Tips To Fighting Depression While Social Isolating

Tips To Fighting Depression While Social Isolating

This morning I was speaking with a coworker who shared how she was starting to feel depressed with the quarantine and social distancing most of us are experiencing. She stated, “There’s only so much texting and talking on the phone you can do.” A lot of us are feeling that way and as this crisis goes on for (hopefully only) a few more weeks, it can become more and more depressing and anxiety provoking.

To combat becoming depressed and anxious during this time, here are seven of my favorite tips.

Take Care of Your Body

It’s easy to lose focus of our bodies with all the gyms closed and us being forced to stay inside, but working out, eating healthy and getting rest is one of the best ways to keep us both mentally and physically healthy. Your workout can be a simple walk around the block or taking advantage of a multitude of easy workout apps just to keep your body moving and endorphins flowing.

Limit News Intake

We all want to stay informed, but it’s too easy to become overwhelmed with the 24/7 news coverage and nearly hourly breaking news interruptions. I even find myself watching hours of local and national news and have to remind myself to take a break. For people who are prone to depression and anxiety, too much media intake will only make it worse. Stay informed, but limit yourself to how much coverage you follow.

 Create a Routine

Many of us are working from home or perhaps even laid off. It’s easy to stay in bed all day or sit in front of the television for hours. Having a routine helps to break us out of that. We can even create a to-do list of all the things we’d like to accomplish that day. For some us struggling with anxiety and depression, it may be as simple as waking up before noon, taking a shower and eating something healthy.

Don’t Work Too Hard

For those of us who are working from home, it may become easier to just focus on work and even work more than we would if we were actually in a physical building. This can lead to burnout. Try to keep the same schedule and hours you wold have at work, even if you’re at home. Take your lunch breaks and start and stop work as you usually would.

Reach Out To Others

We may not be able to visit friends or go to Starbucks with our best friend right now, but we can still take advantage of the various ways we can still communicate such as the telephone, text, Skype, Zoom, and Face Time. The list goes on and on. Reaching out to others helps us remember that we’re not alone in this even if we may feel like it.

Fight Boredom

Being bored can make everything feel worse than it is. Now is the time to catch up on a series on Netflix you’ve always wanted to watch, finish that 1,000 piece puzzle or challenge yourself in any other way you can think of. I personally am using this time to catch up on some reading and a little bit of Netflix too.

Be Positive

Tony Robbins, one of my favorite motivational speakers often says, “Trade your expectations, for appreciation”. No one wants to go through what we are going through, but we can still find something positive in this moment. It could be getting closer through messaging with a friend we hadn’t spoken to in years or spending more time with our family.

A friend of mine who was laid off used his newly found free time to fix up a boat that had been neglected and sent me a photo of him and his dog out on the lake enjoying the sunset! He could be really sad right now focusing on being laid off, but instead he’s being positive and embracing the insanity. It’s easy to focus on the negative, but finding small things to appreciate will help us get through this.

Remember This Is Temporary

Thankful, like all crisis and disasters, this will come to an end. If we focus on how long it’s been or how much longer it will be, each day will drag by. Take it one day at a time. Focus on today and what’s good about today. We’ll worry about tomorrow when it comes.

Rest In Peace: Gene Atkinson III

Rest In Peace: Gene Atkinson III

I wrote earlier about how it’s hard for men to talk about their feelings. Men, we really need to because it’s literally killing us.

Earlier this week, former NFL player and Notre Dame Superstar, Gene Atkinson III passed away after a long battle with guilt and depression. He has just turned 27. While no one has formerly said how he died, it is widely speculated that he committed suicide just as his twin brother Josh had done on Christmas Day last year.

The brothers’ father was former NFL player and Super Bowl champion George Atkinson II, but the brothers were raised by their mother who has been described as a schizophrenic who self-medicated with crack cocaine. The brothers’ home life was unstable and they moved often due to their mother getting evicted for damaging walls or writing on them.

