Category Archives: Covid-19 Crisis

Eight tips to fight loneliness during holidays

Tis the season when we presumably spend our days sipping hot cocoa, eating delicious food, gifting, and doing all sorts of holiday fun-ness with our loved ones, these days, virtually. It’s the jolliest time of year. At least, that’s the lovely picture we’re all marketed for the holidays. The unfortunate reality is this sentimental holiday scenario is anything but the norm.

For many people, this time of year can be a painful reminder of the things they’re not surrounded by. Loneliness happens. And the painful feeling may grow, until you’re convinced you’re destined to be a lonely hermit whom no one wants to be around.

Part of that reason is simply because of our cultural expectations around what the holidays SHOULD be like. When we set our expectations to be one thing, and the reality is something different, we can see it as less than.

Think, for instance, about all of those holiday Hallmark family films that focus on the heartwarming ~feels~ that come from quality time with the fam.

The reality is, though, your IRL or virtual version could easily not match what you see on the screen or with what your neighbors with their beautiful lights and decorations might be experiencing. Coping with the loneliness and holiday blues can be challenging.

Mental health tips:

Recognize how much stress you might be under
Since the holiday season is short and goes quickly it creates a sense of urgency and overwhelm, making you feel like there’s so much to do and so little time to get everything done. Expectation is also a huge cause of stress during the holidays. Everything from holiday decorating to shopping and gift giving come with expectations that are most often unrealistic which causes you to stress about measuring up to those expectations whether they are your own or ones held by family and friends. When people get stressed or feel overwhelmed they can begin to feel alone in their struggles.

Comparison is the thief of joy
People can feel less than, especially when they see everyone else seemingly ‘happy’ and having everything under control. Social media can be a huge culprit of making it seem that everyone else has it all together except you with those happy/perfect pics. Even though social media is for “connecting” with others it can actually do the opposite and make you feel less connected and more alone especially when you compare your life to those you see. Try limiting time on social media.

Don’t isolate yourself, no matter how tempting
When people feel lonely, sad or are struggling they may tend to isolate themselves or feel unmotivated to reach out or interact with others. They may also feel unworthy of someone’s time and that they would burden or inconvenience others by asking them to participate in an activity or by sharing their feelings. They get caught up in their low self-esteem and negative thoughts, and choose to isolate instead of virtually socialize or reach out. The best way to stop and change negative thoughts is by choosing to see them for what they are-as mental distortions, rooted in fear, self-doubt and low self-esteem. Their purpose is to keep us from pursuing relationships and opportunities.

Self compassion
Please ask yourself if this is a kind thought you are telling yourself. Flip the negative self statement to a positive thought, for example if you are struggling with worth and feelings of deserving ask yourself “Who am I not to deserve this?” Start repeating “I am worthy” multiple times throughout the day and you will begin to believe it and act from a place of feeling worthy and deserving. The more you practice positive thinking, the more empowered and less lonely you will feel. I actually have my patients write this down on index cards and carry it around to look at throughout the day. 

Process and be in your feelings
It’s okay to feel sad and to let yourself feel lonely. Everyone has bouts of loneliness at times and often it’s because family may be far away or maybe right now you don’t have a significant other or kids. Spend some time fully feeling your feelings until they dissipate. You can do this by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness teaches you how to be aware of your feelings, to feel them in your body and to allow and accept them without creating a narrative around them. It is OK to cry or feel an intensity of emotions, and in accepting and inviting these feelings to be present they dissipate and more calm and peace prevails.

Engage in the practice of opposite action/emotion
Practice opposite emotion and action, derived from Buddhism, to change your mood by engaging in behavior that is opposite to what your current emotion is pulling from you. For example, if you are angry and feel yourself tensing up, then try to open your posture and uncross your arms. Stretch your body for release. Similarly, if you are feeling sad and lonely and want to withdraw, then make a point to reach out to friends or watch a funny or well loved movie to help mitigate sadness.

