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How to Improve Sleep Hygiene for Better Mental Health

How to Improve Sleep Hygiene for Better Mental Health

When most people hear the word hygiene, they tend to think of taking regular showers and keeping their surroundings clean and in order. When the term is paired with sleep, however, people often say they were unaware of hygienic standards for sleep. This is probably because people don’t consider sleep as a metric of health. Unfortunately, sleep is far more important and susceptible to misaligned patterns than we may think. Sleep hygiene is a combination of behavioral and environmental patterns that address repeated or chronic instances of poor sleep. These undesirable sleep patterns can look like insomnia or hypersomnia and there are different methods of adjustment for each. These can and should be looked at separately in order to effectively address treatment options for each.

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a pattern of disordered sleep that is identified by marked trouble falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the cycle. This difficulty sleeping can be either transient, acute or chronic. Transient insomnia lasts anywhere from one night to four weeks. Acute insomnia lasts anywhere from two to four weeks and is identified by a return to regular sleep. If the symptoms persist for longer than two months at a time, it becomes identified as chronic insomnia.

Along with little amounts of sleep and poor quality of sleep, additional symptoms of insomnia include daytime fatigue, forgetfulness and irritability as well as upward or downward trends in eating. All types of insomnia, from transient to chronic, have the propensity to bear similar root causes. These can include recent stress, chronic anxiety and/or depression, ADHD nighttime environments that are not conducive to good sleep as well as personal life habits like substance use or an unstable work-life balance.

What is Hypersomnia?

Conversely, hypersomnia refers to another kind of disordered sleep. Hypersomnia is the term used to discuss excessive daytime sleepiness or an excess of time spent sleeping. People dealing with hypersomnia have a hard time staying awake through obligations and activities. They may experience daytime fatigue that feels insurmountable, even while sleeping thoroughly at night. Symptoms of hypersomnia include a lack of energy to persist through the day, falling asleep at inappropriate times (such as during work or while driving) and excessive tiredness, all while getting adequate or extensive amounts of sleep at night.

Hypersomnia can be caused by prolonged use of certain substances, mood disorders (like major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder) as well as it can be a response to acute stress or depression. The metric that ties these symptoms and causes together in order to identify hypersomnia is the acknowledgment of regular to excessive amounts of sleep at night that offer no reprieve from fatigue. Excessive drowsiness can also be a response to acute sleep deprivation in a table of need and supply commonly referred to as sleep debt.

With the human brain and body needing a minimum of six hours of sleep every night for optimal function, there are consequences for brain function if this minimum is not met once, let alone repeatedly. If someone repeatedly gets insufficient sleep, they enter what is known as sleep debt wherein their inadequate amounts of rest begin to affect their daily ability to function. Many people respond to instances of sleep debt with excessive sleeping to treat the fatigue they are experiencing as a result of inadequate sleep.

With the recognition of resultant issues like sleep debt, it becomes clear how insomnia and hypersomnia can be connected and interrelated. Transient or acute insomnia can result in hypersomnia as the body tries to acquire the amount of rest necessary for function. However, sleep debt is likely to increase if the body gets into alternating patterns of insufficient and excessive sleep. The consideration of sleep as a necessary element of health becomes evident when you consider how overall function is affected by both insomnia and hypersomnia. Regarding healthy sleep patterns as an inextricable part of self care becomes essential for the general health of the brain and body. Regulating sleep patterns is a very important part of overall function and this can be done by cultivating good sleep hygiene habits.

Ways to Improve Your Sleep Hygiene

● Limiting nighttime screen time – Doctors recommend relinquishing screens for brain health at least thirty minutes before one intends to fall asleep. The lack of stimulation as well as the lack of bright screen lights can help the brain to wind down in preparation for sleep.

●  Eating properly and at regular times – Acknowledging and responding to the body’s hunger cues in ideal intervals can help to contribute to healthy sleep patterns by following suggested digestive times. Eating should stop for the day at least an hour before one intends to fall asleep so digestion can end before sleep therefore not interrupting the sleep cycle.

