Category Archives: Anxiety

Connecting with loved ones at bedtime: It is good for your health

A healthy bedtime routine with the people we love can be a smart way to close off the day. To let go of stress, and rest peacefully.

Whether it is cuddles with a child, a bedtime kiss, laughing and talking with a spouse, feeling physically or emotionally connected to those we love can decrease cortisone levels and stress-related health risks. It is a routine that everyone in the home can look forward to, and it is a nice way to put some finality into the day…to know you are not alone in this busy life, and tomorrow is a new day. 

A psychological scientist at Wayne State University explored the link between cortisol levels—also known as the stress hormone—and physical health. Cortisol is present in nearly every cell of the body, impacting learning, memory, and emotion. It also helps to regulate the immune system. The scientist Richard Slatcher found the more connected to their relationships people felt, the healthier cortisol levels they had. 

A Healthy Bedtime Routine

Some ideas for a healthy bedtime routine may include:

1.) Exchanging “I love you’s.” This is a good habit to get into because as much as we feel we don’t need to always say it, it helps to hear it and know your children or spouse mean it. It is healthy for everyone. 

2.) Go to bed at the same time as your spouse. This provides time to reconnect, even if only for a few minutes. It is time where it is just the two of you. Even if it is a few exchanges about your day or some more intimate cuddle time, maybe a laugh or two, it is a good healthy habit and keeps you both on the same page. 

3.)Unplug. Bed is not the place for your phone or laptop. Leave that stuff at the door. This is time for your marriage, for your children. 

4.) Prioritize getting a good nights rest. Try to go to bed at an early enough time to get ample sleep. Better sleep means better mental and physical health, and better handling of stressful situations. 

5.) Don’t try to settle arguments. The old saying “don’t go to bed angry” is not always true. Not everything has to be fixed before getting some shut-eye. In some cases, it can be better to get some good rest and then reassess in the morning when you are refreshed and focused. 

6.) Take a few minutes to practice gratitude. Think about one good thing that happened in your day and share it with your spouse or your kids. It will leave the day on a happy note and improve overall mental health. 

The loneliness of being a perfectionist

It is hard to be perfect. In fact, it is impossible for everything we do to turn out exactly the way we want it to. It is impossible for everything to be perfect, leading to an immense and overwhelming sense of pressure for a perfectionist.

Being a perfectionist means always striving to be the best at everything. To be on the top, at the pinnacle, and it is a very lonely place to be. There are many different kinds and combinations of perfectionists with two of the big ones being: overt and covert. 

Overt vs. Covert

The overt perfectionist has a strong want for order around them at all times. They have anxiety when things get chaotic and tend to want to always be “right.” The overt perfectionist fears failure and therefore won’t try things they might not be good at. They want to do everything they can to not lose control and believe abilities are pre-determined and not able to be developed. (SOURCE: huffingtonpost.com; Smith, A.W. (2013). Overcoming Perfectionism. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.)

The covert perfectionist often hides their perfection actions and thoughts. They have low expectations of those around them and act as if they want to be average or carefree but secretly want to the be the best. The covert perfectionist may choose to underachieve to avoid the pressure or competition with those that might be better at something. (Smith, 2013)

Regardless if you are a covert, overt, or a combination of both, the inner struggle of a perfectionist can be overwhelming. And, it is made even more difficult by the fact that those around us often find it hard to relate. Our peers have difficulty empathizing and understanding the frustration, the NEED to be the best. 

The perfectionist is often told to “get over it,” “no one is perfect,” “try harder next time,” or “it is not a big deal.” The result often leads to more mental stress, to depression, anxiety, and difficulty maintaining relationships. Our society views perfectionism as a positive quality. It leads to success in business and life, but there is a happy medium. There has to be a way to try hard, to work hard, but to also accept and let go when things don’t go as planned. When we study and study and study for the test and there are questions we still are not ready for, we need to accept we tried our very best and maybe next time we will take a different approach. 

If you are one of those people who consistently struggle with the urge to be perfect and to be on top, then it can be helpful to receive help from a mental health professional. Talk to someone who can not only understand why you feel the way you do but to help you with skills to curb these feelings and help you to live a healthier, happier life. Frequently clients also find it helpful to be in support groups, to find people who do know how to empathize with your feelings, to help you know you are not alone. 