The theory behind the skill I teach in my clinical practice to patients that I call OPPOSITE EMOTION is that every emotion is accompanied by an urge to engage in certain behaviors and these behaviors perpetuate the emotion. For example, the most common action urge for anxiety is avoidance. The more you avoid something you fear, the more intense your anxiety will become, and so approaching what you fear will help reduce anxiety both because you learn the situation is okay and because you aren’t continuing to reinforce your fear by avoiding the situation. It is important to note that the goal is not to push away your emotion or suppress it, but rather to work on cultivating another emotion.

Community service and volunteering
Use your energy and resources on behalf of people who need your help. Volunteer to tutor students, as many are struggling with virtual learning; help at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, make food for an elderly neighbor, or volunteer at an animal shelter.

Appreciate what you have
Send cards or a personal note to everyone who means a lot to you. Thanksgiving is about showing gratitude. Make your holidays a spiritual growth time, such as creating a personal ritual, prayer, meditation, or virtual gathering with close friends. I have several friends who have a personal altar at home, and engage in prayer to their ancestors and loved ones who are not present. Find something for you that is meaningful. 

Love and Boundaries: Coping With the Holidays

The holidays are upon us, which usually means family and friends.

Either way, in the current state of the world you’re bound to have someone in your life who is just not taking the virus (and the precautions to slow the spread of it) seriously. And while you might feel like you have to avoid them or cut them out of your life until the pandemic is over, there are a few things you can try before resorting to more extreme measures.

Since this is a problem all too many of us (myself included) are dealing with, I was recently asked by the Virginia Psychological Association to give advice on how to manage this stressful dynamic. What should you do, when people around you are not taking the virus seriously? Please also see my article on cognitive dissonance which discusses why it’s hard for many people to change their mind. 

Set boundaries.
Remember that setting boundaries is essential for your mental and physical well-being. You can set boundaries around everything from what you will talk about and engage with, to what you are willing to physically do with someone who is not taking things seriously. Setting a boundary with family members and loved ones may feel uncomfortable at first but it is a healthy way to let others know what they can expect from you. When you let friends and family members know your expectations, it’s likely they will feel confused or even upset or angry at first. But it’s important to communicate your needs and expectations in a way that is respectful but firm.

If you don’t want to spend time around people who don’t wear masks in public, tell that person that you really value them in your life and want to spend time with them, but in order to continue doing that you either need them to wear a mask or you’ll only connect with them over Zoom or FaceTime call if they won’t. Or, if you live with family members who aren’t wearing masks in public, tell them you will keep your distance from them (to the extent you can) while you are both at home.

You can only control yourself, you can’t control others, so establishing those boundaries helps to protect your mental health and reduce your stress. You don’t have to take responsibility for educating family members on safety measures, and you can take that energy and time and use it for self-care activities such as exercise, breath work, meditation, sleep, walking outdoors.

Try to avoid getting angry or using critical language when you bring up concerns. I have one patient who has told me that when he sees people without a mask, he becomes enraged. He, and his parents, with whom he resides, have underlying vulnerable health issues, and the apparent selfishness of others not wearing a mask makes him incredibly angry. Unfortunately, people don’t listen to you when you’re angry. Leave out the criticism in your conversations.

In sum, it’s not your responsibility to educate your family members, friends, significant others, or roommates on safety measures. But if you do want to share information with them or discuss safety measures, you can do so in a way that communicates your concern without criticism.

When speaking with a loved family member about concerns such as COVID, it is always best to start from a place of love and support. Ask what you can do to help instead of criticize. When was the last time you felt like doing something someone asked if it was delivered in a tone that was condescending or negative?

It’s much better to say, may I buy you a cute mask, instead of: You’re going to die or kill someone, if you don’t wear a mask. I personally have several really pretty masks that have been made for me by clients who are talented, in addition to my regular PPE.

It’s also helpful to use “I” statements when communicating with friends and family, so they understand where you are coming from. For instance, saying – Hey, I am worried about your health, and so I don’t want to potentially expose you to the virus if I come over, or “Hey, I’d love to come to your baby shower or wedding, but I don’t want to take the risk that I might get you or someone else sick.

Remember, that some people are resistant to change. So know when it’s time to stop pushing them. It isn’t your job to preach to others about what they should be doing; you can only control what you are doing. With that in mind, if you still are not comfortable with how your family or friends are dealing with things, you can respectfully decline to spend time with them physically until things are better.

