Month: January 2015

Helping Your Teen Deal with a Mental Illness Diagnosis

Diagnosing a teenager with a mental illness is a very big project.  By the time a diagnosis is reached, the teen and his or her family have likely been through meetings with teachers and school psychologists, family doctors, specialists, and outside therapists.  There have likely been insurance company calls, notes from teachers, and possibly even disciplinary actions from school because of behavior issues resulting from the unchecked illness.  As a parent, all of these things can be difficult to handle, but manageable.  And once there is a diagnosis, some of the stress of not knowing can back off a bit as a treatment plan falls into place.  But for the teen, getting that diagnosis might very well be the hardest part.

Remember What Being a Teenager Entails

For a teenager, the primary task that he or she is faced with is the creation of an identity.  The teen years are when most people develop a sense of self and start turning into the people they are fundamentally going to be.  That is not to say that people cannot changes as they age.  There is much evidence to support that people do change as they get older and are exposed to different situations, but the teen years form a basis for the things that are yet to come or overcome.  Identity creation is a crucial step in the development of a personality and helps pave the way to adulthood.

While teenagers are trying to create an individual identity, they are also trying to find ways to fit in.  This is why things like trendy hairstyles, clothes, and piercings are so important to teens.  They are both trying to fit in and trying to develop a personal style.  Teenagers rely heavily on their peers to help them co-create and delineate their growing and changing identities.  They are who they are in relationship to other teenagers.  For most teenagers, anything too far outside of the acceptable spectrum of different-ness creates a barrier between the teen and his or her peers.  Mental illness, at least in the mind of the teenager, will set him or her so far apart from his or her peers that fitting in will no longer be an option.

Most commonly with teenagers, mental illness is uncool.  It can make a teenagers feel like an outlier with no peers at all.  It could be compared to the stereotypes of the hopelessly uncool teenager who does not have any friends or the highly intelligent teenager who is too smart to have friends.  In either situation, these are outliers, and mental illness can make a teenager start imagining him or herself in that light.  A mental illness diagnosis can be like a slap in the face for a teenager’s fragile self-esteem.  He or she has just had his or her worst fears confirmed.  “There is something wrong with me.”  And while mental illness does not imply that a person is in any way damaged, there is likely to be no explaining that to the delicate sensibilities of the fragile teenage psyche.

So what is a parent or guardian to do to help a teenager with such a difficult diagnosis?

Parents should continue to do what parents do – be a parent.  Keep to the limits and boundaries that have been set up in the past.  Enforce rules and consequences when rules are broken.  Respond to behavior.  Make an effort to love the person but deal with the behavior.  It is going to be difficult and messy.  Things are going to be hard for a while.  But the teenager will eventually grow and learn how to manage his or her own illness.  The job of the parent is to build a good foundation of support and information so that when the teenager is ready to go out into the world he or she is equipped with everything to be able to live a long and healthy life.

Positive Coping Statements for a Better Mental Outlook

Many people with mental health issues, particularly anxiety sufferers or those who suffer from depression, have trouble with self-defeating thoughts and negative self-talk.  This can be one of the many difficult aspects of overcoming mental illness.  One of the tools that these patients are taught to use is thought stopping which is just like it sounds, but it can be difficult for the negative thoughts to be stopped when there is not something to replace them with.  That is why preparing coping statements and creating coping cards can be so very useful.  This sounds like it might be too simple of a concept to really make a difference, but mental health professionals have been using this method for years and have found it to be very effective.

What Are Positive Coping Statements?

Coping statements are positive, truthful statements that can be used to replace untrue or negative thoughts that can take over your brain and cause you to feel more anxious, angry, and stressed than you already do.  These positive statements can help you to calm down and stay in control in an overwhelming situation.  The coping statements can offer you reassurance that you can make it through any difficult situation.

Create Coping Cards

Creating coping cards is the next step.  Having these statements ready to go at a moment’s notice can be a big help to you.  Remembering to use your coping statements can be difficult.  And remembering what the coping statements are can be difficult so writing the statements down can be a big help to you.  Writing down your coping statements to carry with you can help you to remember to use them.

You have a few choices when it comes to making coping cards.  You can make one card with all of your positive statements so that one card will be applicable in all situations.  You could make several cards with different statements for different situations.  With your card or cards on your person at all times you can pull them out and read your statements to yourself whenever you need them.

