20 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic is all over the news and is impacting our lives in many ways. Here in California (as well as many other states and countries), people are “sheltering in place” and “safer at home.” Schools are closed, many businesses are closed, and many of the people who do still have jobs are now working from home.

It should come as no surprise that this has triggered significant anxiety and fear, especially for those with preexisting mental health challenges. Many individuals who were already struggling with anxiety, depression, or chronic stress are now experiencing an intensification of their symptoms. And some people are experiencing heightened anxiety for the first time.

Common mental health symptoms associated with the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic:

  • Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too little)
  • Changes in appetite (reduced appetite or increased “stress eating”)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased mood swings (including irritability, anger, etc.)
  • Increased misuse of mood-altering substances (alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs)

Here are 20 tips for coping with the anxiety and stress triggered by the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic:

(1) Limit the amount of time you spend watching the news or reading about this topic, and only seek information about what’s happening from reliable sources.

(2) Get enough sleep

(3) Stay physically active and exercise regularly

(4) Focus on nutrition

(5) Stay well hydrated

(6) Practice deep breathing

(7) Try meditation

(8) Listen to relaxing music

(9) Read something unrelated to current events

(10) Limit your caffeine intake

(11) Create something

(12) Avoid turning to alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs as a means of emotional coping

(13) Read or watch things that make you laugh

(14) Focus on planning for the future after this crisis has passed.

(15) Speak regularly with loved ones and friends (phone calls, texts, live video, emails and social media are all great options).

(16) Seek out positive stories of others helping those in need.

(17) Find ways to help others stay safe and healthy during this time.

(18) Spend time in sunlight when and where possible.

(19) Journal about your thoughts and feelings.

(20) Share your feelings openly with the people you trust.

If you’d like accountability in implementing these strategies or are in need of additional support, please know that we’re here to help remotely (through live video or telephone). Our initial consultations are always free.

5 Ways to Get a Better Night’s Sleep with Anxiety

Affecting nearly 40 million adults in the United States, anxiety is one of the country’s most common mental health disorders. Sleep disturbances such as insomnia are highly prevalent amongst those who suffer from anxiety disorder. If you have trouble falling asleep, it may heighten or trigger your anxiety, and vice versa. While it can be difficult for an anxiety sufferer to fall asleep, it’s not impossible; read on for five ways to get a better night’s sleep.

1. Exercise

Physical activity is an important component for overall health. Exercise will produce chemicals in your brain that will help elevate your mood and decrease your stress or tension, which will provide some relief for your anxiety. Exercise will also help you sleep. Not only will the physical exertion improve the quality of your sleep, it will help insure you’re able to sleep without interruption.

2. Daylight

Daylight helps set sleep patterns, so try to spend at least 30 minutes outdoors during the day time. Daylight sun exposure is critical if you have trouble falling asleep, because it helps to regulate the body’s circadian clock.

3. Healthy Habits

Studies have shown that people who make unhealthy food choices are more likely to suffer from sleep disturbances. Healthy balanced meals will keep your energy stable which will help you manage your mood and improve your sleep habits.

It’s also important to avoid big meals or alcohol for several hours before bedtime. Smoking is another bad habit that can cause many health problems, which will negatively affect your sleep in a number of ways.

4. Night Time Routine

Create a routine that you execute nightly, an hour or two before bedtime. Minimizing screen time will help calm your mind and prepare you for sleep. Change into your pajamas and do some light reading, or find other ways to charge down and get ready to sleep. Make sure you go to bed around the same time every night too, including weekends.

5. A Comfortable Bedroom

Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet, without distractions. Have a window open to keep the room cool and the air smelling fresh. A clean room and clean linens will make your bedroom more inviting. Make sure you have a good quality mattress and pillow to maximize your comfort.

Are you struggling with falling or staying asleep, and need help maintaining healthy sleep habits? A licensed professional can help. Call my office today and let’s schedule an appointment to talk.

