Guest Post: A Veteran’s Thoughts on “Thank You for Your Service”

When people find out I served in the military, their usual response is, “Thank you for your service.” This is popular on Veterans Day.

Honestly, I never know how to respond. I typically say ‘thank you’ back. I never say, “You’re welcome.” Something meant to be pleasant sometimes becomes an awkward exchange. It’s not like other holidays when I can confidently reply ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ or ‘Happy Holidays.’

I reflected on why I have such a hard time accepting credit for my service – and I found two major culprits.

The Glorified Soldier

Firstly, when I hear the word “veteran,” it conjures up images of classic war movies with brave heroes like John Wayne in The Green Berets or Charlie Sheen in Platoon, engaging in jungle warfare in Vietnam.

I also think about the men of WWII considered ‘The Greatest Generation’ with their elegant olive drab green uniforms and Jeeps; one of my favorite shows is Band of Brothers on HBO.

Although I tried my best to do my job everyday, I couldn’t relate to nor live up to those expectations. Those men jumped out of airplanes into aerial artillery to fight off the Nazis.

But every Veteran has their own story – and this one is mine.

Combat, Coffee, & Staying Sane

My first combat tour was Operation Iraqi Freedom from the year 2004 to 2005. I remember one long year of staring at a computer, daily gym workouts, and running on the treadmill.

We came under attack several times, and it was dangerous; however, the hardest part of the deployment was keeping our minds busy and sane. The best medicine for my mental health was coffee, music, workouts, bootleg movies, and books. Care packages and letters were a rare treat.

A prominent memory I have is when the helicopters landed on our last night to take us to the airport to start our long journey back home. The memory of that night has remained vivid in my mind for over 17 years.

PTSD

I think the second reason I find it difficult to respond to ‘thank you for your service’ is that I try to avoid traumatic memories. For a person with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it is typical to steer clear of conversations that may trigger unwanted memories.

Recently, I reflected on a memory I had been avoiding for quite some time. I was attached to a unit in Herat, Afghanistan in 2009, co-located with our Italian NATO partners. I remember the first day I landed. It was a cold morning, about 3 a.m., and I was transported alone by a cargo plane. All I could see was shadows of tents and huts and the silhouette of the mountains. I remember the stars shined like bright diamonds like I had never seen before in the United States.

I would spend four months at that location. It was difficult at first; however, we gained momentum and accomplished several missions.

Our base was attacked late one night; most of the staff had already gone to bed. I heard the first explosion from a distance. Several explosions followed, and they kept getting closer.

The enemy was creeping Rocket Artillery from the mountains. We were extremely vulnerable because we lived in tents and worked out of wooden huts. There were several concrete bunkers spread throughout the base for added protection, so my first reaction was to put on my gear and go wait it out in the bunker.

I was the first one there and I waited for everyone to follow. I was safe but I was alone, and I was worried about the others. No one joined me. I left the safety of the bunker and went to check on one of my friends. He was dead asleep. I remember waking him to the sound of explosions. “We are being attacked,” I said. He woke with a start and put on his armor vest and helmet and set off to check on the others.

The rest is a blur. I remember we split up to wake everyone, directing them to the bunkers, while the reaction team set out to take care of the shooters. By the time I made it back to the bunker, it was full. I crammed in at an exposed end. The explosions kept getting closer and started to hit some of our tents and equipment.

I remember feeling terrified from the uncertainty and the deafening explosions. We were lucky we did not lose anyone that night.

Thinking back on this memory, I realize I didn’t think twice about risking my safety to help my fellow soldiers. It’s what I would expected from them as well.

Normally, when people say “thank you for your service,” they don’t know why they are actually thanking me, and honestly, until recently, neither did I.

The Aftermath

The things I experienced while serving have been the source of nightmares, anxiety, and depression. What’s more, when I returned from deployment, I had to face life, new careers, civilian culture, housing, anger, marital problems, and financial stress without the moral support I used to get in the military.

I actually missed the life purpose supplied by combat and the need to feel needed by my band of brothers. At first, I tried to cope with alcohol, as many veterans do, but I realized it was not the answer. I eventually sought expert help from the Veterans Affairs. Today, part of the way I cope is by helping others as a mental health counselor.

Conclusion

After much thought and self-reflection, I am finally able to accept the great complement, “Thank you for your service.”

This is what you are thanking me for: I chose a timeless and noble profession. I chose to serve. I left the comfort of my family and my home to follow through with a commitment, to make good on an oath I made when I was a skinny 18-year-old fresh out of high school. I chose to stay drug-free and obey all the laws, to lead an honorable life to be fit for duty and able to serve. I chose to risk my safety for the benefit of the greater good. So, thank you for acknowledging my service.

And to all my fellow veterans: Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, and Marines, “Thank you for your service.”


According to the 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report: In 2020, there were 6,146 Veteran suicide deaths.

To get help from a Veterans Crisis Line:

  • Call 988 (press 1)
  • Text 838255
  • Call TTY if you have hearing loss at 1-800-799-4889

If you are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, visit VeteransCrisisLine for more resources.


About the Author: Seferino Martinez is a Texas native who joined the military after graduating high school. He is a veteran of both the Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan). He has a Master’s Degree in Counseling from Liberty University and is a Licensed Mental Health Professional in the state of Virginia.


Guest Post: Do You Need Counseling?

Our world has become tougher to navigate. Our jobs are becoming too stressful, and our relationships with our family, friends, and special ones are becoming fraught. We have to make sure our bills are paid on time every month or else we’ll land in a debt trap.

Accidents can happen, or we can get sick and be hospitalized. Our friends and families can also get sick and may die, leaving us with a hole in our hearts that can never be filled.

Every day we feel this existential dread of experiencing another pandemic and feel the slow but inevitable demise of our world because of the climate crisis. All the while feeling the loneliness, hopelessness, and that crushing feeling that no matter what you do, things will never be alright. It’s relentless.

Counseling: What Is It and Why Do You Need It?

Are you experiencing any of the things mentioned above? Have you had an experience that deeply traumatized you? Do you feel your family or friends are unable or unwilling to understand you and your concerns? 

What is counseling exactly and what should you expect?

Counseling is a form of therapy guided by a trained and certified professional, specifically a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Keep in mind that counseling requires your participation. A clinician might hold your hand and guide you, but ultimately, you will be the one to take the first step on the path you mapped out with your counselor.

The counseling process is structured and involves multiple stages that could take months or years depending on the severity of the issues you are dealing with.

Counseling is more than just venting your frustrations to someone you paid to listen to you. As mentioned, it’s a process. A journey. Take a look at the stages of the counseling process below.

1. The intake stage

This is the stage where the counselor tries to get as much information as they can about your concerns.

Some of the relevant information required includes the symptoms you are experiencing, your lifestyle, your medical history, and your immediate concerns. All the information can be gathered during the first session, or sometimes during the succeeding ones as well.

This is also the stage of the process wherein the counselor tries to build rapport with you so everything will sail as smoothly as possible.

2. The assessment stage

After collecting relevant data and establishing rapport, the counselor then proceeds to assess your issues and how these issues affect you and the people around you. This is also the stage when a diagnosis is usually made.

3. Planning the treatment

Once the assessment is made and the diagnosis is done, the counselor will work with you to design a roadmap to address the issue(s) at hand. The counselor will also work with you and help you implement the treatment plan.

4. Therapy

Now that you have a roadmap, the actual therapy session can begin. During the therapy sessions, you are encouraged to discuss your feelings, past traumas, hopes, relationships, the things you’re anxious about, etc.

If you think something’s too trivial, then stop that line of thinking immediately. Nothing is too trivial for your counselor, and the information might even help your provider as they chart the next course.

This is also the time for you to learn new things or improve on what’s already there with the help of your counselor. Sessions can take months or years depending on the severity of the problem.

