How a Healthy Diet Can Affect Your Mental Health

Mental health has a significant impact on your ability to think, feel, cope with obstacles, and how you behave on a daily basis. Strong mental health isn’t necessarily the absence of mental health problems, it refers to the positive characteristics present as well. Healthy individuals tend to have a positive outlook and don’t typically experience an inability to have fun or be happy. Strong mental health indicators also include the ability to overcome stress, maintain active relationships, learn new skills, balance work and leisure, and have a healthy sense of self-esteem. 

While there are dozens of factors that can impact your mental health. This article will address two of the most important, sleep and diet. Read on to see how these two factors can boost your mental health and get you back on track to a healthier you. 

Eating a Brain-Healthy Diet

Eating has a major impact on both the body and mind. Eat too little and you can feel weak, eat too much and you feel sluggish. What you eat also matters. An unhealthy diet does not allow your body to operate at maximum capacity and can even make you feel sick, disrupt your sleep, and weaken your immune system. 

Foods that can negatively impact your health include:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Trans fats
  • Foods with high levels of chemicals
  • Snacks with lots of sugar
  • Fried foods

Switching to a more wholesome and healthy diet can reverse these effects. Foods that are lower in sugar, are less processed, and rich in healthy fats are just what your brain needs to operate and function well. 

Foods that can positively impact your health include:

  • Fatty fish rich in Omega 3s
  • Nuts such as almonds, cashews, and peanuts
  • Avocados
  • Beans
  • Leafy greens
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables

By cutting out these potentially damaging foods, you can vastly improve your overall health. By keeping your body fueled with foods that speed up bodily and mental processes, you can enjoy increased energy, improved sleep, and major improvements to your mood which can lead to less stress and more happiness. Use your diet to promote brain health, so you can better overcome obstacles and stressors throughout the day.

Shining a Light on Seasonal Affective Disorder

Winter doesn’t officially begin its frigid reign until December 21st, but the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer much sooner than that. As the hours of daylight begin to decrease, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) becomes much more commonplace. While the exact causes are as yet unknown, most research points towards a lack of light as a cause. 

Just because SAD only occurs in certain months, does not downgrade its impact. Any form of depression should be taken seriously no matter the season. Treating seasonal affective disorder with light is becoming more and more common. Learn more about SAD, its causes, and its treatments below.

What Is SAD

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that typically occurs during the winter months when daylight hours are shortened. To be officially diagnosed, several criteria are considered. Common symptoms include: feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, losing interest in activities that once brought you joy, disrupted sleep, changes in appetite, and feeling sluggish. 

How Does SAD Occur?

Exposure to sunlight stimulates a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which controls your circadian rhythm. Lack of light due to the shorter days in the winter can throw off your circadian rhythm and create chemical imbalances in your brain that can lead to the decreased production of serotonin, the chemical that makes us feel happy. 

This lack of sunlight and decreased levels of serotonin typically leave people feeling sluggish and sleepy. Even your cognitive functions can become impaired. Decreased concentration and memory are both common symptoms. 

How Light Therapy Can Help

The foundational idea behind light therapy is replacing natural light with artificial light to boost your body’s production of feel-good hormones. Light therapy uses light box technology to produce a bright white light which tricks your brain into thinking it’s getting the benefits of natural sunlight. 

While you shouldn’t solely use light boxes to replace all exposure to sunlight, it can help supplement your exposure and even prevent the onset of SAD. For the best results, follow the tips below to get the most out of your light therapy. 

  • Light boxes should have at least 10,000 lux exposure as regular sunlight is about 50,000 lux
  • Do not look directly into the light as it could damage your eyes. Keep the box near you and go about your normal routine while making sure you are within a few feet of it for longer periods of time.
  • Total exposure times throughout the day should be about 30 minutes. You can use the box’s light all at once or break up the time over the course of the day. 
  • Start your day off with a little exposure to light. This will automatically begin to boost your mood and create a healthier mindset.
  • Consult a doctor before beginning any treatment to ensure you are as safe as possible.

How to Help a Friend’s Mental Health

Whether your friend is dealing with depression, anxiety, or bipolar symptoms, it’s common to often feel helpless in supporting them. When it comes to mental health struggles, it’s important to have someone there to understand and help through difficult times. As a friend, being a support system can often be difficult and overwhelming at times. Even though you want desperately to help, you don’t know how to. These are the best ways to help a friend struggling with mental health:

Identify When Something is Wrong

When it comes to mental health, there are highs and lows. Somedays a friend will seem fine and then the next their mood and behavior have completely changed. In order to be able to help them, it’s important to identify when something is wrong or they’re feeling more triggered than usual. Many ways to know is if they are being withdrawn or distant, not eating, conducting self-harm, displaying risky or endangering behavior, sudden overwhelming worries or fears, and intense mood swings. If your friend is displaying any of these signs, reach out and talk to them to let them know you are there for them.

