Lake Country Associates welcomes Melissa Saunders to the Substance Use Disorder (SUD) team in Park Rapids and Menahga. After graduating from an intense training program at the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge Program in Minneapolis and passing her exams at the Minnesota Certification Board, Melissa joins Lake Country Associates as our first ever Board Certified Peer Recovery Specialist (CPRS).
A CPRS is someone with lived experience in recovery who partners with people in need of additional support in their own recovery. The role of a CPRS is not the same as a sponsor. A CPRS focuses on being an advocate, a role model and a mentor. They work in partnership with mental health and substance abuse counselors and help people overcome barriers to recovery.
Melissa grew up in Hubbard County. She has one adult son and is an animal lover. She has been in recovery for over five years and is very passionate about the recovery journey. Melissa believes that with the proper tools, help with utilizing resources, and a healthy support system, recovery is possible. She believes in compassionate support, helping people break their goals down, and taking them on step by step.
More About Peer Recovery Services
For more information about CPRS services or any of LCA’s services for people with chemical dependency, call Lake Country Associates at 218-366-9229. You can also follow this link to LCA’s Substance Use Disorder program page.
“Where does this go?” my husband asks as he stands in
the doorway of our massive, catch-all closet. From the other room, I replied,
“The second shelf down, right-hand side, just lower than my line of sight, in a
pink basket.” I’m hoping he finds the right spot, or the storage space might
avalanche. This closet is an epicenter of stress. One false move and we will be
buried in half-done projects, seldom-used kitchen items, pictures, board games
and every item that doesn’t yet have a home. Clutter, while supposedly the sign
of a genius, can negatively impact our mental health by causing stress. Albert
Einstein was known to have a messy desk. He was also intuitive, creative and a
visionary. I am no “Einstein” by any means, yet I have often felt comfort in
knowing that creative minds tend to have messy environments. Validated by this
thought, our closet has now taken on a life of its own. This barely-contained
chaos has got to go.
Dorothy Day once said, “Life itself is a haphazard, untidy, messy affair.” Life is messy; my house doesn’t have to be. In doing a bit of research, I’ve found that women disproportionately encounter higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) when their environment is disorderly. In contrast, people with cleaner homes experience greater physical health than their less organized friends. Clutter can interfere with pleasure and lead to procrastination. It can negatively impact our working memory and cause sleep deprivation. Fear of being discovered and judged a hoarder can cause embarrassment and even isolation. Hoarding itself is linked to obesity and binge eating. Mind-wandering, pleasure-killing clutter can stop us in our tracks and hijack our self-control. How do we get it back?
Letting Go of Clutter
Taking control of one’s life can be easier said than
done, especially if depression and anxiety are involved. Often times we may
have good intentions, but not sure exactly where to begin. I’ve recently been
inspired by a series on Netflix titled, “Tidying Up” with Marie Kondo. Seeing
other people learn how to organize and eliminate unused items has been inspiring.
There are many resources on the Internet and within our community which can
assist us in helping simplify and organize our lives. One of the things in
common with the methods I’ve researched is to let go of items that are no
longer used. It doesn’t matter if you donate, sell, or bring your items to a
consignment shop, letting go of things can be validating and increase our
generosity. Being generous creates feelings of self-satisfaction and bring
happiness. Also, actually starting a project is necessary if it is going to
ever get done. The mountain might be big, but it won’t move by itself. Don’t be
afraid to start small and ask for help. Slow and steady wins the race.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was my closet collection. In fact, I’m sure there are items in the far corners that were placed there when we moved in 14 ½ years ago. I’m guessing that this “little” project of mine will take longer than a few days to complete. The transparency of that sentence is a bit embarrassing, but I’m betting I’m not the only one with out-of-reach places that are crammed full of things we didn’t quite know where to put. Everyone has “stuff”, both physical and emotional. The goal here is to take control of what we can, let go of things that are no longer needed, and prioritize our life in a way that makes sense and is manageable. It has been said that “home is not a place, it’s a feeling” and that “home is where our story begins.” Here’s to starting the year with less clutter and stress, and increasing our overall health and happiness. This is where our story begins, where we tell it to.
In the last post, we talked about anxiety and the holidays. This time, I want to really focus in on depression. During this time of year, we have the change of seasons, cloudy days and less daylight. We may find ourselves huddled inside with the things of summer long past. Many people have seasonal affective disorder (SAD) depression during winter, or even SAD compounding depression symptoms that are felt year around. This is a hard time of year. Then we add the holidays and their obligations.
Depression affects people in different ways, symptoms can include: loss of energy, loss of desire to do things that had been fun or interesting in the past, feeling sad and hopeless, feeling worthless, concentration and decisions making problems and more. It can be a lot to handle during this time of year with added things to do, people to care for, and responsibilities to take care of. How do you take care of yourself, not let depression ruin the holidays, and come through it all with some mental health?
For those with severe depression, counseling can be helpful.
With your counselor, you can work on
negative self talk, motivation, and working through situations that have
compounded or even caused your depressive episode. What to do outside the counseling session is
what I’m going to try and help you with in this article.
Set Realistic Expectations
We can’t expect ourselves to do everything that is presented
at this time of year. There is just too
much. Make a list or put on the calendar the expectations, then go through
them. What is it you want to do, you
really should do, and then cross out the ones that are just added stress. Go back through the list and really look at
the “shoulds”. The activities that you
know you need to do, keep those. Cross off
the “shoulds” that are just expectations and may disappoint others if you don’t
do, but are too much or something you don’t want to do. It’s ok to do that.
If you’re getting a little too “cross off happy” (i.e.
depression tells you to do little to nothing this year), stop and think it
through. Don’t just follow depression
symptoms like they’re the boss; kick that cognitive brain into gear.
If you’re feeling lonely, spend time with others (put that on the list). Choose those who are healthy in your life.
If you’re grieving, do something that will honor the person you lost, especially with loved ones (put that on the list).
If your just not interested in anything, push yourself to do something you’ve done in the past that has felt good (like lighting of the community Christmas tree and caroling).
Self-Care for Depression
Take care of yourself during the holiday season. Self-care is vitally important when the season gets more stressful.
Rest when you need it – Make sure to get your regular amount of sleep, preferably going to bed at the same time as the rest of the year.
Eat healthy foods – Yes, there are a lot of sweets and high fat foods. You can have some, but limit the amount and eat normal healthy meals and snacks. The change in diet to a high fat and high sugar foods can affects our physical and mental health.
Be moderate or sparing with alcohol. If you’re on mental health medications, most indicate not to drink with them. Alcohol changes our brain functioning. Be aware and if you choose to have some, only a little bit. A healthy liver can process about one drink an hour (a beer, a shot of hard liquor, about 5 oz of wine). Alcohol can still be detected in your system though; don’t forget to have a designated driver to stay safe. That’s important self-care.
Relaxation is important every day, but especially in stressful times.
Do passive relaxation daily, like reading a book, taking a bath, playing with your dog or cat, playing games, listening to music, playing music, watching the fire (online if you don’t have one) or limit screen time because what we watch is stimulating. This is choosing something you find peaceful.
Do active relaxation as well. There are many relaxation apps, YouTube has so many relaxation videos you could do a new one every day. I recommend keeping a link to the ones you find you like. There are several different kinds: progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, breathing meditation, guided imagery, stretching, meditation, etc. Anything that causes your muscles and mind to relax, letting the tension go.
Good self-care this time of year will go a long way toward helping your depression and anxiety symptoms.
Other Self-Care Ideas
Here are some other options to help your mental health:
Set Boundaries – I talked about this in the last article with anxiety and the holidays and specifically about boundaries here.
Get a SAD lamp. These emit light that wakes up our brains and deter the effects of the shortened and gloomy days.
Ask your doctor about your vitamin D levels. These can lower with less sunlight as vitamin D is converted from sunlight in our skin.
While at the doctors also have them check your thyroid levels as low thyroid causes depression symptoms.
Set aside differences with family and friends. Enjoy the day(s) without getting depressed about the past.
Make a tradition of relaxation and fun with the family. You don’t have to have a large celebration with all the glitz and glam, you only need to be together and doing things together. That’s what people remember, the love and care you show each other.
The most important thing is to know and set your limits. Push yourself to do the activities you know you’ll be disappointed if you miss. Skip the ones that are just stressful. You can make it through and manage depression over the holidays.
What’s the Next Step?
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You are important and so is your mental health. If you need more help, we’re here for you. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji). For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office or Thursday in Bemidji. Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling. Please check out our staff bios.
At Lake Country Associates we offer chemical use assessments including Rule 25 Assessments, Comprehensive Assessments and non-residential treatment. Individuals can receive a chemical use assessment at our Park Rapids and Menahga locations. Non-residential treatment is offered at our Menahga location.
