SAD? Don’t Let it Get You Down

Winter sunrise can treat winter bluesIn the winter months, many people risk becoming emotionally low, negative, and stressed. Their appetite for high calorie junk food might increase, their libido often goes out the window, and they might feel incredibly lethargic, finding it difficult to motivate themselves to exercise, leave home, or even get out of bed. Contradictorily, they may tend to stay up late or sleep badly.
These are all typical symptoms of depression, but when this cluster of symptoms is triggered in the winter months in susceptible people, it is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

A Survival Mechanism?
It is possible that SAD is an out of date hibernation mechanism; that it is nature’s way of getting us to curl up under skins in our caves and ride out the winter months without expending too much energy. Conserving and storing energy to minimise the need to go outside to fend for the family in the middle of a cold European winter makes survival sense, especially before the invention of cars, trains, cities and supermarkets.
The trouble is that this behaviour is not well adapted to our lives today; what with need to get up and out to nine to five jobs and early classes. On top of this, electricity allows us to work inside all day and stay up way past sunset, so our circadian rhythm, or biological clock, gets out of whack, aggravating the problem.

Light Therapy
Research suggests that one of factors involved in SAD is a reduction of the intensity and duration of sunlight we are exposed to. Many people have been successfully treated for SAD with the introduction of special lights that give off an intense broad spectrum of light, much like the natural light coming from the sun. Some light-therapy lights can even mimic sunrise at an early hour, which basically seems to trick our body into thinking that it is summer and creates a much more pleasant and natural start to the day than blaring alarm clocks in the darkness of the winter morning.
However, if you don’t have access to such a light, you can still improve your condition. Hard as it is, make yourself get out in the daylight for at least half an hour a day, even if it’s cold and overcast. The earlier in the day the better. [See the box below.]

Exercise
Secondly, make yourself exercise. Getting your heart rate up and moving your body is not just good for your physical health, it has been found to be one of the key ways to treat depression and manage stress. If you don’t have time, make time; even 10 minutes a day would make a difference and everyone can afford that. You could combine the daylight therapy and exercise by taking a brisk walk in the early morning light, or walking all or part of the way to work, in lieu of the bus. If neither of these options suits you, or if it really is blowing a gale outside, you could do an indoor exercise routine, such as one of the thousands on youtube. Type in ‘10 minute workout’ into the YouTube search box and you will find a plethora to choose from. Make sure you choose a routine that is suitable for your level of fitness and flexibility [ask your doctor if you are unsure], and vary your choice so that different muscle groups are able to work and rest each day. Force yourself to participate at first, no excuses, until daily exercise eventually becomes part of your routine, as necessary and easy as brushing your teeth.

Eat Well
Watch your diet. Try not to get obsessive about this, but if you find yourself massively overeating the wrong things, stop buying high calorie junk food. Pig out on vegetables. Salads are great, but hot cooked vegetables, especially those that are steamed or in homemade soup, are fine. If you want a sugar hit, try fresh fruit. Again, cook it if you must. If you want a savoury taste, eat meat, eggs, fish or vegetables.
Many people believe that eating foods that are high in Vitamin D, such as oily fish and eggs, can help SAD sufferers. This makes logical sense because our bodies need sunlight to manufacture vitamin D, and vitamin D has been found to be important in the functioning and communication of cells throughout the body, including nerve cells. However, several recent studies have failed to show significant differences between SAD patients who were given vitamin D supplements and those who were not, so the jury is still out on this one.
How to Correct Your Out of Whack Sleep Routine
If you are falling into the habit of staying up and sleeping in later and later through the day, and if you don’t own a broad spectrum SAD light, try this simple solution. Tonight, go to bed a bit earlier than your habit, even if it’s 15 minutes earlier. Be a good parent to yourself about this. Set a deadline and stick to it, even if it means cutting short an amazing computer game or TV programme. Then, set your alarm to wake you up 15 minutes earlier than normal. Perhaps set two alarms and keep the second one a little out of reach so that you have to actually get out of bed to switch it off. Then, and this is the hardest part, get your coat on and get outside in the daylight for 10 minutes, even if the weather is frightful. The trick is to not think about it too much; JUST DO IT. You might want to walk briskly, especially if it’s cold outside [that could be your 10 minute exercise]. Then, after a couple of days of this, go to bed even earlier and set your alarm for 10 or 15 minutes earlier in the morning/daytime. Keep doing this until you have got your circadian rhythm back to normal.

