10 Tips for Tackling School Anxiety

School Related Anxiety Pin

Summer has officially ended, and school is in full swing. Often times, the start of a new school year can be anxiety provoking for children of all ages and personality types. With new students, new rules, and a new teacher, the start of school can make even the most extroverted and energetic student anxious. Here are 10 helpful strategies to prepare for and cope with school-related anxiety for children of all ages and personalities:

Notes of Encouragement:

Write a short note to your child and slip it into their lunch box every morning. These can be short and sweet, serving as a quick reminder that their loved ones are thinking of them. Try to include positive phrases about the child, such as, “You are a fantastic reader!”, “I am very proud of you!”, or “You will make some great friends today!”. These uplifting phrases can keep your child’s thoughts in a positive direction! If your child does not pack a lunch, you can always slip the note in their backpack, or in a folder that they check at the end of the day.

Dress for Success:

Come to school the first few weeks sporting the most comfortable and functional clothes. As much as every parent wants their child to look like the coolest kid in school, it is important that the child feels comfortable and their outfit is functional. If a child has a favorite shirt they always like to wear – even if it’s not your favorite – let them wear it. Feeling comfortable will allow them to focus their attention on what’s important: school! Coming to school with functional clothes cannot be over emphasized! Skinny jeans during gym, jelly shoes with heels, and long-sleeves during a warmer fall are all examples of poor functionality. If you can’t do jumping jacks in skinny jeans and heels, neither can your child.

Provide a Familiar Face:

Tape a favorite picture of you and your child inside their desk, lunch box, or backpack. You can even laminate the picture for increased durability. Seeing a familiar face, a loving parent, or a favorite memory will provide some extra comfort throughout the day.

Practice Positive Phrases:

At home, practice some positive phrases the child can tell themselves when they are nervous. Just as adults practice positive self-talk in the shower, car, or bathroom mirror, this strategy can be helpful for children too. Phrases such as, “I am doing my very best!”, “I am capable of success!”, or “Just keep swimming!. Just keep swimming!” can help calm a nervous child in the moment. These short mantras can be practiced at home and used at school silently.

Trial-run Through Transitions:

Knowing the layout of the school can ease a child’s anxiety as well. Children are expected to rotate classrooms and navigate campuses even in Kindergarten now! If a child is nervous about finding their way around or being late, a good strategy is to do a trial run of their schedule. After school, once the commotion has died down, you and your child can walk through each transition throughout their day so they are confident they will know where to go, and how to get there.

Ignore the Small Stuff:

Try to keep from nit-picking small behaviors during the first few weeks. It is very common for kids of all ages to chew on shirt collars, sleeves, nails, fingertips, erasers, and pencils, as well as play with their hair or not eat all their lunch. These behaviors are often a way to reduce anxiety and can also provide some sensory relief. Focus your energy on increasing their confidence, and once the anxiety has reduced, then you can start implementing some replacement behavioral strategies for such behaviors. In fact, many children actually stop exhibiting these behaviors on their own after the first month or two of school.

Practice Positive Self-talk:

Start each morning off by listing 3 positive things about your child. This is a great activity to do during breakfast or the car ride to school. Ask the child to list the 3 things themselves, but feel free to jump in and help if they are struggling. Practicing this activity every morning will help your child develop a positive self-esteem and create a positive narrative about themselves that focuses on their strengths and accomplishments.

Ease into Academics:

Focus less on grades during the first few weeks of school, and more on how well their day went, what they did well at, and things they are proud of. Taking the focus off of grades will relieve some pressure until the child is more settled in. Once the child is feeling confident or less anxious, then the focus can be redirected back to academics.

Keep a Full Belly:

Start each morning out with a good breakfast. Schoolwork, new environments, and anxiety can be mentally and physically tasking. By lunchtime, most kids are starving during the first few weeks of school. Having a hearty and nutritious breakfast can ensure a child has the mental and physical energy to do their best throughout their day.

Provide Reassurance:

Remind your child that it is okay to be nervous. Reassure them that many other kids in their class are probably feeling the same way. Try to think of a time when you were nervous (at work, during a presentation, or back when you were in school), and talk to your child to show them that you understand what they are feeling. Children often think of their parents as superheroes, so when they realize that Super-Dad and Wonder-Mom also get nervous they will feel relieved. They will feel even more assured when they hear how their parents overcame the experience and succeeded.



