Anxiety and Heart Health: Understanding the Connection

February Heart Month Dealing with Anxiety image

It’s safe to say that nobody enjoys feeling stressed. However, our “fight or flight” response does serve a purpose. When we find ourselves in a situation that requires us to be extra alert and vigilant, and ready to take action, the change in our mental and physical state brought on by the response is just what we need. According to Wikipedia, some of the many physiological changes that take place as a cascade of hormones races through our body include:

  • Acceleration of heart and lung action
  • Inhibition of stomach and upper-intestinal action to the point where digestion slows down or stops
  • Constriction of blood vessels in many parts of the body
  • Dilation of blood vessels in the muscles
  • Liberation of metabolic energy sources (particularly fat and glycogen) for muscular action
  • Dilation of pupil (mydriasis)

You can see how these reactions would help our ancestors survive when faced with a threat. However, our fight or flight response is meant to be temporary and based on actual threats. It becomes a problem when a person with anxiety experiences these physiological changes on a regular or continuous basis due to what they perceive as potential threats. In that case, the surging or sustained “readiness” in the body’s system can actually cause damage to them.

February is American Heart Month

February is American Heart Month, and a great time to learn about the relationship between anxiety and heart health. According to Johns Hopkins, the correlation is not as well-defined as that between depression and heart health, but it is believed there is a direct connection.

Heart Attacks and Anxiety

It’s easy to understand how anxiety can impact the heart as described above. The flip side of that relationship is fairly straightforward as well, especially for anyone who has had a heart attack or who has a loved one who has. The shock of a life-threatening event can cause you to:

  • Worry about your health and the fact that another cardiac event could occur
  • Worry about your family and how the outcome of your health challenges will affect them
  • Lose sleep and experience the many consequences of not being rested
  • Frequently relive the event, especially when at the location or participating in the activity related to it
  • Have a very negative outlook regarding your future

In short, you can find yourself in a perpetual state of anxiety. And, unfortunately, that state is not helpful as your body tries to recover from the heart attack.

Take Action

So, what can you do to avoid the vicious circle of heart disease and anxiety? Your doctor can work with you to reduce your risk of a heart attack. This will include minimizing or eliminating risk factors such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • SmokingDiabetes
  • Diabetes
  • Being physically inactive
  • Being overweight/obese


As for anxiety, if you feel you have an ongoing problem with stress,  working with a therapist at a Denver mental health center for a few sessions can definitely help. There are also a number of stress-reducing steps you can take, including:

  • Pause and take some deep breaths
  • Take a walk to remove yourself from the stressful situation
  • Perform a regular stress-reducing activity like meditation or yoga
  • Practice positive self-talk (“I’ve got this.” “This stress is temporary.” “Things will work out.”)
  • Work on being “in the moment” meaning you are totally focused on what’s happening right now
  • Get regular exercise

A Ready Resource for Helping Alleviate Anxiety

Whether it’s anxiety that might lead to a heart attack or anxiety that develops after a heart attack, Community Reach Center is your Denver mental health center here to help you manage it. Contact us online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Six Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Long-Term Relationship

long term relationship mental health center of Denver

While we like for our romantic books and movies to end with the couple living “happily ever after,” anyone who has ever been in a long-term relationship knows that that state is very difficult to achieve in real life. At Community Reach Center, we believe that maintaining a healthy long-term relationship requires a great deal of time and effort. But if the commitment is there, it absolutely can be done.

