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Cultivating Happiness

We all want to be happy. The right to pursue happiness is even written into our country’s bill of rights. But how does one do that? Is it even possible to become a happier person? And if so, what’s the best way to go about it? Researchers in the field of positive psychology have been studying these questions and the answers are encouraging. Turns out you can genuinely increase your happiness and overall satisfaction with life—and it doesn’t require a winning lottery ticket or some other drastic change of circumstances. What it takes is an inner change of perspective and attitude. And that’s truly good news, because it’s something that anyone can do.

What won’t make you happy

Do you, like many people, have a mental list of things you think you need in order to be truly happy? There are many externals our society teaches us to chase: success, wealth, fame, power, good looks, romantic love. But are they really the key to happiness?

The research says no, at least when it comes to long-term happiness. A prestigious award, a big raise, an exciting new relationship, a fancy new car, losing weight. These things can make us feel great at first, but the thrill doesn’t last very long. Human beings are quick to adapt to new circumstances—a quality that has helped us survive and thrive. But it also means that the good things that initially make us happier soon become our new normal and we return to our old happiness baseline.

Myths and facts about happiness
There are a lot of myths out there about what will make you happy. So before we embark on a tour of the strategies that do work for boosting happiness, let’s dispense with the things that don’t.
Myth: Money will make you happy.

Fact: It’s stressful when you’re worried about money. In order to be happy, you do need enough of it to cover your basic needs: things like food, shelter, and clothing. But once you have enough money to be comfortable, getting more money isn’t going to make much of a difference in how happy you are. For example, studies of lottery winners show that after a relatively short period of time, they are no more happy than they were before their win.

Myth: You need a relationship in order to be happy.

Fact: Being in a healthy, supportive love relationship does contribute to happiness, but it’s not true that you can’t be happy and fulfilled if you’re single. Indeed, singles who have meaningful friendships and pursuits are happier than people in mismatched romantic relationships. It’s also important to note that even a good marriage or romantic partnership doesn’t lead to a permanent, intense happiness boost. Expecting your partner to deliver your happily-ever-after may actually harm the relationship in the long-run. You—not your partner or your family members—are responsible for your own happiness.

Myth: Happiness declines with age.

Fact: Contrary to popular belief, people tend to get happier with age. Study after study confirms that seniors experience more positive emotions and fewer (and less intense) negative emotions than young people and middle-aged adults. As a whole, older adults are also more satisfied with their lives, less sensitive to stress, and more emotionally stable. Even with the losses that come with age, it is the happiest time of life for many people.

Myth: Some people are just happier than others and there’s nothing you can do to change that.

Fact: Genetics do play a role in happiness. Current research suggests that people are born with a certain happiness “set point.” But that only accounts for about half of our happiness level. Another 10% is due to life circumstances. That leaves 40% that is determined by your actions and choices. That’s a lot of control!

Tip 1: Train your brain to be more positive

Our brains are wired to notice and remember the things that are wrong. It’s a survival mechanism that helped keep our cave-dwelling ancestors safe in a world where there were many physical threats. But in today’s comparatively safe world, this biological predisposition to focus on the negative contributes to stress and unhappiness.

While we can’t change our nature, we can train our brains to be more positive. This doesn’t mean putting on a smiley face and whistling a happy tune no matter what’s going on. You don’t have to ignore reality or pretend things are wonderful even when they’re not. But just as dwelling on negative things fuels unhappiness (and plays a big role in depression and anxiety), choosing to notice, appreciate, and anticipate goodness is a powerful happiness booster.

Express gratitude

Teaching yourself to become more grateful can make a huge difference in your overall happiness. The research shows that gratitude helps you experience more positive emotions, decrease depression, feel better about yourself, improve your relationships, and strengthen your immune system. A recent study revealed that gratitude even makes you smarter about how you spend your money.

There are a number of simple exercises you can take advantage of to increase and cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

Give sincere thanks to others. When someone goes above and beyond or does something to make your day easier, be quick to verbalize your thanks and appreciation. Not only will it make the person feel good, it will give you a happiness lift, too. It’s an instant reward to see how expressing gratitude makes a positive difference in someone else’s day. It makes you realize that we’re all connected and that what you do matters.

Keep a gratitude journal. It may sound cheesy, but writing down the good things that happened to you during the day really works. Research shows that keeping a gratitude journals is a powerful technique that instantly makes you feel happier, more connected to others, and genuinely appreciative.

Count your blessings. Make it a habit to regularly reflect on the things you have to be thankful for. Bring to mind all the good people, experiences, and things in your life, both now and in the past. Focus on the blessings both big and small, from the people who love you to the roof over your head and the food on your table. You will soon see it’s a pretty long list.

Write a letter of gratitude. Think of someone who did something that changed your life for the better who you never properly thanked. Write a thoughtful letter of gratitude expressing what the person did, how it affected you, and what it still means to you. Then deliver the letter. Positive psychology expert Martin Seligman recommends reading the letter in person for the most dramatic increase in happiness.

Find the positive in a negative event from your past. Even the most painful circumstances can teach us positive lessons. Reevaluate a negative event from your past with an eye for what you learned or how you became stronger, wiser, or more compassionate. When you can find meaning in even the bad things you’ve experienced, you will be happier and more grateful.

Tip 2: Nurture and enjoy your relationships

Relationships are one of the biggest sources of happiness in our lives. Studies that look at happy people bear this out. The happier the person, the more likely that he or she has a large, supportive circle of family and friends, a fulfilling marriage, and a thriving social life.

That’s why nurturing your relationships is one of the best emotional investments you can make. If you make an effort to cultivate and build your connections with others, you will soon reap the rewards of more positive emotions. And as you become happier, you will attract more people and higher-quality relationships, leading to even greater positivity and enjoyment. It’s the happiness gift that keeps on giving.

Make a conscious effort to stay connected. In our busy society, it’s easy to get caught up in our responsibilities and neglect our relationships. But losing touch with friends is one of the most common end-of-life regrets. Don’t let it happen to you. Make an effort to stay connected to the people who make your life brighter. Take the time to call, write, or see each other in person. You’ll be happier for it.

Invest in quality time with the people you care about. It’s not just the time spent with friends and family that matters; it’s how you spend it. Mindlessly vegging out together in front of the TV isn’t going to make you closer. People who are in happy relationships talk a lot. They share what’s going on in their lives and how they feel. Follow their example and carve out time to talk and enjoy each other’s company.

Offer sincere compliments. Think of the things you admire and appreciate about the other person and then tell them. This will not only make the other person happier, it will encourage him or her to be an even better friend or partner. As a practice of gratitude, it will also make you value the relationship more and feel happier.

Seek out happy people. Research shows that happiness is contagious. You can literally catch a good mood (you can also catch a bad mood, but thankfully, sadness is less contagious than happiness). So make an effort to seek out and spend time with happy people. Before you know it, you’ll be feeling the happiness, too.

Take delight in the good fortune of others. One of the things that truly separate healthy, fulfilling relationships from the rest are how the partners respond to each other’s good fortune and success. Do you show genuine enthusiasm and interest when your friend or family member experiences something good? Or do you ignore, criticize, or downplay the achievement, feel envious or threatened, or say a quick, “That’s great,” and then move on? If you’d like closer relationships, pay attention when the other person is excited. Ask questions, relive the experience with the other person, and express your excitement for him or her. Remember, happiness is contagious, so as you share the experience, their joy will become yours.

Tip 3: Live in the moment and savor life’s pleasures

Think about a time when you were depressed or anxious. Chances are, you were either dwelling on something negative from the past or worrying about something in the future. In contrast, when you focus on the present moment, you are much more likely to feel centered, happy, and at peace. You’re also much more likely to notice the good things that are happening, rather than letting them pass by unappreciated or unobserved. So how do you start to live more in the moment and savor the good things life has to offer?

Meditate

Mindfulness meditation is a powerful technique for learning to live in and enjoy the moment. And you don’t have to be religious or even spiritual to reap its benefits. No pan flutes, chanting, or yoga pants required. Simply speaking, meditation is exercise for your brain. When practiced regularly, meditation appears to decrease activity in the areas of the brain associated with negative thoughts, anxiety, and depression. At the same time, it increases activity in the areas associated with joy, contentment, and peace. It also strengthens areas of the brain in charge of managing emotions and controlling attention. What’s more, being mindful makes you more fully engaged in the here-and-now and more aware and appreciate of good things.

Notice and savor small pleasures

If you adopt a mindfulness meditation practice, you will automatically begin to notice and savor life’s pleasures more. But there are other things you can do to increase your awareness and enjoyment.

Adopt enjoyable daily rituals. Build moments of enjoyment into your day with pleasurable rituals. These can be very simple things like lingering over a cup of coffee in the morning, taking a short stroll in the sunshine during your lunch hour, or playing with your dog when you get home. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you enjoy and appreciate it.

Minimize multi-tasking. Savoring requires your full attention, which is impossible when you’re trying to do multiple things. For example, if you’re eating a delicious meal while distractedly surfing the Internet, you’re not going to get as much pleasure out of the food as you could have. Focus on one thing at a time in order to truly maximize your enjoyment.

Stop to smell the roses. It may be an old cliché, but it’s good advice. You’ll appreciate good things more if you stop whatever you’re doing for a moment to appreciate and luxuriate in them. It will enhance your pleasure, even if you can only spare a few seconds. And if you can share the moment with others, even better. Shared pleasure is powerful.

Replay happy memories. You don’t have to limit your savoring to things that are happening now. Remembering and reminiscing about happy memories and experiences from your past leads to more positive emotions in the present.

