All posts by Mabel Yiu

hormones

How Stress Hormones Can Change Your Brain

When we are angry, we don’t feel very good, and that tends to make us do or say things that we later regret. We also might get so flustered that we lose track of what made us angry in the first place. We feel out-of-control. There is a reason for that. It has to do with the stress hormones our bodies release when we are angry—cortisol. 

Our post yesterday talked about the process in which our bodies and brains react when we get angry. Today we are talking about the impact these hormones have on our bodies once they are released. 

Elevated Cortisol

When our cortisol levels are elevated, our brain neurons take in too much calcium through their membranes. The calcium causes the cells to go haywire and fire too quickly, resulting in their death. 

Too much cortisol leads to a loss of neuron activity in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, ultimately impairing your judgment. So rather than saying, “let’s talk about this,” you are saying “I hate you.” It’s not productive and you will probably regret it later. 

This is a great time to walk away from the situation, take a breath and calm down. Easier said than done, I know. 

Too much cortisol can also kill neurons and keep your brain from producing new ones. This is why it can be hard to remember what you should be saying, or what you wanted to say, in the heat of an argument. It also makes it harder to form short-term memories. So, later when you talk about the argument you had with your husband when he got home from work, you might not remember it exactly the way it happened. 

Decreased Serotonin

High cortisol levels lead to a decrease in serotonin (the happy hormone) levels. A decrease in serotonin adds fuel to the fire. It makes it easier to feel angry and more physically hurt. It also can explain why you might act aggressive or depressed when angry. They go together. 

Recognizing how these hormones can affect you, can make it easier to bounce back from an angry situation. If you know your serotonin levels are decreasing you can take steps to try to get them back again. A licensed counselor can help if you need some healthy coping mechanisms.

For a visual explanation of this process, visit https://www.nicabm.com/brain-how-anger-affects-your-brain-and-body-infographic-part-2/ 

anger

How Does Anger Affect Your Body?

Anger can be a tricky emotion to process. It tends to come on quickly and move throughout your body igniting a response. Just as quick as it comes on it can lead to some unfortunate events—poor choices, misdirected responses, damaged relationships, violence. 

We have all felt angry, but few of us really know how it works and how it impacts our overall bodies. By understanding how the process works, maybe we can better help to train our brains to think first, then react. 

First Things, First 

Before you are even aware that you might become angry, a spark (disappointment, frustration, judgment, rejection, fear, etc.) activates the amygdala—located in the brain’s medial temporal lobe, this part of the brain is known to play a key role in the processing of emotions. 

Once the amygdala is triggered it immediately becomes ready to turn on the body’s stress response system, often referred to by scientists at the “HPA axis” (Hypothalamus, Pituitary, and Adrenal). This starts the chain reaction of hormones—or the spread of fire throughout.

The Chain

The amygdala signals the hypothalamus, which then signals the pituitary gland by discharging the corticotropin-releasing hormone. The pituitary glad signals the adrenal glands by releasing the adrenocorticotropic hormone. The adrenal glad then secretes stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.

These hormones quickly get to your neurons and cells causing you to feel a whole lot of unpleasantness, usually making you feel like you must react in some way. 

The Explanation 

Anger might sometimes feel unexplained — but why? But the truth is it did come from somewhere, that first spark. Identifying the exact reason for your anger can help you to work on your internal self, and why you might feel the way you do, and help you to react in a calmer, un-impulsive fashion.

For example, you are mad at your husband for coming home late after being out with his friends. Why are you really mad? Probably not because your husband was having a good time, but rather — he didn’t call and you were worried (fear) about his safety? Or, you are angry with your kids because they didn’t listen when you asked them to put their shoes on five minutes ago — you aren’t mad because they don’t have shoes on, you are frustrated because they didn’t listen. And now you are going to be late (judgment).

Tomorrow’s post will explain how stress hormones can change your brain.

For more information and a visual on this reaction, visit https://www.nicabm.com/brain-how-anger-affects-your-brain-and-body-part-1/ 

chasing happiness

You Can Create Your Happiness

As a society, we are always looking for that one thing that is going to make us happy. We think “if I lose those 10 pounds, I will be so much happier”; “if I buy the house”; “if I get the job”; etc. While achieving a goal or finally getting that thing we have wanted sooo bad will make us happy for a bit, that kind of happiness doesn’t last. 

