News & Events

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on August 15th, 2019 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question:  I am a divorced dad and don’t see my teenage children as much as I would like due to my work requiring significant travel. We’ve grown apart a lot in recent months and now even when we do see each other, I feel like I don’t even know what to say or ask. My kids seem disinterested in maintaining a relationship with me. They often do not answer my texts or phone calls. I think sometimes they make excuses for not seeing me too. I’m looking for unique ways to help strengthen my relationship with my kids and connect again. Thanks.

Answer: 

What an important and difficult situation, thank you for asking about this, I am sure others can relate.  The situation sounds like you need an immediate, (take some vacation time) and go camping, fishing or anything that would give you some extended time together to rekindle a connection.  

Let’s start with communication.  Often we talk to our kids by asking yes/no questions, questions that can be answered with one word like: “How was your day?”  “Fine”  “Is Mike coming over?” “Yes.”  “Was your test difficult?”  “No.”  “Did you get your homework done?”  You know the drill.  This is not conversation, and it is especially brutal when it is on the phone.   Instead, ask the questions in such a way that they must provide more information, like:   “Tell me something about your day?” “If Mike comes over what do you think you would like to do?”  When you are engaged in what they are studying or who their friends are, your questions can be more relevant, allowing for more conversation.  Remember that conversation goes both ways.  Without burdening them with your troubles, tell them things about yourself.  How are they like you?  What was important when you were their age, or a story about something that struck you as funny.  Send them pictures from your travels.   Whatever you do, be genuine.  Teens know when you don’t really care.  Learn their favorite video games and have them also teach you to play when you are with them.  Then you can ask about what levels they have achieved, they will know you understand.  Find an app that has a game you can play back and forth, while apart.  I know a dad that always has a chess match going with his teen.  Teens also prefer texts and many don’t answer calls.  Texting a note or picture is like communicating to them that right now, I am thinking about you. 

When you are together, you will have to put in some time to plan.  Set out to make your short time together meaningful.   TV and pizza, as much a kid’s like that, do not really make for relationship building experiences.  Ask yourself; are we making memories?  Try making your own pizzas with lots of fun ingredients, or go on a hike, fishing, or roller skating.  Make some family rituals for when you and your kids are together:  like morning waffle making or bike riding.  There are a lot of ideas online.  If at all possible, take one child along on one of your travels if they are old enough to safely bide their time when you are working.  Consider adding a day to the trip to explore, and make memories.  If your teens have special events, important sport activities or a role in a play, do whatever you can, alter your schedule when possible, to be able to be there.  I have had many people say, “My father never came to one of my games”.  

It is important to have fun, make memories, it is also vitally important to be a dad who participates in the heavy lifting of parenting, when necessary.  That is why you have no time to lose, to improve those connections with your teens.  You will want them to take you seriously and to listen to you when struggles come.  One way to do this, if the situation allows, is to have a positive-parenting connection with their mother.  Parenting with two parents is no walk in the park.  Being a divorced dad, who travels for work, is doubly hard. Don’t let your work be an excuse for not being involved.   You might want to try counseling around parenting issues, which can also be done confidentially online, when you travel.  Be careful not to put your kids in the middle between you and their mother, by asking what she is doing, if she is dating, or saying things to them about her which upsets them.  Kids will naturally want to defend her, which means, you are out. 

The other night I was with family in a pizza shop. When looking around the room, I could see dads alone with kids; thinking perhaps they were divorced and it was ‘their weekend.’  One father and teenage son stood out to me, because the teenager looked over my way rather bored and forlorn.  Dad was deep in his phone as they ate, scrolling away and texting.  This went on for some time.  It occurred to me that I would not want to be sitting there either, with no company.  The message we send our children and teens, when we are constantly consumed with other things, is that they are not important.  They feel invisible to us. This is a set-up for children to develop low self-esteem, a serious and sad condition.  As parents we need to be careful of the magnetic draw of our phones and other media, when the kids are around.  The natural progression of this situation of the teen in the pizza shop is that he may pull away.  Eventually he may find more interesting company than dad.    