●  Seeing a professional – If symptoms of insomnia or hypersomnia persist even with the changing of individual life patterns, it may be time to see a doctor. Insomnia is often treated with anti-anxiety medication or prescribed sedatives that act as a sleep aid. Hypersomnia can also be treated with antidepressants or prescribed stimulants for energy throughout the day.
While poor sleep hygiene is extremely common, it can also have long-term negative impacts on brain and body health. If you find that you are sleeping too much or too little, it is essential to try to stick to routine patterns of sleep and waking in order to avoid falling into dangerous patterns of insomnia or hypersomnia. Help is possible and rest can be acquired.

When you’re ready to take the next step, contact us to schedule your first session.

This Is How Mental Health Is Different For Women

This Is How Mental Health Is Different For Women

March is Women’s History Month – a celebration of the invaluable contributions that women have made to the world. It’s also a time to acknowledge the challenges that are unique to women and advocate for a better quality of life for women everywhere. A large part of this is ensuring that women are healthy – physically, mentally and emotionally. 

Societal Factors Affecting Women’s Mental Health

Social and biological understandings of gender affect everything about the way we live our lives. The category of gender influences everything from the ways we dress and the way we use language all the way to health and the ways in which people are treated and diagnosed. Differences along gender lines are increasingly evident with regard to the ways in which doctors diagnose and treat mental health issues. Disparities in mental healthcare due to gender both benefit and harm women, due to the symptoms presented. 

For example, while women are more likely to be diagnosed with mood disorders, they are less likely to be diagnosed with developmental disorders. This means that illnesses like borderline personality disorder (BPD) are viewed as illnesses that disproportionately affect women, while mental issues like autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are underdiagnosed in women and are seen to typically affect men. To sufficiently understand the ways in which gender tends to obscure and influence the ways we treat mental health, it’s essential to understand gender as a social classification that is then projected onto biological knowledge in order to assign secondary sex characteristics to gendered experiences.

When it comes to how we have historically understood health, gender has stratified standards for illness and/or wellness to a considerable degree. An example is the dominant beauty standards for each gender. In a world where men are supposed to be strong and physical and women are expected to be demure and as small as possible, the pursuit of thinness (and the avoidance of existing in a larger body) is seen as necessary for women to acquire the social currency of desirability. This leads to unstable and dangerous ideas of body image and often results in restrictive eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

Women and the Pressure to “Do It All”

The societal pressure on women to “do it all” is a huge factor to consider. Women are expected to be the perfect wife, mother, caretaker and friend, all while balancing a successful career.  These are all roles that call women to be in service and to neglect their own needs and self-care. This expectation that women should prioritize others over themselves leads to many women experiencing chronic anxiety as well as prolonged depressive symptoms. The adherence (or lack thereof) to unrealistic standards also opens women up to gender-based violence that often results in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

While not all women desire to be mothers, there is certainly an expectation of it. Women are often subjected to invasive questions about their reproductive choices. For women who have experienced miscarriages or are facing infertility, these questions can be incredibly painful. Cisgender women also deal with mental health conditions surrounding menstruation like Poly Cystic Ovarian Symptom (PCOS) and endometriosis, both of which have negative effects on mental and emotional health. Mental illness conditions influenced by hormones include PMDD (Pre Menstrual Depressive Disorder) and PMS (Pre Menstrual Syndrome) which can cause feelings of depression and even suicidal ideation.

Pregnancy and childbirth are also very taxing to the mind and body due to physical requirements and the mental and emotional changes that come with pregnancy hormones. contributed by hormones and shifting levels of dopamine and oxytocin in the body. This means Conversely, trans women deal with mental illness at similar rates. This may look like PTSD from gender-based violence as well as BDD (Body Dysmorphia Disorder) or even self-injurious tendencies due to consistent gender dysphoria. Patterns of being misgendered and discriminated against due to societal transphobia puts trans women at greater risk for Major Depressive Disorder as well as Generalised Anxiety Disorder, both of which are chronic conditions that only get worse without treatment over time. Due to misogynistic standards about what women ought to look and behave like, trans women are also at risk for restrictive eating disorders as they try to fit into archaic and dangerous standards of gender.

