Let’s Talk About Seasonal Affective Disorder

 

September 22nd marked the beginning of Fall, although its effects may have been felt prematurely as the days rapidly transitioned into nights. With shorter days, longer nights, and mornings that are accompanied with crisp puffs of air, people are trading in their flip flops for insulated footwear. Some are elated by the changing of leaves and dropping temperatures that follow shortly after. But not everyone shares in this elation. Many others witness the dying leaves, dark days and cold air with a sense of grim distress. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), characterized as a depressive disorder with seasonal patterns, is said to affect a good chunk of the population during the fall and winter months. These symptoms delineate more than your typical “winter blues” and warrant attention as we bid adieu to sweet, sweet summertime. It is normal to feel less energy and increased sleepiness during the fall and winter seasons due to changes in light that affect circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythm refers to the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, hence, when the sun rises your body is roused from slumber and vice versa when the sun sets. Longer stretches of darkness will send signals to your brain and body for sleep, and increased drowsiness is a natural consequence. Overtime, people naturally adjust to these changes and depression does not occur. However, if you or a loved one is exhibiting signs and patterns of the symptoms described below, it may indicate a presentation of SAD and warrants reaching out to a mental health professional

General feelings of sadness are part of the human condition. The difference between these normal emotions and SAD lie in the timing, frequency and severity of symptoms. For most people, SAD symptoms appear around the fall and winter months, but for others, the disorder manifests in the spring and summertime. Symptoms of SAD include;

  • Depression, which occurs at the beginning of a season, that dissipates when the season comes to an end. Year-round feelings of low mood can indicate a more serious concern of chronic depression. 

 

  • Feelings of depression for a 2-year period, manifesting during seasonal shifts more often than not. 

 

  • Feeling depressed, hopeless, loss of interest, difficulty sleeping and concentrating.
    • For seasonal winter depression, things like low energy, over sleeping, weight gain, craving of carbohydrates, and social isolation are often present. 

 

    • For seasonal summer depression lack of sleep, weight loss, agitation, anxiety, and restlessness are key indicators. 

 

Things this year may get a little extra challenging, being that those affected with SAD have a global pandemic slapped on top. The winter months already squash plans of getting outside – so how do we manage feelings which may seem a little heavier this year? 

 

It’s important to note that SAD, just as the name suggests, is seasonal. This means that preventative measures can be put in place to preemptively manage unpleasant feelings and behaviors. Common tactics for SAD includes; 

  • Light therapy: This has been shown to be one of the most widely used treatments for SAD. Prevention includes sitting in front of a light box for 20-60 minutes at the beginning of the fall to help regulate the body’s natural circadian (sleep-wake) cycle.  

 

  • Talk therapy: As with other depressive disorders, speaking with a mental health professional may alleviate feelings of depression and allow for insight into behaviors associated with depression. 

 

  • Medication: SAD is hypothesized to be connected with serotonin, therefore it may be time to speak with a doctor about starting on a medication to regulate the body’s production of serotonin.

 

  • Pleasant activity scheduling: as the name suggests, planning out enjoyable activities each day can have a positive effect on mood and assumes that by doing something, we may feel something. It can be as simple as giving a friend a phone call or watching a favorite movie.

 

There are several tips and tricks to noticing and alleviating SAD not mentioned in this blog post. Experimenting with what works is crucial to knowing how to mitigate feelings of depression. Be curious about the things that help and recognize the warning signs if it’s time to reach out to a mental health professional and schedule an appointment.  Winter may be coming but that doesn’t mean depression has to follow suit. 

 

– Malory Dahl, MA, CSAC

The Struggle for Self-Compassion


Is self-compassion good or bad? If asked this question, most people would agree that self-compassion is a positive thing. It’s also likely that the majority of those people have spent their lives cultivating a harsh inner self-critic and readily indulge thoughts such as “I made such a stupid mistake, people must think I’m an idiot” or “I’m not a good parent/friend/partner/employee…why is it so hard for me to just get it together?” So what causes the discrepancy between our belief about self-compassion and our resistance to practicing it?

Even though they know that it makes them feel bad, many people subconsciously rely on self-criticism as a way of coping with rejection or failure. This could be attributed to the messages we receive and internalize as children whenever we acted in a way that was deemed “unacceptable”. These criticisms served to teach us how to behave according to the unwritten rules of society. Thus, when we experience failure as adults, we may use self-criticism as a way of “teaching ourselves” not to make that mistake again.

While healthy introspection is a valuable tool for self-improvement, self-criticism can be counter-productive for several reasons:

    • no amount of self-criticism will change the past and undo whatever bad thing happened. 

 

    • self-criticism is demoralizing and discouraging. The more discouraged we feel, the less likely we are to overcome a failure by “getting back on the horse” and trying again. Imagine teaching a young child to ride a bike and saying “you fell off? How embarrassing. You must feel like a real idiot.” That kid is going back inside and will never think about riding a bike again until he talks about it with his own therapist 20 years later. 

 

    • self- criticism encourages a perfectionistic mindset, which is less about “striving for excellence” and more focused on “not making mistakes in an attempt to avoid the judgement of other people.” 
 

Where does self-compassion come in? 
Self-compassion is the antidote for self-criticism. Self-compassion does not mean resigning yourself to life’s circumstances. On the contrary, people who are successful in reaching their goals are shown to have higher levels of self-compassion. This is due to the fact that compassion fosters resilience and perseverance, rather than doubt and hopelessness.

Here are some ways to practice self-compassion:

 

  • remain mindful of when self-talk turns negative. Ask yourself honestly the extent to which that inner dialogue is true. 

 

  • shift into a more flexible mindset. Hardly anything in life is black and white, so get comfortable sitting in the gray area. When you make a mistake tell yourself “well that wasn’t my most shining moment but in the grand scheme of things it’s hardly reflective of my true character.” 

 

  • avoid internalizing small mistakes. You might have done a bad thing by forgetting about your lunch date with a friend, but it does not mean you are a bad person

 

  • talk about your feelings with a friend. Chances are, they will automatically treat you with the compassion you are having trouble giving yourself. 

 

Remember that everyone makes mistakes and experiences failure – it is part of the universal experience of being human. When we are able to be vulnerable and acknowledge fears and insecurities, we build stronger bonds with others and learn how to remove our own self-worth from the stakes. Go ahead and incorporate self-compassion into your life today – you deserve it!

Carolyn Moriarty, LPC

Reflecting on Suicide Prevention Month

 

Suicide. The word itself elicits a nearly visceral reaction. The topic is often one to be avoided and never appropriate for polite dinner conversation. Yet, September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and as such, we would be remiss not to have an open dialogue about a very real, very dire phenomena in the United States and around the world. According to The World Health Organization, nearly 800,000 individuals take their lives every year. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention estimates that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for individuals living in the United States, and is the 2nd leading cause of death for persons aged 10 to 34. Surprising to some, males are nearly 3 times more likely to complete suicide, and over 10% of people in the United states have contemplated suicide – and this is just a snap shot of the statistics.

The data itself sheds a daunting light on the prevalence and breadth of suicide, but the numbers can’t speak for the lives lost or the pain that wreaks havoc on the friends and families of those no longer with us. Ask anyone in your inner circle and chances are they either know of, or were directly impacted by someone who took their life. This persistent devastation has led to a movement from mental health organizations worldwide to provide prevention resources and information to the general public in an attempt to change the way suicide is understood and subsequent ally handled.

 

Know the language.

It’s important to be aware that there is key language to further prevent and provide education pertaining suicide. An important step to eradicating high rates of suicide is understanding the verbiage and behaviors of those around you, so that prevention may be possible.

