Do I Have PTSD? Recognizing the Signs

As shocking instances of mass shootings continue to occur all over the United States, we often hear people talk about Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Frequently associated with post-war veterans and victims of mass violence, PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can develop in people who’ve experienced or witnessed a traumatic or life-threatening event.

However, there are many other instances of trauma that can cause someone to develop PTSD besides combat or witnessing a terrorist attack. Anyone of any age that has experienced a violent or sexual assault, a natural disaster, a car accident or any other shocking or dangerous event is at risk of developing PTSD. If you’re concerned you or a loved one may be suffering from PTSD, here are some signs to look out for.

Reliving the Event

Someone with PTSD will have involuntary re-experiences of the trauma through nightmares, flashbacks, triggers, and unwanted thoughts or memories. Sounds or smells may take them back to the traumatic experience, or they may develop physical ailments when they’re reminded of or remember the event.

Symptoms of Arousal and Reactivity

PTSD sufferers will frequently feel on edge, unsafe or be easily startled. They may be prone to anger, agitation, or sadness. It’s also common for victims of PTSD to have trouble sleeping or concentrating, and they may develop changes in their eating habits by either eating too much or too little.

Avoidance Behavior

An individual suffering from PTSD may begin to avoid the area where they experienced the event, or areas that remind them of what happened. They may also avoid people, events or objects that bring negative memories forward. It’s also common for people with PTSD to avoid talking about the situation, or avoiding feelings related to the event.

Negative Thoughts and Feelings

Feelings of shame, self-blame, and exaggerated negative beliefs are common in people with PTSD. They may lose interest in things they once enjoyed, and isolate themselves from friends and loved ones. It’s also not uncommon for people with PTSD to entirely lose trust in people, or to believe that the world is a dangerous place.

 

After experiencing a traumatic event, it’s natural for someone to have any of the symptoms listed above. However, for people suffering from PTSD, the symptoms persist for weeks, months, or even longer and begin to affect their ability to function.

If you’re worried you might be suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and need the help of a licensed professional, please call my office today and let’s set up an appointment to talk.

The Mental Health Benefits of Having a Pet

People with mental and physical disabilities have been using service animals and emotional support animals for decades. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), under Titles II and III, a service animal “is any dog specifically trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability.”

But it’s not just trained service animals that can help us cope with life’s challenges, all pets seem to have the ability to calm us, center us, and just make us feel all around better about being on the planet.

Indeed, there are many mental health benefits of having a pet, and here are some of them:

Petting Reduces Stress

Your dog or cat may love when you pet them, but it turns out it’s equally beneficial to you as well! Rhythmic petting has been shown to release oxytocin, the hormone related to stress and anxiety relief. Once this is released your blood pressure and cortisol levels will decrease and you’ll feel much better.

You Don’t Feel Alone

The only thing worse than actually being alone, is feeling alone when we’re around other people. So often we can be with friends and loved ones, yet feel totally disconnected.

But when we spend time with our pets, we feel like we’re with true companions. They make us feel happy, safe and secure. Perhaps it’s because they don’t judge us and love us unconditionally that allows us to connect in a way that is often not possible with other human beings.

Pets Help Us Be More at Peace

It’s hard for most people to be completely in the moment. We’re either regretting the past or worrying about the future. But when we engage with our pets, it helps us take our minds off of any negative stressors and focus them on the adorable fluffball in front of us.

They Help Your Body Release Feel Good Chemicals

When your dog rolls around on his back or your cat rubs her head under your chin, you can’t help but smile. And when you smile, your body releases serotonin and dopamine, which are nerve transmitters associated with calmness and happiness.

Don’t have a pet of your own at home? You can still gain these benefits by volunteering at a shelter. There are many animals out there alone who would love your companionship, and you’ll feel great in the process.

If you or a loved one is interested in exploring mental health treatment, please contact me today. While I’m not fluffy and don’t have a tail, I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help you.