Our non-residential program offers three levels of care including high intensity, medium intensity and low intensity:
High intensity program allows individuals meeting this level of care to attend group sessions three times a week and participate in individual sessions as needed.
Medium intensity program offers people two group sessions weekly and individual sessions as needed.
Low intensity program includes one group session weekly and individual sessions as needed.
Our program allows clients an ability to step down from high intensity, medium intensity and then to low intensity at their own pace, based on their progress and ongoing needs. People are also able to increase levels of care while in our program if their needs warrant an increase in non-residential programing. Lake Country also has the ability to make referrals to programs that offer higher levels of care including referrals to residential programs.
LCA would like to extend this invitation to our community partners, county agencies and to the public to visit our new office. This open house will provide an opportunity to hear more about the levels of care offered, meet with our staff and learn about other services we provide.
11 NW Main Street in Menahga (on the corner of Highway 87 and Hwy 71)
2PM – 4PM on January 15th
All community members, providers, and other interested parties are welcome to attend. We will be providing refreshments and a chance to meet our providers.
Lake Country Associates serves individuals in central Minnesota including individuals in Wadena County, Becker County, Hubbard County, Ottertail County, Beltrami County, Todd County, Cass County and beyond. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 218-564-9229 (Menahga) or 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids).
“We cannot control what happens to us, but we can control our response.” The internet is full of quotes like this by various authors. We might be used to reacting to things out of our control, like other drivers, political posts from the opposition, and even the weather. Some things we experience can truly grind our gears. We might find ourselves in a state of agitation because some cars don’t believe in blinkers, or some drive 8 miles an hour under the limit in great road conditions, or when your cashier flips their trouble light. It can be a challenge when things don’t seem to go our way. Here lies the rub; our response to everyday irritations may be making us sick.
Mounting anxiety or anger can release adrenaline and increase blood pressure. The fight-or-flight response can prompt the nervous system to cut off blood flow to the digestive tract and increase stomach aches. Over time, anger can encourage fatty deposits to pile up in the heart and carotid arteries. Serotonin, a chemical in the brain associated with happy feelings, is diminished and increases the likelihood of depression. This seems like an awful lot of control to give to someone who we allow to push our buttons, or at the very least, “don’t even know how to drive.” How do we learn to change our responses from a state of anxious agony to an attitude of optimism?
We need to act not react. An
initial healthy step is to stop and breathe. When blood pressure is rising and
the heart rate is accelerating, taking a few deep, long breaths can slow things
down. It tricks the body into thinking, “There’s no panic here. Everything is
chill, calm, and manageable.” We give space for our brains’ frontal lobe to
take control. The “4-7-8” method of breathing is one technique that can help
accomplish this task. Breath in for four counts through the nose, hold the
breath for seven seconds and gently blow the breath out of the mouth for eight
seconds. For the best results, repeat this pattern at least 4 times. Too
complicated? Try a slow five count
inhale followed by a slow five count exhale. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
As we gradually take control of our
physical reactions to stress, we can begin to do a little cognitive
restructuring. Consider the reasoning behind other people’s bad or irritating
behavior. Perhaps there is a logical reason that things are not lining up the
way we would like and it has nothing to do with us, thus taking away the sting
of being personally slighted. Circumstances out of our control can be
frustrating, to say the least, but we do have the ability to “talk ourselves
down” and go with the flow.
If we find ourselves in a constant place of anger and irritation, we might need to step up our response game. Life’s pressures could be overwhelming at the moment. We could benefit from a healthy outlet for mounting tension. Exercise, (while easier said than done when feeling unmotivated) can be a great safety valve and natural antidepressant. The trick is in getting the shoes laced up and out the door. If you show up at the gym, you’ll probably do some exercise. If you can cross the threshold of your front door, you’ll likely take that walk. Explore talk therapy. Venting about our issues is a great way to blow off steam and get some of the toxins out of our system. It can feel good to be validated and affirmed. Medication can also be a helpful tool in self-regulation. Talking to a doctor is always an excellent idea anyway in preventative care.
While it may be true that we “can’t control what happens to us,” we can learn to control the way we respond to stress. We might even learn to find the humor in situations, like when the car in front of us runs out of blinker fluid. Remember that we are all human and no one is perfect. In the event you may see me blowing a gasket sometime in the future, please remind me to breathe.
“The most wonderful time of the year,” we hear sung to us over the air. For many, this is the most stressful time of the year. Even for those without mental health issues we can find the holidays packing on the extra stress with all the things we have to do. With a mental health diagnosis or symptoms it can compound symptoms that already feel debilitating and limiting.
For anxiety, whether general, social, phobias, or even PTSD, the holidays can be a hot bed of cortisol and adrenaline (two of our stress hormones). We have so many obligations: family gatherings, work parties, friends who want to celebrate with us, presents to buy, cards to write, food to make, and don’t forget shopping for all of the above. The list can seem endless and the weekends are packed with getting ready for and going to different obligations.
What can a stressed out person with anxiety do?
First, simplify by making things easier.
Buy pre-made food or contribute one item to a gathering and have others contribute as well
Write a short holiday greeting in your card instead of an entire letter
Give gift cards or shop online
Write out your to-list and find those things that you don’t need to do or can make simpler.
PS, your house doesn’t have to look perfect. No really, it doesn’t.
Only do the things that you can do.
Just because you’re invited doesn’t mean you have to go. Say No to over obligation. Don’t know how to say no, follow this link to my article on boundaries.
If family gatherings are extra stressful because of the drama, there are a few options you have:
Shorten the time you stay.
Talk to your family about having one gathering.
Choose a gathering to go to and tell the other parties you can’t make it.
You are allowed to not go! Especially in toxic relationships, sometimes the best thing to do is skip it all together. You can go and visit your loved ones at other times, including into January and February when we have nothing else to do anyway.
Sometimes it’s the feelings that stop us from doing what we know we should or what we know would be best for us and our immediate family (take your kids into consideration). That guilt can be added stress on us. Ask yourself is the guilt appropriate or is it pressure from someone else. There are times when we know that a loved one isn’t feeling or doing well and we want to be there for them despite the stress. We feel guilty about thinking about not going. Weigh this out and do what is best for both parties. What will you feel like later if you don’t go? If you do go, can you go at another time? All of our feelings are just trying to tell us something (sometimes very loudly), what is the message and what can you do about it.
Guilt placed on us from someone else can be one of the worst, we know they will say something mean, or allude to a negative quality they think we have. Here is where boundaries and self talk can help. Set your boundaries with the person, “I’m not going to make it to the party.” Let them keep their own thoughts and feelings, no matter what they say or think that is their thoughts and feelings. You may be saying that it’s easier said than done but remind yourself why you’re not going (that’s self talk) and remind yourself of your good qualities (positive self talk). Taking care of your needs is a good quality, by the way. Then let it go. Don’t continue to ruminate on what they said, or how we feel about it, move on to something else, perhaps a distraction skill.
You get to choose your holiday celebration. You can morph
them into something you like and can live with. Don’t let this holiday season
be stressful and overwhelming. Take control over the things you have control
of, instead of letting other people have power over you. You can do this!
For serious mental health concerns we’re here to help. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids), 218-444-2233 (Bemidji) or 218-564-9229 (Menahga). For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office. Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling. Please check out our staff bios here.
When a child first learns to walk, their whole world becomes dangerous. Unsteady legs develop as babies pull themselves up and grasp furniture for support. As a child gains a new visual perspective, shiny and breakable objects are tucked away safely, hidden from sticky little fingers that are wanting to explore. It doesn’t take long for a first-time parent to “childproof” their home by locking cabinets, putting up harmful chemicals and plugging electrical outlets with safety devices. The goal is to keep the child as safe as possible. While little brains develop, the whole world is opened up to them and parents quickly learn how to protect them the best they can. Bath time becomes a ritual that is closely monitored, tiny objects that can fit into tiny mouths are picked up, and seat belts are used to keep babes tethered securely in swings and highchairs. We do everything in our power to keep them safe.
not able to rationalize and understand the danger. As they develop, the meaning
of “no”, “hot”, “icky”, is gained through experiences. The human brain develops
at a heightened pace and much is absorbed through play, safety, and storytime.
As children grow, dangers morph from choking hazards to external injuries and
accidents. The world around us evolves to present a new set of risks. Bike
helmets, rules, expectations, and curfews are enforced to guide us and help us
further develop our frontal lobe- the part of the brain that makes decisions,
solves problems, provides flexibility, and sustains memory.
