How Caregivers Can Avoid Burnout and Stay Mentally Healthy

daughter taking care of sick mother

“In dealing with those who are undergoing great suffering, if you feel ‘burnout’ setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself. The point is to have a long-term perspective.” – Dalai Lama

I once worked with a client named Patrick who came to therapy feeling anxious and overwhelmed by what he had recently been experiencing. As a young professional he was trying to balance all the facets of his life. He was dating and trying to maintain a healthy social life. Patrick was also struggling with caring for his aging mother who had several medical and emotional issues to sort through.

As many therapists will tell you, caring for others is one of the greatest experiences we can have as humans. There is research that caring for others and demonstrating compassion outwardly, such as volunteering, may help us feel better within ourselves both physically and mentally.

Nonetheless, we also know caring for others can sometimes be a daunting and even thankless experience. Many of us who find ourselves caring for others often lose our balance. We even begin to view our self-care as being selfish. We may say to ourselves, “I can’t take this time off. What will happen when I’m gone?” Continue reading How Caregivers Can Avoid Burnout and Stay Mentally Healthy

Therapy Dogs: How They Improve Our Mental Health

puppies sniffing flowers

I am not sure what it is about dogs, but they seem to possess a sixth sense when it comes to knowing when owners are going through an emotionally difficult time.
I once owned a dog called Molly. She was a mix between a Labrador Retriever and an Afghan Hound. Molly was an enthusiastic dog who loved nothing more than to play and was a deeply affectionate animal. She lived for 17 wonderful years.

I have especially fond memories of Molly because she got me through some of my most challenging times after giving birth to my son. If you suffer from postpartum depression, I am sure you can appreciate that getting even a small amount of relief is better than getting none at all.

Recalling those memories with Molly has given me the motivation to carry out some research into the therapeutic benefits dogs have on people who are ill or suffering from depression. Continue reading Therapy Dogs: How They Improve Our Mental Health

Why Happiness is Overrated, According to a Therapist

green color pencil drawing smile on figures

Often times people come into therapy hoping to finally tackle issues like anxiety or depression. Clients have come into my office wishing for me to share my keys to “happiness.” Sometimes they are disappointed to find I actually don’t think happiness is a reasonable goal.

There is a lot of information, particularly in the positive psychology movement, about finding the keys to happiness. You can use affirmations and daily validations to help lift your mood. You can organize your life and change your behavior, all in an effort to secure this feeling of happiness.

There’s a lot of validity to those suggestions. Nonetheless, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to search for “happiness” to begin with. Continue reading Why Happiness is Overrated, According to a Therapist

Finding Inner Peace with Mindfulness and the 5 Senses

woman tea meditation

Mindfulness is the power of living in the moment, embracing your current circumstances without judgement or pretense. To be mindful is to be a conscious observer.

Mindfulness is a big trend, not only in popular culture, but in contemporary therapy. Many counselors tout this westernized version of traditional Eastern practices as a way to promote relaxation and reduce stress in clients. It’s become a popular training topic for clinicians because there is evidence that it helps reduce anxiety and depression.

As a therapist, I often incorporate mindfulness-based cognitive strategies in my work to help clients deal with stressful jobs and lives. In my practice I’ve found it to be especially effective at battling anxiety and perfectionism. It can be a challenge, however, to incorporate mindfulness in your daily routine if you’re not used to slowing down and paying conscious attention. Continue reading Finding Inner Peace with Mindfulness and the 5 Senses

How to Get Rid of Anxiety: Separating the Good from the Bad

green hand anxiety

Anxiety is keeping us alive right now, yet we often want to know how to get rid of it. It’s not as much of a conundrum as you might think. The key is separating the good anxiety from the bad anxiety. You need the kind that keeps you alive and functioning, but you can reduce the rest.

There are many research-backed methods of reducing the prevalence of anxiety in your life. Nonetheless, this is sometimes different than “getting rid of it.”

Developing a Realistic Attitude About Dealing with Anxiety

When people want to “get rid of anxiety,” they often ascribe different meanings to the phrase, such as:

  1. Reducing anxiety symptoms to the point where it is not a significant burden
  2. Learning to better cope with anxiety
  3. Stopping themselves from feeling anxiety
  4. Completely eliminating their sources of anxiety

The first half of the above solutions are viable; the second half is not. In this sense anxiety is not something to “get rid of.” Continue reading How to Get Rid of Anxiety: Separating the Good from the Bad

Therapy and Becoming the Person You Want to Be

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As a counselor, I am usually the one who asks the questions. I often joke that I get paid for each question I ask. That’s why I ask so many good questions.