I hear in your question that you want better.  I’m sharing this scenario to help you to think of what other factors are in your behavior, (intentional and unintentional) which might be contributing to your children distancing themselves from you.  I wish you success, whatever you do, don’t stop trying.  Kids need us, and want us, with changing intensity throughout our lives.  As you keep trying to engage you are sending the message that you will always be open to relationship with them.

Helpful links:

http://fathers.com/wp39/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Five-Tips-for-Dads-Who-Travel.pdf

https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/how-to-be-a-better-dad-when-you-travel-for-business/

healthaffiliatesmaine.com

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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Mid-Life Mom Wants to Fight Fatigue

I am a "mid-life" mom to three kids. I work outside the home. I have recently experienced a lot of fatigue in the afternoons. I find myself reaching for sweets or caffeine (or both) to give myself a pick-me-up and get through the rest of the day.

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on July 12th, 2019 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question: I am a “mid-life” mom to three kids. I work outside the home. I have recently experienced a lot of fatigue in the afternoons. I find myself reaching for sweets or caffeine (or both) to give myself a pick-me-up and get through the rest of the day. By the time I get home from work, I am too tired to cook so we often get take out. I’ve talked to my doctor and she did a thyroid test and other bloodwork to make sure I wasn’t having any health issues and those were all fine. She basically said this part of getting older and to increase my exercise and sleep. I have done both but still find myself tired all the time. I’m looking for other ways to boost my energy in the afternoons without looking to food and beverages. Any ideas are greatly appreciated.

Answer: Most of us can relate to your question. Many people, women especially, struggle with this and some accept it when they are told they are “aging”. It sounds like this is not the answer you want to accept. Good for you!

There are a lot of things in life that give us energy. Having balance in our lives is important, and adding in those things that “feed your soul” can really help our energy level. One of my favorite quotes is: “If I had but two loaves of bread to feed me, I would sell one, and buy hyacinths to feed my soul.”– Mohamad

Music, meditation, lunch with a friend, hobbies or creative outlets, spiritual study/activities, books, plays, nature walks and courses are some things that can round out your world. In that same vein, consider if you are bored or may need a challenge in your work. Has your primary relationship become distant or stagnant? Are you experiencing mood problems like depression?

Psychological fatigue can lead to feelings of physical fatigue. I ask to nudge you to look at other possible contributing factors.

On the physical level, sweets and other simple carbohydrates (pasta, potatoes, donuts, candy, etc.) feed fatigue, in a vicious cycle of sorts. The sweets can give a boost of insulin to our system, which makes us more feel more energy. The problem is, it wears off fast and we experience a drop in energy. Add more sweets and caffeine and we are in a crazy, up and down cycle. This can ultimately cause us health problems, weight gain, mood and self-esteem problems. For some, discomfort means more eating of ‘comfort foods’ which are usually simple carbohydrates. What a crazy cycle! Better choices when you are feeling fatigued are foods with protein, good fats (yes, like olives, nuts or avocado), or whole grains (complex carbs). Try one of these snacks before you are overly hungry, and you will make better choices later. It is also highly recommended to drink water frequently throughout the day.

Healthy eating, which is all about choices, is important for life long health for all of us. A vibrant, healthy friend of mine once laughingly said, that “anything handed to you from a window is NOT food”. Here is a link to read more about making good food choices:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dietary-guidelines/art-20045584.

Here are some suggestions to take small steps toward better choices which can ultimately help your fatigue. Start by adding a crock pot meal once a week, so it is done and ready to eat when you get home. Once that becomes routine, try to make one meal ahead on the weekend. You will start to feel better about your choices. It is also recommended to talk with a nutritionist or health coach about this. Many health insurances companies will pay for wellness activities, or have a set amount toward the cost. You can find out more from the website of your health insurance.

