All Posts in Category: General Mental Health

Counseling Adults with Autism

Our very own Dr. Ali Cunningham recently released a book, Counseling Adults with Autism. The cover art for the book was produced by a local man with autism, Michael Vidal (pictured here with Dr. Cunningham).

Counseling Adults with Autism is a practical guide for counselors, psychologists, and other mental health professionals looking to improve their confidence and competence in counseling adults diagnosed with mild to moderate autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Organized into 11 chapters based on key areas for guiding assessment and treatment planning for this population, this book highlights evidence-based practices and therapeutic interventions through case examples to demonstrate how assessment and treatment can be applied. Replete with insights from a variety of disciplinary approaches, this is a comprehensive and accessible resource for practitioners looking to support and empower clients struggling with social and behavioral challenges. Buy the book here.

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toddler with social anxiety

Social Anxiety in Toddlers

Toddlerhood is defined as the age range from 12 to 36 months. During this period, a child’s emotional and cognitive development grows by leaps and bounds, as do their social skills. This also coincides with the time when children are likely to go into a daycare environment or head off to preschool. As they engage more often with other children and adults, it may also be the stage when a toddler’s social anxiety begin to emerge.

Just as with adults, some children are comfortable with social interactions while others may not be. Each group of kids will have the social butterfly as well as the “shy” child who quietly observes and doesn’t interact as much. It is one thing to be shy, however, and another to be intensely fearful and anxious in a social setting. Because we know it can show up early in life, a toddler who shows such strong reactions in a social environment is often regarded as having social anxiety.

What causes social anxiety in toddlers?

We aren’t really sure what causes social anxiety in toddlers. Genetics likely plays a role, since it contributes to a child’s temperament and personality. We also know that some genetic traits can influence certain mental health conditions.

A toddler’s environment could also predispose them to social anxiety. For a young child who already has a higher genetic risk, living with trauma or a severe parenting style may be enough to initiate social anxiety. Social anxiety may also be learned from a parent, according to a 2006 study by de Rosnay, et al. Their research focused on indirect expressions of a mother’s social anxiety on their infant. The results showed that, “compared to their responses following their mothers interacting normally with a stranger, following a socially anxious mother-stranger interaction, infants were significantly more fearful and avoidant with the stranger. Infant-stranger avoidance was further modified by infant temperament; high fear infants were more avoidant in the socially anxious condition than low-fear infants.”

Is social anxiety a form of autism?

Studies have shown that social anxiety is not a form of autism, although the two have overlapping indicators, such as separation anxiety and avoiding eye contact. In fact, not only are they two distinct disorders, but the symptoms and diagnostic criteria for each are vastly different.

As the name implies, social anxiety is driven by anxiety. A child who has social anxiety will function within the parameters of their level of unease. For instance, they may simply keep to themselves, avoid other children, or might talk too quietly. Some kids may not talk at all.

On the other hand, a child with autism spectrum disorder doesn’t behave based on their anxiety level. Instead, this child has trouble understanding social cues and the nuances of communication. They might speak too loudly, may push their way into a group of children, or might misinterpret facial expressions or gestures.

Does my kid have social anxiety?

Children who have social anxiety may be branded as difficult kids because their anxiety can show up in forms other than just in social interactions.

Toddlers with social anxiety often show certain signs, such as:

  • Being a picky eater
  • Easily startled by noises
  • Not adapting well to new situations
  • May have a higher sensitivity to tactile sensations
  • Acting shy around new people and fearing strangers
  • Disliking being separated from their parents (separation anxiety) and distraction doesn’t calm them
  • Having strong emotional reactions and difficulty self-soothing
  • Might have sleep issues
  • Seems afraid to interact with peers, both individually or in a group setting
  • Often has other phobias or fears

How to help a child with social anxiety

At home, parents can demonstrate healthy social interactions when their child is with them, so the toddler learns not to be so fearful.

They can also rehearse a new situation with their child before it comes up. For example, a toddler who will be going to daycare for the first time might role-play some of the things they’ll do while they are there. Practicing certain aspects of the day or even dropping by the daycare a couple of times before officially attending can ease fears because the daycare will already be familiar. It would also be helpful to let the teachers or caregivers know about your child’s fears, so they can help build confidence.

