mindfulness

Summertime Sadness: Managing Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder

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By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

In the winter months, it is common for people to experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The disorder will come and go with the winter season, but can cause a lot of suffering and discomfort during those months. People can also experience SAD in the summer. It is not as common as winter SAD, but can be just as difficult to manage.

Symptoms of SAD include feeling depressed most of the day and almost every day, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, low energy, sleep disruption, noticeable changes in appetite or weight, feeling agitated, difficulty concentrating, feeling hopeless or worthless, and frequent thoughts of suicide. These symptoms can be brought on because of the limited daylight available during these months. This can affect one’s natural sleep cycle and the chemistry in their brain. People usually stay inside more during these months because of harsher, cold weather, and can feel more isolated.

People can also experience similar symptoms in the summer. Summer SAD includes many of the same symptoms people experience in the winter months, such as sleep disruption, noticeable changes in appetite or weight, and increased anxiety. In some of the areas of the country that experience intense heat in the summer months, such as Sacramento, the onset of summer SAD can lead to staying indoors and keeping blinds closed to keep the heat out. Since it is so hot throughout the day, the ability to exercise outside is also affected, which can cause an increase in SAD symptoms, as well as symptoms related to anxiety, ADHD, and depression.

Here are some ways to manage SAD in the summer:

Talk to your mental health professional about the symptoms you are experiencing to see if it fits the description for a diagnosis of SAD. Your therapist can also help you work on some relaxation techniques that may help calm your mind from increased anxiety resulting from SAD.

You can also try exercising indoors at a gym or in your home with assistance of one of the many free smartphone and computer apps that coach you through workouts. It’s important to get at least 20-30 minutes of activity per day for better physical and mental health.

A person’s sleep cycle is also greatly affected by changes in the seasons. Make sure to stay away from substances, such as caffeine and alcohol, as they can disrupt sleep. Cut off use of these substances at least three hours before you plan to go to bed.

Finally, if you are experiencing symptoms related to changes in appetite and weight gain, practicing mindfulness when eating may be helpful. Mindful eating can help a person slow down and focus in the moment on the experience of eating food. Use your five senses as a guide when using this practice. This exercise will allow you to slow down and connect with your food so you are not eating mindlessly and possibly overeating. Also, try to follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans when choosing your meals, which can be found at: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/


References

Lewis, J. G. (2015 January 14) Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder: SAD in the Summer. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brain-babble/201501/reverse-seasonal-affective-disorder-sad-in-the-summer

Mayo Clinic Staff. (25 October 2017). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651

Robinson, L. Segal, J. & Smith, M. (March 2018). The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise, HelpGuide.org. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm

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Three Ways to Improve Your Memory

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(Photo Credit: Radachynskyi Serhii)

By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

With all the stressors in life, it is common to sometimes have a difficult time remembering simple day-to-day details. There are many things that can affect memory, including sleep, stress and mood. People of all ages can experience difficulties in this area at various points in their life, but luckily, there are various skills that may help people improve their ability to retain and retrieve information.

Listed below are a few practices that can help improve your memory:

  1. Stop multitasking: This is something I tell my clients to do in order to keep their anxiety under control, but it can also help you stay more focused on a task, which can allow you to have a stronger memory of what you are working on. Being fully present during a task, physically and mentally, will improve your memory and overall mental well-being.
  2. Use memory tricks: There are several memory tricks that help your brain retrieve information readily.
    • Repeating what you hear out loud multiple times helps your brain record the memory, increasing the likelihood that you will remember it.
    • Associating new and old information can be helpful in allowing retrieval of information since it connects new information with something your brain is already familiar with. You can do this by creating a story around what you would like to remember.
    • Keeping a to-do list on your phone seems like a no-brainer, but it is important because humans are better at recognition than recalling information. Your list can either be handwritten or typed on your phone, as long as it is handy.
    • Breaking information up into smaller sections also helps when needing to store large quantities of facts and details. Sometimes looking at a large section of information can be overwhelming, so it is important to organize the information in a way that helps you remember it.
  3. Mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness skills have been shown to improve memory and allow people to focus on tasks without allowing their minds to wander. In one study, a group of students enrolled in a two-week mindfulness course was compared to a control group that did not take the class. The group that participated in the mindfulness class had higher scores in reading comprehension on the GRE and reported being less distracted during the exam than the other group.You can practice mindfulness skills with simple meditations in which you focus on your breath and scan your body to notice any sensations that arise. This is a practice of staying present and also emphasizes focused-attention.

References

“4 tricks to rev up you memory.” (July 2017). Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/aging/4-tricks-to-rev-up-your-memory

Mrazek, M. D., Franklin, M. S. Phillips, D. T., Baird, B. & Schooler, J. W. (March 28 2013). Mindfulness training improves working memory capacity and GRE performance while reducing mind wandering. Association for Psychological Sciences. 24(5), 776-781. DOI: 10.1177/0956797612459659

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Healing with Hakomi, Part 1

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(Photo Credit: Kitja Kitja)

By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

The Hakomi Method is a form of contemporary, body-centered or somatic psychotherapy created by Ron Kurtz in the 1970s. It is influenced by general systems theory, particularly living systems, whereby complex systems share basic organizing principles, and is rooted in spiritual principles of the East, including Buddhism, Taoism, mindfulness and nonviolence Hakomi Institute, 2015; Kurtz, 1985).

