About Megan Sigmon-Olsen, M.S.W., LICSW

I am a psychotherapist specializing in teen therapy and various forms of family therapy. I most enjoy working with families. Located in St. Paul, MN.

My Spring Break Was Cancelled 2021

So your spring break was cancelled. Possibly for the second time.

The first lockdown in Minnesota was in March 2020, right around spring break time. And experts still advise against travel. But you definitely deserve a break.

Here are some ideas to make the best of your spring break 2021:

Travel virtually

Here is a list of virtual tours that you can do of museums, landmarks, national parks, and more. https://www.globotreks.com/tips/best-virtual-tours-world/

If you virtually travel abroad, really get into the experience by cooking some of what would be local cuisine.

Download the World Walking app

Take a walk somewhere local but be transported to someplace else through virtual tours of places all around the world.

Do a scavenger hunt

Download the Let’s Roam app and do scavenger hunts in Minneapolis or St. Paul with friends.

Go on a staycation

Get creative here! You can create a paradise at home!

Get into your bathing suit, put up pictures of beaches, lay on a towel in your living room, decorate with seashells, play ocean sounds, light an ocean scented candle, and make tropical smoothies.

Find a local event

The Wintertime LED Light Show is happening through the end of March. https://www.exploreminnesota.com/event/wintertime-led-light-show/25017

Start planning your spring break for 2022

Just planning a vacation can bring joy. Create a vision board of your dream vacation on Pinterest. Gather ideas of places you would like to visit and what sights you would like to see!

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: COVID-19 has taken so much from us.

So much that we were looking forward to, like trips, got cancelled. It’s okay to feel mad and disappointed about that.

And you can also make your spring break as fun and as relaxing as possible.

What will you do for spring break 2021? Connect with us and share on Sentier’s Instagram.

My Parent Died: What do I do?

They say it’s the mother (or father) of all losses. Nothing can truly prepare you for it, no matter your age. But when you’re a teen and your parent dies, it can be very disruptive to an otherwise normal process.

In adolescence – that sweet spot between childhood and adulthood – one of the things you naturally do is separate yourself from your parents.

You want to explore your own interests, spend time with your friends, figure out what you believe about life, and make your own decisions. It’s part of human development to want independence and to rely less on your parents!

coping with the loss of a parentAt the same time, parents are usually loosening the reins and giving you space in order to help you transition from the kid they’ve known into the adult you’ll be become.

If a parent dies, you are forced to do without them instead of slowly separating as you become an adult.

If you’ve been in conflict with your parent, which is also totally normal in adolescence, you likely have things left unsaid or undone.

Those “what ifs” and even regrets are all part of grief. It is important to know what normal grief looks like so that you can learn to live in a new way.

Disclaimer: We recognize not everyone has a healthy parent relationship. It’s natural to grieve whether or not you had a close bond with the parent who died.

So, what is “normal grief” for a teenager? There are four big things we tend to see in therapy:

  1. Under Construction. The teen years are all about building, much like a construction project, but when you lose a parent, it can change the whole plan. The solid foundation your parent may have built for you can shatter. If you had an unhealthy or abusive parent relationship, it can feel devastating not to ever get that chance. You might feel like you aren’t sure where to start. Grief becomes part of the (re) building process.
  2. Intense Emotions. Grief is a very complex process that is hard to control. Most teens feel confused and lost when their parent dies. It is common to have symptoms of depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and lots of crying. Anger is a very normal part of the grieving process as is disappointment. Parent loss can lead to uncertainty about who you are without your parent, and many grieving teens struggle with self esteem. It’s common to cycle through emotions, and they generally become less intense over time.
  3. Isolation. Death is hard, and we don’t always do a very good job of talking about it “in public”. Adults can be some of the worst offenders. Some will believe you don’t want or need to talk to an adult about it. Others may try to keep your time together lighthearted since they assume you’re sad the rest of the time or need a “break” from your grief. Unless they have experienced grief themselves, some of your friends are likely so uncomfortable with the idea of death that they avoid it altogether and never bring it up. All of that can lead you to feel alone.
  4. Academic Ups and Downs. It can be hard to focus on school work when you’re grieving. Afterall, you don’t get to choose when you are or aren’t grieving. If your parent had been really involved with your school, you might not yet know how to keep on top of your work on your own. Other teens pour themselves into school work as a distraction and actually perform better in school than before their parent died. Whatever it is for you, maintaining structure in your life by at least getting to school each day and interacting with peers will help in the long run.

how to deal with the loss of a loved oneWhile all normal, none of those things is easy. With support and understanding, you will learn how to function with the new normal in your life.

Peer support groups can be very helpful as can talking about it with a school counselor, clergy person, family member, or therapist.

