It is Mental Health Awareness Month and I’m here to bring attention to Depression.
Depression does not leave us when the sun comes out. Many people don’t even realize they are suffering from symptoms of depression. The most common perception of depression is a person who can’t get out of bed, struggles to keep a job and hangs their head low. It is often thought to be a disease that takes over the whole body, but that is only true for a small portion of the population, some of the time. Since there is very little education in the general population of what depression is, many people don’t realize that they may be suffering from more mild symptoms of the disease. The disease is progressive like so many other diseases if it is left un-treated. If you are suffering from 5 or more of the following for the same 2-week period, you should seek help.
1.) Depressed mood most of the day, nearly ever day.
2.) Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
3.)Weight loss or gains, appetite increase or decrease that is significant.
4.)Thoughts and movement reduction noticeable to others. (IE: Brain fog that won’t go away or Chronic laziness)
5.)Fatigue and loss of energy nearly every day
6.) Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
7.)Diminished ability to think or concentrate. Not able to make decisions, small or big.
8.) Recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation, sometimes with a plan, sometimes without
Additionally, if you feel irritable most days, feel over-reactive or overly sensitive to situations, low energy, impulsive behavior, spending too much time doing one activity (ie: on your phone, binge watching shows, abusing alcohol, sleeping too much, gossiping, shopping), you also may be experiencing more mild forms of depression that could lead to bigger problems in your life. One way to get a better understanding is to ask people around you. “Have I been hard to be around? What makes me hard to be around?” Sometimes we don’t have the insight to see the symptoms we are experiencing because we are busy distracting ourselves with vices such as the one’s mentioned above.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depressive symptoms that don’t seem to be going away, please get help or have an open conversation with your loved one. The image above are treatment strategies that are helpful to keeping your mental health in check. If you are going to keep your mental health stable over a lifetime (pretty rare) then you will have to be working each day to add positive activities to your schedule. It rarely comes naturally.
New Year New You
When you live in Minnesota, January is the hardest month to make it through. There is still limited light, sun and the temperatures are not very appealing to get outside for fresh air. Most of us tend to loose motivation and when coping skills start to decrease, the chemicals in our brain that are keeping us healthy also suffer. We all know the “things” we are supposed to do. Eat healthy, exercise 3-4 times a week, sleep 7-8 hrs and get outside. This isn’t hard to do when the weather participates but for the next 3 months it will continue to be challenging. This would be the time to start therapy. It can help you sort out the ruminating thoughts you are struggling with, the communication patterns we get stuck in and could also help you start healthy habits that will last you for the rest of your life. Starting therapy can be intimidating but all it takes is one session to understand the benefits and how easy it is to talked to a trained professional. Our job is to make you feel at ease so you can process your mental health concerns. If you have always wanted to start getting help for your depressive, anxious or obsessive symptoms, contact us today.
Most of us were not taught about boundaries growing up with the rare exception of, “don’t talk to strangers” or “don’t get in strangers cars” or maybe, “don’t let anyone touch you where you don’t want to be touched.” These are a starting point for discussion around boundaries but also have mixed messages in them. We are also told, “be polite when people talk to you” and “if someone gives you something, accept it and say thank you.” Having been told mixed messages around boundaries is confusing and often times leads us to feelings of despair over making the right decision or it could lead us to doing something we are not comfortable with. Boundaries are necessary in all relationships and most importantly in our most intimate and closest relationships because that is how we keep them healthy. The above worksheet shows some important boundaries you should be setting in your relationships. If you find truths in the right column in your current relationships, you may want to step back and do some reflecting. There are plenty of ways to get a relationship back on track by asking for boundaries to be respected. You should always feel safe in your relationships, including in professional relationships and even one’s within your community or church. Know what healthy boundaries are in the first place is a good place to start and then being more assertive with asking for them is the next step. If you find yourself constantly asking for a boundary to be respected only to find them being broken again, may need a real assessment if the relationship is worth it. Seeking a counselor to help you with this could be helpful. The path to health, mental and physical is ridding your life of toxic relationships where boundaries are not respected. Don’t wait any longer.
Healthy Coping Skills
Are you feeling like you can’t gain control over your days and weeks? We all know it is very difficult with all of the pressures of Adulting, to keep our head on straight and our body’s grounded. When I work with clients, we discuss what they are doing each day and week that is ‘healthy’. I call these ‘proactive coping skills’ and some days/weeks, we just need our base coping skills and sometimes due to un-foreseen circumstances or taking on too much responsibility, we need to add extra coping skills. The above model gives clients an idea of health coping skills and also identifies, defense mechanism’s that may also be present too much of your day. If this is the case with you, take a look at the things that bring you feeling of content and joy. If they make you feel good while you are doing them and after you are finished, these are health coping skills. If they make you feel good while you are doing them but bring you down when you are done, such as consuming too much alcohol, gambling, binge watching TV or over exercising, then they have become a vice. The more healthy proactive coping skills you bring into your life, you are unlikely to fall prey to your vices. As the model shows, without leaning on healthy coping skills, you are likely to become more defensive which leads to a more negative emotional space and eventually a feeling of ‘loss of control’. If you think of your life as a ledger system, the more healthy coping skills you use, the less likely you will become defensive, which ultimately leads to positive feelings and a sense of control. This leaves the door open to feelings of content, happiness and joy.
