Self-Soothing Through Our Senses

Remembering back to when my oldest was born, especially those first few months of life experiencing the exhaustion of caring for an infant and the inevitable sleepless nights, so I thought. To my surprise, one morning I found myself groggy-eyed walking into the pediatrician’s office for a well-check and the doctor taking one look at me and commenting on my sleep-deprived appearance and then scribbled something down on his notepad and said, “Read this.” He was a family friend and knew me well enough to know that I would be interested in a science-based book about sleep hygiene. Well, he was right and introducing me to Jodi Mindell’s words of wisdom, Sleeping Through the Night was a game changer for our family. What I learned during this stage of motherhood was the art of self-soothing. Studies have shown that babies who learn how to soothe themselves to sleep have less sleep disturbances and make for happier babies and this undoubtedly extends to happier caregivers. Self-soothing is the art of regulating our emotional state in a healthy way, providing a sense of nurturing and balance to our nervous system. This foundational skill can be used throughout the lifespan to calm our bodies during distress from the oftentimes chaotic world around us.

But how do we self-soothe?

It’s simple if we just think of healthy ways to engage our senses. A few years ago, my brother-in-law was visiting and one morning made me aware that I had what may seem like an alarming amount of body wash containers in the shower. I think he said that he stopped counting after he got to a dozen. We laughed about it and then over the next several days I reflected on this conversation and realized that this is one of my self-soothing skills–I self-soothe through the sense of smell. After a long day, I unwind by taking a hot shower, spending time mindfully taking in the different body wash aromas by pouring some into my hands, holding it up to my nose and breathing in the calming scents. I tend to stick to my favorite scents and at any given time have some variation of vanilla or lavender body wash fragrances in the shower. The act of self-soothing engages our senses and allows us to experience present moment awareness, a difficult concept to imagine when we are often lost in everyday tasks, self-critical thoughts, and a range of emotions throughout the day. In these moments, I take a pause and engage my sense of smell to soothe my system. We can all use these skills to our benefit and here are some additional ways to self-soothe through our senses.

Additional Ways to Engage Our Senses

Touch: A study by Dreisoerner et al. (2021) showed that cortisol, our stress chemical, was lowered by touch. It is no wonder that those warm hugs from our loved ones feel so pleasing, there is a physiological basis for this reaction. Not only does it lower stress hormones but it activates oxytocin, a chemical in the brain that has been referred to as the “cuddle hormone.” Researchers also found that one can use the sense of touch alone by placing a hand on your heart as a way to manage distress. Other ways to soothe through touch: petting our animals, getting a massage, taking an Epsom salt bath, wrapping ourselves in a warm blanket or weighted blanket and bilateral tapping. Taste: sucking on a mint, chewing gum, drinking a warm cup of tea, and eating a piece of chocolate. And who doesn’t love the taste of chocolate? A recent survey showed a link between dark chocolate consumption and reduced odds of reporting symptoms of depression. Hearing: listening to the sounds of nature, listening to our favorite music playlists, podcasts, and guided meditations. Sight: scrolling through pleasant photos on our phones, looking out the window and observing nature and visiting a museum or art gallery. Smell: keeping our favorite calming scents handy like essential oils, fragrances, flowers, candles, and baking comfort foods that smell yummy.

These are just a few suggestions on how to self-soothe through our senses. So, the next time your system is overwhelmed, ask yourself… What are my favorite ways to self-soothe? And then practice your skills and challenge yourself to become an expert in the art of self-soothing.

                    

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1201415/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666497621000655

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31356717/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4290532/

Linehan, M. (2014). DBT? Skills training manual. Guilford Publications.

Mindell, J. A. (2010). Sleeping Through the Night, Revised Edition: How Infants, Toddlers, and Parents can get a Good Night’s sleep. Zondervan.

 

National Counseling Awareness Month

April is National Counseling Awareness Month, and so I thought it would be a good idea to take this time to talk a little about mental health and the benefits of seeking treatment for whatever issues you may be facing.

When we talk about mental health, we are talking about our emotional, psychological and social well-being. Our mental health not only affects how we feel but also how we think and behave as well as handle stress and make decisions.

