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Choosing Between Helping Others and Helping Myself

Anyone who has been keeping up to date with my story knows that within the past two years I have worked incredibly hard to overcome my struggles with depression. In 2019, I went from wanting to die to feeling like my best self, and I established goals that would allow me to continue on a path of personal growth. I felt so proud of my accomplishments and level of motivation, and I felt inspired to continue working toward feeling mentally and physically healthy.

Fast forward to now, and I have to admit that I have reached a small speed bump in the road. In December 2019, I excitedly accepted a promotion from outpatient therapist to crisis intervention specialist at the agency that I am employed. I chose to continue seeing several outpatient clients part time, because I experienced some difficulty letting go and thought I could handle the workload. This means that I am currently working about 12 hours per day, 5 days per week. While I love what I do and often feel inspired through helping others, I am also ready to admit that I am finding myself increasingly frustrated.

I have always excelled at time management and have taken my professional responsibilities seriously. Throughout the past few years, I have been passionate about balancing my professional responsibilities with my personal needs, and I actually got to a place where I was incredibly happy with myself. I felt mentally health, focused, and determined to continue working toward becoming my best self.

Let us first acknowledge that progress is not always a forward motion and that we are almost guaranteed to experience back slides (after all, we are all human….. I think). The Wellness Warrior is a space in which I want to share my growth and be transparent with my struggles, and I wouldn’t be doing this site or myself any justice if I didn’t express my own frustrations.

I think within the past several months, I have slightly lost track of my main goal: To feel wholly healthy. I have been so focused in being there for my clients that I haven’t been present in my own life. Lately, I am mentally exhausted to the point where I’m having trouble focusing on personal relationships and interests. I’ve done minimal work toward my previously established goals and have not indulged in many of my preferred activities (as some may notice from my minimal updates to this blog).

Yesterday, I found myself calling out of work just so I could go outside for a hike and enjoy beautiful weather, and that is when I truly realized the severity of the issue. If I am working so much that I’m feeling I can’t enjoy my life without calling out of work, that is a huge issue.

I haven’t been taking the time to practice as much meditation, and I’ve noticed how my own thought patterns have reverted. My mind has been spinning out with my first reaction to events, which often times is irrational. I am less patient with others and with myself.

With all of this being said, I am struggling between choosing to help others and help myself. I love the work that I do, but I also have to acknowledge and consider when I am giving too much of myself to others and not enough to myself. I am finally ready to admit that I need to take a step back from my professional endeavors in order to better focus on caring for myself and being an active participant in my own life.

And this is where my Wellness Warriors coming in, because I have always struggled to say no when it comes to my career. What tips do you have with establishing professional boundaries? How can I empower myself to advocate for my own needs? How can I remind myself that, where my clients want to work with me, they don’t need to work me to achieve their goals?

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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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What No One Tells You About Being a Therapist

A therapist’s office is intended to be a safe, warm space that allows for others to express and process patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It’s a place where people go to feel better. As a helping professional, I have the privilege of being part of the personal development and growth of my clients. I am deeply passionate about what I do, and I’ll be the first one to admit that I still get goosebumps whenever a client experiences an “Aha” moment. That being said, the mental health profession is not one without challenges.

According to the Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS), it’s estimated that about 22% of adults in the city are diagnosed with Depressive Disorder, 16% of adult Philadelphians experience frequent mental stress, and 13.8% of teens experience suicidal ideation.

To paint a clearer picture, these statistics mean that in Philadelphia 1 in 5 adults are diagnosed with depressive disorder, and 1 in 7 high school students have reported seriously considering suicide. These startling numbers are not counting the undiagnosed or unreported cases. These rates have remained consistent within recent years, with the exception of a wild increase of opioid-related deaths and ER visits for drug overdoses. With the growing severity of the opioid epidemic in the United States, an already overwhelmed system seemingly only has so much wiggle room before it breaks.

Community Behavioral Health (CBH) is a non-profit corporation contracted by the City of Philadelphia to provide mental health and substance use services to Medicaid recipients in Philadelphia County. There are about 144 Community Behavioral Health organizations in Philadelphia, and I have worked for and with many of them. Although I love the work that I do with clients, working in community agencies has created an entirely new perspective on how therapists and participants are treated among the Community Behavioral Health system….. and I think we all deserve better.

I remember learning about proper ethics and counseling techniques in my graduate program, bright eyed as I geared myself up for a future as a helper. Looking back, it seems so naive for me to have thought that it would be easy. Admittedly, I often wish I could go back to school and pay closer attention to discussions on how to avoid burnout, but sometimes it seems that in the community behavioral health field, burnout is inevitable. Although it would not have changed my choice of profession, I wish I had been more prepared for the community mental health world.