Other supportive methods include:

  • Encouraging your toddler, but not forcing them in social interactions
  • Using praise when the child successfully navigates a scary situation
  • Not criticizing them for their fears
  • Being calm and showing the toddler that you are confident
  • Not being overprotective, which only reinforces the idea that the toddler has something to be afraid of
  • Reading books or watching videos that show confident children

Have Further Questions?

If your toddler is experiencing social 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.

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Asperger’s And Diagnosing Autism In Adults

We usually think of autism as being a childhood disorder because it is typically talked about in kids. Nowadays, children are screened for the signs of autism by their pediatricians during their 18- and 24-month well checks. This means that most cases of autism will have been identified by the time a child is two years of age. But, this screening procedure is fairly recent, so what if you are an adult who was told you had a learning disorder years ago or were called a “difficult” child before this protocol? Is it possible that you may have undiagnosed autism spectrum disorder (ASD), even if your symptoms are mild?

Autism In Adults

Back in the day, autism spectrum disorder was often misdiagnosed or mistaken for other conditions, like obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). Many adults who were labeled with behavioral concerns as kids might wonder now if they actually have ASD instead. Currently, it can be problematic to get an answer, however. There is no set protocol for screening adults for the disorder and it isn’t a common practice for doctors to watch for signs of autism in adults.

But, that will change as we learn more about ASD. According to a 2016 study by Murphy, et al, “Autism spectrum disorder is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder that has a potentially detrimental impact on adult functioning.” Today it is widely thought to be a disorder that comes from a combination of inherited genetic causes and environmental factors

Initially, autism was considered rare. Back in the 1960s, it was believed that only about 4 in 10,000 people had it. We now know, however, that ASD affects around one percent of adults and children.

This upsurge in cases is not due to an increase in the condition. Rather, it is because we have increased our awareness of it. We also have better diagnostic tools and classification systems in place now. For instance, in 2013, Asperger’s syndrome was reclassified as part of ASD after it was decided there wasn’t enough evidence to show it was a separate condition from autism.

Adult Autism Checklist

At present, adult autism spectrum disorder is diagnosed through behavioral observations. There is no test or checklist to identify it, although one is in the process of being developed.

Still, there are symptoms that can indicate possible ASD. These behavioral signs of autism in adults include:

  • Wanting to stick to a strict routine, schedule, or firm guidelines.
  • Problems adjusting to change or emotional outbursts when something doesn’t happen according to plan.
  • Increased chance of having an accompanying mood disorder, anxiety, or having obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
  • Difficulty with social interactions. It can be hard to make friends and a struggle to keep them.
  • Issues with making inferences from verbal cues, making predictions, sequencing tasks, or problem solving.
  • Problems interpreting other people’s points of view.
  • Difficulty with communication skills, especially in group settings. Not good at making small talk.
  • Rituals or repetitive behaviors.
  • Specific and extreme interest in a particular topic or hobby (bordering on obsession). It may be difficult for the person to relate socially until a favored topic is introduced, then they can easily converse on it at length.

The problem with diagnosing adults with spectrum disorder comes from the fact that someone who has had it for a long time has gotten good at hiding their symptoms. Since there hasn’t been as much research into autism in adults, usually a doctor will rely on observation and either your childhood memories or those of a close family member to help with carrying out an in-depth assessment.

Despite these issues, it can be good to get a diagnosis. In this way, you might begin to understand your youthful difficulties a little better and you can learn coping skills to help you in the future.

Interventions For Adults With Autism

Clinicians treat autism differently in adults than they do in children. In part this is because other mental health conditions like anxiety or OCD may also be playing a role in the person’s life, and must be addressed. Also there can be other concerns to treat at the same time, such as job or relationship difficulties.

A formal diagnosis opens the doors to resources and autism-related services, like vocational training and job placement. These programs vary by state and may not be available everywhere in the country, however.

The 2016 study authors noted that, “service provision for adults with ASD is in its infancy. There is a lack of health services research for adults with ASD, including identification of comorbid health difficulties, rigorous treatment trials (pharmacological and psychological), development of new pharmacotherapies, investigation of transition and aging across the lifespan, and consideration of sex differences and the views of people with ASD.“

Although this is discouraging, today’s children with ASD are aging, so things will change to accommodate them and we’ll see more adult services in the coming years. Meanwhile, in addition to the programs that are currently in place, adults have access to professional treatment and things like books, online forums, and in-person support groups.

