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Mental Health

The Link Between Stress and Mental Health

Stress is an everyday part of most of our lives. Just getting through life—dealing with work, kids, family struggles, financial issues, relationship hurdles, and more—requires some serious stress management skills. Often, it seems impossible for absolutely every area of our lives to be in perfect harmony all the time. 

So, how do we make it through? We deal. We find ways to deal with our stress enough so we can get through the day and do what we need to do to survive. But, is stress healthy for us? When does everyday stress become too much stress? And what can all this do to our mental health? 

Believe it or not, there is a link between stress and mental health, and in the face of stressful challenges, some women might turn to substances to cope. This can eventually lead to addiction and negatively impact your health. If you find yourself turning to substances for stress relief, it may be time to explore the benefits of joining a holistic healing program.

Chronic Stress

Daily stressors keep us on our toes. Deadlines at work, kid’s science fair projects, the family dog grubbing on the couch, and so forth. These moments add a little splash of cortisol into our bloodstream that gives us that added boost to get through whatever the stressor is. This is normal. And healthy, even. 

Chronic stress is an entirely different thing. During these times, stress levels are high, and they remain high—constantly. Maybe it is due to a bad relationship or dysfunctional marriage. You could be unhappy at your job, dealing with a dire financial situation, have an out-of-control teenager, etc. Any one of these things can lead to chronic stress. Put a couple of them together and you will likely find yourself heading for some serious health issues. 

In fact, chronic stress has been known to lead to things like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a weakened immune system, and even cancer. It doesn’t stop there, though. Chronic stress also leads to mental health issues. 

The Connection

For years, mental health clinicians and researchers have been convinced that there exists a link between stress and mental health. Patients would seek help and would be bogged down with all these major issues in life – or, at the very least, a lot of compounded small ones. They would find themselves unable to get out of bed in the morning, even after happy or expected life transitions. Depression, anxiety, panic—all of these things were making their way into the lives of these stressed-out patients. But no one could prove why until now. 

As researchers have studied the brains of those with stress disorders (including PTSD) and those without, they have found one main difference—the brain of those with stress disorders has a higher ratio of white matter to gray matter than those who don’t. 

So, people who have chronic stress tend to have more white matter. What does that mean? Today’s blog is an important exploration of the scientific connection between these topics. To learn more, get ready for an in-depth look at the brain. 

Gray Matter and White Matter

Gray matter is commonly found in the brain, and it is made up of two types of cells: neurons and glia. Neurons have the job of processing and storing information. And glial cells support them.  

White matter, on the other hand, is made up of axons, which work to form a network of fibers that connect these neurons. White matter is referred to as such because of the white, fatty covering of “myelin sheath” that acts as insulation for the nerves. This white matter actually increases the transmission speed of signals between the cells. 

Researchers wondered – could the cells that produce this white myelin coating be impacted by stress, thus creating more myelin and leading to more white matter? 

The Hippocampus

Your brain has a hippocampus that handles all your emotions and memories. Researchers studied this in rats and found that something different was happening with the neural stem cells found there. It was always understood that the neural stem cells will eventually become a type of glial cell (gray matter). Though the more researchers did experiments, the more they were able to discover that – under stress – the cells became a different type of glial cell – oligodendrocyte – one that is myelin-producing. 

The findings have led researchers to determine that chronic stress leads to more myelin-producing cells and fewer neurons, throwing off the balance in the brain, disrupting the communication between brain cells, and even leading to mental health issues. 

Oligodendrocyte Cells and Mental Health

This brings us to these oligodendrocyte cells. Since they are the ones that fill up the white matter in the brain and lead to mental health issues, they require a more in-depth understanding. What are they? How do they work? 

Neurons are necessary for learning and memory skills. When the communication is disrupted, then there are red flags for cognitive functions. The more chronic stress is allowed to take over, the more issues will arise with the transmittal of information. 

It is very clear that all of this is impacted due to the changes caused by chronic stress within the brain. Researchers are still in need of more studies – and those focused on humans rather than rats – to gain a full understanding.

Chronic Stress, Mental Health, and the Brain

Our mind is incredible and it can do some miraculous things. But when we overload it with stress at a too-constant level, things can happen – as evident with all these new findings. Sadly, the more stressed we get, the more we risk dealing with mental health and cognitive issues, and we often turn to negative vices for relief. As a result, we may be doing even more harm. 

Our interconnected body needs to be able to function healthily as a whole. And that means that when it comes to finding stress relief and healing, we need to treat the entire body — not just the symptoms or some of its parts. After all, chronic stress has thrown everything off-balance in the brain.

Finding Balance

Our bodies and minds work in balance. So whether you are dealing with chronic stress, addiction, a mental health disorder, or any combination of the two (or more), everything needs to be addressed to bring the body back in balance

Stress is not going to go anywhere, but learning how to handle it and making changes where we can reduce its impact can also reduce the chance of mental health issues arising. 

Stress is a normal part of life. However, a constant state of stress can have a negative impact on your mental health and even lead to substance abuse and addiction. If you or someone you love has turned to substance abuse as a way to ease stress, help is available. Learn more about the benefits of joining a holistic healing program today.

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Mental Health

3 Important Benefits Of Exercise On Mental Health

You may be wondering about the benefits of exercise on mental health, or maybe it’s been suggested that you start your journey to loving yourself by treating your body well. Well, it’s true: the ways you can move your body are nearly as boundless as the ailments it’s said to treat.  However, when you hear from every direction that this one thing- to move your body- is the answer to something so personal (your mental health, among many other things), it can feel defeating. Particularly if athleticism doesn’t come naturally to you, you may be inclined to dismiss it without really considering it. That’s fair. We get it. Exercise isn’t a cure-all for mental health or anything else. It will not help you if you aren’t also helping yourself, but it can be a supportive measure you can take so that your healing feels more accessible and you feel stronger in advocating for your mental health. 