Tip 4: Focus on helping others and living with meaning

There is something truly fulfilling in helping others and feeling like your actions are making a difference for the better in the world. That’s why people who assist those in need and give back to others and their communities tend to be happier. In addition, they also tend to have higher self-esteem and general psychological well-being.

Here are some ways to live a more altruistic, meaningful life:

Volunteer. Happiness is just one of the many benefits of volunteering. You’ll get the most out of the experience by volunteering for an organization that you believe in and that allows you to contribute in a meaningful way.

Practice kindness. Look for ways to be more kind, compassionate, and giving in your daily life. This can be something as small as brightening a stranger’s day with a smile or going out of your way to do a favor for a friend.

Play to your strengths. The happiest people know what their unique strengths are and build their lives around activities that allow them to use those strengths for the greater good. There are many different kinds of strengths, including kindness, curiosity, honesty, creativity, love of learning, perseverance, loyalty, optimism, and humor.

Go for the flow. Research shows that flow, a state of complete immersion and engagement in an activity, is closely associated with happiness. Flow happens when you’re actively engaged in something that is intrinsically rewarding and challenging yet still attainable. Anything that completely captivates you and engages your full attention can be a flow activity.

Tip 5: Take better care of your health

You can be happy even when you’re suffering from illness or bad health, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the aspects of your health that are in your control. Exercise and sleep are particularly important when it comes to happiness.

Make exercise a regular habit

Exercise isn’t just good for the body. It also has a powerful effect on mental well-being. People who exercise regularly are happier across the board. Plus, they’re also less stressed, angry, anxious, and depressed.

It doesn’t really matter what kind of exercise you do, so long as you do it regularly. For best results, aim for an hour of exercise at least five days a week. If you find something you enjoy, you’ll be more likely to stick to it. So don’t think you’re limited to going to the gym or strapping on jogging shoes. Find something that suits your lifestyle and preferences. It could be taking a dance class, shooting hoops, walking in nature, joining a community sports league, playing tennis, running with your dog, swimming laps at the pool, hiking, biking, or doing yoga in the park. If you’re having trouble thinking of activities you enjoy, think back to when you were a kid. What sports or games did you like to play?

Get the sleep you need

Getting quality sleep every night directly affects your happiness, vitality, and emotional stability during the day. When you’re sleep deprived, you’re much more susceptible to stress. It’s harder to be productive, think creatively, and make wise decisions. How much sleep do you need? According to sleep scientists, the average person needs at least 7.5 – 9 hours each night.

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/cultivating-happiness.htm

Halloween and Mental Illness

This time of year is known for beautiful fall foliage, apple picking, and Halloween. Many people spend time stocking up on candy, decorations, and maybe even planning a party or scary costume. Take a moment to think about types of popular frightening costumes. What do they have in common?

Some popular Halloween costumes tend to mock types of personalities we are uncomfortable with, including people with mental illness. In fact, even some horror movies take place in psychiatric hospitals or star characters suffering from mental illness. Since it is common for us to fear the unknown and misunderstood, we often attempt to alleviate anxiety by dramatizing or mimicking what we fear. But are these diseases really something to be afraid of?

Halloween costumes that mock mental illness can easily contribute to already existing stigma–a major barrier to treatment. Stigma surrounding mental health disorders is so strong that nearly two-thirds of people affected by them live in silence and go without treatment.

All mental health disorders can seem strange and frightening. Without education and understanding, conditions such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and bipolar disorder can feel scary. The reality is, millions of Americans struggle with these common illnesses. The good news is, they are treatable.

While October is a time for trick-or-treats, it is also Depression Awareness Month. Contribute to mental health awareness instead of stigma by choosing a costume wisely. Mental illness should viewed like any other illness and treated with dignity, not as a joke.

https://mentalhealthscreening.org/blog/halloween-and-mental-health

How to Stop Worrying

Everyone worries. Worrying can even be helpful when it spurs you to take action and solve a problem. But if you’re preoccupied with “what ifs” and worst-case scenarios, worry becomes a problem. Unrelenting anxious thoughts and fears can be paralyzing. They can sap your emotional energy, send your anxiety levels soaring, and interfere with your daily life. But chronic worrying is a mental habit that can be broken. You can train your brain to stay calm and look at life from a more balanced, less fearful perspective.

How much worrying is too much?

Worries, doubts, and anxieties are a normal part of life. It’s natural to worry about an unpaid bill, an upcoming job interview, or a first date. But “normal” worry becomes excessive when it’s persistent and uncontrollable. You worry every day about many different things, you can’t get anxious thoughts out of your head, and it interferes with your daily life.

Constant worrying, negative thinking, and always expecting the worst can take a toll on your emotional and physical health. It can leave you feeling restless and jumpy, cause insomnia, headaches, stomach problems, and muscle tension, and make it difficult to concentrate at work or school. You may take your negative feelings out on the people closest to you, self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, or try to distract yourself by zoning out in front of screens. Chronic worrying can also be a major symptom of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), a common anxiety disorder that involves tension, nervousness, and a general feeling of unease that colors your whole life.

Why do I worry excessively?

If you suffer from chronic anxiety and worries, chances are you look at the world in ways that make it seem more threatening than it really is. For example, you may overestimate the possibility that things will turn out badly, jump immediately to worst-case scenarios, or treat every anxious thought as if it were fact. You may also discredit your own ability to handle life’s problems, assuming you’ll fall apart at the first sign of trouble. These irrational, pessimistic attitudes are known as cognitive distortions.

Examples of cognitive distortions that add to anxiety, worry, and stress, include:

All-or-nothing thinking, looking at things in black-or-white categories, with no middle ground. “If everything is not perfect, I’m a total failure.”

Overgeneralization from a single negative experience, expecting it to hold true forever. “I didn’t get hired for the job. I’ll never get any job.”

Focusing on the negatives while filtering out the positives. Noticing the one thing that went wrong, rather than all the things that went right. “I got the last question on the test wrong. I’m an idiot.”

Coming up with reasons why positive events don’t count. “I did well on the presentation, but that was just dumb luck.”

Making negative interpretations without actual evidence. You act like a mind reader: “I can tell she secretly hates me.” Or a fortune teller: “I just know something terrible is going to happen.”

Expecting the worst-case scenario to happen. “The pilot said we’re in for some turbulence. The plane’s going to crash!”

Believing that the way you feel reflects reality. “I feel like such a fool. Everyone must be laughing at me.”

Holding yourself to a strict list of what you should and shouldn’t do and beating yourself up if you break any of the rules. “I should never have tried starting a conversation with her. I’m such a moron.”

Labeling yourself based on mistakes and perceived shortcomings. “I’m a failure; I’m boring; I deserve to be alone.”

Assuming responsibility for things that are outside your control. “It’s my fault my son got in an accident. I should have warned him to drive carefully in the rain.”

Why is it so hard to stop worrying?

While cognitive distortions aren’t based on reality, they’re difficult to give up because they’re often part of a lifelong pattern of thinking that’s become so automatic you’re not even completely aware of it. You may think that worrying will eventually help you to find a solution to a problem or prevent you from being surprised by anything that happens in the future. You may think that worrying protects you in some way or even equate it with being responsible or caring. In order to stop worry and anxiety for good, though, you need to give up the belief that your worrying serves a positive purpose. Once you realize that worrying is the problem, not the solution, you can turn off anxious thoughts and regain control of your worried mind.

How to stop worrying tip 1: Hit the pause button on anxious thoughts

If you worry excessively, it can seem like negative thoughts are running through your head on endless repeat. You may feel like you’re spiraling out of control, going crazy, or about to burn out under the weight of all this anxiety. But there are steps you can take right now to hit the pause button on anxious thoughts and give yourself a time out from relentless worrying.

Get up and get moving. Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment because it releases endorphins which relieve tension and stress, boost energy, and enhance your sense of well-being. Even more importantly, by really focusing on how your body feels as you move, you can interrupt the constant flow of worries running through your head. Pay attention to the sensation of your feet hitting the ground as you walk, run, or dance, for example, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of the sun or wind on your skin.

Take a yoga or tai chi class. By focusing your mind on your movements and breathing, practicing yoga or tai chi keeps your attention on the present, helping to clear your mind and lead to a relaxed state.

Meditate. Meditation works by switching your focus from worrying about the future or dwelling on the past to what’s happening right now. By being fully engaged in the present moment, you can interrupt the endless loop of negative thoughts and worries. And you don’t need to sit cross-legged, light candles or incense, or chant. Simply find a quiet, comfortable place and choose one of the many free or inexpensive smartphone apps that can guide you through the meditation process.

Practice progressive muscle relaxation. This can help you break the endless loop of worrying by focusing your mind on your body instead of your thoughts. By alternately tensing and then releasing different muscle groups in your body, you release muscle tension in your body. And as your body relaxes, your mind will follow.

Try deep breathing. When you worry, you become anxious and breathe faster, often leading to further anxiety. But by practicing deep breathing exercises, you can calm your mind and quieten negative thoughts.

While the above relaxation techniques can provide some immediate respite from worry and anxiety, practicing them regularly can also change your brain. Research has shown that regular meditation, for example, can boost activity on the left side of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for feelings of serenity and joy. The more you practice, the greater the anxiety relief you’ll experience and the more control you’ll start to feel over your anxious thoughts and worries.

Tip 2: Talk about your worries

It may seem like a simplistic solution, but talking face to face with trusted friend or family member-someone who will listen to you without judging, criticizing, or continually being distracted-is one of the most effective ways to calm your nervous system and diffuse anxiety. When your worries start spiraling, talking them over can make them seem far less threatening.

