Mental Healthcare for Veterans in TriWest States

TriWest Healthcare Alliance commonly referred to as TriWest, is an insurance that is part of the VA’s Community Care Network (CCN) that specifically serves veterans. TriWest is the VA’s third-party administrator responsible for developing and administering regional networks of high-performing, licensed, and contracted health care providers. TriWest was formed in 1996 with the primary purpose of serving the health care needs of the military and veteran communities.

TriWest has a Behavioral Health Division that encourages veterans to receive care for PTSD, depression, suicide prevention, substance use disorder, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, military sexual trauma, and domestic violence. Behavioral Health services can be authorized by the VA and TriWest for coverage.

TriWest Coverage

TriWest serves veterans in the following areas:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Oregon
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Wyoming
  • American Samoa
  • Northern Mariana Islands
  • Guam

Behavioral health services must receive prior authorization in order to be received by veterans. The VA or TriWest can provide the veteran with a phone call or letter of authorization within three to five business days after the request has been submitted. The VA requires medical documentation of all care to be submitted including an initial evaluation report and completion of care at the end of care with a discharge summary/plan.

Provider Requirements for Behavioral Health

The VA and TriWest put special emphasis on the use of evidence-based psychotherapy for behavioral health conditions. At times, the VA and TriWest may request a type of psychotherapy for a specific condition. Behavioral Health care providers need to have specialized training and experience in evidence-based psychotherapy.

Common requests for evidence-based psychotherapy include:

Solara Mental Health & TriWest

Solara Mental Health in San Diego, CA, is contracted with the VA via TriWest to provide mental health services to veterans. This gives us the unique ability to service the veteran communities for their mental health needs. With prior authorization from the VA, Solara can provide transportation, housing, and accommodations to veterans.

If you or a veteran you love is struggling with mental health disorders, reach out to Solara Mental Health today. Our team can answer any questions you may have and give you a better understanding of our program.

Tips to Improve Your Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is a major factor in one’s quality of life. Positive self-esteem is often correlated to life satisfaction, good relationships, and achievement.

Our self-esteem can affect the way we think, act, and talk. It changes how we see the world around us and our role in it. When we have a higher sense of self-esteem, we have a greater ability to take action, give and receive love, and make choices that are going to positively affect us and those around us.

If you have been struggling with low self-esteem, you’re not alone. Many of us do, whether for short periods of time or long periods of time. There are many things we can do to improve our sense of self-worth, self-confidence, and self-esteem.

What Causes Low Self-Esteem?

For many, a sense of self-worth starts at a young age. Approval and disapproval from family and friends can carry from our young years into adulthood. The environments we find ourselves in — home, school, work, relationships, or other outings — can greatly influence our self-esteem. Still, self-esteem stems from inward conversations and thought processes that we have about ourselves.

There are a number of different ways our self-esteem may be undermined. These things may happen slowly, or all at once.

General factors that impact self-esteem include:

  • Thought processes and patterns of thinking
  • Age
  • Physical ability and mental ability
  • Genetics
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Illness and health

Experiences that can factor into self-esteem include:

  • Abuse and bullying
  • Discrimination and prejudice
  • Employment issues
  • Problems at school or work
  • Continuous stress
  • Relationship issues — whether with a spouse, a family member or a friend
  • Body image and appearance issues
  • Problems with money

Perhaps you’ve experienced one or more of the above. Or, maybe it is something else unique to you. Whatever the issue, it’s important to feel good about who you are and feel comfortable in your own skin.

How to Improve Self-Esteem

Don’t feel hopeless about improving your self-esteem. Below are some tips you can take to address your problems.

  • Learn more about yourself — take time to explore new things, write in a journal, and really find what makes you happy.
  • Have feelings — and remember that you are a human being that naturally experiences a wide range of emotions.
  • Base your self-worth on things that have meaning to you — don’t look toward things that aren’t useful or helpful.
  • Challenge unkind thoughts — don’t be your own worst enemy. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend.
  • Talk positively about yourself — both in your head and out loud. It may feel awkward at first, especially if you haven’t in a while, but you need to build a positive habit.
  • Get Sleep — proper rest greatly influences how you feel and your thought processes.
  • Eat well — keep junk food to a minimum and eat regularly.
  • Get your blood flowing — exercise in whatever way you find enjoyable. Endorphins can do wonders for your mental health and self-esteem.
  • Get outside — sunlight and the outdoors grounds our mind and make us naturally happier.
  • Avoid Drugs and Alcohol — while they can temporarily boost confidence and happiness, they make us feel worse physically and mentally in the long run.
  • Celebrate accomplishments — be proud of the big things and the small things you do.
  • Take a compliment — and say thank you and remember them. Don’t put yourself down when someone is trying to raise you up.
  • Talk to others — friends, family, a therapist, or anyone else who is willing to listen to you. Don’t talk to those who you know won’t care.
  • Be assertive — practice saying no and don’t take on what you can’t handle.
  • Challenge yourself — make achievable goals and accomplish them. This can be in any aspect of life, whether school, work, or a hobby.
  • Write things down — make sure to write positive things about yourself, your capabilities, your experiences, or anything else that matters to you.

