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Why there should be a minimum standard of care across all psych wards

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Psych wards are designed to be a place where someone struggling can feel safe. Whether the person is having thoughts of suicide, struggling with self-harm, experiencing drug or alcohol abuse, attempted suicide, or just needs a safe space, a psych ward is supposed to be the place. Yet, people discharged from a psych ward are 100-200x more likely to die by suicide upon release.

Every psych ward is different, just like every hospital is different. Some have more funding than others, however, that does not mean the standard of care should be different. Many times, when you are admitted into a psych ward, you do not get to choose which one. Often times, it is hard to find multiple options for psych wards near you, if it is voluntary. Plus, you have to consider the financial cost, as it may vary based on insurance, type of hospital, etc.

Many psych ward visits are involuntary. Most people need serious intervention and support at that time. It does not matter who you are or where you come from, you are deserving of quality treatment that benefits you. Treatment that acts as a starting point in your recovery. You do not deserve to come out of the psych ward in a worse position. You do not deserve to be just a checked box that relieves the hospital / state of legal concerns. And you definitely do not deserve to be forced to try a medication that does not work for your actual diagnosis.

Imagine if we had a minimum standard of care that forced hospitals to allocate more funding toward behavioral health.

An individual hospitalized in a psych ward, whether voluntary or involuntary, deserves 1 on 1 time with a licensed mental health care professional that helps both parties get an understanding of the situation. Many struggling do not always know what they are going through and would benefit from exploring what they are feeling and experiencing with help. A lot of people do not have a confirmed diagnosis and may need support in learning what they are experiencing and what treatment options are available to them. When exploring the situation together, the psychiatrist may get a better feel for which medication options may be right for the patient, if the patient needs / wants medication.

Furthermore, group therapy could explore building a coping toolbox. Imagine if a group of people who are struggling with similar diagnoses were working together to explore coping mechanisms.  There could be mixed groups and groups for specific mental health symptoms / conditions / crises. People experiencing a mental health crisis often feel alone and being able to share their journey and their feelings with people who truly get it can be life-altering. Someone with schizophrenia and someone with anxiety disorder are both struggling with real mental illnesses but may need different treatment plans and different types of support. Customizing the experience for every patient to collaborate and connect not only with people experiencing similar situations but also to everyone there would be more rewarding than if it were just one or the other.

In addition, all patients should go home with a customized treatment plan. The treatment plan should include therapy / behavioral health facility recommendations, whether it is in-patient or out-patient. It should also include a list of coping mechanisms the patient feels comfortable with in addition to other coping mechanisms available to try. And the treatment plan should include a safety plan that helps the patient know what they can do if they experience another mental health crisis. 

Lastly, treatment should not be financially out of reach. When someone is held within a behavioral health facility, the cost (or a high portion of the cost) should be covered by insurance. The hospital should also charge a reasonable amount, rather than take advantage of the ability to profit on one’s mental health condition / crisis.

A standard of care within our psychiatric system is imperative to the success of our future. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death from age 10 to 35. People who need support should receive the help and support they need to jumpstart their recovery.

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How Do I Create A Safe Space?

women hugging and smiling

A safe space is essential for an authentic and supportive mental health conversation.

One of the primary reasons that individuals struggle in silence is the stigma associated with mental health. Essentially, we fear our loved one’s reaction. Will I be judged? Will I be invalidated? Will they not love me anymore? What if they do not understand? What if they do not care? What if they do not believe me? These are just a few of the questions that play on repeat through someone’s head when they want to reach out for help.

Often times, people do not want to struggle in silence. Yet, they feel like they have to, because opening up feels like a burden. In addition, it is devastating to be invalidated.

So, how do we let our loved ones know that we are here for them?

In my opinion, one of the biggest factors is how we discuss mental health on a regular basis. When we use words like “crazy, deranged, and psychopath” to label someone with a mental illness or who may be experiencing a mental health crisis, we are contributing to the stigma. Now, it may not seem like a big deal in the moment, but your loved ones will remember you using those words when they are struggling. This may cause hesitation on whether or not they open up to you.

Another factor, in my opinion, is the occurrence of honest conversations on mental health, emotions, and life experiences. How often do you engage in real conversations about how you are? And how often do you sincerely ask and answer “How are you?” When you show your own vulnerability, it creates a deeper connection. This connection allows someone to feel like they can also be vulnerable. Vulnerability has been given a bad reputation, but the most beautiful connections and conversations are created in the midst of vulnerability.

In addition to how and when we discuss mental health on a routine basis, the way we respond during a mental health conversation / check-in is essential.

Here is the thing: we are all continuously learning how to offer proper support and validation within mental health conversations. It truly is a learning process because the conversation is unique for everyone. Everyone experiences mental health conditions, symptoms, and crises in different ways; thus, the proper responses will vary person to person.

Here are some examples of variations:

  • Where does validation cross the line from helpful to harmful?
  • How much support should you offer? When is it the time to hold their hand and when is the time to just be there?
  • How often do I check-in? If I check-in too much, is it overbearing? If I do not check-in enough, am I being insensitive?
  • Should I share my ideas on what may be helpful, or should I stay out of it?
  • Do I tell someone else what my loved one disclosed to me or do I keep it to myself? What if it has to do with self-harm or suicidal thoughts? If I tell someone, will they never open up to me again?

In summary, yes, the conversation on mental health is very complicated. However, that does not mean the conversation is not necessary. If we do not talk about it, our loved ones will continue to struggle in silence. And silence is deadly.

Here are my tips to creating a safe space during the conversation.

  • Ask open-ended questions. This shows the person opening up that you are interested in a discussion and not ending the conversation.
  • Try to remove any judgement from your tone. If you do not understand, ask a question in a supportive manner. Ex. “I have never personally experienced X, and I want to be supportive, but I am not sure what the best thing I can do for you is. Would you mind explaining it more or how I can help?”
  • Emphasize support. “I am here for you. You are not alone in this. What can I do to offer my support?”
  • Validate feelings. “It makes sense that you feel …”
  • Follow up. The safe space should not end when the conversation does. Let your loved one know that you always have space for them.
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Are you content with life or is life about producing content?

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In an episode of the Normalize the Conversation series released on July 7, 2021, my guest, Alastair Ballentyne proposed this question to me: Are you content with life or is your life about producing content?

At first, I thought I was content with life. I am living my dream with Inspiring My Generation. I am obtaining my master’s in psychology. I have so many incredible things that I am beyond grateful for. I must feel content. Yet, my worth was still tied to my productivity. How much can I offer to others? What new resources or tools can I develop and share? How many blogs can I create? What more can I donate to the mental health community? How many different episodes can I produce? What else can I do? Where am I falling short? My entire thought process is “What else?”

I was so consumed with production and content that I often woke up in the middle of the night and start working. My anxiety was often triggered by taking time away from working to rest or socialize. There were periods of time where I would go more than 24 hours without rest. And this all felt normal to me. The only way to move forward is to continuously push yourself beyond your limits, right?

Our society is obsessed with overwhelming productivity.  

From a young age, we teach our kids to do more. Play more sports. Join more school organizations. Take on more after school commitments. Without it, you will not get into college. If you do not get into a good college, you will not get a decent job.

Then, we get to college. Now, it is all about earning good grades. Participating in school organizations. Joining Greek Life. Maintaining a social life. Resume building. Internships. Real life work experience. Job hunting.

When we enter the work force, taking days off to rest is selfish and it may get you fired. Working past 9-5 hours is expected. You are expected to have it all and do it all.

We are constantly telling ourselves that we have to do more and be more. Our life is consumed by how much we produce. It is not what we can do for ourselves, it is all about what we can offer to everyone else around us. But, in the midst of running ourselves empty trying to live up to society’s expectations, where does that leave us?

Watch the FULL episode to learn more: https://youtu.be/XDbnwzjwxEE

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How is self-esteem tied to mental health?

i hate nothing about you with red heart light

Introduction

Self-esteem is defined by Oxford Dictionary as “confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect.” In other words, self-esteem is how you feel about yourself. When someone has high self-esteem, they have positive feelings about themselves. On the other hand, someone with low self-esteem has negative feelings about themselves. For example, someone with low self-esteem may believe they are not worthy of love or happiness.

