Let’s focus: bringing clarity and truth to the ADHD conversation

Why is ADHD diagnosed so readily in today’s society?  Are there other ways to deal with issues related to the symptoms other than diagnosis and medication?  Many feel that ADHD is misunderstood and that either a) it is diagnosed by doctors and mental health professionals too quickly and possibly inaccurately, or b) it is given a negative connotation and the symptoms are not taken seriously enough.  ADHD (or ADD — they are used interchangeably) is short for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and is classified as a neurobehavioral developmental disorder.  It is primarily characterized by the “co-existence of attentional problems and hyperactivity or impulsivity”, with symptoms typically beginning before age seven.  The criteria for diagnosis for this disorder is subjective and symptoms may be caused by a variety of factors ranging from brain defects to allergies to giftedness.  With an array of possible causes stemming from physical reactions (allergies) to high intelligence, to a defect in the brain, it seems that ADHD would be very difficult to pinpoint in individual circumstances!

ADHD is diagnosed in 2-16% of school aged children and is a chronic disorder, with symptoms continuing into adulthood for about 30-50% of individuals.  Controversy has swirled around ADHD diagnosis since it began to gain notoriety in the 1970s.  One factor in this category is the statistic that ADHD is diagnosed two to four times more frequently in boys than it is in girls, prompting some parents and participants to think that teachers have a bias in their conceptualization of the disorder.  Management of ADHD typically involves medication, lifestyle changes, behavior modifications, and counseling.  Vitamins and exercise have been known to be helpful to counteract the effects of ADHD.  I am curious about the percentage of how many cases are treated with medication initially, and how many cases are fully assessed, offering options such as psychotherapy and behavioral modification before medication is used.  I would like to know more about the statistics concerning what type of treatment is most effective — and specifically the efficacy of medication.

I am not anti-medication.  I fully realize and understand that medication is essential for daily functioning for many individuals and from my own past experience with medication for a different issue, I found it to be helpful.  Sometimes our brain chemistry is slightly out of alignment and medication can help rebuild those bridges and raise our serotonin levels.  I just wonder at the prevalence of medication prescriptions these days and am curious if taking medication without going to therapy simultaneously (as I know is frequently the case) will truly get to the root of the issue.

To help me understand a bit more about the ways that ADHD affects peoples’ lives, I talked to one of my clients who had been diagnosed with this disorder and for which she takes medication.  She told me that it has helped her concentrate but that it is also aligned with other issues such as OCD and anxiety and the interconnectivity of these issues does not allow medication alone to help ease them.  A friend of mine related to me the almost debilitating effect that ADHD has had on her life, causing her to cry at moments when she could not organize a drawer.  ADHD poses challenges while trying to focus on reading, and she is amazed and proud that she finished grad school while managing this life-altering disorder.  I am sure that there are millions of others in this world that can relate to this accomplishment and the hard road to get there.  I would be grateful to hear the stories of others who have lived with and flourished in the midst of a disorder that affects their daily functioning, and to learn their tools for success.

I found a quiz that can be useful for trying to determine if you might have some symptoms of ADHD.  There are also blogs written by those who are living with ADHD and who give support and tools for success in school and work.  As I was doing research, I was curious about the question of how ADHD affects interpersonal relationships.  Some blogs talk about how self-esteem and self-confidence can be improved by treating ADHD, which I am sure improve communication and intimacy in personal relationships.  An interesting fact I learned is that 20-45% of criminals in jail have been diagnosed with ADHD, and that those with this condition are 4 to 9 times more likely to commit a crime (this statistic makes me a little wary and I would like to know more about what other conditions are co-morbid with ADHD if this is true).

It seems that we are still deep in the trenches of understanding what causes this disorder and how best to treat it.  I think that when we might suspect that someone has ADHD, we must do a full assessment of them before we diagnose.  Symptoms of ADHD such as hyperactivity and difficulty focusing can also be symptoms of other issues, such as trauma.  Living with a chronic condition creates a huge impact on one’s life, and I am in admiration of those who thrive daily in the midst of this and other life-altering disorders.