Keeping worries to yourself only causes them to build up until they seem overwhelming. But saying them out loud can often help you to make sense of what you’re feeling and put things in perspective. If your fears are unwarranted, verbalizing them can expose them for what they are-needless worries. And if your fears are justified, sharing them with someone else can produce solutions that you may not have thought of alone.

Tip 3: Practice mindfulness

Worrying is usually focused on the future-on what might happen and what you’ll do about it-or on the past-rehashing the things you’ve said or done. The centuries-old practice of mindfulness can help you break free of your worries by bringing your attention back to the present. This strategy is based on observing your worries and then letting them go, helping you identify where your thinking is causing problems and getting in touch with your emotions.

Acknowledge and observe your worries. Don’t try to ignore, fight, or control them like you usually would. Instead, simply observe them as if from an outsider’s perspective, without reacting or judging.

Let your worries go. Notice that when you don’t try to control the anxious thoughts that pop up, they soon pass, like clouds moving across the sky. It’s only when you engage your worries that you get stuck.

Stay focused on the present. Pay attention to the way your body feels, the rhythm of your breathing, your ever-changing emotions, and the thoughts that drift across your mind. If you find yourself getting stuck on a particular thought, bring your attention back to the present moment.

Does Your Mood Change with the Seasons?

Fall and winter bring cooler nights and darker mornings. Along with the temperature and light changes, many people are also dealing with back-to-school changes for themselves or their children. There are changes in schedules, routines, expectations, and even relationships.

Though many people consider spring to be a time of new beginnings, autumn is that for many people. It is a time of reflection on the summer and the year thus far, as well as a time of preparation for the winter and upcoming holidays. As we enter the harvest season, consider the physical, emotional, and relational ways you may be affected by this transition.

The impact of light and temperature on the human body is profound. We all need some level of light and warmth for our bodies to survive and thrive. Autumn, for some parts of the world, marks a change in both light and warmth as we approach colder and darker days.

Consider the ideal temperature and amount of light that you physically desire. Do you love the bright sun and hot weather? Or do you prefer cooler temperatures with less intense sunlight? Are you more active now than you were two months ago? Or are you struggling to be physically active? Whatever your preference, the change in season will affect you. Understanding and responding to your needs will help you prepare for whatever season is approaching.

Many people struggle with seasonal affective mood issues, commonly referred to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—a depression related to the change in seasons. For most, this begins in fall and continues through the winter months. It’s marked by moodiness, low energy, difficulty sleeping, a lack of interest in activities and relationships, feeling hopeless, and an overall sense of depression. Known more casually as “the winter blues,” SAD can have a significant impact on your mood and relationships. If you are more irritable, withdrawn, or moody during the winter months, the time to plan and prepare is now.

“Vanessa” called me at the beginning of August wanting therapy to plan for the winter. I was impressed that she was being so proactive. “I can’t do winter like that again,” she told me when I praised her. She wasn’t willing to experience another winter feeling as low as she did last year, so she wanted to do it differently this time.

To help you prepare for the upcoming season, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you find yourself sleeping more? Are you struggling to get out of bed?
  • Is it harder or easier to exercise now?
  • Do you feel less patient? Are you easily annoyed or irritated?
  • Do you feel more energized and productive?
  • Has there been a shift or change in any of your relationships in recent weeks?
  • Are you actively involved in your relationships?

Answering these questions could give you some insight about how the change in season may or may not be affecting you. Regardless of whether you are affected by SAD, there are three key points that will help you navigate and manage any seasonal changes.

  1. Exercise, exercise, exercise. Moving your body on a regular basis has far-reaching, positive effects on your physical and emotional health. You don’t need to train for a marathon. Walking around your neighborhood, doing push-ups, running around outside with children—these all have the same benefit.
  2. Get more light. Everyone needs to be exposed to sunlight on a daily basis. Since many jobs can be done indoors, this often takes effort. But the benefits are great, physically and emotionally. Our bodies absorb vitamin D, important to our health, from sunlight. And the energy and emotional boost that we get from a few minutes in the sun can be exceptional.
  3. Talk it out. All transitions have their challenges, and it’s always easier when you’re talking to someone about it. Whether you’re talking to a friend, coworker, or therapist, let someone into your inner thoughts and experiences

https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/does-your-mood-change-with-the-seasons-0925144

Depression in Women

Depression can drain you of energy and hope, leaving you feeling empty, sad, and helpless. And, for women, depression is complicated by many factors―from reproductive hormones and social pressures to the unique female response to stress. No matter how bleak things seem, though, there’s a lot you can do to change the way you think and feel. You can’t just will yourself to “snap out of it,” but you do have more control than you realize. By taking small but important steps, you can start to feel better and regain your drive, your sense of hope, and your enjoyment of life.

Signs and symptoms of depression in women

One in every eight women will experience depression symptoms at some point during their lifetime—you are not alone! It’s important to learn about the signs and symptoms as well as the factors that cause depression in women so you can tackle the condition head on, treat your depression most effectively, and help prevent it from coming back.

Symptoms can include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Lack of energy and fatigue
  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness and worthlessness
  • Appetite and weight changes
  • Sleep changes (sleeping more or sleeping less)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts or recurrent thoughts of death

How to feel better tip 1: Reach out for social support

You can make a huge dent in your depression with simple but powerful self-help steps. Feeling better takes time and effort when you don’t feel like making an effort. But you can get there if you make positive choices for yourself each day and draw on the support of others.

Getting support from people who care plays an essential role in overcoming depression. On your own, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy perspective and sustain the effort required to beat depression. At the same time, the very nature of depression makes it difficult to reach out for help. When you’re depressed, the tendency is to withdraw and isolate so that connecting to even close family members and friends can be tough.

Ask for the help and support you need—it can make all the difference in your recovery. Share what you’re going through with the people you love and trust. You may have avoided your most treasured relationships, but they can get you through this tough time. If you don’t feel that you have anyone to confide in, you can find help to build new friendships—even if you’re shy or introverted.

How to reach out for depression support

Look for support from people who make you feel safe and cared for. The person you talk to doesn’t have to be able to fix you; they just need to be a good listener—someone who’ll listen attentively and compassionately without being distracted or judging you.

Make face-time a priority. Phone calls, social media, and texting are great ways to stay in touch, but they don’t replace good old-fashioned in-person quality time. The simple act of talking to someone face to face about how you feel can play a big role in relieving depression and keeping it away.

Try to keep up with social activities even if you don’t feel like it. Often when you’re depressed, it feels more comfortable to retreat into your shell, but being around other people will make you feel less depressed.

Find ways to support others. It’s nice to receive support, but research shows you get an even bigger mood boost from providing support yourself. So find ways—both big and small—to help others: volunteer, be a listening ear for a friend, do something nice for somebody.

Care for a pet. While nothing can replace the human connection, pets can bring joy and companionship into your life and help you feel less isolated. Caring for a pet can also get you outside of yourself and give you a sense of being needed—both powerful antidotes to depression.

Join a support group for depression. Being with others dealing with depression can go a long way in reducing your sense of isolation. You can also encourage each other, give and receive advice on how to cope, and share your experiences.

Tip 2: Support your health

In order to overcome depression, you have to do things that relax and energize you. This includes following a healthy lifestyle, learning how to better manage stress, setting limits on what you’re able to do, and scheduling fun activities into your day.

Aim for eight hours of sleep. Depression typically involves sleep problems; whether you’re sleeping too little or too much, your mood suffers. But you can get on a better sleep schedule by adopting healthy sleep habits.

Keep stress in check. Not only does stress prolong and worsen depression, but it can also trigger it. Figure out all the things in your life that stress you out, such as work overload, money problems, or unsupported relationships, and find ways to relieve the pressure and regain control.

Practice relaxation techniques. A daily relaxation practice can help relieve symptoms of depression, reduce stress, and boost feelings of joy and well-being. Try yoga, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation.

Do things you enjoy (or used to). While you can’t force yourself to have fun or experience pleasure, you can push yourself to do things, even when you don’t feel like it. Pick up a former hobby or a sport you used to like. Express yourself creatively through music, art, or writing. Go out with friends. Take a day trip to a museum, the mountains, or the ballpark.

Tip 3: Get up and get moving

When you’re depressed, just getting out of bed can seem like a daunting task, let alone working out! But exercise is a powerful depression fighter—and one of the most important tools in your recovery arsenal.

Studies show that regular exercise can be as effective as antidepressant medication at increasing energy levels and decreasing feelings of fatigue. You don’t even have to hit the gym. A 30-minute walk each day will give you a much-needed boost. And if you can’t manage 30 minutes, three 10-minute bursts of movement throughout the day are just as effective.

Exercise is something you can do right now to boost your mood

Your fatigue will improve if you stick with it. Starting to exercise can be difficult when you’re depressed and feeling exhausted. But research shows that your energy levels will improve if you keep with it. Exercise will help you to feel energized and less fatigued, not more.

Find exercises that are continuous and rhythmic. The most benefits for depression come from rhythmic exercise—such as walking, weight training, swimming, martial arts, or dancing—where you move both your arms and legs.

Add a mindfulness element, especially if your depression is rooted in unresolved trauma or fed by obsessive, negative thoughts. Focus on how your body feels as you move—such as the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, or the feeling of the wind on your skin, or the rhythm of your breathing.

Pair up with an exercise partner. Not only does working out with others enable you to spend time socializing, it can also help to keep you motivated. Try joining a running club, taking a water aerobics or dance class, seeking out tennis partners, or enrolling in a soccer or volleyball league.