Vanessa Lemminger M.A., LMFT 53937
Marital and Family Therapist

© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

This blog (https://vanessalemminger.wordpress.com/) is for informational and educational purposes only. No therapist-client relationship arises. The information provided and any comments or opinions expressed are intended for general discussion and education only, even when based on a hypothetical. They should not be relied upon for ultimate decision-making in any specific case. There is no substitute for consultation with a qualified mental health specialist, or even a physician, who could best evaluate and advice based on a careful, considered evaluation of all pertinent facts. Likewise, it is understood that no guarantee or warranty arises from the information provided or discussed on this (https://vanessalemminger.wordpress.com/) blog.

Expectations for Therapy

Expectations for Therapy

            Coming to therapy can often be intimidating.  The treatment you receive from a therapist is much different than going to an appointment at your family doctor or the dentist, but the treatment is just as important.  To get the best out of your experience, it is helpful to know what to expect from your therapist, and what not to expect as well.


What you can expect:

Informed consent. The first thing your therapist should do is provide an informed consent form to review and sign.  This form details your participation in therapy, and covers areas such as confidentiality, reporting laws, and your fee agreement.  If you are not asked to sign an informed consent form, this should be a red-flag.

Review of confidentiality.  Every therapist should review the limits of confidentiality, and how it applies to you specifically.  There are different laws and ethical guidelines surrounding confidentiality that differ depending on whether the client is a child under the age of 12, a child 12 years of age or older, an adult, a couple, or a parent.  It is important to know how confidentiality works, and what the legal exceptions are.  If your therapist has not reviewed this with you, ask him/her to right away.

Clear understanding of fees and scheduling. The therapist should review and confirm with you their fees and scheduling policies.  It should be clear exactly what you are paying, how long the sessions last, the policy for going over the designated session time, and any cancellation or rescheduling policy.  It should also be clear as to what methods of payment are accepted, and if you are able to use your insurance.  Often times this information is listed in the informed consent form, but if you have any questions or are not clear on everything, do not hesitate to ask your therapist for more information.

Right to end treatment.  You should never feel forced to go to therapy or that you have to complete a certain number of sessions.  A therapist will certainly recommended a desired number of sessions that would be necessary to complete your specific treatment goals, but you are never obligated to, nor should be forced to complete a set number of sessions.  Each and every session is voluntary and you should never feel pressured to continue treatment if you are not comfortable.  The only exception to this is with court-mandated treatment or treatment of a minor.

Setting goals.  It is important to set goals at the beginning of therapy, and define what it is you want to work on.  Depending on the therapist’s theoretical orientation, goals may be more specific or more general.  If you have a preference as to how you would prefer to set goals and how you want your therapy experience to feel (more concrete and structured, versus more abstract and introspective), ask your therapist what his/her theoretical orientation is, and how that affects his work as a therapist.  Some therapists are more involved and work more as an agent of change, while other therapists take a more collaborative role, working side by side with the client.  This is also dictated by the therapist’s theoretical orientation.  Find out what type of therapist and theoretical approach you are more comfortable with or that matches your style.  Often therapists work from several theoretical approaches and have a more eclectic style.  Let your therapist know what works well for you, and they can use the theoretical approach that fits best with your style.

Support.  In the therapy room you can expect to find support through the challenges you are experiencing.  Coming to therapy can help reduce feelings of isolation.   Therapy goals almost always include increasing support systems as well, as it is important that the client receives support as they work through the challenges they face.

Empathy.  Therapy is also a place where you can expect to receive empathy.  Everyone experiences challenges and seeking help does not make you weak or damaged.  Therapy provides a non-judgmental space to address your challenges, while also providing feelings of validation and understanding through the process.

Expect to work.  Part of the therapeutic process involves making changes, and to do so requires work from both you and the therapist.  Reaching your goals is going to require you to make changes, put plans into action, and require you to step outside your comfort zone.  Some therapists, depending on their theoretical orientation, will also assign homework in addition to what is worked on in therapy.  This homework works in conjunction with what is done in session.


What NOT to expect from therapy:

Answers. Unless your therapist takes a very direct and authoritarian-type position, you should not expect to get “answers” to your problems in therapy.  Your therapist is not going to tell you whether you should stay with your partner or separate, nor whether you should quit your job or not.  Therapy is a process that results in personal growth, something a Magic 8 Ball cannot do.

