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Strategies to Reduce Depression During the Holiday


For your physical health:

Be deliberate about what activities you choose to attend. Decide ahead of time what would benefit you the most and what is in line with your needs.

Ask for help from others. We tend to think we have to do everything, when a team effort can be more fun.

Make time to rest and rejuvenate even amidst the pressure of getting things done. This will give you more energy.

Pay attention to your eating and drinking.

 

For your emotional health:

Express your feelings in an assertive and respectful way. Say “yes” because you want to, not out of obligation or to please others.

Surrender to those things that we cannot change. Surrendering is accepting things that we cannot control which allow us not to struggle and feel more at ease.

Don’t isolate. Reach out to others if you feel lonely. If you don’t have someone to be with, volunteer to help those in need. It can be very uplifting and gratifying. Spend time with supportive people.

Spend time to reflect and grieve, if necessary. Let yourself feel. Then do something nice for yourself and socialize.

Practice mindfulness. Try to observe your internal experience, just as it is, without judgment.

 

For your spiritual health: 

Don’t compare yourself to others. You are perfect just as you are today.

Extend forgiveness.

Let go of the past. Life brings changes and each holiday season is different and can be enjoyed in its own way. Look forward.

Each week, call or email a family member or friend that you have not connected with in some time.

Make a new friend and invite them for coffee.

Find time to be with God. Pray!

When to be worried: A growing child and drugs and alcohol


Finally spring is here and before we know it summer will arrive, something many Chicagoans look forward too. We get to enjoy the city at last, the beaches, festivals, block parties, and music fests. With these events and activities comes the prevalent drink of choice: alcohol.  As any Chicagoan is aware of, there is always a preponderance of underage drinking at these events. It almost seems that this is a common practice and accepted by many. Not only is alcohol common in summer celebrations but also drug use as well. What should a parent do? While marijuana becomes more and more accepted in the mainstream, parents are still concerned with the health and safety of their children. How should a parent address this with their children? At what point is there “a problem”?

Perhaps the most important thing to do as a parent is to communicate with your child. Communication, like in any relationship, is fundamental to a healthy partnership. Have you discussed drug use and drinking with your child? Have you been clear on your own views of drinking and drug use? Have you set clear rules for them? Also, importantly, do you feel you have created a space for your child to discuss this with you as well? In discussing drug use with your child I often describe it as a balancing act. On one hand you want to be able to establish clear rules and consequences, on the other you don’t want your child to fear having a conversation about it. Creating a safe place for your child to openly discuss the topic of drugs and alcohol with you is paramount; otherwise your child will find answers elsewhere.

While no one person can perfectly predict substance abuse, as parents there are always things to look for. Declining grades, dramatic shift in peer groups, isolation, and emotional turbulence are a few key factors to note. And of course, while these may be classic “teens being teens” actions, the extreme prevalence of all these factors could be a cause for concern.  Substance use in adolescents is detrimental to their health in both physical and psychological ways. The developmental time period for teens is at a critical point in developing into healthy adult. This is why it may be necessary that if you do see these warning signs, to discuss it even further with your child. Along with more open and honest conversation, treatment may be necessary.

Experimentation as a teenager is typically normal, finding new friend groups, venturing into new hobbies, finding new passions; drug use does not have to be one of them. Teens will always be curious about the unknown and the prohibited, it is their nature. However it does not have to necessarily venture in to illegal use. Therefore, communication and discussion is so necessary. This summer while your kids are outside living their lives make sure to talk with them about drugs and alcohol. Don’t be afraid to openly bring up this topic.  Make your rules clear, but also be open to hearing the questions and accept their most likely push back on the subject.   Remember there are resources available nearly everywhere online, and if you really are concerned, feel free to give your local treatment provider a call, just make sure they are trained in addiction treatment.

Self-Care Tips to Get You Through the Holidays


While the holiday season can be a time of connection and cheer for many, for others it can bring about additional stress and isolation. During the season of giving we often devote so much time to others that we forget to take care of ourselves. Reclaiming and incorporating time for yourself is an essential part of maintaining a healthy and balanced holiday season. Below are a few ways in which you can give to yourself this season:

  • Reflect: Throughout the year reflection is a key aspect of self-care, but moving it to the forefront is especially important during the holidays. Reflection can bring about renewal and change as you enter the new year, and for some can even bring closure. Meditation and journaling are ways in which you can reflect on what it most important during these times. Both provide emotional and physical benefits that aid in the mitigation of undesirable symptoms.
  • Rest: Another important aspect of everyday life, that is especially important during this busy time, is rest. By maintaining a routine, you allow yourself to remain recharged and refreshed during this season of rush.
  • Prioritize: In an effort to match the pace of the season, many people often find themselves playing catch up once the holidays have ended. Allow yourself time to create and stick to realistic goals, which can include scheduling and budgeting. This eliminates the burden of overspending and overexerting yourself.
  • Create: Instead of focusing on the hustle of the season, take advantage of the magic of the season by creating traditions that will last for many seasons to come.
  • Redefine: Many assume that giving requires spending. During the coming days, take time to reflect on the meaning of the holidays by redefining what it means to give. Giving your time to be in service of others is an easy and inexpensive way to lift spirits.