Shaken Baby Syndrome: a trauma that lasts a lifetime

Don’t shake the baby.  I am sure you have heard that phrase before, as it is used by multiple mental health and physical health organizations to spread the word about the dangers of shaken baby syndrome.  For new parents, the birth of a child is a momentous event that changes their lives forever.  With the new arrival comes joy, adjustment, stress, sleep deprivation, and possibly financial or family dynamic stressors.  It’s an overwhelming period where parents learn for the first time how to take care of another being that is utterly and completely dependent on them for survival.  That’s a lot to handle.  We all know that babies cry, and that sometimes they cry for long periods of time and we might not be able to understand why.  This crying, when compounded by sleep deprivation and any other type of new parent stressor, can seriously try a caregiver’s patience.  If that patience wears out, the result can be Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS).  What is SBS?  SBS is a form of Abusive Head Trauma that occurs when a frustrated caregiver viciously shakes, slams, hits, or punches a child’s head, usually to stop them from crying or to get the child to respond to the expectations of the caregiver.  One of the scariest things about SBS is that there may be no outward or physical sign of the trauma, as the brain may incur the greatest amount of damage.  Another disturbing fact about SBS is that the shaking may appear to have the desired outcome: while the baby may cry more initially because of the shaking, he or she may then stop because their brain is damaged. An estimated 1,200 to 1,400 cases of SBS (and these are only those that are reported) occur in the United States each year.  One in four children will die from it, and those who survive will need medical and mental health attention throughout their lives.

Studies find that about 60% of victims of SBS are male, and that families who are living at or below the poverty level are at increased risk for this type of trauma.  It is also estimated that the perpetrators in 65%-90% of cases are males, more commonly the child’s father, stepfather, mother’s boyfriend, or caregiver, and the perpetrator is commonly in his mid twenties.  SBS is classified as a form of child abuse.  It is very unfortunate to learn these statistics, and it makes me wonder what type of circumstances influence them.  For families that have few resources and limited financial or social support, the stress level could be higher and education about the effects of SBS and other ways of coping with parental stress may be in short supply.  There is no excuse for any type of child abuse, however we have to look at all angles: often times, perpetrators of child abuse are victims of abuse themselves who, for a variety of reasons, do not know any other way of reacting. 

The lifelong effects that a victim if SBS will incur are devestating.  When a baby’s head is shaken and its neck muscles are not strong enough to withstand the strain, the child’s head rotates around its neck.  A violent movement such as this shakes the baby’s brain back and forth within its skull, possibly rupturing blood vessels and nerves throughout the brain and tearing brain tissue.  This can also cause bleeding and bruising to the brain.  If a baby’s head hit a solid object such as a bed frame, this may cause its brain to swell.  Signs of SBS can include: irritibility, lethargy, disrupted eating patterns, vomiting, seizures, failure to thrive, altered breathing, deformed pupils, and increased size of head.  This abuse is also fatal in some cases, with estimates ranging from 15%-38% mortality in infants.

What can we do to prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome?  Treatment needs to focus on the victims of this abuse, but also on the abusers.  Counseling and education for those who have shaken a baby can heal wounds in victim and perpetrator, and can possibly heal families.  We can help a perpetrator understand what else he or she can do when their baby is screaming and give them other options for responding.  The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome offers resources for victims and for parents who are stressed by their baby’s crying.  It helps parents understand what might be causing their child to cry, and gives them tools for soothing their child in healthy and nurturing ways.  There is no shame in reaching out for help if you or someone you know has shaken a baby.  It is possible to stop destructive behavior in the middle of its cycle, and there are many resources and counselors available to aid in this process.

Sex addiction: scapegoat or diagnosable mental health condition?

What is sex addiction? Is it a real mental health condition? Or is it a term used to make excuses or avoid accountability for indecent and rash behavior?  This issue is one that is often debated in the media as celebrities, sports players, and politicians have publicly ‘struggled’ with this condition (hello, Tiger Woods and David Duchovny), but there appears to be a lack of clinical research into the true symptoms of this potential disorder.  Sex addiction is not included in the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), and has been rejected from inclusion in the DSM-V, coming out in 2012.  The closest indicator in current mental disorder classification would be “Sexual Disorders Not Otherwise Specified”, putting it closely with diagnosable conditions such as hypersexuality.

Sexual addition is a term used to describe the behavior of an individual who has an increasingly and unusually intense sex drive and an obsession with anything to do with sex.  Sex, suggestions, or thoughts about sex seem to dominate the thinking of a person who has this condition, and this makes it challenging for him or her to have meaningful and trustful relationships.  A sex addict may have disorted thoughts or take risks that can seem dangerous and out of character.  Clinicians see similarities between behaviors associated with sex addiction and behaviors linked with Obsessive Complusive Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and manic-depression.  People who are linked to sex addiction can find it displays in various avenues: an addiction to pornography, masturbation, frequenting strip clubs and becoming linked to male and female dancers, and even more abstract displays such as exhibitionism.

