Tag Archives: anxiety

National Wear Red Day: Depression, Women, and Heart Health

Many of us are wearing red today to raise awareness about women, cardiovascular disease, and I’m going to add mental health. Women are twice as likely as men to develop depression. Depression is a risk factor for heart disease.

While the exact relationship between depression and heart disease is still being studied, enough is known to raise awareness about the dangers of depression on heart health. Research shows that even mild forms of depression or its symptoms increase the chance of heart disease in women by two to three times.

Women are at greater risk for depression than men for a variety of reasons, including certain biological, hormonal and social factors that are unique to women. Research shows that people with depression are more likely to have poor heart health. A study by the American Heart Association found depression could be a barrier to living a heart healthy lifestyle. Some of the symptoms of depression make it challenging for women to take care of themselves and make healthy choices. Often, women with depression sleep too much or not enough, feel fatigued, have little interest in doing things and lack energy – none of which are conducive to sticking with a healthy diet or cardiovascular exercise program. In a large number of households, women are still the primary caregivers for children and the main source of house work and meal preparation, whether or not they work outside of the home.

Women may try to deal with their depression through self-soothing but harmful behaviors, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or comfort eating. In fact, women with high levels of depression are more likely to be obese, abuse alcohol and other substances, or smoke.

Knowing the symptoms of heart disease in women can help especially in deciding when to seek medical care. Women often show a subtle presentation of heart related problems, including fatigue, aches and pains, headaches, nausea and stomach upset, and an overall feeling of malaise. Knowing the symptoms of depression is also crucial even though they may get less attention at first. It’s extremely important to be under the care of a physician or mental health professional who understands the interactive role of depression and heart health.

See goredforwomen.org for more information.
Also see my post about high functioning depression, a common phenomenon for women: Smiling Depression.

A Note From Dr. Siddique, on the end of the year

If you find yourself feeling anxious for the holidays, you are certainly not alone. Here are a few steps you can take to prioritize your mental health during this hectic season:

1. Accept Your Feelings
The holidays can bring up a range of emotions for people. Sometimes you can even experience seemingly contradictory emotions all at once. Try your best to acknowledge and accept your emotions rather than place judgment on them. It’s OK to feel happy; it’s OK to feel sad; it’s OK to feel anxious about being anxious; it’s OK to feel both happy and sad. Give yourself compassion and allow yourself to sit with whatever you’re feeling.

2. Maintain Healthy Habits
For many people, the holidays lead to a massive disruption in your day-to-day routine. But maintaining healthy habits like going to therapy, getting enough sleep, eating well, going outside, taking prescribed medications, and exercising are critical to keeping your mental health on track.

3. Set Boundaries
People like to be generous during the holidays, but that generosity doesn’t have to come at the expense of having healthy boundaries. If hosting an event or buying an expensive gift is too stressful, it’s OK to say no. It’s also OK to limit the time you spend with family or others that you may have a complicated dynamic with.

4. Make Time To Connect
Connection and meaning are critical to our mental health. Make time for your important relationships and connect with yourself through self-care. You can even connect with loved ones who are no longer with you through a family tradition or a personal remembrance ritual.

This holiday season — and as the year winds down, whether you find it to be the most wonderful or most difficult time of the year — I hope you’ll be taking care of your mental health by accepting whatever emotions come up, maintaining healthy habits, setting boundaries on stressors, and making time for meaningful connection.

Be safe, be kind, be generous. Lots of people are not doing great.

Please know you are not alone.
Suicide Lifeline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
National Domestic Abuse Hotline: https://www.thehotline.org
Embolden Psychology: https://Embolden.world

Seven Natural Anxiolytics We Love

What do psychologists personally use to manage stress and anxiety?
Like any other strategy or tool, individual preference matters.

Weighted Blanket
I use one that is 20-25 lbs. It’s for grounding through weight and pressure. Pressure preferences are highly variable. Start low.

Vibrating Foam Roller
I use one that’s blue tooth enabled. Releases muscle tension with a variety of massage routines included in an accompanying app.

Leather-bound Writing Journals.
Moleskine is a brand that holds up well over time, no matter how many times you stuff your notebooks in your tote or suitcase.

Soothing Playlists
I like piano and trip hop. Find what clears your head. Important: only use the specific anxiety coping playlist you put together when you are in self-soothing mode. This creates neural associations.

Acupressure/Acupuncture Mat
Lying on a spiky mat may sound more like torture than treat, but once you get past the initial discomfort, the ancient relaxation of acupressure creates deep well-being. I like the Shakti mats.

Brown Noise Machine
We are all familiar with white noise machines. Brown Noise is a deeper version of sound, one that has a much lower pitch. Think of a heavy waterfall or distant thunder.

Golden Milk
Golden milk, also known as ‘haldi doodh’ in Hindi/Urdu or as turmeric milk in western cultures, is a drink with a lot of history. The basic recipe involves combining warm animal or plant milk (coconut, almond, cashew), turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and some kind of sweetener. It has soothing properties that range from the gastrointestinal to the soporific.

(*Embolden Psychology has no third party interest or financial stake in any of these products).
Coming next week: top meditation and relaxation apps, based on the research from neuropsychology.

Also see:
Making Sleep Your Best Friend.
Anxiety toolkit

Anxiety as a Warrior

I teach my teen and kid clients about the purpose of Anxiety. The amygdala is a part of the brain that sets anxiety in motion. It’s actually an Ancient Warrior trying to protect you. Sometimes it becomes overly protective and gives you a turbo boost. This is fuel that is meant to keep you strong, fast, and powerful in case you need to take action. Sometimes you need it, and sometimes just in case. We can work together on that ‘just in case’ part. 

