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Beating the Winter Blues

Most of us are familiar with signs of winter: A fresh blanket of snow lays on the ground, a bitter chill hangs in the air, and warm clothing comes out of storage. One might curl up on the couch to watch a movie with a warm cup of hot chocolate and a comfortable blanket. For a few months, the world appears almost frozen in time, and as the holidays roll around, people are sparked with the joys of giving and the warmth of family.

Although winter is a beautiful time of year, it can also be the most difficult. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects an estimated 10 million Americans. Risk factors include living a far distance from the equator, having a diagnosis of depression, and having a family history of SAD. Starting in late fall and lasting until spring, those impacted with SAD may experience low energy, increased sleep, overeating, weight gain, and social withdrawal.

I often say that I turn into a different person in the wintertime. My mood can be compared to that of a grizzly bear, I want to sleep all the time, and my thought patterns become incredibly negative. This year, I wanted to make a change and attempt to view winter more positively. Although I realized that challenging negative thought patterns is helpful, I quickly realized that I would need to do more to cope with my winter SADs (….. get it?).

Here are 3 helpful tips:

Go Towards the Light

Lack of exposure to light is one of the obvious causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder. During cold weather, most of us find ourselves staying indoors to keep warm. However, it may be important to bundle up, brave the cold, and bask in the sunlight as it presents. On days that the sun doesn’t shine, one can take advantage of light therapy, or phototherapy. This involves utilizing a light box, which is a lamp that shines artificial sunlight. You can find a list of great options for light boxes by clicking here.

Stock up on Vitamin D

Less sunlight means that there is an insufficient amount of vitamin D being produced in our bodies. It is important to incorporate foods that are rich in vitamin D into our diets to create more dietary balance. So dive into the snack closet, but make sure your snack closet is full of goodies that will help boost vitamin D. Foods that are rich in vitamin D include, fish, eggs, mushrooms, fruits, and vegetables.

Stay Active

I find this to be the most difficult task during the winter. I love exercising outside, but it is almost impossible for me to dig up enough motivation to throw myself into the cold whips of winter. So in my attempt to remain active throughout the chilly months, I have found myself doing a lot of yoga indoors. I love yoga for its gentleness and mindfulness, which I definitely need more of during the winter, and I also find that it is a fantastic strength workout!

Okay, Wellness Warriors, this is where we all come together and collaborate within our community!! What do you do to cope with winter blues?

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Strengthening Serotonin Naturally

In April 2019, I began a daily dose of Prozac to assist in managing depression. A small, 20mg white pill played a big role in helping me function again. I found that my depressive symptoms eased enough for me to start taking better care of myself, and as I started feeling better, my passion for health and wellness grew tremendously (obviously… I mean, have you read this blog??).

I practiced being aware of what I am put in my body and how it makes me feel, and I soon noticed that if I ate healthier and remained more active, I felt minimal depression. It sparked a curiosity: If eating healthier can improve my mood in general, can certain foods help depression in general? And so, the research began.

Almost as soon as I started taking Prozac, I began wondering when I would be okay to stop taking it. As a disclosure, I do not believe that taking medication is wrong or bad; Hell, Prozac pretty much saved my life. I do, however, have a strong preference for utilizing more natural remedies when I can. While I am aware that some individuals may require long-term medication management, I always want to provide myself with opportunities to explore alternatives.

Food does not contain serotonin, meaning one cannot get serotonin directly from food. However, there is an amino acid that is converted into serotonin in the brain. Tryptophan is typically found in foods that are high in protein, such as turkey or salmon. Foods that are rich in tryptophan are:

  • chicken
  • eggs
  • cheese
  • fish
  • peanuts
  • pumpkin and sesame seeds
  • milk
  • turkey
  • tofu
  • soy
  • chocolate
  • pineapple
  • plums

Foods that are rich in tryptophan may contain other amino acids that are more likely to pass the blood-brain barrier (picture the blood-brain barrier as a really selective security guard – it protects the brain against anything that may cause harm to neurological function). Combining foods rich in tryptophan with carbohydrates can increase the likelihood that tryptophan will pass the blood-brain barrier and be converted to serotonin by the brain.