Final Thoughts

Self-esteem is not something that we’re all born with. In some ways, it is a thing that is learned about ourselves. However, those things are not always true.

Separate yourself from negativity, both internally and externally. You are in control of your happiness. And while this is a lot of responsibility at times, you ultimately can make the decisions to improve yourself.

Be patient and work with yourself. It’s easy to get frustrated at our shortcomings, so focus on the good and keep plugging away at some of the above-listed tips.

If you find yourself needing help, and needing someone to talk to about your life’s struggles look to a trusted friend or family member. And, if you need professional help, don’t be hard on yourself — many people do.

Solara Mental Health in San Diego is here to help all those who need the extra encouragement, psychoeducation, and therapeutic support. Give us a call at 844-206-9722.

,

A Guide to Social Learning Theory

There are some Instagram influencers who charge up to $1,000 per sponsored Instagram story.

Imagine being able to charge that much money to make 1 Instagram story. This is a small example of the power of the Social Learning Theory at work.

Humans are constantly watching, learning from, and even mimicking the people around them. Whether we’re watching our parents or a stranger on the internet (such as an influencer), many of us start to become mosaics of the people we watch most.

There’s much more to the Social Learning Theory in this quick guide. We’ll explain the theory and how it applies to different therapy approaches below.

What Is Social Learning Theory?

This theory states that humans develop social behavior by learning and copying the social influences around them- just as a child watches their parent. If you’ve studied psychology, social work, law, or criminology, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of it.

You may have even heard about Social Cognitive Theory- an advanced theory developed by Albert Bandura. This theory emphasizes how humans create and maintain behaviors.

Using the Social Cognitive Theory in education and public health is common. Many public health officials have stated that not only understanding the creation of a specific action is important, but it’s also crucial to understand the maintenance of an action.

The 4 Main Processes of the Social Learning Theory

To better understand the Social Learning Theory (SLT), take a look at the 4 main processes of the theory.

1. Attention

We learn the actions we pay attention to. It would be too overwhelming to study and mimics every action around us on a daily basis.

If you’re a parent, you’ve seen the harsh reality of this process. There may have been times in which you slammed a door while angry and thought your child wasn’t paying attention. But then you notice your child slamming a door the next time they’re upset.

Looks like someone was paying attention!

2. Retention

The retention of an action is the ability we have to remember an action. Retention rates increase the more times an action is repeated.

For us to learn how to behave a certain way, we must notice the repetition of a behavior around us. It’s much like a young student trying to ‘fit in’ with the cool kids. They start to remember the consistent behavioral patterns of the people they want to be.

3. Reproduction

Because we’ve seen someone change a tire several times, doesn’t mean we’re automatically able to change a tire. Reproduction speaks on the ability to reproduce a behavior.

Our physical bodies and environments sometimes limit the behaviors we retain from others. We can’t always reproduce what we see.

4. Motivation

Motivation is the willpower someone has to repeat a behavior. It’s typically determined by an individual analyzing the consequences of a behavior.

The more the outcome outweighs the cost of a behavior, the more motivated we are to repeat it.

SLT and Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is what most people picture as someone laying on a soft velvet couch, telling a therapist how they feel. It’s your typical ‘talk therapy’.

Those practicing psychotherapy use a variety of tools and techniques to help patients recover from or cope with mental illnesses and trauma. Psychotherapists work with a client to reduce negative behavioral issues to promote healing and peace.

People struggling with addiction, insomnia, childhood trauma, anxiety, and grief often turn to a psychotherapist for help.

How is SLT Applied to Psychotherapy?

As stated above, humans can learn new behavior patterns by watching someone else perform them. Therapists use a controlled environment to teach clients new behavioral and thought patterns.

Have you ever heard a therapist saying something like, “The next time something like that happens, try this…”? Have you ever heard of roleplaying?

Many psychotherapists provide examples of better behaviors that clients can practice, giving them more favorable results. Clients can increase retention of these behaviors by roleplaying scenarios with their therapists.

Unfortunately, due to past coping mechanisms and trauma, re-learning behaviors is difficult for many clients. That’s why it’s important to consistently see your therapist.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

CBT is a popular form of therapy used by many practicing clinicians. Its aim is to change thinking patterns, then change behavioral patterns.

This approach has been effective for many people who suffer from addiction, self-esteem issues, trauma, PTSD, and eating disorders.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy brings to our attention the effect that unhelpful thought and behavior patterns have on our life and mental health. Reprogramming our minds to think and act in a different way is difficult, but can be done with perseverance and the help of a trained therapist.