Nonviolence in psychotherapy includes a willingness to let go of taking credit for a client’s successes in therapy. This means being fully participatory in a client’s healing process without having an agenda or seeing oneself as a hero, even in more subtle ways (Kurtz, 1990).

Growth requires courage, especially when feelings of failure are part of a client’s pain. So how does the therapist hold a space for the re-emergence of vulnerability and courage in the client? They do it through grace, magic, wisdom, care, and by acknowledging the aspects of the client that are ready to grow and heal (Kurtz, 1990).

It is important to recognize what the client is ready to express, and know what potential exists in each moment. At the most basic level, this means, for example, responding to a client’s body language and being mindful of changes in his tone of voice or his eyes becoming moist, and then saying…’Some sadness, huh?’ Recognizing and naming can help a client become more open to any tears or emotions and/or acknowledge a part of herself that would otherwise go unnoticed and slip back into the unconscious (Kurtz, 1990, p. 7).

“To gently name what is real, here and now, to speak out simply without arguing or proving, that is not force,” wrote Kurtz in his book Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. “It is a wise and graceful use of the energies of the moment. It calls forth what is true in the client. And that is magic—the calling forth by naming. It has the authority of truth, truth spoken cleanly, with no other motive than to be present and bear witness.”

If the client has been holding back and hiding the truth from both themselves and others, the client’s prior inability to deal with pain can be transformed by the therapist witnessing the client’s truth from a place of love. Energies that were spent in limiting oneself become free to promote new insights into one’s old and unconscious self-sabotaging behaviors (Kurtz, 1990).

When the therapist asks a client to be mindful of what they are experiencing, he is asking for vulnerability and openness from the client for whatever will emerge. Beyond the vulnerability of mindfulness is the vulnerability of the inner child. This child has been hurt and discouraged many times in the past. When the therapist embodies wisdom and care, the wounded child, in the unconscious of the client, responds positively and can be re-integrated back into the conscious awareness of the client (Kurtz, 1990).


References

Hakomi Institute. (2015). Memoriam to Ron Kurtz. Retrieved from http://hakomiinstitute.com/resources/ron-kurtz

Kurtz, R. S. (1985). Foundations of Hakomi Therapy. Hakomi Forum, 2, 3-7.

Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.

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Hello, It’s Nice to Meet You!

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Alicia Cox, MA

By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

I’d like to introduce myself to all of you. I am one of the newest marriage and family therapist associates at Healing Pathways Psychological Services and am so excited to be working with such an amazing and supportive team. I am currently gaining hours towards my license and am working under Dr. Kashersky’s advisement.

As an undergraduate, I majored in genetics and psychology. I think my science background gives me an interesting perspective with clients. I sometimes like to view problems from an evolutionary psychology perspective and use cognitive behavioral therapy in practice. I also have training in Mindfulness and use it in as a therapeutic invention with my clients.

Before going back to school for my graduate degree, I worked in the field of clinical research. I initially started as a research coordinator in a pain medicine clinic, working on research studies focused on pain medication addiction.

Most of my career in research was spent at the UC Davis MIND Institute, where I worked for 9 years. In my position as a clinical research coordinator, I worked with families who had children, adults and families impacted by Autism Spectrum disorder, Fragile X syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, Down syndrome and adults being treated for strokes. Even though I loved my work, I realized the limitations of my position and wanted to pursue a career in which I could contribute more to the treatment of individuals and their families. My trajectory then shifted and I decided to become a marriage and family therapist.

As a graduate student, I completed some clinical training at the MIND Institute. I was a co-leader for multiple social skills groups. I also worked in the ADHD and Learning Differences clinic, helping with a parent education group and completing intakes for new clients in the clinic. From working on research studies and in the clinic, I also gained a lot of experience and training in administering psychological, neuropsychological and academic testing.

My clinical interests include working with families and individuals diagnosed with neurodevelopmental disorders and/or chronic illness. I also have an interest in working with individuals experiencing pregnancy loss and infertility.

In my time at home, I have a very active life with my husband, two sons, two dogs, two cats and two fish. We are animal lovers and have adopted 4 pets to prove it! I also enjoy traveling, running, playing tennis, reading, gardening and listening to podcasts in my free time.

I look forwarding to working with my colleagues at Healing Pathways and with many of you. Also, look at for my future blogs featuring topics on neurodevelopmental disorders, chronic illness and women’s issues.

 

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Stop and Smell the Roses: What is Mindfulness, Anyway?

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(Photo Credit: Gromovataya)

By Melanie Ernould, Psy.D.

Have you ever driven somewhere and arrived at your destination thinking that you have no recollection of the actual drive? Have you ever realized the amount of time you spend on your mobile phone to the exclusion of the world around you? Or perhaps you’ve realized you’ve lost touch with important people in your life because you’ve gotten caught up in the tasks of your everyday life? What about spending time doing something to realize that you’ve spent most of that time worrying about something else, like your to-do list or your messy house? These are all common ways that we miss out on being in the moment in front of us.