How Emotions Enter Our Dreams and Impact Our Health

Society seems to condition us to always appear calm and in full control of how we feel, no matter the circumstances. Suppressing emotions may seem like a great way to prove that you’re strong and not a weak crybaby but hiding how you really feel can have serious health consequences such as mental fatigue, elevated blood pressure, and sleeping problems.

Common signs that you suppress your emotions as a coping strategy include:

– Using substances like drugs or alcohol to numb the pain and escape from your thoughts.
– Consciously not talking about how you feel.
– Avoiding situations that remind you of your emotions or force you to confront them.
– Distracting yourself as a way to prevent yourself from reacting.

One of the major ways that ‘shutting down’ negative feelings, affects you is by affecting your dreams. The brain naturally tries to work out emotions, but it needs your help to do so. When you refuse to acknowledge these negative emotions, the brain is forced to process them alone. While you sleep, memories are processed and stored. When you refuse to confront your negative emotions while you’re awake, the brain works on combating the negative emotion without you while you sleep at night. This causes these emotions to surface in your unconscious dreaming state.

Research by Malinowski (2017) has confirmed the importance of ‘dream rebound’. When we suppress our emotions, they show up in our dreams. Participants who suppressed negative thoughts had more negative emotions manifesting in their dreams in forms of sadness, fear, anger, and anxiety. Participants who suppressed their negative emotions also had sleep problems and experienced poor sleep quality, difficulty falling asleep, use of sleep medication, restless sleep, and tiredness during the day. They also recorded higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.

In essence, researchers discovered that there is a greater tendency for negative emotions experienced during waking hours to manifest within dreams. Especially sadness, fear, anger, and anxiety. Positive emotions did not significantly manifest in dreams. Also, suppression of feelings is associated with poorer sleep quality and correlates with anxiety, depression, and stress.

How To Work Through Your Emotions In A Healthy Manner

Here are a few tips to help you process negative emotions in a healthy way, rather than by suppressing them:

– Journal: Free form journaling can help you purge yourself of the negative emotions that you feel. Writing down your negative feelings and noting possible solutions before going to bed can be cathartic and improves your sleep quality significantly.
– Talk about your dreams: It is incredibly helpful to analyze your dreams with the help of a therapist. Unpacking what happens in these dreams with your therapist can help you identify the particular emotions you’re suppressing and how to manage them in a healthy manner.
– Practice mindfulness: Be mindful of your thoughts. Note them, and then let them go, rather than suppressing them. Meditation can help you feel calmer too.

I help people manage their emotions in the best way possible and unleash their full potential to live and love well. If you need help with managing your negative emotions properly, please contact me to book a session.

Grief & Relationships: How Your Relationships Might Change When Facing Grief

Experiencing the death of a loved one is often the biggest challenge a person faces. Grieving can feel overwhelming and consume every facet of your life. It is during this time that you need the comfort of others the most, and yet social connections often feel strained as your relationships and social network seem to be flipped upside-down.

Here are four ways relationships can shift when you are trying to navigate the loss of a loved one:

  1. 1. Your Support System May Surprise You

You may be surprised who steps up in your greatest hour of need. Some of your closest loved ones, those who have been by your side through dating and childbirth and other life dilemmas, may not be able to be there for you during your bereavement. It is often people you’d least expect who show up to hold your hand while you grieve. An old friend you’ve lost touch with, a co-worker you’ve hardly spoken to but who understands the complexities of living with death… these are sometimes the people who help the hurt go away.

  1. 2. You Will Feel Angry – And That’s Okay

You will try and understand why your closest friends and relatives seem to have abandoned you during one of the most painful times in your life. But understanding won’t make the pain of it go away.

Yes, it’s important to realize that not everyone can cope with death and loss, including the people closest to you. It’s also important to recognize that feeling this additional pain, and even anger and resentment about feeling abandoned, is totally normal and okay.

  1. 3. People Will Avoid You

Losing loved ones is something all of us will go through, but some people cannot handle this reality. Just the thought of a loved one dying is more than many people can bear. Seeing your pain and sitting with you in your time of darkness will force others to look this stark reality in the face. Many people simply can’t do it. If you find that friends and relatives seem to be avoiding you, understand it is most likely because they cannot handle their own fears of loss.