Sex addiction is also described as “a progressive intimacy disorder characterized by compulsive acts and thoughts”, that over time can have detrimental affects on the person’s relationships and family.  Evidence towards classifying this as an addiction points to factors that sex addiction might have in common with other addictions: feeling out of control, feeling like you need a “fix” so that you can avoid feeling emotions and consequences that might surface if the addiction is not fed.  Some argue that, like alcohol and drugs, sex can become a source of numbing and relief for those that struggle with this disorder and can ease anxiety and stress.  As an eating disorder therapist, this brings up the question of: are we addicted to food in the same way?  Is an eating disorder an addiction?  Where does addiction draw the line, and what exactly defines an addiction?  This can be debated for hours in all avenues.

I think that sex addiction is so controversial and so difficult to discuss because it jumps directly to one of the most sensitive and special parts of a human relationship: intimacy.  Physical intimacy is linked to emotional intimacy, and both can be shattered in the event of a sex addiction.  Another controversial aspect of sex addiction surrounds the question of infidelity.  If a partner in a committed relationship is unfaithful, is sex addiction a forgivable offense?  Does the straying partner have control over his or her impulses, and might find that using sex addiction as a reason for the actions will bring less judgment and more hope for reconiliation?  Or, does a sex addict really feel out of control towards his or her behaviors in terms of addiction, and deserve to be treated as a person affected by a justifiable mental condition? 

The mental anguish experienced by a partner of someone with sexual addiction is intense and can feel almost unbearable.  It can bring up feelings of anger, denial, depression, and confusion about what is really going on.  Parnters may be able to recognize when their partner is in the “mind of his/her addiction”, sensing that their actions towards sexually related things shift them into a different state of mind and they “don’t recognize them”.  This may throw the whole relationship into a tailspin and cut off intimacy completely.  Being able to notice when the addiction is active could also help a couple heal as they work together to uncover the reasons and feelings behind the addiction.

I encourage anyone who might feel that he or she has a sex addiction or anyone who is a partner of someone with a sex addiction to seek help.  Individual therapy is a good place to start for each partner, as they can each explore their emotions and questions around the situation in a non-judgmental space;  couples therapy is imperative for the couple to come together in honesty and, hopefully, understanding.  As research into this condition continues, we hope to have more solid guidelines for sex addiction, leading possibly to more compassion towards this sensitive topic and treatment models that are effective.  Currently, there is Sex Addicts Anonymous, which is a group that sends the message: “a fellowship of recovering addicts, we offer the message of hope to anyone who suffers from a sexual addition”.

How do you grasp at balance in an increasingly chaotic world?

I will be the first to admit: I am not very good at balance.  With so many aspects of life asking for my attention: work, chores, finances, family, friends, my partner, my dog….I sometimes feel exhausted before the day begins and worry that there is not enough of me to go around.  There are parts that I certainly would prefer to give my time and energy to (family, friends, home life), and others that are unfortunate necessities of my time (bills, cleaning, etc).  How do you achieve a balance of all aspects that demand your time, and feel energized by the daily ins-and-outs of life?  Is this possible?  I know it is; I have seen a balanced life in numerous friends and public figures whom I admire deeply.  They also will admit that it takes a concerted and dedicated effort to feel balanced and healthy in their life choices.  Achieving balance in your life can feel almost like a full-time job in itself (which, ironically, can only add things to the to-do list!).  As a psychotherapist, I feel I must be honest about my own human struggles and questions, as this can be helpful to clients and others who are on the same path.  I also feel that it is my ethical duty to try to “practice what I preach”, and implement into my own life the suggestions I give to clients about living a balanced life.  This is easier said than done for both myself, and I know, for many of my clients, and I think that having a discussion in the therapeutic process about how difficult it may be to make changes in one’s life can deepen the therapist-client relationship and frame the goal of balance as a collaboration and partnership in therapy.

What does balance mean to you? It is a chameleon, morphing into different forms and colors as we walk through life and meet new experiences.  I encourage you to sit down and think about this; how would you know when you feel balanced?  Would you have less stress and more energy?  Would you divide your time differently between work, home, and play?  Would you spend your money differently, or prioritize which types of events are worthy of your precious time? 

