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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.

Solutions to Stress Management…Eat, Sleep, Breathe.

By CMH Blog

Are you struggling with job pressures, arranging childcare, taking care of ill family members, over commitments, or financial issues? How about positive life changes such as, a new job, a new relationship, or moving into a new house? The non-stop pace of modern society causes most of us to experience challenges with stress throughout the year. The ever-increasing demands of daily life trigger our “fight-or-flight” response; our internal alarm system. This response sets off a biological chain reaction – marked increase in blood pressure and production of the hormone, cortisol. High cortisol levels and high blood pressure are not healthy on a prolonged basis. For many of us our alarm system rarely shuts off. Thankfully, there are tools at our disposal that we can use to reset our alarm system.

Identify Your Stress Triggers
With the body always on high alert, it’s imperative that you learn and practice stress management techniques before stress gains control over your life. Learning to identify your stress triggers is the first step. The hassles you face each day are a good starting point. Often, they are the easiest to recognize and take measures against to minimize or avoid. In some cases, you may not be able to control stress factors- but you can change how you react to the situation. Try writing a “Dear John” break up letter to one of your top stress triggers:
Dear Stress, It’s time for us to break up. I don’t want to continue letting you control my mood. You are not a positive influence in my daily routine, and while you may stick around, I will no longer allow you to make my blood boil. You are simply not worth sacrificing my health!
Stress Relief Techniques
There are many stress relief and relaxation techniques available, and no doubt you’ve heard of many of them before, however putting them into practice in your daily life often takes professional help and guidance. Many of us are so stressed out that we devour fast food or skip meals altogether. Take the time to cook a healthy meal with leftovers for lunch. Sit down with your family for dinner and cut out late night snacks- stressed is desserts spelled backwards. Good nutrition takes care of many physical issues and contributes to an overall sense of well-being.
How well you sleep affects your stress levels as well. More than 60% of Americans have trouble falling asleep. At Solutions Wellness Center we teach proven sleep wellness practices, also called, “Sleep Hygiene,” that are relatively simple to incorporate into your daily bedtime rituals. You can control your sleep environment, your preparation for bed, what you eat or drink before trying to fall asleep, and exercising at the right times. Seven to eight hours of sleep does wonders as you face those stress triggers in the morning and throughout the day.
Remember to pause and breathe deeply. Once adopted, this simple habit leads to a more relaxed state, especially during times of stress. Simply smiling or laughing, though difficult during tough times, can provide substantial benefit to reducing stress. It is true that laughter is the best medicine.
Solutions to Stress Management is a two-hour class that provides practical tips and solutions to dealing with and controlling stress. For a full schedule of our Wellness classes, go to www.solutionsandme.com/wellness-classes/class-calendar/ and check out all of our upcoming classes. You can also call 970.249.4449 to inquire about the next sessions.

Solutions to Sleep Wellness – Taking Control of Your Nights

By CMH Blog

“Sweet dreams are made of this . . . everybody’s looking for something.”  Remember the 80’s song by the Eurhythmics?  If you have “searched the seven seas” for the answer to a good night’s sleep then read on for some simple solutions that could improve your overall wellness.

Are you among the overwhelming 62% of American adults who suffer from difficulties related to sleep?  Even more alarming is the fact that sleep loss issues currently cost U.S. employers more than $18 billion in lost productivity.

If you can identify with one or more of the difficulties below, then it’s time to learn how to fall asleep well and stay asleep (7-8 hours recommended for adults):

  • I have problems falling asleep at night because I just don’t feel tired.
  • I wake up soon after I have fallen asleep and then I can’t get back to sleep.
  • I wake up early in the morning long before I want to get up and I just can’t get back to sleep.
  • I snore so loudly that it disrupts my sleep and/or the sleep of those around me.
  • I frequently have nightmares or horrible dreams.
  • I sleepwalk.
  • I don’t feel well rested in the morning even if I have gone to bed early and slept at least nine hours.
  • I have trouble staying awake during the day.

Strategies to help you fall asleep and stay asleep really come down to four things:

  1. Environment
  2. Diet
  3. Exercise
  4. Preparation for sleep

Your sleeping environment has to do with the lighting, sounds, temperature, and your sleeping surface. These are easy things to change, and will result in a much more restful night’s sleep. Simple tasks like getting rid of flashing lights from electronics such as DVD players or electronic clocks and stopping any wakeful activity done in the bed, like reading or watching TV.  Such wakeful activities can actually trick the body and mind into associating the bed with other things that keep you awake.

Many problems associated with falling asleep can be traced back to food or other chemical intake that occurs within two to three hours before the attempt to fall asleep.  One should avoid stimulants like caffeine, nicotine, and foods high in carbohydrates or simple sugars.

Exercise can both help and hinder the sleep process.  When engaged in at least several hours prior to the Hour of Sleep (HOS) exercise makes a person feel tired and sleepy, and can aid to the sensation of a good night’s rest.  However, if engaged in too close to the HOS, exercise can also have the effect of heightening a person’s wakefulness- making it more difficult for them to fall asleep.