5. Termination

Once everything is sorted out and you’ve achieved your goals, it’s time to terminate the counseling process. If you believe you still need help or if you feel that your clinician has not addressed your issue properly, then feel free to ask for a referral.

When it’s time to seek counseling

Have you been experiencing emotional or mental distress lately? Have you been sad, anxious, fearful, or angry for an extended period? Do you feel empty or have your relationships been suffering?

Don’t wait; seek counseling right away. It’s better to address the problem now than let it fester and become a bigger problem later on.

Keep in mind that counseling is not just for people who are dealing with personal problems. You can also seek counseling to improve a specific aspect of your life.


This guest article was written by contributors from Voxen Counselling on the Gold Coast.

Counselling @ Voxen offers a variety of counselling services to help the client get through life’s hurdles – from trauma counselling, anger management, anxiety and depression counselling, relationship counselling, specialising in children, family, relationships and couples therapy. Not only will your counselling sessions be handled professionally – but with respect, dedication, care, empathy, warmth, and without any prejudice. These qualities help build an environment that is compassionate, supportive, and safe – all of which supports and contribute the healing process.


Guest Post: Addiction, Family, and Healing

The battles that come with loving a person who struggles with addiction can be extremely painful. One such battle is having to face the dishonest words and behaviors of your loved one.

When Trust Falls Apart: A Look at Addiction, Family, and Healing

Families will often come to me, astounded by how their addicted loved one can look them right in the eye and calmly lie that he/she is not drunk or high, when it’s evident that he/she is. This type of interaction feels so very personal to the family.

It can leave the family feeling hurt, disillusioned, or downright furious. We think, “How could they do that to someone they love?!”

In a healthy brain, one that is unencumbered by the highjacking of addiction…they likely wouldn’t. That’s why it’s so confusing and painful. Many families will report that the dishonesty about drug and alcohol use causes more wounds to the relationship than the use itself!

However, with education about how addiction works, we can come to understand how the bizarre nature of this disease can actually be fairly predictable – and why our loved one has deviated in this way from values we hold dear (and maybe they once did too).

Getting High to Survive

As addiction progresses, the addicted person becomes more and more captive to the demands of the disease. Because the disease greatly impacts the “survival circuitry” in the brain, the perceived need for the drink/drug becomes a profound compulsion.

The logic that an addicted person would follow is similar to that of a starving man who easily justifies the theft of a loaf of bread, “I gotta do what I gotta do. I’ll deal with the consequences later.”

Stuck in the Middle

I often envision an addicted person in a tragic tug-o-war. On one team is the Disease, fierce and manipulating them into submission. On the other team are Societal Expectations: the shared belief structure of right vs. wrong, laws, and norms.

The notion of a healthy family structure falls under the umbrella of this second team, holding expectations of mutual respect, consideration, honesty, and the like.

While most addicted people never fully abandon these values in their heart of hearts, the pull of the disease tugs progressively stronger until the person is being yanked between others’ expectations and their own compulsions.

At this point, it can feel to the addicted person that the most adaptive solution is… lie like your life depends on it.

In other words, the addicted person attempts to keep society/family satisfied (or at least at bay) while keeping the disease satisfied by continuing to feed it.

It’s Not Because They Don’t Love You

As personal as the dishonesty can feel, this was never about love. I have come to consider dishonesty as an actual symptom of substance use disorder. It’s an adaptation the addicted person makes to continue surviving in “normal life” in spite of the profound changes that have occurred in their brain.

To be clear, I do not share the above explanation as a justification of hurtful behavior. I share it as a clinician who happens not to have a personal history of addiction.

In my early years as a provider for the substance-misusing population, I too, struggled with the bewilderment, and at times admittedly hurt feelings, when my addicted clients would lie to me about their recent use. After all, I was there to help them, right? Why would they lie to ME?

I’ve come to truly understand however, that dishonesty serves as an odd… but reliable ally that shields the addicted person from their shame, consequences, and need to explain their actions.

While a growing body of neuro-scientific understanding continues to shed light on the “WHY?” many of my clients would admit that on a personal level, they truly don’t understand why they do what they do.

What they do know however is that in order to get to their next fix, they need to evade those that love them the most. A loving family who wants to save you from addiction is the greatest threat to your next high.

Breaking Up and Waking Up

That powerful allegiance between the addicted person and their drug/drink seems only to be broken when they themselves come to understand that this intimate affair they’ve had with their substance has become a nightmarish relationship with a toxic abuser, the kind of abuser that controls their life and takes everything else they love away.

At that point, we hope they can finally reconsider their allegiances.

Recovery: Not Just for Substance Users

When a loved one enters recovery from addiction, it often takes the family a very long time to trust again. Understandably there is skepticism and disillusionment. After all, if a person has looked us in the eye and lied so calmly to us during active addiction, what is our barometer for honesty now?

The notion that “time takes time” is a reality that a recovering person must humbly accept. The addiction caused great damage, and that will take time to heal.

But as the family nurses its wounds, they must also understand that trust-building is a two way street. We must accept that our loved one lied to us because they didn’t trust us to understand the tug-o-war in which they were trapped.

The only way to become a trusted ally is to begin listening and trying to understand. In this, we also hopefully set the stage for them to eventually hear and understand our pain as well.


About the Author: Karen Perlmutter, LISW-CP, has worked as a therapist in clinic, hospital, and private practice settings for 15 years. She specializes in the treatment of substance abuse and mental illness, with a particular interest in supporting the entire family system through the complex journey of addiction. She has developed an evidence-based course for families coping with a loved one’s addiction.  Karen also aims to share education, support and hope with the community through a variety of speaking forums which have included universities, treatment programs, support groups, National Public Radio, professional development events, and an upcoming Tedx Charleston talk.


Guest Post: 4 Steps to Avoid Burnout

Times are tough for therapists. Providing mental healthcare these days is challenging. Therapists find themselves in the midst of many perfect storms. Global changes, social unrest, tremendous upheaval, and trauma in the lives of their clients can mirror the struggles in their own lives, potentially leading to burnout.

Being a therapist is a beautiful, noble, and worthwhile undertaking. It is our life’s work. Yet often it is a slog. Clients may report a bit of progress, but then things fall apart. Our efforts to get through to them come up short. We can become lost and hopeless ourselves, watching people we have grown to care about continue to suffer and struggle.

In these situations, compassion fatigue and burnout can become a real risk. When we are worn down and exhausted, it can be difficult to give to our clients. The work that once inspired us can become draining to the point that it impacts our own wellbeing. When we feel burnt out, we need to find inspiration and reconnect to what it means to be a therapist.


Disclaimer: This post contains an affiliate link. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Inspiration for the Weary Therapist: 4 Steps to Avoid Burnout

Here are 4 accessible steps for therapists to avoid burnout and compassion fatigue during challenging times:

1. Practice Real Self-Care

Self-care is vital for therapists. We learn from very early on in our training that we need to take care of ourselves to care for others. Yet what does self-care look like when you are at a level of weariness and burnout?

When we are in a lot of pain, our output to input ratio changes. If we are guilty of giving too much to our clients and not receiving enough from our lives, then we need to change the way we think about healing so that we do not give more than we take in. We must be okay with simply being present with our clients. We do not need to move mountains or do the work for them. As a therapist, you have to care for yourself too. We must strive for a healthy work-life balance to feel whole and avoid burnout.

Practicing self-care and attention, even in session, can help avoid burnout. Have a coffee in session. Sip it slowly. Take in the light that’s streaming through the window. Our clients need us to be present and alive when we’re meeting with them.

2. Practice Presence

What do you need to be present in session even in the face of others’ pain? Will always having food or tea with you help? Do you need different cushions on your chair? How about comfy clothes? A fan in the heat of summer? You may need a whole little apothecary on the table next to you to symbolize that you are present and caring for yourself while you care for your client.