Mental Health Statistics

Just how common are mental illnesses in the United States? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • More than 50% of American adults will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their life.
  • In any given year, one in five people in this country will experience a mental illness.
  • Children are not immune to mental health challenges, in fact, one in five will experience a serious mental illness at some point.

Causes of Mental Illness

While there is no single cause of mental illness, there are some common factors that are believed to contribute to the risk of developing mental health issues. These include:

  • Trauma or a history of abuse.
  • Stress-related to ongoing chronic diseases such as cancer or heart disease.
  • Chemical imbalances such as hormonal imbalances.
  • Use of drugs and alcohol.
  • Feeling lonely and/or isolated.

Therapy Can Help

Living with a mental illness can be incredibly painful. This is why National Counseling Awareness Month was started, to help those in need recognize there are people and resources available to them. A professionally trained therapist can help you uncover the cause of your mental illness as well as offer tools and coping mechanisms to turn your life around.

To find a therapist near you, you can use this directory, which lists therapists by state and specialty. Keep in mind that many therapists are now offering sessions over the internet, so it may be best to pick someone you feel more comfortable with instead of someone who is geographically close.

I do offer telehealth services and would be more than happy to speak to you about what is going on. Please feel free to reach out to me.

 

Resources:

Mental Health Therapy for Frontline Workers

None of us were prepared for the global pandemic we find ourselves in. Not parents, teachers, and certainly not the healthcare workers around the country. Doctors and nurses suddenly found themselves working double shifts to care for sick people. As the rest of the world went into lockdown and people stayed home, safe and sound, these frontline workers showed up day after day, putting their health and life on the line.

Many, in an effort to keep their families safe, found other living arrangements. The idea of possibly exposing their family to something they may have been exposed to at work was too much of a risk, and so many mothers and fathers also had to deal with the stress and sadness of being away from their family during the height of the pandemic.

While many frontline workers appear stoic, all of this stress and fear took its toll, even on the bravest among us. As a result, many frontline workers have found themselves burnt out and experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety

It’s common for everyone to feel stressed or sad from time to time. But when certain symptoms linger, you are typically dealing with depression or anxiety. If you’ve never dealt with either before, you may not know the symptoms.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • A persistent feeling of sadness
  • A lack of energy
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Sleep disruption (either sleeping too much or too little)
  • Appetite disruption (eating too much or too little)
  • Difficulty focusing
  • A loss of enjoyment of previous hobbies or activities
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • Excessive worry
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Tense muscles
  • Panic attacks
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Irrational fears

Is it Time to Seek Therapy?

For many healthcare workers, all of their time and focus is on how they can help others. The idea of self-care and asking others for help is not something on their radar.

If you are a healthcare worker that is experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression as a result of COVID, it’s really important that you let someone else help you right now. A therapist can offer strategies that will help you cope with your symptoms and deal with the underlying emotions.

If you or someone you know would benefit from mental health therapy, please get in touch with me. I offer both in-person appointments as well as online support.

 

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Coping with the Holidays After Loss

For many people, the holidays are about spending time with loved ones. But for those who have suffered a recent loss, the holidays can be painful and isolating.

Here are some ways you can cope with the holidays after a loss:

Recognize You are Not Alone

It’s easy to feel as though you are the only one experiencing great pain during the holiday season. Everywhere you turn, people seem to be happy, putting up decorations, buying gifts and making holiday plans. It’s important to recognize the truth right now, and that is that you are not alone. There are people all over the world who have experienced loss, some perhaps very recently.

Honor Your Pain

No one expects you to feel joyful and in the holiday mood right now, so don’t feel as though you must pretend for others’ sake. It is very important that you honor whatever emotions you may be experiencing, whether it’s sadness, anger, regret or a combination.

Take Your Time

The holidays are usually a busy time for people. There is much to accomplish and many events to host and/or attend. You do not have to keep your normal schedule this year. You simply will not have the mental or emotional stamina for it. So take the time you need. If you don’t feel like attending many (or any) events this year, that is fine. People will understand.