I can only imagine what life was like for these two young men being raised by an untreated, mentally ill, drug addicted mother.

When they were 13 their father took custody of them and gave them the stability and discipline that they lacked. They excelled. Both brothers would go on to play football for Notre Dame University and Gene went on to play briefly in the NFL.

Sadly, their mother died in 2018 from complications of Crohns disease. Both brothers had a hand in the decision to pull the plug on her life. This heartbreaking decision caused Josh Atkinson to feel tremendous grief and months later, on December 25th, he committed suicide.

Gene felt guilty over not being able to help his brother, calling it the greatest pain and suffering he ever felt. He too began to suffer deep feelings of depression and having suicidal thoughts. He was even hospitalized for a brief period after trying to harm himself.

In October of this year, Gene wrote an open letter about his struggle with depression and grief in hopes that it would help others reach out and talk about their pain instead of burying it and suffering with it alone.

Gene wrote that thinking about his then 2-year daughter motivated him to seek help and to keep fighting. He did however admit that he was still struggling and worried about how he would cope with the upcoming holiday season.

Unfortunately, it appears as though Gene Atkinson III, like his brother Josh, lost his hard fought battle with depression.

Men. We are not weak if we talk about our feelings. We are not weak if we cry. We are not weak if we ask for help. It takes a lot for us to open up. Doing so makes us strong!!!

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

“I’m Good Bro”: Men and Mental Health

“I’m Good Bro”: Men and Mental Health

Like most people, there have been times in my life where I was really down, even depressed. Things in my life just weren’t going the way I wanted them to go and most often for me, that boiled down to my love life.

I remember one time in particular when I was going through a break up and was battling anxiety and depression to the point where I couldn’t concentrate on much nor could I eat or sleep much at all. It felt like the emotional pain would never go away and I just continued to isolate myself and ruminate on my problems more and more.

Finally, my best friend called me and asked me if I were okay. My response was, “I’m good bro.”

I’m good bro? Why in the hell did I say that when I clearly wasn’t good. As a matter of fact, I was at one of the lowest points in my life. I had lost several pounds from not eating, laid in bed praying for sleep to take the pain away, but the anxiety kept me awake with racing thoughts and fear. I was in pretty bad shape, yet my response was, I’m good bro.

Even then I wondered, why did I say that? Why didn’t I just tell him what was going on with me? The answer was because I didn’t want to appear weak. I didn’t want to appear emasculated. I didn’t want to burden anyone. I didn’t want anyone, especially another man to know that I was depressed.  I felt shame in that. That shame kept me from asking for help. It nearly killed me.

From my experience, depression has a way of sneaking in, unassuming and nonthreatening. It has a way of making you feel comfortable with it, almost like an old friend or warm blanket, until it starts to suffocate you. Only then do most people realize that they are in danger and need help. Sadly, too many people realize it too late and pay the ultimate price.

Still as I was getting suffocated by depression, I muttered, “I’m good bro”, and effectively rejected any help my friend could have offered.

As a mental health professional, what I have learned over the years is that most men who suffer from anxiety, depression and stress will also respond “I’m good bro” when they really aren’t.

Men don’t like to talk about their feelings and are slow to ask for help. For many men it takes thoughts of suicide to compel them to reach out for help which usually means they have been suffering alone for quite a while.

While these men are suffering and attempting to “hold it together”, their suffering not only has negatively affects on them, but also on their work performance, parenting ability and relationships in general.

Men like to think of depression and anxiety as problems women have, but men and women both suffer from these common problems. It may look differently in men than it does in women as men tend to isolate themselves more, become less motivated, become angry, aggressive or turn to drugs and alcohol more.