While ASD can’t be cured, it can be successfully managed. Behavioral interventions and learning targeted skills can reduce the challenges that those with autism may face throughout their lives.

Have Further Questions?

If you or someone you love have questions or would like further information about the assessment and diagnosis for adults with spectrum disorder, 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.

Resources

Murphy CM, Wilson CE, Robertson DM, et al. Autism spectrum disorder in adults: diagnosis, management, and health services development. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2016;12:1669–1686. Published 2016 Jul 7. doi:10.2147/NDT.S65455

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The Connection Between Diet And Mental Health

The Connection Between Diet And Mental Health

Hungry? Beware – reaching for the chips or soda could be at the root of your mental health. After all, we really are what we eat. As it turns out, recent studies have shown that diet and mental health are more closely linked than we realize.

“A very large body of evidence now exists that suggests diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health,” says Felice Jacka, president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research. “A healthy diet is protective and an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression and anxiety.”

Nutrition Psychiatry

Mental health conditions are more common than you think in the United States. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 50 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point during their lives. As of 2018, “mental illnesses, such as depression, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the United States for those aged 18-44 years old.”

These alarming statistics, coupled with the fact that the Western diet is often filled with junk food, made scientists wonder if the two were linked. Does nutrition affect the brain as much as it does the body? To find out, about ten years ago, researchers began to look into the relationship between diet and mental health.

The last decade of study has shown that, “the risk of depression increases about 80% when you compare teens with the lowest-quality diet, or what we call the Western diet, to those who eat a higher-quality, whole-foods diet”, reports Drew Ramsey, MD, an assistant clinical professor at Columbia University. He goes on to note that, “the risk of attention-deficit disorder (ADD) doubles.”

Now researchers are even thinking that food allergies may play a role in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Food and Mental Health

Most of the recent studies have revolved around the connection between a healthy diet and mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Although direct evidence connecting diet and mental health hasn’t been found yet, currently there are trials in progress to obtain it.

Meanwhile, we do know that a healthy diet affects brain health by:

  • Boosting brain development.
  • Changing brain proteins and enzymes to increase neural transmitters, which are the connections between brain cells.
  • Increasing good gut bacteria. This promotes a healthy gut biome, which decreases inflammation. Inflammation is known to affect both cognition and mood.
  • Raising serotonin levels through various food enzymes, which improves mood.

We know that a nutrient-rich diet produces changes in brain proteins that improve the connections between brain cells. But diets that are high in saturated fats and refined sugars have been shown to have a “very potent negative impact on brain proteins,” Jacka says.

Additionally, a high sugar, high fat diet decreases the healthy bacteria in the gut. Some study results have shown that a diet that is high in sugar may worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia. And, a 2017 study of the sugar intake of 23,000 people by Knuppel, et al., “confirms an adverse effect of sugar intake from sweet food/beverage on long-term psychological health and suggests that lower intake of sugar may be associated with better psychological health.”

Foods For Brain Health

It sounds logical that the foods that are best for the body would also be the ones that promote brain health. This is supported by the results from a large European study that showed that nutrient-dense foods like the ones found on the Mediterranean diet may actually help prevent depression.

The nutrients that may help brain health include:

  • Zinc – low levels of zinc can cause depression.
  • Omega 3s – may improve mood and do help improve memory and thinking.
  • B12 – A report by Ramsey and Muskin that was published in Current Psychiatry in 2013y, noted that “low B12 levels and elevated homocysteine increase the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease and are linked to a 5-fold increase in the rate of brain atrophy.”
  • Vitamin C – The report by Ramsey and Muskin also noted that, “Vitamin C intake is significantly lower in older adults (age ≥60) with depression.”
  • Iron – iron-deficiency anemia plays a part in depression.

Eating nutrient-dense foods like whole grains, leafy greens, colorful vegetables, beans and legumes, seafood, and fruits will boost the body’s overall health – including brain health. Both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which eliminates sugar, were found to significantly improve symptoms in the patients who took part in one study on diet and mental health.

Adding fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, pickles, or kombucha, to your diet can improve gut health and increase serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate sleep and stabilize mood. About 95% of serotonin is produced in the gut, so it is understandable that eating these foods can make you feel more emotionally healthy.

