The truth is, stress is a part of everyday life, and not all of it is bad. Good stress can motivate you to get things done. Bad stress can make you feel utterly helpless, trapped, and not in control.
When is stress good?
Stress is a natural, physiological response to fear and anxiety. It’s the “fight or flight” reaction we feel when faced with conflict.
Good stress motivates you, like when you are faced with a deadline at work or when you are preparing for a competition. This kind of stress is usually short in duration, just long enough to give you the impetus to overcome an obstacle or complete a task.
For example, if you have to give a presentation or speak in front of a group, you might be nervous, even though you are the best person for the job. This is the type of stress that isn’t likely to linger beyond the event.
If a little stress helps you buckle down and meet your deadlines, it’s beneficial. Generally, you will take some time to yourself and relax a little once you’re done.
If, however, you are always scrambling to complete your projects on time despite giving yourself enough time to prepare, you may succumb to exhaustion. Your performance will eventually suffer, and you may not be able to recover quickly. This is when stress becomes harmful.
The dangers of chronic stress
If you have ongoing stress in your life, it not only prevents you from getting things done, it can lead to chronic health issues like heart disease, high blood pressure, and depression.
This kind of stress can be caused by problems at home, at work, or at school. Money, work, and relationships are often the root of the problem.
In the short-term, stress might cause you to experience stomach or digestive problems, headaches, and loss of libido. You may also become sick more often and more easily. Psychologically, you may have trouble focusing on tasks or remembering things. Your closest relationships will suffer.
Coping with stress
What would our lives be without stress? You’d have no job, no friends, no bills to pay. You certainly wouldn’t be married or have any children.
Is it reasonable to think that we can leverage the good stress to our advantage and learn how to cope with the bad?
Managing stress requires the development of coping mechanisms that can help transform that energy into something more constructive or peaceful, as the case may be.
Here are some tips for managing stress:
Accept what you cannot change and focus instead on the things you can
Don’t forget to breathe. Deep breaths do a lot to calm the mind and body.
Stay active. Go for walks, go to the gym, or sign up for a yoga class.
Practice mindful meditation. Mindfulness is a great way to redirect your thoughts away from stressful events.
Avoid stressful situations when you can. If you find your stress level rising, step away if you can. Getting some distance will help refresh and reset your brain.
If you find yourself struggling with stress, it helps to speak to someone who understands. Reach out today to find out how to get started.
The recent mass shootings in America have spawned a new discussion around mental health. Unfortunately, it is a dialogue that is tearing down much of the progress we’ve recently made to raise awareness and destigmatize the topic.
In response to the tragedies in Texas and Ohio, our president has referred to the shooters as “mentally ill monsters,” suggesting that the mentally ill should be “involuntarily confined” to prevent such things from happening again. His myopic statement that “mental illness pulls the trigger” stands to perpetuate the idea that all people who have a mental illness are dangerous, when in fact, most are non-violent.
Much research has been done on the topic, and the findings show that only three to five percent of all violent acts are perpetrated by someone with a mental illness.
However, mental health experts are speaking out in opposition to this statement. They offer instead that people who suffer from mental illness are ten times more likely to be victims of violence rather than the other way around.
The truth about violent behavior and mental health
Statistically, only one percent of all gun violence in the United States is perpetrated by individuals who have a mental illness. In reality, the most significant predictor of violent behavior is a history of violent behavior.
Experts believe that the rhetoric that the president is currently dishing out on the topic may further stigmatize people living with mental illness, and possibly discourage them from seeking help.
In 2006, a national survey revealed that 60 percent of Americans thought that someone with schizophrenia would act violently towards another person. A further 32 percent thought that people with major depressive disorder would be violent.
Scientific research reveals, however, that only a tiny percentage of mental health sufferers are violent. Perhaps more significantly, the majority of mental health patients who do commit violent acts also have co-occurring substance abuse issues or other factors that contribute to the behavior.
The history of mental health awareness: progress and regression
Mental health has long been stigmatized. It has only been in the last fifty years or so that we have made some progress in this regard. As psychiatry and understanding of the nature of mental illness have progressed, the way we approach it has changed considerably, but the echoes of past persecution still linger.