If you are like me, you may be a chronic snacker, which is actually a great thing if you’re looking for some healthy snacks that can boost serotonin levels. Some ideas include:

  • whole-wheat bread with turkey or cheese
  • oatmeal with a handful of nuts
  • salmon with brown rice
  • plums or pineapple with crackers
  • pretzel sticks with peanut butter and a glass of milk

While tryptophan has many health benefits, there are a number of unpleasant side effects. Some common side effects include heartburn, stomach pain, nausea, loss of appetite, headaches, sexual dysfunction, or dry mouth. Some more serious side effects may be drowsiness, lightheadedness, blurriness of vision, or muscle weakness. *Please keep in mind that I am NOT a medical professional and simply intend to share what I learn throughout my own health and wellness journey. My writing contains far too many quips and ramblings to ever be taken as medical advice.

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How To Cope With A Not-So-Happy Holiday

The holiday season is often viewed as a period of joyous celebration with family and friends. The world comes alive with music, smiles with acts of charity, and celebrates togetherness. For some, however, this time of year can trigger feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. In a survey by National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 64% of those surveyed confirmed being affected by the “Holiday Blues,” while 24% reported the holidays affect them a lot.

Individuals may experience:

  • fatigue
  • tension
  • frustration
  • loneliness
  • isolation
  • sadness
  • a sense of loss
  • nervousness
  • stress

These symptoms (or increased symptoms, if one is affected by a mental health condition) can be linked to other holiday-related factors as well, such as less sunlight, changes in diet and routine, increased consumption of substances, financial stress related to gift giving, and conflict with family or friends. Although some of these symptoms may be temporary, it is important to identify and practice ways of coping as some of us seemingly trudge through the holidays.

Here are some tips for managing your mental health throughout the holiday season:

Go to Your Therapy Sessions

The holidays are busy, and the idea of brushing off a therapy session in order to cram in an hour’s worth of holiday errands can be incredibly inviting. However, it can also create more stress and frustration. Being able to pause and reflect is important in maintaining mental health, and the holidays may bring up difficult emotions or experiences that are important to process.

Find a Positive Way to Honor Those Lost

The holidays can bring up feelings of grief as we celebrate without loved ones who have passed. Incorporate a tradition that can allow you to remember and celebrate your loved one in a positive manner. Some ideas may be to write a letter, light a candle, share favorite stories, or play the person’s favorite music. Although it may look different, we can still make those passed a part of our celebration.

Stay Active

I know I say this a lot – and I mean A LOT – but I have not found a better stress reliever than exercise. Even if it’s a short walk or 10 minute stretch, take some time to get your blood moving and get those endorphins pumping. This can also be a time for some mindfulness practice, as we can strive to be present with our bodies and minds throughout movement.

Stay organized

During the holidays, it sometimes seems as if the “To Do” lists never end. Make lists, keep a routine, and practice good time management skills. Staying organized can help ease anxieties, develop realistic expectations, and prevent ourselves from biting off more than we can chew.

Do not Go Broke to Show Your Love

Financial concerns can be the bulk of stress throughout the holiday season. Our society puts intense pressure on gift giving as a way to show that we care, which can cause depression, anxiety, and stress for those struggling with finances. If you are struggling with finances, stick to a budget that can assist with money management. If you have very limited funds (we’ve all been there!), the people who love you will understand. Some low cost/no cost gift ideas might include making a CD, writing a poem, printing and framing pictures, doing an activity or an experience, or re-purposing something.

Relax

Spend extra time checking in with yourself to determine what you need to stay stress-free and relaxed. Self care is even more important during times of high stress and feeling overwhelmed.

Play Well With Others

When we spend a lot of time with family it can create tension, specifically when we have differing opinions or turbulent relationships. Make sure to communicate effectively about your experiences and emotions in order to try and make others aware of how you are impacted turbulent relationships or conflict. If you have the time, check out this article titled 5 Ways to Talk About Touchy Topics with Those You Care About to get some ideas on how to make holiday interactions a little smoother.

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The Power of Breath

There are several actions that occur in our body without clear direction and effort from our brain. A heart beat, for example, is a powerful and- barring any serious health issues- automatic rhythm that plays a vital role in keeping our bodies alive. My brain always visualizes Osmosis Jones running around inside my body to ensure that every task is being completed without my having to consciously perform them. It makes things, like breathing, seem effortless.

Although we may be accustomed to the effortlessness of breathing, how often do we truly take a moment to mindfully connect with our breath? In meditation, attention to the breath is a method of becoming fully present. By changing breathing pattern, we can produce different states of mind, such as increasing overall energy and relaxing the body and mind. The endorphins released by the body during deep breathing also serve as a natural mood boost. These effects make deep breathing a widely used coping mechanism in managing symptoms of various mental health diagnoses.