The next time you reach for the chips and soda, ask yourself if they are benefiting your brain. Then, grab some cultured yogurt or an apple instead. Remember – every bite counts!

Note: Dietary changes shouldn’t substitute for treatment. If you are on medications for a mental health disorder, don’t replace or reduce them with food on your own. Speak with your doctor about what you should eat, as well as what you shouldn’t. Medications will work better in a healthy body than an unhealthy one.

Questions? We Can Help

For more information about the relationship between your diet and mental health, talk to the professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida help. Contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

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Why We Dread Bedtime When We’re Anxious

Why We Dread Bedtime When We’re Anxious

For those who struggle with anxiety and insomnia, lying in bed at night can be dreadful. Before getting into bed for the night, many will describe allowing themselves to have a nice, relaxing evening. They may feel relatively low stress or little to no anxiety. But, as soon as the lights turn off for the night, the brain turns on with a vengeance. Now you’re in bed, wide awake, worrying about any and every possible negative outcome in the days, weeks, months and even years ahead.

What’s more, anxiety at bedtime often becomes anxiety about sleep. The focus then shifts to trying to sleep, which puts us in a frustrating paradox because sleep is an automatic process that we cannot force.

What’s really keeping us awake at night? Why does our anxiety have such a propensity to attack us when we try to sleep?

Read the full post by our very own Dr. Brand here.

Let Us Help

If you are suffering from anxiety, get help from our mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida. To get answers to your questions or for more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

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Abusive Relationships – Are You Involved With A Narcissist?

Abusive Relationships – Are You Involved With A Narcissist?

A narcissist is usually described as someone who believes they are better than others. It’s all about them. They think they know more about everything, are better looking, and have a better personality than those around them. They don’t have much regard for others.

Narcissists feel they deserve special treatment because they are so special. Everything they do stems from their need for approval. Life is good as long as they get their “fix.” But, those in a relationship with a narcissist often find that they unknowingly say or do the wrong thing, which sets off the narcissist’s hostility – even in minor situations.

What Makes A Person A Narcissist?

When you are in a relationship with a narcissist, the beginning stages can be overwhelmingly romantic. Narcissists are often popular people who are charming and engaging. They’ll “sweep you off your feet,” causing you to overlook any red flags.

In a new relationships, narcissists will go out of the way to make you feel special by sending flowers and surprising you with thoughtful gifts. They’ll flatter you and tell you how wonderful you are. They usually want quick intimacy and a commitment from you.

But, they are prone to grand ideas and exaggeration. They often have more than one intimate partner (even if they are in a long-term relationship) because they need more attention and admiration than one person can give them.

When something goes wrong, they lash out and their loved ones are generally their primary target. Narcissists have trouble holding positive feelings toward someone while they are angry at them. Thus, they become cold, withhold their love and attention, and sometimes become violent.

Their bullying and belittling is a way to cover up an underlying fear that they don’t measure up. A narcissist must maintain superiority at all costs, even if it means putting down or insulting their loved one in public or striking them in anger.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

In a 2009 study, Levy et al., noted that, “Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, a sense of privilege or entitlement, an expectation of preferential treatment, an exaggerated sense of self-importance, and arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.”

A 2008 study by Stinson, et al., revealed that 6.2% of the U.S. adult population has NPD. The disorder is most common in males. It is thought to be caused by both genetics and biology, combined with the person’s early home life and life experiences.

Psychology Today reports that narcissistic personality disorder is indicated by five or more of the following symptoms:

  • Exaggerates own importance
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence or ideal romance
  • Believes he or she is special and can only be understood by other special people or institutions
  • Requires constant attention and admiration from others
  • Has unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment
  • Takes advantage of others to reach his or her own goals
  • Disregards the feelings of others, lacks empathy
  • Is often envious of others or believes other people are envious of him or her
  • Shows arrogant behaviors and attitudes

How Do You Get Away From A Narcissist?

Don’t think that a narcissist will change if only you care about them enough – especially if the person has NPD.

No matter what you do, it will never be enough, last long enough, or be loving enough for them, unless the person can become more self-aware. But, it is a rare narcissist who digs deeply enough into their own shortcomings to change that much.