Conversely, mental health encompasses our emotional and psychological well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It is easier to understand mental health when you look at it as a scale ranging from wellness or illness.

How does low self-esteem affect mental health?

Self-esteem impacts every piece of our life. It not only affects how we value ourselves as a person, but also how we take care of ourselves. Someone with higher self-esteem may make more time for self-care and rest. Furthermore, people with higher self-esteem are kinder to themselves, recognize their strengths, and advocate for themselves. On the other hand, people with lower self-esteem may focus on the negatives in their life, make it difficult to move beyond mistakes, and believe they are not good enough.

Lower self-esteem is linked to increased risk of depression and anxiety. We may begin to feel worthless because we believe we are not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, etc. It can also impact our relationships. When we question our own worth, we often act in ways that demonstrate our insecurities. We may feel like our partner does not love us or feel paranoid about their fidelity.

Feeling comfortable in your own skin is a key part of self-esteem. When we constantly look for validation from external forces, like people around us or our followers on social media, our self-esteem and mental health will be negatively impacted. Thus, our self-esteem develops within ourselves.

What causes low self-esteem?

Often times, we can trace self-esteem damage to rejection and / or lack of positive reinforcement. When our parents, our friends, our partners, or other important figures in our life engage in abuse (whether it is emotional, physical, or sexual), we may feel like we deserve the pain. When we are constantly told our faults, especially by someone we care about, we tend to believe them. Low self-esteem can stem from manipulative relationships, where we are cheated on and / or gaslighted. It can also come from mental health conditions, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Depression. Recently, we have seen social media play a huge role in children’s self-esteem. We often compare ourselves to everyone around us—from our bodies to materialistic items to followers to likes.

Someone with low self-esteem may fear rejection, abandonment, or change. They may also seek approval from everyone around them. Low self-esteem is often hidden by using humor to point out their perceived flaws.

How can you build self-esteem?

Building self-esteem is important. However, shifting the feelings we have about ourselves is not an easy task. Often times, it involves discovering the underlying reasons behind our negative thoughts and learning how to adapt them. Therapy can be a great tool for this! Therapists can guide you through processing and lifestyle changes to build your self-esteem.

However, if therapy is not accessible to you, there are life-changes you can make now. There is always something you can do for yourself. Healthy lifestyle changes are crucial! Taking care of your body is taking care of your mind. Therefore, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and allowing your body time to rest is a great place to start. It is also important to spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself. The more time you spend with people who make you feel not good enough, the more your self-esteem will decline. Remember: what you put in your body, on your body, and around your body affect your physical and mental wellness.

Here are some other things you can do to build your self-esteem:

  • Celebrate your accomplishments. Even the small ones, including making your bed, finishing an assignment at work / school, or eating a balanced meal.
  • Focus on cultivating your inner happiness. Setting boundaries can be very helpful. You do not have to please everyone around you, especially not at a cost to yourself. When you attach your worth to someone else’s happiness, you have no control over your own happiness.
  • Be understanding of yourself and your emotions. It is okay to feel. Whatever you are feeling is valid, but it may not be true. Ask yourself where the thoughts come from.

Having a healthy self-esteem is vital to your quality of life. You deserve to love yourself as much as you love those around you.

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Your mental health crisis is not your fault.

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You are not alone.

You deserve help and support.

Your mental health crisis is NOT your fault.

Introduction to Mental Health Crisis

A mental health crisis occurs when a person is in danger of hurting themselves or others and / or prevents them from being able to care for themselves.

What can lead to a mental health crisis?

  • Relationships changing / ending
  • Conflicts with loved ones
  • Grief / loss
  • Trauma
  • High levels of stress
  • Feeling lonely
  • New / changes in medication

A mental health crisis / emergency is a real crisis. Thus, we need to address a mental health crisis with the same urgency and importance as any other health emergency. However, unfortunately, due to the lack of conversation and awareness, many people do not know that support is available. Therefore, most people do not know what to expect during or after a mental health crisis.

Warning Signs of a Mental Health Crisis

Below I have included a list of common warning signs of a mental health crisis.