There is no one solution to rule them all, but exercise isn’t a single solution. It’s many solutions all tucked up under a single name and, yes, it’s honestly really great to support your mental health. 

Let’s talk about some of the benefits of exercise on mental health that help the mind-body connection flourish, and the creative ways you can indulge in them even if you’re not particularly sporty. 

1. Exercise Alters Your Chemistry 

Sounds science-y, but when it comes to the way your body moves and thinks, your chemistry is an organic process. Stress, like that created by mental health struggles, can change the way your body makes and uses the things that help you to feel your feelings. Neurotransmitters like endorphins and dopamine are produced by physical activity but inhibited by the presence of stress. When you move your body, you make more of those feel good chemicals. When you are stressed, your body has a harder time accessing and absorbing those things to actually use them, and your body produces cortisol (the stress chemical) instead. 

Does that mean you need to move more when you’re stressed out? 

Yes, it does. Your body can get a little boost of encouragement, like taking a sip of water during a marathon, when you literally move through your stress. It doesn’t mean you need more intense activity to benefit though. Simple things like a brief yoga flow, going for a walk outside or even light housework can be enough to increase your feel-good internal science experiment so your body can work more effectively at offsetting the impacts of stress. 

2. Exercise Balances Your Bodies 

That’s not a typo- we do mean bodies. You have several of them but two are key for the balance of exercise and mental health. Your emotional body helps you regulate the things you feel and the way you feel them. Alternatively, you also have a physical body. Your physical body is exactly that- the length of your legs, the curve of your nose- it’s the skin you’re in as you move through this world. Otherwise known as the mind-body connection, the relationship between what you think and feel and how you care for your physical presence in this world is a dance of definitive togetherness.

 In addition to those neurotransmitters that influence body and mind, exercise improves the circulation of blood and oxygen to the brain. This increasingly responsive brainpower allows you more access to some of the regions of your mind. The hippocampus in particular benefits from moving your body. Acting as the control center for memory and emotional regulation, a healthy hippocampus means more brain power (literally) to work through those things. More intensive forms of exercise have the most powerful impact here. You can activate your emotional body more deeply by moving your physical body through things like surfing, beach walks, dance or hiking. 

3. Exercise Helps You Breathe deeper 

When you move, you breathe. Exercising to increase the benefit of every breath doesn’t have to be trying or difficult. We touched on it briefly above, but moving your body increases the oxygenation of your brain, as well as your body parts. Breathing deeply, and intentionally, can help restore cell health as well as regulate body rhythms like your heart rate and immune response. 

Much like every form of exercise, breath-focused movement can be accomplished in a myriad of ways. Meditative movement like yoga, labyrinth walking or tai chi all center your breathing in the engagement of your body and mind. 

There is a single purpose in moving your body for your mental health: to feel better. That doesn’t mean forcing yourself to move or engage with your body in ways that you resent. Exercise does not have to be punishment, and punishing yourself into wellness will never work. Does that mean you have to love it? Absolutely not. Self care doesn’t always look or feel like calm indulgence. 

It does, however, look like making choices that empower you and benefit your wellbeing- body, mind and soul. In exercise, how you treat and fuel your body, and in your relationship with substances, we hope you always make the choices that will move you toward your light. We believe in you. 

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Mental Health

Types of Mood Disorders

Receiving any mental health diagnosis is overwhelming and often filled with battling our internal and external stigma, but all types of mood disorders, in particular, carry the weight of judgment and a loss of control. Disordered anything sounds scary. To our own ears and as a collective, we register the word as a threat to stability. It can feel like you are the threat merely by existing. 

You are not. No matter your diagnosis, condition, or struggle, you are a human being who is capable of safety and stability. You are not a threat to stability- not your own or anyone else’s. However, managing a mood disorder is much more empowering when you have a solid knowledge base about mood disorders themselves. 

Let’s take a look at the types of mood disorders and how they impact your life.

What’s a mood disorder? 

Mood disorders are a collective of mental health conditions related to the chemicals in your brain that regulate how you feel, process, and express mood and expression. These disorders are characterized by periods of mood changes consistent with deep depression or wildly swinging highs and lows. The mood discrepancies may be caused by underlying health conditions or by an imbalance without a known source. Hormones—also called neurotransmitters—that regulate mood and emotions are altered when a mood disorder is present. 

While the DSM-5 has divided them into two classes (Depressive and Bipolar), there are realistically 5 identifiable categories into which mood disorders often fall: Depressive, Bipolar, Substance-induced, Medically-induced, and Not Otherwise Specified. 

Depressive Disorders

To depress is to reduce the value of something, to cause sadness, or press down upon something with force—which is exactly what depressive mood disorders do. While they run the gamut of cause and application, each painted with a unique brushstroke of pain and hopelessness, there is a myriad of disorders under this umbrella. Depressive mood disorders are characterized by overwhelming sadness, a sense of hopelessness, and impairment in daily activity. The type or severity of depression may also expand to include a complete lack of motivation or “just” a loss of interest. (Is anything just something when it sucks at the depths of your soul?) While the below list isn’t inclusive, it is an overview of some of the diagnoses that fall under the Depressive Mood Disorders umbrella.

Major Depressive Disorder  (MDD) A single episode of depression that lasts more than two weeks 
Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia) Depression that lasts “most of the time” for a timespan longer than two years 
Postpartum Depression (PPD) Onset during (prenatal) or just after the end of a pregnancy 
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) Occurs preceding a menstrual cycle 
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Depression that correlates with the onset of a seasonal occurrence, typically in winter
Minor Depressive Disorder Episodes of depression that are recurrent but don’t meet major or dysthymic criteria. 

