Aaron Kirkwood, LAMFT, with Counseling Associates for Well-Being in Athens, GA talks about the importance of checking in with your stress level throughout the holiday season and why you might not want to skip self-care.

Aaron D KirkwoodIf you would like to set up an appointment do discuss how to manage stress, deal with family, or other relationships during the holiday season please reach out today.

(706) 534 – 8558

Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com

I wanted to take a moment to welcome any new college students to Athens or say “welcome back” to those who are coming back again.  I once read that college is one of the most stressful periods in many people’s lives.  This stress is both affected by and has an effect on our relationships.  I discuss why you might want to visit with a therapist who specializes in relationships in my newest YouTube video which you can watch here.

Good luck this semester, and break a pencil!

Aaron D KirkwoodIf you are interested in scheduling an initial appointment give me a call today at (706) 534 – 8558 or e-mail me Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States.  Before the month slips away let me share some tips for improving your mental health.  Check out my latest Youtube video on ways to improve mental health here.

Aaron D KirkwoodIf you would be interested in setting up an appointment and discussing ways to improve your own mental health give me a call or send an e-mail.

Aaron Kirkwood, LAMFT

(706) 534 – 8558

Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com

Please enjoy this informative video where I discuss ways you might improve your communication with relatives, and hopefully reduce some stress and anxiety during the holiday season.

If you are interested in working on family or other relationships contact me today about setting up an appointment.

Aaron D KirkwoodAaron Kirkwood, LAMFT

(706) 534 – 8558

Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com

  I recently sent my first child off to college and my second will not be far behind.  With the reality of becoming empty nesters looming, my husband and I have discussed moving from our home we have raised our children in for the past seventeen years.  This has prompted me to begin the process of cleaning and purging clutter that has accumulated in our house over the past two decades.  I am a sentimental person and have a hard time parting with items that feel special to me, but as I began emptying out closets and boxes I began to realize that I might actually be a bit of a hoarder!  Books and papers from grad school, cards from my wedding [both of which took place over 20 years ago!], finally found their way to the dumpster.  I carefully weighed the value of each item I came across as I asked myself… “do I really need to keep this”??  As I opened each box I felt like I was reliving a chapter in my life, it was like the story of my life was unfolding in front of me.  I found items from first jobs, graduate school, mementos from dating my husband and our engagement, notes from planning my wedding, information from buying our first house, keepsakes from having my first then second child, reminders of my life as a stay at home mom, papers pertaining to reactivating my license once I made the decision to return to work years later, the list could go on and on.

I went through each box and cabinet revisiting the different phases of my life, carefully choosing the items that felt important enough to follow me to the next phase.  I could not pitch everything.  I did not throw away all of the priceless papers, mementos, or wrinkled drawings that my now grown children brought home from their early days of school.  The numerous letters and stories from my children when they were young declaring how much they loved me, definite keepers!  As anyone with teenagers knows, it is highly unlikely you will hear much of these sentiments as they enter middle and high school!   I came across letters from my husband when we were dating, gentle reminders of the past and what brought us together so many years ago, things that are sometimes hard to recall when dealing with the struggles and changes that come with a marriage or long-term relationship.   And I can’t forget the box of completely unnecessary random “stuff” from my own childhood, old stuffed animals, old clothes, pictures and keepsakes.

Life presents us with many twists and turns, and even some of the most joyous moments paradoxically come with stress, anxiety, sadness and grief.   As I experience and adjust to a new major life change, I can’t help but reflect on my journey and the previous major transitions in my life, the joys, the struggles, and how I have experienced and gotten through each one.  I look back on my relationship with my husband, who I have now been married to for over 20 years, and reflect on the ups and downs we have had, the good times, the bad, and the struggles we have experienced and overcome as we have lived through many life stages and changes together.  It’s a joyous time to be celebrated when two people get married, but very few people tell you how hard this relationship is going to be, and how much work is involved on an ongoing basis to sustain the relationship and the changes you will go through.

