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8 Ways to Keep Family Members From Ruining Your Holidays

avoid family drama during the holidays

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

You can avoid family conflict during the holidays (or at least minimize it).  Avoiding family drama during the Christmas/holiday season can be a bit of an art, but it is certainly something you can manage. And well.

Imagine: One person (or one person’s wife) ends up resentfully doing most of the organizing, cooking, and work, while another relative imbibes too much and blurts out a dark secret, and then another relative’s child throws an unbearable tantrum. Any single one of these occurrences, not to mention a combination of several, can be all it takes to ruin yet another annual family holiday gathering.

The holidays tend to be stressful for just about anyone. Combine this stress with the fact that some individuals can be thoughtless, inconsiderate, nitpicky, irritating, and sometimes outright spiteful. Worse, many such individuals (yes, including your own family members) never own their own behavior, and really don’t care how hurtful, problematic, or careless with the feelings of others they may be. It is always “someone else’s fault.”

Holiday stress + wanton emotionally reckless behavior. It makes quite the combination, and it’s enough to make everyone else hate the holidays, hate getting the family together and wish they could fast forward the clock past New Year’s.

 

What Drives it All?

What are some of the dynamics that create an atmosphere ripe for familial holiday conflict? Let’s look at a few:

  • “Short fuses.”A family member (or members) is prone to angry outbursts that are typically disproportionate to the situation or to the initial trigger (“I said NO PECANS!! Why can’t you do ANYTHING right???”).
  • Opinionated individuals tend to be extremely rigid in their thinking, suspicious without reason, unwilling to concede anything, or seemingly just defiant and argumentative for the sake of it (“I know what I’m talking about, and if you don’t agree with me, you’re an idiot!”).
  • Attention hogs. You know him or her. The family member who needs to be the center of attention at all times, who sometimes acts out when offended at feeling left out of any conversations, outings, events, or what have you.
  • The buzzkills. Then there are the family members around whom you feel ever physically and emotionally drained, or worse yet, you feel agitated, anxious, unsettled, or upset.
  • The martyrs. A relative who loves to play the victim, or who feels entitled to receive special treatment. Vindication for perceived injustices and having unreasonable demands met are the sought-after prize for these individuals. All at the expense of others, of course. (“One day you’ll be sorry when I’m gone!”)
  • The wound collectors. Fixates on past offenses, slights, mistakes/flaws of others, and is ever ready to bring them back up at the drop of a hat. No forgiveness or forgetting. No peace.
  • Irresponsible speech and behavior. A family member who always seems to irritate or hurt others’ feelings, as if the negligent perpetrator feels no obligation whatsoever to “turn on the filter” (“I tell it like it is!”).
  • The never-ending family feud. Not nearly as fun as the game show, family feuds among your relatives may be brief outbursts that last a few minutes, or that maybe go on for hours, days, even weeks and months with minimal effort (or even desire) to reconcile or end them.
  • Feelings of unhappiness, of being emotionally drained, edginess, lack of fulfillment, worthlessness, etc. You “walk on eggshells,” around the family get-together, constantly on your toes to avoid the next incident that will embarrass you or leave you feeling hurt.

The first thing you should do is recognize that none of this is your imagination. Such individuals may act reasonably one day, but that doesn’t mean you should simply ignore such flagrantly bad habits and behaviors, especially when they hurt you or others. These people need help and should seek out a professional who can help them become more aware of their behavior and manage it better. Meanwhile, you still have to protect yourself. Remember, such incidents can serve as a trigger to set off your own mental illness.

Mind your own boundaries

Here are some suggestions regarding what you can do when dealing with such bad behavior from family members and to help avoid family drama during Christmas break or any other time of year:

  1. This is no time for therapy. Remember that family time at the holidays is not the time for a therapy session. That is for professionals to handle in private at another appropriate time. Don’t let your holiday cheer be robbed by going for the bait and ending up being drawn into drama that you don’t want.
  2. Set boundaries. Without being too exacting, determine ahead of time what you will and won’t tolerate. You may have to separate yourself from the group or not attend at all if things start to head south. Do not ease up on your boundaries until inconsiderate behaviors change (e.g., if dinner is scheduled at 6, then start at 6. Latecomers will just be late. No attention hogs, no dramatic entrances, no shows of dominance, etc.). You are under no obligation whatsoever to be victimized.
  3. See reality for what it is. Words matter little if there is no action behind it to back it up. Don’t just write off hurtful behaviors.
  4. Taboo topics. Get a consensus upfront regarding what everyone else is willing to discuss and not discuss (e.g., religion, politics). These discussions can tend to bring out the worst in people.
  5. Taboo behaviors. Some individuals revert to coping mechanisms/behaviors such as binge drinking in order to create a divide in the group, antagonize, or irritate others, and such antics should be squelched beforehand. You can set the rules in your house, but if you and your family are elsewhere, don’t join into the discord.
  6. Call for help if you need to. If someone gets violent or draws a weapon (especially after drinking/drugging), don’t even hesitate to call the police.
  7. Safety is not a guarantee. Just because you are with family does not mean you are emotionally/physically/psychologically safe. Watch out for yourself and avoid/avert anything or anyone who might do you harm.
  8. Plan on having a good time together! Don’t give an audience to someone in the group who insists on hijacking the rest of the group and “holding them hostage.” Don’t give something unsavory a life by giving it your attention. Focus on creating positive memories together with your loved ones.

