Enjoy a Happy New Year!

New Year’s is a time where many people make resolutions.  “I’m going to lose weight,” or “I’m going to quit smoking” are two of the popular resolutions, but what about mental health?  Less commonly do people make resolutions for their mental health beyond a simple phrase such as “be happier.”  But, if you are one of the 43.8 million adults in the United States who experiences mental illness (NAMI, 1999), you might benefit from some resolutions toward improving your mental health. 

Mental illness is a difficult challenge for many people, but the New Year is a great time to make positive changes.

Here are some possible changes to pursue:

  1. Make sleep, diet, and exercise a priority.  Snickers has a popular series of commercials where a celebrity is acting in an angry, irritated, or frustrated manner until they are given a Snickers because they become emotional when they are hungry.  After taking a bite of the Snicker bar, the person returns to his or her typical self.  While I (and I’m sure our dietitians) would agree that sugar isn’t the answer, these commercials do have a point: our physical health impacts our mental health.  When we are tired, hungry, fatigued, or inactive, our mental health suffers.  Resolve to make simple changes to your habits this year: get more sleep, eat more fruits and vegetables, go on more walks.  Try to build on choices you make that are already healthy.
  2. Think positive.  This sounds cliché, but there is evidence to suggest that optimism improves our life.  The Mayo Clinic reports on their website that optimism has been connected to longer life span, decreased depression, decreased distress, reduced cardiovascular disease, and improved coping skills.  Unsure of how to start thinking in a positive manner?  Begin with creating a daily affirmation for yourself.  Waking up and saying “Today is going to be a good day,” can lead you to viewing the day in a more positive light.  If you have a specific stressor you are worried about, trying envisioning how that problem will go well instead of how it can go wrong.
  3. Seek help.  In 2012, ABC News reported that only about 60% of people with mental illness received professional help.  Professional help is available in a variety of ways, from counseling to medication to support groups.  If you are unsure where to go or what method is best for you, start with speaking with your doctor about the issue.      

Mental illness is a difficult challenge for many people, but the New Year is a great time to make positive changes.  Even if you aren’t dealing with mental illness, perhaps pursuing one of the above resolutions can make your 2017 a more positive and enjoyable year.

 

Dealing with Holiday Grief

For many people, the holidays are a season of happiness, celebration, and family gatherings.  For those who have experienced loss, the glimmer of holiday lights and decorations can evoke feelings of loneliness and sadness, reflecting on memories of past times. How can we celebrate a holiday while also mourning the loss of someone close to us?  Here are some tips for getting through the season for facing grief during the holiday season.

For those who have experienced loss, the glimmer of holiday lights and decorations can evoke feelings of loneliness and sadness, reflecting on memories of past times.

 

Plan ahead:

Typically during the holidays, we can predict the days that will be most difficult for us.  Do your best to plan ahead; set aside some time alone if necessary or schedule your trip to the cemetery.  If you know certain parts of the holiday won’t be the same, create new traditions or incorporate times of remembrance.

Externalize your grief:

Grief.com has some positive ideas about how to mark the loss of a loved one.  Some of these ideas include lighting a candle or saying a prayer for the loved one before the holiday meal.  You may also choose to include others by having everyone share a positive memory or funny story about the person.

Take a break: 

Grief.com also suggests cancelling the holiday.  The beauty of holidays is that they come back every year, so if you decide you need a year off from hosting Thanksgiving dinner or you are just not up for traveling this December, take some time off.  It is important to remember that any feeling shouldn’t remain stored up inside.  Choosing to cancel or postpone a holiday celebration is not selfish but rather a positive form of self-care.

It is important to remember that the holidays are a time of celebration but can also be a time of difficulty.  Be aware of your own feelings and also the feelings of others.  Don’t be afraid to reach out to a loved one who may be struggling this holiday season and be sure to take care of yourself.

Happy Holidays!

Brian Gazdziak, LCSW

Resource http://grief.com/grief-the-holidays

 

 

Do you have an anxiety disorder?

Everyone gets nervous, anxious or worried from time to time by things like public speaking, major life changes, financial issues, and difficulties with work or home life. For some people, these worries become so bothersome and intrusive that they can take over their lives.

So how do you know if your worries have crossed the line into an anxiety disorder? The distinction between what is normal anxiety and what constitutes a diagnosis isn't always clear.

So how do you know if your worries have crossed the line into an anxiety disorder? The distinction between what is normal anxiety and what constitutes a diagnosis isn’t always clear. Take a look at 9 common symptoms below. If you experience any of them on a regular basis, it may be worth having a conversation with you primary care physician or make an appointment with someone you can speak to.