Deep breathing does more than influence our emotional state; it can impact our physical health, as well. If you are someone who has a regular exercise/cardio routine established, you have probably realized the importance of having a close relationship with the breath. In distance running, I have learned that the more I pay attention to my breath, the more in tune I am with the rest of my body. Promoting slow, deep breaths can assist in keeping a safe pace to prevent our heart rates from climbing to dangerous BPM’s. Additionally, attention to breath can increase control and power behind movements in strength training.

As stated earlier, through deep breathing our body releases endorphins, which act as a natural pain reliever. By increasing our oxygen flow, we are also improving digestion and detoxifying our bodies through both releasing carbon dioxide and speeding up the lymphatic system. So, next time you meditate, you can visualize the release of toxins along with that negative energy that spews out with every exhale. So whether you’re stressed, overwhelmed, in physical or emotional pain, or experience a variety of physical health concerns, controlled breathing can be a step to a greater overall sense of well being.


Here are a few simple breathing exercises to get you started:

Box Breathing

This breathing technique can act as a powerful stress reliever while heightening performance and concentration.

Begin in a comfortable position. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4 seconds. Hold your breath for a count of 4 seconds. Exhale through your mouth for a count of 4 seconds. Repeat cycle as many times as needed.

Bellows Breathing

This is a rapid breathing technique aimed toward increasing energy and alertness.

Begin in a comfortable position. Inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose while keeping your mouth shut. Breaths should be as short as possible, but equal in duration. The diaphragm should move quickly. Do this for a cycle of 15 seconds, gradually increasing time with each practice. Breath normally after each cycle.

4:7:8 Breathing

This breathing technique promotes peace and tranquility. This exercise can also be used to more easily fall asleep. It may cause one to feel slightly lightheaded.

Begin in a comfortable position, keeping your back straight. With your mouth closed, quietly inhale through your nose for a count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Exhale through your mouth, making a whooshing sound, to the count of 8. Complete cycle 3-4 times, gradually increasing the amount of cycles with continued practice.


As always, Wellness Warriors, feel free to provide feedback and share your experiences if you choose to practice these skills. My hope is that these breathing techniques empower you to love and care for your breath while harnessing the art of controlled breathing. Until next time!

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Digging up the Roots of Depression

Anyone can experience sadness, grief, and despair (assuming one has the emotional capacity), but not everyone will experience depression. Depression is characterized by loss of interest, lack of pleasure, changes in appetite or sleep, irritability, low energy, decreased mood, among other symptoms that can have a severe impact on daily life. Try to picture being a slug with no hope and no desire to do anything- that’s depression. It’s like trying to run against the current… while underwater… and someone forgot to give you a scuba tank so you could breathe. Depression is as abundant as the common cold, and it is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. Although previously believed to stem from chemical imbalance, we now know that root of depression lies among a variety of risk factors, including physiological, environmental, emotional, and situational circumstances.

Physiological factors may include genetics, diet, hormonal imbalances, or chronic illness. Both of my parents were diagnosed with clinical depression at some point in their lives. In my own case, an extensive family history of depression put me more at risk for developing depression myself (I like to call it The Double Whammy). So, while this encouraged me to learn some skills early to manage depression, I didn’t quite understand what it would actually feel like to be- in the words of a client- “cuckoo-nuts,” until it got severe enough that I couldn’t work through it on my own. In some cases, poor diet or hormonal imbalances can relate to decreased energy or mood, influencing depressive symptoms. In my case, this was a chicken-or-the-egg scenario. I’d feel depressed and lose my appetite, have candy or chips or nothing for dinner, and then feel MORE depressed because I was eating like garbage. Often, individuals with chronic illnesses, sleep disorders, or other health concerns experience depressive symptoms, as well, particularly if these conditions cause challenges completing daily tasks and living a fulfilling life.

Depressive symptoms may also be affected by environmental factors. For example, if someone lives in a stressful or chaotic environment, that person may be more likely to experience depression. My own depressive symptoms heightened after moving to the suburbs. Living in a house that I could not afford, working two jobs, and living far from my friends created financial stress, lack of self care, and isolation. I found myself hiding in my room with debilitating anxiety at the thought of coming out of my cave and engaging with my manipulative roommate and her bro-in-denial boyfriend- which often meant navigating my way through stale marijuana smoke and Patron. And don’t get me wrong, I am far from prude, but this wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted or expected when I moved. My inability to cope with feeling stuck in an unhappy and unfulfilling environment was a major factor in my depression spiraling. Additionally, environmental factors may affect those living in a setting with increased violence, domestic disturbance, or crime.