Bipolar Disorders

The stigma attached to the bipolar branch of disorders is scary, but the meaning of the word is quite utilitarian. While depression dips wholly in one direction, bipolar swings in two. This makes depression a unipolar (one pole) disorder, while the prefix bi- indicates two. And yet these two poles carry the weight of heavy stigma and instability from the judgment of those who do not understand what it represents. Bipolar disorders are characterized by high (manic) to low (depressed) cyclical shifts in mood and expression that feel like a constant contradiction you can’t track. 

Manic periods look like less sleep, more activity, increased irritability, and a high pleasure-seeking sense. In these periods, people may experience a lower sleep requirement as well as racing thoughts and an elevated sense of distractedness. Depressive periods look much like they do for depressive disorders, with loss of interest and motivation, an increased desire to sleep, and elevated hopelessness. 

These disorders are Bipolar 1 (manic leaning, more extreme), Bipolar 2 (depressive leaning), and Cyclothymic (chronic cycling between the two). 

Substance Abuse Mood Disorders

Amid the myriad of challenges substance use and recovery may present, mood disorders are another that may take up space in your life. Changing the way our bodies send and receive neurotransmitters or altering them through the use of psychoactive substances, can impact our mood and create an imbalance in our ability to feel our emotions. Both the use of and withdrawal from substances can bring on an impact on your mood but these disturbances often resolve as you return to equilibrium after these extremes. 

Medically Induced Mood Disorders

Other medical illnesses can impact the way our bodies manufacture and engage with our mood. While other medical conditions may bring on bipolar or depressive type mood symptoms, depressive types are more common in diagnoses like Parkinson’s and  Hypothyroidism. 

Not otherwise specified

Sometimes, there’s no clear answer to define mood struggles. Even if labwork can identify the neurotransmitters that aren’t where they need to be, or an evaluation can pinpoint the symptoms causing duress, it’s not always possible to determine what’s causing it. If there is a definitive cause for mood-related concern, this diagnosis can be used to prevent delays in treatment and ensure you get the care you need. 

Moods that feel out of control or unfamiliar may create feelings of uncertainty in your world. The stigma that comes along with not only the symptoms but the diagnosis and quest for support can make it feel like an impossible fight to win. You are already fighting a valiant battle though, and no matter the tone of the world, we are here to support you as you conquer this one too. 

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Mental Health

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Women?

There are several signs that will alert you to the presence of depression in women. However, there are also several different types of depression and other factors that might make it difficult to identify what you’re feeling and why.

In this article, we’re exploring one of the most common questions we hear – what are the signs and symptoms of depression in women?

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Women?

There is a stark difference between being sad and being depressed. We all have days that are hard, days when we want to stay in bed all day, or even cry ourselves to sleep. Life can be tough. But these momentary feelings of doom or sadness are not always depression. They are temporary. Joy eventually comes and things seem to find their balance once again. 

Depression, though? It is not so easy. It is something that needs much more attention and can have a much bigger impact on your life. And the fact that more than twice as many women experience depression as men is something one should keep an eye out for. 

So, what are the signs and symptoms of depression in women?

Symptoms of Depression: Gender Differences

There are signs and symptoms of depression as it affects women that vary from the general signs and symptoms of men. Women tend to be more emotional, internalize their feelings, and may try to continue moving through the motions of life as a way to not show weakness. Of course, women also have times in their lives when there is an influx in hormones – such as menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause – all factors that may contribute to depression.

Major depressive Disorder is a mental illness that is diagnosed very frequently. The DSM-5 lists diagnostic criteria that must be met for a mental health professional to diagnose someone with this disorder. Five of the symptoms below must be experienced the majority of the time over a two-week period.  

Common signs and symptoms of depression according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA) are: 

  • Feelings of sadness, low mood, and loss of interest in usual activities
  • Change in appetite, losing or gaining weight
  • Sleeping too much or dealing with insomnia
  • Fatigue and low energy on most days
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and hopelessness
  • An inability to focus and concentrate that may interfere with daily tasks at home, work, or school
  • Movements that are unusually slow or agitated, as noticed by someone else
  • Thinking about death and dying; suicidal ideation or suicide attempts

Signs of Depression in Women: What Does it Look Like from the Outside?

Depression looks different for everyone. We all have our own ways of dealing with the symptoms – and how they manifest in our lives. So, despite the guidelines listed above, there is no list of signs to look out for if you are wondering if a woman in your life is struggling with depression. 

Paying attention to the symptoms and diagnostic criteria above can give you an idea of what to look for. Though how it looks is going to be different for everyone. 

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is similar to but more severe than, PMS. Along with a monthly change in hormones, PMDD can present the symptoms of depression – lasting a couple of weeks each month, starting about a week before the period comes. 

Someone with PMDD experiences depressive symptoms in addition to the following: 

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Aggression
  • Out-of-control feelings
  • Sensitive emotions
  • Elevated physical symptoms of PMS

Postpartum Depression

A lot of hormonal changes take place with pregnancy – and after. It is normal to feel hypersensitive and be on a temporary emotional roller coaster. But when the feelings of depression are persistent and extreme, it could be postpartum depression. In fact, according to the ADAA, about 13% of women may experience postpartum depression.

Someone with this condition has depression symptoms in addition to: 

  • Panic attacks
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Feelings of being a bad mother
  • Lots of crying for no reason
  • Mood swings
  • Aggression
  • Difficulty bonding with the baby
  • Feelings of wanting to hurt oneself or the baby

Perimenopausal Depression

Transitioning to menopause can also be a tough time for women. There are, again, a lot of hormonal changes that take place. This time of change is known as perimenopause. And while there are many symptoms of this change of life condition, such as: 

  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Weight gain
  • Mood swings
  • Low bone density
  • A drop in cholesterol
  • Menstruation irregularities

Depression is not one of them. If the symptoms of depression are experienced, it is not a normal part of going into menopause – and treatment should be sought. 

Depression in Women: Things You Should Know

Just to clear the air when it comes to depression, there are a few things you should know. 

