Archive for November 2017

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

The shorter days and colder weather of winter can make anyone feel down, especially if you live a long way from the equator. The reduced light, warmth, and color of winter can leave you feeling melancholy, irritable, or tired. But if these feelings recur each year, make it tough to function during the winter months, and then subside in spring or early summer, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Seasonal depression can affect your health, your relationships, and your everyday activities. But no matter how hopeless you feel, there are things you can do to keep your mood and life stable throughout the year.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that occurs at the same time each year, usually in winter. Otherwise known as seasonal depression, SAD can affect your mood, sleep, appetite, and energy levels, taking a toll on all aspects of your life from your relationships and social life to work, school, and your sense of self-worth. You may feel like a completely different person to who you are in the summer: hopeless, sad, tense, or stressed, with no interest in friends or activities you normally love. While a less common form of the disorder causes depression during the summer months, SAD usually begins in fall or winter when the days become shorter and remains until the brighter days of spring or early summer.

SAD affects about 1% to 2% of the population, particularly women and young people, while a milder form of winter blues may affect as many 10 to 20 percent of people. Since the amount of winter daylight you receive changes the farther you are from the equator, SAD is most common in people who live at least 30 degrees latitude north or south (north of places such as Jacksonville, Florida, Austin, Texas, Cairo, Egypt, and Hangzhou, China, or south of Perth, Australia, Durban, South Africa, and Cordoba, Argentina). No matter where you live, though, or how dark and cold the winters, the good news is that, like other forms of depression, SAD is treatable. The more you understand about seasonal depression, the better equipped you’ll be to manage or even prevent the condition.

The signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are the same as those for major depression. SAD is distinguished from depression by the remission of symptoms in the spring and summer months (or winter and fall in the case of summer SAD).

As with depression, the severity of SAD symptoms can vary from person to person—often depending on genetic vulnerability and geographic location. For many, the symptoms usually begin mildly at the start of fall and get progressively worse through the darkest days of winter. Then, by spring or early summer, the symptoms lift until you’re in remission and feel normal and healthy again.

Seasonal depression can make it hard to motivate yourself to make changes, but there are plenty of steps you can take to help yourself feel better. Recovery takes time but you’ll likely feel a little better each day. By adopting healthy habits and scheduling fun and relaxation into your day, you can help lift the cloud of seasonal affective disorder and keep it from coming back.

Tip #1: Get as much natural sunlight as possible—it’s free!

Whenever possible, get outside during daylight hours and expose yourself to the sun without wearing sunglasses (but never stare directly at the sun).

  • Take a short walk outdoors, have your coffee outside if you can stay warm enough.
  • Increase the amount of natural light in your home and workplace by opening blinds and drapes and sitting near windows.
  • Some people find that painting walls in lighter colors or using daylight simulation bulbs helps to combat winter SAD.

Tip #2: Exercise regularly—it can be as effective as medication

Regular exercise is a powerful way to fight seasonal depression, especially if you’re able to exercise outside in natural daylight.

  • Regular exercise can boost serotonin, endorphins, and other feel-good brain chemicals. In fact, exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication.
  • Exercise can also help to improve your sleep and boost your self-esteem.
  • Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of activity on most days. Even something as simple as walking a dog, for example, can be good exercise for you and the animal, as well as a great way to get outdoors and interact with other people.

Tip #3: Reach out to family and friends—and let them help

Close relationships are vital in reducing isolation and helping you manage SAD. Participate in social activities, even if you don’t feel like it. It may feel more comfortable to retreat into your shell, but being around other people will boost your mood. Even if you’ve retreated from relationships that were once important to you, make the effort to reconnect or start new relationships.

  • Call or email an old friend to meet for coffee. Or reach out to someone new—a work colleague or neighbor, for example. Most of us feel awkward about reaching out, but be the one to break the ice.
  • Join a support group for depression. Sometimes, just talking about what you’re going through can help you feel better. Being with others who are facing the same problems can help reduce your sense of isolation and provide inspiration to make positive changes.
  • Meet new people with a common interest by taking a class, joining a club, or enrolling in a special interest group that meets on a regular basis. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something that’s fun for you.
  • Volunteer your time. Helping others is one of the best ways to feel better about yourself, expand your social network, and overcome SAD.

