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Self-Care and Mental Health

When asked about self-care, bubble baths, massages, or exercise often come to mind. While these are great examples, one of the key principles of self-care is missing: practice. To experience the benefits of self-care we need to practice it daily so it becomes an integrated part of our daily routine. It is especially important during times like these when we feel our external world is out of control. Fear and uncertainty have left us in disarray and disagreement. Let practicing self-care be something we can all agree on. The practice of self-care helps us regain clarity, contentment, and connection. Although it may seem impossible to add self-care to our already jammed packed schedules, it is important to remember the impact of habit. I recently read a book called, Atomic Habits by James Clear, recommended to me by a former client. According to Clear, “Habits seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous.” The daily practice of self-care creates a habit that positively impacts your life and overall wellness. If we do not prioritize ourselves, then what exactly are we doing? Skip the extra time scrolling on Instagram and more time Being. The practice of self-care lays the foundation of healthy habits that help us live more fully.

Lauren Paulson 
M.Phil.Ed., M.S.Ed,Therapist

 

Is This Normal?

What is normal? I often have clients ask me this question in an attempt to gauge their own symptoms. Is my level of anxiety normal? Does everyone fear social interactions? Do most people feel worthless at some point? Is my lack of motivation abnormal? These are “normal” questions but what do the answers to these questions really give us?

Does knowing how your symptoms compare to others make you less anxious, less depressed, less [insert symptom here]? These answers generally have no bearing on one’s own experience. Sure, it might give some immediate comfort to know others have similar experiences, but knowing that other people feel sad doesn’t make one’s sadness less present. Having the knowledge that others might ruminate less than you doesn’t make your racing thoughts stop. And being aware that others might also feel isolated doesn’t eliminate loneliness.

Instead of asking what’s normal, can we instead ask what is helpful? What is a behavior that is supportive of moving towards what is important even when feeling not so normal? Is telling myself that I’m socially inept and bound to mess up in a social situation helpful for being engaged with others? Is wrestling with the thought that I’m going to fail helpful for motivating me to try something new? Does thinking of oneself as abnormal improve feelings of self-worth?

So the question I pose back to clients is this: Are you willing to quit comparing yourself to others and instead try behaving in a way that is helpful for you, despite having thoughts/feelings/symptoms that might seem wildly abnormal?

by Dara Denton, LPC

Sentio, Ergo Sum

Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. A phrase that first appeared in 1637 and was written by Rene Descartes. Descartes goes on to say, “we cannot doubt of our existence while we doubt….” What he meant was that as long as we are thinking, we are living. But are we? Is the definition of life, thought? Is merely pondering and fact-finding the highest form of life? Or perhaps a better definition is feeling, emotion, the things that often make life worth living? 

It wasn’t long after the utterance of those words that people started to believe less in what couldn’t be seen, but could be felt, and more in what could be thought, what could be known. The known universe, the place we call home, a spiraling expanse with, what appears to be, infinite space, has always been a source of wonder. Just look up at the stars on a clear night and try to stop yourself from being in wonder. Wondering if there’s life out there? Wondering how many stars there are? Wondering if we’ll find the end of space? It’s natural to want to understand and know. It’s also a far less magical place to know something as fact.

And now, in 2020, we’re stuck with a disconnection, a feeling of loneliness that pervades most societies and cultures. Was it just as a result of cogito, ergo sum? No, it wasn’t just that moment. And yet, that moment was significant in that it marked a place where we turned away from a spiritual connection to one of intellectual pursuit. 

Before we go further, it’s important to distinguish spiritual from religious. By spiritual, I mean connection. This can include religion but doesn’t have to. It’s simply a way to talk about being connected to something greater than oneself. Things like nature, groups, communities, family. These can all be spiritual. And it’s this, the spiritual, that’s lacking in today’s society. It’s also one of the most important tools that can help mitigate anxiety. 

According to researchers who examined 2,000 people, spirituality was one of the best tools to combat anxiety. “Of the participants who had a generalized anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, seven out of ten of them are now free of the disorder” as a result of developing a spirituality practice, the researchers concluded. What does this mean in real numbers? Of the 40 million people who currently suffer from clinical anxiety, 28 million could be anxiety-free. With no medication. 

And it’s free. 

So, Descartes says cogito, ergo sum. Perhaps a better phrase would be sentio, ergo sum. I feel, therefore I am.

To learn more, call Being today! 

