Seasonal Mood Changes

Autumn is in full swing. The pumpkins are out and Halloween decorations are starting to pop up all over my neighborhood. The night is closing in on the later hours of the morning and early hours of the evenings as we move toward winter. While this season can be a beautiful time of the year, the changes in the weather and daylight can usher in difficult changes in mood for many individuals. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder is an annual depression that affects many individuals from late fall through the end of winter. If you find yourself struggling with low energy, losing interest in festivities that you would normally be excited about, or experiencing other symptoms of depression during this time of year, you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. For those already suffering from another mood disorder, SAD can intensify those symptoms. 

It is important to be mindful your mood in order to manage it properly and potentially prevent a more severe drop in mood. Below are a few simple ways to keep your mind healthy as we continue into the fall and winter months.

  • Develop healthy sleep hygiene.Sleep has a profound affect on mood. When possible try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Turn off overhead lighting and turn on dim lamps when preparing to go to bed so that the brain knows to begin releasing melatonin. Having an evening routine such as taking a hot bath, sipping a cup of tea, journaling or meditation can also help the mind and body relax and fall asleep faster. It is important to only use the bed for sleep and sex so that the body learns to associate the space with rest. Limit disruptive noise and light as much as possible.  

  • Exercise regularly.Even if it is just a 15-30 minute walk, 3-4 times a week, exercise generates endorphins that are widely known to improve mood. 

  • Eat healthy.It may be a bizarre revelation, but the digestive tract contains more neurotransmitters that the brain. Meaning diet can have a big impact on mood and mental health. 

  • Reach out for support.It is natural to isolate when suffering from a mood disorder, which often times only exacerbates feelings of loneliness and hopelessness. Tell a friend or family member that you are struggling. Get involved with your faith community or join as support group. If you find that your mood is continuing to drop and disrupt your life, seek help from a mental health profession. 

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Structured Trial Separation How To 

As mentioned in my previous post "Separation or Divorce?", below are some specific guidelines for conducting a structured trial separation. As a refresher, a structured trial separation is an informal splitting for an agreed upon length of time with no legal ramifications. The below list is not exhaustive by any means and will not guarantee preventing divorce, but if both parties communicate and agreed upon rules and goals, there can be an increased chance of reconciliation. 

  1. Determine length of separation - Typically structured trial separations range from 3 - 6 months but can be longer if needed. Both parties must be in agreement on limit and willing to take divorce off the table until time period is over. 

  2. Establishing residence- This can be tough as one partner may be left in the home while another is away in a new or uncomfortable location rather than both leaving. This can also be challenging if there are children in the home who will be affected by losing one parent and may require a switching of responsibility or staying in home as to not overly disrupt kids’ schedules. Make sure to agreed on rules that allow for autonomy, privacy and prevent unscheduled drop-ins.   

  3. Therapy- Schedule permitting, weekly or biweekly individual counseling is preferable with couple’s counseling scheduled when necessary. 

  4. Family finances - Decide together how bills, rent, therapy, kids, food, etc will be handled as two households is an expensive arrangement. 

  5. Childcare(if needed) - Again, creating a smooth and minimally disruptive separation for kids is best. Kids must be informed of arrangement and intent, avoiding use of word divorce, and must never be put in the middle of couple conflict. Respect parental boundaries and share in responsibilities and costs of needed childcare arrangements.  

  6. Personal Contact - Make clear rules for contact both by phone, email and in person. Restrict contact to set times and places. Discuss date nights and sexual expectations as well. Be clear and in agreement and respect your partner’s time away to work on their own goals/needs.

  7. Trust building - Honesty and transparency are a must for both yourself and your partner. Trust building takes time and is painful and difficult as trauma, lies and past abuse erode away at a relationship's foundation. It may seem more harsh to be honest at times, but transparency typically stings less than another lie.

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Mindfulness Pt. 1

You may have head this term being thrown out more and more lately but have never been too sure what it is. It has definitely become more mainstream lately with schools integrating it into the school day or doctors referring patients to clinics specializing in mindfulness techniques to work with chronic illnesses when “traditional” physical medicine treatments have been exhausted. Many people can be initially reluctant to attempt a treatment like mindfulness due to the practice’s eastern/Buddhist roots. Another reason may be that people might find the idea of meditation as too hippie or new age. However research continues to back up the physical and mental benefits of mindfulness. Looking at things like brain scans, heart rate, blood pressure, and blood show tangible results when practicing mindfulness. The idea of mindfulness is pretty simple but that does not mean it is necessarily easy to practice. Mindfulness is about being fully aware of whatever is happening in the present moment, without filters or the lens of judgment. It can be brought to any situation. Put simply, mindfulness consists of cultivating awareness of the mind and body and living in the here and now. If you think about it the present moment is all we really have. It the only place we can truly live our life. If your trapped up in your mind and stuck in the past, the future, or constantly labeling things as good or bad, you are really missing out on what is going on in your life right now. Tired of missing out on your life? Keep reading the blog to learn more about mindfulness.

