Hurried Holidays

December 11, 2012

1203011923There is so much to do this time of year. Not that we don’t have full schedules already throughout the year but boy do we pack even more onto our plates during the holidays. School programs, crafts, holiday parties, baking, big meals, holiday cards, shopping, wrapping, decorating, the list goes on. Not only do we put all of this on ourselves but we also feel the pressure for all of it to be perfect, or as close to perfect as we can get. In all of the hustle and bustle, we forget the true meaning of the holidays. I won’t get into any religious meanings here because everyone has different beliefs, and I’m not here to discuss religion. To me, the purpose of the holidays is being with our loved ones, cherishing them, appreciating them, and showing them that we care.

Of course there are some things that we just can’t get away from and others that we truly enjoy and don’t want to give up. My challenge to you, however, is to find just 1-2 (or more if your calendar is especially packed) “chores” or invitations that you can cross off your list this year. Really look at your priorities and decide what is most important in your life. I can’t say that I’m not guilty of trying to do too much either, but I am proud to say that I decided this year I’m not going to worry about doing Christmas cards for my friends and family (sorry everyone!) and I had to decline an invitations for a giant cookie exchange. As fun as both of those activities would have been, I had to think about what would give me the most joy while also giving me time to appreciate this time of year and the people I’m choosing to spend it with. I know everyone will be looking to make new years resolutions soon, but why not make an end of the year resolution now to be more in the present and mindful instead of rushing around being a human “doing” instead of a human “being”. For those of you that don’t know much about mindfulness and staying present, I posted Discovery Institute’s December newsletter that talks about that subject last week. You can find it here.


Lost Memories of Trauma

November 27, 2012

More than once I have had clients come into my office saying they think they may have been sexually abused as a child. You may be thinking “what? how do they not know?” But our memories are not perfect and our psyche can sometimes create obstacles to keep us from remembering in order to protect us. I won’t spend a whole lot of time going into detail on all of this but there are a few points that I would like to make because the feeling always is that they want to know for sure what happened and they want help from me in order to figure it out. Although our unconscious mind can access all those memories and I am able to get through to the unconscious mind via hypnosis, there have been too many claims in the past that therapists have implanted memories through suggestion, which in some situations is completely valid, and therefore I find this unethical to do. Another reason I find this to be unethical is because if you do not have a memory of something bad happening right now, there is probably a good reason, and what good would come of bringing that memory back to the surface? For the person remembering, likely none although I’m sure that some people could argue differently.

So now to discuss how our memories work for a bit. As I said, our memory is not perfect. In my work with clients, I typically refer to a study I remember learning about in my social psychology class in college some 7-8 years ago. As I tell the study, I describe that participants had to watch a video in which a car accident ocurred and after the video were asked if they saw the stop sign (which was not actually there) and they report that they did. In wanting to be able to refer to this study here I searched for it on the internet and found what sounds to be it here, posted by Elizabeth Loftus who states that she conducted the research. I will say that she describes the study with some slight different details than those that I remember, which I wanted to point out as another example of false memories, even if her research demonstrates being given misinformation and this is not quite the same thing. At least I remembered the lesson of the study, right? She also goes more into detail about creating false memories which would be a good read for those of you that are interested.  I often remind clients of certain phenomena that I’m sure they have experienced as well such as having a dream they have difficulty recalling as real life or a dream. Or having memories from childhood that other people cannot confirm. I have even shared my experience of truly believing that we had a certain type of dog, by a certain name, and recalling an incident in which he ran away and each member of my immediate family (4 other people) have confirmed that we never had such a dog! I’m not sure if this was a wish that I had to have this type of dog (which is possible- to have memories from daydreaming or fantasies as a child) or an actual dream while sleeping, but it was a vivid memory of mine! Also, as children we do not always understand what is going on around us. As we get older we do not gain this understanding and sometimes try to make sense out of certain experiences and without all the information do so inaccurately. Another phenomena that many people may have experienced is hearing a story told by a friend and getting so immersed in it that later down the line it feels as though it actually happened to us.

All of the examples in the previous paragraph are ways that false memories can be implanted, but what about true memories that are forgotten? If you believe Freud’s theory that our unconscious mind tries to protect us then this may be a good explanation. We have all heard about repressed memories in which our brain some how forgets big events in order to protect us from having to remember and relive it. Other people may imploy denial techniques as well. Even without these explanations, can you remember everything that ever happened to you? Likely not. Yes, we tend to think of it as being the small things that we forget but it’s also very likely that you don’t remember many details about your birthdays and christmases over the years either and those were pretty memorable when they happened. Other times it may just be that as children you may not understand the importance of the event and just push it to the side.

