Making Your Mental Health a Priority in 2020

As we begin a new decade, 2020 is testing the mental health of humanity. After the world mourned the loss of Kobe Bryant to start the new year,  we are now in the midst of a global corona virus pandemic with looming public health and economic consequences so severe experts are unable to quantify its impact. With social distancing, stay at home orders, and a host of economic challenges, humanity’s resolve is being stretched past our normal limits. Maybe you made a list of resolutions or life changes you wanted to make in 2020. But, one the is for sure, collectively we must be more diligent in protecting our mental health and develop coping mechanisms to help us endure these turbulent times. 

Based on surveying individuals, it was estimated that, in 2018, 19.1 percent of Americans 18 years old and up had a mental illness in the last year. Maybe you have a mental illness, maybe you don’t. Either way, your mental health is important. So what are some practical things you can work on?

Get sufficient sleep.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conveys that a person might have an elevated likelihood of poor mental health, some physical health problems, and dying prematurely if the person regularly doesn’t sleep for sufficient time. They indicate that it is advised for individuals ages 18 to 60 to sleep at least 7 hours a night.

If you’re not making enough time for sleep, now is the time to start. As hard as it may be, tell yourself you’ll finish that television show or those household chores tomorrow.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, there are things you can try. Commit yourself to a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (yes, even on the weekends). Don’t drink too much caffeine, especially later in the day. Stop using devices that produce blue light (like your smartphone, laptop, and television) at least an hour before bed. Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises.

Exercise.

One of the many reasons to exercise is that it might improve your mental health. Try to find something that you’ll enjoy, so you’ll actually stick with exercising. You might decide to start regularly playing a sport with friends, going to a fitness class, or enthusiastically dancing to some of your favorite music. 

If you have any health conditions that might be made worse by exercising, make sure to talk with your healthcare provider first. Together you can develop a plan that is right for you.

Plan ways to reduce stress.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) conveys that being stressed long-term could be detrimental: it might play a part in mental and physical illnesses, for instance anxiety, heart disease, and depression. Some things that stress us out are beyond our control. A family member might fall ill or a car might suddenly break down. However, some stressful situations can be avoided with better planning. 

If you find it stressful to do all of your household cleaning on Saturday, make time to do a little bit at a time during the week. If you are stressed as soon as you start reading those class syllabi, sit down with a planner and figure out when you will allot time to work on each thing you need to do (maybe you can start working on that final paper a little earlier so you then have time to focus on studying for exams). Yes, it takes some upfront time investment to plan, and it takes commitment to stick to the plan. However, it might help you feel less stressed (and maybe you’ll do better on those exams too!).

Another important thing to plan? Time to do things that you enjoy. Maybe its hiking or crafting or reading. Determine when you are going to do these things, whether it’s planning to do a specific activity or simply planning to do something enjoyable. Make sure it’s a plan that’s reasonable for your life, and then stick to it.

What about those things that are out of your control, or times when you’re working on what is in your control but still stressed? Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness, might be helpful for you. Research how to do these things, and practice them when you are not feeling stressed.

Take care of your physical health.

Mental health and physical health are connected. Physical health conditions can affect a person’s mental health. For instance, hypothyroidism might make a person feel depressed, and hyperthyroidism might make a person feel anxious. Low vitamin D levels could contribute to feeling depressed.

If it’s been a while since you’ve seen a healthcare provider for a physical, schedule one now. Even if you feel good physically and mentally, a healthcare provider might detect a health concern before it starts causing issues, and some conditions are easily treatable.

Assess your substance use.

For persons who don’t consume alcohol, beginning is not advised by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. If a person is going to drink and is old enough to do so legally, for men they advise two drinks or less a day and for women they advise one drink or less a day.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) provides limits for “low-risk” drinking. Low-risk drinking is drinking 7 or fewer drinks in a week as well as drinking 3 or fewer in a day for women. For men, it’s drinking 14 or fewer drinks in a week as well as 4 or fewer in a day. It is recommended that men older than 65 do not exceed 7 drinks a week and 3 a day. For some individuals, it is recommended to not drink at all.

If you are drinking more than these limits, it’s time to reduce how much you drink or quit drinking entirely. However, NIAAA conveys that you shouldn’t try to quit drinking on your own if you might have a dependence on alcohol, as withdrawal could be deadly. Talk with a healthcare provider if you think you might be dependent.

If you are using any illegal substances or misusing any medications, talk with a healthcare provider. It’s important to stop using/misusing these, but stopping without supervision may be dangerous, depending on the substance and other factors.

Seek help.

If you think you might have a mental illness, reach out for help. You can talk with your primary care provider or schedule an appointment with a mental healthcare provider, such as a therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or psychiatric nurse practitioner.

A healthcare provider can talk to you about your symptoms and work with you to develop a plan. Therapy and/or medication might be beneficial for you. 

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Four Calming Techniques to Improve Your Mental Health

If you are like me and the other nearly 325,000,000 trillion people in the U.S., you have experienced stress. From raising kids, dealing with your boss or handling a health issue, you can feel overwhelmed. But there’s good news! Learn how to create peace and take control of your life.

Determining the Type of Stress

Most people do not realize stress, a response to stimuli comes in two varieties which is good stress and bad stress. Bad stress or distress happens when your perception of an event is threatening. According to Stress Management Society, “Through the release of hormones, such as adrenaline, cortisol…the caveman gained a rush of energy…”. This onset of biological and emotional reactions resulted in the need to fight or flight.

Good stress or positive stress is the opposite response. It is marked by feelings of happiness and a sense of confidence. Your thoughts are focused and the energy is motivating.

Four Paths to Calm

Now that you know more about stress, you can start to manage it. Try these tips to make stress ignite your creativity and passion. Make stress work for you.

1. Keep It in Perspective

So, how do you transform your bad stress into good stress? Change your perception. If your job causes you to relocate, consider it a career opportunity. If the throbbing in one of your molars means you need a root canal, don’t panic. Discuss it with an emergency dentist Calgary. Consider it an investment in your health.

2. Calm the Monkey

Your mind races with thousands of thoughts all day. Anxiety builds as you obsess about future concerns. What if this happens, what if that happens? Stop!

Just breathe. As you mindfully count from 1 – 10, inhale and exhale slowly. Feel your heart rate decrease.

The Buddhists used this breathing method for quiet meditation to conquer the Monkey Mind or frenzied mental condition. In Mindfulness: Taming the Monkey Mind by Mitchell Wagner, the author states, “It is not possible for the mind to be open…when it is consumed by anxiety.”

3. Choose the Right Foods

What do yogurt, pistachios, and spinach have to do with relaxation? They contain key ingredients which affect your mood.

Pistachios

According to Organic Facts, pistachios have “6 grams of protein per ounce…”. Protein contains an amino acid which produces serotonin, a regulator of hunger.

Spinach & Avocado

The folate found in this green leafy vegetable produces dopamine, a chemical producing feelings of pleasure. Folic acid improves memory in adults experiencing stress. Avocados are also high in folate and vitamin E.

Yogurt

This comfort-inducing snack is filled with probiotics. It delivers healthful live bacteria in the gut linked to good mental health.

Strawberries, Raspberries, & Blueberries

These fruits are high in vitamin C which helps fight stress.

4. Become a Yogi

Yoga is a tradition dating back 300 years ago. Yoga is low impact and is a synergy of mind, body, and soul.

The International Journal of Yoga published “Exploring the therapeutic effects of Yoga and its ability to increase the quality of life” and found “Yogic practices enhance muscular strength…reduce stress, anxiety…”. Bikram, Hatha, and Kundalini are some of the best forms of yoga for beginners.

Invest in Stress Management

Consult with your doctor. Read books and attend local exercise classes. Stay up-to-date about trends.

Stress is a part of life. Learn stress management. Anticipate the unexpected and choose a strategy challenging you to do your best. Then, sit back and relax.

Insult to Injury: U.S. Workers Without Paid Sick Leave Suffer from Mental Distress

Only seven states in the United States have mandatory paid sick leave laws; yet, fifteen states have passed preemptive legislation prohibiting localities from passing sick leave. Despite this resistance, paid sick leave is starting to gain momentum as a social justice issue with important implications for health and wellness. But what are the implications for the mental well-being of Americans without paid sick leave? Little was known about their relationship until now.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University and Cleveland State University are the first to explore the link between psychological distress and paid sick leave among U.S. workers ages 18-64. Results of their study, published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, illuminate the effects of exacerbated stress on Americans without paid sick leave who are unable to care for themselves or their loved ones without fear of losing wages or their jobs.

