry is a book. Every unresolved loss, every memory of pain, or abuse, or suffering. Every trauma you have endured is another one of these heavy books that you carry around with you. Imagine that you have a stack of twelve books that you have to carry EVERYWHERE YOU GO! Everything you do is accompanied by the stress and exhaustion of lugging these books around. Even something simple like taking a shower or cleaning your room is exhausting. Others don’t see the books that you carry, so they can’t understand why you struggle. They say that you should appreciate the good in your life and just move on, but you can’t even see what they see because your so focused on the books! You feel so tired and you’re running out of options.  Everything you try to give up a book or two fails. You want to just give up, let go of the books, and end the pain.

Does this analogy help you feel what it might be like? If you have suffered with depression, does this analogy work? It took me inside the world of someone feeling absolutely exhausted and defeated.  It helps me understand why trying to pull someone out of depression with well-meaning distractions, gifts, vacations, and even love falls flat?  Relief only comes when someone helps carry the load through understanding and validation. As a family member or a friend, this is your role… to help carry the load. Then encourage him or her to seek professional help if needed. As a counselor, I have tools to work with clients to crush the thoughts that drive depression. Even as a counselor, I can’t help a client feel better until I help lighten the load. Eventually, we set those books down (one by one) for good.

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC

I wanted to share an online program I developed over the last couple of weeks (since I have had some free time).
For more on the program, here is a quick preview:          Screen Shot 2020-04-29 at 10.47.36 AM.png
The first 4 sessions are specifically mental health topics. Each has a video and an activity. The fifth session is a Biblical perspective … I included discussion questions.
In total the Program might look like this:
Session 1: Understanding Negative Thoughts and Feelings
Session 2: Change the Way You Think
Session 3: Self-Acceptance
Session 4: Communication Without Conflict
Session 5: Biblical perspective

 

 

The Existential Vacuum

As we continue living our lives during this strange reality that is COVID-19, our personal experience depends greatly on our occupation and where we live. While those working in hot zone hospitals find themselves working tirelessly in a war-zone like setting, others find themselves in a strange phenomenon of being bored and stressed (often at the same time).

This week, we’ll explore those of us that are mostly staying at home, trying to process how we feel. I want to address what can be described as an anxious boredom (somewhere between busy and boredom). In Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl describes a state called existential vacuum “which manifests itself mostly in the state of boredom.” He goes on to describe Sunday neurosis as “that kind of depression that afflict people who become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest.”  It’s that empty feeling on a weekend for someone who lacks meaning in his/her life. We fill the void with “masks” like working, sleeping, shopping, or finding simple pleasures.  In quarantine (especially if unemployed), we are extending that two-day weekend into many weeks, so that feeling which manifests as an anxious boredom can feel overwhelming.

While masks help us relax and pass the time, the only way to truly face an existential vacuum is finding meaning. I believe that discovering meaning is an individual journey, but it expands beyond the individual and includes love, service, connection, and charity.

For example, I personally find meaning in my faith as a foundation. I also find meaning in loving my family and helping my clients manage emotional pain and reconcile relationships.  I also recognize that being outdoors and listening to music bring me comfort. I don’t know how the outdoors or music fit into my definition of meaning but I value both.

Know that you can find meaning in your life even in the face of suffering and hopelessness. In fact, sometimes meaning becomes clear during times of suffering. If you feel stuck between helpless and unmotivated (anxious boredom) during this social distancing, start by thinking about what matters to you. Consider this a wake-up call.  It’s not time to get down on yourself for what you haven’t done. Perhaps it’s a clean slate. Start something you never had time for, make that change you’ve been thinking about for years.  For example, maybe it’s time to sign up for an online class, or even to change careers.  Maybe it’s picking up an instrument, starting an exercise routine, drawing again, or reconnecting with friends. Be who you want to be!

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC

 

 

 

Positive Reframing

feeling good

As we head into week three of social distancing, I for one feel quite restless. I find myself torn between settling into a new routine and wanting to get back to normal. Many of us find ourselves with more quiet time than normal. This means time to sit in our thoughts, which can lead to more anxiety and worry.

We’ve talked about the importance of accepting our feelings (positive and negative), rather than pushing them away or concealing them.  I want to share a timely podcast from Dr. David Burns. Dr. Burns will deliver a series of podcasts addressing emotional health during the pandemic. I use many of his TEAM Therapy tools in my practice. In this week’s podcast, he demonstrates a powerful technique called “Positive Reframing” to help us accept the anxious, fearful, angry, and helpless feelings many are experiencing.

He talks about the importance of honoring those feelings. Sometimes we think that something is wrong with us for feeling anxious or discouraged. However, often those feelings point to what is just right about us.  The podcasts run 30-60 minutes so they’re great for a walk or jog. If you are struggling, I hope you find this podcast helpful and become a fan. This link goes to his Feeling Good Website, but you can also listen on Spotify or Apple Music… Scroll down to the point where you can press play (below the text).

Enjoy and stay safe!!!

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC

How should I feel during a pandemic?