Learn How to Talk About It

Although identifying their mental health issues is one obstacle, talking about it with them is a whole new challenge. When speaking with them about their mental health, it’s important to let them know they can trust you and that you will be there to comfort and listen to them. Let your friend know you have been worried about them and ask what you can do to help. It’s also important to encourage them to talk to their parents depending on their age or a professional. They must understand that although you are always going to be there for them, they must connect with people who can help.

Validate Their Emotions

As you’re listening to your friend’s struggles, thoughts, and emotions, remember to remain as understanding as possible. Even if their emotions are something you have never gone through, it’s important to let them know they’re thoughts and feelings are valid. This will help them to feel heard and less alone. This doesn’t mean pretending you feel the same way as them, but simply listening to what they have to say without judgment and offering helpful words such as, “That sounds hard.” Letting them know that what they are feeling is not an overreaction and completely valid will help them in so many ways.

The Mental Health Effects of Hurricanes on Survivors

Hurricane Dorian left destruction in its wake when it passed through the Bahamas. While recovery efforts have started in combing through the physical wreckage, it’s worth noting that Dorian left behind less visible damage, too: the mental health effects that hurricanes have on their survivors. As one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes in history, the terror of the storm lingers in the minds of many. 

According to the Associated Press, mental health counselors have been dispatched to the affected communities to help those traumatized by the storm. A local pastor Robert Lockhart in Grand Bahama encouraged his congregation at Calvary Temple to share their experiences. One community member, Carlos Evans, hoped that his story would bring encouragement to others. 

Dorian is not the first storm to highlight the mental health difficulties of survivors. Research has indicated that hurricanes and similar natural disasters can be detrimental to mental health. A recent study found that people living in England whose homes had been damaged by storms or floods had a 50% higher likelihood of poor mental health than those whose homes hadn’t been damaged. Studies on previous North American hurricanes showed results that were consistent with these findings. 

Of those affected by Hurricane Harvey, which struck Texas in August and September 2017, 48% of Harris County residents whose homes were severely damaged showed signs of serious psychological distress. Eoin Ryan, a mental health specialist, said that it will take weeks or even months to determine Dorian’s psychological toll. While many are still seeking resources like food, water, and shelter, the emotional impact may settle in once they are out of shock. 

The stress of coping after a natural disaster can be compounded, and current storms can trigger the emotional and physical sensations that people experienced when they survived previous hurricanes. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), common behaviors that exhibit around the time a hurricane strikes include persistent worry, anxiety, and sleep issues, as are intrusive memories, thoughts, and nightmares related to the storm. 

Excessive Gaming is Becoming a Mental Health Problem

In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) added gaming disorder to the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). The ICD is used by medical practitioners to diagnose conditions and by researchers to categorize conditions. The inclusion of gaming disorder is remarkable in that the impact on both mental and physical health from excessive gaming has qualified as a medical disorder. 

People with gaming disorder have trouble controlling the amount of time they spend playing video games and prioritize gaming over other activities in their lives. Furthermore, their gaming behaviors can incur negative effects. While some experts have wondered if gaming addiction can develop as a coping mechanism from depression and anxiety, it has been observed that video game addiction actually increases levels of depression and anxiety in children. This is concerning, for we are now seeing mental disorders on the rise. When the addiction stops, depression and anxiety improve.  

There are other side effects to gaming disorder aside from ones directly related to mental health. The disorder has been associated with sleep disturbances, low fitness levels, and poor nutrition. These can impact physical health long-term but can also exacerbate pre-existing mental health concerns.

The key distinction here is that participation in video games has to be excessive and cause dysfunction in several areas of life, such as education and social life. Gaming disorder only affects a small population of people, however, people who partake in video games should be aware of the amount of time they spend on gaming and similar activities, especially when it comes at the expense of their other daily activities or their health. 

For a person to be diagnosed with gaming disorder, their life has to be significantly impaired by their gaming behaviors for at least 12 months. Characteristics of gaming disorder include lacking control over gaming habits and continuing to partake in the behavior despite its negative consequences.  While the disorder can affect individuals of all ages, most of the research was conducted on adolescents, teenagers, and young adults. According to a different study, gaming disorder is more likely to affect boys and young men than it is to affect girls and women. 