One of the most common symptoms I hear in my office is the inability to sleep at night or not feeling rested in the morning. Sleep directly impacts our mental health whether we are getting good quality sleep or sleep that is not restful. I rarely get someone in my office that is struggling with an issue or concern that reports to getting fantastic sleep. It is often times hard to figure out which came first, poor sleep and then symptoms of anxiety or depression or did anxiety or depression start causing the poor sleep. Since it is next to impossible to decipher the two, and because the order they occurred doesn’t change the treatment outcome, focusing on good sleep hygiene is ‘a must’ for mental health. The biggest culprit to poor sleep is our own choices we make leading up to sleep. Our cell phones lend the most problems when it comes to self-discipline around sleep. Technology and marketing companies have poured million if not billions of dollars into keeping you on your phone. The longer you are on your phone the better chance you will see their advertisement targeted at you. The longer you are on your phone, you are also less likely to be making healthy decisions as well. Our brains get lazy once we have been on our devices too long so we are more likely to make a choice that we wouldn’t when our brains are sharp and rested. If you follow the list above of 10 keys ways to improve your sleep, I can promise you, you will be feeling better in a few weeks. You have to truly want to feel better to take action, be committed to making the behavior changes and refer to the list everyday until you are in the routine of good sleep habits.
New Brain Old Brain
Have you found yourself feeling overwhelmed with emotions and feel like you are overreacting or not reacting in ways that reflect your values? If this is happening more often than you would like, you may be operating in your Old brain. The New brain Old Brain theory suggests that our Old Brain is the area of our brain that is more primitive in nature and is what many call, ‘the flight or fight’ zone. Our Old brain is very important to our survival when it is called upon during a urgent or crisis situation. It shuts down other regions of our brain and hyper-focuses on how to survive the present moment. For example, if someone is about attack you from behind, you don’t want to think about all of your options to defend yourself, you just want to react, either run or defend (fight or flight). Due to stress in our lives and chemicals being off balance, we may find our Old brain being over reactive and this doesn’t allow us to behave in respectful ways to ourselves or to others. Lets say you are having a tough day, one thing after another seems more challenging and energy seems to be against you. You stop to pick up some groceries and as you are coming in the house, the grocery bag rips, the eggs drop out the bottom and you find yourself in a puddle of egg yolks. This is indeed frustrating, however your life is safe and you are not in any real threat. That makes sense if you are using your New brain, not if you are functioning from only your Old brain. If your Old brain is over reactive, you may scream, swear, throw something or maybe even blame someone else. All of these choices lead to further consequences. When the New brain is available due to feeling grounded and level headed, we will use our logic and reasoning to react. This would look something like this: 1.)take note that what is in front of you is not ideal 2.)remind yourself you are in control and can react how you choose to 3.)take a really big deep breath in through your noise and out through your mouth 4.)if this did not provide relief, repeat 5.)self talk is necessary, remind self that you are not in danger, these are not predators on the ground and no one set you up for this 6.)problem solve 7.)clean up the mess and get more eggs the next time you are at the grocery store.
As simple as this may sound, many of us struggle with this on a daily and weekly basis. One option with therapy is learning how to master the skills of controlling our emotions and behaviors. It is a really empowering skill to learn and once you have learned it and practice it several times, you now have it for the rest of your life. This skill is just one element to therapy that many people benefit from when they engage in the therapeutic process.
We are inundated with information everyday about our health and what we should and should not do to improve our well-being. Most people I talk to about their nutrition, feel overwhelmed with the information that is out there and also don’t trust the sources. In the US, the FDA regulates our food processes and accessibility. They also come up with new guidelines every 5 years based on more in depth research. I think some of the mistrust that people feel towards the FDA has to do with major food industry such as sugar and dairy and how much influence they may have swayed the guidelines in the past. It’s hard to know who to believe and where to turn for answers. The guide above was produced by Harvard Health based on extensive research. When you look it over, none of the food suggested come as a surprise. Looking at the food that cause inflammation are also well known to avoid. When we eat too many foods that cause inflammation, not only does it leave us feeling lethargic and makes our digestive system work against us, but it also strongly impacts our mental health. In order to keep us physically and mentally healthy, we need to be making daily choices to put anti-inflammatory food into our bodies. I ask my clients to put this chart on their refrigerator as a daily reminder of how they can make food choices that will also make them feel more motivated and content. It’s your choice! Each little decision you make through-out the day, either helps you feel empowered or makes you feel stuck. If you need help with more accountability, therapy may be the answer you are looking for.