Coping with the Holidays After Loss

For many people, the holidays are about spending time with loved ones. But for those who have suffered a recent loss, the holidays can be painful and isolating.

Here are some ways you can cope with the holidays after a loss:

Recognize You are Not Alone

It’s easy to feel as though you are the only one experiencing great pain during the holiday season. Everywhere you turn, people seem to be happy, putting up decorations, buying gifts and making holiday plans. It’s important to recognize the truth right now, and that is that you are not alone. There are people all over the world who have experienced loss, some perhaps very recently.

Honor Your Pain

No one expects you to feel joyful and in the holiday mood right now, so don’t feel as though you must pretend for others’ sake. It is very important that you honor whatever emotions you may be experiencing, whether it’s sadness, anger, regret or a combination.

Take Your Time

The holidays are usually a busy time for people. There is much to accomplish and many events to host and/or attend. You do not have to keep your normal schedule this year. You simply will not have the mental or emotional stamina for it. So take the time you need. If you don’t feel like attending many (or any) events this year, that is fine. People will understand.

Help Others in Need

One of the worst parts about losing a loved one is the feeling that we no longer have any control over our lives. Loss makes us feel helpless. One way to fight this feeling is to help others who are in need. As a bonus, connecting with others who are hurting can often be a salve on our hearts as well.

When Don’t These Guidelines Apply?

If you have children, it’s important to understand that they are looking to you right now to know what life will be like from now on. To a child, the loss of a parent or sibling can frighten them terribly. Though you may not at all feel like celebrating the holidays, doing so helps your child know that life does go on and that there is space in your life to feel joy along with sadness.

 

If you have experienced loss and would like to explore grief counseling, please be in touch. You don’t have to suffer alone.

Let’s Go for a Walk: How Regular Exercise Can Aid Mental Health

By now, most of us know that exercise offers numerous health benefits. From maintaining an ideal weight, to reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis, moving our body every day improves the length and quality of our lives.

But not all of us recognize just how important exercise is to our mental health.

Beyond Hormone Release

Most of us have had that rush after a hike or trip to the gym. We feel energetic and even happy after we exercise. Of course, we now know that when we exercise, our body releases “feel-good” hormones such as endorphins and enkephalins. These hormones instantly improve our mood and outlook on life.

But is that all exercise is good for? A quick fix? An instant mood pick-me-up via a hormonal rush? Or can exercise effect our brains and mental health on a fundamental level?

A study conducted by researchers from Duke University compared the antidepressant effects of aerobic exercise to the popular antidepressant medicine sertraline, as well as a placebo sugar pill. After four months the researcher found that those subjects who exercised regularly experienced the greatest antidepressant effect.

In other words, exercise was scientifically proven to be just as, if not more effective than prescription medications at relieving symptoms of depression.

How is this possible?

It turns out, regular exercise increases the volume of certain brain regions through better blood supply and an increase in neurotrophic factors and neurohormones that support neuron signaling, growth, and connections.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that exercise leads to the creation of new hippocampal neurons, the hippocampus being incredibly important for learning, memory creation, and emotion regulation.

So, How Much Exercise Do You Need?

Psychiatrist Madhukar Trivedi of UT Southwestern Medical Center has shown that three or more sessions per week of aerobic exercise or resistance training, for 45 to 60 minutes per session, can help treat even chronic depression. The key here is regularity, so it’s important to focus on the kind of exercise you do.

If you don’t like going to the gym, then find another activity. Hike, bike, swim, or dance. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you get your body moving for around an hour a few times per week and you do so consistently.

In order for all of us to be entirely healthy, that means physically as well as mentally healthy, it’s important to incorporate exercise into our every day life.

A Meditation Exercise You Can Do with Your Child

As a busy parent of a young child, you may find it challenging to find the time or space to meditate. One solution is to bring the two together, and have your child meditate with you.