Help Others in Need

One of the worst parts about losing a loved one is the feeling that we no longer have any control over our lives. Loss makes us feel helpless. One way to fight this feeling is to help others who are in need. As a bonus, connecting with others who are hurting can often be a salve on our hearts as well.

When Don’t These Guidelines Apply?

If you have children, it’s important to understand that they are looking to you right now to know what life will be like from now on. To a child, the loss of a parent or sibling can frighten them terribly. Though you may not at all feel like celebrating the holidays, doing so helps your child know that life does go on and that there is space in your life to feel joy along with sadness.

 

If you have experienced loss and would like to explore grief counseling, please be in touch. You don’t have to suffer alone.

Stress Management Techniques for People of Color Dealing with Microaggressions

Most human beings don’t get through life without dealing with their fair share of stress. But some people seem to deal with more stress than others. For instance, according to a report by the American Psychological Association (APA), both low-income populations and racial minorities have a greater risk of developing mental and physical health issues as a result of stress. The APA report focused on the need for raising public awareness regarding the stress-inducing implications of persistent exposure to subtle biases and microaggressions.

In the meantime, what can these populations do to manage their stress so they experience better health outcomes? Here are some proven stress management techniques to cope with whatever life throws at you:

Reframe

Reframing is an exercise that allows us to see the whole picture. Often times, when we experience a negative situation, we become emotionally wrapped up in the negative. But life is complex, and often there is good to be seen along with the bad. The good may be how we handled a situation or how our friends and family gave us support and strength. When we reframe, we step away from our emotions to look at the situation fully and honestly.

Relax

Stress causes tension in the body, and this tension can result in chronic health issues such as high blood pressure and chronic inflammation. It’s important to learn healthy ways to bring about relaxation. You might try tools such as progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, guided imagery, and biofeedback for managing your stress.

Practice Mindfulness

Over two decades of research on mindfulness shows that it is highly effective in managing stress. Mindfulness meditation involves fully focusing your awareness on the present moment. Through this practice, you accept your thoughts and feelings without judging them. There are a variety of online resources to help you get started.

Move Your Body

When we are stressed, our body experiences the “fight or flight response.” This entails a number of stress hormones to be released into our bloodstream. These hormones make our hearts beat faster and direct blood flow away from our brains and core into our arms and legs so we can remove ourselves from the perceived danger.

But for many of us, the danger is not physical but mental and emotional. And so we don’t burn through these hormones and they linger in our bodies causing damage. For instance, one of the hormones released is cortisol, which if levels are left unchecked, can cause high blood pressure and damage to the brain.

Exercise is one of the best ways to burn through these “fight or flight” chemicals. In addition, exercise helps with the production of feel-good endorphins.

These are just some of the ways you can better manage the stress in your life so it doesn’t negatively impact your health. If at the end of the day, you need more help, I encourage you to reach out to a mental health therapist who can provide you with even more stress management tools.

 

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The Caregiver’s Guide to Self-Care

Are you acting as a caregiver to a loved one? Maybe your elderly parent or a spouse or child that is battling a serious illness?

According to womenshealth.gov, 36% of Americans provided unpaid care to another adult with an illness or disability in 2012, and that number has almost certainly climbed as the baby boomer population continues to age.

Acting as a caregiver to another is definitely a labor of love, but it can also take a physical, mental and emotional toll on a person. When you focus all of your energy on the needs of other people, it is entirely too easy to put your own needs on the back burner.

Do You Have Caregiver Burnout?

Here are some of the most common signs of caregiver burnout:

  • Uncharacteristic irritability and impatience
  • Poor sleep
  • Forgetfulness
  • Somatic symptoms, such as headaches and gastrointestinal distress
  • Changes in appetite
  • Turning to substances to self-medicate
  • Lack of interest in friendships and hobbies
  • Thoughts of harming oneself or the person being cared for
  • Increased illness
  • Anxiety and/or depression

With so many people relying on caregivers, it’s important that these people learn to take good care of themselves!

Here are some ways you can begin practicing self-care so you don’t experience burnout:

Get More Sleep

The quantity and quality of sleep you get each night will have a huge impact on how you feel physically, mentally and emotionally. Stress can make it hard for us to get good sleep, so don’t make it any harder.