How to Set Healthy Boundaries During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Are you wondering how to set healthy boundaries during the Coronavirus pandemic?

Relationships can only be healthy when both people have the space to be themselves and maintain their personal integrity. This can be especially challenging while “shelter at home” and “safer at home” restrictions are in place. Sadly, many people find themselves in relationships, romantic and otherwise, with people who do not respect boundaries and feel entitled to have their needs met regardless of the other person’s. These people most likely grew up in households that were unsafe and unstable, and where there was a constant invasion of personal boundaries.

If you can relate, chances are you have a hard time creating healthy boundaries to create the life experience you wish to have. This unique time in our history is an excellent time to learn to create healthy boundaries within your relationship. Here are some ways you can begin to do so:

Identify Your Limits

You can’t set boundaries unless you discover where it is you personally stand. You’ll need to take a bit of time to recognize what you can and cannot tolerate. What makes you happy and what makes you feel uncomfortable and stressed? Only until you have made these discoveries can you move on to the next steps.

Don’t Be Shy

People who have similar communication styles are easy to engage with. These people will quickly understand what your new barriers are. But people who have a different cultural background or personality may not easily understand your boundaries. With these people, it’s important to be very clear and direct.

Pay Attention to Your Feelings

People who have a hard time setting boundaries don’t often allow themselves to acknowledge their own feelings because they’re usually too busy worrying about everyone else’s.

You’ll need to start recognizing how people make you feel in order to know whether your new boundaries are being crossed or not. When you’re with someone, make mental notes, or even jot down in a journal how that interaction made you feel.

If, after spending time with someone, you feel anger or resentment, this is a sign that the person may be overstepping your boundaries. Reiterate to this person what your boundaries are. If they continue to disrespect you and them, you will want to cut yourself away from further interactions.

Make Self-Care a Priority

Put yourself and your needs first. This may feel strange and even somehow wrong if you’ve spent your entire life taking care of others. Give yourself permission to feel your feelings and get what you need to feel happy and well.

Speak with Someone

If you’ve spent an entire life with a sense of low self-worth, you may find setting boundaries quite difficult. In this case, it’s important to speak with a therapist that can help you discover where these feelings are coming from and how to change your thought patterns and behavior.

If you’d like to explore therapy, please get in touch with me. I would be happy to help you on your journey toward self-care.

Trauma & Relationships: 5 Ways to Increase Connection this Valentine’s Day

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Priscilla Du Preez

Valentine’s Day can bring up a lot of emotions. For some, it represents a day of romance and encourages expressions of love. However, this can often put unhealthy pressures and expectations on a relationship or can lead to uncoupled individuals feel left out and minimized by society. Many people dread this day or become frustrated with its American commercialization. For individuals who’ve experienced Trauma, these challenges are further compounded by difficulties with intimacy and vulnerability.  

If you’ve experienced Trauma, you may find yourself struggling to connect with others or have difficulty feeling positive emotions such as love or happiness. You may find yourself thinking “I can’t trust people,” “others will take advantage of me,” or “they’ll just let me down anyways, so what’s the point.” You may also suffer from low self-esteem and believe that you don’t deserve love or people who care about you. This may lead to pushing people away, self-sabotage, or diving into toxic relationships with those who would mistreat you.

Rather than continuing to stay stuck in this downward spiral, here are 5 ways to help yourself become more connected:

  1. Self-Care

You may see this term showing up everywhere and initially dismiss it. What does self-care even mean?! Does staying home all weekend in the same clothes and binge-watching Netflix count? Part of connecting with others involves connecting with yourself and acknowledging that you deserve care. It doesn’t have to be a big step like treating yourself to a spa day (although those are quite nice). Self-care can be basic grooming, eating regular/balanced meals, and exercise. It can mean taking a stroll around your neighborhood or sipping your favorite tea. Any behavior, no matter how small, that shows yourself that you matter.