So, in summary, if you are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder:
• Get more natural light on your face, especially in the early morning.
• If you can afford it, get a SAD light therapy light and set it to wake you up.
• Go to bed earlier and get up earlier.
• Exercise regularly.
• Eat well.

Correct Bad Sleeping Patterns

For more information on combating symptoms of depression, you might want to look at my ‘How to Feel Happier’ article on this website, and please don’t be afraid to ask a therapist, or your family, friends or GP for help. I hope you have a lovely winter.

Depressed, Stressed or Anxious? Take this Self Assessment Quiz

Complete this quick and easy questionnaire to find out whether you could have symptoms of anxiety or depression. These are  very common mental health problems that affect most of us at some time in our lives, either directly, or indirectly through family and friends.

In Britain, it is estimated that 1 in 9 people will have a mental health disorder in any one year, with depression and anxiety being the most common  of these. The World Health Organisation has estimated that over 40% of disability world wide is due to depression and/or anxiety.  These conditions frequently go hand in hand, with a mixture of anxiety and depression being the most common diagnosis given for an anxiety disorder.

If your responses to the following self assessment test indicate that you might have symptoms of depression or anxiety, please take steps to address them. If you only have a few minor symptoms, and they are not affecting your life, then perhaps you  could read some helpful articles on line, including on this site. [Go to the SEARCH box on the top right of the webpage.] If your symptoms are many, or if any of them are interfering with your life, please take some steps to see a professional.

Go ahead, take the quiz now. It’s fast, free, and totally confidential. The results are at the bottom of the test page….




Beat Technology Addiction: Develop Your Inner Parent

Gamer

If you are reading this, then there is a good chance that you spend a fair bit of time on the internet; perhaps a bit too much time?

Time has become one of our most precious personal resources. It’s up there with health, love, intelligence, and beauty, and at least on par with money and possessions for many of us.  It is a limited resource, but it can be budgeted in a way that is best for each individual. The way we like to spend our time is different for each of us and changes over our life cycle.

Technology Sucks Time

Technology has given us more time in some ways, by taking away the need to spend our days doing basic tasks. But technology equally eats up our time. How often do you find yourself staring at a screen, be it on a television, computer or mobile phone?  Sure we are sometimes learning stuff, and sure it sometimes helps us to relax, but most of us do a bit too much screen watching and this can have a detrimental effect on our lives, relationships and health.

Balance Your Passion

Having a passion, something that you really love doing regularly, is a positive thing. Research shows that a having a passion tends to increase positive responses across a whole lot of parameters, including mental health and sense of well-being, physical health, cognitive ability, and success in work and relationships. BUT [and this bit is crucial] this is so only if the person engages in the passion in a balanced way.

If the passion is taking up excessive time and energy in the person’s life, then the indicators will tend to go totally the other way. By that I mean, if somebody has an obsessive passion that they engage in to the detriment of relationships, sleep, exercise or work, then they will tend to score low on parameters like mental health, happiness, cognitive functioning and physical health; not just lower than those with a balanced passion, but much lower than people with no passion. And that goes for people who are obsessively addicted to technology.

 No Off-Switch

An adolescent client of mine recently and wisely pointed out that “kids don’t have an off-switch”; meaning that they can find it difficult to stop whatever they enjoying doing: be it playing computer games, watching TV, texting, talking with friends, social networking, listening to music, taking drugs and alcohol, or, of course, sleeping in. And because they demand more independence, and because their parents usually want to treat them in age appropriate ways, they often end up spending too much time staying up late at night, doing the stuff they enjoy doing.

