Anxiety is a broad and widely misused term, and the experience varies from person to person. Because of this, it can be quite difficult to recognize it in ourselves and in our loved ones. How do we distinguish between normal stress, personality traits, and the deep-rooted sense of general anxiety? [Read more…] about Common Misconceptions About Anxiety
Dr. Nilaja Green, a licensed clinical and community psychologist, believes that the answer to many mental health issues like anxiety and depression lies in mindfulness. “We have a culture that moves very fast, we get distracted very quickly. That means that we’re not always good at really attending to ourselves. I recommend to my clients to do something that gets them to slow down. Turn off the phone for 24 hours or shut off the Internet. Get off the social media. Live a conscious life and live an examined life,” says Dr. Green.
It may sound trite and simple, but learning how to breath properly is a big deal according to Dr. Green. For example, if someone is having a panic attack, it usually means they are hyperventilating. They are breathing too fast and exhaling more than they inhale. But even if your anxiety is much less severe, take the time and focus on breathing slowly with your stomach. Also, Dr. Green recommends attempting only one activity at a time. For example, eating without checking your email the whole time. This is essential to slowing down and staying present.
Periods of High Risk
It’s incredibly rare for someone to experience the same level of mental health risk their entire life, but one must keep a close eye on periods of turmoil or distress. It’s important to monitor transitions in our lives, to notice or to listen to our loved ones when they notice that we are not functioning properly. Here are some signs you might need help:
- not sleeping or sleeping too much
- isolating yourself from friends and family
- overeating or not eating enough
- using substances to avoid dealing with emotions
- inability to control emotions
- constant mood swings.
Dr. Green says, “We would ask questions about being disconnected from reality. Do you worry so much that it’s getting in the way of your daily tasks? Are you having a thought that you can’t get out of your mind? Do you engage in behaviors that you try to stop, but can’t stop?”
“I spend my first couple of sessions getting to know not only what’s bringing my clients in but also the important parts of their story. I spend a lot of time learning about their traumas, but I also ask them how they survived these things. Then we develop goals. Where do you want to be in 6 months and what are the markers that we’ll use? What’s important to you in this moment and what do I see as important to you,” shares Dr. Green. “There’s a relationship building piece, the goals setting piece, the collaborative visioning what the person wants, and then the intervention piece. Depending on what you come in with, we may do different things.”
Be Kind to Yourself
“We are not always responsible for the stories of our lives. We didn’t choose where we were born, or who we were born to or the environment that we were born into. We didn’t choose so many of the experiences that happened to us in childhood, but we can choose what happens to our stories from that point. Once we become able to really reflect on where we come from, that’s when we get the opportunity to say ‘OK, I have some power, I have some choices. I can write a different story.’”
“One experience doesn’t define me. Two experiences don’t define me. My life is a dynamic, evolving being – an entity. And as long as I stay connected to my life. As long as I stay attentive and conscious, I can always make choices about who I want to be and how I want to live.” – Brandeis Nilaja Green
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May is Mental Health Month. I have to admit, even though it’s been observed in the United States since 1949, this is the first year I’m paying such close attention. What is it all about? Why are we talking about this, and why is Mental Health Month important to all of us?
As the Product Marketing Manager at Therachat, I spent the last few months researching mental health topics, listening to countless interviews with industry experts and talking to therapists and counselors of various backgrounds. I’ve also been self-reflecting because that’s what you tend to do after talking to a bunch of psychologists. It’s a bit like participating in one long therapy session every day of the week for 6 months. The effect of this on my life has been profound. So, let me share some of what I’ve learned in this intensive process.
Sometimes “Mental Health” Just Means “Mental Fitness“
The words “mental health” have a bit of a vibe to them. You know what I mean. It feels serious and, for those who struggle with severe disorders, it is. But for many of us, taking care of our mental health may simply mean forming good mental health habits and working on ourselves to live a fuller life. It’s about internal exercises that help us improve and evolve. Think of it as mental fitness.
The same way we struggle to eat right and commit to the right exercise routine, we struggle to identify and make time for ways to take care of our mental wellbeing. What’s worse is that we may not even realize that it’s necessary. It’s just not something that people talk about. Perhaps it’s because poor mental health habits can be easier to hide than poor physical health habits. As long as we somehow manage to get through the day, the subtle internal damage we cause by neglecting our mental health is not visible and, thus, easy to ignore. But why not just live better? Our mental health deserves the same love and attention we wish to give to our bodies. If living healthy is high on your list of priorities, mental health should be added the equation. It just makes sense.
