The Holiday Blues in September?

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I don’t know how the weather is in your neck of the woods (Hello, Al Roker!), but around here it’s still hot, hot, hot!  We’re still in tank tops and flip flops, just dreaming of cooler days when we can snuggle up in our hoodies.

Meanwhile, the strangest thing is happening: the “Holiday Blues” are beginning to take hold.  By holiday blues I mean the low mood and high anxiety that often accompanies the end of the year.

There are many reasons for the holiday blues:

  • family pressure/drama/stress
  • loss (of a loved one or a job, for example)
  • overwhelming pressure to live the life portrayed on Pinterest
  • decreasing amounts of sunlight
  • bad memories or trauma in holidays past
  • annoyance at the length in magnitude of the holiday season (September through January, really?)

Whatever the reason, mid-September can mark the start of a downward slide for many of us.  Stay tuned for signs and symptoms that the holiday blues may be sneaking up on you.

We Should All Be Talking About Ashley Madison

Photo via ashleymadison.com

Photo via ashleymadison.com

The Ashley Madison website leak is more than just fun to gossip about.  It’s providing all of us an opportunity to talk about some tough – but important – stuff.  I recently wrote an article for the American Psychological Association blog, Your Mind. Your Body. in which I outlined a bunch of conversation starters stemming from the Ashley Madison leak.

Don’t be tempted to take the easy way out and simply make fun of Ashley Madison’s clientele.  Use the episode to have meaningful conversations with:

  • Your partner
  • Your kids
  • Yourself

Check out the full article here:

Your Mind. Your Body.

Your Mind. Your Body.

Mental Health Is More Than Mental Illness

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Today I am joining many other bloggers around the world in support of the American Psychological Association’s Mental Health Blog Day #MHBlogDay.   Here’s a bit about why recognizing and talking about mental health in May (and every month, really) is so crucial:

Congress designated May as Mental Health Month in 1949 to illustrate the importance of mental health issues to the overall health and well-being of American citizens. Each year, bloggers will join APA  for a Mental Health Month Blog Day to educate the public about mental health, decrease stigma about mental illness, and discuss strategies for making lasting lifestyle and behavior changes that promote overall health and wellness.
“Mental health” does not mean “mental illness.”  While understanding mental illness is important, a well-rounded understanding of mental health also includes things like parenting, dating, friendships, aging, healthy eating and exercise, financial planning, spirituality, work-life balance and happiness – among many, many other parts of life.  In this way, everyone should be participating in Mental Health Blog Day, because it’s something we can all relate to.
Add your voice to the event or check out what other people are talking about over at APA.

Why “Reparative Therapy” Is Wrong

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President Obama recently announced that he will work to ban the use of “reparative therapy.”  In case you’re not sure what that is, it’s a sort of therapy that claims to change someone’s sexual or gender identity.  Sometimes it’s also called “gay conversion” therapy.

Why don’t these sorts of therapies work?

Check out this statement of support of President Obama from the American Psychological Association:

“So-called reparative therapies are aimed at ‘fixing’ something that is not a mental illness and therefore does not require therapy. There is insufficient scientific evidence that they work, and they have the potential to harm the client,” said APA 2015 President Barry S. Anton, PhD. “APA has and will continue to call on mental health professionals to work to reduce misunderstanding about and prejudice toward gay and transgender people.”

I love this statement because it sums up the problem with “reparative therapies” perfectly – they are trying to change something that isn’t broken, wrong or a mental illness.  In fact there is nothing at all that needs to be changed, except perhaps a society that isn’t as supportive as it could be to all of its population.

Want to read more about the topic? Check out this informative story in the Washington Post.  Or check out all of APA’s statement of support.

 

Standardized Testing and Stressed-Out Kids

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Are standardized tests in the news in your community?  It seems to be what everyone is talking about around here.  Federal and state-mandated standardized tests are given to almost all students in grades K-12 in March, as far as I can understand.  I am not an expert in primary education, standardized testing or curriculum development so I can’t speak about the tests from that angle.  But, I am an expert in anxiety and parenting and have a few thoughts about how testing affects those sorts of things.

Here goes.

I have watched standardized testing season come and go (as a psychologist and mom) for a decade now.  And here’s the thing: they cause A LOT of anxiety, worry and nervous feelings all the way around.  In parents, in students, in teachers in administrators – probably bus drivers and custodians too – everyone’s feeling the tension.  It’s almost impossible to escape.

I am going to stop myself from writing about how unnecessary I think standardized tests are (especially in the quantity in which they are given).  And I’ll keep my mouth shut about how ridiculous I think it is that my 2 grade-schoolers have a combined TWENTY THREE test days in the next month.   And I’ll stop short of encouraging parents to consider opting-out of testing if they feel it’s not in the best interest of their children.

Instead I will focus on how to help your kiddos make it through testing season with their good mental health intact.

  • Keep your routine normal.  Kids thrive on routine.  Chances are their school days will look a little different during testing season (different class schedules, dismissal times, etc) so it becomes even more important that routines remain the same at home.  Try to keep normal bedtimes, mealtimes and activities going on as usual.
  • Resist the urge to talk about testing.  Your kids – whether in 1st or 11th grade – have likely been hearing about their standardized tests for weeks as teachers prepare them for what to expect.  When they get home they might need a break from all the hype.  A simple: “How did the test go today?” is likely all you need to ask about it.  Grilling our kids, ranting about the philosophical flaws of their school system or putting extra pressure on them to perform academically is rarely helpful.  Keep it light and give them a break.
  • Teach stress management skills.  Life is full of stressors.  Mastering a couple stress management strategies in childhood can be a wonderful thing.  If your child is a little stressed on test days, consider using the opportunity to teach him some basic stress management strategies: Take deep breaths; Visual a soothing, restful place; Go on a bike ride or walk.

The vast majority of kids (and parents!) make it through testing season just fine and chances are you (and I!) will, too.  If you are concerned that your child’s worry seems more intense than normal, or it doesn’t resolve after the tests are over, you might consider meeting with a psychologist.  Read more about whether therapy is needed here.

Fifty Shades: As Bad As We Think?

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I recently posted about my experience seeing Fifty Shades of Grey in the theaters.  In short: Not so great for men or women.  But is the book a different story?

In case you missed all the hype a couple years ago, the Fifty Shades of Grey saga started as a series of books by E.L. James.  Its super-racy content was the stuff of which guilty pleasures are made.  Some people loved its star characters – Ana and Christian – and others slammed the book for shoddy writing.  Still others wondered if writing quality really matters if people are actually spending their time reading!

I recently came across this fun graphic which measures Fifty Shades’ grammar with other, popular love stories.  Check it out:

Grammarly: Fifty Shades of Grammar

I have to admit that I am squirming in my seat as I write this, wondering how many grammatical errors I’m making.  Eeek.

Mistake-ridden or not, both writing and reading can be wonderful stress management strategies and avenues to mental health.  Happy reading!

Thanks to Grammarly Grammar Check for this cool infographic

A Guy’s Perspective on Fifty Shades of Grey

OK, yes, I saw the movie. And read the book. All of them.  And yes, the 50 Shades of Grey series is:

  • a guilty pleasure
  • potentially harmful to women’s self esteem, sense of power, and psycho-sexual health
  • not fine literature or cinema
  • not a great representation of the BDSM lifestyle

But that’s not what I am going to write about today.  Instead, I am going to summarize the conversation I had after seeing the film.  I was so glad I went with a man because he gave me a completely different perspective on the story line.

The first part of the conversation centered around the fact that the Fifty Shades story has been told (and will continue to be told) a zillion times.  Pure, sweet, young girl meets wordly, wealthy, and super-hot guy.  He woos her, they fall in love, have a couple problems, then live happily ever after in a big house with a bunch of kids.  Interestingly , my male companion had no idea that pretty much all romance novels have this same story line (think: Twilight, Nora Roberts, etc).  “I guess this is a fantasy for most women” I said.  “What is the male version of this fantasy?” I asked.  After some thoughtful consideration he guessed, “big boobs?” Hmmm.

After that insightful comment about the male psyche, he offered a few of his own observations about the Fifty Shades movie:

  • How, at 27 years old, has Christian Grey had enough time to create a multi-billion dollar company?
  • How does he have time for all these sexual shenanigans and stay at the helm of his empire?
  • How would he have time to work all day, have dinner with a friend until at least 9pm, fly from Seattle to Georgia, make reservations to take a glider tour, rent a car just like his ride at home, and arrive fresh as a daisy to romance Ana early the next day?
  • Why is Ana still using a flip phone?

All kidding aside, these observations really made me think about women’s expectations of the men in our lives.  Just as it isn’t so healthy to expect all women to have big boobs, no wrinkles, and long blond hair – it also isn’t so great to expect men to be wealthy, endlessly romantic, and apparently have no need for sleep.  Perhaps we need to be a little more fair when considering stereotypes of sexiness.  And just as women can be damaged by unhealthy, unattainable expectations – so can men.

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Why Should I Care About Diversity in Media?

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Does it matter what you watch on TV?

Does it matter if your kids have role models in media?

Does watching movies with diverse casts, with diverse groups of directors, with diverse messages make a difference?

Yes, yes and yes.

Even for those of us who aren’t huge movie buffs, or TV fanatics – we are all influenced by media in one way or another.  Maybe it’s traditional print media, billboards, YouTube, Netflix – whatever – it’s hard to escape media’s influence.  And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  What IS bad is when the media you are consuming isn’t reflective of who you really are.  Instead it’s full of stereotypes or unhealthy (physically and psychologically) portrayals of people you identify with.  Here are a few examples:

  • TV and print commercials focusing solely on female’s looks (or cleaning abilities) as a way to identify them
  • TV sitcoms portraying a large proportion of men as lazy, selfish, and intellectually inferior to their wives
  • Movies including women in only supporting roles to more powerful men
  • TV, movies and print media encouraging cultural/racial/ethnic stereotypes by type-casting actors

The list could go on and on.

Why should you care?  Because media matters.  And when we see stereotypes reinforced over and over again, they become more ingrained in all of our brains  – even if we don’t want them to! And in our increasingly diverse world, it’s important for us to get past stereotypes and see each other (and ourselves) for the unique individuals we are.  Nobody’s mental health is improved by narrowly defining ourselves and others.  Understanding and accepting diversity (again, in ourselves and others) is a key piece of overall psychological health.

So, now what?

I am excited to announce that I have joined with Public Radio International (PRI) and SheKnows Media in their partnership to shed light on global news stories highlighting women.  Follow along and be a part of the news coverage that will change the lives of women.  You can also follow the stories #womenslives

Want to know more about diversity, psychology and why any of it matters?  Check out this FANTASTIC video made by psychologist Dr. Ali Mattu:

 

How to Stop Worrying About Ebola

Even if you have tried to ignore the stories about Ebola over the past few months, the news has been impossible to avoid.  And now that the disease has hit close to home, many of us are left with worries and fears concerning our own health.  While we know that sitting in our living rooms worrying about it won’t do any good, it can be hard to know what else to do.  So, I have gathered a couple great resources on managing worries around Ebola.

My favorite tip is to take a break from news coverage.  When we are bombarded with media coverage about any event – including this one – it can cause significant anxiety.  And lots of anxiety over a long period of time is no good for our health, or the health of our families and communities.

Check out some other resources here:

How and Why You Should Ease Your Ebola Fears – Your Mind. Your Body:

It’s important to always stay alert, to be informed and take precautions if you think you may be at risk for coming into contact with any virus. But to help maintain emotional well-being, it’s critical to ease Ebola fears by reviewing the facts, maintaining perspective, and upholding hope.
Keep things in perspective. Limit worry and agitation by lessening the time you and your family spend watching or listening to upsetting media coverage. Although you’ll want to keep informed — especially if you have loved ones in affected countries — remember to take a break from watching the news and focus on the things that are positive in your life and things you have control over.

Depressed? Just Get Over it!

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In honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week, (#MIAW) I decided to write a post about depression and why, when someone is depressed, they don’t just “get over it.”  After all, why can’t people who suffer from depression just “think positive,” “be grateful” or exercise more and – just like that – feel better?

Because depression is an illness.

And just like we would NEVER say to someone with diabetes, “Just don’t think about sugar!”

or to someone with high blood pressure, “Just visualize that number down!”

or someone with a Multiple Sclerosis, “It’s all in your head!”

…we must not trivialize depression as something that can be wished or willed away.  Instead, effective treatment for depression is often multi-pronged, involving psychotherapy, healthy lifestyle management and possibly medication.  Luckily, we have lots of great options for the treatment of depression, and many of them are covered by health insurance – making gaining access to care a real possibility for most people.

For what to do after being diagnosed with depression, see my article.

To read a true story about post partum depression, read here.

For more information about effective treatments for depression, see APA’s article.

For more information about using your health insurance for mental health treatment, see APA’s article.