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Mental Health Apps

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I recently had the honor of adding my two cents to a local CBS news station report on mental health apps. Here’s a link to the clip:

http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2017/06/29/mental-health-apps-for-that/

Although they’re not for everyone, especially when someone is in crisis, apps can help us become aware of what needs adjustment in our thinking and perceptions. When we pay attention to the emotional noise going on in our minds and make adjustments to our thinking and behaviors, we are one step closer to supporting our healing.

A Few SAD Ideas to Support Your Happiness

FOOD winterNortherners, it’s that time of year again. The beautiful colors of the leaves trigger the awareness of the impending cold, dreary days ahead, in spite of autumn awe.

My monthly client-load often increases about now, due to what has become known as SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder; also known as the “Winter Blues”.

And, yes, it’s a thing. Less sun, less vitamin D, increased isolation and home-bodiness, which may mean fewer interactions with friends and family. It’s an imposed hibernation-mode existence…Except, as humans, we don’t hibernate.

So, what can one do to help keep spirits up throughout the cold months?

If you are feeling depressed, can’t get out of bed (versus not wanting to), feel hopeless, isolate from others, or feel suicidal, please get help immediately! You are worth every effort you make to feel better!

Otherwise, I encourage my clients to tackle this season in mind and body:

For the body, there are several recommendations out there for the efficacy of ingesting extra vitamin D supplements. Check with your doctor for specific dosage and type that would be best for your body.

Another popular practice is using a sun lamp for the ultraviolet rays we miss out on when we are covered with layers of home and blankets. Twenty minutes a day, preferably in the morning (don’t use it before bedtime—it may interfere with your melatonin production, and therefore sleep cycle!).

Keep healthy food around. Since many food-focused holidays happen in winter, make sure your food choices are healthier ones. Keep bananas on the table, and apples close by. Snack on fulfilling nuts rather than chocolates (although a little dark chocolate here and there can go a long way!). Try new healthy recipes to occupy the part of your brain that focused on food. As you may have noticed, pumpkin spice goes a long way!

For the mind, exercise! Yes, this is great for your body, too, but exercise will help those good brain chemicals lift your mood throughout your day. Plus it will get you moving and distracted from the cold temperatures.

Every day, remember to acknowledge three things that you are grateful for in your life. Keep it simple, fun, and daily. You can keep a gratitude journal, or share your list of three with your partner or a friend. Studies have shown that three-a-day keeps the blues away, and trains your brain to look for the good in your life.

Go outside anyway! Yes, I said it. Get out in the cold! Bundle up and take a 20 minute walk in the cold. You’ll benefit from the movement, the bona fide sunlight (even through the grey skies!), and overcoming your mind-body resistance to the cold.

Be grateful! Just thinking about a few of your favorite things–anything you are grateful for–changes your brain chemistry for the better! If you don’t think so, try it once or twice when you’re feeling down–it will feel like magic! Your mind will calm, your body will relax.

Don’t let feeling SAD get you down this winter! Get up, get moving, and keep yourself looking for the good in every situation! Winter won’t last forever—even though it feels like it—and you’ll be glad you spent it supporting your happiness!

Cooperating with the Bigger Picture

My dadI spent two weeks in July helping my dad and mom after my dad had major surgery. I felt grateful enough for being able to be there for them, but the experience of his light and courage topped the experience! My only real job was to cooperate with the bigger picture.

Before I arrived, I prepared myself for my dad to be incapacitated for the whole time I was there, with tubes coming out of him every which way. Indeed, he had a lot to overcome following his successful surgery! But by my second week there—two weeks after his surgery—he was home, walking around, looking and feeling better than he did before the procedure!

My dad’s courage, will, and perseverance shined through him, even on his frustrating days. He took every day in stride, joked with the medical staff, and displayed a positive, stoic determination that wouldn’t have allowed any other outcome!

My job was simple—stay above my own emotions. Fear had no place near him! Being human, of course I experienced it; but there was no space for that around him.

Fortunately, I had already worked my release process—a couple of times before I arrived!—using the “Seven Steps for Moving through Difficulties” formula I talk about all the time. Doing that helped me be less attached to the outcome I wanted—for him to survive and be whole again, even minus an esophagus!

But he is a soul in evolution, and this was his call to make, not mine! I had to get myself out of the way; I had to be prepared for any possible outcome. I released him to his highest good, knowing that whatever the outcome, that was the most efficient route for his soul journey. The most peace I felt was when I was simply in the moment with him, loving and appreciating his soul with no expectations or demands.

There were ups and downs through the process: How much cancer was there? Did they get it all? (They did!) Irregular heartbeat. Infection. Difficulties eating, and so forth. Each time something new arose, I had to be steady and not lose myself in fear, sadness, or hopelessness. Each time I grabbed hold of a faith I didn’t know was there—not a faith in some god that would give me what I wanted. Rather, faith in his beautiful, wise Soul that knew what it was doing—no matter what!

By the time I left, my dad was laughing, eating, walking and enjoying his newfound health! His healing process will continue for a while, but what a great start to that journey!

Where else in my life can I trust the bigger picture rather than my own puny ideas of what should or should not take place? Where in your life can you trust the bigger picture? It is always there! Trust it. Look for it. Let go of your ideas of outcomes and embrace the plan that is in place for the highest good for all concerned. Cooperate with the process!

Too Spiritual for a Diagnosis?

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“A mental health diagnosis isn’t spiritual. I’m not going to take medication; and besides, what does a diagnosis have to do with spirituality? Shouldn’t I just pray and meditate more?”

As a licensed clinical therapist and spiritual counselor for over a decade, I have been asked these questions frequently, and understandably so. There is still a lot of stigma on mental health issues, not only because of ignorance or the fear of being judged as “crazy”; but also among the more spiritually-minded folks who don’t want to identify with labels. Some people feel that having a mental health diagnosis will somehow become a block to wholeness.

Ironically, every once in a while, I will hear “I am a [such-and-such number] on the Enneagram”, or “I am a [four letters] on the Myers-Briggs scale” as a reason why they are unable to change themselves or how they manage their lives. But just as these personality-type labels can serve as a self-awareness tool, a diagnosis can bring light to areas where we need to push a little harder, or accept and have self-compassion a little more, in order to support our daily functioning and our spiritual growth.

Spirituality does not mean the absence of issues—including diagnoses—but the working with and through them. Instead of seeing a diagnosis by your doctor or therapist as a lifetime sentence, try using it as a tool for understanding those limitations you are here to overcome.

Any diagnosis can show us our strengths and limitations. Our job is to use those measurements to understand ourselves, and move forward where we have been limited, using the strengths that we have accumulated!

For example, if you have anxiety, what tools can you use to support your own peace of mind? How can you use meditation (mindfulness or otherwise) or yoga to help you ground yourself and strengthen your mind-body communication? What tools are you using to help you take charge of the faulty, racing thoughts when they are keeping you up at night? Everyone needs these skills; anxiety makes us have to work a little harder to strengthen them than someone without a diagnosis that includes some form of anxiety.

If depression is a problem, how can you stretch beyond your comfort zone? What tools in your toolbox do you have to support yourself on the more difficult days? Self-compassion is always, always, always first. If that’s hard for you, then that’s what to start practicing. Keep a list or a vision board of what makes you feel good, your strengths, and what you are grateful for. If you need help coming up with what your strengths are, ask someone you trust. But even then, you have to grow your own self-acceptance of your diagnosis and how it makes you feel some days, or every day. No one will convince you but you; and you have to work a little harder at it than someone who isn’t diagnosed with depression.

Attention deficit issues? What a great opportunity to learn focus and presence! Make a two-column list of what your strengths are and what your limitations are. How can you apply your strengths more widely and build compensation strategies for your difficult areas?

And we could go on with every diagnosis. Whatever diagnosis you may have, look at your strengths as well as the areas where you need inner and outer support more than the next person. Part of self-compassion is to refrain as much as possible from comparing yourself to the next person who may not be dealing with what you are. I guarantee you that they are dealing with something that might seem very easy to you. We are all working on something!

As spiritual beings, we all have our challenges to work through. Some people are systemically discriminated against, some people grow up in abusive households, some are financially unstable, some have difficulties maintaining relationships, some have a combination of challenges. Our spiritual growth is supplemented through compassion for and moving with the challenges we have in our lives, diagnosis or otherwise.

Is it easy? Nope. But who ever told us it was easy? No spiritual tradition that I have ever heard of! Your solution will be as unique to you as the challenges that you are dealing with. Get support. You don’t have to do anything alone!

And by all means, if medication will support you best, go for it! It is sad to me when a client won’t allow themselves to benefit from medication, and continues to struggle with a brain make-up that is overwhelming them in spite of their best efforts! Years ago, I had to get off my judgments and fears regarding Western medicine. It was the Universe telling me, “Let go of your hang-ups, lady! You have to learn to trust Me in whatever way I direct you!” Self-acceptance also means being open to the support that is available to us!

Be open to your soul’s messages. This will benefit your spiritual development the most. Turn within in whatever way you pray and meditate for strength, support, and intuitive answers. Take the outer signs within you, and ask your inner guidance, “How can this benefit my soul growth?”

Don’t be too spiritual for a diagnosis. Be too spiritual to stay stuck.