Contrary to what we may have been taught, we do not need to hide our pain from our clients. We can let them know what we are going through. Clients benefit from having a full human being with them who is giving, receiving, experiencing joys, struggling, and even suffering themselves. Giving yourself permission to be a full person that is comfortable in the therapy room allows you to be truly present.

We need not clear everything out of our mind, be totally empty, and have no distractions in order to be present. I have seen new therapists who won’t remove their gaze from the client in session. That is too rigid. Instead, to avoid burnout, it helps to stay relaxed and open. We don’t need to override being human to be present in session.

3. Receive Care

Giving and receiving are connected. To effectively give to our clients and avoid burnout, we need to be adept at receiving. Receiving a breath, receiving a hug, receiving food, receiving sunlight, receiving sleep, and receiving company with people are all simple ways of taking in life so that we have more to give. Excessive giving can be a defense against receiving, as it can sometimes feel vulnerable to receive. To be impactful at giving to our clients, and to understand the control and power we have as therapists, we need to work on our ability to receive, and remove any barriers to taking in life.

For instance, how do you receive gifts from clients when they give you a present to express their gratitude? We are supposed to give to our clients, but the tables turn when they give to us. It is important for us to be open in those moments and receive the gratitude being offered. Instead of saying, “Oh, thank you very much,” and then putting the gift away, we might instead make a show of it, and ceremonially receive what they bring. Being fed by them in some way might help us be even more effective at feeding them overall and help to avoid burnout.

4. Embrace Your Humanity

Therapists are human too. When we are in pain, we need to be able to embrace our humanity and care for ourselves. To be effective at managing our clients’ pain, we must respond to our own suffering with warmth and self-compassion. Otherwise, we cannot practice real, deep compassion for others. When you give others a break for being a certain way, but won’t let yourself be that same way, it is not real compassion. It is unnecessarily beating yourself up, thinking that you need to be strong to help.

It is human to be weak. I have been surprised when I start hinting to clients that I don’t have it all together, they respond more effectively to treatment. When we are vulnerable with clients, we are sharing with them what it is to be human – that we are not always doing well. We acknowledge that the human experience is varied, that we are not ideal, but instead very human.

To avoid burnout, may the person you are be the same as the therapist that you are. May who you are in the therapy room be the same as who you are outside the office. You will feel way more at ease. Let your clients see you. They want to be seen and they want to be able to see you. Remember that your ability to see others only goes as far as your ability to be seen.


About the Author: David Klow, founder and owner of Skylight Counseling Center and Skylight Healing Center, is a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT). He is the author of the new book, Inspiration for the Weary Therapist: A Practical Clinical Companion, from Routledge Press.


Guest Post: How CBT Can Heal Mental Illness

Choosing a therapist is difficult enough, but it becomes perplexing when you see a long list of acronyms following their name. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is one of those acronyms.

CBT, founded on the notion that our ideas create our reality and behavior, may be just what you need, whether you’re seeking assistance for mental health concerns or need a little additional support.

Cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy are two distinct therapy modalities combined in CBT. Cognitive therapy focuses on how ideas and beliefs lead to unfavorable feelings and behaviors. Behavioral therapy emphasizes the causes of behavioral patterns and how they can be changed to impact mood positively.

What is CBT?

CBT is a type of psychotherapy that uses solution-based techniques to heal dysfunctional emotions, ideas, and behaviors. It is helpful for various issues, including depression, anxiety disorders, problems with alcohol and other drugs, general stress, managing one’s anger, marital problems, eating disorders, and severe mental disease.

Establishing new, healthy behavior patterns motivates patients to confront unhelpful and misguided thinking. With CBT, it is hoped that harmful behaviors can be modified and rerouted by rewiring cognitive pathways based on the theory that our ideas and perceptions influence human behavior.

It is essential to highlight that improvements in CBT have been made due to clinical and research-based work. A wealth of scientific evidence supports CBT, demonstrating that the techniques used indeed result in change. CBT is distinct from many other types of psychiatric therapy in this way.

How is CBT practiced?

According to Mary Heekin, a therapist at CBT Denver, “CBT is a practical, results-based, evidence-tested approach. It teaches people how thoughts and actions influence mood and other aspects of mental and physical health. People are given strategies to overcome challenges daily. CBT is very flexible and can benefit people with mental health conditions.”

CBT is based on several fundamental theories, such as:

  • Psychological issues stem from flawed or harmful ways of thinking.
  • Learned undesirable behavioral patterns can evidence psychological problems.
  • People with psychological issues can develop more robust coping mechanisms to help them manage their symptoms and improve their effectiveness.

In CBT, efforts are made to alter thought processes, such as:

  • Recognizing one’s thinking patterns that are problematic and then reevaluating them in the context of reality
  • Improving one’s knowledge of other people’s motivations and behaviors
  • Use problem-solving techniques to deal with challenging circumstances
  • Increasing one’s self-assurance as one grows in confidence

CBT treatment attempts to alter behavioral patterns. Such strategies include:

  • Confronting one’s fears without ignoring
  • Using role-playing to get ready for possibly awkward social interactions
  • Learning how to relax one’s body and mind

Not all CBT will implement each of these techniques. Instead, a collaborative effort between the psychologist and patient/client is used to analyze the issue and develop a treatment plan.

The goal of CBT is to assist people in becoming therapists. Patients and clients are assisted in developing coping skills to learn to alter their thoughts, disturbing emotions, and behavior through activities done both during and outside of sessions.

Instead of focusing on the circumstances that lead to the client’s problems, CBT therapists highlight what is happening in the present. Although some knowledge of one’s past is necessary, the goal is to move forward in time and create more useful coping mechanisms.

What conditions respond well to CBT?

Many mental ailments such as mood, anxiety, eating disorders, insomnia, and substance use disorders respond well to this therapy. While CBT is beneficial for people with mental health concerns, it can help anyone improve their quality of life.

Here are three common mental health disorders that are treated with CBT:

Bipolar disorder

CBT is helpful for bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, dysthymia, and depression. If you have one of these disorders, it might be beneficial to recognize thought patterns contributing to mood problems and confront them by adopting a more realistic and positive perspective on your environment. In contrast to other treatment modalities, CBT emphasizes collaboration and goal-oriented therapy sessions.

CBT teaches several essential skills that target the core ways bipolar disorder affects you. These include:

  1. Acknowledging the diagnosis. The first step is to understand and admit that your disorder is causing your symptoms. For mental health practitioners, teaching about the condition’s indications, symptoms, causes, and progression is crucial because it may be challenging for individuals with bipolar disorder to accept their diagnosis. Psychoeducation empowers people to receive needed assistance while also realizing they are not alone.
  2. Monitoring overall mood. This is frequently accomplished by keeping a worksheet or notebook between sessions, which is then evaluated with your therapist. On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 equals “depressed,” 5 equals “feeling OK,” and 10 equals “very irritable or heightened mood,” patients are asked to rate their mood daily. The goal is to increase awareness of mood shifts and triggers.
  3. Restructuring cognitive processes. A patient can fix incorrect thinking patterns by learning to become more conscious of the impact that thoughts have on their mood, how to recognize problematic thoughts, and how to change or correct them. The therapist shows the patient how to analyze their thoughts, seeing errors like ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking and coming up with more reasonable ideas.
  4. Frequently solving problems. This stage teaches you how to recognize a problem, devise potential solutions, choose one, try it out, and assess the results. Problem-solving is typically first introduced in therapy and then practiced in-between sessions. Problems arise in all life areas, including relationships, jobs, and finances. If none of these stressors are addressed, you risk experiencing a lapse more frequently.
  5. Improving your social abilities. Some people living with bipolar disorder struggle socially, making them feel like they aren’t in control of aspects of their lives. You may improve how you manage interpersonal relationships by developing skills like assertiveness.
  6. Making routine changes. Establishing a rhythm to your day through regular, scheduled activity helps to stabilize your mood. Examples include:
    1. Working out in the early afternoon
    2. Maintaining regular sleep and mealtime routines
    3. Scheduling social activities
    4. Performing household duties

Anxiety disorders

Patients who suffer from anxiety disorders benefit from CBT’s attention to thoughts and behaviors. CBT assists patients in experiencing fewer and less intense symptoms of dread, anxiety, and panic, as well as avoiding being controlled by their fear by identifying habitual thought patterns that result in the sense of danger.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is effective for issues with a physical foundation. It is founded on the idea that our negative thought patterns influence or even drive our behaviors and impulses.

