The Pathway To Peace Of Mind

By Larry Shushansky, LICSW

 

To create the roadways of a city, it takes years of planning, developing and building. It’s a never-ending process as new ideas are constantly suggested on how to make everything more efficient and in tune with changing needs.

Peace of mind is developed the same way.

In the 1900’s, scientists believed that our brain was fully developed by age six. We could learn more, sure, but “who we were” was set. Additionally, it was believed that after our teenage years and early years of adulthood, our brain and bodies declined through aging, injury, disease and illness.

“And then,” stated Dr. Lara Boyd, a brain researcher from the University of British Columbia, “studies began to show remarkable amounts of reorganization in the adult brain. And the research has shown us that all of our behaviors change our brain. That these changes are not limited by age…in fact they’re taking place all the time.” Meaning we can reorganize, change and restructure the physical makeup of our brain no matter what age we are.

So, imagine your brain is a city composed of many roadways that have all been under construction since before you were even born. And just like cities, we can create new roadways that enable us to be happier.

I’m sure you’ve heard about the many ways to be happier and healthier, but true change relies on deciding on a new habit or practice and dedicating yourself to it. That’s when your roadways will begin to evolve for good. Here are some important things to keep in mind when you’re working on yourself.

Change

Whatever we decide to think or do, it has to be different than our norm. For example, if we decide to move towards having more peace of mind by going on walks three times a week, and we’re already walking three times a week, we are not going to change. But if we decide to also practice mindfulness while walking, this is different.

Belief

Whether it’s exercise, nutrition, meditation, yoga, tai chi, therapy, medication, religion, spirituality or any other strategies we might use to become happier, we need to believe in what we’re doing and believe we can succeed. Rather than going through the motions, we need to embrace the belief that we are changing our thoughts or behaviors to become happier.

Motivation

“The harder we try, the more we are motivated, the more alert we are, and the better (worse) the outcome, the bigger the brain change,” wrote Dr. Michael Merzenich in Soft WiredTo make a change, it takes commitment and effort. There are times when we just don’t want to get out of bed to do yoga or go for a brisk walk. That’s true for anyone. Occasionally missing an opportunity to practice what we’ve decided to do is okay. But if we allow ourselves to continually take breaks, then we are pausing our progress.

Intention

Our intention should be all-in. I once had a client who listened to guided meditation while he was driving and then later in the day when he was focusing on a project at work. He said he didn’t have time for anything more intensive, and he couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t feeling any better. It takes focus to make change for the better. It helps to set aside specific time so you can focus solely on one thing at that time.

Practice And Repeat

Most of us quit doing what we’re doing once we experience “success.” That’s pretty common. But when we practice beyond “success,” we convert short-term changes into long-term memory and that’s what sticks. It has been found that repetition is effective in helping children learn how to read (imagine if they just stopped after completing their first book?). The same is true when establishing an ever-growing peace of mind.

It’s best to look at creating happiness and peace of mind as an evolving process rather than an end goal. It’s important to keep in mind that we’ll always be moving towards happiness. The roadways to peace are never finished—we’re always under construction.

And we can either let our old pathways determine who we are or keep working on becoming who we want to be. Each step we take enables us to become happier with ourselves, our relationships and with the world. And we can achieve a greater sense of peace and calm as we continue to grow.

 

Larry Shushansky has seen thousands of individuals, couples and families over 35 years as a counselor. Through this and the process he used to get clean from his alcohol and drug addiction, Larry has developed the concept of Independent Enough. Follow him on Facebook here. You can also access his blog through his website at Independentenough.com

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/December-2017/The-Pathway-to-Peace-of-Mind

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

My Recovery Started At Breakfast

By Bob Griggs

I left church in a panic. I couldn’t stand being there with all the reminders of my failures as a minister. Driving home, I fought the urge to smash my car into the large elm tree at the end of our block. I called my wife; thank God her phone was on and she picked up. She rushed home, made a few calls, loaded me in the car and drove me to the hospital. A blur at admission, I found myself in the ER banging my head against the wall. A short time later, I heard the click of the lock on the door of the psych unit to which I had been involuntarily admitted. Thirty-two years as a minister, and this is where I ended up.