It IS your duty to protect yourself and your health and well-being. Let them know what you are and aren’t comfortable with, and if that’s a Zoom call instead of an in-person dinner party, tell them. If they really respect you and want to spend time with you, they will do what it takes to see you, even if it’s not IRL.
I’m heading to a zoom baby shower for my niece tomorrow, please be safe.

Happy Thanksgiving week.

Cognitive Dissonance and Mental Health

Cognitive Dissonance is the motivational mechanism that underlies the reluctance to admit mistakes or accept scientific findings even when those findings can save our lives. The cognitive dissonance theory, most strongly developed by social psychologist Leon Festinger, states that many people are deeply unwilling to change their minds. Similarly, many find it impossible to admit to or apologize for inappropriate behavior.

This dynamic is playing out during the pandemic among the many people who refuse to wear masks or practice social distancing. Cognitive dissonance causes feelings of unease and tension, and people attempt to relieve this discomfort or anxiety in different ways. Examples include “explaining things away” or rejecting new information that conflicts with their existing beliefs.

When the facts clash with preexisting convictions, some people would sooner jeopardize their health and everyone else’s than accept new information or admit to being wrong. This clearly manifests itself in the echo chamber of social media and the comment sections, I’m right, you’re wrong, it is someone else’s fault, vaccines are a government hoax, and so forth.

Coping with the nuances of contradictory ideas or experiences is mentally stressful. It requires energy and effort to sit with seemingly opposite things that are non binary. Festinger, in his research, argued that some people would inevitably resolve dissonance by blindly believing whatever they wanted to believe.

Although it’s difficult, changing our minds is not impossible and nor should it be. We need to accept that science and data is fluid. As is life. Mental flexibility is painful, and dealing with uncertainty even more so.
The end result is dissonance, but the actual problem is uncertainty and the stress it causes; we crave certainty because it feels safe. Rarely have we as a society been in a time of such uncertainty, and in times of uncertainty our survival instinct drives us to crave certainty.

Regardless of inherent beliefs, it is important to recognize dissonance and recognize that we need to continue to work on flexibility. In short, we need to cultivate curiosity and accept that something we thought to be true might have been right at the time, but wrong now. Don’t try to explain away problems or reject new information; rather, accept that uncertainty exists and understand that we are in uncharted territory.

As we head toward the fall and into the winter season, I am consistently hearing from my patients and local businesses that uncertainty is their biggest challenge. This manifests itself with individuals as well, and data from mental health providers shows an increase in both substance abuse and clinical depression/suicidal ideation. Most mental and medical health providers are at capacity with a 30-40% increase from last year and with long wait times to get an appointment.

It takes great courage to recognize that it is not COVID, it is not mask ordinances or future vaccines, and it is not government or international conspiracies that are our greatest challenge; rather, it is the inherent anxiety and stress that uncertainty causes. Admitting we are wrong requires some mental flexibility, which involves living with dissonance for a while rather than jumping immediately to conclusions.

COVID-19 and Neuropsychology

My practice in my company offices includes very strict protocols, including daily housekeeping services, using Covid approved cleaning products. I use two full office suites, so that cleaning can be happening in between every single patient. I have created a large garden with seating areas and beautiful flowers so that anyone who accompanies a patient can be seated outdoors, if they choose. I own copious amounts of hand sanitizer. We have been blessed with beautiful weather here in the Washington DC area, and often I meet outdoors with my patients. I have masks, bottled water service, and I wear PPE while working.

On COVID-19 infection and mental and cognitive health: In addition to mood disorders, common symptoms include fatigue, headaches, memory loss and problems with attention. There may be a number of reasons for these brain changes, including inflammation and cerebrovascular events (describes a syndrome caused by disruption of blood supply to the brain).

Research suggests that the virus may gain access to the brain via the forebrain’s olfactory bulb, which is important for the processing of smell. Loss of smell, as well known, is a symptom in many patients with COVID-19.

As part of the system responsible for your sense of smell, the olfactory bulb sends information about smell to be further processed in other brain regions including the amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex and the hippocampus, all which play a major role in emotion, learning and memory.