Not only may a therapist offer new ways of thinking and acting, but they also build your motivation to perform healthy behaviors by building the confidence you have in your abilities.

A large chunk of the battle is believing in ourselves enough to carry out healthy behaviors.

Watching and Learning: Social Learning Theory

As a child, we learned how to navigate the world by watching our parents. This is the Social Learning Theory at work.

SLT states humans learn and perform behaviors by watching others. We can restructure our behavioral patterns through types of psychotherapy, such as CBT. Learning healthier behaviors than what we’ve been taught is difficult, but possible.

For those struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, and other mental illness-related issues, Solara Mental Health can help. We’re located in the San Diego area and offer many helpful programs. Contact us today to get the help you need.

,

The Science Behind Positive Psychology and Well-Being

We study psychology to better understand the human mind and use our findings to improve the human condition. The brain is a complex organism — one that we hardly understand, relatively speaking — but psychology helps us better understand how it affects the way we feel, act and think.

Psychology is not a new practice. In fact, psychology practices date back to ancient civilizations such as India, Egypt, Greece, China, and Persia. Of course, today, it has become a discipline that can be quite refined.

One newer school of thought is positive psychology.

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology is a humanistic approach to psychology that focuses on factors that contribute to happiness and well-being. It is designed to be complementary to other schools of psychology that typically focus on problematic behaviors and thought patterns and fixing them.

According to leaders in positive psychology, Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, positive psychology is, “the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life.”

One may use principles of positive psychology to improve their self-esteem and self-confidence towards their inherent characteristics and events that have made them who they are. The goal is to foster acceptance and optimism about one’s future.

The PERMA Model of Well-Being

After working through initial theories, Seligman developed an acronym (PERMA) that represents his well-being theory:

  • Positive Emotions — such as satisfaction, awe, excitement, pride, and others typically translate to positive outcomes in other aspects of life. Positive emotions give us hope of a positive future.
  • Engagement — such as with activities that put us in “flow,” where we find ourselves passionate for and heavily concentrated on a task at hand. When we are really engaged, nothing else matters and we can lose a sense of the negative realities around us.
  • Relationships — through bad times a good times, help us strengthen positive emotions. And, many positive emotions are experienced in groups. Even introverted people need relationships, as they are fundamental to one’s well-being.
  • Meaning — or purpose, gives us drive. Meaning gives us context to why we may be engaging with our lives the way we do, through work, school, community, or any other aspect of life.
    Accomplishments — which can be work-based, hobby-based, community-based, etc. Having a sense of accomplishment gives us pride and positive emotions.

These elements of well-being are an end in themselves and are pursued for one’s own sake.

The Benefits of Positive Psychology and Well-Being

The goal of positive psychology is to improve one’s well-being. Positive well-being not only helps us feel good, but these positive feelings can translate to other benefits.

Benefits of well-being include:

  • Improved performance at work, school, and with hobbies
  • Improved satisfaction with relationships
  • Improved psychical health and stronger immune system
  • Improved cardiovascular health and longer life expectancy
  • Improved sleep
  • Improved emotional self-regulation
  • Improved social ability
  • Decreased depression and anxiety

Putting Positive Psychology to Practice

There are endless ways to practice positive psychology in your life and work towards achieving any of the five elements of PERMA.

Some more common examples of positive psychology interventions include:

Writing in a Gratitude Journal

Writing down what you’re grateful for is one of the best ways to find appreciation for life. If can keep you thankful for what you have and act as a buffer against negative thoughts and emotions. Rather than focusing on what could be, a gratitude journal keeps us focused on the present gifts we have in life.

Do this every day, or every other day, and take notice of how it makes you feel over the course of a month. You can always adjust the frequency, template, or focus if you need to change things up. If you’re having a hard time coming up with things to be grateful for, start looking for the smaller things in life that spark joy.

Expressing Gratitude

Has anyone had a positive influence on your life? Let them know.

Sometimes called the “gratitude visit,” expressing gratitude towards someone who has ever gone out of their way to support you — or anyone you’ve felt had a positive impact on your life — can be a powerful exercise. Making other people feel good about themselves, helps us feel better about ourselves.

State in detail what this person has done for you and express your gratitude in tangible ways.

Best Possible Self

Write down a narrative about your “best possible self.” Contemplate the satisfying possibilities for your future self and think about different areas of your life.

This practice can unlock your deeply rooted goals that you may have had a hard time defining. Revisit this practice and make your vision clearer and clearer through at least four revisions.

You may want to ask yourself questions such as:

  • What would I be doing?
  • Where would I be living?
  • What does your average day look like?
  • Would you feel fulfilled?