After successfully navigating childhood into adulthood, it can be incomprehensible to believe that one of the biggest dangers a person can face, is themselves. When a person is experiencing depression, however, the pre-frontal cortex that so readily helped us solve problems, make decisions, and rationalize the world, can go dormant, while other brain systems like our amygdala, (the emotion sensor of the brain) take over. Our amygdala is important to us, as it senses danger, heightens our awareness, releases adrenaline and cortisol and helps us to fight, flee or freeze. It can also be hijacked by depression and provide emotional responses that are overwhelming and override brain function.
What can we do?
and anxiety are chemical changes in the brain. Someone who is experiencing
depression loses the ability to rationalize the world around them and can have
daily battles with their amygdala to just get out of bed. Because these
chemical changes do not present themselves as clearly as a broken leg, they are
often misunderstood and not talked about. It is in this state that suicidal
thoughts enter and a person becomes a danger to themselves. Just as an infant
learning to walk needs someone to navigate the world around them to keep them
safe, so does a person experiencing depression. One of the best ways to do this
is to reduce access to things that could cause irreversible harm. Just as
kitchen cleaners are put away for child safety, so are guns and medications
locked up and out of reach for someone experiencing depression. When we make it
harder for someone to access ways of ending their life, we give them more time
for their pre-frontal cortex to fight for control and provide the ability to
Because it is difficult to imagine a loved one being so distraught that they are filled with thoughts of death, it can be hard to put up a “safety gate” or barrier to what we think is improbable. It is more comfortable for us to believe that suicide strikes “other people” and not our own. What we know about suicide, however, is that it is an impulsive act with little to no reasoning. Simple safety measures like extra gun locks, removal of ammunition, disposing of unused medication and locking up all others can be lifesaving. The goal on this end of the spectrum is to keep people safe from themselves by providing as much time as we can for the brain to jockey for control. Safety in our world is talked about every day. When we begin to marry “safety” with “depression”, we can save lives. Help us make reducing access to lethal means a common practice when dealing with depression.
Greek philosopher, Socrates forewarned us when he said, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” Yet today, everywhere we go it seems that people are bustling around in a race against time. We live in a society where we glorify business and identify ourselves by our to-do list. “Hi, how have you been?” we ask, and the reply, “Oh, I’ve just been so busy lately.” While self-satisfaction can come with accomplishment, we recognize the need to slow down and take a break, thus inserting vacations and mental health days into our world. However, the real question is, “how do we create a world from which we don’t need to escape?”
Some people believe the Mandarin
character for “busy” is made up of two words, “heart” and “death.” While the translation
can be argued, this interpretation could mean that having our time consumed can
be physically stressful to our bodies, or separate us from our loved ones, it
can also mean that business helps us to shut off our emotions. While being too
busy can lead to unnecessary stress, it can also have some positive results. Sometimes,
keeping busy can be an escape from intrusive thoughts. Doing mindless tasks or tasks
requiring concentration can be a great tool for self-care. What happens though
when we create calendars that fill up faster than we plan for and we forget to
process the “stuff” inside our heads?
Being “swamped” or “up to our ears
in paperwork”, having our “plate full” for long periods of time can lead to
high cortisol levels. While there is a tendency to “dig deep and keep going”, doing
so can also bring extreme exhaustion when it is repetitive without a break. Too
much cortisol in our body leads to anxiety, depression digestive problems,
headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain and memory/concentration
issues. Sound familiar? On the flip
side, when people take their “work break” that is required by MN state statute,
it helps the pre-frontal cortex (the part of our brain that helps us
concentrate and make decisions) recharge so it can carry on and complete a
task. We need to take a break. We are designed to work in moderation. We are
more productive and effective when we give our bodies a chance to slow down.
Looking at the Finnish culture for a different perspective, we can find that coffee breaks are part of the natural order of things and the law. Breaks are not spent on smartphones, running errands, or conversing about work, they are mostly spent in silence drinking coffee. Finns appreciate a true body and mind break that allows for thinking and processing. Chatter during this time is considered “noise.” Fins also have more sauna’s (pronounced sow-na) than cars, exemplifying the importance of self-care. While it is true that people in Finland are said to be better listeners than talkers, it can be argued that silence too, should be taken in moderation. Talking about one’s thoughts and emotions has been proven to be a healthy outlet and a necessary part of dealing with grief and depression.
So the question remains, how do we create a world in which we don’t need to escape? Planning coffee breaks (or just a chance to go outside and breath the fresh October air) is a great way to start. Many people have said to me, “Where did the summer go?” My goal for the fall is to enjoy each moment, being present to enjoy the crunch of leaves, the autumn colors, the laughter of my family and the love from my dog. Taking meaningful time outs in our daily lives bring moments we can look back on and remember. Someday, most of us will have the chance to sit and reflect on the years behind us. Will we say that we were busy, or that we found meaning in every day? It is never too late to slow down. Our families and work both need us. It is when we truly slowdown that our best and most productive selves emerge. Use those built-up vacations days; your future self will thank you.
Suicide is a travesty that affects millions of
people all over the world. When a person decides to take his or her own life,
they leave behind a slew of impossible questions and difficult emotions for
their loved ones: What do we do now? Why
did this happen? Is there anything anyone could have done to prevent this from
Signs of Suicide
There is no one reason why a person decides to
end their life. People have their own experiences and troubles that influence
them along with mental health struggles. Typically, people who engage in
suicidal acts don’t necessarily want to die; it’s more like they just want an
escape from pain that they see as unmanageable and unbearable.
Substance abuse is another factor that
increases the likelihood that a person might wish to die. Mental health issues
such as anxiety, trauma and depression often co-occur with drug and alcohol
addiction. Even after seeking clinical treatment, addicts often experience
residual guilt, financial problems, and damaged self-esteem that can contribute
to thoughts of suicide.
Signs someone may be thinking about suicide
Talking about suicide
Mentioning feelings of
Expressing a sense that they are a
burden to others
If you have a senior loved one in your life, you need to pay close attention to them, especially if they live alone. Loneliness, depression, and isolation are prevalent within the senior community, making older adults susceptible to suicidal thoughts. So, check in with your senior loved ones and see if they display any signs of senior isolation. If you suspect a loved one may be suffering from depression, encourage them to seek help. Fortunately, many Medicare Advantage plans, including those offered by private insurers such as UnitedHealthcare, offer a number of important wellness programs that can get them the assistance they require.
Suicide and the Blame Game
When someone takes their own life, the people they leave behind experience the whole gamut of emotions. While not everyone feels this way, some people blame themselves for not doing more to help prevent the tragedy. Others may blame the victim. The truth is that in the event of a suicide, no one is to blame. Life can be cruel and illogical. Sometimes, there are no answers to questions, and bad things happen and there’s nothing anyone could do about it. When recovering from a loved one’s suicide, try to avoid placing blame in any direction. Instead, focus on grieving and healing.
Suicide with Emotional Wellness
Those who have a history of suicidal thoughts,
depression, and addiction can help improve their lives by pursuing a state of
emotional wellness. While emotional wellness has a focus on nurturing
our instincts and intuition, it’s important to remember that in the end, all
aspects of health are connected. To support your emotional wellness and mental
health, it’s just as important to take care of your body with proper diet and
It’s also important to build a supportive team of mental health experts, which may include a psychiatrist, who can prescribe medication as needed; a therapist, who can lead individual or group counseling sessions; and in many cases, a social worker, especially for those who have survived substance abuse or a previous suicide attempt. These specialists help patients of all ages develop emotional wellness tools to help them cope with mental health disorders, including suicidal thoughts. Licensed social workers typically obtain a Master of Social Work program that includes several hours of field work, so they have the hands-on experience needed to help patients struggling with thoughts of suicide through both prevention and intervention.
Other ways to support one’s emotional
Participating in activities that
are meaningful — work, taking care of another, volunteering, etc.
Sticking to a routine and
maintaining a busy schedule
Suicide is a serious problem that devastates the people left behind. There is no one reason for a person to take their own life and when they do it. While we can look for signs of a person thinking about suicide, if they end up taking their life, it is important not to blame anyone. We can help prevent suicide by encouraging people to promote their own emotional wellness.
know someone who has struggled with mood-altering substances, alcohol and/or
drugs. Maybe it was a friend, family,
neighbor or maybe it was yourself. If someone’s
substance use was causing enough commotion in their life, they may have
received an assessment, either a Rule 25 or more recently, a Comprehensive
Assessment. If they were given a
diagnosis of a Substance Use Disorder (SUD), they may have been encouraged to
attend SUD treatment, in which a treatment plan would have been created.
plan is a roadmap that lays out the small steps on the road to recovery. In my ten plus years working as a Licensed
Alcohol/Drug Counselor (LADC), I have worked with people on hundreds of
treatment plans. One of the common
questions I’m asked during this process is, “Why do we have to involve my
many reasons people are reluctant to involve others. One reason is out of fear. They fear that they will lose relationships and
benefits if their secret is exposed: their inability to control their substance
use. They also fear that they will gain
something they do not want: judgement or accountability for their actions.
