Happy Holiday "Stress Time"

By Chad Ernest, MS, LPC

It is that time of year again.  The holidays can be an extra stressful time for everyone.  Whether you are having visitors, family, friends or even spending them alone, each situation brings its own brand of stress.  There are ways to prepare one’s self and family for the holidays so that everyone can deal with the stress in the most effective way.  Here is a holiday prep guide:

Finances- Look, money is tight around the holiday time due to all the things that you may be preparing for like, meals, gifts for yourself, friends or family, not to mention all the regular bills that you have to pay.  Make a list of what you have to buy.  Do a budget to see if you can afford to pay for all of that without breaking your bank.  Look at your list to see if you can find alternative cost savings.  For example, if you are having family/friends over for a holiday dinner, instead of doing the whole meal yourself, perhaps turning it into a potluck style would be more helpful to your pocket book.  Don’t purchase brand new, go with used.  Be creative, make gifts.

Children- The stress of providing for children and pressure put on families by the consumer economy, make the holidays extra challenging.  Again, be creative.  Perhaps buying them one thing that was on their list and then making it into a big game to get it.  Children may want all the best and newest toys and electronics, but is that what the holiday season is all about?    What about the opportunity to spend time together as a family?  Perhaps volunteering as a family as a way to give to others can become a family tradition and teach children empathy and compassion.

Depression is a huge reaction to the holidays due to feelings of loneliness and loss.  Prepare to counteract that by reaching out and talking to friends and family to reconnect.  If you don’t want to do that or feel you have no one to reach out to, consider volunteering to spend the holidays helping others.  Also if you are alone for the holidays, don’t be afraid to celebrate in your own unique style and traditions.  It does not have to devoid of celebration or recognition of the holiday just because you are by yourself.  Celebrate and have fun.  Give yourself permission to enjoy it.

Anxiety of being with family/friends, perhaps hanging out with people who knew you, but no longer know you, can be difficult.  Patterns and old ways of talking to each other emerge.  You can expect certain behaviors from them or certain behaviors from you.  Be open.  Accept the things you can’t control, like how grumpy grandpa is, or maybe he has changed and is sweet as pie, but you expect him to be grumpy and try and push his buttons.  Remember that family and friends are there to enjoy each other’s company, not torture and ridicule each other (unless that is okay with all of you). 

The holiday stress makes some people want to cope with negative coping skills like drinking, drugs, total avoidance, arguments, or even getting physical.  Recognize what it is you do to cope with what stresses you out about the holidays whether that is being alone, all the things you have to prepare for, money that you have to spend or family and friends.  Acknowledge both the positive things and the negative things that you do.  Try to replace those negative ways to deal with stress around the holidays with the more positive coping skills like going for a walk (if possible), taking a 10 minute meditation/relaxation break, playing games, changing the subject to something less infuriating, accepting that you and someone are different and will likely not see eye to eye, agree to disagree, take a deep breath, do what you enjoy, take time for yourself to recharge.  Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone if you are struggling.  The number one coping skill is to share how you are feeling with others.  It is the holidays, share with each other.

Why are coping skills so important?

By Chad Ernest, MS, LPC


coping skills.jpg

Coping skills are those daily strategies and activities that we use as people to help deal with, work through, or process our emotions.  We all have them.  We have learned them from our families and the people who have influenced us most in our lives.  They can be positive and heathy, but they can also be negative and unhealthy.  We can look at this as a coping spectrum (Diagram 1).  This form is useful for mapping out coping skills and activities that individuals do in their lives to overcome and manage stress and emotional turmoil.


Diagram 1

Coping Spectrum



(-)                                                                                                                                                          (+)


Directions:  On the line above, place activities, hobbies, or anything that you do that helps you deal with or distract yourself from things that are happening in your life.  This can be good habits or bad habits and place them where you feel they fit on the line.  If something is both a positive and a negative coping skill, or you are not sure, put it in the middle.


So what are coping skills?

Positive coping skills can include exercise (walks, biking, and going to the gym), healthy eating habits, regular sleep, talking with others, social activities and outings, hobbies (reading, writing, doing models, collecting stuff) and any other activities that a person can think of that fall here.  Prescriptions medications can even be a positive coping mechanism if they help manage mental health symptoms.  A lot of individuals do not think of chores, work and getting one’s self ready in the morning (self-care) as coping skills, but they are.  Think of it this way, if you are feeling bad in the morning, do you really want to take a shower and get yourself ready for your day?  If you do, do you feel a little better?

Negative coping skills include abusing or drinking too much alcohol, abusing drugs (as in illegal, over the counter, and prescription drugs), problem gambling, doing something illegal (i.e. robbing someone for kicks, or to support other negative coping skills, tagging buildings, intentionally hurting animals or people, physical or sexual abuse).  It can also involve not knowing how to control the level of the emotions by being too loud and verbally abuse to others, smashing things, dwelling on suicide, over the top giddiness, or being too afraid of everything and staying inside.  These types of coping skills rarely make people feel better and usually mask or hide the issues.  The issues that are being covered up by this coping skills are typically not be worked through.

