We all know how trying everyday life can be. The minute you roll out of bed, it hits you that you have a long day ahead of you: feeding the dog and letting him out, prepare breakfast or just some coffee to go, slaving away at work. You might not even remember the last time you could sit in total silence and just breathe.
As you might imagine, you are not alone. In fact, it has been reported that nearly 30% of Canadians because the ages of 15 and 75 regularly experience high levels of stress at work. Of course, work is just one face of stress. Add children into the mix and their countless demands, and you must take away some more of your alone time. Caregiver for a sick relative? There goes more--if not all--of your opportunity to relax. Fortunately, as more research regarding the importance of self-care emerges, so do more clever tips to enjoy it--even for the busiest of people. Read on to learn all about self-care.
Self-Care in a Nutshell
Self-care is a fuzzy-sounding term with a relatively straightforward definition: it simply refers to anything you might do with the intention of improving your physical well-being or peace of mind, or both. For instance, perhaps even with your hectic schedule, you still set aside time to prepare yourself a healthy, well-balanced dinner. This could be considered an act of self-care. Other things people might do to improve their physical and mental health include going for a jog, meditating, taking a hot bath, or watching a favorite movie. In short, if it brings you some sense of pleasure, lowers your stress levels, and contributes to your general health, it can be considered self-care.
Why Self-Care is Important
Sometimes the things we find most rewarding are also the most exhausting. For instance, if you care for a severely ill parent, you likely take great pleasure in being able to provide for someone you love deeply. But there is one thing you have trouble admitting to yourself: it is hard, sometimes too hard. You might even feel as though taking a break to attend to your own needs would be selfish. Indeed, sometimes we think we need to wear our stress like a badge of honor. But understand that stress is not just a nagging nuisance to you. Below are some reasons you should take self-care seriously.
- Your Health Could Be at Stake. Yes, being overly stressed can actually affect your physical health. You might get frequent migraines, upset stomachs, even insomnia when all you want to do is sleep. Stress that goes unchecked for too long has even been associated with such conditions as hypertension and heart disease.
If you fall seriously ill, do you think you will be able to be the best caregiver you can be? Probably not. Not to mention, the people who care about you likely want the best for you. And that includes taking time for yourself.
- You Could Be Compromising Your Productivity. You might believe that doing more equals more accomplished. However, if you push yourself to the point of feeling ill or overly stressed, you could be harming your productivity rather than helping it. It has been established over the years that employees who experience the most stress take almost twice as many sick days as their less stressed counterparts. Even if you do not call off sick, can you really be performing your best if your mind is racing ceaselessly?
How to Practice Self-Care
Now that you know what self-care is and why you should practice it. But how can you get started? Below are some tips to help you develop your own self-care routine.
- Pamper yourself; practice great personal hygiene. Sure, even during times of stress, you might perform basic hygiene like brushing your teeth and showering. Sometimes, however, stressed people do not give themselves adequate time to attend to their grooming needs. Your self-care might involve a longer shower. You might even spend extra time styling your hair. It might not seem like much, but taking care of your appearance can help you feel more confident.
- Take time to enjoy healthy, satisfying meals. Most people understand the importance of healthy eating on both physical and mental health. But what about giving yourself the time to eat in the first place? Instead of wolfing down a bag of chips and sandwich at lunch, set time aside to prepare yourself a meal you will actually look forward to, one that ideally offers ample nutrition. Then, actually take your lunch break. Do not look at your phone. Do not try to sneak in work. Simply focus on eating and feeling satisfied.
- Spend time with the people you care about. Yes, sometimes it is hard to make plans when your schedule is packed. But even if you cannot go on a lunch date with your close friend, consider calling her just to chat. You do not have to discuss your woes; you can talk about whatever makes you happy, maybe even laugh a bit.
Want more advice about dealing with stress? Visit Oakville Wellness Center to get started.
A selfless heart can heal a thousand wounds, but first it must heal itself. There are over 43 million adults in the United States outside of the healthcare industry who have taken it upon themselves to care for another. Whether it’s an ill parent or an injured spouse, the call to action is second nature to these caring individuals. But while watching over others, it is easy to forget to take time of oneself.
Take Time For Yourself
The largest population of home caregivers are known as the sandwich population. These are often adults with both young children and elderly parents to take care of. Between ensuring the kids are doing their best in school, caring for their parents, and working, often full time, these caregivers find little to no time for themselves. If you have found yourself squished into this spot, it is important to take a breath and step back.
Although it may seem like you need to take care of everyone, you are likely forgetting the most important person-- yourself. According to researchers, caregivers who take no time for themselves can become extremely stressed. This can lead to harmful habits including smoking and excessive drinking. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, caregivers who spend 9 hours or more a day caring for someone else have double the risk of heart disease, and are 63% more likely to die compared to non-caregivers of the same age.
Physical Signs of Caregiver Stress
Because caregivers seem so resilient, it can be hard to notice the signs of stress. Even the most exhausted people can fake a smile and say “everything is alright.” There are some physical signs of stress that are easy to pinpoint. The first is constant exhaustion. A caregiver may try to ignore this symptom, saying they are just tired because they work too much. While this may be true, severe exhaustion is a sign of depression. If the caregiver feel tired even after getting a full night’s sleep, or uses exhaustion as a reason not to get out of bed, it is time to seek help.
Another physical sign is weight gain or loss. If a caregiver is ignoring their physical appearance, it is a sign they are stressed or overworked. If they are losing weight, they could be skipping meals, which can cause low-blood sugar. Again, this is also a sign of depression. If it is not addressed quickly enough, depression can lead to thoughts of suicide.
Emotional Signs of Caregiver Stress
Not all signs of stress can be seen by the naked eye. If you are worried about a caregiver, even if they look fine on the outside, it is important to have a conversation with them. Sometimes all anyone needs is an ear willing to listen. Some of the most common signs of stress include headaches, feeling numb, and trouble focusing. When the stress has reached this level, professional help may be required.
When someone you love is sick, it can be difficult to allow someone else to help them. You do not need to give up the reigns entirely, but hiring respite care is a great first step. Respite care is planned, temporary caregiver for your loved one. Hiring someone you trust to help out one to two days a week can help you relieve stress and find time for yourself.
Instead of spending 24 hours a day by someone’s side, make sure you are scheduling breaks. If being a caregiver is essentially your full-time job, treat it that way. Make sure you step a way for 10 minute breaks, and ensure you are eating lunch. It may feel selfish at first, but in reality, it is usually a benefit to all parties involved. By taking time for yourself, you will come back refreshed, ready to take care of your loved one.
It is important to also take care of your mental health. By talking to a therapist, you can clear your mind of stress. You can also talk through any burdens you are feeling. This is especially important if you are showing signs of depression or have had thoughts of suicide. It is never too late to get help.
Motivation is the thing that gets us up in the morning and keeps us going all day. At least, that’s the idea. The truth is that motivation can often be fleeting, and it’s very common for people to have trouble finding that spark to seize the day. There’s no simple cure for a lack of motivation because it can arise for a multitude of reasons. Factors ranging from your social life and family issues to your personal health can all have a significant impact on how you function from day to day.
Thus, the path to finding more motivation in your daily life is a personal one. Whatever your own struggles may be, we encourage you to consider these suggestions to see if any of them work for you. Some may be more helpful than others, and some may not help much at all. That being said, you may find that the simple act of searching for more motivation will help by itself, opening you up to new ways of looking at yourself and your world.
Clean Your Room
This piece of advice may sound like a chore, but it actually comes from psychologist Ralph Ryback of Psychology Today -- and a number of other important psychologists and researchers agree. Disorganization can loom over you and feel like an impending task (or a past failure of cleanliness) which can lead to a defeated attitude on a subconscious level. Other studies have even shown that people who have cleaner houses tend to be healthier: a finding that supports the notion that making one positive change in your life (such as tidying up) can inspire you to make a succession of additional positive changes.
Sometimes, the cumulative stress of our daily lives just becomes too much. If you find yourself just wanting to get away from it all, consider including exercise into your daily or weekly routine. In John Ratey’s book, Spark, the psychiatrist delves into the various benefits that exercise has on the brain. By elevating your heart rate for thirty minutes just three times a week, studies have shown drastic improvements in overall energy, social skills and focus. Additionally, there is significant evidence that shows how exercise helps to fight depression and anxiety, conditions that are all too common these days.
Even if you don’t consider yourself an “exercise person”, it can be relatively easy to implement a more active lifestyle. For example, going for a walk each day may make a significant difference in your motivation. Just like with cleaning your room, getting a workout in before starting your day can give you a sense of accomplishment to build off of.
You may think that successful people are just naturally motivated. In fact, this is usually not the case. The difference is that many highly-motivated people have just learned how to best channel energy to their benefit. This is something that you too, with a little practice, can accomplish.
The biggest trick to staying motivated is not to rely on it. Motivation comes and goes just like happiness and sadness; it’s only natural. Accepting that fact is the first step to learning how to overcome it. Instead of relying on motivation, rely on discipline. By setting clear and attainable goals for yourself, you can fight a lack of motivation with sheer willpower and determination.
One way to do this is by using SMART goals. Originally invented as an ultra-effective way to set goals, it is now relied on by countless people in order to gauge aspirations and accomplish tasks. The acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. By setting a goal while following these guidelines, you can ensure that you have the best chance at achieving it.
At Oakville Wellness Center, our expert therapists will always be there to help you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for more information or an appointment.
Relaxation is an important part of human life. Everyone loves to take breaks and recuperate from time to time, and relaxation is shown to reduce stress and have several health benefits. Approximately 77% of adults regularly experience physical symptoms as a result of stress. These symptoms can include headaches, insomnia, chest pain, and more, and they can lead to serious conditions like cardiovascular diseases and mental health problems. Making time for relaxation can help manage this stress and prevent it from manifesting physically. Techniques like meditation, breathing exercises, and rest help produce a relaxation response in the body which can decrease stress and stress-related conditions.
