These days everyone is overwhelmed – the tasks we take on as adults in order to make a life for ourselves can cause anxiety and sleepless nights. Yet, with a busy schedule, why is it sometimes we still feel empty inside? Children are not immune from this feeling either. The demands of school, both academically and socially, plus the bombardment of media doesn’t leave a lot of room for kids to be kids. Today’s world has created an environment when too many people’s mental well-being is being challenged through multi-tasking, fragmented attention, and information overload. So how can we be healthier to our minds?
If you were asked what makes up a healthy diet, you would know the answer – meat, vegetables, fruit, bread, dairy and grains. We are taught the food pyramid from a very young age, and our aware of what our bodies feel like and look like if we don’t take care of them. But has anyone ever taught you what makes a healthy mind? Mental health and the implications of being out of balance is not taught in schools, and often not emphasized in the workplace. The result is we stretch and overload ourselves in ways that may have more signigicant implications than an unhealthy physical diet.
Dr. Dan Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute. He has developed a balance diet for the mind – The Healthy Mind Platter. The Healthy Mind Platter has seven essential mental activities necessary for optimum mental health in daily life. These seven activities make up the full set of ‘mental nutrients’ that assist your brain to function at its best.
By engaging in these activities every day, you promote integration in your life and enable your brain to coordinate and balance its activities. These essential mental behaviors strengthen your brain’s internal connections and your connections with other people and the world around you. Below is a brief description of each serving.
|Focus Time||When we closely focus on tasks in a goal-oriented way, we take on challenges that make deep connections in the brain.|
|Play Time||When we allow ourselves to be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, we help make new connections in the brain.|
|Connecting Time||When we connect with other people, ideally in person, and when we take time to appreciate our connection to the natural world around us, we activate and reinforce the brain’s relational circuitry.|
|Physical Time||When we move our bodies, aerobically if medically possible, we strengthen the brain in many ways.|
|Time In||When we quietly reflect internally, focusing on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, we help to better integrate the brain.|
|Down Time||When we are non-focused, without any specific goal, and let our mind wander or simply relax, we help the brain recharge.|
|Sleep Time||When we give the brain the rest it needs, we consolidate learning and recover from the experiences of the day.|
You are now thinking, how can I possibly do all of these things in one day? You don’t have to – the idea behind the platter is to become aware of all the things your mind needs to function at an optimal level. The key is balancing the day with different activities. Think of the platter as a checklist. You can go through your day and identify what areas you completed and how much time you spent. Then recognize what it is you have been missing and start to incorporate activities that fulfill these areas. Mental wellness is about connecting all these areas both internally and externally. Think about what happens if you only eat fast food for an extended period of time. Now, imagine if all you completed was ‘focus time’ while neglecting sleep, down, and physical time. Neither of these scenarios is sustainable and can have negative effects on you mentally and physically.
This exercise is beneficial for everyone. As we develop as children, move into adulthood and then progress into the senior years of our lives, our mental balance and stimulation is imperative. With good practice checking in to make sure we address all the needs of the mind, we position ourselves for a happier and healthier life.
The Healthy Mind Platter was created by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute and Clinical Professor at the UCLA School of Medicine in collaboration with Dr. David Rock, Executive Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute.
IT’S ELECTION TIME!
Many of us, over the past couple of years, have felt challenged with how to communicate in this highly charged, politically polarized climate. Some of us have felt alienated from our friends and family. Perhaps we have alienated others. A few of us have created lists of “safe topics” on index cards for Thanksgiving dinner. We have heard and even engaged in emotionally charged name calling: “snowflake, redneck, elitist, hick, libtard, anti-science, wingnut, bible banger, commie, moonbat, radical, extremist, unpatriotic, evil…”
So how do we communicate across differences? Most theorists agree on a basic rule: don’t attack someone’s identity. When we attack someone’s identity, people are more likely to react defensively and are not able to truly hear what is said. It is easier to address conflict without emotionally charged, divisive “hate speech.” It is better to share the values that help to frame our mindset and influence our thoughts, policies, and practice.
Most of us enjoy a good storyteller. Many of us like to listen to a meaningful story and even remember motivational speakers from earlier periods in our lives. What is “your story”? How has your story shaped your values? People are usually willing and open to listen to a story about the origin of our values. In sharing your story, be mindful of power differences (teacher/ student, parent/ child, employer/ employee) and privilege such as race, gender, sexuality, ability, income. Be aware of the person’s identity with whom you are speaking. What is their cultural identity? generational identity? How will these aspects of their identity influence their interest and ability in listening to what you are sharing? This principle is basic to parenting, education, marketing and sales, management, friendship – interpersonal relationships.
When we improve our communication, we also improve our relationships. Counselors, psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists might have different training and philosophies about working with their clients, but there are a core set of values that we commonly share with communication:
The goal for effective communication is not to change someone’s mind; it is to foster understanding.
For those of you who are interested in gaining more skills around effective communication across differences and managing conflict, consider including this book on your reading list
Negotiating the Nonnegotiable: How to Resolve Your Most Emotionally Charged Conflicts by Dan Shapiro, Ph.D. (Director of the Harvard International Negotiating Program)
Best wishes with your interpersonal communication and any upcoming holiday dinners! Please contact us at (847) 251-6630 if you have interest in learning more about effective communication across differences individually, within your family or if enough community interest, in a support group. Thank you!