Four Tips For Creating An Effective Coping Strategy

Dr. Barbara Markway, Ph.D., is a social anxiety specialist.  Dr. Markway outlined some tips for writing and using effective coping strategies in Psychology Today.

  1. Use your own words to write your statements. Do not use language that you would not use otherwise.  If the statements do not feel natural, you will not be able to feel good about using them.  Avoid using formal or academic language if you would not use it in your ordinary speech.
  2. Write coping statements that specifically target the feelings that you have. If you have anxiety about a specific situations, speak directly to that anxiety in that situation.  Speak directly to your fears and phobias.  Speak directly to your anger and your resentment.
  3. Be reassuring in your statements but also be truthful and realistic. Do not lie to yourself in your coping statements.  If you feel pain, do not tell yourself that you do no.  Instead tell yourself that it will not last forever or that you are going to feel better eventually.  The more accurate a statement is, the more useful it will be to you.
  4. Be brief in your statements. Short statements are easier to remember.  Eventually, you may be able to remember your statements without the extra push of the card.  Eventually, your card may turn into something different.

You inner voice can sometimes lie to you, particularly when you have different kinds of mental illnesses.  Those lies can make you feel more depressed or anxious or panicked than you already do.  But when you recognize that these thoughts could be detrimental to you, you can start to use your coping statements and bring the truth back to your mind.  Using coping statements can bring you some peace and positivity.  Once you start to employ your coping statements, you may find that you start to naturally think more positive thoughts.  You may also find that when you start to think positive thoughts, you also start to feel a little better in general.

Four Ways Assertiveness Can Improve Your Relationship

There are many people in this world who believe that keeping people happy is easier than dealing with a disagreement.  While that might be true, as a result these people can spend a good portion of their lives not getting any of the things that they want from life at all. While is it certainly a good thing to be considerate of the feelings of others, it is possible that too much consideration can force you to give up a portion of yourself and turn you into a push-over.

Build Your Assertiveness Skills in Your Relationship

Assertiveness is defined as the middle point between passivity and aggression.  When a person is assertive, he or she will exhibit some of the qualities of aggression, but these qualities are tempered by some of the qualities of passivity.  For example, people who are aggressive are generally motivated by the desire to “win” whatever the stakes are in the situation at hand.  People who are passive are usually overwhelmingly considerate of the feelings of others to the point where they have no opinions at all.  Assertiveness is a nice blend of these qualities.  The Mayo Clinic says that assertiveness mean that you “express yourself effectively and stand up for your point of view, while also respecting the rights and beliefs of others.”

In order to start getting some of the things that you want and being more effective in your communication with your partner, you will need to start practicing your assertiveness, the middle ground between aggression and passivity.  When you are passive in a situation, you may be doing something because you feel that you should.  This can lead you to resent the situation and the person who is asking things of you.  When you use aggression to force someone else to do something that you want, the other party can start to resent you.  The middle ground is assertiveness.  Assertiveness and effective communication can lead to less resentment and more enjoyment.

Here are four steps you can take to start making the transition into being more assertive with your partner.

1. Talk to Your Partner

Change is difficult for everyone. There is obviously going to be a bit of push back since your partner is likely used to getting his or her own way all the time. Since your assertiveness project is going to affect both of you, it is going to be important that your partner understand what you are doing and why you are doing it.  This will probably be your first exercise in assertive conversation.

2. Stop Blaming or Accusing

This might actually be the hardest part of your new assertiveness project. When you feel like you do not have any power, placing blame and accusation can make you feel better.  These are the things that you hold on to.  They make you feel like so much of what has happened is the fault of someone else.  Placing blame can be comforting in a way when you are feeling powerless.  Letting go of those feelings can be difficult, but it can be done.

3. The Heart of Assertiveness is an “I” Statement

The “I” statement is the most powerful tool an assertive person has. When you tell your partner how you are feeling about a situation, start by saying what you feel.  “I get frustrated when you choose a movie without asking my opinion so let’s find a movie we both will like.”  “It upsets my stomach when we have chili for dinner so I am going to make a sandwich.”  These may seem like little things, but they can make a big difference in your life when you start to feel like you have a more equal power balance.

4. Practice Makes Progress

No one is perfect, but assertiveness is a complex skill. It will take a while to master the nuances of being assertive when you have not been before.  This is where your partner can really support you.  He or she can help you by asking your opinion and giving you the opportunity to answer without judgment.  You will need to remember to say what you are feeling and still be mindful of your partner and anyone else’s feelings.  There is no reason why you cannot find the middle ground where you and your partner are both happy and compromising.