In it for the Long Haul

If you and your partner are truly focused on going the distance, here are some strategies you can use to help ensure you do:

  1. Compromise. Early in relationships, things tend to be more of a 50/50 split. Their wants and needs and yours are honored equally. But over time, it’s not uncommon for us to grow a little selfish and develop stronger preferences for the things we want to see or do or eat, the people we want to spend time with and the like. In order to maintain a healthy relationship, it’s important to recognize that shift and resist it.
  2. Be open and honest about your feelings. Effective communication is critical to successful long-term relationships. Sometimes we begin to keep things inside because we don’t want to “bother” our partner. In other cases, we may want to hang on to certain emotions because we feel it puts us in a position of power. Whatever the reason, it’s important to avoid building walls or coloring the truth when it comes to how we’re feeling. You put your partner at an unfair disadvantage if you are withholding information on your emotional state.
  3. Know that nobody ever “wins” an argument. When the focus of an argument becomes more about “winning” than resolving the issue, both of you lose. It’s much more conducive to a positive outcome to say early and often in a disagreement that the goal is to find a mutually acceptable solution to the problem. That can be difficult, but when it is, refer to item No. 1 above!
  4. Understand how your partner expresses love. Even for couples who have been together for many years, it’s easy to forget how their partner tends to demonstrate love. Taking time to recognize and appreciate those expressions is the best way to keep them coming. 
  5. Refuse to use the silent treatment. While we may try to tell ourselves that it’s better to remain silent than to say something hurtful, the truth is that receiving the silent treatment can be just as painful, and it can be just as damaging to a relationship. What’s more, there are more than two options in that scenario. A third would be speaking your mind but refraining from using angry, emotion-laden language. Carefully chosen words can go a long way toward resolving a conflict.
  6. Give them space. For some people it almost feels unnatural to be apart. But the truth is, we all need our space, even if that need doesn’t ever or often make it to the level of consciousness. And, absence truly does make the heart grow fonder.

Long-term Relationships and Mental Health

Healthy long-term relationships can have a powerfully positive influence on mental and emotional health. If you’re looking for a mental health center in the Denver area, you can contact us at Community Reach Center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Depression and Heart Disease: Learn More About the Link During American Heart Month

February is American Heart Month

Depression and heart disease are two of the most common disabling diseases in the U.S., and they often occur simultaneously. While research is ongoing as to the exact relationship, experts believe the two conditions influence one another.

February is American Heart Month, and as people pay special attention to their heart health, it’s also a great time to learn more about the link to depression. Your community mental health center is an excellent source of information.

How are Depression and Heart Disease Related?

Studies show that a significant number of people who have not been diagnosed with depression become depressed after suffering a heart attack. In fact, the American Heart Association says that depression is reported in one in 10 Americans age 18 and over, but for heart attack patients, the number is as high as one in three.

Similarly, people with depression who have no history of heart disease tend to develop heart disease more frequently than the population as a whole. For example, as reported by webmd.com, a study of 63,000 people in Norway over a span of 11 years found that compared to people with no symptoms of depression, those with mild depression were 5 percent more likely to develop heart failure, and those with moderate to severe depression had a 40 percent increased risk.

The relationship between the two conditions is complicated, but may include:

  • People who are depressed often do not take care of their physical health
  • Depression increases the presence of stress hormones that are damaging to the heart
  • People who have suffered a heart attack may feel embarrassed about their decreased physical capacity and concerned about their future, which can lead to depression
  • People with depression may have unusually sticky platelets, leading to hardening of the arteries

What You Can Do

Given the strong correlation between them, it’s important to take action to improve both your mental and physical health so that each contributes positively to the other. When it comes to depression, the first step is to recognize the symptoms, which can include any of these lasting for more than two weeks:

  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Irritability
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of interest in activities you enjoy
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Feelings of self-hate, guilt or worthlessness
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Change in appetite

If you feel you are suffering from depression, you should contact your doctor, counselor or community mental health center. There are successful evidence-based treatments for depression that can include talk therapy (also referred to as cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT) and antidepressant medications.

Regarding your heart health, the risk factors include:

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Being overweight/obese
  • Smoking
  • Being physically inactive
  • Having a family history of heart disease


The best way to prevent heart disease is to see your doctor regularly and work to decrease or eliminate as many of the risk factors as you can.

