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Parenting Tip: Balance

ca_20141120_012It can be a challenging balancing act to figure out and maintain our work and personal life balance. This is especially difficult when we are connected to our work 24/7 via email, social media, or other technologies, work overtime, complete projects at home, and race around town driving our kids to one activity to the next. Another way I like to think of work-personal balance is work-play balance. Play meaning anything that we do that nourishes our mind-body-soul, our connection to loved ones, and brings us joy. Now, don’t get me wrong, work can and is very nourishing to us, can connect us, and bring us joy as well but like most other things in life, its about moderation. I’ve put together a list of recommendations to help achieve a better work-play balance that I frequently share with the families I work with below.

  1. First, step back and think about what you want your work-play balance to look like. Also reflect on how your current work-play balance is impacting your stress levels and your family.
  2. Cut out the fluff from your schedule. Look for activities or tasks that can either be eliminated all together because they cause stress or aren’t enjoyable or hire someone to do the chore. For example, if you dread cleaning your house and can afford to, hire someone to come clean the house every now and then so you can spend more time with your family doing something you love.
  3. Create boundaries and limits about what you are willing to do and what you will not. For example, if you set the boundary that you will not answer work emails on weekends, then stick to that or use technology to help you by turning off your work email in the settings of your smart phone.
  4. Be consistent by starting a routine that you follow. For example, try scheduling regular date nights with your partner or play dates with your children or friends. It could be weekly, biweekly or even a monthly date. The frequency doesn’t matter as much as being consistent and not canceling or rescheduling.
  5. Be mindful and present when you’re with your family and loved ones. That means paying attention to them without the distractions of work, technology, media, etc.
  6. Evaluate what you’re doing on an ongoing basis to make sure that what you’re doing at the moment or planning to do is consistent with your values and fits your vision of work-play balance.

Remember that the key is to find the right balance for you and your family and to be thoughtful, deliberate about what you are spending your time on. I plan to write about other tips in the near future so stay tuned. You can subscribe to our wellness blog (see the far right column of this page or the bottom of the page if you’re using your mobile phone) or pop on over to our Facebook or Pinterest pages for lots more great stuff.

My colleagues and I at Intuition Wellness Center specialize in counseling children, teens, and families. We have clinicians who specialize in working with families overcoming challenging patterns. If you believe you or someone you love could benefit from our services, we are here to help. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.

Written by Yoendry Torres, PsyD, Clinical Psychologist

Image credit: “Ca 20141120 (15652310840)” by Costică Acsinte Archive – Licensed under No restrictions via Wikimedia Commons –

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Mental Illness Stigma – A Silent Killer

The stigma of mental illness is a significant problem in our society that may be killing us silently. I cannot count the times that a new client shook their head no while saying “I’m not crazy” or a family member pointed their finger exclaiming “I’m not crazy, they’re the problem.” I also witnessed many times pedestrians on the street, commuters on a bus, or shoppers at a supermarket ridiculing someone because of a perceived mental illness. Not surprisingly, the feelings of shame and embarrassment come to mind among others that would hinder one’s ability to seek treatment in the first place and take full advantage of treatments available for mental illness.

Unfortunately, that mentality is a commonly held societal belief that is problematic and detrimental to treatment. Consider some of the harmful effects of the stigma of mental illness as outlined by the Mayo Clinic:

  • Lack of understanding by family, friends, colleagues or others you know
  • Discrimination at work or school
  • Difficulty finding housing
  • Bullying, physical violence or harassment
  • Health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover your mental illness
  • The belief that you will never be able to succeed at certain challenges or that you can’t improve your situation
  • Stigma of mental illness is also a major barrier to psychological treatment because it prevents some people from seeking treatment in the first place. This is a major problem because according to the National Institute of Mental Health about 10% of adults in U.S. suffer from a mood disorder and another 18% from an anxiety disorder in any 12 month period. Only 51% of those experiencing a mood disorder and 37% of those experiencing an anxiety disorder are receiving treatment. To make matters worse, there is an overwhelming amount of research linking mental illness to suicide. The American Association of Suicidology reported that “in 2006, suicide was the eleventh leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming 33,300 lives per year” and “the risk of suicide in people with major depression is about 20 times that of the general population.” That same report cited research by Isacsson and others (2000) adding that “the suicide risk among treated patients is 141/100,000,” which is significantly lower than 20% for untreated depression.

    Stigma also prevents others from fully engaging or benefiting from the therapeutic process. Let me illustrate how stigma associated with seeking services can hinder effective treatment with an example from my clinical experience:

      About a year ago, I began treating an adolescent client who was experiencing several symptoms of depression, including sadness, isolation, irritability, thoughts of worthlessness, and thoughts of death, as well as attention-seeking behaviors. After a couple of months of weekly meetings with the youth, it became clear that she felt ignored by one withdrawn parent. She responded to that parent’s withdrawal by engaging in problematic behaviors intended to gain attention. I made numerous attempts to engage that parent into family therapy with little success. During one brief individual meeting, that parent stated “I’m not crazy, my child has the problem” and refused to participate in family therapy. Although it was beneficial for that youth to learn to cope and express her feelings appropriately, including her parent in sessions would have expedited therapeutic progress if the parent would have been willing to take a look at what their role in the ongoing problems were and make some changes. Moreover, it could have been fruitful for that parent also, as it could have provided some insight into their daughter’s problematic behavior and possibly lead to an improved and more satisfying relationship. This client went on to make substantial progress, seeing decreases in many symptoms especially thoughts of death, but it took many more months than if her parent had attended and participated in therapy sessions. Sadly, the youth’s relationship with her parent was not repaired.