So, I say all of that to make the point that we cannot rely on our memories solely. The goals that I suggest for those that are not sure if they were abused as a child is to work on learning how to deal with not knowing and if you are experiencing any negative symptoms that you think are attributed to something that may have happened, to learn to deal with those. For some people that may be sexual difficulties, avoiding certain stimuli you attribute to the possible perpetrator or event, or even things such as low self-esteem and eating disorders.

The Power of Gratitude

November 20, 2012

I was working with a couple recently in which one of the partners is currently experiencing depression. As I was listening to this person talk about work and life it became obvious that thought patterns were contributing to the depression. Everything was horrible and he didn’t seem to be able to identify anything that was going well, even though as an outsider I found it quite easy to notice the silver lining. There was no gratitude for what he does have going on in his life. With Thanksgiving coming up it seemed only natural for me to give an assignment relating to gratitude.

It can be so easy sometimes to get caught up in focusing on what we have to do, what is going wrong, and the things we don’t like about our life. We all have things that aren’t going “right” or as we would like, and there are two options you have. You can change or at least attempt to change your situation or look at it differently. Unfortunately we don’t always have complete control over all aspects of our life. Don’t like your job? Start looking for another one and putting in applications other places. With the economy as it is, however, it may be easier said than done to actually make a job or career change. So this is when changing your thoughts and being more grateful come into play. You mean you have a job? In this economy? You are able to provide for your family? Look at all the great experience you are getting by having to deal with difficult people. Sure makes you happy to get to go home at the end of the day right? There have to be things that you can find that are not so bad about your job that you can focus on. Perhaps you have a good supervisor or really like your coworkers or even the difference you make in people’s lives. You may not like everything, but focus on what you do like.

This can be applied to the home you live in, your children’s behavior, or anything else. The more you focus on the positives, the better you will feel. Your thoughts influence your feelings which influence your behaviors. The areas in which you put the most energy will seem larger. I’m sure you have heard the saying about making a mountain out of a mole hill, well this is only a bad thing when that mole hill was negative to begin with. Focus on the positive mole hills in your life and they will begin to feel like wonderful, miraculous mountains that you are grateful for having.

I hope everyone has a great and grateful Thanksgiving this week!

Preventing Mood Disorders During Pregnancy & Postpartum

November 13, 2012

Of course there is only so much control that you have over your hormones, neurotransmitters, and genetics, all of which play a part in whether you will develop a mood disorder during pregnancy or postpartum. These are not the only factors that determine whether a person will develop a mood disorder or not, however, and there are things that you can do that can affect the neurotransmitters in the brain. I’m saying this because in some cases, there is not much that you can do to prevent a mood disorder, but in other people, engaging in some of these activities may make a big difference. If you would like to improve your mood during pregnacy and postpartum, here is a list of activities you can do in order to help. I will explain those that I believe warrant more explanation but please feel free to leave any comments or questions if you need. Also, these are not listed in any specific order, but instead just in the order that I thought about them!

1. Exercise- A good workout can help boost the feel good hormones in your brain and has been shown to even be helpful in improving mood in those who are currently experiencing a mood disorder!

2. Seek out a support network- You have heard me state this before, but having other people around you, feeling understood and cared for, and feeling like your not alone can go a long way in preventing mood problems.

3. Take care of yourself and your needs- Even though your focus may be on other people, especially the little ones you are growing and raising, you need to make sure you are doing things for yourself as well. If you are drained and unhappy then it makes it much harder to give of yourself and can start a downward spiral. This can be engaging in your hobbies and things you enjoy, getting a massage or pedicure, taking a bath, or anything else that is just for you.

4. Get help around the house- We are one of the few cultures that do not give moms more help with chores during pregnancy and postpartum (and we have the higher rates of issues!) It will just take a little bit of stress off of you to allow others to help you.

5. Yoga- I’m feeling a whole blog entry about the benefits of yoga during pregnancy because the benefits are just too many to list here but suffice it to say that it is a great stress reducer.

6. Change your thought patterns- Pay attention to your thoughts, notice any negative thought patterns or cycles and begin by interrupting them and counteracting them. Our thoughts influence our feelings which influence our actions!

7. Get out of the house- It can become so easy to get stuck in a rut, to feel too worn out to leave the house, or to just be worried about exposing a new baby to germs but staying home all the time can lead to feelings of isolation.