Take a dog for a walk. If don’t own a dog, you can volunteer to walk homeless dogs for an animal shelter or rescue group. You’ll not only be helping yourself but also be helping to socialize and exercise the dogs, making them more adoptable.

Tip 4: Eat a healthy, depression-fighting diet

What you eat has a direct impact on the way you feel. Some women find dietary modifications, nutritional supplements and herbal remedies can help aid in the relief of depression symptoms. These include:

Reducing your intake of salt, unhealthy fats, caffeine, simple carbohydrates, and alcohol, which can quickly lead to a crash in mood and energy.

Not skipping meals. Going too long between meals can make you feel irritable and tired, so aim to eat something at least every three to four hours.

Boosting your B vitamins. Deficiencies in B vitamins such as folic acid and B-12 can trigger depression. To get more, take a B-complex vitamin supplement or eat more citrus fruit, leafy greens, beans, chicken, and eggs.

Eating foods with Omega-3 fatty acids to boost mood. Omega-3 fatty acids play an essential role in stabilizing mood. The best sources are fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, tuna, and some cold-water fish oil supplements.

Making sure you’re getting enough iron. Low iron levels can produce common depression symptoms like irritability, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. Iron rich foods to add to your diet include red meat, beans, leafy greens and dried fruit.

Adding herbal supplements may be helpful. Primrose oil and chaste tree berry have both been found to be effective in the treatment of PMDD.

Tip 5: Get a daily dose of sunlight

Sunlight can help boost serotonin levels and improve your mood. Aim for at least 15 minutes of sunlight a day. Remove sunglasses (but never stare directly at the sun) and use sunscreen as needed.

  • Take a walk on your lunch break, have your coffee outside, enjoy an al fresco meal, or spend time gardening.
  • Double up on the benefits of sunlight by exercising outside. Try hiking, walking in a local park, or playing golf or tennis with a friend.
  • Increase the amount of natural light in your home and workplace by opening blinds and drapes and sitting near windows.
  • If you live somewhere with little winter sunshine, try using a light therapy box.

Dealing with the winter blues

For some people, the reduced daylight hours of winter lead to a form of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Women are diagnosed with SAD at four times the rate of men. SAD can make you feel like a completely different person to who you are in the summer: hopeless, sad, tense, or stressed, with no interest in friends or activities you normally love. No matter how hopeless you feel, though, there are plenty of things you can do to keep your mood stable throughout the year.

Tip 6: Challenge negative thinking

Depression puts a negative spin on everything, including the way you see yourself and your expectations for the future. When these types of thoughts overwhelm you, it’s important to remember that this is a symptom of your depression and these irrational, pessimistic attitudes—known as cognitive distortions—aren’t realistic.

When you really examine negative thoughts they don’t hold up. But even so, they can be tough to give up. You can’t break out of this pessimistic mind frame by telling yourself to “just think positive.” Often, it’s part of a lifelong pattern of thinking that’s become so automatic you’re not even completely aware of it.

Women tend to ruminate when they are depressed. This includes crying to relieve emotional tension, trying to figure out why you’re depressed, and talking to your friends about your depression. However, rumination has been found to maintain depression and even make it worse. The trick is to identify the type of negative thoughts that are fueling your depression and replace them with a more balanced way of thinking.

Negative, unrealistic ways of thinking that fuel depression

All-or-nothing thinking – Looking at things in black-or-white categories, with no middle ground (“If I fall short of perfection, I’m a total failure.”)

Overgeneralization – Generalizing from a single negative experience, expecting it to hold true forever (“I can’t do anything right.”)

The mental filter – Ignoring positive events and focusing on the negative. Noticing the one thing that went wrong, rather than all the things that went right.

Diminishing the positive – Coming up with reasons why positive events don’t count (“She said she had a good time on our date, but I think she was just being nice.”)

Jumping to conclusions – Making negative interpretations without actual evidence. You act like a mind reader (“He must think I’m pathetic”) or a fortune teller (“I’ll be stuck in this dead-end job forever.”)

Emotional reasoning – Believing that the way you feel reflects reality (“I feel like such a loser. I really am no good!”)

‘Shoulds’ and ‘should-nots’ – Holding yourself to a strict list of what you should and shouldn’t do, and beating yourself up if you don’t live up to your rules.

Labeling – Classifying yourself based on mistakes and perceived shortcomings (“I’m a failure; an idiot; a loser.”)

Put your thoughts on the witness stand

Once you identify the destructive thought patterns that contribute to your depression, you can start to challenge them with questions such as:

  • “What’s the evidence that this thought is true? Not true?”
  • “What would I tell a friend who had this thought?”
  • “Is there another way of looking at the situation or an alternate explanation?”
  • “How might I look at this situation if I didn’t have depression?”

As you cross-examine your negative thoughts, you may be surprised at how quickly they crumble. In the process, you’ll develop a more balanced perspective and help to relieve your depression.

Get professional help if needed

If you don’t benefit sufficiently from self-help treatments, seek help from a mental health professional. While women suffering from depression respond to the same types of treatment as men, specific aspects of treatment are often modified for women. Women are also more likely to require simultaneous treatment for other conditions such as anxiety or eating disorders.

Medication.Antidepressant medication may help relieve some symptoms of depression in women, but it won’t cure the underlying problem. Because of female biological differences, women are generally started on lower doses of antidepressants than men. Women are also more likely to experience side effects, so any medication use should be closely monitored. Don’t rely on a doctor who is not trained in mental health for guidance on medication, and remember that medication works best when you make healthy lifestyle changes as well.

Therapy. Talk therapy is an extremely effective treatment for depression in women. It can provide you with the skills and insight to relieve depression symptoms and help prevent depression from coming back. One of the most important things to consider when choosing a therapist is your connection with this person. The right therapist will be a caring and supportive partner in your depression treatment and recovery.

Causes of depression in women

There is no simple, singular, cause for depression in women. Depression can be triggered by many different combinations of social, psychological and biological factors.

General causes of depression can include:

  1. Loneliness and isolation
  2. Lack of social support
  3. Recent stressful life experiences
  4. Family history of depression
  5. Marital or relationship problems
  6. Financial strain
  7. Early childhood trauma or abuse
  8. Alcohol or drug abuse
  9. Unemployment or underemployment
  10. Health problems or chronic pain

Social, biological, and hormonal causes of depression in women

Women report experiencing depression at much higher rates than men. This gender disparity may be explained by a number of social, biological, and especially hormonal factors that are specific to women.

In addition to general causes of depression, women can face:

Body image issues which increase in girls during the sexual development of puberty.

Thyroid problems – Since hypothyroidism can cause depression, this medical problem should always be ruled out by a physician.

Stress – Women produce more stress hormones, and the female sex hormone progesterone prevents the stress hormone system from turning itself off as it does in men.

Medication side effects from birth control medication or hormone replacement therapy.

Premenstrual problems – For many women, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is mild but for some women, symptoms are more severe and disabling and may warrant a diagnosis of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). PMDD is characterized by severe depression, irritability, and other mood disturbances.

Pregnancy and infertility – The many hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy can contribute to depression. Other issues relating to pregnancy such as miscarriage, unwanted pregnancy, and infertility can also play a role in depression.

Postpartum depression – Many women experience the “baby blues”, however, some women experience severe, lasting depression. This condition is called postpartum depression and is thought to be influenced, at least in part, by hormonal fluctuations.

Menopause and perimenopause (the stage leading to menopause when reproductive hormones rapidly fluctuate).

It is important to remember that depression, at any stage in life and for any reason, is serious and should be taken seriously. Just because you’ve been told that your symptoms are a “normal” part of being a woman does not mean you have to suffer in silence. There are many things you can do to treat your depression and feel better.

‘A Special Bond’: The Power of Equine-Assisted Therapy

In recent years there has been a rise in the number of organizations and individual therapists who have turned to horses to help veterans heal. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) as a professional practice only dates back to the mid-1990s, when there were only a few people who were testing out ideas for how to use horses in their social work and theraputic practices. That number grew steadily over the years until 2013, when the Obama administration made federal funds available for groups doing EAP work with veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By then there were several dozen such groups, and they were showing impressive and surprising results.

Christine Bruckner works with veterans at Squirrelwood Equine Sanctuary in upstate New York. In the early 2000s, while Bruckner was getting her master’s degree, she sought out some of the early practicioners of equine therapy to learn as much as she could. Bruckner grew up mucking stalls in exchange for riding lessons, and her love for horses led her to social work. When she was old enough to teach other children to ride, she became a certified theraputic riding instructor, and she chose to work with children with disabilities. She was only teaching the kids to ride, but she could see that there was so much more to it than just riding. She saw that children who were lableled emotionally disabled were opening up more around the horses, relaxing, building confidence, and sharing things about their lives. At an early age and without advanced degrees, Bruckner could see the potential that horses had to help others heal.

In 2003 when Bruckner graduated with her master’s degree, she trained with Greg Kersten and Lynn Thomas, who co-founded Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, one of the first EAP nonprofit organizations in the United States. Over the years Bruckner has trained with a number of other equine therapy pioneers, learning as much as she can about all of the various directions and theories that have emerged in this young practice.

“Some people specialize in trauma, others focus on the spiritual element,” Bruckner says. “I try to incorporate as much of everything I’ve learned as I can.”

What she’s learned, the fundamental underpinning of equine-assisted therapy, is that horses have a unique and powerful connection to humans, one that can be used theraputically.

“Horses are herd animals. They are also prey animals. They are in tune with each other, the environment. They protect each other, they look out for predators,” Bruckner says. “They’ve co-evolved with humans, so they’re in tune with us, too.”