The problem is that most adolescents have not yet adequately internalised their inner parent. They are very good at focusing on the moment, and unbothered in that moment by future negative consequences, such as feeling tired the next day. Their inner child wants to rebel against the restraints of their childhood and do what they have never been allowed to do in the past: stay up late and play.

But teenagers are not the only people who have not properly integrated their inner parent. Our society full of adults who are ruled by their inner child; who are obsessively addicted to staying up late, watching television, internet surfing, pornography searching, social networking, gambling, and gaming.

Addicted to Computer Games

Addiction to games is one of the significant growing problems of this century, and, like most behaviour addictions or compulsive behaviours, it indicates an ineffectual inner parent. Compulsive gamers can become focused on the instant gratification of the game. It feels good in that moment, and takes them away from the everyday stresses of life, but, ironically, their behaviour can actually increase the stresses they experience in other aspects of their lives.  Addicted gamers might spend several hours a day [or night] playing online games, leaving little time for adequate work, study, exercise, sleep, nutrition, social interaction [outside the game, that is] and family. Their inner child is having fun, so does not want to stop.

The Effect on Relationships

Internet forums are full of complaints and cries for help from the frustrated partners [usually girlfriends and wives] of Gamers, and I have seen quite a few in my clinic over the years.

Partners frequently complain that the more they ask or demand that the Gamer stop playing, come to bed with them, spend more time with them, spend more time with the children, or simply get out in the sun, eat a proper meal or have a shower, the more likely the Gamer is to dig their heals in and refuse.  Eventually partners leave, children are damaged, friends give up, bosses lose patience, and bodies turn to blubber.

How to Develop Your Inner Parent

The first step to getting your life in balance is to want to.

The next step is to develop your inner parent; the part of you who says, “I’m off to bed now, so that I can be  really with it in the meeting tomorrow,” and who actually turns the computer off and goes to the bathroom and bed.  Or, when the alarm goes in the morning, jumps out of bed an hour earlier than usual to meditate and exercise.   The inner parent is much better at coping with delayed gratification than the inner child.

Remember that the inner parent and inner child are not enemies; they are batting for the same team. Try to get them to communicate, understand, and compromise, which means have fun and be a little naughty and light sometimes, but remember the adult needs to be in charge and have the final say.

The inner parent can use praise and even small rewards to encourage mature, balanced behaviour.

Like all children, our inner child thrives on structure and routine. A no-nonsense routine, with named time slots, can reduce the chances of the inner child trying to negotiate and bargain their way out of doing what’s good for them, provided that the routine and task goals are comfortably achievable.

Rebelling is Giving Away Your Power

Rebellion is another sign that your inner child is dominating. When you get the urge to rebel against the wishes of your partner or other loved one when they ask you to stop your behaviour, remember that they are truly concerned about you, and/or worried about the impact on them or others; they not just trying to wield their power for the sake of it.  Also, every time you rebel, you are actually giving your personal power away, because you are limiting your choices and actions to those that contradict the person you are rebelling against.

Therapy Can Help

If you are really struggling to control your technology addictive behaviour, it might be helpful to book an appointment with a therapist. A bit of psychological tweaking can hlep you to strengthen your strategies and resolve, as well as clear any underlying problems that might be unconsciously fuelling your behaviour.

Balance

Remember, balance and moderation is the key. For many people this can mean breaking routine rules now and then for a treat, but for others any lapse in rules can lead to a major relapse in their addictive behaviour, so rules need to incorporate fun and balance.  Each of us must determine the best way to manage our inner child, while keeping our inner parent firmly, but lovingly, in charge.

