6 Ways to Regulate Anxiety and Depression During the Holidays

13 Dec 2019 General

If you struggle with anxiety and depression, emotional episodes typically heighten during the holidays.  Here are just a few ways to help you regulate your emotions this year.

Know your triggers and be prepared to regulate your thoughts and emotions.

Certain people, memories, or traditions can connote negative emotions during the holidays.  These emotions are ignited by triggers, which typically happen through the senses; sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.  Is there a Christmas song that reminds you of a beloved family member who has passed away?  A smell that brings up past abuse?  Driving back to a town or a home past the sight of many moments that cause grief or memories of pain?  Recognize these things as potential triggers for emotional reaction and practice breathing, gratitude, smiling, laughing, and other grounding techniques to regulate them.

Thoughts may surface as well.  They are created by memories, regrets, people who may trigger you, and the like.  Develop positive scripts or one liners to use to help set boundaries when engaging volatile personalities.  Work at regulating your defensiveness when they attack.  Don’t take their attacks personal even if they are intentionally making it personal.

Restructure the “shoulds” and “should haves” that surface in your thinking.  “She should know better!”  “He should help with the decorations!” “I shouldn’t have talked to them that way last year.”  You can’t control others anymore than you can undo what you did last year.  So don’t should your pants!

Focus on the positive.

It can be hard in the midst of anxiety and depression.  However, it is critical to look for the positive things that aren’t triggers for you during the holidays; the warmth of a hot cocoa, the smell of cinnamon, the taste of Christmas foods, the sounds of Christmas bells and music, puppies under mistletoe, and the like.

If they aren’t triggers for you, write them down or list them on your phone.  Focus on how they make you feel good and warm on the inside.  Positive things can exist during the holidays, even in the anxious and depressive moments.  So look for them.  Grant those things you take for granted.

Understand no family is perfect.

The old joke says, “If you can’t identify the crazy person in your family, it might be you!”

Inevitably, you will be forced to spend time with that person, especially if it is you.  Plan ahead for how you will respond to the triggers they ignite in you.  Write scripts to help you respond in a non-aggressive way.  Be assertive in setting boundaries, but always be kind.

Set realistic expectations.

Idealists  struggle when ideals are not met, which is always.  Strive for perfection.  Be satisfied with excellence!  For others, imagine the worst that can happen in a situation.  Now imagine the best.  The truth is usually somewhere in the middle.  Again focus on the positive and restructure “the shoulds.”

Regulate your diet, exercise, and sleep.

Watch your sugar, caffeine, and alcohol intake.  Its okay to enjoy them, but too much deregulate the chemicals in your brain, intensifying emotions and triggers.  Enjoy! But do so in moderation, which is hard because so much becomes available to you over a long period of time.  Select days, parties, and events that you will enjoy these foods and drinks.  Choose them based on what you know will be available at each.   Enjoy them only on those particular times as opposed to every time.

The same concepts apply to sleep.  If you have several days off, sleep well but not too much.  Take a nap if you want, but not all afternoon or several times over the break.  It can throw off your balance and make it more difficult to regulate your triggers.

Exercise can be a great way to provide the balance of chemicals your brain and body need to help you regulate emotions.  So walk each day or get to the gym.  Play with the children.  Be creative!  Get off the couch and move!

Focus on your reason to celebrate, most often around faith.

These days are intended to be holy and honor Holy Other.  They are intended to bring glimpses of hope, joy, and peace.  Likewise, they provide the impetus and inspiration for us to provide moments and acts of hope and peace to those around us.

Turning yourself outward is a gift to others and a gift to you.  So take time to serve, give, and love others.  Provide hope and peace to those who have none.  Maybe even those mean or annoying relatives.

Self Nurturing Simplified

When we experience trauma (and we all do) a piece of ourselves stays behind to remember. A wonderful adaptation that helped us to survive in that moment.  However, that piece, often disconnected from our conscious awareness, is like a puppet master: pulling the strings and causing reactionary behavior.

We often feel powerless to these reactionary and compulsive pieces of ourselves. We learn, we do the self care, and still it’s like something in us can.not. let. go.

Gratefully, more and more research is indicating lifelong plasticity in our brains, especially when we encounter nurturing.

This world is not always nurturing obviously. Despite our best efforts life will always have darkness, chaos, and ups and downs.  We can’t resolve all of our toxic patterns, relationships, and environments right here and now…. maybe ever… so what do we do?

