Archive for the ‘ Holidays ’ Category

Holiday Coping

Friday, December 1st, 2017


Tis the season! The season for family and Christmas music and good food and… stress. During the holidays, we juggle busy schedules, celebrations, family dynamics, high expectations and complicated emotions. And this year, many of us are still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Harvey. That means that our “starting point” for stress may be higher this year than it has been in previous years. And therefore, ideally, it should also be the season for good coping skills. In case you feel a need to add to your coping repertoire or simply brush up on your existing skills, here are some practical ideas for you to try this holiday season.

1. Diaphragmatic breathing. This is the lynchpin of relaxation exercises that can and should be combined with anything else on this list. Often when we are feeling stressed, our breathing becomes shallow, causing our chest and shoulders to move. For diaphragmatic breathing, the goal is to fill your lungs so that your diaphragm is pushed downward, causing your stomach to pooch out. Your shoulders and chest should remain still. Don’t slow down your breathing to the point that you feel suffocated. If you can, simply try to linger a bit on the exhale.

2. Progressive muscle relaxation. This is exactly what it sounds like. You are simply walking through the muscles in your body, relaxing them as you go. One method for this is to imagine that your hands and feet are made of lead and so heavy that the rest of your muscles have to relax to accommodate them. Another alternative is to tense your muscles and then relax them one by one – starting with feet, moving up to legs, arms, core, shoulders, neck, face, scalp. Don’t forget to practice your diaphragmatic breathing while you do this!

3. Mindfulness. This is a state of mind where you intentionally notice. Notice what you see, hear, smell, and feel. Notice your thoughts, positive and negative. Notice tension in your muscles. The idea is to avoid judging. Your sensations and thoughts don’t need to be evaluated or “fixed.” You can simply notice them and then let them go. If you need help with this exercise, there are even mobile apps that you can use to help you practice mindfulness. A popular example is Headspace.

4. Exercise. This is a mood freebie, ya’ll! You don’t have to go to a Crossfit class. Just break a sweat regularly, even if it’s through a brisk walk. Your body will release endorphins, and you will feel better with minimal effort on your part.

5. Sunshine. Another freebie! Remember that walk – just take it outside in the sunshine. Without practicing any elaborate strategy, you will elevate your mood.

6. “Zone-out activities”. Sometimes you just need a mental and physical break. This is when sometimes people feel tempted to pour another glass of wine or binge on another show. It is a good idea to have an arsenal of mindless, distracting activities that are not addictive or destructive. Examples could be coloring, knitting, playing fetch with the dog or cleaning.

7. Journaling (or talking with a trusted friend). This is an excellent way to cope with strong emotions that may come up during the holidays, especially anger. In the past, the mental health community thought that anger could be dealt with by letting it out – by shouting, throwing something or punching a punching bag. Over time, however, research has shown that this sort of angry reaction actually causes the emotion to increase rather than decrease. In contrast, verbal expression of angry feelings caused the anger to begin to dissipate. So rather than punching the punching bag, try writing or talking when you feel your anger beginning to build.

8. Go easy on the alcohol! Stress plus availability of alcohol can be a tricky combo during the holidays. Set for yourself a number of drinks that you are allowed for the evening, and then be intentional about not going past your limit. If you feel that you “need” another drink to help with your stress, look back at the rest of this list and put one of the other strategies into practice instead.

9. Give yourself an out. Feeling stuck can be stressful under the best circumstances. If you feel stuck with difficult family, it can be downright panic-inducing. Give yourself permission to take breaks. Leave the house for your walk, coffee with a friend or a trip to the store.

May your holiday season be full of love and joy, even if those positive feelings live right alongside your stress!

Making the Most of the Season

Friday, December 1st, 2017


Is Christmas the most joyful or most stressful time of the year for you? There seems to be an underlying pressure to please others and an expectation to be joyful at the same time. The reality is, you cannot please everyone; and you are the only one who has the power to allow yourself to actually enjoy this season. What is most important to you this time of year? Do you want to visit Santa, send out Christmas cards or attend a holiday party? Maybe you want to order takeout and not cook, or put up a Christmas tree but not Christmas lights. Prioritizing what is most important will help you say, “Yes” to what you genuinely want to do!

Is it difficult for you to say “No” for fear of disappointment? There is a difference between false guilt and real guilt. Real guilt is experienced when a sin has been committed in which one can then take responsibility and reconcile the mistake. False guilt is when you do not live up to your own or someone else’s expectations—no sin was committed. It is sometimes difficult to determine false guilt because it often feels very real. Do you know what your motivation is for saying yes or no? Is it because it is expected? Is it out of fear of making someone angry? Is it out of guilt? How many times have you done something you did not really want to do and were unhappy the whole time you were there? Saying “Yes” to things you genuinely would like to do will allow you to truly enjoy this season more.

