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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year's Resolution Challenges

Question: Last year I made a resolution to lose weight but I didn’t end up following through.  Now, I’m having trouble sleeping at night because I need to lose the weight and I keep thinking about how to make it work this year.  What’s the secret to making New Year’s resolutions work?                                             
                                                            -Joe Kantania, Hollis, NY

Answer: The most common reason why New Year’s resolutions don’t work is because they are unrealistic.  Some things are much easier said than done and often in moments of inspiration we overestimate our true capacities.  Then, when an individual does not (cannot) follow through on the resolution it leads to feelings of helplessness and lowered self esteem.  “Why can’t I push myself to do this?”  Perhaps the answer is that you are trying to do something that you are not ready for. 

You are saying that you are so anxious about losing the weight that you are having trouble sleeping.  Bearing in mind the blow to your self esteem of not having followed through on your plans last year, your anxiety may be more about the assault on your feelings of competency as a person (your ability to accomplish things you set out to do) rather than stemming from a concern for your health (due to your weight).  

One of the keys to mental health is recognizing what you are capable of accomplishing and being comfortable with who you are.  The Serenity Prayer often used in addictions treatment comes to mind: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

There is nothing wrong with making a New Year resolution as long as it is realistic.  Small steps toward a larger goal are often far more effective.  Best of luck in the New Year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Enough holidays

Question: The holiday season is making me feel very stressed out.  I know it sounds wrong, but I’m getting sick of being around my family and in a way I wish I was back at work in my regular routine.  Any coping tips? 
                                                  -Alicia Dureaux, Whitestone, NY

Answer: There are many things about the holiday season that can contribute to this feeling of “Let it all be over so I can get back to everyday life”.  In your case it sounds like two things are happening: 1) you’ve had an overdose of family time and 2) you are missing having a regular schedule. 

The saying “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” has a lot of truth to it.  Spending a lot of time in close quarters with anybody, including your loved ones, can begin to become unbearable.  When you throw in the hype of the holiday season and the expectation that everyone has to be in a perpetual good mood, this can be an added strain on all the time spent together with family.  For people used to working several days a week, the vacation days of the holiday season can pose an additional challenge due to lack of structure.

The first step in coping with this kind of situation is recognizing what you are feeling and why you are feeling it.  Just recognizing why you are feeling this way can relieve some of the guilt and shame associated with negative thoughts about loved ones.  To address both issues, I recommend planning out your days.  Make a schedule of time that you will spend away from the family and use that time for something relaxing or enjoyable to you.  This will add structure to your days as well as give you a better balance of family and individual activities.  You will likely find that when you return to the family and the holiday festivities you will be refreshed and happy to be there.  Best of luck and enjoy the holidays.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Winter Blues

Question: Every year when the cold weather starts and the days get shorter, I feel depressed.  I don’t know why this affects me, but I have a hard time staying on my diet and in general feel down about life.  Could this be connected to the winter, and if so what can I do about it?
                                               -Liza Dunsworth, Forest Hills, NY

Answer: Liza, as the winter months approach, this is not an uncommon experience, especially in areas that have colder climates.  Sunlight has a positive effect on mood and therefore the decrease in sunlight that comes with the shorter days of winter can cause depression, lack of energy, and/or a craving for sweets and starchy foods.  The clinical term for this is Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.  

The most common treatment for SAD is called “Light Therapy”.  Basically, the individual is exposed to a special kind of light for about 30 minutes a day to make up for the decrease in natural sunlight.  Other treatments that can help include psychotherapy and medication. 

My recommendation is that if you think SAD fits your experience; take the first step of learning more about light therapy.  Cet.org is a website with a lot of useful information on this topic.  As always, when you have concerns about your mental health, it’s a good idea to consult with a mental health professional.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Is It Bullying?

Question: There is so much talk about bullying lately and I suspect that my 10 year old son is a victim.  I have even witnessed other kids talking to him in a way that I think is bullying.  However, whenever I ask him about it, he just says he is fine and walks away.  Should I leave it alone or pursue it further?
                                                  -Darlene Sintece, Bayside, NY

Answer: As you mentioned Darlene, bullying has come into the public eye recently and rightfully so.  A large number of kids are suffering every day at the hands of their peers and this often leads to all kinds of mental health concerns as well as academic and physical health issues. 

Often (25-50% of the time), a child that is being bullied will not tell adults either because he or she is afraid or embarrassed of the child doing the bullying, being accused of tattling, or doesn’t think the adult will take the concern seriously.  On the other hand, it may be helpful to continue observing your child so that you can reach a level of certainty regarding the bullying.

Because your son is denying that any bullying is going on, obviously it would be very difficult to discuss with him why the bullying is happening or what to do about it.  However, there are other things that you can do to help your son be more resilient in the face of bullying.  Introduce your son to new friends and encourage him to pursue talents and activities that he is good at.  Building his self-esteem can help counteract and prevent future negative effects of bullying.

To help you address this further, you might want to look into other supportive resources such as www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Feel Like I Am Losing It...

Question: I haven’t told anyone about this, but I think I might be going crazy.  Every time that I’m driving and I hit traffic I start shaking, I can hardly breathe, I start crying, and I wind up having to pull off the road.  What is this? 
                            -Yolanda Ruiz-Perez, South Ozone Park, NY

Answer: What you are describing sounds like a panic attack, and no you’re not going crazy.  A panic attack usually occurs when some event (in your case traffic) triggers anxiety and then the anxiety escalates out of control and the body starts physically reacting with “fight or flight” procedures.  For the few minutes that the anxiety attack lasts it can feel like you are “going crazy” and are emotionally out of control.  The tricky part with anxiety is that there is a cyclical factor where the physical reactions to anxiety (crying, hyperventilating, etc.) evoke even more anxiety about “Am I going crazy?”, or “How do I make this stop?”  An important thing to remember during an anxiety attack is that 99 percent of the time it will only last 10-30 minutes and then the attack will subside on its own.

There are medications that you can speak to your doctor about that may help prevent the panic attacks, however that will not be a long-term solution.  One of the most effective ways of addressing the root of the problem and stopping the attacks is to try and identify the thoughts that lead up to the beginning of the attack.  What is it about traffic that makes you so anxious?  Is it because you will be late to something important?  Is it a fear of an automobile accident?  The anxiety provoking thought pattern is usually related to each individual’s personal life experiences.  Until you resolve this, for safety reasons, you might want to consider how often you really need to be driving.

With 6 million people in the U. S suffering from panic attacks every year, you’re not “going crazy” and there are effective treatment options for you.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Depression- When to See a Doctor

Question: Sometimes I get really down and depressed and I feel like just staying in bed. My wife is pushing me to get therapy, but my friends tell me that there is no need and that I should just pull myself together. Who’s right?
-Mike Faulstien, Kew Gardens, NY

Answer: Your question boils down to how to know when it is time for professional help with depression. The first question to ask is “Is my sadness negatively affecting my ability to function on a regular basis?” For example, when you mention “feeling like staying in bed” does that mean that you actually stay in bed for days on end? If so, then your sadness is having a profound impact on your ability to function at your job, at home, and socially. The clinical term used to describe that kind of behavior is called a “vegetative depression”. It usually happens when an individual feels overwhelming feelings of sadness and hopelessness and they don’t have the strength to face the world and their everyday challenges and responsibilities.

In any case, if you think there is a possibility that you may need professional help, go for a consultation. Getting a professional opinion is not a commitment to go to therapy on a regular basis. Just like you go to the doctor when you feel sick to make sure that you don’t need medical attention, similarly when you think you may need mental health assistance, make an appointment with a professional and get an evaluation.