Mental Health and Physical Health are Inextricably Connected
You take good care of yourself. You go to your annual physical, get your teeth cleaned once every 6 months. But what are you doing to take good care of your mental health? Many of the same healthy practices that we engage in to take care of our physical well being, also takes care of our mental well-being. After all, the body is a system and when we take care of our body as a whole - as a complete interdependent system - that’s when we truly thrive. And, there are also healthy practices that are specifically strongly linked with positive mental health outcomes. Below is a quick questionnaire that assesses some of the lifestyle characteristics that affect our mental health.
This 20 item YES/NO primer questionnaire* will help you see if your mental health hygiene is in good order.
1. Do you feel connected to a community of people?
2. Do you make time for regular trips with friends and family?
3. Do you feel good about your physical appearance?
4. Is there someone in your life who encourages you?
Why Is It That Some People Are More Affected by Stress Than Others?
To answer this question we could dive deep into the scientific literature, but because this is a short and sweet blog post you’re likely reading on your mobile device, we’ll keep the answer simple. Resilience is one of the keys to winning the never-ending war with stress. And -oh yes!- it’s never-ending. Resilience, simply put, is the ability to bounce back and recover from the inevitable stressors and changes that life brings us. Picture an old oak tree in the landscape of our mind. Do you see it? Now imagine how many blizzards and storms this tree has weathered, and yet here it is. The tree still stands after all this time. The tree hasn’t cracked under stressors because it’s branches and limbs are flexible, they bend under stress. If the branches and limbs instead attempted to rigidly try and keep their positions despite the forceful, stressful winds, they would have cracked. This is how the tree can continue to grow. Resilience is the ability to bounce back and recover from change and high stress. How does one learn to bend and grow with life’s inevitable changes and stressors? Resilient people share these three closely related traits commonly known as the 3 C’s:
What Is Mindfulness Meditation?
As April comes to a close, we raised our collective awareness of Autism, Sexual Assault, and Child Abuse Prevention here in the United States. April is also Stress Awareness month, and it could certainly be said of all awareness months, that we shouldn’t limit our acknowledgment of these causes or issues to just one month. And of the many things in our lives that contribute to or compromise our well-being, stress is an incredibly pervasive and potent adversary. That is why I feel no hesitation or regret from piling on to the mountain of articles, blog posts, and books that make the case for mindfulness meditation as an effective tool to mitigate stress. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry, because you are in good company. Here in the U.S. only about 6% of the population practices meditation according to the 2012 NHIS Survey. Mediation is on the rise, and for good reason.
Couples who practice mindfulness have a higher ability to identify their emotions and communicate them to their partner in more functional ways that de-escalate conflict. These couples are simply less angry and less anxious.
STOP: Read Part 1 First and Then Come Back to This Page
Now that you understand how the Wake-Sleep system functions and you've downloaded your Sleep Diary, it's time to learn about healthy sleep habits and what you can do right now to begin the process of retraining your brain for better sleep. Notice that the Sleep Diary is for 6 weeks. Retraining your brain for improved sleep will not happen overnight. You will need to commit to practicing these good habits throughout the next 6 weeks, and then you can personalize which habits you feel were helpful and worth keeping as life long habits.
The 20-20 Rule: 20 Minutes in Bed, 20 Minutes Away From Bed
This is one of the most important habits for retraining your brain and it addresses stimulus control. As mentioned in Part 1, people who get poor sleep have associated their bedroom and bed as a place where they can expect to struggle falling or staying asleep. The 20-20 rule is simple in theory, but an ordeal in practice, and it works! When you get in bed, it is fine to spend anywhere from 10-20 minutes engaging in a relaxing activity. After about 20 minutes you'll want to turn the lights out. Once lights are out, the 20-minute countdown has begun. You now have 20 minutes to fall asleep (remember, do not clock watch). If you have not fallen asleep within 20 minutes, it is now time to leave the bed, and leave the bedroom. Yes, you read that correctly.
Ask an MFT #1
Ask an MFT is an opportunity to answer questions from my followers on social media who would like some insights into the world of marriage and family therapy on many different topics. As I begin this platform, I want to reassure my readers that their identities are protected. While I get many questions, not all of them are useful for the general public so I can only respond to a select few each time. Ok, let’s dive in!
Q: What do you recommend I do about my wife’s drinking problem?
Robin: There are many things to consider here, and of course, many unknowns. I should probably start by saying that there are specific licensed professionals who specialize in drug and alcohol counseling, and I am not one of those. Having said that, the first question I would have is, does your wife see her drinking as problematic?
World Mental Day - October 10th, 2016
Today is October 10th, which means we, the global community, are celebrating our 24th annual World Mental Health day. World Mental Health day was first put on by the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) in 1992. This is a day for mental health education, awareness, and advocacy for the entire international community of which we are all a part. Indeed it is also a day, as the World Health Organization says, "for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide."