8. Spend time outdoors- The bright sunshine, fresh air, and appeal of nature are known for improving moods.

9. Alternative Medicine- There are many alternative medical practices that are safe during pregnancy and can help improve moods. Homeopathic remedies (my doctor uses drops) are safe and helpful, or you could check into acupunture, acupressure (although some points are not recommended during pregnancy), aromatherapy (again not all is safe during pregnancy so do your research first) or chiropractic care as well as other alternative therapies.

10. Massage- This therapeutic touch can not only be relaxing but can help release endorphins.

11. Meditation & deep breathing- It is important to ensure that you and your baby are getting all the oxygen you need and meditation can help you focus on your breathing while relaxing your body as you release all the stress and nagging thoughts of the day.

12. Increase your omega 3 fatty acids- Research has shown that people who get more omega 3 fatty acids in their diet have a lower incidence of depression. It will also help ensure your baby is getting enough in utero or through breastmilk to help develop the brain develop effectively.

13. Imitate joy- Sometimes just by acting happy even when you don’t feel like it can help snap you out of the mood and get you doing the very things that will help you improve.

14. Participate in activities you enjoy- If possible, don’t stop activities you enjoy. Due to limitations of pregnancy or for other reasons it may be necessary, but make sure to find other things you enjoy just as much!

15. Music- Music can have a big effect on your thoughts and mood. Choose music that makes you happy or relaxed.

16. Hire a doula- A doula can be a positive support person who can help you through the pregnancy, birthing, and postpartum process.

17. Sleep- It may be hard during different stages of pregnacy or even during the first few sleepless months but it will be important to sleep when you can (while also not sleeping too much- if thats even possible during this time) to give your body the rest in needs to repair itself and for you to think properly.

18. Nurse if possible- Nursing releases oxytocin another feel good hormone.

19. Placenta pills- Now I don’t know much about this one but it was brought up to me while I was presenting on this topic the last time. You can have someone take the placenta and make pills out of it and it is said to be helpful with postpartum depression and with menopause. Maybe something to consider if you aren’t too squeamish!

One of Those Mornings

October 30, 2012

Good morning (or afternoon, evening- whenever you are reading this) everyone! Today has been “one of those mornings” for me. After waking up late (which isn’t altogether a bad thing) and having to rush to get my little guy to school on time today while he and even the dog resisted my efforts, I have been left feeling like a rushed mess! Now as much as I would like to use this as a venting session so everyone can sympathize with how rough this day has already been, I won’t be doing that! In fact, I won’t even be doing that on my personal facebook account. The reason for that is I believe in the power of the laws of attraction and I believe the more people who know that I am having a bad morning, who read it and believe it too, the more energy the universe will be putting into making sure that comes true. Believe me, I already know it is right and have put enough of my energy into it while I was in the midst of it, despite some of my efforts to slow down and rethink the situation (we all are human right?)

Now that my child is off to school and I have a mere 20 minutes to write this before I have to go back up to the school, I am going to use it to refocus myself for a better day and help you all learn how to do it yourself as well. Now, looking back on my morning there were some things that I was able to do effectively in order to encourage positive outcomes while at other times I failed! I would like to start here since I think it is important to learn how to stop the negatives before it builds too much. For example, my little guy is only two, so still a youngin’ and normally loves going to “school”. For some reason today, however, he did not want to go and I found my frustration levels rising as he resisted getting dressed while realizing how late we were already running. I stopped myself from trying to force the clothes on him, however, and began talking up all the things they had planned at school today and he soon began to get excited as well and let me get him dressed. You can use this in other situations by stopping for a second to regroup, resisting your own frustrated urges, and formulating a new plan that will be more effective. The effect that this had was really quite large as I felt less stressed and frustrated having my son being more compliant. If I had forced his clothes on him the both of our levels of frustration would have increased and he would have fought me more, which in turn would have lead to more frustration, negative thoughts, and annoyance on my part and most likely increased bad outcomes for the morning. Now, I didn’t succeed at this with the dog when she went further down the road than she ever does to go potty while I was getting my son into the car and it back fired on me as she sensed my frustration and proceeded to cross the road and resist instead of coming right home like usual. It would have been so much easier if I had only acted like I wasn’t so annoyed and called her back like nothing was wrong as she would have come running back without fear of being in trouble. So again, the overall lesson here is to stop yourself when you find you are reacting out of frustration, anger, and stress, regroup even for just a second, and then formulate a more effective plan.