Micah Fink has seen this effect, too. A former Navy SEAL with a total of 13 combat deployments, Fink now runs the Montana-based group Heroes and Horses. At the end of his 14-year career in the armed services and as a military contractor, Fink found the nonprofits doing work with returning veterans to be lacking what so many returning from combat really needed in order to deal with the psychological impact of war. There were services for veterans who were injured or lost limbs, and there were programs that provided veterans with things like vacations or trips to sporting events, but Fink believed that in order to make progress through the emotional and psychological issues many veterans were faced with, they shouldn’t be put on a pedestal. They shouldn’t be coddled. His program takes groups of veterans on a months-long trek through the Montana wilderness on horseback, learning survival skills and being forced to navigate the remote mountainous terrain alone with only their horse to keep them company and help them along.

Fink often says that horses act as “mirrors” for the humans they come into contact with. He discovered this on one of his back-country treks, while working with a new horse who was hot and unmanageable.

Fink tells the story: “Daily, I would fight with this animal, both of us escalating higher and higher until the relationship came to peak in the back country of Montana. As things became worse in the mountains, I separated from the pack string, doing the only thing that I new how to do – make the good thing easy and the bad thing hard. Around 9 p.m. that night, alone and in the back country, was a major turning point for me as I realized that I had to change the way I communicated to reach this horse … we were both communicating AT each other, not TO each other. I sat there and put my hands over my face, tears were not in short supply. I calmed down, got back on him, and started a whole new dialogue. In that moment, I realized that I was the one who had to change, not the horse. That was the beginning of me learning a new language, a language that speaks from the inside out, not the outside in.”

Bruckner says that this mirroring is where equine therapy takes root.

“Horses have to look out for us, they know how to read us. Horses have learned how to tune in to humans from a distance. You can’t trick them,” she said. “They can read what’s going on underneath all of that. Half the time, that’s what veterans and a lot of us are dealing with. We might behave one way and feel another. When we constantly do that, that dissonance makes us unhappy. We’re being untrue to ourselves.”

For veterans, those feelings are particularly acute. According to the Man O’ War Project at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, as many as 30 percent of veterans experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This can trigger flashbacks to traumatic experiences and lead veterans to withdraw, lose interest in things they once enjoyed, feel skittish or scared, or feel confused about what is happening to them. Often, PTSD goes undiagnosed and untreated. But even when it is treated, typically with treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy, which are traditionally effective in helping victims of trauma, there are high dropout rates among veterans. According to the Man O’ War Project, those treatments have shown limited effectiveness.

Earle Mack, the former Ambassador to Finland who initiated and funds the Man O’ War Project, says the status quo in treating PTSD is unacceptable.

“The scientific and medical community has made great strides in understanding, recognizing, and diagnosing PTSD among veterans in the last several decades,” he said. “While our veterans have far more resources than ever before, many still do not receive treatment. Tragically, 20 veterans lose their lives to suicide every day.”

Mack grew up around horses, riding down trails in Westchester near the Rockefeller estate. When he finished college, he bought his first racehorse and got involved in the horse racing industry as an owner and a breeder. Working with horses, he learned the good that horses could do in building up emotional confidence.

“I know from experience that it’s a challenge to win the confidence of a horse – they are hypersensitive animals. But once you do win their confidence, it provides a real sense of accomplishment.”

Mack is also a U.S. Army veteran, and when he heard about EAP, he believed it could make a real difference helping veterans with PTSD. In 2015, he solicited the help of Columbia University to study the therapy, and he gifted the program more than $1 million from the Earle Mack Foundation.

The Man O’ War Project treats veterans over an eight-week period, working with therapists and horses in “non-riding interactions.” In addition to treating veterans using EAP, the project is also working to gather data and develop best practices for therapists to use around the country. The treatment program, however, stands in stark contrast to what many veterans experience in more traditional trauma therapies.

“They’re not in a therapist’s office – they are at a beautiful horse farm, interacting with caring mental-health professionals and the horses. It’s a totally different experience,” Mack said. “The equine therapy program at Columbia also doesn’t ask veterans to address their traumas directly, as traditional treatments often do. Rather, the veterans are brought through a series of interactions with the horses that help them better understand and regulate their own behaviors and emotions.”

These interactions often seem simple on the surface but are actually incredibly potent in getting veterans to face their fears and anxieties.

“I will have a veteran pick the horse’s foot, and the horse won’t let them until they are congruent. It’s very strange,” Bruckner explained. “The horse won’t do what you want unless your intention is true. Otherwise, you can be doing everything perfectly and they’ll just stand there. They will reward when you’re congruent. That’s what so helpful about them.”

This is not only different from traditional therapies, it’s even different from how other animal-based therapies work.

“Dogs are amazing but they provide a different purpose. They are always giving comfort when you need it, they do things for you,” Bruckner said. “The horse isn’t going to do that. They might comfort you if you’re being congruent. If you’re crying on the outside but inside nothing is wrong, the horse will know. It could nip you. I’ve seen a horse nudge and nip at someone who was crying. When she became assertive, when she matched up inside and outside, he backed off.”

Many of the horses that Fink works with at Heroes and Horses are purchased from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and come to him wild.

“They are fearful, aggressive, fight or flight response. Our job is to put them through a process where they can realize what they are capable of, and they choose relationship over fear and create a bond with us as their leaders,” Fink said.

Yet, even wild horses share a special bond with humans, and sometimes the wild ones are even more useful in therapy.

“Wild horses and wild veterans are both needing the same thing — they both need a purpose, and purpose allows them both to overcome their external circumstances,” Fink said. “It’s the process that ultimately helps reveal their purpose. We manage the process, but we don’t control it. Both veterans and wild mustangs are a product of mismanagment and failed processes. We provide an environment where they can choose a new course, one that is right for them as individuals.”

All of these programs are producing more than just positive results from the veterans that participate in them; they’re also experiencing a rising demand. And the veterans who go through EAP are in turn volunteering to help out with the programs or to continue to work with horses, either in the equine industry or through other theraputic programs. This is helping to expand the gospel of horse-based therapy for veterans. The Earle Mack Foundation has committed to pledge more money to the Man O’ War Project this year, and there are waiting lists for programs around the country.

But EAP doesn’t just help rehabilitate our service men and women returning from combat. These programs are also providing a second chance for horses, from rescued wild horses to racehorses at the end of their careers. One of the Man O’ War Project’s equine therapists is a former racehorse named Crafty Star, but he wasn’t so much a star on the racetrack. He took 20 tries to break his maiden, which was his only win in a 26-race career while racing at Monmouth Park and Parx Racing. At the Bergen Equestrian Center, where the Man O’ War Project’s therapy program is held, Crafty Star is quite the star today. He is a favorite among veterans who go through the program because he is incredibly gentle, a horse who understands trauma and bonds well with humans that show him affection. While the horses like Crafty Star help our veterans heal, veterans help these horses as well. It’s part of the design. If there was no reciprocation, there would be no mirror. And it’s that mirror that makes horses so special to those who need to see inside themselves, to see what might be broken, and to fix it.

https://www.americasbestracing.net/lifestyle/2018-special-bond-the-power-equine-assisted-therapy

The Benefits for Play for Adults

In our hectic, modern lives, many of us focus so heavily on work and family commitments that we never seem to have time for pure fun. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we’ve stopped playing. When we carve out some leisure time, we’re more likely to zone out in front of the TV or computer than engage in fun, rejuvenating play like we did as children. But just because we’re adults, that doesn’t mean we have to take ourselves so seriously and make life all about work. We all need to play.
Play is not just essential for kids; it can be an important source of relaxation and stimulation for adults as well. Playing with your romantic partner, friends, co-workers, pets, and children is a sure (and fun) way to fuel your imagination, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and emotional well-being.

Adult play is a time to forget about work and commitments, and to be social in an unstructured, creative way. Focus your play on the actual experience, not on accomplishing any goal. There doesn’t need to be any point to the activity beyond having fun and enjoying yourself. Play could be simply goofing off with friends, sharing jokes with a coworker, throwing a Frisbee on the beach, dressing up at Halloween with your kids, building a snowman in the yard, playing fetch with a dog, a game of charades at a party, or going for a bike ride with your spouse with no destination in mind. By giving yourself permission to play with the joyful abandon of childhood, you can reap oodles of health benefits throughout life.
While play is crucial for a child’s development, it is also beneficial for people of all ages. Play can add joy to life, relieve stress, supercharge learning, and connect you to others and the world around you. Play can also make work more productive and pleasurable.

You can play on your own or with a pet, but for greater benefits, play should involve at least one other person, away from the sensory-overload of electronic gadgets.
Play can : Relieve stress. Play is fun and can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.

Improve brain function. Playing chess, completing puzzles, or pursuing other fun activities that challenge the brain can help prevent memory problems and improve brain function. The social interaction of playing with family and friends can also help ward off stress and depression.

Stimulate the mind and boost creativity. Young children often learn best when they are playing—and that principle applies to adults, as well. You’ll learn a new task better when it’s fun and you’re in a relaxed and playful mood. Play can also stimulate your imagination, helping you adapt and problem solve.

Improve relationships and your connection to others. Sharing laughter and fun can foster empathy, compassion, trust, and intimacy with others. Play doesn’t have to be a specific activity; it can also be a state of mind. Developing a playful nature can help you loosen up in stressful situations, break the ice with strangers, make new friends, and form new business relationships.