Lastly, try breaking up your work day, with some standing or a brisk walk around the parking lot to help rejuvenate your energy. Many of us at work send our printing to the printer farthest away just for a chance to get up and walk a bit. If you still struggle with fatigue, keep trying to get to the bottom of it—how you feel is so important. Make it your personal rule to get other opinions, especially when the first answer you got was that you were aging. Counseling, massage, yoga, acupuncture and chiropractic are some alternative treatments that may work for you. Don’t give up!

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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Reconnecting with Friends Divided by Divorce

I divorced my ex almost two years ago. We had quite a few couple friends and initially I was able to maintain being friends with our couple friends but it got harder and I would no longer be invited out because I was single.

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on June 19th, 2019 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question:  I divorced my ex almost two years ago. We had quite a few couple friends and initially I was able to maintain being friends with our couple friends but it got harder and I would no longer be invited out because I was single. Most of those friends I have basically written off because I felt snubbed. Two couple friends have at least tried to keep in touch though and I would like to try and reconnect with them. I have been dating someone for almost 6 months now and would love to try and go out as couples again. It feels pretty weird though given their history with my ex. (In at least one case, the husband is still friends with and sees my ex.) I want to have an open conversation with my couple friends but am not sure where to start. Any words of wisdom would be appreciated.

Answer:  This is a difficult thing—not only for you, but for your friends who knew you together with your ex-spouse. When we have friendships with other couples we think of each couple as a unit. We always say “Mark and Mary,” Dave and Nancy,” Mike and Dan.” When divorce happens our friends also experience the loss. The relationship is changed. People who lose a partner to death also experience this same thing with friends that knew them as a couple.  

I think your desire and effort to reconnect is good and worth trying. It is best just to be honest. Say that it would be great to see them again, that you have a new guy in your life that you would love to have them meet.  Acknowledge that it may be awkward at first. Ask them how they would feel about getting together. For your friend who is still friends with your ex, be aware that this could put him in a difficult triangle and he may feel he has to choose. In that case, accept it.

If you are able to get everyone together again, you might want to keep the first meeting brief or at an event where there are lots of other people around. Pick a place where there is something to watch (a game, a comedy show, etc.) so silences or awkwardness in the conversation is not so pronounced. 

Lastly, remember that each relationship is different. Some are strong enough to weather this change, while some relationships function better on a one-on-one basis instead of a “couples relationship.”  Yet, some people cannot move past the change. It is not that they don’t care about you; it is just so different. In instances like this, it is best for you to recognize and accept their choice. There is an inspirational saying about having friends for  “A Reason, a Season, or a Lifetime”. Some of our relationships last all through our lives, others last only for a brief time, and some seem only to serve a specific purpose and then vanish from our lives. All of these relationships enrich us for however long they last. The healthiest way is to understand and accept that relationships change and to cherish the gifts that come with each one. 

In the loss of a relationship like a divorce, and in the death of a loved one, there is a time of rebuilding, and a new way of functioning in the world. Congratulations on your new relationship. Let it open you up to new ventures and friendships. I wish you the best.  

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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Mom Misses Friends

I have trouble making mom friends. I am fairly shy and not comfortable approaching people. I have brought my kids to a lot of Macaroni Kid suggested events but can never work up the nerve to approach other moms.

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on May 8, 2019 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question: Hello. Thanks for taking questions from families in need of help. I just love Macaroni Kid and have told all my co-workers about it. Here is my dilemma. I have trouble making mom friends. I am fairly shy and not comfortable approaching people. I have brought my kids to a lot of Macaroni Kid suggested events but can never work up the nerve to approach other moms. I’ve found they don’t approach me either. Usually, moms are with a partner or have brought a friend along. I have now lived here for two years and still only have co-worker “friends.” How do I break out of my comfort zone to approach moms?

Answer: First of all, I want you to know you are not alone, many feel as you do. When this isn’t second nature, it is good to have a few “openers” for conversation ready.  Your questions should be open ended, meaning they can’t be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  That gives you more to hook into the conversation.  Here are some examples:

  • “I couldn’t help but notice how cute your daughter is in that hat”.  Where do you shop?
  • “This is the first time I have come to this kind of event, have you come before?  How often are they offered?  Are there any other events or activities that you like?”  
  • “I’m looking for ways to meet more moms; do you have any places that are good to go?”

