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24 Things People Don’t Realize You’re Doing Because of Your Social Anxiety

By CMH Blog

Social Anxiety

When people think of social anxiety, many imagine a shy introvert who doesn’t go out and doesn’t say much. While this version of social anxiety exists, living with it is more than just being “shy.” In fact, not everyone who has social anxiety is even quiet. Social anxiety manifests itself in many ways, some which might even surprise you.

To find out some of the different ways people are affected by social anxiety, we asked people in our community to share something they do because of their social anxiety that others might not realize.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “Most people think I’m being rude when I’m not talkative in a group of people. In reality, I’m terrified because my mind constantly tells me I’ll say the wrong thing.” — Maegan B.

2. “I’m constantly glued to my phone. It’s just an excuse to not look directly at anybody! Constantly going over a sentence I want to say about 30 times in my head, then realizing it’s no longer relevant!” — Grace D.

3. “Being quiet – I’d rather listen to a conversation than be in one. I feel like whatever comes out of my mouth may seem stupid.” — Juliana G.

4. “Talking fast, rambling and joking around even though really I’ve zoned out and I’m pretty much not there… I run on autopilot and later when I’ve grounded again I go through and recollect what I’ve said or done… a bit like after being drunk! Of course I joke and talk fast anyway so nobody can tell the difference, including me usually until after I’ve come out of the fog.” — Suze A.

5. “I don’t think most people realize that when I’m out with friends and I suddenly leave, it’s because of anxiety. There’s always a moment when it’s just too overwhelming and I have to go home.” — Lucas Z.

6. “Constantly watching the body language of everyone to see if I’m offending them just by breathing.” — Jennifer L.

7. “I actually find myself talking a lot… in my mind I’m telling myself, be quiet, you’re talking to much, no one cares, everyone is judging you. But I get so anxious when I’m out with friends and there is an awkward silence or no one is talking. So I feel the need to talk more even though I’m dying of panic and anxiety inside. Sometimes after large events, it takes me days of no social interaction or staying in bed to recuperate.” — Jessica G.

8. “Actually talking on the phone can take days sometimes to muster up the courage. Texting is easier, but it’s still difficult to be the first one to start the conversation. I don’t like talking in groups. Will go somewhere, sit in my car for a half hour and decide not to go in.” — Tiffany A.

9. “Being loud, playing the joker, laughter. Anything that will draw away from the fact that I’m extremely agitated and struggling.” — Vikki M.

10. “I get upset before I have to go deal with people. This usually happens at home and is basically the adrenaline aggravating me, but I get snippy and can’t answer questions in any detail until I have to drive and therefore get distracted. Includes, ‘Where are you going?’ and ‘Why?’” — Myrlyn B.

11. “I’ll play with my hair, purse, or anything I’m holding to relieve my nervous energy. I won’t even notice it sometimes until I’m holding a torn up napkin.” — Katie M.

12 More

12. “I will always sit with my back to the wall, will even ask a friend to change seats with me. I sometimes miss pieces of conversation because I’m busy selecting and planning my exit routes and taking mental notes and descriptions of everyone in the room.” — Julz T.

13. “I will either shut down completely and not talk and people think I’m not sociable. Or if I try to convince myself to appear ‘normal’ I ramble and talk fast. It’s a lose, lose situation.” — Bryanna B.

14. “Practicing and practicing what I’m going to say on the phone and writing it down on a piece of paper before calling so if my anxiety becomes too much, I can just read my script.” — Leah O.

15. “Taking a long time to reply to emails, texts, etc., especially group messages, because I’m terrified of spelling something wrong or saying something that is incorrect or could come across as rude or mean. I’ve had misunderstandings in the past with these types of communication and and it scares me. I feel like everyone hates me already, and when I write something silly I feel like they hate me even more.”– Keira H.

16. “Not focusing on a conversation because I’m thinking about if I’ll miss my train or if my hair looks OK or if I look interested enough or if I’m allowing the person to speak enough or if I leave now I’ll get home at X time and have Y amount of sleep. It’s exhausting because my mind won’t stop, and I generally can’t remember anything anyone has said to me during said conversation.” — Stephanie T.

17. “Social anxiety is part of why I keep my hair long. It’s kind of a safety blanket for me, very comforting to be able to play with and soft. I feel less exposed with my hair there like a curtain I can disappear behind every so often.” — Opal S.

18. “Resting bitch face… not that I’m not happy; I’m uncomfortable and can’t really show my emotion. When I zone out I’m deep in my own destroying thoughts. Constantly finding an excuse to leave a room because I’m uncomfortable in a room of people, being glued to my phone or social media to escape myself and everyone around me. Being fidgety.” — Andrea M.

19. “I cancel plans, often last minute, not because I’m rude or necessarily don’t want to go, but because I’m afraid of going out in public sometimes, afraid of what’s going to happen, who’s going to look at me, am I going to be embarrassed, etc. And afterwards, I feel bad for missing out.” — Jessica S.

20. “I start to sweat, ridiculously, no matter the temperature. The worst is the sweat that breaks out on my upper lip because there’s just no hiding that. Before every job interview, I have legitimately wondered if this time I should go through with trying an antiperspirant on my upper lip.” — Angela J.

21. “I always prefer to make plans at least one day ahead. Every morning I mentally prepare for the day. It helps soothe any anxiety and is a comfort to know what to expect. It is difficult to be spontaneous, but as long as a friend let’s me know they’d like to do something on a certain day, I can anticipate that social interaction yet be flexible about exactly what we do, where we go or when.” — Jessica D.

22. “Coming across as completely cold, blunt and uptight – when that’s in fact actually a direct result of the panic and sheer effort taken just to to engage with that person – ironically, in what’s intended to be in a ‘normal’ way.” — Cat S.

23. “I zone out sometimes when there are too many stimulants. I just kind of go somewhere else in my head and am physically just there, usually staring at something weird, like a garbage can.” — Elaine W.