Measure Your Strengths and Virtues

Measuring your strengths and virtues is a great way to self-examine yourself, discover more about yourself, and reflect on what motivates you.

Seligman and Chris Peterson studied virtues across major religions and cultures to classify them into a system that can be used in positive psychology. The result was 6 classes of virtues with 24 character strengths.

A Guide to Social Learning Theory[Image Credits: PositivePsychology.com]

Try using a template like the one below to measure your strengths and virtues:

Date Activity/Exercise Experience/Emotion Enjoyment Level
(1-10 scale)
Energy Level
(1-10 scale)
Strength(s) used in
the activity

Mindfulness Meditation

Directing attention to one’s own immediate thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations and experiences can help you focus on the present moment. This is exactly what mindfulness meditation aims to achieve.

Meditation is a practice that dates back to early Buddhist practices but has had a resurgence in recent decades. With this resurgence, studies have largely proven meditation and mindfulness to be an effective tool to improve one’s well-being.

According to the American Psychological Association, benefits of mindfulness include:

  • Stress reduction
  • Improvement in working memory and insightful thinking
  • Reducing negative cyclic thinking
  • Improved concentration and less mental distractions
  • Better emotional stability and regulation
  • Improvements in neuroplasticity
  • Enhanced relationships

Final Thoughts

Living an intentional life, understanding ourselves, and treating both ourselves and others is a key component of a happy life. If we practice positive psychology and strive for positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishments we may begin to find our lives more enjoyable and fulfilling.

Practicing positive psychology does not come naturally to most people, and we must actively counteract negative patterns to do so. But in time, and using some of the practices listed above, we can make our minds work with us and not against us.

If you or a loved one is struggling to maintain their well-being, consider talking to a therapist or psychologist that can provide the professional guidance you need.

Solara Mental Health in San Diego County is here to help you. Our mental health clinic is available to answer your questions at 844-206-9722.

Sources

  1. Al Taher, R., MSc. (2021, August 17). The Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues. Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/classification-character-strengths-virtues/
  2. Lino, C., MAPP. (2020, September 01). Positive Psychology Examples: 5 Ways to Put it Into Practice. Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/positive-psychology-examples/
  3. Seligman, M. E., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 5-14. doi:10.1.1.183.6660
  4. Davis, D. M., PhD, & Hayes, J. A., PhD. (2012, August). What are the benefits of mindfulness? Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner
  5. University of Pennsylvania. (n.d.). PERMA™ Theory of Well-Being and PERMA™ Workshops. Retrieved October 12, 2021, from https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/learn-more/perma-theory-well-being-and-perma-workshops
, , , ,

The Mental Health Danger of Dating Apps

Online dating can be an extremely efficient way to meet new people. However this convenience comes with pros and cons as using these apps takes up plenty space (both mental and physical) — so make sure before swiping away.

In recent years there has been an increase in the popularity of using technology for socializing purposes. Dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, PoF, or Grindr which allow someone to meet potential partners from the convenience of their phone.

This type of social media can be beneficial when used correctly but oftentimes may lead to negative outcomes in one’s life if not properly monitored or regulated.

Why People Use Dating Apps

There is no doubt that it works, as evidenced by the Stanford University study which found little difference in quality between those who met online and offline relationships despite there being an endless supply of potential partners at your fingertips on hookup sites like Tinder or Bumble for you swipe right!

People use dating apps for a variety of reasons. In some cases, they may be looking for a casual date or to meet new people, but in other cases it might reflect issues with their own social life.

People use dating apps as a way to find an answer to the age-old question “where are the good single men/women?”, and there is usually a reason why they have not had any luck within their group of friends or through a more traditional avenue.

Motivations

Did you know that the number one motivator for men on online dating sites is to find someone attractive? Women have many different objectives when browsing, with physical attributes being third behind conversation and location. In fact, studies show that physical attraction matters most for heterosexual women followed by having self-confidence and a kind personality.

Also, it is important to consider that men on dating sites tend to be less serious than women and there is a chance you could end up with someone who isn’t looking for a true relationship.

Meeting New People

Dating apps also offer the opportunity to meet people from all over the world as well as those profiles far outside of your normal social circles. This could be an advantage for some people who are looking to meet someone new, but also has the chance of building unrealistic expectations when you do not take into account that their values may be different than your own.

Hookup Culture

Even though there are many positive aspects of using dating apps, they can also offer an easy way for people to hook-up without much effort. The ease of this method may make it a casual decision and can cause you to meet up with many people who are not really interested in something serious.

Dating Apps have made it easy to connect with people across the world – this also means that you might be matched up with people who come from a completely different culture than your own. This could lead to unrealistic expectations and if both of you are looking for very different things, then both will feel mislead when they meet. If one person wanted something casual and the other wanted a serious relationship — that could cause issues within the relationship.

