All Posts Tagged: south florida

What is Self Harm?

Self harm or self-injury is the intentional wounding of one’s own body. Most commonly, a person who self harms will cut themselves with a sharp object.

Self harm can also include:

  • burning or branding (using cigarettes, lit matches or lighters, or other hot objects)
  • severely scratching
  • hair pulling (trichotillomania)
  • biting themselves
  • excessively picking at their skin (dermatillomania) or wounds
  • punching or hitting themselves
  • head banging
  • carving words or patterns into their skin
  • excessive skin-piercing or tattooing, which may also be indicators of self harm

Generally, a person who self-harms does so in private. They often follow a ritual. For example, they may use a favorite object to cut themselves or play certain music while they self injure.

Any area of the body may be targeted, however the arms, legs, or front of the torso are the most commonly selected. These areas are easy to reach and easy to cover up so the person can hide their wounds away from judgmental eyes.

In addition, self harming can also include actions that don’t seem so obvious. Behaviors like binge drinking or excessive substance abuse, having unsafe sex, or driving recklessly can be signs of self harm.

Self Harm Causes

There isn’t a simple answer for what causes people to self-injure. Although this extreme behavior may seem like a suicide attempt on the surface, it’s really an unhealthy coping mechanism.

People cut or hurt themselves to release intolerable mental distress or to distract themselves from painful emotions. Often, the self-mutilator may have difficulty expressing or understanding their emotions. People who self harm report feelings of loneliness or isolation, worthlessness and rejection, self-hatred, guilt, and anger.

When they attack themselves, they are looking for:

  • a sense of control over their feelings, their body, or their lives
  • a physical diversion from emotional pain or emotional “numbness”
  • relief from anxiety and distress
  • punishment of supposed faults

People who self harm often describe an intense yearning to injure themselves. Completing the act of mutilation and feeling the resulting pain releases their distress and anxiety. This is only temporary, however, until their guilt, shame, and emotional pain triggers them to injure themselves again.

Who is At Risk for Self Injury?

Self harm occurs in all walks of life. It is not restricted to a certain age group, nor to a particular race, educational, or socioeconomic background.

It does occur more often in:

  • people with a background of childhood trauma, such as verbal, physical, or sexual abuse
  • those without a strong social support network or, conversely, in those who have friends who self harm
  • those who have difficulty expressing their emotions
  • people who also have eating disorders, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), borderline personality disorder, or those who engage in substance abuse

Although anyone may self harm, the behavior happens most frequently in teens and young adults. Females tend to engage in cutting and other forms of self-mutilation at an earlier age than males, but adolescent boys have the highest incidence of non-suicidal self injury.

Self-Harming Symptoms

Physical signs of self harm may include:

  • unexplained scars, often on wrists, arms, chest, or thighs
  • fresh bruises, scratches or cuts
  • covering up arms or legs with long pants or long-sleeved shirts, even in very hot weather
  • telling others they are clumsy and have frequent “accidents” as a way to explain their injuries
  • keeping sharp objects (knives, razors, needles) either on their person or nearby
  • blood stains on tissues, towels, or bed sheets

Emotional signs of self harm may include:

  • isolation and withdrawal
  • making statements of feeling hopeless, worthless, or helpless
  • impulsivity
  • emotional unpredictability
  • problems with personal relationships

Help for Self Harm

The first step in getting help for self harm is to tell someone that you are injuring yourself. Make sure the person is someone you trust, like a parent, your significant other, or a close friend. If you feel uncomfortable telling someone close to you, seek out a teacher, counselor, religious or spiritual advisor, or a mental health professional.

 Professional treatment for self injury depends on your specific case and whether or not there are any related mental health concerns. For example, if you are self harming but also have depression, the underlying mood disorder will need to be addressed as well.

Most commonly, self harm is treated with a psychotherapy modality, such as:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps you identify negative beliefs and inaccurate thoughts, so you can challenge them and learn to react more positively.
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy, which helps identify the issues that trigger your self-harming impulses. This therapy will help you develop skills to better manage stress and regulate your emotions.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which helps you learn better ways to tolerate distress. You’ll learn coping skills so you can control your urges to self harm.
  • Mindfulness-based therapies, which can help you develop skills to effectively cope with the myriad of issues that cause distress on a regular basis.

Treatment for self injury may include group therapy or family therapy in addition to individual therapy.

 Self care for self-harming includes:

  • Asking for help from someone whom you can call immediately if you feel the need to self injure.
  • Following your treatment plan by keeping your therapy appointments.
  • Taking any prescribed medicines as directed, for underlying mental health conditions.
  • Identifying the feelings or situations that trigger your need to self harm. When you feel an urge, document what happened before it started. What were you doing? Who was with you? What was said? How did you feel? After a while, you’ll see a pattern, which will help you avoid the trigger. This also allows you to make a plan for ways to soothe or distract yourself when it comes up.
  • Being kind to yourself – eat healthy foods, learn relaxation techniques, and become more physically active.
  • Avoiding websites that idealize self harm.

 If your loved one self-injures:

  • Offer support and don’t criticize or judge. Yelling and arguments may increase the risk that they will self harm.
  • Praise their efforts as they work toward healthier emotional expression.
  • Learn more about self-injuring so you can understand the behavior and be compassionate towards your loved one.
  • Know the plan that the person and their therapist made for preventing relapse, then help them follow these coping strategies if they encounter a trigger.
  • Find support for yourself by joining a local or online support group for those affected by self-injuring behaviors.
  • Let the person know they’re not alone and that you care.