Becoming a mom was without a doubt one of the happiest moments of my life, but along with this also came some of the biggest changes and challenges I have experienced.  Deciding to become a stay at home mom, and not only reinventing my day to day life but reinventing myself in the process, was no easy task.  Many people who have not experienced this role may assume the life of a stay at home mom is a life of leisure.  While I loved being available to spend my time with my young children and am thankful I had the choice to do so, I will tell you it is definitely not a leisurely life!  It is a role that also comes with learning to navigate many challenging dynamics of its own.

Flash forward years down the road I found myself contemplating how to get back into the workforce.  Having not worked in my field in 10 years the thought of putting myself out there was scary, overwhelming and very anxiety provoking.  But put myself out there I did, and while going back to work and setting the goal to get my LCSW seemed almost impossible, here I proudly sit today as an LCSW in private practice, exactly where I had hoped I could get to so many years ago.

And now, I begin to face and deal with one of the most difficult things I have had to do in a very long time, sending my children out into the world on their own.  This is not only a huge change in my day to day life, but also a major identity shift for me as my role in their lives changes drastically.  Once again, I find myself facing this new challenge with mixed emotions, while there is a lot of sadness over this shift in my life, there is also a sense of curiosity and interest to see what the future holds for me and what is yet to unfold.

I find great joy in working with people trying to find new avenues in life, people who may be struggling with a major life change and identity shift, and enjoy helping them create their vision for the future.   If you are facing a major change in your life it can help to have an objective ear and some added support to get through the challenges that come with these transitions.  My personal and professional experience provide me with a great deal of knowledge when dealing with some of life’s major transitions.  If you are struggling in your relationship,  are getting married or adjusting to being newly married,  ending a long-term relationship, contemplating divorce or going through a divorce, starting a family, becoming a stay at home mom or returning to work after years of staying home with your kids, contemplating a career change, sending a child off to school or becoming an empty nester, give me a call or send me an email. I would love to help you navigate this challenging yet exciting time of your life that is filled with many possibilities.  call: 706-425-8900 or email: beth@ca4wellbeing.com

 

 

I thought I would conduct an interview with a Marriage and Family Therapist to get a small peek inside the mind of someone who spends all their time “inside” the minds of others.  It just so happens that I know a Marriage and Family Therapist rather intimately, and that is who I decided to interview.

Have you ever seen the movie Interview with a Vampire?  Well, I can almost promise you this interview will not be as interesting, sexy, or scary as that.  Read on to see if you agree.

Me: So, what made you decide to become a therapist?

Also me:  Well, I remember having friends in high school whose parents were divorced and seeing how that experience really affected them, mostly in negative ways.  I decided, rather foolishly, that I would grow up and find a “cure” for divorce.  I also recall reading a book somewhere around 10th grade on the history of psychology in the library and finding it incredibly fascinating.  As I began to express interest in psychology my 10th grade biology professor, Mrs. Taylor, encouraged me to look into Marriage and Family Therapy.  Plus, I’m really bad at math so I knew I couldn’t be an accountant or an engineer.

Me: What is your favorite thing about being a Marriage and Family Therapist?

Also me: At the risk of sounding cliché, I really love helping people.  When the end of a work day rolls around and I have had at least one client who seemed to benefit from our session I feel an immense sense of satisfaction.  I can honestly say that this is the most fulfilling thing I have done for work.  It feels even more powerful somehow when I am working with a couple or a family and there is a shift in the relationship.  Suddenly, where the clients had been experiencing only sadness, hopelessness, or remorse a renewed hope blossoms.  There are few feelings as awesome as experiencing this first-hand!

Me: So, can therapists like, read your mind?

Also me: Nope!  Not even a little bit.  A good therapist is attuned to their client’s body language, however, and this helps us read a client’s emotions when he or she might not be consciously aware of them.  For instance, a client may begin to tap or shake their foot rapidly as a stress-inducing conversation gets underway.  I might ask that client “Are you feeling any anxiety just now?”  The client may reply “No, I’m okay.”  “Because I noticed you were shaking your foot quite a bit there.”  “Oh, was I?  Hmmm.  Well, now that I think of it I might have been feeling some stress when we started talking about …”  I don’t have any superpowers and supernatural abilities unfortunately, just what Sherlock Holmes might call a keen sense of observation and deduction.

Me:  What inspires you?