Individuals who experience low self esteem, pessimism, or have a history of physical or emotional trauma may be more susceptible to symptoms of depression. This can be more apparent in people who lack coping skills or positive outlets for emotions. I used to have a saying: “Turn your sadness into anger, and lock it up in a box.” Now, picture me screaming this from the tallest rooftop: THIS WAS NOT HELPFUL. It took a LONG time to realize that feelings are normal and okay, and pretending it does not exist does not mean a feeling goes away. It just means that it’ll eventually come up more bubbly and more aggressive than before, like an exploding pressure cooker, or manifest in symptoms of depression or anxiety. And so, my new saying is: “Listen to yourself.” We experience emotions for a reason, and, whether they are accurate or not, they all deserve to be respected and acknowledged.

Last, but certainly not least, feeling sad is not the same as experiencing depression. Let me say it again: feeling sad is not the same as experiencing depression. However, if you are a human you have probably encountered a situation that has caused you intense grief- and if you haven’t, give me some of those unicorn-and-rainbow sunglasses you’re wearing. Life transitions can be complex. Death of a loved one, issues in work or school, relationship problems, financial issues, moving- these are all situations that can cause one to feel stressed, overwhelmed, distraught. These are some of the situations that I deem the “Big Bad Sad-Makers.” Major life changes can affect daily routine, cause anxiety, and manifest symptoms of depression. If emotions that come from these situations cause disruption in your ability to engage in daily life, it’s something to look at more closely.

While these are common roots of depression, they are surely not the only ones, and many individuals experience more than one of these risk factors for depression. Take me for example- all four of these things joined up to make me a tiny burrito of sadness! From the time I was in college, factors have been coming in and out of my life to cause disruptions in mood, and the one thing that encouraged me most in dealing with my depression was learning about my depression. Everyone has a different experience with mental health, and if I can offer you one piece of advice in tackling your own mental health concern, it is to learn about it. It’s like Voldemort- Harry had to learn about Voldemort’s history, strengths, and weaknesses before he could defeat him. Yes, I just turned Mental Health into a Harry Potter reference… and I think it’s my proudest moment of the day.

Thanks to @depression-patriciajordan.com for inspiring me to write this. It’s not a simple answer, but it’s an answer none-the-less.

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101 Coping Skills for Depression

  1. Identify potential triggers
  2. Identify your emotions
  3. Take a walk
  4. Call a friend
  5. Practice deep breathing
  6. Meditate for 5-10 minutes
  7. Draw a cartoon
  8. Write 5 things you love about yourself
  9. Stretch for 10 minutes
  10. Go for a run
  11. Play with a pet
  12. Make a playlist of feel good songs
  13. Listen to your feel good songs
  14. Dance
  15. Paint a representation of your emotions
  16. Make a collage using old magazines
  17. Practice handstands
  18. Do 10 push ups
  19. Go for a bike ride
  20. Clean your apartment
  21. Take a shower
  22. Put on your favorite outfit
  23. Style your hair
  24. Read a book
  25. Take a drive
  26. Take photographs
  27. Stay hydrated
  28. Go window shopping
  29. Socialize with someone
  30. Avoid judging your emotions
  31. Create a simple to do list and complete at least 3 things
  32. Cook a healthy meal
  33. Practice yoga poses
  34. Make jewelry
  35. Look at your rock collection
  36. Paint your nails
  37. Put on a face mask
  38. Play with makeup
  39. Video chat a loved one
  40. Free write in a journal
  41. Let yourself cry
  42. Go somewhere very public
  43. Bake
  44. Drink tea or hot chocolate
  45. Look up recipes
  46. Rearrange your apartment
  47. Watch stand up comedy
  48. Practice positive self talk
  49. Use a stress ball
  50. Make slime
  51. Go for a hike
  52. Sit under a tree and read
  53. Spend time in nature
  54. Sit by a river and listen to the water
  55. Read poetry
  56. Look at art
  57. Put a puzzle together
  58. Water your plants
  59. Write a poem
  60. Play ukulele
  61. Make a list of long term goals
  62. Watch America’s Funniest Home Videos
  63. Identify 10 positive thoughts
  64. Write a gratitude list
  65. Read inspirational quotes
  66. Write a song
  67. Get enough sleep
  68. Use essential oils
  69. Take a bubble bath
  70. Plan an activity
  71. Look outside mindfully
  72. Go outside
  73. Crochet a scarf
  74. Listen to a podcast
  75. Play a board game with a friend
  76. Plan outfits for the week
  77. Sing
  78. Practice visualization
  79. Watch a movie
  80. Meal prep
  81. Challenge any negative thinking
  82. Color a picture
  83. Get a massage
  84. Get your nails done
  85. Make worry stones
  86. Go rock picking
  87. Use progressive muscle relaxation
  88. Engage in problem solving
  89. Watch videos of funny children
  90. Write a letter to yourself
  91. Play a sport
  92. Make extra time for yourself
  93. Use lavender room spray
  94. Identify your strengths
  95. Do a body scan
  96. Look at old pictures
  97. Learn a new craft
  98. Spend time with a family member
  99. Volunteer
  100. Light a candle
  101. Explore somewhere you’ve never been
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Taking a Time Out

