Exercise For Mental Health: 8 Keys To Get And Stay Moving

Mental illness has deeply impacted my life. I have experienced the flooding of anxiety and the drowning of depression. I have waged, and won, several battles with postpartum depression and been through loss and grief. I know how painful it can be to find oneself in the throes of mental illness and how helpless it can feel when a loved one is caught in its grasp. As a clinical psychologist, I have witnessed the sting of mental illness and the struggle to find healing. People come desperate to learn the tools that can break the chains of mental and emotional symptoms. Too often, individuals and their friends and family are ready to seek and find help, only to find barriers halting their progress.

Barriers To Mental Illness Treatment

An astonishing 60% of American adults, and almost half of children ages 8–15, receive no treatment for their mental illness diagnoses. Though valid treatments—like mental health medications and psychotherapy—are available, too many people encounter barriers to treatment. This occurs for many reasons, but the most common are the stigma of mental illness and its treatments, like medication and therapy; the side effects  of medication treatments; and the cost  of long-term therapy or medical interventions.

Benefits Of Exercise For Mental Health

Exercise has been researched and validated for treating a variety of mental issues and mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, addictions, grief, relationship problems, dementia and personality disorders. Additionally, exercise alleviates such conditions as bad moods, stress, chronic pain and chronic illnesses.

Exercise is not only free from negative stigma, it is safe when done appropriately, with a doctor’s approval. Any side effects are ultimately positive, and even better, exercise is free of charge, easy to access and available for everyone. Exercise can be used as a stand-alone treatment for some mild-to-moderate conditions or, more effectively, in conjunction with other mental health treatments.

Like medicine in the treatment of mental illness, exercise can increase levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. It improves and normalizes neurotransmitter levels, which ultimately helps us feel mentally healthy. Other important benefits include enhanced mood and energy; reduced stress; deeper relaxation; improved mental clarity, learning, insight, memory and cognitive functioning; enhanced intuition, creativity, assertiveness and enthusiasm for life; and improved social health and relationships, higher self-esteem and increased spiritual connection.

8 Keys To Mental Health Through Exercise

If exercise is so good for physical and mental health, why aren’t more of us exercising for mental health? Why aren’t medical and mental health practitioners not only recommending exercise but also showing us how to safely start and continue exercising for mental health? The following overview of my 8 Keys to Mental Health Through Exercise can help you, your loved ones and those who provide medical and mental health care tackle underlying beliefs about exercise, change exercise-related thinking, overcome barriers and implement an effective exercise program.

1. Heal Your Mind and Body with Exercise

If you struggle with a particular mental illness, exercise has specific abilities to help you, too. From calming the anxious mind to regulating mood swings in bipolar disorder, exercise may be the best thing we can do for mental, physical, emotional, social and spiritual well-being. To receive the benefits of exercise, however, we must first believe that exercise can heal body, mind and soul.

2. Improve Your Self-Esteem with Exercise

Exercise improves self-esteem, which is associated with greater mental health. Exercise has also been shown to increase self-confidence, self-efficacy, self-acceptance and self-concept. When we exercise, we feel more loving, positive and confident.

3. Exercise as a Family

Family has a big influence on how we perceive exercise and mental health. Family beliefs can either promote or impair mental health. Exercising as a family not only gets the entire family moving to reap the benefits of exercise but also models healthy beliefs about physical activity and improves family relationships.

4. Get Motivated

Motivation, or rather lack of it, is probably the biggest block to exercise for mental health. We know we should exercise. We may even want to exercise, but we often can’t make ourselves do it. Remember that motivation is a skill that can be learned and improved upon.

5. Change How You Think about Exercise

What thoughts do you have about exercise? What promotes physical activity? What holds you back? As we identify these thoughts, we can choose to change them. One tool for this is called a “thought record.” As we list our thoughts and feelings about exercise on a thought record, we have the power to question and change our thoughts. We can put new, healthier thoughts into our brains—thoughts like, “I know if I go for a walk, I will feel more energized and less depressed.”

6. Overcome Roadblocks

While exercising can be physically challenging, exercise is just as much, or even more, about mental fortitude. What are your biggest roadblocks to exercise? If you look carefully, you’ll see that almost all of them have to do with mental perceptions and beliefs. Lack of time or energy? Not being able to get to the gym? Perhaps you face the challenge of having young children, or a job that’s taking over your life. Whatever the roadblocks, you can overcome them as you acknowledge and challenge them.

7. Get FITT—Physically and Mentally

To stay with exercise for mental health, you must first build mental fortitude. That’s why I’ve waited until Key 7 to discuss how to set up an exercise program. The FITT Principle shows how. FITT stands for Frequency (how often you exercise), Intensity (how hard you exercise), Type (of exercise you’re doing) and Time (how long you exercise). Through FITT, you can create a tailored program for your unique needs.

8. Implement Your Vision and Flourish

Finally, we need a long-term vision of health and wellness to keep exercising for mental health for the rest of our lives. Exercise is beneficial at all ages and stages; as we look to the future, we find that by exercising for our mental health, we can help overcome mental illness and become who we are meant to be. We will flourish.

Christina G. Hibbert, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist specializing in women’s mental health, motherhood, grief/loss, selfesteem and personal growth. She is the author of This Is How We Grow, Who Am I Without You?  and 8 Keys to Mental Health Through Exercise , and host of the weekly series “Motherhood” on WebTalkRadio.net. For more on this topic, visit www. DrChristinaHibbert.com and www.Exercise4MentalHealth.com.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/May-2016/Exercise-for-Mental-Health-8-Keys-to-Get-and-Stay

Opening Up To Others About Your Mental Health

Have you ever had a conversation with someone that tempted you to open up about something incredibly personal, but you hesitated due to the fear of that person’s reaction? Were you worried that telling them would alter their perception of you? Many people experience this feeling as they attempt to determine whether or not to be forthright about their symptoms and their struggle.