  • Suicidality infers any level of suicidal thought, plan, or means an individual may express. It’s important to notate active and passive suicidal ideation.
    • Firstly, ideation relates to thoughts about harming oneself or completing suicide.
    • Passive ideation refers to thoughts of self-harm and suicide but with no plan to carry it out, and is an indicator that it’s time to talk to someone.
    • Active ideation pertains to thoughts of self-harm and suicide with a plan developed to carry it out, which requires immediate action to prevent a plan from coming to fruition.
  • A suicide plan refers to an individual who contemplates when and how an attempt may be made.
    • When determining level of risk, a suicidal plan should be assessed for the intent, the doability of the plan, the means present, and warning signs.
  • Finally, suicide attempt is the deliberate act in which a person intends to kill themselves, however the attempt does not result in death.

Knowing the language can help you better anticipate if a loved one may be contemplating suicide.  There are numerous online prevention resources with specific mental health providers and services, tailored to meet specialized needs.

Know the warning signs.

Suicide is rarely ever attempted or completed without change displayed by the person. Talk about wanting to harm oneself, about feeling hopeless, a burden, or extreme emotional pain are often indicative of suicidality. Researching ways to harm oneself or the means of obtaining materials to harm oneself are also apparent in suicidal behaviors. A primary precipitant to suicidality are drastic and sudden changes in conduct such as withdrawal or isolative behaviors, shifts in sleep patterns, rapid mood swings and irritability, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, and increases in alcohol or drug intake. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list, and if you suspect someone you know may be experiencing suicidal ideation reach out to any of the resources below or call 911.

Know the resources.

One of the most important factors in starting the conversation about suicide is understanding that suicidal thoughts, plans, and behaviors have been experienced by numerous people. The experience of common understanding, known as universality, has created a space where people affected by suicide can share their stories of overcoming difficulties. So many people who take their lives feel that they are alone – but the push towards suicide education and prevention has opened the door to understanding that no one has to go it alone. It takes strength to be candid about mental health struggles, and stories of hope and recovery display the importance of vulnerable, genuine dialogue about the impact of suicide. Shared understanding such as this can provide hope and collectivism in a world that may feel especially separated right now. 

More tangible resources include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which provides confidential crisis intervention 24/7 – this number can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). In addition, there is a Crisis Text Line, where an individual can be connected to a crisis counselor by simply texting “hello” to 741741. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has local chapters across the United States that provides access to educative resources, programs, and support for those affected by suicide. There are numerous online prevention resources  with specific mental health providers and services, tailored to meet specialized needs.

 

One of the most important factors in preventing suicide is checking in on others. Speaking candidly with someone who may be struggling and listening carefully to their responses can help show support. Acknowledging feelings can be extremely validating for someone who is struggling. You can always get help, either for yourself or a loved one. Ending the stigma about suicide starts with having conversations about mental health and recognizing the warning signs that it may be time to reach out to a trained professional who can help manage feelings that can be scary to experience. Together we can all make proactive steps towards preventing suicide, and it begins with starting the conversation. 

-Malory Dahl, MA, CSAC

Is Your Stress Normal?


Many people wonder if the amount of stress they are experiencing is “normal”. They look to the person next to them and think “hmm, that guy looks pretty happy…am happy enough? Should I be more worried about the fact that I’m not as happy as that guy?” Before they know it, they begin to stress about stress.

The truth is, stress is an inevitable part of human life. And it can indeed serve a healthy function when it motivates us to work toward important goals or avoid dangerous situations. The tricky thing is that this healthy stress (eustress) can turns to unhealthy stress (distress and suffering) almost imperceptibly. So how do we know when our stress is no longer “normal?”

The thing to remember is that distress occurs over a duration of time, when a continuous amount of stress is experienced with no periods of relaxation or reprieve. This negative stress builds and builds, eventually throwing our equilibrium into an out-of-sync state and causing a variety of emotional, mental and physical symptoms.

  • Emotional signs of distress: decreased motivation, low frustration tolerance, feelings of hopelessness, short temper
  • Mental signs of distress: decreased focus and concentration, racing thoughts, difficulty retaining or recalling information, feeling “out of it”
  • Physical signs of distress: exhaustion, general muscle tension and pain (headache, stomachache, muscle pain), increased or decreased appetite, disrupted sleep

 

How to prevent emotional distress

Remember, experiencing some level of stress in your day-to-day life is inevitable and generally harmless. The important thing is monitoring symptoms and taking preemptive steps to manage that stress before it turns to burnout (once you’re in an emotionally exhausted state, it will be more difficult to bounce back.

Listed below are key strategies to implement today and continually practice:
    • accept what you cannot control. Acknowledge negative experiences instead of avoiding or ruminating on them (read more here and here)
    • manage time effectively by setting realistic goals and expectations (read more here)
    • set boundaries by saying “no” to obligations that will create excess stress
    • express feelings and opinions instead of holding them inside
    • practice self-compassion (read more here)

An important take away is to remember that regardless of whether it’s “rational” or “irrational”, any stress or distress that you feel is valid.  The last thing you want to do is compare yourself with others who seem (keyword: seem) to have things “more together” than you. In fact, worrying about how you stack up to others will likely create unnecessary anxiety that will just create distress, if it wasn’t already there to begin with. 

Now more than ever, you serve to be light in spirit and mind. Similar to how staying physically healthy can help you better fight off illness, strengthening coping skills and mental well-being will foster your ability to tolerate distress and persevere though challenging times.
– Carolyn Moriarty, LPC

Declutter your Life

 

After a long, hectic year, autumn is a time for “new beginnings”. A new school year begins, leaves start to change and weather feels less oppressive.  It makes sense, then, to take advantage of this time by taking inventory of the things in our own lives we wish to change or get rid of. This mental and emotional clutter can build up over time, leaving us in a constant state of exhaustion, depression, irritability and stress.  As we proceed into yet another season of change, incorporate the following to achieve maximum serenity:  

1. Spend Your Time Carefully
It’s hard to be calm if you are surrounded by toxic people, those who leave you feeling exhausted, rather than energized, after each interaction. While constant complaining or gossiping are the usual M.O. for toxic people, they can also operate in coverts ways by being flaky, perpetually late, or even throwing subtle digs and backhanded compliments your way. Treat your time and energy as sacred things and spend them only on relationships that benefit you in a positive way. Do not be afraid to take space from those who are not invested in your well-being. 

2. Pay Attention to Your Thoughts 
While other people can negatively impact our mood and emotions, sometimes we are our own worst critic.  People who experience chronic anxiety and worry tend to feel guilty for things that were outside their control or label themselves as a “loser” or “unworthy.” This thinking error, or “cognitive distortion”, occurs when we rely on inaccurate or biased logic to process information. As a result, we act and behave in irrational ways without understanding the real reasons for we did so. Our skewed perspective on reality also leaves us with feelings of anxiety and distress. Common types of cognitive distortions include:

    • All-or-nothing thinking: thinking in terms of black and white. “Everything must be perfect, or I am a total failure.”

 

    • Overgeneralization: applying the outcome a single negative experience to all current scenarios. “The last interview I had was terrible. This interview will be a disaster too. I am not employable.”

 

    • Fortune-telling: immediately jumping immediately to worst-case scenarios. “I just know that something is going to go horribly wrong.”

Are you still ruminating on something you did or didn’t do six months ago? Stop now. This does not mean resigning yourself to all the bad things that have happened or might happen. Rather, forgiving yourself means giving yourself permission to not spend mental energy getting angry, fighting the feelings or assigning blame. The long chain of events and decisions that led you to the current situation all have a cause—to change reality, you must first accept the reality without judgement. 

3. Take a Time Out
It may sound like an obvious concept, but setting aside time for yourself can easily get swept away by daily, weekly and monthly routines. Identify one activity you want to get back into, or try for the first time. Then, make it a priority. Mark it on the calendar and hold yourself accountable by not making the plans contingent upon whether other people will be able to join you. Trying a new activity is a great way to meet like-minded individuals and take a break from your usual routine. 

While fall is a great season to start cleaning up your mental health, don’t forget to check back in with yourself frequently throughout the year to reflect on whether you have any baggage that might be weighing you down.