  1. 4. You Will Have Something in Common with Others

For most people, it’s hard to understand certain things until they experience it themselves: Having children, running a marathon, getting divorced. Losing a loved one is certainly on this list as well. While your current group of loved ones will try to empathize with you, the reality is that you now belong to a special club and those who you feel close to and understood by may change.

This does not mean you will no longer feel close to those you did before the loss, but it means you have now changed and how you perceive the world and others has changed as well.

Relationships are hard, and they can be more difficult during periods of loss and grief. It’s important that you are gentle with yourself during this time and seek help. Consider joining a support group. Being around those who share your pain firsthand can be a comfort during this time.

You may also want the guidance of a therapist who can help you navigate your complex emotions and offer tools to work through your grief.

If you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

How to Tell if You’re a Highly Sensitive Person

Some people seem to be born with nerves on the outside of their skin. These people tend to be more sensitive than their parents, brothers and sisters, or the kids in their class. They can’t get through a movie (even a comedy!) or a TV commercial without shedding a few tears. The slightest bit of criticism causes them real pain, and they are empathic to anyone around them.

Chances are these people are told by everyone, “You’re too sensitive!” Well the truth is, some people are more sensitive than others. They are not only sensitive to emotions, but also to energy, sound, light, and other physical stimulus. These people are, literally, called Highly Sensitive People, or HSP for short.

Are You a Highly Sensitive Person?

Do the following characteristics ring true for you?

You’re very emotional

Whether positive or negative, you experience emotions intensely, react strongly to them, and cry easily.

You’re very compassionate and generous

You have always been a natural caretaker, seeking to offer comfort and help to those who suffer. You also go out of your way to avoid offending anyone or hurting their feelings.

You’re sensitive to criticism

Criticism doesn’t feel constructive so much as it feels personal and painful. You are not able to let it roll off your shoulders as others do, and therefore allow criticism to keep you safe in your comfort zone.

You feel different from everyone else and sometimes alone

You’ve always known, or had it pointed out to you, that you were somehow different from everyone else. Because other people have told you that you need to “toughen up,” you see your sensitivity as a weakness and often feel alone.

You’re sensitive to external stimuli

While no one else around you seems to notice that the buzz of the overhead lights is driving you nuts! As is the sound of your coworkers chewing, the rough fabric of your shirt and the smell of the extravagant flower arrangement.

You overthink and worry

You notice every detail and overthink what should be a simple decision, like where to go for lunch. You also get stuck in the rehashing and what-if rut.

You’re intuitive

You walk into a room and instantly get a “feel” for it. You know how people are feeling. This is fine when the energy is positive, but when it’s negative… watch out!

You’re often tired and overwhelmed

Because you deal with the emotions of yours and others, as well as so much stimulation all day-every day, you easily become overwhelmed by all of it and feel as though you need to sleep more.

What You Can Do

Living life as an HSP is not easy, but there are some things you can do:

  • See your sensitivity as a positive, not a negative
  • Remind yourself there is nothing wrong with you and you are not alone
  • Avoid negative people, places and situations
  • Set boundaries with people who take advantage of your compassion
  • Learn to relax through exercise and meditation
  • Give yourself the same sympathy and kindness as you do others

If at any time you find yourself feeling depressed or anxious because of your sensitivity, it’s important that you seek the guidance of a therapist who can help you manage your emotions.

If you or a loved one are an HSP and would like to seek treatment options, please get in touch with me. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

The Impact of Grief on Relationships

Experiencing the death of a loved one is one of the most painful things each person must face. The shock of your beloved friend or family member having passed away, along with the finality of their death is difficult to deal with.

Everyone Mourns Differently

The process of mourning is a very personal experience. Because grief is so personal, each person reacts differently to the death of a loved one; your instinct may be to reach out and connect, and the instinct of your friend or relative may be to retreat, distract themselves with work or hobbies or shut down.