To me, a balanced life equals allowing time for numerous aspects of my daily routine that need to happen in order for me to be successful.  “Successful” is another word that requires careful attention and individual definition.  As I grow older and try new things, I have altered my own definition of what successful means.  Like anyone else, my quest for success is a work-in-progress, but an important recent addition to it is a balanced outlook as I set goals for my practice and my personal life.  Success does not just equal financial security; it does not just equal x amount of growth in my practice per year; it does not just equal having a happy home life and exotic vacations.  Success, to me, means working towards things that make me happy (many of which are those listed above), and appreciating them and the hard work that has gone into making them what they are today.  The last part – “today” – of that statement is crucial to remember.  As a psychotherapist, I work every day with clients towards achieving mindfulness, a state of dwelling in the present moment that helps facilitate relaxation and peacefulness.  Mindfulness is a central part of my definition of balance and success, as what does a success mean if you do not sit with it, really dissect it, remember how it came to be, and allow yourself to bask in the warm glow of its achievement?

Balance can feel even more allusive as we grapple with chaotic events in the world around us of which we have no control.  The recent assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona is an example of a shocking and senseless act that can rip up any definition we thought we had of safety, sanity, and security.  The emotions that this event and numerous others like it bring up in us can feel out of control and helpless.  We ourselves can feel out of control and helpless.  And those two feelings are direct threats to our sense of balance.  We try to control feelings we don’t understand; we try to control our own reactions to senseless events because we fear what might happen if we don’t.  Desperately trying to control our feelings, our reactions, or even other people in an effort to cope with unforseen situations elicits a sense of panic that takes us away from our inner selves and away from a balanced life.

From one balance-seeker to another, I can only tell you that it is hard work to sit with feelings and decisions and to notice which parts of your life are sucking away your ability to feel balanced.  My personal goal is to consciously give more energy and attention towards the lovely parts of my life, as those are the aspects that tend to get thrown to the wayside in times of stress.  What goals do you have to create balance in your own life?

Giggling into relaxation and health with laughter yoga

Have you ever heard of laughter yoga? I had not yet heard of this increasingly popular trend, but I love yoga and love to laugh, so I thought I would research it (and soon try it out) to see if it’s a positive addition to my own and my clients’ self care.  I was intrigued to discover that this type of yoga (wherein the participants ‘self-trigger’ laughter during practice) involves a physical type of laughter that is not necessarily related to humor or comedy.  What?  How could you make that happen, and what motivates you to continue laughing without an object to promote it?  I learned that the concept and exercise were developed by the Indian guru Jiten Kohi and physician Madan Kataria, respectively, and that Kataria has written a book about the subject entitled Laugh for No Reason.

The health benefits of yoga are no secret and the meditation and peace that it brings through community and practice are unique rewards of this ancient tradition.  Along the same vein, laughter has proven to be healthy in many ways.  In this sort of yoga, laughter is initiated in a group setting with engaged eye contact, a sort of childlike playfulness, and ‘laughter exercises’.  Sources say that fake laughter has no choice but to become real.  The reason behind it is that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter, and so it causes your mind (which can tell the difference….up to a certain point) to become one with the body.  This brings to mind the mindfulness and body-centered exercises I am currently using in the therapy group I run, and solidifies the notion that body and mind are one. The deep breathing associated with yoga is increased and intensified with laughter yoga and facilitates a breathing rhythm that is unique to this practice.  In a chicken-or-egg conundrum, you tend to forget why you started laughing or which practice you started first, and the benefits of laughing impact us all both physically and psychologically.  Sometimes, if you are like me and can tend to focus on negative things sometimes, it may make a whole lot of sense to ‘force’ yourself to laugh and then reap the rewards that may have seemed so far-fetched and out of reach.  The laughter – and the positivity it brings – becomes contagious and more natural.  Practice makes perfect!

So who does this, and where?  I was amazed to find a ‘global movement for health, joy and peace’ at www.laughteryoga.org, where groups bring laughter to the workplace, act in shows that laugh all the way through, and go on spiritual retreats all in the name of laughter yoga –all around the world!  More locally, I found Denver Laughs, where I learned that there are more than 125 Certified Laughter Yoga Leaders in the Denver area!  This organization describes laughter yoga as ‘a body-mind combination of simple laughter exercises, deep breathing and relaxation techniques from Hatha yoga to enhance health and happiness.”  It states that it is a grassroots movement that has more than 600,000 members worldwide.  There are clubs in every part of Denver and the metro area that do plays, ‘happy hours’ and other laughingly fun events.  There is even a Denver laughter yoga meet-up group!