Recently a client asked me a perplexingly simple question I didn’t have an answer for.

My client previously discussed how she believes her family is “dysfunctional.” We then talked about the word, it felt like a psycho babble cuss-word. That is, when you are mad at someone, you call them dysfunctional. The word has taken on many meanings in our culture, including someone who is:

  • Unable to handle life
  • Poor at relationships and intimacy
  • Being an emotional mess
  • Not normal
  • Not like the rest of us

As a therapist I confront this concept every time it comes up in conversation. It is a word that creates a wasteland of comparison, judgment, shame, and the conclusion that we are a messed up, abnormal person. Continue reading Therapy and Becoming the Person You Want to Be

What ‘The Big Bang Theory’ Theory Teaches Us About Social Anxiety

big bang theory cast

Roughly 15 million American adults live with social anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Social anxiety has grown in mainstream conversations about mental health over the years, but what does it look like to actually live with the disorder? There’s a great example viewable in one of television’s biggest sitcoms, “The Big Bang Theory.”

Rajesh Koothrappali (Raj) from “The Big Bang Theory” represents a solid case of social anxiety disorder. In earlier seasons of the show, Koothrappali’s social anxiety cripples him by rendering him speechless around women who aren’t members of his family. When he’s alone with his friends, he has no problem expressing himself. But when faced with the prospect of speaking with a woman he deems attractive, Raj often uses alcohol as a social lubricant.

Many viewers, including myself, find this character trait charming in those earlier seasons. As a therapist I understand this kind of representation can minimize the lives of those who deal with social anxiety in real life. Nonetheless, my impression is that the writers of the show handle Raj’s disorder with both compassion and humor. This leads me to believe that both the actor and those in the writers’ room understand what it’s like to experience social anxiety. Continue reading What ‘The Big Bang Theory’ Theory Teaches Us About Social Anxiety

5 Unusual Ways to Boost Your Mental Health

5 heads art

Finding a mental health treatment, including therapy, is only part of taking care of your mental health. What about everything you do outside the treatment?

There are the standard suggestions: yoga, deep breathing, exercise. Maybe you’ve heard of those or tried them, perhaps with less success than you hoped.

Then there are other ways to boost your mental health, methods that are unusual but can help nonetheless.

Here are five examples:

1. Laugh as Often as Possible

It may be difficult to laugh when in the throes of depression or another mental health disorder, but it is important that you laugh as often as possible. Laugh therapy improves our emotional well-being and our overall mental health.

Every time you smile and laugh, your brain releases dopamine. This chemical produces feelings of happiness and endorphins, our natural painkillers. When we shift from smiling to laughing, the brain’s response includes releasing nitric oxide that boosts the immune system and improves our overall wellness. Continue reading 5 Unusual Ways to Boost Your Mental Health

10 Signs You Have Social Anxiety, According to a Therapist

anxious woman in windowsill

Many clients are surprised to learn they have a diagnosis of social anxiety. In fact, according to the NIMH, an incredible 18% of the population suffers from anxiety. Of those, 63% aren’t receiving treatment, and 34% of those aren’t receiving adequate treatment. Some sufferers assume they might only be shy, introverted or quiet; others think they are awkward or lacking in social skills. Interestingly, women are 60% more likely to suffer from anxiety than men.

Here are 10 signs that what you’re dealing with might be social anxiety, and not simply shyness:

1. You skip events you are interested in, only because you think you will feel awkward.

Salsa dancing sounds cool. But you cringe thinking about how stupid you’ll look doing it, so you don’t go. Even if other people don’t know how to dance either, you assume they’ll look less silly than you. If an event involves any aspect of performing, you’re even more scared to go. Continue reading 10 Signs You Have Social Anxiety, According to a Therapist

The Psychology of Talkspace’s New Design

Talkspace designs devices

After many months of hard work from our design, development and marketing teams, we are finally launching our rebranded user interfaces and homepage. It’s more than a new coat of paint. Using Talkspace is going to be a better, smoother experience.

We’re still touching up parts of it here and there, but there is already plenty to explore. Let’s start with the homepage.

Our New Homepage

The first part of the homepage shows Talkspace clients making use of the most valuable part of our app: therapy anytime, anywhere. Whether you’re at work, walking your dog or out to a show, you can communicate with your therapist. Continue reading The Psychology of Talkspace’s New Design