Wait, a healthy coping skill can become negative?

One other thing to look out for is that any healthy coping skill can become a negative coping skill.  Think about this for a second…can someone exercise too much, or eat unhealthy food all the time, or just read books and do nothing else?  Anytime a coping skill is being done just to avoid everything else in life, it can become unhealthy and move from the positive side of the coping spectrum to the negative side.  It is important to be aware of this when looking at one’s own coping skills in their life.  There is a balance to be maintained with coping skills.

What does it look like?

Here is coping skill example…someone close to a person died.  They knew them forever.  How do they cope?  Do they sit on the couch eating potato chips with a box of Kleenex watching super sad movies?  Do they think that they should have died too?  Do they reflect on all the positive memories that they had with that person and celebrate their life by doing some of those things that they enjoyed with them while they were alive?  We all handle grief differently, but there are healthy and positive ways that are better than others.  Do you know what those are for you?  Do you know what the negative ones are that you have to look out for?  I don’t recommend sitting around on the couch, but it is not horrible.  Reflecting and remembering positive memories and celebrating a person’s life is a healthy outlook, but not everyone’s style for dealing with grief.  If anyone thinks they should have died too, they may want to seek some help.  That is definitely not a healthy place to go for anyone.

Ask for Help

The number one coping skill that is out there for anyone that so many people avoid when they are struggling is…talking to someone and asking for help.  The American culture and society (for the most part) are stuck on the concept of individualism and survival of the fittest, we do not often think of asking for help.  There is nothing wrong with asking for help.  When your coping skills are not enough, or they are too negative and unhealthy, and you are not sure what to do, ask for help.  The whole idea and concept behind mental health counseling and therapy is to help people replace the negative and unhealthy ways to deal with life stressors and struggles with more positive and healthy ways.  Coping skills help you process and deal with life stressors, struggles and emotions.  They help balance your overall mental health.  Don’t be afraid to seek help in learning how to add more skills to your coping spectrum or get rid of some of those troublesome unhealthy coping skills that cause more trouble than they help with…

“Hey You, Get Some Help!” How to help someone see a counselor

By Chad Ernest, MS, LPC



Believe it or not, we don’t all have the answers.  We may go to friends or family for advice or even give advice to others, but we don’t always know the answers.  If you were married with kids, would you go to your single friends for parenting advice?  If you were single, would you go to your friends who were in a committed relationship for ten years for dating advice?  If you thought your parents were horrible at certain things when raising you, would you ask them for parenting advice?  When you don’t know something or aren’t sure, or something is wrong or bothering you, who do you talk too?  Where do you go?

There is nothing wrong with asking for help.  We all need it from time to time.  However, there is a stigma associated with asking for help from others, especially a counselor.  It is viewed as a sign of weakness to seek help.  We also have fear around asking for help in a society where we are taught to be rugged individualists who should know how to survive on their own.  That’s a load of bull.  Show me a self-made millionaire and I will show you all the people, advice, education, infrastructure, time, and other people’s money that helped that millionaire along the way.  Ideas are great, but without others to help, it goes nowhere.  If no one bought an Apple computer, where would iPhones be now?  Steve Jobs had to get help to make his vision happen.  In order to do that he had to ask for help from his friends, investors and others with business knowledge.

So we know that everyone needs help from time to time, even the most successful people.  Did you know that only one out of every three or about 33% of people with a mental health issue seek help?  What is interesting is that if someone has some physical ailment like a severe stomach ache, they will see a doctor to seek relief.  Do you know what percentage of adults visited a health care professional in 2011? 82.6%, it is higher for children at 92.6%. There is no stigma associated with seeing a doctor if you cut your finger and need stitches.  If someone is depressed and locked in their room for days at a time, they don’t think to seek help from others.  Granted some of that has to do with the nature of depression, but that brings us to the topic of this article, telling someone else that they need to see a counselor…albeit in a nice, respectful, encouraging way.

Not everyone recognizes that they have a problem.  Some people were raised in a household where yelling and hitting children and each other was the norm.  When you are a child in that home, you have a tendency to grow up, seek out a partner that responds like you saw your parents respond, and repeat that process with your own family, unless of course, you get help to break the cycle of abuse by learning to do something different.  Some people live on their own and have no one else around to point out that they are not supposed to be up all night cleaning their house obsessively with a toothbrush at 3 am or had to check the lock on the door exactly 12 times before going to bed.  Sometimes it is nothing this extreme, maybe it is just having a child who is really active and difficult to handle and not being sure what to do or where to go for help.