If they want
to continue to abuse substances or do not believe they have a drug/alcohol
problem they fear the loss of benefits provided by family or important people
who, whether knowingly or unknowingly, may enable their behavior.
reason could be that their loved one may also struggle with substance abuse and
they want to avoid being embarrassed by them or having others learn of their
problems. Despite the reasons why people
may not initially want to involve others in their recovery, their recovery may
rely on it.
Why is it
members and loved ones want to help, though they often don’t know what to
do. By involving them and educating them
about the process of recovery, we can increase the chances that they will be
helpful and effective in times of need.
family in treatment planning is encouraged by the designers of treatment programs
in our state. Minnesota Statute says: “The [treatment plan] must provide for
the involvement of the client’s family and people selected by the client as
important to the success of treatment at the earliest opportunity”. Not only is involving family and loved ones
effective, it’s encouraged by SUD experts across the state.
in a loved one’s treatment planning process increases the chances of long-term recovery. It provides an opportunity to address many
family concerns, which can include providing resources for family and friends
or assisting them in coping in a healthy manner with their loved one’s Substance
As long as
the client signs a Release of Information for the person to participate in
their treatment program, family and friends can participate. Loved one’s participation can occur in a
group setting, family session, or even individual sessions with the LADC. It can also be done through a questionnaire
or over the phone. The important thing
to remember is that Substance Use Disorders impact family, friends and other
people we care about. Bringing them into
the process allows everyone to heal together.
Lake Country Associates (LCA) is now offering day and evening SUD groups in our Menahga office as well as individual therapy and SUD assessments. To schedule an appointment, call 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-564-9229 (Menahga). To download brochures and forms, go to our forms page.
Lake Country Associates welcomes Kris Strate to the Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services (ARMHS) team. Kris received her Bachelor of Science degree from Mankato State University. For the last 20 years, Kris has been supporting people with a variety of disabilities in the Park Rapids community. She has a passion for helping people improve their quality of life and become their best selves. In her free time, Kris enjoys outdoor activities, spending time with her family and dog, growing orchids and working in her garden.
Kris joined the team in April and is looking forward to helping people better manage the symptoms of their mental illness and work toward recovery. Please join us in welcoming Kris Strate to the Lake Country Associates ARMHS team.
Pretend that your life fits on a plate. There are many sections on the plate, but only so much room. Each section fits different parts of your life, from family to friends, fun to responsibilities. Each section varies in the amount of room it takes on that plate. At different times different parts take more room and crowd out other things. For the most part, we get to decide what and who gets to be on our plate. Sometimes there are accidents, illnesses, and responsibilities that we have to take care of at times that we don’t choose. No matter what we may want in our life, we only have so much room on our plate.
Think about your plate/life for a moment. What is in your
life? What has to be there? What is important to you and you want to make
room for? What do you need to make room for (like self
care)? Are there activities that are crowding out other activities? This
assessment of your time and priorities is a first step to honoring your
A boundary is a limit. Other than major life situations (sickness, accidents, downsizing, etc) we choose what goes on our plate and this choice should be a conscious decision. In our metaphor, your life and all its activities fit on a plate. The plate is your boundary. It has edges. Inside the plate there are also boundaries as each thing in our life has its space. If we add something onto the plate, other things get less room or even go away all together. That’s why it’s important to know what’s important to you and what you want on your plate.
How Do I Set Boundaries?
We know that setting boundaries is important because we have limited room on our plate, but how are we supposed to do it? What about if there’s someone in our lives that doesn’t care about our boundaries? What if they step over our boundaries, even if it’s done in a pleasant or friendly way? Here’s what you can do.
State your boundary: “I need you to not take my things.” “I can’t bake cookies for the fundraiser.” “I need you to be home at 9 pm.”
Don’t back down: They may get upset, they may think badly of you, they may throw a fit. Don’t back down. If you do, you are only contributing to your boundaries being broken. That’s right it’s not their fault, it’s yours. (If you are in a dangerous situation, this does not apply. If you are in a dangerous situation, call the police, visit a domestic violence shelter, or use other resources to get away from this person. Safety first. If you feel unsafe at work, contact your HR director or follow the procedures given to you in your policy and procedure manual.)
Restate your boundaries: Calmly explain why you are unable to help, why bedtime is at 8 pm, or why they can’t borrow your vehicle. It’s nice to have conversations with people. “I have too much on my plate right now.” “It’s for your safety.” “I want you to ask before doing something and give me time to plan and think about it.”
If they continue to press, get angry or use other means to try and sway you, then set another boundary: “I will be happy to talk about it once I feel that the conversation can be respectful. Until then, I need a time out”. Or to your child, “I understand that you are angry and want your video game, but you have played it the allowed amount of time, it’s getting turned off now”.
Don’t fall into the pit of explanation: People try to get us to cross our boundaries by having us explain them until we’re sick of it and just give up. Stay calm, restate your boundary. Give empathy and restate, but keep to them. ‘Why can’t I go to the friend’s house?’ ‘I need you to stay home.’ ‘That’s not fair last week I went there.’ ‘I need you to stay home today I can’t pick you up.’ ‘This is stupid.’ ‘I know that you’re angry that you can’t go, but I need you to stay home.’ (An exception can be talking about your dreams and expectations with your partner. Doing so can improve your communications with them. The big difference is this is a conversation about the dream within, not explaining yourself.)
Stay calm, tell them the boundary, calmly repeat the
boundary as needed, walk away if needed, and the next thing you know both you
and they will respect your boundaries.
We need to keep our priorities straight and set boundaries for ourselves. A big way of doing this is learning to say no. If you don’t have the time, energy, or room in your life, it’s ok to tell others no. Even if you just don’t want to, it’s ok to say no. You choose what is important in your life and what’s on your plate.
I know that saying no to others can be difficult because we feel bad. However, this is a wrong way of thinking about it. We are protecting what is important and necessary in our lives so we can give them the energy they deserve. Sure, the bake sale needs cookies, but this week there is no time. We can say no. Our friend needs to talk, but we have other priorities and don’t have the time. We can say no. Our family member needs our time and help but we can’t. We can say no.
The tendency is to just do it. Push out our self-care by staying up later, decreasing the time we have for family and leaving them feeling neglected (even though we don’t intend for them to feel that way). We lose track of the things we used to enjoy, sending a quick text instead of making a call to important people in our lives, and burn ourselves out. “No” is such a simple word and is easy to say. You can do it. Your priorities are important and you’re allowed to set the priorities in your life. Remember there is only so much space, you choose what to put on your plate.
Don’t Apologize for Your Boundaries
Facebook found in a recent study that using the word “sorry”
in a request did not increase the chances of the request being granted. They concluded that the ‘sorry’ resulted in
“shifting the responsibility back to the complainers.” (Trust Engineers) In
other words if you say sorry when setting a boundary, the person will assume
it’s you who needs to make a change, not them. Take care of yourself by
practicing stating your boundaries without apology.
Need More Help?
Maybe reading this article awakened in you a need to set boundaries, but you need more help. We’re here for you. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids), 218-444-2233 (Bemidji) or 218-564-9229 (Menahga). For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office. Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling. For more information on all our staff please check out our staff bios here.
Join me for you next post on boundaries by looking here or follow us on Facebook.
Self care is the building block of our mental and physical health. Every piece of care that we can add to our lives will only increase our mental and physical health. We’ve talked about how our physical and mental health are connected. One way that we take care of our mental health is by eating healthy.
Food and Our Emotions
Food is fuel and when we feed
ourselves foods that are unhealthy or nutritionally lacking, we only hurt
ourselves. Sure, our bellies may feel full but our bodies are crying for
what it needs to feel good, be better, and take care of ourselves.
Striving to eat the best options most of the time is realistic and
doable. Our minds will often have cravings to deal with emotions, mostly
unhealthy cravings. Satisfying our
unhealthy cravings by eating unhealthy food makes our emotions worse. The
field of nutritional psychiatry shows a link between healthy eating and our
emotions. Nutritional psychiatry has also shown that having a healthy
stomach environment by taking a probiotic and cutting out processed foods and
artificial sugars improves our emotional health and can improve mental health
symptoms. Eating healthy helps and keeps our stomach healthy too.
Don’t we all want that? Who knew that what we eat could play such a big
role in our mental health? You can read more about nutritional psychiatry
Fruits and vegetables are packed with the vitamins and minerals our bodies need. Try eating a minimum of three servings of each a day. Eat the ones you like and try something new. Make sure to mix it up. Different foods have different nutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins that are important for us. Eating seasonal helps you mix it up. Try eating your foods too, not drinking them, unless you blend the whole fruit with skin. It’s important to have the fiber along with the rest. Fruit juice may taste good, but you’re not getting that healthy fiber.