The movement to deinstitutionalize began in the 1950s, changing an “asylum-based” system to care that is more community-minded, providing patients with a better quality of life. By the 1960s, health standards were passed to ensure that only people who posed a serious risk to themselves or others could be committed.
In the past decade, we have made significant strides toward gaining a better understanding of mental illness, in all its forms. The discussion sought to reveal the truth about mental illness and to refute the stereotypes that ultimately lead to the neglect of people who suffer from psychiatric illness.
Making the connection
We have gained a lot of ground in the effort to educate the public, and a lot of positive things have come from it, not the least of which is knocking down the idea that people with mental illness can’t hold a job, maintain an apartment, be a contributing part of the community, or build a long-term relationship of any kind. Without these basic needs being met, mental health will suffer – even for those of us who are sound of mind and body.
One in four people will require professional help for a mental health problem at some point in their life. However, this doesn’t mean they will seek out the support they need, largely because they fear what might happen or what people will think.
In recent years, many programs have evolved to address the issue. Celebrities, actors, and musicians have spoken out about their own struggles with mental health, encouraging people to seek help when they need it and calling for a more open, transparent, and nonjudgmental discussion.
How far have we come?
Based on the building awareness, the progress we have made towards reducing the stigma attached to mental health is significant. With a growing number of children and young adults affected by anxiety and depression, it is more important than ever to ensure they know they can have a safe discussion around what’s happening to them.
Statistically, anxiety disorders are affecting 25 percent of teens between the ages of 13 and 18, impacting their ability to enjoy life and thrive in their social groups. Medical science continues to advance in this area, but sadly, 75 percent of that group will never seek out or receive adequate care.
Changing the conversation
There is plenty of research to prove that talking about mental health improves health outcomes, boosts self-esteem, lends hope, and tells us we are not alone.
All over the world, mental health awareness has become a mainstream topic, with the entire month of May dedicated to changing the conversation. Green ribbons, and the hashtag #breakthestigma have entered our collective consciousness, clearing a pathway to wellness that has historically been a very rocky one.
School programs, mass media, film, television, and popular music have joined forces to destigmatize and create change where mental health is concerned – and it’s been working incredibly well. Tough issues, like body image, substance abuse, chronic pain, and depression were brought forward, and solutions, support, and understanding were applied. Finally, after decades of living in the dark, we were starting to make some headway.
Until August 2019, when one of the world’s most powerful men drew a line between a horrific and tragic crime and mental health.
Is it a public health crisis?
The National Council for Behavioral Health recently published a report that summed up their research into mass shootings.
They have anger or issues that relate to work, money, or close relationships
They are ambivalent about life
They feel that they are victims
They sympathize with others they see as being like them
They have a history of violence, domestic or otherwise
According to psychiatrists, these characteristics are representative of individuals in mental distress – which is very different from mental illness. This means that they are motivated by a life event or stressor that causes them to act out.
Because most of us can’t imagine a person in their “right mind” committing such acts, some assume that the person must be mentally ill.
If we are willing to accept that the reason for such violent acts is mental illness, it may well follow that we will see certain restrictions put in place that will restrict the movements and freedoms of people who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. It will then follow that anybody who suffers from mental health issues will likely not seek treatment because of it.
The domino effect from this would be deadly, but not from violence perpetrated against others. It will be self-harm, suicide, and unnecessary mental anguish – all of which could have been prevented.
Words have so much weight: They can heal, and they can also be weaponized. Which will you choose to wield in this next, all-important chapter in mental health awareness?
If you or a loved one is struggling with mental illness, we are here to help. Reach out today to get started.
Mindfulness is a meditative practice, a moment-by-moment awareness of what’s happening in our environment and within us in the present moment. By focusing wholly on the present, we avoid obsessing on events in the past or stressing about what might happen in the future.
We all have the ability to be mindful. It doesn’t take great skill or a lot of schooling to master. You can do it anywhere, anytime; at work, at home, or while walking down the street. It does not ask us to change who we are.
