Today is Monday, November 24, 2014

Staying Mentally Fit In The New Year

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The Stock market –along with home values- seems to be on a downward spiral, unemployment rates are creeping higher and higher and while consumer confi dence is down the cost of living is going up. It’s no wonder that we all feel a little tense lately. Some of us hit the gym in times of great stress while others hit the fridge (or eBay or the shopping mall.) But what’s the healthiest way to deal with stress before it gets the better of you and how do you know it has become a problem?

We went to the experts to find out. Licensed Marriage and Family therapist Bud Lambert has been in practice since 1985 and says the reaction people are having to the state of today’s economy is normal. In fact it would be unusual if there wasn’t some sort of acknowledgment from the public. “Sometimes the reactions we have to an event is a defense mechanism and when you start to recognize it you can start to understand how to deal with it. It’s a way of bringing a problem to light.” If you are one of the many Americans who are feeling the effects of stress and sensory overload in our society there are things you can do to help deal with issues that arise.

The first step is to evaluate your diet. Start slow by cutting down highly processed foods and add more fresh fruits and veggies and lean protein. Closely monitor your caffeine intake. While it can help keep us alert in the morning the affect of it can linger and contribute  to restlessness in the evening. The second step is to add exercise to your daily routine. It has been suggested that the benefits of exercise is physical activity triggers the production of endorphins, the feel good hormone produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus in vertebrates during strenuous exercise. The release of endorphins creates a calming effect or sense of well being.

The third step is slowly changing our thought process. Lambert says that in times of stress, we tend to think irrationally and this can directly contribute to anxiety, fear and depression. The fourth and probably the most important step is getting plenty of rest. Lambert adds that if we aren’t getting enough sleep our perspective changes rapidly. “When physical energy is low, mental energy can be low and when mental energy is low we tend to think more negatively. When you are rested positive thinking usually follows.”

If you have tried to follow all of these steps and still see no relief it may be time to try a different approach. Lambert suggests talk therapy with a licensed professional can often be the missing link when trying to achieve optimal mental fi tness. “Sometimes just having the ability to be completely honest with someone and having them just listen and offer healthy advice is all a person needs to get through a difficult period in life.” When it comes to mental health children can be overlooked.

Perhaps it is their ability to internalize feelings that has parents overlooking warning signs that are subtle. Robbie Goad (TLPC - pictured left) and School Counselor for Lebanon High School specializes in treating teenagers and families. She says a child’s response to stress can be transparent when it comes to the school setting. “You will see classroom disruption and grades dropping. At home parents notice behavior issues like not listening and withdrawing from activities they once enjoyed.”

When going through mental health issues with a child Goad insists that parents be patient. “When children and teens are going through a change that causes them to act out they don’t even realize they are doing it. If you suspect something is going on the best thing you can do is talk to your child and make sure they know you are there for them and will provide them a safe environment for them to talk to you.”

No matter how safe your child feels talking to you about what’s going on in their life there will come a point when they no longer feel comfortable talking to a parent. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the teenage years! Goad says this is when you need to provide other safe resources. “Having positive adult role models in their life that they feel comfortable talking to like an aunt, grandparent or close family friend can be very helpful for a teenager who no longer feels like they can tell their parents EVERYTHING.”

Both Goad and Lambert agree that while trying to identify and deal with a crisis you need to make sure nothing is wrong with you physically. By going to your primary care physician and having simple blood work done you can pinpoint whether or not your condition is the result of a medical condition like diabetes, thyroid disease or fluctuations in hormone levels. Lambert says, “A reputable mental health practioner should always make sure their patient has had tests to rule out a physical condition before they recommend treatment through talk therapy.”

When it comes to fi nding the right therapist or counselor for you the decision is personal and there are ways to fi nd the match you need. Goad adds “the best way to find someone is usually word of mouth. Listen to your friends or acquaintances. And of course do research on the internet.” The term “therapy” has lost the stigma it once had. Today more and more people are focusing on their mental health as a way to improve their overall well being. Goad adds, “the more we get the message out there that ‘being in therapy’ is not a bad thing the more comfortable people will feel dealing with issues they might otherwise suppress creating a whole new set of problems. Awareness is key. Parents are learning right along with their children how important it is to be well rounded in all aspects of life.”

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