In keeping with the holiday season, it is important to remember that self-care is key to achieving greater health, happiness, and prosperity. As stated by Calving Coolidge, “Holidays are not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of the Holidays.”

Summertime Stress Got You Down?


That time of year is almost here again: summertime! Yippee! Time for fun in the sun, lemonade stands, waterparks, and barbecues. What a great few months, right? Or, it should be, anyway. Summertime can be when we relax and enjoy the beautiful weather, but it sometimes ends up causing us more stress than we bargain for. Like getting the family packed up for an outing, and keeping the kids occupied since they’re no longer in school. How do we keep summer from being a bummer? How can we make this pleasant time of year less stressful?

Chill Out!

When the heat gets to be too much and your AC has turned your home into a meat locker, take the time to go outside and sit in the shade. The fresh air and natural sunlight will be refreshing and pleasant once you’ve had a chance to cool off inside. Take a book with you, or just lie on the grass and look up at the clouds, trees, flowers, etc. It’s amazing the little things in life we forget about, like the beauty of a budding blossom, which can remind us not to take ourselves too seriously. Take a quick moment to close your eyes, and imagine yourself lying on a beach and enjoying an ocean view. This quick mental vacation will help you relax and refocus.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade!

The stress of trying to find different activities to keep the kids entertained can not only be exhausting, but costly. Why not check your local town or city’s events and summer festivals? Your neighborhood park district and town always has something going on, but their marketing budgets may not be big enough to make you aware of the great free events all summer long. Check out the local paper, town website, park district and library bulletins to see free activities in your area. Here are a few links to get you started:

Fun & Free Chicago Summer Activities – https://www.choosechicago.com/things-to-do/parks-and-outdoors/free-summer-park-activities/

Chicago Park District Movie Night – http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/events/movies/

Chicago Summer Dance – https://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/chicago_summerdance.html/

Water You Doing?

Who doesn’t want to go to the pool or the beach? Sometimes, the pool fees, and gas it takes to get to your closest body of water can be draining. The good ol’ water hose in your back yard can also feel relaxing, and break up the burden of carrying a heavy beach bag and putting more miles on your car. Jumping through the sprinkler a few times can give kids the giggles, ease your wallet, and lessen your stress.

Whatever you do this summer, don’t let the humdrum of summer shenanigans keep you from enjoying this beautiful time of year. Summer is for sunshine and sojourning, so remember to take a break, and stop and smell the roses.

Reading between the Lines: Why You Should Pay Attention to 13 Reasons Why


For some, entertainment is an escape from our daily lives, but for many others entertainment is a sensationalized account of real issues we may face. “13 Reasons Why” originally published as a young adult novel, was subsequently adapted into a series by Netflix. The series chronicles the life and subsequent suicide of teenager Hannah Baker. In the series, Hannah posthumously provides 13 cassette tapes to fellow teenagers she has come in contact with, detailing the trauma she and others endured in the weeks prior to her death.

The dark turn of the show may make it difficult for some viewers to watch, covering topics such as drug abuse, sexual assault, bullying, and suicide. While the show is effective in pulling the viewer in, it does little to prepare the viewer for what’s to come, which begs the question: when is it appropriate to address the topics of sexual abuse and suicide?

To answer this question, it is first essential that parents and educators become familiar with the content described in this series, thus providing a basis for future conversations. What “13 Reasons Why” has accomplished is opening the dialogue surrounding assault and suicide between adults and teenagers. For many, the unimaginable trauma of suicide and sexual assault, which is vividly played out on the screen for viewers to watch, is a subject that is not easily broached, however, it allows adults to empathetically gaze at the issues many teenagers face.

As parents and professionals, it is important that the conversations surrounding sexual assault and suicide be had, no matter how difficult they may be. Discussing the depictions and representations of each character may alleviate some of the concerns parents may experience, as well as allow parents the opportunity to correct some of the inaccuracies presented in the series. As teenagers who may view the series, it is imperative that it be known that there will be someone who takes these issues seriously and is willing to address them. For each of us, the series can shine a light on the importance of being intentional in how we interact with each other and how we respond to those hurting or in need of support.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide please call the National Suicide Prevention lifeline, a 24-hour free and confidential service, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

To speak with someone regarding the issue of sexual assault please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline, available 24 hours a day, at 1-800-656-4673.

