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Counseling and Mental Health Articles for Your Wellness!

Dealing with Winter Blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective disorder (SAD) is commonly referred to as winter depression or winter blues. It is a depressive disorder that tends to occur in the fall or winter months when temperatures start to fall and the days get shorter.

Those suffering with SAD are more likely to sleep and eat more. Common symptoms associated with other forms of depression may also occur such as lethargy, sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, trouble with concentration and social withdrawal. Symptoms may become severe enough that the person will have thoughts of death and suicide.

The exact cause of seasonal affective disorder is not known but there are some factors that may be involved. It is thought that the reduced amounts of sunlight in the fall and winter months can disrupt our body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) and lead to depressed mood. Less sunlight can cause a drop-in serotonin levels and thus trigger depression. Also, seasonal changes may alter melatonin levels which can affect sleep patterns and subsequently our mood.

Women are more at risk for SAD than men. Those who already have clinical depression or bipolar disorder may see symptoms worsening in the fall and winter months. The incidence of SAD is greater among populations that live farther north.

Treatments for seasonal affective disorder can include light therapy, medications and psychotherapy. For those with Bipolar disorder it is important that their doctor is aware of this diagnosis as light therapy and ant-depressants can trigger a manic episode.

Light therapy involves sitting a few feet in front of a special light therapy box to give you exposure to bright light. The light therapy acts to replace the amount of sunshine that is lost in the fall and winter months.  Antidepressants known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to treat SAD. Talk therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are known to be effective in the treatment of depressive symptoms.

Those with mild cases of winter blues would benefit from getting more sunlight by either getting outside more or sitting in a south facing winter. Getting regular exercise and keeping a regular sleep schedule can also be helpful.

Consult your physician or a mental health professional if you believe you may be dealing with seasonal affective disorder.


Steps You Should Take If Your Child Is Being Bullied

You do all you can as a parent to keep your child safe but how helpless might you feel to protect your child when you realize they are being bullied. There are steps you can take to support your child and intervene in productive ways.

1. Listen carefully to your child when they report the bullying. Be supportive and thank them for sharing this.

2. Don’t direct the child to ignore the behavior. This undermines the seriousness of the situation and ignoring is not an effective method for handling bullying.

3. Don’t assume your child has done something to provoke the bullying.

4. Find out as much as you can about the bullying. When and where did it happen? Who was involved and did any adults witness it?

5. Don’t encourage physical retaliation. It could make matters worse and your child could get suspended or expelled.

6. Keep your emotions in check. You don’t want to react in an emotional way but instead come up with a plan that is smart and rational.

7. Report bullying to school officials as it is not likely to stop without their involvement.

8. Let school staff know that you want to work with them on a solution. If you feel their plan is not appropriate or adequate work with them to develop a plan of action that you are satisfied with. Ask for changes in your child’s schedule to reduce contact with the bully.

9. If the bullying does not stop, contact school staff again. Be prepared to go to higher ups in the school district if necessary.

10. Do not contact the parents of the bully(s). It can make matters worse. School administrators should contact those parents.

11. Seek support from other parents. Consider working in the community to shed light on this issue. Perhaps an expert on bullying can speak at the school or the school can get involved in an anti-bullying program.

12. Encourage your child to make contact with friendly students in their class. Help facilitate those friendships by inviting these positive friends to your home.

13. Boost your child’s confidence by helping them develop their talents or positive attributes through music, art or athletic programs. These activities are good places for your child to meet like-minded peers.

14. Talk to your child about seeking help from adults when bullying behavior occurs. Let them know that reporting bullying is not the same as tattling.

15. If your child is being targeted because of a learning disability or lack of social skills, consider getting help through counseling and social skills groups so they can improve their interaction with peer groups. The bullying is still wrong in these cases but helping the child develop social skills can help them feel less set apart from peers.

16. Make sure that your child always feels safe and protected at home and keep lines of communication open.

September is Suicide Prevention Month

We often hear about heart disease, cancer and accidents being the leading cause of deaths among several age groups.  A plethora of information is available on lifestyle changes such as eating healthy, quitting smoking and wearing seat belts to reduce the risk of death. Yet, little discussion occurs surrounding the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.- Suicide. How much do we know about suicide and ways to prevent it?