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I am currently on the road with Cape Cod, MA as the destination. My sister is driving with mom in the passenger seat, and I’m in the back tucked in tight between my brother and my nephew. We woke up bright and early and rolled into the car at around 6:30am. After realizing I hadn’t taken significant time from work in over a year, I set the goal to make this trip an opportunity to recharge and spend time with the people I love. I thought it might be useful to jot down a few “Self Care” goals that I’d like to strive for over this long weekend.

1. Unplug as much as possible. I’ve already spend most of the ride with my phone off, so I definitely want to make taking a break from screens a priority.

2. Reflect. I’ve been in the middle of some pretty important and scary decisions lately. I brought my journal and a handful of pens to organize my thoughts and feelings. Remembering to treat myself gently as I consider what I want and need out of like is pretty key for this goal.

3. Listen to as much music as possible. Music has always been an immediate mood boost for me, so of course this has to be toward the top of the list. I’ve been a little jittery lately thinking about the decisions mentioned in #2. My mood has not been low by any means, but part of self care is maintenance and prevention, which is where this goal comes in.

4. Relax. There is nothing like meditation to make my brain clear and calm and doing so on the beach just seems like it would be amazing. I also brought my yoga mat and sneakers, so I can run and do yoga as much as I want. I have face masks and books and everything that makes me feel relaxed to utilize.

Aside from having a blast with my family, these four goals are what I’d like to focus on this weekend. Some key themes are just being present in the moment while remembering to take time for myself. I will be sure to check back in soon with the progress made toward these goals! Have a great weekend, everyone!

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How Cancer Patients Can Cope with Depression

When a patient finds out they have cancer, this can be a very upsetting time with a range of emotions. They may develop feelings of depression, anger, anxiety, or hopelessness, (among others) after their diagnosis. This is common in both patients and their loved ones after they learn of a debilitating illness in themselves or their family. It’s when a person still has the same feelings or negative thoughts for extended periods when things can get worrisome.

Depression, Mental Health, and Cancer

Now, more than before, it’s vital for patients to realize the importance of a positive mental state. Mental health is closely linked to physical health, and a body that is fighting cancer needs all the support available. Mental health is a person’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Someone suffering from depression can be impacted in all 3 of these facets, and it can begin to affect how they feel physically. This is because the mind tells the body what to do. When the brain experiences stress or crisis, it releases chemicals that tell the body how to feel and what to do. This happens with good feelings too. Depression has been linked to a 50 percent increase in cancer mortality rate, while on the opposite side, a 2012 Harvard University analysis has shown a correlation between a positive outlook, cardiovascular health, and reduced rate of disease metastasis.

What Depression Can Look Like

Another reason researchers think mental health can take a large toll on cancer patients, is because terminal ill patients who have depression are much less likely to seek the support they need. By definition, depression fills a person with feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or regret. Being weighed down by these feelings can make a person physically feel incapacitated. Depressed patients can be overcome with sudden and extreme feelings of fatigue or exhaustion that don’t go away. When someone, even without cancer, is overwhelmed with the barrage of negative emotions that can sometimes surround those who are depressed, they may literally feel that it’s impossible to do something once as simple as leaving their bed. Activities they once enjoyed start getting pushed aside or avoided, and they may even experience a wide range of mood swings (aggressiveness, hyperactivity) to further push their family and friends away. Loss of appetite, insomnia, thoughts or feelings of suicide are also symptoms of depression.

Coping Techniques for Depression

When cancer patients seek support for depression, they may find it easier to manage, however, not all coping techniques are effective to everyone.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
This technique helps patients control their feelings,
Communicating

When patients communicate their feelings in a healthy way to family members or close friends, this can be very freeing. Sometimes letting out negative feelings or thoughts can lift a person’s mood and spirits. It helps if both parties also listen carefully to each other and offer mutual support.