Three Ways to Avoid Letting Past Anger Effect A Relationship

All couples fight.  The nature of people is that sometimes they are going to get on each other’s nerves.  Sometimes you are going to be in a bad mood, or sometimes you partner will be.  Sometimes you are going to fight over big things, and sometimes the reasons for fighting are not going to be particularly clear.  During a fight, most of us have brought up some kind of relationship issue that was committed years previous to the fight you are currently having.  Regardless of the fact that most of us have done this, it can be very harmful and counterproductive.  Continuing to be angry about something that happened years ago and bringing it up while you are fighting can turn a small disagreement into a major fight before you even know that it is happening.

There are three things that most therapists will suggest for dealing with this issue and working on building a better relationship.

1. Let Go of Past Anger

This is clearly a lot easier said than done, but forgiveness actually increases your wellness. Letting anger fester even if the infraction is relatively minor can be harmful for you and your partner.  The anger can eventually explode and do true damage to your relationship.  Since past anger tends to resurface when you get angry again, it is unhealthy to hold on to it at all.  Forgiveness can go a long way toward improving everyone’s quality of life.

2. Do Not Save Yourself with Past Anger

Harbored anger can come up in all kinds of situations. One of the most common situations is in the case that you are expecting to be blamed for something current so you bring up a bigger issue from the past in order to fend of the blame of your transgression.  By retorting or preempting your partner with a greater problem, you are reminding him or her of his or her problems and suggesting that you are less guilty.  But this does not do anything to deal with the problem at hand.  It has really created a bigger problem than the one you had already.  It is creating resentment and tension when it should have been able to be diffused rather quickly.

3. Do Not Punish with Anger 

All of this anger harboring can show up in the form of making your partner feel guilty. This reaction often originates from the feeling that your partner has hurt or rejected you in some way.  Bring up a past issue puts the blame on the other person which makes him or her feel worse.  This kind of behavior is considered manipulative.  People who are skilled in this form of negativity can very often get their own way in the short term, but are sacrificing long term satisfaction and are leading their partners down the path of resentment and contempt.  A relationship that is threaded with contempt is unlikely to be viable for long.

Forgiveness Is Difficult, But Its’ Benefits Are Amazing

In order to be able to let go of your anger, you will have to learn to forgive.  Forgiveness does not come naturally for everyone.  In order to learn the skills, it can help to start small.  Work on forgiving small things first.  Consciously make the decision to let go of your annoyance over something that is not really worth getting upset over.  Let your partner know what you are doing and tell him or her that your love is still strong.  If you do this enough, you will find that it feels less and less like something that is out of the ordinary.  Eventually, you will be able to move on to forgiving bigger angers or bigger issues.

In order to really forgive your partner, you need to realize that you anger or annoyance or resentment is really your problem, and it is not your partner’s fault.  You are responsible for the things that you feel and the things that you say.  As an adult, it is your choice to hold on to your anger or to let it go.

3 Popular Excuses for Avoiding Exercise

With a new year now in full swing, forming new habits like daily exercise to go along with your recovery can help you to stay clean and sober as well as reduce the risk of early relapse.  Getting exercise each day can help to improve your mental health as well as your physical health.  Most people in recovery, and most people in general, are not getting all of the exercise that they really should be getting.  Odds are good that if you are not getting enough exercise, you are using one of the many popular excuses for not getting up and moving around.  In reality, you are likely just making excuses, and there is little that is true about your excuses for exercise avoidance.

Popular Excuse #1 – I’m too busy for exercise

With all of the other things that you are doing with your life – recovery, family, friends, work, meetings – you may feel like taking time out of your day to exercise is asking too much.  However, you can work exercise into your day without it taking up too much of your time.  Even a ten minute brisk exercise to get your heart pumping and your body moving is beneficial to your health and well-being.  If you have time to sit in the evening or in the morning, you have time to exercise.  Take a walk around the block during your lunch.  If you take the bus to work, get off a few blocks away and walk the rest of the way.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator.  Park at the far end of the grocery store parking lot.  Walk your dog.  Any and all of these things will get you moving and add very little in the way of the time.