  1. Contributing

Giving can be an incredible way to connect and feel valued. It can also help improve the quality of your relationships and overall outlook. Contributing doesn’t necessarily mean donating money or volunteer work. Both may be great options, but it can also look like showing people kindness through sending a friend a supportive text or paying a co-worker a compliment. Sometimes people may go overboard and become so selfless, that they neglect their own needs. If you find yourself with this tendency, it’s okay to still contribute, but you may want to pay special attention to the paragraph on Self-Care.  

  1. Be Part of Your Community 

As humans, we are social beings. It is a natural and essential need to connect with others and be part of a larger community. We are not alone, and we are all part of something bigger than ourselves. This involvement can be as active or passive as you choose. Sometimes this means participating in your spirituality by attending services/events. It can be going to a Farmer’s market, taking a group workout class, or sitting at a café, simply sharing space with others in your neighborhood. 

  1. Initiate Plans

Too many people wait around for someone else to initiate plans. This can not only be anxiety-provoking but often discouraging. It leaves the door open for all those insecurities to rush in and convince us that there’s no hope and we’re destined to be alone, or it may make us doubt our current relationships. Rather than giving our power to someone else who decides if and when we will meet, reach out and take that first empowered step. 

  1. Group Hang Out

In our modern age, we are no longer restricted to traditional ways of celebrating holidays. Social gatherings like Friendsgiving have become the norm. We often associate Valentine’s Day with a time dedicated to our romantic partners but showing love to our friends and family can offer just as much meaning. The days surrounding Valentine’s Day might be the perfect opportunity to plan something special with these significant others in your life. This might look like hosting a dinner/game night or gathering the girls for a brunch or a hike. If hosting sounds like a big commitment, see if someone else is interested in organizing the activity with your help. 

This blog post was written by Dr. Talia Barach, licensed clinical psychologist. She specializes in helping others overcome the negative impacts of trauma and move forward in their lives. Visit our “Dr. Talia” page to learn more.

How to Deal with Loneliness Around Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s day is just around the corner. For many people that means celebrating with their spouse or partner and showing them extra love and attention. But for others, Valentine’s Day is a sad reminder that they are single or are perhaps grieving the recent loss of their significant other.

If you are celebrating it alone this year, here are a few ways you can alleviate your sadness this Valentine’s Day.

Give Yourself a Break

It’s bad enough to feel lonely, but it’s even worse to scold yourself for doing so. Loneliness is not an indication that you’re doing anything wrong or that there is something wrong and unlovable about you.

Even people that are in relationships can feel incredibly lonely. Loneliness affects everyone at some point in their life. It’s not a sin to feel this way, so stop scolding yourself.

Take Yourself on a Date

How many times during the year do you make a real effort to show yourself love? If you’re like most people, you don’t really think much about how you treat yourself.

This Valentine’s Day, if you find yourself a party of one, try and make the best of it by focusing all of your love and attention on yourself. Take yourself out to a nice dinner. Or, if you don’t like the idea of sitting at a table alone surrounded by couples, then order in your favorite food and watch your favorite movie.

Take a nice long bath. Listen to your favorite band. Buy yourself a little gift on the way home from work. Use this Valentine’s Day to commit to showing yourself more love and kindness throughout the year.

Show Your Love for Others

Valentine’s Day is a holiday to show love. No one says that love must be shown in a romantic way.

This is a great time to show your affection and appreciation for the wonderful people in your life. Get your best friend a box of chocolates or your mom a bouquet of flowers. Put a card on your neighbor’s windshield and your coworker’s computer monitor.

You can be filled with love by being loved, and you can be filled with love by loving others. The more love YOU show this holiday, the more love you will feel inside. And you would be amazed at how the loneliness quickly slips away when you are full of love.

Don’t let the commercialism of the holiday make you feel alone and isolated. You really can have a lovely Valentine’s day if you love yourself and others.