Breathing

It can be easy to underestimate the power of this technique. Firstly, when patient’s practice simple breathing exercises, they are breaking the negative train of thought they were initially on. Next, breathing changes heart rate which impacts blood flow and reduce negative feelings. One simple breathing technique the patient can try takes 4 steps:

  • Take deep breaths from your diaphragm
  • Hold it in for as many seconds as you can
  • Repeat a couple more times
  • Relax and let yourself feel it
Meditation

When patients master breathing techniques, meditation is easier. This coping technique can help patients train their brain to focus for longer, and then apply that focus when negative feelings arise. Scientists have discovered that the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is hyperactive in people with depression. This method can be effective when patients learn to:

  1. Find a comfortable, quiet, and calm place to sit
  2. Set a time limit. Beginners can start at 10 minutes and work their way up
  3. Sit loosely cross-legged or kneel. Once stable, close your eyes and notice how your body is feeling
  4. Follow sensation of breath as you breathe in and out
  5. If your mind begins to wonder off, don’t feel bad, this happens. Try to bring it back by noticing it and returning back to breathing
  6. Try not to judge yourself or obsess over thoughts that may surface
  7. When you feel comfortable, look up and notice the sounds and activity happening around you. How does your body feel? Notice feelings, thoughts, and emotions.

While this may sound easy, true meditation takes practice. Try not to feel down on yourself if you can’t focus or want to quit at first.

Seeking Professional Support
Depression management can encompass seeking professional help like counseling or therapy. There are also support groups of varying kinds available to those who need it, in person, and online.
Treatment

Psychiatrists and doctors may offer medications for patients to help with symptoms of depression. They may also recommend a combination of physical and mental therapies with medication.

Caregivers and Patient Depression

Caregivers should be able to recognize symptoms of depression in the cancer patients they take care of. This way they can call a medical professional or needed support when the time arises. Some things to look out for include:

  • Continuous sad or empty mood day after day
  • Avoidance of activities or people
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Fatigue or constant feelings of tiredness
  • Restless or unfocused
  • Attempts or thoughts of suicide
  • Mood swings

Patients will need support during this time. Some things caregivers can do to help are:

  • Gently invite patient to discuss anything that’s bothering them. Don’t put pressure on them to talk, wait until they feel comfortable
  • Don’t tell the patient to “cheer up” “get over it” or “be positive”.
  • Mutually work out an arrangement for support
  • Try to engage the patient in enjoyable activities
  • Practice self-care and try to avoid burnout by spending time alone or doing fun things
  • Seek support if burnout occurs

The caregiver should try to be gentle and understanding with the patient. They shouldn’t be forced to do anything they aren’t ready to do.

When to Call Someone

Contact your doctor or mental health professional if the following occur:

  • Constant thoughts of suicide or death that don’t go away
  • Unsafe behavior
  • Loss of sleep and motivation for multiple days in a row
  • Problems breathing, excessive sweating, and restlessness

The medical professional can provide medication, referrals, resources, and support. Reach out to them if depression becomes unmanageable.

About The Author:

Jennifer Verta writes health, medical, and legal pages for mesothelioma hub, a resource center for cancer patients and people who want to learn more about mesothelioma and other cancers. She has been writing content for clients for over 6 years and counting.

Sources:

American Cancer Society. (2020). Depression. Retrieved April 2020 from https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/emotional-mood-changes/depression.html

Bradley University. (ND). How Mental Health Affects Physical Health. Retrieved on April 2021, from https://onlinedegrees.bradley.edu/blog/how-mental-health-affects-physical-health/

Cancer Care. Maintaining Good Mental Health When Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis. Retrieved April 2020 from  https://www.cancercare.org/blog/maintaining-good-mental-health-when-coping-with-a-cancer-diagnosis?gclid=Cj0KCQjwvr6EBhDOARIsAPpqUPGRIJvh2XKd2BKAxXq_6oath4kcQuVeKuPiN-in09XhZKhFe3FSq6saAqweEALw_wcB

Mindful. (2021). How to Meditate. Retrieved April 2020 from   https://www.mindful.org/how-to-meditate/


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How to Use The 5 Senses Exercise to Cope With Anxiety and Panic

What is anxiety?

