Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How Healthy are you...Mentally?

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and today, in fact, many psychologists are blogging on the topic of Mental Health. So what is "Mental Health" and how can you tell how healthy you are?

The World Health Organization defines mental health as -- "A state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. "

You can also think of Mental Health as encompassing our thoughts, feelings and actions, particularly in response to stressful life situations. Picture a continuum of Mental Health, ranging from:

occasional stress/mild distress
(no impairment)

emotional problems or concerns
(mild impairment)

emotional disorders
(moderate to significant impairment)

people, throughout their lives, will find themselves using adequate coping skills and negotiating the challenges of life reasonably well, without leading to significant impairment in daily functioning (i.e., eating, sleeping, relating to others, problem-solving skills, etc.)
However, if major negative life events occur and/or problems are perceived as insurmountable, one's coping skills can become overtaxed or may be inadequate to manage the stress. This is when an individual may develop an emotional disorder and encounter more significant impairment.

One reason for Mental Health Month is to raise public awareness. We know that many individuals with a diagnosable mental disorder do not seek treatment. Possible reasons may include lack of awareness of one's own state of mental health and the need for help, and/or the social stigma of mental disorders that still exists. Just as someone would attend to their Physical Health, there are effective treatments available to restore Mental Health. If you or someone you care about is experiencing Mental Health problems, help is available.
For more information about Mental Health issues and treatment, go to:"> class="aligncenter" src="" alt="Mental Health Blog Party Badge" />

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Visualize that Happy New Year

You probably haven't heard the greeting Happy New Year for a couple of weeks, now that we are officially into 2011. But we all still wish that for ourselves and one another.

Today someone sent me a photo of herself, taken over the holidays, as she stood outside experiencing her first snowfall. It was beautiful to see the excitement on her face -- and reminded me of how powerful images can be. Using our minds to visualize is another tool we have to help us create that happier and healthier New Year.

Choose a photo that brings a smile to your face. Whenever you are starting to feel down or over-stressed, close your eyes, take some nice deep diaphragmatic breaths (from your belly) and visualize that scene. Stay with the breathing and the image for 3 - 5 minutes. When your mind wanders, that's ok, just gently bring it back and start your breathing again. After this meditative break, you will feel calmer and have more emotional energy to handle whatever was troubling you. Even if it is just to say, "I know I can't do anything about this so I have to let it go for now."

And for those of us who are working on keeping our New Year's Resolutions....If you're having doubts that you can follow through, or haven't set any goals for yourself, it's not too late! For some tips, go to our January 14, 2010 Blog Post below: How to Make your New Year's Resolutions Happen.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Healthy Holiday Behaviors: Keeping the Stress Level Manageable

Right about now many of us are wondering how we are going to get everything done in time for... The Holidays. Yes, that wonderful time of merriment and celebration, that often brings with it increased stress. A recent American Psychological Association survey on holiday stress revealed that women are especially prone to experiencing high levels of stress this time of year. They are also less likely than men to manage their stress adaptively.

The basics of stress management are (1) reduce the amount of stress whenever possible and (2) use healthy behaviors to manage the rest.

So how can we reduce the stress when we're facing The Excesses of The Holidays: Food and Drink, Spending, and sometimes even too much Family Togetherness? It's hard to say no to the sweets and treats, to the presents we want to buy, and the pressure we put on ourselves to create "Happy Holidays" for one and all. And who has the time for healthy behaviors, like getting enough sleep, proper nutrition and regular physical exercise?

Well, how about trying one or two of the following suggestions to keep the stress level manageable?

  • Simplify or downscale some of the family traditions that may have become too costly. Put the emphasis on what is truly important and let the rest go.
  • Slow down...take a break between activities, whether it's to take a walk around the block or a power nap; you'll have more energy for the rest of the day.
  • If you've over-indulged during a meal, decide to make healthier choices at the next one.
  • Make the holidays a time to reconnect with friends that are supportive and caring.
  • Keep your expectations realistic and accept family members for who they are -- nothing and no one is perfect like the greeting cards and ads portray.
Best Wishes for Happy and Healthy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Have a Happpy Thanksgiving...and More Happiness in Your Everyday

Dr. Martin Seligman and other researchers in the relatively new field of Positive Psychology have found it is possible to be happier and more content in one's life, despite the circumstances. There are specific behaviors that promote positive mood, one of which is Giving Thanks.

