How to get started with self-care

Coming to terms with self-care and then jumping in is not always a snap. For most people, self-care is a list of all the things they “should be doing,” often followed by a bunch of self-defeating or critical thoughts, such as “Why can’t I be like Suzy or Tom? They take care of themselves.”

Sadly and far too often, many people engage in a harsh, negative dialogue with themselves, although they know that logically it does not help. This is what most people report in therapy. Further, they put themselves down for not taking care of themselves, and I hear many people say they don't feel they “deserve” self-care, and, in effect, say, “I don't like myself or who I am.”

The point is to just get started.

First steps

To gain value from self-care, the first step is to learn to care for oneself. Putting kind thoughts into your mind paves the way for cultivating self-directed compassion. Advice and resources for self-care can be found aplenty on the internet or at a library. Just browse any topic you are interested in to start your journey in seconds.

What you want to work toward is the attitude, determination and positive energy required to make changes. If you “hate” yourself and think you don’t deserve good things, self-care will simply be out of reach. Prior to learning self-care, we must have an inner attitude of caring about oneself. Practice how to give yourself, kindness and love. It is not as hard as you think!

One simple method is to practice thinking of someone you care about and notice what that feels like. We have natural awareness and empathy for those we care for most, so from there the idea is to tap into these feelings in order to transfer some of it to ourselves. This paves the way for self-compassion to develop.

Keep it steady

If you cultivate a calm, patient and helpful view of your own process, you are more apt to stick to any self-care plan. When we feel positive, personal power increases. Suddenly we have the means to make a change with grace and ease. The secret of self-care is in not just in the actions, but in the attitude of “caring” we bring to our lives. If you want to develop new behaviors, make sure you support yourself with an encouraging and resilient belief about yourself. This will create a foundation for self-care.

Set your priorities

Set aside some time to prioritize your needs and plan the things you want to add to your life. Pick out one self-care activity and take a step forward to emulate one of those people you admire because they know how to do things for themselves.

For example, if you need to increase the amount of time you exercise, schedule exercise times that will work with your schedule. If you are making changes in your diet, make changes with discipline but proceed gradually to support your success. Ask others to help you by telling them about the change you are making. Take advantage of their insights. Stop wishing and start living now.

Consider reaching out

You may find that having the support available in a self-care-oriented therapy session is in order, especially if you have symptoms or are recovering from trauma. Self-care is essential in any efforts to recover from substance abuse issues as well. Reach out for the help and support you need so you can be the best version of yourself in 2020.

 

Michele Willingham M.A., L.P.C., L.A.C. is a therapist for the Justice Accountability and Recovery Team at Community Reach Center. She specializes in trauma-informed care with an emphasis on the use of mindfulness skills and is an EMDR practitioner. Michele also runs a wellness group that utilizes walking, Tai Chi exercise and yoga to help improve symptoms.

Submit a question to Ask A Therapist at AskATherapist@CommunityReachCenter.org. This column is for educational purposes only, and opinions are not those of this publication. Answers are not a substitute for regular or urgent medical consultation and treatment. Individuals with medical or personal problems need to seek the advice of their own physician or an appropriate health-care professional. Do not stop any medication or change the dose of your medication without first consulting with your physician.

To learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in Adams County, visit www.communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. Remember that our Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours. To learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in Adams County, visit www.communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500.

 

Consider social exercise to improve mental health

Mental health issues are increasing on a global scale, especially in teenagers. It is estimated 25 percent of teens experience anxiety and at least 20 percent experience depression before adulthood. In response, researchers are focusing on finding activities and lifestyles to promote mental health. From their research, they have discovered those who participate in team sports or social exercise have lower anxiety levels and experience less depression than those who participate in individual sports or no sports at all.

Why are team sports effective?

It is well-known that exercise is beneficial for mental and physical wellness, but why are team sports more helpful for reducing mental health issues than other forms of exercise?

The following factors contribute to the positive state of mental health found in team sports participants:

  • Socialization
  • Social status
  • Social support and accountability

These social elements found in team sports are beneficial for combating symptoms of depression. For instance, social isolation is a common symptom of depression eliminated through the social elements ingrained in team sports.

Team sports or social exercise?

