How Do I Know If My Therapist Is Effective?

By Laura Greenstein

 

It can be a challenge to find the “right” therapist for you. You might come across someone who has a degree from an impressive school, writes extensively on psychology and mental illness, gives lectures and talks, and still isn’t an effective therapist. And while it is important for therapists to be educated, trained and up-to-date on current practices, there is so much more to a good therapist than just their background and education.

Because the science of therapy is subjective, it can be challenging to tell if your therapeutic relationship is truly “working.” Here’s a list of how effective therapists practice to help you determine whether you’re receiving the best possible care.

Do They Guide You To Your Goals?

Be wary of any therapist who makes promises like: “I can get you to recovery in six months” or “I can help you get rid of your anxiety.” Therapists should guide you towards reaching your goals, not make guarantees about when and how you will reach them. How you improve should be at your own pace. Additionally, they are not there to set your goals for you. This is your treatment—you’re in the driver’s seat.

Do They Show Acceptance And Compassion?

It’s one thing for your therapist to show concern or recommend against certain behaviors, but you shouldn’t feel judged or ashamed after a therapy session. Christine, a young adult living with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), tells a story of when she felt shamed by a therapist:

“I went to a therapist to talk about a relationship I was having a hard time getting over. I told her I would do outlandish things to keep this relationship alive, even though this guy made it clear he wanted nothing to do with me. This therapist responded by saying, ‘Christine, men don’t like clingy women. You need to be coy and play hard-to-get.’ She completely invalidated that my fear of abandonment had been triggered; to her, this situation had nothing to do with BPD, I was just making myself too available.”

The most effective therapists make you feel accepted and validated, showing understanding and sympathy/empathy for whatever you’re going through. They will approach you with compassion and kindness, and build enough trust for you to share your darkest thoughts and memories with them.

Do They Challenge You?

It’s important to recognize that therapy is not synonymous with friendship. An effective therapist will challenge you and help you see things from a different perspective, even if it’s hard to hear. They will give you homework that you may not like. For example, when I feel anxious, my reaction is to try to get rid of that anxiety any way that I can. So, my therapist often tells me to “sit with anxiety, accept that anxiety has visited you and observe how you feel.” She pushes me out of my comfort zone to help me overcome my fears and work towards my goal of managing anxiety.

Do They Check-In With You?

It’s important for your therapist to check-in with you about how you think therapy is going. After giving me challenging homework, my therapist will often ask me how it went or if I found it helpful. Since each session is tailored to you, a good therapist should adjust treatment based on your feedback. For instance, if you feel like they pushed you to do something you weren’t ready to do and you say you want smaller, more achievable steps, your therapist should take this into consideration for future exercises.

Do They Help You Learn?

An effective therapist offers different ways to help you learn skills (such as managing difficult emotions, handling stressful situations or practicing acceptance), understand yourself better and encourage healthy communication with the people in your life. “One therapist helped me see that when I like a person, whether it’s a relationship or a friendship, I have a hard time seeing red flags,” says Christine. “She helped me realize this about myself, and now I push myself to see people in a more realistic way.”

At the same time, this doesn’t mean telling you what to do each step of the way. Rather, they help you learn how to handle the stressful situations life throws at you. It’s problematic if you feel dependent on your therapist.

Do They Practice Cultural Competence?

Therapy should be tailored to your specific culture, background and needs. A good therapist is understanding of any cultural barriersyou face and should keep those in mind while advising you. “When I met with my therapist in the first couple sessions, they were interested in learning about my culture and how it has impacted my experience,” says Ryann, a person with lived experience. “Culturally competent therapists say validating statements rather than questioning my upbringing.”

Do They Treat You As An Equal?

An effective therapist works with you and supports you. They’re your partner in bettering your mental health. They’re not the teacher instructing the “right ways” to behave or the parent asserting discipline over a child. There shouldn’t be any kind of power struggle or “doctor-knows-best” attitude in their demeanor. While it is important to respect their wealth of knowledge, you shouldn’t feel inferior to your therapist.

Therapy is one of the few parts of life that is all about you. Therapists are not there to express their own needs—they are there to help you reach your goals. Like any other worthwhile endeavor, the benefits of therapy don’t happen overnight, but over time you should feel like your therapeutic relationship is nothing but beneficial to your well-being.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/February-2018/How-Do-I-Know-If-My-Therapist-is-Effective

Self-Help Techniques For Coping With Mental Illness

By Emmie Pombo

 

Living with mental illness is not easy. It’s a consistent problem without a clear solution. While treatments like medication and psychotherapy are incredibly helpful, sometimes people experiencing mental health conditions need to do more day-in and day-out to feel good or even just okay.

Some common self-help suggestions people receive are to exercise, meditate and be more present, which are helpful and work for many people. However, other proven methods aren’t mentioned as often. Many of them are quick and simple techniques that can easily be added to daily routines.

Finding the right coping mechanism takes time and patience, but it can enormously impact how you feel. If you haven’t had success with techniques you’ve tried, or you’re looking to add a few more to your toolkit, here are seven coping mechanisms recommended by mental health professionals worth trying out.