Here’s what I wish I had known:

  1. There are not enough mental health therapists in the community behavioral health system. It seems as though a major theme within the therapist community is the feeling of being overwhelmed by a bogged down system. Community Behavioral Health has an incredible amount of participants in need of mental health care and not enough wo/manpower to provide the quality of care necessary to treat severe mental health symptoms. This means that the large number of participants receiving services are divided among the limited mental health professionals that exist, meaning higher burnout rates for therapists.
  2. There is a major focus on productivity. Full time therapists are given a certain number of clinical hours that they must provide per month, typically called productivity. For example, in my organization, the month of October held 160.63 available treatment hours. I need to achieve 66% of that, meaning I needed to provide at least 106 hours of therapy to meet productivity expectations. If I don’t, I risk being written up. So when we get into the nitty-gritty of things, my work performance is not determined by the quality of therapy I provide, but by the quantity of services I provide. Where I try to validate myself, it is sometimes hard to focus on my successes with clients when I am consistently reminded of “my numbers.” It also makes it more difficult to be understanding when clients cancel, which is often framed as one less hour toward productivity.
  3. Many organizations are turning to fee-for-service. Fee-for-service is pretty self-explanatory. In fee-for-service positions, therapists only get paid for the sessions they complete. This means that if a client does not show up, the therapist will either not get paid, or will get paid a small percentage of what they would have received. Oh, and fee-for-service therapists don’t get paid for the paperwork or outreach they do…. and let me tell you, in this field there is always a lot of paperwork and outreach to do.
  4. Community behavioral health is behind. Think about all of the ethical guidelines, evidence-based practices, and sensitivity training we learned about in school. Now, try to imagine trying to implement those practices in an organization that always seems 20 years behind the present status quo. This isn’t necessarily community behavioral health’s fault. It simply takes time to roll out new methods given the amount of education and training they require.
  5. Sometimes people don’t listen. I feel like I can talk about ethical treatment and appropriate care until I’m blue in the face, and it still doesn’t feel like I am heard. I often find myself thinking of therapists as the nurses of the mental health field– we have an incredible amount of knowledge, have spent years studying the subject, and care deeply about making sure our clients are receiving proper care… and it still feels like we are spinning our wheels just to be heard and respected.

And finally, none of this would matter if we didn’t care. Professionals typically don’t join the mental health field if they don’t care about the well being of others. This makes it even more frustrating when we can see that the overall focus is not on the quality of care we provide, but instead, on the success of the business. Although I can recognize that the business aspect is important, it just does not feel right to put the needs of the business before the needs of people. Helpers feel passionately about the injustices within social systems, because we care about the outcomes of the people we work with. It can be incredibly frustrating to see the above factors as barriers to doing what we love most– helping people.

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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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How to Overcome Regression Toward Goals

Picture this: It’s been a months-long streak of hitting wellness goals. You go to sleep at a normal time and sleep well, embrace a healthy diet that a few years ago you would have scoffed at, and actually find yourself LOVING engaging in regular exercise. And then, boom—you go on vacation, your car gets totaled by a deer, stress builds. Routine goes out the window, and it feels like all of the progress that was made is quickly crawling away from the fires that have engulfed your once safe little nest. 

The thing about fires is that they go out eventually. The flames may burn us, but we can avoid the spiral of negativity and douse the fire with water and positivity until we are left to lick our wounds and move forward. Most of us know how difficult it can be to get back on track when life happens.

Here are 5 powerful strategies to moving forward after hardship attempts to derail progress.

  1. Identify the root of the backslide
  • Before we can find a way back, we need to identify what contributed to our slide in the first place. This can include increased stress from life changes, self-defeating mindsets and behaviors, illness or injury, challenging or more frequent life events, and/or challenges in time management. For example, my car recently got totaled. Working out daily was impossible when I needed to spend my free time looking at cars, talking to my insurance, taking my car to various inspection sites. Attending to my car had to become my priority, given that I commute to work by driving.

2. Try a different approach

  • Maybe while you were exploring the root of the backslide, you discovered some real barriers to working toward goals. Maybe you’ve been planning to exercise in the mornings, but can’t go to sleep early enough? Maybe you’re finding difficulty keeping up with a healthy diet due to limited variety of fresh foods at the grocery story you go to. Achieving goals may require some changes in approach, and that’s okay! Methods are going to look different for everyone. It’s all about finding what works best for you and using that to your advantage.