When most people think of team sports, they usually think of sports like football, basketball, baseball or soccer. However, these sports are not suited for everyone seeking social exercise.  Here are some examples of exercise activities that can be engaged in socially:

  • Running or cycling
  • Hiking
  • Group fitness classes (i.e. yoga, martial arts, kickboxing, cycling, etc.)

Countless activities and forms of exercise can be engaged in socially. Essentially, if an exercise activity includes the fundamental social elements of team sports, it will provide similar benefits to mental health.

What if I play individual sports?

If you are an individual sport athlete, don't sweat it. Any form of exercise has mental health benefits, although may not be as extensive as social exercises. Nevertheless, if you are interested in obtaining the mental health benefits associated with social exercise, consider finding a balance between individual and social exercise.

Positive self-talk

Research has shown that positive self-talk can improve mental health, as well as performance in sports. This is because positive-self talk decreases performance anxiety and increases an athlete's confidence in their abilities. Although – whether you play sports or not – positive self-talk is a great practice to consider due to its mental health benefits. To develop a habit of practicing positive self-talk, take the following steps:

  • Choose a positive affirmation or motivational phrase to repeat, such as “You got this” or “I can do this.”
  • Once repeating this phrase becomes a habit, create more phrases that apply to specific areas of life.
  • Once you’ve created multiple phrases, attach positive mental images to them for effective visualization.

Something to consider

Keep in mind that athletes experience mental health issues too, regardless of the sports they play. Additionally, exercise alone is not sufficient treatment for serious mental disorders. In that regard, people struggling with their mental health should seek professional help.

Finding ways to cope with mental health issues can be challenging. If you or a loved one has a mental health concern, we are happy to consult with you at Community Reach Center. To get more information about our metro Denver mental health centers visit communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City, Broomfield and Brighton.

This blog was contributed by Brice Pernicka, a Westgate Community School student who is also an intern at Community Reach Center.

Take heart for mental health

 

February is American Heart Month. Although the relationship between good mental health and heart health is certainly complex, it is a proven fact that good blood flow from the heart to the brain is important for overall wellness.

Certainly, when someone has a heart attack, heart surgery or stroke, the immediate concern is physical health. At the same time, research has shown cardiovascular disease can trigger depression and the need for counseling and medication.

With these thoughts in mind, consider lifestyle changes and good habits to maintain a healthy heart.

Here are a few tips

Let’s talk about the American Heart Association’s seven risk factors as areas for improvement to live longer and healthier lives:

  • Manage your blood pressure: When you keep your blood pressure within healthier ranges you reduce stress on your heart. There are five blood pressure ranges to consider that clearly indicate a normal blood pressure or one of the elevated levels. Find out your blood pressure and consider if you need to make changes.
  • Control cholesterol: High cholesterol can clog arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke. In short, reducing saturated fats and trans fats helps and focusing on foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and soluble fiber can help. Consider your eating habits and what may need to change.
  • Reduce blood sugar: High levels of blood sugar damage the heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves. Drink plenty of water and cut down on carb intake. Seek a low carb diet to reduce blood sugar.
  • Get active: Physical activity improves the length and the quality of life. Sometimes finding ways to enjoy exercise with others increases success. Good goals include 20 to 30 minutes a day or three times a week.
  • Eat better: A healthful diet is one of the best ways to fight heart disease. Among the many books on healthful eating is the “Mayo Clinic Diet: Eat well. Enjoy life, Lose weight.” It’s a playbook for solidifying healthful eating habits, and it is well researched.
  • Lose weight: Losing weight takes stress off your heart. Find tried and true methods, such as the Mayo Clinic book, which focuses on changing lifestyle habits to lose weight for the long term.
  • Stop smoking: Smoking increases likelihood of having heart disease. The warnings about the dangers of smoking are well known. Smoking generally increases the risk for coronary heart disease by two to four times, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, known as the CDC. Similarly, consider the dangers of nicotine in vaping.

For starters, take some steps

So maybe the best advice for American Heart Month is to take a walk. While you are on your walk think about the seven risk factors and where your best opportunities for improvement may exist.

It could be learning to live with lightly salted foods or gulping the recommended eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. Or maybe it amounts to choosing new types of exercise and gearing up the gym bag.

It’s always a good time find opportunities to improve your health.    

Learn more

While our expertise is in mental health, we are happy to advocate for the importance of American Heart Month. Just as many physical health challenges can be healed, mental illnesses are often treatable, so please don’t hesitate to seek assistance. Remember the Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours. And to learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in north metro Denver, visit www.communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. If you have any questions about where to turn for help for older adults, please call the Senior Reach team at Community Reach Center at 303-853-3657. Community Reach Center provides comprehensive behavioral health services for all ages at locations in Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City, Brighton and Broomfield. As always, we are here to enhance the health of our community. Mental wellness for everyone is our goal.

Understanding the realities of mental health challenges

“I just haven’t felt like myself lately.”

We all hear this phrase – or something similar – now and then.

Such candid sharing means that the person trusts you and feels comfortable telling you how they feel rather than bottling it up. Intimate sharing like this illustrates healthful, supportive relationships that are enriched by compassionate listening. Are you one of those compassionate listeners?  Imagine how much more helpful you could be if you knew more about mental health challenges, treatment options and resources available right in your community.  

The face of mental illness

Everyone has a bad day now and then.  When symptoms are intense and present for longer than two weeks, a string of bad days may actually be an emerging mental health concern.

Here is what to watch for:

  • Is the person’s symptoms disrupting their work, ability to carry out daily activities or engage in satisfying relationships?
  • Is it affecting their thinking, emotional state or behavior?

When symptoms are causing a persistent disruption in someone’s life for two weeks or longer, it may be time to extend your compassionate support and help connect the person with professional help. Keep in mind that a mental disorder or mental illness is a diagnosable illness sometimes caused by trauma, chemical imbalances in the brain and other biological and environmental factors. A little professional help can go a long way.

The landscape of mental health

While Colorado is a phenomenal destination state that offers ample winter sporting venues and endless options for entertainment and social engagements, the state has its mental health pitfalls.

Consider that:

  • Colorado ranks 16th in the incidence of mental illness. A total of 20.6 percent of Coloradans experienced some form of mental illness last year (approximately 750,000 Colorado adults).
  • Colorado currently has the 10th highest suicide rate in the nation. About 13 people of every 100,000 in the United States died due to suicide in 2016. That same year, Colorado lost more than 20 people per 100,000 residents.
  • Suicide is leading cause of death among young Coloradans age 10 to 24.
  • Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15 to 44.
  • About 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 10 young people experience a mental disorder each year; less than 50 percent receive treatment.

Learn the basics

Equipped with the right information, it’s easier to help others or yourself.  For example, did you know that anxiety disorder is the most commonly diagnosed mental health challenge in the U.S.?  Symptoms associated with anxiety disorder are broader than just feeling “on edge,” and can include headaches, muscle aches, chest pain and a huge variety of other physical ailments. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a specific form of anxiety, hallmarked by nightmares, emotional flatness, depression, anger, irritability or a tendency to be easily startled.

Be in the know

A free presentation titled “Understanding the Realities of Mental Illness,” will be offered 3:30 to 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, at Community Reach Center, 11285 Highline Drive in Northglenn. The presentation will cover signs and symptoms of a variety of mental illnesses, treatment options and helpful local resources. Ample time will be provided for questions as well. Please visit www.communityreachcenter.org to register.

It is vitally important for people experiencing mental health conditions and their loved ones to know mental illness is treatable. Please don’t hesitate to seek assistance. Remember the Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours. And to learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in north metro Denver, visit www.communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. If you have any questions about where to turn for help for older adults, please call the Senior Reach team at Community Reach Center at 303-853-3657. Community Reach Center provides comprehensive behavioral health services for all ages at locations in Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City, Brighton and Broomfield. As always, we are here to enhance the health of our community. Mental wellness for everyone is our goal.

Encouraging wellness in older adults

We all know exercise and physical activity is extremely important, and we know exercise has proven benefits for older people. It reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, colon cancer and breast cancer. It also decreases the risk of falls and fall-related injuries. 

Like everyone else, older people may know that exercise is good for their health, but they may not have the motivation or encouragement to do it. One way you can help is to guide those around you by asking about their daily activities and whether they engage in any kind of regular exercise or physical activity. 