Finding YOU after pregnancy

You went through the whole nine (really 10) months of pregnancy and were excited, scared, anxious, elated about the new little human entering your life. Now the baby is here and you are consumed with sleepless nights, overwhelming days, and a profound loss of who you once were.

Having a child is a major life change—we all know this—but what can be shocking is that feeling that you don’t recognize yourself. You don’t know who you are anymore. It is important that you reconnect with your old self, embrace your new normal, and not lose sight of what is meaningful to you. Yes, of course, that new bundle of joy is your world and he/she is at the top of the list all day every day but you also need to care for yourself. By failing to take time for you—even if it is a short coffee outing with a friend or a solo trip to the gym—you are hurting yourself. If you don’t take care of you, it is a lot harder to take care of the others in your life.

It is common for moms to feel like that is all they are— “I am a mom, but what
else?” It is the new mom identity crisis and it can be rough. So what can you do to reconnect with yourself after pregnancy?

Reconnecting with YOU

1.) Connect with friends in new ways—Instead of late nights at bars or concerts,
meet your friends for book clubs, coffee dates, or playdates at the park. You need
to continue to have adult conversations and adult time, and support from others
who understand your challenges.

2.) Embrace a hobby—Maybe it is going for a run, hiking, knitting, painting, or writing…whatever it is that makes you feel alive and gives you a sense of accomplishment make time for it. It can be daunting to think about adding another thing to your list, but this stuff is important for you, your happiness, and the happiness of your family.

3.) Don’t compare— You are your own person. It does you no good to compare yourself to others. The mom guilt is there, we all have it but it is not necessary. You need to care for yourself, and you should not feel guilty that you are doing something for you rather than staring at your sleeping child for hours on end. It just hurts your soul.

4.) Ask for help — Don’t be afraid to ask a grandparent or a friend, or hire a part-time babysitter so you aren’t doing it all, all the time. If you are feeling like you could really use an hour away then take it. Losing your cool and your sanity isn’t going to be helpful for you or baby.

5.) Take care of you—Find time for that shower, or to get that haircut. Take naps when you are tired. Forget about the laundry, it will get done eventually. Take a deep breath. You will get through.

If you are struggling with feelings of being overwhelmed, depressed, sad, alone, or you just feel like you could use someone to talk to seek out a qualified counselor. And, know you will find yourself again.

Guilt & Shame: Whose Life is it Anyway?

Guilt, we all know that deep-down gut feeling and some of us know it all too well. We feel it all the time. About everything. But why? What real reason do we have to condemn ourselves to such feelings all the time? It is draining and it makes our life events less enjoyable. 

Clients come to me all the time telling me they feel guilty for taking a break, for actually using the vacation time given to them, and for choosing to stay at home when feeling sick or drained. I always ask them, what does that guilty voice say? Whose voice is it? And, whose life are you living? Is this your life, or the voice of life’s past?

Why do we feel guilty all the time?

1.)We want people to like us. We are people-pleasers.

2.)We are focusing on the “shoulds”— the stuff we tell ourselves we should be doing. We should be cleaning the house. We should be folding the laundry. We are comparing ourselves to what we think other people are doing with their time, instead of caring for ourselves.

3.)Perfectionism—we have a fear of letting people down, of not allowing ourselves to make mistakes.

4.)Childhood conditioning—we were taught as children to always put people first and to feel responsible for other people’s happiness. Sometimes we feel like we are failing to live up to the expectations of others.

5.)Manipulation—we are susceptible to having our buttons pushed by other people. You are exhausted and desperately need a break, yet when your boss calls you to come in two hours early to work on a project you do it. 

Next time you feel guilty over caring for yourself, take a breath and think about that voice in your head. What do you really think of what it is saying? What would you say to someone else in your situation? This will help you to live by your own standards, rather than someone else’s.

You must take care of yourself before you can fully take care of you. If you find it difficult to care for yourself without feelings of guilt, then it may be time to seek out a licensed professional counselor to help. After all we are here in this world to live it, to enjoy it, and to enjoy those around us. If we are constantly consumed by feelings of guilt or shame for doing things that make us happy, then we can’t fully live. 

The weight of holding a grudge

Holding a grudge is tough work. It weighs you down, it is exhausting, and it is bad for your health. A study done by Hope College researchers found that people who imagined situations in which they had been unforgiving, experienced an increase in physiological symptoms. Those who were holding a grudge had higher heart rates, more sweating, and higher blood pressure than those who had chosen to forgive. 

I have met with several clients who are depressed and angry as they struggle with past experiences.They have become all encompassed in these moments and the unfavorable feelings they have for those that have committed wrongdoing towards them. In some cases, these clients can’t sleep, focus, and they aren’t eating well. They cry all the time and feel lost and unengaged in their current lives. When these same clients were able to find it in themselves to forgive, they felt lighter, happier, and were able to obtain more success in their personal lives.

An obstacle to healing

Holding on to that deep-rooted anger does no one any good. It won’t fix the past or prevent things from happening in the future, it just adds to stress levels. Some of us hold grudges not because we want to stay mad forever, but because we just don’t know how to let go. Grudges come with an identity — you are the victim and you were wronged, and that is part of who you are. In order to let go and forgive, you have to be willing to drop that part of your identity. That can be a hard thing to do. Yes, this bad thing did happen to you by this person but it doesn’t have to become you. You were someone before this bad thing happened, and while you aren’t the same as you were entirely you don’t need to let these experiences define you. And, certainly making yourself sick over it is not helping you.

A grudge becomes an obstacle to healing. You must find some way to accept that the past happened, and move forward—grudges don’t allow for that kind of healing. If you are finding it difficult to let go, it can be helpful to meet with a qualified counselor. They can help you work through those feelings and find the strength to move forward as a happier, healthier you.

Anxiety as a mom: Turns out, its part of evolution

I have always struggled with a small degree of anxiety, but I was not prepared for what happened after I had kids. Now my anxiety is full blown. I worry a lot, nit-pick at my spouse for not doing the dishes fast enough or right (aka the way I would have done them). I have feelings of my heart racing and my head overflowing with worry all too often, but why? Why is my anxiety so much worse as a mom than it was before?

It turns out a lot of it has to do with the brain, and the love hormone: oxytocin. 

Oxytocin first surges during pregnancy and continues to surge to promote bonding after the child has arrived, according to researchers. The hormone increases with a simple look from a mom to a child, a snuggle, or tears from a “boo-boo.” And moms aren’t alone, researchers have found similar changes in the brains of dads who provide a lot of caregiving (source: theatlantic.com). 

The Oxytocin Effect

The same hormone that creates those feelings of unconditional love, strengthens bad memories. Research by Northwestern University suggests oxytocin could be the reason why events that cause emotional pain, such as being bullied at school or tormented by a boss, can have effects that linger long after the event is over and can trigger anxiety in the future. The hormone has been shown to strengthen the social memory of the brain.

Researchers found when a negative or stressful social experience takes place, the hormone activates the part of the brain that intensifies the memory. Oxytocin also increased feelings of being fearful and anxious during stressful events occurring long after the original event. 

So, yes the same hormone that is increasing feelings of love and making you drool over your child. The same one that makes you want to pick up and cuddle your child—even when they are keeping you up all night, or getting snot all over your shoulder —is the same one that is increasing fear and worry of bad things happening. Is it really the worst thing if the dishes aren’t done the way you want them? 

The good news is now that we know about the double-edged sword of oxytocin, we can use the power of other parts of our brain to reign it in. To stop and assess the situation before immediately getting to high-anxiety level. To be mindful. While you are in the midst of imagining the worst that could possibly happen to your child, your child is playing quietly next to you. Rather than sending yourself into a tizzy, stop, breathe, and talk to yourself about what is happening at the moment, right here, right now. Find out if there is immediate evidence that makes you feel this way, if there is no evidence and you still feel overwhelmed by anxiety then it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional. Call a qualified counselor, such as the Women’s Therapy Institute, where we can help.

Are you having a pigeon day or a statue day?