Anybody can do it, and there are vast bodies of evidence that suggest that it can help us overcome a lot of issues.
Wherever you go, there you are
Addiction, anxiety, and mental health conditions are things that typically take us away from the present moment. When we are in the throes of one of these disorders, we are consumed with trying to escape the present because it represents discomfort, agitation, and pain.
Paradoxically, by focusing only on the present—on the things you feel within your body and what’s going on around you—it is possible to change how you respond to the discomfort of addiction and mental health issues. Learning how to deal with these feelings can encourage a different way of behaving, too. For example, it may prevent you from reacting impulsively to a stressful situation, helping you trade neutral, non-judgmental thoughts for those that trigger addictive behavior.
This principle is the core of mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an ancient meditation technique that goes back thousands of years. Though it is practiced in many cultures and religions, the type of mindfulness used in addiction and mental health treatment is most closely related to Buddhist practice. In this culture, it is described as “paying attention purposefully, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
In terms of addiction and mental health, the non-judgmental aspect is key as much of the angst we feel is a direct result of a judgment we have made. Thoughts and sensations themselves do not have judgment attached to them. It’s how you decide to respond to those thoughts that create the judgmental aspect.
If you do not respond to those thoughts, if you choose instead just to notice the sensations without any further acknowledgment, you do not pass judgment. Without judgment, there is no need for anxiety, self-deprecating, or harmful thoughts.
What is mindfulness meditation?
Meditation is used by people from cultures all over the world to bring a sense of peace and calm and to improve various aspects of their lives.
There are meditative aspects in many of the things we do every day, from doing the dishes to enjoying your favorite music. In fact, you may already be practicing mindfulness meditation on some level, even if you don’t realize it.
There are many different types of meditation, but mindfulness meditation places a particular focus on the awareness of oneself and the immediate surroundings.
All types of meditation have a few things in common. In any case, the way you approach it is much the same:
Find a quiet, calm environment where you are unlikely to be disturbed
Settle yourself in a comfortable position, usually seated
Relax your body and mind and release stressful thoughts
Use deep breaths to oxygenate your blood
In mindfulness meditation, you are also asked to be fully present and aware of yourself and your surroundings.
You will notice your thoughts, your breath, the temperature of the cool air as it enters your nostrils and the warmth of it as you exhale.
Open your mind to accept thoughts as they come to you.
As thoughts enter your mind, as you feel the sensations on your skin and within your body, you will observe them without judging them. You will accept these thoughts, choosing not to linger on them. Your thoughts are neither good nor bad, right or wrong. They simply are.
During this meditation, you will take inventory of each part of your body and notice how it feels, the sensations as the air passes over it, the pressure of the chair beneath you. You will notice the smells and sounds of what is going on around you and, in many cases, the anxiety and worry that you typically experience will ease.
This is the essence of mindfulness.
Our mind, when left to its own devices, will instantly judge a person or situation as good or bad, fair or unfair, important or unimportant. In many cases, this happens so quickly that our responses are reactive and can sometimes lead us down a dark path.
When we practice mindfulness, we do not allow judgment. We can gain perspective on our thoughts and find the freedom to choose how we proceed.
If the concept of mindfulness meditation is new to you, it might be helpful to start with a guided meditation, like this one:
Mindfulness meditation for mental health conditions and addiction
Though mindfulness may not replace frontline therapies for some of these conditions, it can significantly improve clinical outcomes, reduce symptoms, and help to establish coping behaviors that allow other treatments such as mental health treatment, etc… to work more effectively.
One of the other benefits of mindful meditation is that it doesn’t interfere with other treatments and can actually enhance long-term results. It can be practiced at home, at work, or with your therapist. Once you have learned the techniques, you will be able to apply it to any situation, anytime you need it.
Mindfulness for substance abuse and addiction
In recent years, mindfulness training has been studied extensively as an intervention for addictions and addictive behaviors that include smoking, drinking, and various forms of substance abuse.