The researchers found that workers without paid sick leave benefits reported a statistically significant higher level of psychological distress. They also are 1.45 times more likely to report that their distress symptoms interfere “a lot” with their daily life and activities compared to workers with paid sick leave. Those most vulnerable: young, Hispanic, low-income and poorly educated populations.

“Given the disproportionate access to paid sick leave based on race, ethnicity and income status, coupled with its relationship to health and mental health, paid sick leave must be viewed as a health disparity as well as a social justice issue,” said LeaAnne DeRigne, Ph.D., co-author of the study and an associate professor in the Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work within FAU’s College for Design and Social Inquiry. “Even modest increases in psychological distress are noteworthy for both researchers and policy makers since we know that even small increases in stress can impact health.”

The study included 17,897 respondents from the National Health Interview Survey(NHIS), administered by the U.S. government since 1957 to examine a nationally representative sample of U.S. households about health and sociodemographic variables.

“For many Americans, daily life itself can be a source of stress as they struggle to manage numerous responsibilities including health related issues,” said Patricia Stoddard-Dare, Ph.D., lead author of the study and associate professor of social work at Cleveland State University. “Making matters worse, for those who lack paid sick leave, a day away from work can mean lost wages or even fear of losing one’s job. These stressors combined with other sources of stress have the potential to interfere with workplace performance and impact overall mental health.”

The researchers used the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K6), considered the gold standard for assessing psychological distress in population-based samples in the U.S. and internationally. With a theoretical range of 0 to 24, higher scores on the K6 represent increased psychological distress and scores above 13 are correlated with having a mental disorder of some type.

Results from the study showed that those with paid sick leave had a lower mean distress score compared to those without paid sick leave, who had significantly higher K6 scores, indicating a higher level of psychological distress. Only 1.4 percent of those with paid sick leave had a K6 score above 12 compared to 3.1 percent of the respondents without paid sick leave.

The most significant control variables indicated an increase in the expected psychological distress score among those who were younger, female, in fair or poor personal health, had at least one chronic health condition, were current smokers or did not average the recommended range of seven to nine hours of sleep per day.

Approximately 40 percent of respondents in the NHIS sample did not have paid sick leave; approximately half of the respondents were female; more than half were married or cohabitating; three-quarters indicated that their highest level of education included at least some college; and 62 percent were non-Hispanic white. The mean age was 41.2 years. Most of the respondents (79.1 percent) worked full-time and 82.7 percent had health insurance coverage. Respondents were in families with a mean size of 2.6 persons and 39.3 percent reported having children in the family. Approximately 32 percent had an annual family income of $35,000 to $50,000, and more than one quarter were below the poverty threshold.

DeRigne and Stoddard-Dare caution that even though there is concern about the potential burden on employers if paid sick leave laws are passed, it is important to be mindful of the overall situation regarding productivity loss and workplace costs associated with mental health symptoms and psychological concerns among U.S. workers. Furthermore, the personal health care consequences of delaying or forgoing needed medical care can lead to more complicated and expensive health conditions. U.S. workers with paid sick leave are more likely to take time off work and self-quarantine when necessary, without the worries of losing their job or income while also not spreading illness to others.

“Results from our research will help employers as they think about strategies to reduce psychological stress in their employees such as implementing or expanding access to paid sick days,” said Stoddard-Dare. “Clinicians also can use these findings to help their patients and clients as can legislators who are actively evaluating the value of mandating paid sick leave.”

How Massage Can Relieve Workplace Pain And Stress

Massages are not only limited to luxury spas and health clubs. You have access to massage therapy in clinics, hospitals, and even airports. Some business centers like Google offer massages to their employees at work, so they remain energetic and fresh to perform efficiently and add to the progress of the company. Massage can do much more than relieving pains and soothe sore muscles. It is only a matter of understanding that massage therapy is just like a moment of relaxation and enhance the overall physical and emotional well-being. There are different types of massage therapies; such as:

  • Shiatsu massage therapy
  • Trigger point massage therapy
  • Swedish massage therapy
  • Deep massage therapy
  • Sports massage therapy

All of these therapies are based on different theories and are done using different techniques. But, all of them are effective and have long lasting effects.

When you are at work and have to sit in a cramped office chair with a bright computer screen at the front, you get tired and stressed. Employees with more workload have more chances to get stressed and have adverse effects on their health, but people with lesser work are prone to stress as much as the others. Remaining restricted to your work area makes you vulnerable to back, neck and shoulder pain. However, massage therapy can help you relieve all the pressure, aches, pain and stress. There are a lot of researches going on to examine the impact of massage therapy as an intervention for health care. Following are a few issues that are faced by people while they are at work; we will tell you how massage can be helpful in treating them.

Carpel tunnel syndrome

When you are sitting in one posture for long hours and continuously typing on keyboard along with operating the mouse, you are most likely to suffer from carpel tunnel syndrome. It is a musculoskeletal injury where your body’s movements are affected due to bad posture or excessive movement of one part of the body. More than a million American employees have to call in sick at work due to work-related injuries and stress. People are advised to have weekly massage therapy to deal with inflammatory injuries and discomfort.

Reduce anxiety

Swedish massage therapy is well known to be the most effective in dealing with anxiety and depression. Shorter deadlines and urgent presentations increase anxiety leading to depression in employees. According to medical science, when an individual is under stress, he is unable to perform the way he could have performed otherwise. Moreover, it is diagnosed that male workers suffer from higher intensities of depression as compared to female workers.

Blood pressure

Blood pressure was only common in the age group of 45 and above, but with the increased work and social pressures, people of younger age groups are also suffering from high blood pressure. Trigger point massage and chair massage, both are helpful in dealing with blood pressure problems. Some workplaces have massage chairs for their employees, and each employee is advised to have a 15-minute massage break each day so they can take care of their blood pressure.

Massages decrease the heart rate along with systolic and diastolic blood pressure. When the blood pressure is within a normal range, there are lesser chances of getting prone to heart issues and nervous breakdown. Individuals that opt for weekly massage sessions are reported to have a better mental state in comparison to the people who do not go for regular massages.

Massages are beneficial for everyone; irrespective of age and gender. However, there are a few things you must tell your massage therapist so he can guide you likewise and opt for an appropriate technique. Some of the major points you must discuss with your therapist are:

  • If you have or had any fractures
  • If you are on blood thinners
  • In case you have any bleeding disorders
  • If you have any deep vein thrombosis
  • In case there are any healing wounds
  • If you are a patient of thrombocytopenia
  • If you are suffering from osteoporosis

Just like you don’t hide anything from your medical health practitioner, you do not have to hide anything from your massage therapist as well.

Massage therapies are known to have a positive impact on the physical, mental and emotional state of an individual. Massages improve the blood circulation and relieve the stress that your body takes by being in the same posture for long hours at work. An employer’s life is very complicated; he has to be efficient at work and make time for his family and friends as well. Having a massage once in a while can improve his health condition and keep him fresh and energetic to meet the social and personal requirements.

How Parents Can Monitor and Manage a Child’s Stress Level

Adults are all too familiar with the concept of stress—we live with it almost every day to some extent. Not so surprisingly, American children are sadly experiencing chronic stress as well. In fact, data indicates that pharmaceutical use for children with emotional disorders has risen to an alarming rate, as has the suicide rate for adolescents.

We know from our own personal experiences that mounting stress has an enormous ripple effect on our day-to-day lives. Sleeping patterns, eating habits, productivity, social/emotional well-being—all of these factors are very much correlated to stress levels. If we adults sometimes find ourselves in the weeds when it comes to stress, how can we expect children to react to an increase in stress?

The solution to stress in children should not involve managing stressors once they have reached their peak, but rather helping children avoid getting to that point of eruption. Here are a few tips to help parents take a proactive approach to stress:

1. Pack the schedule with pockets of “downtime,” as opposed to more activities. Of course children yearn to participate, whether it be dance class, soccer practice, after-school camp, science club, etc. This enthusiasm should not be discouraged, but it is a parent’s job to manage a realistic schedule and to keep it manageable. Yes, things will pop up—parties or sleepovers or field trips will emerge from the woodwork. However, downtime is essential for children to maintain their mental health. Often times, a child or adolescent’s stress levels mount when they feel incapable of maintaining the balancing act. To avoid this, allow time in the family’s daily schedule to do absolutely nothing. These pockets of time can be used for anything—a school project, extra violin practice, reading, or simply relaxing. The key here is that the time is used to keep that overbooked sense of urgency at bay.

