Holiday Blues

This time of year can bring up a lot of mixed emotions. It's a time of year for gatherings of family and friends, celebrations and reminiscing. There is the excitement and anxiety of planning for upcoming festivities, along with the hopes and disappointments that can often accompany family gatherings. If we have had traumatic childhoods, feelings of deep loss and sadness might interfere with our desire to be joyful during this season. All the pressure to feel happy can have the opposite impact and we might find ourselves with the holiday blues, sinking into clinical depression or relying on patterns of self-medication with alcohol to make ourselves feel better. Here are some tips on managing holiday blues.

1. Allow yourself to feel your feelings. The pressure to "feel happy" during this time of year can lead us to hide our feelings when they don't match the picture on the holiday card. It's ok to feel whatever it is your feeling, in fact, it's healthy. It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to start feeling better is to allow yourself to feel not so great. Feeling our negative emotions encourage us to reach out to others for support. Studies show that people who work on accepting their negative emotions also experience greater emotional intimacy in their relationships. 

2. Give your wallet a break. One of the big pressures of the holiday season is to spend, spend, spend. The retail industry relies on the message that spending more will make us happier. Most of us know in our heads that this isn't true for long term happiness, but the allure of short term good feelings that come from spending money on ourselves and others becomes too tempting to turn down. You probably won't be surprised to learn that at least one study has shown a link between credit card debt and an increase in depressive symptoms. Practice setting a holiday budget that you can stick to and talk with you partner and family about your spending boundaries. 

3. Give yourself a break. There is a lot of pressure this time of year to go to every party and see every distant relative. Give yourself permission to say no to some events. Conversely, those of us who are disconnected from our family or have trouble with intimate relationships may feel more lonely as we see others gathering together. Lowering your expectations for the holidays can help. Reaching out to a friend for a cup of coffee, or spending an afternoon volunteering with a local giving organization can be even more fulfilling than attending a large party. 

4. Connect with those who love and support you. As mentioned in number one, acknowledging and expressing our negative emotions can bring us closer to the people who care about us. If you are in a relationship, now might be a good time to talk with your partner about the difficulties of holiday stress. If this type of communication is new for you, you might try some of these communication tips from the Gottman Institute, or you might want to think about couples therapy. If you're unpartnered you might try reaching out to a close friend or family member. If these don't feel like options, finding a therapist or support group that is a good match can be very helpful this time of year. 

Remember, most of us experience the holiday blues at some point. Holiday stress is normal. Acknowledging our feelings, setting our limits and connecting with others can help support us through the holiday season. If things begin to feel hopeless, or if feelings of isolation or sadness become overwhelming, know that you're not alone and that there are people here to help. The Canvas Health Crisis Connection line is available 24 hours a day (612-379-6363) for support. Be good to yourself this holiday season. 

-Kori Hennessy, MA

 

 

   

Safety

Living in safety is essential to our physical, emotional and mental health. At Heart of the City Therapy Group, we believe that personal safety and security is a basic human right. In 1948, the United Nations took a stand recognizing this right to safety. In the Universal Declaration of human rights, article three, it states, "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person." 

We recognize that in the aftermath of the United States presidential election, many people in our community are experiencing a reduced sense of safety.  This blog post is intended to recognize the collective and individual impact of this insecurity, as well as to provide safe, supportive resources for those in our community most impacted. 

Below is a list of trusted resources. Heart of the City therapists, Kori Hennessy and Alexa Tennyson, also offer low cost therapy for anyone with financial barriers, and are happy to provide referrals to other therapists and agencies in the Twin Cities area.

You deserve to be safe. You are not alone. 