The outcomes of these studies show that mindful-based interventions (MBIs) can reduce cravings and substance misuse. Better still, approaches like Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention can also work to prevent relapse in the future. Mindfulness staves off destructive thoughts that have the potential to derail your sobriety.
By focusing on the present moment rather than allowing your mind to obsess over a craving, you will effectively, and immediately deflect your response. Continue to practice, and this could be a sustainable method of achieving your recovery goals.
Getting started with mindful meditation
When learning mindful meditation, you may work with a therapist who can guide you through the process. Whether you pick it up quickly or if it takes some time to feel a level of comfort with the process, the results are immediately noticeable. With patience, perseverance, and commitment, the rewards will come. As you become more comfortable with mindfulness, you can incorporate them into everyday life to reduce stress and help you cope with “slippery” situations.
You can begin practicing mindfulness right away simply by taking notice of where you are, what you are doing, and what’s going on around you. The key is to accept these things without judgment and without becoming overwhelmed. If you need a guide, you can find great guided meditations like the YouTube video above, and there are also great apps and podcasts available.
There’s no need to buy anything, and you don’t need a doctor to show you how. Keep in mind that your mind will wander and attempt to hijack your serenity with judgmental thoughts. When these thoughts arise, just go back to your breath; breathe in, breathe out. Just breathe.
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness for addiction and mental health, we would love to help. Reach out today to get started.
The idea of music as a healing force is not new. The ancient Greeks put Apollo, one of their gods, in charge of both music and healing, suggesting that there has long been an understood connection between the two. There are many theories as to why music therapy works. Some studies support the idea that music helps the brain make new connections between nerve cells, and helps organize the firing of nerve cells in the part of the brain responsible for higher functions. Others look at the rhythms of music and feel that we respond to rhythmic repetition, much like our heart, breathing, and brain waves.
What can music therapy do?
The healing power of music is well-documented. It has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression, and also to lessen the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, autism, schizophrenia, and many other psychological disorders.
Additionally, music therapy has been found to improve motor function, communication skills, emotional stability, and the ability to focus. It is considered to be an evidence-based therapeutic approach to mental health treatment, and there are plenty of mainstream studies to back it up.
For example, according to the American Psychological Institute, music therapy should not be thought of as an “alternative therapy” due to the weight of clinical studies that can back the results. These studies prove that music therapy can help patients in the areas of physical health, emotional health, mental health, and also in a social manner.
How music therapy is applied
Depending on the diagnosis and the approach decided on by your therapist, music therapy might involve singing along to music or simply meditating and relaxing as you listen. Various exercises or movements might be performed with music as the catalyst, supporting outcomes that range from improving self-image to improving memory and physical coordination.
At Roots, music therapy not just something we offer, it is woven into the fiber of our program, with several groups a week tapping into the power of music and healing. David Hickman, a UCLA-trained Music Medicine Facilitator, provides a Drumming for Healing group, in which clients are able to use Native American and African drumming rhythms to communicate internal feelings, and support for the peer group. This extremely powerful group has become one of the cornerstones of our program.
Rock to Recovery, founded by veteran guitarist, Wes Geer, employs song writing, and performing and recording as a “band”, to focus on creating a sense of belonging and increasing self-esteem. “…It was when I was in treatment that I realized how much music could help [me] get through those tough emotions that run so rampant, especially in the early days. Being totally sober and dealing with the bottom I had hit, strumming the guitar was the only thing that would bring me peace,” says Geer. The group of professional musicians, who are also in recovery, brings fun into treatment and recovery by offering a natural escape from the fear-based mind.
Music therapy for pain
Music therapy has also proven helpful in managing pain. In one study, cancer patients were split into two groups; one group received talk therapy while the other received music therapy. In the talk therapy group, there was no noticeable reduction in pain, while the music therapy group showed a “statistically significant reduction” in pain scores.
The findings supported the theory that music therapy is a safe and nonpharmacological alternative to pain reduction, even in cases of severe and chronic pain.
Music therapy for depression and anxiety
According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy can help patients with a wide range of psychosocial needs. In cases where patients are resistant to other treatments, it has enabled them to develop relationships, communicate emotions, and express ideas that they may not be able to address with words alone.