If you are considering opening up about your mental health condition, here are some tips.

Deciding Whether You Should Say Anything

Before telling someone, be certain that the decision is right for you. Making a list such as the following can help you determine if the pros outweigh the cons.

Pros:

• The person may be supportive and encouraging.

• The person can help me find the treatment that I need.

• I may gain someone in my life to talk to about what I’m going through.

• I may have a person in my life who can look out for me.

• If a crisis were to happen, I would have someone to call.

Cons:

• The person may be uncomfortable around me after I tell them.

• The person may not want to associate with me after I tell them.

• The person may tell other people that I know, and I could be stigmatized.

Dr. Patrick Corrigan, principal investigator of the Chicago Consortium for Stigma Research and Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology, leads the Honest, Open, Proud program, which offers advice for talking about mental health conditions. He encourages people to open up about their mental health condition but to do so in a safe way. “Be a bit conservative about the process,” he says. “Once you’re out, it’s hard to go back in, but the important thing is that the majority of people who come out and tell their story feel more empowered.”

Also consider the potential benefits of telling someone. Perhaps being open would help your loved ones understand why you can’t always spend time with them, or you might ease their concerns by making them more aware of what’s going on in your life. Or maybe you need special accommodations at work or elsewhere. To learn more about accommodations at work, visit www.nami.org/succeeding-at-work

Deciding Whom to Tell

Once you feel confident in your decision to share, you should consider how the person you confide in might react. Think about what kind of relationship you have and whether it’s built on trust. If you still have concerns, try a test conversation. Mention a book or movie that includes mental illness and ask their opinion about it in a context that doesn’t involve you.

Deciding When You Should Tell

Once you feel comfortable about confiding in someone, start to think about when to tell them. It may be important to tell someone to receive help and support before you reach a point of crisis. That way you have a calm environment in which to be open and learn who in your life is most willing and able to help if you need support.

Initiating the Conversation

You have a few different options for telling someone about your mental health. Perhaps scariest is to come out with it without setting up the conversation because you might catch the person off-guard. Another option would be to let the person know in advance that you want to talk about something significant so they can prepare for a serious conversation. Once you have told them that you live with a mental health condition and experience certain symptoms because of it, use examples to help them understand what it’s like. For example, “Everything I do every day, even something simple like taking a shower, is exponentially harder when my symptoms are more serious.”

Share only what you’re comfortable with. Dr. Corrigan states, “You can disclose in steps, start with safe things and see how you feel, and going forward you can choose to disclose more. Anything that’s still traumatizing, you should consider keeping private.”

If someone is supportive and encouraging, let the person know how to help you, such as if you need a ride to an appointment or someone to listen. Tell them that you’ll let them know if you want advice and that you would prefer support rather than counseling.

Refer them to resources to learn more, such as information from NAMI. The more people who talk about their mental health, the more acceptable it will be for people to be more open about the topic. “The best way to change stigma is not education—it’s contact,” says Dr. Corrigan.

Laura Greenstein is communications coordinator at NAMI.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/January-2017/Opening-Up-to-Others-about-Your-Mental-Health

10 Soothing Self-Care Tips Straight From Therapists

Therapists spend so much time helping other people with their mental health, it kind of begs the question: how do they look after their own?

Like, on the one hand, they’re obviously well-equipped with the mental health know-how to look after themselves, but on the other, spending all day sitting with people and their mental health problems can’t be easy.

To get some answers, BuzzFeed Health asked 10 therapists what self-care means to them. Here’s what they shared:

Cathryn Laverly / Unsplash

1.

I keep thinking about how different self-care would be depending on what therapist you ask.My coworker who has three children to go home to is going to have a different version of self-care than my coworker who runs her own side business on top of a full-time job. For some, self-care means quality time with family, unwinding to mindless television at the end of a long day, planning vacation times, participating in social activities outside of work, all offering a different reward.

For myself, I have always found most of my self-care — my refueling — in more introverted activities. I do my best when I get to listen to meditations that ground me on a daily basis, step out into nature, spend time taking care of my own personal to do list, etc.”

—Beth Rue, MSS, LSW, primary rherapist at Summit Behavioral Health

2.

“I think a lot of helping professionals find it second-nature to guide and support others on their life journeys while we can easily lose ourselves in the mix. What helps me immediately during and after an emotionally challenging day is to use humor to lighten things up for myself. Sometimes that means cracking jokes with colleagues to lessen the stress felt that day, or having a light-hearted and humorous conversation with someone who ‘gets me’ and my sense of humor, or watching a show or film I know I will get a kick out of to make myself laugh. Laughing out loud is a powerful antidote to emotional distress that always helps me lift my spirit.

—Gabriela Parra, LCSW, California-based clinical social worker

HS Lee / Unsplash / Via unsplash.com

3.

“Most important to me is being aware of what’s going on for me at any given time. Being honest with myself about where I am emotionally, and what might make me more sensitive or less objective than usual — what might make me not be able to do my best work. I accept that I am human and may have humanly imperfect reactions to things, but I have to stay on top of them to keep them from getting in the way.

I also like to create a buffer between work and home: taking some time after my sessions just to decompress and clear my mind, even if brief, before I immediately sail into Mom/Wife/Friend mode with the people in my life. And of course, above all, I have to keep taking care of myself: practice what I preach in terms of having hobbies, being active, getting outdoor time, prioritizing sleep (this one can be tough!) and staying social with the people whose company I enjoy.”

Andrea Bonior, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World

4.

