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.

 

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.

In mental health: Just what is stigma?

 

Stigma often stands in the way of people benefitting from treatment.

This is a common refrain in the behavioral health field when pondering the significant number of people who sidestep an opportunity for professionally recommended treatment.

When a person doesn’t opt into treatment for some reason, stigma quickly comes to mind. Could it be something else? Of course, there could be other contributing reasons – such as ability to pay and time away from work or family. But let’s address the word “stigma” for what it is.

One definition of stigma is a mark of disgrace associated with a circumstance, quality or person. Nobody wants the weight of a “mark of disgrace.” Speaking to this definition, it would be natural to steer clear of certain situations, such as breaking the law; exhibiting a certain quality, such as greed; or interacting with someone who is known to be dishonest. It follows that some people rebuff mental health treatment for fear of being judged unfairly or labeled.

With this definition it’s easy to see why everyone wants to separate stigma from mental health care. Just as there is no stigma to check into a hospital and obtain treatment for a broken leg, stepping into a mental health center for treatment should be on the same level. Physical injuries and mental health illnesses are treatable, and we know that recovery is possible for both.

Considering the damages of stigma

Information from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website notes stigma causes people to feel ashamed of something that is out of their control. It prevents them from seeking the help they need. For example, a friend might tell them that they are just going through a phase, and it is something they could control if they really tried.  Or to “just snap out of it!”

For many people who are already carrying a heavy burden, stigma adds to their pain. And what is doubly sad is the fact that the damage of the stigma they feel can be deepened when they are illegally discriminated against as well, such eliminated from a job opportunity.

What can we do?

When a behavioral health care professional is asked “what is stigma?” a spirited response might be “It’s something we should fight!” With that in mind, NAMI suggests several ways to fight stigma, so let’s consider a few:

  • Integration: As mentioned earlier, it helps to encourage equality between physical and mental illness. Recognizing that mental illness is a disease is the right perspective. We certainly wouldn’t discount the pain and discomfort of someone with cancer or an injured back.
  • Compassion: Be caring. Be present and thoughtful for those with a mental illness. Show compassion across the board to anyone who is suffering.
  • Communication and labels: Be aware of language. Separate the person from the illness. For example, Sara is recovering from a substance abuse disorder, rather than Sara is a stoner or Sara is an alcoholic. Watch this new video on labels: Liftthelabel.
  • Openness: Talk openly about mental health. Talk openly in families or social groups about mental health and how to be in overall good health. There may be a family story about a relative who overcame clinical depression. This can help as the same challenge could arise for other family members. Remember to include the value of self-care – all those healthful habits that are good for physical and mental health.

We are here to help

At Community Reach Center, we are always looking for ways to educate everyone about mental health in a dedicated effort to combat stigma. We have a full continuum of treatment options. We practice Feedback Informed Treatment (FIT), which raises the level of communication between consumers and clinicians. To learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center, visit www.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, Brighton and Broomfield. Our Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours.

Acronyms align to mental health

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is as good a time as any to consider acronyms and mnemonic devices.

Seems like there are acronyms everywhere. Some are playful and can be plugged in as needed. For example, FOMO (fear of missing out) and the opposite JOMO (joy of missing out) provides a choice. The question might be whether to binge watch past seasons of a show to catch up with work mates or instead focus on learning a foreign language. Or maybe, you choose to really, really test yourself with something that is a big-time commitment. That would be YOLO (you only live once).

Along with the fun acronyms are the ones that are important tools. For example, the mnemonic ABC (airway, compression, breathing) is key memory device to help people remember how to respond in medical emergencies. Having these mnemonic guides ingrained is key to remembering the important steps in CPR during stressful situations. Another common acronym, used in first aid response, is STOP (stop, talk, observe, prevent (further injury)).

Community Reach Center provides a Mental Health First Aid course at Community Reach Center. The free 8-hour course teaches signs and symptoms of mental health illnesses and delivers an action plan called ALGEE. Moreover, it also includes a section about how to talk about suicide ideation and how to talk to someone who may be experiencing thoughts of suicide.

Down to the letters

The action plan mnemonic for Mental Health First Aid is ALGEE. Briefly, it amounts to:

  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm
  • Listen nonjudgmentally
  • Give reassurance and information
  • Encourage appropriate professional help
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies

The fine points of these actions cannot be adequately covered in the space of a blog, so it’s best to visit the Community Reach Center website and sign up for a free 8-hour course.

The Mental Health First Aid course was developed in Australia, and it turns out there is another good program originating from Australia that advocates prevention of suicide, which is R U OK? day. This annual day filled with youth and general community activities is Thursday, Sept. 12. The mnemonic for R U OK?, like ALGEE, also aids in providing assistance person to person.

The R U OK? mnemonic is ALEC:

  • (Ask R U OK?)
  • Listen
  • Encourage action
  • Check-in

A quick search online and you can find more details about R U OK? and ALEC in connection with prevention of suicide.

Take time to learn more

Please have a look at ALGEE and ALEC and STOP and others. Remember, these types of mnemonic devices are helpful reminders of specific interventions that may be hard to draw upon in the heat of a crisis or even just day-to-day stressors.

Consider taking a day to take a Mental Health First Aid course. Please sign up at the Community Reach Center website. And please takes some time this month to visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website for good overview of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

At Community Reach Center, a leading metro Denver area mental health clinic, we are always prepared to help. Visit communityreachcenter.org or call us at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday for more information about services. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.

Ready for counseling? Let’s get started

Deciding to engage in counseling – especially for the first time – can feel overwhelming. Consequently, what to expect for your first initial intake appointment with a therapist can really help. Let’s talk tips. 

First, check out the agency's or therapist's website. You will likely find a lot of the answers to your questions about your intake appointment there. Most agencies and private therapists also have a lot of good information on their websites about their values, mission, services and areas of treatment.

You will likely also find FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about accepted insurances, intake forms and what you will need to bring with you to your intake appointment. Completing these forms from home may be helpful to lessen your anxiety when you arrive. You will also learn how to get your first therapy appointment. 

You will likely need to bring basic information, such as your ID, insurance card, Social Security number and a list of medications (which is extremely helpful). This information is essential for knowing any medical information that may impact your mental health, and for care coordination with your primary care physician.

If you would like to bring a friend, family member, spouse or partner to your first session, feel free to – this person should make you feel comfortable and allow you to speak your truth, not dominate the session or make your feel shamed or judged. Note that you will likely need to complete a release of information, dubbed an ROI, to allow the therapist to exchange personal health information with this person.   

First appointment

Know that therapists are trained professionals, and what you tell them is confidential. The first session with them is to review and sign off on clinical paperwork, to gather information about why you are seeking treatment, discuss your symptoms, how long you have experienced these symptoms, and consider your goals for treatment.

Therapists have heard and helped navigate a variety of issues, so their job at this initial visit is to lay the groundwork for your treatment. Be honest about what you are struggling with.  

Finally, bring an open mind and be patient with the treatment process.  The reasons you are seeking treatment did not happen overnight, so the solutions to your problems may not resolve that quickly either. 

Available assistance

At Community Reach Center, we continuously work to streamline our intake process. We want you to have a good experience with the initial steps and paperwork, and once you start appointments with a counselor, we use seek your comments in FIT (Feedback Informed Treatment) practices to fine tune your treatment every step of the way.

We are always prepared to help at Community Reach Center, a leading Denver mental health clinic. Visit communityreachcenter.org or call us at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday for more information about services. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.

This column was contributed by Adrienne Sines, MA, LPC, NCC, who is a program manager for the Intake Team at Community Reach Center in Thornton.  She has a history of serving in school-based, residential, in-home and outpatient settings. Thank you Adrienne.

Men increasingly serve as caregivers

Almost half the people who care for an elderly, disabled or chronically ill family member or friend are men, but the way they cope is usually different than women.

According to the National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA), more than 54 million Americans have provided care for an elderly, disabled or chronically ill family member or friend during the past year. Even though caregiving is often thought of as a primarily female role, an NFCA survey found that 44 percent of caregivers are male.

This emerging trend for men to increasingly serve as primary caregivers presents unique challenges and is requiring adjustments, such as new support groups, to make sure all caregivers are supported regardless of gender or family role.

Whether an ill relative has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease or a stroke, male caregivers often find their new role to be daunting and all-consuming. Most men have grown up in a household – and certainly a culture – in which females are perceived as the primary family nurturers. Yet often by necessity, more men than ever are rolling up their sleeves and helping an ill loved one with day-to-day tasks such as dressing, toileting, bathing, eating, changing dressings and managing medications.

To compound the stress, baby-boomer men may find themselves sandwiched between elder care and child care. As they juggle work, family, and the needs of an aging parent, stress and frustration can often turn into anger, despair, exhaustion and burnout.

Help is emerging

Studies have documented the ability of support groups to ease the emotional pain and anxiety associated with caregiving and to fight the social isolation. But even though these support groups for caregivers are available in many parts of the country, men lag behind women in their willingness to take the initiative to participate.

To attract more men, the Alzheimer's Association sponsors support groups solely for male caregivers, which are becoming increasingly popular. The association offers services in more than 300 communities in the U.S. Some men prefer participating more anonymously in online support groups through the organization's website.

Importance of self-care

Men also tend to react differently to the depression that can accompany long-term caregiving. They are less likely than women to admit that they feel depressed, talk with their doctor about it or take antidepressant medication. Men, in fact, are more likely to deal with depression by working long hours at the office or turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drugs or alcohol.

Male caregivers may neglect themselves in other areas – eating an inadequate diet, ignoring their need for exercise, having too little sleep and postponing visits to the doctor for their own medical ills. The consequences of these behaviors can be serious.

The strains of caregiving

Research at Ohio State University found that the chronic stress associated with caring for a family member with dementia can weaken the disease-fighting immune system of elderly caregivers.

At the University of Pittsburgh, investigators evaluated elderly individuals (48 percent of whom were men) who were caring for an ill spouse. The strain of caregiving increased their risk of death, compared to counterparts who were not caregivers. As a result, many doctors and social workers advise their patients not to take on caregiving responsibilities unless they're willing to also care for themselves.

More information

If you find yourself in the challenging role of a caregiver, remember to care for yourself as well, because if not, your ability to function as a caregiver will be adversely impacted. If you have any questions about where to turn for help, please reach out to the Senior Reach team at Community Reach Center at 303-853-3657. We can assist with emotional support for caregivers and connect you to appropriate local resources for additional help.

Editor’s Note: 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 this blog and its important insights. The writing team contributes monthly columns concerning older adults. 

 

Positive self-talk is a big plus

 

Securing healthy habits is key to physical and mental health.

Most everyone has messages that play again and again in their minds. Sadly some of those messages are not so positive. Consequently, taking time to recognize and intentionally replace negative patterns of self-talk with positive perspectives can be very beneficial for mental health.

Positive self-talk can take many different forms – it can be as simple as thanking yourself for practicing a coping skill or making a positive decision. 

An example of this might be thinking or saying, “I did a great job practicing deep breathing when I got that difficult phone call at work today,” or “I chose to eat breakfast this morning because I am devoted to improving my health.” 

Notice in these examples, there is no use of the words “can’t, won’t or shouldn’t.”  While these words can have good intent, such as “I won’t skip my workout today,” they are not actually good examples of positive self-talk and can sound quite punitive. 

Reframing the words with positive intent, such as “I am going to the gym after work today as a part of my wellness plan,” allows one to take ownership with determination, rather than as just having one more thing that can contribute to a negative head space if skipped. 

Another great way to practice positive self-talk is to come up with a short saying or specific words that resonate with you. Consider the words of a mentor, a positive quote from a movie or even a lyric from a song that gives you a boost.

Changing habits

A simple one that I often find myself using is “you got this.” I say this to myself before presentations and interviews. Sometimes all it takes is a little self-reminder that you are indeed good enough and can handle what life brings your way.

I sometimes hear clients say positive self-talk seems “too easy” to actually work. I reply with a question: “How often do you really practice it?”  It might seem easy and, at times, silly, but our words are powerful. Affirmations allow our brains to be “re-routed” toward more positive thinking and can even improve our relationships with others. 

In sum, positive self-talk is a way to take better care of one’s mental health, and we could all use being a little nicer to ourselves.

You got this.

If you need more

While considering how to improve your lifestyle, self-talk is a tremendous self-care activity, but remember elevated mental health challenges require guidance from a trained professional. For example, if you experience sadness for an extended period you may be experiencing depression and should consider talking to a professional.

At Community Reach Center, a leading Denver mental health clinic, we are always prepared to help. Visit communityreachcenter.org or call us at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday for more information about services. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.

This blog was written by Jenna Bogan, LPC, LAC, Program Manager of CRC’s Behavioral Health Urgent Care in Westminster. She is also a Community Reach Center featured Ask A Therapist columnist.