Now, let’s flip it. How do you respond to someone telling you “No”? Do you beg for someone to change their mind or whine until they do what you want them to do? It is OK to feel disappointed, but to make someone feel guilty in hopes of getting your way is actually harmful to the relationship. This takes away the individual’s freedom to make a decision. Mutual respect, even when you disagree, is key to healthy relationships (especially during the high-stress holiday season).

Communicating directly and not making assumptions can also help manage holiday chaos. Being honest with how you will spend your time and money will help manage expectations. Try to share responsibility with others. If you are hosting, ask someone to bring an appetizer or dessert. If you typically buy all the presents, divide the names and get the whole family to help. Express what you need so loved ones do not have to guess.

Lastly, think about what Christmas is really about and what you truly want to enjoy most about this season. In all the busyness, take time for yourself to relax. Do not let others take away the joy of this holiday; don’t give them that much power. Be intentional with your time and allow yourself to enjoy at least one thing (if not more) this Christmas season.

Think Happy Thoughts

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017


Think Happy Thoughts

When you read the word “family”, what feelings do you have? Some of you relaxed your faces and experienced joy, while others just got a knot in your stomachs as you felt the anxiety creep in. I want you to take a moment right now and figure out what you’re feeling. Seriously, stop reading and pay attention to what your body is telling you! I’ll wait…

Ok, now that you know what you’re feeling, I’d like you to think about how satisfied you are with that feeling. Are you happy with your reaction or do you wish it were different?

For those who are satisfied, congratulations! Either because of the choices of others or because of your own hard work, you have the luxury of family relationships that are enjoyable. This is not something to take for granted, so don’t!

I challenge you to take 5-10 minutes a couple of times a week (you can set a reminder on your phone if you want) and write down a positive memory you have with a family member. It doesn’t have to be a momentous occasion – it could be as simple as sharing a joke or taking a walk. This simple exercise will help you hold on to those positive feelings, and that will make your life better in every way! And for you over-achievers, you can share your memory with the family member involved in it to bring those positive feelings to them, too!

Now, for those who are not satisfied with your feelings about family… don’t despair! I wish I had the formula for how to fix every relationship and make it function beautifully, but I don’t – sorry! What I can offer is hope for better relationships in the future. That may begin by grieving the family relationships you have now. It’s important to first acknowledge what the relationship isn’t, so you can be content with what it is.

Once you have accepted how the relationship stands, you may decide to make some changes to make it better. I fully realize that this is not always possible or advisable. Improving a relationship requires each member of the relationship to make changes, and (let’s be real) most people don’t like to change. But, if you are lucky enough to be in relationship with someone who wants to make things better, talk to them! Share how you felt when you thought about your family!

If change isn’t possible for the relationship (and even if it is), I suggest that you focus on positive elements that you can identify. I know that for some of you, it may take some serious time and effort to find those positives, but it’s worth it! As I mentioned above, thinking about positive things gets a really good domino effect going.

Stressful thoughts activate systems in our body that signal it to be prepared to fight – increased vigilance, less sleep, decreased digestion, etc. Peaceful thoughts lead to an increase in neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin which leads to better sleep, better sex, and better mood. So, be intentional in your thinking!

I know we started with how you feel about the word “family” and ended up with neurotransmitters, but this is how our bodies work! You can change how you feel and how you behave, but you must CHOOSE to do so.

I hope this has encouraged you to make that choice and given you hope that you can enjoy your family this holiday season in a new and better way!

Making Christmas Mine

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016
Brittany Senseman, ACW Principal, LPC-S

Holidays are stressful – this is not news. The demands on our time and finances this time of year are exponentially greater than the rest of the year. There are obligations everywhere! Gift buying for family, co-workers, teachers, various service providers – the list goes on… We spend our time going to our kids’ Christmas programs, work parties, theater productions, watching traditional movies, etc. Between our hopes and expectations and everyone else’s, emotions run high. It’s a lot!

All of these obligations can take away our joy in this season. Well, I say – let’s take that joy back! We at ACW want to give you some practical ways to do just that. Here is list of things you can do that do not require anyone else’s participation and that require little to no money. Use this list to keep control over your joy this Christmas, and in doing so, you will be better equipped to bring joy to others.