Radical Acceptance

Radical acceptance is “completely and totally accepting something from the depths of your soul, with your heart and your mind,” according to Marsha Linehan (creator of dialectal behavior therapy). Included in this definition is the idea that no matter what, you cannot change a situation. For example, imagine a tornado is coming your way. Obviously, you can’t do anything to stop the tornado; that’s not possible. But if you accept the fact that it’s coming, then you can act, prepare and keep yourself safe. If you sit around trying to will the tornado to stop or pretend that there is no tornado, you’re going to be in real trouble when it comes.

The same applies to mental illness. You cannot change the fact that you have a mental illness, so any time you spend trying to “get rid of it” or pretend it doesn’t exist is only draining you of valuable energy. Accept yourself. Accept your condition. Then take the necessary steps to take care of yourself.

Deep Breathing

Breathing is an annoying cliché at this point, but that’s because the best way to calm anxiety really is to breathe deeply. When battling my own anxiety, I turned to the concept of “5 3 7” breathing:

  • Breathe in for 5 seconds
  • Hold the breath for 3 seconds
  • Breathe out for 7 seconds

This gentle repetition sends a message to the brain that everything is okay (or it will be soon). Before long, your heart will slow its pace and you will begin to relax—sometimes without even realizing it.

Opposite-To-Emotion Thinking

Opposite-to-emotion thinking is how it sounds: You act in the opposite way your emotions tell you to act. Say you’re feeling upset and you have the urge to isolate. Opposite-to-emotion tells you to go out and be around people—the opposite action of isolation. When you feel anxious, combat that with something calming like meditation. When you feel manic, turn to something that stabilizes you. This technique is probably one of the hardest to put into play, but if you can manage it, the results are incredible.

The 5 Senses

Another effective way to use your physical space to ground you through a crisis is by employing a technique called “The 5 Senses.” Instead of focusing on a specific object, with “The 5 Senses” you run through what each of your senses is experiencing in that moment. As an example, imagine a PTSD flashback comes on in the middle of class. Stop! Look around you. See the movement of a clock’s hands. Feel the chair beneath you. Listen to your teacher’s voice. Smell the faint aroma of the chalkboard. Chew a piece of gum.

Running through your senses will take only a few seconds and will help keep you present and focused on what is real, on what is happening right now.

Mental Reframing

Mental reframing involves taking an emotion or stressor and thinking of it in a different way. Take, for example, getting stuck in traffic. Sure, you could think to yourself, “Wow, my life is horrible. I’m going to be late because of this traffic. Why does this always happen to me?”

Or you can reframe that thought, which might look something like, “This traffic is bad, but I’ll still get to where I’m going. There’s nothing I can do about it, so I’ll just listen to music or an audiobook to pass the time.” Perfecting this technique can literally change your perspective in tough situations. But as you might imagine, this skill takes time and practice.

Emotion Awareness

If you live in denial of your emotions, it will take far longer to take care of them, because once we recognize what we’re feeling, we can tackle it or whatever is causing it. So, if you’re feeling anxious, let yourself be anxious for a couple of minutes—then meditate. If you’re feeling angry, let yourself be angry—then listen to some calming music. Be in touch with your emotions. Accept that you are feeling a certain way, let yourself feel that way and then take action to diminish unhealthy feelings.

You can’t control that you have mental illness, but you can control how you respond to your symptoms. This is not simple or easy (like everything else with mental illness), but learning, practicing and perfecting coping techniques can help you feel better emotionally, spiritually and physically. I’ve tried all the above techniques, and they have transformed the way I cope with my mental health struggles.

It takes strength and persistence to recover from mental illness—to keep fighting symptoms in the hopes of feeling better. Even if you feel weak or powerless against the battles you face every day, you are incredibly strong for living through them. Practical and simple methods can help you in your fight. Take these techniques into consideration, and there will be a clear change in the way you feel and live your life.

 

Emmie Pombo is a student striving to crush mental illness and addiction stigma. She also advocates for the people who haven’t yet spoken honestly about their struggles. Rooted in Florida, Emmie hopes to eventually diminish any lies surrounding the treatable mental disorders that are becoming more and more prevalent throughout the world.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/March-2018/Self-Help-Techniques-for-Coping-with-Mental-Illnes

When Parents Read to Kids, Everyone Wins

from Psychology Today

It’s no surprise that when parents read to their kids, it helps them succeed in school.

Three separate systematic reviews of what educators call dialogic reading—essentially engaging in a conversation with young children as you read to them—found positive effects including improved language skills, literacy, and school readiness.

Now a new body of research is finding even more benefits of reading to children—for both the kids and the parents. A systematic review published last month in the journal Pediatrics looks at broader benefits of intervention programs designed to encourage parents to read to their children.

Researchers looked at how reading interventions affected both kids’ and parents’ psychosocial functioning – essentially their physical and mental wellness and ability to interact in society. (Psychosocial functioning is typically measured by indicators of depression and stress, behavior problems, quality of life and personal skills.)