Lies and Exaggerations on Dating Apps

People tend to lie on dating profiles… a lot!

Studies showed that the most common things men and women lie about on their online dating profiles are their age, weight, and income. However, many people also lied about their physical appearance by using filters that could distort their photos.

Research has also shown that people often choose to use this method when they are not very happy with their real appearance or are trying to seek validation from strangers. Furthermore, men tended to lie by omitting their marital status whereas women were more inclined to make themselves seem younger to increase their chances of getting a response.

Many people stretch the truth about their social life or what they look like in order to sound better. This can lead to negative effects because internet dating has become more casual-making it easier for users to hook up with someone without really getting to know them.

In short, people often lie on their profiles and end up meeting someone who is either not serious about dating or does not maintain the same interests as them.

Online Dating Statistics

Let’s take a look at some statistics by Pew Research to consider:

  • 57% of online daters say they hve had a positive experience
  • 63% of online daters with a BA or higher degree reported positive experiences
  • 47% of online daters with a high school diploma or less reported positive experiences
  • 45% of online daters say dating apps have mad them feel frustrated
  • 28% of online daters say that dating apps have made them more hopeful
  • 71% of online daters say it was at least somewhat easy to find attractive people
  • 64% of online daters say it is at least somewhat easy to find people with shared hobbies and interests
  • 61% of online daters say it was at least somewhat easy to find someone looking for the same kind of relationship
  • Women are 58% more likely than men to find someone they were attracted to
  • 57% of men dating online said they didn’t receive enough messages
  • 71% of people think that people are lying online to make themselves more desirable
  • LGB online daters are more likely to be harassed on dating websites

How Dating Apps Can Affect One’s Mental Health

Dating apps offer the user a chance to meet people without any effort, which is why they are so great in theory. However, there have been many studies that have shown that dating apps can have an adverse effect on the mental health of their users.

One study examining social anxiety (SA) and depression in the use of mobile dating apps found that both conditions were associated with dating app use.

Furthermore, men with social anxiety and depression have been found to have a lower chance of “matching” with an online partner of desire — and women with similar symptoms were less likely to initiate conversation online. The same study notes past research that points to higher use of online social communication in women than in men.

Many people do not want to commit to a long-term relationship, which leads to hookups with several different partners, leading to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Additionally, it may be linked with feeling rejected by someone who was interested in you.

When someone is scrolling through, swiping left or right, they begin to notice way more often when people don’t approach them. It’s this constant rejection that may be a self-esteem killer and secondarily cause and agitate social anxiety and depression.

Avoid spending more than 15 to 20 minutes a day on an app swiping or looking for new matches. You might not be using the app in a healthy manner if the app is causing you anxiety or preventing you from doing other things that you enjoy.

Other ways to meet potential partners

You should use dating apps intentionally if you suffer from depression or social anxiety. Instead of using an app, you might consider going out to a bar to meet people. Nevertheless, you wouldn’t go to a bar every night — maybe once a week, or a few times a month. Treat your dating app use similarly.

One way to meet potential partners is by using dating apps in a more serious and committed way. Instead of just looking for hookups and casual relationships, try to find someone who may actually be a nice fit for you in a long-term relationship.

In the end, there is no reason to completely stop using dating apps-just put in a little effort and you might find someone worth your time. The trick is to make sure that you are doing this for the right reasons and not just to validate yourself by making yourself seem more attractive than you really are. The main key is finding balance and steering clear of hookups.

Get out in the world and do things you love. Chances are that the people you meet doing these activities or in places you enjoy are going to be a better match for you than someone you find online.

Meeting friends of friends is another great way to meet new people that are likely to share the same interests and morals as you. And spending time with friends is good for your mental well-being anyways. So, just let things happen naturally.

And remember, rejection hurts, but don’t let it steer you away from shooting your shot. You miss every chance you don’t take. Just remember not to take rejection from a stranger personally.

If dating apps are you thing, then get to swiping. If you have found them hurting your self-esteem, dial it back a bit and minimize your time swiping.

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t find someone right away. Finding the right person takes self-awareness, consistency, and positivity — whether online or offline.

, , , ,

Strategies for Better Heart-Brain Communication

Your heart has a mind of its own… Kinda. While it may sound cliche to “follow your heart,” there may be truth in the phrase.

It turns out, according to recent research, that there is ongoing communication between the heart and brain that has a heavy influence on how we think and feel.

The Heart-Brain Connection

We’ve had proof that the heart communicates with the brain in significant ways as early as the 1960s. In 1991, Dr. J Andrew Armour coined the term “heart brain”, describing the heart as a complex intrinsic nervous system that is somewhat a brain of its own.

Research in the psychocardiology and neurocardiology field still has tons to learn, though consistencies in studies tell us quite a bit about the heart-brain connection.