According to the CDC an estimated 2.7 million people made a plan in the past year about how they would attempt suicide. What leads to suicide?  There is no single cause.  Suicide most often occurs when stress exceeds one’s ability to cope with a mental health condition. Suicide risk factors such as depression, bipolar disorder are examples of health factors that may increase one’s risk in attempting to take their life. Environmental stress such as prolonged stress or stressful life events such as divorce or job loss also may increase one’s risk.

At times family and friends are in a position to best recognize the warning signs of suicide and they may be the most helpful in getting that person the help they need. It may be hard to believe that a loved one could be thinking of suicide. You may prefer to believe that it is just an attempt to get attention. However, what if you are wrong?  It is important to take any suicidal thought/comment seriously.

What are some of the warning signs for suicide? You may see changes in someone’s behavior or you may hear them make statements alluding to suicide.

Signs to look for:

  • Withdrawing from activities.
  • Isolating from family and friends.
  • Acting recklessly.
  • Sleeping too much or too little.
  • Increased use of drugs and alcohol.
  • Giving away possessions.
  • Increased irritability.
  • Saying things like “Life isn’t worth living” or “You’d be better off without me.”
  • Dramatic change in dress, activities or friends.

There are certain conditions that are associated with increased risk of suicide:

  • Loss of job, home, money or status.
  • Death of a loved one.
  • Divorce, break up or family stress.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse.
  • Chronic illness.
  • Previous suicide attempt.
  • Chronic stress such as abuse, bullying or harassment.

Is There a Downside to Social Media?

Social networking on the Internet is a worldwide phenomenon. The number of us who use social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is staggering.We are attracted to social networking for various reasons. Most commonly we enjoy seeing what our friends and family are doing. We also use these sites to reconnect with old friends, share our opinions and stay up to date with current events. Social networking sites are also used to promote businesses and for professional networking.

As much as we love using social media could there be a downside to this activity? There have been studies that have linked social networking to depression and social isolation. These studies note that people who frequently use these sites may face feelings of insecurity, envy and low self-esteem. How jealous may we feel when we view other’s vacation photos or in comparing what others are doing socially, feel lonely and isolated. Do you feel badly when you realize you were not invited to a social event you see on your Facebook page? What happens when you do not get the expected likes and comments for your post?

In addition to negative emotional responses related to social networking there are other possible problems to be aware of. We need to remember that there is no guarantee of privacy on the internet. Would you post that picture of your bachelor party if you knew a potential employer would see it? There is also the issue of cyber bullying which often happens with adolescents. Finally, we must remember that this is a virtual world and these connections cannot replace our real time relationships. Your time may be better spent nurturing and attending to those “real” relationships.

Here are some tips to help you use social media in ways that are healthy and safe:

• Make sure you have realistic expectations. Determine what you are looking to get out of this activity.

• Look at how much time you are spending on social networking. Do you have a healthy balance between virtual and real world activities? Are you less productive because you are spending too much time on Facebook?

• Look to strengthen your relationships in a variety of ways. If you limit your interactions with others by only connecting through social networking you may miss out on opportunities to develop deeper connections that may be more fulfilling. Consider texting or sending a private message which is a more personal way to communicate. Make sure you try to schedule time to see family and friends in the real world.

• Be careful about what information or photos you share as they may not be as private as you’d like. Make sure you check your privacy settings on these sites to limit who can access your information.

• Only become friends with people you know in real life to insure your safety when using social media.

• Be aware of your employer’s policies regarding social networking. Could you be in trouble for using these sites while at work? Also be careful about posting negative comments about your employer/company on line. You don’t want to risk reprimand or dismissal because you violate acceptable use policies.

Traits of a Healthy Marriage

We have all heard that “Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce.” Arguments over the divorce rate continue to be an ongoing debate. Some studies suggest that the divorce rate in the U.S. is declining and that the rates are somewhere between 40-50%. Regardless of the statistics, there clearly are many people struggling to find a way to make marriage work. It may seem that the odds for a successful marriage are not in our favor however with resolve and commitment it is possible to have a long and healthy marriage.