You can also break the ice with some nametag fun (in the event you are given a nametag).  Write something like Hi I’m Carrie (I’m superman’s mom).  This will make people curious and want to know which child he is.  

One mom told me that she found that it was easier to make friends with other moms during children’s lessons or practices.  Talking is easier because another adult is with your child and everyone is a kind of captive audience.  Small talk and conversation is a natural outcome.

When you notice your child gravitating toward another child, comment about it to that child’s mom.  If the two seem to hit it off, mention a playdate.  One mom also said it is important to follow-up any play date offers.

There are also several apps that can also be a help in meeting other moms.  There are several which will give you the groups in your area.  Try Meetup.com for Moms, and try to explore others. These apps arrange for mom and baby/child activities and play dates.  You might also enjoy chat which can develop into a friendship offline.  They are also a great source of things happening in the community to do with kids.

One of the keys to making friends is to keep going back. Eventually, you will begin to know people.  It takes at least three times to begin to feel comfortable with the people and the routine of a new activity.  Studies have shown that friendships form from the length of time people spend together and the experiences they share.

Don’t let “coupled” friends stop you from interacting.  You may end up with two new friends.

I have been in this place before and I have tried something new.  I had an outgoing friend I admired, who could start a conversation with just about anybody.  In situations where I am uncomfortable, I think of her, and what would she do in this circumstance?  Sometimes it has given me the words and the courage to be like her, and step out of my comfort zone.  I have experimented with this in the quiet of an elevator.  It always surprises me how friendly people actually are when you joke and talk with them.

Lastly, volunteering to help out is one of the best ways to meet people.  It will give you something to do, which is helpful when shy, and you will meet the other moms who are volunteering.  I wish you lots of courage and fun!

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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Special Needs Child Means Marriage Has Special Needs

I am a married mom of a child with significant special needs. My husband and I have been struggling a lot lately because we both work full-time jobs and then spend most of our free time caring for our home and our son.

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on April 10, 2019 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question:I am a married mom of a child with significant special needs. My husband and I have been struggling a lot lately because we both work full-time jobs and then spend most of our free time caring for our home and our son. Caring for our son is a full-time job alone. We love him dearly, of course, but he requires constant care, even needing care during the night. We literally have no time to ourselves or for each other. We are fighting a lot and about things we never used to, especially who is doing more around the house or for our son. Date nights are nearly impossible as we do not have family close by and we could not leave our son with someone without significant training. We need ways to work together without fighting and to reconnect. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: 

Thank you for writing and asking your question. Many people don’t realize the difficulties involved in families with special needs children. You are not alone, even though it may, many times, feel that way. I’m glad you are reaching out before the stress of caregiving and the fighting does damage to your marriage. Often couples wait to get help only after significant damage has been done to the relationship. Not knowing the age or type of special needs of your child, I will provide a spectrum of suggestions in hopes that you and other parents will find one that will help.

  1. Tap into Respite Services (Info taken from OCFS and NAMI sites). Respite services are available to families with children with disabilities through three regional agencies in Maine. Respite can take place in your home, in the home of the respite worker, or in the community. Though the service is funded by the Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS), each agency determines the eligibility, decides on the allocation, and arranges for respite services. National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) also has Family Respite services; there is information at this website. NAMI Maine Family Respite exists to assist families by enabling a much needed break in the responsibility of caring for a child with significant developmental delays, and behavioral or emotional disorders.

    https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/ocfs/cbhs/family/respite.html
    https://www.namimaine.org/page/FamilyRespite