Additionally, if you or someone you know is affected by the topics discussed in the series, please feel free to schedule an appointment with one of our therapists here at Cornerstone by calling our Intake Department at 312-573-8860.

13 Reasons Why: Glorifying Suicide, Increasing the Risk


’13 Reasons Why’ has sparked a buzz in popular culture since its full release on March 31st. I must admit, this Netflix Original’s constant praise on social media sparked an intrigue. I wanted to know more. So I did. I began by reading the description and was immediately taken aback. As a mental health professional, I thought, “this is downright disturbing and dangerous.” The content and the buzz. And while it is important to raise awareness of the agony that can lead to suicide, and the physical pain of self-harm, it is equally as important to do so in a responsible way. Romanticizing suicide in ’13 Reasons Why’ is irresponsible, and here are 3 reasons why:

There is no single cause for suicide. The series follows the fictional story of the suicide of a teenager, Hannah Baker, through cassette tapes through which Hannah blames specific people for her suicide. This is the first danger. Assigning blame to others is a projection of misplaced feelings of guilt. It is also inaccurate. The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP) indicates that “Suicide most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.” Therefore, instead of teaching our culture to assign blame for high-risk behavior, our responsibility is to teach healthy coping skills as a preventative factor of suicide.

Exposure Increases Risk. The season finale includes a scene that graphically depicts the violent suicide of Hannah Baker. It is important to note that the target audience for ’13 Reasons Why’, unsurprisingly, is the teenage and young adult population. This is also the population for which suicide is listed as the second leading cause of death (ages 15-24). More importantly, “exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide, increases risk of suicide. (AFSP)” Therefore, graphically depicting suicide to the population of highest incidence is dangerous, specifically for the at-risk youth, vulnerable to suicide.

Who can I talk to? The season finale also includes a scene where Hannah Baker decides to talk to her school counselor. As a mental health professional, this scene is troubling. The school counselor acknowledges one of the signs of suicide yet does not take action for follow-up (i.e. risk assessment). The counselor also makes assumptions about the student’s social behavior which does not foster a safe space for disclosure. To model a counselor as one that does not take appropriate action, and does not foster a safe space, leaves the audience with the message that no one can be trusted. This is a serious danger because it eliminates yet another preventative measure (i.e. talking to a trusted adult). Eliminating preventative factors for at-risk individuals can increase the risk of suicide.

While I do commend the producers of ’13 Reasons Why’ for taking the challenge of presenting an engaging and relatable series on a serious and under-discussed concern in the United States, there was a grave missed opportunity for preventive messaging. Therefore, it is important to note that help is available and individuals who actively manage their mental health conditions lead fulfilling lives.

If you or someone you know is suffering from suicidal thoughts, go to the nearest emergency room and/or please call, The National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

 

Below are additional resources to learn more:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

https://afsp.org/

 

Risk Factors and Warning Signs

https://afsp.org/about-suicide/risk-factors-and-warning-signs/

 

A Teachable Moment: Webinar from AFSP, ASCA, and NASP

Teachable Moment Using “13 Reasons Why” to Initiate a Helpful Conversation About Suicide Prevention and Mental Health

https://afsp.org/campaigns/look-ways-mental-health-awareness-month-2017/

Why psychological assessment? What good will it do? How will I benefit?


When in graduate school for a degree in psychology or counseling, one learns a lot and reads a ton. But the most important thing grad students in my field do is practice what they preach.

So, when I was in a masters program in grad school, I took a psychological assessment overview course and the final assignment was to take a whole handful of tests that assessed my personality and then score, interpret, and report the results of these tests.

It was quite a process because some of these tests have a lot of questions to answer about yourself. I was nervous because I didn’t know exactly what the results would say about me.

Despite the process, the end result was pretty cool. The results confirmed some things I pretty clearly knew about myself. The results told me things about myself that somewhere, deep within myself, I knew, but didn’t have words to describe. The results told me things about myself that I was surprised by, that I never would have said about myself. The results told me things that I didn’t want to be said about me. The results helped me understand myself better so that I could take bold, but scary steps into a future that I didn’t even know was possible.

