eMOTIONAL mATTERS: iT'S aLL RIGHT TO CRY
As a mental health clinician, it is a privilege to support others on the healing journey toward growth and self-actualization. The journey is not always clear, and the path forward can be laden with emotions of distrust, shame, guilt, anger and hurt.
A frustrated and tearful 12-year-old asked, “Ms. GC, since you are a counselor, you don’t get mad, do you? Grown-ups don’t get it! Kids can’t just ignore anger because it will just get worse.” That child was correct!
Negative emotions and thoughts left without appropriate direction can aimlessly roam the body exacerbating (or causing) chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, autoimmune disorders, cellular aging, fatigue, and more. Emotions and thoughts can make us sick. This is known to be true because every emotion contains a neurochemical consequence in the brain. For example, chronic stress causes the hippocampus to secrete the hormone, cortisol. When the hippocampus is releasing cortisol, it is not able to create neurons for memory – resulting in poorer memory.
Some people say, “Well, I don’t have to worry about my emotions harming me because I am not emotional. I am a person of logic.”
Despite what tends to be perpetuated, emotions and logic are not opposite of each other; emotions fuel logic. The book, The Body Keeps the Score (Bessel van der Kolk, 2014) tells us that emotions are the foundation of logic. It is when these two systems are in harmony that we feel good.
How do we harmoniously stay on that path to self-actualization and mental wellness? First, know that human beings are emotional creatures. Emotions allow us to connect with others, feel pleasure, inform actions, self-protect, and to survive. Ignoring negative emotions can cause them to be trapped in the subconscious and, again, lead to the chronic conditions mentioned above. Instead of ignoring emotions, allow yourself to connect with what you are feeling.
One way of connecting to your emotions is to make a list of every emotion of which you can think. This list will be helpful in broadening your emotion vocabulary. Next, use a notebook or a journal to record the events, emotions, and thoughts you experience. Your entries will be useful in raising self-awareness and can be used during therapy sessions.
Another tool on the roadmap forward is mindfulness practices, such as meditation. In this case, find a quiet place to sit comfortably. Close your eyes and actively think of the people who love you. Hold on to that sense of being loved. The sense of feeling loved triggers oxytocin. Oxytocin is the hormone that will send positive neurochemicals deep into the brain signaling the amygdala that all is well.
Try it. Raised emotional awareness and professional guidance can change the emotions of distrust, shame, anger, and hurt into those of gratitude, acceptance, joy, and love. It is all right to cry. Crying is not a sign of weakness but a way of expressing the energized sensations of sadness, hurt, anger, and often joy.
As always, I am here to help.
Your comments are invited.
WHY A PROFESSION OF SERVICE?
I experienced the rejection of racial prejudice and discrimination at the young age of seven. My family and I were among one of the first to integrate an all-white suburban neighborhood in Mentor, Ohio.
Prior to our residency, an African American football player, for the Cleveland Browns, resided across the street from our new house. He and his wife did not have children old enough for school. Therefore, I was the only black student to cross the colorline and matriculate at Brentmoor Elementary School, Bellflower Elementary School, and later Ridge Junior High School. My sister would enter the Lake County School System a couple of years later.
SO, imagine this; you are 7-years-old, feeling excited about school, meeting other kids, playing, and learning. You are growing up and have no inhibitions about doing so. As you stand waiting for the morning bell to ring, you feel a delightful breeze, smell the aroma of fallen leaves, and are surrounded by lovely images; the playground, the beautiful blue sky and children's artwork in the windows.
In those days, I envisioned becoming a veterinarian. My extended family consisted of teachers, professors, physicians, writers, business owners, and life-long learners. Education, I was told, opened one to a world of knowledge and allowed career dreams to come true.
Let's continue with the visualization exercise: Imagine you are wearing school clothes, new shoes, your hair is neatly braided. You are all smiles of joy as you anticipate entry into the first grade. SUDDENLY, a brown-haired boy runs up and shoves you to the ground and calls you a foul word; the N-word. Other children point and laugh. How do you feel about school then? What do you do?