  • Depression is real and should not be dismissed. 
  • You can’t just make yourself be happy to overcome depression. 
  • Depression can physically hurt your body. It’s not just a mental thing. 
  • Depression will affect each woman differently.
  • You can treat – and beat – depression. 

Depression Treatment: Address Co-Occurring Disorders

Women who are dealing with depression may also be dealing with something else, too. Depression doesn’t often walk alone. Alongside depression, you may experience an anxiety disorder, eating disorder, or substance abuse disorder.

It is hard to determine which condition came first, since depression may lead someone to use a substance to self-medicate. However, alcohol and other substances are also known to induce depression. Despite the order in which the disorders developed, treating depression and co-occurring disorders need to be addressed at the same time. 

It is time to find healing within the whole body. Major depression is not something anyone wants to tackle alone. And, when it is combined with substance use, the treatment is even more delicate. Remember that depression affects women differently than men and should be treated differently, too. 

If you find yourself drinking more or abusing other substances as a way to self-medicate uncomfortable feelings associated with depression, consider reaching out for help. Discover the benefits of joining a holistic treatment program for women today.

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Mental Health

How to Break Codependency Habits

There is a particular joy that comes from making a loved one feel special. On occasion, that may mean silencing how you feel, although, to many, it still seems worth it to ensure you are meeting your partner’s needs. Many women believe that it’s their responsibility to keep their partner happy. Often at the cost of their very selves. 

There’s a difference between making a sacrifice for the sake of compromise and violating your boundaries. When those concessions become a habit, it is a slippery slope into codependence. Overcoming those tendencies involves a much more strenuous climb back to balance in your relationship. Still, it can be achieved with a commitment to following through. 

This article will let you know how to break codependency habits after recognizing that they’re present. 

What is codependency? 

To learn how to permanently break codependency habits, we’ll begin by taking a closer look. Though its definition has evolved from describing instances seen entirely in relationships where one or more partners are in active addiction, over time, the word has come to include a more expansive set of behaviors. Codependency is broadly defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “a person who has a close relationship with somebody in which they rely too much on each other emotionally, especially when one person is caring for the other one”. The moment when the desire to give someone what they want over honoring your own needs is the moment a relationship becomes codependent. 

Where do I begin in codependency recovery? 

As with all things, we must start at the beginning. Consider how your relationships began, how they developed, and where you find yourself today. 

Become Aware

To start healing codependent tendencies, you must first find where they exist. When you consider decisions made in your partnership of any scope—from where you plan to move to what you’ll be having for your next shared meal—observe the space you make for yourself. In considering your loved one’s preferences, do you overlook your own? Is there equilibrium in the way weight is given to these considerations?

Awareness is both a passive and active step in reclaiming your own standing. Where you lost the thread of remembering to care for yourself in tandem with caring for others is where the work begins. Finding that place is the first step in unraveling the codependent habits and finding healthy roots in your relationships.

Check-in with yourself

Everyone needs and deserves a support system that includes people who offer love even when it’s challenging to offer it to ourselves. However, if that love or validation is substituting for your own on a full-time basis, it could mean trouble. It’s time to get back to your roots, reconnect with your own thoughts and feelings, and answer some fundamental questions: What do you want? What matters to you? What do you need from your partner? 

Whether it’s removing yourself from the codependent relationship or just establishing boundaries to make time to reflect on your own needs, to break codependent habits you will need to have a plan. You will need to get down to the nitty-gritty with yourself to untangle the traditions that alter your partnership and turn it into reliance. This can be messy and uncomfortable, but it’s critical to differentiate between compromise and self-sacrifice in your relationships. Using tools like mantras, self-check-ins, or even worksheets can help you examine and alter your behaviors to actively choose the former. 

Reframe your priorities

Depending on your attachment style, the way you feel love and the urgency with which you respond to emotions in your relationships may vary. Secure and healthy attachments make it simpler to recognize and adequately weigh how power is divided within the relationship. In more anxious or insecure attachment types, everything can feel like an emergency. You may be rushing through emotional processing toward solutions to alleviate discomfort for your loved one, fearful of their anger or that they may leave you. Remember, discomfort is not an emergency, nor is it our enemy. Neither is fear. You cannot plan through your fear effectively, but you can burn yourself out trying. 

Count your small steps

It can be difficult to see progress as you’re making it, so learn to count every step forward as a success instead of just the end goal. Make a note of each victory you achieve, no matter the scale, toward self-reliance. Empowering your self-worth is a beneficial energy expenditure. All progress, even little progress, counts. Take that step forward and celebrate every time. 

Put your oxygen mask on first 

Just as we’re told when boarding airplanes, it’s crucial that you put on your oxygen mask first before you can help anyone else. No matter how counterintuitive it feels or how much supporting others makes you feel useful, there is no good to come of it if you do not also care for yourself. Make your needs a priority, and do it ruthlessly. Putting yourself in harm’s way to provide care to others does not benefit anyone. 

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Codependency is often a collection of habits that shapes itself around pure intentions, but it’s a slippery slope. Re-prioritizing the way love and energy are doled out in your world can be a frustrating and painful experience, but it’s the first step toward a healthier and more fulfilling future. Start at the beginning and work diligently toward a life without those codependent habits. There is no one you need to love harder than you protect yourself, and you are worth the energy that may cost. 

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Mental Health

Signs Of Codependency In A Relationship

Have you ever started a relationship making concessions to keep your partner happy and then struggled to stop? Compromise becomes a habit that often leads to codependency. Sometimes it’s immediate, and others, a more slippery slope. Either way, there are signs- sometimes screaming red flags- that can alert you to codependent tendencies within a relationship. 

What is Codependency? 

While codependency began as a term to describe typical patterns of relating to someone with an alcohol addiction, the meaning has evolved. The term has expanded to include a scope of relationships where one person relies on another for their fulfillment and often enables their partner’s negative behaviors. Instead of meeting their own needs first, a codependent person will repeatedly relinquish their boundaries and sacrifice their happiness for their partner. Rarely do they find the balance of celebrating their partner or working toward mutual satisfaction.