There are several ways to encourage older adults to exercise:

  • Let them know that regular physical activity – including endurance, muscle-strengthening, balance, and flexibility exercises – is essential for healthy aging.
  • Help them set realistic goals and develop an exercise plan. 
  • Work together to write an exercise outline, and make it specific, including type, frequency, intensity, and time; follow up to check progress and re-evaluate goals over time.
  • Refer to opportunities in community resource listings, such as mall-walking groups and senior center fitness classes.

Nutrition

Older adults may develop poor eating habits for many reasons. These can range from a decreased sense of smell and taste to teeth problems or depression. Older adults may also have difficulty making their way to a supermarket or simply standing long enough to cook a meal. And, although energy needs may decrease with age, the need for certain vitamins and minerals, including calcium, vitamin D, and vitamins B6 and B12, increases after age 50.

Try these strategies to encourage healthy diets:

  • Emphasize that good nutrition can have an impact on well-being and independence.
  • If needed, suggest they seek information about liquid nutrition supplements, but emphasize the benefits of solid foods.
  • If needed, suggest multivitamins that fulfill 100 percent of the recommended daily amounts of vitamins and minerals for older people, but steer clear of mega doses.
  • Encourage the older adult to have conversations with their primary care providers.

 

Too old to exercise? Studies say no!

Consider these facts:

  • Together, exercise and lifestyle changes, such as becoming more active and eating healthy food, reduce the risk of diabetes in high-risk older people. In one study, lifestyle changes led to a 71 percent decrease in diabetes among people 60 and older.
  • In another study, moderate exercise was effective at reducing stress and sleep problems in older women caring for a family member with dementia. 
  • Older people who exercise moderately can fall asleep quickly, sleep for longer periods and have better quality of sleep.
  • Researchers also found that exercise can improve balance and reduce falls among older people by 33 percent.
  • Walking and strength-building exercises by people with knee osteoarthritis help reduce pain and maintain function and quality of life.

Sometimes it’s hard to get moving, but oftentimes when a person gets up and around, he or she suddenly feels gratified and inspired. Let’s rally for that outcome with all older adults.

We would like to thank Wellness and Care Coordinator Nicole Hartog and Program Manager James Kuemmerle with the Senior Reach program at Community Reach Center for their insights. During this time, and all year long, it is important for people experiencing mental health conditions and their loved ones to know that mental illness is treatable, and there is no shame in seeking assistance. Remember the Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours. And to learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in north metro Denver, visit www.communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. If you have any questions about where to turn for help for older adults, please reach out to the Senior Reach team at Community Reach Center at 303-853-3657. We provide treatment for depression and trauma, as well as many other mental disorders. Community Reach Center provides comprehensive behavioral health services for all ages at locations in Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City, Brighton and Broomfield.

Dangers of teen drug use

Many teens experiment with various substances to experience mental and physical effects. Some will experiment with peers in moderation with little significant long-term impact while others will develop a Substance Use Disorder (SUD).

A SUD is defined as a disease that affects a person’s brain and behavior, characterized by the inability to control use and is detrimental to meeting daily responsibilities and activities you obligated yourself to participate in.

The three most common substances used by teenagers are alcohol, nicotine and marijuana, and their use can sometimes lead to developing SUD.

Alcohol

Alcohol is the most abused substance by adolescents.

Many young people do not perceive alcohol as a dangerous substance due to its widespread use among adults and peers, and from appealing marketing seen on television, internet ads and billboards.

Although alcohol use is prevalent among teenagers, underage drinking can have significant consequences to daily life such as:

  • Decreased school performance and attendance
  • Lack of participation in daily activities and responsibilities
  • Increased risk for legal problems and engagement in risky behavior

Using alcohol heavily during adolescence may also cause cognitive impairments and physical damage to the brain. 

Adolescent alcohol use is also linked to an increased risk of developing alcohol use disorder later in life, which should be considered by adolescents when deciding whether to drink.

Nicotine (e-cigarettes)

Tobacco products have always been highly-abused by teenagers due to the addictive chemical nicotine. However, the number of teen smokers has significantly decreased in recent years due to the rise of e-cigarettes.

The following factors contribute to e-cigarette abuse among teens:

  • Cheaper than traditional tobacco products
  • High amounts of nicotine can be provided
  • Flavors that are preferable to tobacco can be used
  • Minimal odor during use
  • Easily concealed and used

Many teenagers do not realize that vaping nicotine in e-cigarettes is harmful. Actually, use during adolescence can impact parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control. Teenagers should consider these factors when deciding to use nicotine from an e-cigarette or other tobacco products.