Don’t Forget Protein
Protein is important too, but not
too much. Make sure to have healthy protein by watching the fat
content. You can get your protein from vegetables too, all vegetables and
fruit have some protein but I’m talking about beans, soy products and lentils.
There are a lot of options. Then there are starches and grains such as wheat,
rice, oats, potatoes, and corn. They are also important because each have their
own nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins. As a word of caution, for those
who have allergies to any of the suggestions above, be very conscious of food
choices and quantity.
Fruits, vegetables, protein, and grains are the building blocks of good nutrition. By taking care of your body, it will take care of your mind. Since it’s all connected, food does affect our ability to control our emotions. Nutritional psychiatry has shown improvement in depression through diet. It is recommended to try eating clean for 2-3 three weeks and monitor how you feel. This is important in children too, as they will get the same benefit. Don’t let your emotions control your eating; use healthy eating to control your emotions.
Caffeine can have different effects
on our mental health. Of course, many of us like to have some in the morning as
an eye opener and to get the day started. However, caffeine is not friends with
anxiety and anger. With anxiety and anger, our bodies are already on red
alert. We’re in the fight, flight, or freeze mode. Our heart rate
has increased and our digestion has decreased. Our bodies are ready to take on
that tiger, but most of the time anxiety has nothing to do with a tiger.
When adding caffeine to this already heightened response, our heart rate can
increase more, causing stress on our system. I like to remind people that
caffeine is not friends with anxiety or anger and to use in moderation if they
struggle with either of these.
Need More Help
Coping and self care skills of all
types are helpful ways of dealing with our emotions. Mental illnesses
like depression, generalized anxiety, trauma, eating disorders, OCD, etc. may
need help from a qualified Mental Health Professional. If you need more
help, we’re here for you. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at
218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji). For those
interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office.
Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in
Christian counseling. Please check out our staff bios here.
Diane Cerven, LPCC
Want to read more about distraction
skills and mental grounding skills?
In previous posts, we talked about calming our emotions using different coping skills such as: deep breathing, distraction skills, and grounding skills. In the last post, we talked about how taking care of ourselves and how addressing our basic needs helps our ability to handle our emotions. We all have times when we have not slept well or have not been eating right. Because we are not taking care of ourselves, we are grumpy, irritable, and just plain emotionally reactive. Unfortunately, our lack of emotional control often happens when we are with our loved ones. It can happen anywhere and can result in our overreacting to changes, not being able to stay calm to problem solve, fighting, etc. Everything, everyone, everywhere, becomes just too much and we can feel like we are running on empty.
Metaphorically, we are all batteries with only so much energy to spend before we need to recharge. As we spend our energy throughout the day, we have less to give to tasks, family, etc. Most of us spend a lot of energy at our work (including stay at home jobs like cleaning and taking care of things) and then we have to take care of our families, friendships, homes, projects, and still have time for community activities. Unlike modern batteries, we can’t give 100% of the power we have until it’s gone, then recharge quickly. If we are not taking care of ourselves and fully recharging our batteries, we start our day with much less energy and run low quickly with little opportunity to recharge. The best way for long-term consistent recharging of our batteries is daily self-care.
Put yourself as a priority in your
life so that you can tackle each day starting at 100%, then the things that
once felt overwhelming can seem more manageable. You’ll be able to handle
the heavy emotional situations better; even your coping skills will work
better, all because we have the mental and physical energy to deal with them.
For mental health diagnoses like depression, anxiety, trauma, and anger exercise can help. Not only can it help, it is one of the most important recommendations for self care. For people with depression, getting exercise helps to alleviate symptoms by giving you feel good endorphins and getting your mind on something else. For anxiety, exercise has been shown to help more than anxiety medication. One study I heard about said that exercise is better than exercise and anxiety medications combined. I find that stunning. Getting active helps burn off excess adrenaline and cortisol that contributes to angry feelings. In its place, it leaves feel-good emotions and gets your mind on something positive. Exercise keeps our bodies healthy, which in turn helps our mental health. In all, exercise is a great way to help our emotional health.
If you’re like me when you hear the
word exercise you think of endless push-ups and jumping jacks or those
infomercials with the totally fit people easily working out to outrageously
named programs promising quick fitness. It may also bring to mind long hours in
the gym or dreaded PE class games. But to get the benefits to exercise, it only
requires that you get up and move. Do something fun, go for a walk, play
an active game with your kids. It’s important to get your heart rate up
to a beneficial level, not too fast but faster than resting rate. There seems
to be controversy about how long but I can say that too much exercise will have
the opposite effect. No more than an hour s best. Of course, doing
something at a leisurely pace for longer could be okay. Listen to your body.
After an hour, we are causing stress on our body and that’s not the point of
this, it’s about self-care not self-torture. That’s also why you want to
pick something that you’ll enjoy. At first, anything may seem a bit like
torture, especially if you’ve been very inactive, but it doesn’t take long for
you to start feeling the positive benefits of exercise.
Some Ideas for Getting More Exercise:
Go for a walk. You can park your vehicle in a distant parking spot and walk in. Use headphones when talking on your phone and walk around during the conversation. Hiking or walking in nature gives you the peace of the outside along with your exercise.
Use the stairs instead of the elevators. If you have stairs in your home take extra trips up and down them.
There are exercise programs on video games that are fun to do and you can do them as a family or on your own.
Let’s not forget YouTube. For some fun inside winter walking try the 1 mile happy walk. You walk in place to upbeat music and an upbeat coach. There are even dance routines you can try. There are many types of exercises and activities available. Find what you like and what you enjoy doing, that’s what is important.
Playing basketball, soccer, catch or Frisbee, golf, Frisbee golf, hockey, football, tennis, volleyball, kick ball, any other sport I’ve forgotten. Have some fun, again with your family or your friends. Make getting together and doing self care with exercise a priority.
Skateboarding, skating, swimming, bicycling, scooter, skiing (cross country or downhill), kayaking, canoeing or paddle board, yoga, Pilates, running, track, archery, horseback riding, and many more that I can’t think of right now.
How about being a kid again? Hula hoop, jump rope, playing in the sprinklers, Twister, chase, trampoline, rake up the leaves and jump in, build a snowman or a snow fort and have a snowball fight, hop scotch. Have some fun!
For those who are out of shape, start small but start. That’s the important part. Do different things, do things you like, do it with others, not to sound like a commercial but “just do something”.
With depression, motivation can be a big problem but if we can have in our minds that what we’re doing is going to help us, that will help. Use positive affirmations like “I can do it”. Other things that will help are to not listen to your emotions. I know as a counselor I want to know people’s emotions and talking about them does help, but when our emotions get in the way, that’s the problem. That’s what I’ve been writing about, dealing with the big emotions so that they don’t overcome us. So, don’t fight with yourself about how you do or don’t want to do something. Instead tell yourself that you’re going to do it. No argument, it’s on your list to do. Try minimizing if you have to. Tell yourself that you’re going to do it for only 10 minutes or you are only going to go around the block one time (or one lap around the big box store if it’s too cold to walk outside). Chances are that once you start moving, you’ll keep moving. If after your 10 minutes or 1 lap you are done, that’s ok too. It’s a start, and we all start where we are. We can choose to move from here to our next place or to stay the same. Either way it’s a choice and small changes can lead us to big changes in our physical and mental health. We just need to take that first step, however small, and then keep adding to it.
Need More Help?
Coping and self care skills are helpful ways of dealing with our emotions. Mental illnesses like depression, generalized anxiety, trauma, eating disorders, OCD, etc. may need help from a qualified Mental Health Professional. If you need more help, we’re here for you. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji). For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office. Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling. Please check out our staff bios here.
Diane Cerven, LPCC
Want to read more about distraction
skills and mental grounding skills?
There are many ways that we can take basic care of ourselves, each method can have a big impact on our mental health. In the last post, I wrote about taking care of our physical health, now let’s talk about sleep.
According to sleepfoundation.org here’s the breakdown on how many hours you need.
Preschoolers ages 3-5 years, need 10-13 hours.
School age ages 6-13 years, need 9-11 hours.
Teenagers ages 14-17 years, need 8-10 hours.
Adults ages 18-64 years, need 7-9 hours.
Older adults ages ≥65 years, need 7-8 hours.
Are you getting enough sleep right now? Sleep is one area that suffers greatly when you have a newborn, sick children or odd hours at work. Outside circumstances not withstanding it’s important to get enough sleep.