The reviewers found 18 studies of interventions that included more than 3,200 families. The interventions provided structured training to show parents the best ways to read with their children, and then followed up with the children and parents. The shortest duration was one month and the longest was 48 months.

Eleven of the interventions focused on parents with low levels of educationand 13 focused on families with a low socioeconomic status.

The reviewers found, on the whole, that these reading intervention programs had a significant positive impact on both child and parent psychosocial functioning. Specifically, children showed improvements in social-emotional skills and their interest in reading and reported improve quality of life. And parents experienced better attitudes toward reading, improved relationships with their children and improved parenting skills.

The benefits extend to babies and toddlers, as well as children up to age 6 and apply equally to boys and girls.

While it’s clear that reading is great for kids, the evidence also shows that some parents need guidance in engaging with kids and books. The Reading Rockets project, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, provides some practical tips. Among them, use fun voices for different characters, ask your child questions about the story as you go, and connect what you are reading to real-life experiences whenever possible.

If there are any small children in your life, sit down with them for a regular story time. The evidence shows it’s great for kids, and might just benefit you as well!

For more information on our work solving human problems, please visit Cornell University’s Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research’swebsite.

References

Xie, Q., Chan, C. H., Ji, Q., & Chan, C. L. (2018). Psychosocial Effects of Parent-Child Book Reading Interventions: A Meta-analysis. Pediatrics,141(4). doi:10.1542/peds.2017-2675

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evidence-based-living/201804/when-parents-read-kids-everyone-wins

Do Violent Video Games Make Kids More Violent?

from Psychology Today

If you know a tween, teenager or avid gamer, you have probably heard about the latest video game phenomenon: Fortnite. In the game’s Battle Royale mode, up to 100 players parachute into a small island, scavenge for armor and weapons, and then kill or hide from other players in an attempt to be the lone survivor. The game’s cartoonish violence and quirky features–including costumes and custom dance moves–have attracted more than 125 million players across all the globe since its release last September.

While not overly gory, the premise for Fortnite is inherently violent; the primary goal is to kill other players. The popularity of these types of games, and this one in particular, raises clear questions about the effects of violent gaming. Specifically, do violent video games lead to real-life violence?

The research on this question is mixed. For decades, researchers have conducted studies to find out whether violent video games lead to problems such as aggression, lack of empathy and poor performance in school. Many studies have found that people who play violent video games are more likely to engage in aggressive behavior. In fact, there was enough researchleading to this conclusion that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) published a policy statement in 2015 concluding that playing violent video games leads to more aggressive moods and behaviors and detracts from the players’ feeling of empathy and sensitivity to aggression.

But a large contingent of researchers focused on pediatric and adolescencehealth disagree. In fact, a group of 230 scholars from universities across the globe published an open letter in 2013 calling the APA’s stance of violent video games “misleading and alarmist.” And many of those same scholars spoke out after the 2015 policy statement.

Last summer, a division within the APA focused on the media published their own statement advising government officials and the news media to avoid attributing acts of violence to video games or other violent media. Here’s why:

  • Large analyses of violent crime and video violent game use find no evidence that increased sales of violent video games leads to a spike in violent crimes. Researchers make the case that if violent games directly led to violent behavior, the data would show increases in violent crime on a large-scale as more people played violent games. In fact, there is some evidence that as more youth play video games, rates of youth violence have decreased.
  • A recent analysis finds that research on video games is prone to false positives and false negatives, which leads to faulty conclusions.
  • Another review finds that much of the research on violence and video games is affected by publication bias; essentially, studies that concluded that video games lead to aggression and violence are more likely to be published than studies that find violent video games don’t have an effect on violence. As a result, large reviews of the data conclude violent video games lead to aggression without considering research to the contrary.
  • There is emerging research that finds no link between violent games and negative outcomes, such as reduced empathy, aggression and depression.

That’s a lot of conflicting perspectives, so what’s the take-home message here?  First, there is not solid, irrefutable evidence that violent video games lead to aggressive behavior. That does not mean that every game is for every child. Certainly, many violent video games are scary and inappropriate for some kids. Understanding each child’s needs and creating a plan that sets out rules for media use and monitors kids’ activities on screens is a sensible way to approach video games.

Please visit Cornell University’s Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research’s website for more information on our work solving human problems.

 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evidence-based-living/201807/do-violent-video-games-make-kids-more-violent

How to Control Your Emotions When They Are Out of Control

from Psychology Today

We’ve all been there: We’re freaking out about something that just happened to us — what someone did to us, said to us, or didn’t do for us. And we’re pissed or terrified, or defeated — our emotions have become overpowering. What do we do now to get our emotions under control when they’ve already gotten completely out of control?

