Mad at Your Spouse? Eat An Apple

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Did you see this new study recently published by PNAS?  The authors found that when couples had lower blood sugar, they were more apt to be aggressive.  The “takeaway” of the study, according to CNN’s The Chart, was that couples should have tough conversations either during or after dinner when their blood sugar levels are higher, and avoid conflict when they are hungry.

I couldn’t agree more.  While I am no couples expert (in fact, I rarely work with couples in therapy – it’s just too complicated!) I have always believed that hunger and fatigue are two of the major contributors to fights within romantic relationships.

You know that saying: “Never go to bed angry!” I couldn’t disagree more.  We SHOULD go to bed angry, because chances are we will wake up feeling more rested and less angry than we were the night before – decreasing the chances of a nasty fight.  And it sounds like we should also add “have a snack” to our list of strategies for getting along with our partners.  Sounds easy enough to me!

When’s dinner?

Anger and Your (Mental and Physical) Health

angry picture

Did you see this recent article in CNN’s The Chart about angry outburts? The author of the study (Dr. Murray A. Mittleman, Harvard) found that people who had angry outbursts were at greater risk for “cardiovascular events” for two hours after the anger episode than those who were calm.

It seems that we are learning more about more about how psychological health affects physical health.  For example, we know that stress can affect every system of the body.  We also know that depression can take it’s toll on our cardiovascular system, and other areas of the body as well.  Now it looks like we can add anger to the list of psychological issues that affect our bodies as well.

This shouldn’t come as too big a shock, of course, because our heads are attached to our bodies – it’s all just one big system!

But how can we manage our anger?  Even those of us who don’t consider ourselves “angry people” can struggle with our tempers from time to time.  Whether we get mad at our kids, our neighbors or the other drivers on the road – anger can take its toll in lots of ways.  Here are some tips to manage:

Get it out.  Some people like to talk about it, others like to write about it or sing songs about it.  Some way or another the anger needs to come out in safe, controlled ways.  Try a few strategies and find one that works for you – just know that bottling it up isn’t usually a good option.

Do something for stress relief, even if you think you don’t need it.  We all feel stress from time to time – what’s important is that we have a few strategies for dealing with it.  We need to engage in those activities regularly – at least a couple times per week – even if we think we’re too busy or don’t need it.  When stress builds, anger isn’t far behind.

Consider changing something.  If you find yourself becoming angry at the same things over and over (cars on the highway, a rude neighbor) consider changing your routine.  Take a different route to work.  Avoid your neighbor at the mailbox.  Sometimes even slight changes in routine or behavior can make a big difference.

For more ideas about managing anger and stress, check out the American Psychological Association’s Help Center.

 

Are Your Kids Going to Bed at the Right Time?

What time is bedtime at your house? A new study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggests that bedtime itself isn’t so important – but consistency is.  CNN’s blog, The Chart covers the study in more detail, but basically the authors found that kiddos who went to bed around the same time each night performed better on intellectual tests than their peers whose bedtimes were more variable.

Of course, kids (and adults too!) need lots of sleep.  For a list of how much sleep kids need for optimal health look here.

So how do we set regular, consistent bedtimes for our kids (and ourselves)?

Be realistic.  A 7:00pm bedtime might have worked when your wee-one was 2, but now that they’re 10 it just might not be feasible what with t-ball, piano lessons, and homework to manage.  Pick a time that allows your family to do what you need to do each day AND get the recommended amount of sleep and stick with that.

Make your bedtime routine, routine.  The new study tells us that consistent bedtimes are important.  In order for that to happen, we need a consistent bedtime routine too.  Bath, reading, massage, story time, dance-off – whatever your bedtime routine is make sure you stick to it.

Break the routine once in a while.   What fun is a routine if we don’t break it once in a while? Whether it’s once a quarter or once a month, consider letting loose and staying up late. Not only is it fun, but it will help you appreciate the routine you’ve worked so hard to stick to!