Avoid caffeinated beverages after 2 pm as well as using any digital screens at night. The blue light emitted from these devices messes with our sleep cycle. You may also want to use room-darkening curtains to make your bedroom dark in the morning so you don’t awaken too early.

Get Plenty of Exercise

All of the stress, tension, and balled-up emotions need to go somewhere, or you’re likely to become sick yourself. Exercise is a great way to work all of this… “stuff” out of you. As a bonus, your body releases endorphins after a good workout, and these chemicals give your mood a nice boost.

Eat Right

Your instinct may be to reach for sugary comfort foods but you need to stay healthy and strong. Opt for protein and healthy fats along with some organic produce.

Ask for Help

While everyone around you may refer to you as “superhuman,” the truth is, you’re just human, and you can’t handle everything by yourself ALL of the time. Ask people to help you provide care once or twice a week so that you may have a little bit of time for yourself.

Talk to Someone

If you are dealing with your own depression and anxiety, it’s important that you speak with someone who can offer coping strategies.

If you or someone you know is a caregiver that could use someone to talk to, please feel free to be in touch. I would be more than happy to discuss how I may be able to help.

 

References:

Lean on Me: Why People with a Mental Health Crisis Need a Support Network

Human beings have a need for social connection. It stems from our ancestors needing to stick together to stay alive. Back in the day, those individuals who strayed from the group had a harder time surviving the elements and not starving to death.

While it is far safer to be an individual these days, that doesn’t mean it is healthy for us to be isolated, for isolation undoubtedly threatens a person’s mental well-being.

It is for this very reason that people suffering from depression and other mental health issues need the love and encouragement from a support network

Social Connection: A Vital Part of Depression Recovery

When a person suffers from depression, they live with a constant pit of despair at their side. Every moment hurts and the truth about life remains elusive.

When we feel these dark feelings, there is a natural tendency to retreat and isolate ourselves. But this only makes the dark darker.

Recovery from depression is a complex process but you don’t need to go it alone. By surrounding yourself with friends and loved ones, you can continue to feel genuine connections, and each one of those connections is a light that can pierce through the darkness.

Research suggests there is a definite link between social relationships and many different aspects of a person’s mental health and wellness. It is for this reason that mental health professionals often discuss the importance of having a strong social network.

Get Yourself Social Support

Social support comes in many different forms. Sometimes you might need help with daily tasks if you are struggling with depression. Sometimes you may need an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on, and sometimes you may need some sound advice.

Whatever you may be going through and whatever kind of help you need, here are some ways you can build a support network of people that love and care about you.

1. Create a List

Make a shortlist of friends and family members who have shown their love, kindness, and support in the past.

2. Make a Commitment

Commit to reaching out to someone on your list every week (if not more). You can do this through a phone call, text, email, or in person.

3. Be Honest

The people that love you can only help and support you if you are honest with them. When you reach out, share what is on your mind and heart. Talk openly about any struggles you are dealing with and be sure to be open to any fresh perspective or advice.

4. Get Out – When Possible

With COVID still affecting our lives, it’s not always easy to get out and be social in person but doing so is remarkably helpful and healing for our mental health. Phone calls and emails work in a pinch, but nothing beats spending time with loved ones in person.

It’s also important to mention that sometimes we need a bit more help than our loved ones can give. If, after forming your support network, you feel that you need additional help, it’s vital you reach out to a mental health specialist. He or she can give you tools and strategies that will help you recover from depression.

If you’d like to explore treatment options, please reach out to me. I’d be happy to discuss how I may be able to help.

 

SOURCES:

Can Long-Term Isolation Lead to an Addiction?

We are living through some of the most stressful times in recent history. With the global pandemic raging on, many of us are still worried about our own health and the health of our loved ones, especially our older friends and family members.

Many of us have also been hit with financial burdens. Some have lost jobs and others have had to close their businesses. How will the mortgage and bills get paid?

To make an already bad situation worse, a lot of us are still experiencing lockdown and quarantine. Many are working from home for the first time and still, others are unable to travel and be with loved ones.

