Bessel A. van der Kolk, a leading trauma expert, said, “As I often tell my students, the two most important phrases in therapy, as in yoga, are “Notice that” and “What happens next?” Once you start approaching your body with curiosity rather than with fear, everything shifts.”
Through my clinical work over the past 10 years, I have found the body to be one of the greatest teachers in helping clients to connect with, and heal from, trauma that is stored in the body. Stored trauma often manifests itself physically, such as with anxiety, panic attacks, nightmares, fear, and other “uncomfortable” emotions. Consequently, our bodies are often feared, rather than embraced as the wise teacher it is.
I have found one of the most powerful tools in helping myself, and my clients, stay in a state of curiosity, rather than fear, of these bodily sensations is the breath. When triggered by these bodily sensations mentioned above the body typically moves into the sympathetic, or fight or flight nervous system. Often, clients with trauma have learned to operate in this nervous system more often than is useful. The breath is a powerful bridge between the sympathetic and parasympathetic, or “rest and digest,” nervous systems.
Next time you find yourself filled with anxiety, I challenge you to take four deep “box” breaths, where you breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, breathe out of four counts, and hold for four counts. After which, maintain the deep breathing pattern and notice what is happening in your body physically, and breathe into any tension you find. Then, remain curious and ask yourself what is needed to help you feel safe and secure in the present moment. At that point you may ask, “what happens next?” Take note of what inner child wounds or beliefs may be surfacing, and allow yourself to sit with that wound to find truth. Learning to become curious about thoughts that once seemed overwhelming, scary, or insurmountable can be an empowering exercise when you start unwinding unhelpful past conditioning.
Sometimes with trauma, clients may find themselves feeling stuck at certain points of traditional talk therapy. If that has been the case, it is helpful to explore other modalities to help release trauma on a cellular level, such as EMDR. Other movement based interventions such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, and dancing have also been found to be helpful in healing trauma. If you have found yourself stuck in processing past trauma, please feel free to reach out to see if we can explore some additional healing modalities. You can schedule by calling 801.944.4555.
As the seasons change from the light filled days of summer to the shorter cooler days of fall, many people begin to notice a change in the way that they feel. For some people, they feel invigorated and energized by the cooler weather; however, for others these shorter days lead to feeling less motivated. And still, for others the onset of cooler weather is just the precursor to the “winter blues”, a condition formerly known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Regardless of the timing of depression, it’s an experience that can feel isolating and hopeless. However, there are things that we can do to help alleviate some of the symptoms of depression.
Humans are connected beings, we need connection to survive and we especially need it thrive. Strengthening our connections with those around us can help with the feelings of isolation and being alone. What do we do if we don’t have strong connections in place? Looking for ways to connect that are a little more unconventional than the traditional family, friends, and coworker relationships is one place to start. For example, there are meet up groups for all kinds of different hobbies that are open to people. Faith communities are ways to connect with people that have the same ideological and theological beliefs. Volunteering allows an array of engagement opportunities that also provide a sense of worth and giving back. However, even engaging in an activity that provides peripheral contact can be beneficial; going to the same coffee shop every morning on your way to work and engaging the barista in small talk is a step towards making a connection.
The coffee shop stop leads us to another way to combat depression…getting out. Yep, it might be the last thing that you want to do when you are in the midst of a depressive episode, but it is one that can provide a quick pick me up. Finding options that require us to leave the safety and confines of our couch can be as exciting or as calming as we choose. Going for a quick 10 minute walk around the block, going to the bookstore to pick up the latest novel from your favorite author, or taking that pottery class you’ve always wanted to try…they all require that we step away from our comfort zone.
Exercise is also a great way to combat depression. Exercise gets our blood flowing and heart pumping that leads to a release of those feel good endorphins that help balance our emotions. Want to up the anti depressive effects? Exercise outside in the sunshine, there are currently studies that hypothesize that vitamin D deficiencies are
linked to depression, though that has been proven yet. However, light therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for SAD.
Lastly, talk therapy with a trained therapist that can help you deal with your individual symptoms is also an effective option when you are having depressive episodes that aren’t being effectively mitigated by diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes. Having a person that will listen and help you develop and implement changes and coping skills into your life can be invaluable as you traverse a trying time but you don’t have to do it alone. Wasatch Family Therapy offers therapists for all ages to meet your individual needs, to make an appointment call 801-944-4555 today.