Tip #4: Eat the right diet

Eating small, well-balanced meals throughout the day, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, will help you keep your energy up and minimize mood swings.

  • While the symptoms of SAD can make you crave sugary foods and simple carbohydrates, such as pasta and white bread, complex carbohydrates are a better choice. Foods such as oatmeal, whole grain bread, brown rice, and bananas can boost your feel-good serotonin levels without the subsequent sugar crash.
  • Foods rich in certain omega-3 fats—such as oily fish, walnuts, soybeans, and flaxseeds—can also improve your mood and may even boost the effectiveness of antidepressant medication.

Tip #5: Take steps to deal with stress—by making time for fun

Whatever the time of year, too much stress can exacerbate or even trigger depression. Figure out the things in your life that stress you out, such as work overload or unsupportive relationships, and make a plan to avoid them or minimize their impact.

  • Practicing daily relaxation techniques can help you manage stress, reduce negative emotions such as anger and fear, and boost feelings of joy and well-being. Try yoga, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Do something you enjoy every day. Having fun is a great stress buster, so make time for leisure activities that bring you joy, whether it be painting, playing the piano, working on your car, or simply hanging out with friends.

The mainstay of winter SAD treatment is light therapy, otherwise known as phototherapy. Light therapy aims to replace the missing daylight of winter by exposing you to bright light that mimics natural outdoor light. Daily exposure can suppress the brain’s secretion of melatonin to help you feel more awake and alert, less drowsy and melancholy.

Light therapy has been shown to be effective in up to 85 percent of SAD cases. However, the timing and length of exposure needed can vary according to your symptoms and circadian rhythm, so you’ll need guidance from your doctor or mental health professional to find the right dosage. Your doctor or therapist can also help you choose a light therapy product that’s both effective and safe. (While tanning beds generate sufficient light, they should never be used to treat SAD as the UV rays they produce can be harmful to the skin and eyes.)

Light therapy has to be continued daily throughout the winter months to be effective. Starting light therapy before the onset of symptoms in the fall may even help prevent seasonal affective disorder.

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad.htm

 

Merry Christmas from all the therapy critters at Mended Hearts!

 

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Happy Thanksgiving to all of our clients, friends, and families and thank you for your business and a wonderful year from all of us here at Mended Hearts!

Thanksgiving, Gratitude, and Mental Health

As we approach Thanksgiving, a widely celebrated day dedicated to remembering and acknowledging the goodness in our lives, we should stop to reflect on how this process of giving thanks for our blessings can positively impact the lives of our patients.

Over the last decade, there has been an increase in research dedicated to better understanding the effects of gratitude on health and relationships — and the results are astonishing. The simple act of expressing gratitude on a consistent basis has been shown to positively impact key areas in a person’s life including: relationships and connectedness, emotional well-being, and physical health.

First, gratitude helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals whether to other people, nature, or a higher power. In the process of expressing a thankful appreciation for those tangible and intangible things received, very often people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside of themselves.

And as a result, gratitude can help people to become more social and develop deeper and healthier relationships, which in turn can improve their emotional health. In fact, positive social experiences and higher levels of social integration and support are associated with improved coping ability in all ages.1

Furthermore, gratitude can foster spirituality: Transcendence and openness to exploring a relationship with a higher power or value, which oftentimes, involves both a process of deriving meaning, purpose, and direction in one’s life. And the bulk of the literature on spirituality and mental health suggests that the relationship between the two is a positive one; from decreasing depression and anxiety to helping people cope with substance abuse.

Gratitude can also improve a person’s emotional well-being. Robert A. Emmons, PhD, of the University of California, Davis, has done much of the research on gratitude. He suggests 4 significant areas where gratitude can have a positive effect on emotion.

First, gratitude magnifies positive emotions by helping us to appreciate the value in something; thus gaining more benefit from it. Second, it blocks toxic, negative emotions, such as envy, resentment, and regret — emotions that can destroy happiness. Third, gratitude fosters resiliency. And lastly, gratitude promotes self-worth.