Keep you feeling young and energetic. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Playing can boost your energy and vitality and even improve your resistance to disease, helping you feel your best.
Play is one of the most effective tools for keeping relationships fresh and exciting. Playing together brings joy, vitality, and resilience to relationships. Play can also heal resentments, disagreements, and hurts. Through regular play, we learn to trust one another and feel safe. Trust enables us to work together, open ourselves to intimacy, and try new things. By making a conscious effort to incorporate more humor and play into your daily interactions, you can improve the quality of your love relationships—as well as your connections with co-workers, family members, and friends.

Play helps develop and improve social skills. Social skills are learned in the give and take of play. During childhood play, kids learn about verbal communication, body language, boundaries, cooperation, and teamwork. As adults, you continue to refine these skills through play and playful communication.

Play teaches cooperation with others. Play is a powerful catalyst for positive socialization. Through play, children learn how to “play nicely” with others—to work together, follow mutually agreed upon rules, and socialize in groups. As adults, you can continue to use play to break down barriers and improve your relationships with others.

Play can heal emotional wounds. As adults, when you play together, you are engaging in exactly the same patterns of behavior that positively shape the brains of children. These same playful behaviors that predict emotional health in children can also lead to positive changes in adults. If an emotionally-insecure individual plays with a secure partner, for example, it can help replace negative beliefs and behaviors with positive assumptions and actions.

Play and laughter perform an essential role in building strong, healthy relationships by bringing people closer together, creating a positive bond, and resolving conflict and disagreements. In new relationships, play and humor can be an effective tool not just for attracting the other person but also for overcoming any awkwardness or embarrassment that arises during the dating and getting-to-know-you process. Flirting is a prime example of how play and humor are used in adult interactions. In longer-term relationships, play can keep things exciting, fresh, and vibrant, and deepen intimacy. It can also help you overcome differences and the tiny aggravations than can build up over time.

Play at work

Many dot-com companies have long recognized the link between productivity and a fun work environment. Some encourage play and creativity by offering art or yoga classes, throwing regular parties, providing games such as Foosball or ping pong, or encouraging recess-like breaks during the workday for employees to play and let off steam. These companies know that more play at work results in more productivity, higher job satisfaction, greater workplace morale, and a decrease in employees skipping work and staff turnover.

If you’re fortunate enough to work for such a company, embrace the culture; if your company lacks the play ethic, you can still inject your own sense of play into breaks and lunch hours. Keep a camera or sketch pad on hand and take creative breaks where you can. Joke with coworkers during coffee breaks, relieve stress at lunch by shooting hoops, playing cards, or completing word puzzles together. It can strengthen the bond you have with your coworkers as well as improve your job performance. For people with mundane jobs, maintaining a sense of play can make a real difference to the work day by helping to relieve boredom.

Using play to boost productivity and innovation

Success at work doesn’t depend on the amount of time you work; it depends upon the quality of your work. And the quality of your work is highly dependent on your well-being.

Taking the time to replenish yourself through play is one of the best things you can do for your career. When the project you’re working on hits a serious glitch, take some time out to play and have a few laughs. Taking a pause for play does a lot more than take your mind off the problem. When you play, you engage the creative side of your brain and silence your “inner editor,” that psychological barrier that censors your thoughts and ideas. This can often help you see the problem in a new light and think up fresh, creative solutions.

Playing at work:

  • keeps you functional when under stress
  • refreshes your mind and body
  • encourages teamwork
  • increases energy and prevents burnout
  • triggers creativity and innovation
  • helps you see problems in new ways

Playing with your children

Rolling on the floor with your baby or getting down on your knees to play with a young child is vitally important—both to your child’s development and to your own health.

Play is essential for developing social, emotional, cognitive, and physical skills in children. In fact, far from being a waste of time or just a fun distraction, play is a time when your child is often learning the most. Whether it’s an infant playing “peek-a-boo,” a toddler playing make-believe, or an older child playing a board game, play develops social skills, stimulates a child’s imagination and makes kids better adjusted, smarter, and less stressed.

As well as aiding your child’s development, play can also bring you closer together and strengthen the parent-child bond that will last a lifetime.

How to play with your child

While children need time to play alone and with other children, playing with their parents is also important. Here are some helpful tips to encourage play:

Establish regular play times. It may be for twenty minutes before dinner every night or every Saturday morning, for example. Remember, this time spent playing together is benefiting both of you.

Give your child your undivided attention. Turn off the TV and your cell phone and make the time to play with your child without distraction. Having your undivided attention makes your child feel special.

Get down to your child’s level. That may mean getting down on your knees or sitting on the floor. Match your child’s intensity during play—if your child is loud and energetic, be loud and energetic, too.

Embrace repetition. It may be boring to you, but it’s not to your child. Children learn through repetition. Let your child play the same game over and over. Your child will move on when he or she is ready.

Let your children take the lead. Become part of their game rather than trying to dictate the play. In pretend play, let your child call the shots, make the rules, and determine the pace of play. Ask questions and follow along—you’ll likely get drawn into imaginative new worlds that are fun for you, too.

Don’t force play or try to prolong a game. The best way to teach a new skill is to show children how something works, then step back and give them a chance to try. When your child is tired of an activity, it’s time to move on to something new.

Make play age-appropriate and consider safety. If a game is too hard or too easy, it loses its sense of pleasure and fun. Help your child find age-appropriate activities and understand any safety rules for play. Nothing ruins a fun game faster than a child getting hurt.

How to play more

Incorporating more fun and play into your daily life can improve the quality of your relationships, as well as your mood and outlook. Even in the most difficult of times, taking time away from your troubles to play or laugh can go a long way toward making you feel better. It’s true what they say: laughter really is the best medicine. Laughter makes you feel good. And the good feeling that you get when you laugh and have fun remains with you even after the laughter subsides. Play and laughter help you keep a positive, optimistic outlook through difficult situations, disappointments, and loss.

Develop your playful side

It’s never too late to develop your playful, humorous side. If you find yourself limiting your playfulness, it’s possible that you’re self-conscious and concerned about how you’ll look and sound to others when you attempt to be lighthearted. Fearing rejection, embarrassment or ridicule when attempting to be playful is an understandable fear. Adults are often worried that being playful will get them labeled as childish. But what is so wrong with that? Children are incredibly creative, inventive and are constantly learning. Wouldn’t you want to be childish if that is the definition? Remember that as a child, you were naturally playful; you didn’t worry about the reactions of other people. You can reclaim your inner child by setting aside regular, quality playtime. The more you play, joke, and laugh—the easier it becomes.

Try to clear your schedule for an afternoon or evening, for example, and then turn off your phone, TV, computer, and other devices. Give yourself permission to do whatever you want for the time you’ve allotted. Be spontaneous, set aside your inhibitions and try something fun, something you haven’t done since you were a kid, perhaps. And enjoy the change of pace.

Creating opportunities to play

Host a regular game night with friends or family.

Arrange nights out with work colleagues bowling, playing pool, miniature golf, or singing karaoke.

Schedule time in a park or at the beach to throw a Frisbee or fly a kite with friends.

Play with a pet. Puppies, especially, make very willing playmates. If you don’t have your own, borrow one from your local animal shelter.

Surround yourself with playful people. They’ll help loosen you up and are more likely to support your efforts to play and have fun.

Joke with strangers at a bus stop or in a checkout line. It’ll make the time pass quicker and you may even spark up new friendships.

Visit a magic store and learn some tricks. Or invest in art supplies, construction toys, or science kits and create something new.

Play with children. Goofing around with kids helps you experience the joy of play from their perspective. If you don’t have young children, arrange a play date with your grand kids, nephews, nieces, or other young relatives.

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/benefits-of-play-for-adults.htm

 

Traumatic Stress

The emotional toll from a traumatic event can cause intense, confusing, and frightening emotions. And these emotions aren’t limited to the people who experienced the event. Round-the-clock news coverage means that we’re all bombarded with horrific images from natural disasters, violent crimes, and terrorist attacks almost the instant they occur anywhere in the world. Repeated exposure can trigger traumatic stress and leave you feeling hopeless and helpless. Whether you were directly involved in the traumatic event or exposed to it after the fact, there are steps you can take to recover your emotional equilibrium and regain control of your life.

What is traumatic stress?

Traumatic stress is a normal reaction to a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, motor vehicle accident, plane crash, violent crime, or terrorist attack. Such events are extraordinarily stressful—not just for survivors, but also witnesses and even those repeatedly exposed to the horrific images of the traumatic event circulated on social media and news sources.

In fact, while it’s highly unlikely any of us will ever be the direct victims of a terrorist attack or mass shooting, for example, we’re all regularly bombarded by disturbing images from around the world of those innocent people who have been. Viewing these images over and over can overwhelm your nervous system and create traumatic stress. Your sense of security shatters, leaving you feeling helpless and vulnerable in a dangerous world, especially if the event was man made, such as a shooting or act of terrorism. But whether you lived through the event itself, witnessed it in person, or experienced traumatic stress in the aftermath, there are plenty of things you can do to calm your nervous system and regain your emotional balance. The first step is to recognize the warning signs of traumatic stress.

Traumatic stress signs and symptoms

Whether or not you were directly impacted by the traumatic event, it’s normal to feel anxious, scared, and uncertain about what the future may hold. Your nervous system has become overwhelmed by stress, triggering a wide range of intense emotions and physical reactions. These reactions to traumatic stress often come and go in waves. There may be times when you feel jumpy and anxious, and other times when you feel disconnected and numb. Other normal emotional responses to traumatic events include:

Shock and disbelief – you may have a hard time accepting the reality of what happened

Fear – that the same thing will happen again, or that you’ll lose control or break down

Sadness – particularly if people you know died

Helplessness – the sudden, unpredictable nature of violent crime, accidents, or natural disasters may leave you feeling vulnerable and helpless

Guilt – that you survived when others died, or that you could have done more to help

Anger – you may be angry at God or others you feel are responsible

Shame – especially over feelings or fears you can’t control

Relief – you may feel relieved that the worst is over, and even hopeful that your life will return to normal

How to deal with traumatic stress

Usually, the unsettling thoughts and feelings of traumatic stress—as well as any unpleasant physical symptoms—start to fade as life returns to normal over the days or weeks following a traumatic event. However, it’s important to remember that people react in different ways to trauma.