Here are some clear cut signs that someone needs help: they are talking about suicide, attempting suicide (National Suicide Hotline # is 1-800-273-8255), harming themselves in some way, shape or form (cutting, scratching, hitting self, etc.), harming others and animals physically (punching, kicking, biting, etc.), sexually (touching inappropriately, forcing sex, rape, incest, etc.) or even psychologically (calling names, acting cruelly towards others, neglectful of children and animals, threatening others etc.).  Other instances include people who are experiencing visual and auditory hallucinations where they are hearing and seeing things.  In these particular cases, we should be encouraging people with these issues to seek help immediately.  You may even have to call the authorities yourself in some circumstances where you feel in danger or take them to an emergency room to get help.

So how do you tell someone they need help?  “Hey you, get help!”  Not sure that is going to fly for most people.  First off it would beneficial to identify why you want to tell them to get help.  Is it some personal reason, is it genuinely something they need help with, are they just annoying you?  Being clear on why you want them to get help is good.  If it is a problem that impacts multiple areas of their lives and clearly is causing distress to everyone around them, then you are on the right track.

Let’s say, for an example, you have a friend or family member who is hitting her kids, but you don’t want to interfere because you are single and don’t have children.  It is not your business to tell her how to raise her children (see the first paragraph: parents don’t seek parenting advice from single friends or family with no children).  Pick a good time and place to talk with them, preferable not in the middle of a chaotic situation like when they are putting the children to bed.  You can article drop, “hey I read this great article the other day on stress free parenting, thought you would be interested.  It is by a local family therapist.  Here check it out.”  Or, “Hey sis, parenting looks really stressful, I always see that you are upset with the kids and don’t seem happy.  Have you thought about seeking some help from a therapist?  I could help check out a few for you if you like?”

Did you see what happened in the above examples?  They were empathetic statements, which means that when you talk to someone that clearly has an identifiable problem and you want to get them help, you have to let them know that you see how they are feeling.  If someone is depressed for example, you say something to the effect of, “You seem to be really down lately.” That is an empathetic statement.  Then when you have them engaged in talking with you, you can add, “What’s going on? Anything I can do to help you?  I may know someone you can talk to.” 

Often time’s people may get upset that you are talking about a problem that they are having.  Try not to get defensive if they start denying or turning it back on you.  Utilize I statements, such as, “I am really concerned about you,” or “I see that this is really difficult for you, but I really want you to get help so that you don’t have to struggle so much.”  You could also let them know it is because you love them or that you are concerned about their relationships with their children, or partner, or their job.  Find those relationships that they are connected to in their lives that will help motivate them to seek help to get better.  Sometime it is about others before it becomes about them working on themselves.

After talking to someone about getting help, offer to help them find it.  Don’t expect that they are going to do it all on their own, otherwise they would have likely already sought help.  Help them do some research and find a counselor that will help them with their situation.  If money is an issue, check to see if their insurance will cover it, if not perhaps you could offer to help pay for it, or find a counselor who uses a sliding scale (fees based on income amounts).

The most important thing that you can do after all of these things, is be supportive and follow up with your friend or family member.  Being encouraging and demonstrating unconditional love with someone can go a long way to helping them reach a place of balance and stability in their lives.  People need others who are in their corner during the bad times as well as the good times.  If you are someone who can sit down with a friend or family member to discuss their mental health issues, or even parenting, or relationship struggles, then you may already be someone who really cares about helping your friends and family become healthier and happier.  Hopefully this article can help give you the strength you need to help others find the best solutions for their issues.

A new beginning...

Today is the start of a new beginning for me as a professional counselor, which I hope that all who read this can join with me on this journey.  Sunny Sky Counseling will provide clients with the convenience of therapy in their own home with the option of having visits in an office.  We may also be able to provide counseling over the phone and via the internet by arrangement.  I am offering services to families, couples and individuals for what is the most convenient and helpful way.  Once the practice grows and becomes more established, the plan will be to open a more permanent office in an easily accessible location.  

 Home therapy can be comfortable, convenient and provide a consistent therapeutic environment.  It also helps the therapist to see how the family interacts at home and help suggest interventions that can be practiced in the home.  When interventions are actually practiced in the home, they are more likely to be utilized in a cohesive way providing an opportunity for more long term success. 

Some articles on the benefits of home based therapy: 

The article extols the the successes of using home based therapy in Cape Cod:


 The following scholarly article reviews the empirical evidence and literature around home based therapy that demonstrates significant gains in helping children be successful at home despite the youth having increased behavioral difficulties initially. Interventions were able to: 

"• lower symptoms in youth dropping from highly elevated disturbance levels 

to levels comparable to outpatient scores (Mosier et al., 2001); 

• increased use of problem-solving style of coping (Zarski, et al. 1992); 

• a higher impact on reducing internalizing than externalizing behaviors 

(Wilmshurst, 2002; Aronen et al., 1996)."