5 Ways to Cope with Anxiety as a Parent

This blog offers the reader 5 concrete ways to cope with anxiety as a parent.

The hard work and unpredictability that makes parenting so rewarding can also cause a great deal of anxiety. Here are some simple ways to bring yourself to a place of calm.

Make a To-Do List
Ruminating on worries can cause lots of stress. Clear your mind by making a to-do list. Put down everything that needs to be done into your phone or onto a sheet of paper, and as you write them down, visualize yourself removing this task from your mind onto the list.

Watch Your Language
Many times parents believe things will get better when their children move on to the next phase of their maturity. However, the truth is that the worry will continue until you change your pattern of thought. To do this, watch the language you use to describe things. Don’t use phrases such as, “this will be a disaster if I don’t get it done on time” or “I’ll die of embarrassment if I forget.”

Also change thoughts of “I have to” to “I want to”. For example, instead of saying “I have to sign the kids up for karate” say, “I want to sign the kids up for karate because I know they’ll love it.”

Get Some Fresh Air
There’s nothing like some fresh air and sunlight to ease anxiety. Put your baby in a stroller and go for a walk around the block, to a neighbor’s house, or a local park. Take your kids to an outdoor mall or sit on the patio of a frozen yogurt shop and share a frozen treat. You can also try your local library. Some libraries also have outdoor patio areas where you can read with your kids.

Practice Mindfulness Exercises
If your anxiety is difficult to control, try deep-breathing from your belly. While you do this, concentrate on five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. This can help calm you when you’re feeling a panic or anxiety attack start to arise.

Use Your Support Network
Call your friends or family to chat or ask for advice. It may also help to vent with a Facebook parenting group or other online message board. You can also call your therapist and make an appointment and work through your challenges.

Try these tips to control and cope with your anxiety, and enjoy the time with your children free from worry.

If you find your anxiety to be impacting your ability to be a happy, successful parent, it might be time to speak with a professional who can help. Please contact me today for an initial consultation.

3 Ways Therapy Helps You Address Anxiety

This blog highlights 3 ways that therapy helps you address anxiety.

Millions of people deal with stress and anxiety on a daily basis. Whether it’s a result of phobias, depressions, or post-traumatic stress, anxiety can take a toll on our mind and health.

If you deal with anxiety you most likely have looked into ways you can help calm your emotional rollercoaster. Perhaps you’ve even tried some self-help techniques in the past. While these methods can provide some relief, it’s often temporary.

To rid yourself of overwhelming anxiety once and for all, you’ve got to get to the root cause of it – the underlying factors. A therapist can help you identify and eliminate these underlying factors.

If you are suffering from an anxiety disorder, here are 3 ways therapy can help:

1. Uncover Root Causes

Like any other health issue, effective treatment gets to the root cause. For instance, your doctor can either prescribe a medication to try and manage your hypertension symptoms, or she can request you clean up your diet and exercise, addressing the root causes of your high blood pressure.

A therapist will assist you in accessing your emotional world so you can study your thoughts and feelings and uncover patterns. Often, unhealthy beliefs and thoughts lie at the root of anxiety. Once you identify what is causing you anxiety, your therapist can begin to create a plan to help you face these underlying issues calmly and confidently.

2. Therapy Helps You Change Your Behaviors

We’ve just talked a little about therapy helping you uncover the thoughts and beliefs that are causing the anxiety. Those thoughts and beliefs are not only making you feel bad, they are causing you to have certain behaviors that may result in negative consequences.

For instance, your anxiety leads to insomnia or denial of intimate social connections. Therapy will help you make lifestyle and behavioral changes. You’ll learn how to cope with difficult situations in a more relaxed manner. Therapy will help you to stop avoiding certain people and situations and develop a calmer and more balanced sense of self.