Improving mental health for women

Similar notions of how people on the basis of gender ought to respond to emotions structure the ways that we take care of our mental health. As such, women are more likely to seek mental healthcare by going to therapy, taking prescribed medication, etcetera. However, addressing the failing mental health of women starts at the societal level. Any sincere attention to address women’s mental health has to start with the following:

  • ●  Acknowledgement of the harm caused by common gender standards – Under patriarchy, women are asked to live up to expectations that are unrealistic and contrived. The dismantling of these and the shift to a focus on women’s autonomy is necessary for women’s mental wellness.
  • ●  Societal support systems – Women need safe spaces to discuss the ways in which patriarchy and gender-based violence have impacted them and influenced their mental health. While cis and trans women have different personal experiences, both kinds of women need a community that prioritises healing.

● An abolition of gendered labour – Even today, with women owning companies and being in high management, they are still expected to bear the brunt of domestic labour with housework and child rearing still being widely seen as “women’s work”.

The mental health of women suffers under structures like patriarchy, misogyny and transphobia. The ways in which gender influences the mental health of those oppressed along the axis of gender cannot be overstated. If the intention is to improve the collective mental health of women, the initiatives have to centre self-determination, societal support and the freedom for women to tell their stories.

If you’re struggling with your mental health, it may be time to reach out for help. Contact us to schedule your first session.

How To Use DBT Skills To Prevent Self-Injury

How To Use DBT Skills To Prevent Self-Injury

Trigger warning: Some of the information in this article might be disturbing and bring up negative feelings. Reader discretion is advised.

The global pandemic continues to rage on, with over 435 million cases worldwide and almost 6 million lives lost. With illness and death hitting so close to home for many, research shows that signs of mental illness and strain have increased in people from all age groups. Unfortunately, the presence of different mental health conditions can lead down the path of self-injury as a way to cope with stress, loneliness and negative thoughts and feelings. 

For those dealing with self-injury urges, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) can prove to be a useful and effective coping strategy. Even if you aren’t ready to begin seeing a therapist, you can learn DBT skills on your own. When you’re ready to begin treatment for self-injury, your therapist can help you to strengthen your skills.  

For the past twenty years, March 1 has been internationally recognized as Self-Injury Awareness Day and is represented by an orange ribbon that signifies hope. In the United States alone, yearly self-injury numbers among women and girls are as high as one in five; and one in seven among men and boys with almost 2 million reported cases. 

What Is Self-Injury?

Self-injury falls under the group of actions considered self-harm behaviors and occurs when a person deliberately hurts or harms themself. Acts of self-injury can include skin cutting, head banging, ingesting harmful substances, repeatedly punching self or objects, deliberately breaking bones and other forms of self mutilation. This kind of coping mechanism is usually more common in adolescents and young adults with 50% of reported cases starting at fourteen years old. Though it is rare, acts of self-injury can be present in children as well. It’s important to note that self-injury does not always end in suicide nor is it a definite indicator that a person has suicidal tendencies. 

There are different reasons for self-injury, none of which you should be ashamed of if you’ve ever chosen to injure yourself. Self-injury can come about as a way to express or deal with difficult emotions, cope with low self esteem, as a result of mental illness or as a way to have some kind of control over one’s own body when it feels like control is not present in any other area of life. In order to be diagnosed as a person who self-injures, it’s recommended that you speak to a therapist or mental health professional and share your experience. 

The different mental health conditions that can contribute to thoughts of self-injury include (but are not limited to) personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. If you suspect you are living with any of these conditions and want to learn more or find out if they are linked to your tendency to self-injure, you can contact us to schedule a consultation

DBT Is An Effective Tool for Preventing Self-Injury

There are several different ways to manage the negative feelings that lead you to think about harming yourself. Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT is a kind of therapy done collaboratively to bring about positive changes in the life of the affected person. Essentially, DBT combines a number of different core strategies and actions to help you manage difficult emotions and improve your coping skills, relationships and quality of life. This kind of therapy can be done individually (in person or over the phone) or in a group. Effective DBT can bring about acceptance and change in behavior, cognition and skills.

If you opt to undergo DBT, you may need to dedicate time to learning and improving upon skills like mindfulness, distress intolerance, emotion regulation and interpersonal evaluation. All of those can be used when the urge to self-harm arises. Each component of DBT has a variety of methods to help with grounding. 

  • Mindfulness – In order to practice mindfulness, it’s best to use the 6 main mindfulness skills. These are observation, description, participation, non-judgment, single-tasking and focusing on effectiveness. When you take the time to observe, this means you are taking in what’s happening around you and trying to find the root of your trigger. After you have done so, it’s time to move on to describing what you are experiencing. These two actions can happen at the same time and are key parts of the mindfulness process. Participation will have you being present and fully immersed in the activity you are doing to calm yourself, whatever it may be. Reducing judgmental thoughts is also key in the mindfulness process, as releasing the idea of good and bad emotions can help you to see your feelings as they are instead of assigning a meaning to them before you’ve figured them out. Single-tasking or the ‘one mind technique’ is focusing on one thing at a time instead of overstimulating your mind and thoughts. Finally, focusing on effectiveness means that you should stick to the techniques and actions that work for you when you are in distress.
  • Distress Tolerance – This part of the therapy teaches you how to cope in times of stress through acceptance. If you’re easily overwhelmed, you might feel that you need to run away from the issue when negative feelings start to come up. While there are times when removing yourself from the situation that distresses you is the best way forward, there are other times when there is no other choice but to go through the experience. For example, if you are stuck in traffic and there is no other way to your destination, distress tolerance can help you to understand that this was not your fault and insert feelings of patience. By going through the motions with acceptance and grace, you can eventually learn how to manage intense or overwhelming feelings. 
  • Emotion Regulation – The practice of emotion regulation aims to help you understand your emotions, reduce emotional vulnerability and reduce suffering due to emotional distress so you can have more good and positive experiences. Non-judgment and acceptance play major roles here. In order to regulate your emotions, you will need to accept that negative ones are natural but they don’t have to consume you or control the situation you are in. Once you are able to understand and label your emotions, you are on your way to being able to regulate them. Actively letting go of negative thoughts and taking action to create positive ones is also a big part of emotion regulation. 
  • Interpersonal Evaluation – The skills learned here helps a person to become more assertive in relationships through introspection and self-awareness. By learning what your needs are through self-evalution, you mayclear and honest communucation, you may be better able to let the people around you know what you need while working on reducing whatever emotion that would have pushed you to harm yourself in the first place. 

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is a very effective therapy treatment that is well researched and evidence-based. DBT can help not only with self-injury, but also with improving your way of being in relationships and can help you learn ways to soothe yourself when you feel distressed. The therapists at Flourish Psychology are trained in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and other treatment modalities. We can help you see that you’re stronger than your self-injury urges and teach you tools to use such as mindfulness, nonjudgmental thinking, and acceptance. Contact us to schedule a consultation.

Live Your Best Work Life with the ‘Flow’ State

Live Your Best Work Life with the ‘Flow’ State

Have you ever gotten so lost in a task that time seemed to fly? You’re totally immersed in that article, spreadsheet or report and it brings a feeling of excitement and accomplishment. You’ve probably also noticed that you do your best work while you’re in this state.  In positive psychology, it’s known as the state of flow. 

You don’t need to be in a work environment to achieve flow. It’s a state of mind that is universal and can be experienced during many types of activities. You can experience flow during a workout, while doing chores or reading a book. Hobbies that inspire a state of flow include painting, needlework and scrapbooking. 

There are eight factors necessary for a state of flow:

  • Complete concentration on the task;
  • Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback;
  • Transformation of time (speeding up);
  • The experience is intrinsically rewarding;
  • Effortlessness and ease;
  • There is a balance between challenge and skills;
  • Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination;
  • There is a feeling of control over the task.

The Flow State in Positive Psychology

Positive psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on improving your quality of life. It’s the scientific study of what makes humans flourish by increasing positive experiences and states of mind. One such state of mind is flow. 

In positive psychology, a “flow state” is a state of mind where you’re fully immersed in the task at hand. You’re excited about what you’re doing and you feel totally energized and focused. You are completely in the present moment and you aren’t watching the clock or thinking about the next task ahead. 

Flow has a number of benefits for your mental and emotional wellbeing. People in this state tend to enjoy their lives on a whole because they find fulfillment in their daily tasks. The flow state brings a sense of accomplishment and reward, which can boost your self-esteem and confidence. A flow state also causes significant performance improvements, regardless of the kind of task you’re performing. 

Ways to achieve a State of flow

The flow state isn’t a happy accident that happens at random. It’s brought about by certain factors and we can learn to intentionally induce a state of flow. 

A foundational element of flow is choosing work that you love. It’s nearly impossible to get into a state of flow while working on tasks that you find boring or are otherwise reluctant to do. Make a list of your daily tasks and identify the ones you enjoy the most. These are the activities most likely to get you in the zone. If your work is primarily comprised of tasks you hate, it may be time to seek out a more fulfilling career. If you’re afraid to take a leap, or unsure of what steps to take in your career, a therapist may be able to help. Work is a big part of our lives and our overall wellbeing is improved when we gain fulfillment and satisfaction from our work. 

After identifying the enjoyable tasks, filter out the ones that you find unimportant or menial. A flow state is more likely to be achieved when you believe that your work is impactful. It’s also a good idea to reserve your flow state for the more important tasks on your todo list. 

In addition to being enjoyable and important, the task needs to be challenging, but not too hard. Easy tasks often lead to boredom and difficult tasks can bring on feelings of frustration. Identify the happy middle by selecting tasks that challenge and excite you. 

When you’re ready to start working on your task, it’s important to optimize your environment. Clear away distractions by silencing notifications and asking colleagues or family members not to interrupt for the next couple of hours. Gather everything that you need to work on the task. Having to pause to look for an item will break your state of flow. If you’d like, have water and a snack nearby, or any other items to make you feel comfortable. 

Multitasking can lead to stress and diminished work performance. Try to focus on one task for as long as possible without switching to something else. Stopping to reply to an email isn’t conducive to your flow state. 

Remember to rest/recharge

A key part of maintaining your state of flow is taking the necessary time to rest and recharge. Taking regular breaks throughout your workday is essential for staying productive and creative. After about an hour, take a fifteen minute break from your task. If you’ve been working at a computer or desk, now is a good time to move your body and rest your eyes. A quick walk or some light stretching can do wonders. You can also use your breaks for simple, practical tasks preparing a snack or refilling your water bottle.  

The work we do is a fundamental part of who we are. Work-related stresses do not stop at the office and may affect your relationships, your home life, and your general mental health. By learning how to occupy the flow state more frequently,  you’re well on your way to a happier and more fulfilling career. 

The therapists at Flourish Psychology understand the impact of a fulfilling career on your overall wellbeing. We want to help you to do your best work so you can live your best life. Our clinicians can provide guidance and support during times of career transition or as you seek to find more balance between your work and personal lives. 

Contact us today to schedule your first session. 

How To Prioritize Self-Care As A Black Woman

How To Prioritize Self-Care As A Black Woman

As a Black woman, I see a lot of messaging that praises our strength, resilience and selflessness. The strong Black woman is characterized by her independence, emotional restraint and ability to meet the needs of others. She is expected to put on a smile as she navigates the difficulties that inevitably come with existing as a Black woman in a society that values maleness and whiteness. The strong Black woman is certainly a more positive archetype of black femininity than the stereotypes of the distant past. Yet it still results in unreasonable and harmful expectations being placed on us – both by ourselves and by everyone around us. 