I’d like to focus less on my work, and more on my general outlook and philosophy on mental health care in society. We’ve got some serious work to do. This year’s theme, ‘Dignity in Mental Health (DIMH): Psychological & Mental Health First Aid for All’, a campaign to eradicate the stigma and taboo that has surrounded mental illness for hundreds of years. Sure, we’ve come a long way since the mentally ill were thought to have demons in their heads, where the ancient medical professionals of the time would perform trepanation interventions, drilling holes into the skulls so the spirits could leave the 'possessed'. Our understanding of mental illness has come far certainly; and we need to go further in education and creating awareness. We all have a role to play in removing the stigma of mental health, and it starts with normalizing it.
Why Do People Get Poor Sleep?
Let me first say, I'm writing this article because I had insomnia. I no longer suffer from it. And I want to help others conquer their sleep problems, because let's face it, Not getting enough sleep makes our waking life much more miserable. So you aren’t sleeping well? Let’s talk about that. First off, you're not alone; Some stats:
So why do people get poor sleep?
If you’ve experienced any of these, chances are you’ve also worried about sleep loss, tried to “force sleep”, are stressed out, or have spent too much time in bed and therefore associated your bed with being awake and not being able to sleep. I'll talk more about stimulus control and how to succeed in making your bedroom a sanctuary for sleep later on.
Usually articles on habit formation appear around the New Year. I figured, why wait! After all, there's no rule that says you must stop or start a habit only after the new calendar year has begun. We all have old habits that we have tried to break, or new habits that we have tried to form, but they just didn't take. In this article, I will unpack the hidden forces behind what makes habit formation (or cessation) successful, and share some ways you can start to put all of this into practice starting today - or whenever you choose to begin. After all, it ultimately comes down to (the very real power of) choice. The good news is, it is never too late to form new habits!
How Habits Are Born
As with many things learned in therapy, one of the best ways to change something in your life is to first understand it's origin and it's purpose. A habit, by definition, is a behavior that occurs routinely, and more often than not, is occurring at the subconscious level. Habit formation begins with a triggering event that jumpstarts the brain into autopilot mode; For example, walking into the kitchen and before anything else is even consciously registering, the body gravitates towards the coffee pot. Next is the actual behavior, or the actual habit - the making of coffee. Finally, there is the reward that cements the formation of the habit - "Coffee gives me energy," let's say. Now remember, a "reward" is not necessarily good or bad. After all, we are "rewarded" by our bad habits too. That's why they have stuck around with us! In this context, we refer to the outcome as a reward because it increases the likelihood that we will repeat the behavior again.
Today marks the beginning of June, the summer heat well upon us here in the D.C. region. June is also PTSD (Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder) Awareness Month. The whole purpose of having an awareness month is to become more aware on the issue, and to help share and spread that awareness throughout the community. So, let’s start with a simple education on what PTSD is, as many people have heard the term, but are unfamiliar with the specific symptoms.
*Disclaimer: This article is not meant to be used in any way for an individual to self-diagnose. If you suspect that someone you know may meet some of the descriptions of PTSD or symptoms associated with PTSD, you may want to encourage that person to consult their primary care physician or a licensed mental health professional.*
**Those whose line of work increases the risk of traumatic exposure such as veterans, police, firefighters, first responders, emergency medical personnel, etc. show a higher rate of PTSD (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). If you know someone whose work fits this description, please share this article with them.**
What Does PTSD Mean Exactly?
P, for Post, means trauma symptoms develop after about 3 months (and many times even later than that) from when the traumatic event originally occurred; If symptoms show up right away, it’s quite possibly Acute Stress Disorder. T, for Trauma, means an individual experiencing (directly or witnessing) a life threatening event*. S, for Stress, means the nervous system is overwhelmed by any number of stressor(s). And D, for Disorder, means the classification in a medical book to assist health care professionals in accurately diagnosing and treating a medical condition.
You're still not ready to tackle the dishes in the sink, the laundry on your floor, or the leaves or weeds in your yard. You can't bring yourself to get back into your routine and stick to your plan. You've been avoiding INSERT TASK HERE for too long and it's time to DO something about it! Does any of this ring a bell? This quick read is not going to be on The Science Behind Motivation (or what blocks it), or How We Become Stuck in Dysfunctional Habits. No, no. Those will show up in future posts I assure you. This article will give you some practical tips on how to jump start the energetic, positive, goal-oriented individual that has been with you this entire time.
I want you to take sometime for yourself right now. Go ahead, get rid of any other distractions. I'll wait...
Now let's look at what you can begin doing today to increase your chances of taking action! First and foremost, we need to start with compassion and self-care. We need to give ourselves permission to make mistakes, do the best we can, and take things one step at a time. Let's look together at some "bite-sized" things we can put into practice this week.
Robin S. Smith is a psychotherapist practicing in Bethesda, MD. Robin created The Couple and Family Clinic Blog to provide useful articles on issues related to mental health as well as articles on local, national, and international news stories. Learn more about Robin on the About Page.