Need More Information?

Are you engaging in self harm or is your loved one self injuring? Don’t wait to seek help – speak to one of our caring, compassionate mental health professionals today. Contact the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida for more information or call us at 561-496-1094.

Read More

Does Breast Cancer Awareness Month Increase Health Anxiety?

It’s October and pink ribbons are popping up everywhere. While this time of year is good for reminding women to do their breast self-exams or get an annual mammogram, it also can be a month of great concern for women who suffer from health anxiety.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America defines health anxiety as “the misinterpretation of normal bodily sensations as dangerous.” It is the excessive fear of physical illness and women who have the disorder often find it difficult to cope with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For these women, every new twinge or tiny pain in their breasts likely signals cancer.

People with health anxiety may be so overwhelmed by their fears that they find it hard to live a normal life. They can spend hours online researching a symptom, convinced that a minor symptom is a sign of a serious illness. When October rolls around, the stories of breast cancer survivors may drive a woman with health anxiety to compulsively examine her breasts, positive that every small bump is a tumor just waiting to kill her. Or, she might feel something as innocent as an itch in her breast and suffer severe anxiety because she’s surrounded by breast cancer images on the news and on social media. And, like too many people with health anxiety, she may beg her doctor for unnecessary tests and spend an exorbitant amount of time and money visiting doctors in the quest for a diagnosis that will never come.

What are the Symptoms of Health Anxiety?

Health Anxiety Disorder is also known as hypochondria. Roughly 1-5% of the population suffers from health anxiety. It’s estimated that those with hypochondria use about 10-13 times the health resources that the average person does.

People who suffer from health anxiety:

  • Frequently check their bodies for new pains, blemishes, lumps, or lesions
  • Live in terror that any new physical symptom is a sign of a serious or life-threatening disease
  • Research health problems obsessively
  • Compulsively check their vital signs, take their temperature, or monitor their blood pressure and pulse rate
  • Switch doctors frequently because their current physician can’t find anything wrong with them
  • Either avoid doctors altogether or go to numerous medical consultations
  • May have strained relationships with friends or family
  • Are reluctant to consider that anxiety and other psychosocial factors may be causing their symptoms

Who is at Risk of Developing Health Anxiety?

While there are no easy answers, the people who are most at risk of becoming hypochondriacs tend to be worriers. They may strongly believe that being in good health means you have no physical symptoms or sensations. Frequently, they know someone with a serious disease or they went through a serious illness themselves during their childhood. Additionally, health anxiety can be triggered by the death of a loved one.

Overcoming Health Anxiety

Often, patients with hypochondria are so resistant to the idea of having an anxiety disorder that it may take intervention from their loved ones to help them understand they need treatment.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is very effective for the treatment of health anxiety disorders. This type of therapy focuses on recognizing and understanding the false beliefs, thoughts, and actions that bring on the anxiety. Because people with hypochondria assign meanings to certain symptoms or sensations (“My breast is tender and that definitely means I have breast cancer”), CBT helps patients realize that it isn’t the symptom that causes the anxiety, it’s their reaction to the symptom that does.

By changing their mindset, a person with health anxiety learns to see a worrisome situation in a different way. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches them how to stop the negative behaviors that reinforce the disorder.

It’s Important to Get Help for Health Anxiety

If you or someone you care about is overly worried about health concerns, it could be caused by health anxiety. Delaying treatment for hypochondria can cause complications such as depression and substance abuse, not to mention financial difficulties due to excessive medical costs or health risks from undergoing unnecessary procedures. Our compassionate mental health professionals are here to help. Contact the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida for more information or call us today at 561-496-1094.

Read More

Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria: Does it Exist?

workshop on resiliency and overcoming traumaThe American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines a person as having gender dysphoria when they feel strongly that they don’t identify with the biological gender they were born with, when it causes them distress, and when they have felt this way for at least six months. Although children as young as age four may express gender nonconformity, often a person isn’t aware of their gender dysphoria until they reach puberty and recognize they are not comfortable with the new changes going on in their bodies. Because this realization may take their families by surprise, some researchers have been recently exploring a new subset of gender dysphoria called Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD). On the surface, ROGD seems to occur very suddenly and without the child having expressed any prior distress with their physical gender.

What is Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria?

The term “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” has only sprung up within the past decade or so. ROGD has not been established as a distinct syndrome and this type of dysphoria has only been casually – but not scientifically – observed.

In ROGD, an adolescent or young adult who has seemingly always identified as their physical (birth) gender abruptly starts to identify as another gender. It is important to note that the child would not have met the APA’s criteria for gender dysphoria prior to this, nor would they have shown any discomfort with their birth gender. Moreover, often multiple friends within the child’s same peer group simultaneously begin to identify with another gender and become gender dysphoric around the same time.

Why is ROGD Controversial?

A Brown University researcher recently published a study designed to empirically describe teens and young adults who did not have symptoms of gender dysphoria during childhood but who were observed by their parents to rapidly develop gender dysphoria symptoms over days, weeks or months during or after puberty.” The study author, Lisa Littman, is an assistant professor of the practice of behavioral and social sciences at Brown’s School of Public Health.

