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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 – https://www.flickr.com/photos/costicaacsinte/15652310840/. Licensed under No restrictions via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ca_20141120_(15652310840).jpg#/media/File:Ca_20141120_(15652310840).jpg

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The Best Gifts You Can Give Your Child

A quick Google search for “Christmas Gift for Child” and up pop websites advertising things such as Minecraft Lego sets that the distributor suggests can be combined with other sets to create a Minecraft world, Hot Wheel’s race tracks complete with 2 quick kick loops, Disney’s Frozen plastic dolls featuring a “multi-colored bodice,” black and silver ride-on cars described as “sleek” that are capable of achieving speeds of 12mph, and a slew of other fancifully packaged options that will, undoubtedly, grace the tree skirts and stockings of many American children this Christmas season. If Amazon’s website sees as much traffic this year as they did on Cyber Monday of 2013, sales will reach an average of 426 items purchased per second. The marketing masterminds behind kid’s toys and games will surely rake in billions again this year and many of us will do our part in supporting American economy this holiday season. But the best gifts in life really are free…

Dr. Baker’s Top Tips for Instilling a Healthy Sense of Self-Worth in Your Child:

  1. Be a Good Role Model. When speaking about yourself in front of your child, avoid self-deprecating statements. Instead, speak openly about what gives you purpose and your strengths. When you make a mistake or wish to improve on a skill, speak about what was learned from your experience, how your current knowledge will impact future choices and what you propose doing to improve on your skills.
  2. Recognize and Embrace Natural Talents. Given enough opportunities for shining moments, a child’s overall self-confidence can only go up. If you notice that your child is especially talented at science, for example, enroll her in a science camp or club where her talents will blossom and be appreciated by others. Especially for a child who has developed an unbalanced sense of herself as incapable, this will tip the scales back and help her recognize herself as a multi-faceted person with strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Set Him Up for Success. Remind yourself what expectations are realistic for your child, which may not be the same as what other kids his age are doing. While your neighbor’s 4-year-old may be capable of sitting still and keeping quiet while her mother makes a 10-minute phone call, many kids at this age may not be. Prepare your child for things that you know may be tricky for him, avoid situations where failure is inevitable and brainstorm ideas in advance as to what will help him persevere through difficult parts of his day that are just unavoidable.
  4. Give Her Responsibilities. By asking your child to contribute to the household in manageable and realistic ways, you send a message that she has valuable contributions to make and that you trust in her ability to   participate in meaningful ways. Choose tasks that she is already drawn to and has demonstrated an ability to complete successfully. Don’t worry about perfection and refrain from intervening too much to reinforce the message of trust.
At Intuition Wellness Center we specialize in integrated behavioral health services and wellness programs for children, young adults and families and supporting other like-minded professionals in doing good work. We offer parent education seminarswellness classes and other supportive services. If you think you would like some extra support, call us. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.

Written by: Brandy Baker, PsyD, Clinical Psychologist

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Grieving All Souls


Halloween kicks off Allhallowtide, a time dedicated to remembering the dead celebrated in many countries around. For example, Dia de los Muertos  (Day of the Dead) is a holiday celebrated throughout Mexico while All Souls’ Day is observed by some Native American and Latin American societies with roots in Christianity. Both traditions honor deceased loved ones with rituals and public mourning. These traditions of remembering the dead date back many years, sometimes thousands of years as in the case of Day of the Dead, which dates back 2500-3000 years.

People experience grief in many different ways across the world and this is especially true for children and adolescents. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, an American Psychiatrist, proposed in 1969 the five stages of grief that are thought to be universal and they include:

  1. Denial & Isolation: This is typically the initial reaction that helps absorb the shock of the loss and protect our psych from the intense feelings of associated with a loss.
  2. Anger: This intense emotion follows once the reality of the situation sets in and we are faced with resentment towards the situation that is causing us pain.
  3. Bargaining: This stage is an attempt to regain control of the situation and feelings of helplessness and vulnerability by making deals with high powers.
  4. Depression: Sadness and regret take hold in this stage where we begin to realize the implications of the situation.
  5. Acceptance: This stage is not about forgetting but rather remembering loved ones as they were and celebrating their life rather than focusing on their death.

