Month: November 2016

A woman's hands holding a phone with note-taking material on table.

Collecting Data on Our Own Mental Health

One minute we might feel overwhelmed and stressed, as though we’re ready to snap at the first person we see, the next we may feel perfectly calm and relaxed, as though none of that really ever happened. Everyone experiences emotional highs and lows from time to time, but sometimes it can be hard to remember exactly when we felt a certain way or what motivated that emotional response. This is especially troublesome for those individuals who experience more extreme emotional shifts, or those who have been experiencing more lows than usual. In an attempt to move on, we may force ourselves to forget our emotional experiences, even if they were negative in nature. However, this is seldom helpful when it comes to working with a therapist. The therapist is there to help guide us through our thoughts and feelings. Through this constructive relationship, we aim, at least in part, to better understand why it is we are feeling the way we do, or why we are responding to those feelings in a particular way.

How to Assess Your Mental Health

Diagnosis for mental health can be extremely helpful. While some individuals find labels to be trapping, others may feel as though they are a relief. For many, mental health diagnoses allow a direct answer to a problem. With a proper diagnosis from a therapist or other psychiatrist, it will be easier to seek treatment for whatever condition the individual struggling with. Each set of circumstances requires a different approach based on not only the condition, but the individual’s unique needs.

In order to achieve a diagnosis, symptoms must first be accurately assessed to determine what exactly is going on with each patient. In order to do this effectively, we must learn to collect data on ourselves. What does this mean? If we want an accurate diagnosis we remember our experiences so that we can give our therapist the most accurate information on our symptoms. There are numerous sources from which we can collect data on our mental health status ranging from physical to psychological.

Below are a few key ways we can provide information on ourselves and what we’re going through to our therapists or any other healthcare professional from whom we are seeking help.

1. Physical Exams

Physical exams are often the go-to method of determining whether or not there is something wrong, or an illness to be cured. Even when it comes to mental health, a physical exam can be a good way to collect important data on one’s current state and overall well-being. Oftentimes, our physical health has a strong impact on our mood. If we’re feeling unwell physically, it will reflect in our mindset and start to show in our behavior. For example, if we’re feeling as though we’re catching a cold, we certainly won’t be very happy about it. However, for more prolonged or serious illnesses there can be a stronger impact on our emotional and mental states. Anything from a vitamin deficiency to physical illness or medication side-effects could be a culprit. Overuse of certain medications can also lead to depressive effects not unlike what is experienced when consuming substances like alcohol.

2. Record Daily Mood

The only way to determine patterns in daily behavior is to record one’s mood on a regular basis. We may feel inclined to forget our “bad days” in the hopes of moving past them. But the only way to truly move past them is to understand why they’ve happened and how we can successfully move forward. We must address our needs, not ignore them. Otherwise, they’ll simply linger in the backs of our minds, waiting to snag our attention yet again. Some questions to ask may include:

  • Am I enjoying things as much as I used to?
  • Does _____ cause me to feel the same amount of happiness/pleasure/fulfillment as it has in the past?
  • Do I feel upset more often than I used to?
  • Do I feel motivated today?

If the answer to these questions is more often “no” than “yes,” that may be a tell-tale sign of a mood disorder or mental health distress.

3. Keep Track of Other Observances

Some other things we might look out for as indications that something is wrong include:

  • weight changes
  • changes in sleep cycle
  • changes in energy levels
  • negative or impairing thoughts such as those of death or suicide
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • increased likelihood of agitation

Each of these markers can help our therapist determine whether or not we are in the stages of a developing condition like Major Depressive Disorder.

Therapy Can Help Improve Mental Health

Thankfully, there are a variety of therapy options available to suit our individual needs. The key is to form a new relationship with the thoughts and feelings that previously only seemed to cause us harm. We can accomplish this by either challenging or formally disengaging with these responses. However, in any case we must first have an idea of what we’re dealing with. By collecting data, we can acutely describe the symptoms we’re experiencing. From that, therapists and other healthcare professional can come up with a more accurate diagnosis. Only when we know what we’re dealing with can we determine what we need to move on.

To learn more about scheduling a mental health assessment with a psychiatrist or therapist at our Boca Raton office, please call 800-378-9354.
Young Asian woman holding her hand up as to say stop.

