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Beating the Holiday Blues


With the holidays in full swing many people find themselves battling depression and anxiety – sometimes referred to as the Holiday Blues. While everyone is trying to “be merry” for the holidays, it can become overwhelming to participate in the festivities while getting long to-do lists finished. On top of that, the days are shorter and holiday spending can increase financial burdens.

Before letting the holidays get you in a slump try these five tips, from Sierra Tucson:

  1. Take a Stroll – It’s no secret that walking is good for your health, but taking a 10-minute stroll three times a day is therapeutic too. Just a few brief doses of sunlight throughout the day can lift your mood dramatically, especially during the winter months.
  2. Play with a Furry Friend – Whether you own a pet, borrow a friend’s pet, or volunteer at a local animal shelter, enjoying a few minutes of pet-friendly playtime each day can help. These lovable companions serve as great reminders to stay in the moment.
  3. Book a Therapeutic Massage  There can be great power in using integrative treatment for recovery from mental health conditions. Studies have shown that human touch not only eases aches and pains, but helps to relieve depression and anxiety as well. So treat yourself to a massage!
  4. Schedule a Coffee Date – Surround yourself with positive people, places, and things. Regular social contact with loved ones is a surefire way to boost one’s mood and share a few laughs.
  5. Strive for Balance – Often the holidays are jam-packed with parties and obligations. Staying balanced with one’s time is essential when dealing with mental health challenges. Resting the body is an excellent way to practice self-love.

TAG Counseling wishes you Happy Holidays! We encourage you to do everything you can to stay positive and balanced this holiday season. If your teen or young adult child is having a hard time with the holiday season, call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Managing Holiday Expectations


The holidays are a wonderful time of year. However, they often come with high personal expectations of buying the perfect gifts, participating in holiday parties and seeing family members not frequently seen. The prospect of facing the holidays can be daunting for everyone – and even more so for people who struggle with depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental health concerns.

As the holiday season is upon us, it is important to remember that you might not always be able to control what happens during the holidays but you can control your reaction to the events by managing your holiday expectations. We’d like to share five ways to keep your holiday expectations in check, from a blog written by Lucida Treatment Center.

How to Keep Your Holiday Expectations in Check

1. Don’t buy into idealized holiday notions. That holiday special where everyone is enjoying a “Hallmark moment,” singing carols in the softly falling snow? That’s a TV show. The snow is made out of plastic, and if you’re comparing your holidays to scripted ones with professional actors being directed on Hollywood sound stages, you’re setting yourself up for inevitable disappointment.

“When people are bombarded with commercials, greeting cards, and movies showing perfect families and friendships, they may start to question the quality of their own relationships,” said Adam K. Anderson, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, in an interview with Shape magazine. “This can make people feel lonely and less fulfilled.”

Life isn’t perfect, and holidays are part of life. Embrace their imperfections.

2. Be OK with celebrating your own way, even if it’s unconventional. One Thanksgiving, about fifteen years ago, I found myself all alone — just my dog and me — with no dinner invitation. Rather than feeling sorry for myself and spending the day drinking while watching football, I decided to take my dog for a hike in the mountains instead. We had a great time, and on the way home I stopped at a truck stop and had a turkey platter at the counter while enjoying an interesting conversation with the waitress stuck working that day. I now look back fondly on that day as one of the best Thanksgivings of my life. But it never would’ve happened if I hadn’t adjusted my expectations of what a “real” Thanksgiving was supposed to be.

3. Make it acceptable to limit the number of engagements you attend. Count yourself lucky if you’re invited to a lot of holiday celebrations. But holiday get-togethers can be time consuming, stressful and even terrifying if you suffer from social anxiety disorder. Decide how many events you can reasonably make and tolerate, and stick to that number rather than spreading yourself too thin. Ask yourself this: If a holiday celebration or tradition is causing you more stress than joy, is it really worth attending or keeping?

4. Know that it’s possible to enjoy the holidays without alcohol or drugs. “Taking the edge off” with a few drinks during the holiday season can quickly get out of hand. If you’re in recovery, it can be incredibly tempting to use alcohol or drugs when everyone else around you is using, too. And if you suffer from anxiety or depression, it’s tempting to turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate during the holidays. But the holidays can be endured and even enjoyed while sober. Millions of people do it every year, so why can’t you be one of them.

5, Don’t expect family members to be different because it’s the holidays. One of the biggest stressors during the holidays is getting together with family and quickly realizing why it is that you only see them during the holidays. But you can only be you, so let go of any preconceived notions of how you’d like them to be. That judgmental relative across the table making disparaging remarks about your lifestyle won’t be around forever, so do your best to enjoy their company and pass them the potatoes with a smile.