You always have the power to be more nurturing to yourself, no matter where you are, what you are doing, and with very little time.

Try it right here and now:

Place a hand to your heart.

Say to yourself: ” I’m so sorry, please forgive me, I forgive you, thank you, I love you”

It feels funny at first, but keep trying, some part of you, the part of you reading this article right now, believes in your innate deserving of love, forgiveness, and gratitude.

(this is a Hawaiian forgiveness practice called Ho’oponopono, if you’d like to know more)

 

 

BONUS: If you feel extra sweet on yourself, try noticing when any unwanted thoughts, emotions, images (memory movies, flashbacks, etc) or sensations come up.

Acknowledge these elements as a part of yourself and ask this part of yourself – “what are you feeling? what do you need?”

(check out Nonviolent Communication’s list of feelings and/or needs to become more familiar)

Take a moment to imagine, feel free to fantasize wildly, meeting that need in the most wonderful way, and take a breath.

Let us know what comes up for you and what shifted as you tried these practices!

Take care,

Flo

 

Relieving Stress

21 Nov 2019 General

3-Minute Body Scan Meditation to Cultivate Mindfulness

A brief mindfulness meditation practice will relax your body and focus your mind.  Along with breathing, it is one of the best tools to manage anxiety and stress.  Here is one way you can learn how:

Time required

10-45 minutes, three to six days per week for four weeks. Research suggests that people who practice the body scan for longer reap more benefits from this practice.

How to do it

The body scan can be performed while lying down, sitting, or in other postures. The steps below are a guided meditation designed to be done while sitting. You can listen to audio from a google search or on youtube.

Begin by bringing your attention into your body.

You can close your eyes if that’s comfortable for you.

You can notice your body seated wherever you’re seated, feeling the weight of your body on the chair, on the floor.

Take a few deep breaths.

And as you take a deep breath, bring in more oxygen enlivening the body. And as you exhale, have a sense of relaxing more deeply.

You can notice your feet on the floor, notice the sensations of your feet touching the floor. The weight and pressure, vibration, heat.

You can notice your legs against the chair, pressure, pulsing, heaviness, lightness.

Notice your back against the chair.

Bring your attention into your stomach area. If your stomach is tense or tight, let it soften. Take a breath.

Notice your hands. Are your hands tense or tight? See if you can allow them to soften.

Notice your arms. Feel any sensation in your arms. Let your shoulders be soft.

Notice your neck and throat. Let them be soft. Relax.

Soften your jaw. Let your face and facial muscles be soft.

Then notice your whole body present. Take one more breath.

Be aware of your whole body as best you can. Take a breath. And then when you’re ready, you can open your eyes.

 

Therapeutic Bends

14 Nov 2019 General

I’ve had the privilege of providing Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP) over 600 times for clients at Revitalist in the last year.  Over 70 percent of people suffering from treatment resistant depression responded positively to the low dose, slow infusions.  The results are even higher with a counselor.  However, at Revitalist, we noticed that more was necessary for our clients’ continued success post treatment.

We discovered what Dr. Raquel Bennett, a psychologist and founder of the KRIYA Institute, and Ketamine infusion psychiatrist Dr. Steven Levine had been noticing and researching, as well.  Clients often struggled assimilating into their new depression free life.

Often isolated from family and friends while suffering from depression, they may find their social support system diminished.  Furthermore, with clarity and improved insight to their condition, they  may discover what they had been missing in life with struggling with the effects of depression.  Upon these realizations, they sort through a list of regrets and how much time and money spent with doctors, medications, and therapists.

This phenomenon was coined by Jessica Katzman as “Therapeutic Bends” or “the effects that can occur when we ascend rapidly from great depths.”  For more, read her article here:

https://psychedelicstoday.com/2018/09/08/rapid-depression-remission-therapeutic-bends-ketamine-assisted-psychotherapy/

All of this makes sense.  Joel Robertson in Peak Performance Living, writes that it requires 3-6 weeks of consistent action using mental health tools and techniques before behavioral results are noticeable. Ketamine boosts the process and provides insight and energy to begin these tasks.

However, even with the benefits of KAP, the brain may seek to return to the old baseline for about 3-6 months, should a client discontinue compliance to new learned behavior.  So when the Therapeutic Bends and discontinued behavior happen, the brain attempts to gravitate back to the original unbalanced baseline.  The client’s brain longs for the familiar friend, depression.

At Revitalist, we knew something must be done to support our clients.  Thus Community Care was developed to provide groups to help with social interaction, learn new coping skills, and practice living into their new self with the support of therapists and peers.