Sitting in a restaurant one day with my five-year-old, I noticed a sign that said: “some days you are the pigeon and some days you are a statue.” I had a little giggle about it and thought this might be a fun way to teach my children about the ups and downs of life. 

The truth is some days you will be the pigeon, going about your business and living a carefree existence, and other days you will be the statue getting pooped on by the pigeon—metaphorically, of course (unless it is really one of “those days”). So now when they are having a tough day, I ask my children in a humorous tone “are you having a pigeon day or a statue day?” It helps my children to identify the ups and downs of their life, talk about it, laugh about it, let it go, and understand that life is not all good all the time. 

All in the way we think about it

Life is not easy, we all know this, but we have control over the way we process life’s ups and downs. It is all in the way we think about it. Some days don’t go as planned—you overslept, the hot water in the shower was used up, your toast was burnt, you were late to work, it can go on and on and on… and these moments have the ability, if you let them, to disrupt the rest of your day and rub off on the people around you. Rather than sulk about how much your life sucks, at that point in time, laugh it off. Except that today you are the statue, and maybe tomorrow you will be the pigeon. 

Let it go, take a deep breath, and look for the positive in the situation. Maybe you missed some early morning drama at work because you were late, maybe you had a couple extra minutes to spend with your kids, maybe you treated yourself to a special coffee or a chocolate bar, or maybe you just need to accept that tomorrow is a new day. 

The way we react to the ups and downs of our days can teach our children a lot. It is important that we set good examples and help them process their feelings. Maybe they forgot their gym shoes or didn’t get the seat they wanted on the bus, or the cafeteria ran out of pizza before it was their turn —teach your kids to reassess, to look for the positive, to understand they will have pigeon days and they will have statue days. Little moments don’t need to lead to a pile-up of unhealthy emotions, they need to be let go.

Is Broken Bad?

Everyone feels “broken” at some point on their journey through life. It is that unbearable pain, that adversity, feelings of hopelessness, and despair that shapes us. These experiences teach us about who we are, and they help us grow as people. 

As hard as it is when you are in the thick of suffering, as a counselor I don’t see being “broken” as being a bad thing. The only real way to live a full, happy, evolving life is to overcome the challenges thrown our way. Think of a seed—a broken seed sprouts and germinates generating new roots. 

It is easy when caught up in a moment of despair to avoid life—to go forward with feelings of regret, pain, disillusionment, and sadness. Rather than living in fear of those “broken” moments, I encourage you to embrace them—to focus on the positive, the future, and persevere. 

What do you do if you feel broken inside?

Here are a few tips to help you when you are feeling broken inside:

1.) Remind yourself change is inevitable. We cannot avoid change, it is part of life. Rather than fight it—accept it.

2.)Embrace the power of choice—you have the choice to control your thoughts. As hard as it may seem to shape what we do and how we feel, you can make the decision to live your life. To choose to search for the positive. To continue to get up and get dressed and get going during those moments of despair. You do you. 

3.)Ask for help if you need it. Life is hard, and you aren’t expected to know all the answers. Sometimes it takes a conversation, a new perspective to help lift us up and pull us out of the holes we sometimes fall into—and that is ok. Make an appointment for therapy, call a friend or a relative. It is ok to not be ok. 

4.)Be in the moment. Mother Teresa said “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” We don’t know what tomorrow has in store, and there is no point in wasting time regretting things of the past. You are here today—so be here. 

5.) Focus on the things in life that bring you joy. Those things will help to bring you out of your place of pain. Whether it be exercise, cooking, spending time with family—do the things that bring a sense of happiness to your being.

6.) Find hope. Tomorrow is a new day, and anything can happen. You will get through this moment and you will find happiness again. 

No one can predict the future. There will most likely be more times you feel “broken” but those times will only continue to help you grow, to learn more about yourself, and be the best version of you. 

New Studies Show that Social Media Has Become A Global Mental Health Problem for Younger Generations

As the next generation of young people grows up under the embrace of 24/7 social media feeds, one study has concluded that there is a link between the prevalence of social media and the increase of mental health issues on a global level.