For the study, Littman surveyed more than 250 parents who had reported their children developing gender dysphoria within a very short time period. Of these parents, about 45 percent noticed that their child had increased their social media use before announcing their dysphoria. They also told Littman that the child had one or more friends who had become transgender-identified around the same time as their child.

These findings led to Littman’s hypothesis that gender dysphoria could be spread, at least partially, by social contagion. She proposed that a child’s peers, coupled with information obtained from social media, could cause the child to embrace certain beliefs, such as the idea that feeling uneasy with the gender you were born with meant you were gender dysphoric. Because many gender nonconforming teens also push for medical transition to the gender with which they identify, Littman went further and suggested that medical transition could be a harmful coping tool in much the same way that alcohol or substance abuse are negative coping mechanisms.

Her hypotheses set off a firestorm. Transgender advocates aggressively condemned Littman’s study saying, in part, that it was methodologically flawed because Littman only interviewed parents and did not get input from the transgender-identifying children. They also called the study “antitransgender” and a denial of transgender affirmation while citing the fact that a person who is questioning their gender would naturally read up on the subject and communicate with supportive friends who had similar thoughts and feelings. Advocates also pointed out that a true gender dysphoria diagnosis requires evaluation by specialists, but the Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria study only required the parent’s perspective.

As a result of the criticism, Brown University withdrew their press release about the study. They also released a statement explaining their decision to conduct a post-publication re-review of Littman’s Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria study. They worried that the study “could be used to discredit efforts to support transgender youth and invalidate the perspectives of members of the transgender community.”

Gender Dysphoria Treatment

We know that gender dysphoria exists, but clearly more research is needed in order to settle the question of whether Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria is real.

For those with gender dysphoria, early diagnosis, gender-affirming approaches by parents and family, as well as individual and family counseling can help the transgender person and their loved ones deal with the emotional challenges of gender transition.

Often, transgender people take some type of action to outwardly embrace the person they feel they are. They may change their name to one more aligned with the gender they express or may dress as that gender. Other options may include taking puberty blockers, hormones to develop the physical traits of the gender they identify with, or completing sex-reassignment surgery.

We know that people with gender dysphoria have higher rates of mental health conditions like depersonalization disorder, anxiety, depression and mood disorders, and suffer from an increased rate of substance abuse. They also have higher suicide rates, therefore it is important for them to seek mental health treatment. The objective of this treatment is not to change the person’s feelings about their gender, rather it is to give them a way to deal with the emotional issues that come with their gender dysphoria.

Get Answers about Gender Dysphoria and Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria

If you or a loved one are distressed, anxious, or depressed about your gender identity or worried about ROGD, we can help. Contact the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida for more information or call us today at 561-496-1094.

Read More

Can Virtual Reality Therapy Treat Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders affect a person’s physical and psychological functioning differently than any other mental health disorder. Once thought to be a problem of the wealthy, eating disorders are now known to impact various cultures, socioeconomic statuses, ages, and genders, and can be found worldwide.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) characterizes people with eating disorders as having “pathological eating habits and a tendency to overestimate their weight and body shape.” Eating disorders are not to be taken lightly: patients with an eating disorder faces a high risk of medical and psychological effects, along with the possibility of death if their condition becomes severe enough.

Eating disorders are also more common than you might think. In fact, a 2007 survey by Hudson, et al., noted that about 1.5% of American women (0.5% of men) experience bulimia nervosa, about 0.9% of women (0.3% of men) have been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, and roughly 3.5% of women (2% of men) struggle with binge eating disorder.

Until recently, eating disorders have been treated mainly through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). New advances in the emerging field of virtual reality therapy (VRT), however, are being combined with traditional therapy and show promise for more effective treatment.

How Does VRT Work?

Virtual reality therapy is a high tech approach to helping people learn effective ways to cope with the fearful situations they dread. During VRT, you wear a virtual reality headset that looks similar to the type you’d use when playing video games. The therapist plays a simulation program that displays avatars in a variety of anxiety-provoking settings, such as in a restaurant or a store dressing room for those with an eating disorder. These settings are low stress to begin with, then stress levels are increased as you become more desensitized to the worrisome scenario.

You use a virtual “body” during VRT. Although this avatar isn’t really “you”, studies show that people feel a close enough association to the avatar that they emotionally respond as if they were in the actual setting. In this way, they can address their eating disorder and work through their body-image issues in a safe, controlled environment. The psychologist listens in during the session to coach, help with relaxation techniques and provide coping skills. They also can control the environment and either stop the program or lower the stress level if you become too upset.

How Effective is VRT for Eating Disorders?

Virtual reality exposure therapy gives people an experience that is just real enough to trigger an emotional response to their eating disorder, but is it effective?

In 2017, DeCarvalho, et. al., did a systematic review of several studies that used virtual reality therapy for binge eating and bulimia nervosa (BN) treatment. One of the studies they analyzed was done by Perpina, et. al., and focused on treatment with a combination of VRT and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) versus treatment with CBT alone. The study found that the “VR treatment group showed more BI [body image] improvement than CBT and greater improvement in the behavior clinical measures. At post-treatment, the VR group improved on body attitudes, frequency of negative automatic thoughts on BI, body satisfaction, discomfort caused by body-related situations and BN symptoms (measured by Bulimic Investigatory Test; BITE). These results were maintained or continued to improve (body attitudes, frequency of negative automatic thoughts on BI) at one-year follow-up.” All participants improved in the eating disorders measures and it was also maintained at follow-up.