CBT professionals use common techniques to help you manage anxiety and change your behavior.

1. Restructuring or reframing of the mind

Examining negative thought patterns is a necessary step in this process. People may frequently:

  • Overgeneralize
  • Believe the worst will occur
  • Give excessive weight to minute details

This thinking could influence human actions and, in some cases, might become a self-fulfilling prediction. The therapist will inquire about one’s mental processes in certain circumstances so one can spot negative patterns.

Once the patient becomes conscious, they can learn how to change them into more optimistic and useful ones.

2. Thought challenging

By using concrete examples from our daily lives, patients may challenge their thoughts and look at something from multiple aspects. Instead of simply accepting their beliefs as the facts or the truth, thought questioning might help people view things more objectively.

A person can attempt to rectify the unhelpful beliefs with more balanced and factual ones by becoming aware of when a cognitive distortion is present in their thinking after receiving education about them.

People with anxiety may find it difficult to reason through the issues. They may experience anxiety but be unable to pinpoint its source. Or they might fear things like social gatherings but not understand why.

3. Behavioral activation

You can plan an activity if anxiety prevents you from doing it by placing it on your calendar. Doing this lets you set up a strategy and stop worrying about it.

For instance, you might plan a meet-up with a friend in the park if you’re worried about your kids’ safety at the same place. The techniques you practice in CBT will inspire you to take action and deal with the situation.

4. Maintaining journals

You can connect with and become aware of your thoughts and feelings via journaling, also known as a thought recorder. It can also facilitate cognitive organization and clarity.

You may list the negative and uplifting thoughts you can replace them with. Your therapist could encourage you to keep a journal of the new abilities and habits you practice outside of therapy sessions.

5. Behavioral research

These are frequently employed when you have devastating thinking, which is when you predict the worst.

Like in a scientific experiment, we make assumptions about the possible activity results and write down what we believe will occur and what we fear may happen.

Discussing your predictions and whether they came true with your therapist may be a good idea. You’ll eventually realize that your worst-case situation is unlikely to occur.

6. Calming methods

Relaxation methods ease tension and improve your ability to think correctly. These, in turn, can assist you in regaining control of a circumstance. These methods could consist of:

  • Activities for deep breathing
  • Progressively relaxing the muscles
  • Meditation

You may apply these techniques whenever you’re anxious because they don’t take much time, like in the checkout line at the grocery store.

OCD

Patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder use particular compulsions to escape their distressing obsessive thoughts temporarily. The automatic connection between obsessive thinking and ritualistic compulsive conduct is broken through cognitive behavioral therapy. Additionally, CBT teaches patients not to engage in rituals when they are worried.

The following methods are frequently employed in CBT to assist in treating OCD patients. Along with treatment sessions, calming techniques like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can be used to reduce anxiety.

Here are some CBT techniques that are commonly used to treat OCD:

1. Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP)

Exposure and response prevention therapy is the most beneficial CBT technique for treating OCD. The patient is exposed to the anxiety-inducing obsessive thought during this procedure, but they are not permitted to engage in the compulsive action. They must deal with their anxiety until it subsides, and they get numb to it by doing this to avoid the brief relief that comes with the compulsion.

Among the elements of ERP are:

  • In vivo exposure – Sometimes known as “real-life exposure,” involves regularly exposing a subject to feared stimuli for a long time.
  • Imaginal exposure – The mental representation of a feared stimulus and the effects of exposure to the stimuli is known as imaginary exposure.
  • Ritual or response prevention – Avoiding ritualistic behavior after exposure to the feared stimuli is known as ritual or response prevention.
2. Exercises for deep breathing

Exercises focusing on breathing are pretty effective at reducing OCD-related anxiety and can be used during ERP. Deep breathing exercises come in various forms, but they all have the same goal of soothing the body by lowering the breath and pulse rate.

3. Progressive relaxation of the muscles

People can physically contract and relieve tension throughout their bodies via progressive muscle relaxation. Our bodies may activate the fight-or-flight reaction when we are under stress or anxiety, which frequently results in muscle tightness throughout the body. You may easily manage your stress by preventing your body from activating this response.

4. CBT and cognitive restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is a method of confronting irrational thoughts or cognitive patterns. This way, patients may replace these patterns with logical, sensible thoughts. The idea is to utilize facts to refute arguments founded on emotional reactions.


By recognizing the beliefs that lead people to turn to food, drugs, or impulsive behavior, these disorders can be treated. CBT teaches patients the skills to recognize the circumstances that could lead to bingeing on substances or acting impulsively, and it also helps to find alternate, healthier ways to cope.

How to find a CBT professional

Finding a competent therapist can be difficult. Though it may seem overwhelming to know where to begin, you can find a counseling practice that is ideal for you. Here are some things to consider when searching for a CBT expert.

Initiate your search

Ask friends and relatives for ideas. Online searches are a further resource for finding a CBT therapist. You can search a database on the Psychology Today website by state. Additionally, you can look through the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists‘ directory.

Identify the characteristics you’re looking for in a therapist

Identifying the kind of therapist you would feel at ease with is helpful. Your ability to regain mental health will depend on how well you get along with your therapist. Ask yourself:

  • Who are you looking for in a therapist?
  • Do you prefer working with a particular gender?
  • Do you want an older or younger therapist?
  • Do you desire a spiritual component to your therapy?

Don’t compromise

It’s vital that you feel at ease with your therapist. It’s acceptable to look for a better match if they aren’t a good fit. Not everyone will be a good fit, and various therapists can address multiple concerns.

Online or in-person consultation

When you visit a therapist in person, you sit on sofas or chairs in their waiting room or office. However, as more therapists see their patients virtually, clinics now provide a more comprehensive range of possibilities for online therapy. You could discover that virtual counseling is more comfortable for you.

Certain businesses, like Online-Therapy, specialize in CBT. In addition to treatment sessions, they may provide you with additional beneficial materials like workbooks and live sessions.

Group or individual therapy

You may opt for CBT in a group therapy setting or individual counseling. In a group therapy session, a facilitator, typically a mental health professional with a license, works with a small group of persons experiencing related problems. The patient can get a one-to-one consultation with the doctor in an individual counseling session. 


Conclusion

It might be challenging to deal with mental illness, but fortunately, there are actions you can take to get through them. CBT is a means to alter your negative thought patterns so that they have a positive impact on how you react to circumstances.


About the Author: Dr. Joann Mundin is a board-certified psychiatrist who has been in practice since 2003. She is a Diplomate with the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and a Fellow with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Currently associated with Mindful Values, she provides assessments and treatment for patients with severe mental illness.

Guest Post: Can a Plant-Based Diet Impact Your Mental Health?

According to the CDC, more than 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point in their life. Depression and anxiety are among the top conditions that people suffer from.

As our society becomes more aware of mental health and more attuned to improving it, a number of potential solutions and aids have come to the surface.