As well as having extensive connections to other brain regions, the olfactory bulb is rich in the chemical dopamine, which is important for pleasure, taste, intimacy, motivation and action. It may be that COVID-19 alters the levels of dopamine and other chemicals, such as serotonin and acetylcholine, in the brain, but we can’t say for sure yet. All these chemicals are known to be involved in attention, learning, memory and mood. It doesn’t matter if people get sick and supposedly recover. We know empirically that both HIV and Lyme disease have a strong effect on the brain and functioning. The effects of COVID may also be very long lasting, based on emerging neuropsychological research.

Photo, Washington, DC Arboretum, 2019.
(statistics, courtesy of the Lancet medical journal and Embolden Psychology). 

How to take care of your mental health during election weeks

How to take care of your mental health during election weeks

SCHEDULE
Remember to sleep, eat healthy, hydrate, exercise, ADLs, clean your house, and speak to your therapist. These things don’t change, the environment does.

NEWS
Define and create boundaries on your time exposed to news and social media.

Rather than watching or listening to coverage at random throughout your day, create a time block for catching up. This can be in the morning as you prepare for the day or in the evening as you wind down—whatever works best for your schedule.

Select your news sources beforehand so that you’re not bouncing around on the TV or scrolling Twitter or FB mindlessly. Find a few outlets you trust And always fact-check. Look for empirical evidence.
Then, turn it off. Absorbing constant news is not helpful, especially when the content is simply being repeated.

MINDFULNESS
Set aside a specific hour to journal or worry. Let your mind and your anxieties run full force, during this circumscribed time. If intrusive thoughts become prominent during the day, let yourself know that you will have this hour to let them have their reign.

CONVERSATIONS
The more involved you are with this election and results , the more likely you may disagree with family members or friends. Difficult conversations are inevitable; the important thing is that we know how to take care of ourselves in the aftermath.

I recommend using a breathing or relaxation app after engaging in these kinds of dialogues or getting outside for a walk and fresh air. Don’t bottle up your emotions or shame yourself for getting worked up—it’s okay to experience tears and anger. Rather than suppressing your feelings, nurture them. Breathe. Drink a glass of water. Allow yourself to rest. Please use meditation apps that have relaxation features, such as the Calm app,  which works well on Apple and Android. 

Holding feelings inside without ventilation can actually be harmful to our emotional AND physical health. When having these conversations with others, know your points and practice active listening. If the conversation begins to feel combative, consider bowing out or stepping away so that everyone can regain composure.

SELF-CARE
On the day of the election, start it with a moment of gratitude and self-care. This may look like journaling, exercise, a short meditation, or a morning walk. Election Day can feel cumbersome and stressful, so it’s even more important to put a self-care plan in place.

BOUNDARIES
When it comes to politics, I come from a family of divorce and strong opinions. I also have neighbors with varying political stances. Having these boundaries means offering one another the space to celebrate, mourn, and process feelings as needed.

FEEL
From anger to sadness or relief. It’s all to be expected, and these feelings are valid. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. One of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is to embrace these emotions and then move them through and out of our bodies. Tears, exercise, creative projects, and fresh air can all help with this.

PROCESS
In the days pre and post-election, we’re all going to have a lot to process. Be kind and carve out more space for self-care than usual. Consider taking time away from the news and social media. It is okay to take a break, to retreat to nature, and to spend a few days crying or celebrating virtually with friends. To avoid political fatigue and to keep fighting for the causes we care about, we must allow ourselves moments to step away and breathe.

10 Difficulties With Fall Distance Learning

Currently, approximately 4% of colleges are fully re-opening their doors to in person instruction for the fall semester. For younger students, public school has been variable, and often a hybrid model. While physical safety is paramount, it’s also important to acknowledge that there is an emotional toll for many students. In my practice, what I have most noticed is that assignments are piling up and not being turned in. According to a study conducted during the summer of 2020, over 75% of college students reported feeling more anxiety, stress, or even depression, due to online learning. A similar number of students have noted that they find it difficult to access their instructors between class sessions.

Additional concerns related to online learning:

Time management.
Students have to clock in by a certain time to be counted as present or otherwise tardy. Being at home makes it tempting to stay up late, and sleep deprivation and staying in bed are the norm for many young people during the current time.

Work management.
Many students have difficulty tracking assignments, due dates, and deadlines, online.