Real, long-lasting, true-to-yourself happiness is something we create. You have heard it before, and frankly it’s true—you can choose happiness. But how? 

The happiest of people have honed in on particular habits, here are a few to get you started on the road to a happier you:

1.) Slow down — Happy people slow down to appreciate the little moments in life. They take the moment to soak up the way their child laughs or talks, the smile on a significant others face, the laughter of a friend, the beauty of a clean home, a full fridge, or a beautiful sunrise. 

2.) Exercise — Happy people are active. They get out there and get moving. Exercise leads to the release of the neurotransmitter GABA which helps to soothe the brain. It also leads to the release of feel-good hormones. It is a natural mood booster.

3.) Surround Yourself In Good Company — Getting rid of the toxic people in your life, letting go of the ones who are always being negative, can do wonders for your mood. Surround yourself with positive people and your mood and outlook will follow. 

4.) Spend Money On Others — Yes, it can be fun to buy yourself a new pair of shoes or splurge on a fancy vacation but it can feel even better to spend money on others. Treating a friend to dinner, surprising your sister with a coat she has had her eye on, donating meals to the homeless, buying an outfit for a child in need, lifting others up feels good. 

5.) Get Sleep — Sleep is so important for your mood. If you feel rundown and exhausted everything is harder, it all takes more effort and you just don’t feel well. Get sleep and you will feel better and be healthier. 

6.) Have a Growth Mindset — If you don’t believe you can change or grow as a person then you are stuck, you are stagnant in your life. If you have the mindset that you are a fluid human being, you can grow and change with time, then you believe change is possible. It is a much more positive outlook. 

7.) Work At It— Being happy is not something that just comes to a person. It takes effort. A supremely happy person is checking in with themselves often. They make decisions based on their happiness levels. For example, they are exhausted from working hard at the office so they decide to take the night off and go to bed early. Or, they need a mood boost so they decide to hit the gym on the way home, or stop and watch the sunset.

Happiness is possible for everyone, no matter their life circumstances. It just takes some healthy habits and a healthy mindset. A licensed counselor can help you get there if you need some assistance. 

smartphone teen mental health

How is your teen’s smartphone impacting their mental health?

When we were teens we would leave school and actually leave. The day’s drama, while still on our minds for a short while, was left at our lockers. That doesn’t happen anymore—not with smartphones.

Nowadays almost every teen you see has a smartphone of some kind, and they are damaging our children’s mental health. Research shows between 2009 and 2017 the number of high schoolers who contemplated suicide increased 25 percent.  The number of teens diagnosed with depression increased 37 percent between 2005 and 2014.

Our children and teens are constantly in contact with bullies and are up all hours of the night responding to texts. Where they used to be able to escape to the safety of their bedrooms, that no longer exists. Technology has enabled them to always be followed and always connected to that outside world. Even though as parents we don’t quite understand this addiction to the phone, after all it wasn’t something we dealt with as a child, there are things we can do to help our kids. 

We have to set the example. It is hard, believe me I understand, to put that phone down, sometimes, but you need to show your children the boundaries. One important rule for is no phone in the bedroom at night. Your kids, and yourself, need to sleep. That phone is a constant distraction.

Taking that a step further, no phone or device use (of any kind) should be used an hour before bedtime. The blue light of these devices can be overstimulating making it hard to fall asleep. Not enough sleep can be a major risk factor for depression. 

Additionally, try to limit your child’s overall scrolling time per day to less than two hours. This doesn’t count time spent on homework. If they need the internet for a school project, that is fine. But, when homework is done time needs to be limited. This might be especially hard on weekends but it is so important—encourage them to meet up with their friends, go for a walk, be active, get out of the house, anything but be on that phone. 

There are some apps that can help parents to monitor and control phone use:  

  • Qustodio 
  • FamiSafe
  • OurPact
  • Boomerang Parental Control
  • ScreenTime
  • Screen Time Limit KidCrono
  • ESET Parental Control
  • Norton Family Parental Control
  • Limitly
  • ScreenLimit

More information on these applications can be found here.

standing up to bullies

Teaching Your Child How to Stand Up to Bullies

A friend recently came to me and told me that her son had come home from school and told her about a child at lunch who had spit on his sandwich. My friend, his parent, was hurt and shaken by this news. She wanted to help her child but didn’t know exactly how to approach the situation. Helping a child to deal with a bully can be difficult. You want your child to stand up for themselves but not respond in a way that will make things worse. 

