Category Archives: Contributors

First Steps Toward Healthy Change

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Funny Stressed Cat

Funny Stressed Cat

There is no longer any question about the horrific impact varying degrees of stress can have on our all-to-fragile human system. There are experts such as Drs. Lyle H. Miller and Alma Dell Smith, two people who have dedicated their professional lives to the measurement, analysis, and treatment of stress and stress-related ailments and complaints and many others, who can vouch for both the subtle and not so subtle impact that various forms and degrees of stress can have on those most susceptible and overtaken by stress.

In most of these cases, references are made to the emotional/psychological effects of stress and talks about anxiety and how people who are under a lot of stress, physiologically suffer negative impact on blood pressure, aches and pains (very commonly head pain), heart palpitations (leading to heart problems), and possibly even more damaging long-term effects.

World of Stress

World of Stress

And it is very clear and quite easy to understand the direct correlation between change (especially quick changes) and stress. For almost all of us, whenever things happen to cause high degrees of change in short periods of time, the level of stress experienced increases dramatically. And, this makes sense and can be exhibited by the endless supply of advice we are given by those around us to ‘slow down’ and ‘not move too quickly’ through upsetting events. We are advised to ‘count to 10’ so that our feelings of anger and hurt don’t overtake us and we lose balance with rational thought and our over-burdened emotions.

Alternate View of Stress

Alternate View of Stress

We are taught repeatedly in our life lessons that it is smart to ‘give things time’ or to ‘sleep on it’ and ‘let it simmer’ before making any major decisions that will cause a major change. Very few of us go through life without being told by those closest to us ‘don’t rock the boat’ or ‘take your time’. We humans tend to avoid major change…especially when it occurs quickly. We avoid it and advise our loved ones to do the same.

Perhaps one of the most tumultuous times in our humans lives when things change very quickly (whether we want them to or not) is during the period of time we refer to as adolescence:

* Bodies grow and develop, for some practically overnight

* Hormones that we may never knew we possessed, run rampantly through our system – causing emotions to seem like an open mine field

* Social expectations and pressures play havoc even with those with even the most sturdy and consistent of upbringings

And that is just a brief introduction to some of the landscape of the adolescent portrait.

Parent to Teen

Parent to Teen

We can start by adding a dose of understanding to our teenagers. Knowing and realizing just how ‘at risk’ children in the 13-19 age range are can be a wonderful place to start in helping them (and you as the adult who cares the most about them) restore some extremely-needed balance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!

Don’t Wallow

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I just read a great article by my favourite author, Donald Miller at his Storyline Blog.

It was about not giving into self-pity, and he gave the example of an Olympic ice skater who knew how to not wallow in his mistakes. You can’t wallow when you’re performing in a competition and make a mistake. You have to pick yourself up quick smart and keep going even when it feels so demoralizing to fall.

This lesson can be applied to life. We’re gonna make mistakes, we’re gonna fail and fall regularly. We’re gonna have cause to to feel self-pity and wallow. But don’t be consumed by it, because it stops you from getting on with what you’re supposed to be doing.

I know when I do something stupid, I can cut myself up about it for ages. This doesn’t help anything at all. So there’s no use wallowing in it and thinking I’m the worst of the worst.

No, I learn my lesson. I made a mistake, I learn from it, and then I move on.

When I don’t move on and I wallow, it cripples me. I beat myself up and I become ineffective because I feel like I’m no good and have nothing to offer. I get consumed by my wallowing thoughts.

There’s no point.

I know.

I’ve done both. I’ve wallowed over a mistake and felt terrible for ages; and I’ve controlled my mind to stop dwelling on it and move on with the lesson I learnt.

I can tell you it took a lot of effort to control my mind because it naturally wanted to wallow, but I was so much better for it when I didn’t give into it. I wasn’t crippled, I wasn’t wasting time worrying when there was nothing I could do, and I could continue on with life and focusing on things that did matter.

Confessions of a Would-Be Alcoholic

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Time to Drink?

Time to Drink?

Today is one of those days when putting two thoughts together and having them make sense and become something concrete seem entirely impossible. And before you jump to any conclusions, I have never formally been diagnosed with any mental disorder or disruptive condition – although I did break my right ankle when I tripped over my dog a few years ago.