  1. Get creative about together time. Use your vacation time or lunch time to take dates with your husband while your child is in school or services. Make it a once-a-week priority.
  1. Seek help from a telehealth counselor or in-home counselor. A counselor can help you to find ways to work together without fighting and to reconnect—and if leaving for this service is impossible, the service can come to you.  Many counselors offer secure therapy services through telehealth and many insurance companies reimburse for this service.
  1. Make a purposeful effort to appreciate each other in big and small ways.  Show appreciation and respect for each other by recognizing effort—for example, noticing when unasked-for help is given, when interventions with your son were tried, when needs were anticipated and attended to. This will go a long way in making your situation more tolerable.
  1. Become an advocate for yourself and your son. You may be eligible for a variety of services which may help make yours and your son’s life easier. Inquire at agencies about what services they offer. Research online. The Maine Parent Federation is a good place to start. Visit them online at www.mpf.org.  
  1. Subscribe to news feeds. They can give you up-to-date information, ideas, and support.
  1. Look for ways amid your busy life to show your love and affection for each other. You are in this together, a team; you are each other’s best means of support. Work at keeping that in focus.

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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Struggling with Sexual Identity

My husband and I suspect our daughter (age 15) is a lesbian. Is it best for us to broach the subject with her or best to wait until she is ready to talk with us?

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on March 21, 2019 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question: My husband and I suspect our daughter (age 15) is a lesbian. We’ve actually suspected so for a few years now and the high school years have made it more clear to us. She has not said anything directly to us, or to anyone that we know of. We want to fully support her as best we can. Is it best for us to broach the subject with her or best to wait until she is ready to talk with us? I don’t want her to feel pressured to come out but I also want her to know we are in her corner. 

Answer: I like your last sentence.  This is probably what she needs to hear from you, that you are in her corner. Struggling with sexual identity is difficult. All of us thrive when we are authentic to who we are, however, it can be the hardest thing to talk to loved ones about. Big questions like: Will they be hurt? Will they disown me? Will I bring shame to the family? Will they expect me to change? You, however, seem to hit all the right notes of accepting and caring.  

By your words and actions you can continue to let her know:

  • you care about her  
  • you love her just as she is
  • you are open to conversations on all subjects 
  • you are willing to learn about differences
  • you want to support her

Your daughter will talk about it when she is ready. She may be in a state of questioning herself. Some individuals have reported being “outed” by someone before they were ready, and this had been damaging. You can demonstrate your acceptance and support by such things as attending events involving the gay community, inviting your gay friends to your home, or perhaps watching movies that depict gay characters. Many parents have gone down this road before you and can provide valuable information. Investigate organizations that focus on these issues like The Family Acceptance Project, PFLAG, and other online and community resources.  

Note to all parents: As parents, we hold a vision in our heads as to who our children are, what they will be, and what their future relationships will look like. Sometimes the picture in our head does not match the current reality. This can cause distress. It is important for you to allow yourself time to work through this and get support if you need it. Individual or family counseling can help. Always stay focused on loving your child, no matter what. The goal is for us to nurture and raise, what I think of as good humans; which are healthy, independent, adults who care about themselves, each other and the world.

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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Teen Suicide: It’s Not Just Drama

Adolescence is a time of change, change that is often frightening and confusing for teens. Their bodies are changing. Their minds, too, are changing, but they are not yet ready for all of the decisions they face.

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on March 5, 2019 by Mary A. Gagnon, LMFT; Health Affiliates Maine

“She’s such a drama queen.”

“All he wants is attention.”

“They’re not serious.”

These words—and others like them—lead to the dangerous belief that a teen who is talking about suicide should be dismissed or, even worse, purposely ignored. Those beliefs can sometimes lead to tragic results.

Adolescence is a time of change, change that is often frightening and confusing for teens. Their bodies are changing. Their minds, too, are changing, but they are not yet ready for all of the decisions they face. It’s important to understand this because teens often act without thinking and have little experience in managing their emotions. These are two risk factors for suicide. Other risk factors—mental health issues, poor coping/social skills, perfectionism, unrealistic parental expectations, family conflict, abuse, and more—heighten the risk for teens already struggling to learn how to become adults. 