However, as helpful as relaxation can be, the age-old adage “too much of a good thing is a bad thing” applies to relaxation as well. When people achieve relaxation in the wrong ways or over-prioritize it in their lives, there can be unhealthy consequences just as dangerous as having too much stress. Here are some signs that your relaxation techniques might be more problematic than they are beneficial:
You Achieve Relaxation in Harmful Ways
There are both positive and negative ways to achieve relaxation. If you use negative ways to reach a state of relaxation, you are going to increase your stress levels and cause more damage than good. Abusing drugs, alcohol, or other substances might feel helpful in the moment, but these coping mechanisms are unhealthy and can have significant health risks. Addiction to drugs and alcohol can cause physical and emotional problems that can lead to severe bodily damage and even death. You should avoid using substances to try and reduce stress.
Other negative ways people use to try and manage stress include unhealthy or excessive habits. Overeating and binge-eating can be disastrous for your health, which will lead to increased stress and health problems like obesity and heart-disease. Seek help if your stress-managing eating habits have become out of control. Over using entertainment and binge-watching television has been linked with depression and loneliness. While it might be helpful to set aside time to watch television, play video games, or use other electronics to take a break, when you spend hours upon hours doing these activities, you put your health at risk. Poor coping habits like impulsive purchasing can devastate people financially and mentally, and it can also ruin marriages and other relationships. Make sure to avoid these habits when you are trying to deal with the stressors in your life.
Emotionally or physically cheating on a significant other is a surefire way to poison a relationship. Destroying your health and the relationships you have with people you care about is never a good way to manage the problems you are facing in life. If you are participating in any of these activities in order to feel relaxed, your relaxation is harmful, not helpful.
You Over-Prioritize Relaxation
While relaxation can have wonderful benefits for people who make time for it regularly, it can be problematic for people who dedicate too much time to it. If you are relaxing when you should be working or you are slacking off instead of taking care of your responsibilities, you are relaxing in a harmful way. Like anything else in life, relaxation needs to be balanced among your other duties. If you are sleeping or participating in other stress-relief activities when it is time to for you to go to work or take care of your children, then you are not achieving a healthy balance. In fact, sleeping too much can ruin your sleep schedule and cause insomnia. Carve out time for relaxation, but make sure that you have time to take care of your other duties as well. Make sure to relax in moderation.
You Use Relaxation to Avoid Conflict
If you are in a partnership or friendship where there are unhealthy problems that need to be handled, you should not seek relaxation in order to escape or cope with the conflict in those relationships. Do not be so relaxed that you are afraid to confront someone. Avoid using relaxation as a form of escapism in order to prevent yourself from having potentially hard conversations with others. Practice good communication and address issues in your relationships when necessary. Communication is a healthy way to begin to address conflict, and everyone involved will be better for it.
Your Relaxation Promotes Isolation
While it is definitely important to carve out time for yourself and have alone time, be wary if your relaxation techniques only involve isolation. It is important to be around others and to communicate to your friends and family when you are feeling overly-stressed or you are having a difficult time coping with problems in your life. Actively avoiding others is not a beneficial way to relax and it can cause you to feel lonely and depressed.
For more information or for help finding positive relaxation and coping techniques, visit Oakville Wellness Center.
On July 24, actress and singer, Demi Lovato was hospitalized after an alleged drug overdose. Lovato, who recently celebrated six years of sobriety this past spring, has been vocal with her fans about her struggles with cocaine and alcohol addiction and her time spent in rehab. This past June, she released a single, “Sober” where she apologized to listeners for relapsing on her sobriety, leading many to worry that she was abusing drugs and at a high-risk for an overdose. Almost a week after the incident, Lovato remains hospitalized, and it is unclear how this incident will influence her health physically, mentally, and emotionally. News of Lovato’s overdose has been difficult on her family, friends, and her fans, many of whom have reached out to show their support for the singer.
When a person struggles with addiction, overdose, and recovery, it has a major impact on everyone who is close to that person. If your loved one has suffered from or been hospitalized due to an overdose, it is more important than ever for you to be there for them as they recover. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind as you help your loved one navigate this tumultuous time physically and emotionally:
Provide an Emotional Support System
Surviving an overdose is traumatic, and a survivor will need to return to a strong emotional support system. When a person survives an overdose, they are going to have to manage a lot of tough emotions. They might feel angry or betrayed because they were not able to prevent the incident from occurring or because they feel like they can no longer trust the friends or dealer who supplied them with the drug. Many people who go through this experience feel afraid that it will happen again, or they might be fearful of how the people in their life will react. If the overdose was a suicide attempt, individuals who survived might feel a sense of shame or failure because the attempt was unsuccessful. They might also have an increased desire to kill themselves. Remember that your loved one went through a traumatic experience and is wrestling with the emotional aftermath, and keep that in mind when you are trying to communicate and support him or her. Be patient and speak without judgment or criticism. It will involve the help of professionals and a solid emotional support system to help them cope during this difficult time, but you can help by trying to understand his or her feelings and practicing positive communication.