This pattern frequently begins organically, where the “codependent” partner feels good and comfortable with their altered boundary because making their loved one happy feels good. Over time, as they continue to concede and rearrange to keep the relationship alive or keep the peace, that feel-good effect of their sacrifice becomes unsustainable. Engaging in codependent behaviors resembles love addiction in that the self-sacrificial nature of the relationship can be damaging. 

Recognizing the signs

Codependency is a term that can be a catch-all for behaviors that lead to one person in a relationship feeling reliant on the other for their fulfillment, with or without their consent. Some of the most common signs of a codependent relationship, or a person who has headed that direction, can be recognized internally. Paying attention to the impact or ripple effect of the misplaced priority on other areas of life can help identify codependency. 

Low self-esteem

A codependent person often struggles with believing they deserve to feel fulfilled or should fight for the things that matter to them. Offering their own expectations up to be trampled may feel like the natural order of things to someone who struggles with recognizing their own worth. Low self-esteem is the fertile ground where we easily move from insecure to codependent.

People pleasing 

Wanting to bring joy to loved ones is one thing, but people-pleasing is another entirely. When the desire to create happiness or pleasure for someone else causes us to choose to deprive ourselves, we call this people-pleasing. Needing someone else’s approval over our own to feel validated creates an imbalance of power that may disguise itself as something to celebrate, but in truth, it is a finite joy. Working for external validation instead of internal validation likely feels good but will only cause harm to both parties as it wears on. 

Boundary trouble 

If your boundaries are lacking, non-existent, or survive through strict implementation, you may find co-occurring challenges with codependency. After all, relying on someone else’s approval to feel any sense of self-worth can make it rather difficult to develop and enforce limitations that preserve your own needs and values. No matter which way it falls, boundary issues spell trouble. 

Blurry boundaries are easy to dismiss and may be moved without much awareness. Contrarily, too rigid boundaries may push people away, reinforcing the codependent person’s belief that they are unlovable. 

Conflicting emotions 

An inability to regulate and respond to emotional input is another hallmark of a codependent relationship. It can be tricky to find stable ground. A tendency toward being passive to appease others’ needs may lead to reactive emotions in other areas of life. Loss of control when people-pleasing may heighten the desire for control in work or home aspects that feel more easily kept in line. Ricocheting from emotion to emotion based on external stimuli can make a codependent relationship feel as tumultuous as the turning tide. 

Signs of Codependency

Not everyone will have every sign on this list. Still, checking in with the ways emotions are felt and received can be a powerful indication of whether or not codependency is at play in a relationship.

Low Self Esteem Trying to rescue people
Poor or inconsistent boundaries  Strong sense of guilt
Obsession Need for control 
Rigid Emotions  Dysfunctional communication
Denial Fear of being alone 
Chronic Anger Fears of abandonment
Difficulty expressing emotions Change aversion

Many of these emotional coping mechanisms begin as an attempt to protect or correct childhood trauma. The way we love, the way we are shown love, and how we form attachments can shape our perception of self and what healthy relationships could look and feel like. Many puzzle pieces make up the picture of who we are and how we experience relationships. 

Whenever others’ needs or opinions supersede our ability to recognize those things within ourselves, we are treading dangerous waters. However, codependent behaviors do not always mean a codependent relationship. Beginning an honest conversation with yourself about how you seek validation and satisfaction in relationships can be a valuable tool in recognizing codependency. Healing requires taking action to return power where it belongs- with the self, always. 

Our next article will focus on how to break codependency habits once you recognize them. Check back for the latest update, or explore our website to learn more about how we help women heal from the trauma of addiction

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Mental Health

What Causes Depression in Women? 

Depression is a mental health disorder often characterized by a consistently depressed mood. There are several other symptoms of depression in women, including loss of interest in hobbies, suicidal ideation, and substance abuse.

In this article, we’re exploring one of the most common questions we hear from women – what causes depression in women?

What Causes Depression in Women?

It is beyond the scope of most doctors and mental health professionals to attribute a single cause when it comes to experiences of depression. There are some professionals who are in the camp of attributing depression solely to neurological and chemical imbalances, and some who insist that relief from depression lies in making life changes. The majority of those involved in mental health tend to fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, with a combination of biological and lifestyle – nature and nurture – interventions being the most effective approach. 

So, what causes depression in women?

Unprocessed Trauma from the Past

Surviving a traumatic experience often results in long-lasting side effects that can impede daily activities. If ignored, unprocessed trauma from the past can develop into several serious mental disorders, including depression. In fact, unprocessed trauma is the most common underlying cause of women’s depression.

Women who have survived trauma and now live with depression are particularly vulnerable to substance abuse and addiction. It’s not uncommon for women to turn to prescription drugs or alcohol as a means of numbing the pain of depression, so it’s important to seek help processing the trauma as soon as possible.

Too Many Responsibilities

There was a time when women were expected to stay at home, tending to the home and the family. While most of us are grateful that we now have the opportunity to go out and provide for ourselves through joining the workforce, there is a downside to that liberation. Rather than our money-making abilities resulting in a more egalitarian division of labor at home, it simply added to the responsibilities. Even though the finances are now equally earned, women continue to disproportionately bear the brunt of running the household and taking care of family needs.

In addition to working full-time jobs, women are often expected to complete the majority of the parenting duties, do the majority of the housework, and be the ones to take care of extended family members who are elderly or infirm. Even the strongest and most determined of women can find that their energy levels and zest for life come crashing down under the weight. When a feeling of hopelessness about meeting all of the demands creeps in, depression is usually the culprit.