 

Substance Abuse and Mental Health: Understanding Dual Diagnosis

Those who suffer from both a substance abuse disorder and mental health condition(s) have what is called a dual diagnosis, or co-occurring disorder. It is quite common for people struggling with drug or alcohol dependency to also have anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or another mental health condition. In fact, there are even some situations where the undiagnosed mental health condition may have led to substance abuse. This is not always the case, but it is quite common. Understanding dual diagnosis and how to find the right resources can make all the difference in successful treatment and recovery. 

 

The Relationship Between Mental Health and Substance Abuse

With a co-occurring disorder, both the addiction and the mental health disorder cause a variety of their own symptoms that can interfere with daily life and functioning. These conditions can affect a person’s abilities at work, reduce their ability to maintain healthy relationships at home, and even just make it difficult to handle life in general. When mental health conditions are incorrectly diagnosed or left untreated, substance abuse generally gets worse. The increased drug or alcohol abuse will lead to an increase in the symptoms or issues related to the mental health disorder, creating a vicious cycle that can be hard to break. 

 

The other thing these two disorders have in common is their stigma. Although there is an increasing public awareness of mental health disorders and addiction, it is still something a lot of people don’t talk about. Therefore, it is natural for many suffering from these conditions to feel shame or guilt, and doubly so if they have a dual diagnosis. This can make it difficult to seek help. However, as many as 50% of those with a severe mental health condition also struggle with substance abuse, so no one has to feel like they are alone. 

 

Which Comes First?

Although there is a close link between substance abuse and mental health disorders, neither directly causes the other. Instead, what tends to happen is that alcohol or drugs exacerbate the symptoms or are used as a means of self-medication. It takes a trained professional to diagnose a co-occurring disorder, and the treatment requires an integrated approach that addresses both the substance abuse and the mental health condition. 

The Potential Downsides of Mental Health Apps

Mobile apps provide users with the opportunity to obtain desired information 24/7. The prevalence of using electronic technology among the general population gave rise to thousands of apps encompassing hundreds of topics that include health and mental health. There are approximately 165,000 apps concerning health and mental health that are easily obtained free of charge or for a nominal fee. The apps claim to help people living with anything from addiction, anxiety or depression to schizophrenia. However, in terms of mental health issues, the apps may have some shortcomings to consider.

 

No Regulation

Medical specialists may combine efforts with engineers to design and create apps for mental health. However, presently there are no regulating agencies to ensure the information offered concerning mood, medications or other treatments is necessarily sound. Few apps have undergone medical scrutiny.

 

Of all the available mental health apps, 14 designed for bipolar or major depressive disorder have been officially reviewed by mental health professionals. Seven apps for psychosis were reviewed. The evaluations revealed that the programs offered little in terms of effectiveness and were not necessarily deemed as being safe.

 

Thus, there is no way for users to know whether the recommendations or therapies provided are safe or effective. Dissatisfaction with a mental health app might also dissuade someone from seeking one-on-one professional help.

 

Privacy Issues

Mental health apps may require users to submit personal information concerning symptoms, habits, medications or other data. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act requires that health information remains private and inaccessible to anyone except the patient and their health care provider. Unless the app provides some form of security measure, personal information might be obtained, used and abused by other people. Before installing an app, potential users must ensure that the program is biometrically authenticated, password protected or both. All data should also be encrypted in the event that the mobile device becomes lost or stolen.

 

Lack of Customization

Two people diagnosed with depression may differ greatly in terms of the severity of their symptoms and treatment needs. Mental health apps must also be flexible enough to accommodate patients who span the spectrum of specific mental health issues. Unfortunately, many apps do not fulfill the need to be diverse in terms of information. Thus, once again, they are rendered ineffective.

Herrick Lipton is the CEO of New Horizon Counseling Center in New York and is also an advocate for mental health. For more information about Herrick or to get in touch with New Horizon Counseling Center for resources, please visit nhcc.us or call 718-845-2620.

Mental Health Benefits Of A Therapy Pet

The loyalty and camaraderie pets display can bring a great deal of joy to a person’s life. However, in certain instances, animals might actually play a vital role in helping someone maintain a healthy mental state. Let’s highlight several ways in which therapy pets could benefit your mental well-being.

 

What is a Therapy Pet?