  • Simple daily tasks become difficult (brushing teeth, changing clothing)
  • Increased or decreased energy levels
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling depressed or withdrawn
  • Isolating yourself from loved ones or life in general
  • Feeling easily irritated
  • Out-of-control behavior
  • Engaging in violent or destructive behavior
  • Engaging in abusive behavior toward others
  • Psychosis (lose touch with reality, example: hearing voices and seeing things that are not there)
  • Paranoia
  • Self-harm
  • Substance Abuse

Warning signs may not always be present nor easily identifiable. It is okay if you miss the warning signs. It is okay if you experience a mental health crisis while you are in therapy or seeking treatment. You still are valid in your mental health crisis, and you still deserve support. It does not mean you have “failed.”

Am I at risk for suicide?

Mental health crises may result in suicidal thoughts, especially if the individual is experiencing feelings of depression, worthlessness, hopelessness, guilt, and / or loneliness. Although our society does not always take thoughts of suicide seriously, it is important to take it seriously. When facing a mental health crisis, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, and suicide attempts often occur.

Feeling suicidal or experiencing suicidal thoughts is often more complex than “I want to end my life.” Below I have included a list of common warning signs for suicide.

  • Constantly thinking about dying
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Withdrawing from loved ones
  • Increased substance abuse
  • Saying goodbye
  • Giving away personal possessions
  • Making / updating a will
  • Purchasing a means (Example: firearms, pills)

Please note, if someone has a history of suicide attempts or has lost someone to suicide, their risk for suicide may be heightened.

If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or may be experiencing a mental health crisis, here are a few free resources available to you.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Text Line: 741-741
  • Trevor Project: 866-488-7386
  • In immediate danger? call 911

What to Do for Your Mental Health Crisis

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, it may be difficult to assess the situation or express what you are feeling to others. Although it is normal to feel unprepared and confused, it is important to know what options are available to you. The first question I recommend asking yourself is “Am I in danger of hurting myself or others?” From there, you can decide on next steps. If you feel that you are in danger of harming yourself or others, call 911 for immediate assistance. However, if you do not feel that you are in danger of harming yourself or others, you may reach out to a crisis hotline (such as the numbers listed above), a mental health professional, or family physician. A professional can help you assess the situation to see if you should schedule an appointment with a professional or be admitted to a hospital.

Many people facing a mental health crisis often feel uncomfortable calling 911. 911 can help you, especially when you feel like you are in immediate danger. It is important to explain the crisis with as much detail as possible when you call 911, so the responder has an idea what to expect. You can also request someone trained to work with mental health condition, such as a Crisis Intervention Training Officer (CIT). CITs are trained to help deescalate situation through specific training and access to helpful resources.

What to Do for Your Loved One’s Mental Health Crisis

Similarly, to the section above, assessing the situation first is imperative. It may be difficult and confusing to assess the situation, especially when the individual cannot easily express what they are experiencing. However, the best place to start is identifying if the individual facing a mental health crisis is in danger of harming themselves or others. If they are in danger, you may follow the same 911 protocol listed above.

If they are not in immediate danger, there are a few ways you can provide support.

  • Help your loved one reach out to a professional
  • Offer crisis hotline resources
  • Provide support and encouragement to your loved ones
  • Ask your loved one how you can help them
  • Do not take control, but rather offer suggestions
  • Give your loved on space

Sometimes when we offer support to others, we drain ourselves. You are important too. Take care of yourself. Do not be afraid to reach out to a professional or crisis hotline for your own mental health. This does not take away from your loved one, but it allows you to provide the support they need without emptying your own cup.

Final Thoughts

Because of the stigma on mental health, lack of education and awareness, and high costs of treatment, many people who experience a mental health crisis do not reach out for support. Please know that you deserve support, and you deserve help. There are many options and resources available to you. And there are many nonprofit organizations offering free services, free crisis support, and grants to help cover treatment costs. You are not alone. You do not have to go through this alone.