    It could be extremely productive for children and adolescents to involve parents or guardians into family therapy, as this approach can improve dysfunctional interactions and poor communications that plague the family. Below are a few strategies that clinicians, physicians, or anyone else who wants to eliminate the stigma of mental illness might consider utilizing.

    Strategies for Overcoming Mental Illness Stigma

    Motivate. Many people will not engage fully into any activity they do not see a value in or worthwhile. The same is true for psychotherapy. Explain how counseling will benefit them, but be specific providing examples of how exactly therapy would make their life easier, happier, more fulfilling, etc.

    Redefine. Many people still consider people who are homicidal or psychotic to be “crazy” and the only ones receiving mental health care. In actuality, people seek treatment for all types of issues including behavioral problems, depression, and marital conflict just to name a few.

    Engage, engage, engage! Do not give up after your first attempt to encourage someone to begin treatment. Be persistent. I have found that it is useful to “trouble shoot” and find solutions to obstacles preventing them from participating in treatment.

    Educate. Information helps people make informed decisions. If you are informed about mental illness, its consequences, and its treatment, share your knowledge.

    Be Patient. Many people hold on to long-held beliefs due to societal or cultural influences. Be aware that it takes time to make change, especially one that involves reframing our worldview. Be patient and do not give up or blame the individual.

    Recruit. There is strength in numbers. Recruit allies such as family members, friends, service providers or others to help overcome the stigma of mental illness.

    Advocate. There are many local and national organizations that are fighting the stigma of mental illness by educating the public about mental health issues, lobbying congress for mental health parity and to prevent discrimination towards people with mental illness, conducting research, and offering support. Get involved! There are many ways one can take action and help end the stigma of mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is one such organization worth looking into if you are interested in advocacy.

    Author: Dr. Yoendry Torres, Clinical Psychologist

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    Stress & Anxiety: Wellness Tips

    Stress Management

    According to the National Institute of Mental Health about 18% of adults in the United States experience an anxiety disorder while only 37% of those receive treatment. Meaning that about 63% of adults affected do not seek out services for treatable anxiety disorders. There are many triggers that increase stress and anxiety such as relationship conflicts, financial hardship, and school or work demands. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report 26% to 40% of workers responding to surveys reported that their jobs were very stressful. That is important because stress and anxiety impairs functioning whether that be academic or occupational, leading to injury or lower productivity. The first step to wellness is becoming aware of your physical and psychological reactions to stress and anxiety. Below are some common signs of stress and anxiety:

    • Headaches or backaches
    • Muscle tension and stiffness
    • Diarrhea or constipation
    • Nausea, dizziness
    • Insomnia
    • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
    • Weight gain or loss
    • Skin breakouts (hives, eczema)
    • Loss of sex drive
    • Frequent colds (impaired immune functioning)

    Furthermore, scientific evidence suggests that stress impacts your physical health. Many medical conditions are caused or exacerbated by stress, including:

    • Chronic pain
    • Migraines
    • Ulcers
    • Heartburn
    • High blood pressure
    • Heart disease
    • Diabetes
    • Asthma
    • PMS
    • Obesity
    • Infertility
    • Autoimmune diseases
    • Irritable bowel syndrome
    • Skin problems

    Wellness Tips

    1. Know yourself – Understanding how you experience stress is a vital step towards identifying what is causing you stress and preparing for or preventing it in the future.
    2. Identify causes of stress – Knowledge is power. Once you know what your triggers for stress or anxiety are, you can take steps to minimize its effect.
    3. Eat healthy – Good physical health promotes good mental health and vice versa. Stressed people tend to overeat or make unhealthy nutritional choices, so choose healthy foods and eat in moderation.
    4. Be proactive not passive – Don’t just sit with your hands crossed waiting to feel better, cope with stress actively by engaging in healthy stress relieving activities such as exercise, art, music, or dance.
    5. Get plenty of Zzzzzz – Poor sleep hygiene can leave you tired and cranky in the morning making you more susceptible to stress, so get the recommended 8 hours of sleep on a regular basis.
    6. Laugh, it is good for the heart – Laughing produces feel-good brain chemicals that relief stress and promote wellbeing.
    7. Live in the now: Many people experience anticipatory anxiety for something that hasn’t happened or ruminate over past events not realizing that in the actual moment there is nothing stressing them.
    8. Social support – The ability to seek out and have social support has been associated with resilience, the ability to bounce back from stress. There is a reason why humans are social beings.
    9. Seek professional help: When symptoms persevere and begin to impact functioning in other areas of your life such as school or work, therapy has been shown to help.