Marijuana

Marijuana has been used by teenagers for decades, although the following factors contribute to high use among modern teenagers:

  • Easily accessible in states that have legalized marijuana
  • Glorification in many genres of music and by influential people
  • Peer pressure and social influence

The legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes led to many young people perceiving it as harmless. While this is a common misconception, adolescent marijuana use can cause impairments in the following areas of mental and physical functioning:

  • Memory
  • Concentration
  • Attention
  • Decision making
  • Physical coordination

Like other drugs, it is important to remember marijuana can be abused and is harmful to brain development during adolescence.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for developing SUD include using drugs to cope with stress, anxiety, depression or other mental health problems. Genetic factors can be traced to family members that have a history with these disorders.

Also, about 82 percent of adolescents with substance use disorder have a mental health challenge, according to "Mental Health First Aid USA: For Adults Assisting Young People."

General information and finding help

Drug use of any type during development of the prefrontal cortex, which commonly extends to age 25, can have significant long-term consequences on cognitive functioning and abilities.

To find information on helping an adolescent who is suffering from drug addiction and finding proper treatment methods, visit these articles:

https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-help-addicts-22238

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323468.php#self-help-groups

Finding additional help

Finding ways to cope with mental health issues can be challenging. If you have you or a loved one is experiencing drug dependence, we are glad to consult with you at Community Reach Center. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City, and Brighton. Remember that our Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours. To learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in Adams County, visit www.communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500.

This blog was contributed by Brice Pernicka, a Westgate Community School student who is also an intern at Community Reach Center.

Apps to improve your mental health

Many smartphone applications are designed to improve mental health, making self-care easier than ever. These apps are designed to help manage mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and depression. However, many of these applications require a monthly or annual subscription fee to access full benefits. Before you invest your money, let’s look at a few apps that have good potential to promote mental wellness.

Which apps are most effective?

Moodfit

Moodfit is a highly-rated app designed to reduce anxiety, depression and high levels of stress to ultimately “shape up” your mood.

This app works by choosing daily goals you wish to accomplish and offers a small activity to complete based on the goal. Some of these activities include:

  • Assessing mood
  • Listing three things that you’re grateful for
  • Guided audio meditation
  • Documenting sleep schedule
  • Documenting exercise routine
  • Documenting meal information

Moodfit tracks the completion of goals and records progress for reflection purposes.

This app also includes a feature that tracks thought patterns and provides strategies for modifying irrational thoughts. This feature functions by providing a questionnaire about your current situation and thoughts surrounding it.

Overall, Moodfit is a well-rounded app that has good potential to assist in forming new habits, keeping you on track with these habits and cultivating increased awareness of thought patterns.

The app is free to download on both Apple and Android devices and requires no monthly or annual payment to access full benefits.

Sanvello

Sanvello, formerly known as Pacifica, is another highly-rated mental health app with good potential to promote wellness.

Upon downloading Sanvello, users choose three goals to improve on. Some of these goals include:

  • Feel happier
  • Decrease anxiety
  • Build confidence
  • Think positively
  • Improve social skills
  • Live healthier

After choosing goals, Sanvello will provide “guided journeys,” which consist of a variety of lessons and activities designed to promote mental wellness.

Sanvello also allows users to set daily challenges based on goals, document thought patterns, track health-based habits and engage in guided meditation.

The user-based support system provides a unique community feature, which allows users to communicate with each other and support each other in managing their mental health and achieving their daily goals.

Sanvello is also free to download on Apple or Android devices, however, requires a subscription fee of $8.99 per month or $53.99 per year to access full benefits.

Happify

Happify is designed to help users identify behavioral patterns, become aware of their thoughts and feelings, and gain control of their state of mental health.

This app utilizes techniques commonly used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is used to alter patterns in thinking and behavior. Happify also encourages positive outlooks to help an individual break unhealthy behavioral patterns and form new, healthy habits.

Happify reports 86 percent of user’s feel happier after two months of daily use.

The app can be downloaded on Apple and Android devices for free and costs $14.99 per month or $139.99 per year to access premium membership.