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Goal Setting

One of the sneaky and annoying things about shame is the more negative decisions you make the easier it is to make more negative decisions. This can make goal setting pretty difficult because even though you want to change, there is a force working against you to keep you stuck. For example, if you see yourself as someone who makes unhealthy food choices you will most likely continue to make unhealthy food choices. When met with the fork in the road decision between the chicken fried steak or the salad you’ll most likely choose the chicken friend steak. After all, you make unhealthy food choices, thats “who you are”. Once you’re able to just once make a healthy food choice the way you see yourself will slowly start to change. It will be easier to choose the salad once you’ve chosen the salad.

There is a big gap between wanting to change and actually changing. How do you convince yourself that the change is worth it? It’s important to break down the desires that are a part of the change. Start with the benefits of the starting point. In our food example this would mean acknowledging that the chicken fried steak tastes really good. Eating it may even provide some sort of comfort for you. We can’t ignore that there are benefits to the starting point. Otherwise, why would we keep trying it, or have such difficulty changing. 

Next, consider the costs of eating the chicken fried steak. Maybe it leaves you feeling crummy. Maybe it keeps you from losing the weight you want to. If we don’t acknowledged the cost of our decisions we won’t have the information or motivation to make the changes we want to make.

Now it’s time to think about the cost of the change. Eating that salad means you miss out on the delicious chicken friend steak meal. It means you might have to smell everyone else’s chicken fried steak while you eat that salad. Is it worth it? If we aren’t aware of the hard work it will take to make the change then we probably aren’t ready to make the change.

Lastly, tell yourself about the benefits of the change. Leaving the restaurant after eating the salad you most likely won’t feel bloated and uncomfortable. After awhile you might even see a change in your waist line. Maybe your workouts are easier and you start feeling healthier all together. This is what makes change worth it. When we are aware of the direction we are going and what the end result will be we have more energy to must through the change. 

Very rarely does “white knuckling” it work. Change happens most smoothly when we are aware of the costs and benefits at play. Try trading out that chicken fried steak for a habit you’re trying to kick. This could be anything from relationship dynamics, to work patterns. 

Some things to consider:

1. Is change something that you’re sure you want or has society, loved ones, or other influences told you to change?

2. How can you remind yourself of the costs of the choices you are making? 

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You Don't Know Me - Accountability

We live in a world, especially the young people, who can hide behind phone screens, perfectly edited photos, and highlights of their weeks. We see the best versions of each other and even though we know these people are normal human beings with feelings of sadness and anger, we tend to believe that their life is perfect and beautifully laid out before us. This epidemic is decreasing our social skills as a society and therefore decreasing the authenticity in our relationships. This is problematic for several reasons but the main issue I want to focus on here is that it strips us of being accountable. When we aren't truly known, no one knows us well enough to hold us to our word, to call us out when we are nasty, or to question our behavior. Accountability is extremely important for progress, growth, and success. Think about it, why does weight watchers have a support group to be honest about your weeks triggers and successes? Why does AA have a nightly group to discuss your temptations? Why do we receive grades in classes or get scores for work completed? Why do we have bosses? All of these are examples as to why accountability is important to be the best version of ourselves. When we aren't fully known, we often feel like we aren't accountability to anyone and can make our own choices. The problem with this? Our choices impact others.

So, what can we do about this? Creating open, authentic, and trusting relationships with people is vital for our physical, mental, and emotional health. Research suggests being fully known actually promotes a longer life! Of course, this doesn't come without thorough screening of these people and it's not healthy to just hump in and share all your secrets with someone you don’t know, but showing up and being true to yourself while you get to know these people is a good first step. So, get off your phone, get in person, ask the hard questions, answer honestly, create memories, show vulnerability, and truly let yourself be known. You’d be surprised- people love and respect those that are unashaminglythemselves :) 

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Is Anger Management an Issue for You?

Losing your temperfrom time to time does not mean you have an anger management problem, but any more than that might be an issue.  Strong emotions often bring about changes to the body, and anger is no exception. Letting anger issues go untreatedcanput your overall health at risk. Some symptoms of anger-related problems include:

  • Tingling

  • Heart palpitations or tightening of the chest

  • Highblood pressure

  • Headaches

  • Fatigue

Stress, financial issues, abuse, poor social or familial situations, and overpoweringrequirements on your time and energy canall contribute to the developmentof anger. As with disorders such as alcoholism, anger issues may be more widespreadin individuals who were raised by parents with the same disorder. Genetics and your body’s ability to deal with certain chemicals and hormones also play apartin how you deal with anger; if your brain does not react normally to natural chemicals, you might find it more difficult to manage your emotions. 

Depression and anger can sometimes go hand in hand and can cause a revolvingcycle that ishard to break. Lashing out in anger can lead to isolationand feelings of guilt, which can lead to depression. Lastingdepression can make it difficult to handle emotions, increasing the probabilityof anger surges. Often, the only way to break this cycle is to seek professional help.  If you are suffering from anger issues, it isimportantthat you get the support you need to develop effective management strategies.

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Separation or Divorce?