  1. Excessive Worry
    Worrying too much about everyday things, both large and small.
  2. Sleep Problems
    Trouble getting and/or staying asleep. Chronically lying awake with racing thoughts about something specific or nothing at all.
  3. Irrational Fears
    Fear becomes overwhelming, disruptive, and/or disproportionate to the actual threat.
  4. Muscle Tension
    Clenching your jaw, balling up your fists, constant tension in neck and shoulders.
  5. Digestive Issues
    Stomachaches, cramping, gas, constipation and/or diarrhea.
  6. Self-Consciousness
    Feeling as if all eyes are on you, difficulties eating/drinking around others.
  7. Panic
    Experiencing sudden feelings of helplessness, pounding heart, sweating, difficulty breathing, tingling or numbness in hands, feelings of being choked.
  8. Perfectionism
    Constantly judging yourself, worrying about making mistakes or falling short of expectations or standards.
  9. Self-Doubt
    Constantly second guessing oneself, problems making decisions asking “What if?”.

Mercedes L. Kent, LCSW

Turning New Year’s Resolutions into Habits

photo  (c) simon battensbyWhen cleaning out my Mom’s basement, I came across some old arts and crafts that I had made over the years. One particular project caught my eye and immediately brought back some humorous memories of myself. It was my 6th grade New Year’s resolution project. It was a picture of a top hat that read: Amanda Novy, Age 12. New Year’s Resolution: I want a six-pack.

My dedication to my goal lasted about 6 weeks. Three times a week, I would do Denise Austin’s Hit the Spot Abs. Frustrated with my hard work and less than desirable results, I put the videos away where they most likely haven’t been viewed since.

There were several reasons why my resolution did not stick:

1) One cannot spot treat a specific muscle group and expect dramatic results. I used to teach a 30 minute abs class 2x/week in college and even then, did not achieve the desired six-pack. A stronger core is developed by performing a variety of core stabilization and strength exercises that require core activation such as the plank, push-up and squat varieties. Your stomach region is also greatly influenced by diet.

2) My goal was not specific enough. Having too broad of a goal or setting a goal too far away can lead to a quick burnout. For example, it is much better to set a goal of losing 4 pounds every month versus a goal of losing 50 pounds in one year.

3) I threw in the towel too soon. Sometimes, our first method to achieve our goal may not have been the best. One’s current habits can also influence the time frame it takes to achieve a goal. For example, it is much easier for someone who has been sedentary for the past year to lose 5 pounds than it is for the avid 5-day-a-week gym goer.

And I’ll also point out that this was a pretty ridiculous goal for a 12-year-old to have in the first place.

Year 4~Day 216 +187/365 AND Day 1312: Working ...In order to form a good habit or break a bad one, you need to allow enough time to adjust to your new routine. Most habits can stick as a lifestyle when it has been repeated for 21-28 days.

When my husband and I decided that we were going to go to the 6am Crossfit class, it took a little while to get use to that early alarm clock. There were many mornings where I wanted to just snooze my alarm and fall back asleep, but I had my husband there to help me hold myself accountable. After two-three weeks of our early morning routine, my sleep schedule had adjusted quite nicely. Never in a million years did I see both my husband and myself working out side by side before sunrise.

We cheer each other on, witness one another achieve strength gains and personal records and have formed a great health habit that we can do together. Having a partner or a “buddy system” is another great tool one can have when needing help sticking to a healthier lifestyle habit.

Fat Talk Free Week October 21- 25

Fat woman stepping on scaleFat Talk Free Week is a 5-day body image and health awareness campaign created by the Tri Delta sorority. This campaign strives to bring attention to the “thin ideal” on women in our society. Media coverage on “self-hating, body-shaming statements” has brought to light this issue that plagues both men and women of all ages. Recently, a popular article  on body-shaming has been circulating the social media world. This personal story shares the powerful impact that women can have on one of our most precious values, our children. In fact, I learned the word “diet” when I was 7 years old. While I didn’t know its true definition, I did understand that it was something one did to lose weight and it meant you had to eat cottage cheese and beets every day for lunch.

One of the main problems with the issue of body-shaming is that it is accepted in most social circles. I know I have been a part of conversations where all of us gals talked about the parts of our bodies we hated or would like to change. It almost seems too natural to publicly announce our dissatisfactions with our bodies. In fact, here are some interesting facts listed on the Tri Delta’s Body Image 3D website:

• 54% of women would rather be hit by a truck than be fat.

• More than 90% of girls ages 15 to 17 want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance, with body weight ranking the highest.

• 81% of ten-year-olds are afraid of being fat.

• 1 out of 8 adolescent girls reported starving themselves to lose weight.

• 67% of women 15-64 withdraw from life-engaging activities like giving an opinion, going to school and going to the doctor because they feel badly about their looks.

• 40% of moms tell their adolescent daughters to diet. 45% of these are of average weight.

• 70 million people worldwide struggle with eating disorders.