On my search I also found the American School of Laughter Yoga where you can become a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader or do professional development classes.  In light of all of the dreary and dismal news reports (and yes, I know many of my blogs are about these types of subjects), I am excited to find this happy-to-laugh movement that combines mental health and physical health in an effort to promote peace and wellness.  We all could laugh a bit more, don’t you think?

Peeking into the depths of hoarding: understanding this mysterious disorder

Happy New Year!  In light of the new year’s resolutions and “fresh starts” that abound this time of year, I thought I would try to clean up some of the misperceptions of the complex issue of hoarding.  What is hoarding?  Compulsive hoarding is defined as the excessive acquisition of possessions (and the failure to use or discard them), even if the items are useless, hazardous, or unsanitary.  Hoarding interferes with mobility in the person’s living space, and with basic life activities such as cooking, cleaning, sleeping, showering and eating.  Some symptoms of hoarding may include: saving items that most people do not see as valuable and find worthless, compulsively buying and saving large quantities of items, experiencing intense anxiety or distress when discarding (or thinking about discarding) any of these items that others deem useless, being unable to use furniture or appliances due to clutter and experiencing a severe deterioration in housekeeping because of the lack of space.  Hoarding has also been known to include animals, such as cats and dogs.  These animals are typically types that can be kept indoors in large quantities and often are not given the proper care.

What causes hoarding? Is it linked to any other mental health disorders?  Hoarding is another of the “new” types of disorders that is in consideration for inclusion in the DSM-V.  Similar to other disorders I have written about in my blog, hoarding is controversial and there is still debate about its relevance as a mental disorder.  Clinicians are finding correlations between hoarding and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  Some of the same factors in OCD, such as obsessive thoughts and compulsions that try to help cope with underlying feelings of inadequacy, emotional pain, and depression, can also be present in people who present with hoarding.  Hoarding not only affects the physical, emotional, and mental state of that person, it also affect the quality of life of the person’s family and anyone else who lives in the home.  Another effect of hoarding that might not be always recognized is the financial strain that this disorder causes on a person and/or a family.  A compulsion to aquire numerous possessions can initiate additional struggles of trying to figure out how to finance this need, and can force family members to learn how to be honest with each other about the consequences of this disorder and how it affects each member’s quality of life.

Feeling connected to large amounts of seemingly value-less possessions can be defense mechanisms against the more vulnerable feelings under the surface.  These possessions might be a physical representation of the emotions that have not yet been freely released.  When the hoarder is able to clean up their home and their life, unexpected emotions such as guilt and shame come to the surface and are given the opportunity to be explored and healed.  The ‘popularity’ of hoarding has been documented on television in such shows as TLC’s Hoarders: Buried Alive, and A&E’s Hoarders — making it a spectacle and a source of entertainment for the nation.  While these tv shows help give exposure to the issues behind the disorder and show that it is possible to recover from it, it also glamorizes this issue and can trivialize the true pain that comes with this and any other type of mental disorder.

Another outlet that I found for those affected by hoarding is through the internet — blogs, to be exact.  I found several blogs written by hoarders and written by children of hoarders.  Each blog depicts what it is like to live a daily life as a hoarder, or as the child of a hoarder, and how this has impacted them as they have grown and formed relationships of their own.   These are very real, honest accounts and can give hope and support to others in their situation — especially since this disorder can be judged inaccurately and misunderstood as to why it is becoming so prevalent.  Only since the early 1990s have we been doing research and looking deeper at the causes, consequences, and symptoms of hoarding, and we still have a long way to go.  Talk therapy and exposure therapy (wherein the client practices new ways of responding to triggers and uncomfortable thoughts that have previously caused hoarding behaviors) have been effective mechanisms for treating hoarding.

As new research and interventions are performed on people who suffer from hoarding disorder, we are finding new ways to treat this condition and bring peace to families who might now have realized what was going on.  Relationships are formed and renewed, and self-identity is explored in the healing process.  As we all have ways we can de-clutter our lives emotionally, physically, and spiritually, maybe hoarding is not quite so mysterious after all.  Now is the beginning of a fresh year! How are you going to begin?