2. Explicitly discuss stress and where it comes from. The more your teen recognizes where and when his or her stress emerges, the better equipped he or she will be able to anticipate and circumvent the stressor. For instance, if procrastination or last-minute rushing is the catalyst, teach time management strategies and how to plan ahead.

3. Similarly, if you know your child’s stressors, help him or her to prepare for upcoming events that might cause anxiety or stress. If you know that your child despises the dentist, give him or her a heads-up about an upcoming appointment. Explain that nervous feelings are valid, but that the pros of going to the dentist far exceed the temporary uneasiness.

4. Think of outlets for stress. In the same way that we hit the gym to expel the stress of the day, allow your child to explore options to clear his or her mind and body of any angst. If a walk around the block the morning before an important recital keeps the jitters at bay, make that a routine. Or, bring a stress ball to the dreaded dentist appointment. When said event is over, celebrate your child’s bravery, tenacity, and composure.

Tending the Caregivers

Mothers who work as healthcare professionals – physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners – can significantly reduce their stress levels and burnout by participating in close supportive groups at work, according to a new study by researchers at Arizona State University and the Mayo Clinic. The shared experiences in these support groups provide a wealth of nurturance for the women.

The study, “Fostering resilience among mothers under stress: ‘Authentic Connections Groups’ for medical professionals,” is published in the current issue of Women’s Health Issues.

Groups in the intervention provided “comfort, solace and advice as needed, building what some called a ‘secret sisterhood’ of shared experiences with genuineness and reciprocity in the relationship,” said Suniya Luthar, a Foundation professor of psychology at ASU and the lead author of the study. “These factors help build resilience for professional mothers who are under great daily stress, with substantial dual demands at work and at home.”

Senior co-author and collaborator on the project was Dr. Cynthia Stonnington, associate professor and chair of psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Arizona. Other authors of the paper are Alexandria Curlee, an ASU graduate student; Susannah Tye, Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at the Mayo Clinic, Minnesota; and Judith Engelman, a psychiatrist in private practice.

“Women medical professionals who are mothers often face the dual role of being the primary caregiver both for their patients and their children,” said Stonnington. “This puts them at higher risk for burnout than their male counterparts. Our study investigated how this supportive program might help mitigate stresses and promote their day-to-day health and well-being.”

The Authentic Connections Groups (ACG) intervention involved weekly sessions at work over a three-month period. The researchers randomly assigned 40 women at Mayo to one of two groups: either the 12 weekly one-hour sessions of the ACG’s or 12 weekly hours of protected time to be used as desired. The study was supported by a Seed fund from Arizona State University to Luthar, and the Mayo Clinic contributed release time to participate.

The study had several positive results.

It showed that those who participated in the ACGs had significantly greater reductions in depression and other global symptoms of stress than those given free time (the control group). Secondly, relative gains were still more pronounced three months after the program ended. Follow-up assessments showed significant between-group differences not only on depression and stress, but also on almost all other central variables, including parenting stress, self-compassion, feeling loved and physical affection. Participants in the ACGs also showed more reductions than control moms in cortisol levels (a biochemical indicator of stress) at both post intervention and three months follow up.

In explaining why this program worked, Luthar said that, in essence, the ACGs actively and continually fostered the development of close, mutually supportive relationships, and the resulting shared experiences and bonding helped to lower participants’ stress levels.

“Resilience research clearly shows the critical protective power of reliable close relationships,” Luthar said. “In this program, our focus was on developing and strengthening what we called ‘go-to’ committees for each woman. As topics were shared in the weekly group sessions over time, the moms each also shared them with their respective go-to’s. By the end of three months, each woman had developed great closeness not only with other moms in their work setting but also with at least two or three other women in their personal lives.”

A critical factor in enabling this effort was the institutional commitment to wellness. Stonnington reported that the ACG program was implemented as part of an initiative begun in 2015 at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona to address burnout and turnover among female physicians.

“Another major reason for the success of this program is that the groups were implemented in the women’s everyday settings, during their regular work-days,” said Luthar. “That the Mayo administration gave them the one hour per week free time to participate was a critical consideration, given how very packed these women’s schedules can be.”

The U.S. Surgeon General recently stated that efforts to promote the well being of medical professionals must become a major priority among health care organizations. This study demonstrates that facilitated colleague support groups can provide a viable, low-cost preventive way to mitigate burnout among women medical professionals who are also mothers.

More broadly, the authors note that the ACG program has the potential to be widely used in workplace wellness programs, given the high cost of worker stress and depression in contemporary America. Since completion of the Mayo project, Luthar and colleagues have successfully completed groups with military mothers, and are now offering it to women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines, with both new projects implemented at ASU.

“It is our hope that over time, the ACG program will come to benefit women, mothers, and other adults in salient caregiving roles, as they routinely give so much of themselves to others while experiencing high everyday stress,” Luthar said. “It just makes common sense. Those who serve as first-responders, and who offer so much tending for many others, must themselves be tended – with this happening on a reliable and ongoing basis.”

What Can We Do About Stress and Associated Health Risks?

By: Oliver Beer and Sheena Asthana

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In 2009, CNN Money rated social work as the number one most stressful job that also pays badly. Today, there is still a growing concern about the levels of stress among social workers which can also induce both short and long term health problems. Individuals facing stressful work conditions, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and burnout may turn to alcohol, drugs, or comfort eating as a coping mechanism to deal with daily stressors. Long term stress is also known to produce metabolic effects related to cholesterol levels, central obesity and increased risks for coronary heart disease as well as other effects include anxiety, depression, and poorer immune function.

As part of our recent research, we surveyed 427 social workers across 88 local authorities, from the private and the third sector in England. Participants were asked whether they have used alcohol, illegal drugs or emotional eating to cope with work-related stress over the past 12 months and whether they displayed characteristics (difficulties in sleeping, emotional exhaustion, burnout) of chronic stress.

The results were disturbing. 88% of respondents said they felt stressed by their job as a social worker; 75% reported that they were concerned about burnout; 63% had difficulties sleeping and 56% said that they were emotionally exhausted. A further 35% said they already felt unable to cope at work.

Given that they have a duty to care for their employees, what can social work organizations and managers do to tackle stress among social workers? This research provides a number of pointers.

  • Demonstrate that your organization values and supports the mental health of its employees by facilitating the type of culture where it is OK for employees to speak up. People need to know that they will be supported and not stigmatized or worse if they are struggling.
  • Introduce mechanisms for monitoring levels of stress. Plenty of tools are available, including the kinds of items we used in this research. Care needs to be taken in how you use monitoring tools and interpret their results. Staff should not feel that they are being further scrutinized or mistrusted.
  • Be aware of the links between stress and health risks. 57% of our respondents had used emotional eating as a mechanism to cope with work-related stress. Despite known health risks, which include diabetes, high blood pressure, and raised cholesterol, few employers are sensitive to the fact that emotional eating can signal wider difficulties. Similarly, 35% of respondents reported using alcohol to cope with work-related stress, with men reporting higher levels (45%) compared to women (33%). Due to concerns about stigma and losing their jobs, social workers are very likely to want to conceal risky behaviors – for example, only 6% of our study participants said they had used drugs in the past 12 months to cope with work-related stress, a result that may have been affected by social desirability bias. Against this background, it may not be helpful to directly ask for information of this kind. Providing awareness-raising training and opportunities for confidential counselling may be more fruitful.
  • Provide training to help managers identify the causes and symptoms of stress among social workers and to effectively support their staff. We found that feeling valued and agreeing that there was effective leadership was significantly associated with positive job satisfaction and with key symptoms of stress, such as difficulty in sleeping.
  • Provide social workers with the time and resources they need to do their jobs effectively. In our study, caseload size played a clear role in the risk of stress and this is not helped by the fact that the majority of respondents felt that their ability to work with clients was hampered by the bureaucratic demands of the job. 40% of respondents felt they did not have enough social workers in their team and just 12% felt they have enough time to complete their work.