– Carolyn Moriarty, LPC

Schools Out…Forever?

 

In the blog post, “Helping Kids with Back to School Anxiety,” we discussed specific ways to manage the stressful nuances of returning to the classroom (or lack thereof) — a topic that is becoming increasingly salient as millions of children are now entering into a school year fraught with uncertainty, instability and change. But beyond the just first day of school, there are additional anxieties and challenges that are unique to the concept of “e-learning.” 

Amidst the numerous pandemic woes, those with youngsters have had to juggle the daunting task of balancing work life with family life, all under one roof. While traces of summer still remain, the first day of school for many is right around the corner – and it looks a little different this year. Instead of taking their children’s hand and walking them to the front steps of school, parents are being asked to walk them the short distance to the computer. As a society embarking on a “new normal,” we’re asking our educators to be computer connoisseurs, parents to double as teacher assistants while maintaining steady income, and our children to stay engaged over the screen. 

Here are a few tips and tricks for navigating those challenges while setting the tone for e-learning. 

Model Healthy Anxiety Management: As we know from Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) problems typically arise from the interaction between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Oftentimes, this means that our thoughts influence how we feel and subsequently behave. If you as the parent are engaging in anxiety ridden dialogue and patterns, your child will learn these fear based assumptions and manifest similar predispositions. You are not only the role model for your child, but MODELING behavior and thought patterns for them. Empower yourself and your child by notating difficult circumstances you have overcome as a family, and channel those results into this “new normal.”

Be Informed! It’s important to have some practical resources to assist you during this time. Right now, Chicago Public Schools are providing internet at ZERO cost to those who qualify. To find more resources, you can visit this CPS website or call CPS at (773) 417-1060 to find out if you’re eligible and sign up. In addition to technical assistance, right now all CPS students – regardless of income, citizenship, or whether they receive SNAP are eligible for P-EBT benefits through the state for food assistance. You can apply for food stamps here

Implement Manageable Routines: This is important in all facets of life, but is particularly important when work, school, and play are all taking place in the same space. Children are exceptionally receptive to routine.Creating a visible schedule that includes all members of the family can help you and your child transition from summertime. When school or work is over, put away the screens and make time to truly connect. Setting time aside to cook a meal together and more importantly EAT together away from distractions can be truly meaningful. Make popcorn and have a movie night – establish a routine that is meaningful to your family and stick to it.

Set Boundaries: Ever heard of that saying “you can’t fill from an empty cup?” Well despite the cliché, there’s some truth to that. Prioritize your mental health and communicate with your partner about your needs and potential burnout. Don’t make commitments to something unless it serves you and remember that declining an invitation isn’t “rude” if that’s what you need. Make time for yourself (even if that means getting up 15 minutes early for a cup of coffee to yourself) and if possible, sneak away for a date night!

Use What Ya Got:  Utilizing support systems is crucial right now, particularly for those fearful of how to manage children’s school work amongst their own load. Many neighborhoods have Facebook groups that connect people in the community. Reach out to your local school and find out if there are tutors/part-time teachers available to assist during the school day. Communicate with your typical support system and stay connected with them to keep yourself accountable.

A new school year can bring new possibilities, and in 2020 we’ve all faced a few curve balls. Right now is a great time to model flexibility during unprecedented times for your child, paving the way for greater adaptability when faced with stress in the future. Back to school may look a little different this year, but it’s important to support ourselves and our families as we maneuver through these challenges.

– Malory Dahl, MA, CSAC

Letting Go of Resentment

 

In previous blog posts, we talked about the role of forgiveness in alleviating resentment. The main take-away here is that forgiveness can help us to unload emotional weight we’ve been carrying around and achieve peace of mind. The tricky thing is that holding on to resentment and anger came happen so automatically that it can be extremely difficult to even know when we’re doing it. 