In their minds, everything that goes wrong is someone else’s fault. In a relationship, they fault their significant other, although their loved one has no idea what they did wrong.

Tiptoeing around their outbursts isn’t going to change them. Letting them rant won’t pacify them. In order for them to change, they have to want to change – and a narcissist won’t even be willing to try unless they can really understand and empathize with your pain.

If you want to leave a narcissist:

  • Block them from your social media, block their phone number, and block the friends you have in common. A narcissist can’t stand to lose, so they’ll have no problem using any of these methods to win you back.
  • Don’t go back, despite their pleas that they made a mistake or that this time will be different. For narcissists, it’s all about winning. They’ll say or do whatever it takes to get you back. But, if you go back, ultimately nothing will change and you’ll go through the cycle of upset, pain, and leaving them again.
  • Concentrate on the future. You deserve to be in a healthy relationship. Don’t worry about the narcissist or try to contact them. Once a narcissist realizes the relationship is truly over, they can move on with very little thought to the pain you are going through.
  • Don’t beat yourself up over the relationship. Narcissists are great manipulators and deceivers. There is even a term – narcissistic trauma bonding – that explains why it can be so difficult to leave a relationship with a narcissist.
  • Learn from the relationship so you don’t repeat the pattern with someone else.

Can Narcissism Be Cured?

Current treatment for NPD is talk therapy and group therapy. These modalities sometimes can help a narcissist learn to relate to others more compassionately. Additionally, mentalization-based therapy may help the person learn to analyze someone’s behavior before misinterpreting it and reacting inappropriately.

The success of any therapy for narcissism relies on the person being able to acknowledge that they have a problem. Given a narcissist’s inflated view of themselves and their general defensiveness, this can be challenging. In fact, to date there have been no randomized clinical trials examining the efficacy of any treatment for the disorder (Levy, et al).

For many people, the best thing they can do for themselves is to break away from the narcissist. If that isn’t possible, seek therapy and get support to rebuild the self-esteem and confidence you have lost because of your abuse.

Seek out a mental health professional who has been specially trained in trauma recovery to aid in healing from narcissistic abuse. A therapist can help you learn to communicate effectively and set boundaries so the narcissist can no longer take advantage of you.

Important: if you are experiencing physical abuse, understand that it will continue or will get worse. Get help immediately by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Let Us Help

If you are involved with a narcissist, get help from our specially-trained trauma recovery mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida. To get answers to your questions or for more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

References

Levy KN, Chauhan P, Clarkin JF, et al.: Narcissistic pathology: empirical approaches. Psychiatr Ann 2009; 39:203–213

Frederick Stinson, Deborah Dawson, Rise Goldstein, S. Patricia Chou, Boji Huang, Sharon Smith, W. June Ruan, Attila Pulay, Tulshi Saha, Roger Pickering and Bridget Grant, “Prevalence, correlates, disability, and comorbidity of DSM-IV narcissistic personality disorder: Results from the Wave 2 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions,” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 69, no. 7 (July 2008):1033–45, 1036.

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Grieving The Death Of A Celebrity

When the nation mourned the passing of former President George H. W. Bush recently, the media covered every detail. We relived important moments in the President’s life via televised tributes. Images of Sully, the President’s faithful service dog, coursed across our screens as he lay at the base of the casket. Mr. Bush’s funeral was streamed live in its entirety, making us all feel as if we were grieving together at the service as the world bid farewell.

Even though you likely never met Mr. Bush, you probably feel as if you knew him. The lives of celebrities and important figures are covered so extensively by today’s media that we often feel a kinship with these people. Because of this, sometimes it can feel intensely personal when they pass away, triggering our own grief or bringing up latent emotions surrounding the deaths of our own loved ones.

Why Do We Mourn Celebrity Deaths?

It’s normal to feel emotional after the death of someone famous. Even if you don’t know them, you might go through a period of sadness and grief, or feel shock or anger at their loss.

Parasocial interaction is a term psychologists use to describe the one-sided feeling that comes from becoming emotionally attached to celebrities. Patrick Wanis, a human behavior and relationship expert and therapist describes parasocial interaction by stating, “Another way to look at it, is to say, the fan in his/her own mind projects and shares feelings, thoughts and fantasies with the celebrity, but the celebrity never reciprocates.”