Social support, identity formation, coping skills, accountability to compliance, and psycho-education provide what a client needs to avoid the Therapeutic Bends phenomenon,.  A mixture of Ketamine, Psychotherapy,  and Community Care is how we found a way forward for folks recovering from treatment resistant depression.

Vulnerability is Strength

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.

-Brene Brown

In today’s culture, vulnerability is viewed as weakness.  In counseling, vulnerability provides a springboard for growth and self-awareness.

Brene Brown has a remarkable TedTalk on the topic.  It is twenty minutes well spent:  https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en

It actually takes incredible strength and assurance in self-worth to offer love with arms wide open, waiting for love to either be returned or rejected.  In rejection, strength is found in knowing who you are, what you offer to the world, and not needing others to return your offering to find value in yourself.  When love is returned…well…it feels pretty good.  However, without risking rejection, you may never find relationship.  Vulnerability carves the pathway forward.

Likewise, vulnerability removes violence and vengeance from the relationship.  Resentment and feelings of vengeance often come with rejection for those who turn their pain outward.  Vulnerability is having the confidence in yourself enough to know you are good with or without the other person’s acceptance.  Knowing you are good enough, just as you are, reveals power that doesn’t need to be expressed through vengeance or violence.

Ultimately, vulnerability leads to peace within, which is a sign of true strength.  It is hard and full of risk, but it is worth the risk.

Unconditional Self-Acceptance

31 Oct 2019 General

Have patience with all things but first with yourself.  Never confuse your mistakes with your value as a human being.  You’re a perfectly valuable, creative, worthwhile person simply because you exist.  And no amount of triumphs or tribulations can ever change that.  Unconditional self-acceptance is the core of a peaceful mind.”

St. Francis de Sales

THE SEARCH FOR PERSONAL VALUE

People often search for their personal value in what they accomplish, their relationships, and the wealth and possessions they accumulate.  Inevitably, life happens and we don’t accomplish what we want, relationships are strained, and we don’t possess what we’d hoped.  Typically, we respond by blaming ourself or others.  We are left wondering what we did wrong or why someone would do that to us.  Either reaction leaves us dealing with emotion; anger, sadness, fear, disgust, and the like.

Often our emotions overwhelm our logic, reason, and thought, leading to emotional distress.  Simply put, logic and emotion can’t exist in the same brain space.  So we are forced to regulate those emotions in order to think logically, which is complicated work.

It’s the work of therapy.

Integrating thought and emotion becomes critical in our mental health and emotional wellness.  Finding congruence in your life, along with regulating emotion, leads to unconditional self-acceptance, which leads to peace.

BOTTOM LINE

Your accomplishments don’t define your value. 

Failure is more common than success.  Likewise, success requires a significant amount of happenstance, such as knowing the right people or being born into the right family or being in the right place at the right time or not getting caught.  Hard work increases your odds, but it is only part of the equation.

Like I was told by a mentor before I went to college, “There will always be someone better than you at anything you do.”  Simply put, comparing our accomplishments to others’ suppresses our perceived value of self and is destructive to our well being.

Your relationships don’t define your worth.

Put two people in a room long enough and you will eventually disagree on something.  Relationships can be fraught with disagreement, but in our differences we learn more about the world, others, and ourselves.  Exploring other perspectives cultivates new thought, ideas, and understanding, leading to wellness.

Our brains are social.  Relationships are critical.  How we respect and engage others promotes peace as well.  However, we are human.  Our brains are wired to protect and defend us, which leads to selfishness and emotional disorder.  Realistically, we will inevitably offend and hurt others and they will offend and hurt us.  Learning to maneuver them is a critical aspect of wellness, but our success in them doesn’t define our worth.

Your wealth and possessions don’t define your significance.

We are often taught the American dream is to accumulate wealth and possessions, which ultimately insinuate power.  However, that is not the American dream.  The dream is for equal opportunity for everyone to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.

Life, liberty, and happiness promote unconditional self-acceptance.  So pursue that which is not material.  Along the way, remember…

 

You are valuable, worthy, and significant simply because you exist.

 

 

I’m a Joker?

24 Oct 2019 General

I’ve had people ask my thoughts on Todd Phillips’ movie, Joker.  So I thought I’d share them here.

HOW DID I GET HERE?

People often agonize in my office over how and why they have come to the place they find themselves.  What happened?  How did I get here?  My answer?