Her situation made me think about the things we can teach our children when it comes to bullies, here are some tips:

1.) Keep Other Relationships Strong — Bullies gain power when their victims feel alone and powerless. Make sure your child maintains strong connections with others — this can be friends, family members, coaches, people they can go to when they feel bullied. 

2.) Re-Define Tattling — We are always telling our children to not be tattlers. We don’t want them to tell on little things or be the kid who is always running to an adult when they can handle the problem on their own. When my friend asked her son if he told an adult at the lunchroom about the spitting, he said: “no, I didn’t want to tattle.” My friend then explained to her son that this was a serious thing and it needed to be recognized. Children don’t always know what is serious and what is not and bullies gain power by having their victims stay quiet. Tell your child it is ok, and encouraged, to reach out to an adult when there is a problem with another child. 

3.) Act Quickly — Don’t sit on this information for days or weeks pondering how to handle it. Make sure your child knows they can come to you and seek out an adult at school as soon as the bullying happens. The longer things drag out, the more damage can be done. 

4.)Teach Assertiveness— Passive responses like moving to another part of the room, or walking away just encourage a bully more. Assertive responses like a strong comeback or a non-emotional stare are much more powerful. They teach a bully not to mess with your kid. Set your child up with a few verbal responses they can give when someone says something mean to them. 

5.) Use Body Language — Verbal responses only go so far if your child is hiding behind their coat or hair when saying it, or crying through their words. This stuff is hard but your child needs to try to fake it for a few minutes. Showing emotion tells the bully they are getting to your child, which only encourages them. Body language needs to be strong to accompany the response, things like making eye contact, keeping calm, staying at an appropriate distance, and using the bully’s name, can all have a powerful impact. 

It is hard to teach your child that they have to put on a strong face when all they want to do is tear up and run to the bathroom, but these skills will help them in life as they continue to face difficult situations. Let them know it is ok to cry and express that emotion to a trusted friend or adult after they leave the bully. Seeking help from a licensed counselor can also help with coping and managing situations. 

child bully

What to do if your child is being bullied?

Bullying has always been a very real problem for children, and with the advent of social media, the internet, and smartphones it is even more prevalent and hard to escape. Knowing your child is a victim of bullying is hard to swallow. You feel helpless as a parent. You want to listen, you want to teach them, you want to go to school yourself and pull that other kid by the hair and tell them to “LEAVE (your kid) ALONE!” But, unfortunately, that type of behavior will only end badly for you and your child. 

So what do you do if your child is being bullied?

1.) Don’t assume — It can be easy as a parent to jump to conclusions. After all, you know your child, and you know he/she/they can sometimes be an instigator. They might have done something that has brought it on themselves. But, they could also just be the victim of some mean kids. We all know kids who are struggling with other issues but express those feelings in the form of bullying. Regardless, the most important thing you can do for your child is to LISTEN. Listen wholly, intently, to what they are saying. 

2.) Pay attention to nonverbal cues — Your child might be the victim of bullying but they may not be telling you the whole story. Watch them carefully. If you see a change in their behavior, ask them about it. Open the door for conversation. For example, if your child is suddenly more withdrawn, doesn’t want to go to school, doesn’t want to ride the bus, isn’t eating lunch, etc. Ask them about it. You can’t help them if you don’t know they are hurting.

3.) Don’t go to the other kid — You are your child’s protector, so you want to go straight to the source and end the issues. But that is not usually what happens. Parents who go straight to the other child to confront them often make things more awkward and uncomfortable, increasing bullying, upsetting the other child’s parents. It also can lead to trust issues between you and your child. 

4.) Involve the teacher — Your child’s teacher is your eyes when you aren’t around. They are also a neutral party. Tell the teacher what is going on and have them interject on their end. Sometimes the teacher can involve a social worker or peer-to-peer workshops to solve these issues. 