The American Journal of Epistemology has recently released their study that draws a connection between the development of mental health in young people and their experiences on social media. This connection is most notably drawn through their interactions, or essentially the lack thereof. Generation Z, the group born between the mid 1990’s and early 2000’s, conducts the majority of their communication through social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Musical.ly, and the most widely criticized for fostering negative self-esteem, Instagram. It’s through these social channels that Gen Z communicates through likes, photos, videos, and other features built into the app, thus increasing their exposure to the images on these apps.

Many of these sites do not require parental consent to use the app. In fact, the legal age to search the web without the consent of a parent is 13, as set by Congress in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. With this in place, many children are exposed to a variety of content across all age groups, but specifically within their peer group, without the guidance of their parents. While online predators are the most perceived threat from online social interactions, another growing threat on the internet is the content generated by other users. Viral photos, videos, blog posts, and games that promote self-harm and substance abuse are forms of user-generated content that are often used in cyber bullying, whether directly or indirectly. This can affect the mental health of their victims. Teens exposed to this increase their chances of participating in unhealthy activities, including eating disorders, self-harm, aggressive behavior, and unhealthy sexual practices.

Another form of user-generated content that contributes to the increase of mental health problems as cited by the Royal Society of Public Health is that image-based social media platforms cause the most harm to an individual’s mental health state, i.e. Instagram. As a result of these online interactions, the suicide rates amongst young people have increased significantly over the past few years from 2007-2015. The number of suicides in young, teenage girls almost doubled in 2015, after hitting a relative low in the previous years. Psychologists and researchers have linked this spike in suicide rates amongst young girls to the prevalence of perfection standards that social media sites create.

Kids and teens are still developing, lacking the emotional maturity to form a healthy sense of self. Teens who are most affected by social media either have an extremely low self-esteem or are hard on themselves with unrealistic standards for performance. Both hold unrealistic expectations of perfection. These feelings are often fostered in full by “unrealistic highlight reels” of perfect social media photos and posts. The idea is that this is the image of perfection that must be attained. On the other hand, these same social sites are grounds for disparaging content from their peer groups. Ever emotion, whether negative or positive, is tracked on social media for all to see. This creates the feeling of, “Either I need to be perfect or I need to be punished”. Once the concept of failure or lacking the status to meet those standards is introduced and internalized, teens who suffer from these ideas of perfectionism are quick to detach themselves from the outside world, often threatening suicide or other forms of harm. This behavior continues until the “perfect image” is attained or suicide has taken their life.

Mabel Yiu, licensed marriage, and family therapist, is the founder of the Women’s Therapy Institute, a therapy center dedicated to helping women and young girls deal with the pressures associated with life. During her teen counseling sessions which start as young as 12, she has witnessed firsthand the damage that social media standards and cyber-bullying can have on the ever-developing self-esteem of young girls.

About:
Mabel Yiu, MFT, has been a therapist for nearly a decade. She is a certified suicide and crisis counselor, sexual assault counselor, parenting instructor, and more. Mabel is also an adjunct professor with the University of San Francisco and a clinical supervisor at a community mental health clinic in San Jose. She opened the Women’s Therapy Institute in Palo Alto, California as a means to help young girls and women cope with the emotional and mental pressures that occur in everyday life.

When Scary Things Happen To Us…

Sometimes scary things happen to us. It can happen to us on an unknown path we take, or in a familiar place we love. When bad things happen to us, we start to question everything around us. We question why this happened to us. We question the validity and fairness of the world. The world becomes different. What are we suppose to do in a world that is no longer safe?

When bad things happen to us, our sense of security is under siege and our defense mechanism is on high alert. Even the nice warm summer wind we used to love can make the hairs on our back stand up.  We guard ourselves tightly to the point we can no longer feel.

When bad things happen to us, we may question if there’s something we could have done differently. We desperately attempt to salvage the control we once had but lost. Our mind keeps replaying the fearful scenario that we no longer have room for joy. It’s hard to breathe; even the air feels heavy.

I understand because I have been there. I know therapy can help. With therapy, you can learn to breathe again, slow down the replay in the mind, learn to trust the world, and believe in yourself.  You can move from “what was” to “what can be.”

With therapy, You can live again.