Mood and Midwest Winters

As a mental health practitioner living in the midwest, each year I find myself seeking new ways to implement a skillful approach to managing the physical, emotional, and mental shifts that may come with the arriving winter season. Though we can anticipate this seasonal shift each year, we cannot always anticipate the ways our mood may be affected. In addition, so often we are faced with unexpected life stressors such as a job loss/transition, relationship changes, physical health changes, the loss of a loved one, financial strain, or the reminder of old wounds. When these stressors are compounded by the decrease in sunlight, drop in temperatures, and increase in weather-related barriers, it can be difficult to know how to best attend to your mental health needs. The term Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) often gets used to make sense of these changes in mood throughout the winter months. Though SAD is not considered a formal diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5, it can provide helpful validation for these experiences, as well as an opportunity to practice acceptance and change. According to the 2015 review of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Sherri Melrose states “as the acronym so aptly illustrates, those afflicted experience feelings of sadness and loss of energy, especially during December, January, and February, around the winter solstice, when the days are shortest.” Existing research on effective treatment for SAD symptoms include increasing Vitamin D, light therapy, counseling, physical exercise, and/or medication management*. 

 

So, what else might be helpful in managing this fluctuation in mood as we prepare for spending more time indoors? Recently, I was introduced to the Danish term “Hygge” (pronounced ‘hue-gah’) that roughly translates to creating a sense of “coziness” or “comfort.” What intrigued me about this popularized term, is its invitation to embrace the insulation of these winter months, and to promote a sense of connection with yourself and others. Knowing that the busy demands of work, home, and family don’t subside with the season, finding ways to slow down and feel present may seem nearly impossible. With so many books, apps, and gadgets out there offering new and helpful ways to practice greater balance in life, I recognize it can be difficult to create or sustain these recommended daily routine/habits when SAD-related symptoms seem loud and in charge. Which is why the concept of “Hygge” is so interesting. To me, it offers permission; Permission to find comfort within the moment; Permission to experience the feeling of being ‘cozy’ which can connect us to a child-like comfort; Permission to share connection with others in its simplest form; Permission to simply be, and to be reminded that there is light within the darkness of this season. Tending to this awareness can offer an opportunity to practice mindfulness as a way to help recharge when we frequently feel more depleted. As you navigate the ebbs and flows of this winter season, I encourage you to give yourself permission to practice “Hygge” – whether it’s wrapping up in a blanket, drinking a warm beverage, engaging in a creative outlet, lighting a candle, snuggling with a pet, or connecting with a loved one. Embracing “Hygge” may not extinguish your SAD-related symptoms completely, but it will hopefully offer the important reminder that you are resilient and deserving of coziness and comfort. 

 

A few reminders:

 

-*Please contact your Primary Care Doctor if you have questions about exploring medication treatment. 

 

-If SAD-related symptoms are feeling difficult to manage, please reach out for support from a doctor or mental health professional. If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please contact 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

 

Melrose, S. (2015). Seasonal affective disorder: an overview of assessment and treatment approaches. Depression research and treatment, 2015.

 

Labeling our Emotions

Emotions- the reason many people initially decide to go to therapy is so often rooted in this part of our day to day functioning that can sometimes feel so great and other times… not so much. What we consider the “positive” side of this- happy, joyful, optimistic, serene, amused, hopeful, satisfied- most of the time these feelings bring, to some degree a level of contentment or gratification. These positive emotions may be experienced differently and may last for varying lengths of time for everyone, but overall carry the perception of being “good”. The other side of this or what we consider to be “negative emotions” are those that we, as human beings, consider emotions that may not be as pleasurable to experience as those listed above. Sadness, anger, frustration, distrust, annoyance, and loneliness are just a few. In this post, the main goal is to understand that while these emotions may be considered negative, that does not mean that they are “bad” and how to begin the coping process around these emotions. 

In an article published earlier this year from verywellmind.com, Elizabeth Scott, a health and wellness coach describes the experience of emotions by stating “When we talk about so-called negative emotions, it’s important to remember that these emotions, in themselves, aren’t negative as in “bad,” but more than they are in the realm of negativity as opposed to positivity. Emotions aren’t necessarily good or bad; they are just states and signals that allow us to pay more attention to the events that create them” (https://www.verywellmind.com/embrace-negative-emotions-4158317). Does an example come to mind here for you about a time something happened and you immediately classified that you were feeling something “bad”? Perhaps there are things in life that bring you anxiety, a presentation at school or work, a comment made by a friend or co-worker that makes you feel uneasy, or days where you feel particularly on edge, easily frustrated or annoyed. It is so easy to then jump to increased frustration with yourself or these feelings as they can be very uncomfortable and at times feel intolerable. As a therapist and a fellow human being, I am here to validate that this can be extremely distressing and you are not alone in feeling this! Here are a few ways that may help to cope with these negative emotions:

  • Understanding how you label the emotion: Are you able to name and understand what you are feeling and where this feeling may be coming from? Being able to engage in this activity may help you to trace back to what brought on the negative emotion and problem-solve around the situation. Labeling the emotion also applies to what is talked about above. Are you immediately labeling an emotion as “bad”? This may be a moment to remind yourself that this emotion is trying to tell you something about what you are experiencing!
  • Before responding, check the evidence!: What has happened in the past when I have felt this way? I know I may feel that this feeling may last forever, but is that true? In an article from positivepsychology.com entitled “What are Negative Emotions and How to Control Them”, writer Elaine Mead shares the idea “When exploring negative emotions, it’s also important to know that they are not the only source of information you have access to. Before you act upon any emotion you should also seek to explore your previous experiences, stored knowledge and memories, personal values and desired outcomes for any given scenario”. (https://positivepsychology.com/negative-emotions/)
  • Re-regulating your physiological systems: Many emotions, especially those that are in the “negative emotions” category bring a response to your body. For example, accelerated breathing, flushed cheeks, feeling overly warm, tensed muscles just to name a few. In these moments, focus on re-regulating our body can help decrease the intensity of the emotion we may be feeling. Try to notice what is happening in your body and try exercises such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation techniques to bring your body back to baseline!
  • Mindfulness Activities: When distressed, overwhelmed, angry or sad, it can be helpful to bring yourself back to the present moment by focusing on your senses and the world around you. A way to begin this practice may be placing your feet directly on the floor, and acknowledging where you are in this moment. What do I hear, smell, see, or physically feel around me. This can bring your mind back to the present and these physical sensations and can also support the physical re-regulation discussed above.  

Last but not least, and in my mind, most importantly!

  • Having patience with your emotions: Easier said than done right? One of the greatest things I have ever learned is to be patient with what you are feeling. While I think it is a wonderful thing to name, and to understand as a concept, this is something that can be very important to work on with your therapist in sessions! When an emotion enters and we judge it to be bad or negative, our patience with ourselves can go right out the window. Allowing ourselves grace and understanding in difficult moments can be a tremendous step on the journey to healing.

Self-Care and Mental Health

When asked about self-care, bubble baths, massages, or exercise often come to mind. While these are great examples, one of the key principles of self-care is missing: practice. To experience the benefits of self-care we need to practice it daily so it becomes an integrated part of our daily routine. It is especially important during times like these when we feel our external world is out of control. Fear and uncertainty have left us in disarray and disagreement. Let practicing self-care be something we can all agree on. The practice of self-care helps us regain clarity, contentment, and connection. Although it may seem impossible to add self-care to our already jammed packed schedules, it is important to remember the impact of habit. I recently read a book called, Atomic Habits by James Clear, recommended to me by a former client. According to Clear, “Habits seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous.” The daily practice of self-care creates a habit that positively impacts your life and overall wellness. If we do not prioritize ourselves, then what exactly are we doing? Skip the extra time scrolling on Instagram and more time Being. The practice of self-care lays the foundation of healthy habits that help us live more fully.

Lauren Paulson 
M.Phil.Ed., M.S.Ed,Therapist

 

Is This Normal?

What is normal? I often have clients ask me this question in an attempt to gauge their own symptoms. Is my level of anxiety normal? Does everyone fear social interactions? Do most people feel worthless at some point? Is my lack of motivation abnormal? These are “normal” questions but what do the answers to these questions really give us?

Does knowing how your symptoms compare to others make you less anxious, less depressed, less [insert symptom here]? These answers generally have no bearing on one’s own experience. Sure, it might give some immediate comfort to know others have similar experiences, but knowing that other people feel sad doesn’t make one’s sadness less present. Having the knowledge that others might ruminate less than you doesn’t make your racing thoughts stop. And being aware that others might also feel isolated doesn’t eliminate loneliness.

Instead of asking what’s normal, can we instead ask what is helpful? What is a behavior that is supportive of moving towards what is important even when feeling not so normal? Is telling myself that I’m socially inept and bound to mess up in a social situation helpful for being engaged with others? Is wrestling with the thought that I’m going to fail helpful for motivating me to try something new? Does thinking of oneself as abnormal improve feelings of self-worth?