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from Kate Daigle Counseling!  It has been a wonderful year and we wish you all a healthy, safe, and bright 2011!  Stay warm and hug the ones you love ~


A new year of hopes and goals: reflections as we step forward into 2011

As I watch the fat white snowflakes gracefully dance in the Denver air, I am reflective of the year 2010 and am eager to set forth into a new year — which will bring new hopes, changes, challenges, and growth.  What are your goals for the new year?  Is there anything that you would like to change?  Or that you would like to build upon and nurture, as you grow deeper roots?  It’s the time of year when we sit down and make those resolutions — some of which we will keep and some of which will slip right out of our consciousness.  What makes a resolution one that we keep and set our minds to in attempts to realize it?  I think that a resolution that poses challenges and changes in our life is one that is both exciting and terrifying to make.  Why? Because it causes us to consider ourselves where we are at this moment in our lives — if we are happy in our career, if we feel healthy and able, if we feel fulfilled in the relationships we have with ourselves and others.  Often, there is room to grow in many of the areas in our lives, giving us a great opportunity to choose our next path.  However, this possibility for growth and renewal may cause feelings of dissatisfaction or disappointment with ourselves as we are right now, in this present moment, and can initiate doubts about our ability to actually achieve that goal we have set.

I want to encourage you to set goals, and to make plans to realize them in steps that are comfortable and realistic.  You may want to try running so that you can compete in a half marathon next year; plan work-outs that start simple and short, and slowly build up.  And let yourself take a break if you need it!  I have a colleague who makes lists of goals and wishes for her life and business every year.  As I was talking to her and asking “did you achieve all of your goals for 2010?”, she said “I’m not sure yet; it’s probably a mixture of achievements and goals-in-progress.  The number of “wins” is not what matters — it is the fact that you believe that your life will be that way in the new year and that positive mentality motivates you to try to improve your life”.    This statement really sticks with me — that you believe your life and yourself have the possibility of making changes, and setting that intention is the most crucial factor of resolutions.  Believing that you can do it — and if you don’t, you may feel that it is a challenge that takes more time and focus, or that it was a goal that might not be as important as you first thought.  But if you believe that you can, then the feelings of guilt and shame that typically accompany a “failure” will not pull any weight with you.  There will be no room for them.

New year’s resolutions can be challenging in ways other than setting the intention to achieve them.  Goals such as going to the gym or buying a piece of exercise equipment require financial investment.  Changing eating patterns or taking up a new hobby also require enough financial comfort to try — and try again.  For many of us, these types of intentions are out of reach for multiple reasons.  This does not need to be a recipe for giving up and feeling defeated.  You can make positive changes in your life with little or no financial cost, though you may need to be a little more creative about it.  Creativity and effort towards reaching your goal will open other doors for you as you may discover a new hobby, book, or activity that you had never tried before. 

Here are a few low or no-cost resolutions for a healthy mind and body that you can make for yourself in the new year:  go to the park and appreciate the season, write a letter to your grandmother or mother (a real letter, not an email!), keep a gratitude journal and record every evening three things for which you are thankful, write a letter to yourself listing the things you hope to change and achieve in the new year, go on a walking or running tour of the city in which you live, think about new hobbies or interests you would like to cultivate and borrow books, cds, audio books, or DVDs from the library.  What other ideas do you have?

Being healthy requires care and attention to your mind and to your body.  They are interconnected, and if there is discomfort or pain in one of them, you will certainly feel it in the other.  Often, one or the other is neglected and we can focus our anxiety or stress intently on the part of ourselves that is not being taken care of.  I encourage you to treat yourself with kindness and respect and hope that you can make that a goal for the new year.  It takes work to do so, as it is not a concrete task…but it will heap many rewards of inner peace and contentment.  We are all capable of turning our awareness to encouraging and enriching tasks and thoughts, and taking the power away from the negative and draining feelings that may plague us by the end of the year (or by the end of January!)  Challenge yourself to do this!  There is always an opportunity to have a fresh start and cultivate a life with mind, body, and spirit in harmony.  You deserve to be the healthiest, happiest, and most balanced version of yourself that you can imagine! 

Peace and health in the new year!  Have a wonderful holiday!

Holiday break

I will be taking a week off from my blog for the holidays.  I will resume writing on Thursday, December 30th.

Happy holidays!!  I wish you and yours a restful, joyous, and peaceful holiday!

Get to sleep! What disrupts your quality and quantity of zzz’s?