There are tons of ways to better manage our emotions in the long run — for example, we can develop positive thinking skillsreappraisal skills, and resiliency, but these skills require effortful practice over long periods of time. Sure, learning these skills is a great idea, but maybe you’re just not sure what to do (take this well-being quiz to figure out what skills to focus on), or you just haven’t gotten to it yet. So what do we do right now to control our already out-of-control emotions? Here are some science-based tips:

1. Cut off the negative thought spirals.

When bad things happen, sometimes we get stuck ruminating about these events, thinking about what happened — or could have happened — over and over. Often it’s these ruminative thought cycles that drive our emotions up, and not the actual event itself. So to control these emotions, we usually just need to stop having the thoughts that are creating them. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

One strategy is to play “I Spy.” It might seem silly, but naming different objects you see around the room can help you redirect your thoughts to other more mundane things, so that your emotions can get a rest and start to calm down. Another strategy to redirect your thoughts is to get up, do something, or change your surroundings — for example, you could excuse yourself to go to the restroom, or if the situation allows, go for a short walk. This approach helps give you a moment to reset and take your thoughts in a new direction.

2. Take deep breaths. 

“Take a deep breath” might seem like a simple platitude, but it actually activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps calm high-arousal negative emotions, like anxiety or anger. So breathing deeply is key when it comes to managing our more challenging emotions.

Because the brain has a harder time making good, rational decisions when emotions are in the driver’s seat, we are also likely to make better decisions if we take a few deep breaths first. So when emotions start to feel overwhelming, pause. Take a couple of deep breaths, and bring those intense emotions down a bit so you can carefully choose what to do next.

3. Generate some positive emotions.

Once you’ve calmed down somewhat, and you’re thinking clearly again, it’s helpful to try to infuse some positive emotions into the situation to help beat back those negative feelings. One way to do this is to look for the silver linings in whatever it is that’s bothering you. For example, did your boss tell you that you must redo the work you just did? A silver lining might be that this experience will help you become better at your job in the future. Or, are you upset about something your romantic partner did? This might be an opportunity to improve your communication skills and advocate for your needs in your relationship. It’s not always easy to find a silver lining, but if you can, it’s a good way to generate positive emotions.

Another way to infuse some positive emotions into the moment is with a funny video or inspiring photo. These little, positive things can help deflate even the most intense negative emotions. So if you’re feeling really down, do something that generates a little happiness, so you can start getting back to your normal self.

4. Practice acceptance.

It can seem counterintuitive to accept the things that are bothering us, but indeed, it is good advice to “accept the things you cannot change” when you want to control your emotions. No matter how upset we get, our emotions can’t change things that are unchangeable. So ask yourself: What part of this situation is unchangeable? Remind yourself to accept those things and focus your effort on the things you can change for the better.

5. Quit the coffees and soft drinks.

Caffeine gives us energy. Of course, energy is good, but caffeine can end up producing nervous energy — energy that feels very similar to feelings of anxiety or panic. So if you’re feeling extra anxious, and you can’t figure out what’s causing it, it might just be the caffeine.

If you’re already feeling stressed about something, caffeine can exacerbate these emotions, in part because caffeine can negatively affect your sleep. When we don’t sleep well, we don’t manage our emotions as well, so our feelings can get out of control more easily. So limiting caffeine is another good way to keep those emotions in check.

6. Get your heart rate up with exercise.

If you’re still feeling all riled up and can’t seem to get a handle on your negative emotions, try exercise, because it turns out that exercise is an effective way to boost your mood. Do a few sprints, lift some heavy weights, or do some other activity that gets your heart rate up, because the higher the intensity of the workout, the greater the impact on your mood. The physiological changes that happen in your body make exercise a great solution for intense emotions that you’re having a hard time handling with other strategies.

 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/click-here-happiness/201810/how-control-your-emotions-when-they-are-out-control

Helping Others To Feel Heard Matters

By Quinn Anderson

 

Few opportunities in life allow one to feel as if you’ve made a meaningful difference in another’s life. For me, serving as a NAMI HelpLine volunteer is one of them—and this is why I do it.

With an eye to return to school for clinical social work, last year I sought out volunteer opportunities that would allow me to work with people in the mental health community. I learned of NAMI by sheer coincidence, when a friend introduced me to a fellow volunteer. I had never heard of NAMI, and although she spoke enthusiastically of her experience, the idea of manning a phone line to provide “information and resource referral” seemed less than the intimate, learning experience I was seeking.

I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Not a shift ends that I don’t sit back, reflect and thank my lucky stars for having had the chance to help someone that day; to share their frustrations and fears; to ease their pain; to point them toward hope, even if it’s just a little. As a NAMI HelpLine volunteer, I will often be the only voice of hope in the mental health resource chain who treats a caller with kindness, patience and respect.

On the NAMI HelpLine, we act as a compass to begin navigating a complex system of mental health resources—a process that moments before most likely seemed unnavigable and hopeless for the caller. And the calls are endless. You think an hour will go by and the phone lines might be slow, but they never are. There is always a need somewhere. And the needs are as personal as each human. Each call requires intense empathy, compassion, focus, patience and creative problem-solving, within a moment’s grasp. What we do is personal, and I love it.

We live in a world where listening is a dying art. Our callers need to be heard, not merely “listened to.” They need to know their situation matters. Often when I ask a caller, “How can I help you today?” I hear, “I don’t know if you can,” because prior attempts for help have been met with a lack of compassion and/or respect. Often, our callers have complex circumstances and the stakes are very high.