Address Underlying Issues
Many times people overdose because they take too much or an unknown strand of a drug. These individuals might do this because they are desperate for drug-provided relief or they are actively trying to commit suicide. It is important to remember that when a person survives an overdose, the reason why they abused drugs in the first place has not automatically been fixed by their harrowing experience. The underlying anxiety, stress, or depression that led them to this incident is still alive and well, and they will need help from professionals to address these issues and learn how to practice safe coping strategies. It is crucial for you to understand that the individual is likely struggling with pre-existing issues on top of the new ones that will arise as a result of surviving an overdose. Provide support and encouragement to your loved one as they communicate with therapists and work through the problems that contributed to their overdose.
Seek Counseling and Practice Self-Care
When someone overdoses, it is painful for everyone involved in that person’s life. Make sure that you do not neglect taking care of yourself while you help your loved one. If at all possible, try to decrease your responsibilities during this time. Avoid taking on too much work while you are trying to handle your own emotions surrounding the event. Seek help from a therapist or a licensed professional if you are having a difficult time coping with this tragedy. If you are close to someone who overdoses, you might notice their wide array of emotions can be directed toward you. It might be beneficial for you to speak with a therapist if you find it hard to deal with their emotions or behavior.
Know Risk Factors
Know the factors that contribute to overdose and put strategies in place to help prevent a repeat overdose from occurring. Repeat overdoses are extremely dangerous and can cause long-term damage to internal organs, brain damage, and death. Individuals are at a higher-risk of repeat overdoses if they are struggling with depression, have chronic illnesses that influence their nervous system, or if they have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Watch for warning signs like increased impulsivity, dramatic changes in mood or sleeping habits, and personality changes. It is essential that you and other members of the individual’s emotional support system are aware of these factors and encourage the individual to seek counseling as soon as possible after an overdose. Get in touch with the other positive influences and people who care about the survivor in order to make sure your loved one is getting the support and care that they need.
For more information about addiction, or for help finding a therapist for you or your loved one who is struggling with recovery, visit Oakville Wellness Center.
Giving compliments to others is a great way to build relationships and strengthen bonds between friends. People tend to enjoy receiving compliments because kind words and positive feedback are encouraging and motivating, and they boost self-esteem. In addition to making a person feel good about themselves, flattering words also have numerous health benefits for the recipient. People who receive positive words frequently are shown to higher levels of productivity and decreased levels of stress, and they experience the same emotional payoff as they would have if they received a tangible reward instead. Researcher Norihiro Sadata, one of the creators of a study about the benefits of receiving compliments, says that getting a compliment is “as much as a social reward as being rewarded money.” With the evidence of how money is a key motivator, it is no surprise that people who receive praise have high levels of performance.
Although the recipient of kind words seems to benefit the most from compliments, giving compliments can be equally rewarding. However, while everyone loves to receive accolades, praising others does not always come easily. Sometimes giving compliments can be intimidating because people are not sure how their words will be received, or they are afraid they will come off as disingenuous. It can also be difficult for someone who has social anxiety or someone who is nervous around others to approach someone and commend them. If you struggle with any of these insecurities, giving a compliment might be a challenge, but with practice, you can become skilled in this area and reap the benefits of boosting others up with kindness. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you work on becoming more confident when giving compliments.
Avoid giving compliments randomly or without meaning. Compliments come across better when they are sincere and the recipient knows you truly mean what you are saying. Always make sure that you are being moderate with your praise. You do not have to be over-the-top with your compliments to be genuine. Inflated praise will make your comments seem insincere and might make the recipient uncomfortable. Take the time to truly acknowledge someone’s strengths and approach them with genuine kind words. A genuine compliment will go a long way because it will be more significant to the recipient.
Make sure your motives for giving the compliment are pure so that you do not give backhanded compliments or seem like you are giving praise for your own benefit. Empty flattery and kissing-up are not helpful for you are the person you are complimenting. Make sure you are not offering your words in order to receive a compliment in return. When you offer words of admiration, you should be doing it solely for the benefit of the other person.
Regardless of how sincere your intention is, a general compliment will not be as significant as one that recognizes something specific. Instead of praising someone for doing good work, praise them for the specific action or project they completed that demonstrated their good work and include examples. Saying, “Your presentation was great” is not as meaningful as saying, “The information you shared in your presentation today was insightful and well-organized, and I learned some helpful new skills I will be sure to implement.” Try and focus on character traits and behaviors rather than physical attributes, and be as specific as possible when highlighting these characteristics.