Because of today’s prevalent social media platforms, we know the most intimate details of the person’s life. We can view pictures of them whenever we want to and can read their own thoughts in their online posts. This 24/7 accessibility makes us feel like we have a personal relationship with them. In other words, we identify with them, so we feel a bond and we grieve when they pass away.

Symptoms of Grieving

The loss of a celebrity and the ensuing grief of their admirers is both natural and common. The depth of the sadness and loss a fan feels is influenced by the closeness of their perceived connection to the celebrity. In a sense, a fan might almost feel like they’ve lost a family member. The resulting deluge of social media tributes to the person only deepens their sense of loss.

As with mourning people close to us, some common symptoms of grieving a celebrity can include:

  • Shock or feeling numb, having difficulty believing the person has passed away.
  • Fatigue or trouble sleeping.
  • Difficulty eating or appetite changes that result in losing or gaining weight.
  • Anger or resentment.
  • Feeling sad, lonely, empty, or despair over their loss.
  • Physical symptoms such as stomach upset, irritability, headaches or migraines.

How To Stop Grieving Over A Celebrity Death

It is natural to feel sad or even angry as you process the passing of a famous person with whom you felt a connection. Following these guidelines can help you stop grieving over a celebrity death:

  • Stop watching news coverage of the person’s passing. Celebrities are larger than life, so they seem invincible. Watching endless recaps of their life on the news or reading about it on the internet can increase your distress. Instead, try to focus on something positive, which raises your optimism and makes you feel less discouraged.
  • Remember that the person’s impact on your life is still with you even if they are gone. You can revisit those good memories by reading their books, listening to their music, or watching a show the celebrity was in. Collect and hold on to a few items of memorabilia that represent your connection to them, so that their impact on your life will remain.
  • Devote some time to mourn. Everyone processes grief in different ways. Give yourself time (and permission) to mourn the person. Connect with other fans of the celebrity, so you can share your feelings and feel supported.
  • Be aware that sometimes your reaction to a celebrity death may tie into your mourning for someone close to you. It isn’t uncommon for a celebrity death to trigger emotions relating to the passing of someone we knew and loved. Society tends to frown on emotional displays, so you may not have been able to let go and publicly grieve for your loved one. The mourning of a celebrity is expected, however, which can free you to grieve the person you actually lost.
  • Maintain your regular routine. Patterns provide a sense of security and comfort when you are upset and grieving.
  • Seek help if it becomes too much. While it is natural to feel emotional about the loss of a celebrity, be aware of how long you take to move past your grief. If you are struggling, you may benefit from talking with a licensed mental health professional who specializes in grief counseling. It is especially important to do this if you find that you can’t carry out the daily tasks of living, such as sleeping, eating, and other functions.

Let Us Help

Watching the national coverage of the passing of a famous person can trigger grief and feelings of loss. If you are having a hard time moving past the death of former President George H. W. Bush or another celebrity, the grief and loss treatment programs at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida, can help. To get more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

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Resilience

Resilience

What is resilience? Resilience is something we all want, few of us practice and most of us have little idea as to what it is. We go through our lives in lock-step dealing with life’s numerous pitfalls and challenges without an understanding of the impact that stress has on our bodies and psyche. Resilience represents an individual’s ability to effectively tolerate life’s stressors, to more effectively “go with the flow” so to speak. To be resilient means that even though we cannot avoid stress we have the capability of actively managing it.

So it becomes quite clear that there is value in better understanding this concept. More importantly, we need to develop the capacity of resilience. For some, resilience may be an inborn trait. These individuals are lucky enough to be born with nervous systems that automatically foster resilience while others may be born with nervous systems that overreact to stress. The pathological worrier when faced with a life challenge may intensify the stress reaction by catastrophic thinking that leads to unhealthy emotional and physiologic reactivity. Those of us with resilience traits should learn how to enhance them while those with limited stress-control capabilities need to find ways to develop such traits.