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PTSD and Fatigue Intertwined

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Introduction to PTSD

Did you know that about 8 million people in the United States live with PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a “serious potentially debilitating condition that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a natural disaster, serious accident, terrorist incident, sudden death of a loved one, war, violent personal assault such as rape, or other life-threatening events.” (ADAA)

As most people know, PTSD often occurs with depression, substance abuse, or other anxiety disorders. However, what many people do not know is that PTSD can also be linked to fatigue.

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD symptoms are often broken down into 4 categories:

  • Reliving the trauma
  • Avoiding triggers
  • Excessive arousal / alertness
  • Intrusive thoughts

Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Recurring nightmares
  • Vivid flashbacks of a traumatic experience
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Restlessness and difficulty sleeping
  • Agitation and unpredictable temper flares
  • Exaggerated emotional responses to mild stressors
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • “Fight or flight” responses to stimuli

(interventionhelpline.com)

PTSD & Fatigue

When living with PTSD, certain triggers can produce a surge of stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol. When our nervous system is overloaded with adrenaline and cortisol, it can cause elevated blood pressure and rapid heart rate. These physical symptoms increase risk of anxiety disorders and make it difficult for your mind and body to relax.

In addition to the elevated stress hormones and triggers, the reliving, avoiding, intrusive thoughts, and excessive arousal are often overwhelming. Thus, one of the most common symptoms of PTSD is fatigue. Together, it can take a toll on the body. Mental exhaustion and burnout may happen without intervention.

What can you do?

In addition to counseling / therapy, there are four things you can do on your own:

  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Identifying your triggers
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Grounding exercises

(thehopeline.com)

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Suicidal thoughts are more than “I want to die.”

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Suicidal thoughts, also known as “suicidal ideation,” is often misunderstood. This is partially due to the stigma on mental illness as a whole, depression, and suicide. We live in a world where individuals do not feel worthy of help until they have a gun to their head or pills in their hand. Why? Because, we have minimized suicidal thoughts.

Suicide is often treated as a joke.

  • “I am going to kill myself if I fail this test.”
  • “This meeting made me want to jump off a bridge.”

Suicidal ideation is often invalidated.

  • “They are not going to hurt themselves; they are just looking for attention.”
  • “You are just being dramatic.”

Suicidal ideation is very common.

Almost everyone will experience suicidal ideation at some point in their lives. However, this does not take away from the danger and impact of suicidal thoughts. Without proper support, passive suicidal ideation (thoughts with no intention of action) can turn into active suicidal ideation.

Suicidal thoughts are more than “I want to die.”

Early detection can be a key in suicide prevention. However, due to lack of conversation, education, and awareness on suicidal ideation, we often miss the warning signs.

Suicidal thoughts include feeling:

  • Hopeless
  • Overwhelmed by negative thoughts
  • Unbearable pain
  • Useless
  • Desperate
  • Like a burden
  • Not good enough
  • Lonely
  • Physically numb
  • Fascinated by death

(mind.org)

Research shows that suicidal ideation often starts by the time you are 8 years old. It is not always in the traditional sense, of “I want to die” or “I want to kill myself.” Often times, it starts as simple as:

  • “My parents’ divorce is my fault. Everything is my fault. I ruin everything.”
  • “I hate my life. Nothing ever goes right.”
  • “I have no friends. No one likes me. I am alone.”
  • “I am ugly, stupid, and useless. No one is going to like me.”
  • “Everyone would be happier if I was never born.”

Imagine if we started teaching people how to cope with suicidal ideation. What if we started education people on how to advocate for themselves and what they are experiencing? Imagine if we made treatment widely accessible and stigma-free. Here are my opinions on a few of the most common questions on experiencing suicidal ideation.

When do I seek help?

When you ask yourself this question, it is time to seek help.

Are these thoughts normal? Does everyone feel this way?

You are not the only one experiencing these thoughts. Suicidal thoughts are very common and occur way too frequently. However, none of that means you do not deserve support. When you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, even if it seems minor, talking to a doctor or mental health professional can be extremely helpful. Without any treatment or support, these thoughts may worsen and consume your life.

Should I talk to my doctor about my suicidal ideation?

