Understanding Mental Illness

Mental health can and should be a daily practice, taken into consideration more often than “when something is wrong” or when going through a particularly difficult time. Taking care of your mental health is a preventative form of care and by incorporating daily rituals and practices into your life, you can give your mental health the attention it deserves.

Here are nine things you can do to take care of yourself so you can take care of others:

Take a mental health day. You know yourself best. If you feel that you need a break, take one. If you don’t have vacation or paid time off, consider taking mini breaks throughout the day to renew your energy and spirit. It’s okay to slow down and not feel rushed to cross everything off the to-do list at once.

Switch up your evening routine. Try winding down in a different way than you typically do if you’re feeling particularly stressed or “off.” Think about what relaxes you and adopt that into your routine: reading a book, taking a long bath, chatting with a friend.

Adopt a vacation mentality. Put your phone setting on do not disturb between 9pm-7am. Go swimming instead of sweating at the gym. Walk in the park with a friend during lunch. Ignore emails after you’ve clocked out for the day/week. Whatever you do on vacation that feels relaxing and rejuvenating, try bringing some of that into your daily life.

Meditate for five minutes every day. Perhaps you’ve heard this advice before, but the science doesn’t lie! Meditation eases stress and anxiety, calms your nervous system, helps with memory and so much more. There’s no need to put pressure on yourself to gain some important insight or enlightenment. Sit quietly, focused on your breathing with no judgment of the thoughts in your head. With regular practice, you’ll begin to feel the benefits.

Be mindful of what you eat and drink. It’s a common coping mechanism to comfort our emotions with food, drink or other substances. We all have different nutritional and lifestyle choices, but we suggest being extra mindful when experiencing stress, anxiety or depression as sugar, junk foods and alcohol will make you feel worse (even if you feel better temporarily).

Consider reaching out for professional help. There is no barometer, specific feeling or event that warrants a person to “need” or want professional counseling. We all have varying life circumstances and coping strategies. If you feel like you “shouldn’t be this upset” or that “others have it worse” we suggest allowing yourself permission to seek help. We all deserve it.

Prioritize rest. Our culture values the “hustle” and though hustle has it’s time and place, we also need rest. You know your body and mind best—if you need a morning off work, take it. If you need a long weekend alone, take it. If you need to sleep in just a little bit longer, sleep in! The to-do list is not going anywhere and you’ll need your physical and emotional health in top shape to do your best.

Write down as many inspiring messages as you can. They can be lyrics, affirmations, reminders to move your body, drink water, have gratitude—any message that uplifts you. Keep them close by, such as in a desk drawer, a large jar or your phone’s notebook app. If you need a pick-me-up, reach for one. Alternatively, download an app that sends positive affirmations to your phone daily. It’s proven that we bring to life the thoughts that we tell ourselves (even unconsciously), so let yourself think positive thoughts!

When we feel that we are in control of our thoughts, feelings and emotions we’re bound to continue the work that allows us to feel that way. However, if you think you may need professional help, reach out. Everyone needs help at some point in life. It takes courage and strength to recognize when help is needed and seek it out.

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This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on April 29, 2021, by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine.  

Question: I recently found out my 17-year-old is smoking marijuana. He said he does it to help with anxiety and that he finds a lot of relief in it. I don’t love the idea at all, but I also feel powerless to stop him. How can I talk to him about the risks but also be supportive if I lose this battle?

Answer: This is a difficult time for parents. At 17, your son is on the cusp of becoming a legal adult. This can give teens a feeling of not needing guidance or permission. Passing the milestone of 18 will not suddenly make him mature enough to all make decisions that are in his best interest. However, if your son is just starting to use at 17, studies show he is less at risk than a teen who starts at a young age, who smokes/vapes for years. A University of Montreal study says that the more teenagers delay smoking marijuana (cannabis) until they are older, the better it is for their brains, but there may be little ill effect if they start after age 17. That may give you some comfort. However, the human brain takes 26 years to reach full development so introducing substances does have risks when it comes to full potential.

That being said, I find a troubling issue in your question. What is causing the anxiety at age 17 for him to self-medicate with marijuana to relieve it? Many people have found cannabis calming, yet at seventeen or any age really, understanding the underlying cause of the anxiety is key. There are many non-drug ways of treating anxiety worth exploring.

