Archive for April 2018

How Horses Help Kids with Emotional & Behavioral Issues

A kind of magic happens when a desperately unhappy child is brought to the country to interact with horses. A change of environment, especially from an urban area to open, natural surroundings, filled with fresh air and flooded with sunshine, can have an uplifting and calming effect, and with time, a troubled teen can begin to let go of a lot of pent-up, negative emotions.

When teenagers first arrive at an equine program, they are often withdrawn and angry. Their relationships have been negative – but the relationship they will experience with a horse will be completely different from any other. Horses and other animals are completely honest in their encounters, and for many teens this will be the first interaction they have ever had in which they can honestly be themselves.

Equine-Assisted Therapy is an experiential therapy that is particularly effective with children and troubled teens. Horses are naturally social animals with personalities, attitudes, fears, and moods, and they are very sensitive to the energy around them. They will respond appropriately to human interaction, allowing teens to experience a sense of connection and participation without the negative feelings sometimes associated with traditional therapy. Horses and teenagers are seeking the same feelings of trust and connection, and once a child realizes this similarity, he or she is able to form a connection that is uplifting and inspiring. Horses are able to teach teenagers about themselves and their interaction with others around them.

A horse will react with fear to any expression of anger, bullying, or frustration, functioning as a mirror in which a teen can immediately see the effect of their emotions and attitudes. Horses have no guile or deceit – they respond negatively to negative emotions, positively to positive emotion. They do not respond to bullying, yelling, or aggression, and this forces teens to find other ways of communication. Because horses are non-judgmental, do not have an agenda, and are always honest, it is much easier for teenagers to let down their guard and recognize their own dysfunctional behavior. When teenagers work with horses, they are able to gain insight into their emotions and behavior and have a non-threatening opportunity to immediately find a more productive, positive way of interacting.

Each time a teenager learns another skill, his or her self-confidence and trust increases. Teens learn how to control and redirect their anger because they have a stake in the outcome – they do not want to upset or hurt a horse they have come to care about! The intrinsic innocence of the horse reinforces the need for teenagers to identify other ways to express their emotions to achieve positive, productive results. When a teenager encounters a horse’s behavior that confuses them, they must learn how to put themselves in another’s place and try to figure out what the horse is experiencing – and then find the most efficient way to proceed.

Horses are large, very powerful animals, and they can be unpredictable and intimidating. Approaching, interacting, and mounting a horse forces a person to confront any fear and insecurities they may have. Teens will learn how to keep their fear under control, how to remain calm, and how to move forward with positive feelings despite any underlying lack of confidence. They will also discover the exhilaration of horseback riding, especially if fear has prevented participation in physical activities in the past. The ability to remain calm and complete a task regardless of self-doubt and fear is an extremely empowering experience. Once a teenager gains insight into how to effectively work with a horse, he or she will become the leader. This causes the horse to feel a sense of safety and trust, and it allows the teenager to experience their abilities and potential. Teenagers will discover a significant sense of self-esteem as they continue to work and communicate in harmony with the horse.

Learning how to care for and ride a horse increases the bond between the rider and horse. The more consistent the teenager is, the more attentive and cooperative the horse becomes. In this way, teenagers learn life skills, such as effective and positive communication, trust, and how to control their anger and frustration.

The kind of relationship humans have with horses is calming and often healing. Teenagers become engaged in this unique interaction, and it brings them out of their inner cycle of negative thoughts. Working with horses may be the first time for some teens that they have ever experienced an emotionally powerful bond of affection and loyalty that is unconditional. Teens learn how to be responsible – and how being responsible can make a person feel good. Experiencing this kind of unique, inter-species bond can have a life-changing effect.

Mental Health & Weight Management

The Connection between Weight and Mental Health

You may be wondering what this unusual topic is doing on a blog about weight management. The reality is that issues with weight often produce more than just physical effects. Mental health is a normal and significant factor in one’s weight management journey.

Why is this? Studies show that many people find weight to be a taboo subject. This might be because bias and stigma are often attached to weight in the U.S. culture. As a result, many internalize uncomfortable comments about weight and assign it power to control their self-esteem.

Unfortunately, many mental disorders are associated with weight in some shape or form. Examples include depression, anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and anxiety. However, weight can produce other mental effects on individuals that may not be labeled as a disorder, but are still important to take into consideration.

Staying “Mentally Fit” While You Manage Your Weight

You’ve heard us say time and time again that your weight matters for your health. This includes mental health, too.