• In the US, as many as 10 million are suffering from anorexia or bulimia. That’s more than are suffering from breast cancer.Portrait of a young woman

Last year, Tri Delta launched their Body Image 3-D program. This movement was established to create a multi-dimensional approach to body image awareness and education. Their mission is to help girls and women focus on all aspects of health, not just physical features when considering one’s body image. According to their website, this month’s challenge is to color your plate with an assortment of fruits and vegetables. The focus of this challenge is being healthy, not skinny. One thing I always try to communicate is that healthy and skinny should not be used synonymously. Just because someone is “skinny” does not mean that they have healthy lifestyle habits.

As a former self-hater, I couldn’t agree more with this campaign. I’ll admit I used to cut out pictures of Victoria’s Secret models and celebrities and paste them to the refrigerator hoping one day I would be perfectly tanned with a six-pack. Thanks to the additional efforts of the Dove campaign  we now know how unnatural and air-brushed those flawless magazine pictures and ads really are. We have a serious issue on our hands and the change needs to start within ourselves. With self-hating statements like “My thighs are too wide” or “I look so ugly today”, we end up becoming our own worst enemies.

I encourage you to join the movement and participate in Fat Talk Free Week. Inspire change in the way we think and feel about our bodies and remember, it starts with you.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” –Muhatma Gandhi

Are You Eating Your Stress?

cookieWork, errands, cooking meals, soccer practice, gymnastics meets, taking grandma to the doctor, finding time to workout…do you feel like your to-do list is never-ending? If you’re like me, there are days where you wish you could settle everything with “bubble gum bubble gum in a dish…”

Stress is a constant in our lives. Stress can be a physical, emotional or chemical factor that causes bodily or mental tension. It can cloud our decision-making skills, affect our moods and induce specific food cravings; but, it can also help us perform better, work harder and faster. You may not always be able to control the amount of stress in your life but what you do have is the power to control the way you react to it.

cortexWhen our bodies perceive stress, two things occur: 1) Activation of the flight or fight hormones. There is no other time that I have ever felt more like a real ninja leaping through the air than the moment you realize you’ve slept through your alarm (fight/flight hormones). 2) Activation of the HPA axis. To respond to a physical/emotional stress, the hypothalamus (H) produces the hormone CRF (corticotrophin-releasing factor). This hormone binds to specific receptors on the pituitary gland (P) which stimulates the production of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH is transported to the adrenal glands (A) which stimulates the production of cortisol…and that is where our problem begins.

vendingmachineChronic stress and high levels of circulating cortisol can affect our bodies in many different ways. Acne, stomach ulcers, muscle tension, headaches, hypertension…all problems in the different systems in our bodies, all can be exacerbated by stress. A study in the 2010 International Journal of Obesity concluded that “high cortisol levels resulted in altered food choices”. Stress can also induce more frequent non-hunger food cravings which can contribute to abdominal fat storage. Stressful individuals tend to consume quick, convenient food items, which often include processed, high-sodium, high-calorie choices.

Planning ahead is the one of the best defenses you can have to combat stress. Snacks, for example, can be pre-cut, pre-portioned and stored conveniently in your fridge, purse, car, gym bag.

Dr. Cassandra Claman, dermatologist at Springfield Clinic, comments on eating healthy with a very busy workday, “At work, I have had to hone my eating to brief breaks between patients and foods I can eat while working on charts. I have a huge drawer filled with food, my little fridge is filled and I carry food in my purse, my tote and my car. Some of the foods I have on hand to eat throughout the day are various flavors of almonds, all sorts of fresh fruits and veggies, dried fruits and trail mix, hard boiled eggs, skim milk cheese sticks, pretzels and a couple liters of  water. As I leave the office for the day, I almost always have an apple in my hand so I am not ravenous the minute I walk into the door at home.”

Eating well-balanced meals and having high-nutrient snacks on hand can also help prevent spikes and dips in our blood sugars. Drastic changes in our blood sugar levels can cause crankiness, anxiety and irritability. Remember to listen to your internal cues of physical hunger. Stress can induce emotional hunger. Physical hunger strikes below the neck (stomach growls) and emotional hunger occurs above the neck (ice cream sounds like a good idea). Don’t forget about the power of exercise as a stress reliever. We turn our backs on exercise most often when we need it most.

I had an extremely long day last Tuesday. I was at the news station at 6:15am to appear as a guest on the Sunrise News. From there, I went to work and was bottled down until 6:30 pm. I had a headache and every ounce of me wanted to just drive past the gym, go home and crawl in bed. But I didn’t; I went to the gym, worked out and felt amazing. My headache disappeared and I was left with nothing but positive feelings about myself and all that I had accomplished during my day. Again, never underestimate the power of exercise.

control

“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control.”