Reasons Men Don’t Talk About Their Mental Health

There are many reasons men don’t talk about their mental health issues, but according to one study, the top reasons are:

  • ‘I’ve learnt to deal with it’ (40%)
  • ‘I don’t wish to be a burden to anyone’ (36%)
  • ‘I’m too embarrassed’ (29%)
  • ‘There’s negative stigma around this type of thing’ (20%)
  • ‘I don’t want to admit I need support’ (17%)
  • ‘I don’t want to appear weak’ (16%)
  • ‘I have no one to talk to’ (14%)

When men do want to talk about their feelings, most report that they would prefer to talk to their romantic partner, but not everyone has a romantic partner and even those who do may be uncomfortable feeling vulnerable. That’s why it is important that men feel comfortable asking for professional help if needed.

In order for us to get men to feel comfortable seeking help, it’s important that we normalize men’s mental health problems much in the way that we have normalized treatment for erectile dysfunction problems. When we do this we remove the stigma surrounding men’s mental health problems. By helping men feel comfortable talking about their thoughts and feelings, we not only positively impact their lives, but the lives of everyone around them.

Survivor’s Guilt: Dealing With Being “One of the Lucky Ones”

Survivor’s Guilt: Dealing With Being “One of the Lucky Ones”

Imagine being in a tragic event such as an earthquake that killed dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people, but you survived. Yet you had to bury family members and friends. You were right next to someone who didn’t make it, and you don’t understand why them and not you?

Days, weeks and months go by and you can’t shake that feeling of guilt, loneliness and wondering if you could have done something different to save someone else. When everyone is telling you that you should be happy that you survived, you don’t feel lucky. You may even feel undeserving of having survived.

You may feel like you can’t talk to anyone about what you are going through, after all, what do you have to complain about? You lived! You survived. You were one of the lucky ones! However, for many people who survive such horrific events, being a survivor is just the beginning of what can be a life-long, debilitating relationship with survivor’s guilt.

What Is Survivors Guilt?

Survivor’s guilt is something that may develop in some people who experience and survive a traumatic, life-threatening event. It is something that is common in war veterans, airplane crash survivors, survivors of natural disasters and mass shootings.

In her blog on Psychology Today, the Stoic Warrior, Nancy Sherman, PhD states that survivor’s guilt begins with an endless feedback loop of “counterfactual thoughts that you could have or should have done otherwise, though in fact you did nothing wrong”.

Recently two of the Parkland mass shooting survivors killed themselves a year after the tragedy and one of the father’s of a girl killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting also committed suicide. According to their family and friends, they all had a very difficult time coping after the tragic event and appear to have been suffering from survivor’s guilt.

While not everyone who survives such tragedies will experience survivor’s guilt, some signs and symptoms include:

  • Having flashbacks
  • Feeling irritable
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling numb or disconnected
  • Feeling unmotivated
  • Feeling helpless
  • Feeling an intense sense or fear or anxiety
  • Experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and heart palpitations
  • Having suicidal thoughts

Survivor’s guilt is a normal response to loss, even if it may appear abnormal to someone from the outside looking in. They may be bewildered to why this seemingly “lucky” person is suddenly withdrawn, depressed or even suicidal.

Some studies suggest that individuals who suffer with depression or have experienced childhood abuse may be more susceptible to survivors remorse since both issues appear to break down a person’s healthy defenses and coping skills making dealing with such tragedies even more difficult.

If you or anyone who know may be suffering from survivor’s guilt, I  have gathered these helpful tips from the Psychology Today website:

  • Give yourself time to grieve.
  • Consider thinking about who was really responsible, if anyone.
  • Remember to take care of yourself physically and psychologically.
  • Think about what those who are close to you are feeling about the situation.
  • Remind yourself that you were given the gift of survival and feel good about it.
  • Try to be of service to someone or something.
  • Remind yourself that you’re not alone.
  • Be patient.
  • Share your feelings with those you trust.
  • Try to stick to a daily routine.
  • Consider journaling your feelings.
  • Get professional help, as needed.