We hope you have an enjoyable holiday season. If your teen or young adult child is having a particularly difficult time around the holidays, or you feel as though their mental health condition is worsening, call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Gifts with Screen Time Rules

Gift boxes with bow on wooden background

The holidays are approaching quickly and with the merriment of the season comes purchasing gifts for loved ones. Top gifts for our teens are often something tech-related – whether a new laptop, gaming device or the newest cell phone. While these are all great gift ideas, they bring up an important point that should be considered – what are your family’s screen time rules? Or, if you don’t have any set up – does this gift being purchased require a conversation about screen time and setting limits?

This week’s Tech Talk Tuesday put out by Screenagers gives an excellent list of discussion points that family rules can be based on for technology.

Are you and your family on the same page with screen time rules?

  • Bedtime: Is there a time devices go off? Can devices be in the bedroom? Where do they go in the house if not in the bedroom? (Including television)
  • Homework: Can you have a computer out while doing homework? Can you have a phone out? Can you respond to texts, messages, Snapchats while doing homework?
  • Gaming: Are there rules around amount of time and or type of gaming? How about where you can game?
  • Social Media: Are there rules around time spent? Specific apps you can or can’t use? Are there times you can’t use social media?
  • Passwords: Do the parents in the house have passwords to every device and every account?
  • Meals: Can you have your device out at meals?

Technology gifts are fun and exciting, and as you purchase them we encourage you to set healthy family rules surrounding screen time. If you feel as though your teen or young adult has a hard time managing technology appropriately contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation and guidance to the best treatment option.

November is Adoption Awareness Month


November is a month of giving thanks for the blessings in our lives, and one of the biggest blessings in life is family. Many families come together through adoption and November celebrates that with Adoption Awareness Month. Below is an article that blends our learning from the past with the knowledge of today’s research, providing us a broader perspective on adoption, written by Thomas Ahern, a former School Psychologist, and adoptee, who is Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at CALO – a residential therapeutic school in Missouri.

If adoption complications affect a loved one in your life, we invite you to reach out to Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC, at (678) 297-0708. Tamara can professionally assess your adopted teen or young adult’s situation and use her expertise and knowledge in guiding you to getting the best help.

A Briefing on Adoption

The past 30 years have seen major changes in infant adoption practices. Parents who adopted children born between 1940 and the early 1980s in the United States grew up in a world in which adoption agencies and the general public strongly believed that maintaining absolute secrecy and cutting off all connection with the child’s birth family were essential for protecting the child’s emotional well-being (Carp, 1998; Herman, 2008). By the 1960s, however, some adult adoptees and birth parents stepped forth from their shadows of shame to state publicly that the secrets and relinquishment designed to protect them had instead harmed them. Although some people continued to argue in favor of traditional confidential adoption practices, a large body of literature began to document the deleterious impacts of secrecy and cutoffs in adoption practices developed (Hollinger, Baran, Pannor, Appell, & Modell, 2004; Rosenberg & Groze, 1997). As a result, by the 1970s some agencies began to experiment with offering expectant parents who were considering adoption the opportunity to meet their baby’s prospective adoptive parents. Today, although some remain skeptical about the feasibility of open adoption (Brown, Ryan, & Pushkal, 2008), adoptions in which biological and adoptive parents exchange identifying information and have some form of contact with each other are the norm (Vandivere, Malm, & Radel, 2009). This is a change from the days when confidential adoption was the only option available and biological and adoptive parents had no choice but to accept total secrecy, anonymity, and separation, regardless of whether this was what they wanted for themselves or their child.

Today’s open adoptions vary widely. Some involve minimal disclosure of identifying information exchanged through an intermediary (typically an agency or attorney). Others include full disclosure of all identifying information and ongoing contact via face-to-face visits (Grotevant & McRoy, 1998).

The array of options between these two ends of the continuum is vast. These changes in adoption practices have paralleled changes in the larger society. Single parenthood has lost much of its former stigma, and children born outside of marriage are no longer labeled “bastards” or “illegitimate” (Collins, 2009). In addition, science has amply demonstrated the lifesaving importance of knowing one’s genetic heritage to prevent and cure diseases.

In fact, a growing body of literature suggests that any child separated from its birthmother can have a traumatic effect. For some people, this is old news (“The Primal Wound” 1993.) To some, it’s a startlingly new concept. The mainstream view is that adoption is a happy event: a child needing a family gets one. How, then, is adoption a trauma? Scientific research now reveals that as early as the second trimester, the human fetus is capable of auditory processing and in fact, is capable of processing rejection in utero. In addition to the rejection and abandonment felt by the newborn adoptee or any age adoptee for that matter, it must be recognized that the far greater trauma often times occurs in the way in which the mind and body system of the newborn is incapable of processing the loss of the biological figure. Far beyond any cognitive awareness, this experience is stored deep within the cells of the body, routinely leading to states of anxiety and depression for the adopted child later in life. This trauma can affect children’s brains, bodies, behavior, and ways of thinking. Ongoing trauma often disrupts children’s sense of security, safety, and sense of themselves and alters the way they see and respond to people and situations in their lives.

