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Stress: Being on the Offense

Stress: Being on the Offense

Deadlines, busy schedules, taking care of others, dysfunctional relationships, unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others can all bring about feelings of stress.

Even through intensely stressful times many of us can function, go to work, care for their families, and even participate in social events; all while ignoring the need to care for ourselves.

Oftentimes we hold off on addressing the stress or feelings of anxiousness until it has reached a high level of intensity.

In other words, we are on the defense with our stress.

We wait until the damage has already been done to address it.

We feel the effects of this damage in the form of muscle tension and body aches, gastrointestinal issues, sleeping problems, skin issues, increased racing thoughts, feelings of hopelessness and increased moodiness.

What’s worse is long-term effects of chronic stress include high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression or anxiety disorders.

But there is another option to address our stress. We can be on the offense. When we are on the offense we can be anticipate what our minds, bodies and relationships need before the damage comes.

We can honor ourselves by practicing self-care on a daily or weekly basis.

By doing this we are building up reserves for ourselves to better handle stressful situations, be present for others and all while not feeling like we are on empty.

So, what can you do to be on the offense?

Take care your mind. Make time for yourself, offer a quiet space for your thoughts, meditate, journal how you are feeling or talk a mental health professional about your stress. Treat your body.

Make time for exercise, yoga, got for a walk, meditate, visiting your massage therapist, acupuncturist or chiropractor.

Also set boundaries with your time, say “no” when you can, and remember that it’s okay to put yourself first sometimes.

Rather than waiting until the damage has already been done and then attempting to defend our sense of balance, we can be on the offense.

Practicing Gratitude during a time of Uncertainty

Practicing Gratitude during a time of Uncertainty

By: Nicole Ball, LMSW Mental Health Therapist and Owner of Mental Wellness Counseling: A Traverse City Counseling Practice

Things are tough right now. Many of us are struggling to see the brighter side of things. When we do, it might come in waves; one day we are productive and feeling optimistic about the future, and the next we are crying and fearful about how long the health crisis will last.  But practicing gratitude is a proven method that can help not only manage our immediate emotions, but also have lasting positive effects on the lens we see the world through.

Bring grateful is expressing emotion of appreciation and recognition. This can be done in many ways. It can be saying “thank you” to others, identifying what you are thankful for, or recognizing the efforts of others that you might otherwise take for granted. It could also be identifying those things within ourselves that others might see, but we often don’t view as a valuable part of ourselves.

By intentionally and regularly being grateful you are reinforcing the hormones connected to happiness. You are training your brain to be happier and to automatically recognize those things that you have to be grateful for. This will make us happier because it disconnects us from negative emotions.

There is much research that shows that purposely practicing gratitude increases physical health.  This is seen in lowers negative hormones like Adrenaline, Cortisol, Norepinephrine, as well as less inflammation, betters sleep and better eating habits.

When the lens we see the world through is tinted with feelings of gratitude and thankfulness it also strengths our relationships, helps us feel more satisfied with our roles or jobs and makes burnout less likely.

So, in the midst so much uncertainty, how can we do this?

Start a daily gratitude list. This is a great way to intentionally identify those things we are thankful for. Start every morning with a quick list of 5-10 things you are grateful for. It starts your day with a lens of happiness and hope. And when the day gets tough you can go back to your lists and review. By practicing this daily you will start to see the lasting effects in how you view the world around you, how you treat others and how you react emotionally to stress.

Send messages of thanks and support. Words have power. Send a message to someone thanking them for their relationship, their service, their skills or their support. Tell someone how much you appreciate them and value their role in your life or in your community. Spreading gratitude to others has immediate positive effects.

In a time when we might feel little control over our surroundings, this is another way that we can turn the focus to what we do have control over. We can control the lens we view an unpredictable world through and be grateful for the many things in our lives that keep us sustained and bring us joy.

Creating Our New Normal: Shifting From Fear to Strength during the Health  Crisis

Creating Our New Normal: Shifting From Fear to Strength during the Health Crisis

Our New Normal: Originally published in the Traverse City Record Eagle

Nicole Ball, LMSW

Life has changed

Life has changed. For everyone. In so many ways.

Many of us are now working from home. Maybe trying to balance parenting while working; and we are struggling. Many of us have lost our jobs or our businesses; and we are struggling. Many of us are lonely; and we are struggling.

Many of us are scared. Scared because we have children or parents who are at risk, or because we are at risk. Many of us are scared because we are working on the front lines in the medical field and this is not what we sign up for, but we are going to keep showing up. Many of us are essential workers and we are exposed to the public every day.

Most of us are anxious about when this will end.

Some would say that our new normal is uncertainty, struggle, survival and fear.

But I say our new normal is of strength, resilience, love and patience. We are learning, in our new normal, that we have a much deeper capacity for all these things. And guess what? Each of them is stronger than fear!

So, what can we do? How, in all the uncertainty, do we re-frame our perspective from fear to the strength and resiliency that is already there?

Re-frame and Re-focus

First, focus on what we have control over. It feels like we have very little control right now, but we can control our actions.  For example, we can keep in touch with your friends and family by checking in and making efforts to connect. We can ensure that we are taking care of our bodies by getting outside, going for walks or enjoying fresh air. We can control what we can do with our time, to be productive and clean out that closet we have been meaning to get to. Or even the choice to do nothing and just binge watching our favorite TV shows.  We can control what we do for our communities and those in need. We can control what we do for our mind by making space for meditation, prayer, quiet moments or breathwork. We can control how we nurture our creativity by doing activities we enjoy. And we can ignore the pressure that seems to be coming from every angle to be overly productive.