As a NAMI HelpLine volunteer, at the very least I need to listen and be kind; to let callers know I’m not going anywhere, and I’m going to do my very best to figure things out with them. I genuinely care to go the extra mile, by making sure the caller is okay and that they feel they’ve been heard before I say goodbye.

Almost every call closes with the caller sharing, “I can’t thank you enough. Before I called you, I didn’t know where to start. You’ve helped me so much.” I cannot fully describe how good it feels to be able to speak with a caller—who at the beginning of a call feels helpless and lost—and help empower them with a sense of dignity, calm and hope by the end of the call.

Each volunteer comes to the NAMI HelpLine with “lived” experience. Either we live with, care for, or have cared for a loved one with a mental health condition. We know personally the challenges, heart ache, devastation, helplessness and hopelessness. We are both compassionate and passionate about helping others who call us and are seeking help, because we’ve been there.

I have lived with clinical depression most of my life, and more recently, with anxiety and panic attacks. I understand all too well the loss of vitality, the desperation, the fear, the self-imposed shame and isolation,  the fatigue of living each day bearing the weight of “okay-ness,” the frustration of losing weeks, months and even years to mental illness.

Worse, I know the frustration of working with psychiatrists who seemed to be little more than “dispensaries,” and what it is like to live with the denial that I didn’t need medication (only to finally give in and accept that I couldn’t live well without it). I know the impatience one experiences while waiting for a new medication to kick-in and what it’s like living through the side-effects. I know the desperation when a medication doesn’t work, and the ultimate relief when one finally does work. I know the incredible fortune of having the resources and resilience to find those gifted practitioners who were empathetic, caring healers who worked patiently with me to help me live a fulfilling life in every way. All of this has made me a more empathetic HelpLine volunteer. I field similar concerns every shift. And I am willing to share my story if it helps to alleviate fears.

Prior to my affiliation with NAMI, I had no knowledge of the many resources, both public and private, available to our callers. After almost a year on the NAMI HelpLine, it still amazes me how many resources there are, yet how little is known to most people. I wish I had learned many years ago of some that I now share with callers. It would have made my journey that much more bearable, or at the very least, to know that I wasn’t alone. And that I was heard.

 

Quinn Anderson is a NAMI Helpline Volunteer.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/August-2018-/Helping-Others-to-Feel-Heard-Matters

How To Reduce Screen Time In The Digital Age

By Nina Schroder, MSW, LCSW

Smartphones have transformed modern life in more ways than anyone could have imagined. They enable 24/7 access to infinite information and tools that help us stay organized, track our fitness, express ourselves and be entertained. However, easy access to these digital devices and their habit-forming qualities has led to high screen time for both children and adults and emerging research suggests that such high screen use can have a negative impact on mental health.

Since the rise of the smartphone, indicators of mental “wellness” such as happiness, self-esteem and life satisfaction have decreased while serious mental health issues like anxiety, depression, loneliness and suicide have increased significantly, particularly among young people. A possible reason for this might be that more time on screens, particularly social media, leads to increased risks of stressors like social isolation, cyberbullying, social comparison, decreased life satisfaction, reduced productivity and distraction from personal values and goals.

Increased time on screens also means there’s less time available for positive real world experiences that promote mental health, like exercise, quiet reflection and quality, in-person social connection. With all of this in mind, it’s not surprising that research suggests that less time on social media leads to better well-being.

While more research is needed, it certainly appears that less screen time bodes well for mental health. So, consider the following tips to keep screen time in-check, leaving more room for healthy, positive real-world experiences.

Connect For Real
Despite opportunities for online “connection,” loneliness is at an all-time high. Indeed, quality face-to-face social connection is critical to mental wellness. So, make it a goal to have screen-free, in-person social connections with friends, co-workers and loved ones on a daily basis. Consider making it a standard to power down whenever there is an opportunity for conversation such as in the car, standing in line and during meals or social gatherings.

Commit To A Screen-Free Bedroom
Screen time within an hour of bedtime can negatively impact sleep, which can contribute to physical, mental and cognitive issues. However, the lure of a screen in a quiet bedroom is hard to resist. It’s difficult to ignore texts, resist a Netflix binge or mindlessly scroll through social media. Eliminate the temptation by keeping phones out of the bedroom entirely and reach for a book or magazine instead.

Avoid Multitasking
Put away your phone when you need to focus on a task, particularly related to school or work. Research on multitasking shows that it causes distraction, reduces productivity and increases errors. One study showed that subjects whose phones were in a different room performed better on a cognitive test compared to those whose phones were in front of them—and set on “Silent” mode. In addition to reduced productivity and cognitive impact, media multitasking also has been linked to lower wellbeing.

Notice Motives And Feelings
Ask yourself if being on your phone is what you really want to be doing at that moment. By using mindfulness, you can identify if you’re trying to avoid negative feelings or a necessary task, or whether you’re truly enjoying your digital experience. This exercise can help with getting in touch with your emotions and improve purposeful decision-making around screen use.