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States. Anxiety typically involves intense, uncontrollable terror or dread. Additional symptoms may include increased heartbeat, sweating, shortness of breath, muscle tension, racing thoughts, and stomach ache. Chronic symptoms can interfere with activities of daily living, work performance, and educational progress. Additional problems may arise for individuals who experience panic attacks, which are sudden, chronic episodes of intense fear that causes severe physical and emotional reactions. 

What does anxiety look like? 

While learning about anxiety, several dots that had been scattered throughout my life suddenly connected. Childhood anxiety can include frequent crying, complaining of stomach aches, and quickness to anger, which reminded me of countless memories during which I struggled to navigate the world rationally. I thought back on my first grade teacher, who contacted my mother to discuss her concerns about my frequent crying, stomach aches, and general sensitivity during the school day. In fact, my sister still rolls her eyes when recalling her embarrassment about frequently pushing my sad, sobbing sack onto the school bus. At home, my exquisite ability to throw a sudden, nonsensical temper tantrum earned me the nickname “Little Thundercloud.” 

My experience with anxiety has never had a severe impact on my life, but it has caused me difficult moments of paralysis, shakiness, racing thoughts, heart palpitations, and intense stomach aches. There have even been a few situations where my symptoms escalated to panic, featuring blurry vision, tightness in my chest, and trembling. Those moments left me emotionally exhausted and confused, and when they occurred I knew I had to find a way to address how I was feeling.

What causes anxiety?

When feeling threatened or sensing danger, all animals have an instinctual reaction referred to as fight-or-flight. As a reaction to the detected danger, the heartbeat intensifies, senses heighten, and the body prepares to either run away to safety or fight off the threat. Chronic anxiety and panic disorders are what happen when the brain inaccurately detects danger. An individual could be genetically predisposed to anxiety disorders, or symptoms may be triggered by a traumatic experience. 

In an outpatient therapy setting, I worked with a client who suffered with an immunodeficiency disease. She struggled with uncertainty related to her health and underwent frequent medical testing during childhood. The illness caused frequent long term hospitalizations, requiring her to quarantine to avoid exposure to germs. After finally being diagnosed and starting an effective treatment regimen, she was permitted to be her life as normally as possible. However, she enrolled in mental health therapy after noticing that being in public and near other people caused intense panic about her getting sick, even though her health was now stable.

Mental health typically moves in patterns. Identifying those patterns is a critical step in learning how we can break them. In the example above, my client displayed a pattern. She spent time in public, experienced intense fear, and engaged in avoidance behaviors to limit that unwanted feeling. To break this pattern, we had to determine the first sign of anxiety and put something into place that would help derail the cycle.

How can I overcome anxiety? 

Like most obstacles we discuss here on the blog, to overcome anxiety we have to learn about it. I quickly learned that my own anxiety fluctuates based on my level of depression, and when I feel more depressed I display more symptoms of anxiety as well. This basically means that if my depression is the chicken, my anxiety is the egg. It was important for me to understand where my anxiety was coming from, but it was also important to identify skills that would help me cope with it. 

Grounding techniques can intercept anxiety faster than Troy Polamalu can intercept a football. Grounding activities provide mental distraction that redirect one’s focus onto the present moment. They can help control symptoms of anxiety and panic disorders, and they can serve as tools to increase tolerance of distressing emotions. Now don’t get me wrong, traditional mindfulness skills, such as deep breathing, are incredibly useful. However, grounding techniques may just be strong enough to stop a panic attack in its tracks.

My favorite grounding technique is known as the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise, or the Five Senses exercise. The exercise incorporates all of the body’s senses that pull together to bring awareness back to the present. Personally, as soon as I notice my vision blurring and thoughts racing, this is what I do:

THE FIVE SENSES EXERCISE 

Use this exercise when the first symptoms of anxiety and panic arise.

5: Identify FIVE objects around you. It could be a spot on the wall, a book, anything in your surroundings.

4: Identify FOUR things you can feel. Notice the sensations of your clothing on your skin, the ground beneath your feet, or your hair tickling your face.

3: Identify THREE things you can hear. This can be either external, such as traffic outside, or music. It can also be internal, like the sound of your heartbeat or the sound of your breath.

2: Identify TWO things you can smell. Breathe in the smell coffee brewing or maybe you take a walk and acknowledge the scents of nature.

1: Identify ONE thing you can taste. Maybe you can take a sip of tea or juice and focus on how it hits your taste buds, or maybe pop a piece of gum in your mouth and focus the burst of flavor.

How can I get the best results from my grounding exercise? 

The most important thing to practice during a mindfulness or grounding activity is the ability to focus attention on the present moment, without judgment. The purpose of the exercises are to refocus on things outside of oneself, rather than what is going on in the mind. It is critical that we do this with a sense of open curiosity. 