Cultural Pressure

The driving force behind our concept of what we should be able to accomplish as modern women often come from societal expectations.  As if the weight of the responsibilities within our own little circle weren’t enough, many of us struggle with impressing the society at large. Stringent expectations for women have always existed, and, rather than utterly evolving from one historical iteration to the next, the expectations appear to be compounded. Modern women are expected to be physically fit, spend time on their beauty routines, be engaging during social interactions, be progressive parents, be smoldering lovers, and be at the top of their careers. Failing to find a way to separate ourselves from whatever the current standard of feminine success entails can result in a huge blow to self-esteem.

Relationship Troubles

Even with all of our progression toward individualism, women still list the quality of relationships as a primary factor in life satisfaction. Whether it be due to our role in nurturing the next generation of life within our own bodies, or due to thousands of years of social conditioning, females tend to place more value on connections made with others than do our male counterparts. When these relationships are positive, our individual wellbeing is enhanced. When these relationships are stressful, every aspect of our lives can be negatively affected.

One factor which plays a role in why relationship quality can so drastically affect our wellbeing lies in the female tendency to view life as a whole. While men characteristically tend to be able to compartmentalize the various aspects of their lives, women tend to take the wardrobe approach. When we look at a single aspect of our lives, we are simultaneously viewing the entire landscape. This phenomenon makes it difficult to simply go to work while going through an ugly divorce, or to go about our daily chores while knowing that our loved one is lying in the hospital. 

Pesky Hormones

It seems to be a theme for women that the very same things which make us beautiful and unique are also those which can make our lives very difficult. When it comes to the hormones which reside at the heart of our femininity, there is no exception. The same chemicals which allow us to experience a mind-body connection and enable us to nurture new life can be the culprits when it comes to sabotaging our mental health. The days before every monthly menstruation, the years after menstruation comes to an end, and the months following childbirth can be particularly troublesome for many women. It has been found that the hormonal fluctuations experienced by women in these various stages include taking a hit to the serotonin levels that our positive moods depend on.

Symptoms of Depression in Women

Regardless of which factors are contributing to depression, it is important to get a handle on it. The first step toward treating depression is recognizing that you are suffering from it. The following are a few of the common signs of depression in women.

Loss of Interest

This category is broad, as finding that you have lost interest in previously enjoyed activities can extend from your hobbies to your love life. When depression takes hold, thoughts of engaging in things that once got your blood pumping and your creative juices flowing now hold little appeal. The tasks that you complete each day may begin to seem robotic or utterly obligatory, and you may even find that they increasingly annoy you.

Frequent Crying

Women already have the reputation of being the more emotional of the sexes. While we can take pride in our ability to wear our heart on our sleeve, we can also cross over into the territory of feeling too much of a bad thing. When we are at the bottom of the well of depression, the slightest upset can be enough to turn us into a sobbing mess.

Thoughts of Suicide

It is relatively normal for women to have fleeting thoughts of life being too difficult to want to carry on. When those thoughts become persistent, or if they are accompanied by the temptation to develop an actual plan to end your life, it is very important that you seek help, immediately. Depression is a primary factor in the rates of suicide for women.

Self-Medication

Women may attempt to numb the uncomfortable feelings of depression with alcohol or prescription drugs. This creates a dangerous cycle in which women may become addicted to the substance. This cycle can create a co-occurring disorder in which you struggle with both depression and substance abuse. Research on women and substance abuse shows women are more likely to increase the frequency of using substances, stabilize at higher doses, and experience greater side effects of the drug.

Conclusion

If you believe you may experience these symptoms of depression and find yourself using substances to self-medicate, you may be interested in the benefits of exploring sustainable recovery here at Villa Kali Ma. We offer integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders among women and invite you to start your journey on the path to recovery today.

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Mental Health

How to be a Positive Person

When your world is filled to the brim with obstacles and uncertainty, it can be difficult to imagine feeling anything but overwhelmed. The pressure to have answers, be prepared and feel happy about it all is intense. Required happiness is a pervasive theme of our society, however, the state of the world in general- much less the weight of our lives- can make it feel like something we’re constantly falling short of. That energy feels wasted and lost. We feel tired, defeated, and overwhelmed.

But can you put that energy into being positive instead of happy?  

I know, I hear you: 

What’s the difference between positive and happy? 

When you let go of the drain of energy being directed into projecting an outwardly happy emotional response, we can make space within ourselves to sit with those responses and accept them. With acceptance comes the space to act upon your reality instead of your hope. 

Positively Present sums it up beautifully: “Happiness is a mood, positivity is a mindset.” Being a positive person is not about being eternally happy or forcing emotions that don’t feel real. 

There are health benefits to being positive. Along with a more balanced brainscape, positive people enjoy

  • More good days 
  • Longer life spans 
  • Lower blood pressure 
  • Supportive relationships
  • A healthier sense of self

4 Tips to Becoming a More Positive Person

Ready to soften those sharp edges of life with a positive mindset? We’re ready to help. Follow these tips to recalibrate your emotional spectrum from halfway happy to pure positivity. 

1. Embrace optimism 

Even when things aren’t going your way, holding on to the certainty that the unexpected is going to reap positive benefits is a boon to emotional health and improved outcomes. Optimism doesn’t require your utter joy in every moment. Instead, an optimistic outlook implies a conviction that even if you aren’t okay right now, you trust in the future that things will be okay. 

By exercising an unfailing belief in the return to rightness, we strengthen our ability to see the positive side of life before we even register the negative. Strengthening the muscle of optimism makes it easier, and more intuitive, to use. 

2. Reject toxic positivity

Being a positive person does not mean that you are unaware of the less desirable things that inevitably occur in all our lives. The world can be challenging. Moments and emotions can be difficult and scary, but ignoring those things does not make them go away. Toxic positivity undermines the presence of negative facets of life through relentless reframing beyond reality. 