Zoom fatigue
The majority of students are muted and have video turned off. Several of my clients play video games and even sleep while attempting to be in class.

Distractibility
Pets, siblings, even parents, working from home, can be very distracting.

Lack of social interaction
In class, having your peers present with you makes it an experience that is much more supportive and positive.

Covid factors
While experiencing stress, anxiety related to health, or difficulty with social distancing, the majority of students have reported that these factors are not taken into consideration by their instructors or educational institutions. For example, a young woman reported that deadlines have to be met, no matter what the extraneous circumstances.

Lack of workspace or Internet availability
A number of students have been unable to get online except for on a cell phone. All of their classroom instruction was done from a cell phone, which is quite challenging. Often, their parents did not know how to access the information that was needed to successfully conduct a school day. Recently, through my practice, I was able to gather a group of volunteers, who helped families set up online learning. For other students, there is lack of space in the home to have a quiet classroom atmosphere. I discourage working from bedrooms because of the distractibility factor, but often there are no other spaces that are available.

Inability to access extracurricular activities
For many students, some of the most enjoyable and positive aspects of school include being in clubs, sports, and after school activities. Many of these have been diminished, which makes it even less palatable to be in school online.

Parental stress
The majority of students do not see their parents at work or experience the work stressors that their parents may go through. With many parents working from home, there is much more exposure to work related stress. One young client reported that her parents are in the home and yet they are never fully present. Conversely, for parents, having to monitor school related activities, while attending to their work responsibilities is very challenging.

Pacing
I strongly encourage my clients to take frequent breaks to stretch, move around the room, and eat snacks. The average attention span is 45 minutes or less, and lengthy online classes are often taxing and exhausting.

At Embolden Psychology, we have put forth a number of recommendations for managing feelings like stress, boredom, anxiety, depression, fear, and loneliness during social distancing, including:

Shifting the mental framing of social distancing- believing that one is “safe at home” versus “stuck at home” can have a profound effect on sense of agency, and reduce feelings of helplessness and fear. Agency matters.

Maintaining remote social contact with friends and colleagues can help limit feelings of loneliness. Text, FaceTime, call.

Enjoying simple physical comforts, like a hot shower, sipping a hot beverage, cuddling a companion animal, or wrapping oneself in a blanket may reduce feelings of loneliness.

Please spend time outdoors. Our bodies cannot store vitamin D, and we need this essential nutrient for mental health and wellness. Whether it’s taking a walk down your street or sitting on your deck, sunlight is essential.

Keeping to routines. Go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time, as much as possible. Make sure you eat at regular time intervals. Keeping to a schedule helps maintain mental health.

Resources that rock:
1. SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline: 24/7, 365-day-a-year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters–call 800.985.5990
2. 7 Cups: A free online text chat service that connects individuals with a trained listener for emotional support and counseling – visit: www.7cups.com
3. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Those who are experiencing suicidal thought and impulses can call 800.273.8255 or text HOME to 741741 for support

#WorldMentalHealthDay

Today is #WorldMentalHealth day.

I grew up in a South Asian family that didn’t believe in mental health, even with numerous family members with generally undiagnosed eating disorders, depression, anxiety, ADHD, personality disorders, suicides, and PTSD.  Intergenerational trauma is a term that describes how oppressive events that impacted one generation and remain unaddressed are carried over to later generations.

BIPOC Individuals are much less likely to receive support for mental health awareness and treatment. Racism, stigma, financial hardship, unfamiliarity, and lack of trust make it much harder for people of color to receive or even seek mental health services. As a community dedicated to mental health, we must persevere to change this. #EmboldenPsychology is dedicated to making mental health more accessible. 

Black Americans have higher rates of depression, anxiety, learning differences, and sleep and digestive problems, studies have found. Racially discriminatory events have led Black people to be in a state of high arousal — which means a heightened level of situational awareness and vigilance. This hypervigilance is harmful, medically and psychologically, and has very similar effects as studies on PTSD on brain and developmental functioning.