Something to consider

Remember, these apps should not be used as alternatives to professional mental health care, they should be used as convenient self-help tools.

Finding ways to cope with mental health issues is challenging. If you or a loved one has a mental health concern, we are glad to consult with you at Community Reach Center. To get more information about our metro Denver mental health centers visit communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area including the cities of Broomfield, Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.

This blog was contributed by Brice Pernicka, a Westgate Community School student who is also an intern at Community Reach Center.

Fine tune the holidays for older adults

With the season of fall celebrations in full swing, there’s no better time to consider how the holidays might be impacting seniors and loved ones who are aging, ill or experiencing dementia and other diagnoses that may change the way your family’s holiday celebrations take place. Considering a senior’s specific health needs and carving out new holiday traditions can be fun for the whole family.

Focus on the spirit of the season

Thanksgiving may have gotten to be much more about the feasting than giving thanks, and Christmas has become more commercialized.  Consider the fact that as people age — and at any age — it’s important to recognize the real “reason for the season” versus the gifting and the parties. Instead of focusing on a big gathering, keep holidays celebrations small, and redirect these get-togethers more on simply spending quality time together versus big feasts, gift giving or long guest lists.

Have an attitude of gratitude

At Thanksgiving, instead of stressing out about the perfect stuffing, why not start a new tradition of having each guest or family member give thanks and share a special memory that includes the senior? This is a great way for the aging senior to feel appreciated while also reliving priceless memories.

Connect spiritually

For the those who are religious, spending the holidays with like-minded friends and relations is a wonderful way to make people of all ages feel as though they are not alone. There is spiritual strength in being together. Getting together to pray or attending a special holiday service together as a family or with a senior loved one is a wonderful, yet perfectly simply and non-stressful way to celebrate the holidays.

Make handmade cards

In lieu of gifts, having the loved one’s grandchildren make handmade cards from the heart is a great way to decorate the senior’s living space for the holidays and send messages of love from those that can’t be near during the season. No matter their age, children’s heartfelt and handwritten messages are sure to uplift spirits this season.

Take a walk

If the weather is not too brisk, and the senior is feeling up for some activity, bundle up, pour some coffee or hot chocolate into to-go mugs and head out to a neighborhood that is dedicated to “lighting up the night” with festive Christmas lighting and décor. Something as simple as viewing these beautiful and unique lighting displays, while walking arm in arm with family and loved ones makes for a very special holiday memory.

Remember that as older adults age or as dementia sufferers progress in their illness, keeping visits and experiences brief, and as non-stressful as possible is important. The fast pace of the holiday season may cause anxiety and even confusion, so try to make space for quiet times and proper rest for loved ones during the season — and all year long!

We would like to thank Wellness and Care Coordinator Nicole Hartog and Program Manager James Kuemmerle with the Senior Reach program at Community Reach Center for their insights. During this time, and all year long, it is important for people experiencing mental health conditions and their loved ones to know that mental illness is treatable, and there is no shame in seeking assistance. Remember the Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours. And to learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in north metro Denver, visit www.communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. If you have any questions about where to turn for help for older adults, please reach out to the Senior Reach team at Community Reach Center at 303-853-3657. Community Reach Center provides comprehensive behavioral health services for all ages at locations in Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City, Brighton and Broomfield.

Be mindful of mindfulness

Mindfulness is defined in many ways. However, a common definition is a mental state achieved through the awareness of thoughts, senses and emotions in the present moment without interpretation or judgment. 

Mindfulness practices generally involve breathing techniques to relax the body and mind. This is immensely helpful for managing stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression because these issues are amplified by negative thought patterns.

Why mindfulness?

There are many reasons to practice mindfulness, the most common being its benefits on mental health and cognitive functioning. Meditation, a common mindfulness practice, has been extensively studied in clinical trials to assess its potential to promote wellness. The results of these studies concluded that meditation is effective for a variety of mental health issues such as:

  • Stress 
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Meditation also provides benefits to various aspects of cognitive functioning such as: 

  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Verbal fluency
  • Cognitive flexibility (the ability to think about multiple concepts at once)

How to practice mindfulness

Now that you understand what mindfulness is and why it is worth trying, you may be wondering how to engage in this practice. Many different methods are used to engage in mindfulness and choosing one can be challenging. However, one of the best mindfulness practices to start with is meditation. To effectively meditate, you should engage in the following steps:

  •  Find a comfortable place to sit
  •  Choose a comfortable sitting position
  •  Sit up with your back straight
  •  Rest your hands in a comfortable position on your legs
  •  Close your eyes (this step is optional but highly recommended)
  •  Take long deep breaths and focus your thoughts on your breathing pattern
  •  At any point in your meditation, if your thoughts wander from your breathing pattern, redirect your focus to your breathing.