There is nothing more sincerely flattering than knowing someone sees you and that they can specifically pinpoint something they appreciate about you. Take the time to pay attention to those around you so that you can notice their personal strengths. As you focus on others and their positive qualities, genuine compliments will come to you more naturally. Make it a priority to be present when you are spending time with others and actively look for opportunities to offer praise.
Many people are afraid to praise others because, in their mind, they see compliment giving as ambitious, grandiose gesture. Giving a compliment does not have to be complicated or overly formal. When you see an opportunity to offer someone a genuine compliment, simply walk over to them and casually give them your positive remarks. Notice and offer admiration for small actions. If someone has a new haircut that looks good on them, let them know. You do not have to wait for someone to do something major or for them to have some sort of big accomplishment in order to recognize them. It will be less intimidating to give compliments when you see them as quick, casual remarks rather than grand gestures.
Be Open to Receiving Compliments
If you are not able to receive compliments well, you might struggle to give them to others. Learn how to take a compliment in stride. When someone praises your work or offers you a positive remark, smile and say thank you. Resist the urge to diminish their compliment by denying or negating their kind words. Do not automatically return a compliment unless it is sincere. When you receive a compliment that is truly flattering, consider the way they gave their compliment to you and allow that experience to influence how you give compliments to others.
For help communicating and building positive relationships with others, contact Oakville Wellness Center and visit their blog.
Mental illness is often the result of a complicated interaction between our genetic makeup, lived experiences and the environment we inhabit.
Scientists have yet to precisely identify the root of the difficulties 1 in 5 Americans face in a given year (National Alliance on Mental illness, 2017).
Advances in the area of mental health research are vitally important as they can help to inform new treatments.
Researchers at the Institute of Human Genetics at the University of Bonn in Germany recently discovered that a gene called “SLC6A4” was strongly correlated with someone's chances of suffering from social anxiety disorder (SAD). Initial findings have been published online in the journal of Psychiatric Genetics.
SLC6A4 is involved in transporting serotonin in the nervous system. Serotonin is sometimes referred to as the “happiness hormone” as it is involved in feelings of positivity and wellbeing.
The fact that some people are born with an innate disposition towards suffering from SAD is extremely interesting, particularly given its high prevalence rates in the American population.
Anxiety disorders are amongst the most common mental illnesses affecting up to 18% of the population (Anxiety and Depression association of America, 2017).
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
SAD is often minimized by people confusing it with “shyness” or simply being introverted. In reality, SAD is an intense and persistent fear of social situations. Those with SAD may experience bouts of anxiety over simple everyday things such as answering the phone or being asked directions on the street.
Whilst many of us may experience mild anxiety over social situations, those with SAD will experience chronic worry before, during and after the social scenario. They particularly fear embarrassment or social rejection.
SAD is often apparent from an early age and first manifests itself in childhood or adolescence. It is also almost twice as common in women as men, with prevalence particularly high in Europe and North America.
Scientists are not fully sure why women are more prone to anxiety but some have theorised that this propensity may be linked to differences in brain chemistry and hormone fluctuations.
Women are also more prone to stress and tend to mull over stressful situations more than men, who tend to pursue more active coping strategies.
So what does Social Anxiety Disorder look like and how is it diagnosed? Here are some of the signs:
Some individuals who suffer from SAD also experience panic attacks.
Panic attacks result from fear of social situations that becomes overwhelming, leading up to a physical response. Although panic attacks usually only last a few minutes, they are extremely unpleasant.
The individual may feel nauseous and experience trembling, palpitations and a shortness of breath. Although panic attacks don’t lead to any long- term physical difficulties they are extremely alarming.
SAD often co- occurs with other disorders such as depression, generalised anxiety disorder and post- traumatic stress disorder.
What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?
As previously discussed SAD is the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Although certain genes may significantly increase the likelihood of SAD, this may not be enough for the disorder to manifest itself.
Researchers have linked parenting styles to the likelihood of developing SAD. As SAD may have a genetic root, parents may be more worried or anxious, translating poor coping styles to their children.
Getting Diagnosed with SAD
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, is the tool most commonly used to diagnose mental conditions including SAD. Criteria includes:
Persistent fear of and/ or intense anxiety about social scenarios in which you believe you may be judged or act in a way that's embarrassing.
Avoidance of social situations and/or intense anxiety when present in social situations
Anxiety that's out of proportion to the situation
Anxiety or distress that impedes your daily living
Fear or anxiety that cannot be explained by a different medical condition, medication or substance problem
These criteria should be present for 6 months or more
How is SAD Treated?
SAD may be treated with medications and/ or psychotherapy. Psychological counselling is highly effective for those suffering from SAD. It can help the individual learn ways to deal with stress in social situations and build self- confidence.
One of the more commonly used treatments is CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). CBT may help the individual to see that their fears are irrational and help them to gradually work up to facing the social situations they fear the most. One tactic that is often employed is role- playing, whereby the individual can practice being in social situations and build up confidence in a safe and secure environment.
SAD can be all- consuming for the sufferer, as being crippled regarding ones social life and interactions limits our ability to form relationships, push our personal boundaries and live a happy and fulfilling life.