Therapy Is Not All Talk
Good mental health habits are as important as good physical health habits, but who knows what good mental health habits are? You can certainly do a lot for your mental health by researching the subject on your own and practicing mindfulness (that’s a great start!). But just like with physical exercise, the right coach can help you take your self-care to the next level. It’s not uncommon to go to a nutritionist for nutrition advice or to exercise with a personal trainer. Well, think of therapists as mental health coaches.
One thing I’ve learned from the countless therapist interviews is that they are pretty awesome people, who know things. Things that can help you bring about real, meaningful, positive change. Sure, they are always there to listen, but there’s more to it. Good therapists carry real knowledge that can help you reprogram your own behavior and manage your thoughts. Just think about how powerful that can be. Think of those random, negative thoughts that pop up in your head and derail your day, or think of the occasional, mildly (or not-so-mildly) destructive behaviors that get in the way of your relationships, your work. The right therapist can help you learn to overcome yourself, to change by your own choice instead of some external factors beyond your control. Basically, therapy can help you get in the driver’s seat of your life. It’s worth a try. It’s worth several tries, since finding the right fit can take a few sessions with different therapists.
Self-Awareness is a Big Deal
Self-awareness can help separate our core personalities, the inherent character traits that make us unique, from the behavior patterns we’ve fallen into for whatever reason. It can help align our actions with our true values. It can help us overcome the parts of ourselves that get in the way of the life we want to live, make us better people. That’s a big deal. Maybe that’s why therapists put a lot of emphasis on it. Self-awareness seems to be the key ingredient in good mental health, which may sound like a no-brainer, but there’s really more to it.
The things I’m learning at Therachat from the inspiring, passionate therapists we talk to, are making me a better person. There’s just no denying it. Through self-awareness, I’m learning to separate certain feelings, thoughts, and behaviors from each other. Actually, keeping in mind that that’s even possible is helpful. I’m able to make more conscious choices and reduce knee-jerk reactions, which keeps me out of unnecessary trouble. I’m becoming more selective when it comes to what I allow myself to think, and I pause to question the thought process and change direction. I can live smarter. I try. It’s like a workout for my brain, which is firing in ways it hasn’t before. And it feels awesome!
So this year, I’m all about Mental Health Month. Let’s do this! Let’s talk about it, share our thoughts, compare notes and discuss (respectfully). This month, let’s start making mental health a priority!
Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Therapy, like many things in life, is a process. It is about taking the steps to grow and apply what is discussed in therapy to everyday life. Kaia Kordic, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist from Humboldt County, California, says it’s like building a muscle.
“I’ll give you an example,” offers Kaia. “Let’s focus on a specific event in a client’s life, an argument with her boyfriend. Two weeks after the argument, we are in a therapy session, and she’s talking about the fight. ‘I wish I had said this instead of this, done this differently,’ and so on. Next time there’s a fight, we’ll talk about it again, we’ll work on it, build that muscle of mindfulness, awareness, and intention. We’ll set the goal of how she wishes to act in that situation. Over time, what I hear from my clients across the board is that they time gap between the event and the realization of how they should’ve act gets smaller. So, it might be like, ‘Yeah, we got into an argument, and a few hours later I thought that maybe this should have gone differently.’” The goal is to get as close to the event as possible and increase awareness to the point where you’re able to choose your own behavior.
Results of therapy
One of the most exciting results therapy can bring about is the ability to break away from harmful, damaging default responses and to learn to choose positive, thought-out responses instead.
“Through therapy we learn to correct course. You know therapy is working when a client thinks, ‘You know, my behavior is actually not cool with me. This is not what I want. How I want my life to look, along with my values, is actually more to the right of my current path in this moment.’ So, we correct course. In therapy, you can learn that,” says Kaia.
Therapy helps you realize that you have choices. You can decide how you want to react to the world you’re living in, to the events in your life, to your emotions. “It is noticing where you have a choice, and then developing processes to make the choice that really feels good to you.”
Making Therapy Work Yourself
It’s no secret that therapy results largely depend on the person’s willingness and readiness to work on themselves. Journaling and self-reflection are some of the most proactive and healthiest ways to practice self-awareness and define one’s intentions outside of therapy sessions. “It helps develop that awareness muscle,” says Kaia. “If the client only reflects on her fight with the boyfriend during the session, progress will take a lot longer. But, if she journals about it or tracks symptoms and conflicts throughout the week, she will become aware of her choices, actions, and experiences sooner.”