Migrants: The Psychological Impact of Immigration

It is definitely not easy moving to a new country. Many people do it, and many countries have been built on the back of migrants, but that doesn’t mean that changing countries is a walk in the park. The stress of the move and adjustment to the new country, as well as the loss of so much from the old, can lead to anxiety and depression and other psychological problems amongst migrants .

The Big Move

One of the first stressful steps in the experience is packing and selling up. Deciding what to take, send, sell, give away, or throw out can be a slow and painful task. Shipping is expensive, so many people choose to leave things behind and repurchase in the new country. However, budgets can restrict purchases at the other end, meaning that new migrants often have far fewer  possessions than they had at home. And leaving beloved items behind can be a sad experience for adults and children alike.

Grief

Often the hardest thing for new migrants to cope with is the loss of family and friends. This can cause an empty longing that is hard to relieve and that can lead to depression.  In families, it is often those who were the least enthusiastic about the move that feel the most pain, and the sense of powerless over their life can exacerbate their grief.  Telephone and internet calls can lessen the pain, but they cannot replicate the touch and smell of loved ones.

Sharing Space

Those migrants who are lucky enough to have family or friends in the new country often move in with them until they can arrange their own accommodation. It can be difficult to rent a property without a job, credit rating, and a local rental reference, and new immigrants from poorer countries often cannot afford rent, bonds, and furnishing;, so cramming the family into a relative’s spare bedroom, or sleeping everyone on the floor or sofa in the living room, is a common practice. Although living with experienced settlers in many ways helps migrants adjust to a new country, sharing small spaces, living out of suitcases, and feeling as if they are imposing on others, can add to stress and affect self esteem.

Language

Language barriers frequently add to the difficulties of new migrants. Even those people who have spoken English as a first language, can often struggle to have their accent understood, and vice versa. Language problems can create obstacles to social and professional integration, increase stress, and reduce self esteem, creating more social isolation.

Culture

Cultural differences can have a huge impact on immigrants. They might feel that they stand out uncomfortably because of the way they dress, or be horrified by the way their children want to dress. Immigrants might not have easy access to an appropriate place of worship. They might have to go to work during important holy days and festivals. They might find that the things they did in their homeland, such as circumcising children, growing tobacco or cannabis, slaughtering a sheep in the garden, drinking alcohol, or having more than one wife, are taboo or illegal in the new country, and this creates confusion and mental stress.

Food

The loss of familiar foods can be difficult for many immigrants, particularly those who have had little experience with foods from other cultures.  Luckily, many supermarkets and speciality shops increasingly have foodstuff from other countries, although at inflated prices. Even so, immigrants typically miss the local markets and fresh produce of their homeland.

Work

One of the most difficult aspects of immigration is finding work. Qualifications are too often not transferable, so people with high level qualifications and years of experience at management and professional levels, can find themselves being forced to clean toilets or drive taxis to feed their families.  Heartbreaking stuff.

Income

Along with the loss of prestige can come a loss of income in real terms. When people are deciding to immigrate to country with a high GDP, they are often swayed by rumours of the salaries of even the lowest paid workers. But people sometimes fail to realise that the cost of living could be disproportionately high, so they might find themselves struggling to feed, clothe and house their families.

Recycling and Things

New countries take a lot of getting used to. Everyday things that we need to know, such as mobile phone contracts, road rules, tax laws, electricity connections, bank accounts, public transport routes, and rubbish recycling procedures, can baffle even long term locals. These things are especially challenging for newcomers, particularly when language barriers are added.

 

 

Age

Older people tend to find it harder to learn a new language and are generally less flexible in their ways than their younger counterparts. If an elderly immigrant has retired, or is not able or willing to get a job, they will tend to stay more isolated and interact less with the local population. Non-working mothers can have the same difficulties.

 

Children

Children pick up the lifestyles and languages of their peers relatively quickly, but for them it can feel like living between two worlds: worlds with different languages, cultures and values. With their superior language skills, children are often called on to be interpreters for their elders in all sorts of situations, which can confuse roles and add to stress. Having to tell a doctor the details of a parent’s health concern is not easy for a young person.