In a different study, a body-swapping illusion was used in conjunction with virtual reality. Women with body image anxiety were asked to estimate their own body size before participating in two different body-swapping scenarios. In both illusions, the women were shown a virtual image of themselves with skinny stomachs.

The theory was that it may be possible to modify a person’s allocentric memory (a type of spatial memory in which the person mentally manipulates objects from a stationary point of view) for the positive. Indeed, after going through the virtual scenarios, the women in the study reported a decreased estimated body measurement and assessed their body size more accurately than before participating in the illusion.

Get Help for Eating Disorders

Eating disorders impact a person’s biological and psychological functioning in ways unlike other mental health disorders. If you are struggling, we can help through both traditional and virtual reality therapies. Talk to the mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida today. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

Reference:

Hudson JI, Hiripi E, Pope HG, Kessler RC. The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Biol Psychiatry. 2007 Feb 01;61(3):348–58. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2006.03.040. http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/16815322. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Cross Ref]

De Carvalho, M. R., Dias, T. R. de S., Duchesne, M., Nardi, A. E., & Appolinario, J. C. (2017). Virtual Reality as a Promising Strategy in the Assessment and Treatment of Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder: A Systematic Review. Behavioral Sciences, 7(3), 43. http://doi.org/10.3390/bs7030043

Read More

Midlife Anxiety

Patient in need of In Vivo Exposure Therapy.A 2014 study by the British government found that while most people of all age levels are generally content with their lives, those in the middle age years – between the ages of 45 and 59 – are the least happy. These respondents reported low ratings of overall happiness and life satisfaction and a sharp increase in midlife anxiety. Interestingly, even adults aged 90 and older reported being happier and more satisfied than the middle aged group.

What Causes Anxiety in Middle Age?

The U. K. study, done by the Office of National Statistics, analyzed data from more than 300,000 respondents during a three-year period from 2012 to 2015. It generated average scores for specific areas including happiness, life satisfaction, anxiety, and the feelings of being worthwhile. The scores showed that anxiety levels were highest for people between the ages of 40 and 60. The peak anxiety levels were noted in those in the 50 – 54 age group.

Many things can cause midlife anxiety, ranging from underlying health problems to financial concerns. In women, even the fluctuating hormones of menopause and perimenopause can change the chemistry in their brain and bring on anxiety and panic attacks.

For men, while many are aware that anxiety disorders exist, very few realize how often anxiety affects them. Men often refuse to admit to themselves or others that they might have a mental health issue and may seek out unhealthy ways to cope (example: alcohol use) rather than admit to the concern.

There is no one specific trigger that causes midlife anxiety. Instead, people who experience anxiety in middle age are often burdened with simultaneous stressors that other generations aren’t facing: the raising of children, while at the same time trying to hold down jobs and care for elderly parents. Top this off with the financial pressures of putting children through college, empty nest syndrome, and facing worries of possibly not having saved enough for a retirement that is drawing ever closer, and stress rises even higher.

Midlife Anxiety Treatment

Self-help:

One of the best ways to manage anxiety is to reduce your stress. There are several things you can do to accomplish this and a side benefit is that they are also good for your overall health:

  • Get daily exercise. The newest research recommends that we all do some type of aerobic exercise at least 30 minutes a day, a total of 5 days per week. Regular physical exercise causes the brain to release serotonin, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. Serotonin helps to reduce stress, improve your mood, and gives you more energy. Low-impact exercise, such as swimming, yoga or walking are great examples of workouts that will help raise your serotonin levels.
  • Make time for relaxation. When your days are filled with rush, rush, rush – getting the kids to school, getting yourself to work, finishing projects, taking the kids to after-school activities – relaxation time can be hard to come by. Yet, relaxing is crucial to reducing anxiety and stress levels. Try to set aside time every day, just for yourself. Relaxation can come from simple activities that you look forward to, such as soaking in a warm bath at the end of your day or taking a few minutes to read, meditate or listen to some soothing music.
  • Silence your phone and put away your laptop or tablet (or at least turn off all but the most important alerts). Limit your use of social media and reduce the amount of time you spend reading the news. We’re so used to having our electronics with us at all times, but getting constant notifications and reading endless news reports about crime, wars, and world problems can keep you from truly relaxing. Give yourself an electronic break every day.
  • Visualize yourself in a peaceful setting. Your brain can’t distinguish between a real setting and one you visualize, so reduce your stress by imagining yourself on a tranquil beach or in a beautiful forest. Smell the salt air at the beach or the pine trees in the woods, imagine the sound of the waves on the sand or the birds singing in the forest. Being as specific as you can and really trying to imagine all the aspects of the setting can take you away from your stressors and help you unwind.

Professional help:

When you have anxiety, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by your emotions. When that happens, people tend to react to certain aspects of their lives in a more negative way. It is common to begin to avoid the situations or experience that make you anxious, but that avoidance can actually increase anxiety.