Enjoy!!! 😉

  • Make gingerbread, or some other yummy (good smelling) food.
  • Sing Christmas carols at the top of your lungs in your house or car.
  • Volunteer at a local shelter or food bank.
  • Attend a Christmas concert – many churches offer them for free.
  • Journal about what Christmas means to you.
  • Do a random act of kindness. (If this challenge leaves you stumped, may we suggest buying the drink of the person behind you at Starbucks?)
  • Decorate something – go as elaborate as Buddy the Elf or as simple as changing the wallpaper on your phone to a Christmas tree.
  • Read the Christmas story from the Bible.
  • Watch that movie – White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, The Holiday, whatever it is for you that really feels like Christmas.
  • Go see Christmas lights.
  • People-watch at the mall while drinking a holiday latte.
  • Talk to a child about the miracle of Jesus’ birth and the wonder of Christmas time.
  • Wrap a gift nesting-doll style, so the recipient has to unwrap many layers to get to the gift.
  • Make a Spotify playlist of Christmas songs you like and rock out to them.


What will make you feel like you really had Christmas? Pick a couple of things and make them happen. Don’t let the chaos of December define this season for you. Make your spirits bright so you have more to give. Make Christmas your own.

Leap Day 2016

Thursday, February 25th, 2016
by Brittany Senseman, LPC-S

It’s here — that odd day that comes around every four years as the sum of quarter days in our calendar (which honestly doesn’t make any sense to me). So, why do I feel the need to write about this, you ask?

Well, I like the idea of adding time to our schedules! How often do we wish we had just a few more minutes or hours in our day? On Monday, we get to add an entire DAY to the calendar! It’s really a pretty amazing thought when you stop and think about it.

Now that you’ve taken a moment to consider this idea, take it a bit further and think about what you want to do with this added time. I realize Leap Day falls on a Monday, and therefore many of us will have to go about our usual Monday routines… But if we really think about it, I bet we can come up with some way to enjoy the extra time.

Is there a restaurant you’ve been wanting try? Or maybe an article you’ve been meaning to read? What about a friend that you keep missing? Even if you only have 10 minutes in your Monday that aren’t already booked up, those few minutes can be filled with something “extra” and give you a little joy.

Yes, joy is what this is all about. Just reading that tiny word does my heart good. How great is it that we have it in our power to create such a powerful thing as joy! Sometimes we are given joy through circumstances or the thoughtfulness of another, but we most often receive joy through our own choices and actions.

If you want more joy in your life, you’ll need to be conscious of the things that bring you joy and then go do them. Thank you Captain Obvious, right? Of course that’s how you get more joy! But how often do you think through what brings you joy? When was the last time you made a list of things that make you look up and smile? Let me encourage you to not only make this this but also to keep it in the forefront of your mind!

Now that you’ve made your list (I’m assuming that you’re compliant and have followed my advice), take some action! You’ve been given an extra day next week – what a perfect opportunity to give yourself some joy! Make your plans today so you don’t forget!

Leap Day 2016 is coming – how will you use your day?

Happy New Year!

Friday, January 1st, 2016

Written by Brittany Senseman, LPC-S

Did my title just make some of you cringe? Don’t worry – you’re not alone. A new year can be daunting when everyone is talking about all the wonderful things they’re going to accomplish and how they’ll change into a super human who does everything “right” and eats lots of kale with chia seeds.

While desires to change and create good habits are great, the mindset around making those changes is often unproductive. Sometime around January 1st, we identify resolutions that need to be made and make a mental note or maybe even go so far as to write them down. This feels great to have a goal and  know what will ultimately improve our quality of life! Then comes the hard part… the follow through.

Depending on the gap between the new resolution and the current level of functioning, we may be able to follow through for weeks, possibly months. But because the new goals are often a big stretch, the actual changes are short-lived. Here’s where the sense of failure comes in – the defeat. Now those resolutions are not so helpful. They pretty much just serve as a weapon used to beat up oneself.

Not sure about you, but I’m kind of done with this cycle.

Instead of becoming a super human, shoot for becoming a better human. Forget all those goals you’re supposed to want, and aim for things that will make you feel good at the end of each day. Pick one thing that will make your day feel productive, and do it. Let me give you an example of what I mean:

If organizing a one-inch stack of papers will help you feel like you accomplished something, that’s what you should do. Attempting to create an entirely new filing system for three years’ worth of papers in one day will most certainly overwhelm you. Just focus on one inch at a time. If you can’t find a place for a piece of paper, and it’s not trash, make a new folder.

Now, what makes you feel accomplished can be entirely different from what makes another person feel accomplished. We’re all in varying places of progress in each facet of our lives. Exercise may be easy for you, but organizing isn’t – and vice versa. Let’s not minimize a loved one’s effort. Similarly, let’s not minimize our own effort but instead give ourselves credit for an attempt to change.