24. “I just awkwardly smile and try so hard not to get in anyone’s way. All the while, I feel like I’m annoying them in some way. I just want to leave, even if everyone is nice. It sucks.” — Emily J.

23 Signs You Grew Up With Depression

By CMH Blog

Growing up, most of us aren’t taught to look out for signs of depression. So if you’re experiencing it, especially as a teenager, it’s easy to think there’s just something wrong with you — and it’s easy for parents and other adults to pass you off as another moody kid.

But young people do get depression — we just need to know the signs. To find out how people knew they were living with depression, we asked our mental health community to share, in hindsight, signs they had depression.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “Looking back on it, I constantly felt guilt and had a hard a time fitting in with anyone. I was a very cautious and shy kid.” — Poppy W.

2. “I cried a lot and wasn’t as happy as the other kids. I was unmotivated and didn’t want to shower; my room was a mess and I would stay inside and play games all day. I had trouble making friends because I was super shy, and that turned into anxiety (these issues have some childhood trauma factors and environmental factors as well).” — Hannah F.

3. “For me it was never feeling good enough, like no matter how hard I tried I just wasn’t like everyone else, especially my two older sisters. Then the increased emotions came. I would get so upset or so mad so quickly and without reason. I didn’t realize I had depression until this year.” — Ashley G.

4. “Whenever I climbed a tree or somewhere up high looking down I thought how nice it would be if I was high enough to jump. Never knew that was a concerning thought.” — Brittany B.

5. “When I was really young, like grade-school, I never understood why all of the other children were so happy and carefree. Everyone else seemed great at making friends and enjoyed being a child, but I couldn’t enjoy anything. I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness even at a young age. Nothing was enjoyable, I couldn’t make or keep friends, I was constantly doubting myself and worrying about every little thing. I questioned my existence on a daily basis, I just couldn’t be happy, but was too young to understand what depression was.” — Audrey L.

6. “For me, it was not being able to focus. My grades dropped from straight As to Fs from what seemed like out of nowhere. I didn’t feel the excitement of doing anything anymore. I got extremely detached from everyone, I no longer cared what happened to me. I just kind of stayed away from other kids, and it took more effort than I’d like to admit to even talk to anyone. I stopped taking care of myself. I got made fun of for it. I ended up extremely suicidal from everything and to hide the fact that I was suicidal, I ended up just faking a smile and not showing any other emotions.” — Athena C.

7. “Losing all your friends, sleeping all the time, never wanting to wake up, not wanting to eat, never wanting to hang out with the people you would normally hang out with, not bothering to do your normal routine, grades slipping because you just don’t care anymore, jealously and anger at anyone who seems to be happy.” — Danee C.

8. “Feeling more tired, losing interest in things I loved, being less outgoing, more shy. I used to not care what people thought of me until I became severely bullied and beaten. I then started worrying what people thought of me. I felt mentally drained and didn’t enjoy school and was distant from good friends.” — Karalyn G.

9. “In high school, I would wake up and cry because I had to go to school. I was afraid all of the time. I got overwhelmed by schoolwork that should have been easy for me. On one occasion, I seriously contemplated suicide because of an assignment due that I hadn’t started. Looking back, there are years that are very dim and hard to remember — a trait of my adult depressive episodes. I’m lucky I didn’t happen to know anyone who drank or used drugs, because I’m sure I would have used those things as an out.” — Genevieve O.

10. “Your brain will tell you worst possible scenarios. Intrusive thoughts will be mean to you and tell you that you don’t deserve to enjoy life. The thoughts will tell you to abstain from things you enjoy. Depression is a living being trying to always bring you down.” — Keith B.

11. “I quit my first university due to ‘home sickness.’ Now I’ve realized it was depression that caused the fatigue, social anxiety and loss of interest in everything I had been doing.” — Magdalena K.

12. “The psychosomatic parts of it that my family didn’t recognize or even know about. The headaches, the tummy aches, coming home from school with panic attacks, unable to sleep at night, or sleeping too much. I was so young. And looking back, the signs were always there.” — Jessica I.

13. “Longing for death and wanting to die since the tender age of 7. I still have my journals from back then. Perhaps it started even earlier, when I was even younger I played at the local graveyard a lot, laying down on graves and wishing to die. Ever since I was little I always felt unwanted, like I was a burden to everybody and nobody wanted to have me around. When I tried to open up they told me I was being dramatic, oversensitive, I was acting out and I was just weird and it was all in my head.  I had problems focussing, finishing schoolwork and my grades were terrible. I hated the world so I made my own world in my head. I still go there sometimes.” — Ezra P.

14. “I frequently felt frustrated that everyone thought it was funny that I was so unhappy all of the time. My teachers, especially in high school, would revel when I would crack a smile and laugh. Looking back on those moments makes me realize how I went about creating this mask/persona that embraces the comedy to hide the reality of my self-loathing and angry tragedy that rumbles on the inside.” — Sean C.

15. “I had really bad anger issues, and it was hard to control my emotions. I didn’t know what was wrong with me when I was a teenager, it was really hard. I was suicidal and self-harmed. I wish I had been diagnosed earlier, instead of having friends and teachers tell me I was faking it for attention.” — Kate W.

16. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel exhausted. In middle school and the beginning of high school, I begged my parents to be homeschooled because I always stayed up at night crying about having to go there the next day. Either that, or I would stay up to make sure my homework was perfect, because if it wasn’t, that meant I was stupid and worthless.” — Sarah K.

17. “I was constantly dwelling over every mistake. There were times where I wished I would be treated as less than family and that I didn’t deserve a bed. I was constantly feeling as less than my siblings and had a streak to be perfect. I was constantly overloading my schedule with extracurriculars to get more attention from teachers because I felt so incredibly alone.” — Aislinn G.