If self-help to reduce your midlife anxiety isn’t working any longer, consider seeing a mental health professional, particularly if your anxiety is causing you extreme distress or disrupting your daily life. Anxiety is treatable and the majority of people who seek help are able to improve, reduce or eliminate their anxiety symptoms after working with a psychologist to address their own, specific concerns.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that is very effective for treating anxiety in middle age. CBT helps you understand how your own negative thoughts contribute to your anxiety symptoms. By learning to recognize these negative thought patterns, you can change them, which allows you to manage your symptoms. Additionally, cognitive behavioral therapy teaches you skills and techniques for coping with your midlife anxiety.

CBT is often used in conjunction with exposure therapy. Exposure therapy allows you to gradually confront your fears in a safe environment and in a way that gives you control. When you face your fears without harm, you reduce your anxiety by learning that the outcome you feared is unlikely to happen.

Get Help for Midlife Anxiety

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and facing midlife anxiety, we can help. Talk to the mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida today. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

Read More

Signs You May be a Hypochondriac

A hypochondriac is someone who lives with the fear that they have a serious, but undiagnosed medical condition, even though diagnostic tests show there is nothing wrong with them. Hypochondriacs experience extreme anxiety from the bodily responses most people take for granted. For example, they may be convinced that something as simple as a sneeze is the sign they have a horrible disease.

Hypochondria accounts for about five percent of outpatient medical care annually. More than 200,000 people are diagnosed with health anxiety (also known as illness anxiety disorder) each year.

Hypochondriac Symptoms

Hypochondria is a mental health disorder. It usually starts in early adulthood and may show up after the person or someone they know has gone through an illness or after they’ve lost someone to a serious medical condition. About two-thirds of hypochondriacs have a co-existing psychiatric disorder, such as panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or major depression. Hypochondria symptoms can vary, depending on factors such as stress, age, and whether the person is already an extreme worrier.

Hypochondriac symptoms may include:

·         Regularly checking themselves for any sign of illness

·         Fearing that anything from a runny nose to a gurgle in their gut is the sign of a serious illness

·         Making frequent visits to their doctor

·         Conversely, avoiding the doctor due to fear that the doctor will find they have a dreaded disease or serious illness

·         Talking excessively about their health

·         Spending a lot of time online, researching their symptoms

·         May focus on just one thing: a certain disease (example: cancer) or a certain body part (example: the lungs if they cough). Or, they may fear any disease or might become focused on a trending disease (example: during flu season, they may be convinced that a sniffle means they’re coming down with the flu)

·         Are unconvinced that their negative medical tests are correct, then worry that they have something undiagnosed and that no one will be able to find it and cure them

·         Avoiding people or places they fear may cause them to get sick

Health anxiety can actually have its own symptoms because it’s possible for the person to have stomachaches, dizziness, or pain as a result of their overwhelming anxiety. In fact, illness anxiety can take over a hypochondriac’s life to the point that worrying and living in fear are so stressful, the person can become debilitated.

You may be wondering what triggers hypochondria. Although there really isn’t an exact cause, we do know that people with illness anxiety are more likely to have a family member who is also a hypochondriac. The person with health anxiety may have gone through a serious illness and fear that their bad experience may be repeated. They may be going through major life stress or have had a serious illness during childhood. Or, they may already be suffering from a mental health condition and their hypochondria may be part of it.

Hypochondriac Treatment

Often, when a person repeatedly runs to their doctor at the first sign of a minor symptom, their doctor doesn’t take them seriously and may consider them to be a “difficult patient,” rather than a person who is honestly concerned about their health. Worse, some doctors will take advantage of the person’s fears and may run unnecessary tests just to appease the patient. In fact, it’s been estimated that more than $20 billion is spent annually on unnecessary procedures and examinations.

Self-help for hypochondria can include:

  • Learning stress management and relaxation techniques
  • Avoiding online searches for the possible meanings behind your symptoms
  • Focusing on outside activities such as a hobby you enjoy or volunteer work you feel passionate about
  • Avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs, which can increase anxiety
  • Working to recognize that the physical signs you experience are not a symptom of something ominous, but are actually normal bodily sensations
  • Setting up a schedule for regular appointments with your primary care doctor to discuss your health concerns. Work with them to set a realistic limit on medical tests and specialist referrals.

Professional treatments for hypochondria include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is very helpful for reducing patient fears. In this type of therapy, the person learns to recognize and understand the false beliefs that set off their anxiety. Research has shown that CBT successfully teaches hypochondriacs to identify what triggers their behavior and gives them coping skills to help them manage it.
  • Behavioral stress management or exposure therapy may be helpful
  • Psychotropic medications, such as anti-depressants, are sometimes used to treat health anxiety disorder

It is worth noting that many sufferers are unwilling to acknowledge the role anxiety plays in their symptoms. This makes them less likely to seek help from a mental health professional. Often, hypochondriacs are so resistant to the idea that they have anxiety that it takes intervention from loved ones to help them understand that they need assistance.

Get Help for Health Anxiety Disorder

Being a hypochondriac and experiencing health anxiety can be debilitating. It can severely affect the lives of the people who suffer from it.  The mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida are experienced in helping those with illness anxiety. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

Read More

13 Ways to Overcome Travel Anxiety

The summer travel season is just kicking off. Scores of tourists are excitedly packing their luggage and consulting websites or glossy brochures as they anticipate their upcoming vacations. While the idea of seeing new places or relaxing in cozy, familiar locations is appealing to most people, there are those who find the whole idea of travel frightening. It’s hard to get excited about new adventures when the mere thought of taking a trip brings up travel anxiety.