As adults, it’s easy to brush off a teen’s behavior as “dramatic” or “attention-seeking.” So how can we tell the difference between a teen having a bad day and a teen who needs more support? Look for some of these signs:

  • Threatening to hurt or kill themselves
  • Making plans to kill themselves
  • Expressing hopelessness about the future
  • Displaying extreme distress or emotionality (more than is typical for a person their age or for the teen in general)
  • Increase in agitation, irritability, anger (more than is typical, or an extreme change)
  • Withdrawal from activities they used to enjoy

What can you do if you suspect that an adolescent is thinking about suicide? First, you show them you care. Ask them how they’re doing. Ask them what’s going on in their lives, who their friends are, how their academics are going, how they’re feeling. And if they tell you, listen. Teens know if you’re not being sincere, so don’t make it an interrogation—make it a curious, genuine inquiry. Second, you ask the question—Are you thinking about suicide? Yes, it’s direct, and yes, it’s scary. However, it’s the only way to get the answers you need, and the consequences of not asking could be dire. Don’t worry—you won’t put the idea in their heads. That’s a myth. And third, you get them help. If they say yes, you make sure to connect them with a mental health or medical professional right away, and do not leave them alone. If they say no, it’s still a good idea to help them connect to a mental health professional because even if they aren’t planning to take their own lives, chances are good that they could use some extra support.

One of the major factors in preventing suicide is the presence of caring adults in the lives of teens. Truly, adults can make the difference for adolescents considering suicide. Be the difference. Show you care.

*Credit to the Maine Suicide Prevention Program (www.namimaine.org) for information regarding signs and risk factors for suicide.

Mary Gagnon is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the Training and Clinical Development Specialist for Health Affiliates Maine.  Mary has worked in private practice as well as a variety of community mental health settings throughout her career.  Her most recent work at Health Affiliates Maine includes oversight of clinicians in private practice and development and facilitation of trainings for schools and conferences throughout the state.  She is also trained to provide Suicide Prevention Awareness sessions for the Maine Suicide Prevention Program.

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Cold Dark Season Has Reader Depressed

Winter is here and it is a difficult time for me. Between the cold, the dark, and the lack of outdoor time, I get really depressed. I know about SAD and have tried light therapy. I think it helps some but not enough. What other things can I try?

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on February 13, 2019 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question: 

Winter is here and it is a difficult time for me. Between the cold, the dark, and the lack of outdoor time, I get really depressed. I know about SAD and have tried light therapy. I think it helps some but not enough. What other things can I try?

Answer: 

Winter is a difficult time for many.  Some people enjoy winter because they have sports like skiing or snowmobiling, which causes them to look forward to it.  For many of us, winter is to be tolerated.  Some, like you, have the added difficulty where seasonal circumstances, like the lack of light, which affects your mood and leads to depression.  For some, the difficult months come on in February and March due to an accumulated effect of reduced daylight.  You mentioned SAD, which stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder.  SAD can cause depressed mood, social withdrawal, and mental health problems like increased anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts.  

Here are some interventions that can help:

Preplan winter.  As the winter season approaches each year, fill your calendar with activities both social and physical.  Schedule lunch with friends, movie nights, family game and puzzle challenges.  Have a lot of interactions with people you care about.  Social supports and things to look forward to can make the winter seem to go faster.

Bundle up and get out!   Plan to be outside in the morning or the middle of the day whether it is cloudy or sunny.  Daylight helps; try to get out whenever you can.  Some sufferers like to wear yellow lenses which reduce blue light and make everything brighter.

Buddy up with another that may also be troubled by the difficult winter.  You can help motivate each other with physical activity and healthy eating.

Boost up the self-care.  This is the time to focus on your own needs.  Do an inventory of the physical, social, emotional, and spiritual areas of your life.  Are there any needing attention or outlet?  What can you add to bring life into balance? Counselors can help with this.

Use your light therapy every day. Think of it as a daily medication. Start in the fall as the daylight first starts to shorten. Place the light in front of you every morning for a half hour.  Eat breakfast by it or read.  Do it every day.