Teens have lots of reasons to feel anxious and the pandemic has increased this anxiety. Life looks uncertain, relationships and future plans may be on hold, decreased social activity can add to general unsettledness and hopelessness. Under normal times, this age is challenging—adult responsibilities and major life decisions loom and teens question themselves. They are also developmentally pulling away from parental influences which can sometimes cause problems at home.

I commend you for wanting to address his marijuana use, but an overall conversation needs to include healthy coping and understanding of what is contributing to his anxiety. Living with anxiety can be a lifelong struggle and he should seek help at an early age to prevent this. Assure him that he does not have to talk to you about it, but a counselor might be a great help to him. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based successful treatment for anxiety which many therapists use in their work.

I urge you to do more research to give you what you need for the discussion. For parents with younger children, talking about marijuana and substance abuse needs to happen before they start using and should be an ongoing conversation. Here are some talking points (taken from the references below) for you and other parents to begin a conversation about marijuana use.

Marijuana can affect driving. It is extremely important that teens who drive understand how dangerous driving under the influence of marijuana can be. Reaction time and judgment can be impaired coupled with inexperience behind the wheel.

Importantly, marijuana is illegal. The fact that many states have legalized recreational marijuana has given a lot of young people the idea that it is legal and okay for them to use. It is not. Recreational marijuana is only legal for adults age 21 and older. Legal trouble can be incurred by a teen for possession and/or dealing.

Marijuana is not good for teen brains. Studies have shown that early marijuana use (16 and younger) causes problems with judgment, planning, and decision-making that may lead to risky behaviors. Some studies show problems with memory, motivation, and academic performance. Not the best situation with which to step into adulthood. The teens who may have a predisposition (possible family history) to mental illness and/or addiction may find themselves struggling with depression, psychosis, or further substance use.

There are very real health reasons not to smoke/vape cannabis. A 2017 study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine states that teens who vape are twice as likely to experience respiratory problems along with coughs, bronchitis, congestion, and phlegm than peers who do not vape.

Lastly, I like that you want to have a conversation with your son about marijuana. This is hard for parents who are often confused themselves or have mixed messages on the subject. I also like that you want to be supportive no matter the outcome. It is a conversation worth having and it will show your love for him.

Here is further information about cannabis use in teens and about anxiety:

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/emotional-problems/Pages/Anxiety-Disorders.aspx
https://www.verywellmind.com/marijuana-use-by-teens-statistics-2610207
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170125214606.htm#:~:text=2,Delaying%20marijuana%20smoking%20to%20age%2017%20cuts,teens’%20brains%2C%20new%20study%20suggests&text=Summary%3A,they’re%20less%20at%20risk.

Click to access evidence-brief-youth-13-17-e.pdf

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine.

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If you are asking this question, you are probably not alone. In fact, 18 million Americans struggle with misusing alcohol or with the symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorders (AUD). If you feel as though your relationship with alcohol is a problem or could become a problem, it is important to know that you are not alone. There are resources that can provide help and guide you through a recovery journey. Arming yourself with information is a good first step.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder (alcohol addiction)?

There are hereditary and environmental factors to addiction, but many times the cause is not known. The following are some of the symptoms that characterize AUD.

The individual:

  • drinks more or longer than they initially intended to
  • has tried to moderate or stop drinking in the past, but has been unable to
  • spends a lot of time drinking or recovering from the effects of drinking
  • experiences cravings, or strong desires to drink
  • drinks even though it interferes with home, family, work, or school responsibilities
  • drinks even though it causes trouble in their personal life
  • gives up activities or obligations that were once important, in order to drink
  • gets into situations while drinking that may be risky or cause harm
  • continues to drink even if it causes depression, anxiety, or other health problems
  • has to drink more to produce the desired effects
  • has withdrawal symptoms when not drinking

NOTE: According to the DSM-5 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, showing two-three of these symptoms in the last year may indicate a mild alcohol use disorder, while showing four-five symptoms indicates a moderate AUD. Displaying six or more symptoms signifies a severe alcohol use disorder.

Who is at risk for alcohol use disorders?

Drinking alcohol in moderation can be okay for some people. This means that while they may feel the effects of alcohol consumption, they do not feel compelled to keep drinking. Moderate drinking is classified as no more than one or two drinks per day for men and women.