Pursue Healthy Interests And Activities
Making time for hobbies or activities that promote health, personal growth or connections with others can help to reduce screen use and provide a sense of meaning and purpose. Some examples are: reading books, hiking in nature, taking mindful walks, prayer or meditation, joining a club, practicing yoga, cooking, volunteering or learning to play an instrument.

Practice Reflection And Gratitude
A daily practice in quieting your mind and counting your blessings can boost positive emotion and improve psychological wellness. Research suggests that gratitude may protect against social comparison and envy—common experiences with social media. Reflect on what is good and right in your life. During quiet, screen-free time, write down five good things from each day. Savor simple pleasures like a sunny day, a good cup of coffee or a friendly exchange with someone.

Clarify Your Values
Take time to mindfully consider what you value most in life. What do you want your life to be about? Quality relationships? Physical and emotional health? Spiritual growth? Professional growth? Regularly consider whether screen use is moving you toward or away from your values. If you notice that your screen use is moving you in an unwanted direction, give yourself grace, hit the figurative “reset” button and get back on track.

Nina Schroder, MSW, LCSW is a mental health therapist at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. She specializes in the treatment of anxiety and depression and researches the effects of high screen use on mental health, emotional resilience, and overall wellness. Nina is passionate about helping others increase wellness and emotional resilience in the Digital Age and delivers lectures and workshops both locally and nationally. You can reach her at nina.schroder@yahoo.com.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/August-2018-/How-to-Reduce-Screen-Time-in-the-Digital-Age

Intimacy Begins Within

By: Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.

When we think about intimate relationships, most of us think first of intimacy between partners or friends. Personal intimacy is a state in which two individuals are truly able to let down their outer layers of defense and protection and allow themselves to let the other see him or her as she truly is while being able to create the space in which her partner feels safe enough to do the same.

Personal intimacy is about being willing to let someone see you as you truly are while being willing to let yourself see that person as he or she truly is. It is about lack of artifice or protection and requires great courage for most people as it lays raw the bits and pieces of ourselves and our history that we would rather others not realize we carry with us.

Self-Intimacy: Not as Simple as it Sounds

Although establishing intimacy with another person can take significant courage, being open to self-intimacy can be a surprisingly challenging task. It seems that there are two extremes when it comes to self-examination—whether it’s literal mirror-gazing or inner reflecting. On one extreme are those of us who look into a mirror and notice every flaw—whether it’s laughlines, blemishes, asymmetrical features, whatever. Then there are others of us who just steal a quick glance to make sure there’s nothing too horrifying or embarrassing about our appearance and dash out the door.

Being somewhere in between these two extremes is the most effective standpoint for building an intimate connection with your inner self. You have to be able to see yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you for who you are and who knows what you are worth. Self-esteem develops based on how we perceive that others perceive us. Self-intimacy requires that we see ourselves as we truly know ourselves to be.

Taking Time to Establish Self-Intimacy is Important

When we do not give ourselves time alone for reflection and self-intimacy, we are letting ourselves off too easy in life and not holding ourselves up to the inner scrutiny that allows us the space to acknowledge and address the areas in which we may need to grow. We also need time alone with ourselves to reconnect with who we are when we “show up” in relationships with others.

By intentionally choosing to spend time alone, you are also acknowledging the worth of your personhood—and the value inherent in being who you are. The need to surround yourself with the company of others often reflects needs to measure self-worth by popularity or to provide “evidence” of your social desirability.

It’s okay to enjoy spending time with those who care about you, this also should include enjoying spending time alone with yourself.

Suggestions for Making Space for Healthy Solitude and Self-Intimacy

It’s important that each of us finds time to sit and to simply “be” in our own skin. Maybe you find a connection to yourself through meditation, through quiet reflection, or through intentional self-exploration. The point of healthy inner solitude is to provide a space to explore the pieces of yourself that you treasure or that you wish you could change.

Healthy solitude is not about beating up on yourself for past mistakes or behaviors, dragging yourself down as you review your perceived missteps or failings, or ruminating on interactions that have not gone as you would have liked. It is meant to be a space of acceptance of self where plans for life changes are also developed.

  1. A good habit to encourage healthy solitude is scheduling daily reflective walks that allow you space to quietly review a particular aspect of your life or self that needs attention. These walks can be built into your regular routine—walking to your office from the parking lot (just pay attention to the traffic and do be careful) is one way to make space for personal intimacy.
  2. Taking five minutes at the start or end of your lunch break can also be a space in which you can “turn over the rocks and stones” and see what’s hidden or building up within you.
  3. Creating a journaling space in your life – at night before you go to bed or on your tablet, smartphone, or laptop, right after you clock out at work or in the morning ten minutes before you begin your workday are three different options for building in the personal solitude that grows increasingly necessary as our lives and technology grow increasingly intertwined.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifetime-connections/201801/intimacy-begins-within

How Easy It Is To Neglect Your Mental Health

By Trevor McDonald

We all know what taking care of our physical health looks like: eating right, exercising regularly and getting plenty of sleep. But do you know how to take care of your mental health? Neglecting your mental health can be easy, especially since it’s not something we are always taught or reminded to prioritize. However, taking a step back and examining your mental health is key to a happy and healthy life.