Popular Excuse #2 – I am physically limited

While you may believe that a disability, a physical ailment, or chronic pain can put a damper on any kind of exercise that you might be able to do, there is always going to be something that you can do to move around a bit.  There are going to be activities in which you cannot participate if you are physically limited, but there are going to be activities that can help with some of the issues that you face.  You might think about water activities.  Sometimes water based exercise can be gentle enough that it does not exacerbate your ailment but is still strenuous enough that you get the exercise that your body and your mind really need.  Talk to your doctor about what kinds of exercise are appropriate for your conditions.

Popular Excuse #3 – I hate exercise

Life is full of things that adults have to do but do not want to do.  Going to the grocery store can be a pain.  Cleaning the bathroom is not fun.  Doing what your boss tells you to do even when you think that he or she does not know what should really be happening is difficult.  But all of this comes with being an adult.  Sometimes you have to do things that you do not want to do.  In this case, your life may actually depend on getting some exercise.  It might seem truly difficult at first, but exercise does get easier.  Eventually, it will become part of your routine.  There are lots of things that can be considered exercise.  You could do yoga or Pilates or Zumba.  You could go sailing or skateboarding or hiking.  You could do sit ups and jumping jacks, or you could go dancing.  Anything that gets your body moving is going to be good for you.

It may take a long while for you to enjoy exercise.  It may take a while for you to really see the difference that it is making in your life.  But getting some exercise is a very easy way to keep your mind and body healthy.  Keeping your mind and body healthy and active will keep you focused on the reasons that you are in recovery in the first place.  It will keep your mind from slipping into the places where active addiction seems like the only answer.  Exercise will give you the strength to be able to continue fighting for the life that you want to have and have worked toward all through your recovery.

How Being Active Can Help Alleviate Depression

Thinking about fun activities and ways to be active when you are going through depression can feel a bit like someone telling you that you should eat a large and heavy meal when you have the stomach flu.  But with depression, forcing yourself to be active can actually help you to heal and start to feel a little more like your old self again.  Many doctors agree that forcing yourself to be more active, even if you do not want to, can do a lot more good than it can harm.

Stop Hiding, Start Doing

During active depression, you are very likely to withdraw from the responsibilities and activities that you either need to be doing or once enjoyed doing.  You are much more likely to keep away from people because of your low mood and your lethargy.  It may seem like the best move is to stay at home and hide, but it is not actually going to make you feel better.  Continuing to be active and forcing yourself to participate in healthy activities is one of the only things that can interrupt the negative spiral of inactivity, bad moods, decreasing energy levels, and guilt in which you will find yourself.

Signs And Symptoms Of Depression

In people with depression, they often lack the energy, the motivation, or the desire to get up and do much of anything.  When the opportunity for an activity arrives, the depressed person turns back to the lethargy and the lack of motivation and does not participate in whatever the opportunity may be.  One of the best things you can do when you are depressed is to go to a movie with your friends, go to a ball game with your family, go have dinner with your in-laws, and force yourself to do it.  Do not stay home when these opportunities arise.  Staying home means that you are missing out on the chance to have an enjoyable experience, to get energized, or to feel the pleasure of doing something fun.  Staying home will be allowing yourself to dig a little deeper into that hole of depression and negativity.

Avoidance of responsibilities can also contribute to the aforementioned hole of depression and negativity as well.  When you are feeling depressed, it is usually easier to avoid the responsibilities of your home or your job.  It is easier to walk through the messy living room, ignore the mounting emails, and forget all about the piles of paperwork in favor of going back to bed or sitting and watching TV.  Unfortunately, these neglected responsibilities have a habit of coming back with a vengeance or building up to the point where the guilt is overwhelming.  As the evidence of your neglect builds up, the worse the backlash will be when these tasks remain uncompleted or the bigger the hole you have dug for yourself gets.  Making yourself take care of your responsibilities before they get out of hand is part of staying active.  If you take care of things right away, there is no way for them to pile up and become overwhelming to the point where you are no longer able to deal with them.

Remain Patient With Yourself and Stay The Course

It will not happen immediately, but making these small changes in your life can make a big difference in your depression.  As you work in more activities that you find pleasurable and meet more and more of your responsibilities, you will find that you will start to feel better about yourself.  The enjoyment and the energy and the satisfaction that you get from these activities can go a long way toward reversing the spiral of depression and toward giving you a more positive mental landscape.  There is not a magic cure for your depression.  You cannot expect that doing one activity is going to change your depression overnight.  However, the more you force yourself to do and the more you talk yourself into, the better you are going to feel.  There are lots of meaningful ways that you can remain active, but the first step is to say yes to that first activity.

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