5.) Problem-solve with your child — Come up with a solution that works for your child. Maybe it involves sitting with another group of kids at lunch. Maybe it is switching seats on the bus. Talk to them (and check out tomorrow’s blog post for tips on how to help your child).

6.) Identify a safety zone — Your child spends a lot of time at school. They need a safety zone if they feel hurt, scared, sad, unsafe, etc. This can be a school social worker, school nurse, administrator, a trusted teacher, an older sibling, etc. Get the other party on board so they know what to do if your child comes to them and gives them an outlet to find help when they need it. 

Bullying can have long-term effects on a child, but as a parent being there and problem-solving together can teach them valuable lessons. Involving a licensed counselor can also help a child (and parent) to develop healthy coping skills and solutions. 

repair toxic relationship

How To Repair A Toxic Relationship

You are in a toxic relationship and you don’t want to get out of it, you would rather work on trying to fix it. You want to repair it. Is it possible? 

A few things need to be present to turn a toxic relationship around, both partners need to want to make it work. Both of you need to recognize your faults and be willing to own up to them. Both of you need to be willing to put in the effort to make it work. If those three things are there, then you have the necessary foundation to move forward. 

To turn an unhealthy relationship into a healthy one, you must establish ground rules. Change is difficult and old habits die hard but steps need to be taken to make your relationship a positive environment. For example, if every time your partner brings up a past argument you feel bad, then kindly and calmly let he/she/they know that the past in the past and you would prefer to not relive arguments over again. If you need time to practice self-care, let your partner know that Wednesday nights are for you to go out. Setting ground rules helps you both to be on the same page. 

Boundaries are important. I write about them all the time. You must establish them in any healthy relationship. Maybe it makes you upset when your partner reads the text messages on your phone or calls you repeatedly at work. Let he/she/they know that is unacceptable to you. Boundaries are healthy. 

Take care of other relationships in your life. You need a support group. You need more people in your life than just your partner. Friends are healthy. Don’t let your partner be the everything in your life, let others in as well. 

Practice. Practice. Practice. Self-Care. I can’t stress this enough. It is so important to make time for yourself. Take a yoga class, go for a run, walk the dog, go to bed early, have a night out with friends, do stuff that makes you feel good. You can’t be the best version of yourself if you are not taking care of YOU.

And, finally, don’t hesitate to seek help from a licensed counselor. A professional can offer guidance and assist in the steps you need to take to turn your relationship into a healthy one. Changing the nature of your relationship is not easy. It takes work. But, it can be possible if you put in the effort. 

contributing toxic

Is Your Behavior Contributing To Your Toxic Relationship?

It is always difficult to admit we might not be behaving in the best way. It is hard to own up to the idea that you might be the one making your relationship toxic. But, the only real way to grow as a person is to be accountable for your actions. You need to first recognize your wrongdoing before you can begin to make changes. 

In the same way, it is difficult to admit wrongdoing, it can also be difficult to see the negative parts of yourself. You might feel like what you are doing is right, when it is actually very harmful. 

What are some signs that your behavior is contributing to the toxicity of your relationship?

1.) Making Affection Conditional — Are you withholding affection because you want your significant other to do something? For example, maybe you are upset about how often you have to clean the house or how little he/she/they are helping with the children. Maybe you want them to agree to move into a different home or buy a new car, whatever the reason — affection should never be used as a bargaining tool. It shouldn’t hinge on getting something you want. Of course, you NEVER have to be affectionate when you don’t want to be but don’t make it a bargaining chip.

2.)Frequently Passive Aggressive — We all have moments when we are passive-aggressive but it is not healthy, and not helpful to a relationship. If you are frequently getting angry with your significant other and not telling him/her/they why you are mad, then you are halting communication efforts. Communication is necessary for any healthy relationship. If you can’t talk to each other that needs to change. 

3.) “Test” Your Partner — If your relationship is healthy then you do not need to “test” your partner’s reactions to things. If you find that you are making them jealous or playing with their emotions in other ways to see how they might react, that is not healthy. If you trust each other then there is no need for mind games. Maybe this insecurity stems from something unrelated to your partner, maybe you need constant affirmation because of another deeper rooted issue. Regardless, this type of behavior needs to be seriously looked at. 