So, what, you might ask, is going on with me. – at least I know that is the question running through my brain since it is not something that typically happens to me. If I had to come up with a single word that describes what I’m feeling it is “spacey.” And no, I’m not even sure if that is a real word at all, but I think it conjures up the way I’m feeling.

When I think of “spacey,” I picture outer space and a lot of uninterrupted areas. Maybe off to the distant side, there may be a cluster of light haze-like fog formed from a handful of stars, but for the most part, there is a lot of open space with nothing concrete around. That is exactly how it feels inside my own head.

I want to go in some direction and I get an idea, fleeting as it may be, but no sooner do I reach out to anchor it to a second idea and just like in a Star Trek movie, the next thought whooshes out of sight, traveling at the speed of sound, light years away; forever out of reach. Spacey!

My background is in mental health so I go into research mode and I quickly find the National Alliance on Mental Illness website. According to NAMI what I am experiencing is indeed a symptom of a disorder known as “Depersonalization.” It is most commonly marked by feelings of distance and detachment from one’s own self or body – which is most likely why I didn’t consider it part of the disorder at first, but the more I researched it, the more I found that it can also involve the same feelings of distance and detachment from one’s own experience. Bingo!

It then goes on to describe the sensation as feeling as if in a dream or being “spaced out.” What makes it a disorder is the frequency and severity of the interruption; because people also describe many of these same feelings when intoxicated. Bingo again.

Alcohol Does

Alcohol Does

I have been feeling a lot of disappointment and sadness in my personal relationship with my partner and although I have been stating it openly and maturely time after time, his own mental health issues leave me feeling totally alone and alienated. Deep in the late night hours of night, when stillness and silence are my only friends, I reach for a glass of wine, to unwind. Before I know it, I am reaching for another; even a third. And although my partner has long since begun snoring, I am sitting quietly and being lulled to sleep on the living room recliner.

alcoholic

REALITY CHECK: Although this has not been going on for so long and it is only wine, I am drinking too much. I believe the way I feel today, is my brain’s way of telling me that I am doing something harmful, even though at the moment when I do it, I can convince myself that it is helpful.

Am I on the brink of clarity here – totally on the edge of being able to see clearly, despite feelings of being spacey and distant, that I need to step back in order to avoid self-harm and possibly even addiction?

I may be going through a rough spot with my personal relationship – I am definitely afraid that I have to face the reality that my partner and I may very well need to come to terms with where things are with us, I’m not sure…maybe it is just me who has to come to those terms. But, what I do know is that I’m not going to find comfort or clarity by drowning my unhappiness in another glass of wine.

http://nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Helpline1/Dissociative_Disorders.htm

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!

Dynamic Opposites

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Girl with grandfather

Girl with grandfather

When I was a young girl, my grandfather and I would go for long walks together. He was a tremendous influence in my life and came from a time when intelligence defined how far a man (or a woman) got in life. Those walks were a major part of my education and they most definitely molded many of my life-long philosophies.
Perhaps one of the most memorable life-lessons my grandfather spoke about during our time walking together was also one of the simplest of concepts. As if it were just yesterday, I remember him telling me that both, too much and too little of something made it no good. Everything , even something that starts out good, can become something hurtful, he explained, when it dwells in extremes.

I didn’t understand it then, but I have lived long enough to understand it now. Finding the balance in things is critical to a happy, healthy, successful life. Everything, including people and all their components, have polar ends. But they also have a center, a place where both of those two extremes are no longer opposing each other or pulling in opposite directions. The center, the neutral point of any two oppositional forces is the place we store our most valuable resources.
Try this simple exercise to serve as an example. Clench your right hand into a tight fist. Then release it. Now do the same with your left hand and release. You have just put fairly equal pressure or tension on both sides of your body, first your right and then your left. But as soon as you complete the action, your body restores itself to balance, and you feel better; centered and more relaxed.

Too Hot - Too Cold

Too Hot – Too Cold

Goldilocks understood this concept perfectly when she rejected both the Pappa bear’s cereal because it was too hot and the Mamma bear’s cereal because it was too cold. She continued her state of discomfort until she continued onto the Baby bear’s bowl of cereal which was ‘just right’ for her. Neither extreme of hot nor cold suited her. And as we all know the rest of the story, she repeated this process again to find her level of comfort for sitting on chairs and finally for being able to rest and fall asleep.

