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Archive for the ‘mental health’ Category

We live in a world where information is available to us at any time and almost any place. If we’re not feeling well we can search online for the potential source of our issue or we can ask others on our social media pages what it could be. We have access to much more in the 21st century than ever before and, unfortunately, this can work against us.

Based on a quick Internet search, some may assume they have a deadly illness or a severe mental disturbance. It’s even become commonplace to hear “Oh that’s my OCD” or “I have ADHD because I can’t sit still.” Yet, it takes much more than reading information on a webpage to determine if someone has a medical or mental illness. It also takes more than not being able to sit still to arrive at a diagnosis of ADHD.

I remember when I was in graduate school and first opened the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the book we use to determine if an individual has a mental diagnosis). I started reading through this three-inch thick book and would comment to myself, “Oh my goodness…I have that!” Then I’d get to the next thing and assume I had that too. Eventually I realized that any one of us could open this book and find symptoms that fit us. Why? Because “normal” is somewhat subjective and we all have things that we like, don’t like, do, don’t do, etc. and those things may not always be understood by others. But just because we may find that we fit some of the criteria for a specific disorder or disorders doesn’t mean that we’re diagnosed.

I explain to clients that essentially what brings them into my office is that the issues they’re facing have begun to cause distress in their lives. They’ve recognized that, while they may not have an actual disorder, something is not working for them. For some, they’ve been previously diagnosed and are fully aware of the scope of that diagnosis. They come to see me for help managing or eliminating their symptoms.

Regardless, in recent years human behavior has become categorized by those who aren’t trained to categorize it. We hear statements that people are “antisocial,” “narcissistic,” “crazy,” “bipolar,” “anorexic,” and the list goes on. Sure, maybe these people do in fact have a disorder, but to make these words a part of everyday conversation and to use them so casually has caused us to view ourselves in terms of what’s wrong and we can be very quick to judge someone based on what makes them unique as a person. We categorize ourselves based on the issues we face and when we do this, we may only see ourselves or others as a disorder (Example: “She’s bipolar”).

I encourage you to seek help if you believe that what you’re experiencing could be more than just every day ups and downs or more severe than general restlessness. In fact, I’d never discourage that for any of you. What I do discourage, however, is assuming a disorder is present just because you behave in a way that others don’t understand, because you don’t agree with how someone else is behaving, or because you read something online that indicated you did.

When you self-diagnosis, it can be very dangerous. Not only could it cause you to not seek an appropriate evaluation and treatment (after all, you already know what’s wrong, right?), but it can lead to thinking and behavior patterns that then suggest you really do have that issue/disorder. You may begin to live your life according to the criteria and be unnecessarily convinced that you are in fact ill. Likewise, you may begin to treat others differently based on what you assume is wrong with them. You might find yourself labeling or judging someone in a way that is unjustified.

So, if you have genuine reason to believe you or someone you know may have a physical or mental illness, I urge you to err on the side of caution and seek an appropriate evaluation. The Internet is a great resource, but it doesn’t replace the need for doctors or therapists.

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Photo taken by Maggie Wright of Wilmington, Ohio.

Humans have a natural tendency toward worrying. When we don’t know what is going to happen in any given situation, we may start to feel ourselves getting keyed up and thinking the worst possible outcome will come into existence. We may lose sleep, no longer have a normal appetite and becoming irritable without intending to do so. That’s what worry does.

A former co-worker of mine told me during a spiritual conversation one day that worry is a sin. He mentioned how the Bible instructs us not to worry and how God is in control, we just have to have faith. When I heard this, it helped change my perspective about the excessive worrying I had done my whole life. Yes, I was dubbed a “worry wart.”

This, along with becoming familiar with acceptance and mindfulness, has transformed my worry into productive energy. Acceptance-based interventions are part of a treatment modality known as Dialectical Behavior Therapy, developed in the 1970s by Marsha Linehan. Counselors and psychologists across the country use this as part of their treatment (and insurance companies love that).

Part of the goal in DBT is to work toward acceptance of what IS and even what WAS. So often we can fall into the mindset of “I wish…” or “I should…” rather than looking at what we are thinking, feeling and doing right now. Adding mindfulness to our lives takes acceptance of the here-and-now, this moment, and allows us to be fully present where we are.

Sound complicated? It’s actually quite the opposite, but it does take a conscious effort to alleviate worry and practice acceptance and mindfulness. However, it DOES work. At least, that’s my experience. When we can stop “shoulding on ourselves” and move to a place where we can be okay with what is in front of us in this moment, we can then start to realize that there is no need to worry about the next moment. It will take care of itself.

Let me give you an example of how I use these practices in my daily life. My schedule is overwhelming as I am finishing graduate school and sometimes I look at my planner thinking “How in the world will I ever get all of this done?” Then I start stressing out and feeling like I want to give up because it seems impossible to complete all of these tasks. It is in that moment that I stop, take a deep breath or two, remember where I am (i.e. work or school) and re-focus on what I must do in the moment; what’s the task at hand. If I have a paper due in three weeks, of course I don’t want to wait until the last minute to finish it, but if I’m at work and there is nothing I can do to complete the paper while I’m there, I’m able to notice the stress coming up, feel it, not judge it, and let it go (also known as having a “teflon mind”). I can then stay present in the moment and my worry subsides.

At first I thought there was simply no way I could stay in the moment. Worrying is what I did… always. I was turned off by the idea of accepting what is and being fully present where I am because I “don’t have time to practice all of this stuff. I have too much to get done.” Yet, those were the reasons it was crucial to implement such skills.

DBT skills extend beyond acceptance and mindfulness, but I will spare you and not get into all of that. You can Google DBT to find a wealth of information that may help you stop worrying for worry’s sake.

In this moment, I am finishing this blog and heading out the door for work.

Until next time…

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