Most adoptees heal just fine from the trauma of separation, but some struggle with trust issues throughout their lives, and have a hard time beginning or ending relationships. Some are challenged with depression, anxiety, and more, throughout their lives. There is a spectrum of resilience among adopted people, and no doubt among first parents. It will take time, patience, and often therapeutic support to address and overcome them. As the Child Welfare Information Gateway fact sheet, Parenting a Child Who Has Experienced Trauma, states: “Parenting a child who has experienced trauma may require a shift from seeing a ‘bad kid’ to a kid who has had bad things happen to him.”

Effect of trauma on brain development

A recent and growing body of research into children’s brain development is shedding new light on the ways that early adverse experiences including adoption changes the structure and chemical activity of the brain and the resulting emotional and behavioral functioning of the child. Research is shifting the way that professionals view and treat children who have experienced trauma by providing biological explanations for what had traditionally been described in psychological, emotional, and behavioral terms.

How can a parent help a child recover and heal?

Experienced professionals and adoptive parents have shared the following tips about supporting a child who has experienced relinquishment trauma:

  • Be patient and consistent and do not take children’s behavior personally. Behavior modification techniques are only minimally effective.
  • A more effective, but counter institutive approach is to use empathy, understanding and compassion to help heal the shame that goes along with relinquishment.
  • Do not to expect to learn upfront about all the trauma the child or youth has experienced. Some of the trauma’s effects may not become apparent for months or even years and most of it is preverbal and doesn’t respond well to verbal based interventions.
  • Never be afraid to reach out for help and advice from others. Parent support groups can be a great source of information.
  • Work hard to understand the trauma and how the trauma affects your child. Not all cases are text book, but doing your research can definitely help.
  • Utilize and seek out community resources. Training may be available through hospitals, school programs, therapeutic, and private agencies.
  • Take the long view. The trauma didn’t happen overnight and the healing won’t either.

World Adoption Day is Tuesday, November 15th. A positive movement to celebrate if you have been impacted by adoption typically celebrated by;

  1. Drawing a smiley face on your hand.
  2. Taking a photo of yourself and loved ones with the smiley face palm.
  3. Upload the photo to social media using the hashtag#worldadoptionday.

National Adoption day is Saturday the 19th. To learn more go to;
Primarily focused on children in Foster Care in need of a family.
National Adoption Day is affiliated/sponsored by the Dave Thomas Foundation.


The New Trend: Sextortion

Selfie in bed

Now, more than ever before, teenagers have almost complete access to the internet. Most have smart phones with a connection at their fingertips all the time. Unfortunately, what can come with that can be dangerous. Namely child sexual exploitation, which is becoming an increasingly pervasive problem.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children discusses trends they are tracking on their website, “The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline receives reports regarding child sexual exploitation, including “sextortion”. Sextortion is a relatively new form of sexual exploitation that occurs primarily online and in which non-physical forms of coercion are utilized, such as blackmail, to acquire sexual content (photos/videos) of the child, obtain money from the child or engage in sex with the child.”

The following is a Public Service Announcement put together by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which they created along with the Department of Justice to demonstrate how a teenager was blackmailed into sending more and more explicit images and videos to someone she met online. Click here to watch the video.

The FBI has put out the following suggestions for parents to help protect against sextortion:

For Parents :

  • Supervise children’s computer or mobile device usage. Devices like smart phones are more difficult to manage due to their mobility and technical capabilities. As teenagers’ brains are not yet fully developed, they often struggle with anticipating consequences or impulse control. It’s important to discuss with your children appropriate uses for devices when they are given access to them. This includes communicating with others online and sending photos. Parents may want to maintain their child’s online account access information with the child’s understanding that the parent can log in at any time.
  • Communicate with your children. Have age-appropriate discussions with your child about the dangers associated with communicating with unknown people online, sending photos, or engaging in other risky behavior online. In an effort to protect children from online predators, it’s important to educate them about sextortion and the motivations of those who extort children. Let your children know they can come to you without fear of reprisal, and that you have a genuine interest in their safety and online activities. Those exploited through these crimes are victims, no matter what they did or how they responded to the threat.
  • Layer security. Employ basic technology security measures. Use strong passwords and update software regularly. Never open attachments to e-mails unless you are certain of the sender. Use a firewall, anti-malware software, and consider use of encryption for your hard drive. Keep in mind that some malware attacks are targeted; meaning criminals may customize their tools so that more simplistic anti-malware programs do not detect them and victims are more apt to take the bait. Do not assume technology alone will protect you; you must also do your part to protect yourself.

The trend is frightening. If you know of a teenager in your life who you feel might be a victim of exploitation, please seek help for them immediately. Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 is available to help assess the severity of your teen’s situation and guide you to getting not just the right help, but the best help.