There is no “right” or “wrong” way to respond. We’re all different, so don’t tell yourself (or anyone else) what you should be thinking, feeling, or doing.

Avoid obsessively reliving the traumatic event. Repetitious thinking or viewing horrific images over and over can overwhelm your nervous system, making it harder to think clearly. Do things that keep your mind occupied (read, watch a movie, cook, play with your kids), so you’re not dedicating all your energy and attention to the traumatic event.

Ignoring your feelings will slow recovery. It may seem better in the moment to avoid experiencing your emotions, but they exist whether you’re paying attention to them or not. Even intense feelings will pass if you simply allow yourself to feel what you feel.

Reestablish routine. There is comfort in the familiar. After a disaster, getting back—as much as possible—to your normal routine, will help you minimize traumatic stress, anxiety, and hopelessness. Even if your work or school routine is disrupted, you can structure your day with regular times for eating, sleeping, spending time with family, and relaxing.

Recognize when traumatic stress becomes PTSD. If your traumatic stress symptoms don’t ease up and your nervous system remains “stuck,” unable to move on from the event for a prolonged period of time, you may be experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

While symptoms of traumatic stress often naturally fade with time, the following tips can assist the process and help you better come to terms with the traumatic experience.

Traumatic stress recovery tip 1: Minimize media exposure

While some survivors or witnesses of a traumatic event can regain a sense of control by watching media coverage of the event or by observing the recovery effort, others find the reminders can be further traumatizing. Excessive exposure to images of a disturbing event —such as repeatedly viewing video clips on social media or news sites—can even create traumatic stress in people not directly affected by the event.

Limit your media exposure to the traumatic event. Don’t watch the news or check social media just before bed, and refrain from repeatedly viewing disturbing footage.

Try to avoid distressing images and video clips. If you want to stay up-to-date on events, read the newspaper rather than watching television or viewing video clips of the event.

If coverage makes you feel overwhelmed, take a complete break from the news. Avoid TV and online news and stop checking social media for a few days or weeks, until your traumatic stress symptoms ease up and you’re able to move on.

Tip 2: Accept your feelings

Traumatic stress can cause you to experience all kinds of difficult and surprising emotions, including shock, anger, and guilt. These emotions are normal reactions to the loss of safety and security (as well as life, limb, and property) that comes in the wake of a disaster. Accepting these feelings and allowing yourself to feel what you feel, is necessary for healing.

Dealing with the painful emotions of traumatic stress

  • Give yourself time to heal and to mourn any losses you’ve experienced.
  • Don’t try to force the healing process.
  • Be patient with the pace of recovery.
  • Be prepared for difficult and volatile emotions.
  • Allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling without judgment or guilt.
  • Learn to reconnect to uncomfortable emotions without becoming overwhelmed .

Tip 3: Challenge your sense of helplessness

Overcoming traumatic stress is often about taking action. Positive action can help you overcome feelings of fear, helplessness, and hopelessness—and even small acts can make a big difference.

Volunteer your time, give blood, donate to a favorite charity, or comfort others.

If formal volunteering sounds like too much of a commitment, remember that simply being helpful and friendly to others can deliver stress-reducing pleasure and challenge your sense of helplessness. Help a neighbor carry in their groceries, hold a door open for a stranger, share a smile with the people you meet during the day.

Connect with others affected by the traumatic event or participate in memorials, events, and other public rituals. Feeling connected to others and remembering the lives lost or broken in the event can help overcome the sense of hopelessness that often follows a tragedy.

Tip 4: Get moving

It may be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re experiencing traumatic stress, but exercising can burn off adrenaline and release feel-good endorphins to boost your mood. Physical activity performed mindfully can also rouse your nervous system from that “stuck” feeling and help you move on from the traumatic event.

  • Try exercise that is rhythmic and engages both your arms and legs. Walking, running, swimming, basketball, or dancing are good choices.
  • Add a mindful element by focusing on your body and how it feels as you move. Notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, for example, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of wind on your skin. Rock climbing, boxing, weight training, or martial arts can make it easier to focus on your body movements—after all, if you don’t you could get injured.
  • Boost your energy and motivation. If you’re struggling to find the energy or motivation to exercise, start by playing your favorite music and moving around or dancing. Once you get moving, you’ll start to feel more energetic.
  • Shorter bursts of activity are as good as one longer session. Aim to exercise for 30 minutes or more each day—or if it’s easier, three 10-minute spurts of exercise are just as good.

Tip 5: Reach out to others

You may be tempted to withdraw from friends and social activities following a traumatic event, but connecting face to face with other people is vital to recovery. The simple act of talking face to face with another human can trigger hormones that relieve traumatic stress.

You don’t have to talk about your traumatic experiences. Reaching out to others doesn’t necessarily mean talking about the traumatic event. Comfort comes from feeling connected and involved with others you trust. Talk about and do “normal” things with friends and loved ones, things that have nothing to do with the event that triggered your traumatic stress.

Expand your social network. If you live alone or your social network is limited, it’s never too late to reach out to others and make new friends. Take advantage of support groups, church gatherings, and community organizations. Join a sports team or hobby club to meet people with similar interests.

Tip 6: Make stress reduction a priority

While a certain amount of stress is normal, and can even be helpful, as you face the challenges that come in the aftermath of a disaster or tragic event, too much stress will get in the way of recovery.

Relieve stress in the moment. To quickly calm yourself in any situation, simply take 60 breaths, focusing your attention on each out breath. Or use sensory input by engaging one or more of your senses—sight, sound, taste, smell, touch—or movement. For example, does listening to an uplifting song make you feel calm? Or smelling ground coffee? Or maybe petting an animal works quickly to make you feel centered? Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so experiment to find what works best for you.

Practice relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing to reduce stress, ease anxiety and depression, and improve your sleep.

Schedule time for activities that bring you joy—a favorite hobby or pastime, a chat with a cherished friend.

Use your downtime to relax. Read a book, take a bath, or enjoy an uplifting or funny movie.

Get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep places considerable stress on your mind and body and makes it more difficult to maintain your emotional balance. To ensure you get the 7 to 9 hours of refreshing sleep you need each night, establish a relaxing bedtime routine, avoid screens an hour before bed, and make your bedroom as dark, quiet, and comfortable as possible.

Make time to relax

Practice relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or Tai Chi.

Schedule time for activities that bring you joy—a favorite hobby or pastime, a chat with a cherished friend.

Use your downtime to relax. Read a book, take a bath, or enjoy an uplifting or funny movie.

Get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep places considerable stress on your mind and body and makes it more difficult to maintain your emotional balance. Aim for somewhere between 7 to 9 hours of refreshing sleep each night.

Reestablish a routine—structure is comforting

There is comfort in the familiar. After a traumatic event, getting back to your normal routine as much as possible will help you minimize stress.

  • Even if your work or school routine is disrupted, structure your day with regular times for eating, sleeping, exercising, and spending time with friends.
  • Do things that keep your mind occupied (read, watch a movie, cook, play with your kids), so you’re not dedicating all your attention to the traumatic event.

Tip 7: Eat a healthy diet

The food you eat can improve or worsen your mood and affect your ability to cope with traumatic stress. Eating a diet full of processed and convenience food, refined carbohydrates, and sugary snacks can worsen symptoms of traumatic stress. Conversely, eating a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, can help you better cope with the ups and downs that follow a tragic event.

By experimenting with new ways of eating that boosts mental health, you can find an eating plan that not only helps to relieve traumatic stress, but also boosts your energy and improves your overall outlook and sense of well-being.

When to seek treatment for traumatic stress

Usually, feelings of anxiety, numbness, confusion, guilt, and despair following a disaster or traumatic event will start to fade within a relatively short time. However, if your traumatic stress reaction is so intense and persistent that it’s getting in the way of your ability to function, you may need help from a mental health professional—preferably a trauma specialist.

Traumatic stress red flags include:

  • It’s been six weeks, and you’re not feeling any better
  • You’ve having trouble functioning at home and work
  • You’re experiencing terrifying memories, nightmares, or flashbacks
  • You’re having an increasingly difficult time connecting and relating to others
  • You’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings
  • You’re avoiding more and more things that remind you of the disaster or traumatic event

Emotional Eating

It’s the reason why so many diets fail: We don’t always eat just to satisfy hunger. Many of us also turn to food to relieve stress or cope with unpleasant emotions such as sadness, loneliness, or boredom. And after eating, we feel even worse. Not only does the original emotional issue remain, but we also feel guilty for overeating. No matter how powerless you feel over food cravings, though, there is an answer. By practicing mindful eating, you can change the emotional habits that have sabotaged your diet in the past, and regain control over both food and your feelings.

What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating (or stress eating) is using food to make yourself feel better—eating to satisfy emotional needs, rather than to satisfy physical hunger. You might reach for a pint of ice cream when you’re feeling down, order a pizza if you’re bored or lonely, or swing by the drive-through after a stressful day at work.

Occasionally using food as a pick-me-up, a reward, or to celebrate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when eating is your primary emotional coping mechanism—when your first impulse is to open the refrigerator whenever you’re stressed, upset, angry, lonely, exhausted, or bored—you get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed.