 3. Therapy Offers Continued Personalized Support

 All change is hard, even change that’s ultimately good for you. One of the biggest benefits of therapy is that it offers continual personalized support. Your therapist wants to see you succeed and will offer encouragement and advice without judgement.

If you’ve been living with anxiety, know that you don’t have to deal with it alone. If you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

4 Ways to Improve Self-Esteem When You Have Depression

Depression and low self-esteem are two sides of the same coin. While low self-esteem leaves people vulnerable to depression, depression can absolutely destroy self-esteem.

But, though low self-esteem may be deeply rooted, there are things you can do to improve it, even if you are suffering from depression.

1. Start Your Day with Positivity

It’s important you start each day positively. Doing so will help your mind to habitually recognize good, especially the good in yourself. So, surround yourself with positivity in the form of music, books, calendars, computer wallpaper, etc. You can even sign up to a service that will send you funny memes or cute animal videos each day. Feeling good at the beginning of the day will set a tone and help you be positive throughout.

2. Analyze and Correct Negative Thinking

Negative thinking is the catalyst for both low self-esteem and depression. The more one thinks negatively, the less able they are to see themselves and the world around them in an accurate light. Soon, the negative thoughts are on a loop like an old record that keeps skipping, causing the same lyric to play over and over again.

The first thing that is needed is the ability to analyze your own thoughts. When a self-critical thought occurs, ask yourself three questions:

  • Is there any evidence to support this thinking?
  • Would people that know me say that my thought is true?
  • Does having this thought make me feel good or bad about myself?

Once you realize there is no evidence to support your thought, that your friends and family would disagree with your thought, and that your thought makes you feel bad about yourself, it’s time to replace that thought. Not with a vague affirmation, but with factual and meaningful self-statements.

For example, perhaps you have taken on a project at work, and currently you find yourself feeling overwhelmed. Your thoughts may currently sound like, “Why did I say I could handle this? I never finish things on time.” You will now replace that thought with a positive factual thought, something simple like, “I’m doing better at this job everyday and am continuing to make progress.”

A healthy self-esteem is not about being perfect or thinking you’re perfect when you’re not. No one is. A healthy self-esteem is about acknowledging your strengths and accepting your weaknesses and realizing you’re like everyone else – human and beautifully flawed.

3. Treat Yourself Well

Though you may feel you don’t deserve it, by treating yourself, you will send positive messages to your subconscious mind that you ARE worth it. Consider taking yourself out to a nice lunch, buy yourself that sweater you’ve been eyeing, or go get a relaxing massage. You don’t even have to spend money; show yourself you’re worth it by spending time reading a book, going for a walk in nature, or doing anything that inspires you.

4. Seek Positive Support

You want to surround yourself with people who celebrate your strengths, not your weaknesses. This can include seeking the positive support of a therapist who can work with you on analyzing and replacing negative thought patterns. When we don’t have an accurate self-perception, it can help to get a new perspective from an objective third party.

Increasing your self-esteem isn’t easy, but if you practice these tips, you will be able to chip away at the negative self-talk every day.

Need help with your self-esteem? If you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help. 

4 Ways to Improve Communication in Your Relationship

If you’re reading this blog post, chances are you and your significant other have hit a snag in the relationship. Maybe you’re spending less time with each other and you’ve grown apart. Or maybe you do little else than argue these days.

All relationships go through their ups and downs. No matter the good intentions of the individuals or how in love you were when the relationship began, it is completely natural for a relationship to take a hit every now and then.

In some ways, these trials can be a good thing. Much like you need to break down muscle to build it up stronger than it was before, many relationships can be strengthened by challenges, provided your communication is healthy.

Here are some ways to improve communication in your relationship:

1. Recognize the Change

It’s important to be open and honest with yourself and each other. Don’t deny that something has changed in your relationship, admit it openly. You may also need to recognize that each of you has changed over the years. None of us stays the same. Our wants, needs, passions, annoyances, etc. change as we mature and grow as people. People can usually accommodate this change as long as they admit it has happened.