The stimulation that music provides tends to provoke responses that stem from familiarity, comfort, and feelings of security associated with the music itself.
Drum circle set up for the Drumming for Healing group with David Hickman.
Other mental health outcomes that have been observed through music therapy include:
Improved personal relationships
Decrease in anxiety/phobias
Increase in verbalization
Safe emotional release
Reduction in muscle tension
In conclusion, music therapy can be highly beneficial in addressing a range of disorders. It is a safe and evidence-based practice that is effective when integrated into a multidisciplinary approach and supporting other modes of healing therapy like yoga, nutrition, and art therapy.
If you would like to learn more about whether music therapy might be right for you, reach out today to get started.
EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a specialized form of integrated therapy. Over the past three decades, it has proven to be highly effective in treating PTSD and trauma disorders as well as many other types of mental health issues.
In some cases, it is used as an adjunct therapy when treating eating disorders, panic attacks, addiction, phobias, sexual dysfunction, anxiety-related issues, and psychological trauma resulting from cancer treatment.
What EMDR is like
The treatment itself is quite involved and will generally take several appointments to complete, months if done correctly. Considered an alternative therapy, it relies on your own eye movements to lessen the emotional impact of traumatic or stressful events.
As you will see from the outline of the phases of EMDR below, the first three phases are done to help you prepare for the actual therapy. A trained, or certified EMDR therapist educated in the best practices of the therapy will spend the majority of the time working with you in these three phases: Planning, Preparation and Assessment.
It is important to keep in mind that EMDR requires that you are properly “resourced”, meaning that you have the supports in place, prior to actually starting the therapy. Resourcing includes finding a support group that you feel a part of, family or loved ones who are supportive of your treatment, a hobby or passion that you enjoy, and anything else that helps you in a positive way. Only once these are in place, will your therapist begin the reprocessing.
During a session, which usually lasts about an hour and a half, your therapist will have you recall the stressful event. You will be asked to include in those memories all the physical and emotional sensations you can remember while they move their finger back and forth before your eyes. Alternative ways to create bilateral stimulation are with handheld buzzers or headphones with alternating sounds.
As the session goes on, they will gradually guide your thoughts to more pleasant memories. At the beginning and at the end of the session, you will be asked to rate your level of distress.
As it is a relatively recent approach (the initial study was first published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress in 1989), it is still gaining momentum. However, there have been many positive results in treating veterans with PTSD.
Some research shows that EMDR is helpful for 77 percent of patients accessing the treatment for PTSD. It has a lower dropout rate than other exposure therapies, and is largely more effective in addressing symptoms.
In many cases, it is more effective than supportive listening.
It does not outperform CBT on its own.
Other exposure-based treatments have seen similar results.
It is important that EMDR be integrated into a treatment program that addresses all aspects of your unique situation, as it will be much more effective than EMDR therapy on its own.
The EMDR treatment plan
EMDR therapy consists of eight separate phases, usually spread out over 12 therapy sessions, though, as we mentioned above, the first few phases may take longer depending on your unique circumstances.
Phase one: Planning
In the first phase, your therapist will go over your history. You will be asked to talk about the trauma and any traumatic memories that trigger your responses.
Phase two: Preparation
You will then learn stress management techniques, such as mindfulness and deep breathing. These methods will help you cope with traumatic memories when they come up.
Phase three: Assessment
In the third phase, you will be asked to identify specific memories and physical components of those memories that will later be used in the EMDR treatment.
Phase four – seven: Therapy
In phases four through seven, your therapist will begin using EMDR to target the memories you have identified. You will be asked to perform rapid eye movements, either following their finger or triggered by finger taps, music, or other gestures.
The therapist will ask you to recall the trauma and the feelings you have around these events. If you feel overwhelmed or if the memories cause you too much distress, your therapist will bring you back to the present before starting again.
Phase eight: Evaluation
Following each session and at the end of the cycle, you will be asked to assess your progress. Your therapist will also provide their own assessment.
If you struggle with PTSD or trauma, we can help. Reach out today to find out how to get started.