“I try to take care of myself physically by going to the gym regularly and exercising. Working out gives me a tremendous boost in how I feel physically and mentally. I also practice what I preach, which is not to compare myself to others. It is important not to project onto other people thoughts that their lives are so much better than my life or that I have am not successful because I have not accomplished what others may have achieved.”

—Marc Romano, PsyD, director of medical services at Delphi Behavioral Health

Autumn Goodman / Unsplash / Via unsplash.com

5.

“Quite similar to self-care for everyone else. A multi-vitamin is incredibly important for self-care for me. Work-wise, mixing my daily tasks with learning and upgrading my skills. Going for an evening walk is really important for me too. I take my child to the park for a run around and then put her in the stroller and do my own walk.”

Alice Boyes, PhD, former clinical psychologist and author of The Anxiety Toolkit

6.

“A go-to for me in order to decompress and recharge is getting out in nature. Nature-therapy, as I like to call it, allows me to be in the moment, check in with myself, connect with the world around me, and get some much needed fresh air. The benefits of spending time in nature are unbe-leaf-able (!) as it is a proven way to calm the mind and body!”

Joanna Boyd, MCP, RCC, Vancouver, Canada-based clinical counsellor

Matt Aunger / Unsplash / Via unsplash.com

7.

“For me, self-care means being fully engaged with a client when we’re together, giving all I can through my attention, care, and planning, and then letting them return to their life when the day is done as I turn my attention back to my own needs. Many years ago I realized that taking my work home stemmed from a lack of trust. I felt I didn’t give enough in the sessions and needed to worry to make up for it. But this wasn’t true. I found that I needed to trust that I’m giving all I can to my clients, trust that they are capable of healthy growth and self-care, and trust in the therapeutic process; that our collaboration is a force for good.

Of course, there are exceptional cases that require work beyond the session, and I often think of my clients when I’m off the clock, but I’m able to enjoy my down time more when I embrace trust. When I have trust in myself, my clients, and therapy, I can pivot to enjoy time with my family, working out, playing in my rock band, and continuing my weekly quest to create the world’s best spaghetti sauce.”

Ryan Howes, PhD, clinical psychologist and professor at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology

8.

“Much of my self-care involves activities that help me to feel calm, strong, and connected – all important things in my line of work. I spend a lot of quiet time in nature, which helps me to slow things down and calm both my body and my mind. I also really love group fitness classes, which help me to feel strong both inside and out, and ready to support my clients through the most challenging of moments. Perhaps most importantly, I spend time with friends and family, with whom I feel loved and supported. When things become difficult or overwhelming, they help me find perspective, sometimes simply with a much needed laugh.”

Amanda Zayde, PsyD, New York City-based clinical psychologist

Alice Hampson / Unsplash / Via unsplash.com

9.

“It’s so important for us to practice what we preach! Namely, having a balanced life that includes time with friends and family, getting a good night’s sleep and eating well, exercising, and doing things just for me (e.g., reading a good summer novel, cheering on my Tennessee Titans games, etc.). It’s also incredibly valuable to have a trusted mentor or two to seek guidance from when things have been particularly stressful.

Simon Rego, PsyD, chief psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine

10.

“I try to practice exactly what I recommend my clients: at least a few minutes of daily mindfulness practice, a daily gratitude minute, regular exercise (like 4-5 times/week), and time with people. There are so many incredible benefits to learning to enter the moment, turn towards the positive, develop a sense of accomplishment, and experience connections.

People do ask me about the difficulty of sitting with people in pain. Of course I empathize and it is hard to hear about how deeply some of my clients are struggling. That said, I find my job to be an opportunity. I totally believe evidence-based tools can change people’s lives so generally feel lucky and hopeful that people are courageous and that the science of psychology has evolved in a significant way.”

Jennifer L. Taitz, PsyD, LA-based clinical psychologist

By the way, if you’re feeling curious about therapy yourself, you can learn more about how to start here, since pretty much everyone can benefit from talking to a professional. For more information on free and affordable mental health care options, check out this guide.

By Anna Borges

https://www.buzzfeed.com/annaborges/therapist-self-care?utm_term=.rsy887jd15#.yo5kk1OXvL

Go Take A Hike (And Get Some Vitamin D)

Do you ever feel less energized, motivated or happy during the winter months? If you do, you aren’t the only one. Many people’s moods and feelings are affected by the amount of sunshine and vitamin D they receive. “Some studies suggest an association between low vitamin D levels in the blood and various mood disorders, including depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and premenstrual syndrome (PMS)” says Mayo Clinic.

There are over three million cases per year of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a mood disorder that occurs around the same time every year. SAD most often occurs during the fall and winter, but it can also occur during the spring and summer.

SAD can cause people to feel moody, gain weight, crave carbohydrates, lack focus and feel more tired even if they are sleeping more. Even if you don’t meet the qualifications of being officially diagnosed, getting enough sunlight is still important to your overall mood.

In previous years, I would always notice these types of symptoms begin to flare as fall turned to winter. In order to prevent my normal winter blues, I began to go for walks or runs around my neighborhood for 30 minutes a few times each week. I even went for walks when it was snowing, so that I didn’t remain inside for too long.

Since I started doing this, I began to not notice the drop in mood, focus and energy that I had been associating with winter for years. Not only that, but I also felt better overall. Below are some of the other health benefits to spending time outside even when it’s cold:

Less Stress and Anxiety

There is something innately relaxing —for most people—about spending time in the great outdoors. It gives you the chance to bring yourself into the present, sending your anxious thoughts out of your mind for a little while.  Taking time to clear your head has lasting effects on your overall stress and anxiety levels. Also, studies have shown that certain scents within nature, such as jasmine, pine and lilacs have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety.

Stronger immune system

Vitamin D is a critical nutrient to how our body maintains a healthy and strong immune system. The easiest way to get this vital nutrient is by spending time soaking in the sun.

When we are breathing fresh air amongst plants and trees, we are also breathing in phytoncides. These are airborne chemicals that plants give off to protect themselves. This natural chemical contains qualities that are meant to help fight off disease.

More Energy

Spending a lot of time inside can alter our circadian rhythms and throw off our sleep schedule. Being exposed to sunlight in the morning helps recalibrate these cycles, so that we sleep better at night and feel more energized during the day.

Improved Focus

The urban environments we are accustomed to constantly drain our attention spans. Between cell phones, traffic jams, crowding and noise, are brains need a break every once in a while. “Using too much directed attention can lead to what they call “directed attention fatigue” and the impulsivity, distractibility and irritability that accompany it. The inherent fascination of nature can help people recover from this state” research from the American Psychological Association shows. Spending time focusing on the nature that surrounds us allows our brains to rest, which in turn helps us to focus better later.

If you are worried about being cold, dress the way you would if you were a kid on a snow day: wear layers, gloves, a scarf, a hat, etc. Or do a form of exercise that will get your blood pumping and warm you up. You can also bring a hot beverage along with you for your activity. Especially on a sunny day, preparing for the cold can be manageable.

Looking for ideas to get started? Here are my 10 favorite things to do outside:

  1. Walk around a lake or park
  2. Find a cozy spot outside to read
  3. Eat lunch outside
  4. Play Frisbee with a friend
  5. Go for a run around my neighborhood
  6. Hike a trail
  7. Ice skate at the outdoor rink
  8. Borrow (and make sure to return!) a friend’s dog and go to a dog park
  9. Get a group together to play capture the flag (or any other game)
  10. Go on a ski trip!

Whoever this anonymous person is, he or she got it right: “I’ve never found time spent amongst nature to be a waste of time.”

By Laura Greenstein

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/December-2015/Go-Take-a-Hike-(and-Get-Some-Vitamin-D)

Teaching Kids About Mental Health Matters

Trigger Warning: Suicide

One November day in Gaston County, NC, traffic was at a stand-still on I-85. It was unfortunately caused by a 16-year-old who took her life on the highway. As cars grinded to a halt, a pick-up truck was rear-ended by someone not paying attention. The driver of that truck lost his life.

If someone had recognized the warning signs of suicide in this young girl and gotten her help, two deaths could have been avoided that day.

This incident really affected me. I’m from Gaston County and with all the advocacy work I do in Charlotte as a member of NAMI Charlotte and as a new state board member of NAMI NC, I felt that I had neglected my hometown as a mental health advocate. Also, I know what it’s like to feel the pain of wanting to take your own life.

I felt that way twenty-two years ago on Valentine’s Day, 1995. Thank goodness, my aunt heard my cry for help, knew the warning signs and saved my life. When you go through something like that, I feel you are obligated to turn around and help others who are dealing with the same pain.  I knew I had to do something in my hometown.

Starting The Conversation In School

I went to Ami Parker, Director of Counseling Services for Gaston County Schools, and told her, “I don’t want to see what happened to the young lady on the Cox Road Bridge happen to another child.” I asked her to consider a Mental Health Awareness Week in the Gaston school system. And Ami didn’t hesitate. She even took it a step further, planning for the children to take the lead.

She knew kids would respond better to kids and the conversations they would start amongst themselves—and they did. They went online and got information to present to other students that would get them involved. Because of this, kids from middle to high school were truly engaged in the week-long Mental Health Awareness Week. They created posters and banners from everything that said, “See the person, not the illness” to “Our school is StigmaFree.”

I can’t tell you how proud I am of the kids being so engaged and involved. One middle schooler told me that she rode the bus with a boy who cut himself. She had told him to “quit cutting” himself, but he didn’t. In this teachable moment, I told her that she did the right thing, but he needed more help than she could give. And she needed to let someone know he needed help. The young girl agreed that she would.

This is exactly why events like these are so important. It starts conversations among children. If we can start conversations with children, maybe those conversations can spread to parents.

Steps To Spread Awareness To Schools

If you want to have a Mental Health Awareness Week in your local school, start with the school’s counseling department, like I did. Make sure you’ve done your research on mental health, stigma and suicide, so when you talk to a counselor they’ll see you’ve done your homework. Most counselors would be glad to help you bring this deserving cause to the attention of the principal and teachers. I am so proud of and thankful for Ami Parker and her willingness to be proactive with bringing awareness to mental health. And I’m sure there are more people like her out there. We dedicated our event to the young girl who died by suicide in November, in hopes to stop others kids from going down the same path.

Kids are our next generation. We should be teaching them about the importance of mental health and the warning signs of mental illness. If we teach them well enough, maybe stigma won’t exist once their generation grows up. Maybe they will know when to ask for help and when to offer someone support. Maybe lives will be saved. With the looks of things, I think Gaston County schools are off to a very good start.

By Fonda Bryant

Fonda Bryant is very active in the community bringing awareness to mental health. She has been a volunteer with NAMI Charlotte for over three years and recently was elected to the state board of NAMI NC.  She also volunteers with MHA of Central Carolinas and with the AFSP. She speaks to the rookie classes of CMPD, and is vocal about mental health, whether on television, in the newspaper or radio, her passion for mental health knows no boundaries.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/May-2017/Teaching-Kids-About-Mental-Health-Matters

The Power Of A Morning Routine

It’s early. You don’t want to move, let alone get up and start the day. You feel drained. You’re cozy, all wrapped up in blankets. Thoughts about all that you should accomplish today floods your mind. You feel overwhelmed, so you hit “SNOOZE” one more time.