Viewing Challenges Through a New Lense

Challenges help mold our character and contribute to our growth and development as individuals. Sometimes challenges can seem more like burdens. What if we changed our perspective and began looking at them as new opportunities? Perhaps challenges are the gateway to new and exciting transitions in our lives? Dr. Steven Joseph is a leading expert in positive psychology and a pioneer in the field of psychological trauma. According to Dr. Joseph,

“In everyday life we will be faced every so often with important decisions such as whether to take on a new challenge, like applying for a new job or starting a new course. Taking on such challenges is an important part of growing and developing as a person. The more we can test our limits and capabilities the more we will learn about ourselves. New challenges are opportunities for us.”

Accepting Challenges as Gateways to a Better Self

It may be difficult to see things from this perspective, particularly when we’re “in the moment.” After all, no one enjoys struggling or feeling stressed. However, challenges are a lot like fertilizer for a healthy soil. This soil is made from various ingredients that few people appreciate on their own, but when combined they create a surprisingly nourishing environment. From this,  some of the most beautiful creations can manifest. Likewise, in our own lives and experiences, challenges can provide the fertilizer from which we grow and thrive as individuals.

Embarking on a new challenge is almost always frightening, and understandably so! When we allow fear of failure to consume us we may make a habit of avoiding challenge altogether. After all, we can’t fail if we don’t try, right? Life in the shadow of fear is hardly fulfilling, just like a barren plot of land when compared with a beautiful garden. The latter requires considerably more work, particularly in maintenance and upkeep, but the rewards far outweigh the cost of the toil. By comparison, the barren plot of land requires little to no work whatsoever, but the results of that neglect are self-evident. Our lives are as beautiful and rich in variety of experiences as we make them. But first, we must understand that challenge is a necessary part of the bargain.

Avoiding Challenges is Not the Answer

Dr. Joseph says that “staying in your comfort zone out of fear is not always exactly comfortable.  By avoiding challenge, we don’t have the opportunities to learn about ourselves. We feel trapped as if we were leading a life that is not true to ourselves.” In fact, in many cases, avoiding challenge altogether causes just as much anxiety and fear as facing the challenge in the first place. This is because most of our fear comes from anticipation: the dread of something happening. By facing our fears and challenges head-on, we significantly reduce the opportunity for anticipatory anxiety. We are essentially telling ourselves “I’m going to do it, get it over with, and put my fears behind me.” Obviously this doesn’t mean acting without caution, but there is a great difference between behaving cautiously and hesitating to the point of avoidance.

Challenges are Opportunities

Challenges are not just obstacles, but opportunities. They can initiate change or inspire innovation. Dr. Joseph explains that “to lead an authentic life, we need to take on new challenges that stretch us and give us more opportunities to be ourselves.” This doesn’t mean living without fear. In fact, he suggests that authentic people do, in fact, feel fear, just like everyone else, the only thing that sets them apart is that they aren’t willing to let the fear control them. Rather, they face their fears, and come out stronger and wiser as a result.

Everyone has the opportunity to live authentically, just as we all have the opportunity to make choices and face our fears. A common misconception is that we have to do so alone, but there are numerous resources at our disposal to help us in surmounting personal challenges. Friends and family provide a supportive foundation on which we can rely to carry us through difficult times. In other cases, a therapist can also be a helpful ally in facing day-to-day obstacles both internal and external. Everyone feels fear, but we are also capable of overcoming that fear, and taking control of our own lives and choices. In this way, fear can transform into a kind of enthusiasm, from which we can learn to engage with our challenges and ultimately learn from them.

To learn more about speaking with a therapist in Boca Raton, call our office @ 800-378-9354.
A relaxed business man feeling the joy of accomplishment while walking through a field.

Setting Goals Helps – Here’s How it Works

One of the most important aspects of any positive life journey is setting goals. Learning to set the right goals can sometimes be as difficult as pursuing them. The most effective and successful goals are ones that are well-defined and targeted towards our own self-improvement. It is very important that we set goals that are specific so that we know how to approach them. When we develop goals that are vague, regardless of how they are intended to positively impact our lives, it becomes challenging to make them a reality. After all, we can’t travel unless we determine what path we’re going in. We may change course along the way, or determine new goals during our journey, but the point is that we need to start by having at least some established idea of what we want or the kind of person we aspire to be.