Quick fix. Therapy is not a quick fix either.   One or two “power sessions” are not going to work out your marriage conflict.  The minimum amount of sessions to expect for almost any goal is at least 4, and longer for more complex relationship concerns.  If you are not quite ready to make a commitment, consider attending a workshop.  Many therapists offer a wide variety of one- or two-day workshops that address a variety of different themes: communication, intimacy, confidence, etc.

Tips and tricks.  Often parents come to therapy looking for tips and tricks to fix their “problem child”, and they are often disappointed.  The “problem child’s” behavior is almost always the result of the entire family’s dysfunction.  A more realistic expectation for parenting concerns or behavior management in therapy would be developing positive parenting strategies and reducing family conflict.

Change your partner. Therapy is not a place to find an ally to take your side during arguments with your partner, nor is it a place to “change your partner.”   Coming to therapy will not “fix” your partner or make them “see it your way.”   A more realistic expectation for therapy would be to learn how to appropriately mediate arguments, improve communication, and clarify expectations for your relationship.


Having a clear understanding of what therapy entails, what to expect from therapy, and what is not likely to happen in therapy, will make scheduling an appointment much less distressing.  Therapy is a place to feel relief from stress, experience empathy, and find support.  Having a clear understanding of the therapy process will help maximize those feelings and move you close towards your goals.


    Vanessa Lemminger M.A., LMFT 53937
Marital and Family Therapist


© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Autism: Support for an Entire Family

Time magazine posted a great article online by Barbara Cain titled, ‘Autism’s Invisible Victims: The Siblings’.  Cain speaks about the taxing role of being a sibling to a child with autism, and the endurance siblings need to cope with such a complex disorder.  Although Cain highlights the role of sibling can lead to positive outcomes as well, she emphasizes the importance in recognizing that autism is not just an individual condition, but a condition that effects an entire family.  The entire family deals with autism, and the entire family needs support.

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I would like to reiterate how important it is for parents to find support for themselves as well.  Parents of children with multiple barriers are the most self-sacrificing individuals, and because of this they are likely to disregard their own needs for support, for the needs of their children.  It is important for parents to remember that their needs for support and self-care are essential for providing the best care for their children.  Think about this: When are you more likely to get irritated and yell at your child?  When you are tired? Or when you are feeling refreshed? I am guessing this is an easy answer.  How you feel and the care you take for yourself will reflect in the relationship and care you provide your child.  Whether it means taking an hour out of your day to do something you enjoy, like reading a book or going for a walk, or spending an hour talking to a supportive friend, self-care should not be neglected.

Vanessa Lemminger, M.A., LMFT 53937
Marriage and Family Therapist


Breaking the Chains of Control

Breaking the Chains of Control


Merriam Webster defines it as, “to exercise restraining or directing influence over; to have power over; or to reduce the incidence or severity of especially to innocuous levels”.

Control is found in almost everything we do.  We control our appearance with control tops, supplements, and diets.  We control our pets and children with leashes and boundaries in hopes to reduce harm.  We control our finances with savings accounts, retirement funds, and investments.  We attempt to control our health with vitamins, preventative medicine, and doctor visits.  We control the events in our lives with schedules, planners, and lists.  Sometimes we even control our lists with more lists.  An even greater example of this desire for control can be found in the field of genetic engineering, where we have created near perfect produce, plants, and cloned animals.  Depending on how much money one is willing to spend, there is also the opportunity to choose which favorable traits one want to pass on to their unborn, yet to be conceived, child. Humans are creatures of habit and pattern, which are reinforced by the ability to control various elements from our environment to fit into those habits and patterns.  Control also creates a sense of safety through predictability.  When we can alter or restrain our surroundings, we can create an ideal environment where we are better able to predict what the outcome of each situation will be.  We feel safe when we know what to expect.


Merriam Webster provides one definition of life as “the sequence of physical and mental experiences that make up the existence of an individual”.

Here is where I would need to correct or adjust Merriam Webster’s definition to include descriptions such as: chaotic, spontaneous, adventurous, and full of surprises.  Life should really be an antonym for control.  No matter how much we attempt to control the events of our life, there will always be something that is beyond our reach.  Let’s be honest, trying to control and predict how life will unfold is similar to herding a pack of stray cats in a dark room.   I wish you the best of luck, and urge you to bring some band-aids.

Despite knowing how chaotic life is, we still try to control as much of it as we can.  It almost seems as if the more chaotic life gets, the more control we try to gain.  We end up either completely exhausted after multiple, failed attempts to control the uncontrollable, or our attempts to control morph into a maladaptive habit that consumes the large majority of our lives.   Each extreme leaves one feeling completely enslaved by the idea of control.  The key to gaining back our freedom is to forget that the chains even exist.  We should focus our energy on battling the need to feel in control because, as we know, most things in life do not work this way.  We need to learn how to let go of what is uncertain in life and trust in our ability to navigate successfully on our own.