We’ve all heard of postpartum depression. A lot of us have known someone with postpartum depression. It’s those weeks, and sometimes months, after a woman has delivered her baby that trigger depression and anxiety. Little do people know, postpartum depression has a sister that is rarely talked about and sometimes, unknown. This is called antepartum depression.
Allow me to break this down just a bit. Ante is a latin term that means before. Partum refers to the delivery phase of the pregnancy. Depression has many definitions, so we will define it here as an overwhelming feelings of sadness. Therefore, antepartum depression means depression that happens before you deliver your baby. In other words, it is depression while you are pregnant.
I was first introduced to antepartum depression when I was pregnant with my third child. In my years of practice, I had worked with several pregnant mothers that described feeling down and blue. We worked through the depression, but I never named it or did a great deal of research on it. During my third pregnancy, I was very sick. Days of sickness turned into weeks. The weeks turned into months. It turned out that my entire pregnancy, I was extremely sick. After feeling sick for weeks on end, I started feeling depressed. My desire to do things that usually brought me happiness seemed unimportant. My energy was incredibly low. I had a hard time getting out with friends and family because I didn’t feel up to it. For weeks, I complained that I didn’t feel like my normal self.
After some time, I set out to find more information about antepartum depression. Realizing that it is a real problem that many women struggle with made me feel a lot better. I started naming it, talking to people about it, and taking steps to make myself feel better. This did not come easily and took me a long time to do. In fact, while I was diligent about doing all of those things, I still feel that my depression lasted until I delivered my daughter. However, talking about it and getting the help I needed really made all of the difference in the world.
What are the symptoms of Antepartum Depression?
The symptoms of antepartum depression are very similar to depression outside of pregnancy. This include but are not limited to:
-Feelings of worthlessness
-Feelings of guilt
-Change in sleep (sleeping more or less than usual)
-Change in eating habits
-Change in desire to do things that once brought happiness
-Thoughts of hurting yourself
-Thoughts of suicide
What can I do to treat my antepartum depression?
-Psychotherapy is one of the best tools to use when dealing with antepartum depression. A therapist can help guide you through your thoughts, feelings, and help give you solutions to work through them
-Medication is another route to take. This has implications on your baby and you will want to talk in depth with your medical provider. There are some medications that are safer to take while pregnant.
-Herbal supplements are another option. Again, talk to your doctor about what he/she feels is best for you and your pregnancy. There are several herbal treatments that can help.
-Foot zoning was a major help while I was dealing with antepartum depression. It eased my sickness and helped me feel more centered with my thoughts and feelings.
-Exercise is the last thing you want to to when pregnant (and depressed) but it is truly one of the best things you can do. Even walking around the block will release endorphins that will help your mood.
-Eating a balanced and healthy diet will be beneficial for you physically and mentally during your pregnancy.
-Sleeping and getting enough rest is essential during this time.
If you are suffering from Antepartum Depression, please know you are not alone! Thousands of women suffer from this on a daily basis. Share this blog post with someone you feel needs to hear about this. Antepartum depression is rarely talked about and needs to be an active conversation with women who are expecting babies. If you need further help, please call Wasatch Family Therapy. There are kind and professional therapists here to help you through this difficult time.
Most people are aware that eating healthy and exercising will result in a smaller waistline. I am not sure, however, that people understand the impact eating healthy and exercising have on your mental health. Think about it: your brain is a body part, right? If poor eating can make your heart suffer and not function properly, why wouldn’t poor eating make your brain suffer as well?
There is a lot of scientific research supporting the fact that eating a whole foods, plant-based diet can improve mood and decrease the occurrence of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. In a study published in the 2012 Nutritional Journal, participants who decreased consumption of meat, fish, and poultry improved several mood scores in just a few weeks. In 2009 Arch Intern Med, Dr. Grant Brinkworth and colleagues found that a high carbohydrate, low fat, and low protein diet (plant-based) resulted in significantly lower rates of depression and anxiety. These are just a few of the many studies showing the mental health benefits of eating a plant-based diet.