The Importance of Setting Goals

Regardless of context, well-defined goals are essential. This is particularly true in therapy, especially with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. In such sessions, it’s not uncommon for a therapist to ask their patient what their goals are, both short and long-term. When we determine what exactly we want in life, we can then begin to develop strategies to help us attain these goals. The information can also help therapists guide their patients in the most effective manner, by providing advice and support according to what it is they truly want and need.

Therefore, before we embark on any journey of self-improvement, we should first think about and set our goals. What are we trying to accomplish? Why? How important is this goal to us? What will we do to achieve it? And so on. This train of thought encourages honesty and authenticity, both with ourselves and with others.

What Makes a Good Goal?

So what exactly makes a successful goal? Below are three key characteristics of well-defined and attainable goals.

1. Importance

Truly significant goals are ones that are important to us. If we don’t truly care about our goals, the chances that we will actually meet them is minimal at best. Moreover, we should make sure our goals are truly ours. The most effective goals are ones that are personal and not imitative. We should be focused on what we want for ourselves, not what others want for us. When we establish goals that are important to what we want in our lives, we are more motivated and confident in our respective journeys. Dr. Seth Gillihan, clinical assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania says that “when we know what we’re aiming for, we work harder, especially if we feel a deep connection with our goals.”

2. Specificity

The most successful goals are ones that are specific. We are more likely to achieve what we want when we know exactly what that is. In other words, we won’t reach a particular destination if we don’t know where we’re going and are instead meandering without direction. When we are specific in setting our goals we can also be more precise in how, when, and why we want to achieve them. We can even work to develop a flexible timeline, so that we have a better idea of when our goals have been met. Dr. Gillihan provides an example of the difference between wanting to “‘exercise more’” versus wanting to “‘exercise 30 minutes 3x/week.’” One is specific and measurable – we know when we’ve accomplished what we’ve set out to do. By contrast, the other goal is more vague and difficult to measure. What exactly does “more” mean? Once a week? Once a month? The more vague we are with our goals, the less likely we are to truly commit to them.

3. A Good Challenge

A third characteristic of successful goals is that they are appropriately difficult. We shouldn’t shy away from challenge, as long as it’s within reason. Goals with challenge inspire us to be persistent and, in essence, “fight” for what we want. On the other hand, goals that are too easy have a tendency to leave us unmotivated and unwilling to continue pursuit. At the opposite end of the spectrum, however, goals that are too difficult to attain make us want to give up, rather than continue pursuing them. Dr. Gillihan explains that “there’s a sweet spot in picking the difficulty of our goals. Too easy and we’ll be uninspired, like spinning in a bicycle gear that’s too small; too challenging and we’ll be disheartened, like barely turning over the crank up a massive hill.” Thus, when establishing goals we should aim for moderacy. Just challenging enough to be interesting without being overwhelming or stressful.

Change can only be successfully initiated when we develop an idea of what we want to change or what direction we want to grow in. Goal-setting is therefore essential to any self-improvement journey. Goals are, in essence, aspirations, which offer inspiration throughout any positive transformation.

Unhappy 20-something couple sitting on a small couch together.

Why, When and How Relationships End

Sometimes relationships just aren’t meant to be. Love has plenty of ups and downs, but increasing negativity can be a sign that a relationship is simply not working out. However, relationship problems can be complicated, and it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether or not it’s time to leave, or if staying in an unhealthy relationship is the only choice. In some cases, the former option is the best one for ourselves and our partner. Trying to maintain an ultimately toxic relationship can have numerous adverse physical and psychological side effects.

The Dangers of Staying in an Unhealthy Relationship

Studies have shown that staying in an unhealthy relationship rather than ending negatively impacts self-esteem, perception of self-worth, and overall ability to seek enjoyment in life. That being said, actually ending a relationship can be a very painful process, which is why many of us try to avoid it. In other cases, however, ending a bad relationship can be a huge relief. There are also instances where, rather than acting manipulatively or abusively, both partners have just gradually drifted apart. In this scenario, neither person may be right or wrong, rather their interests and personalities may have just developed separately from one another, and therefore they are no longer compatible.

Ultimately, while we try to maintain the relationships that are good, or have the potential to be, sometimes relationships that cannot be repaired must come to an end. This doesn’t mean that anyone has failed or that they deserve to be vilified. Instead, it’s better to perceive it as a change in life stages. As one door closes, another opens somewhere else.