Freeing the chains of control that hold us down is not always an easy task.  There may even be a time when we don’t even recognize the ties that pin us down.  Start by breaking the situation down into more simple pieces.  Find the situation that gives you the most stress.  Why does it cause you stress? What do you do when the anxiety starts to set in? Then ask yourself the important question of, “What does this behavior serve? What do you gain from it?” Instead of spending an immense amount of time on attempting to predict and control results, we need to learn to feel comfortable saying, “I don’t know exactly how things are going to work out”, and learn to feel more confident that we have the strength to move forward, even in the hardest moments.  Focusing less on outcomes will allow us to spend more time enjoying the process of living.

Vanessa Lemminger, M.A., LMFT 53937
Marriage and Family Therapist

Check out my article on R.A.R.E. Project blog as well!

© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

25 De-stressing Mini-tips

25 De-stressing Mini-Tips

Are you under stress?

Do you feel like you have no spare time to relax?

Well, this article is for you.  Here are 25 de-stressing mini-tips that you can use in the quick five minutes between meetings, or the half-hour you have on your lunch break.  These tips are great ways to collect yourself when stress is high and time is limited.  Some of these tips may work well for you, and others may not.  You will have to figure out which helpful tips work best for you, and work best with your schedule.

1. Go for a walk.  Whether it is just for five minutes to get out of the house or office, or a longer ten-minute walk, some mild exercise and fresh air does wonders when we are under stress.

2. Chocolate! Chocolate’s link to PEA (Phenylethylamine) and endorphin release (check it out here: http://www.allchocolate.com/health/basics/brain.aspx) make it a great option for a quick 5-minute fix.  But here’s the catch: this is not an excuse to eat an entire pint of chocolate ice cream as a “snack”.  The yummy benefits of chocolate come from the actual cacao bean, and dark chocolate has a higher concentration of cacao than milk chocolate, so you will be able to reap better rewards if you stick to the more potent and healthier chocolate.  Also, moderation is key.  There is no point in eating chocolate to relieve stress, if one is just going to over-indulge to the point of causing more stress (“great, now I have to add ‘working out’ to my giant to-do list today.”) Try planning out your chocolate fix.  Look at your schedule, and find your most stressful points of the day.  Are there two, or three? Maybe even five?  Pick out three times in your day where you feel the most stressed, and then pack three bite-size pieces of dark chocolate in your bag.  This will keep you from eating the entire bag, or caving at the snack cart and buying the Snickers bar instead of the healthier dark chocolate.  The idea is to keep your quick-fix a stress reliever and not a stress producer!

3. Eat a healthy meal.  What we put into our body is what we get out in return, and fueling up with a nutritious meal will not only make you feel good, but give you more energy as well!

4. Make yourself a warm drink.  A soothing cup of de-caf tea, or even just an apple cider will do the trick!

5. Get cozy and read a book!

6. Sing your favorite song! We all have a favorite song.  Not just any favorite song, but the song that puts you in a good mood no matter what is going on around you.  (You know, the song that you stop and dance to no matter where you – even if that means dancing down aisle five at the grocery store)  Turn the song on and blast it as high as it goes (or as high as you can get away with where ever you happen to be), and sing away!

7. Laugh! Watch a funny movie, read a great joke, or listen to a comedian.  Do whatever it takes to get yourself to laugh!

8. Make a de-stressing CD or playlist for your Ipod.  Gather some songs, even if it is just a few, that make you feel relaxed.  Take advantage of the five minutes before a meeting or doctor appointment by popping in some ear buds and listening to a calming track, or take advantage of a commute from work and pop in the CD.

9. Write. Using the word “journaling”, always produces some cringes, as the next thought is usually “Dear Diary …”, but wash that image out of your brain.  Pick up a sketchbook from the store.  You can usually find basic ones for about $4.  Sketchbooks work the best for this because they allow more flexibility and creativity.  You don’t have to have a purpose for why you are writing, or even a set format.  Just write.  Maybe you can’t find the words? Draw instead.  Possibly you have seen a picture in a magazine, book, or a picture of your own that reflects what you are feeling – tape it inside the sketchbook.  Quotes are another great starting point for those who are hesitant.  Don’t worry about what you are writing about, and just let the words flow from your hand.