Part of the benefit of eating plants is that there are thousands and thousands of chemicals and nutrients that our body uses on a cellular level to rebuild and repair itself. Scientists haven’t even identified all the advantages to these chemicals and nutrients there are so many. We need to trust our body to use nature to be in optimal health. The evidence is clear: our brain needs natural plant food to function the most optimally. Sadly, we are often misinformed on nutrition-related topics because there are a lot of people who make a lot of money if you eat poorly (there isn’t necessarily a lot of money for marketers to make off of you if you follow a plant-based diet).
When it comes to exercise, most people think of endorphins and all that jazz. This is all good and well, but I love exercise for my clients more for its ability to increase distress tolerance. Physical exercise is ALWAYS a mental exercise also. If I can push my body to a point of discomfort for my overall benefit, what else can I do that is hard? If you talk to avid exercisers, none of them say, “Yeah, I have been doing this long enough that it doesn’t hurt anymore. I feel only pleasure in mile 13.” Seasoned athletes still experience discomfort and pain (if not more) but have learned to tolerate it.
Your increased distress tolerance works as a shield against debilitating hardship. I have seen so many clients begin to exercise and all of a sudden, they have increased confidence and start to believe they can do hard things! While going to the gym may not seem like a big deal, it is a huge deal for your brain. The important key to implement this is to find an activity YOU love. If it isn’t running on a treadmill, then don’t do that. Walk your dogs or play frisbee or do something else entirely.
Some clients I have are weary of taking mood-altering pharmaceuticals, but are they bothered enough to get really uncomfortable and change their eating and movement patterns? I am not suggesting that research shows these changes to be a direct cure for mental health problems. Research can’t entirely do that. However, I am suggesting that it is certainly worth adding to the tool box and trying in order to have an overall better mood and mental health.
For more tips and support changing your lifestyle to improve your mental health, schedule an appointment today!
Here is a list of some of my favorite recommendations for books and podcasts to help keep the therapy going outside of therapy. These books and podcasts cover a variety of topics, from brain and behavior, child care, depression, and mindfulness. I particularly like Tara Brach’s mindfulness podcasts, as she offers listeners a dose of humor along with insight, and guided meditation.
In 2007, my sisters and I decided to run a 10k together. It was perfect timing, as I had just moved from Logan (Go Aggies!) and needed a new hobby. I trained hard and finished the 10K in a little under an hour. The morning of the race was an emotional high. All of the runners at the starting line anxiously waiting for the race to begin. The high as you finished the race. The amazing feeling of accomplishing something. I had found my new passion.
Fast forward to 2009 when my husband, sister, and I decided to run the Wasatch Back Relay Race. I had recently gone through a very difficult miscarriage, and, without knowing it, was headed into almost two years of infertility battles. My second leg of the race was at two in the morning. The stars were bright as I ran along the side of the road in the dark with just myself, my music, and my headlamp. At some point, I remember starting to cry and allowing that to happen. The rest of the race, something magical occurred. A lot of my worry, anxiety, sadness, and fear got translated into my running. I allowed all of those feelings to fuel my run, and it felt amazing. That race helped me heal from a lot of sadness. Over the next two years, I ran races and trained to help myself get through a lot of the feelings that came from infertility.
Now, let’s fast forward to 2018. Modern medicine is a wonderful thing, and my husband and I have three wonderful children. They are seven, four, and eighteen months old. Now running takes on a different role in my life. It helps keep me in shape. It is a hobby that gives me some time away from my kids so I can be a better mother. It motivates me to make and accomplish new goals. It makes me a happier, more satisfied person. It helps my patience with my kids and my husband. Running keeps me sane.
When you exercise, your body releases something called endorphins. These chemicals helps reduce your perception of pain and can also trigger a positive feeling. These chemicals will help you fight feelings of depression and anxiety. Exercise is consistently something I encourage my clients to participate in.
What do you like to do to stay active? What kind of exercise keeps you sane? This summer, get outdoors and experience some different activities and find which one you like the best. It will be one of the best things you do for your physical and mental health.
In 1949, Hank Williams composed the song, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” The single reached # 4 on the Country charts that year, and many great legends followed to record the song as well; Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley just to name a few.
As you read and ponder the lyrics below; what memories and emotions come to mind?