Using alcohol when bored, stressed, lonely, depressed, or if there is a genetic predisposition to addiction (family members with AUD), can lead to further serious problems. If you or someone you care about is drinking to get through the day, it may be time to reach out for help.

How does alcohol affect physical health?

Like any substance consumed in excess, there will likely be side effects. Alcohol may also interact negatively with prescription medications and make it difficult to diagnose other health concerns.

When drinking to excess there can be problems with:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Reduced inhibitions or risky behaviors
  • Inability to focus, impaired memory
  • Affected vision, reflexes, and coordination

Long-term effects of active addiction:

  • Impaired learning and/or brain development
  • Increased depression and anxiety
  • Major organ damage; increased risk for heart disease
  • Cirrhosis (chronic liver disease)
  • Cancer

How does alcohol affect mental health?

Alcohol is a depressant. Therefore, it slows down your brain and alters its chemistry. There are many effects including changes to mood, energy levels, memory, concentration, and sleep patterns.

Alcohol may also impact decision making. While drinking, a person may “do things without thinking” or say or do things they would not do or say while sober such as pushing away or hurting the people who care most about them. It can give a person courage to engage in risky situations like unsafe sexual encounters, trouble with law enforcement or getting into fights. Alcohol can contribute to life falling apart, causing withdrawal from important relationships and social situations, and even self-harm. A combination of factors along with intoxication has led to many dying by suicide.

Where do I go for help with AUD?

Talk with your primary care practitioner. There are multiple treatment options ranging from hospitalization for detox if needed, to outpatient therapy with a counselor or group, to rehabilitation or participation in an intensive outpatient program (IOP). There is also residential treatment. There are even medications that can provide support for building a sober life.

Lastly, there are many recovery communities like AA, Smart Recovery, and Women for Sobriety that provide support and assistance in learning how to live a healthy, sober life.

sources: healthline.com, headspace.org, recoverycentersofamerica.com, cdc.org, apibhs.com

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Bipolar disorder is thought to be a rare condition consisting of “mood swings” but it’s much more common and complex than that. Bipolar disorder affects 60 million people worldwide and approximately 5.7 million Americans. Of these, an estimated 51% will go untreated or misdiagnosed.

Bipolar disorder, sometimes known as manic-depressive illness or manic depression, is a mental disorder that causes an unusual shift in mood, energy, activity level, concentration, judgement, or ability to perform day-to-day tasks. The “unusual” shifts refer to uncharacteristic changes in an individual lasting days or weeks. This is known as an “episode.” A manic episode is an emotional “high,” while a depressive episode is an emotional “low.”

Manic and hypomanic episodes include three or more of the following signs:

  • Unusually upbeat, jumpy, or wired; increased activity, energy
  • Exaggerated sense of well-being or self-confidence
  • Distractibility, racing thoughts
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Unusual talkativeness
  • Poor decision making such as excessive shopping, risky sexual behavior, etc.

Depressive episodes include five or more of the following signs:

  • Depressed mood; sad, empty, hopeless, irritable feelings
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Fatigue/loss of energy
  • Restlessness or slowed actions
  • Apathy
  • Abrupt change in weight and/or appetite
  • Decreased ability to think/concentrate
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • Thinking about or attempting suicide

Those with bipolar disorder may not recognize the changes in their behavior. Some may also enjoy the feelings of euphoria that accompany a manic episode, but an emotional crash will always follow. The signs described above are not normal or typical of young children, adolescents or adults, and should be taken seriously.

There are three different types of bipolar disorder diagnoses:

Bipolar I Disorder: Manic episodes lasting at least 7 days or manic episodes so severe that immediate hospitalization is required and depressive episodes lasting at least two weeks. Mixed features may be possible (manic and depressive episodes occurring simultaneously). Bipolar I disorder is the most severe.

Bipolar II Disorder: A pattern of depressive and hypomanic episodes (less severe mania) that last for longer periods but are less severe than bipolar I disorder.

Cyclothymia: Periods of hypomanic and depressive symptoms lasting at least 2 years. Symptoms are less severe than Bipolar I and II disorders and individuals are usually able to function in their daily life.

Bipolar disorder is commonly misdiagnosed, the main reason being that those with the disorder may also have a co-occurring disorder. These can include anxiety disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, substance use disorder, eating disorders, or other mental health disorders. A mental health professional will diagnose bipolar disorder by observing signs and symptoms, life experiences of the individual, and the family health history of the individual. A diagnosis typically occurs in late adolescence with the average age being 25, but those in their later adult years can also be diagnosed.