18. “I was scared of everything. I wet myself many times at school because I was frightened of getting locked in the toilets. I once walked out of school and went home by myself — aged about 5 — because I just couldn’t cope with being there. And I started to self-harm in a very minor way — hitting myself with my hairbrush until I bruised — at around 8 years of age. But I could never tell anyone how I felt, or let my guard down; I was the one who never cried, even when I broke my leg. I was officially diagnosed with depression aged 13.” — Lucy D.

19. “From a young age, I would fantasize about suicide. Stories about me or imagined characters I would think up while daydreaming. I remember either oversleeping or not being able to sleep for long periods. I would get nagged by my mom so I thought I was just lazy.” — Chelsea M.

20. “I remember writing in this diary I had when I was like 7 or 8 that I just wanted to ‘go away.’ Not to run away but disappear completely right there and then. It’s weird because I didn’t really know the concept of suicide back then, but I just remember not wanting to exist.” — Kate Lara Solomons

21. “Always feeling like there was a black cloud casting a shadow over me even when things were happy. Never feeling like I was enough — I always could have been better. Feeling ashamed of myself for no real reason… just feeling like I didn’t fit in anywhere. Like I didn’t belong in this life. Thoughts and feelings I’ve had ever since I was little but didn’t realize it was depression and anxiety for many years.” — Jennifer L.

22. “I had no desire to be around my parents or friends. I would stay in my room and read constantly to avoid being around people. I couldn’t pay attention in school (but still made straight As so my parents weren’t concerned). I would chew on the hem of my shirt and pick at my lips almost constantly.” — Amanda M.

23. “For me, it was not being able to sleep, feeling guilty for no reason, that’s what got me. I was scared of things I’ve never been scared of before, and most of the time the world felt like it was crashing down around me. I’m thankful I had a nurse sister who caught the signs and told me to see a doctor, but not everyone is as lucky. Your feelings matter and are valid. If you feel like there’s something wrong, get checked! Because you never know.” — Devin W.

Journaling for 30 Days Taught Me How to Accept My Chronic Illnesses

By CMH Blog

If my life was written as a book or acted out in a play or movie, The Mighty’s My Mighty Month Challenge would probably be the climax or most important point of the story. I can’t find a way to explain how great this experience has been for me without some background as to how I ended up taking January’s 30-day journaling challenge.

When I was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), also known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy, back in 1996, no one I knew had ever heard of it. With the exception of the pain specialists that diagnosed me, most of the doctors and nurses I came into contact with didn’t even know what it was. As a 15-year-old, I wanted to know what my diagnosis meant, and began researching at school. Back then, the internet was fairly new and there wasn’t as much information available as there is today. I did find some information though, and I used it to explain my diagnosis to family, friends, teachers, doctors and nurses.

Fast forward twenty-years to 2015, when I was diagnosed with a second chronic illness: gastroparesis. At this point, technology has advanced enough that when I began researching gastroparesis, I found blogs, youtube videos and podcasts created by people living with the condition. I found comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone, and seeing others share their stories inspired me to do the same.

In September of 2016, I began sharing my story on my blog. I spent the first few months, writing the details of my diagnoses and life events – chronicling 20 years of my life. I quickly became bored telling my story and was happy to reach the present. I decided to continue blogging with the hope that my story would help someone following behind me, just like I have been inspired by those walking ahead of and alongside me.

One day, I came across a link to The Mighty. It felt like I had reached the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I read story after story about living with CRPS and gastroparesis. Finally, I decided to submit a story, not really expecting to hear anything back from it. When I received an email saying my was published, I was really surprised. My first story “The Moment of ‘Normalcy’ I Craved as a Student with a Disability” was published on December 28, 2016. A few weeks later, I wrote a second story “What this Picture Won’t Tell You About My Illness,” which was published January 13, 2017.

As a contributor, I receive contributor emails from The Mighty. That’s when I received an email about My Mighty Month. I decided to try using some of those prompts for my blog posts. I knew I didn’t have to share my personal journaling experience with the world, but something inside kept telling me to. I must admit, by day four I had almost convinced myself to quit. However, the word “quit” does not exist in my vocabulary, I deleted it when I was diagnosed with CRPS. I told myself that no matter what I faced in life, I wasn’t going to give up and quit. Due to health issues, some entries were posted a day late, but I believe every one of them ended up being posted. I think posting them online pushed me to think about what I was writing and be more honest with myself.

Having just completed day 30, I’ve come to realize how much this challenge has helped me. By opening up and sharing my story, my true feelings, I feel like I’ve finally come to accept my life as it is, and am taking better care of myself mentally and emotionally. I’d always just survived life with my illnesses and have never really been honest with myself about how they affect me. I thought I was writing to inspire others, but ended finding myself somewhere along the way.

The 30-day challenge forced me to look at my life and realize what is really important. It doesn’t matter what diagnosis the doctor throws my way, what challenges I face on a daily basis, or what I am no longer able to do. What matters is that I take the life I have, challenges and all, and I step up as a warrior and choose to own it. I may not have control over the illnesses I have, but I can control how I choose to live my life them. As hard as it may seem at times, I must fight back and make the most of my life. It’s my life, and life doesn’t always offer second chances, I must enjoy every moment, every joy, no matter how big or small it may seem. This is what I learned from taking January’s My Mighty Month Challenge. I really do feel that it has helped me greatly.

To My Newly-Diagnosed Friend

By CMH Blog

You’re allowed to be scared. Finding out you have a disease that has no cure is scary. Finding out that you will be living with this for the rest of your life is scary. Finding out that you may get worse is scary. Having to explain to your family and friends that you’re never going to just get better is scary, but you can do it. Because you’ve survived this long. You’ve survived all the months and months of appointments and tests searching for answers and maybe it’s not the answer you were hoping for, but it’s an answer.

Yes, this is going to change your life. You may not be able to do all the things you had planned. You’ll probably end up spending a lot more time at the hospital and in doctor’s offices than you do out with friends. But it can also make your life fuller. Every time you are able to go out and spend time with friends you will appreciate it more. You gain this deep appreciation for very little things in life, like being able to go for a walk with your love or cuddling up with a child or a pet. Somehow I think being sick seems to make you love deeper. You may appreciate the little things you used to take for granted, like being able to cook a meal or read a book or take a nap or simply spend an hour laughing with a friend.

Yes, you may lose some friends. Some people just do not understand or become too overwhelmed with all your medical stuff, but that’s OK. Because the friends who stay, the friends who keep texting you even when you don’t answer for days, the friends who want to know all about your life and don’t mind listening to you vent, the people who don’t care that you can’t come hang out with them because that’s what text messages and FaceTime are for, the friends who when you tell them what illnesses you have Google it and find out as much as they can about it because they care about you and want to know, the friends who refuse to let you push them out — they are the ones who matter. They are the ones who will still be there when the dust settles.

I’ve honestly been amazed at the support I’ve gotten from people in my life. My friendships have become so much more important and special. I’ve truly learned that I have been blessed with so many amazing people in my life. Getting diagnosed with rare diseases isn’t really the easiest way to find out who your true friends are, but it’s certainly effective.

Having a rare disease gives you a chance to make new friends, too. There’s this whole world out there of people just like you who are living life with rare diseases. Literally a whole world at your fingertips thanks to social media. In the last two years since being diagnosed I have made some of the best friends I’ve had in my life. I’ve made friends from all over the world. People who understand me and what I’m going through on a daily basis. People who aren’t ashamed to talk about all the embarrassing parts of being sick. People who will make you feel normal. People who will make you laugh at the fact that you fell asleep on the bathroom floor for a few hours. People who also have painsomnia so they are always up for late night chats. I’ve learned so much about other cultures and other countries during those late night chats. I’ve also learned how badly I need to go visit New Zealand.

You might see the people in your life so much differently and appreciate the little things they do for you so much more. You may realize there are so many wonderful people in this world who want to help you, people who want nothing in return but a smile and gratitude. It can be hard at first to accept the help if you’re so used to being independent and doing things for yourself, but let them help. The people that know you and love you are feeling just as helpless as you are right now. They want to help you but they have no idea how. They hate seeing you suffer and wish they could take it away. So let them help. Let them come over and clean for you or come make dinner for your family. Let them take your kids for awhile so you can take a much needed nap. Because these people love you and they may need to feel like they can make a difference in how you feel. Plus, that’s one less thing you need to spend your limited energy on, so you can have a little more time you can spend snuggling with your kids or a chance to go on a date with your love.

Never lose faith. This one can be hard on the days when you are so sick and see no end in sight but I think it’s extremely important. When you are living in a body that’s constantly battling against you it’s so important you don’t allow yourself to get stuck in your own head. It’s not easy. It’s probably going to be really, really hard and you aren’t expected to stay positive every single day, but I think trying to find a small blessing in each day is so important. Before you go to sleep just think of one thing that was great about that day. Maybe it was just that you had some really good food or something your child said or did. Just find it.

Always look for the light because it’s always there, sometimes it’s just a little harder to find. To quote one of my favorite book series and favorite characters ever: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, If one only remembers to turn on the light.” – Albus Dumbledore

You might have some crappy doctors, but don’t keep them. If you feel like the doctor you are seeing isn’t helping you, find a new one. If you feel like your doctor isn’t listening, find a new one. The relationship you have with your doctors is going to be so important in your life now. So don’t waste your time on ones who aren’t concerned about your well being. Make sure you have an open-minded doctor. You need to have a long relationship with this person and the best ones are the ones who are willing to look outside the box. The ones who aren’t afraid of you because you have a condition but instead are interested in you and want to make your life as good as possible.

Do your own research. Don’t just trust your doctors to know what’s best for you. Join online support groups for people with your illness and learn as much as you can. Research the medicines they suggest. You may find information about treatments for your illness that your doctors haven’t heard of yet.

Most of all, just remember this is an unexpected detour and you’re allowed to mourn the life you planned. That’s normal. That’s healthy. But eventually you will have to get up, dust yourself off and start to live again. Your life will never be the same but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be amazing. On the days it becomes too overwhelming and you aren’t sure what to do, reach out to those who love you. Or find a therapist. Many spoonies see a therapist to help them deal with the loss of the life they planned and the stress of life as a chronically ill person.

But please, never forget that I’m here. I understand. I’ve been exactly where you are now and even if I can’t physically be with you, I’m always just a text message, phone call or a video chat away. If you need someone to vent to, cry to or simply to yell about how unfair life feels.. I’m here. I love you and I’m not going anywhere because when I was in your shoes, you never left me.

Mental Health In Schools: A Hidden Crisis Affecting Millions Of Students

By CMH Blog

You might call it a silent epidemic.

Up to one in five kids living in the U.S. shows signs or symptoms of a mental health disorder in a given year.

So in a school classroom of 25 students, five of them may be struggling with the same issues many adults deal with: depression, anxiety, substance abuse.

And yet most children — nearly 80 percent — who need mental health services won’t get them.

Whether treated or not, the children do go to school. And the problems they face can tie into major problems found in schools: chronic absence, low achievement, disruptive behavior and dropping out.

Experts say schools could play a role in identifying students with problems and helping them succeed. Yet it’s a role many schools are not prepared for.

Educators face the simple fact that, often because of a lack of resources, there just aren’t enough people to tackle the job. And the ones who are working on it are often drowning in huge caseloads. Kids in need can fall through the cracks.

Grief In The Classroom: ‘Saying Nothing Says A Lot’
NPR ED
Grief In The Classroom: ‘Saying Nothing Says A Lot’
“No one ever asked me”

Katie is one of those kids.

She’s 18 now. Back when she was 8, she had to transfer to a different school in Prince George’s County, Md., in the middle of the year.

“At recess, I didn’t have friends to play with,” she recalls. “I would make an excuse to stay inside with the teachers and finish extra work or do extra credit.”