There is help

If any of these sound like you, it is ok. There is help. You can change. The first step is acknowledging that these are serious issues that need your attention. A licensed professional counselor can help you to work through these problems and get to the root of why you might be behaving in this way. They can help you turn things around. 

toxic relationship

Are You In A Toxic Relationship?

Toxic relationships happen. You fall in love with someone and things take a turn. It can be hard to recognize that you are in a toxic relationship simply because you don’t want to be. Your vision is clouded. You think “my relationship if just fine.” But, toxic relationships need your attention. They can harm you emotionally and physically. They can deeply impact you on every level. 

What makes a relationship toxic? How do you know if you are in a toxic relationship? Here are some signs to look out for:

1.) Your partner is stripping away your self-esteem: They are always finding something wrong with you—the way you dress, your haircut, your teeth, your weight, the things you do, your personal preferences, etc. Whatever it is, it feels like nothing is good enough. 

2.) There is a power imbalance: Relationships are supposed to be unions. There is give and take from both partners. While not always equal, they ebb and flow. Sometimes you might give more and sometimes your partner might. But, if it always seems like you are not in control of your life and you are always the one giving, then there is a clear power imbalance and that is not healthy. 

3.)Your partner is jealous and controlling: All healthy relationships need trust. Without trust, your relationship needs some work. If your partner is always jealous or wants to control who you spend your time with, where you go, etc. that is a warning sign. 

4.) You aren’t taking care of yourself: This is not necessarily related to your partner but you can’t possibly take care of your relationship without first taking care of yourself. If you can’t find time to get away from your partner to do things for yourself, then make time. If he/she/they won’t let you get away for self-care or engage in self-care at home, then see number 3.

5.) You don’t feel like you can be yourself: When you are in a relationship you should be free to be you. A partner is someone that you can feel comfortable with. They know you, all of you, and they love you for it. If you can’t be yourself then you might want to consider finding someone you can be yourself with. 

6.) They don’t bring out the best in you: Constant put-downs or arguing, negativity is a drain on your emotional health. Laughing, feeling loved and safe, those things are part of a relationship. If you don’t feel like your relationship is bringing out the best in you, then it might be toxic. 

7.) You are always making excuses for their behavior: Yes, we all have bad weeks. We all have bad months. But, your partner should at least be making an effort. If you come to he/she/they with a concern they should listen and try to make it right. If you find yourself constantly saying to yourself “well he had a bad day at work,” or “she has a lot going on right now” then it might be time to reevaluate. 

These are just a few of the many signs of an unhealthy relationship pattern. Toxic relationships and abusive relationships borderline on each other, so if for any reason you fear for your safety get out. A licensed therapist can help you evaluate your relationship, regain confidence, and break free. You deserve to be with someone who wants to be with you, who appreciates you for all you are.

moms

Stay-At-Home Moms Are Working Too

There was another post that caught my eye on social media the other day. It was a hand-written comparison list titled “Should Mothers Have Careers?” I have posted the image below so you can see it for yourself. 

mom image

This list is vastly unfair and unrealistic. It is media like this that gives the stay-at-home mom so little respect. This kind of subtle messaging can do so much harm. It plants these stereotypes that just because you are home with the kids you have so much free time during the day. Oh yes, you are home so you have time to cook a gourmet meal, play all day, and nap. It is this stuff that causes husbands to come home and ask their wives that much-despised question — “what have you been doing all day?”

It is not right. These moms aren’t napping all day. They are juggling the laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, and meal preparation with the constant demands (and guilt) to play (or get a snack) from their children. They are the managers of households. Their to-do lists are overflowing. They are exhausted both physically and emotionally. They are working hard as hell. 

Not to mention they can be faced with ongoing feelings of loneliness, the struggle to find a place where they belong and a purpose within themselves. It is hard when you go through 90 percent of your day with only a two-year-old to talk to. 

Whether working outside or inside the home, each has its challenges and benefits. Being a mother (period) is hard work and it deserves all the respect we can give. We need to stop glorifying the stay-at-home mom as someone who is always on vacation and instead give her a helping hand, a hug, a high-five. We also need to stop putting down the working mom, the one who is doing what she needs to do for her family, the one who may be following her dreams. We all have different paths—one is not better than the other.