Reject the idea that everything must be good. Resist the urge to say (to yourself or others) that you should “just cheer up” or “it’s not that bad”. Maybe it is that bad, and it’s often not that easy to cheer up. But we can support someone with positive affirmations like, “I hear what you’re saying” or “it’s okay not to be okay.” You can’t pep-talk someone to happiness. 

3. Practice Radical Acceptance 

Dialectical therapy approaches are a boon in supporting a positive mindset in that they cultivate the power of letting go- of perfection, control and all the things outside our power. Radical acceptance is a DBT practice geared toward exactly what it sounds like- accepting things as they happen. When you resist the idea of struggle or disappointment, energy then pours into the efforts of pushing away the natural response to those emotions. People, however, are designed to experience a spectrum of emotions and no expenditure of effort will take away the difficult side of that spectrum. 

Instead of pushing those emotions away, try accepting the things that caused them so you can more swiftly move through that very human reaction and on to the things that come after. While you’re working through learning to radically accept your experiences and emotions, give yourself the space to practice something else radical too- permission. Give yourself the space to feel and be exactly where you are with the optimistic trust that you will not always be there. Disappointment can’t last forever, but hope can. Work through the first by accepting the reality of a moment or feeling, and your well for the positive- hope- will only deepen.  

4. Be grateful 

Whether as you start your day or end it, spend a few minutes thinking of the things you’re grateful for. They don’t have to be big things, in fact- maybe they shouldn’t be. Practicing gratitude for small moments and everyday things gives you more opportunities to envelope your thoughts in positivity even when times are hard. For example, if you can see the beauty of the rain on the windows and the way the flowers perk up afterward, it may make it a lot easier to move past a disappointing raincheck. 

Practice gratitude by appreciating your loved ones. Express your grateful heart for their presence, or for the way they’ve impacted your life, just because it’s crossed your mind. Being grateful is one of the few life spaces where being reckless and indulgent can nourish your soul. If you are seeking a rush amid recovery, lean on spontaneous gratitude to uplift your loved ones and your own spirit. 

In many ways, being a positive person looks very little like being a happy person. Happy people aren’t always seeking authentic fulfillment. Positivity through kind self-talk, gratitude and acceptance will always move you toward that goal. If you are struggling through your recovery and in finding the light in your dark, we believe in you. Together, we can support your pursuit of positivity

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Mental Health

Symptoms of PTSD in Women

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be caused by a wide range of traumatic events, including domestic violence, natural disasters, accidents, and more.

Of the 50 percent of people who experience trauma at least once throughout their lifetime, approximately 8 percent of survivors will develop chronic and severe symptoms of PTSD. Research also indicates women are twice as likely to develop PTSD and experience symptoms longer.

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at the common symptoms of PTSD in women. If you believe you’re experiencing any of these symptoms of PTSD and regularly turn to alcohol or other substances to self-medicate uncomfortable feelings, consider exploring the benefits of trauma therapy today.

What is PTSD?

In order to qualify for a diagnosis of PTSD, there is a prerequisite of experiencing a traumatic event. In the past, this definition of trauma referred specifically to exposure to a situation in which there was a direct risk of literally losing one’s life.

Over time, it became apparent that trauma can exist in many forms. Not only can people be traumatized by an experience of dying, themselves, but they can also be traumatized by witnessing the death and physical suffering of others. Experiences such as rape, assault, and being held hostage are also extremely traumatizing.

As of today, it is still a requirement of diagnosis of PTSD that the event is experienced in-person. Viewing negative events on the television or the internet does not qualify as vicarious trauma.

It has also been realized that people vary greatly in their subjective experiences of events. While one person may be able to process an event and move past it, another person may have been more deeply affected and less able to cope with the same event. This seems to be particularly true when it comes to the trauma response of females.

When being assessed for trauma, a mental health practitioner will spend time understanding what the event or experience means for each, individual, woman. The experience of ongoing trauma is a subjective experience.

Symptoms of PTSD in Women

Whether it be due to biological or cultural factors, or a combination thereof, women experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at a much higher rate than do men. To make matters worse, many women do not even recognize that it is trauma at the root of their mental health problems.

The female tendency to internalize experiences, and the default setting of seeking to blame the self before looking elsewhere, can be a hindrance to accurately identifying the problem.

Here are several common symptoms of PTSD in women.

Intrusive Thoughts

When a person has been traumatized, the brain goes into a state of high alert. All mental resources are diverted to attempting to figure out the situation and alleviate the danger. After the traumatic event has passed, the brain is supposed to go back to its normal, daily, activity.

In the case of PTSD, the brain is having a hard time doing that. Instead of being able to move steadily away from thoughts of the event, a woman with lingering trauma will find that thoughts of the ordeal will shove their way, uninvited, into any manner of situation.

A routine trip to the grocery store can be interrupted with thoughts of being attacked, or a romantic night out can be ruined by the sudden recollection of the past. Intrusive thoughts are also known as having flashbacks.

Startle Response

As further evidence that the brain and body have not finished dealing with the trauma, a person with PTSD experiences an exaggerated startle response.

The startle response is present with us from the time we are born, as evidenced by a newborn flailing the arms if experiencing a swift lowering in the hands of a playful parent. This automatic response is yet another survival mechanism that our system has designed for getting us out of danger, and quickly.

For a woman with PTSD, this mechanism is on a hair-trigger. A sudden loud noise or an unexpected appearance from another person can reactivate physical memories of the trauma, resulting in the sufferer jumping out of her skin at the drop of a hat.

Hyperarousal

When we don’t know which direction the danger may come from, we tend to stay on high alert.

A woman with PTSD feels as though danger may be lurking around every corner, and will try to anticipate any unexpected events that she may encounter during the day. This can involve researching venues before venturing out of the house in order to extensively plan an escape route.

This can also mean scanning the faces of every person encountered in the store, and making an extra effort to keep a physical distance from strangers.

Panic Attacks

In spite of being hypervigilant – and also due to it – a woman suffering from PTSD is prone to experience panic attacks.