It is important to disclose your suicidal thoughts to your doctor so that they may help you to evaluate the severity. Sometimes, a doctor might recommend self-care and allowing yourself time to rest and recuperate. Often times, a doctor might check your vitamin and hormone levels, as deficiencies can be linked to lower moods. In other situations, the doctor may recommend a form of mental health treatment.

Will I be hospitalized if I tell my doctor or mental health care professional?

This depends on the doctor / mental health care professional, your mental health medical history, whether or not you are high risk of harming yourself or others, and any additional factors the provider sees fit. Typically, hospitalization within a psych ward is used for individuals with active suicidal ideation: thoughts and a plan.

How do I talk to my doctor or mental health care professional about my suicidal ideation?

Be honest! Share exactly what you are feeling and be sure to clarify if you have thought of a plan of harming yourself, even if you are not certain you would go through with it. Tell your doctor whether or not you would consider following through on the plan. This can help your doctor better understand where you are at. Explain when the thoughts started. Did something trigger these thoughts? Is there a new stressor in your life? And disclose how often you have the thoughts and when they typically appear. Do they only occur at negative with your intrusive thoughts? Or do they happen when you get behind the wheel of your car? Are they constant? Everything you can share with your doctor about your suicidal ideation can be extremely useful in diagnosis and treatment plan.

What if my doctor does not believe me?

Often times, especially when it comes to mental health, we will be invalidated or ignored. That does not mean you do not deserve support. What you are feeling is important. You matter and your life matters. If you feel you need help, resources, or support, then you need help, resources, or support. Try different doctors until you find one that not only listens to you but also makes you feel safe to open up. Advocate for yourself. Be tenacious in the way you advocate for yourself. It is your life and your health.

Which doctor should I talk to?

This depends. Mental health care professionals, such as therapists, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers can be a great resource, as they specialize in mental health. If you do not have access to a mental health care professional or have not found one that works for you yet, your primary care physician can be a great start! Your primary care physician may even be able to recommend local therapists, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, treatment facilities, or behavioral health facilities.

Long story short, everyone deserves support.

Even if the thoughts seem insignificant, having someone to share what you are feeling with can be instrumental. You do not have to go through it alone. If someone opens up to you about their suicidal thoughts, do not judge them or invalidate them. If you are unable to provide the support that they need, then help them find someone who can. When your child comes home from school crying, listen to them. Pay attention to the words they are using. Offer support where you can and reach out to a professional to help them develop coping mechanisms that may work for them.

Remember, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death ages 10-25 and 10th leading cause of death overall.

We can no longer stay silent or expect people to suffer in silence.

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Managing mental health and the holidays.

group of people eating together

The holidays can be an extremely stressful time of year.

From the financial pressure to the pressure of hosting the perfect holiday dinner, the holiday season is full of added strain. Not to mention, the heightened stress of year-end work deadlines and midterm / final exams for students. Then, on top of it all, many people live with complicated familial relationships. Some people are experiencing their first holiday without a loved one. Others are living in an emotionally, mentally, physically, or sexually abusive household. Then, there are those who have to hide their authentic self from family members in fear of being exiled. Additionally, the individuals living with an eating disorder feeling extremely uncomfortable at the dinner table in front of family members who make insensitive comments about their weight, body, or eating habits. Furthermore, the individuals whose family members ask inappropriate questions then gaslight and / or invalidate them. Plus, the countless other situations that create heightened anxiety levels.

The holidays are stressful for anyone, whether or not you are living with a diagnosed mental health condition. We are all vulnerable to a decline in mental health during the season. So, what can we do about it?

Allow yourself space and time to express your emotions.

Do not be afraid to feel what you are feeling. Yes, you may have so much to be grateful for. Sure, you are perceived to have it all together. And, yes, the holidays can be about family, joy, and love. None of that means that your feelings are not valid. What you feel and what you think matters. You do not have to suppress your emotions. Suppressing your emotions will only lead to release in unintentional ways, often with anger and irritability.

A few ways to express your emotions are:

  • Speak with a loved one or mental health professional for support.
  • Journal what you are feeling and connecting it to events / situations. Where does it stem from?
  • Meditate on a thought or feeling.
  • Exercise to release stress or anger.
  • Allow yourself to cry or scream it out. Sometimes, we all need a good cry.