They gave me a wrist band, some light slippers with friction strips on the bottom and a room without a key. They took my belt, my shoelaces, even my dental floss. That night, the drugs they gave me knocked me out. Still, this drugged sleep was better than all the nights when I had lain awake hour after hour, drenched in sweat, reviewing in my mind the previous day’s failures and humiliations.

The next morning, they gave me a breakfast tray with three strips of bacon, French toast, OJ and coffee. This bacon was perfect—kind of crunchy, but not too dry, the absolute best thing that I had tasted in months. The French toast also made my taste buds sing.

Following the worst day of my life, I had slept—like a zombie, maybe, but slept nonetheless—and then I enjoyed my breakfast. In my growing depression, I had lost the ability to enjoy anything, but that morning, I enjoyed my breakfast. Such a little thing, an institutional breakfast on a tray, but it was the first good thing I had had in a long time.

Breakfast has since become a symbol of hope for me. My depression had taken my hope away—or so I thought. But a breakfast tray proved me wrong. I learned that, at its simplest and most basic level, hope is a lot tougher and more resilient than I had given it credit for. At its core, hope is simply having something to look forward to, and most anything will do. For example: If they served a good breakfast today, maybe they will serve one again tomorrow. I hope so.

Once you start hoping for one thing, it’s a lot easier to hope for other things: Maybe there will be a good breakfast tomorrow. Maybe I won’t hurt as much tomorrow. And on and on.

Releasing My Burden

Besides breakfast, not a lot good happened during my first days on the psych unit. I needed to be there, but I hated being there. Every day, I went to group therapy twice. At first, I just endured it, then I began to really listen to the stories some of my fellow patients were telling. My heart ached for them—so much pain, loss and anger. Not me, though. I kept everything bottled up inside, not telling anyone, not even my wife, how much I was hurting. Nobody knew I was beating myself up inside for my every failure, for every person I thought I’d let down, for all the things I’d left undone.

Something about group, though, and the courage of the other patients who had opened up finally propelled me to tell my story. And once I started, it all came pouring out. Afterward, one group member asked me to have lunch with him. Another member told me that I was just the kind of minister she had been looking for—a real person who would understand her and not make her feel guilty.

As I shared more in later groups, other patients and the group leader helped me talk about my successes and my failures. They helped me realize I didn’t need to be so hard on myself; nobody’s perfect. I began to see my failures as part of what it is to be a human being. I wasn’t alone.

“Forgiveness” is the word for this. And forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness, has been essential to my recovery. In the worst of my depression, my mistakes became self-accusative thoughts with a life of their own, haunting me at night, preoccupying my mind during the day. First in the group, then later in therapy, I learned to forgive myself, to let my go of my mistakes.

When I returned to work about a year after my hospitalization, I returned with a much clearer sense of self and with a willingness to ask for help when I needed it. For me, asking for help is a learned skill. For many years, I had tried to be a minister without asking for help. I took responsibility for everything, making it all my job. As my therapist once said, I tried to carry the church around on my back. No wonder I was exhausted and stressed beyond endurance.

I worked for another eight years after my hospitalization, and partly retired two years ago. I have since hit a few rough patches from time to time, and there have been some nights when sleep did not come easily. But I never felt tempted to run my car into the elm tree at the end of our block or bang my head against the wall. Besides, I know that no matter how badly things are going with me at any given moment, all I need to do is close my eyes and remember my tray with the bacon, French toast, OJ and coffee.

 

Bob Griggs is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ living in St. Louis Park, Minn. He is the author of A Pelican of the Wilderness: Depression, Psalms, Ministry, and Movies. He is also a regular volunteer at Vail Place, a clubhouse for people living with mental illness.

 

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/April-2018/My-Recovery-Started-At-Breakfast

The Wounds of Childhood Can Be Healed

When many of us think of childhood, we imagine happy, carefree times. Tender feelings of safe, loving relationships with parents and grandparents are often remembered. Those of us who are parents ourselves know there is nothing more precious than the birth of a child and the dreams associated with watching that child grow and thrive into adulthood.

Adults also know that growing up can be painful. The wounds of childhood can persist throughout life, embodied in every muscle and organ of our bodies. Children experience trauma in similar ways as adults, including from abuse, poverty, war, injury, or other adverse events. But there is more to trauma than meets the eye.