One of the most recent theories is that a plant-based diet could help improve your mental health and reduce the effects of anxiety and depression. Today, I’ll examine this theory and show you some of the top research-based evidence so you can decide for yourself!

Can a Plant-Based Diet Improve Your Mental Health?

Obesity and physical illness aren’t the only drawbacks of an unhealthy diet. It’s no secret that our dietary choices have a huge impact on our mental health.

Our body needs specific vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to support optimal hormone production and healthy brain function. Without them, our hormone levels can fluctuate drastically, resulting in symptoms such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Sleeplessness
  • And more…

Simply put – when we’re not eating healthily, our bodies will ultimately suffer, both physically and mentally.

Plant-based diets tend to be a lot healthier, compared to the average American diet that’s full of meat, sugar, and highly-processed foods. As a result, plant-based eaters tend to consume more plant-based nutrients than meat-eaters.

Meat does contain some essential nutrients. However, as long as vegans are supplementing with the best plant-based trace minerals to make up for this, they shouldn’t be negatively affected by the lack of meat in their diet.

Can a Plant-Based Diet Help Depression & Anxiety?

A growing body of evidence points towards the idea that a plant-based diet could improve your mental health. A recent study of 219 individuals revealed that those who adhered to plant-based diets were around 6% less likely to suffer from depression.

Six percent may not seem like a huge difference, but it’s certainly relevant. For those who suffer the daily effects of a mental health condition, a pharmaceutical-free solution (no matter how small the chances are) is certainly worth looking into.

Cognitive Dissonance & Plant-Based Eating

It’s easy to see how proper nutrient levels can correlate with healthier brain function. However, there’s a deeper aspect that’s just as relevant.

The American Psychological Association (APA) published a paper showing that many who suffer from depression also suffer from cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort that occurs when an individual’s beliefs about themselves don’t line up with the life that they actually live. It can also happen when an individual holds two conflicting beliefs at the same time.

For example, a part of you might really want to change your diet, improve your health, and start a plant-based lifestyle. The other part of you might also really enjoy meat, junk food, and other unhealthy things in your life.

Until you make a solid decision to follow one path or the other, you’ll likely feel uncomfortable. Sustained over long periods of time, these feelings can develop into depression or anxiety.

Once people commit to living a healthier lifestyle (which may include a plant-based diet), the positive decision can often feel like a weight lifted off of the shoulders. Stress, guilt, and indecision are replaced by focus, positivity, and clarity, which are naturally healthier emotions.

Not All Vegan Food Is Equal

When considering a plant-based diet to improve your mental health, it’s important to keep in mind the type of vegan food that you’re eating.

Not all vegan food is healthy.

Unfortunately, there are lots of unhealthy, highly-processed vegan foods that can be detrimental to your health.

I always recommend that plant-based eaters stick to natural, healthy whole foods, whenever possible.

Vegan Probiotics & Mental Health

Gut health often correlates with mental health. The healthier your gut biome is, the less likely you are to suffer from conditions like depression and anxiety. When your stomach is healthy, it’s able to absorb more of the nutrients it needs. Probiotics can even improve your body’s ability to create and absorb serotonin!

While vegans may not be able to consume yogurt (which is the biggest source of probiotics), the best vegan probiotics contain all of the essential bacteria needed to support a healthy gut!

Conclusion – Can Going Vegan Improve Your Mental Health?

As long as you’re consuming healthy whole foods and vegan nutrient supplements, then you may see improvements in both your physical and mental health! Vegan diets tend to be healthier than non-vegan diets and are more positive and ethical.

Combined, all of these things can lead to a happier state of mind, which can reduce the effects of depression and anxiety.


Guest author Emma Wilson is the creator of Vegan Calm, your guide to everything vegan!

Guest Post: Remaking Your Mind

remaking your mind
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Guest Post: Remaking Your Mind

Author: Ken Pecoraro, LCSW, LCADC of Taking the Escalator

I was extremely psyched when I was asked to do a guest post for Mind ReMake Project. The first thing I thought when I saw the Mind ReMake Project website was “Wow, what an awesome, well put together online resource!” The second thing I thought to myself was “The Mind ReMake Project – what a fantastic name!”

The whole concept of “remaking your mind” really makes a ton of sense. Mental health and substance use treatment is all about making your mind over. In a lot of ways, this process of remaking our mind can be directly compared with making over or renovating a home or apartment. With that in mind, consider this analogy further.

When you renovate your apartment or home, first you identify what you need to throw away or update, and the same is true for remaking our mind.

When renovating your home, you would probably start by looking around at the furniture, the appliances, the carpets, wallpaper, fixtures, lighting, etc. It makes sense to carefully scan all around the place and decide what needs to be thrown away or replaced.  

Then, the process of renovation starts with getting rid of what does not work for you anymore around the place and eliminating or updating the things that are so worn out or outdated that they no longer bring you comfort or joy.

“If you can change your mind, you can change your life.”

William James (Philosopher)

When remaking your mind, the process is very much the same. You may start looking at things in your mind that are getting in the way of your progress or cluttering up the works inside your brain. This may include negative thoughts, debilitating feelings, destructive habits, bad attitudes, or dysfunctional behavior patterns.

Granted, it is not so easy to get rid of some of these aspects of our mind as it may be to throw away an outdated piece of furniture, but still the process starts with identifying and accepting what we need to change and what we need to improve upon in order to make our mind over.

Question for self-reflection

What negative things do you need to “throw away” or change in order to remake your mind? (Think about negative thoughts, stressors, triggers, feelings, habits, behaviors, moods, attitudes, etc.)

Next, it’s time to gather your tools, learn to use them, and get to work.

Once you have a renovation plan in place and have identified the repairs that need to be made, there is a ton of work to do. You would need to make sure you have the tools needed to get each job done as there may be several different types of renovations that need to be taken care of.

You may even find yourself watching YouTube videos or getting help from experienced friends and others who know how to make the needed home repairs you have identified. For more complicated tasks, you may need to call in an expert to help. Once you have the tools and supports in place, you can then get to work.

When getting to work on remaking your mind, you also will need to gather some tools. This will undoubtedly include coping skills and strategies for all of your mental and emotional goals. It is important to get the right tools for the right job depending upon your needs. Therefore, you may need to develop an array of varied skills for a host of conditions such as anxiety, depression, trauma, substance use, etc. Whatever it is that you need to renovate, you will need to become proficient with applying the appropriate skills.

Often, treatment is the place for many to develop these tools effectively, especially with more challenging mental and emotional conditions. In addition, we need to find supports in our lives who can help us learn to effectively use tools, based on their expertise and experience with the same tasks.

Questions for self-reflection

What are some tools, skills, and strategies that you may need to develop for your mind remake project? Are there any areas where you may need professional help (treatment)? Also, where can you find support to help you with these self- improvement goals and projects?

Finally, you put the work in long enough to see progress take place and then change your lifestyle to keep your new home clean and all your repairs in working order for the long haul.

So far, just to get to this point in home repair, it takes a good deal of time and persistent effort. Putting in the work doing repairs to renovate a home is a process that can take a long time and involve a lot of commitment to regular hard work. With time however, the house starts to take shape and eventually begins to look amazing as repairs and renovations take place. If you do good work, the home renovation project will surely show it.

Naturally then, it only makes sense to take care of your beautiful new home by living a more conscientious, organized, and goal-directed lifestyle. It wouldn’t make sense to completely redo your living room, for example, only to trash it right after. To the contrary, when the home looks new and beautiful, an increased effort is made to maintain the beauty of the renovations and to make the new home improvements last for as long as possible.

“The mind is everything. What you think you become.”

Again, in your personal mind remake project, when you put the work in over a long enough time, your changes and self-improvement start to become more evident to others, and your lifestyle starts to significantly improve. You then do what you can to maintain these changes to avoid going backward and losing all of your hard-fought progress.