Does this sound familiar? You have a teenager at home…one minute they’re on top of the world, the next they’re down in the dumps. One minute you’re the best dad or mom there ever was. The next you’re the world’s worst, and they can’t wait to leave home.
Teenagers are on an emotional seesaw as their lives, bodies and hormones change. The ride can vary from teen to teen, while some are even-tempered, others are always up, always down or somewhere in between. This fluctuation makes it difficult to know what’s developmentally appropriate. How can you tell whether an adolescent is just momentarily unhappy or if they are genuinely depressed and in need of professional help? These are questions that struggling teenagers and every parent of a child from 10 to 18, should seriously consider.
There is no one reason why kids become depressed, which makes things more complicated. Common factors include: parents’ divorce, family financial strain, being subjected to physical or sexual abuse or witnessing it, or having a parent who is addicted to alcohol or drugs. Additionally, kids may become depressed because they aren’t achieving their academic or extracurricular goals; or because they have trouble making friends, or are relentlessly ridiculed or rejected by peers. Sometimes, the cause isn’t external but an underlying feeling of inadequacy or unattractiveness or confusion about sexual identity.
With so many influences, it’s not surprising that teenage depression in on the rise. Researchers predict that about one in 10 kids will develop a depressive disorder by age 16. Additionally, and more concerning is the increase in suicide. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among people 15 to 24, behind accidents and homicides. In 2017 the National Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System found that 17.2 percent of students, or one in five high school age students, seriously considered attempting suicide.
Recognizing the Signs
It is easy to dismiss the signs of teenage depression as merely a phase or the mood swings of adolescence. And teenagers may be reluctant to admit they’re depressed, sometimes claiming, they don’t want to worry their parents or make things worse; even their closest friends may fail to notice the subtle or masked signs of severe depression, or, if they do notice, they find other explanations, like getting a bad grade or losing a boyfriend. So here is what you can look for: Depression can cause fatigue or interfere with the ability to concentrate. Teenagers may become irritable, angry, bored, excessively guilty or anxious. There may be frequent outbursts of shouting, complaining or crying. In some depressed adolescents, emotional stress shows up in physical complaints like chronic or recurrent headaches, muscle pains, tiredness or stomachaches. There are other signs like changes in eating habits, appetite, or sleep disturbances such as difficulty sleeping or oversleeping. Often, there is a loss of energy and withdrawal from friends and activities. Remember there is no one recipe or symptom to define depression, which is why it is important to consult with a professional.
There are many methods in which to treat teenage depression. Psychotherapy, either traditional talk therapy or more focused skills based therapy, may be all that a moderately depressed teenager needs to recover fully. When depression is more severe, chronic, or recurrent, medication may be necessary. When a young person is struggling with depression, the emotional volatility can be exhausting for a parent. At this time, it is critical to remain open and engaged while exploring treatment options for your child. Often this means getting professional support for the parents and other family members as they navigate the effects of depression. If any of this sounds familiar, or you have any questions regarding your child or teen’s behavior please call Haven 847-251-6630.
By now, you’ve likely heard that September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Campaigns from national and community groups urge individuals to reach out and not cope with it alone. To Write Love On Her Arms launched a campaign #TomorrowNeedsYou and thousands of people have shared why suicide is not the answer. Check out their resources HERE. They urge individuals to seek help to prevent suicide.
So what happens if your child comes to you with thoughts of self-harm or suicide? Or, more subtly, you notice that your child is exhibiting signs of self-harm or suicidal thoughts. Have that conversation, start by sharing what you’ve noticed and then ask: how are you doing?
Step One: Listen: Resist the urge to fix.
In an immediate crisis, most adolescents are not looking for someone to come ‘fix them’ or prove to them why their perception is not accurate. Try to talk less. Ask open-ended questions and give them space to share their experience. Thank them for being open and honest with you. Remind them that their feelings are not too much for you.
Step Two: Validate: Remind them that it’s okay to not be okay.
As a parent, it’s typical to want to have all the answers or be able to wrap everything up into a ‘teachable moment’ bow. However, an adolescent sharing suicidal thoughts or behaviors isn’t easily wrapped up in a bow after a single conversation. Explicitly tell your child that you see them in their pain and love them just the same. Tell them it is okay that they are not okay in this moment and brainstorm together what the best next step is.
Step Three: Get Help: You do not have to weather this alone.
If you believe your child is not safe and is at immediate risk for harming themselves take them to the emergency room for an immediate evaluation by hospital staff. Otherwise, contact a mental health agency like Haven Youth and Family Services. Our clinicians offer free safety assessments to support your family and can begin therapy within one week in most cases.
“Oh my gosh, I’m literally dead” or “that was so embarrassing I could just die” – statements about death and dying are fairly common in today’s culture. It’s a fine line between a casual statement and cry for help.
Perhaps you’ve thought, “maybe they’re just trying to get attention” with poor or withdrawn behavior or casual suicidal statements. If you believe your child is making suicidal or self-harm statements in order to get attention, by all means give them attention. Receiving attention is part of their developmental needs. Sure, they need to develop some new ways to get the attention, but this should not be ignored. Seek professional help to create a space for your child to receive individual attention and support weekly and consider getting help for yourself so that you can engage in healthy, supportive conversations about these behaviors. The staff team at Haven is determined to provide immediate assistance to adolescents in the community needing intervention. Please call today to set up an appointment.