There are subtle, often invisible, ways children suffer from trauma, the most common being the loss of human connection. Relational trauma can be experienced by children who feel misunderstood, inferior, unaccepted, emotionally neglected, or socially disconnected. These feelings damage children’s emotional health.

Today, college freshmen rate their emotional health compared to others their age at 50.7%, the lowest level ever (Eagan, et al, 2014). Numerous studies have highlighted the declining emotional health of U.S. students, including a steady rise in anxietydepression, and mental illness (Pryor, et al., 2010; Douce & Keeling, 2014). While these statistics are a cause for concern, the good news is that researchers are beginning to better understand the links between poor mental health, relational trauma, and the brain. As a result, therapies are improving.

In recent years, neuroscientists and psychologists have studied various types of trauma and its effects on children. We know, for example, that when children experience trauma, their growth and development is disrupted. To heal and move forward, research shows that the brain must be stimulated in fresh, creative ways. More than ever, a child needs support from adults who can authentically and respectfully interact with them.

In a groundbreaking new book, Relational and Body-Centered Practices for Healing Trauma: Lifting the Burdens of the Past,psychologist Sharon Stanley, PhD, demonstrates the importance of sharing traumatic experiences in the presence of those who can see, hear, and feel the many ways our bodies communicate truth. Written primarily for helping professionals, this book also reminds us of the significant role parents, teachers, and mentors play in helping children heal from adverse events or relational trauma. In fact, the neuroscienceresearch and practices that Stanley shares should be at the heart of every healthy adult-child relationship. Gleaned from her book are three important ways all adults can become healers for the children in their lives.

3 Ways to Help Children Heal from Traumatic Life Experiences

  1. Promote Embodied AwarenessBe willing to listen and respect the embodied and subjective experience that each child holds to be true. What does this mean? Neuroscience research shows that every traumatic experience is felt in the human body. When children become aware of their bodies, that awareness communicates important information to their brain. The brain, in turn, makes corrective changes and restores healthy functioning.

    A simple shift in conversation can help children become more aware of their bodies. For example, instead of simply asking, “How do you feel?” you might ask, “How and where do you feel that (fearanger, sadness) in your body?” When children become accustomed to connecting their feelings with bodily sensations, they achieve embodied awareness. “Aided by embodied awareness,” says Stanley, “we can look more closely, hear more accurately, and feel more actively in the moment, a mindfulness that can shift habitual autonomic fixed patterns from trauma.”

  2. Create Meaningful RitualsThroughout history, humans have recovered from trauma by coming together to honor struggle and the power of transformation. Unfortunately, ritual and ceremony have all but disappeared in many of today’s Western cultures. Based on years of research with indigenous peoples, Stanley points out the powerful brain-body connections that are made through ritual and how those connections are essential to healing trauma.

    We can help children recover from painful events and hurtful relationships by working with them to create meaningful rituals. Again, body-based activities should be front and center, engaging the right hemisphere of the brain to connect to a child’s subjective way of knowing. Integration of the arts, music, contemplative practices, and dance, says Stanley, can transform the chaos of trauma into relational resources for growth.

    The goal of rituals is to create human connections. When parents and teachers create safe spaces for children to express themselves, explore their feelings, and become aware of the sensations in their bodies, children feel what it means to be human. Stanley suggests that ceremony changes the brain in ways that convert fear to love, facilitating growth and development.

  3. Connect through Somatic EmpathyMuch has been written about the power of empathy. What Stanley does exceedingly well in her book is to differentiate what we often understand as “cognitive empathy,” an attempt to understand what others think, from “somatic empathy,” an ability to feel what others feel. The former is a left-brain activity; the latter is right-brained.

    According to Stanley, “Somatic empathy communicates to people suffering from trauma that they are seen, felt, and understood just as they are, allowing them to feel felt.” Parents, teachers, and all caring adults have the ability to help children heal through our interactions with them and through our mindful attention to their body-based cues.

    For example, when a child aches in his stomach, feels tension in her jaw, or experiences tight sensations in his chest, we can help that child more consciously connect these sensations to a deeper self-knowing. We do this through authentic listening and a sense of respect for how a child feels and experiences those feelings in his or her body. We are consciously present, helping children reflect and gain embodied self-awareness.

    Through compassionate relationships based in somatic empathy, a child’s brain changes in ways that repair the effects of trauma.