It has a remarkably high prevalence rate and many suffers stay under the radar undiagnosed.
SAD responds remarkably well to treatment, however, and if you suspect you may have SAD, please seek out a local mental health professional and learn to tame the anxiety you face daily.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-IV-TR. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
Turk, C. L., Heimberg, R. G., & Hope, D. A. (2001). Social anxiety disorder. Clinical handbook of psychological disorders: A step-by-step treatment manual, 3, 114-153.
The act of giving birth is one of the most celebrated in human society. We all know parents who gush about this phenomenal experience and detail the elation they felt in the hours and days following. Popular culture and film are also awash with moving scenes of childhood as couples transition to parenthood against a backdrop of sentimental music and family joy.
What is less often depicted is that once the post-partum dust has settled, the early stages of parenthood can be truly difficult.
Whilst many women suffer the “baby blues” and may be anxious or tearful for short periods of time (usually around one to two weeks) following birth, this can sometimes develop into something more serious.
If symptoms last much longer, or start later into motherhood, postnatal depression is a possibility. Postnatal depression (sometimes also referred to as postpartum depression) is a mood disorder associated with childbirth. It is estimated that approximately 13% of women experience postnatal depression.
Symptoms that you or a loved one may be suffering from postnatal depression include:
What causes postnatal depression?
Unfortunately the answer to this isn’t entirely clear but it is believed to be caused by a combination of factors.
On a physiological level, pregnancy and birth bring with it a whole host of hormonal changes, which may lead to changes in mood. Hormones affect some women to a greater extent than others.
Parents who have suffered from depression prior to childbirth, are much more likely to develop postnatal depression. A family history of mental illness is also a risk factor.
That said, a history of depression does not automatically mean that you will go on to develop depression postpartum. It may be helpful to be aware that you are at risk, so that you can look out for the signs mentioned above.
Aside from this, there are factors relating to the birth process itself that may trigger postnatal depression. These include:
Your home-life may also be influential. Unsuitable housing or money issues may naturally make the transition to parenthood more stressful. Worries relating to work can also hamper your ability to relax and settle into the changes you face.
A strong support network and supportive partner may provide a protective effect against postnatal depression. It is not helpful to spend too much time alone without adult company so if you are feeling isolated it may be helpful to reach out to other parents in the community.
Can men experience postnatal depression?
Although men may not experience the hormonal storm of pregnancy, they may still be subject to its emotional effects. A recent study conducted in Sweden found that 28% of men demonstrated mild levels of depression. Women are routinely screened for postnatal depression while paternal mental health is often overlooked.
The research team added a series of questions to the most commonly used postnatal depression screen, in order to capture the unique symptoms that may be displayed by men. These included working longer hours, irritability and excessive alcohol consumption.
It is not entirely clear whether depression in fathers is a newer phenomenon, or just something which we have only recently begun to explore and detect. Many new fathers face challenges such as trying to balance their work life with their family life as well as decreased sleep and changes in their relationship.
Naturally, depression makes it harder for a new father to invest time in the newborn. Fathers experiencing difficulties should consider that they may have paternal postnatal depression.
How can postnatal depression be treated?
The first step is to speak to your general practitioner. With prevalence rates estimated to lie at about 13%, it is much more common than you think, and health services are trained to recognise the signs and give you the support that you need.
Self-care: It is also crucial at this stage to be kind to yourself. Take care of your primary needs such as getting enough sleep, eating well and doing things that you enjoy. It may feel like you do not have time for this with a young child on your hands, but don’t be afraid to ask others for help.
Talk therapy: As with many psychological difficulties and types of depression, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may be useful. Most experienced therapists will be able to provide a course of CBT and tailor it to the specific difficulties you may be having. Many new parents struggle to live up to the ideal of “perfect parent” and may not have anticipated the difficulties associated with parenthood. CBT can help new parents find a way to think about the difficulties they face and learn better coping mechanisms.
Antidepressants: Antidepressants may also be useful, particularly if the depression is more severe. Some women worry about taking antidepressants whilst breastfeeding but your doctor will be able to provide you with ones that are safe.
One of the worst things about postnatal depression can be feeling alone or unusual in the feelings you are having. This couldn’t be further from the truth and it can help to reach out to national organisations. These can not only provide information and advice but also networks of other parents to talk to.
Cox, J. L., Holden, J. M., & Sagovsky, R. (1987). Detection of postnatal depression. Development of the 10-item Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. The British journal of psychiatry, 150(6), 782-786.
NHS, Unknown. “Postnatal Depression.” NHS Choices, NHS, 11 Feb. 2016, www.nhs.uk/conditions/post-natal-depression/treatment/.
Psouni, E., Agebjörn, J., & Linder, H. (2017). Symptoms of depression in Swedish fathers in the postnatal period and development of a screening tool. Scandinavian journal of psychology.
For many people, nutrition comes down to diet, and diet comes down to what you eat.