The 5 Stages of an Ending Relationship

But how can we know if our relationship is meeting its end? As it turns out, there are a few signs to look out for that can indicate whether or not a relationship has run its course.In fact, psychologists from the University of Tennessee, Vanessa Handsel, Kathrin Ritter, and Todd Moore developed a scale this year to examine the stages that they believed to concur with the end of a relationship. Their main interest was actually to determine how long it normally took for individuals involved in violent relationships to be able to remove themselves from their situation. That being said, their scale is actually applicable to all individuals in unhappy relationships.

These researchers based their scale on a more general theory created by James Prochaska in the 80’s and 90’s. This theory suggests that major changes in life involve a 5 stage process. In essence, any big life change, including the ending of a close relationship, is more than just a simple yes/no or stay/leave dichotomy. The model, then, known as the “State of Change” model, assumes that there are certain steps which precede this change and those that follow it. By understanding these changes, we can better help those who are struggling in this difficult time. This model can also help therapists and counselors better attend to the needs of their patients who are undergoing a major life change and help them through the transition.

When tested in a study, the questionnaire based on this model, called the “Stages of Change in Relationship Status,” or SCORS, was found to be quite effective in determining where participants were in terms of their decision to leave their relationship. However, they also found that even those who believe they are ready to make the necessary change in their relationship may hesitate to do so when the time comes to actually make that change.

This in mind, the scale itself has been shown to be highly effective at determining what stage an individual is in with regards to whether or not they are ready to initiate a change, or they are set in staying in a toxic relationship. Below are the five stages that the researchers identified:

1. Precontemplation

At this stage, no change is really being considered. The couple is happy with the relationship as it is, and feel that there is nothing they would like to change. They also do not feel as though there is anything wrong with the relationship or anything they should do differently.

2. Contemplation

Here is when one or both of the partners begin to think about ending the relationship. They recognize that they are unhappy or that the relationship itself is unhealthy. At this point, they believe their relationship to be a problem, and they acknowledge that the relationship is having a harmful impact on them.

3. Preparation

Despite the difficulty they know they will face, the preparation stage is where individuals in a relationship begin to make plans to end that relationship. They may have even started trying to end the relationship or asking for help in doing so. However, they would like to end the relationship soon, even if they aren’t sure how to do so.

4. Action

This is the point of initiation. One of the partners has begun to try to end the relationship. This can mean that they’ve started talking less to their partner during their time together. They also may be thinking of their partner less and less, and instead prefer to spend time with others.

5. Maintenance

This stage means sticking with the relationship’s end. It may mean changing one’s daily routine to avoid contact with their partner, or avoiding places where they know they might run into them. Partners, or former partners, at this stage begin to get rid of any items which remind them of their relationship. They also declare that they will never revisit this relationship again. This is often the most difficult stage to achieve.

Understanding a Toxic Relationship Helps Avoid One

Knowledge of these stages and their resulting impact on an individual or individuals within a relationship can help those close to them provide the support they need during these challenging times. This information can also help therapists to develop accurate advice and strategies to help their patients cope with, process, and ultimately understand how they’re feeling as their relationship comes to a close. Perhaps the most important lesson to learn is that despite being in a relationship, both partners are also individuals, with individual needs that need to be addressed and taken care of. If the relationship itself doesn’t recognize and attend to this, then it is not mutually beneficial. In that case, if things are becoming one-sided, or if no one is happy, it may be time to end the relationship. Whatever the case may be, no one has to be alone.

To learn more about couples counseling or individual therapy in Boca Raton, call our office today @ 800-378-9354.
A male and female interlocking hands in what appears to be a strong, happy relationship.

Building Communication with Relationship Therapy

Most couples will argue from time to time. For the most part, this is normal behavior, because loving someone doesn’t necessarily …

Man sitting on couch holding hands over his face as his partner walks away angrily.

The Five Stages of Ending a Long-Term Relationship

Sometimes relationships just aren’t meant to be. Love has plenty of ups and downs, but increasing negativity can be a sign …

Vintage photo of a peaceful, beautiful nature scene with river and trees.

Smell The Roses: The Benefits of Nature Therapy

With the hustle and bustle of our daily lives and responsibilities, it can be hard to remember to take time to “stop and …