Plan a winter getaway.  If you have the means, taking a vacation to a sunny climate during winter months can be a real lift.

Check with your doctor.  This problem is likely to come back every year, as long as you live where the days are shorter in the winter.  If you haven’t already, see your doctor for medication, It is best to do this in the early fall so the medication will be at therapeutic levels come the dark months. This will help with the hormone imbalance caused by the lack of light.

Consider vitamin D.  Ask your doctor about this.  People who live in wintery climates often have low levels of vitamin D.  This is the vitamin that is produced in our odies by sunlight interacting with our skin and has many healthful purposes, including treating and preventing depression.

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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Health Scare Calls for Self Care

I recently had a health scare. While I am okay, my doctor has urged me to take better care of myself, in particular, carving out time for reducing stress...

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on January 16, 2019 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question: I recently had a health scare. While I am okay, my doctor has urged me to take better care of myself, in particular, carving out time for reducing stress. I have been successful in making some changes to diet and increasing my exercise but I really struggle with finding ways to relax and unwind. I’m not the bubble bath taking or knitting type. I think a lot of people struggle with this so I hope my question is helpful to others as well: What activities can help me reduce stress?

Answer: 

I am glad you are okay.  Stress is a killer, and we all need to realize the immediate and lifelong need to take better care of ourselves.  You are already making positive changes and I hope that you keep moving forward with making diet and exercise changes. Small changes can lead to big improvement if you resolve to make it important.

Stress can be self-induced or can have external causes.  Self-induced stress can come from negative self-talk and unrealistic expectations. To illustrate this, think of a picture you may have in your head about how your day/life should be going.  When our reality doesn’t match that picture, we have stress.  External stress can be caused by others, events or circumstances for which we have little or no control.  During external stress, self-care is very important. Take some time to understand where your stress originates.  Understanding this can lead you to ways to manage it.  Here are some ways to reduce or manage stress for both mind and body: 

Vigorous vs calming activities:  Instead of bubble baths and knitting, how about tennis, biking or boxing (weather permitting, of course)?

Take mini breath breaks—Do this while sitting at a stop light, while waiting for the microwave to finish, or while having a quiet moment.  Relax your shoulders, and take in your breath deep into your diaphragm, three times or more.  Be careful that you are breathing deeply and slowly (causing your belly to move in and out); not at the top of your lungs.  These two ways of breathing stimulate the nervous system in different ways, and breathing low in your diaphragm triggers a relaxation response. Explore meditation skills to reduce stress. There are several helpful online resources.

Narrow your focus– If stressful events/tasks have you feeling anxious or worried, switch your focus to the here and now.  Here is an exercise to help illustrate this:  If you are drinking a coffee or tea, stop for a moment and feel the warmth of the mug in your hand.  Stop and recognize the aroma and  the taste on your tongue.  Breathe in deeply and take a moment of gratitude for the pleasure it brings.  Spending time being mindful of your coffee is so much better than suddenly finding it gone.

Get grounded—Grounding techniques can be helpful when things feel particularly out of control.  Stop and notice parts of your body that touch the chair, the floor.  Listen to the world around you and think about what you notice.  This is called “grounding” and can be incredibly calming.

Manage expectations and perfectionism—Work on accepting that you will never be perfect, or do things perfectly or have a perfect family; these expectations of yourself and others are not worth the risk of adding lethal stress to your life.  A good book is When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough by Martin M. Antony, PhD and Richard P. Swanson, MD.  Talking with a counselor can also help you with this.  

Schedule self-care – Your doctor asked you to “carve out time” to reduce stress.  You may have to schedule it.  I have co-workers who use their 10-minute breaks to walk the parking lot for exercise and a social connection.  We reduce stress by briefly escaping or by talking about it with someone who can help us process it. Lastly, many of us wear many hats and are really good at taking care of others.  This “health scare” is a signal it is time to care for YOU. 