Uh oh, now you’ve overslept. You’re running late. Time to get up and rush into the day.

Sound familiar? Mornings are hard, right? Actually, mornings aren’t definitively hard—they can be made easier.

The key to an easier morning is to keep your first waking hour as consistent as possible throughout the weeks. The more we struggle to make decisions, the more energy we deplete. When first starting the day, it’s important to avoid “decision fatigue” by having a set morning routine.

Having a morning routine can increase your energy, productivity and positivity. It also generates momentum, building up to the brain’s peak time for cognitive work (late morning). Here are a few suggestions to include in your morning routine.

Ease Into The Day

It’s easier to lull yourself out of sleep when you’re not rushing into the day. You feel more motivated to open your eyes and let your body properly wake up when you have a little bit of time to lounge in bed without jumping up. After a few minutes of lounging, follow these steps:

  1. Open your curtains and let the natural light energize you. Exposing yourself to sunlight in the morning can improve your alertness and energy during the day.
  2. Put some upbeat tunes on—music lights up the entire brain.
  3. Do some light stretching to get your blood flowing.

These small things can help you start the day in a positive mood, rather than feeling stressed to get up and out the door.

Eat Breakfast

Research shows that those who eat breakfast have more energy than those who wait until lunch to eat. While coffee will help jolt you awake, your body will eventually crash without food. You don’t need to feast first thing in the morning—a healthy snack and lots of water is all that’s needed to start the day off right.

Read

There are many ways to stimulate your brain, but one of the most recommended methods is reading. Reading a book in the morning can start your day in a richly detailed story, “how-to” or narrative, as opposed to a stressful, overflowing to-do list.

Reading is considered a “mental break,” because the brain is only focusing on one thing rather than the usual eight things. You can’t multitask while reading a book, and what you’re focusing on causes you to think, use imagination and create your own visual imagery. It’s this type of focus that gets our minds more nimble and creative. As the saying goes: “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.”

Stimulate Your Body

Speaking of, you should also exercise in the morning. Exercise increases production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, which enhances the body’s ability to deal with stressors and creates a post-workout feeling of bliss. Research shows that you are more creative and productive for the two hours following exercise. It also shows that people who exercise regularly are less stressed at work and more able to maintain work-life balance.

Begin Work With A Proactive Mindset

Psychologist Ron Friedman explains in an interview with Harvard Business Review that our usual start to the work day—checking email, answering questions or listening to voicemails—is, as he says, “cognitively expensive.” Starting the day this way puts you into a “reactive” mindset, and while switching from a proactive mindset to a reactive mindset is easy, the reverse is much more challenging. Instead, he suggests starting the workday with a brief planning session: strategize first, execute second.

Using these tips, here’s an example of what a healthy morning routine could look like:

6:55-7:00 – Slowly wake up, and open your eyes.
7:00-7:15 – Open the curtains, put on energizing music and do some light stretching.
7:15-7:30 – Eat some fruit and almonds for breakfast.
7:30-8:00 – Read and drink tea or water to get the mind stimulated and the body hydrated.
8:00-8:30 – Shower (don’t forget to sing!) and get ready for work.
8:30-9:00 – Walk to work to get in some moderate exercise.
9:00-9:15 – Begin work with a planning session to strategize your day.

As you can see, this routine takes two hours from the time you wake up until you get to work. While it may be difficult to find the extra time, you will find yourself reaping only benefits throughout the day. Many people don’t like getting up early, but this is the type of routine that can help you actually enjoy mornings.

Laura Greenstein is communications coordinator at NAMI.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/August-2017/The-Power-of-a-Morning-Routine

Can Social Media Save A Life?

Trigger Warning: suicide

Like many who have social media accounts, I regularly check my timelines and feeds for intriguing articles, updates and happenings. Two years ago, I was mindlessly scrolling through one of my accounts before going to bed and one post immediately stood out among the rest: It was a suicide note.

Frantically, I read my friend Mark’s post. It detailed his internal suffering over the years, which he no longer wanted to endure. The comment section grew at an alarming rate. People asked questions, both directly to Mark and to each other. Some people were pleading with him to reconsider. Others offered comments of hope.

Over the next few days, I saw something I did not expect. Hundreds of comments on Mark’s post evolved into a community of people coming together to help find Mark, who had gone missing. People used his previous posts on other social media platforms to piece together his possible location. Some contacted the authorities—and thankfully, those authorities located him before he took his life.

Social Media On The Rise

We live in a world driven by technology. We see the media regularly report on new apps for our smartphones and the latest trending celebrity tweets. Whether we’re commuting to work, studying in a coffee shop or spending time with our family and friends, being connected digitally is part of our lives. An entire generation of young people is growing up with devices in their hands, regularly engaging in social media.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2005 only 5% of American adults used at least one social media platform. That number has since grown significantly: Today, 70% of the public uses social media, with many people using more than one platform.

Some researchers are beginning to identify connections between online social networking and mental health concerns. Among these concerns are varying levels of self-esteem and addiction to social media, as well as the internet. However, it is uncertain whether signs and symptoms of mental health conditions are the causes or effects of using social media. Since each platform is different and new platforms continue to be introduced, future research is needed to assess the true effect of social media on mental health.

Identifying Mental Health Concerns Online

When used responsibly, social media can be used in positive ways. It can be used to promote mental health to a large audience. I’ve seen individuals share their personal stories of recovery, like those on NAMI.org at You Are Not Alone and OK2Talk. I’ve seen mental health writers connect with one another on Twitter. And as with my friend Mark, during times of crisis, social media can even save lives.

On platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, users now have options for getting a friend help. If a user thinks a friend is in danger of self-harm or suicide, they can report their concerns by going to the social media websites’ Help Centers. These online Help Centers have dedicated content about suicide and self-harm prevention, which include online resources and phone numbers for suicide hotlines around the world.

The most helpful feature I’ve seen instituted recently is on Instagram. Users can anonymously flag posts by other users that have content about self-harm and suicide. That user then receives a message encouraging them to speak with a friend, contact a helpline or seek professional help. The same message appears for people who are regularly searching self-harm- or suicide-related content on Instagram.

Recent research by the Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office notes that personal social media accounts “can provide an important window into a person’s state of mind.” At the Secretary of the Army Symposium on Suicide Prevention in mid-January 2017, military leaders, mental health professionals and companies like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn came together to see how social media can be used to connect those in need to care and resources.

How Can I Help?

With social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat dominating our screen time, it’s wise to assume that social media will continue to be a primary method of communication. Therefore, it’s up to us to look out for mental health warning signs while on social media so we are better prepared to assist a friend in need.

If you see any of the following behavior online, it may be time to step in and contact your friend directly to see how you can help:

  • Cyberbullying, which includes:

a. harassing messages or comments

b. fake accounts made to impersonate someone else

c. someone posting unwanted pictures or images of another person

  • Negative statements about themselves, even if it sounds like they are joking, such as

a. “I’m a waste of space.”

b. “No one cares about me.”

c. “I seriously hate myself.”

  • Negative leading statements with little to no context that prompt others to respond, such as:

a. “You wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through.”

b. “Today was the worst day ever.”

c. “It’s like everyone is against me.”

If someone you know is in immediate danger—for example, they talk about a specific plan for harming themselves—contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. This lifeline can support the individual and their family members, and has the ability to connect with local law enforcement, if necessary. If a person has attempted self-harm or is injured, call 911 immediately.

If the threat of physical danger is not immediate, here are some things you can do to help:

  • Report the content on the social media website’s Help Center;
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255; or
  • Reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting the word “NAMI” to 741741 (standard data rates may apply).

As you scroll through your social media feeds, be mindful of what others post. Being educated about available resources is important for those of us who promote mental health, but knowing when to reach out to a friend who may be experiencing a mental health crisis is even more important: You just might save a life.

By Ryann Tanap

Ryann Tanap is manager of social media and digital assets at NAMI.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/September-2017/Can-Social-Media-Save-a-Life

You’ll Be Happier If You Let Yourself Feel Bad

There’s a moment in Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray when the title character declares war on his feelings: “I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions,” Dorian says. “I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.” Basil Hallward, the artist who had painted Dorian’s portrait, becomes fearful of his subject’s newfound aggression: “You talk as if you had no heart, no pity in you,” he says. But Dorian, in the throes of an existential crises, isn’t listening; he wants control, most especially over how he feels.

It’s not an uncommon desire. In fact, it may be a near-universal one. With varying levels of success, we try to hold on to good emotions and ward off the bad ones — but research suggests that those efforts, at least when it comes to negative feelings, may be misplaced.

For many, accepting our negative emotions appears counterproductive, especially because it gets in the way of what motivates us. Our negative emotions can act as catalysts and adrenaline boosts — nervousness in the face of a closing deadline, for instance, might help push you to finish your task on time. Often, though, people don’t use their negative emotions so productively; instead, many tend to get stuck in their negativity, spiraling downwards. It’s hard to accept your emotions — both positive and negative — and let them pass by. Dorian Gray certainly never could.

But studies have shown that the ability to embrace your negative feelings can provide a slew of benefits. Those who accept all their emotions without judgment tend to be less likely to ruminate on negativity, less likely to try to suppress mental experiences (which can backfire by amplifying these experiences), and less likely to experience negative “meta-emotional reactions,” like feeling upset about feeling upset. Or, as the authors of a recent study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology put it: “When people accept (versus judge) their mental experiences, those experiences run their natural — and relatively short-lived — course, rather than being exacerbated.”

This latest study, led by University of Toronto assistant psychology professor Brett Ford, explored the link between one’s acceptance of negativity and one’s well-being. The researchers first set out to discover if and how the acceptance of negativity benefits psychological health, and whether this kind of acceptance works for everyone across socioeconomic, gender, and racial divides. Around 1,000 study subjects filled out surveys about their mindfulness, life satisfaction, depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and the number of stressful events they’d been through over the course of their lives.

Ford and her colleagues found that those who accepted their negative feelings were, on average, also more psychologically healthy. They also found that the factor most strongly linked to participants’ well-being wasn’t a low-stress life — rather, it was the capacity to accept life’s difficulties and one’s own negative feelings non-judgmentally.

On the face of it, this is a counterintuitive idea. A person with, say, no medical or financial issues — someone who should theoretically have low stress — ought to have greater well-being than a poorer, less healthy person who’s working 70 hours a week. And yet if the latter person is better at accepting the negative experiences that come with his objectively more difficult life, this study suggests, she may be happier than the person who has fewer stressors in life.

In order to further prove this apparent paradox, the researchers recruited 160 women, half of whom had experienced a life stressor “of at least moderate impact” within the past six months, to complete a neutral task (watching a movie clip) and then a stressful task (giving a three-minute video-recorded speech on their job qualifications in front of an audience). During both tasks, the women rated their own emotional experiences; once again, Ford found that the people who were more accepting of their negative mental states reported less intense negative feelings.

Finally, to test their findings with a more diverse set of participants, Ford and her colleagues had 222 men and women complete diary entries every night for two straight weeks, making note each night of the stressful events they’d experienced during the day. Some reported particularly high-stress moments, like receiving a phone call from a son in prison, while others had mostly mild stressors, like low-key arguments with a romantic partner. For each entry, participants also rated the extent to which they felt 12 negative emotions: sad, hopeless, lonely, distressed, angry, irritable, hostile, anxious, worried, nervous, ashamed, and guilty.