Here’s what we currently know about the “heart brain”:

  • The heart starts beating before our brain has been formed
  • The emotional brain develops far before the logical brain
  • The heart has its own complex nervous system that is independent of the brain
  • The hearts nervous system is in constant communication with the brain
  • Signals from the heart synchronize with and direct many bodily systems
  • The heart makes many decisions on its own

Because of the early development of the heart and emotional brain, stress and emotions seem to have a strong connection.

This is to no surprise as we have known for decades that things like smoking, hypertension, PTSD, and emotional stress are closely linked risk factors for heart disease and strokes.

How the Heart Processes Emotions

In stressful situations, our bodies release adrenaline in a fight-or-flight response. This adrenaline increases heart rate and blood pressure and also signals blood platelets to release neuropeptide Y which can obstruct arteries in the heart.

Even emotional stress, such as a breakup, can cause abnormal contractions in the left ventricle of the heart — causing (quite literally) a broken heart.

Strategies for a healthy, happy “heart brain”

How do we leverage what we know about heart-brain communication? After all, controlling the thoughts of our minds can prove difficult enough. So, can you really control how your heart communicates with the rest of the body and mind?

To some extent yes. While the heart is an autonomous organ, we can take care of it in a number of ways.

It turns out, many things that make us smile and more appreciative of life also make our hearts happier.

Try the strategies below to make the best of your internal heart-brain communication.

Relaxation Practices

Relaxation techniques can have a surprising positive cardiovascular effect. There are a number of techniques that can achieve serotonin-boosted relaxation. A number of popular relaxation activities include mindfulness meditation, yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises.

Yoga has actually proven to be a mood stabilizer and stress reducer by raising levels of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. And both Yoga and meditative practices have shown to increase serotonin — a crucial neurotransmitter in regulating mood.

Another technique is making a subtle change to the way you think about and talk to yourself. That internal monologue you hear all day makes a difference in how you feel.

Be mindful of negative thoughts and negative emotions; then channel positive energy to transform those thoughts into positive ones.

Comic Relief and Laughter

It doesn’t take a neurologist to know that happiness is a common result of laughter.

When we laugh, our body releases endorphins, which in turn releases nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is known to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Laughter also loosens blood vessels and can lower signs of aging within them.

Exercise is another great way to stimulate endorphin release, as well as other neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. If you’re looking for stress relief, there are no better ways to cool down to exercise and crack a few jokes.

Listening to “Dope” Music

Ever listened to a song and got chills? That pleasurable feeling is a consequence of dopamine release when listening to or anticipating your favorite music.

Listening to music has been known to reduce anxiety. This may be linked to the nostalgic connection music often has in our lives. Our favorite songs are often neurologically linked to positive feelings from our younger years when our brains are still in rapid development.

There does seem to be a correlation between what type of music is more mood-boosting than others. Studies have shown that upbeat music is proven to improve happiness in as little as two weeks, whereas non-positive-sounding music does not have the same effect.

A hug a day

… Keeps the doctor away!

Physical encounters like hugging or other forms of touch are known to release the hormone and neurotransmitter oxytocin.

Oxytocin lowers blood pressure and heart rate. It has also been shown to directly prevent heart tissue death (which results in heart failure). Human studies have even shown intranasal oxytocin to stimulate the vagus nerve and improve mental stress test scores. It even showed to reduce chronic pain.

Taking Care of the Heart Brain

Taking care of the mind and body is always a good idea. We tend to either focus on either our mental health or our physical health, typically not both at the same time. And rather than react to a time of needed change, it’s always better to act proactively and preventatively.

Science has made it clear that taking care of the heart and brain are among the most important things we can do to prolong our lives and make for a happier self.

Sources

  1. Miller M. (2019). Emotional Rescue: The Heart-Brain Connection. Cerebrum: the Dana forum on brain science, 2019, cer-05-19.
  2. Armour, A. J., Dr. (n.d.). Chapter 01: Heart-Brain Communication. Retrieved August 29, 2021, from https://www.heartmath.org/research/science-of-the-heart/heart-brain-communication/
  3. HeartMath Institute. (2015, March 03). Heart Intelligence. Retrieved August 29, 2021, from https://www.heartmath.org/articles-of-the-heart/the-math-of-heartmath/heart-intelligence/
  4. Halaris, A., MD. (2018, September 20). Psychocardiology: Understanding the Heart-Brain Connection: Part 1. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/psychocardiology-understanding-heart-brain-connection-part-1
  5. Silvani Alessandro, Calandra-Buonaura Giovanna, Dampney Roger A. L. and Cortelli Pietro 2016 Brain–heart interactions: physiology and clinical implications Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A.3742015018120150181
    http://doi.org/10.1098/rsta.2015.0181
  6. Yuna L. Ferguson & Kennon M. Sheldon (2013) Trying to be happier really can work: Two experimental studies, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8:1, 23-33, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2012.747000

The Good News About People Who Are Divorced

Roughly 40 percent of first marriages end in divorce in the US. Despite the very high possibility that a marriage won’t last, there’s still a strong stigma attached to being a divorcee.

If you feel there are signs that you’ve outgrown your partner, you should be aware of them. Moreover, you should be aware of how they affect you, your partner, and even your kids.

For generations, divorcees have been judged, shunned, and even considered a threat to happily married couples. Fortunately, research is shedding light on the truth about divorcees. Read on for the good news about people who are divorced.

Marriage Ain’t What It Used to Be

The institution of marriage has only been around for approximately 4,000 years. In the context of human history, that’s not a long time.

Back then, marriages happened for reasons such as security, reproduction, and sharing of resources. In time, modern religions became incorporated into marriage traditions. Marriage then became seen as the societal ideal.

Simply put, if you weren’t married, there was something seriously wrong with you.

In recent centuries, the concept of romantic love became a feature of marriage. The idea of romanticism created an expectation of white weddings and harmonious households.

What is the point of all this? Marriage no longer holds the same value as it used to. It’s no longer necessary for societal security and acceptance.

Times Are Changing

Any married person will agree that a healthy marriage takes hard work. Much of your personal happiness might need to be sacrificed to make a marriage work, which may lead to periods of unhappiness. When the hard times outweigh good times or conflict resolution no longer resolve disputes, it’s better to step away from it.

On the other hand, marriages can work out the first time around. The effort and dedication couples pour into their relationship can be worthwhile and fulfilling. Before considering getting a divorce, couples should exhaust all means of help through counseling and reconciliation.

These days, living single doesn’t make you a societal outcast. It means that you’ve made a difficult decision to put yourself first. The good news is that divorced people are often happier and more fulfilled than their married counterparts.

What About the Figures?

Research on the effects of divorces increased as divorce rates peaked in the ’70s and ’80s. The breakdown of marriage concerned many researchers. They considered the breakdown in relationships as going against morals and family values.

So began several decades of psychological studies, seeking to confirm the hypothesis that divorce was ultimately not suitable for individuals or society.

Sure enough, studies began to hit the headlines claiming that married people are generally happier and healthier than single people. However, these research methods were flawed, and the media misreported the results.

Life Can Be Better After Divorce

Research suggests that the overall wellbeing of test candidates diminished as they approached their divorce and improved. Results were inconclusive as to whether candidates achieved original satisfaction and the time it took for candidates to see improvements in their moods.

Logically, this makes sense. The breakdown of any relationship is a challenging life event.

Making final attempts to patch things up while living in a hostile environment can be very stressful. Studies indicate that the last weeks or months of a failing marriage are much more stressful than the subsequent divorce.

What Does This Mean?

Fear of being alone, being socially shunned, or not having the ability to cope as a singleton has kept people in abusive or unhappy marriages for centuries. Marriage was seen as the key to a moral and safe society.

Now, it’s understood that this is not necessarily the case. So what are the benefits of being divorced?

The Positive Side of Being Divorced: A New Lease on Life

Once the pain has subsided after a divorce, many people discover a new lease on life. It’s a time to reconnect with your passions and interests, to spend time rediscovering yourself as an individual and doing things for your enjoyment only.

This is why many divorcees cite experiencing a new lease on life after their marriage ended. One of the benefits of being divorced is that you can be much happier than when you were married.

Don’t Stay Together for the Kids

Staying together for the kids has long been cited as an acceptable reason to stay married. A recent study suggests that today nearly half of married couples only remain together for their kids.

While parental separation is undeniably harmful to children, more recent evidence suggests it’s far more harmful to children to live in hostile environments.

Children who witness their parents fighting and suffering see what they can expect from an adult relationship. Parents who choose to divorce are showing their children not to accept the unhappy relationship and put their happiness first when they’re adults.

The good news about divorced peopled is that they’re showing their kids the value of their happiness.

People Who Are Divorced Can Be Better Partners

People who are divorced make better romantic partners. Nothing teaches you more about what you need from a relationship than having one break down completely.

Divorced people have not only shown that they’re capable of commitment (by getting married in the first place), but they’ve discovered what they’re not looking for in a relationship.

After an experience as traumatic as a divorce, a person will likely have learned a great deal about themselves and will bring that valuable self-knowledge and clarity to their next relationship.

They’ll be keen not to repeat any mistakes and will know where things went wrong in their previous relationship.

The Good News for Divorcees

In summary, the excellent news about divorced peopled is that they can be happier than when married and be better parents and partners.

If you or a loved one are currently struggling with divorce and need some support, contact us.