    Author: Dr. Yoendry Torres, Clinical Psychologist

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    Obesity in the US – Mental Health Implications & Recommendations

    US Obesity Trends Map













    Obesity in the United States is a major public health concern affecting not only an individual’s physical health but also their mental health and the emotional health of their family. Obesity is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher, which is calculated using one’s weight and height. Weight gain and obesity result from consuming more calories than the body requires given the level of physical activity.

    Two of the leading culprits of obesity are sedentary lifestyles and the quantity and quality of one’s diet. Some other factors that impact obesity include genetics, metabolism, endocrine problems, and culture. The Surgeon General (2010) recommends 60 minutes of moderate physical daily exercise for children and teenagers and at least 150 minutes weekly for adults. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has updated its Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommending half your plate be fruits and vegetables and half be grains and protein.

    Here are some alarming statistics from the Surgeon General 2010 Report that will hopefully move one to make meaningful lifestyle changes that lead to happier and healthier lives.

    • Obesity contributes to an estimated 112,000 preventable deaths annually (Surgeon General, 2010).
    • Obesity increases one’s health risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease (Surgeon General, 2010).
    • Mental health problems such as depression are associated with obesity (Surgeon General, 2010).
    • Obesity is also an increasing problem for children, rising from 5% in 1980 to 17% in 2008 (Surgeon General, 2010).
    • There are disparities among some racial groups: 29% of non-Hispanic black teenagers and 17.5% of Hispanic teenagers are obese, while the prevalence for non-Hispanic white teenagers is 14.5% (Surgeon General, 2010).
    • Obesity is “more prevalent in persons with mental illness with some reports indicating 83% of people with serious mental illness being overweight or obese” (Surgeon General, 2010).

    These statistics are shocking and getting worse every year, just check out the CDC US Obesity Trends by State Map. Many health providers and even First Lady Michelle Obama with her Let’s Move initiative have seen this crisis as a call for action and are working hard to ameliorate this issue. However, the focus has usually been on the physical impact of obesity, often neglecting or downplaying the mental health implications.

    Given the increasing number of obese or overweight people in the United States and the associated mental health problems such as depression, one can speculate that depression rates will also increase. Addressing depression and other mental health issues associated with obesity is important because one’s emotional state can affect compliance with treatment plans and medications. Depressive symptoms include:

    • Low energy
    • Low motivation
    • Fatigue
    • Poor concentration
    • Anhedonia (i.e., diminished interest in previous enjoyable activities)
    • Depressed mood
    • Irritability
    • Decreased or increased appetite
    • Decreased or increased weight
    • Insomnia or hypersomnia
    • Feelings of worthlessness
    • Thoughts of death and suicide

    Each of the above depressive symptoms can complicate treatment for obesity; for example, having low energy, motivation, and fatigue reduce the likelihood of following through with workout routines, taking medications, complying with treatment plans, or adhering to nutritional recommendations. Furthermore, family members are affected by partners and children who are depressed, as it can be difficult living with a depressed individual who may be easily irritated or has little to no interest in doing anything fun. Not surprisingly, children of depressed parents are at higher risk for their own psychiatric problems, interpersonal difficulties, and academic challenges.


    • Seek professional help – Just like you go to a doctor to treat diabetes or go to a mechanic to fix your car, seek professional counseling/psychotherapy to treat depression or other mental health illnesses.
    • Make lifestyle changes – Implement longterm health driven changes to your diet and exercise routines rather than temporary ones.
    • Manage stress – Stress can zap your energy leaving you tired and irritable, so manage it actively by incorporating coping skills such as meditation, exercise, or play into your daily routines.
    • Make exercise fun – Discover alternative ways to get exercise by joining a group fitness class, enrolling in a martial arts school, taking dance lessons, going for a bike ride, or training with a friend.
    • Take a hike – The magnificence of nature can be therapeutic so go for a hike at a nearby trail to burn some calories and reflect on life.
    • Limit TV – Keep TV out of children’s rooms and limit TV time. Instead encourage children to participate in sports or other physical activities that foster moral and social development.
    • Get plenty of sleep – Lack of sleep not only impacts your energy level but also your mood and concentration so get to bed early on a regular basis. Create nighttime wind down routines to relax and promote good sleep.
    • Eat in moderation – Do not supersize your meals, instead eat smaller, recommended portions. Don’t forget to manage your stress as it can increase emotional eating.
    • Eat healthy foods – Avoid greasy, fatty, processed, fried foods and put down sugary drinks such as sodas. Eat more fruits and vegetables and drink lots of water. Make healthy snacks easily accessible at home.
    • Make it a family event – Working out with your partner can be motivating and reinvigorating to your relationship while going to a park with your children to play can create stronger bonds and teach family values.
    • Lead by example – You are your children’s biggest role model, if you start eating fruits and veggies and begin exercising so will they.

    Author: Dr. Yoendry Torres, Clinical Psychologist

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