Awkward and unhappy family moments do happen, even with the best intentions, so don’t feel like you’ve failed if a family holiday get-together goes awry. Be polite, be loving, but be firm in taking care of yourself.

Holidays with the family got you down? It may not be just a case of the “holiday blues.” Depression and anxiety are treatable and manageable. If you or someone close to you need to talk to someone about family dysfunction or other mental health issues that seem overwhelming, we can help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.

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Attachment and Psychopathology Workshop

We are excited to announce that we are co-sponsoring “Attachment and Psychopathology” a three-day continuing education training February 18-20, 2019.

This unique training focuses on the development, prevention and treatment of psychological disorder. It weaves together theory, human development, assessment, case examples and treatment applications to reframe maladaptive behavior in terms of strategies for self-protection. The course covers development from infancy to adulthood, emphasizing the process of adaptation and developmental pathways that carry risk for psychopathology.

Not only is this training of particular importance to the clinical community, but Solara staff members have a personal connection to the event. This event is being held in honor of Benjamin Inouye, a fellow clinician who passed unexpectedly this year. Ben was a dearly loved and respected member of the San Diego therapy community, and we feel privileged that Solara is able to support Ben’s passion for prevention of adult psychopathology.

To register for this event please go to trieft.org/attachment-crittenden

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Did You Miss World Mental Health Day? 3 Lifestyle Changes You Can Make to Improve Your Mental Health

lifestyle-changes-for-better-mental-health

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Mental health awareness can help you develop stress management skills and improve your overall sense of wellbeing. Did World Mental Health Day passed you by? Not to worry, because you don’t need to wait until next October 10th to start improving your mental health.

In fact, you can start implementing changes that can start helping your mood improve.


What mental health looks like

Individuals who might be considered to have “good” mental health share some common characteristics:

  • Self-confidence and high self-esteem
  • An overall  sense of contentment, satisfaction, and love for living
  • The flexibility to adapt to change and to learn new things
  • The ability to cope with and manage stress, and to bounce back from challenges
  • Good work/play/rest/life balance
  • A sense of meaning and purpose in activities and relationships
  • The ability to laugh easily and have fun
  • A healthy ability to build and nurture meaningful relationships

If any of these don’t sound recognizable to you, it’s OK. If you put some effort into it, you can learn to enjoy these same benefits.

Are you ready?

  1. What the heck are you eating? A brain-healthy diet is always good for your mental health.

Have you ever thought about the effects your diet has on the way you feel and think about life? Eating too much of the wrong things and not enough of the right ones can impacts your brain and your mood saps your energy, disrupts your sleep, and debilitates your immune system. So what to do? You need to change over to a healthy diet, low in sugar and rich in healthy fats.

Everyone is different and responds differently to foods. Genetics and other health factors come into play, so go ahead and experiment a little. First, get rid of your “bad fats,” the ones that can wreck your mood and optimism for life, and start consuming all the good fats that are healthy for your brain.

Foods/drinks that mess with your mood:

  • Fried foods
  • Sugary snacks and soft drinks
  • Trans fats/anything with “partially hydrogenated” oils
  • Refined carbs (e.g., white bread, white flour, white rice)
  • Foods with lots of chemical preservatives/hormones
  • Caffeine/soda/energy drinks
  • Alcohol

Foods that help your mood:

Fatty fish rich in Omega-3s such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, tuna

  • Avocados
  • Nuts (i.e., peanuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, almonds)
  • Flaxseed
  • Beans
  • Leafy greens such (i.e., spinach, Brussels sprouts, kale)
  • Fresh fruit (e.g., blueberries)
  1. Get moving!

Physical activity releases endorphins, which are mood-boosting chemicals that also give you energy. A regular exercise regimen (it doesn’t take a lot!) will also improve your memory, release stress, and improve your sleep. By getting on top of your physical health, you’ll start feeling better almost right away. Also, you can’t have a healthy mind without a healthy body.

How to get started

You can get away with as little as 30 minutes for your exercising to have a positive effect on your brain. Even broken up into three 10-minute blocks will work just as well.