In my case, I stood up, straightened my clothes, and held back the threatening tears. I had not heard the nasty word before yet sensed it was bad. The boy was assigned to the same class as I and would, along with some other students, ostracize, taunt, and threaten me throughout my years in school.
My story, although unique in that it is mine, is not unusual. Others have crossed various colorlines -even today. It is hard for me to believe that there are still lines of color that can be so difficult to cross. How did my experiences in Mentor change my enthusiasm for school, self-love, and people? How might it have changed yours?
The trauma of historical and present-day racism in the United States of America has not disappeared nor is it hidden. It is still present, and we must push harder to eradicate it.
It is important to engage in intellectual conversations, write books, research, change laws, policies, and practices, call people to action, and be more intentional about honoring multiculturalism. However, we must simultaneously acknowledge the psychological hurt, damage, and insult that racial injustice has imprinted on the unconsciousness of us all.
That seven-year-old was resilient. Not only did I experience the love of family- most of the neighbors closest to us showed acceptance. I was embraced by good friends, had parents who listened and encouraged, and maintained my sense of purpose. Not everyone has been as lucky. You know their names.
My WHY came while, still around age seven, I was walking toward home from my bus stop after another painful incident. I looked to the sky and felt God. I knew God did not approve of anything that did not begin and end with LOVE. I was called into the helping profession and that is why I am here.
I remain committed to working in a field that has allowed me to serve and support others who encounter the various barriers or lines that cause emotions of rejection, loneliness, abandonment, and hurt. There is always hope. When we acknowledge and properly express the pains of the past, we can and will heal.
Peace and blessings, Natalie
Masking, sanitizing, handwashing, distancing, isolating, and 24-hour news coverage; the Corona Virus (COVID19) has been a challenge and continues to be imprinted on our psyches. It has changed how we conduct business, engage in services, shop, travel, socialize, and perhaps, our sense of emotional and physical well-being.
Our children are not sheltered from knowing of COVID19. The return to school will feel different this year as buildings open and resume synchronous learning that will include the aforementioned safety precautions and other new routines.
As a clinical social worker, who works in the schools, the students have been on my mind and the minds of my colleagues as we administer best practices for maintaining a safe campus. If you are the parent, guardian, relative, or other interested party, your role is important in supporting the resiliency of our students.
Applying the mask of resiliency includes:
If you or your child are experiencing ongoing anxiety, depression, or other emotional difficulty, please seek help. Have a wonderful and productive school year!
S-C-H-O-O-L SPELLS SCHOOL
NOTE: Old Article that does not address return to school and COVID19
Once again the carefree days of summer have ended. The well-known adage comes to mind, “S-C-H- double O-L spells school and don’t you dare be late!” Although any good school professional will advise you to get your child (or teen) to school on time every day, here are some additional time-tested suggestions that facilitate and support school success:
Provide Your Child With Unconditional Love
Feeling love and demonstrating genuine care and affection toward your child is a principle ingredient to a child’s self-esteem and school success. Show your love by exhibiting interest in your child’s thoughts and feelings. I have actually had students tell me that they don’t care about education or the future because their parent doesn’t care about them. Although most of the times, this is a misperception on the child’s part – don’t assume your child feels loved. Verbalize and demonstrate your love! Children who know they are loved are better equipped to stand up to negative peer pressure, are more able to resist misbehavior and can focus on academic success.
Ensure Your Child Is As Healthy As Possible
Although love, nutritious food, and a sense of safety are paramount to school success, it is equally important to ensure that your child is as healthy as possible. Follow the routine examination and immunization schedules outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In addition, encourage your child to exercise. While structured sports and activities (swimming, dancing, basketball, etc.) are wonderful, physical exercise does not have to be elaborate. In my household, one of our favorite activities is to walk the dog to a nearby park where we challenge each other to canine versus human races. Appropriate physical activity supports healthy mental and physical development and can establish healthy practices that last a lifetime!