So the question I pose back to clients is this: Are you willing to quit comparing yourself to others and instead try behaving in a way that is helpful for you, despite having thoughts/feelings/symptoms that might seem wildly abnormal?

by Dara Denton, LPC

Sentio, Ergo Sum

Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. A phrase that first appeared in 1637 and was written by Rene Descartes. Descartes goes on to say, “we cannot doubt of our existence while we doubt….” What he meant was that as long as we are thinking, we are living. But are we? Is the definition of life, thought? Is merely pondering and fact-finding the highest form of life? Or perhaps a better definition is feeling, emotion, the things that often make life worth living? 

It wasn’t long after the utterance of those words that people started to believe less in what couldn’t be seen, but could be felt, and more in what could be thought, what could be known. The known universe, the place we call home, a spiraling expanse with, what appears to be, infinite space, has always been a source of wonder. Just look up at the stars on a clear night and try to stop yourself from being in wonder. Wondering if there’s life out there? Wondering how many stars there are? Wondering if we’ll find the end of space? It’s natural to want to understand and know. It’s also a far less magical place to know something as fact.

And now, in 2020, we’re stuck with a disconnection, a feeling of loneliness that pervades most societies and cultures. Was it just as a result of cogito, ergo sum? No, it wasn’t just that moment. And yet, that moment was significant in that it marked a place where we turned away from a spiritual connection to one of intellectual pursuit. 

Before we go further, it’s important to distinguish spiritual from religious. By spiritual, I mean connection. This can include religion but doesn’t have to. It’s simply a way to talk about being connected to something greater than oneself. Things like nature, groups, communities, family. These can all be spiritual. And it’s this, the spiritual, that’s lacking in today’s society. It’s also one of the most important tools that can help mitigate anxiety. 

According to researchers who examined 2,000 people, spirituality was one of the best tools to combat anxiety. “Of the participants who had a generalized anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, seven out of ten of them are now free of the disorder” as a result of developing a spirituality practice, the researchers concluded. What does this mean in real numbers? Of the 40 million people who currently suffer from clinical anxiety, 28 million could be anxiety-free. With no medication. 

And it’s free. 

So, Descartes says cogito, ergo sum. Perhaps a better phrase would be sentio, ergo sum. I feel, therefore I am.

To learn more, call Being today! 

Mood and Midwest Winters

As a mental health practitioner living in the midwest, each year I find myself seeking new ways to implement a skillful approach to managing the physical, emotional, and mental shifts that may come with the arriving winter season. Though we can anticipate this seasonal shift each year, we cannot always anticipate the ways our mood may be affected. In addition, so often we are faced with unexpected life stressors such as a job loss/transition, relationship changes, physical health changes, the loss of a loved one, financial strain, or the reminder of old wounds. When these stressors are compounded by the decrease in sunlight, drop in temperatures, and increase in weather-related barriers, it can be difficult to know how to best attend to your mental health needs. The term Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) often gets used to make sense of these changes in mood throughout the winter months. Though SAD is not considered a formal diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5, it can provide helpful validation for these experiences, as well as an opportunity to practice acceptance and change. According to the 2015 review of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Sherri Melrose states “as the acronym so aptly illustrates, those afflicted experience feelings of sadness and loss of energy, especially during December, January, and February, around the winter solstice, when the days are shortest.” Existing research on effective treatment for SAD symptoms include increasing Vitamin D, light therapy, counseling, physical exercise, and/or medication management*. 

 

So, what else might be helpful in managing this fluctuation in mood as we prepare for spending more time indoors? Recently, I was introduced to the Danish term “Hygge” (pronounced ‘hue-gah’) that roughly translates to creating a sense of “coziness” or “comfort.” What intrigued me about this popularized term, is its invitation to embrace the insulation of these winter months, and to promote a sense of connection with yourself and others. Knowing that the busy demands of work, home, and family don’t subside with the season, finding ways to slow down and feel present may seem nearly impossible. With so many books, apps, and gadgets out there offering new and helpful ways to practice greater balance in life, I recognize it can be difficult to create or sustain these recommended daily routine/habits when SAD-related symptoms seem loud and in charge. Which is why the concept of “Hygge” is so interesting. To me, it offers permission; Permission to find comfort within the moment; Permission to experience the feeling of being ‘cozy’ which can connect us to a child-like comfort; Permission to share connection with others in its simplest form; Permission to simply be, and to be reminded that there is light within the darkness of this season. Tending to this awareness can offer an opportunity to practice mindfulness as a way to help recharge when we frequently feel more depleted. As you navigate the ebbs and flows of this winter season, I encourage you to give yourself permission to practice “Hygge” – whether it’s wrapping up in a blanket, drinking a warm beverage, engaging in a creative outlet, lighting a candle, snuggling with a pet, or connecting with a loved one. Embracing “Hygge” may not extinguish your SAD-related symptoms completely, but it will hopefully offer the important reminder that you are resilient and deserving of coziness and comfort. 