 
The first step in identifying resentment is understanding the two types. It is important to know which type you are experiencing because the way in which you cope with it will be different. 
  • Current resentment: this type of resentment is caused by something that is happening day-to-day in the present. These are things that feel unfair but are also difficult to change. We may think to ourselves “this keeps happening and I don’t like it”. An example would be being continually saddled with an unreasonable amount of responsibilities at work or at home.
  • Past resentment: this relates to old hurts or “unfinished business”. While we may have decided to “let it go” mentally, we are unable to do so emotionally. Past resentments are usually tied to attachment wounds, when we experienced a significant amount of betrayal or disappointment from the person we are angry with.

Tune into your anger and identify which type of resentment resonates most. It is important to keep in mind that one is not better or worse than the other. Regardless of what you are experiencing, it will affect you in relationships because resentment makes it hard to show kindness, generosity, appreciation, gratitude and warmth toward the other person. 

 How do we cope? 

While it is tempting to push negative feelings down, doing so will only cause them to keep building up. 

    • to cope with our anger, we have to make contact with anger. Acknowledge the emotion and ask yourself “what am I angry about?” 
    • for past resentments, it is important to revisit the past and process what happened. Experiencing the pain and anger instead of shutting down. This could be an opportunity to practice the skill of forgiveness in order to let go of the emotional burdens that have been weighing us down. 
    • for current resentments, identify what relationship feels out of balance. We can ask ourselves what we would like it to look like instead. What needs to happen day-to-day? What would be fair to both parties? While this may be more difficult to do in a work relationship where the power dynamics are different, there is usually some room to negotiate agreements.

Remember, resentment happens due to feeling like we can’t talk about your anger, which leaves us feeling “stuck”. Staying silent fuels resentment and breeds hostility. Eventually, that hostility will cause us to behave in less than ideal ways toward the person we are angry with. This person, not being able to read our mind, will likely be completely unaware of why we are irritated and why we are acting the way we are. The key point to remember is that people cannot understand your anger until they can connect it with something they can deal with. The way to help people connect is by talking about emotions, rather than pushing them down. Focus on “fairness” and be willing to negotiate and compromise. You may find that taking just this first step can be surprisingly cathartic in itself!– Carolyn Moriarty, LPC

Helping Kids with Back to School Anxiety

 

After last spring’s turbulent ending to the school year, and a similarly unpredictable summer, it is now time to gear up for the start of another academic year. In keeping with the theme of 2020, things are not going to be the same—for students, teacher or parents. Some kids are dubiously starting a new phase of “e-learning”, others are returning to the classroom and still others are doing a hybrid of both. Parents are caregivers must adjust their own schedules to accommodate these changes—all of which combine to add an extra layer to an already anxiety-provoking time of year. The first step is recognizing whether your child might be experiencing these worries. 

 
Common signs of school-related anxiety in children include: 
  • repeatedly asking for reassurance about the same questions, even if they have already been answered. For instance, “what if my friends decide they don’t like me?” or “what if the teacher is mean?” 
  • complaints of physical symptoms when no illness is present, such as stomachaches and headaches
  • changes in sleeping and eating habits 
  • avoidance or reluctance to engage in discussions related to school 

While anxiety and stress are inevitable, they don’t need to cause suffering. Read on to learn the ABCs of helping everyone in your household navigate this transition.

  • Anticipate and acknowledge anxieties: instead of waiting for anxieties to bubble up the night before the first day of school, get ahead of the game by predicting potential challenges in advance. For instance, children who experience separation anxiety or have difficulty adjusting to changes in routine can be expected to find the transition to a new year more stressful. Avoiding discussion about these topics may feel like you are protecting your child from undue stress, but chances are that he or she is already thinking about them on some level. Facilitating a conversation will a neutral question such as “do you know who will be in your class this year?” will help children process and familiarize themselves to the anxieties of these uncertain situations.
  • Bprepared practiced. So far, 2020 has cautioned us against developing a false sense of security by telling ourselves that we are “prepared”. So, instead of issuing that challenge to the universe, focus instead on the more accurate actions of being “practiced”, “planned” or “purposeful”. The idea here is to do a “dry run” of the school day routine in advance, whether that means walking/driving to school, waking up early to log on to the computer or role-playing conversations. Ask your child what parts of the day he or she is most nervous about and go from there.  
  • Choose consistency. The transition from summer to a more structured schedule can cause anxiety in itself. You can help your child by shifting into the new schedule a week or so in advance of school to help them become acclimated to the change. This is also a good time to teach children how to develop their own routine by setting aside time each night for reading, journaling and getting prepared for the following day. 
While back to school anxieties are common, it should not consistently interfere with your child’s day to day life or cause excessive distress. If your child seems to be struggling despite your support, consider seeking out the help of a guidance counselors or making an appointment with a mental health professional to further ensure a successful start to the school year.
 