10. Tear up your stress! Think about what is bothering you the most, or what has been on your mind, and write it down on a piece of paper.  Then, tear the paper into shreds!

11.  Do you have too many things on your mind? Are your thoughts racing? Write them down.  Cut a few strips of paper, find a bowl (a fish bowl or mason jar would be fine), and keep them in a handy spot.  When you feel that you can’t focus your thoughts, write down each thought that is causing stress on a piece of paper, fold it up tightly, and place it in the jar.  You can always go back into the jar when you are feeling less anxious and address the things you put in.  By doing this, you allow yourself to completely let go of the thought until you feel better able to tackle it.

12. Cardio: get your heart pumping with some cardio.  Challenge yourself to see how fast you can go on the treadmill, or try something new and learn how to kick-box.  Getting your heart rate up and releasing energy through physical activity is a great way to let go of stress.

13. Try some mindful meditation or breathing exercises. When we exhale, we turn on our parasympathetic nervous system, slowing our body down, which is why many forms of meditation involve extended exhalations.  (Sapolsky, 2004, p. 48)  Are you new to mindfulness or lacking some good breathing exercises? For an introduction to mindfulness and meditation, I would recommend The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh, which is available on Amazon.com for under $6.  For practical application, I would recommend The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions by Christopher K. Germer, PhD.  Germer’s book covers self-compassion, practicing loving-kindness, and customizing your self-compassion, with practical breathing and meditation exercises weaved into each chapter.  This book can also be found on Amazon.com for as little as $9.

14. Try yoga.  Yoga incorporates breathing and meditation with exercise to treat both our physical and mental self.  There are many different types, or teachings, of yoga, making it easy to find a style that is most fitting to your own.  Yoga is a great practical way to incorporate meditation and breathing exercises for those who are more active/need more of a physical release.

15.  Remind yourself of something that you admire about yourself.  Better yet, make a list of all the things you admire about yourself.

16. Call a friend.  That’s what they are there for!

17. Flex your creative muscles.  Whether is it dancing, painting, drawing, composing, creating, or even a DIY project – just let the energy flow out of your body and create something.  Creativity allows for a flexible release of energy!

18.  Take a short, 30 minutes nap.  Sometimes a little rest can turn a day around.

19.  Get more sleep! This is probably a no-brainer, but one that almost everyone is guilty of neglecting.  There are a million excuses for not going to bed early, but it is better to go to bed early and tackle unfinished projects in the morning when our minds our well rested, as we are better able to concentrate and are actually more productive (despite the fact that we swear we are not a morning person!) Are you a night owl? Start small and head to bed fifteen minutes earlier than you normally would.  The next week set your goal for 30 minutes earlier.

20. Take 30-minutes to yourself each morning.  Don’t do what you have to do, or what you should do, but do what you want to do.  We often spend most of our day doing things for others, and when there is finally time at the end of the day for ourselves, we are often too tired to take it.  Reverse this pattern and make the first thing you do in the day for you.

21. Plan your day.  Take a few minutes to plan out your busy day.  When you are prepared, things go much smoother and you are better prepared to deal with natural bumps that occur.

22.  Treat yourself to a massage.  Only have a couple of minutes, or are trying to save money? Even little, self-administered massages are great.  Try gently massaging your temples, nose, or scalp when you are under stress.  A scalp massage would also go great with a nice hot shower, recommended in #24.

23. Immerse yourself in nature.  There is something about our natural environment that brings a sense of relaxation and grounds us.  When you are stressed, surround yourself with nature.  If you only have five minutes at work or with the kids, go for a brief walk outside, eat your lunch on the grass, or just enjoy the breeze from an open window (We rely on our air conditioning systems way too often!).  Do you have more time? Go on hike, enjoy a lake, or head to the ocean.  In my opinion, nature’s most calming element is rain.  Next time it rains, take five or ten minutes to enjoy it in its entirety.  Open the window (you can lay down a towel to protect the window sill or floor), and smell the scent of fresh rain.  Feel the cool, humid air rush in.  If you’re really brave, sit outside when it rains and feel the raindrops bounce off your body.

24.  Take a nice, long, hot bath or shower.  Not the kind of shower that you take to do the everyday scrub down.  Take a shower just to feel warm water run over your skin, and focus on how your muscles relax as you feel the beads of water drip down.