Seeking Help when Youth Experience Trauma

The three practices listed above are everyday ways all adults can nurture deep connections with children and teenagers and help them heal from trauma. But often, children need the help of experienced psychological professionals to overcome adverse events and relational trauma in their lives. The good news is that neurobiological research with somatic, embodied healing practices is breaking new ground each year.

Stanley has trained hundreds of practitioners for over a decade in what she calls “somatic transformation.” For helping professionals who want to understand the neurobiological underpinnings of trauma and new ways to work with those affected by trauma, I highly recommend Stanley’s book, based on the most recent research and transformative practices available.

As parents and teachers, we must all become more aware of the subtle cues of relational trauma in our children and in ourselves. Through numerous case studies, Stanley demonstrates that it is never too late to heal the wounds of our own childhoods through body-based somatic healing. When we heal ourselves, we have greater capacity to be in authentic empathy-based relationships with our children.

References

Douce, L.A, & Keeling, R.P. (2014) A strategic primer on college student mental health. (Washington DC: American Council on Education).

K. Eagan, et al., (2014) The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2014(Los Angeles: CA: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA, 2014)

J.H. Pryor, et al., (2010) The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010(Los Angeles, CA: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA, 2010).

S. Stanley, (2016) Relational and Body-Centered Practices for Healing Trauma: Lifting the Burdens of the Past (New York: Routledge).

Author

Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD, is the author of Tomorrow’s Change Makers: Reclaiming the Power of Citizenship for a New Generation. A developmental psychologist and researcher, she works at the intersection of positive youth development and education.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-moment-youth/201605/the-wounds-childhood-can-be-healed

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

Communicating Is More Than Finding The Right Words

By Keiko Purnell

My last depressive episode left me completely isolated. I didn’t respond to messages for months. Since I didn’t know how long I would be depressed, answering the question “how are you?” became emotionally draining. Actually, that one question was why I stopped talking to people entirely.

“How are you?” is such a knee-jerk opening line to a conversation; most of us don’t even realize we’re saying it, or pay much attention to the typical response of, “I’m good.” But I wasn’t good, or even okay, and saying it just to get past that question felt like a lie I didn’t want to explain.

I never would’ve guessed that I could go such a long period of time without talking to anyone. I know now how painful it was for those who cared about me not to hear anything despite their repeated attempts to reach out.

Peer support—“peer” defined both as friends and as those who identify as having mental illness—can be profoundly helpful to the recovery process and to help keep symptoms at bay. I could’ve really benefited from this kind of support during my depression, but my lack of communication with my friends and family led me to struggle in silence.

Feeling Empathy For Those Who Are Trying

When that dark cloud finally lifted, I was intrigued by how difficult it was for me to communicate with the people I cared about during my episode. I didn’t want to go through that again. I wanted to learn how to be better at communicating, especially in the thick of a depressive episode.

So I read the book, “There Is No Good Card for This: What to Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love.” It includes many wonderful examples of how and when to say or do something, and when it’s best to say nothing at all and just listen. It’s a relatively short, easy read considering the depth of knowledge it contains about difficult conversations. Some of the scenarios included made me cringe as I reflected on things I’ve said that were less than ideal.

This book was immensely helpful in learning empathy for those trying to make a connection with me during my episode. I learned that my negative reaction to my friends asking me how I was doing was because depression had changed my perception. The book helped me understand that people might say uncomfortable or insensitive things—“how are you doing?”—when they are genuinely trying to connect but don’t know what to say or what may negatively impact someone.

Learning Essential Communication Skills

I also learned how I could be a better support system for my friends facing adversities, because we all end up being the supportive friend at one time or another. Conversations are a two-way street, even if one person is doing most of the talking. How you listen and respond can change the tone and outcome of a conversation. In “There is No Good Card for This,” you can find out what type of listener you are and what you can do to improve or change the way you respond. This can help build confidence during a difficult conversation.

Here are a few tips from the book to start working on:

  • Don’t judge or assume. People deal with life’s hurts in various ways. It’s easy to say how we would behave in a friend’s situation, but trust that your friend is doing what’s best for him/her, even if you don’t agree with it.
  • Listening speaks volume about how much you care. It can be much easier to listen than to find the perfect thing to say. Try to avoid asking clarifying questions or offering suggestions and anecdotal stories in an attempt to connect unless you know this is what your friend wants. If unsure, ask if he or she would prefer for you to listen for support or brainstorm helpful next steps.
  • Small gestures make a big difference: Some people are better at showing they care than expressing it in words. Clipping coupons for everyday essentials, preparing and delivering their favorite meal, or gifting a massage are just a few examples.