Also me: Well, besides seeing a person feeling better because of some new insight or perspective, I would have to say music is a big inspiration to me.  I get flashes of song lyrics in my head all the time, even during therapy sessions.  When it is feels appropriate I sometimes share these with clients, particularly if they might offer a unique perspective or confirm a client’s newly discovered perspective.  Music can be a beautiful metaphor for relationships.  Individuals (notes) come together to form relationships (chords) in different configurations (chord changes) across time (a song).

Me: Who are your favorite clients to work with?
Also me: Gosh, that’s a hard question!  I think if there is a common thread to my work when I’m feeling the most satisfaction, it comes from working with individuals who feel, for whatever reason, disempowered.  Working together with them to develop a unique voice, and learn to resist the forces who might have made them feel unworthy or uncared for is uniquely rewarding.  I focus often on relationships, especially couples, as a Marriage and Family Therapist, but I also really enjoy working with individuals.  The work can be very different when I’m talking with a client one-on-one versus working with a couple or a family.  I love being able to switch it up throughout the day because it keeps the work interesting and stimulating.

Me: What advice would you give someone seeking therapy for the first time?

Also me:  Don’t be afraid to ask questions and find a therapist who you feel comfortable with.  Just don’t be afraid in general of seeing a therapist.  I personally try to make it as painless as possible, even though sometimes painful things arise.  We deal with those things in a comforting and safe environment.  Try not to get hung up on buzzwords and psycho-jargon.  Studies tell us that almost all therapies are roughly equally effective.  If your friend had luck with cognitive-behavioral therapy but it doesn’t feel right for you then don’t do it.  Find someone with an approach and a personality who feel like a good fit for you.

Aaron D KirkwoodIf you’re interested in beginning therapy please contact me

via e-mail at Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com

or call me at (706) 296-0455

and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have.

Mother silhouette with baby

Growing up I don’t think I ever fully appreciated all the things my mom had to do to fulfill all the roles that she played.  She is a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, and an employee among others.  As a kid, and particularly as a male child, I took it for granted that she would take care of me, regardless of what she was going through.  It never occurred to me that what was happening at work, or what was happening between my parents, could affect my mother deeply.  All I ever really knew was that my dinner was going to be cooked, my clothes were going to be washed, my sheets clean, and the home I lived in well kept.   Those things I never doubted.

It wasn’t until I became a therapist and saw a pattern among my clients that I realized how physically and emotionally draining it can be for one person to take on all those roles.  I see women who always put others before themselves and it wears them out.  When I ask questions like “What would you like to do for yourself?” they often just sit and shake their heads, unable to think of anything.  These women literally have not thought of themselves as anything except a mother/employee/wife in years.  I might then ask another way, “If you had some magical ability to make the world stand still and you could do ANYTHING, what would you do?”.  Given the freedom of imagination that affords unlimited power and resources what would a mother choose?  I’ve heard “I would love to just take a nap!”, and I’ve heard “I’d love to be able to spend time with my kids without worrying about _______ (my job, my father, my bills, etc.).”  This simultaneously speaks to how dedicated mothers are, that they cannot even imagine a world where they don’t worry about their family first, and it also says a lot about our social structure, that we expect women to be so self-sacrificing that they can’t even imagine doing solely for themselves.

We have shifted culturally from the sort of 1950’s “ideal” American family in which the husband went off to work every day and the wife stayed home and took care of the house and the children.  Despite expecting women to work a fulltime job to help support the family financially we still have the same cultural expectations about division of labor within the household.  This creates role strain and role conflict, often in physically and emotionally damaging amounts, for many women.  (Learn more about role strain and role conflict here).  Nor is this a new phenomenon of the 21st century with our fast paced, technology based society.  In 1966 the Rolling Stones wrote “Mother’s Little Helper” about housewives of the day taking (and often becoming addicted to and/or overdosing on) prescription sedatives.  Today women still do the majority of housework while also working outside the home.  A 2010 study showed that women spend about 25.9 hours a week taking care of home and children to men’s 16.8 hours.  The women who I’ve spoken with feel driven and even if they could sit and try to relax after work most would feel too guilty.  Is it any surprise then, that so many mothers feel anxious and/or depressed?  What a tragedy that these women who take care of us all are, arguably, underappreciated.