Over the past week, our lives have literally been turned upside down by the Coronavirus.  I wanted to discuss how we should feel during a pandemic.

I help clients work through negative emotions of every-day life stressors. So, how do you manage your emotions during an actual pandemic? How do you handle anxiety from constant coverage on the news, quarantines, fear over losing a job or retirement savings, and the health and safety of loved ones? You may also feel sadness from canceling life events, or boredom from being stuck at home.

Let’s address this in a couple of ways. First, your feelings are real, and you are not wrong to feel however you do. Don’t let anyone shame you into thinking that you shouldn’t be anxious or scared. On the other hand, don’t judge someone else for feeling scared if you’re not. We all experience the world through our own eyes and just because someone else reacts one way, it doesn’t mean you should.

Second, I often help clients change the way they think by untwisting negative thoughts (when we get stuck in distorted thinking). However, not all negative thoughts are distorted. There are many valid reasons to feel sad, angry, worried, fearful, etc. If this pandemic causes me to lose my job, I should worry.  Having my life come to a halt will most likely cause boredom and stress.

So, all feelings are real, and an epidemic is a valid reason to worry. Now what? It’s important to manage our feelings for our emotional well-being. Here are a few ideas to help you manage through the next few weeks:

  • Deep breathing: Powerful grounding technique (breath in for 8 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and blow out)
  • Accept negative feelings. Process your feelings vs avoiding them
  • Write down negative thoughts and look for any distortions (twisted thinking) that might be making your feelings worse. A couple of examples that might apply here:
    1. All or Nothing Thinking: thinking in absolutes
    2. Mental Filter: only focusing on the negatives
    3. Future Telling: assuming the worst will happen
    4. Blame: there is no value in dwelling in blame
  • Consider what you can control and what you can’t control
  • Talk about how you feel. Connection with others is the best antidote for depression and anxiety
  • Rely on Faith: Find comfort in your Father’s arms
  • Find healthy ways to self sooth, grow, enrich your life
  • Have a routine: Having things to do is helpful

If you are still struggling to handle your emotions, consider seeing a therapist. Many (including myself) are still seeing clients and also offering video sessions.  My heart and my prayers are with everyone who is suffering.  Take care of each other and God Bless!

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC

Burden or Privilege?

streamI have written about the power of vulnerability a couple of times over the last few months because it is so near and dear to my heart. Why is asking for help so hard? Why do so many of us chose to suffer alone? We may lack that close connection with friends or family and worry that our imperfections would hurt the relationship. What if they think differently of us? We fear being a burden when we need emotional support. After all, no one likes to take on someone else’s burden, right?

We think of emotional support like a pitcher of water from which we pour each time we ask for help. Our friend pours a little bit out every time we need to vent or process something painful. If it’s something small, it might be a trickle. If we need them for something serious, it’s more like a fast pour. When the pitcher is empty, we assume that our friend has had enough of our burdens, or maybe they just can’t handle it any longer. We assume that they are too consumed with their own troubles to take on ours.

I challenge you to shift your thinking. Instead of a pitcher, imagine that your friend lives on a beautiful ranch. Your friend moved onto this ranch in order to share its beauty with friends and loved ones. When you ask for help, your friend gladly shares from the stream of flowing water that runs through the property. Sure, in times of drought, the stream runs a little low, but it always provides. Not only does the water last, it would sadly go unappreciated if no one comes for it.

You see, asking a friend for help isn’t about using up a limited supply of support (water). It’s quite the opposite. Opening up to a friend is like giving a gift because it is a privilege to be trusted with a friend’s pain. Even though allowing a friend to share in your pain feels like a burden, it’s actually the greatest privilege a friendship can receive.

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC

Hidden Emotions

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Do you find yourself feeling irritated and you don’t know why? Do you get anxious out of the blue?

Emotions can be a tricky thing…. Have you noticed how much you hate talking about feelings with other people? There is something about vulnerability that we (humans) hate. We do what we can to tuck any feelings like sadness, shame, and worry down deep where we can’t feel it. Whether it’s something traumatic like abuse, or something more gradual like not being happy with where we are in life, it tends to build up and eventually show up in our lives.

Sometimes, these hidden, unprocessed feelings resurface in the form of anxiety (maybe panic attacks out of nowhere). Other times, they resurface in the form of a much more familiar and comfortable feeling – anger. We tend to be much more comfortable with anger because it gives a sense of control and strength. It also hides our vulnerabilities.

One reason we’re not vulnerable with others is because most people don’t know how to respond. They aren’t comfortable sitting in pain with you. It’s more comfortable to try to comfort you or fix it.  It’s important to have someone in your life that you can talk to about how you feel.  Whether it’s a spouse, a family member, a friend, or a therapist, having someone with whom you can be vulnerable can change your life.

Often, when clients come to therapy for anger issues, we find deeper feelings that they haven’t dealt with (possibly for many years). Processing these feelings may mean taking the time to feel them again, from a safe place. Why? There is something freeing about being allowed to feel what you feel and not be judged for it. There is also something beautiful about allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Just imagine, if you could just be you (the good and the bad). How would your life change?

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC