Jessica Sweeney of SunGlow Counseling: “Feelings are temporary”

Feelings are temporary: Feelings come and go like waves on the ocean. Sometimes they are big and over-powering, other times they may be small and manageable. They can be rough, or they can be smooth. Either way, like the ocean, our feelings are always changing and evolving. By reminding ourselves that our feelings through a […]

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Feelings are temporary: Feelings come and go like waves on the ocean. Sometimes they are big and over-powering, other times they may be small and manageable. They can be rough, or they can be smooth. Either way, like the ocean, our feelings are always changing and evolving. By reminding ourselves that our feelings through a simple self-affirmation such as “this feeling is temporary, I won’t feel this way forever,” can be a game changer. Just because you may be experiencing feelings that are uncomfortable, does not mean it is your ‘forever’.

As a part of my series about the things we can do to develop serenity and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Sweeney.

Jessica Sweeney is a Master’s-level, licensed mental health counselor (MA, LMHC, NCC) who specializes in trauma informed therapy. Sweeney works with adolescents, families, and individuals as well as those who identify as LGBTQIA and gender non-conforming. She owns her own private practice, Sunglow Counseling ( located in Stuart, FL and is in the process of completing her certification in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Absolutely, and thank you for taking the time to speak with me. While attending University of Florida, I worked at a career counseling center as an undergrad and all my supervisors were counselors. During this time, my family suffered a sudden and tragic loss and I sought out my own therapy, receiving much-needed support from the team at work. Very simply, the therapist I worked with changed my life and I made the decision that I too wanted to help others in that same capacity.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Early in my career, it was a goal of mine to specialize in trauma informed care and after learning more about EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), I felt this was the right path for me both personally and professionally. I can say, hands down, that continuing to move forward with my training in this area has been one of the most interesting and incredible experiences in my career thus far. I recall one client that I was working with, and in the middle of a session, they were able to break ground on a goal that they had been struggling to achieve. It was a moment and an experience that I will never forget, and I remember walking away feeling so empowered and inspired by what the client was able to achieve that day. As therapists, we do not always see the fruits of our client’s labor in a tangible way. And we know from the start that when our clients improve or meet their goals, it is usually time for them to discontinue therapy and allow them to move on — that is the ultimate goal. However, in the case of this client, I could clearly see the impact of just how powerful EMDR can be, and I was flooded with gratitude that I was able to be a participant in the client’s healing.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

For some time, the mental health profession has been consistently ranked among the most stressful careers, so it is important to look for ways to avoid burnout. First, I would suggest finding a strong supervisor or group of colleagues to seek out for ongoing supervision. This is a great way to stay accountable to yourself, and remaining engaged in that process can be a big help. This is especially important for anyone in private practice which can be extremely isolating and difficult when it comes to gaining additional insight and support as a company of one. Secondly, it is important to remember that our ability to do our work relies heavily on our ability to take care of ourselves too. Many of us forget that and hold ourselves to impossible standards, so we need to learn how to level set the expectations we set for ourselves. Lastly, it is important to remember that it is not just ok — but essential — to ask for help when we need it. Most of us find this difficult to do, but is critically important to avoid undue stress, fatigue, and exhaustion.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

The most important thing anyone in a leadership position can do to foster a positive work culture, is to maintain an open dialogue with your employees and listen to their ideas and concerns. After all, they are the front-line and are in the best position to identify issues and provide meaningful solutions that serve the greater good. Meanwhile, it is also important to develop a workplace environment that encourages staff to support one another and build each other up rather than tear one another down. But these practices are only effective if they start at the top. Leaders must practice the same policies they ask of their employees. This is probably the single-most effective way to keep your team motivated and achieve success. Team work REALLY makes the dream work!

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

Brene Brown’s “The Gift of Imperfections” is a book that I would recommend to anyone. Brown is a leading researcher of shame and vulnerability and its impacts. In her book, she guides the reader along the journey to what she describes as ‘whole heart’ living based on a set of guide posts designed to help us realize our true strength of character by finding courage in accepting our imperfections. This book struck a personal chord with me on how guilt and shame translate differently across genders. Brown’s insights not only gave me more awareness of my own feelings, but also helped me identify and practice compassion towards others, especially with some of the men in my life that I’m close to including family members, friends and partners. When I see how they may be feeling or experiencing shame, I have a better understanding to be able to practice empathy. She is such an amazing storyteller and as I read the book, I felt as though she was speaking directly to me, telling my story. The way she spoke on vulnerability and shame came from such an understanding and accepting place.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious just from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.

Great question here. In much the same way we employ good habits that enhance our physical health, we must also take care of our mental health, which requires our time, energy, and attention as well. Five steps anyone can take to develop serenity during uncertain times like these would be to learn the power of the breath, learning to say no, developing a support system, investing time in yourself, and remembering that all feelings are temporary.

Power of the breath: When we are caught up in a feeling, it is extremely easy to get lost in the moment and completely detach from what our body is doing. Something as simple as closing your eyes and just noticing or feeling your breath can be very healing.

Learning to say no: This can also be so empowering! When we learn how to say no to things, we make room to say yes to that much more. The important part to this step is learning how to say no, but also reflecting on what we would say yes to if we had more time, energy, etc. As someone who likes to please others or make others happy, I got into a pattern of saying yes to everything and everyone, stretching myself so thin that I saw everything I said yes to as nothing but another arduous chore. Learning how to say no left more room for me to make deliberate decisions about where and how I wanted to dedicate my time, which allowed me the opportunity to enjoy the experience that much more!

Develop a support system: We all seek out people or places that help us feel safe and comfortable in being ourselves. It is about quality over quantity here, and a willingness to maybe be a little vulnerable so they can be there for you. It can start small, and the support can build from there.

Invest time in you: You are deserving of at least the same time and energy you put into others and the responsibilities that you carry. Try giving yourself back at least a fraction, a quarter or a third of that time, and you will see what wonders it can do to your mental health.

Feelings are temporary: Feelings come and go like waves on the ocean. Sometimes they are big and over-powering, other times they may be small and manageable. They can be rough, or they can be smooth. Either way, like the ocean, our feelings are always changing and evolving. By reminding ourselves that our feelings through a simple self-affirmation such as “this feeling is temporary, I won’t feel this way forever,” can be a game changer. Just because you may be experiencing feelings that are uncomfortable, does not mean it is your ‘forever’.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

These are truly stress-inducing times, and it is only natural to feel anxious, especially when we feel a level of uncertainty in the future — that feeling of “what next?” or “what now?” can become overwhelming.

If we see a friend or loved one experiencing anxiety, we can first offer support by reminding them to slow down and breathe, while reminding them that you are there for them. Secondly, it is important to re-affirm to them that it is ok for them to feel the way they do, and that you care for them. Each of these phrases are meant to be said in a show of support, they are not intended to take that person’s feelings away or provide a solution to the underlying issue. But when showing someone that you genuinely care, a little can go a long way, especially when we are sincere in trying to understand how they feel vs. trying to fix a problem that may or may not be in our power to fix.

Thirdly, I would suggest different options that you can both take together to help them work towards feeling less anxious. For example, try suggesting, “would you like to take a walk together” or “let’s enjoy a movie together”.

Fourth, remind them that you are there for them and that you are not planning on going anywhere. That it is okay if they just want to be with you, if they want to talk about things (or not), or if they just need you to be there to listen.

Lastly, what is probably most important, is that you remind them that you genuinely care for them and love them. It sounds obvious, but most of us sometimes wrongly assume that the other person knows how we feel about them but the words are never spoken, leaving a person in doubt particularly when they are at their most vulnerable. Saying the words out loud and hearing someone tell you they love and care about you can go a long way.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious? I think it would be good if you included a few favorite apps or podcasts.

There are so many more resources available today for a person to seek out on their own if they are feeling anxious. For example, I highly recommend finding a meditation app, podcast, or YouTube channel that they can connect with when needed to help them feel more grounded. Through guided meditations, talks and topical discussions, these can help teach effective techniques to calm ourselves and slow our body and thoughts down so that we can better cope with and combat strong feelings of anxiety. There are some great ones available, and whichever you choose should be one that is suited to your individual preferences, needs and what you hope to get out of it. A few of my personal favorites are Headspace, Calm and Omvana. For those who may have more religious leanings, they may find a good measure of peace and calm from using an app like PRAY, which offers bible-based meditations, prayer plans and inspirational stories.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

That is an easy one — “Be here now.” I am all about being present and in the moment. I remember attending a conference, and during a breakout session, the group was focused on counselor self-care and wellness. During that experience, this affirmation stood out and really resonated with me in the moment. I have carried it with me ever since and have incorporated little reminders of it in my office so that I am able to reflect on it daily, especially more recently. With the COVID pandemic, my family and I have become more creative about how we stay connected and involved in one another’s lives, specifically following the birth of my sweet baby girl in April of this year. We’ve taken to video chatting more regularly than we ever probably would have otherwise, and with life changing so quickly for all of us from one moment to the next, it serves as a reminder of how important it is to “be here now” for myself as well as for the ones I love. As much devastation as COVID has caused worldwide, I see clearly just how deliberate it has made me, as well as my loved ones, in how we make the effort to “be here now” for each other, and for that I am enormously grateful.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My movement would be It’s ok to not be ok. So many of us feel a sense of defeat or failure when we are not happy or content. It can also feel extremely uncomfortable and unsettling. But we need to understand that it is normal for our mental health to fluctuate and change over time, and for us to experience different feelings — some comfortable, some uncomfortable. We are meant to change and adapt as we age and grow, and we need to experience different feelings in our lives to be able to do that. Growing means experiencing some discomfort, and discomfort means growing!

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Readers can find me on Facebook @sunglowcounseling, with a blog and Instagram page coming soon so stay tuned!

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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