Once again, acceptance was associated with greater psychological health, but with an added layer of nuance: The correlations showed that accepting negative situations was not associated with increased psychological health. Rather, it was the acceptance of one’s state of mind that came from negative situations that best indicated psychological well-being.

Taken together, Ford says, the results across all three experiments “underscore the broad relevance of acceptance as a useful tool for many people.”

“The overall take-home message is that emotions are naturally short-lived experiences,” she says, and if we let them wash over us instead of trying to push them away, “these emotional experiences would actually pass relatively quickly.”

Still, opening your arms to all your negative feelings is easier said than done in a culture where happiness is considered a virtue. We tend to valorize the pursuit of positivity, while ignoring or dismissing the importance of a well-rounded emotional experience. Happiness, the thinking still often goes, is the absence of negativity rather than the acceptance of it. But the research says otherwise — you can’t always control your emotions, but you can control how you respond to them. Sometimes it’s best to let yourself feel okay about feeling bad.

By 

https://www.thecut.com/2017/08/youll-be-happier-if-you-let-yourself-feel-bad.html

How Invalidating My Bipolar Disorder Invalidates Me

It has been almost two years since I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, ADHD and generalized panic disorder. I can be pretty open about mental health and my diagnosis. However, I almost never share the more extreme parts of my illness, or I hide it completely due to the stigmas attached to it.

After years of being misdiagnosed and going on and off antidepressants, I was finally given the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. That was a huge breakthrough for me. It made the way I felt and the severe mood swings I would experience feel validated. There was a reason. I now had words to explain what I was going through: mania, depression, hypomania.

I now know why all of the medications I’ve tried over the years never worked for me. Like most people with bipolar, I had been diagnosed consistently with depression and anxiety disorder. The reason for this common misdiagnosis is due to the fact that most people with bipolar don’t acknowledge or recognize the mania. For many—not all—mania is relief from the depression. You feel good, productive, accomplished, unstoppable. However, the mania can also be dangerous and is always met with an inevitable crash because your body can’t withstand that type of exertion without rest. So, when I would plunge into severe depression and couldn’t take it anymore, I would go see a doctor.

The antidepressants never worked, and the antianxiety medications made me a zombie. Often times, I would get worse, but the doctors always told me it was because I stopped taking the medications. I found out recently that antidepressants can actually throw someone with bipolar into mania or depression. Again, I finally felt validated.

Still, I found that the validation I felt, or the acceptance of this diagnosis, was not felt by everyone. There are many reasons for this: lack of knowledge, bias, misconceptions, etc. Below are some of the responses I have received after telling people about my bipolar diagnosis. Some people have been supportive, some well-intentioned, others ignorant, or just plain hurtful. A few of the responses I have received are listed below.

“You don’t have bipolar.” “You seem normal.” You don’t seem crazy.”

I’m not crazy. I have a mental illness. I don’t announce it to the world when I can’t get out of bed for 48+ hours or that the reason I have recently taken up so many hobbies or work so many hours is actually one of the many, many symptoms of a manic episode.

“You didn’t seem like you had bipolar until you were diagnosed.”

This one hurts a lot. I have finally, for once in my life, had my feelings and emotions validated. I understand better why I am the way I am, and for the first time, I can actually work towards a proper plan to treat it, or minimize it. I was also very good at hiding it most of the time. This response completely crushes that feeling.

My mania was controlled by being massively sedated, and I learned that no one wants to talk to you when you’re depressed, so I would just disappear during those times. Now, I am learning to cope and experience the emotions and moods that come with my illness.

Now, I must learn to cope and experience the emotions and moods that come with my illness. I am experiencing a lot mentally, emotionally, and physically due to new medications, quitting antianxiety medications and actually being allowed to claim bipolar and feel it’s heavy full weight and the burden it bears. This means those mood swings, emotions and deceptive thoughts must be felt for the first time in a long time and that’s extremely challenging to say the least.

I talk about it because I trust you, I need support, or I want to explain why I have been acting the way I have lately. Having bipolar disorder can put a massive strain on relationships. There’s nothing worse than seeing its effects and not knowing how to stop it.

“I feel like bipolar is just an excuse.”

I am responsible for my actions. I will own up to those actions, accept that I am accountable, and work as hard as I can to fix it. It’s not an excuse, but it is a cause. A lot of times, especially in the past, everything is blurred by the mania or depression, and I don’t see the effects of my actions until clarity returns.

Believe me, it’s as frustrating for me as it is for you. The guilt, shame and self-hate can be so real. This is why many of us end up isolating ourselves. Sometimes I feel that all I do is apologize, even if I don’t know why. I know that this makes it seem less sincere, but I can’t control the intense feelings of guilt. Don’t be afraid to tell me when I’m doing something wrong or if my moods are affecting you. I don’t want to make you feel the way that I do. But don’t tell me that bipolar is just an excuse. It’s a reason, and I want you to know that sometimes the bipolar causes me to act in a way that is not me. I have been working on it desperately.

“That’s the bipolar talking.” “Have you taken your meds?” “Maybe you’re just imagining it.”

My feelings are real and not always a symptom of my mental health condition. Everyone gets angry, sad, excited, passionate, etc. Believe it or not, my emotions are not always synonymous with my illness.

“You don’t need medication.” “Just think positive.” “Just calm down.” “You need to do yoga.”

You have no idea how frustrating and exhausting the years of trial and error in medications and treatment are, or how frightening the side effects of certain medications can be. Still, I continued to seek treatment because the symptoms of not treating the illness were far worse. I held that mentality before. “I don’t need meds. I feel fine.” This was typically when manic. I was wrong. Even though there are many other things I do to help manage, I do also need medication.