Another great way to meditate is through guided meditation apps available on your smartphone. These apps guide you step-by-step through meditation practices and adjust to your preferences. The most reputable guided meditation apps are The Mindfulness App and Headspace, because they have good potential to give you an excellent meditation experience.

Something to keep in mind

Be patient. When you first start meditating or engaging in any other mindfulness practice it will take some time before you get the hang of it, especially if you tend to overthink. However, over time it will become a very natural, effortless practice.

Finding ways to cope with mental health issues can be challenging. If you or a loved one have a mental health concern, we are glad to consult with you at Community Reach Center. To get more information about our metro Denver mental health centers visit communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City, Broomfield and Brighton.

This blog was contributed by Brice Pernicka, a Westgate Community School student who is also an intern at Community Reach Center.

Fighting the holiday blues

The holiday season is just around the bend. Often, we give community presentations directed toward older adults and combatting the holiday blues, and this blog is based on our presentations. We hope that everyone finds this helpful, and if you are interested in hosting us to share this presentation, our contact information can be found at the end of the blog.

What should I do to combat the holiday blues?

Get out and about: Ask family and friends for help traveling to parties and events. Invite family and friends over. Taking a brisk walk in the morning before you begin the day – or in the evening to wind down your day – is a great way to beat the blues.

Volunteering to help others is a great mood lifter: To volunteer, contact your local United Way (www.unitedway.org), or call places such as local schools, hospitals, museums or places of worship to inquire about volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood.

Drink responsibly: It is easy to overindulge around the holidays, but excessive drinking will only make you feel more depressed. Remember that 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor constitutes a single serving of alcohol. The recommended limit for older men is 14 drinks per week and 7 per week for older women. 

Accept your feelings: There’s nothing wrong with not feeling jolly; many people experience sadness and feelings of loss during the holidays. Be kind to yourself, seek support and even laugh at yourself every now and then.

Talk to someone: Don’t underestimate the power of friends, family, mentors, and neighbors. Talk about your feelings; it can help you understand why you feel the way you do. A simple phone call, a chat over coffee, or a nice e-mail, greeting card or letter can brighten your mood.

How can you help someone with the holiday blues?

  • Include them, invite them to get-togethers. Consider their needs, such as transportation or special diets.
  • Lend a hand, offer to help someone with their household chores, shopping, cooking and other tasks for get-togethers in their homes.
  • Be a good listener.
  • Be a supportive listener and encourage discussions about feelings and concerns. Acknowledge difficult feelings, including a sense of loss if family or friends have died or moved away. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes to understand how they feel.
  • Encourage them to talk with a healthcare provider.
  • The holidays can cause people to feel anxious and depressed. But for some, holiday tensions can lead to full-blown clinical depression. Often, older adults don’t realize that they are depressed. If you suspect depression in someone you know, you may need to bring it up more than once. Let the person know that depression is a treatable medical condition and to not be ashamed.

Signs and symptoms of depression

  • Sadness that won’t lift; loss of interest or pleasure in doing things
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Frequent crying
  • Feeling restless or fidgety
  • Feeling worthless, helpless, or guilty
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much
  • Depression is treatable. Talk to your primary healthcare provider or get other professional help if you experience five or more of these symptoms every day for two weeks. If you have recurring thoughts of death or suicide, you should get help immediately.

During this time, and all year long, it is important for people suffering from mental health conditions and their loved ones to know that mental illness is treatable, and there is no shame in seeking assistance. Remember the Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours. And to learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in north metro Denver, visit www.communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. If you have any questions about where to turn for help for older adults, please reach out to the Senior Reach team at Community Reach Center at 303-853-3657. Community Reach Center provides comprehensive behavioral health services for all ages at locations in Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City, Brighton and Broomfield.