Sexual Violence Center    www.sexualviolencecenter.org     24 hour crisis line : 612-871-5111

Trans Lifeline     www.translifeline.org    crisis line staffed by transgender people for transgender people  

Crisis Connection www.canvashealth.org     (612) 379-6363 or (866) 379-6363

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Help Line 800-950-NAMI or text NAMI to 741741 www.nami.org

Outfront MN has a comprehensive list of LGBTQ affirming resources available on their website www.outfront.org/resources

CLUES Cumunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio www.clues.org

ACLU Know Your Rights https://www.aclu.org/know-your-rights

-Kori Hennessy, MA

Stress Response and Relationships

It's the start of flu season, so in my house that means flu vaccines. This year, the American Academy of Pediatrics is not recommending the nasal spray vaccine, so that means shots. Each one of my kids has their own unique reaction to the news that they will be getting a shot. While one immediately enters into negotiations with me regarding what he might get in return for succumbing willingly to the pain, another summons enough courage to make it to the doctor's office, only to kick the nurse, scream and hide behind the garbage can in the doctor's office. As his anxiety level increases, I feel my body warm and my blood pressure rise. The air in the small exam room thins as tension fills the space. I feel the need to DO something, anything that will calm my screeching, terrified child. I can see the muscles in his body tense, his breathing becoming shallow and he is uncharacteristically aggressive. Anticipation has reached it peak, and his body is now responding to the threat. 

What is happening? He is a logical kid who loves science. He knows how vaccines work, and agrees that our family should get vaccinated against the flu. So why, at the moment of truth, can he not control his response? It's simple really; he knows the shot is going to hurt! He has had a shot before, and he remembers the pain. He is anticipating the threat and his stress response has engaged. He is in a state of fight, flight or freeze. What some refer to as our "reptilian brain" has taken over. The sympathetic nervous system has been activated by the presence of a perceived danger, and his body is responding to the surge of adrenaline that is meant to help move him out of danger. This response is why we can jump out of the way of a moving car without thinking, or catch our baby in a split second when she is about to fall. It's an invaluable response which has kept us alive for thousands of years. Yet, sometimes it is activated when we don't need it, or continues to be engaged when the threat has subsided, and this creates a state of distress. 

 Seeing my child in a state of distress triggered the same fight, flight or freeze response in me. We are relational creatures and have a natural, biological response to seeing another human being in danger. It's beautiful really, our innate tendency to care for one another. Our natural, protective response to another person's stress is magnified when it is someone we love, like a child or romantic partner. Before I go further into how stress response can negatively impact a relationship, I want to stay for a moment with the positive aspects of our stress response. It keeps us alive! It keeps those we love safe, it connects us. We need it. Catarina Andrade lays out an argument in defense of stress, that I think is worth a read. She points out that eliminating stress is not possible, or even preferable, so she encourages us to think about how we can change our relationship to stress. 

Now that we've acknowledged the positive and important role stress response plays in our lives and relationships, let's get back to the doctor's office with my terrified child. He was yelling at me to stay away from him, scared of me, the person in his life who most wants to protect him! I'm sure you can imagine, it did not feel good.

Think back to a fight you've had with your significant other. One where you could not believe he or she did what they did to you! You're steaming mad, but your partner is confused, unsure of why you're so upset. Our stress response cues us to detect threat, and biases us to identify threat where there might not be any. When our stress response is engaged, we see even those who are safe as a potential threat. In his article on Psychology Today, Russell B. Lemle, Ph.D., explains How Threat Emotions Cause us to Misread Our Partner. The same is true for all of our relationships, and the more intimate they are, like parent/child or romantic partner, the more intense our response will be.

So what can we do about it? How can we recognize when our stress response is useful, and when it's not?

Dr. Daniel Siegel explains the brain science behind mindfulness and how we can use it to engage in empathy for ourselves and others in this youtube video. He has numerous publications and trainings on what he has termed Mindsight. The techniques he describes have been used for centuries in mindfulness practices such as yoga, tai chai and meditation to help people become more intentional in their response to stress. The deep breathing to engage our parasympathetic nervous system (the system that calms the stress response), and the ability to slow down and use the more developed, mature part of our brain to decide how we want to respond, are skills that must be learned and practiced. We can't eliminate our stress response, nor do we want to or we might not catch that falling baby, but through practice we can begin to recognize when it is activated and decide if we need it or not.