I think it it important that after such tragic events, especially man made, horrible events like mass shootings, that while we are grieving for the ones we loss and reaching out to their families, that we don’t forget those who survived, the “lucky” ones, and reach out to them as well and continue to reach out and support them.

As you can see by the recent suicides, it can be a year or several years after the incident where the survivor reaches his or her breaking point. It also goes to show the bigger pictures of such tragedies and the very far reaching affects they can have on our society.

 

A Personal Note On Suicide

A Personal Note On Suicide

***TRIGGER WARNING- This article contains information about suicide which may be upsetting to some people. If you or anyone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide please call your local suicide hotline or visit http://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/

Suicide sucks. Plan and simple. It always seems to hit us when we least expect it and it always hurts. It doesn’t matter the age, the circumstance. It always feel like a life was taking before its time.

The last half of 2018 has been a helluva time for me. Over the past 6 months I have dealt with the deaths of five people who were either directly or indirectly under my care. One died of an accidental heroin overdose, the other four were suicides by hanging.

I have seen CPR performed heroically and tirelessly, but in vain on two of those deaths and it is an indescribable feeling to see someone I knew, someone I had spoken to earlier that day, laying on the ground motionless. Someone so young (one was in her twenties, the other in her thirties) and so full of life at one point, now lifeless.

Suicide is an unfortunate evil we have to deal with in the mental health field. My current job puts me in the role of dealing with suicidal patients all day long.

I am used to dealing with suicidal patients, even patients who attempt suicide or self-injure, but I am and never will be used to dealing with completed suicides. I take each death personally, even if professionally and ethically my staff and myself did everything we could to prevent it.

Suicide is often an impulsive act. At least one of the suicides appears to have been the result of rage. Suicide is often thought of as anger turned inward.

Suicide sometimes builds overtime and is the result of unbearable psyche pain. Three of the suicides, at least on the surface, appear to have been thought out. One woman was grieving over the loss of her sister and blaming herself for her sisters death. She was filled with depression and guilt she found insufferable. Another man was facing a lengthy prison sentence and decided he would rather die than go back to prison and spent years locked away. He was the only one who left a suicide letter behind. It was obviously something he had given some thought to.

Suicide, as we have seen too often lately, is sometimes the result of bullying, which appears to have been the case in the last suicide and another serious suicide attempt a couple of weeks after that one. Adults in correctional settings who are exposed to bullying are at high risk for suicide.

There weren’t any obvious warning signs that could have prevented any of these deaths. Accept for the accidental heroin overdose, these individuals seemed to have been determined, in those moments, to end their lives. I wish I could have saved them. I wish I could have saved them all. I cried after each of those suicides because I knew those individuals, maybe not terribly intimately, but as close as you can professionally under these circumstances.

I even thought about resigning because I felt like we failed them although multiple internal and external reviews showed that we did not. However, I know that for these five lives lost, there a countless numbers of suicides we have prevented. And that’s what keeps me going. That’s what keeps us all going.

 

 

 

 

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder
It’s Winter time and the days are getting shorter, the weather is getting colder and there are some people who will began to experience a sense of sadness that they only feel during this time of year. Some call it the Winter Blues, but what if it’s more serious than that?
One of my clients experiences this. Every year around the Winter time she begins to feel sad, litheness and extra tired. Sometimes she gets deeply depressed and even has thoughts of killing herself. And then as Winter ends she comes out of it. It’s been like this for many years, for more years than she can remember.
She suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

What is SAD?

SAD is a type of depression that occurs during the same time of year each year for atleast two consecutive years.
Say for example that you feel depressed during the Winter, but feel much better during the Spring and Summer months, you may have SAD.
This doesn’t mean that you have SAD if the holidays remind you of a loved one that has passed away, so every Thanksgiving/Christmas you get depressed, that’s called grief. With SAD, there is no real reason for the unset of the sadness other than the seasonal changes.

What Causes SAD?

While some people may have Seasonal Affective Disorder during the Summer months (they usually feel more anxious, loss of appetite),  it’s much  more common during the Winter months due to shorter daylight hours and gloomy weather.
SAD’s prevalence in the U.S. ranges from 1.4% in Florida to 9.9% in Alaska. As a matter of fact, many people develop SAD when they move from warmer parts of the country to colder, northern parts.
It’s thought that the lack of sunlight upsets the body’s biological clock, circadian rhythms and interferes with serotonin, a chemical that affects mood.
Anyone can develop SAD, but it is more common in women, people who live far from the equator, people between the ages of 15 and 55 and also people who have a relative who has SAD.
Symptoms of SAD
SAD is often called Winter Depression and often people think it isn’t a serious disorder, but it is a type of major depression which means it can come with all the severe symptoms of major depression which include suicidal thoughts.
Other common symptoms include:
  • Feeling sad, irritable, or anxious
  • Loss of interest in things you usually found enjoyable
  • Eating more
  • Weight gain
  • Sleeping more, but still feeling drained
  • Difficulty concentrating

Common Treatments

Common treatments for SAD include traditional therapy, antidepressants and light therapy (where you are exposed to artificial light for a duration of time that mimics outdoor light).

One of the easiest and most inexpensive ways of treating SAD is through exercise. Getting outside and going for a brisk walk, especially when the sun is out or doing anything including chores that get your heart pumping (especially if it’s near a window with sunlight), it can help combat SAD.

My client is so accustomed to this disorder that she prepares for it every Winter, mentally and physically so that she can get through this period with as little interruption to her everyday life as possible and she does so very well using all of the tools at her disposal including exercise, friends, her therapist and medication if needed .

 

Learning From Someone Who Tried To Commit Suicide

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The other day I was speaking with a man in his early twenties who had nearly died from a suicide attempt. I mean, he was on the brink of death, unconscious and had to be resuscitated.  I had spoken with him a couple of hours before the incident and what I saw was a young man going through a rough patch in his life, not someone who would hours later decide to end it all.

After he was saved from death, I spoke with him again because I wanted to understand what had driven him to that point. I wanted to know if there was anything I had missed earlier and I wanted to learn from what could have easily turned out to be a tragedy.

Several factors played a role in why this man felt his life was a failure and no longer worth living. I’m sure there are more, but this is what I gathered our conversation.

Egoic Mindset

Talking to this man what I learned was, that besides his pending and ongoing legal issues, he was trapped in his “egoic mind”. In our egoic mind, our thoughts are in control, not us. As many of use know, our thoughts, when left unchecked can cause us to suffer in many ways.

Our minds are extremely powerful. They can catapult us into greatness or they can hold us hostage in a hell we create.

If we do not control our thoughts and believe our thoughts that tell us we aren’t good enough, that this person must do this for us or that this must happen in order for us to be happy, then we will live a live full of anguish.

This young man’s thoughts had not only created his depressive state, but also had driven him to attempt to take his own life. They had convinced him that he was such a screw up that his life was not worth living.

Society

Society tries to force us down similar paths, even when most of us are meant to go down very different paths. When we resist that push by society or simply don’t fit in, many of us start to feel abnormal, different or even broken. The harder we try to fit in, the more insecure, uncomfortable and unbalanced we feel. The more we resist society’s pull, the more we may feel ostracized, rejected or even unsafe.

We start to compare ourselves with other people. Our peers, our siblings and even people we don’t know. We start thinking that we are not as happy as our friends appear on social media, not as successful as our brother who went to law school. In comparison, we start to feel like failures.

As people we always seem to look up, meaning we always compare ourselves to those who are in higher positions.  The person with the masters degree compares himself to the person with the doctorates.  The person making $75,000 compares himself to the one making $100,000. The person living in an apartment compares himself to someone living in a small house and the person in the small house compares himself to someone living in a larger house.