Change is… difficult, very difficult, extremely difficult, nearly impossible! Don’t lose heart when it gets hard. Know that you’re in the best company in this struggle. This road is not a straight line. There are lots of ups and downs and sometimes sideways deviations. Give yourself credit for your achievements and grace for your disappointments. Just don’t stop, and I bet next year the words “Happy New Year” won’t be so scary.

Home for the Holidays…as an Adult

Monday, December 7th, 2015

by Beth Flinn and Annie Higgins

Around this time of year, we often hear people tell stories like this one: “For the better part of 365 days, I behave as a competent, self-confident adult, carrying out tasks and handling a myriad of responsibilities. But put me back in my mother’s house at the holidays with my siblings and I am instantly thrust back into the role of the baby of the family, with everyone joking and smirking about how I always get away with doing the least. And I let them do that to me–I fall back into that role so easily, and find myself feeling annoyed, irritated, counting the moments until it is over.” Ah, the holidays. We anticipate, decorate, wrap, and deliver. We dream, expect, prepare, and sometimes dread.

Family roles and expectations often determine the degree to which we are able to fully enjoy “the most wonderful time of the year.” Often it is difficult to escape the role that seems thrust upon us, and that we are no longer willing to play: the peacekeeper, the conversationalist, the organizer, the family clown. How do we begin to change what seems to be so entrenched in our families?

  • Be aware of not only the role you seem stuck in, but also the roles other family members occupy. How do you contribute to maintaining the status quo?
  • Be pro-active in letting your family experience other sides of you, besides the role you typically play.
  • Recognize and affirm characteristics of your family members that do not conform to their expected roles.
  • Set boundaries when appropriate. Let family members know that certain behaviors are hurtful and will no longer be tolerated.

It is vitally important to keep in mind that we teach others how to treat us. Therefore, if we were used to a certain type of interaction growing up, the only way to change the interaction now is to model and even ask for a different type of relating. Old habits are difficult to break, but in order to create more enjoyable holiday experiences, these may be family traditions worth breaking. Therefore, it may be necessary to let Uncle Eddy know that you would prefer a hug or handshake over the traditional noogie he has waiting for you this Christmas.

Unplug and Reconnect

Monday, December 7th, 2015

by Jane Jackson

If it’s December, it must be the season to double our weekly errands, our on-line gift ordering and the seasonal social events – all of which can increase both stress level and blood pressure! With all the extra activities going on this last month of the year, how are we supposed to slow down long enough to reflect on what or whom we’re supposed to be celebrating?

What if we start with unplugging and powering down? Can we choose to leave our phones in our purse or the glove box? I challenge you to take a moment this month to slow down, de-device yourself, relinquish the distractions of finger-tip data, and offer eye contact and interaction with those you love the most instead. Blessed are those who find themselves in remote places where there is no wi-fi , bluetooth isn’t necessary, and the only hotspot is in the fireplace (or the oven).

Start by taking just an hour or two to say adios to the Apple — sayonara to the Samsung — the awkwardness of this new foreign freedom will pass shortly, I promise! Screen time can be replaced with conversation about what is going on in the life of those loved ones around you — especially the ones you’ve not seen for twelve months. Offer to be the listener first. Choose to be a purposeful observer of what’s going on around you — soak it all in. On the way home, see if you can remember 3 things that others said during conversation.

Don’t be caught missing out on some good story because you’re reading a text or updating your status. Instead, take a walk with the family members that are willing to get up and move instead of plopping down in front of the TV after the big meal. Ask questions of those from a different generation than yours. What are their favorite (or least favorite) experiences and adventures of 2015? Find a deck of cards and see who remembers how to play hearts or go fish, or perhaps someone has a new game to teach you? Don’t succumb to the device if you look around and others are head down in their own e-world — PERSEVERE!

You can do this! The fact is, you will never regret time spent away from the phone, tablet or laptop, especially if you’ve elected to engage with others face to face instead. It may not be the most comfortable situation when families share space they’re not accustomed to, but focus on the positives you can look forward to about the visit before it takes place. Decide what your response will be if a certain challenging topic comes up. Ok, Ok, you can use your device to take the family pic commemorating the event before people start leaving, but wait until you’re in the car before sharing it on social media.

Really, time, eye contact, and listening are some of the most desired gifts we can give, and they don’t cost a cent. Be generous this season, and see what kind of response you get.

And finally, if charades or other team games need a little more umph, try using your device to engage the crowd with a round of Heads Up, where your phone is held to your forehead while others give you clues to what’s on the screen you can’t see. The clock is ticking, so try to guess as many as you can before the timer goes off.