While you walk this important journey, what are some ways you can take care of your brain and stay mentally fit?

  • Journal Your Feelings – Writing can give you cathartic release. Jot down your feelings about food, self-esteem, the future and whatever else concerns you.
  • Exercise Frequently – Regular physical activity releases endorphins and strengthens mental clarity.
  • Talk with People You Trust – Walking the weight management journey can seem impossible if you’re alone. Seek accountability in a friend, family member or health professional.
  • Make Time for Self Care – You may feel busy, but try to make time for things which make you happy and relieve tension. Maybe it’s a massage, vacation or shopping spree. Find what works.
  • Aim for Excellence, Not Perfection – Perfection doesn’t exist, and that applies to weight as well. Be proud of yourself as long as you are taking healthy steps forward.

How You Can Help Improve Self-Esteem In Teenagers

Teens want nothing more in the world than to fit in. This leads them to go to extraordinary lengths to achieve a higher social status, which is often at the expense of others. The majority of teenagers fit into either the rejected or neglected peer hierarchy. This can lead to lowered self-esteem and it can make life miserable. Meanwhile, the popular hierarchy mistreats teens who are lower in social status; many do so for social recognition.

This can be a brutal cycle that’s often present in the educational system. Some teens are even less fortunate because their home life is unstable. For instance, a teen may be living with an alcoholic parent or an abusive parent, which can be a stressful environment for any teenager. This can create a sense of despair because the child feels like there is no escape. Some even take drastic measures and partake in destructive activities such as self mutilation. Life as a teenager can test even the strongest of wills, but there are ways around this unforgiving cycle.

An important rule of thumb when dealing with a depressed teen is to avoid rushing into their personal life. This may lead them to withdraw even more. A teen’s life is very secluded. Work is required in order to get them to speak without inhibition.

The parent should talk with their teen about any problems that they may be facing. At first, they will be hesitant to open up. This is natural because most teens feel like they can handle the problem on their own. The parents should take a more proactive method in dealing with the teenager if the problem continues to exist.

Stay persistent because it will take a lot of time for them to open up. They will soon begin to realize that the parent truly cares. Once this has been accomplished, the parent should plan a day where they can do something together. This will increase the rapport between the parent and child. This will also decrease their depression. Here are some other ways to increase the teen’s self-esteem.


Physical Activities as a Method for Building Self-esteem

Besides being very important to stay healthy and one of the wonderful things to do when they are bored, stressed-out or feeling depressed, physical activities are among the most direct methods for improving a teenager’s self-esteem. Activities such as camping, four wheeling, and even running are great ways to uplift the teen’s morale.

They will feel exhausted by the end of the day, and their spirits will be uplifted because they spent the entire day developing a skill or spending time with a loved one. The root of most teenagers’ low self-esteem stems from a lack of positive social interactions. An action-filled day with a loved one or friend will make them feel wanted and cared for.

Creative Activities Will Promote Self-expression in Teens

Teenagers need an outlet for their artistic side as well. This will give them the ability to express themselves in a positive way. Activities like writing, drawing, painting, and even photography can be very therapeutic. This can give the depressed teen a sense of self-worth.

Organized Sports as a Way to Build Stability

Another way of improving a teen’s self-esteem is to get them involved in an organized sport. This is effective because it allows the teen to socialize and work toward a common goal. Organized sports allow the teen to understand character, trust, leadership, work ethic, and integrity. This will give them confidence because they are actively working to achieve a goal, which will make them feel like they are important. We are social creatures and need interaction with others. Organized sports allow for this social interaction.

Therapy as a Treatment for a Teen’s Low Self-esteem

It may be wise to consider therapy if the previous steps do not work. This is often a good option when parents cannot reach the teenager on their own or in cases where clinical depression is suspected. Professional help can be really beneficial not only for the teenager, but the parents as well. Therapy may shed some light on the causes of the teen’s low self-esteem.

Dealing With Depression and Loneliness

Everyone feels lonely from time to time, but for some, loneliness comes far too often. Feeling lonely can plague many people — including the elderly, people who are isolated, and those with depression— with symptoms such as sadness, isolation, and withdrawal. Loneliness can strike a person who lives alone or someone who lives in a house filled with people. “Loneliness is subjective,” says Louise Hawkley, PhD, a research associate in the psychology department at the University of Chicago. “You can’t argue with someone who says they’re lonely.”