2. Validate Each Other’s Feelings

There are two words that are very powerful in communication, “Yes, and…” Effective communication is not about one person being right and the other wrong. Often, both people are right and allowed to feel their feelings. Try not to attack the other person or get them to compromise on issues. Instead, focus on simply being heard and hearing the other person.

3. Be Ready to Change

If you want to improve your communication as a means to get the other person to change their ways, you are really thinking about this communication thing all wrong! Good communication is not about winning an argument. This is not a debate class. Your goal is to better share your thoughts, feelings, ideas, hopes and struggles with each other. Don’t be so focused on getting the other person to change and focus more on how your own behavior could change.

4. Breathe

Managing your emotions is one of the most important skills when it comes to interpersonal interaction. How often are you ready to blow when you and your spouse or partner are speaking to each other? How does the communication breakdown once you or your partner have become emotional?

When communicating with your partner, or anyone, should you feel your emotions rise, stop, take a slow, deep breath, and let it out. Taking this moment is important and will help you not to say something you’ll regret or that will escalate the situation.

None of us are perfect. All we can do is try to be the best versions of ourselves we can be for ourselves and our loved ones. By following these communication tips you will be able to strengthen your relationships.

It’s OK to Grieve After a Miscarriage

It’s perfectly normal, natural, and OK to grieve after a miscarriage or pregnancy loss.

Throughout our lives we experience the loss of loved ones and friends. But there is no greater loss than that of a child. And it doesn’t matter what age that child was, the loss is profound.

If you’ve experienced a pregnancy loss, you are most likely feeling more sadness and grief than you even thought possible. While your body may have healed, your heart will take a while to catch up. It’s important that you allow yourself some time to grieve and feel all your emotions. And you will, at times, feel a rollercoaster of emotions ranging from disbelief to anger to guilt, sadness, depression, and numbness.

You may also experience physical symptoms as a result of this emotional stress. These symptoms can include fatigue, trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, and frequent episodes of crying. The hormonal changes that occur after miscarriage may intensify these symptoms.

The Grieving Process – What to Expect

There are three main stages of the grieving process after a miscarriage.

Stage 1 – Shock/Denial

You can’t believe the loss has happened. It shouldn’t have happened. You took great care of yourself and your body. You did everything right. Why is this happening?

Stage 2 – Anger/Guilt/Depression

Thoughts and feelings of shame and inadequacy can take over your life. You begin to study every detail of your pregnancy over and over to find what it was that you did wrong. You may feel guilty that you weren’t able to give your partner or husband a child, or your parents a grandchild. The sadness is overwhelming, and most days you can barely function.

Stage 3 – Acceptance

You recognize that you are not alone, and that many other women have experienced a miscarriage. You also begin to remember the other responsibilities in your life, perhaps you have other children who need more of your attention, and you decide to accept what’s happened and move on with your life as best you can.

It’s important to understand that each stage of the grieving process will take longer to go through than the one before. And there can also be setbacks. You may think you have finally accepted the event, when you go to your friend’s baby shower and find yourself sneaking off to the bathroom to cry.

Be aware that men and women grieve differently. Usually women are more expressive about their loss, whereas men like to be proactive. Men are problem-solvers, not weepers. Understand that your husband or partner is grieving, even if you don’t recognize the way in which he grieves.

Your path to healing will be benefitted by both of you being sensitive and respectful of each other’s needs and feelings during this time. Accept your different coping styles and always keep those lines of communication open.

It’s also important that you seek help. This could be from a loved one who’s been where you are now, or a family therapist who can guide you through your grieving process and give you tools to help you cope with your emotions now and in the future.

If you or a loved one has experienced a miscarriage and are overwhelmed with emotions, you don’t have to go through it alone. It’s perfectly normal to experience grief after a miscarriage or pregnancy loss. Please contact me and let’s discuss how I may be able to help.

 

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