It’s important that those with bipolar disorder or those with undiagnosed symptoms to attain treatment. If left untreated, an individual’s manic and depressive episodes will not improve. Additionally, they may be at risk for drug and alcohol abuse, legal or financial troubles, impaired performance at work and school, difficulty maintaining relationships and suicide attempts. In fact, 30% of individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder will attempt suicide at least once in their life. A diagnosis and ongoing treatment are vital.

Individuals with bipolar disorder are at higher risk of thyroid disease, migraine headaches, heart disease, diabetes and more. Treatment is highly individualized, especially when it comes to correct medication, often an antipsychotic and/or anti-depressant. Primary care visits are also important in ongoing treatment.

Treatment can include psychotherapy sessions (talk therapy) and medication taken consistently, regular exercise that benefits brain and heart health, sticking to daily routines, avoiding misuse of substances, as well as journaling for symptom tracking are recommended. Individuals with bipolar disorder can lead wonderfully healthy, functioning lives with the assistance of lifelong treatment.

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Are you feeling busy, distracted and exhausted? Even after the emotionally overwhelming year we’ve all just experienced, we haven’t slowed down and taken time for ourselves. Further, our society doesn’t value the practice of introspection, the observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes. Introspection, or self-reflection, is the willingness to recognize and determine your “old programming” that no longer serves you so that you can build new “programming.” How this can be done? With a calm mind to start.

How do I calm my mind?
Having a calm mind will allow you to concentrate and feel more relaxed. This practice will vary person to person, but here are some suggestions:

  • Take a few deep breaths; practice breath work
  • Stretch your body
  • Go for a walk; move your body
  • Journal, meditate, pray

How do I practice self-reflection?
When your mind is calm, allow yourself to draw inward and think deeply on the issue, emotion or memory at hand. To help, ask yourself:

  • What does this make me think?
  • How does it make me feel?
  • How does it hold me back?

It’s important not to judge yourself. Be honest with yourself so that you’re not tempted to imagine how you should feel. Don’t be afraid to dig deeper! You’re trying to access the root of the issue and you will most likely come across resistance. This is your ego/mind trying to protect you from uncomfortable and harmful emotions.

Additionally, you can ask yourself questions in order to get to know yourself better whether or not you’re currently working through an issue. Start with these:

  • What am I really scared of?
  • Am I holding on to something that I can let go of?
  • When did I last push passed my comfort zone?
  • What do I want most in life?
  • When was the last time I made someone smile?

Why should I practice self-reflection?
With self-reflection comes self-awareness. You’ll begin to see your thoughts, behaviors, emotions and reactions in real time as you experience them. You can determine which ones bother you, don’t serve you or harm you and learn to let them go. By slowing down, calming your mind, and asking yourself substantial questions to draw on old issues, you can then learn to shift your behaviors, thoughts and reactions to ones that better represent you, your values and beliefs.

The more you reflect, the easier you’ll be able to hold yourself accountable. This not only benefits you directly, but it also benefits those you surround yourself with. You may even inspire them to be more introspective!

What are benefits to introspection?
A self-aware person can expect myriad of benefits, but here are some that may be true for you:

  • Clarity
  • Self-control
  • Less stress and anxiety
  • Higher self-esteem and pride
  • Increased emotional intelligence
  • Easier time coping with challenges
  • Appropriate reactions to situations
  • Realize their potential and become more aligned

Remember, slowing down, calming your mind and regular self-reflection may come with resistance­­­­ from your mind, your family, even your job. Stay strong­­–this time is essential for your mental health. It’s okay to start small and always be gracious and patient with yourself. You’re in the process of changing how you think, feel, and behave. You’re changing your life!

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Have you found yourself at the beginning of a new year with good intentions and hefty resolutions, but ended up falling off track? We’ve all been there! Although it can seem discouraging, it is possible to make changes for the better. By having a growth mindset, you know that with time and effort you can stay on track with your goals and grow mentally and emotionally. Use these simple affirmations to start 2021 off confidently.

I failed vs. I learn from my mistakes. When we change the narrative from failure to growth, we’re more receptive to learning from our mistakes rather than fearing making them in the first place.