 

Postpartum Anxiety – More Common Than We Thought

Have you seen this: A new study in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine found that postpartum anxiety and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder are more common than once thought.  The researchers found 11% of new moms have OCD symptoms (including fear of germs, preoccupation with the safety of the baby, etc) after childbirth.  They found half of the new moms will get better by six months, and there is an additional 5.4% that will develop new onset symptoms at 6 months.DSC02075

A different study, this one in the American Journal of Pediatrics, found postpartum anxiety to be more common than postpartum depression, at least through the first 6 weeks after the baby is born.  The researchers found that 17% of the moms in the study experienced anxiety after giving birth.

The health care folks – together with the media – have done a super job educating the public about the warning signs and risks of postpartum depression in the last decade.  Brooke Shields and other celebrities have shared their struggles with postpartum depression, and have helped millions of women understand that the condition is common and quite treatable.

But in my experience, not all women who struggle after childbirth struggle with symptoms of depression – but symptoms of anxiety.  Extreme fear for the safety of the baby, inability to stop worrying about the baby’s well-being (even to the point of not being able to sleep), fear of germs or illness in the baby or other family members – these, and other symptoms of anxiety – can impede a new moms ability to care for herself, the baby, and/or other children.

A psychologically healthy mom’s ability to worry is endless.  A mom who struggles with postpartum anxiety can be debilitated.  And a mom crippled with anxiety and worry can struggle to meet her new baby’s needs.

Luckily, there are many places to turn for support and treatment.  Ob/Gyn’s and pediatricians are great professionals to turn to for medication management and community resources.  Psychologists can provide individual and family therapy to new moms.  Online support groups like Postpartum Support International can also offer resources and guidance.  For more information about the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression – including how to get help – check out the American Psychological Association.

 

 

 

Do I Drink Too Much?

After reading this post on CNN’s health blog, The Chart, I felt like it was time to write a post about alcohol use.  Alcohol is all around us – print ads, part of TV shows (Mad Men, anyone?), movies.  Not only that, but booze is part of most social events, and liquor stores are on every corner.  It can be easy to look past problematic alcohol consumption and dub it “normal” or “fun.”  And as The Chart’s article points out, it can be easy for even medical professionals to overlook folks with problematic drinking behavior. Screen shot 2013-01-17 at 8.12.04 PM

The CDC lists alcohol consumption as the third-leading cause of preventable death in the United States. A couple of other startling notes by the CDC:

  • On average, for each death due to alcohol, an individual’s life is cut short by 30 years.
  • 79,000 deaths per year are tied to the misuse of alcohol
  • Excessive alcohol use costs the United States about $185 billion each year in health care and criminal justice expenses, as well as lost productivity.

So, how do we know if we are drinking too much?  What makes someone an alcoholic?

The official criteria for alcohol abuse (in the DSM-IV) include things like:

  • Trouble fulfilling your obligations (ignoring kids, missing work deadlines, not showing up for/cancelling appointments or dates)
  • Using alcohol in situations that are hazardous (driving, operating machines)
  • Trouble getting along with others (fighting with partner/kids/parents about drinking too much)
  • Legal problems related to drinking too much (DUI’s, etc)

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism describes heavy or risky drinking as more than 14 drinks a week for men and more than seven a week for women. When it comes to daily consumption, five or more drinks for men and four or more for women is considered excessive.

Do you think you might have an issue with alcohol? Ready to do something about it? Try SAMHSA’s treatment service locatorAlcoholics Anonymous is another good option.  You may also want to look at your insurance company’s list of behavioral health providers.  Churches, employee assistance programs, and community centers may also have resources to help.  Effective, low-cost and/or free treatment is available in most areas of the country.  For more information about support and treatment for issues involving alcohol, click here.

Playing Outside with Preschoolers: We’re Not Doing Enough

Did you see this new study which found that nearly half of all pre-schoolers in the U.S. don’t get outside to play each day?  The findings were presented in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine just a couple of days ago.  The folks over at CNN’s The Chart wrote a piece about the findings and suggested that parents make sure their children’s daycare providers provide outside time each day, and parents need to get outside with them, too.  Outside play is important for some obvious reasons: it helps with weight management and physical fitness.  It’s also essential that kids get enough Vitamin D and work on their motor skills.

That’s all well and good, but sometimes it’s tough to think of fun things to do outside – and by fun I mean for the kid AND the parent.  I’d love to hear about some of the things you enjoy doing with your kiddos outside.  Here are some of my faves:

pulling weeds/gardening/raking

playing “tennis” in the driveway

kicking around a soccer ball (or any kind of ball)

drawing with sidewalk chalk

going on nature walks – i.e., noticing the plants, animals, sky around you, collecting bugs

playing hopscotch

playing follow-the-leader

window shopping around an outdoor mall/shopping center

Experts recommend 60 minutes of outdoor activity time per day for the preschool set.  Remember, it doesn’t have to be done all at once.  20 minutes here and there really add up!

The Toughest Thing About Panic Attacks

It’s Tuesday.  That means Dr. Raison, The Chart’s resident mental health expert answers a reader’s psychiatric question.  Today Dr. Raison answered Stephanie’s (not me) question about panic attacks and their treatmentDr. Raison did a nice job discussing treatment options including psychotherapy and medication. 

Dr. Raison’s post got me thinking about panic attacks.  They are buggers (understatement) for several reasons:

They can make you feel like you are dying.  Trouble breathing, chest pains, dizziness – all symptoms of panic attacks.  And, oh by the way, the same symptoms as heart attacks. That’s why it’s important to talk to your physician about your overall health if you start having panic attacks – it’s better to be safe than sorry.  Once you get a clean bill of health, it may be easier (albeit marginally) to realize you are not dying when a panic attack hits.

They can make you feel like you are going crazy.  I’m not sure what the official definition of “crazy” is, but panic attacks can make you feel like you have arrived there. Folks often tell me they feel like they are losing their minds when panic sets in.  While disorienting, experiencing panic attacks doesn’t mean you are headed for psychosis, it just means you might need to learn a few coping strategies.

They can make you feel embarrassed.  People who suffer panic attacks often feel a level of embarrassment after they’ve had one, as they are sure the people around them could tell what was going on.  The good news is, they usually can’t.  While panic attacks feel ovewhelmingly awful to the person having them, the folks around them are typically oblivious to what’s going on.

*They can happen anytime.  And here is the toughest thing about panic attacks – they can happen anywhere, anytime.  Many of us assume we’ll have an attack when we are feeling stressed or nervous (right before giving a big speech or driving over a bridge).  That might happen, but they can also happen when you are happily eating a slice of chocolate cake while watching Dirty Dancing.  What’s the deal with that?  I’m not sure.  But I do remind my clients that panic attacks can strike at any time, and it doesn’t mean they have a phobia of Patrick Swayze.  It just means that panic attacks are irritating and unpredictable.

The good news is, there are a lot of treatment options available for people suffering from panic attacks.  For some thoughts about treatment, check out the American Psychological Association’s Help Center.

Save the Strong, Smart Man!

Photo by: Jason Edward Scott Bain

When reading this recent post on CNN’s The Chart I started thinking about men and boys in a new light.  CNN’s article was about some new research suggesting that testosterone levels in men has decreased in recent decades.  They also mentioned that male birth rates have been declining in some populations.  The authors speculated that environmental exposures might be the reason.  What I started thinking was: how is American culture and media affecting men and boys?

I am a woman and I have daughters, so I typically think and write about how the world is affecting females.  But that is pretty one-sided of me.  Just as important to societal health is how men and boys are being portrayed in the media and treated in real life.  We’ve all heard about ADHD and autism being more prevalent in boys, and the current educational system being more conducive to female rather than male minds.  But what I am focused on is how pop culture is portraying the roles of men.  And it isn’t pretty.

I’m thinking of the lunchmeat (or was it cellphone?) commercial where the woman is making lunch.  She yells for her male mate to come to the table.  She calls him multiple times to come to kitchen with no luck.  Finally she resorts to texting him a picture of his waiting sandwich.  Seeing it, he quickly comes to the table to eat.  Just like a hungry dog.  Is this really the type of male partner we want our boys (and girls) to see?  One that responds only when his most basic needs are being met?  Why not show the couple working together as a team to make lunch while having a smart discussion?  For a list of more male-bashing commercials check out AskMen.com’s Top Ten List.

When I’ve talked to other folks about this phenomena, I’ve been reminded of the many TV programs that portray men as bumbling, selfish, and irritable people.   The Simpsons, Family Guy, and even Friends have done the men and boys in our lives a disservice.  What role models are we giving our boys to look up to?  Where are the strong, smart, capable, and responsible males being highlighted and celebrated?

I am on the lookout for strong male figures in our culture.  Ideas?

Antidepressants, Therapy, Side Effects, and Efficacy

 

CNN’s The Chart is one of my favorite blogs.  I particularly look forward to Tuesdays when Dr. Charles Raison writes about the world of mental health and

Photo by JasonTromm

psychiatry.  A couple of weeks ago Dr. Raison responded to a question about the safety of long-term antidepressant use. Dr. Raison did a much better job than I can describing the recent findings on antidepressants, including their long-term use, use  in pregnancy, and their effectiveness compared to placebos.  What he didn’t write about (and he usually does) is how psychotherapy is used in treatment of mental illness.

Obviously, given my chosen field, I am a believer in the power of mental health counseling and psychotherapy.  While I am not at all anti-psychiatric medication (far from it) I do believe that no conversation about antidepressants is complete without at least a brief mention of psychotherapy.  The reason is that psychotherapy/counseling (the terms are interchangeable) are a crucial part of the treatment plan for all forms of mental illness that I know of.  Schizophrenia, depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder – they can all be helped by psychotherapy.  In fact, the latest research tells us that therapy is just as effective as medication (if not more so) for many mental health disorders.  Research also suggests that a combination of therapy and medication is the best course of treatment for several diagnoses including many types of anxiety and depression.

Other than being highly effective, perhaps the coolest thing about psychotherapy is its lack of side effects.  We’ve all heard the list of unpleasant side effects that can be experienced on psychiatric medications (sexual problems, stomach upset, headaches, etc).  But therapy’s list is comparatively short.  In fact, some would argue there are no negative side effects at all.  I’m not sure I’d go that far (for example, sometimes talking about painful experiences can be tough and cause thoughts about these experiences to increase in the short term), but I agree that the risks of therapy are dramatically lower than for medication.

With therapy’s efficacy and lack of negative side effects in mind, it makes sense why it should always be included in any discussion of mental health treatment.

 

 

Depressed Moms, Daycare, and Mom-Bashing.

Have you seen the buzz about the recent study finding that childcare might help protect the kids of depressed moms from later psychological and behavioral problems?  It’s all over the internet, including on blogs like CNN’s The Chart and the American Psychological Association’s Your Mind. Your Body. (disclaimer: that one was written by me).  If you want to read more about the study and its important findings please read the original article in the journal Pediatrics, or one of those blogs.  If you want to read about where one conversation about the study took me, then read on.

A girlfriend and I started out talking about the study, and ended up discussing why moms hate each other.  Oh sure, there are some moms who feel genuine love and support for one another, but there are many out there who really dislike one another, too.  And along with the dislike comes a host of other feelings, including: jealousy, contempt, and resentment.

How could a conversation about depressed moms lead to one about mom-bashing?  Because as soon as I see the word “childcare” – I know there will be a fight coming soon.

Childcare is great!

Childcare is awful!

Childcare is dangerous!

Childcare saved my children!

The comments are endless.  Why do we presume to know how how other moms should raise their children – and worse – actually say it out loud?  If we really cared for the other moms around us, wouldn’t we support them in their decisions, rally around them when they struggled, and hold our tongues when others started to gossip?  I contend that truly supporting moms around us would be another great way to assist the kids of depressed and happy moms alike.

So what can we do to turn this culture of mom-bashing around?  How can we be more supportive of one another?  Stop talking about each other. Quit gossiping, putting down, second guessing, and under-cutting the moms around you.  If you hear others do it, walk away.  If you read a blog post with nasty comments, close the page.  Whatever you have to do to stay positive and supportive of the other moms out there – and yourself in return – it’s worth it.

Want to read more thoughts on how to assist all kinds of moms and caregivers?  Check out my post on Your Mind. Your Body.