– Carolyn Moriarty, LPC

What is Creative Hopelessness?


In past blog posts, we’ve talked about how to use mindfulness and acceptance to cope with uncomfortable thoughts, sensations and emotions. The take-away message is that in order to avoid unnecessary suffering, we must let go of any ideas about the way we wished things could be and instead accept the way that we are in the present moment. Once we accept our reality without judgement, we are better able to see things for what they are. This allows us to shift the behaviors that we control and take steps towards the fulfillment of our goals and values. 

 “Creative hopelessness” is tool used to promote acceptance by encouraging people reflect upon what they have been avoiding in their lives in their efforts to avoid distress. The logic behind this focuses on the theory that these avoidance behaviors make pain and suffering worse over time. For instance, not taking part in meaningful activities can trigger depression and anxiety, which makes pain and distress feel more severe. The heightened pain and distress then further decrease motivation to engage in activities. This cycle can be powerful, leading many people to believe that they have to wait until their unpleasant life circumstances go away before taking steps toward fulfillment. 
 
If you have ever been caught this trap, thinking “I’ll start [positive goal] when [unpleasant current circumstance ends]”, creative hopelessness could be useful for you. The important thing to remember is not to conflate feelings like “anxiety” or “sorrow” with “suffering.” Equating uncomfortable emotions with suffering can easily make us feel tortured by those emotions. Consistent anguish and torment will ignite the hopelessness that adds fuel to the cycle of avoidance and misery. 
 
Creative hopelessness encourages the use of acceptance to acknowledge struggles for what they are. It goes a step further by asking the questions: “What you would do if your struggle never goes away? How would you live your life differently?” Chances are, you would find ways to take steps toward whatever bring you joy and purpose, even if you have to bring sadness or anxiety along for the journey.   
To practice this yourself, think about your goals (or learn about how to set effective goals). Ask yourself what avoidance behaviors have prevented or slowed down your progress toward these goals, and what that avoidance has cost you. Then, make necessary adjustments to those goals by accepting what you cannot control and identifying what behaviors you do have control over. Although it may not be the path you initially envisioned, getting “creative” with hopelessness can be a powerful tool in helping you decide what path you were meant to travel.
 
Carolyn Moriarty, LPC

Minority Mental Health Awareness Month


In May 2008, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) established July as “National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.” The purpose of this was two-fold: to raise public awareness of mental health among minorities and make mental health services more accessible to racial and ethnic minority groups. 

Although July is nearly over, awareness of mental health in minority populations should be a year-round priority. The US Department of Health and Human Services reports that individuals in these minority groups not only have less access to mental health support but they are also less likely to use community mental health services. Reasons for this include: 

  • not having health insurance or adequate coverage
  • increased stigma about mental health
  • internalized belief that treatment will not help 


Added to this is the fact that people in marginalized communities often receiver lower quality of care due to a number of factors, including:

  • language barriers
  • insufficient cultural competence on behalf of treatment providers
  • racism and discrimination in treatment settings 


Not seeking mental health treatment serves to exacerbate pre-existing issues, leading to a variety of emotional problems and even increased rates of suicide. Fortunately, there are many mental health organizations who recognize this epidemic and are dedicated to providing support and resources to individuals in a variety of different ethnic groups, including Black, Latino and Indigenous Peoples. You can view some of those resources by clicking here, or by making an appointment of your own with a mental health professional. 


Carolyn Moriarty, LPC