Some questions to ask yourself about your sleep:
Do you feel rested when you wake up?
Are you still tired or sluggish?
Do you need a nap?
Are you sleeping too much (a common symptom of depression), which can cause a sluggish feeling as well?
Do you wake up during the night, toss and turn, or have interrupted sleep (a common symptoms of anxiety and depression)?
Do you have insomnia: unable to fall asleep, sleep a little and then are up for hours before getting to sleep again, or only sleep a few hours a night? (This is also a common symptom of depression and anxiety.)
All of these questions can help you know your sleeping habits. Once you identify whether you need more sleep, then it’s time to start working on it. The reasons are mounting.
Stress can affect sleep. Not only how much stress one experiences, but also how that stress is perceived. The more tired we are, the more little things stress us out because we perceive the problems as being larger than they are. It’s a vicious cycle because a lack of sleep increases how a person feels stress. The good news is that when you make sleep a priority and work on some sleep skills, it will help to decrease stress.
How to Get Good Sleep
Having a consistent time for sleep is very important. Going to sleep and waking up the same times every day conditions our brain to know when to get tired and fall asleep and when it’s time to wake up. In our busy society, it may seem difficult or impossible but this is very important to do.
In an ideal location, as the sun rises the first of the spectrum of light seen is blue light. That blue light tells our brains that it’s morning and therefore time to wake up. If we could live by the sun our bodies would naturally awaken. As the sun goes down the last light seen in the spectrum of light is red, telling our brain that it’s time to sleep. This is the circadian rhythm. In a perfect world, at a perfect latitude, we would wake and sleep with the sun. In the real world, especially for us in Minnesota, we would have shorter sleep in the summer and way too much sleep in the winter if we slept and woke with the sun. We also don’t get to wake with the sun many times as we set our alarm clocks to go to work, school, appointments, etc.
I mention the circadian rhythms because they are important for us to know. The lights in our house, the screens in our faces (tv, phone, tablet, computer), even the electronics and the lights they emit (alarm clock light) are sending our brain mixed signals. It’s telling our brains that the morning sun is still here, causing confusion. The reason it’s telling about morning light is that screens emit a blue light, similar to the morning sunrise. So as our brains should be drifting into sleep it gets the message to stay awake. This in turns confuses it and when we want to get to sleep, our brain is not ready.
You have a couple good options to stop sending mixed signals:
About an hour before bed time, turn off all screens, get rid of the blue light. Limit light bulbs and allow yourself to naturally start to drift into sleep time.
For those who just can’t give up their screens at night, another option is to have yellow tented glasses to block blue light. Lenses can be made with a yellow filter (I have some on now, it blocks the blue light from the computer and decreases eye strain), or you can even get a pair of yellow tented safety glasses for only a few bucks. This will tell your brain the hour before needing to go to bed for sleep that it’s time to get ready.
A light for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or full-spectrum light therapy box can be helpful in the morning for about an hour to wake our brains. This is especially helpful in the winter when we tend to wake up in the dark.
Create a Bedtime Ritual
Having a bedtime ritual can also help with having good sleep. Many people read before falling asleep. Writing in a journal about your thoughts on the day, writing a gratitude list, or even a list of your feelings, can all be a helpful ritual and can help your emotional health in general. Do relaxation or meditation nightly. Turning off the lights, checking the locks, making sure things are put away, and then heading to bed can be enough of a ritual once your brain is trained. Try having a ritual for your children too. It helps to teach them good sleep patterns and habits for a lifetime of taking care of themselves. Make sure that the temperature of your house is cool, the recommendation I’ve seen is around 68 degrees. The cool temperature tells our bodies it’s night time and therefore time to sleep.
Some people have problems with sleeping, or insomnia. If you’ve tried the above method (and given it plenty of time to train your brain) and you’ve not seen progress, there is something else you can try. Dr. Christianson recommends “wake therapy.” Here’s a breakdown:
Add up the total hours you sleep. If you have interrupted sleep, all the sleeping hours should be added up. In this example, let’s say you come up with 6 total hours.
Figure out when a good time to wake up is (usually determined by work and or school). Then subtract the 6 hours from the time you need to wake up. If you need to get up at 7 am, and typically sleep 6 hours total, then 1 am is your bed time, to start.
For the first night stay awake (no naps) until 1 am (in this example), then go to sleep until your wake up time, no later.
The following night, add 15 minutes to your time (in this example, go to sleep at 12:45 pm) and continue this method until you’ve reached your optimum sleep hours. Dr.Christianson states that this is a proven method than has helped his patients reprogram their brain to sleep.
Some people will need medication to help them sleep. Some may need to complete a sleep study to rule out medical problem like sleep apnea. See your health care provider if you feel you need to look into these options.
Sleep is vital for self care and our mental health. Not getting enough affects us in many ways, physically and emotionally, and that will spill over into all parts of our lives. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep for your body and brain and you will be better able to function.
Don’t forget to make sleep a priority for your children too. Poor sleep leads to academic, behavioral, and emotional problems in children.
Try the following methods:
Keep set bed times
Have a bedtime routine
Limit screen time an hour before bed time.
Allow them to learn, by your example and expectations, that getting enough sleep is a priority.
Join us next post as we continue to share some tips for self care and its importance in mental and physical health. Follow us on Facebook to see when the next blog is posted, or check back here.
Need More Help
We’re here for you.
Self care helps us with our mental health, but for some individuals more help is needed. Here at Lake Country Associates we have trained mental health counselor who can provide guidance on the best approaches for you. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji). For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office. Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling. Learn more about LCA clinical staff here.
Diane Cerven, LPCC
Missed reading about using distraction skills as a coping skill, catch up with the following posts:
A big thank you to the members of the Lakes Area Vinyard Church in Park Rapids for their donation of 22 boxes filled with Thanksgiving meals for families in need. The Vinyard Church has been partnering with Lake Country Associates to distribute the boxes of meals to the people we serve for the past four years. Each box gives a family in need the opportunity to share a special meal with their loved ones. Connecting the people we serve with family, places of worship and community events is an important step in the path of recovery. Thank you to the members of the Vinyard Church for their generous donation to clients in the ARMHS program.
Another opportunity for the Park Rapids community to gather for a Thanksgiving meal is the 36th Annual “Thank Meal” at the Riverside United Methodist Church North of Park Rapids on Highway 71. The meal is served Thanksgiving Day from 11:30 – 2:00. There is no charge for the meal. Free will offerings are appreciated and go to offset the cost of the meal and support local charities. For more information about the Thank Meal, call 218-237-TRKY.
I find that many people do not take care of themselves.
They worry about others, making sure that they: children, husband, community, church, friends, work, etc., have their needs met. Not leaving time during the day to get their own needs met and not taking time for themselves. The consequences of this are that they are burning themselves out. They’re in survival mode instead of thriving. In survival mode we are more tired, hungry, irritable, and drained. We give from pure will, not from the strength we could because we’re not giving to ourselves for self care. When we’re drained and strained we can become easily more emotional. Things that wouldn’t normally be irritating are intolerable because we can’t filter well. Our brains are tired, we have too much to do, and we react. Coping skills can help at these times (start reading about coping skills here) but self care can give us the energy we need. Often times our reactions aren’t even to the people that we’re irritated with but to our families or to ourselves with negative self talk. It’s time to take care of yourself, then you’ll be able to better take care of your emotions and your tasks at hand.
Self care in its basic sense is doing something for yourself. It’s not about all consuming self attention or putting yourself above everyone else. It’s about taking time to meet your basic needs. Taking care of ourselves is invaluable to emotional regulation. I’m sure, if not right now, you can remember a time when you weren’t getting your needs met and when you were drained. Being drained, which happens in many ways, causes our rational brain to throw up its figurative hands and allows our emotional brain to go for a spin by itself and that emotional spin is worse because we’re drained. We become short with our spouse, children, co-works, etc. We want to be kind, patient and compassionate, but we don’t have the mental strength. We want to be able to wait for our kid to tie their shoes but we’re in such a rush that we just do it for them, often irritated about the time lost letting them try. We want to be able to stop and have a meaningful conversation but it seems too taxing, so we hurry off, ever busy with the next thing to take care of. Then when we can’t take it anymore we explode, we become passive aggressive, or we let others down by not taking care of our everyday tasks. We criticize the very people we’ve been running around taking care of, nagging our spouse about what they haven’t gotten done or our kids for their lack of consideration. I’m sure you can think of how you react when you’re drained and emotional.