Grief takes a winding course and it changes over time, just like being a teen, so the most important thing is to try and recognize when you’re grieving and be gentle with yourself.

Ask for what you need from others. While no one can replace your parent, you don’t have to do it alone.

What have you found to be helpful on your healing journey?

Blog written by therapist Sarah Souder-Johnson, MEd, LPCC

Gratitude During COVID Pandemic

Historically, as the calendar year comes to an end, I take time to reflect on the past year. I ask myself: What did I learn? How did I grow? What ways did I struggle? I create a mental Top Ten list of my favorite memories I long to hold forever.

I pause to honor the difficult memories, too, and consider what’s left to heal. Then, I take those reflections and allow them to help me consider goals for the new year.

As 2020 neared its end, I found myself avoiding that tradition. This past year felt like too much to process properly. I felt stuck. Then, as the great prophet Oprah Winfrey says, I had…

This tradition involves practicing GRATITUDE!!!

Ahem…..Confession.

Yes. It’s true.  My gratitude practice struggled in 2020.

This year brought heavy grief on a global, national, state, local, and personal level. There was no manual on how to be a mom, partner, friend, daughter, sister, teacher (not self-inflicted), or therapist during a pandemic.

Gratitude is high on my personal values list and typically feels second nature to practice. However, sometimes the things that once felt  easy can feel almost impossible in times of crisis.

As the dumpster fire of 2020 continued to spread, this value was challenged for me. I could always force myself to find something to be grateful for, but the key word here is FORCE. What once felt familiar, was now a struggle. I wasn’t feeling grateful for this pandemic year.  So how can I practice it, if I don’t feel it?

As I processed these thoughts with my best friend, he said, “Thankfulness is a feeling, gratitude is an action.” This brought my second ah-ha moment.  My ACTIONS of gratitude were lacking because I didn’t always FEEL it.  With this revelation, I researched ways to jump start my gratitude actions in 2021:

“Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.”
Henri Frederic Amiel

  1. Keep a gratitude journal.
  2. Consider the small things; they add up.
  3. Complete a random act of kindness.
  4. Take 2 min to think about someone who inspires you.
  5. Say it out loud: Tell someone you love something you are grateful for. Tell them you love them while you’re at it too.
  6. Write a thank you note to someone.
  7. Volunteer your time for a cause you are passionate about.
  8. Create a gratitude jar.  Write the items you’re thankful for and place them in a jar, read as needed.
  9. Create a piece of art to represent something you are thankful for.
  10. Build routine: pick one consistent time of the day to practice.

If you have also struggled to feel thankful this year in the midst of grief and loss, consider trying one of these action steps to increase your gratefulness. What other ways do you practice gratitude?

Blog written by Sentier therapist, Alyssa Haggerty

Home for the Holidays… Still.

santa with face mask

It was great to see how creative families were in making Halloween an exciting holiday, even with COVID-19 restrictions. There were candy chutes, scavenger hunts, and small get-togethers with safe “pods” of people.

With winter holidays approaching, feelings of disappointment might be coming up because you can’t see family or do certain traditions.

Many of you have also been home for the past nine months, which means coming home for the holidays just isn’t the same. It is important to acknowledge that loss and feelings of disappointment. It is also important to try and embrace the current situation.

Just because the holiday season looks different this year, doesn’t mean it can’t have the usual holiday cheer! And hey, you might even create a new tradition!

things to do for christmas

I have 14 ideas for you on how to have a safe and fun holiday this season:

  1. Have a virtual ugly sweater party. You can make DIY ugly sweaters or if crafting is not up your alley, there are many available for purchase online. At your virtual party you can vote on who is the “ugliest.”
  2. Do a Secret Santa gift exchange. You can draw names virtually using a website such as drawnames.com. Deliver gifts secretly and follow social distancing by dropping them off on the giftee’s doorstep or mail the gift anonymously.
  3. Have a virtual family dinner. The holidays are often a time to get together and enjoy a big meal. Before the holiday dinner share recipes or do driveway drop offs so the family favorite dishes can be enjoyed. Share the meal or dessert together via Zoom.
  4. Watch your favorite holiday movies. You can still watch your favorite holiday movies! If you want you can discuss them with your friends and family while you watch using Teleparty.
  5. Bake cookies. Baking cookies is always a classic. Families often have their own traditions around baking cookies for the holidays. This year you could bake them together virtually and deliver them to friends and family.
  6. Go to the St. Paul Winter Carnival. The Saint Paul Winter Carnival is happening this year with COVID-19 restrictions.
  7. Go to the GLOW Holiday Festival. The Minnesota State Fairgrounds is having a drive-thru event that will include a light display, State Fair food court, and more.
  8. Go to a drive-thru light display. Severs Holiday Lights (Shakopee, MN), Christmas in Color (Shakopee, MN), Bentlyville (Duluth, MN), Sleepy Eye in Motion (Sleepy Eye, MN), Sam’s Christmas Village (Somerset, WI) and Christmas Village (Chippewa Falls, WI) are having drive-thru light displays this year. Get everyone a warm beverage, load up the car, put on holiday music, and enjoy a cozy ride in the car.
  9. Look at light displays in residential neighborhoods. Many houses in the Twin Cities have impressive light displays. Here is a 2020 light display guide.
  10. Attend an outdoor/virtual Holiday Market. Holiday markets are great ways to check out goods from local vendors. You can get gifts for everyone on your list. If visiting in person, don’t forget to wear your mask.
  11. Attend a virtual event. Holidazzle has gone virtual this year. Check out the link for more information: https://www.holidazzle.com/
  12. Check out Gingerbread Wonderland at the Norway House. This exhibit of elaborate gingerbread houses is available to see in-person by appointment from November 6-January 2 or virtually beginning December 6.
  13. See a play. The Ordway and the Guthrie are having virtual performances this year.
  14. Embrace Hygge. Hygge is a defining characteristic of Danish culture that means: a quality of coziness that results in feelings of contentment and well-being. Read more to capture this feeling in your life: https://www.countryliving.com/life/a41187/what-is-hygge-things-to-know-about-the-danish-lifestyle-trend/

christmas lights st paul

There are many creative ways to make the best of the holidays this year. What ideas do you have?

Blog was written by therapist, Andrea Schroeder, MS, LPCC

College Students and COVID-19

covid-19 memeTo say that it is a weird year for college students is an understatement.

When I think of college, I think of it being a time to meet new people and “find yourself.” I think of busy cafeterias and full lecture halls. This year schools look a lot different.

Some schools are fully online, while others are doing in-person classes with restrictions, and others are doing a hybrid model. Some students are choosing to defer their enrollment altogether because none of these options seem desirable.

College students know they won’t get the typical college experience because of the pandemic and want to wait to attend school until they can.

I remember my first night of college. My wing had a “wing event” where all my hallmates went to get ice cream at Sonic together. Around October there was an event in which all organizations on campus set up booths and you could walk around and see what interested you. I signed up for Psychology Club. Events such as these are online or cancelled this year, which makes it more difficult to try new things and meet new people.

how to deal with covid-19 in college

Whether your classes are virtual, in-person, or you decided to defer a year, you are undoubtedly experiencing grief. Grief does not just occur when there is a loss of a loved one.

People have feelings of grief when life goes differently than they envisioned or there is a loss of any kind. There are so many losses when it comes to COVID. School is different, sports are cancelled, events have been called off, we can’t see friends, etc.

Fortunately, something that helps with grief is gratitude. Since it’s November, expressing gratitude often happens if not personally, at a family holiday or tradition.  Sometimes it can be hard to think of something that you are grateful for, so here are some tips to start your gratitude practice.

Gratitude Tips:

  1. Write down three things that you are grateful for each day
  2. Let people in your life know what you appreciate about them
  3. Make a collage of things you are grateful for; engage someone in your bubble to clip magazines together!
  4. Try to think of the positives in negative situations (eg. being able to stay connected with friends and family through virtual get-togethers)
  5. Make a gratitude practice part of your routine by thinking about what you are grateful for at the same time every day (such as meal time or before bed)
  6. Post what you are grateful for on social media
  7. Expressing gratitude is not intended to minimize your feelings of anxiety, sadness, etc. You can feel your feelings AND be grateful for something.

COVID is hard and it has taken and will take a lot away from us. Despite this, what is something you can find to be grateful for?

Also see Preventing Social Isolation to Protect Our Mental Health


Blog written by Andrea Schroeder, MS, LPCC, therapist at Sentier Psychotherapy

Will Seasonal Affective Disorder Arrive Early During COVID?

Winter… ready or not, here it comes!

With winter comes beautiful snow falls, cozy sweaters, and warm cups of cocoa around the fireplace. But let’s be real, winters can also be long, dark, and take a toll on our mental health.

People often describe getting “winter blues,” also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, and experiencing feelings of sadness, changes in mood, low energy, and difficulty sleeping. In addition to the change in season, the uncertainty that comes with the Coronavirus pandemic might add stress and have negative impacts on our health, schooling, work-life balance, and ability to get a good night’s sleep.

sunshine and your health

With this in mind, now is the time to begin preparing ourselves for the effects of these seasonal changes and continued social isolation related to Covid-19 in the winter months. Ways to fight against symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder:

  • Get as much outdoor time and sunlight as possible
  • Find creative ways to stay connected with loved ones
  • Exercise
  • Practice good sleep hygiene