You may have heard the term “mindfulness” being tossed around in conversations about staying in the present moment, but have you wondered exactly what this means or how to apply the concept to your life?

Mindfulness was once an obscure Buddhist concept but has become a wildly popular psychotherapeutic intervention in the past 10 years. This is due to the popularity of successful mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs and the mindfulness component of dialectical behavior therapy. The term mindfulness can mean a “moment-by-moment awareness”  or a “state of psychological freedom that occurs when attention remains quiet and limber, without attachment to any particular point of view,” according to Jeffery R. Martin, Ph.D.

In the article What are the benefits of mindfulness? (from the July/August APA Monitor on Psychology), the authors Daphne M. Davis, Ph.D. and Jeffrey A. Hayes, Ph.D. define mindfulness as a “moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment,” and claim that this is the definition that is most often used in the research. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. was the first to develop a modern definition of mindfulness, and defined it as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

The application of mindfulness meditation in the field of psychology was not a huge leap. According to Mindfulness-based Approaches: are they all the same? (from the 2011 Journal of Clinical Psychology) by Alberto Chiesa, M.D. and Peter Malinowski, Ph.D., the goals of mindfulness meditation and psychological health are related: both Buddhist philosophy and psychology discourage behaviors that bring on and maintain negative emotions, and encourage positive emotions. Mindfulness is considered an acceptance-based therapy, where there is not an attempt to change thoughts or emotions no matter how unpleasant they may be. Well, how does it work then, you might ask?

Perhaps paradoxically, it is through acceptance that change is brought about. In other words, the less you try to change how you think, the more you are able to then change how you think. You focus on being rather than always trying to do. This works because you are not trying to force change; you are accepting yourself as you are and creating a freedom in your thoughts in the process. It takes practice to be truly mindful but this practice has helped treat and prevent people with problems, such as anxiety and depression. Below I outline a few exercises to aid in your mindfulness practice.

Paying Attention

To start the practice of paying attention mindfully, try this practice next time you are eating something that you would normally take for granted or not think about, a chocolate or M&M candy for example:

  1. Before you put the food in your mouth, bring your attention to seeing the food as if with new eyes. What do you see? What color is it? What is the shape? What texture do you notice?
  2. Now feel the food with your fingers. What does it feel like? Is the surface smooth or bumpy?
  3. Notice whether you have any thoughts that might be coming up for you about the candy, food, or eating in general.
  4. Now smell the food and pay attention to what you notice about the experience of smelling it.
  5. Bring the food item to your lips, noticing how your hand is holding the item and moving it toward your mouth. How does your body respond to the food moving toward your mouth?
  6. Now put the food in your mouth and leave it in your mouth for a while, noticing how it tastes and what happens to it as you suck on it.
  7. Pay attention to the impulse to swallow. Imagine the food item entering your body, like you are one M&M or ____ heavier.
  8. Finally, what are your reactions and observations about this experience? How did this compare to how you usually eat?

We tend to eat mechanically and for emotional comfort without paying attention. However, if we can slow things down, we start to notice and enjoy our experiences, and act with purpose. This is what meditation is: paying attention to your experience from moment to moment.

Stop and Smell the Roses

Pay attention to one pleasant event each day as it is happening. Write in a journal the answers to these questions:

  1. What was the experience?
  2. Were you aware of any pleasant feelings while the event was happening or only later?
  3. How did your body feel during the experience? Describe this in detail.
  4. What moods, feelings, and thoughts were present as the event was actually happening?
  5. What thoughts are in your mind now as you write this down?

I’m Stressed!

When you notice that you are feeling stressed about something, start by bringing your attention to your breathing. In… and out… In… and out… Then, ask yourself these questions:

  1. How does my body feel?
  2. How fast is my heart beating?
  3. Am I tense? Where am I holding my tension?
  4. What am I thinking about?
  5. What am I feeling? How do I know I’m feeling this?

References and Further Reading:

Allen, M., Bromley, A., Kuyken, W., & Sonnenberg, S. J. (2009). Participants’ experience of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: “It changed me in just about every way possible.” Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 37, 413-430.

Chiesa, A. & Malinowski, P. (2011). Mindfulness-based approaches: Are they all the same? Journal of Clinical Psychology, 67, 404-424.

Davis, D. M. & Hayes, J.M. (2011). What are the benefits of mindfulness? A practice review of psychotherapy-related research. Psychotherapy, 48, 198-208.

Ernould, M. (2012). Addressing lesbian, gay, and bisexual bullying: A mindfulness-based intervention manual. Retrieved from aura.antioch.edu

Germer, C.K., Siegel, R.D., & Fulton, P.R. (2005). Mindfulness and psychotherapy. New York: Guilford Press.

Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57, 35-43.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness. New York: Dell Publishing.

Martin, J.R. (1997). Mindfulness: A proposed common factor. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 7, 291-312.

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