Because we are often so focused on being resilient and selfless, we are more likely to neglect self-care.

Why Black women are more likely to neglect self-care

Self-care can be difficult for everyone, but Black women are perhaps most likely to neglect it. Due to socioeconomic factors, we are more likely to face hindrances when it comes to finding the time and money to invest in self-care. “Time poverty” refers to having little or no time to spend on yourself and the things you want or need to do. This is usually due to the overwhelming obligations of work, family and home life. In the United States, women of color are more likely to work multiple jobs and to be responsible for most of the unpaid labor in the home. For single parents and caregivers, there is often little time left to invest in self-care after meeting the needs of everyone else. Rest and relaxation can be elusive for Black women, and we are more likely to be sleep deprived and to experience sleep apnea.

Black women have the highest rate of labor force participation and are more likely to work multiple jobs or overtime hours. 80% of Black mothers are the sole, primary or co-breadwinner for their household. When it comes to finances, Black women tend to have less disposable income than other demographics. Black women earn 63 cents for every dollar earned by a White man, compared to the 79 cents earned by White women. Half of Black women are of the view that their race will make to harder for them to advance in the workplace. Black women disproportionately work lower-income domestic and caregiving jobs, which offer little in the way of benefits and paid time off. With less time and money, self-care often gets pushed to the back burner.

Many Black women have been socialized into toxic productivity. As girls, we’re more likely than our White counterparts to assume caretaking or housekeeping roles in the home. We are also under increased pressure to perform academically and in the workplace, having been caused to believe that we have to be “twice as good to achieve half as much.” The research backs this up, with statistics showing that Black women work longer hours and occupy a higher percentage of the overall workforce.

Unique Challenges Faced by Black Women

Black women stand at the intersection of  gender-based and race-based discrimination. As a result, we face many challenges not faced by men and women of other races. As a woman of color, it’s not uncommon to deal with microaggresions and misogynoir in the workplace, in social environments, and online. Black women are constantly being scrutinized for their hair, body shape, skin tone and the way we express ourselves, leading to increased rates of body dysmorphia and low self-esteem.

A research study concluded that Black women are more likely to experience stress-related accelerated biological aging. Researchers believe that this demographic faces consistent or prolonged stressors, which can speed up the body’s aging process. Physical signs of premature aging include grey hair, hair loss, wrinkles and painful joints. Accelerated aging can also cause memory and vision problems, as well as decreased energy levels.

Racial trauma is real and it can have long-lasting effects. Also known as race-based traumatic stress, it is the after-effects of exposure to racism and other forms of race-based discrimination. When people are subjected to violence, unfair treatment or microagressions because of their racial background, the effects can be similar to symptoms experienced by people living with post-traumatic stress disorder. In the workplace, Black women face micro aggressions, barriers to advancement and the constant pressure to outperform their peers.

There are several health conditions and lifestyle diseases that disproportionately affect Black women. We are more likely to experience heart disease, stroke and diabetes, all of which can be caused or exacerbated by stress. 

Ways to prioritize self care as a Black Woman 

While the general tenets of self-care are applicable to Black women, there are some more specific ways that we can address the unique challenges we face on a daily basis. Personally, I try to be intentional about limiting my intake of triggering media and news stories. While it’s important to be informed, overconsumption can have a traumatic effect. When stories of police brutality and racism are dominating the news feeds, it’s okay to check out.

Another thing I strive to do is consuming media that portrays Black women in positive and inspirational roles. Representation is important. Movies, TV shows and books about Black characters can be a joyful and healing experience. Finally, it’s important to set boundaries regarding racially-charged conversations. Remind yourself that you do not have to take on the role of educating others about social justice issues. You do not have to participate in conversations that you find uncomfortable or triggering.

During Black History Month, we celebrate the achievements and contributions that Black people have made to the world. This time of year also causes us to look towards the future wellbeing of our community. When Black women take better care of ourselves, we’re able to contribute more at home, at work and in the world.