These research findings are suggestive of a social work system that doesn’t currently work for social workers. Overall, the evidence implies that it is not individual characteristics, nor social work departments, that play a role in the health and well-being of practitioners. It is in fact the system itself that social workers practice in that is a threat to their health, such as caseload size, diminished funding, and quality of management.

Most people are aware of the risks funding poses to clients such as vulnerable older people, at risk children, and indeed other sectors such as the British National Health Service and police force. Less attention has been paid to the human cost of service cuts, and managers themselves are struggling with a mismatch between service demands and resources.

Legislatures and policymakers need to recognise that the social work sector is in crisis. Social workers should be treated as an invaluable resource to society and not as cannon fodder for austerity. Clearly more needs to be done by employers to address the issues identified in this study. Perhaps brave decisions need to be made about what becomes an essential service and what is a Bureaucratic demand going too far.

Wage Stagnation and the Undervalue of Social Workers

While many social workers work primarily at the micro level and provide treatment to individuals, children, and families in some form or another, we must not forget our macro and societal level values for advocacy and social change. The societal and structural inequities of our communities are often neglected due to the high volume of individual, family, and community needs balanced against the low wages for their carers and not enough resources to meet the demand.

social-workerWith this in mind, I have been progressively evolving toward a strong calling to impact change in our profession to improve outcomes for social workers. The impact of the profession and the work of social workers often go unnoticed when identifying the resources to help increase outcomes for vulnerable populations. More specific, I believe as a profession we are not receiving our due recognition and benefit for the career commitments we make to those we serve.

During many recent well publicized contract negotiations in Ontario among many social work professional sectors, it became apparent that we are an undervalued and misunderstood profession in terms of the phenomenal cost that many of our colleagues experience from being professional helpers.

In particular, there has been well researched and documented evidence supporting the personal, professional, and familial toll social workers experience from the sustained levels of stress. Social workers often carry and live with high rates of trauma and secondary trauma in which many experience on a daily basis.

The most blatant inequity our profession experience is in contrast to our first responder partners and colleagues, namely Police, Fire, and Ambulance personnel. There is seemingly little backlash at the societal level with the rate of pay that Police are deservingly provided. However, the rate of pay difference is consistently $20-$40,000 per year compared to our rates of pay.

Even more substantial is the retirement benefits that come with being a Police officer, for example. Due to their duty and risk, they have an earlier retirement age granted to them as a benefit of protecting the public and placing their lives at risk in their jobs. However, many public sector social workers jobs have the same hazardous designation as police officers without any of the support, resources, or compensation.

With this in mind, it is very apparent both anecdotally and empirically, the extreme high rates of psychological, emotional risks and injury social workers encounter from our duties. Using child protection social workers as a cohort, there have been many empirical studies completed on this group which demonstrate high rates of trauma and secondary trauma and it is now well know that adverse events in one’s work carries a very high cost to one’s health as a whole.

Anecdotally, we know that a social worker who has 10 years of experience is likely to be a “lifer” in that they will continue in a social work career until retirement. My concern for us a profession is that 5 or 10 extra years of working carries a potentially huge toll on a person’s quality of life in later years. This is easy to prove empirically with the wealth of research in the areas of chronic stress and trauma.

Obviously, I am very passionate about the life long health hazards of our work, and I would like to see our profession really take the time to consider all that we know about the risks of our work and more generally how to compensate people for the cost of caring.

https://youtu.be/_rBocCyqsb0

An Easy-to-Use Guide to Incidental Mindfulness: A Mini Rest for the Busy Brain

busymind
Artwork created by Author Felicity Mary Cross

Do you constantly live in the future, or in the past? Are you constantly planning ahead or thinking over and over about past events?  Do you experience a million racing thoughts, like what groceries to buy, did you put the washing on, have you paid bills, when to pick up the kids and who’s going to what sports and when?

We live in an era of business. We are constantly on the move, juggling multiple jobs, roles and responsibilities. No previous generation has been as time poor, or had as many competing concerns as we have, it is a chaotic affair just to juggle work and children and life. And all those constant and intrusive thoughts make for busy heads. Being busy by definition means we have little time to counteract this with relaxation or rest, let alone any great mental health relaxation training techniques. Who has the time for meditation, not I and I bet not you!

Mindfulness is a buzz word we hear a lot these days, but the positive effects of Mindfulness training are not disputed because it works. Mindfulness is literally a practice that involves pulling our thoughts back from that chaotic level of everyday thought, and thinking purely in the moment.

Focusing on what’s being experienced right now. In Mindfulness practice, we are promoting a certain quieting of the busy mind. Unlike meditation where you are required to empty your mind of thoughts which can be quite difficult without extensive practice, mindfulness practice allows you to still let your mind work and let thoughts occur. The point is to make these thoughts moment specific and simple.

The theory is that by doing this simple exercise you can reduce stress and increase your well-being. But again who has time to follow a mindfulness regime?

The answer is all of us. We don’t have to make mindfulness a long drawn out affair; we can practice a simplified form called Incidental Mindfulness. Incidental Mindfulness is literally taking a small moment in your day to practice Mindfulness; this moment can literally be 30 seconds to a few minutes, for example:

  • When you are washing up, try to stop your busy thoughts and really focus on being in the moment, making your thoughts specific to that very moment: how does the warm water feel on your hands, how the soap feels against your skin, slippery against the dishes. Try to quiet your thoughts by just focusing on what you are feeling and being fully present and planted in that moment.
  • Or, sit wherever you happen to be and focus on your surroundings. Again try to quiet your mind and let go of the chaotic everyday thoughts and think about how your body feels sitting in the chair, be aware of your surroundings, smells, sounds, and sights, let the thoughts flow in and out of your mind i.e. I hear a bird chirping, a car driving by, my legs are relaxed or sore. Noticing immediate feelings and thoughts, being fully present in that moment and in that place.
  • When you are eating or drinking, for example having a cup of tea. Take a moment to stop and think about how the cup feels warm in your hands, how the tea tastes, the sensation of the warm tea down your throat, if you can smell your tea. Noticing all the physical sensations of drinking your tea, and how that makes you feel, again being fully present and pulling your thoughts right back to the immediate sensations and thoughts.
  • When you are in the shower focusing on washing your body, try using your non-dominate hand (if you are right handed or try using your left hand). Fully noticing your motions/actions and how that feels, if it is awkward or uncomfortable; how your skin feels and the sensation of the wash cloth on your skin, the sound of the running water. Looking intently at your hands, your legs, noticing all your limbs, how they look and how they feeling. Again fully noticing all your physical sensations, using your senses, touch, smell, sight and hearing.

As you can see anyone can practice Incidental Mindfulness, at any time, in any place! Find an activity that works for you, and one that is easy and non-disruptive to your busy life. This practice is meant to reduce stress, not add stress, so please remember the one and only rule: keep it simple. We wish you improved health and well-being through helpful, easy-to-use Incidental Mindfulness to begin de-cluttering your busy brains.

Sports and Stress: Identifying Athletes’ Needs Off the Field

GBR: FA Respect Pr Shoot - Ray Winstone 23/02/2009

Parents are getting their children involved in playing sports more than ever before. Increasingly, young people are playing organized sports not only in school but through park districts and sport camps. Parents love the many life lessons that can be taught through sport‘s participation such as learning team work, responsibility, and being physically active.

However, 51% of youth athletes quit organized sport by the age of 15 years of age. Researchers are finding that some sports environments are linked to mental health problems for athletes, and these problems are pushing young people out of sports or it is making playing sports a less enjoyable experience.

When issues present themselves off the playing field, parents may want to ask, “Is it time to get help outside the lines or do we need professional help for our athlete?” Coming to this realization can be very scary for parents. The worry of not knowing what to do or how to help your child can be an uncomfortable place for parents to be in.

We get treated for colds, flu, sprained knees and ankles why not take the same approach when needing treatment for anxiety, depression, and adjustment issues, etc. All of these ailments must be treated by professionals. Parents should not allow fear or stigma to hinder their willingness to get help for a love one who is hurting.

The first risk factor I will focus on as part of a five part series is athletic stress.

Three Types of Stress:

• Traumatic stress is when a major event occurs. An unexpected death or a major accident. In sports it could mean a loss of position on the team or a major injury interrupting playing.

• Stress that is brought on by a sudden negative change. A divorce, job loss or a move. In sports it could be a change of position, losing a starting position or getting a starting position.