Often, some type of plan for relapse prevention is needed so that progress and positive change are effectively managed and sustained on a consistent basis, thus rounding out your mind remake project on a long-term (possibly even lifelong) basis.

Questions for self-reflection

What is needed for you to avoid going backward with your mental and emotional progress? How can your transform your goals and progress into sustainable lifestyle changes that you can effectively manage and maintain on a long-term basis?

Conclusion

Both a home renovation and a mind remake project require a lot of persistence, support, commitment, learning, and of course, time, dedication, and hard work. Still, if you are able to stick with it, the end product is so worth it as you’ll have a new and improved way of life that will surely bring you increased happiness and prosperity. It’s worth the effort!


Ken Pecoraro, LCSW, LCADC specializes in addiction and mental health, and works with both adults and adolescents at Escalator Counseling Services. Ken posts addiction resources and more on his site, Taking the Escalator.

remaking your mind

Guest Post: How to Develop a Happiness Mindset

Guest Post by Ralph Macey, Writer/Blogger/Health Care Coordinator

Happiness is all about mindset. Many believe that happiness depends on external factors, but this is not the case. Happiness depends on your mindset. Absolute happiness can exist even in the face of adversity when you have a positive mindset. 

Setbacks will always be a part of life. No one can avoid hardships or problems, not even monks or saints. When problems arise, you can tackle them head-on. And when there are joyous moments in life, you can savor them. And when you can remain relatively unaffected by whatever is happening around you, you can create a mindset of absolute happiness. 

“If you want to be happy, be.”

Leo Tolstoy (Russian Writer)
happiness mindset
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Tips for Developing a Happiness Mindset

Here are nine mental health tips for cultivating happiness and developing a happiness mindset.

Have gratitude for everything you have.

Human beings have a disgusting trait. They tend to focus more on the negative aspects of life than the positive. Oftentimes, people are more concerned about the things they do not have instead of the ones they already possess. Hence, they become unhappy. 

When you dwell on the things you’re missing out on, it is easy to be unhappy. For example, you may feel resentful when you don’t receive a raise or promotion at work. However, when you look outside of yourself at the millions of unemployed people in the world, you may feel better. (At least you have a job!)

Have gratitude for everything you have. Gratitude helps to develop positive emotions, enjoy experiences, tackle adverse situations, and build healthy relationships. When you have gratitude for even the small things in your life, you feel happy. 

“Happiness will never come to those who don’t appreciate what they already have.”

Anonymous

Develop a growth mindset and discard the fixed mindset.

There are two kinds of mindsets. The first is the fixed mindset, and the second, the growth mindset

In a fixed mindset, you are resistant to change. You are rigid in your way of thinking and are not concerned with self-improvement or personal growth. When you encounter challenges, you choose to not learn from them. You tend to defend your position blindly. Hence, you become an angry, irritated, fearful, and unhappy person. 

In a growth mindset, you crave learning and personal development. Whenever there is a challenge, you view it as an opportunity for improvement. With a growth mindset, you evaluate the situation, acknowledge the drawbacks, and focus on the skills you need to be successful. You do not have an inflexible, narrow mindset and are not driven by ego. Instead, you embrace any new challenge as a learning opportunity. Thus, you become happy and content. 

If you want to be happy, adopt a growth mindset and discard the fixed mindset. Regard every challenge you face as a medium to grow and prosper. 

Make a list of the things that make you happy.

To foster a happiness mindset, make a list of the things and memories that make you happy. Every morning, jot down a few words or phrases (i.e., friends, a favorite vacation, a beloved pet, your favorite meal, a brand new car, etc.). Add to your list daily. Once you have a list of considerable length, devote 30 minutes to reviewing it. In those 30 minutes, reflect on the people, places, events, and things that bring you joy.

Do not overthink or judge yourself.

Human beings have 6200 thoughts per day. And not all of those 6200 thoughts are positive. You experience both positive and negative thoughts. Try to not dwell on your negative thoughts, and do not overanalyze them. When you overthink things, you may worry unnecessarily and feel unhappy. Also, do not be ashamed of your negative thoughts. It is okay to have negative thoughts; just don’t let them overpower you. For a happiness mindset, let the negative go, and instead, focus on the positive.

Think about the best moment of the day.

Before going to sleep at night, think about the best moment of your day. It will bring a smile to your face. Did you love the food your significant other cooked for dinner? Or, if the meal was mediocre at best, be happy that they took out time from their busy schedule to prepare something for you. (It’s the thought that counts, right?) Relish in the feelings of happiness and gratitude as you drift off to sleep.

Focus on your goals and the journey rather than the obstacles.

You will face obstacles in life. Sometimes, you will fail and fall flat on your face. But you can pick yourself back up. Focus on your goals and on the journey itself, not on stumbling blocks you encounter along the way. When you’re fixated on a problem, you become discouraged and are thereby less likely to look for the solution. Subsequently, you get stuck, and happiness may seem out of reach. 

To get unstuck, develop a plan, and then take action to achieve your goals. Get back on track with a renewed focus, and fight until you succeed. Your vision of success will help you move forward as you continue on your journey.

“Happiness is a journey, not a destination.”

Ben Sweetland (Author and Psychologist)

Think positive thoughts about others. 

When you think negatively about the people in your life, you become incapable of maintaining healthy, genuine relationships. Misunderstanding and miscommunication can lead to conflict. Heated arguments or giving the cold shoulder generates hostility.

As much as possible, assume that others have positive intentions. For a happiness mindset, do not judge their words, actions, or motives. Judgments cloud your heart with unhappiness. 

Stop comparing yourself with others.

Each life is precious. Every journey is different. 

Now, envision that you’re scrolling through Facebook. You probably see smiling, attractive faces and happy, perfect families. In comparison, your life may seem dull or pathetic. Suppose you just went through a painful breakup, and when you view your home feed, all you see is your friends getting married or having babies. You may feel disheartened. If so, remind yourself that Facebook only reveals a tiny piece of the picture, not the full story. You are looking at edited highlights of your friends’ lives. You don’t know what happens behind the scenes. For a happiness mindset, stop comparing your life with others, and write your own story.

“Happiness is letting go of what you think your life is supposed to look like and celebrating it for everything that it is.”

Mandy Hale (Author)

Seek medical help to regain your lost happiness.

Happiness leaves your life when you develop severe depression. Depression is like a thief. It steals optimism and joy. If left untreated, depression can lead to hopelessness and mental anguish and will rob you of the ability to feel any pleasure or enjoyment. It may impact your relationships with others, in addition to affecting sleep, appetite, and energy levels. 

Unfortunately, the stigma associated with depression and other mental disorders may prevent people from seeking the medical care they need. Many view mental illness as a choice, a weakness, or even a put-on. In reality, the brain, like all other internal organs, is susceptible to illness.

What would you do if you were having heart palpitations, dizziness, and chest pain? Would you ignore your symptoms… or would you ask someone to drive you to the nearest hospital? Certainly, you would seek immediate medical care. Urgent health issues require treatment; likewise, urgent mental health issues require treatment. 

When there are chemical imbalances in the brain, your thoughts, emotions, and perceptions are affected. As a result, you experience depression, anxiety, etc.

If you are depressed, consult with a psychiatrist to learn about available treatment options. After assessing your symptoms, the psychiatrist will recommend one or more medical treatments. The first line of treatment for depression typically consists of medication and psychotherapy. However, if your symptoms persist despite continued treatment, your doctor may prescribe an alternative treatment, transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy, or TMS therapy. 


What is TMS therapy? 