We’re not using Katie’s last name to protect her privacy. She’s been diagnosed with bulimia and depression.

She says that in the span of a few months, she went from honor roll to failing. She put on weight; other kids called her “fat.” She began cutting herself with a razor every day. And she missed a ton of school.

“I felt like every single day was a bad day,” she says. “I felt like nobody wanted to help me.”

Katie says teachers acted like she didn’t care about her schoolwork. “I was so invisible to them.”

Every year of high school, she says, was “horrible.” She told her therapist she wanted to die and was admitted into the hospital.

During all this time, she says, not a single principal or teacher or counselor ever asked her one simple question: “What’s wrong?”

3 Things People Can Do In The Classroom That Robots Can’t
NPR ED
3 Things People Can Do In The Classroom That Robots Can’t
If someone had asked, she says, she would have told them.

Who should have asked?

We talked to educators, advocates, teachers and parents across the country. Here’s what they say a comprehensive approach to mental health and education would look like.

The family

The role: The first place to spot trouble is in the home, whether that trouble is substance abuse, slipping grades or a child who sleeps too much. Adults at home — parents, siblings, other relatives — are often the first to notice something going on.

The reality: Many families do not know what to look for. Sometimes a serious problem can be overlooked as “just a phase.” But it’s those sudden changes — angry outbursts, declining grades, changes in sleeping or eating — that can signal problems. When something unusual crops up, families can keep in close touch with the school.

Why Emotional Learning May Be As Important As The ABCs
NPR ED
Why Emotional Learning May Be As Important As The ABCs
The teacher

The role: During the week, many students see their teachers even more than their own families. Teachers are in a prime spot to notice changes in behavior. They read essays, see how students relate with other kids and notice when they aren’t paying attention.

The reality: Teachers already have a ton on their plates. They’re pressured to get test scores up, on top of preparing lessons and grading assignments. Plus, many teachers receive minimal training in mental health issues. But when they do see something concerning, they can raise a flag.

The social worker

The role: Social workers act like a bridge. If teachers come to them with a concern — maybe a child is acting withdrawn — one of the first things they’ll do is call home. They see each child through the lens of their family, school and community. They might learn that a family is going through a divorce or homelessness.

The reality: There aren’t enough of them. According to one model, every school should have one social worker for every 250 students. The reality is that in some schools, social workers are responsible for many more.

The counselor

The role: In some schools, counselors focus solely on academics: helping students pick classes and apply to college. But in others, they also act a lot like social workers, serving as a link to families and working with students who need support.

The reality: Like school social workers, there just aren’t enough counselors. On average nationwide, each counselor is responsible for nearly 500 students. The American School Counselor Association recommends a caseload nearly half that size.

The special education teacher

The Role: Special education teachers may start working with students when a mental health problem affects the ability to do school work. They are primarily responsible for working on academic skills.

The reality: Again, there aren’t enough of them. Nearly every state has reported a shortage of special education teachers. Half of all school districts say they have trouble recruiting highly qualified candidates.

The school psychologist

The Role: Here’s one job that, on paper, is truly dedicated to student mental health. School psychologists are key players when it comes to crisis intervention and can refer students to outside help, such as a psychiatrist.

The reality: If you sense a pattern here, you’re right. In the U.S., there is just one school psychologist for every 1,400 students, according to the most recent data available from the National Association of School Psychologists.

The school nurse

The role: Most any school nurse will tell you, physical and mental health are tough to separate. That puts nurses in a prime spot to catch problems early. For example: A kid who comes into the nurse’s office a lot, complaining of headaches or stomach problems? That could be a sign of anxiety, a strategy to avoid a bully, or a sign of troubles at home.

The reality: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least one nurse for every 750 students, but the actual ratio across the country can be much higher.

The principal

The role: As the top dogs in schools, principals make the big decisions about priorities. They can bring in social-emotional, anti-bullying and suicide-prevention programs.

The reality: Principals also have a lot on their plates: the day-to-day management of student behavior, school culture and teacher support.

Getting help, and “excited for life”

Katie says things started to turn around for her when she met a nurse at the Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., who finally showed interest in what was wrong.

Now, she’s begun college and wants to be a pediatric nurse.

“I’m doing a lot better now” she says. ” Obviously, I mean, I’m a lot happier. I’m excited for school. I’m excited to graduate. I’m excited for life.”

Unspoken

How Mindfulness Helps You Find Your Way Through Difficulty

By CMH Blog

It was about a dozen years ago and I was going through a rough bout of depression. I convinced myself there must be some ready cure I could find, and I embarked on a frantic tour of the therapeutic merry-go-round to relieve my pain. I desperately reached for any doctor, therapist, or support group. I gobbled up whatever advice or pills they offered, but nothing changed. I was still in pain.

Eventually I came to mindfulness. At first, I approached it with the same demand for instant relief. But then something unexpected happened. I saw that it was impossible to really follow the instructions for mindfulness meditation—gently paying attention to the flow of breath, allowing things to be just as they are—and strive for results at the same time. So I stopped looking for cures and results, and to my surprise, some helpful openness and clarity began to arise in my mind. I came to know my depression differently. I began to notice its textures and contours, its causes and its effects. I became familiar with its landscape.

As I continued to meditate over the following months, my stressful struggle to fix and change things faded little by little.
The difference was this: now I could observe my thoughts and feelings without identifying with them so much. As I continued to meditate over the following months, my stressful struggle to fix and change things faded little by little. A subtle and profound transformation occurred as I allowed myself to rest in the experience of just being. I became more willing to experience all the energy of my emotions and feelings—even the unpleasant ones. I stopped fighting with myself so much, and with that, ironically, came the very relief I was seeking.

Mindfulness these days is strongly associated with stress reduction, and for very good reasons. Mindfulness reduces stress. Full stop. Reducing stress is a great goal. Another full stop.