Trauma

Some refugees from war torn countries have been traumatised by such things as violence, injury, torture, or the loss of loved ones.  This increases the chance of them having a mental health problem.

 

Psychological Impact

All of this can take its toll on new immigrants and their families, creating symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, or other mental health issues. If one family member develops psychological problems, their problems can impact the whole family. Children are particularly vulnerable in this regard.

Stigma

In many cultures there is a great deal of stigma attached to mental health problems. In some it mixes with spiritual beliefs and believed to be a sign of evil in the sufferer. Mental Health professionals are uncommon in many cultures, so immigrants from those communities are unlikely to seek help.

 

How Can Migrants Reduce the Risk of Mental Health Problems?

Here are a few ideas for helping yourself or a loved one reduce risk factors:

  • Learn the language as quickly as possible and, scary as it might seem, get out and practise it with the locals.
  • Immerse yourself in the new culture: walk about, explore, go to free events, join clubs and activities, do courses, have fun outside with the children, and make new friends through them.
  • Exercise: it’s good for the body, mind and stress levels.
  • Try to relax and enjoy each moment doing simple things.
  • Try not to focus on what you miss; rather think about the new things you are able to experience. No place has all the benefits of another; but each country is unique and amazing.
  • Upgrade your qualifications or get a new qualification. Ask for feedback from unsuccessful job applications, and get help with your resume and applications.
  • Access professional help. Many governments offer counselling and interpreter services to help immigrants, and psychologists are often available through the health service. The first port of call might be the immigration service, the council, a hospital, or a doctor.
  • Remember you do not have to be crazy to access mental health services. More and more ordinary people from all cultures are benefiting from confidential psychology and counselling services, realising that quality treatment and support can add greatly to their psychological well-being and quality of life, as well as that of their families.

 

 

 

Images courtesy of graur razvan ionut and nuttakit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

 

 

How to Protect Your Children from Family Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety can spread through families like contagious diseases, and children are the most vulnerable to contamination.

Sure, genetic predisposition plays a part too, but a lot of it has to do with what we are exposed to as children. That means you can influence how much your children are affected.

How Depression is Spread

Partners of people with depression often complain of feeling as if they are living near a black hole which is draining their life force. They gradually lose energy and enthusiasm, their lives become restricted, and their home becomes a dark and dreary place.

Children of depressed parents can be even more affected. On top of this ‘black hole effect’, children learn how to interact with the world largely by observing other people, especially their parents. So if a child witnesses a parent consistently looking glum, or repeatedly talking negatively about problems, they are likely to copy that behaviour. Our behaviour affects the way we feel, so children of depressed people are at risk of internalising their parents’ view that the world is a negative place that holds little joy.

Depressed people have a tendency to withdraw from others, so they sometimes find it difficult to listen to their children and to respond consistently and positively to their emotional and psychological needs. This can lead to the children feeling confused and unloved, and can in turn impact on their self esteem and happiness.

All of this is a recipe for… you got it… another generation of depression.

How Anxiety is Spread

Anxiety can also be passed on through families. Children are programmed to learn what to be afraid of from parents in order to survive. A highly anxious parent typically sees the world as a scary place that cannot be trusted. They may well pass on their fears to their children as warnings, and become over-protective in an attempt to keep them safe. This can lead to the children internalising their parent’s fears and becoming overly anxious.

Also, remember that children mimic their parents, so a parent who is tense and easily stressed, is likely to inadvertently teach their children to behave in the same way.

How to Break the Cycle

You can take steps to protect your children from the negative effects of your anxiety and depression. Here are a few simple ways to start…..