• Routine Stress or Sports Stress is related to the pressure of daily responsibilities. Some stressors could be the balancing act of school and sport, high intense practices, game day situations, parents over involvement or coaches win at any cost attitude.

Athletic Stress Management Tips:

• Seek a qualified mental health professional that understands athlete related issues.
• Get treatment for physical health problems.
• Recognize signs of stress in the body, such as changes in sleeping, low energy, mood changes, easily irritated or angry, behavior problems in school and use or increased use of alcohol and other substances.
• Have some family time when you do not talk about sports. Being an athlete can encompass a lot of a young person’s time. Make an effort to have other conversations other than sports.
• Focus on positives in the game not mistakes.
• When mistakes happen during a game parents should to be supportive not critical.
• Create a supportive environment on and off the field.
• Parents must manage their own behavior and attitude before, during and after the game.
• Remember to laugh and have fun.
• Stay encouraging and positive.

With all stress there are both physical and mental health risks; symptoms to look for are headaches, lack of sleep, depressed mood, anger and irritability. Continued exposure to stressors can lead to other health problems such as depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Often times, we overlook the effects sports can have on athletes of all ages, but parents must ensure sure they are caring for both the physical and mental needs of their children who play sports.

Children Who Experience Early Childhood Trauma Do Not ‘Just Get Over It’

Humans are relatively adaptable beings which is why we are thriving and not dying out like other species. Horrendous disasters such as the Philippines typhoon, the Boxing Day Tsunami, the nuclear disaster in Japan, the major wars of our time, and horrific famines see great suffering, but these events also inspire survival through adaptation. It turns out we possess a strong survival mechanism in our brains directly linked to our bodies, fight, flight, freeze, flop and friend (fffff).

In fact, the survival part of our brain, which is primitive yet effective, is the first to develop in utero starting at around 7 weeks. It regulates our breathing, digestive system, heart rate and temperature, along with the ‘fffff’ system which operates to preserve our life.

If we have to dodge a falling object, jump out of the path of a speeding car, keep very still to avoid being seen, run for the hills from a predator, or get someone potentially threatening ‘onside’ we need this to happen fast. If a baby is scared, cold, hungry, lonely, or in any way overwhelmed, this triggers their survival system and they cry to bring an adult to them to help them survive.

If a baby is repeatedly scared and emotionally overwhelmed and they do not get their survival brain soothed, so they can cope, they begin to develop a brain and bodily system which is on hyper alert and the World seems to be a scary place. Sadly, this is not something they can ‘just grow out of’. Far from it as what neuroscience is showing us from all the recent findings. An early experience has a profound effect on the way in which a child’s brain forms and operates as the survival brain is on overdrive and senses threats everywhere so works too hard, too often, for too long.

Babies and young children systems are flooded with potent stress hormones which help in the event of needing the 5 fffff’s, but they are not good to have at high levels for too long. Imagine the feeling when you truly believe you have lost your wallet with all your cards and money in it. You feel a bit faint, your brain is whirring, your heart is racing, your breathing is shallow, and you may get the urge to empty your bowels or bladder. Hopefully, this may only last for the usual 45 minute cycle for those who are not traumatised.

Then, stress hormone levels drop and you can think more clearly and resume your day fairly unscathed. What if you are 4, 9 or 15 years old? How will you cope if your repetitive early childhood trauma of living with domestic violence, unavailable or rough carers, chaos and unpredictability has left you traumatised?

As I referred to at the start, humans are amazingly adaptable in order to survive, although not necessarily thrive. So a child’s system adapts to get whatever basic needs met it can and to live to the next moment, think the soldier in a war zone kind of survival. In an abusive environment, this will make sense but it is not something a child can just stop doing as their survival brain is in charge and has to do what it has learnt to keep them alive.

The kinds of survival behaviours they commonly develop are:

Regression

Presenting as helpless may have made carers frustrated, even angry and rough with them but will mean they sometimes had to touch a child who presented as unable to say get dressed or wipe their bottom or feed themselves – this can look like immaturity and ‘babyish’ behaviour in an 8 year old but it has previously served a purpose

Being held and touched kindly is a basic human need and tragically children in Romanian orphanages who were not, died. Almost ‘pathetically’ children often devise ways which can seem strange, given their age and previous capabilities, to get some physical contact, even if it’s unpleasant

Children often learn to survive by being ‘like a baby’ as they have either learnt how babies get more kindness and attention or have some in-built ‘memory’ of this. However, ‘acting like a baby’ can be negatively viewed as regression, yet it is often an expression of trust in carers as they feel safe enough post abuse to seek out kindness from them. These behaviours need to be handled gently until the child is ready to move on. Imagine you had never experienced physical closeness and gentle touch, but you were driven to seek it out which requires real courage.

Dramatic reactions

When a child is in the ‘I’ve lost my keys’ panic state most of the day, it’s like a pan boiling on the stove and the smallest extra heat causes it to boil over

The survival brain leaps into action at the slightest thing, an accidental shove from another child, a small scratch on the arm, a lost pencil, a ‘look’ from another child and the 5 fffff’s are triggered, for most children that’s flight but if cornered and unable to escape, or previously overused, it will be a fight.

Children may cry more readily and for much longer and louder as they do not have the ability to self soothe or to be soothed easily as their brain has not been exposed to this and is not wired that way so telling them to ‘calm down’ is of no use

They are feeling things as deeply as they seem to be at this point and are not just ‘attention seeking’

Disassociation

Disassociation or ‘zoning out’ is another way the brain and body cope with high levels of potentially toxic stress hormones for overly long periods. It can also be a learnt survival strategy, submit, switch off and wait for the frightening, painful, incomprehensible act to be over. This ability to switch off can look like defiance or non-compliance as a child may just stare ahead and not respond to requests from adults

Children cannot continuously cope with the muscle tension, nausea, thudding heart, racing thoughts so finding something to fixate on to soothe them can become a great coping strategy and again will look as if they are being non-compliant whereas they are escaping from their trauma the only way they know how.

How long until they do ‘get over it?’

It’s a fair question as to why it’s so hard for traumatised children to trust caring adults. If they were removed from the abuse and trauma as a baby or even directly after birth, surely they should not be having these dramatic reactions?

Going back to our survival part of our brain, this is not designed to be the dominant part of anyone’s brain as we also have an emotional memories part and a thinking, reasoning, socially able cognitive part which should mostly be ‘in charge’. All three areas are interlinked and share info back and forth all the time but mostly we need to think before we act and then we do better. However, if your start in life has made your survival brain ‘hyper alert’ then to manage this is like repeatedly trying to get a squirrel into a matchbox!

Children need us to be calm, kind, to use rhythm, patience and to try to step into their world and emotional state and show empathy. As practitioners, it can be helpful to research ways of supporting traumatised children, pushing for appropriate training and most importantly being very aware of the extra strain that comes with working with and caring for traumatised children. However, with the right long term acceptance, kindness and support children can get a better chance at eventually being able to manage their reactive survival brain which has, after all, got them this far. 

Standardized Testing – Words a Therapist Shouldn’t Hear

Mental health professionals learn to expect and recognize additions to the common words and phrases we hear. ‘Facebook Feud’ and ‘emotional affair’ have been added to the lexicon of couples and family therapy. When working with teens ‘cyber bullying’ and ‘sexting’ are sad additions to the counseling vocabulary. In substance abuse treatment we strive to keep up with the latest slang for the various drugs and their methods of use, from ‘huffing’ to ‘spice’ and ‘Special K’. Listening for repeated words and phrases tells us much about local and societal trends and where we need to focus our clinical attention.

standardized testingI am stunned and saddened, therefore, by how often my colleagues and I are hearing ‘Standardized Testing’ coming from the mouths of anxious children. Whether the anxiety initiates within the student or is picked up vicariously from school personnel doesn’t matter – the distress makes a comfortable home within the brains and bellies of children and stays there.

Students tell me stories of how standardized testing is discussed on the first day of school, and that ‘intervention’ periods are hijacked for endless practice tests. Children hear their favorite teachers talking in the hallway – or even at the front of the class – about how their jobs are on the line and it is understood – covertly or overtly – that the kids must save the adults.

Rumors get started, and are not corrected, that 50% of a child’s grade is based on testing results and that ever-dreaded summer school could be in the child’s future if they don’t score well. Kids hear the urgent message on the home answering machine telling parents to insure their child gets plenty of sleep and a well-balanced breakfast before testing days – as if sleep and good nutrition are not important on learning days – and as if we aren’t fully aware that these messages paradoxically result in difficulty eating and sleeping. Children know that the stakes are high, and they feel the burden of the American educational system on their shoulders.

Whether standardized testing improves education, or whether it is an adequate assessment of teacher effectiveness or what a child actually knows, are arguments I will leave to others. My concern is that I should not be hearing about the ‘OAAs’ within the walls of my Ohio counseling office. I and countless colleagues beseech educational policy-makers to find other ways to accomplish whatever it is that the high number of standardized tests are meant to accomplish. Children already have enough reasons for stress, anxiety and depression.

5 Tips For Overcoming Anxiety

I received a question on how to deal with anxiety in the form of a comment on an Instagram photo that I posted recently, and the question came from a graduate student studying to be a counselor. Many of us who seek to help, do so because we too have many things to overcome.

images (43)In response, I compiled a list of practical things that help with overcoming anxiety. Some of this comes from my own personal experiences, some comes from experiences in working with people who struggle with extreme anxiety and some comes from interviewing my biological mother, who has also struggled with anxiety of her own. She now helps people improve their wellness as a quit smoking coach. The following information is not medical advice, but is my opinion and shared opinions of others who I have interacted with.

No matter how severe your anxiety is, I believe that continuing to seek knowledge is the most important thing in reaching a higher level of mental wellness. Props to you for being here and in search of your own progress! With hope, dedication and focus, overcoming anxiety is possible.

  1. Desensitizing

    When dealing with anxiety related to a specific social situation, professional setting, or conversation, I personally use desensitization techniques. This means that I psych myself up in preparation for the situation and I force myself to be uncomfortable.  This generally opens the door for a negative experience, but it also creates the opportunity for me to learn and gain first hand experience as to how bad a situation really is. It also alleviates the fear of the unknown, which is often the culprit behind hatred and avoidance.  However, desensitization is definitely not the best option for everyone due to the extreme toughness that it takes to force yourself to be uncomfortable.

  2. Create a Chronically Balanced Life

    For me, anxiety often stems from a lack of balance. An imbalanced diet, physical activity, sense of safety or even imbalanced to-to lists are major precipitating factors when it comes to feeling anxious. If you are chronically anxious, what could be a better way to fight anxiety than to establish chronic balance and stability? If anxiety stems from having an imbalance, identifying and correcting that imbalance can and will diminish the frequency and severity of anxiety.  This method is effective mostly because it is not a way to “treat” or “get rid of” the anxiety, but instead it prevents it from getting bad to begin with.

  3. Take Care of Your Body

    When we get busy with school, work, relationships, and life it is very easy to let this slip. We focus on helping others or fulfilling duties that when we have time to ourselves we cope by doing mind-numbing things such as watching TV and sitting on the computer doing nothing for hours. Focus on creating a chronic pattern of exercise

  4. Eat Fresh

    This can be done with simple changes such as forcing yourself to plan meals ahead of time and using fresh produce.Keeping simple snacks like peanuts, almonds, and bananas wards off the hunger between meals. Eating small amounts every 2-4 hours during the day improves metabolism.  Buying local adds to the experience. Salads with grilled chicken, fresh fruit, beans, etc. are great. Peanut butter is awesome. If you are overwhelmed with the idea of thinking about what to eat, try to picking a few of these and sticking to them, alternating a few times each week or every other week. consistency is key. Cutting soda, excessive coffee, and processed foods will greatly improve your health and energy level. In turn, you are more focused and less likely to be stressed out.

  5. Treat Yourself Like a Queen/King

    Keeping a nice environment with essential oils like Lavender and also drinking chamomile tea helps. Cutting out people who disturb a calm environment is something you deserve. Take time to bathe with the lights dimmed and scents in the air. Using oils is less toxic than candles. You probably spend time focusing on other things so spend time focusing on yourself.  Taking the time to set a plan for how you will respond to stressful situations that cause you anxiety is a great way to ward off attacks. Deep breathing, yoga, etc are helpful.

There is no one thing, it is a lifestyle that facilitates being conscious and aware at all times. You may also want to check out my blog about overcoming a fear of abandonment.

How Utilizing Green Space Helps Your Mental Health

Being “green” has become the newest fad, which few could argue is a bad thing.  The part that many aren’t aware of, even the greenest environmentalists, is that the benefits of the green movement aren’t only about clean air, water and soil. Availability of and access to plentiful green space is also strongly linked to increased mental health.  As prevention and wellness programming becomes more prominent in the provision of mental health services, it’s important to conserve and increase the availability of and access to green space, as well as incorporate the use of it into mental health programming.

greenspaceTime spent in nature, whether it’s camping in a forest, hiking in the mountains, or sitting in an urban park makes people feel happy, peaceful, rejuvenated, connected to something bigger than oneself. Green space is directly linked to decreased stress, decreased aggression, improved concentration, spiritual connectedness, and enhanced physical health. The reasons for this can be at least partially explained by the Attention Restoration Theory (ART),  which asserts that directed attention plays an important role in information processing.

Fatigue leads to negative consequences such as stress which is its resulting effects. Urban environments require significant directed attention due to larger amounts of stimulus, whereas natural settings have been found to be highly restorative to this process, reducing directed attention fatigue and stress levels.  There are also many social benefits including reduced crime and road rage, economic stimulation, and increased social networks.  All of these are factors that contribute to our mental well-being.

With more and more people living in urban environments and the availability of green space decreasing worldwide, it is becoming increasingly difficult to access the nature that provides these benefits.  Those who live in more rural areas-where forests, meadows, rivers, and lakes are right outside their front door or minutes away, don’t have to put extra effort into accessing such green space because they’re enveloped by it.  For those living in urban environments, not only do they not have immediate access to such green space, but they must also put in considerably more effort to reach comparable natural areas.

Once these areas are reached, the green space is frequently packed with other urban dwellers seeking similar benefits, disturbing the serenity nature it is supposed to provide.  Of course, there’s green space closer to home in the form of urban parks.  Some of which are fairly amazing as far as parks go, but there can be challenges to overcome in accessing those as well.  There often aren’t enough quality parks so they too can become packed with visitors, not allowing for the same restorative experience one would have in the more rural natural settings.  This is particularly problematic for those living in low-income areas who are already at higher risk for poorer mental and physical health because overall there are fewer parks in such areas, they aren’t as well maintained, and some aren’t entirely safe to be in.

While many of us are at least partially aware of the benefits we receive from nature, less accessible green space is a reality for many. The importance of conserving our natural surroundings and creating more where they don’t exist is out of our realm of consciousness.  It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day routines and neglect the big picture not fully noticing what we’re feeling and how we’re living.  With rapid advances in technology and people not interacting with nature on a regular basis, we often forget our intimate connection to it.  Even when we’re aware that something needs to be done, it’s difficult to know what to do and taking action on any issue can sometimes feel so overwhelming that we don’t do anything.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 1 in 4 people worldwide have or will develop a mental illness in their lifetime and that the global cost of mental illness was 2.5 trillion dollars in 2010 with a projected increase to 6 trillion dollars by 2030. In addition to those with a diagnosable mental illness, the National Health Interview Survey found that 75% of the population experiences some stress every two weeks and approximately half of those individuals experience moderate to high levels of stress during those same two-weeks.  Stress is linked directly to depression and anxiety as well as most, if not all physical diseases; therefore, decreasing stress levels would increase overall well-being.  It would also reduce our society’s economic burden, which we know for the policy makers is often a higher priority than their constituents’ health.

Aside from the cost benefits of utilizing green space as a preventative measure for mental health treatment, there are also numerous other economic benefits that could also positively affect mental well-being.  Increased physical health would further reduce the cost of health care services.  Housing prices are higher in areas with easy access to parks and other outdoor areas as was demonstrated by Boston’s Big Dig project.  Boston significantly increased its green space over a 15 year span and as a result the value of those properties located in close proximity to the green space increased. Green space also attracts economic development which in turn creates employment opportunities.  Proximity to green space is also linked to worker satisfaction which increases productivity.  Reducing the economic burden could also reduce stress as stated previously would improve mental health.