A new journaling tool, Therachat, is available to clients and therapists interested in improving therapy outcomes. “Therachat is going to be really helpful for clients who need the self-reflection process in between therapy sessions,” says Kaia. “The insights and analysis available to therapists are also going to be helpful. It is one thing to see someone’s memo on their phone,‘ I’m anxious today, I’m not anxious today,’ but to see their mood patterns throughout the week in a clean format and be able to focus on important topics together is another. I would imagine that people would get better faster.”
Kaia Kordic is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, who splits her time between building her own private practice here in Humboldt County, California and working with the county foster care services. Kaia works with families, children, teenagers and adults who have ADHD, depression, anxiety, and who are going through relationship conflict, break-ups and divorces. She sat down with us to share some common misconceptions about therapy and offer advice to those who may be considering therapy.
Therapy is not a sign of weakness
While many believe that therapy is a sign of weakness, Kaia couldn’t disagree with that assessment more. Therapy is not about something being wrong with you, it’s about courage and personal development.
“All of my patients seek personal growth. They recognized that something in their lives is not going the way they want it to, and chose to do the work to change that. That’s powerful,” says Kaia.
While some may prefer to do it on their own or fail to understand why a loved one would seek the help of a stranger, those who choose therapy are simply utilizing all the best tools available to them. “Therapy IS ‘doing it on your own.’ If you’re cooking a meal for yourself, you’re doing it on your own, but first, you need to get the right ingredients together, figure out the process. Therapy is somewhat similar, but with higher stakes. Clients decide that they need to work on something, so they want the right resources to help them figure out the process,” says Kaia.
Finding A Therapist
Kaia has some advice, “Find somebody who is a good fit and trust the process. It takes a lot to make that first call and even more to make that first appointment, and it’s rarely a good fit on the first call. So, people get discouraged. They give up and miss out on a very important resource. You should keep looking for the right fit. It is worth the effort.”
Once you make a choice and schedule the first appointment, Kaia recommends giving the process a chance to work. “Unless you have a bad feeling, give it three sessions. You may feel unsure at first because you and your therapist are just getting to know each other. If it’s not right after that, continue your search.”
You can try finding a therapist through Psychology Today, your insurance, Yelp, and friends. Kaia says you can even ask your therapist. “You can say, ‘Hey I realize and I appreciate our work together, but I feel like I would fit better with a male or someone of the same ethnicity. Do you have any recommendations for that?’
Visit counselingpotential.com for more information about Kaia Kordic and her practice.
Before San Francisco-based psychotherapist Krishan Abeyatunge chose his current profession, he was helping people heal through his Bay Area practice of holistic medicine. It was during those years that he noticed an ever-increasing number of patients that would come in repeatedly for the same physical ailments or pain because of trauma.
His investigation to identify the culprit behind these chronic maladies led him to discover the connection between our psychological well-being and our physical health. This realization compelled him to make a career change so he could focus on exploring the core source of all our joys and sorrows – our psyche.
Trauma Can Result in Physical Pain
When we fail to work through our trauma, it manifests itself in other ways. Specifically, Krishan points out that psychological trauma and anxiety can frequently manifest as physical pain and illness. He shares an eye-opening experience he had with a former patient – a 275lbs former football player, who survived a car accident that ended his father’s life. During massage therapy, Krishan stumbled upon an old back injury the client suffered in the accident. Unaware of the injury or its history, Krishan applied pressure to the spot, evoking in his client an intense urge to cry. “Just let it out,” offered the doctor and the client did. He began to cry. When they spoke after, it became clear that the trauma the accident survivor has been carrying in that spot extended far beyond physical injuries.
Abeyatunge swears that this sort of physical manifestation of early, sustained or even acute trauma is more common than most people realize. What’s even worse, it can be self-perpetuating.
“If your mind is set to that channel, then there’s plenty to look at that’s not great in the world. We live in the paradox of lots of beautiful stuff and lots of suffering. So, depending on where your channel is set to, you can notice a ton of either,” says Abeyatunge.
He notes that major research institutions like Stanford and Harvard have documented the connection between emotional/mental wellbeing and physical health. Check out this book titled Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine if you’re interested in learning more about the phenomenon.