3. Create a schedule

  • I love schedules. I mean it— I LOVE them. Nothing makes me feel more organized than having a plan—even if it’s just loosely followed. My Sunday routine includes sitting down and planning the week—exercises I want to focus on, meals I want to eat, self care activities I want to do, and other tasks or errands that need to be completed. I create a schedule based on what my week looks like and then try my best to stick with it—but life happens, so I’m always gentle and understanding if my schedule changes in small various ways as the week goes on.

4. Find accountability

  • Studies show that the more people that know about your goal, the more likely you are to work toward it. Working toward holding yourself accountable is monumental in achieving goals, but better yet, finding other people who can hold you accountable creates a whole new layer of support in actually doing what you say you’re going to do.

5. Be gentle with yourself

  • Imagine me shouting the following from the tallest rooftop: Embracing positivity toward self and challenges can make or break the ability to overcome obstacles. Understand that backslides happen. Working toward a goal will not always be a forward motion—sometimes it feels like two steps forward, one step back. Negativity and frustration toward self or circumstances can cause one to shut down and can be a deterrent to finding motivation to work through failure. If needed, go back to the basics until you start to feel your groove again.

As Wellness Warriors, it’s important to put more emphasis on the sense of accomplishment we have when achieving a goal and decrease the focus we may put on barriers. We can choose to interpret hardships as an opportunity to utilize healthy coping skills and celebrate our strength, resiliency, and power. 

Happy Tuesday, Wellness Warriors! Here’s to hoping that the schedule I have outlined for myself allows me the ability to port more consistently now that my car fiasco is resolved!

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Creating My Happy Place

This week, I had one goal: plan and create a mini oasis in my tiny, tiny backyard (or backcloset, as I say). This would be a place to read, meditate, drink wine, and relax. The ultimate self care corner!

This is what my little backyard space looked like before the project:

I started the week religiously geeking out over IKEA, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Walmart trying to map out the perfect outdoor space. Trying to find a way to utilize the small space was tough, but well worth the time spent brainstorming.

When the weekend rolled around, I started my Friday night with Goodwill in the suburbs. If I was going to take on designing a small, relaxing space, I was going to do so on a budget. If you’re near Philly, you know that the suburb thrift stores are where the goods are, and it truly did not let me down. I left feeling like I’d hit the jackpot, uplifted by that thrift store adrenaline rush. Here’s what I found (photobombed by a curious, handsome fluff):

Saturday morning, I got started bright and early at my happy place: IKEA. I spent two hours stuck in the euphoria that is Home Goods Heaven, and another two hours back and forth between Home Depot and Walmart.

I slowly hit a point where I was both satisfied with my purchases and anxious to get back home and out of the Saturday store scuffle that many people experience in the city (too many people for a considerable amount of time truly tests my patience!!).

When I got home I went to work building, organizing, making sure things were going perfect. That is, until a freak thunderstorm decided to rain all over my parade and all over my oasis.

When the rain cleared, I resumed my work. I set up my little hammock chair, placed my plants how I wanted them, and hung up lights. Here was the end result;

I am so happy with how it turned out! I got to sit outside last night and drink wine and relax. This is the PERFECT little self care space, where I can drink tea, meditate, listen to the birds. Although my mom thinks my back closet looks like a burial plot, and my brother-in-law joked about this being smaller than a prison cell, I am so happy with how it turned out! These are some snapshots from last night’s relaxation time during my first night of having my little oasis:

This post serves as my encouragement to design yourself a comfortable space where you can relax and recharge. And if you already have, please share! I’m always looking for interior and exterior design inspiration. Happy Sunday, y’all!!

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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 Live Your True North Began

My History With Depression

In October 2018, my therapist diagnosed me with depression after spending months struggling with chronic unhappiness. Although I seemed content from the outside, I constantly struggled with irritability, sadness, and loneliness. I paid horrible attention to my daily needs, and I spent a great deal of time wrapping myself up like a blanket burrito to hide from the world. For me, depression felt like running underwater against the current. I forgot how to be myself and often ruminated on memories of laughing easily, completing tasks with ease, and surrounding myself with good people. 

I let depression hold me captive as I fantasized about my life instead of actually living it. When I did go out, I fought through intense anxiety and discomfort. Negative thoughts swirled in my brain and told me that I was not good enough. At work, I struggled with motivation to complete tasks, crying spells, and anxiety. To make matters worse, my unhelpful thoughts screamed, “You’re a mental health therapist! You’re not allowed to get depressed!” 

