So much of my work, whether in individual counseling with clients or directing the day-to-day programming of their clinical experience in rehab, has been about the business of helping people in recovery improve their mental health.
More than a decade of work in the field of addiction treatment has reinforced, for me, that taking care of your mental health is a critical component in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. It is one of the most important factors in achieving long-term sobriety and living a happy and fulfilling life in the process.
What Is Mental Health?
But if mental health is so important to recovery, what is it really? Mental health refers to the state of our emotional, psychological and social make-up — the interrelated thoughts, feelings and behaviors that heavily influence our life choices and experiences, the way we handle stress and our relationships with others.
In this sense taking care of our mental health is a whole lot more complex than other forms of physical hygiene that are good for us, like washing hands before meals or taking a daily multi-vitamin. Here are some pointers for how to take care of your mental health when you’re in recovery. Continue reading Attending to Your Mental Health During Addiction Recovery
Mental health can be a journey. Journeying while struggling with mental health challenges, however, can be almost impossible.
In 2015 I traveled to Puno, Peru, to work on a research project as a part of my graduate degree in international public health. Before enrolling in the degree program, I had spent the better part of the previous two years traveling and living abroad in some capacity and was excited to have the opportunity to travel as a part of my career.
As my departure date to Peru creeped closer, I started seeing a therapist at the university health center to talk about concerns I had about traveling. I had experienced acute depression that year for the first time and was nervous it would creep back in while I was in a low-resource setting abroad. My in-person therapist told me many students feel this way before completing fieldwork abroad and I would be fine to push through.
I didn’t want my fears around my mental health to stop me from traveling. I wanted to be “strong.” So off I flew to Puno. Continue reading Traveling with Depression: How I Should Have Prepared
About 20 people are victims of domestic violence every minute in the United States. Domestic violence is an enormous issue, and we need powerful voices to address it.
We wanted to salute those in the spotlight who have spoken about their personal experiences with domestic and intimate partner violence. Because survivors often suffer in silence, we hope these public voices offer inspiration and courage to those who might need support.
Tamron Hall, a host for NBC’s “Today” show, has been an advocate for survivors of domestic abuse for many years. Hall’s sister died as a result of her abusive relationship. This was the catalyst for Hall’s advocacy. Her sister’s death is still unsolved.
Hall has been open about her struggles with guilt about her sister Renate’s death. Her feelings echo those of family members across the world who have struggled with having a loved one in an abusive relationship. She started the Tamron Renate Hall Fund with her sons to help survivors of domestic abuse. Continue reading 5 Celebrity Women Who Spoke Out About Domestic Violence
In an ideal world, taking a mental health day would be simple. Imagine this: You could have 10 per year and use them at your discretion. Or maybe you work at a small company that doesn’t have a formal system for taking time off. In that case it should be as straightforward as talking to your supervisor about why you need one.
You tell your supervisor your depression is acting up. Perhaps your anxiety disorder has been eating you alive lately. Your strained mental health is affecting your productivity, so you need a day off to tend to it, to heal and return with renewed vigor.
She says, “Sure.” There are no questions or judgments, and she is comfortable with you being open about your mental health. She understands the importance of caring for your mental wellness and trusts you are not taking advantage of the policy. Continue reading The Stigma of Asking for a Mental Health Day
“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
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
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
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
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:
- Reducing anxiety symptoms to the point where it is not a significant burden
- Learning to better cope with anxiety
- Stopping themselves from feeling anxiety
- 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
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