Finally, I’d like to take a moment to share my appreciation for my own mother.  I may not have fully appreciated everything that you did for me growing up and I certainly took for granted that you would always be there, but now I recognize that if not for you I would not be the compassionate and thoughtful person that I am today.  These traits are essential to who I am as a therapist and as a person, and for that I cannot ever thank you enough.  I love you, mom.

Aaron D KirkwoodDo you experience role conflict and role strain?  I’m happy to help you sort through these complex emotions and learn to let go of some of the anxiety and/or depression that comes as a result.  Call (706) 534 – 8558 or e-mail me at Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com to setup a time to talk.

 

changeahead My daughter is a senior in high school.  That means we have spent much of the past year focusing on ACT testing and scores, college applications, essays, etc., etc.  On February tenth all of the hard work, anxiety and stress of this past year came to an end as she received her acceptance into her number one choice of schools, which also happens to be both of her parents’ alma mater, so to say we were all thrilled would be putting it mildly!   But something else also happened once the dust settled, I realized that very soon my first born will be leaving for college, not only a huge life change for her but a major life transition for me.  While the abstract idea has always been there, now it is staring me in the face and is something I can no longer ignore.   What does that mean for me?  The past 18 years my primary focus has been on parenting my kids, and in two short years they will both be in college.   So part of my “job”, and a lot of my identity is going to change.  While I will always be mom to my son and daughter my role in their lives will without a doubt soon be different.   I am sad about my kids leaving home but I also realize once I have readjusted there will be many positive aspects of my new life, such as more time for me and my husband to do things on our own without worrying about 2 other people’s schedules, and time to begin focusing more on myself and consider other interests in my life I may not have had time for before.   I joked as senior year started that I wasn’t quite ready for this but it was coming whether I was ready or not.   Life moves on and changes are going to happen, whether we are ready or not!  Getting married, starting a new job, moving into a new house, having a child, the list goes on and on, are all positive changes in life.  But even the positive changes are stressful and can be hard to deal with.  There may be mixed emotions, I can absolutely relate to feeling very happy and very sad at the same time as we approach graduation day.   There might be feelings of loss, even about a much anticipated event, and there can also be an identity shift, all things I can currently relate to.  Major life transitions cause stress, that is a fact.  If you don’t take care of yourself the stress can lead to increased anxiety, health problems and even depression.   During major life transitions it is important to pay attention to yourself and take care of yourself.

The following article by Dr. Shannon Kolakowski talks about ways to make the most of life transitions and has some good pointers on how to take care of yourself during major life changes.
https://trans4mind.com/counterpoint/index-goals-life-coaching/kolakowski.shtml


I believe one of the most important things to do during any stressful time is to rely on your support system.  It can be helpful to turn to supportive people in your life during these times.  If you feel like you need some added support surrounding a major change or transition in your life give me a call or send me an email and we can set up an appointment, 706-425-8900 or beth@ca4wellbeing.com    Beth Jackson, LCSW  Alpharetta, Georgia   profile415  

Therapy is exercise for the brain

If therapy is exercise for your brain, that makes me a personal trainer.  Time to rethink my work wardrobe!

I have a confession to make.  If you promise to keep it just between us I will tell you.  Agreed?  So, sometimes my clients will say to me “Hey, this was really helpful.  I appreciate what you’re doing for me.”  My response is generally, “I’m so glad you found our session helpful.”  But inside?  Inside I’m thinking “I have no idea why this was helpful.  I really thought we didn’t get much done today.”  Rest assured, I’m not some dope who’s faking his way through being a therapist.  Every therapist I know has a similar story.

There’s an excellent book on the subject that has eased my mind and helped me make sense of what might be happening for my clients in therapy.  It’s called Why Therapy Works: Using Our Minds to Change Our Brains by Loius Cozolino.  It has to do with the concept of neuroplasticity and how thoughts actually change our brains functioning.  According to Cozolino neuroplasticity “refers to any changes among, between, and within neurons as a result of learning or the natural processes of healthy development.  It is the ability of the nervous system to change in response to experience and to encode that experience into its structure.”  In other words, our brains literally change in response to our experience.  I liken this change to the growth we see in our muscles because of exercise.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of hanging around with some serious weightlifters you might have seen them nudge each other in the ribs, give a head nod towards someone walking by, and snicker.  Then in a conspiratorial whisper one says, “Someone skipped leg day.”