Your relationship with the deceased was a unique one, so the process in which you grieve the loss will also be unique and personal to you. The close friends and family that you would expect to be there for you in one of the most challenging times of your life may not be present in the way you’d hoped or anticipated. Even your spouse or partner may not provide the comfort you’d expect.

Relationships Impacted by Grief Will Change

Although it’s disappointing and hurtful to experience what feels like a breakdown in your relationships when you need them the most, you must realize that your friends, family and spouse are likely also affected by grief, and going through their own process of mourning.

It’s also important not to rely solely on your spouse for comfort. It’s healthier for both of you, and will ease the stress on your marriage, if you have other people to turn to for help.

The impact of grief is an incredible strain on your existing relationships, as who you are as a person is temporarily altered as you struggle to cope with the loss and find a way to move forward. Your close friends and loved ones may have difficulty coping with how you’re mourning, causing them to pull away temporarily. They could also be very used to seeing you as a source of strength, and a pillar, and seeing you in this vulnerable state (in addition to possibly dealing with their own grief) is more than they can bear.

Seek Out New Sources of Support

Maintaining relationships takes effort, and they’re vulnerable to the difficulties we face as we move through life. You may need to turn to distant family members, other friends or acquaintances, make new connections through bereavement groups or seek professional help from a mental health counselor to find solace and understanding.

Although we can expect bereavement to change our relationships, we can also expect some semblance of normalcy as everyone affected copes with the loss over the passage of time. By forgiving friends or loved ones who weren’t there for you as you dealt with your grief, you can re-establish lost connections.

If you’re having difficulty with your relationships as you grieve and need some understanding and guidance, please give me a call and we can set up an appointment to talk.

5 Ways Codependence Can Be Overcome

Do you find you accept responsibility for a loved one’s emotions or actions? Are you constantly trying to please others? Do you neglect your own needs and have difficulty setting realistic personal boundaries? Do you often feel resentful yet have difficulty stepping away from a dysfunctional relationship?

These are some of the symptoms of codependency. Codependent people look for external cues from others to tell them what they should feel, need and act like. While most would agree that sensitivity to others is a wonderful trait, codependents take it to an extreme because of an inability to create healthy boundaries.

But healthy boundaries are important. These boundaries draw a line of distinction and responsibility between our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and those thoughts, feelings and behaviors of others.

While it may take time to break lifelong patterns of codependency, there are things you can do to overcome it.

1. Recognize Any Denial

The first step to recovery is to be honest with yourself and acknowledge the problem. There is a very good chance you have rationalized your codependence over time. While it can feel scary to admit to being involved in a dysfunctional relationship, honesty is the first step toward healing.

2. Study Your Past

The next step on your path to recovery is to take a look at your family history to uncover experiences that may have contributed to your codependency. What is your family history? Were there events that led to you disconnecting from your inner emotions?

This can be a difficult process and one that involves reliving childhood emotions. You may find that you feel guilty for admitting you were wounded in your formative years.
This type of work can be difficult and is best done in a safe therapy relationship.

3. Detach from Unhealthy Involvements

In order to truly work on ourselves, we have to first detach from what we are obsessed with. Personal growth will require giving up the over-involvement or preoccupation with trying to change, control or please someone else.

This means letting go and acknowledging we cannot fix problems that are not ours to fix.

4. Learn Self-care

Giving up your excessive attempts to please others is a good start to healing, but learning self-care is absolutely necessary. It’s important that you begin to become aware of your own thoughts, feeling and needs, and learn how to communicate them in a relationship. This may feel very wrong at first, as if you are being incredibly selfish. But that’s okay.

In order to form healthy relationships with others, you must first form one with yourself.

5. Get Good at Saying “No”

One of the best ways you can begin to set healthy boundaries is to learn to say no to situations that are detrimental to your own wellbeing. This will feel awkward at first, but the more you do it, the easier it will become.

Seeking the guidance of a therapist will be beneficial as you work your way through these five steps. They will be able to help you safely explore your painful feelings and experiences and learn healthy ways of relating to yourself and others.