Finally, gratitude can have positive effects on physical health. There is robust literature suggesting that gratitude can make us healthier. Studies suggest that people who express gratitude often have fewer physical symptoms, less pain, and more energy and vitality. Grateful people also tend to be more likely to participate in activities that promote physical health such as exercise and regular routine doctor visits.

http://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/practice-management/thanksgiving-grateful-emotions-health-relationships-goodness-spirituality/article/455974/

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts and repetitive, ritualized behaviors you feel compelled to perform. If you have OCD, you probably recognize that your obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are irrational—but even so, you feel unable to resist them and break free.

Like a needle getting stuck on an old record, OCD causes the brain to get stuck on a particular thought or urge. For example, you may check the stove 20 times to make sure it’s really turned off, or wash your hands until they’re scrubbed raw.

Obsessions are involuntary thoughts, images, or impulses that occur over and over again in your mind. You don’t want to have these ideas, but you can’t stop them. Unfortunately, these obsessive thoughts are often disturbing and distracting.

Compulsions are behaviors or rituals that you feel driven to act out again and again. Usually, compulsions are performed in an attempt to make obsessions go away.

For example, if you’re afraid of contamination, you might develop elaborate cleaning rituals. However, the relief never lasts. In fact, the obsessive thoughts usually come back stronger. And the compulsive rituals and behaviors often end up causing anxiety themselves as they become more demanding and time-consuming. This is the vicious cycle of OCD.

Most people with OCD fall into one of the following categories:

  • Washers are afraid of contamination. They usually have cleaning or hand-washing compulsions.
  • Checkers repeatedly check things (oven turned off, door locked, etc.) that they associate with harm or danger.
  • Doubters and sinners are afraid that if everything isn’t perfect or done just right something terrible will happen, or they will be punished.
  • Counters and arrangers are obsessed with order and symmetry. They may have superstitions about certain numbers, colors, or arrangements.
  • Hoarders fear that something bad will happen if they throw anything away. They compulsively hoard things that they don’t need or use.

Common obsessive thoughts in OCD include:

  • Fear of being contaminated by germs or dirt or contaminating others
  • Fear of losing control and harming yourself or others
  • Intrusive sexually explicit or violent thoughts and images
  • Excessive focus on religious or moral ideas
  • Fear of losing or not having things you might need
  • Order and symmetry: the idea that everything must line up “just right”
  • Superstitions; excessive attention to something considered lucky or unlucky

Common compulsive behaviors in OCD include:

  • Excessive double-checking of things, such as locks, appliances, and switches
  • Repeatedly checking in on loved ones to make sure they’re safe
  • Counting, tapping, repeating certain words, or doing other senseless things to reduce anxiety
  • Spending a lot of time washing or cleaning
  • Ordering or arranging things “just so”
  • Praying excessively or engaging in rituals triggered by religious fear
  • Accumulating “junk” such as old newspapers or empty food containers

If you have OCD, there are many ways you can help yourself. One of the most powerful strategies is to eliminate the compulsive behaviors and rituals that keep your obsessions going.  It might seem smart to avoid the situations that trigger your obsessive thoughts, but the more you avoid them, the scarier they feel. Instead, expose yourself to your OCD triggers, then try to resist or delay the urge to complete your relief-seeking compulsive ritual. If resistance gets to be too hard, try to reduce the amount of time you spend on your ritual. Each time you expose yourself to your trigger, your anxiety should lessen and you’ll start to realize that you have more control (and less to fear) than you think.

When you’re experiencing OCD thoughts and urges, try shifting your attention to something else.

  • You could exercise, jog, walk, listen to music, read, surf the web, play a video game, make a phone call, or knit. The important thing is to do something you enjoy for at least 15 minutes, in order to delay your response to the obsessive thought or compulsion.
  • At the end of the delaying period, reassess the urge. In many cases, the urge will no longer be quite as intense. Try delaying for a longer period. The longer you can delay the urge, the more it will likely change.     https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/obssessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd.htm