There are periods of time when some things can’t be avoided. Do what you can, when you can to take care of yourself. Sometimes it’s not everything we should do to take care of ourselves, it’s what we can fit in, not our best but at least we’re trying something and even a little is helpful. In this and the next blog I’m going to talk about five areas of self care that you should start focusing on getting in to your day for your own mental and physical health. Our mental self is affected by our physical health. These self care topics will help you to have more energy to get the things you want, need, and have to get done, without burning yourself out. It will help you to feel more energized. I want to stress that taking care of yourself is not selfish. We all know people who are selfish and they’re not taking care of themselves, they’re just doing whatever they want over others, seeing their wants as more important than others. This is not self care. Its ok, you can take care of your needs and not be a selfish person.
We all know what physical illness is, having a cold or flu, strep throat, acid reflux, all the way to heart disease, diabetes, or fibromyalgia. There are so many forms of illnesses from mild to severe and they can affect our mental health. Conversely mental health can affect our physical health. The stress of anxiety, anger, and depression has on our bodies is well documented. They decrease our immune system, put strain on our hearts, our eyes, brain, appetite, etc. There are even links to increased illnesses because of unhappiness in relationships.
I don’t want to get you down about having a mental illness and it’s affects on your body. I do want to encourage you to take care of your mental health by taking care of your physical health. The link between them means that when we take care of that cold, instead of pushing through our work anyway, we are also taking care of our mental health. Our bodies have the time to combat those germs.
Working with people with mental illness, I’ve seen a clear link between when they are not feeling well and an increase in their symptoms. For instance, I’ve seen how increased stress can cause one persons to have higher blood sugar. Though it doesn’t seem like the two should be connected our minds and bodies are and can affect each other.
When you have an ongoing disease like arthritis or heart diseases, or any of the long list of possible problems, make sure that you are taking care of yourself. Know your body’s limits and stop well before reaching them. Do what you can, it’s all you can do. Then make yourself a priority and take care of yourself. Listen to what your body is trying to tell you.
Make sure you are seeing a physician as needed or directed by them. Don’t put off getting a check up when you’re not feeling well. If you continue to not feel well that will increase your mental stress which in turns contributes to less ability to cope.
Make sure your children are getting their physical health needs addressed as well. Even little things can cause large differences in their ability to cope with things. They become more angry or reactive to situations. Think of when a baby is teething, they’re fussier and less able to be soothed. At any age this is true, though the behavior has changed the cause and affect hasn’t.
You are worth spending time on, so take care of yourself. Taking care of your physical health is as important as taking care of your mental health.
Join me next time when we talk about more ways to take care of yourself. Until then start working on taking care of your physical health.
What’s the Next Step?
Follow us on Facebook to see when the next blog is posted, or check back here.
Coping skills can help, but they cannot take the place of counseling and cannot solve many of the challenges associated with mental illness. If you need more help, we’re here for you. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji). For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office. Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling. Please check out our staff bios here.
Diane Cerven, LPCC
Want to read past posts on distraction skills, follow them here:
We have been talking about the use of coping skills to better regulate our emotions. When we are not overwhelmed emotionally, we are better able to handle problem solving in the moment or move forward from the difficult situations we find ourselves in. Grounding skills are a type of coping skill that allows us to focus our attention away from what is bothering us most. Last week I introduced physical grounding techniques. Physical grounding skills work by using our senses to give us time to pause that helps to reduce our emotional response. Earlier I also talked about mental grounding skills where we change our thoughts through mental exercises (read more about those here). The purpose of both is to grab our attention and give ourselves a break from the thoughts that are running through our heads.
In the last post, we began the list for physical grounding skills (If you missed the last post you can find it here). As you read the list below, remember to think about how useful each would be for you personally and when a skill may be helpful. Some are more helpful when your emotion is anger and others might help with sadness or fear.
Walk slowly, notice the feel of each step, pay attention to the roll of your foot or how it touches what you are walking on. You can add words while you walk like “left,” “right.” You can make it more soothing by saying coping statements with each step or even breathe in and out with each footstep. Increase or decrease your pace.
Wherever you are, simply focus on your breathing, notice each inhale or exhale, or like when walking, you can focus your attention on a coping word or a phrase such as “breath in, breath out” or “I am calm”.
Clench and release your fists. Really build up the tension, putting all your focus in your grip and then release, feeling the muscles relax.
Grab tightly onto a chair, holding as hard as you can, then focus on the release of tension as you let go.
Dig your heels into the floor, pushing your weight onto the ground.
Smell something you like, something that really draws your attention. Try an aromatherapy scent. A quick search showed that lavender, lemon, jasmine, and rose can all help to reduce tension. Light a candle you can smell or think about the smell of something you enjoy, like fresh baked cookies.
Bite into something sour like a lemon or lime or a sour candy to draw your attention. Something spicy may work as well. Focus your attention on how your taste buds react to the intense flavor.
You can also savor something that you enjoy like a piece of candy, favorite food, or even take just a piece of something like a raisin and really pay attention to chewing and enjoying it.
Look at pictures of people you care about. Find a picture book of nature.
Write it Down
When we are emotionally charged it’s hard to remember new skills, so having them written down and available will help you to utilize them. Sometimes to help with an emotion like anger we need the thought, “I need to use a coping skill,” and that’s the best we can do if we can’t remember a coping skill. Modify the suggestions so that they make sense to you and find a place to record them so they would be meaningful when you need them. We’ve created a pdf, Grounding Skills, you can download and put on your fridge or somewhere convenient. Take a screenshot or come back here to remind yourself, anything that will help you to remember to utilize the different skills or techniques available. Don’t forget to add mental grounding skills to the list (find those here and here).
Use Physical Grounding Skills with Your Kids
Grounding skills are not just for adults. Kids can find benefit in the activity as well. Kids will learn best when they are given the activity to use while they’re in emotional distress (the same is true of adults). That will help them to remember better what to do when their emotions are escalated. Having signs posted on boards or walls, especially with pictures, is also helpful.
Along with the above grounding skills here are a few more that kids can relate to (you may even like these too).
Stomp your feet. For more sensory you can have them stomp empty cans.
Jump up and down.
Roll a fuzz ball or pipe cleaner in your fingers.
Tracing figure eights “8” or other connected symbols with your fingers. You can have them trace with a pen or pencil or other type of object.
Blow bubbles or blow up a balloon. This gives them something physical to look at while they are trying to calm or distract themselves.
Chew gum. This adds a flavor to their mouth to focus on as well as the activity of chewing.
Give your child different ones to try and have a list with pictures for them to look at and use. Have them readily available. Make sure to do the techniques with your kids, especially at first. Be helpful and reminding, that way they learn by you teaching them and can even begin to notice, for themselves, when they need to use the different skills. You should use your coping skills where your child can see and tell your children that you need to calm yourself too. This teaches them by observing you do it, which is the best way kids learn.
Need More Help
Coping skills of all types are helpful ways of dealing with our emotions. Mental illnesses like depression, generalized anxiety, trauma, eating disorders, OCD, etc, need more help from a qualified mental health professional. If you need more help, we’re here for you. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji). For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office. Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling. Please check out our staff bios here.
Diane Cerven, LPCC
Want to read more about distraction skills and mental grounding skills?
There are times when our thoughts run away with us, taking us to the past or to a possible imagined future. Typically there is a trigger, sometimes something we don’t even recognize. Maybe something that reminds us of what happened back in 2nd grade and then our minds are reminding us of all the other times we felt the same way, when we had similar negative emotions or we fear experiencing the emotion moving forward. Once this happens, our minds seem to take control and the longer we allow our brains to ruminate on the thoughts that are surfacing, the longer we have to live with the emotional response that is caused by those thoughts. Our bodies react physically and our brain floods with chemicals. In some types of mental illnesses, it is the lack of certain chemicals which causes the problems and medication management is needed, but we can still utilize coping skills. I talked about PTSD (read here) a couple posts ago. PTSD symptoms are often triggered by an event or memory which creates physical, mental, and emotional symptoms that are difficult to control. PTSD is an extreme example of our minds taking us on a ride. When we have a chemical reaction, coping skills help redirect our minds to focus on something else and that in turn allows our bodies to decrease or stabilize the chemicals that were taking us on a mental trip we didn’t sign up for. Often 20 minutes of diverting our attention by using coping skills is enough time to settle our physical reactions and allows us to calm ourselves.
Coping skills are the tools to use to deal with emotions that are difficult to handle and can help us focus or divert our attention so that our emotions don’t get too big or overwhelming. When using coping skills we are able to divert our minds from remembering the past, to help address difficult situations in the moment or stop worrying about future “what ifs” that may be keeping us from enjoying our life. There are many types of coping skills and this month I want to continue focusing on grounding. Grounding is a technique where you control your thoughts by focusing your mind on a specific train of thought (mental) or your senses on the real world (physical). When used consistently and effectively, grounding will help to change or calm your emotional state. If you’d like to read about mental grounding skills then please start by reading here but here I would like to spend time on physical grounding.