Enjoy this season with those you care about and learn skills to use in every season!

Gratitude Awareness Month

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

by Brittany Senseman 

Guys, the holidays are upon us. I know, right?!?! My stomach just started getting in knots while I typed that… But since I’m a professional counselor and all, I decided I should do something about this panic and make a change so I can actually enjoy this season! I’m guessing I’m not alone in these feelings, so I want us to work on this together. Read on and see what you think.

Professionally and personally, I know that anxiety/worry and gratitude cannot coexist – it’s like oil and water. It’s impossible to be freaking out about something and simultaneously feel gratitude for anything.

So, here’s what I’ve come up with: I want to see what happens when a person chooses to view life primary through the lens of gratitude. I’m not talking about a “Pollyanna” approach to life (those who don’t get the “Pollyanna” reference are making me feel very old). I’m not saying that we should ignore the hard stuff about life, act like it’s no big deal, and just be grateful to be alive. Instead, I mean being open to and aware of the positive stuff – being able to relax into the inevitable gratitude for what we see, smell, touch, taste, hear: what we feel. That may mean soaking up the moments reading a good book, smiling at the burn of a good work out, or relishing the crunchiness of an apple. It may mean focusing for a moment on the softness of your favorite sheets or the pleasure of solving a riddle. The key element here is choosing to view your world through a lens of gratitude.

I want to make a distinction here between finding the silver lining in all circumstances and gratitude awareness. Finding silver linings means thinking, searching, and sometimes stretching, to come up with a positive thing about a negative situation. There are times when this isn’t too difficult, but there are times when it’s not only difficult, it’s inappropriate. I haven’t been able to find the positive in child abuse, nor do I want to try. For abuse victims, suggesting that they should be grateful for any aspect of their abuse is at least insensitive and at worst cruel.

Gratitude awareness is not about making sense of the past; it’s about enjoying the present and looking forward to more enjoyment in the future. When I wake up in the morning before my head even leaves the pillow, I will say, “I choose to experience today and not miss out on everything around me that I can enjoy.” This can also be a prayer, asking “God, open my heart to what You have given me and show me how to experience gratitude in a new way.” Saying this in the morning, during lunch, and before bed will be our refocus tools to keep our lens of gratitude in place.

It’s so very simple. All I need to do is look around at what’s already there and easy to enjoy and take delight in it with a thankful heart.

Have a Healthy Halloween!

Friday, October 16th, 2015

By: Aundrea Leven

Healthy Halloween

5 Tips for a Healthy Halloween

Remember that you do a great job all year long offering healthy foods.

Halloween and a few other holidays are only single days on the calendar.

The key to a guilt-free and fun season with your family is encouraging mindful eating and moderation.

  1. Plan Ahead

  The week prior to Halloween– Offer mostly healthy foods and try to limit sweets.

  The night of trick-or-treating– Offer a healthy meal/snack before going out trick-or-treating.

Never go trick-or-treating on an empty stomach!

  1. Family Plan

A few days before Halloween, discuss as a family, what will happen after trick-or treating. Remind them that parents will need to check the candy when they get home.  Then talk about what you plan to do with all the Halloween treats.

Idea: To encourage mindfulness, consider allowing the kids to pick out a certain number of their favorite candies (approximately 1-3 pieces per day). A great way to part with too much candy is to donate it to an organization such as the Operation Gratitude Halloween candy program which sends it to the troops overseas. Other options: senior center homes or “The Switch Witch.”

A good goal is to have all the treats out of the house 7 days after Halloween.

  1. Try a New Treat

Consider non-food treats: stickers, anything that glows in the dark, Halloween plastic jewelry, temporary tattoos, bubbles, etc. Healthy all natural snack ideas: cereal bars, peanut butter crackers, pretzels, juice boxes, fruit strips.

If you decide to give out candy, purchase the small bite-size sweets, preferably, something that you do not like to eat. This decreases the risk of eating the leftovers. Healthier candy options would be: any kind of dark chocolate, dark chocolate raisinets, “get unreal” chocolate, etc.

  1. Kid Size

Use a small treat bag or container for the kids to carry their candy.

  1. Play!

When it is safe, have the kids race to the next house or home to get them moving more while trick-or-treating. Since it’s a little cooler outside and they have consumed more sweets than usual, the kids should play more often.

Aundrea new headshot

I would be honored to be on your team and help you achieve your family wellness goals! Please feel free to contact me today!

About Anthology

We are a group of professionals dedicated to promoting health and healing in the whole person – body, mind, and spirit. We believe that healing occurs more effectively and more efficiently when each facet of a person is addressed.