Here’s How to Help Your Travel Anxiety

For some, just being out of their home and familiar surroundings can be enough to bring on travel anxiety, especially if you suffer from panic attacks. Meeting new people or experiencing new foods can also make people feel insecure, plus worrying about how you’ll react emotionally may trigger anxiety.

If you have travel anxiety these tips should help you feel more in control:

  • Plan for your anxiety. Brush up on your coping skills and bring along items you know will help you stay calm. For example, you might check to be sure your favorite music is downloaded to your phone or you might tuck your favorite pillow into your suitcase so you’ll be sure to get some restful sleep.
  • Practice relaxation techniques before your trip, so you can use them the minute you start to feel anxious.
    • Focus on a calming image in your mind or on an object you can physically see to take your mind off your fears. Concentrating on a book or watching a movie is distracting and can keep you from stressing over the unfamiliar.
    • Use affirmations, such as “I am safe,” to calm your thoughts.
    • Long, slow breaths have been proven to reduce anxiety and it’s worth it to learn deep breathing techniques. Breathing in slowly through your nose, then exhaling gradually through your mouth helps keep you from taking the short, hurried breaths that can trigger a panic attack.
    • Learn to meditate, which has been proven to reduce stress and boost overall health. Meditation can be done in so many ways – did you know that getting lost in music or even daydreaming are forms of meditation? Regular meditation practice can build long-term resilience.
  • Remind yourself of why you’re traveling. Picture your life a year from now – will you regret not having gone to your destination?
  • Because anxiety often stems from a feeling that you’re not in control, plan the first few days of your trip in detail. Look for photos of the airport and its terminals, explore the city’s subway system or figure out local transportation, look for your hotel on a maps website, and check out nearby restaurant and read their reviews. Having the details handy helps to keep your from worrying about the unexpected.
  • Join a community. There are many online forums or local support groups for anxiety sufferers where you can talk about your travel fears and find support.

If you’re scared of flying (also called aerophobia), these tips can help make your next flight the best you’ve ever taken:

  • Travel with a companion who is an experienced flyer. Having someone there to explain what the various sounds of flying mean or to walk you through the procedures associated with flying (security checks, boarding passes, terminals, etc), can go a long way toward calming nervousness. If they can sit next to you, they can help distract you with conversation, play games to keep your mind off of flying, or give your encouragement.
  • Be sure to talk with your travel companion before you board so they are aware of your fears and they know what you need. For example, if you don’t like to be touched, they should be told they shouldn’t try to hold your hand during a tense moment, which could increase your anxiety.
  • Avoid alcohol, which can alter the way your brain reacts and may increase your travel anxiety.
  • Practice relaxation techniques before your flight, then keep using them from the minute you reach the airport.
    • Focus on an object you can see or on a calming image in your mind.
    • Take in slow, long breaths through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth.
    • Try tensing each part of your body for ten seconds, then slowly relax it and move on to another body part (example: tense your right hand for ten seconds, then relax and tense your right arm for ten more seconds. Repeat on your left side, then move to your legs, etc.).
  • Listen to your favorite, calming music on your phone or other device or watch a movie or television show.
  • Try the SOAR app for Android or iOS. Part of the SOAR fear of flying program, developed by Capt. Tom Bunn, a former U. S. Air Force pilot and commercial jet pilot, the app has reassuring features like a built-in G-force meter that reads your plane’s current turbulence so you’ll know the jet can sustain it. It also links to weather and turbulence forecasts and allows you to download videos of Capt. Bunn walking you through each step of the flight process so you know what’s happening in the cockpit and on the plane.
  • Exercise before you fly. The endorphins from exercise are calming and will help dissipate your nervous energy. If you can’t exercise before your trip, try walking around the terminal to distract yourself and to keep your muscles loose, which helps reduce travel anxiety.
  • Consider booking a seat towards the front of the plane and along the aisle, so you don’t feel hemmed in or like you’re in a tunnel. Seats toward the front may cost more, but the additional expense can be worth it for more leg room, making it easier to relax.

If you’ve tried some of these tips on previous trips and they haven’t worked for you, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. They may prescribe medications to help ease your travel anxiety and often have programs that teach coping techniques you can use when you’re scared of flying. Some even offer virtual reality sessions that simulate the flying experience in manageable doses in a safe office setting, so you can conquer your fears before even setting foot on a plane.

Get Help for Travel Anxiety

If you’re still facing travel anxiety after trying our tips to reduce your stress over an upcoming trip, the mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida can help. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

Read More

Midlife Anxiety

When someone goes through dissatisfaction with their job or marriage and they are in their forties or fifties, the first thing everyone says is that they must be having a midlife crisis. We hear about this phase of life as people transition from young adult to middle age so often that it almost feels like a crisis is a “given”. And, on some level, it may be. As people go from being the young, carefree person of their twenties who is just getting established in a career or marriage, to the responsible person who is expected to have gotten their lives together by the time they reach their forties, it is inevitable that people will look back and second guess decisions or wonder “what if.” For many people, this emotional jolt can bring on midlife anxiety.