  • Be aware of what you teach your children about the world. Do you paint a scary or dark picture? Try to relax, lighten up, and look on the bright side.
  • Think about how your children witness you interacting with others and them? If you want your children to be calm and positive, make sure you are a calm and positive role model.
  • Make an effort to connect with your children in a consistent way. Get interested in their thoughts and feelings. Listen well, and try to respond in compassionate and positive ways to their problems.
  • Be affectionate and warm, and praise your children liberally.
  • Make the effort to enjoy fun interactions with your children. Family games can be great bonders, and laughter is a wonderful antidote for depression and anxiety.
  • Exercise is also a natural antidote; so, even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing, try to do something regularly as a family that involves physical activity. Fun outdoor activities improve mood, and getting everyone out in the world can help you all combat fears.

Get Help ASAP

It is important that you take steps to deal with your own depression or anxiety. Focusing on helping your children should have the added bonus of helping you, but you might need to do a bit more to move into a consistently healthy state.  There is plenty of useful information out there in books and on the internet, but if depression or anxiety is continuing to limit your life, please make sure you get some good professional help without delay, for your children’s sake.


How to Disentangle from Destructive Thoughts

Thoughts, images and feelings are all a normal part of our internal human world, and we wouldn’t want to be without them. They can fuel our creativity, they can drive and motivate us, they can keep us safe, and they can bring us passion, joy and contentment.

But sometimes they can be an absolute pain in the bum. They can haunt us, or annoy us, or demoralise us, or rile us into a frenzy of anger or guilt. They can scare us into a frozen state of avoidance, or bring us down into the depths of depression and apathy.

It’s Not That Easy to Switch Off Negative Thoughts

In the past we psychologists have told our clients that once they have identified the destructive thoughts and images in their heads, they can simply change them to positive ones. Although this idea has merit and works for some people, it is not as easy as it sounds for the majority of us. Failed attempts to block or throw away the negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts, have led to frustration and a heightened sense of failure and inadequacy in many of the people who have attempted this method. It is simply very hard to stop a thought, particularly one that you have been replaying for a long time, and if you do manage it, they can often sneak back with a vengeance.

Psychologists are now realising that, rather than trying to disperse unhelpful thoughts, it is fine to just allow them, as long as you don’t get caught up in them; as long as you don’t believe them to be the truth; and as long as you stay mindful of what they really are… just sounds, pictures and feelings.

‘But how do I do that?’ I hear you ask in an exasperated voice.

Eastern Wisdom

Western psychology has recently started to take notice of the ancient teachings of our eastern brothers who have long said that the best way to stop thoughts controlling us is to witness them as just thoughts, and one of the best ways to do that is to practice meditation.

Meditation is both simple and difficult, but you don’t have to be a master of it to begin to feel the benefits. Anyone can learn to meditate. You could learn by going to a meditation class, or by reading a book, or listening to an audio, or even by watching one of the many YouTube videos on the topic.

How to Meditate

All you do is sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed and notice your breath and the sensation in your body as your breath enters and leaves your body. I personally like to focus more on the out-breath, as this is the side of the breath that is most linked with relaxation, but the traditional way is to just notice the breath going in and out without judging or controlling it.

Now, of course, many thoughts and images, memories and plans, and all the accompanying emotional paraphernalia, will invade your mind while you are trying to focus on the simplicity of your breath. But the trick is that you allow them all to come and go, without getting caught up in them. And if, as is inevitable, you do get carried away with a thought about the process, or your work, or relationship, or what to have for dinner, become aware of this little side-trip as soon as you can, and gently bring your attention back to your breath and your body.

Freedom to Choose

The process of witnessing thoughts images and emotions, and allowing them to come and go by bringing ourselves back to our body and breath, allows us to disentangle from them. We are then able to realise that the thoughts are not the essence of who we are: they are just static noise and don’t need to be given attention and power.

That awareness frees us up to be able to make decisions and take actions that our unhelpful thoughts and feelings have stopped us undertaking in the past.  We don’t have to stop and block our unhelpful thoughts to reduce their power over us, just recognise them for what they are, and chose whether or not to buy into them.

Lorri Craig