Preparation for sleep is perhaps the most important strategy.  Healthy preparation includes: scheduling, relaxing bed time rituals, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, self-hypnosis, and cognitive self-therapy.

Solutions to Sleep Wellness is a three session, (six-hour) course that will guide you through the process of keeping and analyzing a sleep journal, strategies for waking up, and developing your personal plan for sleep hygiene. For a full schedule of our Wellness classes, go to www.solutionsandme.com/wellness-classes/class-calendar/ and check out all of our upcoming classes. You can also call 970.249.4449 to inquire about the next sessions.

5 Tips for Being More Patient

By CMH Blog

Many of us have a problem with patience. That is, we lack it. We might be impatient in all areas of our lives. Or we might get impatient in certain situations.

We might get impatient while waiting in line at the store, or sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Or waiting for an email to arrive in our inbox. Or hearing back from a potential employer.

Of course, the pace of our world doesn’t help with cultivating patience. Our society’s tempo is rapid-fire. We press “send” on an email, and it works in seconds (and how annoyed do you get if it takes a few seconds longer to actually send?). Our food comes with a time guarantee, or it’s free.

We’re able to walk into a grocery store, walk through any aisle and grab exactly what we need (without waiting hours in line only to find that the item sold out hours ago).

You probably know that being impatient isn’t helpful or healthy. When we try to speed things up, we only get worked up and stress ourselves out. Which affects everything from ruining a good meal to pushing people away, said Casey Radle, LPC, a therapist who specializes in anxiety, depression and self-esteem at Eddins Counseling Group in Houston, Texas.

She shared this example: You text your partner, but don’t hear back right away. You start growing impatient, which triggers feelings of frustration and insecurity. You start sending more and more texts. As a result, your partner gets annoyed or upset. They ignore you or send a frustrated text back, which triggers a fight.

Thankfully, if patience isn’t one of your virtues, you can learn to change your ways. Below, Radle shared five strategies that can help — no matter what your triggers are.

  1. Adopt some relaxation tools. One valuable relaxation tool, which is always available to you, is deep breathing. Radle suggested taking deep, deliberate breaths. “Take approximately three to four seconds for each of these steps: inhale to fill up your lungs, hold, exhale slowly, and then pause before inhaling again.” Pair your deep breathing with a calming mantra, such as: “I am breathing in relaxation, and I am breathing out stress.”This helps you shift your attention from the source of your impatience to your breathing, slowing your heart rate and soothing your nervous system, she said.Other tools include meditation, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation and yoga, Radle said.
  2. Get curious. Curiosity “involves refraining from making assumptions and/or drawing conclusions based on limited information,” Radle said. She shared this example: If you haven’t heard back from a potential employer, don’t automatically assume they’re not interested in hiring you. Or don’t conclude they’re being rude or inconsiderate, she said.Instead, consider alternate explanations. Maybe the employer is out of the office. Maybe it’s taking longer than they expected to interview all the candidates. Maybe they’re negotiating with HR. Maybe they’re waiting for your references to return their calls.As Radle said, “Who knows for sure? Without all the facts, it’s not fair to you or to anyone else to make assumptions.”
  3. Dig deeper. Pinpoint which part of the situation is anxiety-provoking for you, Radle said. Then “focus on your own emotional needs instead of focusing on the irritation and frustration you’re experiencing.” She suggested asking ourselves these questions: “What do I need right now? What about this is so uncomfortable? What would help me tolerate the waiting? What might be a better, more productive focus of my emotional energy?”
  4. Accept the discomfort. According to Radle, “Acceptance involves recognizing that lots of aspects of our lives are beyond our scope of control and that not everyone in the world operates on our timelines.” She suggested accepting that waiting is uncomfortable, versus believing it’s intolerable.Even though it might seem counterintuitive, acceptance can be freeing and can bring calm. If you’re stuck in traffic, accepting that there’s nothing you can do helps you arrive at your destination a whole lot calmer than trying to exert control in an uncontrollable situation. Which, of course, is futile.(This is where practicing your relaxation techniques can really help, since it’s hard for us to remember this when we’re already triggered and fuming.)
  5. Use the word “yet.” Radle suggested “befriending the word ‘yet.’” “Those three little letters infuse a great deal of hope, optimism, and tolerance into our lives.” That is, you haven’t heard back from the employer yet. You haven’t gotten to the front of the line yet. You haven’t achieved your goals yet. You haven’t found the right job yet. You haven’t found your home yet.

Patience is a muscle we can strengthen. The key is to employ some relaxation strategies, avoid making assumptions and refocus on our emotional needs.

by MARGARITA TARTAKOVSKY, M.S.

via PsychCentral.com

Eating Disorder

What Self-Care Looks Like

By CMH Blog

Self-care has many faces. The definition really depends on who you ask. That’s because self-care is personal. But there is an overarching theme: Self-care is critical, for ourselves and others.

Ali Miller, MFT, a therapist in private practice in Berkeley and San Francisco, Calif., likened self-care to putting on your oxygen mask before helping others on a plane.