Pursuing Passion: 5 Tips to Finding Your Passion and Living a Fulfilling Life

Passion is the fuel that burns the desire to achieve greater results. Metaphorically, it is the ball of fire under your butt when you do the things you love.

Routines and negative mindsets can diminish the power of passion in our lives, but what if you don’t feel passionate about anything from the start?

Don’t worry. You’re not doomed. You just need to take some time to discover yourself or reignite that fire.

Here are five tips that will help you in finding your passion and living a more fulfilled life.

1. What Would You Do For Free?

On the quest to finding your passion, you might have encountered people who asked you, “what would you do for free?”

There are lots of things we already do for free. If we breathe, we walk, and we spend time with friends for free. The question should be; how do we serve others for free?

The point is to give back; serve others, and impact their lives. What would you do that could help others in some way? When you live only to serve yourself, you might become passionless about the things you do. Life is more meaningful when we include others.

Furthermore, studies conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found evidence to support this. They performed brain scans of participants who acted either to benefit others or to benefit themselves.

Those who acted to benefit others showed increased activity in the parts of the brain associated with rewards. They also experienced less stress measured through blood pressure.

Ask yourself what you would do to help others without expecting anything in return. Your answer might be the key to finding your passion.

2. What Do You Love To Do?

Now, this might sound quite obvious; doing what you love will help you find your passion. Of course, but that’s why you’re reading this. You might be wondering, how do I find what I love to do? What is my passion?

Here’s a tip on how to find your passion: what would you do even when your body is dead tired? What is something you still reach for even when it seems like you don’t have the energy?

The same logic applies; eliminate the money, eliminate responsibilities, and eliminate the pressure even to do it.

What do you gravitate towards? For some, it might be cooking. Making a nice meal for yourself at the end of a long day just hits home, even if you’re tired.

For some, it might be cleaning. It feels especially warming to fall asleep when your home is nice and clean. Perhaps, at the end of a long day, you still want to move your body and dance.

You don’t have to push your body beyond its limits to find something you love to do, even when you don’t have energy.

But, notice what you love to do even at the end of a long day. It might give you a nudge on finding your passion.

3. What Feels Right To You?

People will tell you to work out because it’s good for you. It’s good for your body and your health; doctors recommend it.

However, some people just aren’t passionate about working out and exercising. That doesn’t mean that they don’t still want to be healthy.

A key to finding happiness and living a fulfilling life is to find what works for you. Figure out what feels right to you. It doesn’t matter what everyone else says or thinks.

If you want to move your body and keep in shape, but you hate running, you don’t have to push yourself to love running. You can try participating in a sport that makes exercising feel more manageable. That could be dancing, taking spin classes, kayak or swim.

You’re still working towards the same goal: staying healthy. You’re just doing it in a way that feels right for you, not going off what everyone else says and thinks you should do.

It applies to more than exercising. Figure out your goal or your purpose, and adjust your means of getting there.

4. Be Open or Change Your Perspective

Enough with the questions; on to the doing.

One thing you can do to help yourself find your passion is to be open to trying something you haven’t done before.

You don’t have to do something that scares the pants off you; just do something new.

If you don’t like change, your immediate reaction might be to reject the idea of trying something new outright. You might think, I’m fine doing what I’m doing. I just don’t feel passion for it.

That’s okay.

If you want to find a passion for doing the things you’re already doing, you can. You just have to adjust your mindset to achieve that mental clarity.

“Problems can’t be solved with the same mindset that created them,” said Albert Einstein.

Try to look at things from a different angle. You can’t solve your problem of a lack of passion with the same perspective. Your customer service job is an opportunity to practice your empathy skills. Your tedious desk job still gives you the opportunity to work with an amazing team.

Invigorated passion requires either being open to doing something new or looking at the same things from a different perspective. Whichever the case, be open to giving yourself completely to the deed.

5. Don’t Quit Your Job Yet

Some people romanticize the idea that finding your passion will automatically solve all of your problems. Finding your passion will lead to living a more fulfilled life, but you still have to be practical.

Don’t quit your day job until you have some kind of a safe landing.

You’ll have to figure out how to survive whether or not you have a job. You might as well be safe and have a cushion so that you don’t come crashing down.

Live your life. Pursue your passion. Just be smart about it.

Finding Your Passion For A More Fulfilled Life

There are questions to ask yourself and steps to take for finding your passion. None of that matters though, if you don’t try.

Passion doesn’t just drop onto your lap out of nowhere. It takes action and reflection to learn what you’re passionate about.

When you find that mental clarity about something you enjoy doing, keep on doing that thing that fills you with energy and quite literally gives you life. It can improve your mental health, and that is priceless.

For more tips on how to live a fulfilling life, check out more from our blog!

If you’re in the San Diego area and are looking to take charge of your mental health, get in touch with us at Solara Mental Health Center. We look forward to serving you.