But mindfulness practice can be so much more than stress reduction. Certainly I am less anxious and stressed today than I was a decade ago. But my difficulties haven’t gone away, and neither have my habitual ways of reacting to them. And yet things are better. From what I have seen in myself—and the people I teach mindfulness to—the biggest changes come from letting go of our goals, struggles, and hopes for a cure. At a certain point, focusing our mindfulness practice too much on stress reduction—or any goal—can limit its benefit to us. Real change comes from learning to make a different relationship with our stresses and difficulties.

As I discovered during my early days of practice, mindfulness meditation has built-in mechanisms that free us from the trap of instant salvation. Our goal-oriented mind-set is deeply ingrained and persistent, and we need all the help we can get to reorient ourselves to a new way of being—so that we are less eager to run away from where we are in the moment.

That’s why it is helpful to settle in for the mindfulness journey, so we can appreciate its rich view and interesting ride, even—especially—when it doesn’t seem beautiful or smooth. The formal practice of meditation helps us navigate the route, and so do the attitudes we take as we travel. By gently cultivating certain qualities, we create the conditions for a shift in perspective, so in time our goals may no longer seem that relevant, even when, as if by magic, they are achieved. Here are seven qualities we can cultivate in our mindfulness practice that will bring benefit to ourselves and others.

Acceptance

Like any skill, mindfulness needs effort. But many of us have been told—or tell ourselves—that we don’t try hard enough, haven’t got it in us, or fail because we’re lazy. So we may try too hard, thinking we have to do everything perfectly.

This makes the whole business of effort a bit tricky. The commitment we cultivate in mindfulness practice is nonjudgmental. We’re loyal to the present moment, which takes the form of a willingness to gently come back from distraction again and again. It also includes compassionate acceptance when our mind wanders off.

When we notice how we judge ourselves for not being good enough, or our meditation for “not working,” it helps to remember that each moment starts fresh. We are never damned; we can renew our commitment in every moment. In fact, every time we notice distraction, we have already come back to awareness. Noticing our distraction is a cause for celebration, not recrimination.

How?

It’s helpful to plan a time and space to practice regular meditation and stick with that plan. Make a commitment that feels manageable. Notice if you’re driving yourself too hard or selling yourself short. Let go of these thoughts.

Tenderness

Many forms of training focus on getting us “in shape.” Mindfulness is different. By letting go of pushing, pulling, remonstrating, and ruminating, we go easier on ourselves. If we feel sad, we can allow that sadness. If we feel judgmental, we can allow for that without having to buy into it (or judge ourselves for being judgmental). If we feel angry, instead of seeing it as a solid unchangeable mass, we can see that it comes and goes a little. There are actually spaces in the midst of the intensity. That’s why it can still be possible to make someone laugh even when they’re angry.

Mindfulness means “to pay attention.” But this can carry connotations of harshness— the critical schoolteacher or bellowing drill sergeant—so it helps to remember that paying attention in this case really means “to tend,” to care for something in a warm and supportive way. We can become our own kind parent, nurturing ourselves with unconditional caring. Then the challenges of life won’t hit us quite so hard.

How?

Practice opening to parts of yourself you’d rather reject. Notice how they respond to compassion rather than condemnation.

Inquisitiveness

Taking what some psychologists call an “approach” mentality to life is a key marker of well-being: being curious about the world, interested in new people and experiences, even when they scare us. Avoidance, by contrast, means letting fear control us, not going to new places, trying new activities, or exploring ideas that don’t fit our existing mind-set.

Mindfulness—noticing events in a warm, open, and inquisitive manner—develops the courage to meet our lives with genuine interest. It doesn’t mean there’s no discomfort when we dare to be curious. It means we’re willing to tolerate not knowing what might be around the next corner. In return, we experience the delight of being able to look, listen, taste, touch, feel, and learn from our environment. We may not know all the answers, but we don’t limit our perspective.

How?

Be a scientist in the laboratory of your world. Pause before making assumptions. Hear the feedback from your mind, body, environment, and other people. Give those around you space to express their views, especially if they are different from your own. Can you walk in their shoes for a moment, seeing from their perspective? Ask yourself: “What’s actually going on here?” and be open to the information that comes back.

Body Awareness

Where is your mind? Most of us point to our head. The word mindfulness can suggest cognition—something to do with thinking and the brain. But mindfulness means bringing awareness to our whole experience, not just from the neck up. By acknowledging our bodies in meditation, we synchronize mind and body and experience ourselves as an integrated whole. When we experience an emotion, we notice how it feels in different parts of our body. That helps when it comes to acting on our feelings. Dismissing our feelings leads us to live out of step with our hearts, and by increasing our body awareness, we have a chance to redress this imbalance.

How?

Slowly scan your body from toe to head, noticing each part and where the tension lies. A practice like this tunes you into the pulses and rhythms of your body a little more. Long-distance runners do this to be aware of how different parts of their body are responding to the effort they’re expending. In everyday life, pausing several times a day to feel what’s going on in our bodies can free us from being caught up in the speed and importance of our thoughts.

Appreciation

It’s easy to focus on the negative too much. On the other hand, self-help-style positive thinking can end up as a superficial pep talk. In contrast, simple appreciation means taking a bit more time to allow things to be just the way they are, without wanting them to change so much to suit us. If someone is being cold toward us, we see that for what it is, without trying to push it away too hard or sugarcoat it.

With this kind of attitude, we can appreciate beauty, warmth, friendship, and joy, but also sadness and anger, loss and illness, difficulty and disappointment. It may go against our conditioning, but in embracing what’s difficult we hold the key to not letting negative thoughts overwhelm us. Pushing them away just fuels their power.

How?

Sit up and take an uplifted, open, and relaxed posture. Even that little gesture of not slumping and shirking helps us embrace life with more equanimity. We can savor the good things and meet our problems without trying so hard to get rid of, fight, or deny them. What would happen if we cracked a smile when we were depressed? It’s not just a way to grin and bear it but a step toward appreciating the inevitable ups and downs of existence.