If you think you might be neglecting your mental health, here are a few reasons why—and what to do about it.

You’re Too Busy

It’s all too common to put your mental health on the backburner. Between family responsibilities, work obligations, and social situations, it’s no wonder why very few of us actually find time in the day to take care of our mental health. But in the end, if taking care of your mental health is a priority, as it should be, you will find the time.

You can take small breaks throughout the day to do what makes you feel good. Have a standing appointment with your therapist on the calendar. Turn off your phone for a little while. Hit the gym. Or pour yourself a warm bath with a cup of tea. No matter what your version of self-care looks like, make sure to do it routinely.

It’s Taboo To Talk About Your Feelings

So many of us, especially men, are taught to not talk about our feelings. From a very young age, we’re told to “just suck it up” and that showing any kind of emotion is weak. But this is an extremely detrimental thought, both to our relationships and our mental health. Emotions are a key aspect of connection and connection is a key aspect of mental health.

To fight this common misconception, start having more conversations about mental health. Depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions are not a choice, but rather a state of being. If you live with mental illness (or not), you shouldn’t be afraid to talk about your feelings and experiences.

You’re Not Sure Who To Talk To

Should you talk to a friend about how you’re feeling? A family member? A professional therapist? All of these are good options, depending on your needs. For example, if you think you have a mental illness, it’s best to consult a mental health professional.

If your mind is full of thoughts that keep spinning around and around, talking it out and discussing your fears, anxieties, ambitions and goals, can help you to slow down your thoughts. With the help of your confidant, you can tackle them in a practical way.

You Can’t Afford To Care

Maybe you’re one of the many people who wants professional counseling but can’t afford it. Mental health care can be expensive. However, you should know there are options.

If you have health insurance, there are many mental health professionals who offer counseling at a discounted rate depending on your financial need. This is referred to as “sliding scale” and you can inquire with the provider what the adjusted rate would be. If you don’t have insurance, you can start by reaching out to your local social services agency by dialing 211. If you’re a student, you can talk to someone at your school’s student health center.

There are also options to talk to others about your mental health beyond professional counseling. You can join a free support group or call a warmline: a phone line where trained volunteers offer support.

There are many reasons why we continue to neglect our mental health, but what really matters is how to end that behavior. Take a second to check in with yourself and if you feel like you are neglecting your mental health, develop an action plan to change that!

Trevor is a freelance writer and recovering addict & alcoholic who has been clean and sober for over five years. He is currently an Outreach Coordinator for Sober Nation. Since his recovery began, he has enjoyed using his talent for words to help spread treatment resources, addiction awareness, and general health knowledge. In his free time, you can find him working with recovering addicts or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.

 

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/December-2018/How-Easy-it-is-to-Neglect-Your-Mental-Health

Loving a Trauma Survivor: Understanding Childhood Trauma’s Impact On Relationships

by:  

Survivors of childhood trauma deserve all the peace and security that a loving relationship can provide. But a history of abuse or neglect can make trusting another person feel terrifying. Trying to form an intimate relationship may lead to frightening missteps and confusion.

How can we better understand the impact of trauma, and help survivors find the love, friendship and support they and their partner deserve?

How People Cope With Unresolved Trauma

Whether the trauma was physical, sexual, or emotional, the impact can show up in a host of relationship issues. Survivors often believe deep down that no one can really be trusted, that intimacy is dangerous, and for them, a real loving attachment is an impossible dream. Many tell themselves they are flawed, not good enough and unworthy of love. Thoughts like these can wreak havoc in relationships throughout life.

When early childhood relationships are sources of overwhelming fear, or when absent, insecure or disorganized attachment leaves a person feeling helpless and alone, the mind needs some way to cope. A child may latch onto thoughts like

  • Don’t trust, it’s not safe!
  • Don’t reach out, don’t be a burden to anyone!
  • Don’t dwell on how you feel, just move along!

These ideas may help a person cope when they hurt so badly every day and just need to survive. But they do not help the emerging adult make sense of their inner world or learn how to grow and relate to others. Even if the survivor finds a safe, loving partner later in life, the self-limiting scripts stay with them. They cannot just easily toss them and start over. These life lessons are all they have (so far) to survive the best way they know how.

Noticing Trauma’s Impact On Behavior and Mood

Many times, trauma survivors re-live childhood experiences with an unresponsive or abusive partner (an important topic for another article). This often happens without the ability to see the reasons why they feel compelled to pursue unhealthy relationships. Beneath awareness is a drive to revisit unresolved trauma, and finally make things right. Of course, childhood wounds cannot be repaired this way unless there are two willing partners working on changing those cycles. But if these forces remain unnoticed, survivors can get caught in a cycle of abuse.

Even with a safe partner, a trauma survivor may

  • Experience depression
  • Develop compulsive behavior, an eating disorder, or substance dependence to try and regulate their emotions
  • Have flashbacks or panic attacks
  • Feel persistent self-doubt
  • Have suicidal thoughts
  • Seek or carry out the adverse behavior they experienced as a child

Get a printable Flashback Halting Guide with 10 Ways to Help Manage Flashbacks:

Partners of trauma survivors may want desperately to help. But partners need to “be clear that it is not your problem to fix and you don’t have the power to change another human being,” says Lisa Ferentz, LCSW in a post for partners of trauma survivors. Rather, know that both of you deserve to connect with resources to help you find comfort and healing.