Hear that lonesome whippoorwill He sounds too blue to fly The midnight train is whining low I’m so lonesome I could cry
I’ve never seen a night so long When time goes crawling by The moon just went behind the clouds To hide its face and cry
Did you ever see a robin weep When leaves began to die? Like me, he’s lost the will to live I’m so lonesome I could cry
The silence of a falling star Lights up the purple sky And as I wonder where you are I’m so lonesome I could cry.
A recent article in Harvard Business Review entitled, “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic,” reports that there is good reason to be concerned about social connection in our current world. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet the rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980’s. Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. Another article (this one in Psychology Today) expresses it this way: “Even though our need to connect is innate, some of us always go home alone. You could have people around you throughout the day or even be in a lifelong marriage and still experience a deep, pervasive loneliness. Unsurprisingly, isolation can have a serious detrimental effect on one’s mental and physical health.”
What is Loneliness?
Loneliness has been described as a social pain and an unmet longing to connect, physically and emotionally with someone else. It has been linked to depression, anxiety, paranoia, panic attacks, sleep problems, tiredness, lack of motivation, cognitive decline, heart disease, and even suicide. People who are lonely often share certain characteristics. These include having experienced trauma and loss during their lifetime and having spent their childhood years being cared for by individuals who have harsh, critical and negative parenting skills. In children, a lack of social connection is directly linked to several forms of antisocial and self-destructive behavior.
How is Loneliness Treated?
Doctors are recommending that individuals who experience loneliness be evaluated for possible symptoms of depression and anxiety; as well as receiving treatment from a mental health professional if warranted. Don’t allow loneliness to impair your physical and emotional health or affect your rate of mortality. Our therapists here at Wasatch Family Therapy are available to treat loneliness and improve your quality of life.
The cooler fall air is the first indicator that the season of thankfulness and gratitude is upon us, but what if you don’t feel that you have anything to be grateful for this year? Perhaps your life has been plagued by chaos and uncertainty. Grief, job loss, depression, problematic relationships, and isolation are just a few of the things that can lead to feelings of apathy towards life and general ungratefulness. How can we combat this discontent and find gratitude and joy again?
Start as You Mean to Go
This is a phrase that I use often for a number of situations, but I think that it is particularly applicable when talking about gratitude. Simply begin your day as you want it to go for the remainder. Make the choice of gratitude as soon as you wake in the morning. Before you climb out of bed to begin your day, take a moment and find one thing, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential it may be, for which you are thankful. This choice to start with a grateful heart will set the tone for the day.
Stop and Smell the Roses
An overly used cliché, I know, but it’s true. It’s hard to be truly grateful if we are so busy living that we don’t take the time to appreciate the little things that make life worth living. Be mindful of what is happening around you, and take the time to truly experience and appreciate the small blessings, victories, and learning opportunities that life has to offer.
Look Outside Yourself
What better way to forget about our problems than to look around and see the problems that other people are dealing with? This isn’t to say that we should take joy in others’ pain and suffering, but to use it to put our problems into perspective. Stepping outside of ourselves and helping those that are less fortunate enables us to really appreciate the good in our lives, as meager as it may be, and also to recognize that there is always someone that has less.
Find a Purpose
Find a purpose in life that gives your life meaning. Maybe this means volunteering your time to a cause that is close to your heart, finding fulfillment in your family or career, or deciding to go back to school. The possibilities are endless. Whatever your direction, find something which you are passionate and excited about and share it.
Have an Attitude of Gratitude
Gratitude is a choice. Choose a life of gratitude by having an attitude of gratitude that starts as soon as you wake in the morning. Find the things that you appreciate about your life and celebrate them, no matter the size. Slow down and take the time to seek out and appreciate the lessons that life has to offer, even the hard ones. Life is hard, and there are plenty of opportunities to get down, but look to others to gain insight and perspective of your challenges. Lastly, find your purpose. We aren’t all going to find a cure for cancer or negotiate world peace, but we all have the chance to leave this world better than we found it.
In any given year, 1 in 5 Americans experiences mental illness of some kind (depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.). Clearly, this is an issue that affects a great deal of us, particularly the loved ones of those suffering. And mental illness is more than just an individual problem; it is a family concern. Here are some ways to support a spouse or partner with mental illness: