Maintaining Mental Health in a Natural Disaster

Photo: Getty Images

By now we’ve all seen the amazing, horrifying images of the damage Hurricane Sandy inflicted on the East Coast.  And I would imagine the suffering, struggle, and emotional fallout will continue long after the media moves on to more “interesting” things in the days and weeks ahead.  My colleague, Dr. Elaine Ducharme wrote a great article about how to cope with the hurricane on the American Psychological Association’s blog, Your Mind. Your Body.  Her tips – especially the ones about getting the facts and talking to your kids – are especially helpful. Check it out here.

I also really liked the post by CNN’s The Chart about some of the nuts and bolts about living through a storm and subsequent flooding.  I didn’t realize how dangerous floods can be after the water recedes.  Check it out here.

This article on ABC about how to help hurricane victims was excellent.  I love how they reviewed several organizations, how to contact them, and how the money donated actually helps people.  Did you know over one hundred blood drives were cancelled because of the storm? Wow.  Check it out here.

For more information about managing stress and trauma after this hurricane or other natural disasters, check out the resources over at the American Psychological Association.

The Side Effects of Psychotherapy

The other day I posted a YouTube video by the American Psychological Association (APA) extolling the virtues of psychotherapy. Here’s another video with a similar message: namely that psychotherapy with a licensed psychologist is an effective and safe way to treat depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.  The bonus is that it doesn’t have the side effects that medications do: no dry mouth, too-much-caffeine feelings, sexual problems, to name some of the most common.  Here’s the clip:

As I noted previously, I am a big fan of APA, but don’t totally agree with the assertion that there are no side effects of participating in psychotherapy other than a better, healthier life.  While I certainly believe that can be true, it is also true that some people notice that their mood goes down a bit before improving when starting psychotherapy.  The thought behind this is that sometimes unhappy, painful memories are discussed in the therapy session.  Sometimes “stirring the pot” of sad experiences, emotions, etc can have the “side effect” of causing a low mood.  Of course the hope is that new, healthier coping strategies will be learned and improved mood will soon follow.

Overall these videos are awesome – I love the message!  Just thought I would point out that while psychotherapy is an under-utilized and highly effective treatment option, it is not entirely without a downside.

Psychotherapy: It Works

Full-disclosure: I work closely with the American Psychological Association (APA) as the Public Education Coordinator for Colorado, and in other capacities.  I think they are generally a great organization which does important work for psychologists AND the public.  APA works for mental health treatment, and stands up for the rights of psychologists in the US (and Canada, actually).  As awesome as I think the organization is, it rarely has a sense of humor.  So imagine my delight when I watched this new video.  Funny, a bit irreverent, and right on the money in terms of psychotherapy vs. meds – it is worth a minute of your time.

Failure is a Good Thing

Photo via: loyal_oak

I wrote a post over at Your Mind. Your Body. earlier this week about some new research just released from the American Psychological Association.  For someone like me – an anti-perfectionist (slacker? lover of mistakes? fan of failure?) the news was great.  In a nutshell the French researchers found that children who struggled, failed, and squirmed their way through tough academic assignments performed better on subsequent academic tasks.  The authors concluded that struggle and failure in school is actually a good thing in terms of future performance. What a relief!

I am so pleased to hear this because I am a big fan of flailing and failing, and making mis-steps and mistakes.  Perhaps it’s because I have made so many of them myself over the years, or maybe it’s because perfection simultaneously intimidates and bores me.  Either way,  I’m always looking for reasons to avoid it (perfectionism) and embrace the opposite.

So what can we take from this research?

The math homework doesn’t need to be done to perfection every night to get something out of it

Having some cooking disasters shouldn’t keep us from continuing to bake

Letting our kids watch us fail, may help them learn to fail with grace and humor – which may actually benefit their school performance down the road

For more tips about how to make use of this study, check out my post: Learning is Hard and That’s OK

Talking to Your Kids About the School Shooting

I got so teary this morning watching the coverage of the school shooting in Ohio.  Sad for the victims, sad for the survivors, sad for the families, and sad for the gunman and his family.  It is tough to make sense of such violence, and tough too not to fear for the safety of the children in our own lives.  I wonder what it would be like to be a kid watching the news about such events as the shooting in Ohio?  While I felt the shock and grief over the shootings at Columbine High School (not far from where I was in graduate school at the time), I wasn’t a child.  Would my feelings have been different if I had been 8 or 12 or 16, knowing that the place I spent 7 hours each day could come under a similar attack?  Do kids these days (post-Columbine, post-911) feel safe at school like I did decades ago, or is that sort of security a thing of the past?

The American Psychological Association (APA) has posted some great tips on talking to your kids about these sorts of topics.  It can feel intimidating to talk about such things, but it is well worth the effort.  Kids almost always have thoughts about the events going on around them, and frequently have more insight, ideas, and solutions than we might guess.

Here are a few tips offered by APA:

  • Find times when they are most likely to talk: such as when riding in the car, before dinner, or at bedtime.
  • Start the conversation; let them know you are interested in them and how they are coping with the information they are getting.
  • Listen to their thoughts and point of view; don’t interrupt–allow them to express their ideas and understanding before you respond.
  • Express your own opinions and ideas without putting down theirs; acknowledge that it is okay to disagree.
  • Remind them you are there for them to provide safety, comfort and support. Give them a hug.

For the full tip sheet and more ideas about talking to kids in the aftermath of a school shooting, click here.

Stress in the Workplace

The studio at 710KNUS

I was recently interviewed on 710KNUS radio here in Denver for a story on stress in the workplace.  (Listen to the segment, which aired on the Business Uncoventional program on February 19, 2012 here.)

The topic is one with which many of us struggle: the pressure to work harder, longer, and under increasingly negative conditions.  So how does one combat this?  How do we stay positive and healthy in the midst of all the stress?  Below are some of the tips mentioned in the interview.

Keep on keeping on.  Don’t forget to use the good stress management techniques you already have in place!  Resist the urge to skip book club or yoga class when you are stressed. That’s when you need these outlets the most!

Find and be a good role model. Bosses and supervisors can do their employees a huge favor when they model good stress management themselves (by actually taking their lunch break, for example).  Employees can be well-served to find a role model of good stress management.  Have a co-worker or boss who manages their home and work lives in a way you admire?  Ask them out to lunch and get some tips.

Get moving, people!  The American Psychological Association’s recent Stress in America survey revealed that Americans are getting better at managing stress, but we often pick sedentary activities to do so (think reading, praying, watching TV).  While these can be great at helping keep stress levels down, active strategies are even better for our overall health (think walking, swimming, gardening).

Willpower: Is It All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

The American Psychological Association (APA) released a report this week on the science of willpower.  It’s some interesting stuff.  Especially in light of the fact that most of us would say we need more willpower.  Whether it comes to eating right, exercising more, keeping a tighter reign on our finances, cleaning our homes more often, or watching less TV – most of us have at least one area in our lives where more self-control would be welcomed.

Here’s a taste of the press release issued by APA:

In 2011, 27 percent of Stress in America survey respondents reported that lack of willpower was the most significant barrier to change. Yet although many people blame faulty willpower for their imperfect choices, it’s clear they haven’t given up hope. A majority of respondents believe that willpower is something that can be learned. Those respondents are on to something. Recent research suggests some ways in which willpower can in fact be strengthened with practice. On the other hand, many survey participants reported that having more time for themselves would help them overcome their lack of willpower. Yet willpower doesn’t automatically grow when you have extra time on your hands. So how can individuals resist in the face of temptation? In recent years, scientists have made some compelling discoveries about the ways that willpower works. This report will explore our current understanding of self-control.

One of the most helpful things in the report are the tips offered offered for strengthening self control.  In particular, I like the “implementation intention” idea which basically means being prepared for situations that might be tough for you.  If you are pinching pennies, for example: “If I go to the mall and see a sweater I love, then I will take a night to think about it and make sure I really want/need the sweater before I spend my hard earned money on it.”  I love practicing our reactions and behaviors before the tough situations occur – it’s really effective.