Unfortunately, this is a sadly uninformed and incomplete picture of nutrition, and a perspective that can be seriously detrimental for individuals. If an individual believes that the only way to eat healthy is by cutting out the unhealthy foods they love and incorporating the healthy foods they hate, they make the task of finding a healthy, balanced lifestyle much more difficult than it has to be.
The truth of the matter is that nutrition is a complex interplay between a variety of different factors. It’s a balancing act: Consistently eating healthy foods is important, but it’s also important to have variety. Limiting unhealthy foods is important, but it’s also important to enjoy your food.
In addition, recent research supports the idea that the timing of eating also plays a major role. Specifically, when people eat in relation to when they sleep can impact how well they eat and how well they sleep.
Let’s review two different research findings that dive deeper into the science of routine, and how eating and sleeping interact with each other.
Less Sleeping = More Eating?
One piece of evidence that supports the connection between eating and sleeping was provided in a 2016 research study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The researchers performed what is called a meta-analysis, meaning a statistical analysis of multiple previously published research studies. The purpose of a meta-analysis is to compare different published research studies and draw more broad conclusions about what the research suggests.
In this study, the researchers were interested in establishing a connection between how long people sleep and their overall energy balance, which includes how many calories they intake through eating and how many calories they burn through physical activity.
The researchers reviewed 17 different research studies and ended up including 11 in their meta-analysis. The conclusions the researchers presented were from a combination of each of these studies put together, and included data from a total of 172 research participants.
The overall conclusion of the study was that people who got less than adequate sleep (between 3½ to 5½ hours), they ate an average of 385 extra calories the following day. For reference, 385 calories are roughly 20% of the calories required per day on a 2000-calorie diet. This is roughly the same amount of calories as a serving of homemade chicken stir fry, or a heaping bowl of your favorite sugary cereal with milk.
However, the lack of sleep did not translate into more physical activity, so the extra calories consumed after insufficient sleep definitely had the potential to contribute to weight gain.
Less Eating = More Sleeping?
The research above connecting insufficient sleep to increased eating was built on a solid foundation of published research. The following idea also links eating and sleeping, but comes from unpublished data that were presented at a conference for the Obesity Society.
Despite the fact that it has not yet been proven to be fully reliable, the research nonetheless establishes a provocative connection between eating and sleeping. The main idea of the study is that eating nothing between the hours of 2PM and 8AM may be effective in burning body fat and losing weight.
The study tracked the eating of 11 overweight research participants on two different feeding schedules. For one schedule, participants ate during normal feeding hours, with meals falling anywhere from 8AM to 8PM. By contrast, on the “early time-restricted feeding” schedule, participants did not eat anything before 8AM or after 2PM. The total amount of calories consumed did not change between the two schedules.
The researchers concluded that incorporating a daily 18-hour fast caused participants to burn more fat while they slept, and also helped to regulate appetite levels throughout the day.
It’s important to note that this feeding schedule could not be generalized to all people, in all likelihood. In one sense, participants were essentially using the scheduling of their eating to activate the body’s fat-burning reaction, so that they could utilize their sleeping time to burn the excess fat they had stored on their bodies. For people who do not have similar fat stores, this approach could be less effective and more problematic.
Nonetheless, the point is that through controlling their daily eating and sleeping routine, participants were able to fundamentally change the way their body metabolized food – even while keeping their diet and their total number of calories consistent.
Getting to the Meat of these Research Findings
We have a lot to learn about the science of nutrition, so it’s important not to latch onto every new finding as ground-breaking or life-altering.
However, the new research presented above does support the idea that there is a real relationship between how much you eat and how much you sleep. Even more broadly, there seems to be a growing consensus that individuals should note the timing of their eating just as much as they take note of the food that they eat.
This should not be seen as an endorsement of the dietary plan outlined above, in which individuals do not eat anything after 2PM. There is insufficient research to support the effectiveness of this plan, and even if there was sufficient research, that wouldn’t mean that it would be a good fit for everyone.
When making dietary changes, remember the three P’s: Practical, Personal, and Pleasurable.
The overall conclusion is that nutritional scientists have recently demonstrated that eating and sleeping are integrally linked, and the timing of eating is an important factor for overall dietary health. Individuals should take care not only to watch what they eat, but also to take note of when they eat.
When you are able to settle into a good routine, and when what you eat, when you eat, and how much you sleep all come together into a healthy balance, you’ll be amazed at how much energy you can have and how in sync you will feel with the world around you!
Al Khatib, H. K., Harding, S. V., Darzi, J., & Pot, G. K. (2016). The effects of partial sleep deprivation on energy balance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Peterson, C. (2016). Time-Restricted Feeding Increases Fat Oxidation and Reduces Swings in Appetite Levels in Humans. Oral abstract presentation at: The Obesity Society Annual Meeting 2016; October 31 – November 4, 2016. Retrieved from:
Addictions can invade every facet of our lives. Whether we are the addict, in close relationship with an addict, or deal with it at work or in friendships our hope is this series will help with understanding and seeking help to work through and come out the other side healthy and whole. So please stick with us and post comments or email us and ask us questions.... we are here to help!