Although depression doesn’t always lead to loneliness, feeling lonely is often a predictor of depression one year or even two years later, and it certainly leads to sadness, Dr. Hawkley says. Freeing yourself of feelings like being isolated by depression is part of the healing process.

How to Fight Depression and Loneliness

Feelings of loneliness don’t have to be constant to call for action, but you will need to give yourself a push to get back into the thick of life and re-engage with others to start feeling better. These strategies for fighting depression and loneliness can help:

  • Make a plan. There are two basic types of loneliness. Acute loneliness results from losing a loved one or moving to a new place, for example. In these situations, chances are you know at some level that you’ll have to go through a period of adjustment to get through this feeling of loneliness. The other type of loneliness is the chronic subjective type, which strikes despite your existing relationships. Both require a plan of action. One strategy is making a point to meet people who have similar interests, Hawkley says. Volunteering and exploring a hobby are both great ways to meet kindred spirits.
  • Do something — anything. In depression treatment there’s a theory called behavioral activation, which is a clinical way of saying, “Just do it.” If you’re feeling lonely and want to change it, any small step you take — even striking up a casual, friendly conversation with the barista at your corner café — is a good move.
  • Explore your faith. There are only a few strategies that are proven to successfully protect against loneliness, and this is one of them. “People who have a personal relationship with their God or a higher power tend to do well,” Hawkley notes. There are a lot of factors at work here, one of them being that faith communities provide many opportunities for positive social encounters. You don’t have to have a close friend in the community to get the benefit, Hawkley says — just feeling that you belong in the group is enough. In addition, faith can help you accept the things in life you can’t control.
  • Bond with a dog. “Pets, especially dogs, are protective against loneliness,” Hawkley says. There are many reasons why this strategy works: Dogs get you out and about, they’re naturally social creatures, and you’ll have a living being to care about. If you’re not in a position to own a dog, find ways to help care for other people’s dogs or volunteer to help dogs at a shelter that need loving attention. Other pets, such as cats and fish, can also help ease loneliness.
  • Have realistic standards. “Loneliness is a mismatch between your ideal and what you actually have,” Hawkley says. Part of the solution may be to accept that you can have fun and light conversation with a variety of people, and that it’s okay if they don’t become lifelong confidantes. Also, reflect on whether you have any unrealistic standards that are making it hard to connect with others and stop feeling lonely, such as expecting too much from a new friendship too quickly or relying on another person too much.
  • Think beyond yourself. Depression can make you feel very self-focused, meaning that everything is all about you. But remind yourself that if you ask a co-worker to join you for lunch and the person can’t make it, you shouldn’t automatically assume that he or she has rejected you. The person might have a previous lunch date or too much work to leave his or her desk.
  • Reach out to a lonely person. Whether you’re feeling lonely now or just know how it feels, you may get an emotional boost from befriending someone else who’s lonely. Some people may view loneliness as contagious, and therefore lonely people often become even more isolated. “We believe there is a responsibility in the community to reach out to people who are suffering,” Hawkley says. In doing so, you can help others and yourself, too. Examples include volunteering for an organization that helps elderly people or visiting a neighbor who’s lost a spouse.
  • Call, don’t post. Social networks are fun and can provide an essential social outlet for some people, but Hawkley says research suggests that, on average, people do best if more of their relationships happen face-to-face or over the phone. Use a pal’s post as an excuse to call and talk about it instead of posting a comment back.
  • Make time for relationships. Everyone is busy, but relationships won’t wait until you’ve finished your PhD, raised your kids, snagged the next big promotion, or moved to your ideal city. Build them now. “No one on their death bed wishes they’d worked a few more hours,” Hawkley says.
  • Talk to a trusted friend or relative. Get some feedback and ideas, as well as a sympathetic ear, from a family member or friend with whom you trust your thoughts and feelings. This person could have some ideas about groups you might want to join to meet positive people.
  • Meditate. “Mindfulness teaches us that we are more than who we think we are,” says Jeffrey Greeson, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center. Developing a meditation practice can help you identify and release some of the thoughts that could be keeping you feeling lonely and undermining your efforts to meet new people.
  • Explore therapy. If you just can’t shake profound feelings of loneliness, isolation, and other symptoms of depression, you might want to talk to a mental health professional as part of your depression treatment. Look for a professional with a cognitive behavioral background, an approach that’s been shown to help with depression and loneliness.