Simply speaking, resilience is multifaceted. It requires first that we make ourselves aware of how we journey through life. When we are stuck in traffic and find ourselves being late for a meeting or activity, how do we react to this potential stress. We have a choice of fretting over it to the point that our heart rate goes up, stomach acid gets released in larger quantities and our brain fires off alarm reactions. This type of stress further releases unhealthy bodily chemicals like free radicals, brain chemicals that signal danger. It is not uncommon for this to result in back and head musculature contraction leading to tension headaches and backaches. But we also have the choice of placing this stress in a more appropriate perspective by consciously acknowledging that we truly may have no control over the traffic situation, did not cause it and certainly have no way of clearing a path through bumper to bumper vehicles. This does not mean that we shouldn’t feel badly about being late for our appointment and apologize when we get to our destination, but at the same time we don’t need to get ourselves into a tizzy over this. We can further trouble shoot and adjust our departure time if this route is known for traffic jams. Just discuss highway travel strategy with anyone residing in the Los Angeles area!

Resilience is about reasserting locus of control in situations that appear to be beyond our control. A psychological term, locus of control refers to establishing a mindset of control despite the nature of the challenge facing us. This requires being cognizant of how we are dealing with the issue in front of us no matter how vexing it may be. It sounds so simple yet this concept is mastered by few of us. We tend to be engaged in a mindless dance through life without attending to the need to be “present”, to attend to how we are reacting to each step of our travels. The task at hand is to regain the locus of control, to get back into the captain’s seat of life and actively do the best we can under the circumstances.

In reality, resilience is multi-faceted. It is about balance and the conscious decision to attend to the myriad aspects of our daily life journey. There are some simple aspects to this balance. Attending to nutrition, adequate sleep, exercise, establishing a daily routine and maintaining social interactions comprise a core set of basics. Self awareness is an essential component of this balance. However, as indicated earlier in this discussion, self-awareness escapes many of us. For example, how many of us are aware of our breathing? How shallow or deep, rapid or slow? Do we breathe in or breath out through our nose or our mouth? Does it make a difference? Do we inhale by natural downward excursion of our abdominal diaphragm or through the expansion of our ribcage? Research decades ago revealed that diaphragmatic breathing is healthier because it allows for a more robust intake of air than that of ribcage breathing. In fact, a researcher identified what is called the Q reflex or Quieting reflex in response to diaphragmatic breathing. It is no accident that the ancients emphasized the importance of breath work and diaphragmatic respiration as the core of meditation that is today a critical component of Yoga meditation.

Healthy self-talk is another major aspect of resilience development. We all engage is self-talk. Unfortunately, much self-talk is negative and self critical. Becoming aware of this tendency is absolutely essential. It is one thing if the negativity is well earned. We should certainly own up to our mistakes and failures. However, it is more common for self critical thinking to not be based on the facts but emanate from a life of low self regard and confidence, much of it based on unhelpful childhood conditioning.

This brings us to the importance of pursuing mindfulness in our quest to develop resilience. Mindfulness requires attention to our present situation, not just a cursory approach but a comprehensive assessment of the here-and-now. It is much more than our motorist we previously discussed stuck in traffic reacting to being late by getting upset and wallowing in this negative state. It requires an active participation in the event, acknowledging the problem, recognizing the absence of realistic control over the traffic jam, the need to call ahead and alert our destination of the unfortunate circumstance while appropriately apologizing for this situation. Mindfulness also involves taking active responsibility for our self-talk and learning how to develop more effective filters for the negativity that invades much of our personal internal banter. This ability can be learned and must be practiced regularly to become more of an automatic process. The ability to clear one’s mind of negativity becomes one of the finest gifts that we can provide for ourselves. Successful meditators will tell you about the bliss they encounter when they are able to empty their minds of non-essential thoughts.

Finally, we cannot have a discussion about resiliency without understanding the concept of emotional dysregulation. It turns out that the human psyche is composed of two operating systems. We are all aware of the two popular computer operating systems, one that runs Apple software and the other Microsoft software. The human operating system that we are most aware of is composed of words that result in language based communication. This particular system is based on logic. It is what this article utilizes as you read it. However, parallel to this operating system is one that is based on emotions. Emotions are not easily defined using words or language. Emotional expression is by its nature illogical. It is most important to understand that the operating system that governs emotions is extremely powerful and often gains control over our logical language-based operating system. Abusive relationships, addictive behaviors, impulsive and rash life decisions are examples of the dominance of emotions over logic.