During a panic attack, the entire bodily system goes into overdrive, as it becomes fully convinced that death is around the corner. There will be trembling, sweating, and increased heart rate.

The mind will go blank, and higher cognitive functioning will shut down. A woman experiencing a panic attack may even faint.

Avoidance

It is no fun being on edge, constantly, and it is definitely no fun trying to anticipate when flashbacks or a panic attack are going to pop up and ruin the day.

Crowds of people, small spaces, and the presence of strangers may be particularly unnerving. Rather than risk the mental, physical, and emotional toll that comes with experiencing such high anxiety in social situations, a woman with PTSD may begin to withdraw from engaging in all but the safest of activities.

Nightmares

Beginning to avoid scenarios that may activate the flight-or-fight response may make the day times a little easier to bear, but the saga will continue while in bed at night.

Women with PTSD often experience intense, frightening, nightmares. These bad dreams may replay the actual event or may be composed of random scenarios in which the dreamer is placed in a position of having to figure out how to stay alive during any number of situations. There may also be persistent bad dreams about losing a loved one.

Depression and Irritation

With all of this stress going on during both waking – and sleeping – hours, it is little surprise that a woman with PTSD won’t be at her best.

Devoting so much energy to trying to convince yourself that you are not going to die leaves little energy for daily functioning. A woman with PTSD will likely find that she has little patience for the relatively trivial needs of others, and may find that the persistent drain of energy results in a constant state of the doldrums.

Before seeking a diagnosis of depression or anger issues, make sure to tell your mental health therapist about any traumatic events you have experienced.

Conclusion

Women are twice as likely to develop PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event. While there are many common symptoms of PTSD in women, the symptoms will vary from individual to individual. For this reason, we recommend reaching out to a mental health professional for guidance.

A professional will have the knowledge and experience needed to understand your individual situation and provide the guidance needed to start the healing process.

If you find yourself turning to alcohol or prescription drugs to self-medicate symptoms of PTSD, you may be interested in co-occurring disorder treatment. Explore the benefits of sustainable recovery here at Villa Kali Ma and discover the helpful inspiration needed to journey forward on your path to healing the mind, body, and spirit.

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Mental Health

Understanding the Different Types of Anxiety Disorders

Occasional nerves and worry are an expected part of daily life—no one is safe from feeling the sting of anxiety at some point or another. Feeling nervous before taking a test, when faced with a problem at work, or before making an important decision is a normal response to situations your body interprets as a threat. This type of stress can actually be helpful to us as it gives us clues about our environment and makes us pay attention. Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, involve more than temporary or situational worry or fear. You may know that you are dealing with anxiety, and your awareness of different types of anxiety disorders may lead you to ask, “What is the name for what I’m feeling?”

Read on for descriptions of the different types of anxiety disorders you may be facing. 

Different Types of Anxiety Disorders

As the most common mental health challenge in the United States, anxiety disorders affect nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives. 

Symptoms of anxiety disorders can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school, work, and relationships. It can prevent us from doing everyday activities when feelings of intense fear, worry, and distress become overwhelming.

In the English language, anxiety is both a synonym for excitement and fear. Knowing the wide range of emotions that correlate with this one word, it’s understandable that the different types of anxiety disorders span just as wide:

What Do They Share In Common?

While some of these disorders may seem unrelated, there is actually a very important theme that exists in all of them: avoidance. 

The different names of these disorders, more than anything, describe your body’s way of reacting (or avoiding) the stress of your environment or the fears you have inside. Those with GAD spend their days in endless worry, those with OCD feel compelled to manage their anxiety through certain behavioral tics, and those with social anxiety retreat inward, avoiding public places at all costs. Even those with a panic disorder typically develop a co-occurring agoraphobia as they dread the thought of an attack occurring in public. 

Although many people recognize PTSD as belonging to a mental health classification all of its own, it does truly belong with the other anxiety disorders. PTSD occurs when individuals are survivors of violence, horrific scenes of war or death, or threats to their life experienced themselves or secondhand. The symptoms that develop cause the person to continually relive the past, whether they’re awake or asleep, and robs them of a sense of safety. We see the same avoidance mechanisms kick in when those with diagnosable cases of PTSD will go to any length to avoid any triggers that set the scene for their trauma to replay. 

Anxiety and Alcohol

Not surprisingly, many people who face constant or severe anxiety often stumble upon a tool that greatly aids in their avoidance: alcohol. The relationship with alcohol or other drugs often takes on a life of its own, as it quickly becomes their go-to coping mechanism to escape from the painful experience of anxiety. Without addressing both the anxiety-avoidance cycle and the resulting use of alcohol or drugs treatment is less likely to be effective. 

What Is The Treatment For Different Types Of Anxiety Disorders?

Thankfully science has come a long way, and anxiety disorders and co-occurring addictions are treatable with several effective treatments available. The first step is to make sure there is no other physical problem causing the symptoms. A mental health professional can work with you on the best treatment in the case that they diagnose you with an anxiety disorder.

No matter the specific anxiety disorder that you face, there are several things you can do to help cope with symptoms in a more helpful way to make treatment more effective. Stress management techniques and meditation can be helpful to alleviate some symptoms. Support groups can also provide an opportunity to share experiences and coping strategies. 

Anxiety disorders are generally treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. However, when there is a pattern of addiction in the mix, individuals do well to consider anxiety treatment that does not cause further reliance on avoidance strategies (hint: even prescribed medication can further contribute to patterns of addiction rather than healing).

Here at Villa Kali Ma, we work to heal women from the effects of addictions and the underlying emotional intolerance that fuels the avoidance cycle. 

We invite you to share yourself in your own time when you are ready. Know that you are welcome to unfold your imperfections and vulnerabilities in a safe space free of judgment, condemnation, rejection, and ridicule. At Villa Kali Ma, you will be welcomed and cared for with the respect, love, and dignity you deserve.