There’s nothing wrong with striving to improve yourself, but when we get locked into this type of thinking we tend to not appreciate where we are right now which keeps us from being genuinely happy. We start to think that we will not be happy until we reach the next level, and then the next level and so on. What this does is keeps us from enjoying life right now for what it is, as it is.

This is the kind of thinking that caused this young man to suffer. His internal thoughts told him that despite what I saw as his successes and strengths, he saw himself as a failure. He wasn’t even close to 30 and had already given up on life, assuming that he was so off track in comparison to other people his age that he could never get back on.

If we compared down sometimes, then maybe he wouldn’t feel so bad about himself. Maybe he didn’t have a house, but he had a place to stay, he wasn’t homeless. Maybe he had dropped out of college, again, but at lease he had some college under his belt. And yes, maybe he was in jail, but it was for a misdemeanor and not a felony and he was facing months, not years.

Not Taking Responsibility

Another thing that helped create the situation was that he didn’t take total responsibility for his life. As an adult, he had created nearly all the obstacles in his life, yet he wanted someone else to magically make them go away.

He was hoping that his girlfriend would do certain things, that his parents rescue him. This caused him to live in a state of helplessness because he allowed other people to control the way his life was going and it wasn’t going in the direction he wanted it.

Once you realize that you are 100% responsible for your life, including your mistakes, your happiness, your future and your present, you’ll realize how much power and freedom you really have. You realize that once you learn how to control your thoughts, that yes life will happen, certain events will happen, but it’s our thoughts that determine how we feel about them and our actions or inaction that will determine how we experience life.

This young man is in jail. He can blame his girlfriend for his current situation, his parents, his up bringing or whatever. He can stay in jail depressed because his girlfriend isn’t answering his phone calls or waiting for his parents to stop showing tough love and come bail him out. He can be waiting forever on all of that, but the moment he starts taking responsibility and control of his thoughts and feelings, his life can change in an instant.

He can say, yes I am in jail and it’s my fault. I did something stupid, how can I avoid doing that again? How can I use this time to improve myself? What lesson am I meant to learn from this?

Or he can continue to blame his girlfriend and his parents, be miserable in jail and come out the same person or worse than he was before going to jail.

Not taking responsibility for creating the life you want will leave you in a perpetual state of uneasiness which will keep you from ever reaching your full potential.

Attachment To Rigid Expectations

This man, like a lot of us, has high and rigid expectations. What I mean is that he expected by his age (although he is still very young) that he would have to accomplish several things in order to be happy or successful and when that didn’t happen, he deemed himself a total failure and didn’t know how to cope with that.

Suppose for example that you expected to be married by 25, have 2 kids and be living joyfully in a house on the beach. Yet, here you are at 35, divorced with no kids and living in a small apartment.

You can reflect on life and feel like you’ve failed and of course you’ll become unhappy and maybe even depressed. You can blame life and the things that happened in your life for keeping you from meeting those expectations and again, you’ll be miserable. Or you can take control of your thoughts, take responsibility and learn to flow with life and say “I would have preferred not to be divorced, have 2 kids by now and living on the beach, but that didn’t happen, what do I do now? What can I do with what I have to create the life I want?”

If however you are attached to rigid expectations, you’ll create misery for yourself. There’s nothing wrong with having expectations, but don’t be so attached to them that when life happens and things don’t go as planned, you fall apart. There are no guarantees in life.

Tony Robbins says that it’s our expectations that make us unhappy and to trade your expectations for appreciation. This is something I have been working on hard over the last several months.

Trying to control or change things that are out of our control will always cause us pain. That’s part of the egoic mind. Instead, we need to learn to accept what is, embrace reality and adjust to life as it happens.

When we can’t do that, we may find ourselves in some degree, like this young man and millions of others who suffer needlessly in life. For most of us, life really isn’t all that bad, but we create our own suffering. By taking control of our thoughts we can end that.

If you are anyone you know are struggling with suicide please call The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.