Better Heart Health, Better Mental Health

The good news is that there are ways to decrease your risk of heart disease and to treat depression. If you want more information, your community mental health center is here for you. Contact Community Reach Center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Seven Tips for Beating the Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Depression SAD

What we sometimes hear referred to as the “winter blues” here at Community Reach Center, is in many cases a condition called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD, which generally has its onset when the days grow shorter in the fall, is characterized by a depressed mood that can last until the days start to lengthen in the spring. It is a form of depression that is more common in women than men, though the symptoms can be more severe in men. Young adults report a higher incidence of SAD than older adults.

The symptoms of SAD can include:

  • Lack of energy
  • Poor sleep
  • Loss of interest in activities and relationships
  • Changes in appetite
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Difficulty concentrating

At Community Reach Center, we work with many people every year who suffer from SAD. The precise mechanism of the disorder is not yet known, but there are certain factors that are suspected to play a role, including:

Serotonin levels

Serotonin levels Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) serotonin, and that reduction may cause depression.

Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) serotonin, and that reduction may cause depression.Circadian rhythm.

Circadian rhythmThe decrease in sunlight in the fall and winter months may affect the body’s internal clock, leading to depressed mood.

The decrease in sunlight in the fall and winter months may affect the body’s internal clock, leading to depressed mood.

Melatonin levels

A reduction in sunlight may disrupt the body’s level of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate mood and sleep patterns.

What You Can Do

While any advice for beating SAD that you’ve received from your doctor or counselor should be your first priority, here are seven things you can do to fight it:

  1. Use a light box. These artificial lights mimic sunlight. Sitting in front of one for 30 minutes per day can, for some people, be as effective in treating SAD as taking medication. In addition to using a light box, you should also open curtains and blinds to let as much sunlight into your home as possible.
  2. Exercise. Getting regular exercise can help you beat SAD. And it doesn’t have to be a high intensity workout. For example, walking at a brisk pace for 30 to40 minutes per day five times a week or for 60 minutes per day three times per week can be very effective.
  3. Play upbeat music. Listening to cheery tunes can help elevate your mood both while the music is on and after.
  4. Get some fresh air. Being outside and exposed to more sunlight can help ease the symptoms of depression.
  5. Eat well. Eating a healthy diet including lean meat, and fresh fruits and vegetables, can help prevent SAD. It’s also a good idea to minimize or eliminate things like carbohydrates and candy from your diet as they can cause a mood spike and then a crash.
  6. Use a dawn simulator. A dawn simulator is a device that gradually increases the light in your bedroom to mimic the rising of the sun. Some people find that it can decrease the symptoms of depression and make it easier to get out of bed.
  7. Plan a vacation. Even if the trip won’t take place until later in the year, the act of planning for and envisioning a fun getaway can help elevate your mood.

Taking Steps to Beat the Winter Blues

The tactics above are great ways to address SAD. However, if your depression doesn’t respond to them or your condition worsens, you should contact us at the Community Reach Center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. We’re here to help.
 

National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week

Drug Free Kids

National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week is an annual health awareness campaign geared for teens and intended to dispel the many myths about drug and alcohol use and addiction with facts. Scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) created the observance in 2010 to promote educational events that provide teens with information on what experts have learned about drug use and addiction. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism became a partner in 2016. Both entities are part of the National Institutes of Health.

What is Drug Dependence?

One of the most fundamental facts shared during National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week is that addiction is a diagnosable, treatable illness – not a character flaw or lack of self-discipline, as it is often unfairly portrayed. As for the specific criteria of drug dependence, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition, Text Revision, 2000) states a diagnosis of substance addiction requires at least three of the following:

  • Increased tolerance (needing higher doses to get the same effect)
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
  • Taking more of the drug than intended or for a longer time than intended
  • A strong desire to decrease drug use and unsuccessful attempts to do so
  • Much time spent getting the drug, using it and recovering from its effects
  • Forsaking previously important activities to continue drug use
  • Ignoring the physical or psychological damage done by the drug


If you or someone you know meets three (or even one) of these criteria, it’s important that you seek help.