Got sleep?  My guess is that you probably don’t have as much as you should.  Or, you sleep great lengths of time but wake up feeling just as exhausted (or moreso) as you did when you went to sleep.  What gives?  There are factors that affect our sleep patterns all year long, but I feel that especially now, in the holiday season, we struggle to overcome the mental hyperactivity caused by: financial stress, excitement of parties and celebrations, travels, grief at losing a family member over the past year, joy at welcoming a new family member, and so many other things that can keep us up late at night.

Sleep disruption can impact not only our own functioning, but it can disrupt the sleep of other family members.  You may toss and turn (or have a partner who does) as the events of your day cycle through your mind or you ponder the “what ifs” of the next day.  You may get up to watch tv or stare at the computer in a desperate attempt to calm down your mind and get exhausted enough that you cannot stay awake any longer.  Lack of or unrestful sleep can make us lethargic the next day (or days — if you have a sleeplessness hangover), causing us to consume large quantities of caffeine in an effort to remain alert throughout the day.  Where we are physically impaired, we are also emotionally impaired by lack of sleep.  Without adquate rest and processing time for your brain, you may tend to be more emotional the next day and experience mood swings that really do not need to be so extreme.  Sleep problems interrupt our work day, insert themselves in our connections with loved ones, and cause us to fall asleep in the middle of presentations.  Like eating, sleep is a universal need of every living being and thus it is essential to tend to concerns you might have and find ways to get better and longer sleep.

As I was doing some research on sleep issues and ways to intervene, I came across a few types of sleep disorders that I had not heard about before.  How exciting to find NEW sleep disorders, right?? It did make me pause for a moment and wonder about the correlation between the pressure of our society — the amounts that we push ourselves to be better, bigger, and faster — and the ever-growing types of sleep issues.  We all need a – literal – break!  The first sleep disorder I came across is called delayed sleep phase disorder.  This might describe someone who thinks they are a “night owl”.  This disorder affects the circadian rhythm that humans naturally follow (when, apparently, not stressed) and might disrupt a person from feeling tired at a “normal” bedtime such at 10pm, and from waking up at a “normal” time, such as 7am.  The circadian rhythm is a 24 hour sleep/wake cycle that naturally puts us as awake when the sun is out, and puts us asleep when it is down — we follow the cycle of the sun.  Of course, with daylight savings, some of us nearer the equator get darkness earlier in certain seasons, and those of us up north in say, Sweden, have almost half-day shifts of all sun or all darkness.  That has certainly got to disturb your natural rhythm! 

Another strain of this type of sleep disorder is shift work disorder.  Nearly 20% of Americans do some type of shift work — meaning they are awake in the middle of the night, or have to get up in the wee hours.  Not only will this type of disruption affect your sleep cycle but it will also affect your eating cycle and how your body’s need for food shifts throughout the day.  An interesting sidenote about shift work disorder points to research that has shown a link between shift work disorder and heart disease.  Doctors have noticed that people who work during long night shifts often have higher blood pressure while they sleep.  Shift work disorder also can cause auto accidents, work accidents, and can be linked to other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

The exact cause of delayed sleep phase disorder is not known but sleep lab researchers are careful to caution that it is not the same thing as insomnia.  In treating sleep phase disorder, researchers and doctors use doses of melatonin to try to re-set the circadian rhythm make to more of a natural state.  Melatonin can be useful with insomnia as well, but it is important to note that while people suffering from insomnia experience difficulty falling or staying asleep, people who have sleep phase disorder or shift work disorder may be able to sleep just fine — but their cues to be tired or awake may fall at times that are not natural for the body’s normal state.

Here are a few tips for getting to sleep — and trying to stay there.  If anxiety or “to-do lists” keep you up at night, wake yourself up and write down everything that is on your mind.  Whether it is a worry about how to manage a situation with a difficult colleague, or if it is a note about remembering to pick up something at the store, it can help your mind “forget” about it if it is assured the worries are written down.  If you are a worrier or a person who stresses easily, allow yourself a half hour before bed to be your “worry time”.  In that time (and set a timer so that you have boundaries), you are allowed to worry or stress about anything and everything.  Let it all out.  Then, when your alloted time is over, you are not allowed to worry about that again until the following evening (if you need to).  This can also soothe your mind and soften that voice that may focus on anxiety.  Writing in a journal, listening to calming music, and drinking hot tea or milk also help to naturally calm down your body and mind.

Wishing you a restful evening — get yourself some sleep!