Asian Americans are discriminated against for their looks, languages and culture. They also face a great amount of family and social stress by having to represent their family and embody two cultures: that of their heritage and being “American” in the US. Depression and anxiety have skyrocketed in the community. 
Native American communities are often geographically disconnected and are significantly underserved, with a disproportionate level of substance abuse, depression, anxiety, sexual assault, and domestic abuse.
Microaggressions for BIPOC individuals cumulatively take their toll, and so do emotional and physical responses to vicarious and direct experiences with racial violence and racism. In the mental health industry, there is a significant lack of education, availability, and research regarding serving people of color. In a 2015 national survey of the mental health professions, close to 90% of all therapists were white. Very few training programs integrate diversity training as part of their broad curriculum.

In this time period of COVID-19, a significant national uptick in mental disorders, and great unrest, mental health awareness is more important than ever.

Distance learning tips for students

A few distance learning tips for students:

Identify a study space
Identifying a consistent study space in your home. A study space does not always need to be a separate room. Oftentimes, a simple table and chair works quite well. Keep in mind, however, that being in your room can make it tempting to engage in other activities. Completing your classroom work and homework in the same place each time creates a focused thinking habit that allows you to more quickly settle into the work that needs to be done. It also signals to other people in your home that you are in work mode.

Keep to your class schedule, even when you are home
If you were attending an in person study group or regularly met with a teacher in a classroom, continue to do your work at those same times. You have already established a routine and one of the best things you can with distance learning is to keep that routine. It is important to keep that time free from other personal obligations. Some students just login for the day, and then wander in and out, leading to undesired outcomes.

Use a day planner or calendar
Record ALL: Assignments, tests, quizzes, and projects.
If you have not started using a planner/calendar, now is a very important time to do so. When you’re at home,it’s easy to think you have more time than you actually do.  Phone reminders are not enough. With distance learning, time may appear to “fly by” as the semester goes forward. Use a calendar to create weekly lists of assignment due dates and tasks you may need to do to complete those assignments.

Get a tutor or academic coach
For more specific help with breaking up assignments and exam prep into manageable steps, speak to a therapist or executive functioning coach.

Communicate with your family
Changes in school, sports, parents working from home, and shifting event schedules may create a new level of activity in your home. It is completely natural to be a bit uncertain as these changes are underway. One important step is to talk with your family regarding the specific impact on you. What is hard for you, and what are some things that can happen to make things easier to do your work from home? Explain that you need a quiet, uninterrupted space for some time each week to continue to meet your school goals. This should include no interruptions from family animals or younger siblings.

Ask for help
Moving from one style of learning to another does require an adjustment in your study approach. Your teachers are aware of this and will work with you. Make it a habit to touch base by email with all your teachers on a weekly :basis. That way it doesn’t feel strange to do it after school has already been in session for several weeks.

Prepare for the day
Have your materials ready at your workspace. If you were heading to school or the bus stop, you would pack your backpack and make sure you have what you need. Including any written work, notebooks, pens and pencils, calculator, textbooks, etc. I recommend the use of a large notepad so that you can jot down questions as classes proceed. Many people are afraid to use the group chat and don’t want to draw attention. In that case, write down questions as they occur, so that you can email the teacher later to make sure you understood the concept or the assignment.

Keep up your energy level by self-care
It’s been shown that distance-learning is exhausting. Video is usually off, voices are muted, and classes are long. People have trouble focusing. Keeping this in mind, it’s important to know that the best way to refresh your brain is to get up and move around or stretch. Set a kitchen timer or alarm clock to go off every 25 to 30 minutes to remind you to get up and move your body. Also have healthy snacks to keep up your energy at the ready. Do not skip meals, because this creates a brain drain.

Keep up with friends
Many students miss the social aspects of seeing their friends in the cafeteria, in the hallway, or in the classroom. Virtual classrooms do not allow for much interaction. Keep up with a group chat or other friend-based activities so that you feel connected. The social aspects of school are extremely important, in addition to the academic focus.

Set Up family reading or quiet hours
With some teens/children also moving to distance learning, there is an opportunity to create a family study space. For example, consider creating a “family reading hour” where all devices are put away, turned off or silenced. Identify a goal for everyone including yourself. When you are finished, have everyone, including you, share a little bit about what they read or learned in class that day. “Teaching” others helps with memory and understanding of reading material. When the hour is complete, do a shared fun activity (play a game, watch a family favorite TV show, etc.) to reward everyone for meeting their reading goal.