Addiction and Changes to the Brain

One of the reasons that drug addiction (and we’ll use “drug” to include prescription/illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco throughout this post) is so challenging to treat is due to how it changes to the brain. Human brains have what’s called a “reward” system. When we engage in an activity that meets a need or satisfies a desire, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released in the brain, and pleasure is experienced.

This reward pathway generally requires effort to trigger release of dopamine. Drugs create a shortcut to the sensation of pleasure, and over time, the brain of an addicted person reduces its natural production of dopamine. Consequently, the person begins needing the drug and typically in larger doses. Addiction is further reinforced by memories of drug use being paired with memories of the pleasure produced, which is why a person who has been sober for a long period is at risk of relapse when they are exposed to images or circumstances that remind them of their drug use.

Why Me and Not That Person?

The effects of drugs on the brain’s reward system are different for everyone. Those suffering from anxiety, depression or schizophrenia, or who have conditions like borderline personality disorder, seem to be especially susceptible to addiction. So while two people who are very alike may use drugs with the same frequency, one may become addicted to the substance while the other does not. Again, although using drugs in the first place is a choice, becoming addicted to them is not something a person has control over.

Good News and Much Work to be Done

The good news is that thanks to the work of researchers in a variety of fields, we know a lot more about the causes and potential treatments of addiction than we did even just five years ago. However, the effective treatment, and ideally prevention, of addiction is a significant challenge. Each substance presents unique problems and each person responds somewhat differently to the treatment options available. Researchers believe that chemical solutions to addiction are still a long way off. But, through varying combinations of counseling and medication, success can be achieved. So, the bottom line is that the prospects for those battling addiction continue to grow brighter.

Getting Started on the Road to Recovery

A good first step toward getting healthy is a conversation. If you need help with an addiction or want to talk about a loved one who does, you can contact us at the Community Reach Center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Learn more about Substance Abuse Treatment on our website >

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How to Achieve Your Wellness Objectives using “SMART” Goals

A Goal without a plan is just a wish

The new year is a great time to set goals for personal improvement. For those struggling with anxiety, depression or substance abuse, that may mean striving to attain better control or eliminate a condition. While any effort toward an objective is helpful, one of the most effective ways to hit your target is to follow what’s called the SMART approach to goal setting.

SMART is an acronym for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-limited

Setting smart goals helps ensure the right focus and appropriate expectations as you start taking steps in a new direction. If goals are too large, too vague or too open-ended, you may have a hard time meeting them. Business expert George T. Doran is generally credited with creating SMART goals, which are used often in business applications, and like a lot of business strategies, they work wonderfully in many general areas.

Here’s what SMART goals look like:

Specific

A good goal is one that includes details like who, what, when, where and why. A goal such as “be happier” is vague, which makes it hard to know whether you have achieved it. A better goal might be focus on the happiness a specific activity or hobby brings such as, “I will spend more time on painting because it brings me happiness.”

Measurable

The best goals have a quantity associated with them so you can evaluate your progress toward them and adjust your approach as needed. Using the example above, you could make it more measurable by saying you will paint for four hours each week. If, over time, you look back and see that you’re only painting three hours per week, evaluate ways to dedicate another hour. Being aware you may have to overcome other feelings, such as guilt, to dedicate time to yourself and not focus your time on things you think you should do that do not bring you happiness.

Attainable

One of the problems with goal setting is that we sometimes dive in full of enthusiasm eager to make as much progress as possible, which leads to objectives that simply can’t be reached. For a person with a history of alcohol abuse, deciding to stop drinking altogether by March may not be realistic. And when we fail to meet our goals—even the unreasonable ones—it can be disappointing and frustrating.

Relevant

If what you need in your life is to better manage your depression, setting the goal to learn to ski it is just one action. This isn’t to say you can’t have goals that are related to your enjoyment of life and personal fulfillment, but take time to assemble a set of relevant objectives.

Time-limited

While you want to give yourself a reasonable amount of time to achieve your goals, allowing too much time can keep you from making progress. Deadlines provide motivation and help you prioritize goals over the many other tasks vying for your attention.