When couples are overwhelmed by distress and painful emotionality the “D word” may feel like the only option. Thankfully, there are other separation options available with the most effective initially being a structured trial separation. This option is an informal splitting for an agreed upon length of time with no legal ramifications. This separation with boundaries option typically benefits those couples who feel they cannot reconnect without assistance.

 

The overarching goal of a structured trial separation is to put off the weighty decision of divorcing or staying married while intentionally working to build empathy, love, and respect for each other while improving communication, safety and trust. 

 

The specific objectives for a trial separation are the following: 

  1. Prevent further deterioration

  2. Gain a realistic more objective perspective of partner, self and marriage

  3. Determine individual and relational needs

  4. Decide what each would like the relationship to be different

  5. Allow each partner space to decide what he/she is willing to contribute to make the relationship work more effectively 

 

In my next post, I will lay out specific guidelines to follow for executing a structured trial separation.

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Supporting a Family Member Through Mental Illness

Mental Illnesses are sicknesses that impact one’s behavior, thoughts, feelings, and moods. Some series ones include bipolar, schizophrenia, OCD, major depressive disorder, and PTSD. Living with a mental illness needs its own type of support but being a support person for someone living with a mental illness also needs support.

The first and most important way that you can support your loved one during this time is to encourage them to seek help. When someone is dealing with a mental illness they may be in denial, embarrassed, ashamed, or confused. It is NOT your job to heal them, fix them, or solve their problems. It can be your job to assist them in getting the right help they need though. This can look like individual outpatient therapy, group therapy, a support group, a day program at a hospital, or an inpatient psychiatrist hospitalization.  

Secondly, remember your role. You are there to love and care for this person and in order to do that you must love and care for yourself. Make sure you are incorporating a self-care practice every day. This could be exercise, taking a bath, reading a good book, spending time with others, or some other enjoyable hobby.  

Find an outlet, whether personal or professional, to process your own emotions. Loving someone with a mental illness can create a lot of emotions within yourself and it is important to air those appropriately without shaming the person who is dealing with the mental illness.  

Most mental illnesses are very treatable with therapy, resources, medication, support, and time. Remember to be patient with your loved one and have open and honest conversations as to how you can assist them during this time. 

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Demystifying Emotion Pt. 2

We as humans are capable of so many different types of emotions, many of them quite complicated and complex. To make it even more complicated we don’t always feel just one emotion at a time. We can feel multiple emotions at once. We can even feel two opposite emotions at the same time. How confusing! We have basic primary emotions and more complex emotions. Basic emotions are mostly reactionary short-lived emotions. Most identify them as joy, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, guilt/shame, and disgust. You might be thinking, wait a minute, that’s not right, I’ve been feeling angry or sad for quite a long time now. Well, a lot of time we keep our emotions going by feeding them with thoughts around the situation that triggered them. For example, have you ever been angry at someone but you forget why, then you remember and your anger returns as you remember the situation? We can also mix basic emotions or add in thoughts to make more complex emotions which can tend to last longer. For example mix sadness with a thought like “things will never get better” and you may get the emotion hopelessness. Another example, mix sadness, anger, and a thought like “they always let me down”, you might get disappointment. Emotions can help us attach value to the things that are important in our lives. This can become apparent when you are feeling those opposite emotions at the same time. As sad as it can be to send your kid off to college, the pride, accomplishment, and joy override it. Stay tuned to the TCG blog to learn more about those crazy things we call emotions!

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Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Off

“Nothing’s impossible I have found, for when my chin is on the ground, I pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again” (Lyrics by: Dorothy Fields/Music by: Jerome Kern)

On the path to a greater understanding of oneself, or even just an improved outlook, it can be tempting to beat oneself up whenever life throws a curveball and a moment or a day or a week occur that make you feel like you have messed it all up. It can sometimes feel like you have to press the reset button on all of your progress, and that nothing you accomplished before that difficult moment counts anymore. I know I have struggled with this concept. I felt that if my plans for self-improvement weren’t just perfect, that either I wasn’t doing it right or I was just a failure. I was living in a black and white world where there wasn’t room for progress, only “perfection”.  Then one day I was introduced to two concepts that actually made me pause and reflect on how I was approaching my life. I was told that I couldn’t push the river, it was simply going to flow as it needed to. I was also told that if I did find my “chin on the ground”, to be a gentle cop; meaning to acknowledge that perhaps I had experienced something difficult, and perhaps didn’t make the best decision in the moment, but that I didn’t have to beat myself so badly that I couldn’t even get back up again. I could love myself, understand that I’m human, and just get back up again and continue down my path. As I adopted these thought patterns and practiced them, I found I did indeed become more gentle with myself, and over time I actually stopped perceiving myself to be on the ground so much. It just felt like life, and I was walking down my path with a greater feeling of Self-love and Self-acceptance. If you find yourself in a moment with your “chin on the ground”, perhaps you can practice pausing, remembering you can’t push that river of Life, and gently remind yourself that it’s OK, you’ve still accomplished so much, and you are experiencing your journey exactly the right way for you. You don’t even have to start all over again – you simply pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep moving forward.

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