Connect with your school counselor
It’s OK to reach out when you’re having anxiety about distance learning, a specific class, how to turn in assignments, or any other school related issue. Guidance counselors always tell me that they enjoy hearing from students, but with distance-learning, students very rarely reach out.

Work together on a family schedule
I have included one in this post that I personally use with families to break down the day, to make sure there is time proportionally allocated for all activities, and not just academic time.  This can be easily adjusted for each family’s specific needs.

Communication and mental flexibility
Basically, everything in this blog requires fine-tuning as circumstances change. More than ever, our times call for flexing. Having family conversations on all of these topics is the key to success.

Small but mighty hacks to improve your mental health

According to the World Health Organization “mental health is an integral part of health; indeed, there is no health without mental health.”

Here are a few small but mighty hacks to improve your mental health.
1. Open up and depend on others more emotionally, sharing vulnerable feelings, like sadness or fear or loneliness.

2. Check in with others regularly. Having connections, even sending or receiving a simple text or a good morning, has been shown to improve mood and decrease anxiety.

3. A change of scene or a change of pace is good for your mental health. It could be a five-minute pause from virtual learning or zoom office meetings to stretch, a half-hour lunch break at work, or a weekend exploring somewhere new. A few minutes can be enough to de-stress you. Give yourself some ‘me time’.

4. Do something you’re good at. What do you love doing? What activities can you lose yourself in? Enjoying yourself can help beat stress. Doing an activity you enjoy probably means you’re good at it, and achieving something boosts your self-esteem.

5. Helping others. Volunteering, helping an elder or neighbor, even taking the time to help a friend with tech support, pet sitting, or picking up groceries: caring for others boosts our mood, a win-win.

6. Emotional eating, in a good way. Boost brainpower by treating yourself to a couple pieces of dark chocolate every few days. The flavanoids, caffeine, and theobromine in chocolate are thought to work together to improve alertness and mental skills. Marine based omega-3 foods are also great for mood, attention, and alertness.

7. Spend some time with a furry friend. Time with animals lowers the stress hormone – cortisol, and boosts oxytocin – which stimulates feelings of happiness.

8. Set your morning foundations. Meditate, yoga, work out, check in with loved ones, check your to do list, pray, read. It creates the tone for the rest of the day.

9. Let it all out…on paper. Writing about upsetting experiences can reduce symptoms of depression. The psychologist James Pennebaker did a series of elegant studies that found that writing stream of consciousness in a journal even 10 minute a day, reduced acute symptoms of depression commensurate with taking an antidepressant.

10.  Relax in a warm bath once a week. Try adding Epsom salts to help soothe aches and pains and help boost magnesium levels, which can be depleted by stress. Taking a hot shower or a warm bath before bedtime, followed by the cooling of the body, actually mimics REM sleep, during which time your body temperature drops and creates a sense of relaxation.

11. Take time to laugh. Hang out with a funny friend, watch a comedy, or check out cute animal videos online. Laughter helps reduce anxiety.

12. Go off the grid. Leave your cell phone at home for a day and disconnect from constant emails, alerts, and other interruptions. Spend time doing something fun with someone face-to-face or alone time.

13. Take 30 minutes to go for a walk in nature – it could be a stroll through a park, or a hike in the woods. Research shows that being in nature can increase energy levels, reduce depression and boost well-being. Sunlight synthesizes vitamin D which is not naturally stored in the body. When it is depleted, it can contribute to feelings of depression.

14. Practice planning.  Try meal prepping or picking out your clothes for the work week. You’ll save some time in the mornings and have a sense of control about the week ahead. 

15. Organize. I have my clients keep a master day planner, not just Google Reminders and calendars. Using different colored pens, account for all of your activities: work, academic, social, medical, family, recreation, and self care. Having it all in one place is powerful, and a reminder to be mindful to all different aspects of life.

16. Practice my clinical strategy, stones across the river. Pay mindful attention to the small things that happen every day that can bring moments of satisfaction or joy. When they are strung together, they provide a path that doesn’t seem obvious at first, but can ford the rapids.

Embolden Psychology
Embolden

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

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