Short- and Long-Term Goals

In setting goals, it can be helpful to create both short- and long-term goals. For example, a short-term goal for battling depression might be:

  • Get out of bed by 7 a.m. each day.
  • Clean the kitchen every Saturday.

And long-term goals such as:

  • Obtain the certification needed to start a new career.
  • Repair my relationship with my brother.

Someone who struggles with anxiety might have short-term goals to “share my opinion at the next staff meeting” or “practice relaxation exercises every other day,” and long-term objectives such as “complete the introductory public speaking course at the community college” or “plan and take a vacation to a new city this summer.”

For those looking to get a handle on substance abuse, short-term goals might be something like:

  • Do not drink alcohol today.
  • Get information on a treatment program, and take steps toward creating a plan.

Read more about Substance abuse treatment >

Looking long-term:

  • Complete a six-week inpatient treatment program this fall.
  • Find a new place to live and relocate by the first of next year.

Behavioral Change Takes Time

When it comes to modifying behavior, it’s important to be aware that it takes time to turn a goal into a habit. How long it takes is a function of many factors including the behavior, your commitment to making the change and your circumstances. But be prepared for a period of time ranging from two to eight months, according to many experts.

Setting a Goal for Greater Wellness in 2017

Have questions about SMART goal setting or want to talk with someone about your challenges? We’re here to help. Contact us at the Community Reach Center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Learn about our services >


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Get Moving! The Many Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

Woman exercising for mental wellness

With the New Year here, many of us will be setting self-improvement goals. If one of yours is getting more exercise, you’ll find that it delivers far more than just a healthier, more toned physique. Exercise provides a wide range of mental and emotional benefits. A quick 20 to 30 minute workout on a regular basis can:

Alleviate depression

Working up a good sweat causes your body to release endorphins, which contribute to feelings of happiness or euphoria. Studies show that exercise can even elevate the mood of people who are clinically depressed. In fact, in many cases, exercise complements medication for treating depression. (But if you are taking antidepressants, always talk with your doctor before changing your medication routine.) While working out four or five days a week is terrific, even a 30-minute workout twice a week can provide significant benefits.

Relieve anxiety

The same exercise-activated brain chemicals that can alleviate the symptoms of depression also have a positive impact on anxiety. Moderate-to-high intensity aerobic workouts in particular seem to be very effective. And you don’t have to have to join a gym to have a good workout. A used stationary bike, pair of running shoes or aerobic workout DVDs may provide what you need to get going.

Help control substance abuse and addiction

When we experience something that gives us pleasure (food, alcohol, drugs, intimacy), our brains release dopamine, a powerful chemical that’s a component of our physiological “reward” system. Exercising, especially once we’re doing it regularly, has the same effect and can help take the edge off drug or alcohol cravings. Exercise can also help reset your body clock when it’s been confused by substance abuse, leading to better sleep.

Improve brain function

Getting exercise on a regular basis improves memory and increases the ability to learn new things. It does this by promoting the production of cells in the brain’s hippocampus, which is responsible for those tasks. Working out is also thought to help slow cognitive decline that often generally begins after age 45.

Enhance creativity

For up to two hours after a vigorous workout, your brain is primed for creative output. And that’s not limited to the things we think of as “art” like painting or sculpting. Writing an email, creating a presentation or drafting a blog are all creative endeavors.

Improve self-confidence

Many people start an exercise regimen to lose weight. But working out doesn’t have to change your physical appearance to enhance your self-confidence. Just the sense of accomplishment of completing a workout on a regular basis can boost self-esteem. The increased energy level you get from working out helps you feel more confident as well.