Serve Breakfast Every Morning!
My father use to say, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” He’d then prepare some sort of egg dish every morning! I am not advocating that one prepare eggs every day but a student who is suffering from hunger pangs cannot give full attention to the task of learning. Make a diligent effort to start each day with breakfast. Many schools participate in a School Breakfast/Lunch program administered under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). For more information, contact the agency in your state that is responsible for managing the School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.
Provide A Safe and Stable Home
Living in the Triangle and beyond can be hectic. Family members are pulled in many different directions and must meet a variety of demands. Predictable routines for dinner, homework, fun, wind-down and bed time can make the world of difference to your child and bring peace, stability and order to your household. Students who are worried about family issues or personal safety, or who live in a constantly chaotic environment can have difficulty performing at an optimal level, academically. If you feel your household is a bit out of sync – don’t fret! No family, child, parent or individual is perfect. Do your best and know that there are resources within the school and the community that can provide assistance and support through difficult times.
Read, Read, Read
Convey to your children that learning is important and does not just start or stop when the school doors open or close. Keep reading, listening and discussing books and ideas with your children. Not only do these practices facilitate a lifelong commitment to learning – discussion allows you and your child to know each other better and can build a healthy parent/child bond. When my son was five-years-old, we read a book that caused him to explain to me that after he graduated from college he wanted to “be a retired – like grandma & grandpa.” Listening to his thoughts gave me insight (smile) and led to a great discussion about occupations, hobbies and how people become “a retired.”
Be Active In Your Child’s Formal Education
Know your child’s teachers and maintain open communication with your child’s school. There are numerous ways to get involved in your child’s school; attend school open houses, join the PTA, participate in after school events, volunteer in the classroom – are a few examples.
If work and other commitments prevent you from actually spending time in the school, you can still stay connected. Some parents exchange e-mail addresses with teachers while others send occasional notes. Also, ask your child about school. Even little ones can recount major school events. A six-year-old was the first to inform me that one of his teachers was retiring from school. A nine-year-old succinctly shared her insight on how to best approach her teacher about a problem. Our children can help to maintain the school-to-home connection.
Allow Time for Fun and Recreation
Almost everyone I know likes to have unencumbered down time. Children also benefit from free time. Give your child time with favorite playmates. Fun and recreation can be educational. Plan and plant a garden, play board games (Scrabble and Boggle are fun even for those learning to spell) or use collected seashells to produce a piece of art. Make the ordinary extraordinary.
Do limit the amount of time your child spends in front of the television set, computer and electronic games. Some parents have a “no television/electronics during the school week” policy while others choose to simply limit the amount of television viewing and electronic games.
Lead By Example
If you are a parent who adheres to the “do as I say, not as I do” maxim, you may run into trouble. Keep in mind that your child IS constantly watching you. As a result, your negative habits and practices can easily become the practices of your child. If you fly off the handle when you are angry, you are showing your child that this is acceptable behavior. No matter how much you tell your child differently, your angry behavior will make its imprint on your child’s psyche. After all, “actions speak louder than words.” Once we as parents have developed self-discipline, we can work toward and expect discipline from our children. A disciplined child is one who is in control of her behavior and makes good choices. Such a child comes to school with the social skills that are necessary to benefit from classroom instruction.
Know Your Child
Know as much about your child as possible. That not only means knowing your particular child’s likes, dislikes, friends, learning styles and temperament, knowing your child includes having a general knowledge of your child’s developmental stage and what is generally expected for that age. The more parents know about their child and his/her developmental stage, the less likely they are to hold unreasonable expectations for that child. Remember that children are unique individuals and your child’s educators know and expect these differences.
Take Care Of Yourself!
It is worth repeating that none of us are perfect parents. Do the best that you can and take care of yourself. A parent or caretaker cannot take proper care of others if he or she is suffering. If you or your child(ren) are experiencing an inordinate amount of worry or stress, seek help. Counselors, social workers, psychologists, ministers and doctors are a few of the professionals who are educated in helping individuals and families during difficult times. Have a great school year!