“I see self-care as a way of … refueling and tending to my own needs because my needs matter, in and of themselves; and because I like how I show up for others better when I am coming from a resourced place.”

Aaron Karmin, MA, LCPC, a psychotherapist at Urban Balance, described self-care as self-preservation, and also used the oxygen mask analogy.

“A selfless person puts others’ masks on, while they choke. A selfish person puts their mask on and leaves everyone else to choke. A person practicing self-preservation puts their mask on first and then helps those around them.”

Self-care is key for clinicians. Karmin believes burnout is the most challenging part of being a therapist. “We are the tools of our trade and if we don’t attend to ourselves, our professional and personal lives suffer.”

Marriage and family therapist Elizabeth Sullivan believes that she’s a great mom, partner and therapist when she practices self-care. “When I am misattuned to myself, I am less alive and conscious.”

Self-care also gives Sullivan self-knowledge. “When I take care of myself I learn things I didn’t know. For instance, I like to have a coffee in bed for a few minutes one weekend day…it’s [a] symbol to me of not always striving and running.”

For clinical psychologist and ADHD expert Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D, self-care is essential for achieving his goals. These include being present for his family, engaging fully and empathically with his clients and staying healthy.

“Lack of self-care threatens the things that are most important to me. I want to live a long, fully lived life.”

He also stressed the importance of parents not thinking of self-care as selfish. “It feels as if we have to put ourselves after everyone else. [But]if you burn out, you will have nothing to give to anyone else.”

Definitions of Self-Care

Again, because self-care is individual, there are many ways to define it. Miller defined self-care as “caring for my body, mind, and spirit [and] taking actions to tend to my overall well-being.”

For Olivardia, self-care is anything “that affirms and strengthens my physical, psychological, relational, emotional, and spiritual well-being.”

“It is about being in alignment with something bigger than just doing well at work or in relationships, making money or friends,” said Jeffrey Sumber, LCPC, a clinical psychotherapist, EFT couples counselor, life coach and author in Chicago, Ill.

“It is about establishing a sense of wellness and balance from top to bottom, inside and out.”

Susan Orenstein, Ph.D, a psychologist and relationship expert in Cary, N.C., defined self-care as nurturing herself in ways that feel good now and later. She distinguished self-care from self-harm, which “feels good now but causes damage down the road.”

She also makes sure she’s “responsible” about self-care. For instance, she wouldn’t plan a girls’ trip on her kids’ birthdays or take a spa day if her husband took the day off for “together time.”

Sullivan views self-care as being responsible to ourselves. “Our bodies and souls are our primary tool for being alive. I think of self-care as the responsible care and protection of our mechanism for life, giving us the capacity to work and to love … We were given this beautiful instrument, and we must care for it.”

She also believes there is a spiritual element to self-care: “devotion to our soul is holy attention to the unique gifts we bring to the world.” She believes in “attention, connection and ritual.”

Favorite Ways to Practice Self-Care

Olivardia’s favorite ways to practice self-care include playing with his kids, listening to music, attending concerts, praying, laughing and checking in with himself to see how he’s doing.

Karmin, who pens the Psych Central blog “Anger Management,” loves to play with his kids, practice yoga and walk his dog. He also loves to cook, listen to music, watch hockey, brew his own beer, journal and garden.

Orenstein loves attending group classes, such as Zumba, taking bubble baths and watching episodes of her favorite TV series, including “Sopranos,” “Enlightened” and “Transparent.”

For Sumber, travel tops the list. “I love to explore new places, eat new food and meet people. Getting completely out of my bubble at home is essential for this rejuvenation.”

His runner-up strategy is attending retreats. “I truly feel nurtured and stimulated when I go away to a beautiful, meditative, healing place and feed myself with the wisdom of other teachers, challenge my self on a deep level psychologically and spiritually, and meet other likeminded folks.”

Sullivan loves to write in her journal, get dressed up and go on dates with her partner and light candles and listen to music. She stressed the importance of listening to our inner voice to understand what renews each of us.

“That’s one of the things I pay attention to in therapy: what nourishes my client, what really gives them back to themselves.”

One of Miller’s favorite ways to practice self-care is self-empathy. She described this as “connecting with what I’m feeling and needing when I’m experiencing something challenging, and then making a request of myself or someone else to help me meet whatever needs I become aware of through that process.”

She also gets enough rest, takes baths, practices yoga, meditates, takes fun exercise classes, spends time in nature, attends spiritual services and talks, gets massages, connects with people she loves and laughs as much as possible.

However, she underscored that self-care goes beyond a set of strategies. At its core, self-care is “an attitude toward yourself that you matter, that your needs matter,” Miller said.

“When we really believe in our own mattering, we want to take care of ourselves.” But if you don’t believe this just yet, practicing self-care can help you develop a relationship with yourself that’s more loving, kind and caring, she said.

We forget this but our relationship with ourselves is the foundation for all relationships. Treating ourselves with compassion helps us treat others with compassion, too. Whether you’re feeling self-compassionate or not, taking good care of yourself is always a good place to start.

by MARGARITA TARTAKOVSKY, M.S.
Associate Editor
via PsychCentral.com