I can do it alone vs. I ask for help when I need it. There is a difference between independence and being self-sufficient and knowing when you need support. The key is learning when and to whom you should ask for help.

I’m not as good/successful/purposeful as they are vs. I focus on my own progress. Comparison has its place, but it can also be very dangerous to your mental health and your personal growth. When you focus on your progress, you learn more about yourself and what you need and want in your journey.

I’m not smart enough for that vs. I can do hard things. Strong, confident, and mentally healthy people know that a challenge can be a good thing. When you overcome difficult situations, you become more confident and resilient—and ready for the next challenge.

I’ll never understand it vs. I haven’t figured it out yet. When we have limiting thoughts, we are indeed limiting ourselves. It’s okay if something is taking you time to figure out or work through. Life is full of those situations! Giving yourself the empathy and understanding that certain things take time to work through will be beneficial in your growth.

I’m just not meant for this vs. I am on the right track. When you focus on yourself, learn from mistakes, and give yourself time to work through things, you’ll come to know yourself better on a deeper level. Your intuition is powerful and can guide you through many of life’s uncertainties especially if you’re equipped to learn to listen to it. It’s just as important to realize when you’re not on the right track and to change course until you know that you are.

It’s important to recognize that the way you communicate with yourself is just as important as the rest of your emotional and mental health. With societal pressures, family pressures, and internal pressures, it’s crucial that we heal the relationship we have with ourselves in order for us to truly progress and thrive.

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Social media was created for a sense of community—and now, more than ever, we all need interaction with other humans, even if it is over the internet. Through social media, we are able to find like-minded people all over the world and easily interact with them, learn from them, and be friends with them. In fact, 75% of all internet users are on social media. These users are spending 2.5 hours daily on an average of seven different social network accounts. We use social media to connect with friends and family during these (physically) socially distanced times, but is it making us unhappy?

Short answer: yes. Some studies are showing that teens and young adults are reporting higher rates of depression than those who spend less time online, rising from 13-66 percent.1 However, studies are showing a correlation, not a causation between social media usage and our mental health. Because it changes and evolves so quickly, and the history of social media is so short, not enough studies on the topic have been conducted. Therefore, long term scientific effects are not yet known. Below are some effects people have reported from using social media frequently:

Perceived isolation Feeling FOMO (fear of missing out) when we scroll through friend’s accounts. Thinking “Why didn’t they invite me?” when constantly looking at the activities and lives of other people online.

Lowered self-esteem Constantly comparing our lives with those of our friends, celebrities, and influencers with the personas that they display online. “Facebook envy” has been on the rise and is a recognized term by health professionals.

Less healthy activity Not leaving enough time for exercise and outdoor activity. Always having phones at the ready while at the gym, running, or otherwise focused on the activity. Exercise is necessary for both mental and physical health.

Disrupted concentration Attention spans are shorter than ever, and now more than ever we’re completely distracted. We crave the dopamine hit from notifications, “likes,” and comments from our social media apps. This instant gratification is “addicting without being satisfying.”2 according to Dr. Alexandra Hamlet of the Child Mind Institute.

Sleep deprivation The blue light from our device screens discourages melatonin production making it difficult to fall asleep each night. Being anxious, envious or otherwise distracted is also keeping us from getting enough sleep. Proper sleep is critical for mental health.

Making memories Not being present in the moment. Always trying to get the “perfect” photo or looking at the “perfect” photos of others. When we look back on our lives, we should have authentic memories that we can cherish and not forgotten photos and “likes.”

Comparison culture is toxic and pervasive on social media and shows us in real time how we’re keeping up (or not keeping up) with others. We look at celebrity and influencer profiles that have the “perfect” aesthetic and we compare them to our own hair, makeup, physique, vacations, jobs, homes—our entire lives. Jerry Bubrick, PhD, is a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute in New York City. He states that “the more we use social media, the less we think about being in the present moment.”3

On the other hand, the human connection aspect of social media makes us feel included, heard and that we belong. Human connection is essential because it encourages compassion and empathy for others which the world needs more of right now. For anyone that finds socializing in-person to be difficult, social media can be that link to human interaction. For instance, those with anxiety disorders, Asperger’s, or physical disabilities rely on social media to feel connected to others.

How can we continue to use social media without harming our mental health? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Designate specific times for social media usage and for non-social media times (e.g. phone-free Fridays)
  • Stay physically active! This helps your body and your brain stay
  • Model behavior for your kids. If the rule is no phones at the dinner table, mean it!
  • Be mindful of how you really feel online. Do certain people, pages, or posts make you feel bad about yourself? Unfollow them
  • Taking a hiatus from social media can help you reconnect with yourself, your family and your
  • Refrain from social media 1-3 hours before your
  • Seek a professional if you’re feeling signs of depression or if you’ve noticed any severe changes in your mood or daily

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources: psycom.net, pewresearch.org, blog.hootsuite.com, psychologytoday.com Caroline Miller, Does Social Media Cause Depression? New York: Child Mind Institute, 2020 https://childmind.org/article/is-social-media-use-causing-depression/

1 Caroline Miller, Does Social Media Cause Depression? New York: Child Mind Institute, 2020 https://childmind.org/article/is-social-media-use-causing-depression/

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What are boundaries?

There are two types of boundaries that you should create for yourself: external and internal. External boundaries are guidelines that determine how you allow others to behave towards you. Internal boundaries maintain balance, exhibit self-discipline and allow you to manage your time, thoughts, emotions and behavior. Both types are meant for your protection and well-being and should be based on your values.

Where to implement boundaries

Healthy boundaries should exist in all aspects of your life. Consider the following areas:

Physical: applies to your personal space, privacy and your body. This includes sexual boundaries and determine the what, where, when, how and with whom of sexual activity.
Possessions: determines whether or not you lend or give away personal belongings.
Spiritual: relates to your beliefs and experiences with God, a higher power, nature, etc.
Mental: relates to your thoughts, values and opinions.
Emotional: applies to your emotions, feelings and behaviors.

Do I need boundaries?

Yes, everyone needs boundaries for good mental health. If you’re able to take accountability for your feelings and actions, especially as they relate to other people’s feelings and actions, it’s a sign that you have strong internal boundaries. If you often feel resentment, anger, anxiety or feel taken advantage of it could indicate weak external boundaries and that you’re consistently being pushed past your own limits and values.

In order to set boundaries for yourself, you need to know what they are. These are determined by your core values. Are you unsure of what your values are? Now is the perfect time for self-reflection. Tune into your feelings, your past experiences and how you want to show up in the world. What matters most to you? What are you unwilling to compromise on? Use meditation, prayer, journaling or being in nature to allow for a space of self-awareness. These realizations may not all come immediately. That’s okay—have patience and continue showing up for yourself.

Why set personal boundaries?

Creating, setting and following through with personal boundaries will help maintain your mental health. Boundaries can also help you grow, save your emotional and mental energy, and act as a form of self-care.

How to set boundaries

Making boundaries for yourself can be difficult to do at first, but it shows that you take responsibility for your mental health. Try the following:

  • Look to your core values
  • Follow your instincts
  • Be assertive and consistent
  • Learn to say “no”
  • Communicate clearly
  • Start small
  • Seek support if needed

Being consistent with implementing external and internal boundaries will increase your self-esteem, conserve emotional energy, and create more independence in your life. Once you’ve made boundaries known in your life, it’s natural for people to test them. Don’t falter. We all have different values and boundaries and we all deserve to have them respected. Honor your needs and make yourself the priority.

 

 

 

 

Sources: psychcentral.com; mindbodygreen.com; healthline.com

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Studies have shown that a daily routine alleviates feelings of stress, anxiety and other mental health issues. It’s also proven beneficial for those working through addiction, insomnia, and helps give structure to children who may otherwise experience anxiety. Though our daily lives have been upended in recent weeks, this can be a powerful time to establish our priorities through routine.

Here are some reasons why and how routine can enhance your mental wellbeing, as well as some examples to try in your own life.

Ease stress: With so many decisions to be made each day, it can become overwhelming quickly. Having the majority of daily decisions planned in advance can lessen stress. It’s okay to start small with one decision and work up to planning more. Try: Put together your outfit the night before or pack tonight’s leftover dinner as an ready-to-grab lunch for tomorrow.

Provide structure: Children aren’t the only ones who benefit from structure. Even as adults, we perform better when we expect predictable and controllable moments. When our day has a rhythm, we feel grounded and focused. Try: Write down all the things that you need to do during your day. Once these priorities are met, sprinkle in what you want to do.