TMS therapy is a non-invasive treatment that involves the delivery of recurring magnetic energy impulses to the parts of your brain that regulate mood. The magnetic pulses stimulate targeted brain cells to enhance communication between different parts of your brain, restoring balance. When TMS therapy is given at regular intervals, it is called repetitive TMS (or rTMS). TMS therapy reduces symptoms of depression and improves mood. TMS therapy is also effective for decreasing symptoms associated with OCD, PTSD, anxiety disorders, chronic pain, etc. This treatment is painless and has little to no side-effects. It does not involve sedation. Even after undergoing a session, you can drive back to your home without any hassle. That’s the best part of TMS therapy.


Conclusion 

In conclusion, to cultivate a happiness mindset, you must master your mind, not the other way around. True happiness comes from within and is not influenced by external factors. 

To develop the happiness mindset, practice gratitude, strive to improve yourself and learn, reflect on the things that make you happy (daily), be kind to yourself (and others), be solution-focused, compare self with self (not anyone else), and seek psychiatric care for depression.

happiness mindset

Guest Author: Ralph Macey, Writer/Blogger/Health Care Coordinator

Ralph Macey, a professional writer since 2008 and medical health/patient care coordinator at savantcare.com since 2014, writes articles on all mental health-related subjects. He holds a degree and two professional certifications in his field and continues to upgrade his knowledge with additional classes and seminars. He also provides mental health consultations and private fitness instructions for free in his local community.

Guest Post: My Experience with Depression

“I had absolutely no direction in my life. I was a loose cannon. An unguided projectile… I viewed life in a negative, nihilistic, cynical, and overall pessimistic way.”

depression
Image by Daniel Reche from Pixabay


Note: This article, or parts of it, may have been posted to other blogs. It is not entirely unique to this site.


Guest Post: My Experience with Depression

Depression, also known by some as the silent killer. And for good reasons.

Little did I know I was going to find this out firsthand.

Early on in life, before the age of 16, everything was perfect. I had loving parents and, in general, a loving family. I had plenty of friends. I excelled in sports and did well in school.

Things were easy back then. The only ounce of responsibility I had was making sure I got passing grades. And what if I didn’t listen in school and got detention as a result? Well, he’s still a young kid who’s figuring out life. Got into a fight? Well, he’s still a young boy who doesn’t always thinks before he acts.

But my perfect world didn’t last.

My Experience with Depression

Around the age of sweet 16, my life started changing rapidly.

I stopped feeling happy and optimistic. At first, I thought it was just a phase everyone my age went through and that it would pass as quickly as it came. But it didn’t. I had a difficult time adjusting to my ever-changing environment and handling the pressure I believed was being put on me.

I didn’t know what I wanted for my future. My friends and schoolmates already knew what they were going to study when they went to college the next year. I, however, did not. I had no direction in life. I was a loose cannon, an unguided projectile, an immature and wild kid, busy with partying and drinking.

I started getting into frequent fights; I’m not a violent person, but the anxiety, negative emotions, feelings of helplessness, and an overall sense of feeling lost in this world led to physical confrontations with others. The fights were a reflection of my poor mental state.

anger
Image by Annabel_P from Pixabay

Then I turned 18. My parents told me it was time to start taking responsibility for my choices and actions because this time “it was for real.”

In college, I decided to pursue the field of nutrition. Not because I had a strong desire to become a dietician, but rather, because people I knew from my home town were going this route, and I figured since I was interested in exercise/health, it might be a good fit.

Newsflash, it wasn’t.

I quit school two months in. Turns out choosing what course to study based on friends rather than what you want in life is not the smartest idea. (Who would’ve thought, right?)

The following year, I gave it another try. This time I studied occupational performance. Long story short, I managed to earn a college degree despite my depression.

After I graduated and started working as an occupational therapist in a physical rehabilitation center, things got better. I was motivated to help people relearn lost skills, improving their quality of life.

But in time, my thoughts turned dark again, becoming negative and nihilistic. I slept less and my sleep quality was poor. I would randomly wake up at night and cry because I felt so terrible. I withdrew from friends and family. I even discovered a way to measure the severity of my depression; when my mood worsened, I craved alcohol. Drinking was a way to self-medicate.

alcohol use
Image by succo from Pixabay

I continued to plow away at work, but an excessive sense of responsibility, perfectionism, and anxiety was eating away at my mental health. I was head deep into my depression.

One day, I woke up and found I couldn’t get out of bed. I had nothing left in the tank. I realized I needed to take some time off work to deal with my depression and get my life in order again. I called my parents and asked to come home.

At first, I didn’t leave the bedroom. There were successive days I didn’t get up to eat or shower. I was in constant mental pain. It was hell on earth.

One evening, I managed to get out of bed and sat down to eat dinner with my parents. They were silent, and looked tired and sad. Until this moment, my depressive haze prevented me from seeing how my illness impacted my family. I decided: that’s it, no more. It was my guilt that fueled the decision to fully contend with my mental illness.

Up until now, I was only living for myself, not participating and valuing what my parents, family, and others did for me. So, something needed to change. I needed to turn my life around. And with my life, my attitude.

I started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants. I took a sincere look at self, including undesirable traits I’d been afraid to face. I set goals for myself. And when I had zero desire to get out of bed, I pushed through. I made sure I did something useful every day.

After several months of therapy and medication, life became manageable. I talked more, was less irritable, and as a result, my life and that of those around me improved. At times I even looked forward to things!

How Depression Changed Me


Although the depression was tough on me, and there were times I didn’t know if I was going to make it, it brought about some positive changes.

I became more mature and resilient; I learned to put things in perspective and take necessary responsibility. But the two most significant aspects that changed were my so-called “intellectual arrogance” and the pessimistic way I viewed life.

Before, I considered myself a fairly intelligent fellow. The problem with this was that I overvalued intelligence, viewing other aspects in life as inferior.

Moreover, my attitude was overwhelmingly cynical and negative. What I failed to realize is that focus shapes experience. And if you only pay attention to the negative, you miss the beauty life has to offer. Now, I actively search for the good and beautiful things happening around me.

What Helped Me Get My Depression Under Control

In addition to medication and therapy, I found the following to be helpful:

  • Seeking help. We can’t do everything on our own, no matter how much we’d like to. There are times when you will need help to cope with your depression. In addition to professional help, seek support from family and trusted friends. You may find that feeling heard and understood is what carries you through the darker days.
  • Setting goals. I had no desire to do anything in life. I had no goals. For severe depression, I would advise setting smaller goals you think you would mind doing the least (minimal effort) and/or goals which you found important in the past (before your depression took over).
  • Taking responsibility. Although depression can be debilitating, practice taking responsibility for the things in life under your control. For me, it was easy to blame others for everything that went wrong, believing the world to be wretched and unfair, but it didn’t do me any good.
  • Exercising. Mental health and physical health go hand-in-hand. Exercise releases endorphins, the “feel good” brain chemicals related to pleasure. If you don’t enjoy exercise, try a hobby that requires some level of physical exertion. As an additional benefit, engaging in exercise can take your mind off the stressful things in life.
exercise
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

My Depression Warning Signs

For me, there are clear signs that indicate my depression is coming back or worsening. Keep in mind that warning signs vary from individual to individual. What might be a warning sign for me may not for you.

  • My desire to do anything decreases. Hobbies I enjoy like weightlifting and running suddenly mean very little to me. But it’s not just about hobbies. Things like getting out of bed and showering suddenly become difficult because I have zero motivation or energy.
  • My thoughts get darker and more negative. It becomes increasingly tough to see the positive things in life or the positive in people. I become cynical and pessimistic.
  • Overthinking. I tend to overthink when things go bad, which is basically what depression is for me: feeling bad.
  • Anxiety. Negative thoughts and overthinking lead to increased levels of anxiety. My anxiety about the little things in life may seem insignificant to others who don’t have a mental illness, but a simple act such as calling or visiting a friend can freak me out and lead to rumination.
  • Ruminating. Intrusive thoughts run through my head and there’s no “off” switch.
  • Irritability. I become increasingly irritable; I’m in a foul mood all of the time and the smallest things piss me off.
  • Increased desire to self-medicate. I experience a strong desire to drink. Alcohol impacts the brain by triggering a release of dopamine. This rush of dopamine creates feelings of pleasure and happiness.
  • Decreased sleep quality. My overall sleep quality gets worse, partly due to constant overthinking and ruminating. Anxiety and stress are also big factors. And when I’m able to fall asleep, I wake up throughout the night.