If you or a loved one is codependent and interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

Coping with a Loved One’s Serious Illness

When a serious illness strikes a family, everyone’s life is thrown into turmoil. Whether the illness is chronic or acute, no one can really prepare you for the responsibility of caregiving and the emotions that go with it.

Unfortunately, as we throw ourselves into overdrive, doing everything we can to deliver the best care to our loved one, we typically put our own self-care on the backburner, which ultimately leads to caregiver burnout.

If you’re feeling worn out, here are some ways you can care for yourself while caring for your loved one:

Give Yourself Space

You’re no doubt overwhelmed and inundated with activities that surround your loved one’s care. It’s important that you take time to get away for some quiet reflection. Take a walk in nature or a long drive to clear your head and catch your breath.

Eat Right

If there were any time in your life you craved comfort foods, now would be it! But loading up on carbs and sugar is not what your body needs. Do your best to forego donuts and pasta and instead opt for fruits and vegetables.

Connect with Others

It’s easy to become isolated during this time. You’re tired and emotional, and besides the goings-on at various doctors’ appointments, you may feel you have little to offer in the way of sterling conversation.

It’s important that you remain socially active and connect with others. This could mean finding a local support group, or grabbing a latte with friends every Thursday morning. You need to remember who you are as a person, not just a caregiver, and social interactions will help you feel human.

Get Help

Many family caregivers feel it’s their entire responsibility to provide care for their loved one. But you don’t have to do everything by yourself. Reach out to other family members and friends for help. Look into getting a home health aid who can step in for you so you can have a couple hours off each week.

You may also want to consider seeking the guidance of a family therapist who can help you navigate your emotions and offer tools to help you cope with your new day-to-day reality.

If you’d like to explore therapy options, please get in touch with me. I’d love to discuss how I might be able to help you and your family during this difficult time.

4 Ways to Better Understand & Cope with a Midlife Crisis

It is said that if you live long enough, you’ll eventually hit middle age. Once they hit that mark, many people begin to look around at their life and notice what is working and what isn’t. Unfortunately, some people notice much of their life isn’t working, at least not in the way they thought it would, and a crisis strikes.

What’s Really Going on in a Midlife Crisis?

For many of us, middle age is the first time in our lives that we pause for a moment to reflect. Birth, in a way, is like a slingshot, catapulting us into life at a significant speed. That momentum never slows as we gain an education, make friends, choose a career, commit to a significant other, have children, raise them as best we can, and plan for our retirement.

Eventually the pace of life begins to slow and we find we have more time to take stock of our lives; of what we’ve become and where we seem to be headed. And what do many of us find at this juncture?

We find we’ve been so busy earning a good living, keeping up with the Joneses (whoever they are), and pleasing everyone around us, that we haven’t always made decisions based on our own self-interests. In other words, we find ourselves lost and unable to recognize our lives as anything that we once imagined.

4 Ways to Cope with a Midlife Crisis

It’s important to understand that in this situation, the word “crisis” is a bit dramatic. Midlife crises aren’t traumas; they are instead wakeup calls that alert us to the fact we need to start taking better care of our minds, hearts and bodies.

With this in mind, here are four ways you can cope with your own midlife wakeup call.

Get Active

As I mentioned, midlife is generally when many of us finally begin to slow down. While this slowing can lead to mental and emotional insights, it can also lead to aches and pains. In other words, slow your pace of life but not your physical activity.

Now is the time to become even more active. If you haven’t been exercising, start now. Take up a new sport, try dance lessons, go hiking. Keeping your body limber and pain-free will help you stay positive.

Embrace Your Creative Side

Everyone has a creative side. That’s what life is, one big creative project. But many of us completely ignore our creative impulses either because of a lack of time or a belief that we’re “not talented enough.” That’s hogwash! Tapping into your creativity is one of the best ways to reconnect with your true self.