25. Create a new space.  This depends on the space and the amount of freedom you have, but try changing the space you are in.  Re-arrange the furniture, reorganize, or change the décor.  If you really have a lot of flexibility, be bold and repaint the room.  Changing the space you are in will also change the energy and feel that accompanies the room. If you are questioning this one, think about the advertising business.  There is a whole industry built around creating different feelings and messages by creative placement.

Do you have any other great suggestions that I missed? Please, let me know! Pass along what great de-stressing mini-tips you may have as well!

Sapolsky, R. M. (2004).  Why zebras don’t get ulcers.  New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

Vanessa Lemminger, M.A., LMFT 53937
Marriage and Family Therapist

© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What Is Loss?

What is Loss?

Death.  It’s one of the most taboo subjects.  If you ever want to end a conversation, start talking about death.  Death and the sadness that occurs afterward, are often met by friends and loved ones with attempts to return to happiness as fast as possible, instead of attempting to understand how to cope with the experience.  Avoidance is even found in graduate-level counseling programs, where grief/loss is completely removed from the required coursework.  Despite all of our avoiding, death and loss surround us and occur more often than we realize.

Loss can be camouflaged, but it lies in almost everything we experience.  Loss of identity is a common hidden loss.  This can occur for many reasons.  For example, after a divorce, many people experience a loss of identity as they transition from a married couple to a single individual.  It grows increasingly difficult the longer a marriage lasts, since the longer someone has held an identity, the harder it becomes to transition to a new identity.  Loss of identity can also be seen in children during divorces.  For some children, the change that occurs may mean taking a new role in the family, transitioning from son to “man of the household.”  This switch can cause stress, conflict, and confusion for the family member who is forced to take on a role they are not normally accustomed to.  Losing a job can also cause identity loss, particularly with men.  Society has labeled men with the social role of “provider.”  Working and providing for a family is an identity for many men, and when that is taken away via job loss, men sometimes have a difficult time adjusting to a new role as dependent.

Another common but hidden loss is the relocation of a home.  This loss is probably more common today as many families are forced to move because of the inability to afford their current bills, job relocation, or foreclosure due to a poor economy.  For many families, the home symbolizes much more than just a roof and four walls; it can hold history, memories, and an ongoing restructuring project and result of hard work.  Losing a home or being forced to move can be devastating and leave one with feelings of intense loss.   Our homes are also our place of comfort.  Do you remember your first move? How long did it take you to make your new place feel like “home”? This feeling of comfort is often grieved as well when losing a home.

Loss of ability is another example that can occur for people with chronic or terminal medical conditions.  For instance, some diseases like Multiple Sclerosis (MS), which results in loss of muscle control, slowly strips away many abilities that a person once had.  Just one month after diagnosis, an individual may lose their ability to sleep comfortably.  Months later, they may lose their ability to walk without assistance.  Next goes the ability to walk at all, being bound to a wheel chair.  Loss of vision, the ability to control bowel movements, and the strength to feed oneself can also occur.  Each of these different stages in the disease results in a loss, and those individuals experience grief during each individual stage.  [I would like to note that this is a generalized example based on a severe course of MS.  Not all individuals with MS will experience these symptoms, and not all courses of MS follow the same path.]  Sudden loss due to either disease or tragic event is also a loss that requires grieving.

As one can see, there are many types of losses that are not the actual loss of a human life.  People experience these losses many times over, but often confuse the experience with other emotions.  Are we really mad that the staircase in the new house is placed in such an awkward place, or are we just grieving the loss of what was once our place of comfort and security? Are you really upset that your partner took on more hours at work, leaving no time to help you around the house? Or are you having a hard time transitioning out of the role in the family as “provider”?

One may answer, “What does it matter? Regardless of how I got there, I’m left feeling mad!” One cannot begin grieving something they have not yet acknowledged has been lost.  Appropriately defining these moments as a loss ― whether it be a divorce, losing a job or a house, gaining a new identity as a single, taking on a new role in the family, or declining physical abilities due to a chronic medical condition ― will help one gain a clearer understanding of what they are experiencing, and help one to better cope with the feelings they are having.

It is also important to recognize the actual loss to allow for the time and space to grieve.  Although it may not be seen by others as an “actual” loss, what was experienced is, in fact, a loss and can leave one with the exact same feelings.  Taking care of oneself during this difficult time is not only important, but essential.

Vanessa Lemminger M.A., LMFT 53937
Marriage and Family Therapist

Check out my blog post featured on the R.A.R.E. Project site!


© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.