Our challenge becomes one of regaining control over our emotional being. The first step in this process is to becoming mindful of our emotional production and not allowing emotions to run amok without conscious awareness. Once we can recognize problematic emotions we have the ability to modify and channel them in a more helpful manner. One can actually learn the skillsets necessary to control the emotional operating system and with practice incorporate them into our daily existence. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) a component of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) has been a major advance in addressing the painful human toll of emotional dysregulation.

The twenty-first century has its own unique challenges and stressors to say the least. World events, internet connectedness, social media pressures and information explosiveness make our reality more complex than ever before. Fear not, for even though one may not be born with innate resilience it is possible to nurture this capability. However, this is not a passive process. It requires hard work and introspection often involving the assistance of a trained mental health professional. The benefits of resilience are immeasurable and certainly worthy of our efforts and hard work. Good luck!

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Why Words Are so Important in Psychiatry

Why Words Are so Important in Psychiatry

As reviewed in a past article, the field of Psychiatry is unique among medical specialties. At present, medical technology has yet to provide adequate imaging or laboratory testing that would allow for more objective assessment of a patient’s symptoms and concerns. A person with chest pain, fatigue and a racing heartbeat can rest assured that a carefully designed testing protocol will clarify the nature of the problem. Cardiac enzymes, electrocardiogram, chest x-ray and even cardiac catheterization will provide objective evidence to either rule-in or rule-out a cardiac event. Or the severe sore throat that makes swallowing difficult can be objectively clarified by obtaining a throat culture and consequently help the physician chose an antibiotic if indicated.

So how to proceed with such limited biomedical test resources? The art of listening is the answer. Listening will not be successful unless the patient knows that he/she can freely tell their story. First, the patient needs to hear a simple question. “How can I be of help?” After their reply the telling of their story is most important. For this to be successful there needs to be an open and accepting attitude that promotes this storytelling.

Once the story begins to unfold it is often necessary to backtrack and clarify aspects of the story. The words that the patient use become critical. What one individual means by the word “anxiety” may be quite different from that of others. I have discovered that behind the initial complaint of “I am anxious” will often be a core depressive illness that has an anxiety component. It is not uncommon for major depressive illnesses to contain a whole host of anxiety symptoms.

What of the individual with a true primary anxiety disorder. It is not sufficient to accept the word anxiety at face value. That is because anxiety is a more complex disorder and cannot be explained by a single word. Simply speaking, anxiety can be best understood by two of its components. One is best described as “somatic” or physical. Symptoms can include rapid heartbeat, sweating, gurgling stomach, headaches, tight muscles, shortness of breath etc. This individual is persistently or episodically physically uncomfortable and restless. They feel like they do not have control over their bodily sensations.

The other major component of anxiety is more mental or “psychic”. Such individuals spend excessive time with non-stop worrying. They get stuck with “what if this and what if that” thinking. They ruminate. They cannot turn off their brains. Sleep becomes difficult because of a busy head, Their thinking often is catastrophic, taking their worries down a path much farther than would be based on the current situation. Catastrophic thinking fuels the rumination and a vicious cycle ensues.

I am making a big deal of such language because treatment is often influenced by the specific type of anxiety. There are different medications to address somatic anxiety than that of psychic anxiety. Psychotherapies also differ depending upon the clarification of the anxiety explanation. So this is much more than a semantic intellectual exercise.

It is then most important to clarify the context of the individual’s symptoms. The goal is to try to determine how much the person’s difficulties are due to a reaction to a life situation. I have reviewed in past articles the difference between a core biologically-based psychiatric problem that definitely requires medication, a life based problem that would benefit from talking therapy and the hybrid situation in which a life stress induced problem triggers an underlying biological response that would require a combination of both types of treatment. One cannot get answers to such questions unless the dialog between physician and patient allows for a careful analysis of their story.

I have found that there is an added benefit of this approach. When a patient clearly knows that their physician is carefully listening and actively asking questions to clarify the specific aspects of their problem, a stronger therapeutic alliance develops. All too often I hear patients tell me that they were frustrated in the past with their doctor because they felt that he/she was not listening to them. This is so unfortunate because listening is a fundamental and easy process. Teasing apart the meaning of the words used in the story can be more challenging. Once the patient understands the importance of words, they can better appreciate the treatment plan and thus actively participate as a partner in the therapeutic process.

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