Announcement: Mental Health Blog

I have decided to skip the usual list of links to major mental health websites. If you are looking for those, I highly recommend you start from the site of Michigan Mental Health Network . This site encompasses everything you may want to know about mental health in Michigan and beyond. It contains a directory of therapists, clinics and support groups in Michigan; an excellent list of links to mental health websites; and interesting articles for professionals and lay persons alike.

Another excellent resource is the website The guide to self help books. It contain a directory of books, arranged by different topics in self help, personal growth and self improvement areas.

I will dedicate this space to less known resources, that touched me deeply and influenced my life and my professional work.

This blog is not a substitute for professional advice on diagnosis or treatment of a mental health condition. Please consult with a professional before trying any of the ideas presented here.

If you have more recommendations along those lines, email me at mchll.samuel@gmail.com I’ll be more than happy to add them.

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6 evidence based tactics to Build your Resillience

 

Resilience is the ability to manage the stress response. Managing our stress response is critical to us all so that in times of stress we may actually find benefit and not damage our psychical and mental health. Contrary to popular belief, stress in itself is not bad.  Stress can facilitate growth and self-esteem once we have mastered the challenge that induced the stress. Resilience   predicts success in many areas of life. We all face setbacks, but only some of us know how to respond to them creatively and productively. Many environmental factors are not under our control, but when stress arises, there are tactics that can build and strength our resilience, that are under our control.

Known strategies to build resilience:

1. Learning to accept ourselves, including our faults. This does not mean being complacent or and that we do not try and work on our faults but we should not waste energy on self-criticism. We have to work with what we have.

2. Learning to manage  stress and  regulate  emotions, particularly the negative ones such as anger, sadness and fear. This is extremely important when coping with negative events. The negative emotions, especially in high volume, can impair our ability to perceive reality, to think clearly and respond appropriately in a difficult situation.

There is a therapy approach, called DBT (Dialectical Behavior therapy) which is, really, a collection of skills for emotional management. DBT skills were initially constructed for borderline personality disorder. In my opinion and clinical experience, they can be highly effective for all of us in dealing with stress.

3.  Use of cognitive reframing. Many times reinterpretation of an event can give it a different meaning, which can help us cope with a difficult event.  We can reframe the source of stress as a challenge and not as a catastrophe or a negative event. Depending on the specific source of stress it can help to reframe in a less personal way. (“It is not about me.”)

4. Exercise, a healthy diet and good sleep habits all help us cope with stress.  Exercise has been shown to strengthen attention, decision making and memory. Of course we are always being admonished to live a healthy lifestyle, and this is easier said than done. Still it is important to recognize that these lifestyle habits we have will have an important influence on how we deal with stress.

5. Support system – Get support from friends.  According to some studies, this may be the most important tactic. Close friends help you vent, help with your reality testing, give you good advice.  Some people tend to shy away from friends in times of hardship. This is very unfortunate.

6. When things are going well tackle new challenges. If you dare to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone when things go well, you are more likely to be able to cope with less favorable circumstances.

Adapted from Southwicck, S. & Charney, D. : Ready for Anything. In :  Scientific American Mind, 2013 (5) 32-42.

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Creativity and Mental Health

Recommended book:

The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: A Course in Enhancing Creativity and Artistic Confidence

This book was written by an experienced art teacher. She shares her teaching methods and understanding of the process of creation.  The basic assumption, that underlines  her method, is that learning to draw is not so much learning physical technique or coordination but it is mainly learning the ability to see. In seeing the author does not mean the passive act of gazing at the world, but a deeper sense of sight as if seeing things for the first time. As a rule we tend to look at things without noticing. We  recognize, but we don’t really see.  The exercises in the book are directed at making us look at the world  in a fresh way, to cast off the conventions that limit us. Her book is full of testimonies and pictures of people that have learned to draw for the first time in their lives.

It is intriguing to take her basic tenant in a more abstract, or metaphorical,  way. To learn to sense what is really out there, in our world, instead of being captives of our past, conventions and belief systems.  There are many approaches, or traditions, that hint at this journey under different theoretical and philosophical guises. For example, Buddhism recommends the practice of  mindfulness, living in the present and being aware of both thing internal and external to us.

How can studying to draw contribute to our mental well being? It is my belief, that the more we learn diverse skills, particularly those that are new to us,  we learn to utilize unused areas of our brain. This in turn enhances our brain functioning, and ultimately our  well being.

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How to Prevent Cognitive Decline in Old Age

The answer: Exercise.
Interestingly enough, not all exercise yields the same results.  Aerobic exercise is more effective than stretching and weight lifting. Most studies used walking, as this is the easiest and most accessible exercise for older adults.  It was  found that the cognitive improvement correlated to the distance walked and not to the speed.  So now that you know, take a long peaceful walk, improve your mind and enjoy the view.

(Taken from Hertzog et all, Scientific American Mind,  July-August 2009)

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Plasticity of the Brain

The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (James H. Silberman Books)

A very inspiring book.

It was assumed in the past that the brain is like a machine. It was supposed to have specialized centers with fixed locations. It was assumed that only in early infancy, in specific critical periods, the brain is plastic and can change. Therefore, until recently, conventional wisdom held that if   functionality was lost through brain damage the loss was irrevocable.  Most forms of neurological  disorder were considered incurable.

This book’s  premise is that our brain is more plastic then was previously thought. Given the right stimulus,  the brain behaves like a living organism. It  can be trained; it  can change  structure, compensate and adjust for a disability; it can even  recover  functions and develop new functions in adulthood.

Each chapter describes a different method that was used to successfully  overcome a neurological induced disability, from inborn learning disability, to stoke, to traumatic brain injury. This description is done through detailed case histories and interviews. The methods used range anywhere from complex machines to software to prescribed exercises.

Since neurology and psychiatry are closely intertwined, the book deals with some psychiatric disorders such as as Obsessive Compulsive disorder (OCD), sexual addiction, and depression.  I believe that the principles outlined in this book can and will be used in the future to treat  more mental health disorder disorders and enable people to recover.

 

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