Meditating with Young Children

For children five and under, it will be difficult for them to sit still for any length of time. Even a few seconds might be the most you can expect. Adjust your expectations and try to remain flexible in your approach. Most experts agree that by six years of age, children should be able to sit still for one minute per year of age, so age six would be one minute, age seven is two minutes and so forth.

Kids Will Be Kids

It’s important to be patient as you work on a meditation exercise with your child. It’s normal for children to have difficulty sitting still. They may not be able to keep their eyes closed, they may fidget or wiggle as they sit, and they might laugh or try to be funny because it’s awkward or difficult for them to remain still and quiet. This is completely normal, so maintain a sense of humor and take any challenges that arise in stride. It will take time to teach your child to meditate. If you’re overly strict or discipline your child too much, you will end up making this a negative interaction instead of a calming one.

Meditation Exercises for Children

You’ll want to start with a brief session and try to make it fun. A candle-gazing meditation is an easy way to start. For children, guided meditations are generally the best way to teach them to meditate. There are many guided meditations available for free online that are specifically for children. You can find them through a simple Google search or by searching on YouTube.

There are also apps you can use on your phone, tablet or smart TV that are also completely free. One example is Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame, an app intended for children under five which is available for the Android and iOS. Another example is Wellbeyond Meditation for Kids for iOS.

There are also classes available at some meditation centers that are specifically for children. Do a Google search for “meditation center [city, state]”, then check their online schedule or give them a call to find out if they have meditation classes for children.

 

Are you a parent looking for unique ways to cope with challenging parenting issues? A licensed therapist can provide the support and guidance you need. Give my office a call today and let’s schedule a time to talk.

Balance Your Mood With Food: How Good Nutrition Supports Mental Health

Our brains are magnificent machines: while the brain controls rudimentary yet complex functions like your heartbeat, breathing and motor functions, it also controls a multitude of other complicated tasks such as creating your thoughts and feelings. A machine this advanced, that runs 24/7, clearly requires fuel to run. The fuel you supply to your hard-working brain is none other than the food and drink you consume.

Like any other machine, the quality of your brain function is relative to the quality of the fuel you put in it. Foods rich in nourishment such as complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants help stabilize blood sugar levels while increasing your brain’s energy. When it comes to feeding the brain, you get back what you put in.

Selenium

Selenium is an important mineral that your body relies on to perform many of its basic functions. Studies have shown that people with a low amount of selenium in their diet have an elevated rate of depression, irritability, and anxiety. While too little selenium causes health problems, too much can be toxic. According to the National Institute of Health, 55 mcg of selenium a day is the sweet spot for adults 19 years of age and older.

Brazil nuts are by far the most selenium-rich food available. An ounce (about 7 or 8) of brazil nuts contains 544 mcg of selenium per serving, so two or three brazil nuts a day is more than sufficient to get your RDA of selenium. You can also get your 55 mcg a day with 3 to 4 ounces of halibut, roasted ham, or shrimp. Cottage cheese, roast chicken, oatmeal, and eggs also contain moderate amounts of selenium, around 10 to 20 mcg per serving.

Folate (Folic Acid)

Studies have shown that an increased intake of folate or folic acid is associated with a lower risk of depression. Folate is found in a wide variety of food, with spinach, liver, yeast, asparagus, and brussels sprouts containing the highest levels. You can also get your recommended 400 mcg of folate with avocado, peanuts, orange juice, leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, and whole grains, among many other foods.

Omega-3

Dopamine and serotonin are chemicals in the brain that are produced by nerve cells. Serotonin is a natural mood stabilizer, and dopamine controls your feelings of pleasure and reward. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties in them, and they effect the transmission of dopamine and serotonin. Omega-3 also has a role in brain development and function, with the ability to stabilize moods. Omega 3 foods include salmon, walnuts, soybeans, and chia seeds.

There are many other nutritious foods that will serve as prime fuel for your brain, helping you perform, feel and be at your very best. Using this list to help change your eating habits for the better is a great step in the right direction.

If you’re struggling with a mood disorder and would like some support and guidance to live a more balanced life, contact my office today so we can set up a time to talk.