With all these obvious benefits, it’s time for us as individuals and the collective to take action and really become “green.” Who wouldn’t want increased mental and physical health and more money in their pockets? Who wouldn’t want to leave a healthier environment and society all the way around for generations to come? It is our responsibility as citizens to educate ourselves and once we’ve done that, educate those around us.  Talk to family, friends, and neighbors about the benefits of availability of and access to green space.  Communicate with professional organizations and policy makers so that even if they’re educated on the issue they realize that it’s important to others.  Lobby, advocate, storm Capital Hill if necessary.  Most importantly utilize and encourage the utilization of green spaces to physically demonstrate the value of such spaces.  It sounds so simple, yet it’s often the simplest acts that make the biggest difference.

New Year’s Resolution: Achieve Work Life Balance to Prevent Stress

Jeremy Roberts on Work Life Balance
Jeremy Roberts on Work Life Balance

The Mental Health Foundation says when it comes to work-life balance they are “concerned that a sizable group of people are neglecting the factors in their lives that make them resilient to mental health problems”. In a survey conducted by the foundation, 40% of employees reported that they were neglecting other aspects of their life because of work. The survey also found that the more time you spend at work, the more time you spend thinking or worrying about it at home.

In another survey from HSE, it would seem that social workers, teachers, and those in public administration were the most stressed out due to work. Respondents said that ‘work pressure’, ‘lack of support at work’, and ‘bullying at work’ were the biggest causes of stress in their lives.

Both employers and employees have a responsibility to ensure that a positive work-life balance is achieved and maintained.

What Can Employers Do?

It is most definitely in the interest of the employer that their employees achieve a positive work-life balance. Employees who don’t achieve this often end up taking longer periods off due to sickness. Performance can also be affected, with the employee becoming tired, losing focus, and underachieving, despite being star players early on.

The first issue to be tackled is the attitude of the senior management. Earlier this year German Employment Ministry bosses were banned from emailing or calling their staff members outside of working hours to try and help avoid burnout. This is known as ‘minimum intervention’ and is something that needs to come right from the very top of the company. Occasionally we will all have to put a few extra hours in at work but this shouldn’t be a continual expectation. Employers can find themselves in hot water for promoting this kind of culture (whether said or unsaid) and so it is best to set out a work-life balance policy as early as possible.

The primary obligation of the employer is to ensure that an employee’s job is manageable within their contracted hours. Employers should also train their managers to spot the warning signs of a poor work-life balance in employees. These include a loss of focus, a change in personality/behaviour, an increase in absenteeism, and other general stress symptoms (crying, sensitivity, irritability etc.). The gathering of feedback from employees on a regular basis is also very important. This will only work where companies have set out a culture that allows for open and honest discussion.

Another option for employers is to offer their staff members certain benefits, such as child and health care schemes, which will help them to juggle their responsibilities and stay in full health.

What Can Employees Do?

As an employee, your first responsibility is to ensure that you are managing your time effectively. Basic organisation and time management skills can very often mean the difference between getting off on time and having to put in extra hours. There is a saying which tells us to ‘work smart, not hard’. However, if you are still struggling you must speak up about the difficulties you are having with your workload or the amount of pressure you are under. Your employer won’t be able to remedy the problem if they are unaware of it. If you find yourself consistently working long hours then keep a record of it. Note the day, task, and duration so that you have a log that you can show to your manager in any subsequent discussions.

Try and set boundaries with your employer when it comes to working outside of work hours. What are their expectations for answering emails or picking up phone calls? Do not be afraid to challenge these expectations so as to achieve a solution you are both happy with that pre-empts any blowups later down the line.

Also, try and set boundaries with yourself. Make a conscious effort to enjoy your leisure time. Work may feel quite consuming at times but very often a trip to the gym or a meal out with the family can do wonders for boosting your mood. Discipline yourself to go out for a walk at lunchtime. You may feel as though you don’t have time but you will probably find that the quality and speed of your work improves after you have stretched your legs for 20 minutes. You should also watch what you eat as certain foods can really affect our energy levels. Avoid energy drinks and caffeine tablets as they are a (very) short term solution that will only mask the problem.

There can also be activities outside of work that cause you to be busier than necessary. Take stock of all your commitments and activities and ensure that they are either enjoyable or productive. Sometimes we can get bogged down with things out of habit, even if they cease to be useful to us. A lot of us are also quite bad at saying no and so easily over commit ourselves.

If someone asks you to do something reply by asking them for a few minutes to think about it as opposed to jumping straight in with a yes. And remember, what works for one person does not always work for another. Each of us have different lives and balance can look different depending on our individual circumstances. Find out what works for you and stick to it.

Sadness and Dread Around the Holidays

Depression during the Holidays
Depression during the Holidays

There can be joy around the holidays for many, but as Christmas week gets closer some fears can grow about whether that time of the year will stimulate feelings of deeper loneliness and inner difficulties. A number of clients came in a few days before Thanksgiving with the dread of getting through the holidays. This also occurs right before Christmas.

For some people, there may be an apprehension about seeing certain family members. There can also be the fear of having nothing to do at all. Feelings of isolation can be accentuated during this time of year because it looks like everyone else is connecting and receiving care. Someone can also be physically surrounded by others but feel very alone and emotionally disconnected.

First of all, if you are supposed to see family members that you have a difficult history with, try to visualize the situation ahead of time. If you anticipate a lot of drama and negative interactions, evaluate whether the gathering makes sense. Can it possibly be an opportunity to have some private meaningful conversations that will help resolve issues from the past? Will there be any supportive people at the gathering or will you feel alone? Each family situation is different and depending on the ability for people to communicate and be honest, certain family dynamics may be too difficult to handle. Think about whether you can attend for a few hours and make the situation in YOUR control, rather than feel passive there. Remember, this can be a way to also turn around the negative history and get a new start.

Sit and visualize the people in your family with whom you have difficulties. Is it possible to see why they may behave the way they do and if there is a way you have contributed to the situation? Of course, certain situations that involved abuse or neglect may be ones where you were a victim and these are often very difficult to see with a new perspective. Some people are able to forgive through compassion and others find it more healthy to cut off contact and not be pulled back into unhealthy dramas. It really depends on the circumstances as well as the personalities involved. For someone with an inpatient psychiatric history, this time of year can be one to carefully watch. Many people are hospitalized around holiday time for mood issues and there can be lots of triggers and associations from the past.

If you are someone suffering from holiday depression due to having no family or loved one to spend time with, preparing ahead for Christmas is important. Do you have a friend in a similar situation? Would you feel better volunteering at a shelter or church function where you can help with meal preparation? This is a way you can feel good about helping others and be around others who volunteer.

Another way to get through the holidays is to remember that you aren’t at work or school for a few days. Are you near a nature center or area that you love? If you are in a warm climate, grabbing a book and a music player can be a way to have a day that is free of stress. You can also stay home and use the day for some meditation, a time of writing and a way to write out your visualizations for next year.

A home study course with yoga and meditation for depression can be studied and practiced during the Christmas week and open new doors. It can be very peaceful to be away from things and just turn inside. Speaking to a counselor a few times in December can be helpful in dealing with this time of year. Remember also that it’s easy to project on others that they are having a perfect time in their lives and to forget that there are tensions and strains in each person’s life which are tough challenges.

Why Pharmacists Are at the Centre of Future Healthcare

In today’s changing medical world, the pharmacist is becoming more important. In many ways, pharmacists are becoming more like mini-doctors, depending on their education and training. Some pharmacists in the United States and UK can even offer some medical advice and prescribe limited medications. This flexible license is vital to the ever-changing and expanding medical world.

Is becoming a pharmacist a viable career? With today’s medical costs rising, becoming a pharmacist is one way to help people without the high costs of 12 years of medical school. Most pharmacists also make a decent salary, making the investment worth it.

Take a look at how the role of the pharmacist is changing below:

Market Concentration

PharmacistOver the next 10-20 years, general practitioners will fade away. What used to be prescribed by practitioners will now be able to be prescribed by pharmacists. Hospitals and doctors will stick to consolidated offerings and specialized treatments. A few organizations may even buy out smaller doctor’s offices.

Self reliance

The economic downturn has made many people less likely to visit an actual doctor. This means that many people will turn to their pharmacist long before they ever step into a doctor’s office. Patients are looking for prevention and self-care methods, rather than treatments like they wanted before. This will enabled pharmacists to become involved with lifestyle management.

Medication Therapy Management (MTM)

Medication Therapy Management is a new role for pharmacists. This is an important role that will only become more important as the decade progresses. MTM is designed to help patients receive the best treatment options for their unique needs, and the pharmacist can take on that role with ease.