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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How Do I Feel Better? Recovery After Complex Traumatic Stress, Violence & AbusePresented by Julie Colpitts, LCSW. 6 Contact Hours

Clients come to us to heal from complex traumatic stress and the associated health, substance, mental health and social problems...

PortlandFri, March 1, 2019 from 8:30am – 4:00pm
Italian Heritage Center
40 Westland Ave
Portland, ME
Register
LewistonTue, April 9, 2019 from 8:30 AM – 4:00 PM
Franco Center
46 Cedar Street
Lewiston, ME
Register
OronoMon, April 15, 2019 from 8:30 AM – 4:00 PM
Black Bear Inn
4 Godfrey Drive
Orono, ME
Register

About the Program

Clients come to us to heal from complex traumatic stress and the associated health, substance, mental health and social problems. Emerging treatment models have improved our response to complex trauma. However, these models need accommodations when exposure to interpersonal violence and abuse is a factor.

This workshop views healing from traumatic stress through the lens of an integrated body-mind response, with strategies for physiological healing, improved emotional regulation and structural cognitive change. We will review violence-informed accommodations recommended for our usual treatment models, such as CBT. We will also expand our focus to share a mindful exploration of pathways toward calm and joy.

Exposure to violence and abuse also has implications for the healers including safety concerns and compassion fatigue. We will consider personal and systemic support for professional resiliency.

At the end of the day, participants will have strategies to address these questions:

  • Mind: What accommodations are recommended for cognitive treatment models for complex trauma when exposure to interpersonal violence exists?
  • Body: How do we integrate physiological healing into our work, using options other than meditation to build a mindful awareness of trauma-driven response patterns and promote a joyful presence in the moment?
  • Self care: How do we create trauma-informed self care: not what we do after work, but how we do the work itself?
  • Systems and safety: How do we move toward a trauma informed, safe, healing system that emphasizes strength and resilience for client and caregiver?

This workshop is appropriate for clinicians who have a basic understanding of the dynamics of intimate partner violence and are interested in deepening their clinical skills.This workshop has content relevant for clinicians who are preparing to meet Maine licensing requirements for family and intimate partner violence education.

Format: The presenter will use video, presentations, small group sessions, with questions and answer discussion embedded through this 6-hour workshop.

About the Presenter

Julie Colpitts, LCSW

Julie provides trainings nationally on responses to domestic violence, on healing for traumatized organizations and individuals, and is on faculty at Simmons University Graduate School of Social Work. She has been a deputy director at the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the Executive Director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. She chaired the Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse, sat on the Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel and the Justice Advisory Council, the national IPV Prevention Council and the White House Task force for Open Data Policing. Prior to her anti-violence work, Julie developed behavioral health systems of care for adolescents, children and families experiencing traumatic stress.

Agenda

8:00 – 8:30 Continental Breakfast and Registration
8:30 – 10:30 Setting the Frame: Dynamics and ethical, effective responses to complex trauma when violence and abuse are present (activities 1-3)
10:30 – 10:45 Break
10:45 – 12:00 Mind: Accommodations to cognitive behavioral treatment models when treating complex trauma, abuse and ambiguous loss.
12:00 – 1:00 Lunch and networking discussions.
1:00 – 1:30 Defining the scope of practice: Risk Assessment and safety strategies.
1:30 – 2:45 Body: Integrating physiological healing into our work (activity 5)
3:00 – 3:45 Self Care: Moving toward a trauma informed, safe, healing system that emphasizes strength and resilience for client and caregiver.
3:45 – 4:00 Conference Summary and Certificate Distribution.

PortlandFri, March 1, 2019 from 8:30am – 4:00pm
Italian Heritage Center
40 Westland Ave
Portland, ME
Register
LewistonTue, April 9, 2019 from 8:30 AM – 4:00 PM
Franco Center
46 Cedar Street
Lewiston, ME
Register
OronoMon, April 15, 2019 from 8:30 AM – 4:00 PM
Black Bear Inn
4 Godfrey Drive
Orono, ME
Register

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