My Breaking Point 

I naively expected to pick myself up from my bootstraps and get better on my own. Realistically I knew that I could not help others if I did not help myself. I struggled to navigate the cognitive dissonance associated with being a therapist who needed therapy. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t manage my depression independently, and I felt like a fraud counseling others. Instead of acknowledging that I needed help, I pretended that I knew exactly what was wrong and exactly how to fix it.

On a Saturday in September, I finally reached my breaking point. That day at work, I ran late for a therapy session with a young client, which triggered the child’s parent to feel frustrated. Naturally, I expressed my apologies and explained the nature of the delay and resumed the therapy session. However, I could not stop ruminating on what happened. Her reaction caught me off guard and triggered intense anxiety about being bad at my job. I cried, trembled, and struggled with thoughts of not wanting to be here. After processing the event and my reaction with a friend, I finally accepted that I needed help.

Finding a Therapist

I first dabbled in therapy in college after experiencing difficulty transitioning to the new environment. My therapist at the time, a lovely woman with short, black hair and a soothing demeanor. However, I didn’t feel a close connection, and I struggled to fully engage with my therapist. I eventually worked through the transition on my own. Now, though, I felt emotions I didn’t understand and didn’t know how to overcome. 

Finding a therapist was relatively easy using both Psychology Today’s “Find a Therapist” tool and the phone number on the back of my insurance card. After finding a clinician who accepted my insurance, I sat with the phone number until I gained the courage to call schedule an appointment. My therapist, Ron, was a former baseball player who changed careers after suffering permanent spinal cord damage. He had a tall and lanky frame, and his wispy gray hair framed his strong facial features. His minimalistic office featured just a few artful pictures, a cluttered desk, and a long futon where I sat week after week.

Doing the Work

It took time, but Ron helped me understand that the only thing preventing me from overcoming depression was myself. Ron described a phenomenon called “Paralysis by Analysis,” where my negative overthinking prevented forward motion and decision making. We explored the onset of symptoms and events in my life that potentially contributed to unhelpful thinking styles. With Ron’s help I realized that simply attending therapy was not enough. If I wanted my life to change, I had to take what I learned in sessions and apply it outside of the office. 

First, I left a toxic roommate situation and moved into my own apartment. Then, I spent more time with family and friends, and I engaged in more overall self care. Even though the healthy habits I created helped, I still fought against the darkness. When I hung out with others, it told me I’d rather be home by myself, doing nothing, feeling hollow. I processed this feeling with Ron, who suggested following up with my primary care doctor.  “If depression is still keeping you from coping, then maybe you should explore medication,” he said.

Finding Relief

My heart initially sank at the thought of being prescribed medication. I worried about side effects, and I worried that medication with either not work or make things worse. I didn’t want to feel more emotionally stunted that I already felt. Nevertheless, I took Ron’s guidance and made an appointment with my doctor, who took the time and care to educate me and ease my concerns. In April 2019, I began taking Prozac once a day. 

After a few weeks, I noticed a lift in mood. The heavy water that I ran through began to evaporate. Prozac helped my brain maintain serotonin, which helped my mood, energy level, and quality of sleep. I actually trained my body to eat normal sized meals again, now that it felt hungry. Better yet, I happily found that my only side effect was mild dry mouth that disappeared after increasing my water intake.  

Maintaining the Progress

I needed to find a way to keep moving forward in my depression recovery. I started by noticing how I felt when I completed certain activities. If I did something that helped me feel better, I wrote it down in a list. By paying attention to the impact of my behaviors, I learned that eating healthy, being active, and engaging in artistic forms of self expression helped me to feel my best. These habits helped me become my happiest self. 

It takes anywhere from 18-240 days to form a habit and another 60 days for that habit to become an automatic behavior. I understood that I needed to focus on making these a bigger part of my lifestyle. I ate on a Paleo diet for several months in an attempt to reset my eating habits, I adhered to an exercise plan, and I made time for activities such as painting, drawing, and journaling. Furthermore, I frequently reminded myself that progress truly is an ongoing process that never ends, and positive self talk allowed me to more easily work through challenges. 

Sharing My Journey

When I created a blog, I intended it to serve as a space to document and record my personal growth. Sharing my story helped me to hold myself accountable and allowed me to change my lifestyle more consistently, and I quickly found that there is an entire community of wellness warriors out there trying to do the same thing. I hope to empower others to ask for help in finding balance and happiness. I recognize that I will never be done growing, and I want this space to grow with me. 

Above all, I learned that no one is immune to struggles with mental health, and we all get by with a little help from our friends. Live Your True North is a safe space for healing and self exploration.

I hope you choose to join me in living well, being myself, and living my True North.

Much Love, 

Kel