Conclusion

Depression is a terrible disease that may go unnoticed if the signs aren’t recognized or known. A person with depression might attempt to maintain a positive front, possibly because they don’t want to complain or they’re afraid of being misunderstood.

There are multiple symptoms of depression; my symptoms went hand-in-hand, playing off one another and creating a vicious circle of negative thoughts that sucked the energy and lust for life from me.

Depression symptoms are different for different people. Learning to identify the symptoms will help you to recognize depression in others. Furthermore, an increased awareness enhances empathy and enables you to better support someone with depression.

I give the following advice to anyone with depression:

  • Don’t give up.
  • Seek professional help.
  • Seek support from your family and close friends.
  • Set goals and work hard to achieve them.
  • Take responsibility for the things you can control.
wellbeing
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Is there a cure for depression? No. Do I think I will ever be totally depression-free? Maybe. What I do know for sure is that my illness is manageable and livable at the moment. I look forward to what the future has in store for me. Which is a lot more than I anticipated at first.

depression

About the Author:

Kevin Mangelschots is a writer and occupational therapist with seven years of experience in the field of physical rehabilitation. He is a long-time fitness enthusiast. Kevin lives in Belgium and has created a platform for other bloggers to share their life stories where he writes about his own experience with depression at retellinglifestories.com.

Workout to Stay Fit During the Lockdown

Two simple workout programs for the home; no gym required!

Crazy things are happening all around the world at the moment. The pandemic, lockdowns, riots… In times like these, it’s crucial that you keep your mind sharp and healthy. But in many places, gyms have not reopened. And not everyone has the luxury of owning a home gym.

If you lack access to a gym (home or otherwise), fear not! You will be amazed at how fit you can get with little (or no) equipment if you put your mind to it! This article reviews ways you can workout at home (minus the weights and fitness machines).

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

How to Stay in Shape During the Lockdown

Beginner Workout Program 

Warmup: 

2-3 minutes of walking or riding the bike

Use this time to start your day off right. Go outside (weather permitting) and walk or ride your bike to warm up. If staying inside is your only option, walk in place or walk around your home.

Workout: 
  • 30 seconds squats – 30 seconds rest
  • 30 seconds planks – 30 seconds rest
  • 30 seconds pushups – 30 seconds rest 
  • 30 seconds lunges – 30 seconds rest 
  • 30 seconds sit-ups – 30 seconds rest 
  • 30 seconds Superman – 30 seconds rest 

–> Repeat this routine 2x. 

Cooldown:

2-3 minutes of walking or slow biking 


Intermediate Workout Program 

Warmup: 

2-3 minutes of walking or biking

Workout: 
  • 20 burpees – 30 seconds rest 
  • 30 close-grip pushups – 30 seconds rest 
  • 20 Bulgarian lunges (10 left, 10 right) – 30 seconds rest 
  • 30-second plank – 30 seconds rest 
  • 40-second side plank (20 seconds left, 20 seconds right) – 30 seconds rest
  • 30 seconds mountain climbers – 30 seconds rest 
  • 30 seconds Superman – 30 seconds rest

–> Repeat this routine 2x.

Cooldown: 

2-3 minutes of walking or slow biking 


Adjusting Your Workout Program 

Both of the above workout programs can be easily modified to be less difficult or more challenging. Below, I will explain how you can experiment to adjust the difficulty of your workout program and ways you can experiment if you are getting bored. Sometimes, changing things up is necessary to maintain motivation.

Reduce or increase rest times. Reducing or increasing rest times will make the workout harder or easier. 
 
Increase or decrease the reps and sets. The amount of reps refers to how many times you repeat the same motion for one set. For example, bench pressing 100 kg (220.5 lbs) five times in a row counts as five reps. The amount of sets refers to how many times you repeat a number of reps. For example, bench pressing 100 kg (220.5 lbs) five times in a row counts as one set. You can do multiple sets of the same exercise after you take a short rest.
 
Increasing the amount of reps and sets makes the workout harder while decreasing makes it easier.  

Adjust the way you do certain exercises. Most exercises can be made harder or easier. For example, pushups can be done on hands and toes, the traditional way, but can also be performed on hands and knees. Alternatively, they can be done with your feet raised on a bench, making them harder.

Squats can be done with or without weights. If regular squats are too easy, you can perform single-leg squats to increase the difficulty of the exercise.

Image by Keifit from Pixabay

Add or decrease the number of exercises. You can also add or remove exercises from your routine to alter the level of difficulty. Exercises should be added as your level of training advances.

Consider adding the following exercises to a workout program:

  • Chin-ups
  • Jumps
  • Dips
  • Step-ups
  • Spider crawls
  • Single-leg squats

The exercises listed above are just a few examples to add to your workout in order to make things trickier or for a nice change of pace if things get boring. Don’t hesitate to add your own exercises; get creative! Just be sure to perform any exercise with the correct form in order to prevent injuries.


Why Are These Workouts Effective?

The workout programs in this article are compound exercises. Compound exercises are exercises or movements that target multiple large muscle groups at the same time. (For example, squats are compound exercises that target the legs in addition to the back and abdominal muscles, among others.) With compound exercises, you get more “bang for your buck.” The core of any training program should always consist of compound exercises.

High-intensity interval training. This means your heartrate increases and stays elevated for prolonged periods of time. We accomplish this with exercises of a certain level of intensity and by keeping rest periods between the exercises relatively short.

Strength, endurance, and mobility combined into one workout. With these workouts you will become stronger because you use your own body weight as resistance and your endurance will increase because your heartrate goes up with this high-intensity interval training style. Your mobility will increase as well because you will be utilizing a full range of motion.

Easy, even for individuals lacking prior experience.

Easily adjustable workout routines. Multiple ways to adjust the templates to make your own workout more challenging or less difficult.  

Convenience and value. No equipment or gym memberships required; a cheap and easy path to fitness. Both exercise programs require little time and can be performed at home. No drive to the gym. What’s not to like?

Image by Rattakarn_ from Pixabay

Closing Thoughts 

In comparing the workouts, the biggest differences between the beginner and intermediate programs are the amount of exercises, the difficulty level, and the overall volume. Rest times are initially the same because everyone’s cardiovascular health is different, but should be adjusted for each individual.

Keep in mind that the workout programs are templates only; they provide general guidelines that can be adjusted for fitness and training level as well as individual differences. For example, one person may struggle with pushups while another has difficulty with squats. Prior experience and recent injury or illness should be taken into account. You can reduce or increase reps/sets or perform alternate versions of an exercise, such as performing pushups on hands and knees if the traditional pushup is too hard.

The common stigma that you need a lot of fancy equipment or heavy lifting to stay in shape is not necessarily true. While exercises that utilize body weight only may not lead to bulging muscles, they will lead to fitness and you being in great shape as you lose fat and gain strength.

Getting in a quality workout with the current lockdown regulations is challenging, but with some knowledge and determination it can certainly be done!


Author: Kevin Mangelschots, Writer & Occupational Therapist

Kevin Mangelschots is a writer and occupational therapist with seven years of experience in the field of physical rehabilitation. He is a long-time fitness enthusiast. Kevin lives in Belgium and writes about general health with a specific focus on mental health and self-improvement on his blog, healthybodyathome.com