Midlife Crisis Symptoms

Unlike a medical condition, midlife anxiety doesn’t have specific symptoms. Instead, it’s a mixture of emotions, feelings, and body changes that lead to the strong sense that something needs to change.  Among other things, it can be triggered by factors such as an event that reminds you that you are aging, the death of a parent, children leaving home for college, or a health scare of your own.

Things that might be signs of midlife crisis are:

  • Unexplained annoyance or anger
  • The desire to get in shape or surgically modify your body
  • Coveting that shiny new sports car or wanting to try something daring, such as skydiving
  • Feeling trapped – whether it’s financially, career-wise, or in your relationships
  • Becoming preoccupied with death
  • Constantly wondering where your life is heading or regretting your life choices
  • Losing sleep or changing your eating habits
  • Dissatisfaction with the things that used to make you happy

Additionally, keep in mind that the feelings of helplessness or worry aren’t just confined to midlife anxiety. These emotions can come up anytime during a period in which you are transitioning to a new phase of life. Leaving the teen years and becoming a college student, a parent’s empty-nest syndrome, or an elderly person who moves from a beloved home into a senior-care apartment are all examples of situations that can bring on the same symptoms as those of midlife anxiety. Even being diagnosed with a medical illness or condition can make you feel vulnerable and may bring up these symptoms.

How to Cope if You’re Having a Midlife Crisis

When you’re faced with midlife anxiety, the urge to do something – anything – can be very powerful, so the first thing to do is: nothing. Despite how you feel, this really isn’t the time to make major changes in your life that you may find yourself regretting when your anxiety has diminished.

Instead:

  • Mourn your losses, but don’t dwell on them. Try to reframe the negatives by looking at them in a different way.
  • Take some space away from your daily routine to pause and think about the next phase of your life. What new ambitions do you have? What would you like to accomplish over the next few years? Ignore the little voice in your head that tells you that you are being selfish or should stop daydreaming.
  • Count your blessings. Recognize and write down the things in your life for which you are grateful, then reread your list when you are feeling regretful about something.
  • Do something that will refocus your thoughts – volunteer, take a class, or get involved with a mentoring program.
  • Let go of the things that aren’t serving you and embrace the positives. Challenge your negative thinking (for example, make a list of the trials and pitfalls you went through to get where you are today to remind yourself that the “good old days” weren’t always carefree and wonderful).
  • Be gentle with yourself. Don’t try to stuff your emotions or judge yourself for having them.
  • Talk to someone. Psychotherapy for phase of life anxiety can help lessen or alleviate the ongoing symptoms that come with a midlife crisis before they get out of hand. For some, group therapy is a great way to interact with others who are going through the same issues so you can see that they have the same concerns and problems as you. If therapy isn’t an option, reach out to supportive friends, read books on how to help a midlife crisis, or turn to your clergy for support.

Can Midlife Anxiety Actually Help You?

Remember that midlife anxiety doesn’t have to be something that leads to a crisis! You can channel your concerns into new opportunities and bring greater meaning to your life. This can be a time to:

  • Set new goals to replace your outdated or less relevant objectives. For example, if you’re no longer aiming to climb the corporate ladder, try mentoring a younger colleague.
  • Start that hobby you’ve been thinking about pursuing. After all – if not now, when?
  • Learn a new language or acquire a new skill.
  • Give back through volunteering or community work, such as coaching a team sport or helping out at a soup kitchen.
  • Renew or consider beginning a spiritual life to help you find strength outside yourself.
  • Begin stress management strategies. Take up yoga or learn meditation. Practice mindfulness. Keep a gratitude journal. Start an exercise program.

Professional Help for Midlife Anxiety

If you or a loved one is experiencing midlife anxiety, the mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida can help. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

Read More

LGBTQ Mental Health

Studies have shown that people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) suffer from higher levels of anxiety and depression than the general public. In fact, approximately 30 – 60 % of the LGBTQ population have anxiety and depression and, as a whole, the LGBTQ community faces disproportionately high rates of suicide, self-harm, substance abuse and addiction. While there are many things that can influence a person’s mental and emotional wellbeing, prejudice and discrimination add additional trauma to LGBTQ mental health concerns.

Factors that Affect LGBTQ Mental Health

In and of itself, simply being LGBTQ does not affect a person’s mental health condition. Identifying against a cultural norm, however, exposes an LGBTQ person to prejudice and discrimination that their heterosexual counterparts don’t generally face. Some factors that affect LGBTQ mental health are:

  • Bullying
  • Homophobic societal attitudes
  • Hate crimes against LGBTQ people
  • Minority stress, which is a constant need to be “on guard” and to watch out for potential threats
  • Negative self-image and self-loathing due to societal attitudes
  • Lack of awareness of where to find positive role models
  • Media coverage that is beginning to embrace the LGBTQ culture on one hand, but shows detrimental news stories about the treatment of the community on the other
  • Worry about showing their true selves at work for fear of losing clients or promotions
  • Fear of being denied housing
  • Discrimination against transgender people within the LGBTQ community

Despite the fact that society is slowly becoming more accepting of the LGBT community, an uphill battle still remains. LGBTQ people have heard from birth that being something other than heterosexual or identifying with the gender you were born into is wrong. For example, although gay marriage was recently legalized, federal law still allows for legal discrimination in the workplace because it doesn’t protect people based on sexual orientation or gender identity. People can still legally be evicted from housing, fired from their job, or refused public or private services because of their LGBTQ status. Additionally, it is all too common for family members to reject someone who comes out to them.