Better coping skills: When most of our daily tasks are repetitive and expected, it gives us the confidence to make it through our day. This will help to establish better coping skills for life’s curveballs. Try: Allow yourself time each day to process your emotions. Write in a journal, meditate, or express your feelings creatively.  

Forms habits: It takes 21 days to form a habit—why not use a routine as practice? The more consistent you are, the better established your routine will become. Try: Go to bed and wake up at the same times each day. A proper sleep schedule reduces stress, anxiety and gives you the energy to power through your day.

 

Your routine should represent your lifestyle and meet your responsibilities. This means that if waking up at 4am is impossible for you, don’t make yourself do it. Set yourself up for success! With this being said, a daily routine should never feel like a prison. Leave room for flexibility and the opportunity to adapt to life’s changes.

We all rely on each other for support and encouragement. If you are experiencing severe stress or are having difficulty performing day-to-day tasks reach out to a loved one or professional.

 

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Sad red-haired girl

The Emotional Ripple Effect of Someone’s Suicide

I have a tough subject to talk with you about: the extreme and extensive impact of a loved one’s suicide.

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on November 20th, 2019 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

I have a tough subject to talk with you about: the extreme and extensive impact of a loved one’s suicide.

Suicide is always shockingly sad anytime we hear of it, whether we know the person or not.  When it happens to someone we care about, like our spouse, parent, a brother or sister, a child or teenager, a neighbor, cousin, uncle, aunt, coworker or friend, it knocks the wind out of us, like a punch in the gut.  It is hard enough to lose someone in the normal course of living, but to lose them to suicide is immeasurably hard to grasp.  It is an unexpected ending and our lives are suddenly changed.    

When someone is the one left behind by a suicide they experience so many emotions, unusual circumstances, awkward conversations, and they have so many questions, most of which have no good answers.  If this were to happen to you, here are some things you may experience:

You may have to endure a police investigation. A police investigation can be unsettling, especially when you’re grieving.  The police have to investigate and they are looking for information, but because of the shock and confusion, giving answers may be difficult.  

You may feel confused, forgetful, or exhausted. A typical reaction to traumatic events is to feel confused or forgetful. You may forget to do your usual routines, like eating or brushing your teeth.  You may feel like you can’t think straight.  You may experience extreme exhaustion (as is typical with emotional pain), yet sleep can be elusive.

You may feel abandoned, left alone by someone you thought cared.  You may wonder, “Didn’t they care about me?” and “Why wasn’t my loving them, enough? Why didn’t they come to me?” Children may wonder what they did wrong.

You may be in denial and not believe that this actually happened, and that it was actually a suicide. 

You may feel numb and feel nothing.  You may even think you have gotten over the event.  Then, suddenly, you are living it with intense emotion.

You may have regrets about not having known they were in serious trouble.  Some people present as fine on the outside and are torn-up with despair on the inside.  Sometimes they work really hard to hide these feelings from loved ones.  I have known many people who say “I wear a mask.”

You may feel guilt or responsibility.  “If only I had…” and “If I would have/could have done something, they would still be here.” 

You may be angry.  You may be very angry–at the person (“How could she do this?” “How could he throw away his beautiful life?”) or at those who you feel should have helped (“Why didn’t the doctor/the school/the counselor do something?”) It is no one’s fault, and certainly not yours.

Your faith may be rocked. “How could God let this happen?”

You may feel shame about it and not want it to be public knowledge.  There is stigma which makes us not want to share when we or a loved one struggles with mental illness.  Our society has equated emotional suffering with weakness.

You may feel relief, which often leads to feeling more shame because you do feel relief.  When someone is depressed to the point of suicide it affects everyone around them.  Their depression can make us feel hopeless and anxious.

You may feel depressed, and alone in your grief.

Emerging after someone’s suicide takes time.  It is best to allow yourself time to grieve, to feel what you feel, and to talk about your questions with a counselor, pastor, or a caring friend.  Don’t do it alone.  If you feel depressed, or in spiritual despair, seek help.  If you feel suicidal, seek help. 

This person you have loved was part of your world.  Talk about your loved one by remembering the good times, as well as the bad times.  This can help with healing.  Say their name.  It keeps them alive in your heart.  Eventually you will come to your own acceptance and peace.  Be gentle with yourself.

 

Suicide Hotline:  1-800-273-8255             Maine Crisis Hotline   1-888-568-1112

 

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com and click on “Referrals.”

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