A Slow and Steady Start

If you’re new to working out, you will want to start your exercise regimen slowly and increase the intensity of your sessions gradually. It’s also a good idea to discuss your ideas with your doctor if you’ve been mostly sedentary for an extended period. But once you get rolling with your workouts, you’ll find they can have a tremendous impact on your physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Another great way to manage your mental and emotional challenges is to talk with someone about them. Contact us at the Community Reach Center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Check out our Adult and Senior Services >

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New Year, New You – How to Tackle 2017 with the Right Mindset

woman embracing the new year

While you can decide to make positive life changes at any time, the arrival of the New Year often brings a renewed sense of hope and optimism. And there is nothing wrong with capitalizing on that momentum to commit to a new mindset and a new enthusiasm for life.

Here are some tips for heading into 2017 with an upbeat and energetic attitude:

Get moving.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “the mind-body connection.” What it means is something we all know intuitively: the healthier our bodies are, the better we feel mentally and emotionally. Getting plenty of physical exercise—ideally at least 30 minutes a day—will help lower your stress, increase your energy level, lift your mood and improve the quality of your sleep. And keep in mind that “exercise” doesn’t have to mean time at the gym. Walking around the mall as you shop, cruising the neighborhood on your bike or playing with your dog in the park all count toward your daily activity total.

Be relentlessly positive.

It’s easy to be happy when everything is going well—and very tempting to be consumed by sadness when you hit the inevitable rough patches. Make a commitment to viewing each of life’s inevitable hurdles as great mental and emotional exercise that will leave you stronger and more experienced when you encounter the next one is a great approach.

Connect in-person.

Phone calls and text messages are great, but interacting with others face-to-face is essential to mental and emotional health. Sharing our stories and listening to those of others helps us feel valued and supported, which can suppress stress responses like our “fight or flight” reaction and release stress-reducing hormones that leave us feeling calmer and at peace. Keep in mind that not every interaction needs to be an “event.” Running errands with a friend, exchanging smiles and small talk with a stranger, and greeting your neighbors are ways to connect. And joining social groups is a great way to expand your circle of acquaintances and make new friends.

Eat brain-healthy foods.

Another factor in the mind-body connection is that what you eat has a major impact on how your brain functions. Fried foods, caffeine, alcohol, sugar and refined carbs like white rice and white flour adversely affect mood, disrupt sleep, weaken the immune system, and deplete energy. On the other hand, foods rich in healthy fats and low in sugar such as fatty fish, (salmon, tuna, herring, etc.), nuts, leafy greens, beans and fresh fruit have the opposite effect.

Be a hero.

Invest some time and effort into being a friend and mentor to someone in need of assistance. Finding meaning and purpose by temporarily turning your focus away from your challenges and toward someone else’s can be very helpful for them and very uplifting for you.

Get quality sleep.

For your mind and body to be at their best, you should get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. You can help yourself fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly by using the few hours before you go to bed as a “wind down” period. Listening to soothing music, reading a book, practicing a relaxation technique or taking a warm bath can signal your body that it’s time to rest.

Manage stress by focusing on fun.

Too often the things we enjoy and that nourish our souls get pushed to the back burner by other commitments. Or in some cases, we just feel guilty about taking some time for ourselves. Remind yourself that you deserve some stress-busting fun and make it a priority.

The Future is Bright

They say that “the future is what you make of it.” As you look ahead to 2017, choose to make yours bright. And if you need help with that challenge, we’re here for you at the Community Reach Center—online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
 

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Work-Life Balance During the Holidays: Self-Care is Key

Woman and her dog
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be challenging at any time of year. Around the holidays, the conflict between end-of-year project deadlines at work and a blizzard of social commitments can make it seem almost impossible. And often we end up feeling like we’ve failed on both fronts.

Rather than being a victim of holiday overload, make a decision to focus on your mental and emotional well-being by taking these steps:

Put it on paper

Being faced with more obligations than you have time to tackle can leave you constantly weighing your options. Calm the chaos by taking your hectic schedule out of your head and putting in on paper. Prioritize the things you want to (or have to) do, decide how much time you can commit, write the details down, and then stick with that plan. You will likely have to miss out on certain things, but coming to terms with that in advance and not waffling about it later will lower your stress level.

Avoid your triggers

We all have things that increase our anxiety. Take some time to think about what your triggers are and whether some of them (or ideally all of them) can be avoided. If the office holiday party stresses you out, give yourself a break this year and politely decline, or plan to attend a portion of the festivities to match your level of comfort. If the very thought of preparing all the food for the annual gathering at your place this year leaves you frantic, consider making it a fun potluck.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is the act of paying full attention to what’s happening in the present moment. When you’re sipping on a delicious glass of eggnog, you are thinking of nothing but that delicious glass of eggnog. And that means you’re not stressing about the work deadline that’s looming, the gifts you still need to buy, etc. It’s difficult to stay mindful for long, especially when you’re new to the concept. But the more you practice, the better you get. And even just a few minutes of mental relief can be helpful.

Work up a sweat

When we’re under a time crunch, exercise is often one of the first things that gets bumped off our agenda. Don’t let that happen. A vigorous workout (or even a nice, long walk) can loosen muscles, lower blood pressure, and cause the release of endorphins that make you feel more at peace.

Push events to after the holidays

If there are gatherings or events that aren’t tied to a specific date, consider pushing them into January. Not only does that free up some time in December, it gives you something to look forward to when that inevitable post-holiday lull sets in.

'Tis the Season to Take Care of Yourself

You can have work-life balance during the holidays. It’s not easy to achieve, but the tips above can help. And if you find yourself struggling with anxiety or depression around the holidays, or at any time, don’t hesitate to contact us at the Community Reach Center—online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. And remember you don’t have to be a current consumer at Community reach Center to visit with a therapist at the Weekend Walk-in Clinic located at 8989 Huron St. in Thornton.
 

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6 Tips for Putting More Happy in Your Holidays: Finding Peace at Family Gatherings

As much as we love our families, holiday gatherings can often be stressful. But, there are steps you can keep the annual holiday event on a positive track. In fact, you may even find that when you do your part to minimize the drama and the conflict, you actually enjoy spending time with your family this season!

As your next family function approaches, keep these tips in mind:

1. Learn to let go

Since the holidays may be the only time your whole family gets together, it can be tempting to think this is a good opportunity to “get some things resolved.” However, experience tells us that it’s usually quite the opposite. Consider picking another time for talking through tough issues. They will still need addressing after the holidays.

2. Maintain a “present day” perspective

When you’re back in the house with the brother who teased you, the sister who ignored you, and the parents who didn’t understand you, you may find yourself feeling like a kid again—and not in a good way. Rather than going on the defensive, remind yourself that who you were then and who you are now are very different people. You’re much wiser and more experienced than you used to be, and therefore you can and should feel more confident and at peace.

3. Focus on listening

Family gatherings tend to be a time when people like to express their opinions. Unfortunately, when differing perspectives collide, you often end up with conflict. While you are certainly entitled to share your feelings, you’ll find that that collision loses its energy when there is no opposing force. By focusing on listening rather than speaking, you can save yourself significant stress.

4. Protect your privacy

“I’d prefer not to talk about that. How have you been?” is an absolutely fair and appropriate response to probing questions you would rather not answer. You should only volunteer as much information about your life as you are comfortable with. If the inquirer takes offense, that’s something they’ll have to work through.

5. Seek out kindred spirits

Every family has a range of personalities, including those who are known for “pushing buttons” and raising the anxiety level of everyone around them. As much as you can, steer clear of those people and spend more time with family members who are friendly, down-to-earth, and non-confrontational.

6. Take charge of a task

Letting yourself become absorbed in a task like preparing food, cleaning, taking photos, or helping a child put together a toy can keep you from getting drawn into the drama. Plus this act of “mindfulness” can help cleanse your mental and emotional palate so you’re rested when you’re ready to re-engage with the group.

Try New Strategies this Season

More enjoyable family holiday gatherings can be just a matter of trying some (or all) of these strategies. If you also need someone to talk to around the holidays or anytime, contact the Community Reach Center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at (303) 853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8:00am to 5:00pm.

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