You didn’t wake up this morning and decide to have this issue.

It takes a lifetime of events, rejections, trauma, and your brain translating information that informs you on how to behave and respond to the world and people around you.  Throw genetics into the mix and it complicates it even more for some.

I find many introverted, thinker/reflector, and feeling/sensitive people come for therapy more than other personality types.

I believe it so because the introverted have a more difficult time relating to others in society’s set up; large school rooms, sports teams, crowded places, and the like.  Thinker/reflectors are often told, “You are overthinking it,” or “You can’t question….”  People who feel deeply, both women AND MEN mind you, have a hard time feeling heard or understood.  Men are told they can’t and shouldn’t feel.

All of this moves these people toward feeling as though they don’t “fit in.”

ARTHUR FLECK

How does this fit in to the Joker, Arthur Fleck?

Depending on all of these factors and many more, any one of us can be driven to madness.  Any of us can become the Joker under the right (or wrong) circumstances.  Feel free to disagree with me, but I have seen people from all walks of life and none of us are exempt…none of us.

A lot of our mental health is determined by the people in our lives…or…not in our lives.  Yes, genetics play a role in it as I have described.  However, people can guide us away from or toward our disorders.

As I watched Joker, I watched a human being devolve over time because one event after the next dehumanized him or created more traumas.  The system not only failed him, it pushed him into his madness.  It failed his mother, too.  I found myself wondering what might have happened if someone positive intervened or if there was one less trauma.

Arthur Fleck didn’t wake up one day and decide to become The Joker.

THE STIGMA

The stigma is real.  The stigma can push one to mental disorder.  There is a stigma that people like The Joker are just crazy.  They are born that way.  They are evil.

As a result, people won’t get help because they are afraid of losing jobs or how it will negatively affect their reputation or relationships.  Often times, support systems call loved ones suffering from mental illness, “crazy,” or tell them to “just buck up and get over it.”  It’s not that easy for some people.

Let me repeat.  None of us are exempt from mental disorder…None of us.  The possibility of suffering from anxiety, depression, grief, guilt, shame, damaged self-esteem, broken relationships, and any personality disorder exists for any of us; even the strongest among us.

In fact, I suspect each one of us might just say we suffer from one of the above issues.  We just haven’t been pushed to express it through violence.  So what exactly would it take to push us toward violence…against someone else…or ourself?

JOKER

That’s what the movie moved my thoughts toward.  No one asks to be born into a situation like Arthur.  No one asks to be born into poverty, or violence, or abuse of any kind.  It just happens.

And some people born into difficult situations have a better support system and better resources to overcome it.  It just happens.

So what am I doing to help those who didn’t wake up and decide to be dealing with mental health issues?  What can I do to erase the stigma?  Those questions matter.

Just ask Arthur’s mother.  Just ask Arthur.

You Gotta Have Faith

17 Oct 2019 General

Are you humming the song after reading that title? Let me help by posting the video.

…caution…the video is a bit risque for some. Proceed with caution. For those who were already humming the song, enjoy your youth again.

George Micheal gets it. Maybe we should think about it in terms of our mental/brain health. WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY FAITH? We often think of religion when we consider faith.  However, in terms of wellness and neuroscience, faith is defined by being optimistic and having a positive outlook on life.  Faith is the ability to attach meaning to events and moments in life.  It is surrounded by resiliency, the ability to move forward and make sense of challenges.

RESEARCH PROVES IT The positive impact of faith upon our holistic health is validated by research from Duke and Harvard Medical schools.  Over 100 medical schools in the USA offer courses on the health benefits of spirituality and faith.  Faith develops a healthy brain!  Here are just a few practical benefits:

  • Highly optimistic people have a greater activation of the same part of their anterior cingulate that is stimulated by meditation and prayer.
  • Optimistic individuals have increased longevity when compared to pessimistic folks!
  • Faith in the future is related to hope and optimism and these strengthen the brain and human spirit.
  • Victor Frankl observed that survival in a Nazi concentration camp was tied to meaning and whether one had something to live for outside the camp.
  • Dependence on God or Holy Other enables people to endure and cope with the most grievous human experiences.
  • Mediation on hope and optimism that comes from faith calms and cools the anxious and triggered brain.

So get out there and be full of faith and optimism that something better is around the corner. It just might happen if you’re looking for it.

 

Oceans

Today, my family and I remember the passing of my father two years ago.  It’s been a long road of grief, as we watched for years as his body slowly deteriorated from spinal stenosis and eventually glioblastoma. 