The above stages of grief don’t necessarily occur in any particular order but are commonly seen by counselors working with people who have lost loved ones. Our counselors at Intuition Wellness Center are trained at working with youth, adults, and families experiencing grief. Lastly, it is important to mention that experiencing grief is a normal part of life, some would say an existential given, and does not imply that there is a psychological problem unless there is a presence of significant symptoms such as feelings of worthlessness, suicidal ideas, and impairment in overall functioning that might suggest a larger problem than the normal response to a significant loss.

There are a two upcoming All Souls Processions in Tucson on November 8th (For kids) and 9th (Grand Finale) that may be of interest for those wanting to experience this long-held tradition. Here are some additional resources for those experiencing grief:

 

Written by: Yoendry Torres, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist

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Depression 101: Treatment & Tips To Ward Off Depression

Stress Management
Depression is a common mental health illness in the US and around the world. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that 1 in 10 adults in the US report experiencing depression. What is most troubling to me is that only about 51% of those people suffering from depression seek out treatment according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Depression may begin at any age and may be caused by any number of triggers such as bullying, parental or marital conflict, sense of isolation, loss, seasonal causes, etc.

As a result, I wanted to write a blog post specifically on depression, its treatment, and offer wellness tips to ward off depression. Please note that depression is one of several mood disorders and is different than bipolar, dysthymia, and other mood disorders. This blog post will focus on depression technically known as Major Depressive Disorder. I also want to make it very clear that depression is a treatable illness but, like many illnesses, it can require ongoing “maintenance.”

First let me review the symptoms of depression, followed by the treatment, and then offer some tips to ward off depression.

Symptoms of Depression: To meet criteria, five or more symptoms must be present for at least a 2 week period according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It is also very important to rule out physiological effects of a substance/drug, other psychiatric disorders such as bereavement, and medical conditions such as thyroid problems that may cause depressive symptoms.

  • Sad or depressed mood most of the day, almost every day.
  • Anhedonia, which is loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Sleep problems, usually hypersomnia but can also be insomnia.
  • Weight gain or loss not due to diet or exercise.
  • Low of energy or fatigue even with sufficient rest.
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation, which is usually moving or talking slower.
  • Poor concentration or ability to think.
  • Feeling of worthlessness or excessive guilt.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, which could be the most serious of all the symptoms and must be taken seriously even in children.

Here are some other symptoms to look for that are frequently present in depression:

  • Thoughts of helplessness
  • Thoughts of hopelessness
  • Isolation
  • Changes in appetite
  • Irritability
  • Crying
  • Decrease in sex drive

Treatment for Depression
Treatment for depression begins with an evaluation by a licensed mental health professional to determine severity of depression, to rule out other possible issues, and to refer for appropriate services. Treatment usually entails either counseling or psychotropic medication or a combo of both, depending on severity. Severe depression usually requires a psychiatric evaluation by a psychiatrist for psychotropic medication to help improve symptoms enough for counseling to be effective, while mild to moderate depression can usually be treated with counseling alone. It is important to know there are a countless approaches to counseling such as cognitive behavior, psychodynamic, humanistic, and many more. Many approaches explore the person’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. The trust developed between the client-therapist relationship is what many approaches have in common and what research has found to be an essential ingredient to effective treatment. That is why it is imperative that one choose a therapist that is a good fit.

In addition, there are other interventions or activities such as exercise and meditation that have been found to be effective treatment for mild to moderate depression. Family therapy can also be helpful at alleviating tensions at home that may be impacting one’s depression and hindering treatment progress.

Tips to Ward Off Depression

  • Exercise Regularly as it has been found to be fantastic not only for managing stress and preventing physical problems but also at reducing depression and anxiety.
  • Be Present is where people often report being happy while being in the future can create anxiety and being in the past can lead to feelings of regret, guilt, and depression. Focus on being more mindful about how you are feeling right now rather than how you felt weeks or years ago.
  • Seek Support from licensed mental health professionals, friends, family and even animals, whom can be helpful. Surround yourself with people that are positive and validating.
  • Know the Signs of depression so that you know when you or someone you in your life needs help.
  • Know your Depression and be proactive. If you know that you happen to be extra susceptible to depression during the winter months, prepare for it by scheduling regular activities or seeking extra support during this time.
  • Get Outside because sunlight can be helpful and so can nature. Experiencing the grandeur nature can help put one’s problems into perspective and when our problems seem small they don’t bother us as much.
  • Find Meaning or a reason for living as it can be a powerful motivation to keep living. One’s meaning can be their partner, children, or even a cause.
  • Sleep is vital to good health and mental functioning. Avoid sleep problems by having a regular bedtime even on weekends, keeping distractions from the bedroom (e.g., TV), and creating a bedtime that is conducive for relaxation.
  • Visit Your Primary Care Doctor regularly to prevent, catch, or treat medical illnesses early that can create depressive symptoms.
  • Eat Healthy meals to improve physical, mental, and emotional functioning. Eating unhealthy foods erodes your physical health, impairs cognitive functioning, and also impacts how you feel about yourself.
  • Respect your Emotions rather than stuffing them. Bottling your feelings can be toxic to your body while expressing how you feel can be very relieving especially when your feelings are validated.