Being Generous

Every act of mindfulness contains a bit of generosity already. When we choose to escort our wandering attention home, it’s as if we’re reaching out a hand to a child who is lost in a crowd and struggling to get to the safety of their parents.

We start by lending a hand to ourselves. After giving the gift to ourselves of letting our emotions come and go without being so harsh about it, we can start to become more generous with others and their states of mind. As we become less caught up in our own little dramas, we discover that other people, with their own struggles and challenges, are really not so different from us. We start giving them the room to be themselves.

How?

Meditation is most beneficial when it’s not just a solo sport. See if you can find some other people to practice meditation with, people with whom you can share the experience of being more open and the challenges that can go along with that. Openness can be contagious, and the tendency to hold back from being free and generous with others can be worn away.

Sticking to it

The mindfulness road can be rocky. It takes guts to return again and again to the present moment, especially when our impulse is to run away, attack, or hide. And we will regularly fail.

When the novelty has worn off, when we’re doing the spadework of meditation and what we excavate is smelly, dark, irritating, boring, or frightening, this is a chance to work on being steadfast. Can we trust that the plummeting self-esteem we’re feeling right now is okay? Can we patiently let our thoughts and emotions run their course? Can we return to the now when it’s not where we’d like it to be? Can we return to our mindfulness when our minds aren’t calm and we feel like we’re getting nowhere? The reward for sticking to it is the deeper confidence that develops—the feeling in our bones that we can handle whatever life throws our way.

How?

Using breath as an anchor, we can be with whatever presents itself. Knowing that this moment is already here—and that the only sensible thing is to be with it—we can ride the waves of difficulty with dignity and poise, like a good rider on a spirited horse. We can still seek the support we need, make changes we need to make, or let someone know they need to stop hurting us. In doing so, though, we use the wisdom of mindfulness as our guide, drawing on deep inner resources to negotiate the journey with gentleness and skill.

This article also appeared in the June 2013 issue of Mindful magazine.

Five Tips to Managing Stress and Anxiety

By CMH Blog

My name is Katie Buckingham and at the age of ten, I developed a series of anxiety disorders. These caused problems for me for many years and because of the stigma attached to mental health problems, I was afraid to disclose what I was experiencing for fear of what people would think of me. It was because of this stigma that I was unable to get the support I needed early.

Once I finally recovered at 17, I made it my mission to raise awareness of stress and anxiety and to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health problems so that others won’t have to go through what I went through. I began delivering mental health awareness workshops in schools and colleges and developed educational resources for teachers. I attended the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy and this is where set up Altruist Enterprises, an award-winning company which provides training to help organisations prevent and identify the early signs of stress in the workplace and help support staff more effectively.

Over the years, I have learnt many techniques in order to help manage my stress and anxiety levels. I would like to share them with you.

1) Talk About Problems

After all, a problem shared is a problem halved, right? We can get so caught up with our own worried thoughts that we start to become irrational. I often find that worries that seem rational in my head sound silly when I say them out loud. Talking helps you to share your thoughts and clarify what you are going through. Gaining an outside perspective can help you think about things differently – they may offer a solution that you hadn’t even thought of.

2) Exercise

Exercise releases endorphins and helps relieve feelings of stress with regular physical activity being associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety. Exercise is actually just as effective for mild depression as anti-depressants are.

For me, football has really helped maintain positive well-being, it helps clear my mind and let go of negative feelings. There is also a social aspect to this too – I’ve often found that going out and socialising really helps decrease stress levels.

3) Help Others

Starting a mental health project in order to help others really supported me through my recovery from anxiety. I found that helping others gave me a purpose, increased my self-confidence and generally made me feel good about myself.

There’s science behind it too. Being kind can actually reduce stress and make us healthier. The emotional warmth associated with kindness can produce the hormones oxytocin and dopamine, which reduce blood pressure and make us feel euphoric.

4) Put Things Into Perspective

You may think that the current situation that you are in is the end of the world; however, in the grand scheme of things, is it that bad? I often think, I am one of 7 billion people on this earth, there are 365 days in the year. Is what I am worrying about on this one particular day in the whole of my life really that worth worrying about?

There’s a great song called Sunscreen which says: ‘know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum’. I think about this line every time I am worrying too much about something. Yes, not worrying is easier said than done, but examine the evidence and try to put things into perspective.

5) Be Mindful/Thankful

I practice Mindfulness meditation which is proven to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, but it’s not all of what I mean when I say be mindful. It’s about being aware of the current moment, accepting it and being grateful of it. We often plough through our lives on auto pilot without really stopping to think about the things we have.

I am currently part of a growth accelerator based in the centre of Birmingham. I get free office space, free wifi, free teas and coffees, free printing and free meeting space. It’s in a great location and has a great view of the cathedral and park in front of it, particularly in the autumn. I realise that I am not going to be on this programme forever, but I accept that and am grateful for the opportunity now. Just stopping to take notice of things and savouring the moment can really help support positive well-being.

Boy looking at butterfy, kids learning nature

3 Mindfulness Exercises You Can Try with Your Kids

By CMH Blog

If it feels like a lesson, children won’t be interested. If it’s a game, they’ll love it.

That’s what Alfred James says about mindfulness for kids. The author of Pocket Mindfulness and its accompanying blog suggests that parents come up with mindfulness exercises they and their children can do together. It’s about finding ways to be truly present with your children, rather than mutually distracted.

Here are a few of his ideas:

Roar into the wind together: Out on a windy day, maybe at the beach? Bust your kids out of quiet time and roar into the wind. James says it’s about celebrating our interconnection with nature. (And yelling just feels good.)

Look at ants: We know kids like to use magnifying glasses to turn the sun’s rays into laser beams of destruction. They might be surprised to learn they can also be used to observe interesting things. Look at ants. See how much they can carry. How they navigate giant obstacles. How they work as a team. (Just make sure not to fry them.)