Do something to feed your creativity. Write in a journal. Learn how to paint. Take piano lessons. Not only will this bring you joy, learning something new keeps your brain young and active and fends off dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Make Some Changes

Midlife is an opportunity to make some changes you’ve been wanting to make. A change could be a simple as finally painting a room in your house, to getting your teeth whitened or a tattoo you’ve had your eye on, or to finally dumping some of your toxic friends. Start making choices based on your own needs, you’ve earned it.

Hang Out with Like-Minded People

Social interaction is key to a happy and healthy life. But many of us spend the majority of our adult lives around people we don’t like very much: namely coworkers and the parents of our children’s friends. Now is the time to surround yourself with those people who support and nourish you, and share common passions and interests.

A midlife crisis doesn’t have to be a crisis at all but a chance for you to take control and make different choices in your life.

If you or a loved one is experiencing a midlife crisis and is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

Do New Moms Struggle with Low Self-Esteem?

Having a child is one of life’s most incredible experiences. It is also one of the most challenging situations that come with mood swings and psychological changes.

If you’re a new mother who has been experiencing low self-esteem, you’re not alone. A group of researchers recently took a look at why new mothers experience low self-esteem and dissatisfaction with their romantic relationships.

Analyzing data from over 80,000 Norwegian mothers, the researchers uncovered some significant patterns that represented how pregnancy and motherhood changes a woman’s attitude about herself and her partner.

The Self-Esteem Roller Coaster Ride

The study found that women’s self-esteem comes and goes. During pregnancy, a woman may experience a dip in her self-esteem. However, once the baby is born, her self-esteem begins to rise again. But only for a short time, then it dips again, only this time the dip is more gradual but prolonged.

Relationships Take a Hit as Well

New mothers don’t seem to be excited by their romantic relationships either! The researchers found that during pregnancy, first-time mothers tend to be very satisfied with their romantic relationships. However, once the baby is born, these same mothers experience a gradual decline in relationship satisfaction over the next few years.

The pattern is fairly similar for mothers having their second, third or fourth child. Though a bit less pronounced than new mothers, experienced moms gradually become less and less satisfied with their relationships once the baby is born.

The biggest takeaway from the study is that self-esteem and relationship satisfaction are definitely linked. While the researchers did not uncover exact mechanisms for these mental health changes, we can safely surmise a fluctuation in hormones and a big lack of quality sleep most likely contribute.

Having said that, motherhood is hard enough without having to battle low self-esteem and relationship dissatisfaction. Here are some things you can do:

Have Realistic Expectations

New mothers have an idea of what motherhood will be like, Sadly, they’ve gotten this idea from Hollywood and Madison Avenue. The reality is, motherhood is not one big bouquet of flowers. In fact, at the very beginning, all you may really notice are the big, prickly thorns. Later, once the baby sleeps through the night and stops waking you every two hours, you may notice how lovely the roses smell.

All of this is to say you have got to have realistic expectations. Breastfeeding may not come naturally to you – and that’s okay. You may not like your baby at first – and that’s okay. You may not feel like you know what you’re doing most of the time – and that’s okay. In fact, all of these things are perfectly normal.

Setting unrealistic expectations for yourself as a mother will only cause your self-esteem to take a nosedive. Don’t try and be the perfect mother, they don’t exist (sorry Mom). Just try and do your best and enjoy the experience as best you can.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Other Mothers

Nothing pokes at our self-esteem quite like unfair comparisons. If you’re a brand-spanking-new mother, it is hardly fair to compare yourself to someone who’s been doing it awhile. So what if your sister, who’s on her third child, makes motherhood seem like a breeze AND bakes her own scones? She’s had time to practice, you haven’t.

While it’s fine to seek advice from other moms, never make comparisons or you’ll just set yourself up to feel badly about your own mothering abilities.

Consider Couples Counseling

If your relationship has taken a hit, it’s important that you and your partner try and reconnect. This is sometimes easier said than done, which is why seeking the guidance of a therapist is often the best way to heal the relationship.

A therapist can help the two of you communicate respectfully and effectively, something that’s not always easy when you’re both averaging 3 hours of sleep per night!

If you are interested in exploring treatment options, please get in touch with me. I would be happy to discuss how I may be able to help.