Next, we can limit media exposure. Yes, we should be informed, and it is important to be up to date on the latest information regarding our safety. Although spending too much to time on social media, researching or reading the news can cause increased anxiety and feed the fear.  Allow the space and time for this but do so in a way that limits the duration and frequency and offers time to decompress after.

We can also do things that keep us, those around us and our communities safe. We can practice social distancing, stay home if we are sick, wash our hands and follow other CDC recommendations. We cannot control others that are not following rules related to social distancing or sheltering at home. We cannot control how much toilet paper or bread others are buying. We cannot control others who may not be taking safety measures as seriously as we are. But we can control how we keep ourselves safe, how we react to others and how we treat one another.

There is no roadmap for how to live this new normal. But we can create the roadmap. We can re-frame our focus to what we are already doing. We are being strong, being resilient, showing love and support to those around us and our communities. This is our new normal. So, take time to see the strength in yourself, acknowledge it, show gratitude for it and then pass it on.

Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder: When To Seek Help

Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder: When To Seek Help

For many of us, winter brings what is sometimes called the “winter blues” or “cabin fever”.  Most of us in Northern Michigan are familiar with these feelings. Lack of sunlight and being cooped up in our homes for months can cause low energy, frustration and the longing for warm summer weather. The promise of spring keeps us going but certainly not without some discomfort as we wait oh so patiently for sunshine.

But for many people winter can cause suffering in the form of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of Major Depression that occurs in a seasonal pattern, often with onset of depressive episodes that begin in fall or winter and usually subside in the spring.

Symptoms of SAD may include feelings of deep sadness and depression, having low energy or feeling sluggish, becoming easily agitated, loss of interest in activities that you may have once looked forward to, trouble sleeping or concentrating, changes in weight or appetite, having frequent thoughts of hopelessness or thoughts of self-harm.

When symptoms are minimal there are steps that can be taken to combat these feelings.

Refocusing your diet and exercise routine can help reduce symptoms. In the winter months we tend to be more laxed in our approach to exercise and food. Refocusing how you are fueling your body may help to reducing low energy and sluggishness. As well, exercising releases “feel-good” endorphins that can boost your mood and attitude.

Scheduling time to get outside or planning events to look forward can also help. Fresh air can increase energy levels, while increasing concentration and brain functioning. Planning family events or time out with friends can provide distraction from the cold weather, while giving you much needed social interaction that can be lacking when the snow is keeps us stuck at home.

But when these techniques are not working and you find continued feelings of hopeless, have ongoing feelings of depression, are withdrawing yourself socially, experiencing problems at work, if you are abusing substances or are having thoughts of suicide, then it may be time to seek professional help. Talk to your doctor about your options such as medication or light therapy, see a mental health profession to talk through your feelings and address your mental health needs, and if immediate help is needed go to your local emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Grief During the Holidays

Grief During the Holidays

The holiday season is considered ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. But for those who have lost loved ones, it can be the most difficult time of the year. The approaching holidays can feel discouraging and often come with a complicated mix of sadness, sorrow, anger and pain as we miss the ones we have lost.

Grief during this time of year can also lend itself to feeling as if we must experience the holidays in a ‘normal’ way. Others often have expectations for us that can feel unmanageable and impossible to meet. Anticipating traditions that once brought delight can feel scary or painful.

What can we do if we are experiencing grief during the holidays?

Find a way to honor those that cannot be with you. A special ornament, a favorite dish at the dinner table, set aside time to share memories together, sing or play a special song, donate to a charity in their name, light a candle, volunteer your time in the community in their honor or create new traditions.

Help those who might also be grieving or need extra help during the holidays. Helping others and giving back can bring joy. It can be a new way to honor those lost and help someone who may be feeling the same difficulty during the season. Adopt a family to purchase gifts for, donate to an organization, volunteer your time, visit a nursing home, give to a local shelter or reconnect with those you have lost touch with.

Don’t feel guilty if it all feels like too much. It’s okay to not send out holiday cards if it is too difficult. It’s okay to say no to another holiday event. It is okay to not want to participate in everything. Allow yourself the space to be alone, make time for yourself, practice self-care and honor your own feelings. As well, don’t feel guilty if you are happy during the holidays. Feeling joy does not lessen how much you miss the person you have lost.

Ask for help. Identify the supportive people in your life that can offer a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to bring a dish, or two, or three when putting together a holiday spread feels like too much. Seek out those that would be willing to help you decorate when it all feels a bit daunting. Ask a friend to go shopping with you, meet for coffee or visit your loved one’s memorial with you. Oftentimes those around you want to help but just don’t know how. If you reach out, they often find great joy in being there for you.

Acknowledge that the holiday season will be different. When we enter the holidays expecting to feel the same amount of happiness we always have, we will experience even deeper sadness when feelings of grief come. Give yourself the permission to experience grief rather than feeling as if you must be happy to make the holiday ‘normal’. It is okay to feel the pain of your loss. The more we try to be strong and protect ourselves from the pain, the more it seems to grow. Allow yourself to feel the pain. Your pain is the result of love, and love should be honored and acknowledged.