These understandings, realizations, and awarenesses are what psychological assessment is all about. Sure, sometimes the purpose of an assessment is to determine whether a diagnosis is present or not – think about all the assessments that happen when a medical doctor is trying to determine whether someone has cancer or a chronic illness. But underneath it all, the true purpose is to understand a person better, whether that be physically as in the case of a medical doctor or emotionally as in the case of a psychologist.

At the end of a psychological assessment, a psychologist expects that the client will understand more about him/herself and have some ideas about what his/her next steps could be to address the good and the I-wish-it-was-better results that come from the assessment. This may or may not include a diagnosis but will definitely include information about how the client thinks, feels, copes, and engages in the world around him/her.

If you have questions about yourself or your child and/or desire to have clarity about what might be going on inside of your heart, mind, or soul, please contact us at cccoc@chicagocounseling.org or (312) 573-8860 to discuss these things and determine if a psychological assessment might be beneficial for you. You can also find out more about our psychological assessment services here.

What Just Happened?: Making Sense of My Seemingly Random Reactions


Marie was feeling productive at work when she received a phone call from her mother. As soon as she saw the caller ID, she felt irritable and dismissed the call. For the rest of the day, she struggled to return her focus to her work or get anything accomplished.

Brenda was enjoying her time out to dinner at a nice restaurant with her boyfriend, Jude. However, she wanted to run out of the restaurant when Jude took his phone out of his pocket and started doing something on it. For the rest of dinner, she just answered his questions with one-word answers and couldn’t wait to get home so she could go to sleep.

Tiffani was fully engaged in the conversation at her 11:00 business meeting, which she found to be fascinating. When the colleague sitting next to her raised his hand to interrupt the discussion, she flinched and had trouble participating in the remainder of the meeting.

 

What do these women have in common?

Although at first glance, these women may seem to be drastically different from one another, when we take a moment to investigate their histories, we find similarities in their reactions in each situation. Each of these women’s reactions makes sense. Each of these women’s trauma response was triggered by the circumstances of their environments and made it difficult for her to fully engage in the present moment.

Marie grew up in a home where she never knew what she would experience when she walked in the door. Some days, her mother would be waiting to greet her with a smile and interest in what happened at school. Other days, her mother would be drunk on the couch, waiting for Marie to return from school so she could take care of her mother’s every need.

Brenda’s first marriage started off great, but after a year, her husband didn’t seem to even know she existed, that was, until he wanted something from her sexually and he could not be deterred. Brenda felt unwanted and cast-off and wasn’t surprised the day he filed for divorce because he found a “better woman.” It took a long time to feel ready to date again, but finally, she was willing to try again.

Tiffani’s step-father was scary and mean. She would hide in her closet to stay away from him when he was angry, praying that he wouldn’t find her because she was afraid that this time, he would hit her so hard she might die.

 

What is a trauma response and why does it happen?

Our brains automatically respond to dangerous, stressful, and traumatic situations by prioritizing reactions that will keep us safe; this is a very good thing, as it helps us to survive. When a person experiences these dangerous, stressful, or chaotic situations time and again, his/her brain gets really good at quickly prioritizing this survival response. Sometimes, the brain is so good at doing this, the survival response becomes the automatic and occurs even when the person is in a completely safe situation. This triggered reaction is a trauma response and it makes sense. Marie’s trauma reaction was triggered because her brain knows that sometimes when she talks to her mom, she isn’t safe. Brenda’s trauma reaction was triggered because she felt unwanted by her boyfriend when he started using his phone; she had been here before and it was not safe. Tiffani’s trauma reaction was triggered because her brain knows that sometimes, when someone near you raises his/her arm, it is to hit her. Although each of these women may not understand why she reacted in the way she did, each response makes sense in light of her past experiences and makes it difficult for her to fully engage in the present moment.

 

What can I do if I experience things like this?

First and foremost, seek support from safe and trustworthy people. Talking through your current and past experiences with a family member or friend who has consistently been safe and caring can help you express these things so you don’t have to hold them inside or on your own. Many individuals find it helpful to participate in therapy in order to have a safe place to discuss these reactions and the situations that have caused them and work towards growth and healing.

Secondly, take care of yourself when these reactions occur – maybe you need to take a break to go for a walk, grab a coffee, or take some deep breaths. Do something little and easy to help calm your brain and your body down so that you can re-engage in the present moment. Be kind to yourself by reminding yourself that this reaction was helpful for your survival at one point in time and makes sense in the current situation – there is nothing inherently wrong with your reaction and you can do something to help yourself through it.

If you would like to begin receiving professional services for reactions such as those described above, our office has therapists who have specialized training to provide services to individuals who have experienced trauma. Please click here to request an appointment.