Once you have a breather, you must start to look on the bright side of things and work on telling yourself that things aren’t so bad, or even if they were, that they don’t have to continue that way. For instance, my bright side of the morning is that I didn’t run out of gas even though I decided to not stop for more, even though I was on empty, until after I dropped my son off at school (ha, I could have run out and been stuck on the side of the road in the cold with a toddler who is potty training and am very thankful that did not happen!!) I am also choosing to have a more pleasant day from here on out. We have a fun Halloween party planned at school and then a playdate with my sister-in-law and niece. The rushing and craziness of the morning is past me and the rest of the day will be fun and relaxed. Speaking of which, I now have to go get ready for a wonderful rest of the day as I have 5 min before I need to leave the house! Here’s to hoping you are able to turn your bad moments around and not let them last an entire day!

Miracle Making You Miserable? Mental Health During Pregnancy

October 23, 2012

It used to be believed that pregnancy would protect women from mental health problems and immediately made them happy and even ecstatic. Luckily for those who don’t experience this, we now know that this isn’t true. Although being pregnant is a wonderful blessing for many, the hormone changes, symptoms of discomfort, and reality of how life will be changing can make this time fraught with stress, guilt, depression, anxiety, and mood swings as well.

Women are more likely to experience a  mood or anxiety disorder than men, and even more so during the childbearing years. You may be wondering why this is so, and there are a couple of answers for this. The first is that hormone changes can be abrupt and drastic. Just as hormones can affect women during their menstrual cycle, they can affect women emotionally and psychologically during pregnancy. Although I’m not going to go into detail, basically the changes also effects the neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate mood. Although all pregnant women experience the hormone changes, not all develop anxiety, mood disorders, or other mental health issues. It is believed that a person is more likely to experience a mental health disorder if they are predisposed to it, meaning they have the gene. If a person is predisposed, they still need something to happen to switch the gene from inactive to active, and the hormone changes of pregnancy is likely to do that. In addition, for those who have already experienced problems with mood and anxiety, the hormone changes may be enough to activate another episode.

Other reasons that women are more likely to experience these issues during pregnancy is due to insecurities over changes that are ocurring during pregnancy or about their own capabilities as a parent as well as their own situation not being seen as ideal. Some women have a difficult time adjusting to the weight changes and may begin eating disorderly in order to compensate while others use it as an excuse to binge on food as they are now “eating for two”.  Knowing that you will now be completely responsibile for another human being can be anxiety provoking. Other women feel as though they were not ready to be having a baby (or another baby) and may be less than thrilled about their living situation, financial status, and other relationships.

Now that you have a greater understanding of why women are likely to experience some of these issues during and after pregnancy, next week we will talk about how to prevent them from happening to you and what to do if you do begin to experience symptoms.

Postpartum Psychosis

October 16, 2012

Before we begin, I want to state that there is no actual disorder called Postpartum Psychosis, at least according to the DSM which is the manual used for diagnosing mental health disorder. The true name is Brief Psychotic Disorder with Postpartum Onset. For ease of typing and due to popularity, however, I will also use the term postpartum psychosis.

Postpartum psychosis typically occurs within the first two weeks (or up to 3 months) after childbirth and effects 1 out of 1000 new moms. Women with Bipolar Disorder or Schizoaffective Disorder are at higher risk than the general population for experiencing postpartum psychosis. For some, postpartum depression can turn into postpartum psychosis, and for others there are no warning signs and it seems to come out of nowhere. Some of the possible symptoms include paranoia, hallucinations, thoughts or actually acting to harm the baby, rapid mood swings, depression, insomnia, delusions, and suicidal ideation or attempts. Many times the woman’s hallucinations involve instructions to harm the baby. In general, they lose touch with reality.

Part of the trouble with postpartum psychosis is that due to the nature of the disorder, many women do not realize that there is something wrong on their own. Many people who are experiencing hallucinations, delusions, or are paranoid truly believe that what they are experiencing is real and their concerns are valid. Those who do realize that there is something wrong, are afraid to get help for fear that they will have their baby taken away.  Therefore it is very important for others to look for signs and encourage mothers that are experiencing these symptoms to get the help they need. It is a very serious disorder which can end terribly without help.

Outcomes are typically good when a woman seeks psychiatric help. She may need to be hospitalized until she is stabilized and then will most likely remain on antipsychotic for some time after. With the help of the medication and other treatment, many women do not have any more symptoms. There is an increased risk for experiencing postpartum psychosis with subsequent births, however, and many women choose not to risk another episode.