This has left a majority of people feeling alone and isolated when they are already feeling they are most vulnerable.

The Link between Isolation and Drug Use

During stressful circumstances, it is a natural tendency for people to turn to drugs and alcohol as a way of coping. A study reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology found there was a 25% increase in alcohol consumption in the weeks following 9/11.

The stress and isolation of the current pandemic are putting those people who are prone to addiction at great risk. Virtual cocktail hours are now officially a thing. But how many of those cocktail hours end when the computer is shut off?

Human beings are social creatures. When you take our ability to be social away, it can lead to depression and anxiety. Even people who have no history of addiction are at risk of developing a drinking or drug problem during the pandemic as a way of coping with social isolation.

When coping with stress, it can be hard to self-monitor our behaviors, but it is incredibly important for our overall health and well-being. If you suspect you have been drinking or using any drug more than you should at this time, it’s important to be honest about that.

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Has cocktail hour started earlier or gone later than usual lately?
  • Does the bottle of wine that used to last 3 days barely last one night?
  • Do you ever feel like you SHOULD cut down on your drinking or other drug use?
  • Have you noticed you’re thinking about drinking or using drugs more and more?
  • Have loved ones commented on the amount you’ve been drinking?

It’s important that you are honest with yourself at this time. And if you answered yes to one or more of these questions, it’s important that you get some help.

Many treatment centers remain open during this time. You may also want to think about speaking with a mental health counselor. If in-person sessions are not available, find a provider who offers telehealth solutions. This means you can receive treatment online.

Times are tough for everyone right now. You are not alone. If you are turning to drugs and alcohol to deal with the stress and isolation, please get the help you need.

 

SOURCES:

The Mental Health Impact of COVID-19 on Families

If you asked any of us a year ago what would life be like in 2020, it’s doubtful anyone would have guessed we’d be going through a global pandemic, replete with lockdowns and self-quarantining. At the beginning of the year, some families might have thought of being forced to stay home from work and school would be a fun little vacation. But as the weeks and months have passed, we’ve all learned this has been anything but fun.

But how is COVID affecting families? Well, it affects parents and kids and spouses a little differently.

How it Affects Kids

Kids haven’t enjoyed the time off nearly as much as we all initially thought. Disruption to normal routines caused many teens and adolescents to feel anxiety. Add to this being away from their friends, and many young people are also feeling depressed.

Summer vacation for many this year wasn’t as fun as normal as travel has been next to impossible for some families in certain states. Sports teams were canceled, and boredom has set in for many kids, which has led to a lot of acting out and showing mood swings.

The pandemic has also negatively impacted those youths already suffering from a mental health issue, such as those on the autism spectrum. For many of these kids, a disruption of routine combined with cancellation of speech therapy sessions has stalled their progress and caused anxiety.

With some schools opening and some only offering online classes, life is still not back to normal and many kids are simply not able to deal with this crisis any longer.

How it Affects Parents

Parents have, without question, been hit hard by the pandemic. With forced school closures, many parents have had to learn how to home school while also learn how to get used to the “new normal” of working from home.

As if that wasn’t enough, parents have also had to become mental health therapists, helping their children navigate through the fear, anxiety, and depression they are experiencing.

How it Affects Spouses

Quarantining and self-isolation have definitely impacted our familial and romantic relationships. When you are locked in a house with your family, things can become chaotic and, well, everyone gets on each other’s nerves. Now forced to live on top of one another, and enduring financial hardships, worrying about health, and educating and organizing the children—just going grocery shopping can add a layer of stress.

Those couples who may already have relationship issues under the surface may find the sudden and intense stress has brought these issues to the surface. This can be a turning point for many relationships: will this current crisis bring us closer or finally drive us apart?

 

Without question, we are all living under an intense amount of stress and it is affecting us all in different ways. If you and your family aren’t able to handle the stress any longer, it’s important that you reach out and get some help from a family counselor. Most therapists are offering telehealth services, which means you can get the benefits of therapy right over the internet.

If you’d like to explore treatment options, please reach out to me. I’d be more than happy to discuss how I may be able to help.

 

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