Although we have much in common with each other as human’s we also all have very unique and individual components that make us exactly who we are and each one of us has our own exact location for balance within us. Mine is not where yours is, yours is not where Goldilocks’ is and that is a wonderful thing because it affirms our individuality.

And, our own personal sense of balance is not ever exactly the same in any given moment. Life is dynamic, not static. Energy is dynamic. And because of that, all our components are constantly in motion, changing. So, our sense of balance in one situation shifts when we are in a different situation during the same day. Also, the very same situation at one time, can cause a shift of balance in us the next time we come across the exact same situation.

Dynamics of Life

Dynamics of Life

The key is to understand and accept this dynamic and make a habit of ‘checking in and fine-tuning’ ourselves so that we identify where we are internally on the opposite – balance – opposite spectrum. The more we connect with our perfect sense of center and balance, the more energy, happiness, healthfulness, mindfulness and performance we develop for ourselves.

I had the opportunity to speak with a fascinating man yesterday, and hear what he had to say about all of this. He explained his ideas about how this balance, this center and putting space between our opposites can eliminate the tension and stress from our nervous systems and grant us well-being.

If you drink a cup of caffeine in the morning, it is nothing that can harm you in any way, he stated, if you also partake in having a glass of wine in evening – the stimulant in the coffee in your body is brought back down by the calming effects of the alcohol in the wine and you have returned your system to its pure balance.
This fascinated me and I hope you too. More to come on it all very soon.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!

5 Mistakes that Destroy Weight Loss

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Cherry Blossom Tree

Cherry Blossom Tree

I know what the calendar says, but it doesn’t feel like the first days of spring to me. I live in the Northeastern mountains of Pennsylvania and it is taking every bit of restraint for me not to push the thermostat up.

Having said that, I need to take a long hard look at where I am with regard to my weight loss goals for the year and I am not proud of my results. Although they aren’t disgraceful, my weight is not where I wanted it to be. And to be perfectly honest, I have to admit, I haven’t kept to my plan the way I should have if I really and truly wanted to achieve these goals.

That is what today’s blog is about…not just weight loss and goal setting, but I will delve into some of the excuses and justifications I have been telling myself (all of them untruths in some way or another.) These ‘untruths’ are the head games I’ve been playing that have kept me from reaching my weight-loss goals so far this year.

1. I can have this now. It isn’t like I do it all the time:

The damage here is quite devastating. First I am lying to myself that I can have it and ignoring the fact that somewhere within me, I believe maybe it isn’t a good choice to begin with. Let me explain. There would be little or no need for me to convince myself that I can have it, if I believed from the start that it is something I should be having.

This is damaging too, because it is wide-spread. It may be an extra amount of a particular food…or it could be a certain food that I know triggers me and increases my likelihood for more choices of this kind. What I mean here is that for me, some of the food choices I make may not be ‘harmful’ foods for weight loss at all. But they may be foods that carry emotional attachments for me that get me to feel entitled to other foods or different ways of eating that, in time, can set me on the wrong path.

In fact, it may even be something like eating too little or even missing a meal and then becoming extra hungry and more likely to choose something in a frenzy or when my frame of mind is nowhere that it should be prior to selecting foods that are best for me and my goals.

Sliver of Cake

Sliver of Cake

2. Just this little bit won’t hurt:

Once again, I am feeding in (pardon the pun) to my sense of entitlement that most likely will present itself at a time when I need to remain mindful and true to myself and my goals. When I start to let myself feel as if I ‘deserve’ or am entitled to certain things, I am truly coming from a perspective of feeling deprived. But if I am in the right frame of mind, the truth is that I don’t deprive myself when I eat well and make good choices. In fact, it is just the opposite. I am doing more good for myself and treating myself better with the health food choices and I know that to be true. I nurture myself better when I eat healthfully and mindfully. I enjoy the meals I take the extra time and care to prepare. I put more effort into selecting foods I really enjoy and savor and I feel great about my dedication and conviction to my overall well-being.

If I am able to recognize this head-game as the huge damage it can do and the major step it causes me to take in a direction that is bad for me, then I will not fall prey to the major harm this teeny little statement can do.

3. I can always work it off later:

Wow, is this one a crock! If you’re like me, making time to consistently keep to a regular workout is tough enough let alone actually adding in the extra day or extra time for the workouts. There’s no way I’m going to put in EXTRA time and energy; not realistically, anyway. And since this is about being honest and truthful so I don’t trick myself into making mistakes that sabotage my efforts.