Natalie Gidney-Cole, MSW, LCSW
Spring is here! Among other things, this is the time of year that many of us begin working on our yards and in our gardens. We eliminate pests, pull up weeds, and prune and prepare for new growth.
We can also prune for our own health, wellness, and growth. I am sharing my checklist for your consideration:
Allowing stress to reign will impact the brain and the body, negatively. Problems may not manifest immediately yet untamed stress can exacerbate or bring about disease. Neuroscientist, researchers, and others have shown that 75 - 80% of chronic illnesses (i.e. diabetes, hypertension, chronic pain and fatigue, autoimmune disorders, obesity, cellular aging) are caused by stress.
Managing stress supports better life outcomes. In addition to appropriate medical care, working with a professional, such as a health coach or mental health clinician, can do wonders for overall mental and physical wellness. I believe everyone should participate in activities that promote optimal health.
The NRG-Coaching Alphabet of Healthy Lifestyle Practices is something I created to encourage thoughts and actions that promote wellness practices. Please keep in mind that I am not a medical doctor. As always check with your physician as you deem necessary.
Appropriate Medical and Dental Care
Breathing Practices - that focus on following the breath, help to calm the brain
Calming Practices - when negative feelings do arise, having ways to calm quickly should be in your tool kit
Diet - being aware of food intake, nutrition, and making healthy choices.
Exercise - exercise, exercise, exercise.
Family and Friends - surrounding yourself with healthy and loving relationships.
Gratitude - an attitude of gratitude. (God - faith in God is also my G)
Humor - laughter truly is the best medicine.
Intellectual Stimulation - the brain loves to learn. People who are lifelong learners tend to be healthier.
Journaling - putting challenging thoughts on paper helps to clear the mind.
Kindness - acts of kindness helps others and helps you.
LOVE - Love surrounds you. Embrace it.
Meditation - The literature abounds on the benefits of mindfulness and meditation practices.
Nature - Get outdoors for change, fresh air, and to take in Vitamin D
Open-Mind- open minds tend to consider the opinions of others, seek solutions and live happier.
Purpose and Passions -people with a sense of purpose tend to live more fulfilling and longer lives!
Quality Environment -pay attention to not only the people in your surroundings but also toxins.
Restorative Sleep, Rest and Relaxation
Safety - not only a safe environment but feeling safety in relationships supports optimal health.
Talk - talking with a friend and/or a clinical social worker/counselor/psychologist.
Visualization - create your vision for your best life, now!
Water - drink plenty of water.
SeX - a loving, monogamous, healthy sex life promotes wellness.
Yoga - I recently learned that Yawning is also great for the brain. If you want the resource on this, let me know.
This is the list. I can expand on any of these items and have resources.
Peace and blessings,
UGH. I knew that cup of coffee would impact my sleep. At 3 a.m. I woke up with several images and words on my mind: faith, mustard seeds, and mountains. Don't judge. I absolutely awakened in the night with those three words on my mind.
The strongest image was of me, as in the picture, sitting on the edge of a cliff feeling joyous. Okay, I am exaggerating, I wasn't on the edge of a cliff, but I felt joy and a sense of gratitude. It is that sensation of exhilaration that I want to remember when the mountains overwhelm me.
What image, word, sensation, or thought calls your mind to your faith? Faith, my friends, is important.
In the book, "How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist"(2009), Dr. Andrew Newberg believes that faith is so important that he ranks it as the number one way to exercise the brain. He writes, " Faith is equivalent with hope, optimism, and the belief that a positive future awaits us."
NRG-Coaching acknowledges that change does not always come easy and sometimes faith waivers. However, a tiny spark can push back darkness and a mustard seed can grow into a mighty tree. Your challenges can be met!
"Jesus said, "because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith like a grain of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there," and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:20 (NIV)