Plan ahead.

Are there going to be family members in attendance who make you uncomfortable? Are there certain triggers or situations that arise year after year that negatively impact you? Is there a meal on the table that you will eat? What coping mechanisms are easy for you to utilize when in a place full of people? Plan ahead for what you can do to get through.

  • Do you need to bring a meal, side, or dessert for yourself?
  • Do you have an assertive response planned to the insensitive comments or inappropriate questions?
  • Have you made a list of different coping mechanisms you can use?
  • Do you have a list of reasons you can use to excuse yourself for a few minutes to breathe or utilize a coping mechanism?
  • Who / what is your support system?

A few resources available.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Text Line: 741-741
  • Trevor Project: 1-866-7386

Sending you love and strength this holiday season. xx

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What do you mean by self-care?

black and brown brush on saucer

Self-care is only for people with enough time and money, right?

Did you know that the majority of people misunderstand what effective self-care is and how they can benefit from it? Furthermore, surveys have reported that 44% of people believe self-care is only possible for people who have enough time. Surveys have also reported that about 35% of people believe self-care is only possible for those who have enough money.

Self-care does not have to be extremely time-consuming. We all have 24 hours in a day. The difference between the people who incorporate self-care habits and those who do not is simply time management. How do you use your time? Look at your phone’s daily screen time. You can see exactly how much time you spend on elective apps, such as social media accounts (unless your job requires social media), streaming services, and games. If you spend more than 20 minutes a day on these elective apps, there is your time for self-care!

Additionally, self-care does not have to be costly. Despite the misleading idea that self-care is spa days and retail therapy, self-care is actually about forming and maintaining healthy habits. Self-care is about taking care of yourself: mentally, emotionally, and physically. It can play an essential role in maintaining overall wellness. Self-care encompasses more than meditation, journaling, or bubble baths. Although, these can be a small piece of a self-care routine. In fact, “It is a broad concept encompassing hygiene (general and personal), nutrition (type and quality of food eaten), lifestyle (sporting activities, leisure, etc.), environmental factors (living conditions, social habits, etc.), socio-economic factors (income level, cultural beliefs, etc.), and self-medication.” (WHO 1998)

How do I incorporate self-care into my daily routine?

As previously stated, self-care is about taking care of yourself: mind and body. This includes a range of areas from hygiene, nutrition, lifestyle, environmental factors, socio-economic factors, and self-medication. Below are just a few examples of the many ways to easily incorporate healthy self-care habits into your daily routine.

Hygiene (note: pay attention to the additives and chemicals inside your hygiene products)

  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Wash your face when you wake up and before bed.
  • Thoroughly wash your hair and body in the shower.
  • Moisturize your skin after you shower.

Nutrition (note: pay attention to organic, non-gmo labels AND what chemicals or hormones are inside the food you are consuming)

  • Eat a well-balanced diet (meal prep can be a great tool if you do not have a lot of time during the week)
  • Consume sufficient levels of necessary vitamins and minerals (supplements may help, speak to a doctor)
  • Avoid highly processed foods.
  • Hydrate.

Lifestyle

  • Engage in 30 minutes of exercise 5x a week. (ex. yoga, running, walking, strength training)
  • Walk 10,000 steps a day (ex. park at the end of the lot and encourage yourself to walk further)
  • Allow your body and mind time to rest.
  • Get enough sleep! Sleep is important for your overall wellness.
  • Meditate for self-awareness in the morning.
  • Journal for 20 minutes in the morning.
  • Read for 20 minutes before bed.

Environmental Factors

  • Pay attention to whom you spend time with. Are they draining you or energizing you?
  • What chemicals are you using to clean your household? Switch out hazardous/dangerous chemicals.

Socio-Economic Factors

  • Take 5-10 minutes each morning to reflect on your religious / cultural beliefs.
  • Create a budget that works for you, your family, and your lifestyle.

Self-Medication

  • Several MINOR illnesses / conditions can be treated without a doctor (such as occasional headaches, allergies, acne, stomachache, minor wounds); however, check in with your doctor if your symptoms worsen overtime, cause lifestyle disruption (severe pain / difficulties), or conditions are persistent.
  • Holistic medicine (such as meditation, aromatherapy, etc.)