Anniversaries and seasons are tough, particularly baseball season.  The consummate Houston Astros fan, he passed weeks before they won their first World Series.  Those moments are a mixture of celebration and sadness.  So goes grief.

In Hidden Grace: Growing Through Loss and Grief, William Blevins compares grief to being thrown in an ocean.  He says it like this:

Grief behaves more like an ocean wave that engulfs one’s entire being than a sequence of distinct stages.  Over time, grief, like the waves, continuously ebbs and flows.  It comes and goes and there doesn’t seem to be a definite or predictable pattern or schedule.  Like the ocean waves, sometimes grief is calm, and sometimes it is crushing.  In addition, grief appears at unpredictable times and in un expected situations.  Sometimes it washes up painful and agonizing memories and feelings.  At other times it brings up joyful and grateful recollections and emotions.  These experiences can be interspersed with periods when life seems to go on as usual with no serious impact from the loss that’s been experienced.

Allow me to take the metaphor a little further. 

We often view grief as our swim to shore.  If we can just reach the shore, the torment will stop.  We swim.  We know we must and maybe, just maybe we can breathe and the pain with stop.

We begin our journey of grief from loss, transition, or pain in the depths of the ocean.  The waves pull us back and forth tumultuously.  We come up for air and yet another wave pulls us under, drowning us with sorrow.  All the while, we gasp for air, salt burning our eyes, mouth, and throat.  Yet we swim.  We know we must.

Closer to shore, the waves drag us under and they seem to hit us even harder.  Under the waves, we tumble against the sand, scraping our body against the seafloor, shells, and coral, leaving our flesh wounded and torn.  Yet we swim.  We know we must.

Eventually, we are able to stand, our head and arms above water, yet the waves still hurt and knock us off our feet.  Yet we swim.  We know we must.

Closer to shore, the waves only hit us in the back of our thighs, then our calves, and then our ankles.  We step onto the shore, feeling exhausted, yet able to take deep, uninterrupted breaths.  We think we have made it to the place where the pain will cease, but even in the safety of our room, lying on our bed, we feel the effects of the waves on our body.  So goes grief.

We really never stop grieving.  Ideally, the pain eventually moves to a place of transformation.  The wounds heal, but perhaps the scars remain as a reminder of what was.  We learn to appreciate people, places, jobs, experiences, and the like.  We take what we’ve learned from them and make ourselves better people.  We move toward integrating that pain into our lives, making us move closer toward a better self, moving toward self-actualization. 

We move forward.  We swim.  We know we must.

Keep Talking…I Yawn When I’m Interested

Ever had that awkward moment when you yawn while listening to someone? Try being a therapist. It can make for really awkward moments.

Have you ever yawned and watched others yawn back?

In high school, a friend and I used to walk in front of our geometry class and yawn loudly, while the other counted how many people yawned in response. The person with the most yawns won. Good times.

It does this because the brain is social, so it mimics the yawning of others. There are many reasons we yawn and they all benefit the brain and your emotional wellness!

Newberg and Waldman (www.psychologytoday.com/experts/andrew-newberg-md-and-mark-waldman ) describe yawning as “one of the best-kept secrets in neuroscience” for both relaxation and heightened cognitive awareness.  It helps you stay focused, more introspective, and self-aware.

Still not convinced?

  • Studies have shown that students who practiced deliberate yawning for four minutes before taking tests raised their grade point averages!  C’s moved up to B’s, and B’s to A’s.
  • These studies also indicate that yawning significantly reduces the anxiety experienced by those who suffer from anxiety disorders.
  • Yawning regulates the temperature of the brain via a cooling process.
  • Yawning stimulates alertness, increases memory recall, lowers stress, relaxes the body, and increases empathy and social awareness.
  • Yawning regulates the temperature of the brain via a cooling process.
  • Yawning stimulates alertness, increases memory recall, lowers stress, relaxes the body, and increases empathy and social awareness.
  • Many positive effects come from neurotransmitters involved with yawning, such as acetylcholine, glutamate, GABA, and serotonin.
  • Conscious yawning can stimulate natural yawning.

So go out there and yawn! Maybe you and a friend can start a contest. If you do, be sure to pretend you’re throwing away a piece of trash at the front of the room and use exaggerated stretching motions. Works every time.

PS- I’ve yawn ten times while typing this blog. I bet you have, too. If not, go look at a bunch of pictures of people yawning. I dare you.

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