Your brain is not a muscle.  In fact, it is the fattiest organ in your body.  It makes up only about 2 percent of your bodies total mass but is uses 20 percent of your body’s energy.  No wonder it’s so exhausting when you’re anxious all the time! (For more brain facts click here)

Okay, but what does that have to do with your brain and therapy?  Well, therapy is exercise for your brain.  If you have had depressive thoughts for a while your brain has developed to easily have those thoughts.  Meanwhile, your ability to experience “happy” thoughts is undeveloped.  You might say that you’ve been skipping happy day.  When I’m asking clients in therapy to describe what they would like to be doing differently, what they might prefer their life to look like, I am like a spotter in the gym encouraging them “C’mon!  You can do this!”  At first it can be very hard for someone who has felt depressed for years to even imagine what “happy” is for them.  However, with practice they can literally change the structure of their brain so that it becomes easier to bring to mind those “happy” thoughts.  The same concept applies to people who are anxious all the time.  They are well practiced at having anxious thoughts.  Their brains have been shaped by these experiences and so they come “naturally”.  Through therapy we will do the work necessary to reshape the brain.

Is it easy?  No.  Is it fun?  Sometimes, but it can also be painful just like any other workout.  Is it worth it?  DEFINITELY!

Aaron D KirkwoodIf you’re constantly plagued by depressive or anxious thoughts, contact me today and let me be your personal brain trainer.  I can be reached via telephone at (706) 534 – 8558 or e-mail at Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com.

election-anxiety

Election anxiety is not unheard of in the United States as we carry out the process of electing a President every four years.  Political scientists will no doubt study the election of 2016 for many years to come.  Americans in general were hoping that November 8th would end the fractious campaigns and alleviate much of the anxiety that the majority of Americans were experiencing during the election season.  According to the American Psychological Association, 52% of Americans reported that the election was a significant source of anxiety and stress ( Unfortunately, for many Americans the aftermath of the election has only increased their feelings of anxiety.)

Some people have been left feeling depressed or afraid, others angry because they don’t feel that the democratic process is being respected.  Many people are having adverse reactions not to the election itself but to the conflict they are witnessing between others over the election.  It seems election anxiety has taken on many forms in the days following election day.  One of the major sources of stress affecting people post-election is social media.  The anonymity of the internet means that people allow their anger and their fear to override their better nature and their social graces.  These fractures reverberate through friendships and families.  I have personally seen more than one person threaten to “skip Thanksgiving!”  All the while there are those individuals who just want everyone to get along.  Friends and family member’s social media feeds become battlegrounds putting them in the uncomfortable position of feeling like they are stuck in the middle of a fight not of their choosing.  Some individuals who grew up in divided, fractious homes may be triggered by all the fighting and negativity.

It may feel like the conflict is everywhere, at home, at work, and definitely on social media.  How do Americans who feel particularly anxious, angry, or fearful cope in this time of continued political tension?  These tips might help:

  • Turn off the news. Continued exposure to the aftermath of the election on the news is likely to only increase your anxiety.
  • Take a timeout from social media. We all know that social media is a sea of memes and misinformation.  The compulsion to respond leads to conflict which generally results in everyone involved getting worked up, feeling more stressed, and ruminating on the “battle”.
  • Understand that people have the right to their feelings. Yes, even when those feelings directly contradict your own.  Every person has a unique lived experience which gives us all a unique perspective.  The important thing to remember is that these unique perspectives are all valid.
  • Check out these mindful strategies designed to reduce anxiety.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by election anxiety and find yourself without social support at this time you might consider speaking with a professional in order to process your feelings and find a safe place where you can feel supported and listened to.

Aaron D Kirkwood

Contact me today and let’s work together to find coping strategies for yourself and deal with possible conflicts during the coming holidays.  Call me at (706) 534-8558 or e-mail at Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com to setup an appointment.