Here are 6 traits of a good marriage

  • Accept your partner as they are.  Entering a marriage expecting you can change your spouse is a recipe for disaster.
  •  Put your relationship first.  When making big decisions consider how it will affect your partner. You are part of a team now. Don’t make choices that will put undue stress on the relationship.
  • Be kind and respectful in your relationship. You won’t always agree with your spouse and at times you will get angry but you can still remain considerate of the other’s feelings. You can focus on criticizing and hurting your partner or you can be kind in expressing your hurt and anger. Kindness is always a quicker path to resolution.
  • Don’t keep secrets. You can’t build trust with a partner when secrets are being kept and once trust is lost it’s hard to rebuild.
  •  Consider “divorce” a dirty word. Couples who frequently refer to divorce are more focused on their exit strategy and lack the commitment they need to heal and strengthen their marriage.
  • Live in the present. You can’t change anything that has happened in the past. It’s important to be forgiving and accepting in order to move forward. Couples who continually dredge up old hurts get stuck in their anger and resentment.

Forming Healthy Habits

It happens every new year. We feel the need to make those resolutions for ourselves because it’s a new year. What better time to make those changes that we did not accomplish last year.  We resolve to lose those 20 pounds; we will exercise 5 times a week; we will finally organize that out of control closet. There seems to be messages everywhere to push us in that direction. Tips and guidelines in magazines and news programs. Not to mention all the sales and deals on exercise equipment, gym memberships and storage containers you see every January. What could go wrong?

The reality is that for many of us we start our resolutions with the best intentions but our efforts tend to fizzle out by February. There are different reasons why we struggle to establish these new habits.

  • We make too many resolutions at one time. Trying to make too many changes at once will become too difficult and overwhelming.
  • We set goals that are not realistic. Are you really going to be able to go to the gym 6 days a week when you work full time and have a family?
  • We adopt someone else’s resolution instead of our own. Are you resolving to lose weight because your spouse is pressuring you? Are you using ultra- thin models as your standard?
  • We depend on outside solutions like a gym membership without doing anything to prepare our inside- our brain. We don’t consider how we will psychologically handle the stress and discomfort that comes with change.

Here are some steps that may make your journey to healthier habits a little easier.

  • Focus on small changes. Tasks are always easier when you break them down. Replacing a daily snack with something healthy is not as hard as revamping your entire diet. You can then move on to other small changes.
  • Consider your timing. Do not try to make changes during times of stress and disorder in your life. The day you get fired is not a good time to quit smoking.
  • Focus on the behavior not the result. Often we give up when we haven’t lost the pounds we expected to but if we continue with these healthier behaviors we will see results in time. It’s a matter of making lifestyle changes not looking for a quick fix.
  • Find a partner. It can help to work with someone who can be your cheerleader and help keep you accountable.
  • Change your environment. It will be harder to eat well with a pantry full of junk food. Turn off your devices or put them away if they are interfering with your efforts. Surround yourself with positive people.
  • Set realistic goals. You may never be able to wear a size 4 or run a marathon but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve your health or lifestyle in significant ways.
  • Give yourself time. We hear that it takes 21 days for a habit to form but that might not be true for everyone. Accept that things will get easier but we have to be willing to give it time.

If you take small steps and keep your expectations realistic you are on the right path to form healthy habits.

Impact of Bullying and Mental Health

Improving Communication in Your Marriage

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month

In this year approximately one in five adults in the U.S. will experience a mental health condition like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or post- traumatic stress disorder.

To bring awareness and reduce the shame and stigma that surrounds these illnesses, President Obama has proclaimed May 2015 to be National Mental Health Awareness Month, 2015.

What are the Early Warning Signs of Mental Illness? Having a combination of symptoms (not just one symptom) indicates that someone might be showing signs of a mental health condition.

Pay attention to these symptoms when they last longer than a few weeks.

  • Problems with concentration, memory or ability to think clearly.
  • Feeling overly worried.
  • Changes in eating such as loss of appetite or overeating.
  • Unable to complete school or work tasks.
  • Feeling sad, hopeless or worthless.
  • Loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyable.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Irritability and/or restlessness.
  • Changes in energy levels or sleep patterns.
  • Sex drive changes.
  • Extreme mood changes.

Many mental health illnesses can be effectively treated with one or a combination of medication and psychotherapy. There are day programs or partial hospital programs and in more serious cases inpatient hospital programs. There are a variety of professionals that can provide psychotherapy or counseling services. These include psychologists, licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) and licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC). These professionals must adhere to strict rules of confidentiality to protect client’s privacy.

Many gain support and valuable information from support groups. For more information on support groups visit National Alliance on Mental Health  or Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

Talk with your doctor or mental health professional about your mental health concerns. If you or someone close to you has thoughts or a plan of killing one’s self or someone else seek immediate attention by calling 911 or going to your nearest emergency room.

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