Final Thoughts

How you care for your body and mind is up to you. Can you afford an extra 20 minutes everyday to incorporate just one healthy habit? Maybe you wake up 20 minutes earlier to meditate or journal. Maybe you take 30 minutes at lunch to walk or exercise. But do not forget one of the most important factors, that takes no extra time, is incorporating a healthy lifestyle by paying attention to what you put in, on, and around your body. You only have one life, the quality of it can be determined by how you care for yourself.

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Work-life balance or integration?

a woman holding a cellphone and typing on a laptop

What does work-life balance mean?

Work-life balance is the idea that you can divide your time and energy equally between work and important aspects of their life. Essentially, you divide between the demands of the workplace and spending quality time with family members, maintaining a social life, focusing on your personal growth, caring for your health, engaging in self-care practices, participate within your community, and other activities that are important pieces of your personal life. Fundamentally, work and your personal life exist separately, where one ends, the other begins.

The idea of work-life balance was developed to help employees and employers achieve a more balanced lifestyle. In response to the excessive feelings of stress and burnout, we developed an idea of balance and boundaries. However, stress and burnout comes with managing both work and personal demands as separate entities. Thus, the problem with work-life balance is the notion of “balance”. The word balance suggests a weighing balance scale that is balanced (or equal) on both sides. This concept, although ideal in theory, is nearly impossible to reach. The term suggests there would be little conflict between your work and personal life. However, at different points in your life, throughout various stressors / deadlines, one may require more time and energy than the other. They may also interlope from time to time. Yet the notion of “balance” implies that when you spend more time and energy on one area, you are taking from the other.

Thus, in recent years, work-life balance has progressed into a more realistic notion known as work-life integration.

Work-life integration suggests that work and your personal life co-exist and thrive together. Rather than specific boundaries of a traditional “9-5,” integration allows for your personal and professional life to intermingle. For example, you may make time during the workday to pick up your children from school and you may take time after dinner to respond to emails.

Work-life integration allows for you to participate in higher productivity and efficiency levels at work without sacrificing your personal life, mental, emotional, or physical health. It also can be beneficial in prioritizing important things outside of work, like family time, health, and self-care without feeling guilty. Furthermore, integration eliminates the stress of “having it all” in a sense of balance when instead they co-exist and thrive together.

Basically, work-life integration is about feeling content. When your life moves from a focus on producing content to being content, with all aspects of your life, you can not only boost your work productivity, but also grow in different areas of your personal life.

Is work-life integration important?

In my opinion, work-life integration is an essential part of your overall wellness. When you treat work and life as separate entities, there is an added level of stress and pressure. You are constantly trying to enforce boundaries where lines are often blurred. There may be personal emergencies during the workday, and there may be work emergencies during your personal time. Trying to enforce strict boundaries can lead to feelings of guilt and anger and increased stress levels when lines are crossed.

Self-care is an important piece of overall happiness and productivity. Without recharging, you will exhaust yourself to a point of fatigue and burnout. Burnout is linked to a reduction in productivity, lack of motivation, and symptoms of depression. However, trying to achieve “work-life balance” makes it difficult to set aside time for self-care without feeling guilty.

Integrating work and life to co-exist in harmony that allows ample time for both without feelings of continual guilt can positively impact your mental health.

Is work-life balance integration really possible?

As stated earlier, work-life integration is about finding a state of content within all aspects of your life. Work-life integration is about believing that dedicating time to work or life does not take away from the other. For each person, work-life integration may look different, based on their personal life and work demands.

For some, work-life integration may look like starting the workday after dropping off one’s children and leaving during the “workday” to pick up one’s kids from school but answering emails and working on proposals after the kids go to bed. Or work-life integration may look like taking an extended lunch break to workout, see a healthcare professional, or engage in a form of self-care. It is different for everyone, because it is based on your specific needs and work / life demands. Finding the proper integration may be easier for some than others and may take a while to properly develop. The important part is finding a combination that allows for growth in all areas without sacrificing your emotional, mental, and / or physical health.