Author: Yoendry Torres, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist

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Couples Gridlock – 8 Tips to Improve Communication

Couples Gridlock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quite often problematic communication styles are the primary contributors to dysfunction in couples and families, leading to misunderstanding, resentment, and anger towards each other, not to mention gridlock. There are several common problematic communication styles that can be disastrous to any relationship. Here are a few common problematic communication styles that have been found to be detrimental to relationships by renowned couples therapists and researchers, Drs. John and Julie Gottman:

  • Harsh startup – Arguments starting with attacks using, for example, criticism or sarcasm rather than hearing out the partners options, thoughts, and feelings about a matter.
  • Criticism – Direct attacks to a partner’s character often using disrespectful and offensive words to describe their faults.
  • Contempt – Demeaning one’s partner using sarcasm and cynicism, often time expressing disgust by eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, or hostile humor.
  • Stonewalling – Withdrawing from the conversation in an attempt to avoid the conflict or tune out the partner, for example by turning away.
  • Defensiveness – Denying responsibility for any part of the conflict and instead blaming one’s partner or finding excuses.

Mental Health Implications

According to the U.S. Census Bureau divorce rates have risen from 15.1 million (from a total of 112.6 million married) in 1990 to 23.2 million (from a total of 130.3 million married) in 2009. Besides the higher likelihood of relationship dissatisfaction, separation, or divorce, children are also affected by their parents’ difficulty in resolving conflicts. There is a wealth of research indicating that children’s mental health is negatively impacted by parental discord affecting their psychological health in adulthood. For example, in a Report from the Department of Health and Human Services (2009), it was noted that “marital conflict has been found to elicit negative, aggressive behaviors in children, in both boys and girls” and that “the ability of parents to resolve their conflicts successfully was associated with self-reported levels of anxiety in children (Kerig, 1996). That is, parents who more constructively resolved their conflicts had children who reported lower levels of anxiety.” Moreover, children exposed to parental discord may experience symptoms of anxiety such as racing thoughts, poor concentration, feeling nervous, and sleep problems. Such symptoms may contribute to diminished academic functioning or problematic behavior. The impact on children alone is a compelling reason to improve one’s ability to communicate effectively.

8 Communication Tips

  1. Respect each other – Harsh startups using criticism or contempt will just make your partner more defensive and angry. Instead, set ground rules for arguing; for example, no name calling or sarcasm.
  2. Truly listen and reflect – Listening includes the ability to reflect back and summarize what you heard. So try not to be defensive or think of a counter-argument while listening to the other person speak, instead check in with them to make sure you understood their side correctly.
  3. Be honest – Integrity, or owning up to one’s mistakes or shortcomings, is critical in order to move passed gridlock.
  4. Body language – One’s true intent and emotion is communicated through one’s body language. Just as yelling does not communicate love or understanding, watching TV or talking on the phone while a partner attempts to communicate with you suggests that you are disinterested.
  5. Take a break – When one becomes angry, a number of physiological reactions occurs, including increased heart rate and blood pressure, making it difficult to think clearly or rationally. Take an hour or more to calm down before attempting to repair things again.
  6. Provide solutions – When discussing a problem with your partner don’t just complain about what they are doing wrong, rather come up with what you would like them to do, which would help improve the situation.
  7. Be a team – Many times couples begin to lose sight of their common goal and begin to see each other as rivals. Instead, view each other as team members, refocus goals, and work towards them together.
  8. Seek professional help – It is difficult to see one’s problems objectively from within and seeking outside professional help may allow you to learn and practice healthier communication styles in a safe, confidential setting.

The American Psychological Association has more communication tips specifically geared toward improving communication with one’s children.

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.

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.

RECOMMENDATIONS TO REDUCE THE RISKS OF OBESITY AND MENTAL HEALTH IMPLICATIONS

  • 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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