 


*These stories are fictional and were created with the intent to illustrate triggered responses as a result of traumatic experiences in order to increase awareness, offer knowledge, and provide support for those who may be experiencing similar reactions.

Cyber-bullying: What it is, what to do, and how to prevent it


Any form of bullying can hurt a person’s self-esteem due to feeling not deserving of love and belonging (Brown, 2010). In the Bible, Joseph, a favored son, was bullied by his brothers out of jealousy because of the dreams God had given him. Goliath was a bully who taunted others and used power and stature to intimidate. Although these are examples of traditional bullying that occurred in the Bible, a different type of bullying has emerged in modern society called cyber-bullying.

What is cyber-bullying and why does it matter?

Cyber-bullying is when someone uses an electronic device to “threaten, harass, tease, or embarrass another person” (Greenfield, 2015, p. 144). With the development of the Internet and social media, we are now connected to others 24/7. Depending on the age group, 20-40% of young people have been cyber-bullied (Tokunaga as cited in Greenfield, p. 144). This is concerning because, unlike traditional bullying, the victim is unable to experience relief by not being around the bully. The online identity that is viewed as a “tethered self” (Turkle, 2012, p. 155) can be verbally abused by large amounts of people constantly. In 2012, a survey of US, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, showed 44% of suicides from the previous 15 months were due to cyber-bullying (LeBlanc, 2012 as found in Greenfield, p. 144).

What makes cyber-bullying so prevalent?

Anonymity seems to offer people permission to experiment with a new identity on the Internet (Suler as cited in Greenfield, p. 113). Moreover, for Digital Natives, time spent online is significant, creating more opportunities for impulsive, even harmful, choices in online interactions (Whitson, 2014). Research shows that starting at age 11, kids create a different online identity that is more rude, sexy, adventurous, or risky (Kidscape as cited in Greenfield, p. 121). Additionally, the Internet can lack typical social consequences that deter traditional bullying such as the victim’s facial expression and body language, social disapproval, and the fear of getting caught, which seem to make even those who have never bullied more likely to bully online (Greenfield; Whitson). This may contribute to ideas that cyber-bullying is not wrong since research shows cyberbullies have less remorse than traditional bullies (Greenfield, p. 146). It also speaks to the “diffusion and dilution of responsibility” of online activity (Robson & Witenberg as cited in Greenfield, p. 146). For example, who will catch the bully, how will they prove the online activity was done by that person, and what are the consequences? Thankfully, schools and the legal system are improving in navigating and litigating this difficult arena.

What makes it so dangerous?

As mentioned before, the permanency and continuity of cyber-hate appears to offer no solstice for the victim. Bullies attack something about a person that can confuse the victim, troubling the view that one is valued and effective in the world. This feeling of being wrong or not good enough can bring about anxiety and depressive symptoms. The victim may feel more insecure or ashamed, begin to isolate from others, and even believe the perspective that bullies have amplified and declared as truth about the victim (see Brown, 2010). The viral nature of cyber-bullying can lead victims to make poor conclusions about their worth and identity (Whitson, 2014, p. 68). When feeling down, a youth can believe they are not worthy of love and belonging, even doubting the love received from family and friends because of the perceived overwhelming online evidence of what others believe to be true about the victim. The hopeless feeling of being unable to stop it, change it, or challenge it can lead a person to thoughts or acts of suicide. If you have been cyber-bullied, seek additional support to work through difficult emotions, find belief in yourself as a person who is worthy of love and belonging, and develop a resilient identity that is valued and that you define.

What do we do about it?

If cyber-bullied…

  1. Tell an adult
  2. Disengage from it, don’t add to it
  3. Block harassers and log off
  4. Use privacy settings
  5. Take screen shots
  6. Do something to stop it with help of adults
  7. Empathize with victims

How do we prevent it?

  1. Keep person-to-person connections strong
  2. Educate kids about Netiquette
  3. Monitor kids online
  4. Write an online agreement for family
  5. Take breaks from tech and view it as a privilege
  6. Adults hold kids accountable for online behavior

The previous two step-by-step guides can be found in the chapter on cyber-bullying in the book 8 Keys to End Bullying referenced below. For more information on overcoming bullying and understanding the impact of digital technology on our world, view the references used for this article.


Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.

Greenfield, S. (2015). Mind change: How digital technologies are leaving their mark on our brains. New York: Random House.

Turkle, S. (2012). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York: Basic Books.

Whitson, S. (2014). Key 4: Deal directly with cyberbullying. A chapter from 8 keys to end bullying: Strategies for parents and schools (pp. 66 -95). New York: Norton & Co.

 

 

Cornerstone Counseling Center of Chicago