Realizing Mistakes Are Just Learning Opportunities

At the end of the day, just knowing my friends cared enough to reach out meant the world to me. I isolated myself because I felt emotionally fragile and didn’t want to be asked how I was doing. I still wanted to cheer and root for them, and to tell them how proud I was of them despite my depression; I just didn’t want them to ask how I was because was still trying to figure that out. I now know that I could have expressed that sentiment, and my friends would have understood. It sounds so easy in hindsight, but I couldn’t even get past “how are you?” to tell them.

Please know that you are not alone if you’ve ever felt like this, and if you would like to talk to someone without fear of judgment, please call the NAMI HelpLine for references to mental health resources—including support groups—in your area or online. If you’d like to speak with a trained peer support specialist, the NAMI HelpLine can also give you a local number that you can call 24/7.

Traditional classrooms do not include courses with the sole purpose of teaching emotional intelligence, sensitivity and empathy, so those lessons tend to come from life experience. It’s important to remember to be kind to yourself and others as you navigate through difficult situations. Look back on mistakes as learning opportunities.

I have learned through this experience that if someone is reaching out to you, their heart is probably in the right place, even if they can’t find the “right” words.

 

Keiko Purnell is a NAMI HelpLine Volunteer.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/August-2018-/Communicating-is-More-than-Finding-the-Right-Words

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 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

 

How not to say the wrong thing

By: Susan Silk and Barry Goldman

 

When Susan had breast cancer, we heard a lot of lame remarks, but our favorite came from one of Susan’s colleagues. She wanted, she needed, to visit Susan after the surgery, but Susan didn’t feel like having visitors, and she said so. Her colleague’s response? “This isn’t just about you.”

“It’s not?” Susan wondered. “My breast cancer is not about me? It’s about you?”

The same theme came up again when our friend Katie had a brain aneurysm. She was in intensive care for a long time and finally got out and into a step-down unit. She was no longer covered with tubes and lines and monitors, but she was still in rough shape. A friend came and saw her and then stepped into the hall with Katie’s husband, Pat. “I wasn’t prepared for this,” she told him. “I don’t know if I can handle it.”

This woman loves Katie, and she said what she did because the sight of Katie in this condition moved her so deeply. But it was the wrong thing to say. And it was wrong in the same way Susan’s colleague’s remark was wrong.

Susan has since developed a simple technique to help people avoid this mistake. It works for all kinds of crises: medical, legal, financial, romantic, even existential. She calls it the Ring Theory.

Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie’s aneurysm, that’s Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie’s aneurysm, that was Katie’s husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. One of Susan’s patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator.

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it. Don’t, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don’t need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, “I’m sorry” or “This must really be hard for you” or “Can I bring you a pot roast?” Don’t say, “You should hear what happened to me” or “Here’s what I would do if I were you.” And don’t say, “This is really bringing me down.”

If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that’s fine. It’s a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.

Comfort IN, dump OUT.

There was nothing wrong with Katie’s friend saying she was not prepared for how horrible Katie looked, or even that she didn’t think she could handle it. The mistake was that she said those things to Pat. She dumped IN.

Complaining to someone in a smaller ring than yours doesn’t do either of you any good. On the other hand, being supportive to her principal caregiver may be the best thing you can do for the patient.

Most of us know this. Almost nobody would complain to the patient about how rotten she looks. Almost no one would say that looking at her makes them think of the fragility of life and their own closeness to death. In other words, we know enough not to dump into the center ring. Ring Theory merely expands that intuition and makes it more concrete: Don’t just avoid dumping into the center ring, avoid dumping into any ring smaller than your own.

Remember, you can say whatever you want if you just wait until you’re talking to someone in a larger ring than yours.

And don’t worry. You’ll get your turn in the center ring. You can count on that.

Susan Silk is a clinical psychologist. Barry Goldman is an arbitrator and mediator and the author of “The Science of Settlement: Ideas for Negotiators.”

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407