Emotional hunger can’t be filled with food. Eating may feel good in the moment, but the feelings that triggered the eating are still there. And you often feel worse than you did before because of the unnecessary calories you’ve just consumed.

No matter how powerless you feel over food and your feelings, it is possible to make a positive change. You can find healthier ways to deal with your emotions, learn to eat mindfully instead of mindlessly, regain control of your weight, and finally put a stop to emotional eating.

The difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger

Emotional hunger can be powerful, so it’s easy to mistake it for physical hunger. But there are clues you can look for to help you tell physical and emotional hunger apart.

Emotional hunger comes on suddenly. It hits you in an instant and feels overwhelming and urgent. Physical hunger, on the other hand, comes on more gradually. The urge to eat doesn’t feel as dire or demand instant satisfaction (unless you haven’t eaten for a very long time).

Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods. When you’re physically hungry, almost anything sounds good—including healthy stuff like vegetables. But emotional hunger craves junk food or sugary snacks that provide an instant rush. You feel like you need cheesecake or pizza, and nothing else will do.

Emotional hunger often leads to mindless eating. Before you know it, you’ve eaten a whole bag of chips or an entire pint of ice cream without really paying attention or fully enjoying it. When you’re eating in response to physical hunger, you’re typically more aware of what you’re doing.

Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied once you’re full. You keep wanting more and more, often eating until you’re uncomfortably stuffed. Physical hunger, on the other hand, doesn’t need to be stuffed. You feel satisfied when your stomach is full.

Emotional hunger isn’t located in the stomach. Rather than a growling belly or a pang in your stomach, you feel your hunger as a craving you can’t get out of your head. You’re focused on specific textures, tastes, and smells.

Emotional hunger often leads to regret, guilt, or shame. When you eat to satisfy physical hunger, you’re unlikely to feel guilty or ashamed because you’re simply giving your body what it needs. If you feel guilty after you eat, it’s likely because you know deep down that you’re not eating for nutritional reasons.

Identify your emotional eating triggers

What situations, places, or feelings make you reach for the comfort of food? Most emotional eating is linked to unpleasant feelings, but it can also be triggered by positive emotions, such as rewarding yourself for achieving a goal or celebrating a holiday or happy event. Common causes of emotional eating include:

Stuffing emotions – Eating can be a way to temporarily silence or “stuff down” uncomfortable emotions, including anger, fear, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, resentment, and shame. While you’re numbing yourself with food, you can avoid the difficult emotions you’d rather not feel.

Boredom or feelings of emptiness – Do you ever eat simply to give yourself something to do, to relieve boredom, or as a way to fill a void in your life? You feel unfulfilled and empty, and food is a way to occupy your mouth and your time. In the moment, it fills you up and distracts you from underlying feelings of purposelessness and dissatisfaction with your life.

Childhood habits – Think back to your childhood memories of food. Did your parents reward good behavior with ice cream, take you out for pizza when you got a good report card, or serve you sweets when you were feeling sad? These habits can often carry over into adulthood. Or your eating may be driven by nostalgia—for cherished memories of grilling burgers in the backyard with your dad or baking and eating cookies with your mom.

Social influences – Getting together with other people for a meal is a great way to relieve stress, but it can also lead to overeating. It’s easy to overindulge simply because the food is there or because everyone else is eating. You may also overeat in social situations out of nervousness. Or perhaps your family or circle of friends encourages you to overeat, and it’s easier to go along with the group.

Stress – Ever notice how stress makes you hungry? It’s not just in your mind. When stress is chronic, as it so often is in our chaotic, fast-paced world, your body produces high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol triggers cravings for salty, sweet, and fried foods—foods that give you a burst of energy and pleasure. The more uncontrolled stress in your life, the more likely you are to turn to food for emotional relief.

Find other ways to feed your feelings

If you don’t know how to manage your emotions in a way that doesn’t involve food, you won’t be able to control your eating habits for very long. Diets so often fail because they offer logical nutritional advice which only works if you have conscious control over your eating habits. It doesn’t work when emotions hijack the process, demanding an immediate payoff with food.

In order to stop emotional eating, you have to find other ways to fulfill yourself emotionally. It’s not enough to understand the cycle of emotional eating or even to understand your triggers, although that’s a huge first step. You need alternatives to food that you can turn to for emotional fulfillment.

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is a practice that develops your awareness of eating habits and allows you to pause between your triggers and your actions. Most emotional eaters feel powerless over their food cravings. When the urge to eat hits, you feel an almost unbearable tension that demands to be fed, right now. Because you’ve tried to resist in the past and failed, you believe that your willpower just isn’t up to snuff. But the truth is that you have more power over your cravings than you think.

Take 5 before you give in to a craving

Emotional eating tends to be automatic and virtually mindless. Before you even realize what you’re doing, you’ve reached for a tub of ice cream and polished off half of it. But if you can take a moment to pause and reflect when you’re hit with a craving, you give yourself the opportunity to make a different decision.

Can you put off eating for five minutes? Or just start with one minute. Don’t tell yourself you can’t give in to the craving; remember, the forbidden is extremely tempting. Just tell yourself to wait.

While you’re waiting, check in with yourself. How are you feeling? What’s going on emotionally? Even if you end up eating, you’ll have a better understanding of why you did it. This can help you set yourself up for a different response next time.

Learn to accept your feelings—even the bad ones

While it may seem that the core problem is that you’re powerless over food, emotional eating actually stems from feeling powerless over your emotions. You don’t feel capable of dealing with your feelings head on, so you avoid them with food.

Allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable emotions can be scary. You may fear that, like Pandora’s box, once you open the door you won’t be able to shut it. But the truth is that when we don’t obsess over or suppress our emotions, even the most painful and difficult feelings subside relatively quickly and lose their power to control our attention. To do this you need to become mindful and learn how to stay connected to your moment-to-moment emotional experience. This can enable you to rein in stress and repair emotional problems that often trigger emotional eating.

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/diets/emotional-eating.htm

Young woman on sofa with popcorn

National Eating Disorder Awareness Month

  • As many as 20 million women and 10 million men experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives (Wade, Kelski-Rahkonen, & Hudson, 2011)
  • The average age that eating disorders begin:
    • Anorexia Nervosa: 19 years old
    • Bulimia Nervosa: 20 years old
    • Binge Eating Disorder: 25 years old
      (Hudson, Hiripi, Pope, & Kessler, 2007)

What causes the development of an eating disorder?

There is no “one cause” of eating disorders. Eating disorders may develop as the result of a combination of biological, psychological, social, and familial issues.

Types of eating disorders Types

  1. Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), and Binge-Eating Disorder. 

Anorexia Nervosa Symptoms:

  • Not maintaining body weight at, or above, a minimally normal weight level based on age and height
  • Having an intense fear of weight gain, even when underweight
  • Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight
  • For post-pubescent females, the absence of at least three consecutive menstrual cycles
    (American Psychiatric Association, 2000)

Bulimia Nervosa Symptoms:

  • Binge eating, which consists of the following:
    • In a specific period of time, eating substantially more food than others in a similar period time, and under similar circumstances, would eat
    • Feeling no control, or a lack of control, of the binge eating session
  • Engaging in behaviors in order to prevent weight gain
    • These behaviors may include self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, and/or enemas
  • The binge eating and inappropriate behaviors occur at least twice a week for 3 months
  • Overly concerned with how one’s body shape and weight affects self-worth
    (American Psychiatric Association, 2000)

Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (NOS)

Eating Disorder NOS has a combination of symptoms from the category of eating disorders, but does not meet the criteria of a specific eating disorder.

Binge-Eating Disorder has similar symptoms to Bulimia Nervosa (e.g. eating large amounts of food in short time periods and feeling a lack of control when eating). Individuals suffering from this disorder will exhibit three or more of the following:

  • Eating more rapidly than normal
  • Eating until physically uncomfortable
  • Eating when not hungry
  • Eating alone because of embarrassment
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed or guilty after overeating

Individuals with Binge-Eating Disorder do not engage in behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as fasting, dieting, excessive exercise, using laxatives, etc.

(American Psychiatric Association, 2000)

Society and culture

Media in today’s society is filled with images which skew the definition of a “healthy” body.

  • In various studies, girls and boys as young as 4 and 5 years old recognized that the unhealthy images of thinness in mass media are portrayed as ideal (as cited in Levine & Murnen, 2009).

The meaning of body image

The meaning of “body image” varies for every individual. In publications by Levine and Smolak, (2006) females interpret body image as being influenced by multiple components. These include the following beliefs:

  • Being slender is idealized in society,
  • One should fear being fat, and
  • A person’s weight and shape greatly influence their overall identity as cited in Levine & Murnen, (2009)

Men also suffer from eating disorders

Although more women than men suffer from eating disorders, men may also fall victim to the symptoms of these disorders.

Preventing eating disorders

Effective prevention of eating disorders should address the following:

  • Learning how to live a healthy lifestyle through nutritious eating and physical activity
  • Understanding that self-worth is not purely defined by physical appearance
  • Challenging society’s misleading messages about beauty
  • Developing realistic expectations of self and body image
  • Accepting one’s physical characteristics

Calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI)

  • Body Mass Index (BMI) is the measure of body fat based on a person’s height and weight.
    • Underweight = <18.5
    • Normal weight = 18.5–24.9
    • Overweight = 25–29.9
    • Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater
  • BMI can be used for both men and women.
  • Be aware that the BMI scale may overestimate body fat in athletes and those who have a muscular build, and may underestimate body fat in older persons.
  • Calculate your BMI.

https://www.pnw.edu/counseling/neda-month/