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(Un)Happy Holidays

Tammie Colburn Consejo, LCMHC

 As the upcoming holiday season approaches, many of us look forward to this time of year with excitement and anticipation. But for many others, this season brings overwhelming stress, anxiety, fears, loneliness, depression, financial concerns or a sense of disconnection from how life is “supposed” to be. Despite the heartwarming movies, cheerful music, and endless commercials to shop, shop, shop, there’s more going on. It’s not all about the perfect family gatherings, the perfect gifts, and plenty of food to eat. There can be bad memories of past holidays seasons; concerns about spending time with family who are difficult to be with; deep sadness if one does not have others to spend time with; despair when there if not enough money to provide special holiday meals or to buy gifts for one’s children, or humiliation asking for help from the community to provide these things. This holiday season can be agonizing for many, and even unbearable. If you feel this way, you are not alone.

So now what? While it may be hard to do, it’s important to connect with others in your community. Attend local events and meals. Many are free. Check out local religious services. If you don’t have family or friends to spend time with, reach out to acquaintances. Volunteer at a holiday event. It helps others, and it will be uplifting for you. Reach out to local organizations or churches who will help supply a special meal or gifts; you can “pay” them back in many ways. And if all of this is just plain too hard to even think about doing, consider talking with your doctor or a counselor to help manage potential anxiety or depression.

Please remember that this season is temporary. You can get through this. Take the best care of yourself as you can because you deserve it. Know that I, and others, care about you as a fellow human being, and wish you peace. And isn’t peace what this holiday season is supposed to be about?

Flying the Coop – for Parents

To all the parents out there whose young adult child just moved away to college, I get it. Such a mix of relief, pride and fear. This changes your family forever. Will they be safe? Will they make good choices around sex, alcohol, drugs and other scary life situations? Are they going to eat pizza 24/7 or starve themselves? Will they get good grades? Should you check on them often? What if they beg to come home soon after starting? What if they never want to come home? And what is this FERPA-thing anyway? Why can’t I talk to college faculty and staff about how MY kid is doing without their permission – especially if I’m paying the bill?!

What will YOU do now? If you have other kids at home, you will still be an every-day parent, but someone important will be missing. If this is your only child or last child, the change is even greater. You are no longer an active part of your child’s daily life. You are not in control; they are. What is your role now? What do you do with your time? What do you do with their room? If you were raising your child with a partner, how will this change your relationship? Is there anything left to your couple? Is this an opportunity for re-inventing your couple? If you are single, do you start dating again? Basically, who are you now, and how do you find out?

Stay connected with other parents sharing this experience with you. It’s important to know you are not alone. Participate in college-sponsored parent events whenever possible. Seek advice from parents who have come before you. How did they adjust? Keep busy doing things that feel good to you: take an art class or exercise class. Get out into nature. Spend time in a city. Attend shows and activities of interest to you. Try things you wish you could have tried but didn’t have time. Travel near and far. And know that sometimes, it makes sense to seek individual and/or couples counseling for help navigating this seismic shift in your world. Your child is still your child, but in a different way. Now it’s time to focus on you.

Tammie Colburn Consejo, LCMHC, Ph.D., mother of two college graduates, is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor in private practice, who spent nearly two decades working in public and private colleges in VT and MA as an administrator and faculty member.

I Just Want to Be Happy
by Tammie Colburn Consejo, LCMHC, Ph.D.
April 19, 2015

In the early years of psychology, treatment was for those with serious mental illnesses. We now live in a time where counseling can benefit most anyone. We all have stuff to deal with. There’s even a branch in the field called Positive Psychology. So shouldn’t we all be happy all the time? No more psychological (or even physical) pain, no discomfort, no sadness? And if counseling doesn’t work, just take a pill, right?
           There is a danger is this kind of thinking. The pendulum has swung too far. Across the country, many therapists are seeing clients who believe something is wrong with them, their families, their partners, their friendships, their jobs, because things are not super-duper all the time. Thinking this way can create even more mental and physical distress, and an endless list of “normal” not feeling good enough.
          The reality is, life is filled with challenges, and sometimes life isn’t fair. But no one is entitled to a perfect life of bliss. A healthy, balanced life is one where there are moderate ups and moderate downs, with occasional extreme ups and extreme downs. The goal is to be satisfied with your life overall, not to be happy all the time. Whether you seek professional counseling or not: strengthen your resilience, choose to look at the positives more than the negatives, and be grateful for what you do have – every day. Your life will be happier.


The Winter that Won’t End
by Tammie Colburn Consejo,LCMHC, PhD
April 7, 2015


     As I gaze out my window this morning, I see a glorious Vermont winter postcard scene. Fresh, white snow blankets the ground and trees. It doesn’t get more beautiful than this. I hate it. 
     What?! Well, there are some problems with this majestic scene. For starters, it’s April 7, 2015, in the spring that’s been hijacked by the winter that won’t end. Winters are already long in Northern Vermont, but this extended season is getting old even for hardy Vermonters. And who gave winter permission to interfere so much with mud season anyway? My husband and I had six loads of stone delivered to our house so far, just so he can get out of the driveway with his usually Vermont-friendly car. We could have pulled him out with our tractor, except the tractor sunk in the mud.
     Anyway, I have the good fortune of running a private mental health and business & education consulting practice. Among other things, it’s my job to help clients manage seasonal depression, anxiety, chronic pain worsened by the cold and damp weather, and other challenges that come with living in a cold, dark corner of this world in winter. I have to admit, though, it’s getting to me, too. Enough already! 
     Since we have to deal with this anyway, how can we make it better? Looking at the positives. Gratitude. I’ll get you started. This weird weather is giving our maple producers time to make the sweet stuff for all of us, and to make a living. The snow and cold are giving our ski areas and related businesses a boost. They deserve it after some really tough years. If we have the gift of eyesight, we can easily see the snow into the early evening hours because there is more daylight. We can savor the fresh smells that come only with a snowfall. Those of us who have a warm home to shelter us from the cold can appreciate it. And I have a 4WD truck that gets me out of my muddy driveway. What can you be grateful for?
 

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