The best part about the 5 Senses Exercise is that it can be done anywhere. It can be practiced in a park, at home, walking in the community, at work, in a car– as long as it’s safe! If anxiety or panic is persistent, the exercise can be lengthened by increasing the amount of things you identify. One might even draw out the exercise by finding as many things in each category as possible. 

This is an the exercise that I teach clients most frequently, and the feedback from those who have tried it has been consistently positive. I always love to hear about your experiences. If someone out there tries this exercise, let me know how it went for you! What works for some may not work for others, but this one hasn’t let me down yet. 

Your Turn!! 

Do you have other grounding techniques that you love? Leave some or your tips and tricks in the comments to help out our fellow wellness warriors. 

I hope everyone is having a great start to the week. As we continue through the work grind, don’t forget to stay grounded and mindful. 

Much love, 

Kel

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Suicide Prevention: Fact or Fiction

Each year, September brings a slight chill to Pennsylvania, generating anticipation for changing leaves, crisp air, bulky sweaters, and hot apple cider. It also brings a deeper sense of purpose and passion to those acknowledging September as National Suicide Prevention Month. All month, individuals around the world work together to spread suicide prevention awareness.

Suicide is a 10th leading cause of death in the Unite States, and it is the 2nd leading cause of death among people ages 15-24. Although suicide is preventable, it is a serious public health issue. In 2018, 48,344 Americans died by suicide, and there were an estimated 1.4 million suicide attempts.

Talking about suicide can be scary and uncomfortable, but it is also a critical to engage in conversations surrounding suicide prevention awareness in order to save lives. We can prevent suicide by openly discussing mental health and understanding warning signs and risk factors. Knowledge is power. Check out these myths and facts to learn more about suicide

Taking to someone about suicide will make them more suicidal.

MYTH. Research shows that people who are experiencing suicidal ideation feel a sense of relief when someone asks them about it in a caring way. Encouraging others to openly share their thoughts and feelings can actually help them to feel better.

This being said, it is important to recognize that those who talk about suicide are still at risk of experiencing a suicide attempt. It is important to ask if the person has a plan with intent to act and encourage them to seek appropriate counseling assistance.

Suicide rates are highest among adolescents.

MYTH. Elderly males experience the highest suicide rates in the United States. Researchers theorize that this relates to the high frequency of undiagnosed or untreated depression, as depressive symptoms are common toward end of life. Older individuals are more likely to lose their spouse or develop chronic illnesses, which can be incredibly stressful and traumatic. Additionally, elderly adults often experience loneliness due to infrequent socialization, which can exacerbate depressive symptoms. Although suicide rates have actually decreased among this population, it still remains the age group that experiences the highest rate of completed suicide.

Knowing warning signs can help to prevent suicide.

TRUE. Individual, relationship, and environmental factors are some elements that may influence the risk of suicide. Individuals who have suffered through traumatic experiences, such as abuse or exposure to violence, are more at risk of suicide.

Warning signs may include:

  • isolation from others
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • low mood
  • low energy
  • talking about wanting to die
  • increased substance use
  • feeling trapped or like a burden
  • feeling hopeless and/or helpless
  • giving away prized possessions
  • attempting to access lethal means

Males experience higher rates of suicide attempts.

MYTH. Although males complete suicide at a higher rate than women, women actually experience high rates of suicide attempts.

You may be wondering: If women have more suicide attempts, how can men have higher completed suicide rates? Men often choose more lethal, immediate methods of attempting suicide, such as using firearms, whereas women tend to choose methods, such as poisoning or suffocation, that are more likely to respond to medical intervention.

Once someone attempts suicide, they are less likely to attempt again.

MYTH. An individual who attempts suicide is actually more at risk of experiencing a future attempt. Once someone experiences a suicide attempts, it is critical for them to receive immediate mental health support to lower the risk of future attempts and the risk possible completion. Suicidal ideation can be a fatal symptom and should always be taken seriously.

Most suicide victims suffer with depression.

TRUE. Depression is the most common mental health condition. Although most people with depression do not die by suicide, experiencing depression does put someone at greater risk of experiencing suicidal ideation. An estimated 60% of individuals who complete suicide suffer with mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder, etc.). Many of them experience co-occurring disorders, such as substance use disorders.

Do you have any questions about suicide? Write in and let me know. Let’s all strive to learn how to help ourselves and how to help each other.

Much love,

Kel