Pharmacogenetics

Could medications be used based on the genetic makeup of a person? In modern medicine, the practice is not widely used, but in the future, it is likely that many medications will be offered based on genetics. Pharmacists will be able to help provide the flexibility necessary to identify which medications belong with each unique set of genetics. Pharmacists have a chance to lead along with scientists to discover the true benefits of genetic-based medications.

Primary Care

One new role for the pharmacist is the role of primary care. With the new ability to dispense certain medicines and provide an advice-based role, many pharmacists are uniquely qualified to act as primary care providers for many low-risk patients of any age.

Pharmacists as Doctors

In the past, the pharmacy was simply for dispensing medication. However, today, the pharmacy is more of a community health center, offering health screenings, immunizations, and more. This hybrid between pharmacy and doctor’s office is something that is only beginning to emerge, but has the chance to become a community-based medical center that provides for all patient needs.

Prevention

Prevention is something that the medical industry hasn’t really focused on before now. However, with patients living longer and healthier lives, prevention becomes more important. Nutraceuticals, are foods and food products that provide medical and health benefits on more of a preventative role. This is something that a pharmacist can provide to patients- perhaps even uniting with fitness centers for a total health approach.

The role and future of pharmacists is changing. Rather than simply being pill pushers, the profession is changing and taking a more active role in the prevention and curing of medical illnesses. The pharmacist of today is able to interact directly with patients, offer medical advice, and help a patient take an active, preventative role in his or her health.

Simple Ways To Improve Restricted Breathing Habits

How can you make a mistake when you breathe? After all, you’ve been able to survive this far! If you’ve observed your body, breath and posture when you are anxious before a meeting or around a stressful relationship you’ll often find a few characteristics. The shoulders may be raised up high and the breathing may be chest breathing with shallow breaths. Breathing can also be irregular when we are under stress. In yoga teachings they say that many people often take fifteen breaths in a minutes. With practice, one can slow it down to four or five breaths per minute. Breathing is natural and doesn’t seem like something we can improve, but having inner tension can result in shallow and jerky breathing patterns. In yoga and meditation, often breaths such as alternate nostril breathing, breath of fire and segmented breaths are used to help the body and mind relax.

BreathingTry to watch what your breathing pattern is when you have tension around work, school, family, money or other concerns. Don’t judge yourself, but just look at it. If you start criticizing yourself, you are adding in additional thoughts that can result in agitation. Just watch where you hold the tension. Is your jaw clenched? Are your shoulders close to your ears? Do you feel that your breath is incomplete?

One way to check is to make a contrast. If you have a view from your house or are near a natural setting, see what the quality of your breathing is when you look at something beautiful. How does the rest of your body feel? One of my clients who is a teenager told me she never gets headaches when she sleeps at her grandmother’s house. We all have settings where we know our breathing is deeper and more relaxed. Music can also have that effect and that is easy to use in the house or when you can’t get to a natural setting.

Put a Light Pillow On Your Belly To Practice

Years ago, I took a yoga class and the instructor had a place a light pillow on our bellies while we were on our backs. This is a good way to practice diaphragmatic breathing. The belly will rise up, towards the sky with the inhale. That is how a baby breathes. This helps the lungs inflate with oxygen. It is called “paradoxical” breathing when the opposite pattern occurs. Many people inhale and the belly goes in, chest tightens and shoulders go up. Try to practice ten minutes a day with a pillow on your belly and watch feel it rise when you inhale.

Jody’s School Stress

Two years ago I had a 15 year old client who went to a private school and she felt inferior due to her family’s low income situation. She only had a “flip” phone and her clothing was not from well-known designer brands. Though on one level, she knew that status symbols were shallow, she also felt it hurt her social life.

I encouraged her to let others see her creative sides as she made excellent animations and was talented in drawing. She was too shy to do this, but did want to have more inner tranquility. I showed her this breathing (pranayama ) meditation and she found it was quite helpful when she fell into comparisons with others.

A Pranayama Meditation

This is a kundalini yoga meditation taught in a 1971 class by Yogi Bhajan.

In the first part, sit comfortably with hands in the lap and have the tip of the thumb touch the tip of the index finger with relaxed hands. It’s fine to sit in a chair or on the ground cross-legged. Breathe slowly, filling the belly, then ribs and finally upper chest. Hold the breath for ten seconds and then exhale for five seconds. If it is too long to hold it for ten seconds, then reduce the time so it’s comfortable. This can be done for a few minutes and then another minute can be added where the holding period of the breath is increased a few seconds longer. Feel the breath and bring the mind back to the inhalation and exhalation as thoughts arise.

In the second part, close your eyes and look mentally at the third eye point. Close off the right nostril using your thumb and take a nice, slow inhalation through the left nostril. Hold it for fifteen to twenty seconds. Then close off the left nostril and exhale through the right in four sniffs. Do this same pattern for three to four minutes (inhaling through the left side and exhaling in four sniffs through the right side.). After doing this, try to do two more minutes with the same pattern, except you’ll exhale with 8 sniffs rather than four sniffs. This has a calming effect on the mind and body. The thoughts may continue, but the mind has a different relation to them.

Preparing for the Holidays with an Anxiety Disorder

Holiday

The holidays can be an extremely stressful time, especially for those with an anxiety disorder.  If you have an anxiety disorder you are probably worried about the small talk, huge crowds, and being away from your comfort zone that the holidays can bring. Last year you were probably standing in the middle of the room surrounded by people with sweaty palms and a racing heart. This year I am going to give you some tips on how to make the holidays a little more bearable.

1. Be Prepared! If you are having the celebrations at home or elsewhere make sure you bring all tools you will need to handle abnormal anxiety. This may include medication, relaxing music on your phone, breathing, and grounding techniques. Be ready to use whatever you need to relax when things get too overwhelming.

2. Plan Ahead. Having an itinerary of what events you are attending during the holiday can be a great stress reliever. Make a list of where you will spend each holiday, who is accompanying you, and how you are going to get there.

3. Remember that it’s okay to take a break. Whenever I’m hosting an event in my house and things get too stressful I take a 5-10 break in my room to do some deep breathing. If you need to step outside to get some air do so.

4. Limit your alcohol intake. Many people tend to self-medicate with alcohol to alleviate their anxiety. Alcohol has been shown to increase anxiety symptoms. It is important to know your limits and drink responsibly during this stressful time.

5. Remember that you are human! Don’t be too hard on yourself this holiday season. You are going to get anxious and that’s okay. Always keep in mind that there are people around you who love and care for you. Let your mind and body relax and live in the moment.

Dealing with Stress: Are you Rational, Emotional or Wise-minded?

One of my favorite Dialectical Behavior Therapy concepts is “Wise Mind”. Using your wise mind is all about striking balance and intuition especial during times of stress. If you are too emotional, you may make poor and impulsive decisions. If you are overly rational, you may be boring and cold. Check out the diagram below which provides a visual for this idea.

wise mind

I find this diagram to be particularly useful for adolescents whose brains haven’t quite mastered higher level executive functioning of rational decision making. It is also helpful for folks who have an emotional temperament or problems with boundaries in their relationships.

It can be very hard when under a great deal of stress to stop and consider if we are being wise-minded.  However, it is important during those times of stress to “zoom out” and take an external perspective on the event, so we can make healthy choices.

Can you think of times when it could be helpful to be rational-minded or emotional-minded? How do you strike a balance between the two in your own life?

According to Carol Vivyan, CBT Therapist and author of http://getselfhelp.co.uk:

When we feel upset or distressed, we normally react automatically, without thinking about the consequences.  And we can often get into the habit of using unhelpful and often self-destructive behaviours to help us cope. These may include:

  • Self-harm including cutting or taking ‘overdoses’
  • Manipulating others (we’re often unaware of doing this)
  • Under or over-eating
  • Using or relying on drugs and alcohol
  • Depending on physical exercise
  • Sleeping too much, or opting to sleep rather than address problems
  • Focusing on illness and physical pain rather than the ‘real’ issues

When we use these self-destructive coping behaviours, we often then get caught up in thinking we’re bad for doing them, which makes us feel even worse, and may make us more likely to keep on doing them.  A vicious cycle. Read More

[gview file=”http://www.cpft.nhs.uk/Downloads/Psychology/Dealing%20with%20Distress.pdf”]

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