Personal Prescriptions

One of the questions I get asked most frequently by patients: What can I do, if I don’t want to or cannot take medication for anxiety or depression? I say: even if you’re taking medication, you need these. I actually write a prescription for the following recommendations.

* Sweat. Whatever exercise you love or can tolerate, do it most days of the week. Move.

* Sleep. Rest fiercely. We live a life with more obligations and responsibilities than one could imagine. The internet stole the rest. Sleep is the friend we take for granted, but forget that it needs tending. Constantly. For more info see Making Sleep Your Best Friend

* Sunlight/Earth. Get outside, every single day. Even when you cannot, bring nature inside. For more info see The Sun and Mental Health and The Psychology of House Plants.

* Bark/Purr. Spend as much time as possible with companion animals. It lowers your blood pressure, creates oxytocin, and beats loneliness. See also Mental Health and Companion Animals.

* Help. Innately, we need to help others. Whether it’s a neighbor, charity, volunteer opportunity, or community service, giving creates feel-good hormones.  See also The Mental Health Benefits of Random Acts of Kindness.

* Eat. Food is medicine. There is no diet that works for everybody, but figuring out what gives you maximum energy, nutrition, and satisfaction is key. Master cooking a few delicious dishes. See also Turmeric and Mental Health.

* Express. Dance, sing, write, draw, create. Give voice to your experience. Depression stifles our feelings. Anxiety makes it hard to even express them. See also Relaxation Place.

* Play. Watch your favorite shows. Read for pleasure, not work. Play your favorite game: board game, word game, video game. Work on a puzzle. Have regular chats or Zooms set up with your besties if you cannot see them in person. Our brains need downtime. It is essential, not a waste. See also Why It’s Hard to Say Goodbye to Our Favorite Shows.

*Breathe. Martial arts, meditation, yoga, breath work. These activities performed regularly drop tension and stress, empirically. See also Meditation For Troubled Times.

*Pray. Personal spirituality or prayer improves mental health, with robust findings for reductions in anxiety and depression. See also Personal Praying May Boost Mental Health.

*Forgive. Yourself and others. We collect wounds through our years. We often can’t let them go. As important as letting go of the aggression sent our way by others, we MUST let go of self hatred, self blame, and self denial. See also Why Self-Compassion is More Important Than Self-Esteem.

Deep breathing and anxiety

When you feel a wave of anxiety, these are tools that you can use wherever you are.

Your breath is your friend.

  • Acknowledge to yourself that anxiety is occurring.
  • Remember that you’ve dealt with this before, and you made it through.
  • EXHALE a long breath. Yes, exhale. You’re letting it out first.
  • Give yourself a self statement. I’ve done this before, and I will be OK.
  • Breathe in deeply.
  • Exhale. Repeat.
  • Place your hand on your belly. Feel the air going in and out. You are solidly being there for yourself.

Deep breathing lowers your heart rate, reduces stress hormones, and lowers your blood pressure.
Your breath and you: Allies.

Also see: The Anxiety Toolkit.

The Morning Routine Checklist for Anxiety

Wake up at 7 AM.

Stretch.

Check day planner or calendar to mentally set the day.

Brush teeth and wash face.

Take care of companion animals and younger children.

Drink water.

Respond to important overnight texts.

Make bed, tidy room.

Eat healthy breakfast.

Write or journal.

Meditate/Pray.

Go for a twenty minute walk. Even just on your street.

Shower and get dressed.

The foundation holds up the house.

How to keep your mind busy when you’re anxious

How to keep your mind busy when you’re anxious:

Personal

Have an empathy buddy. Check in daily for each other.
Binge watch a show that feels engaging, make it a personal choice.
Organize. Make your desk, room, closet, and kitchen a reflection of what you want.
Try an online workout.
Go outside. The majority of us have a vitamin D deficiency. Sunlight helps us, both mentally and physically.
Try a new recipe. The steps of cooking are great for our frontal lobe functioning.
Find the foods that make you feel good. Simple carbs give us a lift and a crash. Complex carbs and proteins keep us going.
Deep clean your home.
Listen to, read, or watch things that make you laugh and feel uplifted.

Work

Plan, create, and consolidate social media and web content.
Revise, edit, refresh your product and service descriptions.
Volunteer your time and talents. What can you offer to your community, from meal delivery to services online?
Simplify and streamline areas of your life that you can automate. Do you need a cleaning service, a driving service, office help, or even daily help for groceries and errands? Saving time adds to peace of mind.
Build or update your website.
Take an online course. Adding a certification or learning something new creates self efficacy and confidence.
Write a cover letter. Even above your résumé, your networking, and your social media, having a specific letter that emphasizes who you are helps others to really see you.

Seven Subtle Signs of An Anxiety Disorder

Seven signs of an anxiety disorder that are hard to recognize:

  • You feel mentally exhausted. Even the simplest tasks feel huge.
  • Everything annoys you. You feel easily irritated and frustrated by seemingly small things.
  • You feel nervous, even when there is nothing threatening happening in the given moment. You might even wake up feeling a sense of dread.
  • You don’t feel like doing anything. Even things that you usually care about.
  • You feel like numbing out. This might include scrolling through social media or watching Netflix for hours.
  • You feel scattered.  In the middle of doing something, you remember something else that you should’ve done, or something you need to do.
  • Your body isn’t happy. You might have trouble sleeping, waking up, going to the bathroom, or just generally feel sore and achy.

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. 

Embolden Psychology
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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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