Why Use Physical Grounding Skills?
Physical grounding skills use our five senses or the world around us to focus. Since many triggers come through our senses, physical grounding helps to move our thoughts to the moment. That focus on something real allows our thoughts to dissipate and our emotions to come back down to a tolerable level or a level that doesn’t feel so all encompassing or overwhelming. We can then move on if that is appropriate or gather strength to deal with the situation at hand. The worst thing for effective problem solving is too many emotions. Remember, our emotions are important as they are telling us something about ourselves and the moment we find ourselves in but too high of an intensity of an emotion gets in the way of dealing with the message appropriately. If it is a current or an immediate situation, taking a mental break and grounding ourselves gives a bit of emotional calm which in turns allows our brains to use our problem solving skills so we can see the situation realistically.
Physical Grounding Skills
Physical grounding uses our senses and our bodies to focus our attention on our environment to help us cope. It is recommended to create a list to use in the moment when it is hard to think of all the options at your disposal. Here are some suggestions.
Let’s start our list with using our 5 senses:
Name 5 things that you see
Name 4 things you feel with your body (back of chair, warmth of a ring, fabric)
Name 3 things you can hear
Name 2 things you can smell or wish you could smell (baked goods)
Name 1 thing you can taste (a memory of a taste or putting something small to taste in your mouth)
Pet an animal (very soothing). Focus on the feel of their fur under your hand, between your fingers, the softness or roughness, the rate of their breathing, etc.
Stretch. Fully reach, bend and move, or if limited because of where you are, stretch your arms, stretch your legs out if sitting, roll your neck.
Hold a pillow, stuffed animal, blanket, or even hug yourself. Sense the object in your arms, feel how you can squeeze it.
Run water over your hands, pay attention to how it feels flowing over you. Use hot or cool water or vice versa to heighten the awareness. You can also take a shower and focus on the water hitting you, washing over you, the warmth or coolness encompassing you.
Have an object that you can manipulate. Not long ago, river stones were very popular because of how smooth and cool they felt, but you can also have an object that you can manipulate like a paper clip or fidget. Focus on really noticing that object.
Touch various objects. Notice the smoothness and coolness of the desk, the texture of your clothing, the feel of a pen or pencil, the bumps of the phone cord, etc.
Notice your body. The weight of your body in the chair, focus on your feet how they feel, you hands, can you feel each finger?
This list is not complete and next time we will go over a few more. Practice the ones that sound interesting to you and see how they work. The important thing to do is to put your whole focus on what you’re doing. Draw your attention to it fully. Really notice the sensations while letting your other thoughts drift away. Keep your focus on the coping skill of your choice until you know you are past your emotional moment and can relax and address the issue that has triggered your emotional situation.
What’s the Next Step?
Follow us on Facebook to see when the next blog is posted, or check back here.
Coping skills are a tool that can help you help yourself with difficult emotions in the moment. For some individuals, more help is needed by a trained mental health counselor who can provide guidance on the best approaches for you. If you need more help, we’re here for you. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji). For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office. Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling. Learn more about LCA clinical staff here.
Diane Cerven, LPCC
Missed reading about using distraction skills as a coping skill, catch up
We continue learning about coping skills by learning how, when and why to using mental grounding skills. We talked last time about how mental grounding skills are helpful for people with PTSD (read here), but I recommend grounding skills to anyone who feels that their thoughts get stuck. This can include rumination or repetitious pondering of depressive thoughts or the “what if” and excessive worrying that comes with anxiety. Grounding skills can also help those with anger problems as it allows your mind to move away from the anger and onto another subject (or emotion).
Another use for the various mental grounding skills is when you need a break. Perhaps you have too much to do at home, or at work, and the pressure is overwhelming. Perhaps a relationship isn’t going well and the conversation you were trying to have has turned into an argument. Perhaps you are in uncomfortable situations that you are not familiar with. Changing the focus of your mind onto something else can be very helpful to many people. Personally, when the roads are icy or snowy in the Minnesota winter, and there is ice that has to be traversed in order to get to and from places, I find that my stress level increases. These are all situations where it is helpful to take a mental break and do a grounding skill. In fact, at a previous high tension job I had, I would do several grounding skills throughout the day to relieve the stress. Though it may not change the situation you’re in, it helps your brain to take a break from the moment, then recover or at least de-stress a little from your problems.
Regardless whether you are having diagnosable mental health problems (ex: depression, anxiety, PTSD) and need a skill to help reduce the immediate symptoms you’re facing or if you find that you need a mental break from stress or a difficult situation, grounding skills can help. I’m focusing first on mental grounding skills, and then in a future blog, to physical grounding skills. Be sure to come back and read about those.
Practice and Make a List
Grounding skills need to be practiced and used in order to be effective. At times you may have wanted to try something quick, but it didn’t help. I would recommend that you dedicate more time to doing and focusing on the skill. Our minds like to wonder (we’ll talk about that more when I write about meditation*) and we need something that will capture our attention and direct it to the thoughts we want to cultivate. Often our thoughts will try to take us back to our problems but with practice and intention we can keep our mind where we need to be. See last post list to learn more. Skills are tools you can use when you need to divert your focus and listing the tools out for easy access is very helpful. Here is a link to a useful PDF that you can print and write down the skills that you like, Grounding Skills. When you make a list, take a screenshot, write post-it notes, write it on your mirror or door, hang it up on the fridge, return to this page, whatever it takes to have it convenient for your use. When our minds are consumed by stress, anxiety, depression, PTSD, anger, an argument, etc. we often forget the skills we want to use, make sure that you keep your own list handy.
Mental Grounding is focusing on thoughts. Here are more suggestions to add to your list of skills:
Play a categories game with yourself. (Bonus if you can do this with someone else). Write example categories that you like on your list such as; types of foods you like, types of dogs or animals, pets you have had, cities (this is a favorite of mine to use in session when someone is very anxious), sport teams, cars, TV shows, songs or groups. Anything goes here, you pick the category. I worked with a young person who would name her favorite types of cookies which helped her during school to take a mental break and be less angry.
Read something, focusing on each word. You can read slowly or read the letters backwards. This is not about comprehension or getting lost in a book, it’s about a quick break. Personally I like reading each letter backwards. It takes more concentration and therefore distracts away from what’s going on outside and inside your brain.
Read something fun. Reading something fun can help move our focus away from our ruminating thoughts. Maybe this is why Facebook is so popular; we all read little snapshots or small doses of a lot of things.
Count in multiples. In anger management they recommend counting to ten, this has to be done slowly to be effective. Personally I like to count in multiples; doing 7s is a personal favorite 7-14-21-28-35-42-49 etc. Your brain has to work to access its math center. Make it easier or harder depending on your mood or your math ability.
Count what you see. Look outside and count the trees, the cars, or houses. Whatever you see out there, count.
Imagine. You can dream of being someplace. I have a friend who likes to take mental breaks by looking at real estate in Hawaii. I have a picture of the beach and ocean in my office. I take a break and dream of being there, especially in the winter.
Imagine leaving the situation. Use your imagination and see yourself closing the door to your problems or turning the light off on them. You can also imagine riding, skating, or driving away from them.
Say the alphabet slowly, very slowly.
Look atpictures or think of the people you care about.
Think of the things you’re looking forwardto that are coming up, being with a friend, going out someplace, time away or time in. Anything that encourages you and gets your mind occupied. Plan an activity if you don’t have something to look forward to.
Mental grounding is something you can do anywhere, at any time. No one knows what you’re thinking about. Instead of continuing to ruminate in depressive, anxious, angry, stressful thoughts, just focus your mind on a grounding skill.
Use with Your Children
Grounding skills can be very useful with your children. When you notice that they are emotionally stressed or losing control, that’s the time to help them by bringing up a skill you can do together or you can remind them to do one on their own. I mentioned about the child that would name her favorite cookies, it didn’t take very long and she would calm down. She focused on something she liked and it gave her a mental break. Most, if not all of the above, plus the ones from the last article can help your child just as they can help you. They are going to need more help applying each skill, even as a teenager, they may need you to remind them about using a grounding skill or start the grounding skill for them, but it will soon help. Remember that when they become calm; you should try discussing with them whatever may need to be addressed or talked about. So next time they show a need, bring up a skill and you’ll soon see a change in their emotional behaviors.
What’s the Next Step?
Follow us on Facebook to see when the next blog is posted, or check back here.
Coping skills can help, but they cannot take the place of counseling and cannot solve many of the challenges associated with mental illness. If you need more help, we’re here for you. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji). For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office. Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling. Learn more about LCA clinical staff here.
Diane Cerven, LPCC
Missed reading about using distraction skills as a coping skill, catch up