So, returning again to the stress filled exam room. What could I do? Poor kiddo was flooded and in that moment he didn't have the skills to regulate himself. What I could do was model regulating myself and trust that he will learn something from watching me. I reminded myself that he hasn't had much practice with recognizing and deactivating his stress response. We will continue to practice, in times of calm when no threat is present, how to recognize the signals his body is giving him and how to settle himself when he wants to. Through modeling, practice and co-regulation, his abilities to regulate himself will emerge and our attachment to each other will deepen. The same is true in our romantic relationships, the more we utilize mindfulness techniques and focus on co-regulation, the more empathy we will feel and the stronger our attachment will become. 

-Kori Hennessy, MA

 

 

 

 

 

Healing

The nightstand in my room is stacked with therapy and psychology books. These books are mostly written by therapists I admire who have spent a great deal of their career studying the reasons why people come to therapy. Books by people like Brené Brown, whose research has focused on shame. It was through my interest in Brené's work that I stumbled upon author Glennon Doyle Melton. Glennon is not a therapist, but rather a woman who has chosen to share her on-going journey through shame, guilt, love, marriage and parenthood with the rest of us who might be struggling to come to terms with our own stories. Research is wonderful for promoting and facilitating our understanding of the world, but artists, like Glennon, deepen our understanding of the human condition in a way that is hard to quantify. Glennon's work reconnected me with the rawness and beauty of my own humanness, and reminded me of why I love the work I do. If you haven't been introduced to her work yet, I invite you to check it out and see if it resonates with you. 

Glennon's most recent book, Love Warrior, is a memoir of her life thus far. She details her struggles with self-esteem, an eating disorder and alcohol abuse. She shares with us the joys and pains of becoming a mother, as well as the heartbreak, resilience, love and truth she finds when her husband reveals a history of infidelity. Her storytelling breaks through shame and faces fear head on. She delivers her story in a way that honors the unique truth within herself and and her husband, as well as the truth of the love and pain within their relationship.

Glennon shows us that storytelling can be a therapeutic art. In therapy, space to tell our stories and to heal our shame is offered. It is during this telling that we discover our preferred ways of being as individuals, families and couples. We identify the healing techniques we're using that are working, as well as those that are not. We discover new tools that connect and strengthen us. We empower ourselves to make choices about how we want to live and love in our lives.

The American Heritage dictionary third edition defines therapeutic as "having healing or curative powers." What heals you? In what ways are you already healing your relationship? Yourself? 

Glennon's public telling of her story invites us each to find the healing power of telling our own story. The invitation is always open for us to find our path. What will be your path towards healing? 

* You can listen to a recent interview with her on the Good Life Project with Jonathan Fields here. 

-Kori Hennessy, MA

 

Welcome

Welcome to Heart of the City Therapy Group blog! We are excited that you found us and are looking forward to using this space for you to get acquainted with us, explore ideas about emotional and mental health and to introduce you to exciting work people in the twin cities wellness and therapy communities are doing. 

Alexa Tennyson and I, Kori Hennessy, have started Heart of the City Therapy group with a goal of providing collaborative, strengths-based therapy for individuals, couples and families in the Twin Cities area. Alexa and I met in graduate school while studying marriage and family therapy at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota. As we moved from studying in the classroom to working with people in the community, it became apparent that Alexa and I both experienced a deep appreciation and admiration for the people who came to see us.  For us, the experience of being a therapist is not one which pathologizes those we meet with, rather, it is an experience which illuminates the strength, beauty and humanity in all of us. Although we each approach therapeutic conversations from a slightly different lens, what we share in common is our commitment to the autonomy and dignity of every person, couple and family we meet with. 

The values Alexa and I hold in common serve as a guide post for the therapy practice we have today. It's our hope that our office is a safe and affirming space for all those who visit. 

Our Vision
To be leaders in our field as providers of ethical, impactful and strengths-based psychotherapy to couples, families and individuals in the metro area.
Our Mission
Our mission is to provide therapy to couples, families, groups and individuals that recognizes the dignity, power and humanity of those we serve. We value strengths-based treatment, ongoing professional education and ethical service. We strive to support the people we serve in reaching their goals through a collaborative process in which our therapeutic experience, relational knowledge and human compassion leverage the skills, values and knowledge of those with whom we work.