Another way to help manage “winter blues” and increased stressors, is taking the right vitamins and supplements. Vitamin D is sometimes known as “the sunshine vitamin” due to its production in the body in response to sunlight. Vitamin D helps our immune system fight off disease and builds healthy bones. But did you know, vitamin D is also linked to improved mood and reducing symptoms related to depression?

hello sunshine

Vitamin D and Depression

Researchers have found links between vitamin D deficiencies and increased levels of anxiety and depression. Studies show that individuals taking vitamin D reported a decrease in their depression. Because increasing your sun exposure during the winter months is difficult, taking a vitamin D supplement may be a healthy alternative to getting that needed dose of sunshine. Vitamin D can also be found in foods such as:

  • fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna
  • egg yolks
  • cheese
  • beef liver
  • mushrooms
  • fortified milk
  • fortified cereals and juices

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/161618

vitamin d supplements

Can Vitamin D Supplements Help Fight Depression?

Health professionals recommend taking magnesium along with your vitamin D to help support your body in absorbing the vitamin and receiving its full benefits. Taking vitamin D and magnesium supplements are best paired with other practices, such as those listed above, to help treat depression.

When considering taking vitamin D and magnesium, be sure to consult with your doctor to ensure you take the correct amount and consider all potential effects to your individual health.

How do you plan to combat winter blues? Do you take any vitamins or supplements that are helpful for your mood and overall health?

This blog was written by Sentier therapist, Tana Welter, MSW

Connect with us on social media and tell us. We’d love to hear from you.

Virtual School Survival Kit for 2020

school post covid-19

The school year is underway, and as expected, it has been hard! Whether you have sent your kiddos back to school in person, or are trying distance learning, this school year has been unlike any year before.

Unfortunately, there is no magic wand that will make this virtual learning school year completely pain-free but here a few tools that could help:

  1. Set up a “school space”
  2. Back to school shopping.
  3. Set your child up for success.
  4. Emotions chart
  5. Patience

Set up a “school space”
There’s no need to search through Pinterest for hours on how to set up the ideal remote learning environment and create a space that is designated just for school time. This allows your kiddo to “go to school”/get in the mindset of school and be able to leave the stress of school at the end of their work periods. Let your kid have some choice over what goes into the space, maybe they get to pick out which chair they want, the headphones they use for their zoom calls, or a picture on the wall. This could help them get excited for an unexpected school year.

Back to school shopping.

If you haven’t already and it is in your budget, go back to school shopping. This could be done virtually (yay for online shopping!) or masked up at the store. Back to school shopping is a tradition in many families and may help your child feel some sense of normalcy about returning to school. This will also encourage your child to “get ready” for school each day, which is important so your child can feel their best when school starts.

Set your child up for success.

As we have all learned over the past several months, sitting in front of a long zoom call can be hard. Support you kiddo in staying regulated by setting them up with some tools.

  • Yoga ball or Chair band. Sitting still is hard work, giving your child a way to move their body while they work online can support them in staying engaged. For a list of options check out hobbr.com.
  • Play-Doh/putty. Having something to move in your hands can make listening a lot easier. Consider some Play-Doh or putty for your child to work with while they listen in their school meetings.
  • Gum and crunch snacks. Gum can support kids in staying regulated and focused. An alternative if you are worried about where the gum might end up is crunchy snacks! Try veggie straws or carrot sticks.

chair band for kids  kids yoga ball

Emotions chart.

Consider hanging an emotion chart somewhere in your child’s school space. From the challenges of online learning to complications with internet connection speeds, this year is going to bring up a lot of emotions and children don’t always have the words to express these. Support them in their social and emotional learning as well as their academics! With a quick google search you can find all sorts of different feelings charts.

emotions chart

Patience.

Have patience with your child, your child’s teacher, and most importantly with yourself. This is hard on everyone! Get extra support for yourself and your child(ren) when needed.

What are you doing to make this school year a success for yourself and your child?

Blog written by Annalise John, MSW, LICSW

Home/About this blog

Families are our passion! Sentier Psychotherapy is a group of therapists in St. Paul, MN who work with all ages of clients. We all write entries and respond to comments that you leave us.  We use this blog to share parenting tips, information about family therapy and adolescent/teen counseling, and many other things. Much of this blog is dedicated to teenagers and parenting teenagers because we spend a great deal of time helping teens and families of teens. We typically write about topics that can’t be ignored in our practice. We can’t ignore these topics because many of you come to us to discuss these issues.

Please check back periodically if these topics are of interest to you. We’d love to hear your thoughts about the topics I write about or requests that you might have for our next blog post. Please email me directly if you have a subject area that you would like me to blog about: msigmon[at]sentiertherapy[dot]com

Megan Sigmon-Olsen, M.S.W., LICSW
670 South Cleveland Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55116

www.sentiertherapy.com

Sentier Psychotherapy Stillwater MN

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