Here’s the reality. If I am telling myself that I can work it off later; I am very well aware of the fact that it is not something that is on my ‘should choose’ list to begin with. By seeing it for what it truly is, I can then make a very mindful decision of whether I want to include it in my daily intake or not. If I do; then I have a much better chance of truly paying the price at the gym or on the treadmill, whatever it takes.

Monday Morning

Monday Morning

4. I’ll start over again next Monday:

This is killer! Even if I am truly willing to start over again when Monday comes around again, I’m giving myself permission to let myself go for the rest of the weekend and for any remaining days of this week. But in addition to that, I’m also looking at my commitment to eating healthier as a very temporary endeavor rather than as a lifetime improvement or decision. This is not about just losing the weight. This is about living a healthier lifestyle and taking better care of myself through better nutrition. It is not a Monday through Sunday event.

With the proper mindset from the beginning, I am much more likely to see full-time, life-lasting results and improvements. I also don’t see this a period of deprivation or doing without. I see it as something I can keep doing and building upon; something I can get better at and improve and work into my everyday life.

Weight Loss

Weight Loss


5. Its all about the number on the scale:

This is perhaps one of the worst ways to measure progress, actually. Women know more than men, how the changes in weight, just based on water-gain or loss in just a single day, can blow an entire week of good choices out of the ballpark.

Scales don’t truly tell the tale in other ways as well. There are plenty of times when inches are lost and weight gets redistributed which is a clear sign that your life changes are taking hold the way they should.

And, if your scale is anything like mine, basically, the wind can alter the number. There have been times when I have gotten on the scale, weighed myself, gotten off the scale, weighed myself again; and there have been two different numbers, sometimes with a variation of 4 to 5 pounds. Needless to say; not the most reliable of measures.

Being Bad

Being Bad

But I believe the most harmful thing we do to ourselves when it comes to psychologically hurting ourselves regarding our weight-loss or healthful eating goals is we confuse our choices and our behaviors with our inner selves. We actually start to believe that ‘we’ are bad when we choose to eat foods that are not good for us; or we believe we are bad because we gained a pound. I know I felt this way at times if I gain weight when I’m trying to lose. I feel as if I’ve failed and I feel like I’m bad for making the choices I made.

We learn early on as parents, that when a child does something inappropriate, it is vital for that child’s self-esteem that we separate the behavior from the child. We make it clear that the child is not a bad child, just that the behavior choice was inappropriate. Good people make wrong choices all the time. It doesn’t make them bad people.

We are not our weight. Our weight does not define who we are. Somewhere, society has convinced us that if we are obese then we are ‘less than.’ How ironic is that? But in any case, our weight does not define who we are. In fact, the more negative our emotional connection is to food and our weight, the more likely we are to overeat or make wrong food choices. We need to work on shedding the excess baggage above our necks, not just the excess weight. Learn to know yourself and care and love yourself, and the battle of the bulge will not be as overwhelming.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!

The Food-Mood Link

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Citation: Newswise Life Wire

Peter Pan

Peter Pan

Remember Peter Pan? He sprinkled some of Tinkerbell’s Fairy Dust on Wendy, John and Michael Darling and as soon as they managed to think happy thoughts, poof, they became light as a feather and were able to take flight!

Well, I can’t promise that you’ll grow wings and take to the skies, but according to a new report published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology called “Better Moods for Better Eating: How Mood Influences Food Choice,” you can start yourself on the path to becoming as light as a feather. https://cornell.box.com/MoodsAndFoods

Our moods absolutely impact the way we eat. The study indicates that not only do our moods have something to say about the type of foods we choose to eat, but also how much we consume.

Professor Brian Wansink, from Cornell University’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and co-author of the paper claims the study proves that people turn to food to feel good. This means we eat to keep ourselves happy and also to make ourselves feel happy. So, here’s the logic. If we are already feeling happy, we are more likely to eat make more healthful choices when it comes to food.

Mindfullness3

Just a quick plug for my previous blogs about mindfulness and eating: For those of us who deal with weight loss issues and struggle to maintain a healthy weight, we now know exactly what it is that works against us if we don’t practice becoming more mindful about what we eat. We want to feel happy and we believe that in some way, eating will help us attain that goal. We can intercept the cycle of reaching for foods that may not be the ‘smarter’ choice, through mindfulness.