For as prevalent as addiction is, the amount of misinformation and misunderstanding that surrounds the issue is truly disheartening. The word itself is used in a variety of different contexts, anywhere from offhand comments to deadly serious medical conversations.
In this three-part series on addiction, our goals are to first define what addiction is, then to understand why and how addictions happen, and finally to look and see what we can do about addiction.
In Part 1 of our series, in exploring what addiction is, we came to understand that it’s vitally important to keep addiction in the proper perspective: The established prevalence rates are undoubtedly alarming, and higher than you might think. And yet, at the same time, it’s important to keep in mind the rigorous scientific criteria for addiction, so that we don’t mistake an innocuous habit for a deadly disease.
In this second in-depth look at addiction, we’ll try to understand why addiction happens, and how this works in the brain.
Etiology of Addiction
When medical professionals consider the causes of things, they will often times use the word “etiology.” Also spelled “aetiology,” the word comes from the Greek words “aití,” meaning cause, and “logos,” meaning discourse or study.
So when we discuss the etiology of addiction, what we are talking about is simply the study of or discourse about the causes of addiction.
And as with any ongoing study, there are a variety of models by which we can explain addiction, each with its own degree of truth. These theories are generally divided into three major subgroups: Social theories of addiction, psychological theories of addiction, and biological theories of addiction.
Of course this wealth of information provided by the different theories and ideas about the causes of addiction are very difficult to sum up in brief. Nonetheless, here is a short list of factors that have been identified by scientists as potential contributors to the development of an addiction:
It’s important to note here that this is not an exhaustive list, nor is it a conclusive diagnosis. This is simply an informal assemblage of some of the different factors that, when combined together, can potentially lead to addiction.
Brain Mechanism of Addiction
None of the factors listed above is a conclusive diagnosis for an addiction. And all of the factors above contribute to the development of an addiction in different ways, according to different models. Some factors contribute to social development of an addiction; others contribute to psychological need.
But in one very important sense, all of these various different understandings of addiction ultimately come down to the brain.
Every predisposition, every personality feature, every behavior, every memory, every fixed action pattern, every temperamental factor – ultimately, each of these bears a physical legacy in the brain of the individual. And regardless of whether treatments for addiction include talk or behavioral therapy, social support groups, medications, or any combination of these, it is the brain that is treated.
In this way, understanding how addiction manifests from the microscopic perspective of the brain is just as important as understanding how addiction manifests from the macroscopic perspective of etiology.
In brief, understanding how addiction happens in the brain is tantamount to understanding long-term memory. Basically, when something positive or pleasurable happens to us, it is advantageous for us to remember this feeling, and to know how to recreate it. For prehistoric man, the ability to remember a lush watering hole could have been the difference between health and starvation.
And mostly, the things that make us happy (or, more to the point, the things that activate the reward pathway of the brain) are also the things that provide us adaptive advantages, such as loving relationships, wholesome foods, exercise, etc.
However, in addiction this adaptive learning process becomes twisted, and we “learn” that the rush of neurochemical release that accompanies a reward will only come if we continue using a substance or performing a behavior that has been demonstrably damaging to our body or our relationships.
Why This Matters
Without going into too much detail, the important thing to understand about the neurobiology of the reward pathway mentioned above is that the effects of the addiction can have very widespread effects.
The connections involved in the reward pathway are located in the part of the brain known as the medial forebrain bundle, which is important to understand because this bundle has nerve connections throughout a big portion of the brain, including areas that are involved with emotion, pleasure, memory, and decision-making ability.
So when an addiction to a substance or behavior ends up changing or altering the neural machinery for an entire class of molecule – such as the way the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine is taken up and used by brain cells – this global change can’t help but impact a huge variety of different areas. When the brain’s pleasure system becomes rewired due to addiction, it can affect everything.
Just in the same way that a bodily disease like cancer can metastasize and spread throughout a number of different organ systems, so too can the brain disease of addiction spread throughout a number of different mental and emotional systems, wreaking havoc in just the same way.
Fortunately, unlike cancer, the effects of recovery efforts and rehabilitation programs can form a positive spiral, making the chronic brain disease of addiction something that is eminently treatable.
Stay tuned: In Part 3 of our series we will discuss the responses necessary to lead to wholeness and healing from the horror of addiction.
Erickson, C. K., & Wilcox, R. E. (2001). Neurobiological causes of addiction. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 1(3), 7-22.
Hyman, S. E., Malenka, R. C., & Nestler, E. J. (2006). Neural mechanisms of addiction: The role of reward-related learning and memory. Annual Reviews of Neuroscience, 29, 565-598.
Jadidi, N., & Nakhaee, N. (2014). Etiology of drug abuse: A narrative analysis. Journal of Addiction.