The research of Dr. Robert Emmons at UC Davis has demonstrated that the expression of gratitude (regularly journalling about things you feel grateful for, or expressing gratitude to someone directly) creates not only a meaningful difference in one's level of happiness, but has positive health benefits as well.

So this Thanksgiving, remember to Give Thanks, and by turning this into a regular practice you just may find a way to feel Happier and Healthier everyday.

For more information about Positive Psychology, go to:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

May is Mental Health Month -- How to be Happy

This is a great time to reflect on why mental health is so important.

Good emotional and mental health can lead to good physical health as well as success in life.

A common belief is that success in life -- one's career and relationships -- leads to happiness. Research reveals that it is actually happy people whose proactive and resourceful approach to life helps them overcome the inevitable hurdles that we all encounter along the way. Also their positive outlook attracts others to them, which is a key factor in success at work and in personal life.

What can you do to be happy? Researchers such as Drs. Sonya Lyubormirsky and Ken Sheldon have found that the following behaviors increase happiness and positive mood overall:

  • Expressing gratitude

  • Reflecting on happy moments

  • 10 minutes of physical exercise -- such as a brisk walk, or riding on a stationary bike

Also researchers at the University of Essex have found that "green activities" such as gardening, cycling, fishing, or boating boost mood. In fact, a mere 5 minutes of being outdoors in a green area -- park or garden, can boost mood as well as self-esteem.

Give yourself regular doses of happiness building. 5 - 10 minutes daily is a small investment with big payoffs in promoting and maintaing good mental health.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

How to Make Your New Year's Resolutions Happen

Are you one of the 40 - 50% of Americans who made a New Year's Resolution for 2010? Maybe you resolved to quit smoking, eat a healthier diet or get to the gym more regularly. Some people commit to staying in closer touch with friends, recycling and conserving more energy, or donating time or money to a charity. Typically we focus on changes that we believe will result in some kind of improvement, either within ourselves, our families or our community.

How are you doing at following through? Even if you are one of the 20% who broke their resolutions the first week of January, you can re-commit to making those changes and be successful.

These are ways to make it happen:

1. Think of your goal as a type of behavior change.
2. Be specific about what you want to change -- how, when, where, how much, how often, etc.
3. Write it down on paper.
4. Make yourself accountable, not just to you, but tell your family and friends what you are working on.
5. Remember that change is often difficult and uncomfortable.
6. Be realistic and patient with yourself.
7. Keep a record to track how you are doing.
8. Go for progress, not perfection.

I will exercise for 30 minutes three times a week.

I will telephone one friend a week to keep in touch.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Coping with Breast Cancer: Receiving the diagnosis

Since less than 25% of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have genetic or other known risk factors, the first reaction is often one of shock.

Along with the diagnosis comes a great deal of medical information to assimilate. The pathology report will describe the kind of cancer and its stage of growth. This information will guide discussions with physicians about various treatment options. Another medical opinion may be sought, and the possible risks and benefits of treatment will be weighed and measured.

To many patients and their families, this will be like suddenly finding themselves living in a foreign country, with very little knowledge of the language, and many new situations to address. There are real life issues with spouses and children, arrangements to be made at work, concerns about physical changes and possible debilitation, and survival fears. Being diagnosed with breast cancer, and feeling anxious, afraid and overwhelmed is what psychologists often refer to as "a normal reaction to an abnormal event."

Here are some suggestions for healthy coping behaviors:
  • Don't blame yourself for this illness

  • Let yourself grieve

  • Share your feelings with people you trust

  • Communicate openly with your health care team

  • Write down your questions prior to your appointments and take someone along with you who can also ask questions and take notes for you

  • Attend a support group and speak with other survivors

  • Treat yourself well and take naps

  • Anticipate that you will need different kinds of help and ask for it

  • Include a psychologist or other mental health professional who is knowledgable about breast cancer on your health care team

These are some additional resources for coping with breast cancer: