Stress, crisis and trauma

All people have a different capability to cope with and regulate events that overwhelm us.  Think of the wide range of expression of emotions you’ve already witnessed during the COVID-19 epidemic. Stress of all kinds can create a self-defined crisis that invokes reactions like anxiety, depression, isolation and exhaustion. However, not all stressful or crisis events are traumas.

One way in which a trauma differs is the continued impact on a person’s ability to self-regulate and the symptoms that they experience such as flashbacks, hypervigilance and feelings of detachment.

By clinical terms, a trauma is any event in which a person experienced a threat to their life, serious injury or significant violence. Initial reactions to traumas are much the same as to a stressful or crisis event.

COVID-19 impact

The coming of the COVID-19 surely raises the types of stressors that contribute to trauma. The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) notes that stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include:

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Worsening of mental health conditions
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs

Don’t hesitate, take quick action

If you or someone you know is feeling great stress due to COVID-19, whether you would consider it a “crisis” or something lesser, remember Community Reach Center operates the Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center at 2551 W. 84th Ave. in Westminster. It is open 24/7.

The BHUC team is comprised of trained mental health professionals available 24/7 to help individuals of all ages who are experiencing: thoughts of suicide, depression, overwhelming feelings of stress, anxiety, feelings of harming oneself or someone else, an increase in drug and alcohol use and family crises.

People may also call 1-844-493-TALK (8255), or text TALK to 38255 to speak with a trained professional at Colorado Crisis Services.

At home, show you care

There is an old expression that charity begins at home. One way to interpret the saying is to care for your family first. Take care of those close to you. Help them cope with stress and from there branch out and look for opportunities to make your community stronger.

That means just tuning into what those around you need, whether it involves cooking for them, taking over some chores, or facilitating conversation with others over the phone or social media. Encourage others to unwind and perhaps not watch news all day long.

Just do your best. Simple. And keep in mind this comforting note in the Mental Health First Aid USA manual which reads “When talking to a person who has experienced a traumatic event, it is more important to be genuinely caring than to say the right things.” Like so many other activities, Mental Health First Aid courses have been canceled due to social distancing practices, but please watch for these opportunities later in the year to take a free class and learn more about all aspects of mental health.

Recognize resilience and prevention

Most people have various levels of resilience on their sides. Young people face many challenges when going through their teens, but they tend to have good resilience to bounce back as they are growing and developing.

Further, there are ways to increase resilience through positive thinking and positive self-talk. Just as training the physical body to be stronger helps to prepare for life’s eventualities, there are ways to become more mentally fit for all the challenges life brings our way.

Want to learn more?

A special webcast presentation titled “Understanding the Impacts of Trauma on Wellness” by Community Reach Center Clinical Senior Manager Jaime Brewer, MA, LPC, will be April 23.

Brewer has worked in the behavioral health field since 2010. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Colorado College and her master’s degree in International Disaster Psychology from the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology. She is also a board member and secretary for the Crisis Residential Association.

Her presentation will cover the types of trauma – “without going too deep,” she notes – and how trauma affects the brain. She will also give special emphasis on techniques to gain resilience. To register for her 3:30-5 p.m. Thursday, April 23, webcast, please go to the following Eventbrite link and click on register.

Here for you

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.

How older adults can cope with COVID-19

We are certainly in unsettling times. Often, it is difficult to find reliable information. This is a quick informational blog about how to keep yourself safe and how to reach out for assistance. The Senior Reach program continues to operate, accept new referrals, and continues to work with older adults in our community. We are currently utilizing a Telehealth model to continue our work.

Older adults, 65 years and older, are at higher risk for severe illness. COVID-19 is a new disease, and we are learning more about it every day.

What you can do

If you have a serious underlying medical condition:

  • Stay home if possible.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Avoid close contact (6 feet, which is about two arm lengths) with people who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
  • Avoid all cruise travel and non-essential air travel.
  • Call your healthcare professional if you have concerns about COVID-19 and your underlying condition or if you are sick.
  • For more information on steps you can take to protect yourself, see CDC’s How to Protect Yourself

Stress and coping

Older people are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 which may result in increased stress during a crisis.

Fear and anxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions.

Things you can do to support yourself:

  • Go outside for a little while: Enjoy the health benefits of sunlight, especially morning sun, look around and stretch a little. Stay home but get a little sun.
  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories and social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting. Instead play different games on the cell phone or table.
  • Enjoy your kitchen: See what you have in your pantry, make a recipe with whatever you find. Discard items that have expired. Research cooking ideas on Pinterest.
  • Body basics: Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to make a point to do activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Find a project: Make your own hand sanitizer or make protective masks as a sewing project or make a project with other items around the house. Find something that works within the scope of your home.
  • Call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.
  • If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others, then please call right away.

Here for you

This column was contributed by Wellness and Care Coordinator Nicole Hartog and Program Manager James Kuemmerle with the Senior Reach program at Community Reach Center. 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. 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.

Reduce procrastination to improve wellness

Enjoyable activities can be the spice of life, but what must be done when they become excessive and interfere with our productivity? We’ll have to look in the mirror and take the initiative to reduce behaviors leading to procrastination.

Procrastination is often regarded as a time management problem. However, psychologists like Tim Pychyl at Carleton University attest that procrastination has more to do with emotional regulation than time management. This stance conflicts with popular understandings of procrastination, leading us to re-evaluate our perspective on this behavior.

Why do we procrastinate?

Procrastination is often caused by emotional dissatisfaction associated with working on productive tasks, such as school assignments or work-related tasks.

Emotional dissatisfaction associated with productivity often leads to engaging in distractive activities like watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the internet and social media.

Procrastinating by engaging in distractive activities provides short-term mental satisfaction but can be detrimental to long-term wellness.

Impacts on wellness

Procrastination has been found to contribute to the following mental health problems:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

As time is spent procrastinating, stress and anxiety levels increase due to worrying about completing a task at hand, especially as deadlines approach.

Procrastination may also lead to depression because stress and anxiety are known to exacerbate symptoms of depression.

The following physical health problems have been associated with chronic procrastination:

  • Hypertension
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Chronic illness

Physical health consequences attributed with chronic procrastination are largely due to the physical impacts of anxiety. For instance, anxiety hinders functioning of the cardiovascular system, immune system and central nervous system, leading to physical health consequences.

Poor health habits are also common in people who experience immense stress and anxiety, therefore contributing to physical health consequences.

Reducing procrastination

While there are no cheat codes to conquer procrastination indefinitely. However, some useful tips can be used to significantly reduce this behavior.

A notable tip for reducing procrastination is to ask yourself the following questions:

  • “What tasks need to be completed to promote my wellness?”
  • “What actions will benefit my future wellness and success?”
  • “How will I feel if I do not complete a task on time?”

Such questions provide insight on what needs to be prioritized, as well as taking wellness into consideration.

Another useful tip to reduce procrastination is by giving yourself incentive to complete a task through rewarding yourself with an enjoyable activity after you’ve completed it. You can tell yourself, when I finish my assignment, I will watch that awesome new movie everyone’s been raving about or beat the next level in my favorite video game. Whatever the reward is, ensure it will give you strong incentive to complete your task.

Also, no exceptions. Enjoyable activities make it harder to be productive because transitioning from a pleasurable activity to a productive task is difficult.

Taking breaks

If you feel overwhelmed while completing a task, take a break. Do something that is not distractive, time consuming or mentally taxing, such as:

  • Take a short walk
  • Eat a healthy snack
  • Engage in mindfulness meditation

Such activities will promote mental clarity and enhance productivity when returning to your task.

Final thoughts

Procrastination is a prevalent behavior in society. Statistics estimate around 80 to 95 percent of college students procrastinate academic work. Further, about 20 percent of adults in the U.S. are chronic procrastinators. However, through knowing the impacts of procrastination on wellness and tips to reduce this behavior, you can save yourself the unnecessary stress by completing your tasks ahead of time. What are you waiting for? Now is the time to tackle those productive tasks and overcome procrastination.   

Establishing good habits as well as 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. The Grants, Public Relations and Marketing team extends a big thank you and high praise to Brice who exceeded expectations in writing exceptional blogs and handling at wide variety of tasks during his internship. We enjoyed the past six months he has worked with our team and predict great success in his future. 

The importance of sleep for mental and physical health

What if I told I you there was a ground-breaking evidence-based treatment available to everyone that helps you manage anxiety, depression, PTSD, reduces risk of heart attacks, decreases your chances of diabetes, protects you against cancer, lowers food cravings, reduces risk of dementia, increases your life span and makes you more attractive?

It’s called sleep!

March is Sleep Awareness Month, and I thought I’d help increase your awareness of how sleep affects you. My favorite book for 2019 was “Why we sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams,” authored by Matthew Walker, doctorate professor of neuroscience and psychology (and director of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory) at the University of California, Berkeley.

What happens when we sleep?

In the book, Walker writes about how research has demonstrated that sleep is not just a passive state. Instead it’s a highly active time, a period during which the brain and some physiological processes may be hard at work.

The two main types of sleep are rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep.

  • REM is responsible for forming new neural connections, problem-solving, dreaming, blunting emotional responses to painful memories, reading other people’s facial emotions and neonatal synaptogenesis.
  • NREM is responsible for pruning memories, transferring short-term memory to long-term memory, gaining muscle memory, growth hormone secretion and parasympathetic nervous system activation.

What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?

Sleep and anxiety neuroscientists have found that sleep deprivation fires up areas of the brain associated with emotional processing. The resulting pattern mimics the abnormal neural activity seen in anxiety disorders. Researchers also believe that chronic worriers – those who are naturally more anxious and therefore more likely to develop a full-blown anxiety disorder – are acutely vulnerable to the impact of insufficient sleep.

Lack of sleep directly affects the part of the brain that’s used for managing emotions. Emotion regulation is controlled by the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. When we’re not getting enough sleep, we can get angry, frustrated or upset more easily. We can feel less control over our reactions to things and people. With poor sleep we’re more vulnerable to low moods, such as feeling sad and lacking enthusiasm.

We might find ourselves crankier and more irritable. 

Good ideas

Here are some tips for getting the healthy eight hours recommended.

  • Get your room dark and cold. Why dark? When your brain detects light from a blue light spectrum (electronics) it suppresses the release of melatonin. Its melatonin that initiates the first sleep cycle. Why cold? Our body needs to drop two to three degrees to enter deep sleep.
  • Sticking to a sleep schedule can help your body fall asleep more easily. A relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music, should be part of your bedtime ritual. Exercise is great, but not too late in the day.
  • Try to exercise at least 30 minutes on most days but no later than two to three hours before your bedtime. Avoid caffeine nicotine and alcohol. Having the right sunlight exposure is key to regulating daily sleep patterns.
  • Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes each day. If possible, wake up with the sun or use very bright lights in the morning.

Liz Austin, BA, is a PSR (Psychosocial Rehabilitation) specialist at Community Reach Center and has been with this program for almost four years now. Prior to joining the PSR team Liz was part of the Mesa House team for five years. Liz has recently gotten into rock climbing and enjoys the family bonding time spent belaying each other on challenging climbs.   

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.

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.