A lot changed for me after coming off of antidepressants and benzodiazepines. I had more energy. I talked faster than I already did. I wanted to do and accomplish more. I was more excitable. I was more agitated. I would get easily frustrated. For good and for bad, a lot of the symptoms haven’t and will never completely go away. I would take things out on my husband, my mom, my family, and my friends without realizing it, or I completely isolate myself when I do.

I was prescribed medication to treat my ADHD. Now, not only was I dealing with the stigma of having bipolar, but now I had to deal with the stigma of the medication to anyone who knew. People started looking at me differently and attributing a lot of my actions, and even accomplishments, to either the illness or my medication. “That’s why you’re so productive.” “That’s why you’re so sped up.” “You don’t need that.”

Actually, I do. It doesn’t affect me in the same way that it affects people who don’t have ADHD. I’ve always had a hard time focusing, sitting in one place, being on time, staying on task. This gets even worse when I’m manic. Medication isn’t a cure all, but it can help manage the extremes of my condition. You’re not in my head.

Before my medication, there were times that I would self-medicate. I would drink too much, or make reckless decisions. The guilt that would follow would be unbearable. All I would feel is shame. Then the cycle would repeat until periods of stability. This is an impulse and cycle that I do not miss.

For the first time in a long time, I am learning to deal with my feelings, emotions and moods. It hasn’t been easy for me and it hasn’t been easy for those close to me. For that, I am sorry. The ones that stuck around, were there to listen, or to offer support, have been critical in this journey. Mental illness can be extremely lonely.

I am particularly grateful for my husband. He bears the brunt of my illness the most and it kills me. He does it graciously. He’s understanding. He doesn’t take it personally when I’m in a mood. He doesn’t judge. He listens. He encourages me to get better. He has had such a positive impact on my life, my health, and my happiness along this journey. I am in awe of his patience, supportiveness, and kindness. I appreciate him more than he will ever know.

“I wouldn’t tell anyone you have it. They’ll judge you and treat you differently.” “I wouldn’t tell your boss. It could affect your job.”

Sadly, this is often true. I’ve experienced it first hand and usually the ones who give this response are others that have dealt with the repercussions of disclosing their mental illness. I’ve done this many, many times. I’m quite good at it. I push through it. I smile when I am miserable. I slink off somewhere to manage an anxiety attack. I don’t talk to anyone when I am depressed.

When I reveal it, it is often not met kindly. However, that’s the reason I have decided to talk about it even more. The stigma is there because most keep quiet. This is what emboldens me to share my experiences. You never know who is suffering mentally. You can say you have a physical disease and most often, you are treated with concern or empathy. If you mention a mental disorder, the subject gets changed or the conversation get quiet. It’s an isolating experience.

Bipolar disorder doesn’t define me. There are also many good qualities that I have. I am passionate. I am adventurous. I am inquisitive. I am empathic. I am creative. Most importantly, I am strong.

https://www.nami.org/Personal-Stories/How-Invalidating-My-Bipolar-Disorder-Invalidates-M#

Less Sunlight Means More Blues For Some

Global

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that recurs regularly at certain times of the year, usually beginning in late fall or winter and lasting into spring. While the reported incidence of SAD in the general population is four to 10 percent, some studies suggest that up to 20 percent of people in the United States may be affected by a mild form of the disorder. The disease was officially named in the early 1980s, but seasonal depression has been described as early as the days of Hippocrates.

The symptoms of SAD include depressed mood, loss of energy, increased sleep, anxiety, irritability and difficulty concentrating. Many also experience a change in appetite, particularly a craving for carbohydrates, which can lead to weight gain. Some people report a heavy feeling in their arms and legs.

Scientists believe SAD is caused by a biochemical change in the brain, triggered by shorter days and reduced sunlight during the winter. In particular, two chemicals in the brain, serotonin and melatonin, have been linked to changes in mood, energy, and sleep patterns. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression. Serotonin production is activated by sunlight, so less sunlight in winter could lower serotonin levels, leading to depression. Melatonin regulates sleep and is produced in greater quantities in darkness. Higher melatonin levels could cause sleepiness and lethargy as the days get shorter. The combination of the changes in the levels of serotonin and melatonin could contribute to SAD.

There are various risk factors for the development of SAD. Females are up to four times more likely to be affected than males. Although SAD can affect children, it is reported mostly in people between the ages of 18 and 30, with incidences decreasing with age. Many have a family history of mental illness. Studies have shown that living farther away from the equator increases the occurrence of SAD. Those already experiencing clinical depression or bipolar disorder may see a worsening of their symptoms in winter.

Treatments for SAD include traditional psychotherapy and antidepressant medications. In addition, light therapy, a daily 30-minute exposure to a light box that simulates high-intensity sunlight, has shown promise in treating SAD.  Interestingly, the ancient Greeks knew about the power of sunlight. Back in the second century, the physician Aretaeus instructed, “Lethargics are to be laid in the light, and exposed to the rays of the sun for the disease is gloom.”

One theory suggests that SAD is an evolutionary adaptation in humans, similar to hibernation in animals. As food gets scarcer and the weather gets colder, animals adapt by storing fat and reducing caloric output. Applied to humans, this could explain the carbohydrate cravings, increased sleep and reduction in energy levels. It could also play a role in reproduction, where it is more beneficial for a female of childbearing age to conserve resources.

While these naturally occurring body changes may have helped our ancestors survive, depression in any form can be serious. Anyone affected by significant symptoms of depression should consult a physician.

Author: Hisaho Blair – 1/22/2013