Associate Professor Meryl P. Gardner, Wansink’s partner and co-author from the University of Delaware’s Lerner College department of Marketing, believes “when we think about the future, it’s almost as if we are physically taking a step back, enabling us to see our more fundamental values – like health and nutrition. We can use that to make wiser choices rather than letting our moods dictate our behavior.”

Yep! That sounds like mindfulness to me.

Healthy Eating

Healthy Eating

So, here’s what we now have more reason to know…Being mindful about how we are feeling, checking in under our own hood, and thinking ahead a bit can really help us eat healthier and manage our weight better. The happier we can feel before its time to eat, the more likely we are to choose well and reap the benefits of feeling and looking better.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!

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12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave

You don’t have to be a huge movie-going fan to know that the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture was “12 Years a Slave,” a riveting historical drama film adapted from the1853 memoir of Solomon Northup, an African American male born in the free state of New York. Solomon was kidnapped and sold into slavery for twelve years before he regained his freedom.

We have at our disposal a new, excellently crafted piece of work that takes us on our own emotional journey as we enter Solomon’s life on the big screen. We are witness to the horrific truth of how people treated each other based on the color of their skin; the miserable practice of slavery in this country. Perhaps one of the reasons for the popularity of the movie is that we can walk away with a sense of relief and happiness in the fact that we have progressed as a people and grown in our compassion and understanding and most of all, our humanity. We can pride ourselves in developing further along the way emotionally and learning to love and care for each other more. Right?

Sadly and unfortunately, not! In a recently published study that appeared in The British Journal of Developmental Psychology, children as young as 7 years of age reported that they believed black children feel less pain than white children do. The study was performed at the University of Virginia and indicates continued racial biases.

Children Playing

Children Playing

Another bias that shows up repeatedly involves the preference for children (both black and white) to play with friends of their own race. What we, as a humanitarian society need to look at, is what type of interventions do parents and teachers need to employ regularly in order to prevent the biases from happening.

The new batch of studies shows that if we are to have any positive method of preventing these biases, the interventions have to occur well before a child reaches the age of ten. The younger the child is, the better; because we are seeing strong biases already existing in 7-year-olds.

I can’t think of any better way to express it than Lieutenant Cable. Some of you may remember the name from the magical team of Rogers and Hammerstein and their sensational presentation, South Pacific, all the way back in 1949.

South Pacific

South Pacific

“You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught from year to year,
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

From the looks of things, maybe we haven’t really progressed as much as we think we have when it comes to certain things.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!

Happy Heart – Healthy Heart

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Panel Discussion

Panel Discussion

Earlier this week, Circulation, an online journal published the newest findings of a 12-person panel of experts who went on record determining that depression should be listed as a risk for heart disease along with already known risk factors such as obesity, smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes.

The recommendation was made to the American Heart Association (AHA), after Robert M. Carney, PhD, and Kenneth E. Freedland, PhD, both professors of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and ten other experts in the field performed an extensive review of hundreds of studies in the scientific literature that looked specifically at correlating depression and heart attacks and eventual death from heart disease.

Depression

Depression

Doctors Caney and Freeland have been studying the effects of depression on heart disease for more than 25 years when they reported the increased risk of more severe cardiac problems in patients with pre-existing heart disease, who also were diagnosed with depression. A very high percentage of all the studies they conducted since beginning in 1988, support their findings that depression is a risk factor for death in people with heart disease.

Unlike definitive findings that are found when obese people lose a significant amount of weight in a healthy way, or people who successfully quit smoking or manage to lower their blood pressure; there are very few studies that support lowered risk of heart disease in people who undergo treatment for depression.

Heart Disease

Heart Disease

A large cause for this might be that for most people who suffer from depression don’t ‘quit’ depression the way they quit smoking. Even with proper treatment, depression isn’t known to ‘lower’ the way blood pressure lowers when treated properly. And as with many psychological issues, neither cause nor effect is as clear cut and easy to draw conclusions from.

Carney and Freeland are undaunted, however. They are ready to begin new studies with different approaches to treatment for depression so they can determine if these new approaches conclusively show a decrease in lowering heart problems. For now, it is clear that treating depression might effectively impact both the health and quality of life of a person and so, the commitment to continued research lives on.

Citations Circulation, Feb. 24, 2014

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!