 

A few reminders:

 

-*Please contact your Primary Care Doctor if you have questions about exploring medication treatment. 

 

-If SAD-related symptoms are feeling difficult to manage, please reach out for support from a doctor or mental health professional. If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please contact 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

 

Melrose, S. (2015). Seasonal affective disorder: an overview of assessment and treatment approaches. Depression research and treatment, 2015.

 

Labeling our Emotions

Emotions- the reason many people initially decide to go to therapy is so often rooted in this part of our day to day functioning that can sometimes feel so great and other times… not so much. What we consider the “positive” side of this- happy, joyful, optimistic, serene, amused, hopeful, satisfied- most of the time these feelings bring, to some degree a level of contentment or gratification. These positive emotions may be experienced differently and may last for varying lengths of time for everyone, but overall carry the perception of being “good”. The other side of this or what we consider to be “negative emotions” are those that we, as human beings, consider emotions that may not be as pleasurable to experience as those listed above. Sadness, anger, frustration, distrust, annoyance, and loneliness are just a few. In this post, the main goal is to understand that while these emotions may be considered negative, that does not mean that they are “bad” and how to begin the coping process around these emotions. 

In an article published earlier this year from verywellmind.com, Elizabeth Scott, a health and wellness coach describes the experience of emotions by stating “When we talk about so-called negative emotions, it’s important to remember that these emotions, in themselves, aren’t negative as in “bad,” but more than they are in the realm of negativity as opposed to positivity. Emotions aren’t necessarily good or bad; they are just states and signals that allow us to pay more attention to the events that create them” (https://www.verywellmind.com/embrace-negative-emotions-4158317). Does an example come to mind here for you about a time something happened and you immediately classified that you were feeling something “bad”? Perhaps there are things in life that bring you anxiety, a presentation at school or work, a comment made by a friend or co-worker that makes you feel uneasy, or days where you feel particularly on edge, easily frustrated or annoyed. It is so easy to then jump to increased frustration with yourself or these feelings as they can be very uncomfortable and at times feel intolerable. As a therapist and a fellow human being, I am here to validate that this can be extremely distressing and you are not alone in feeling this! Here are a few ways that may help to cope with these negative emotions:

  • Understanding how you label the emotion: Are you able to name and understand what you are feeling and where this feeling may be coming from? Being able to engage in this activity may help you to trace back to what brought on the negative emotion and problem-solve around the situation. Labeling the emotion also applies to what is talked about above. Are you immediately labeling an emotion as “bad”? This may be a moment to remind yourself that this emotion is trying to tell you something about what you are experiencing!
  • Before responding, check the evidence!: What has happened in the past when I have felt this way? I know I may feel that this feeling may last forever, but is that true? In an article from positivepsychology.com entitled “What are Negative Emotions and How to Control Them”, writer Elaine Mead shares the idea “When exploring negative emotions, it’s also important to know that they are not the only source of information you have access to. Before you act upon any emotion you should also seek to explore your previous experiences, stored knowledge and memories, personal values and desired outcomes for any given scenario”. (https://positivepsychology.com/negative-emotions/)
  • Re-regulating your physiological systems: Many emotions, especially those that are in the “negative emotions” category bring a response to your body. For example, accelerated breathing, flushed cheeks, feeling overly warm, tensed muscles just to name a few. In these moments, focus on re-regulating our body can help decrease the intensity of the emotion we may be feeling. Try to notice what is happening in your body and try exercises such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation techniques to bring your body back to baseline!
  • Mindfulness Activities: When distressed, overwhelmed, angry or sad, it can be helpful to bring yourself back to the present moment by focusing on your senses and the world around you. A way to begin this practice may be placing your feet directly on the floor, and acknowledging where you are in this moment. What do I hear, smell, see, or physically feel around me. This can bring your mind back to the present and these physical sensations and can also support the physical re-regulation discussed above.  

Last but not least, and in my mind, most importantly!

  • Having patience with your emotions: Easier said than done right? One of the greatest things I have ever learned is to be patient with what you are feeling. While I think it is a wonderful thing to name, and to understand as a concept, this is something that can be very important to work on with your therapist in sessions! When an emotion enters and we judge it to be bad or negative, our patience with ourselves can go right out the window. Allowing ourselves grace and understanding in difficult moments can be a tremendous step on the journey to healing.