  1. How about some rhythmic exercises that get your arms and legs moving? Walking, running, weights, swimming, dancing, martial arts, etc.
  2. Be mindful. Mindfulness can help enhance your exercise. Don’t let just let your mind run wildly and blindly, rather focus your thinking on your breathing, on how your body is feeling as you move, on the wind on your skin, on the way your feet feel as they touch the ground. This will help clear your mind, too.

So, take a walk at lunchtime and enjoy the fresh air. Play Frisbee with your dog. Dance to your favorite tunes. Play active video games with your family. Start cycling and walking more.

A little bit of exercise goes a long way and helps you get a sense of more vigor and control.

  1. Stress management

Stress will sap your mood as quickly as just about anything, leaving you feeling emotionally drained and bummed out. Life is always going to have some level of stress (if you had zero stress, you’d never be motivated to go to work, pay your bills, take care of yourself, etc.!), but it is unhealthy to have it in excess; fortunately, you can keep it controlled. Try some stress management activities and say “hello” again to a sense of balance in your life.

  • Learn to enjoy leisure time. Do plenty of things simply for the sake of doing them, and because they make you feel better. Watching funny movies, walking on the beach, diving into a good book, etc. And don’t feel guilty – you’re not being irresponsible. Your brain and body need to decompress from time to time.
  • Spend time with family and friends. Getting some face time in with someone who cares about you and your wellbeing is a surefire way to calm your nerves and insulate your stress. You’ll feel better quickly, even if you can’t change the stressful situation right away.
  • Be good to your senses. Big, scented candles. Soothing music. A hot bubble bath. The warmth and the scent of coffee in your favorite café. Do any of these things sound appealing? How about squeezing a stress ball? Opening the window and listening/smelling the rain? Start experimenting with some things that make your senses tingle to find out what you respond to best. You’ll always be able to get yourself to calm down and relax when you need to.
  • Gratitude. Nothing dissolves a bad mood quicker than being grateful. Pray and meditate on these things, keep a gratitude journal (write down at least three things daily you’re grateful for), remind yourself to be grateful more often. Your outlook on life will begin to improve drastically.

Bonus tip! Own your emotions

How well do you know yourself and what you’re feeling? How good are you at identifying and articulating those feelings for yourself and others? If you learn to be more aware of, identify, and take more responsibility for your emotions, you’ll be well on your way to better mental health management skills. Find an app or check out this free online pdf download that can walk you through some techniques.

When to seek professional help

If you’ve made honest and consistent efforts to get your mental and emotional health normalized where you’d like them to be and still aren’t functioning optimally at home, work, and in your relationships, it may be time to seek professional help. Input from a trusted mental health professional may be able to motivate you to do more for yourself than you’d otherwise do alone.

What is the latest regarding your mental health? Always remember that it is very treatable and manageable. If you or someone close to you need to talk to someone about mental health issues that seem overwhelming, we can help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.

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Brace Yourself – Autumn is Coming (And What You Can Do About It)

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) (also known as seasonal depression) affects an estimated 10 million individuals in the United States every year, and another 10 to 20 percent show mild signs of SAD. The typical age of onset is somewhere between the ages of 18 and 30, and the disorder affects women four times more frequently than men. Some symptoms are severe enough to affect an individual’s quality of life, with more than five percent of those with SAD result in hospitalization. Regardless, SAD can make the normal changing of seasons extremely unpleasant and wreak havoc on an individual’s mental health.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) typically makes one think of the colder, wintry months of the year. You are most likely familiar with common slumps in mood due to fewer daylight hours and cold weather, but the truth is, SAD can affect different people at different transitional times of the year. Even autumn, a season we connect with pleasant things like beautiful colors, refreshingly crisp weather, etc. is no exception.

In most cases, seasonal affective disorder symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer. Less commonly, people with the opposite pattern have symptoms that begin in spring or summer. In either case, symptoms may start out mild, but then become more severe as the season progresses.

SAD, not Crazy                 

SAD is a type of recurring depression related to changes in seasons, and mood volatility sparked by shifts in the weather can really put you through the wringer. It is a major culprit when it comes to robbing someone of motivation and joie de vivre, and it typically begins and ends for an individual at about the same time every year.

The important thing is that you acknowledge it for what it is. Don’t write it off, and don’t let people tell you that it’s merely a “passing case of the blues” that you just have to push yourself through on your own. There are some key things you can do to manage this mental illness-related issue. Let’s discuss.