Watch plants grow: Choose a plant—outdoors or indoors—and take time to notice its growth. You can record the changes by taking photos and comparing them.

What could be better than sharing a little aha moment with a child?

This article also appeared in the August 2013 issue of Mindful magazine.

Friends

Making it Stick: Tips for a Successful Fitness Program

By CMH Blog

As a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with a degree in Exercise Physiology and twenty years’ experience in the fitness industry, I have learned one very important lesson; consistency and motivation are what make a personal wellness program effective. A well-rounded fitness program will have these basic components: cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and a focus on body composition. Creating the proper plan for yourself is like putting together a puzzle; you create a plan that’s tailored to your personal needs and fitness level. The journey is exciting and hopeful. However, keeping the puzzle together and constantly assessing your plan can prove to be even more challenging.
As an LPC I have found the same to be true when it comes to our mental health. Maintaining the progress we have made can feel like a full time job; should we just throw our hands up in defeat? Fortunately, there are many things we can do to maintain our motivation and improve both our physical and mental well-being.
Ask Gently: Contrary to popular belief, it has been proven that people asked to perform a task typically do better than those who are told to perform. People are more likely to build their own motivation when asked rather than being told. Showing ourselves the same kindness we would show a friend is more inspiring than strict censure and demoralizing lectures.
Think Inside: Avoid extrinsic rewards such as cash – they only work in the short term. Long-term success comes from intrinsic motivation which is striving inwardly to be competent at something. Feeling in control of what you do, who you do it with, and how you do it, is an important element of intrinsic motivation. When we are more concerned about the inherent satisfaction of an activity rather than the external reward, we are more successful and fulfilled.
Small Steps: Integrating one new behavior at a time is more manageable than trying to sustain large sweeping changes. If that one behavior is enjoyable we are even more likely to maintain the behavior.
Awareness: Being aware of our actions helps to increase long-term motivation. It helps people make better decisions to regulate behavior, and reduces problematic behavior and faulty thinking. Awareness has been shown to be a powerful motivational tool to promote physical exercise. People who lack awareness of their activity levels overestimate the amount of exercise they are engaging in.
This year as you put together your “get-in-shape” plan, think about the future and what will help you maintain your motivation. Finding intrinsic motivation, integrating one new behavior at a time, treating yourself with kindness and total awareness of what you are doing will help you on your road to success.
-Christine Stephenson, LPC

Rose petals up-close

How to be Mindful in Everyday Situations

By CMH Blog

by Christine Stephenson, LPC

There has been a lot of hype lately about mindfulness but it really isn’t a new concept, it has been around for thousands of years. Many people wonder what mindfulness is. In a nutshell mindfulness is paying attention to your life in a very specific way; in the present moment, intentionally and without judgement. It is making the effort to be in touch with yourself, with others and with your surroundings in the present moment. You are maintaining a moment by moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment. Sounds simple but it is not always easy.

Often we spend our time on auto pilot or blasting through our present moment to get to a better moment in the future. Mindfulness is slowing down and savoring the here and now. Noticing not just what is going well but also attending to unpleasant emotions that come up and instead of trying to escape them using that awareness to explore those emotions.

Much research has been done on the benefits of a mindfulness practice. Some of the benefits that have been discovered include decrease in ruminating thoughts and increased stress reduction. Through an increase in grey matter, it improves working memory, increases focus, and decreases emotional reactivity. Mindfulness increases cognitive flexibility, improves relationship satisfaction, improves immune function, and improves sleep. Studies have shown weight loss and an overall better quality of life as benefits. It also has been shown to help foster compassion and altruism.

Mindfulness can be cultivated though several practices such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, and meditation. Don’t worry if these activities are not your cup of tea; incorporating mindfulness into your everyday life is not as hard as it seems. The following are five easy ways to become more mindful during daily routine activities.

First, breathe with focus and attention. Start by paying attention to your breath. Feel the sensations as the breath moves in and out of your body. Focus on how the breath feels as it enters the body, filling the belly and the chest cavity. Feel your breath as it exits the body all the while relaxing into the spaces between the breaths. This doesn’t have to be a long drawn out process, sometimes focusing on just a few breaths will bring you back to the present moment.

Second, eat with mindfulness. Take the time to taste and savor your food. To practice this, you can do the famous Raisin Exercise. Hold a raisin in your hand and look at it. Notice the way it wrinkles and puckers and the different shades of color that are there. Bring the raisin to your nose and smell it. Describe the smell without judgement and notice any changes that may be happening in your mouth and stomach. Place the raisin in your mouth and roll it around while paying attention to the taste and texture. Chew the raisin slowly noticing the subtle moment by moment changes that occur with time. When you feel ready to swallow the raisin notice if you can first detect the intention to swallow before you actually follow through with the act of swallowing.

Third, walk with mindfulness. This is not rushing to your next destination but placing each foot on the ground with purpose and intention. Feel the sensations of walking including feeling your foot make contact with the earth and any other sensation that comes up in your body. It does not have to be in slow motion but it does have to be thoughtful and focused.

Fourth mindfully release tension that builds up over the course of the day. When you become more aware of your body you will start to notice tension and stress. Take the time to care for yourself with deep soothing breaths followed by light stretching, gentle massage, or use progressive muscle relaxation. This is done by tensing a tight muscle for five seconds followed by a release that allows all the tightness to flow out of the muscle. Take the time to notice the relaxation.

And finally, practice mindfulness while you wait. While you are standing in line or stuck in traffic, take time to notice where you are and who is around you. Bring your attention back to your breath and notice how you are feeling. If there is irritation or frustrations, just notice the feelings without judgement and let them be.

If you are interested in incorporating more mindfulness into your daily routine and would like more structure and guidance, look for a group that incorporates mindfulness into its activity. Joining a yoga class, meditation group, or tai chi class is a great way to increase your fitness level, social interactions, and mindfulness. If you are ready to live more in the moment, find a class today.