Seeing Trauma’s Impact On Relationships

It is important to recognize unhealed trauma as a dynamic force in an intimate relationship. It can super-charge emotions, escalate issues, and make it seem impossible to communicate effectively. Issues become complicated by:

  • Heightened reactions to common relationship issues
  • Emotionally fueled disagreements
  • Withdrawal or distant, unresponsive behavior
  • Aversion to conflict and inability to talk through issues
  • Assumptions that the partner is against them when it is not the case
  • Lingering doubt about a partner’s love and faithfulness
  • Difficulty accepting love, despite repeated reassurance

In a relationship, a history of trauma is not simply one person’s problem to solve. Anything that affects one partner impacts the other and the relationship. With guidance from therapy, partners begin to see how to untangle the issues.

Many people do not even realize that they have had traumatic experiences. Trauma-informed therapy works by helping couples begin to see how they experienced traumatic abuse or neglect, and how it still affects them, and impacts their current relationships. This approach enables the therapist to provide specific insights to help couples separate past issues from present ones. Progress often comes more readily through a combination of individual sessions and work as a couple.

Trauma-informed therapy helps partners give each other the gift of what I and other therapists call psychoeducation – learning to understand each individual’s story, how it impacts their relationship, and how to process thoughts and emotions in healthier ways.

The Importance of Self-Care For Trauma Survivors and Their Partners

Trauma survivors and their partners have different needs for support. How can one respond when the other is grappling with mental health issues? How do you calm things down when overwhelming emotions get triggered?

It takes therapy for couples to find answers that are most healing for them. But some general tips for trauma survivors and their partners that can help are:

  • Have a really good support system for each of you and the relationship. Make time for family and friends who are positive about your relationship and respect you and your loved one.
  • Find a trauma-informed therapist to guide you as a couple or as individuals in your effort to better understand yourselves and each other.
  • Find resources outside of therapy such as support groups or other similar activities
  • Take time for psychoeducation. Learn about the nature of trauma, self-care and healing techniques like mindfulness. For example, one helpful model is Stan Taktin’s “couple bubble.” This is a visual aid to help partners see how to become a more secure, well-functioning couple. Surrounding yourself and your partner with an imaginary bubble “means that the couple is aware in public and in private they protect each other at all times. They don’t allow either of them to be the third wheel for very long, at least not without repair. In this way, everybody actually fares much better.” See More Helpful Resources below.

Communication Tips for Partners of Trauma Survivors

Building a healthy bond with a trauma survivor means working a lot on communication. Grappling with relationship issues can heighten fear and may trigger flashbacks for someone with a history of trauma.

Learning how to manage communication helps couples restore calm and provide comfort as their understanding of trauma grows. For example, couples can:

  • Use self-observation to recognize when to slow down or step back as feelings escalate
  • Practice mindfulness to raise awareness and recognize triggers for each of you
  • Develop some phrases to help you stay grounded in the present and re-direct your dialog, such as:
    • “I wonder if we can slow this down.
    • “It seems like we’re getting triggered. Can we figure out what’s going on with us?”
    • “I wonder if we are heading into old territory.”
    • “I’m thinking this could be something we should talk about in therapy.”
    • “I wonder if we could try and stay grounded in what is going on for us – is that possible?”

Communication can also help a partner comfort a loved one during a flashback. Techniques include:

  • Reminding the person that he or she is safe.
  • Calling attention to the here and now (referencing the present date, location and other immediate sights and sounds).
  • Offering a glass of water, which can help stop a flashback surprisingly well. (It activates the salivary glands, which in turn stimulates the behavior-regulating prefrontal cortex.)

Healing childhood wounds takes careful, hard work. But it is possible to replace old rules bit by bit. Finding a therapist who can recognize and acknowledge the hurt, which the survivor has carried alone for so long, is key to repairing deep wounds.

Partners may decide to work individually with their own trauma-informed therapist, while working with another as a couple, to provide the resources they need. When a survivor of early trauma can finally find comforting connection with a therapist, and then with their partner, the relationship between the couple can begin to support deep healing as well.

The more we understand about the impact of trauma, the more we can help those touched by it to go beyond surviving, and find the healing security of healthier loving relationships.

More Helpful Resources

Articles and Websites

Helping a Partner Who Engages in Self-Destructive Behaviors” by Lisa Ferentz, LCSW

Trauma-Informed Care; Understanding the Many Challenges of Toxic Stress” by Robyn Brickel, M.A., LMFT

Sidran Institute (resources for traumatic stress education and advocacy)

Books

Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT

Allies in Healing: When the Person You Love Was Sexually Abused As a Child by Laura Davis

Trust After Trauma: A Guide to Relationships for Survivors and Those Who Love Them by Aphrodite Matsakis

Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation by Daniel Siegel