The Lowdown on SAD Symptoms

What does SAD look like?  If you suspect you suffer from seasonal affectation, you’re probably familiar with the most common symptoms. Here is a more inclusive (though not exhaustive) list:

  • Notably low energy
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and/or guilt
  • Feelings of sluggishness and/or spiked agitation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Depressed mood throughout most of the day, just about every day
  • Loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy
  • Sleep problems (particularly oversleeping in the autumn/winter)
  • Significant fluctuations in appetite and/or weight (often coupled with cravings for high-carbohydrate foods)
  • Frequent suicidal thoughts and/or fixation on death

Note that for individuals who suffer from bipolar disorder, spring/summer SAD can invoke manic episodes, or sometimes a less intense form of mania known as hypomania. Autumn/winter-onset SAD can mean long stretches of depressive episodes.

Also…

The specific cause(s) of SAD continue to remain a mystery. Some experts point to an excess of melatonin (a sleep-regulating hormone) in the body, and fewer daylight hours during winter are known to boost the production of melatonin.  More melatonin means less energy and more lethargic states. Reduced levels of sunlight can also disrupt the body’s internal clock, leading to heightened depression.

Another suspect in the prolonging of depressed moods is difficulty in regulating levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a major neurotransmitter directly related to regulating an individual’s mood. A significant lack of natural vitamin D, believed to play a role in serotonin activity, has also been labeled to be a cause of depressive symptoms.

Diagnosis

Ultimately, SAD is not managed as a stand-alone disorder, but rather as a specific type of depression with a recurring seasonal pattern. For a reliable SAD diagnosis, an individual must show symptoms of major depression that coincide with specific seasons, for two consecutive years, at least. This seasonal depression should also be shown to be dominant over other types of depression.

Do You Need Medical Attention?

Days of “down” moods and feeling blue are normal, especially during the winter. If your depressed mood lasts for days at a time and you can’t seem to get enjoyment out of your regular activities and hobbies, you should definitely seek clinical help. It becomes even more critical that you get help if your appetite and sleep patterns are disrupted; turning to alcohol for comfort and relaxation instead of addressing the disorder can lead to feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts.

Some Things You Can do to Help Yourself

  1. Just Breathe

An easy method to help keep yourself grounded is to practice mindful breathing. At your desk or while you’re driving, inhale slowly and deeply for a count of five, hold your breath for five, and then slowly exhale for another five counts. Yoga and mindfulness meditation can certainly keep you in practice with steady breathing, as you want to avoid shallow breathing which can make you hyperventilate.  And that will only kick your body into heightened alert “fight or flight” mode.

  1. Get Your Vitamin D and Magnesium

Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to anxiety and depression. After the Summer Solstice on June 21 in the northern hemisphere, daily doses of sunshine (natural Vitamin D) slowly begin to decline. There are Vitamin D receptors located all throughout your body (e.g., brain, heart, muscles, immune system, etc.), and when there is a shortage of it, your body will start to panic. Your body needs plenty of Vitamin D all throughout your system to function properly. You can also invest in a Seasonal Affective Disorder lamp, which simulates sunlight indoors.

Magnesium is a mineral with a definite calming effect, and which helps the central nervous system. Calming your nervous system is a great way to reduce inclinations to anxiety and panic. Dark, leafy greens like spinach, chard, and kale are great ways to get your magnesium every day, as is dark chocolate (though careful not to get used to too much sugar!).

  1. Simplify

This one can be difficult to remember, especially for A-type personalities. Do not overextend yourself in regard to extracurricular activities! Pushing yourself harder while feeling a lack of energy will only exhaust your body, make you prone to illness, and drive your mood downward more.

When you recognize your SAD kicking in, eliminate every unnecessary activity, responsibility, or stressor that you can. Focus your energy on doing the things you must like work and/or school, and let go of the rest.

  1. Challenge Yourself (in Non-stressful Ways)

Setting goals and achieving them can be good for you mentally and psychologically. A brain that is used is a happy brain. Just make sure that those goals decrease your stress levels, rather than increase them.

Rather than getting involved in so many things and overcommitting yourself to too many activities, pick a goal such as working out for 30 minutes a day for the next month, practicing a musical instrument, or making time to read a good book every week. Learning how to cook some new meals for yourself can also be a boost, as you more mindfully get the nutrients you need. Cooking can be challenging and satisfying, just not mentally exhausting.

  1. Treating Allergies

Autumn and spring are very allergy-prone seasons for a significant number of people, and grappling with allergies on a regular basis can contribute to anxiety and depression. Being aware of this dynamic can go a long way to put your mind at ease because you’ll keep yourself from thinking that something is “wrong” with you.

Allergies can attack your immune system, and rightly so, as research has shown that the same biological processes involved in fighting off an infection are the same as for someone dealing with mania or depression. It has also been shown that volatile allergy symptoms during times of low and high pollen coincide with spikes in reports of anxiety and depression (did you know there is a spike in suicides during spring every year?).

Are you concerned about severe mood swings that come and go with the seasons? You’re not alone! If you or someone close to you need to talk to someone about mental health issues that seem overwhelming, we can help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.