Up to 65% of LGBT people suffer from some level of homophobia themselves (the belief that being LGBTQ is wrong). Hearing throughout their lives that they are somehow flawed causes many people to internalize those negative thoughts. Those who don’t have family or peer support have a harder time, as do those individuals who tend toward more negative personalities or have gone through adverse experiences, such as rejection or bullying.

On the other hand, even LGBTQ people who have supportive family and friends can end up feeling that their sexual or gender identity is somehow wrong. Often, people who love them want to help, but have no idea how to do so, and end up suggesting “cures” or a laundry list of worries (“you’re going to get AIDS”). These things contribute to the person’s feeling of being unworthy or hopeless. When the individual internalizes this shame from a young age, it often leads to long-term mental and emotional consequences.

Compassionate Care is Needed

For LGBTQ people, talking about their problems can feel like they are reinforcing the damaging stereotype against the gay and transgender community. Many individuals have been kicked out of their homes or shunned by family members and friends after they’ve come out. As an example, it’s estimated that about 40% of the homeless population in Southern California consists of homeless LGBT youth.

Compassionate care is needed to help the LGBTQ community recover from its serious mental health issues. Obviously, mental health providers should approach and treat their LGBT patients in the same manner as they would any other patient. However, they also need to understand how oppression and other factors contribute to anxiety and depression in these patients.

We Can Help

Our mental health professionals provide caring, compassionate LGBTQ mental health services. For more information, contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida. Call us today at 561-496-1094.

Read More

How Stress Affects Child Development

free anxiety workshop on childhood anxietyStress surrounds us on a daily basis. From traffic delays to work projects, worries about finances or health, and news reports of world events, the demands of our everyday lives produce both positive and negative stress. Stressors (which are the things that cause your stress) can be physical, emotional, theoretical, or environmental. Even positive events like weddings and job promotions cause stress.

Whether negative or positive, one thing is certain – stress raises the body’s anxiety levels. When we’re under stress, the “fight or flight” response kicks in, raising blood pressure and heart rate, and sometimes causing you to lose sleep or feel like you can’t breathe. While this response usually subsides after the stressor is removed, a prolonged or permanent stress response can develop in someone who is under constant stress. It’s called toxic stress, and children can be affected by it just the same as adults.

What are the Effects of Stress on Kids?

The incidence of obesity, diabetes and heart problems, cancer and other diseases goes up when a child lives with toxic stress. Additionally, their chances of depression, substance abuse and dependence, smoking, teen pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted disease, suicide and domestic violence greatly increase. So does their tendency to be more violent or to become a victim of violence.

Studies done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have shown that when a child is subjected to frequent or continual stress from thing like neglect, abuse, dysfunctional families or domestic abuse, and they lack adequate support from adults, their brain architecture is actually altered and their organ systems become weakened. As a result, these kids risk lifelong health and social problems.

Of the 17,000 people who took part in the CDC study, two thirds had an Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) score of 1 or higher. 87% of those people had more than one ACE. By measuring and scoring ten types of trauma ranging from childhood sexual abuse to neglect or bullying and even divorce, researchers were able to assess the chronic disease risk for the study’s mostly white, middle class participants. Their results show that the problem of toxic stress isn’t limited to children who face poverty or to those who come from certain ethnic groups – children from all walks of life can have high ACE scores.

If you are interested in finding out your ACE score and what it might mean for you, go here.

Signs of stress

Children who are exposed to toxic stress exhibit:

  • Poorly developed executive functioning skills
  • Lack of self-regulation and self-reflection
  • Reduced impulse control
  • Maladaptive coping skills
  • Poor stress management

Research on children who face continued toxic stress shows they have:

  • More trouble learning in school
  • More difficulty trusting adults and forming healthy relationships and an increased chance of divorce as an adult
  • Higher incidence of unhealthy behaviors such as substance abuse, sexual experimentation and unsafe sexual practices, engaging in high-risk sports, smoking and alcohol abuse
  • Higher incidence of depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), behavioral disorders, and even psychosis
  • Poor health outcomes such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and a higher suicide risk

Help for Toxic Stress

Awareness is key to preventing and reducing toxic stress in kids. Now that we know about the effects of ACEs, many states have conducted their own research. Some cities have set up task forces and others are working with schools, pediatricians, daycare centers and the justice system to set up screening programs that can turn lives around.

Protecting children from toxic stress involves a multi-faceted approach that targets both the caretaker and the child in order to strengthen family stability. Treatment includes intervention and implementation of methods that decrease stressors and strengthen the individual’s response to stress.

As more programs are enacted, researchers are finding that children benefit even when the solutions are solely focused on their caregiver and not on the child. This is likely because the caregiver’s altered interaction with the child makes the child feel safer. Parenting classes, family-based programs, access to social resources for parents, telephone support and peer support are beneficial, as are cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation methods like yoga and mindfulness. Additionally, community-based programs like Head Start have been shown to be effective.

Do you have Questions?

For more information about toxic stress and its effects on child development, talk to the mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida. Contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

 

Read More
Call Us (561) 496-1094