Therapy pets, or emotional support animals, are typically dogs who receive official certification designating that they are providing necessary companionship and comfort to individuals stricken with specific mental or systemic ailments. A documented therapy animal may accompany its owner on traveling excursions or to other locations normal pets would not be able to go.

 

Anxiety Reduction

Individuals afflicted with moderate to severe anxiety conditions can experience difficulties executing basic day-to-day functions. The accompaniment of a therapy pet could help to ease the extreme tension afflicted persons can be experiencing. By reducing anxiety, a person will be able to function easier in their daily life.

 

Increases Socialization Levels

Certain mental disorders render some people incapable of engaging in social activities or at the very least, makes such interactions quite challenging. Therapy animals are also capable of improving the socialization abilities of some people. These comforting creatures might not only boost the confidence of their owners but they can make the act of socializing easier. Most people like animals and will often be more apt to interact with individuals who have them.

 

Encourages Quicker Recoveries

Therapy animals, like most pets, often exhibit a great sense of loyalty and care to their owners. The presence of at least one living creature, who can stand by them through thick and thin, can encourage those with a mental illness to get the help that they need and begin to take steps to overcome their affliction. Certain mental health professionals believe that stricken individuals might actually recover more expediency or, at the very least, witness a decrease in the severity of symptoms with the aid of a therapy pet.

 

Limits Feelings Of Isolation

Individuals with certain mental health problems often experience periods of isolation. In certain cases, they might actually be living alone or have no family or friends close by that they can relay on. However, to others, their condition might lead to actions that colleagues, neighbors, and even loved ones cannot understand. Such circumstances lead to even greater feelings of loneliness. By always being at their side, therapy pets can help said persons overcome the despair potentially caused by isolation and loneliness.

 

While a therapy pet may not be right for everyone and it can never replace the help of a licensed therapist, they can potentially ease your symptoms and provide you with a consistent source of companionship. Talk to your therapist today to see if a therapy pet is right for you!

Herrick Lipton is the CEO of New Horizon Counseling Center in New York and is also an advocate for mental health. For more information about Herrick or to get in touch with New Horizon Counseling Center for resources, please visit nhcc.us or call 718-845-2620.

 

The Truth About Hypochondria

Have you ever known someone who was overly obsessed with their health and wellbeing? They continually went to the doctor for phantom illnesses? It is easy to categorize this type of person as a liar or someone who just wants attention, but more often than not they are legitimately suffering from hypochondria.

Hypochondria is a mental illness where someone will become obsessed with the idea that they have a severe health condition that is undiagnosed. This obsession leads to extreme anxiety about their health and the state of their body. A simple cold or even a sneeze can send this person into a frenzy. They often think that it is indicative of a much more serious bodily condition.

Hypochondria usually coincides with another disorder such as panic disorder, anxiety, OCD or depression. Sometimes this stems from a loss this person had of a loved one to a severe health condition, or it could be the result of them living through their own major illness or health condition. While many may think of this as just a quirky or obsessive character trait, it is a serious mental health behavior. It is unhelpful to assume this person is just grasping at attention instead of trying to help them get the treatment they need.

The symptoms of hypochondria are varied but follow a similar strain. Those struggling with hypochondria will be checking themselves for various illnesses and thinking of small ailments, such as a cough or a runny nose, as telling of a much more serious issue. They will often visit the doctor frequently or on the adverse, avoid the doctor altogether because they are nervous that they will actually learn about an ailment that they have.

 

While obsessing about their health, often hypochondriacs will check online about their health and possible symptoms to try to self-diagnose. The internet makes this condition even more dangerous. The anxiety that is birthed out of a hypochondriacs behavior will generally lead to actual physical issues, such as upset stomachs, as well.

Many who are struggling with hypochondria can often benefit from self-help treatment such as avoiding the internet or looking up potential symptoms, practicing stress-relieving techniques and even engaging actively in a hobby that they enjoy. For more severe conditions, it is essential to talk with a therapist about professional treatment such as medication or cognitive behavioral therapy.

Herrick Lipton is the CEO of New Horizon Counseling Center in New York and is also an advocate for mental health. For more information about Herrick or to get in touch with New Horizon Counseling Center for resources, please visit nhcc.us or call 718-845-2620.

What is Bipolar with Mood-Incongruent Psychosis?

Psychosis is at its core being unable to recognize what parts of the world around you are real and what is fake. Generally, psychosis is characterized by a gradual but eventual break from reality. While most commonly associated with schizophrenia, this type of behavior can also be found in people who struggle with bipolar disorder. Those with bipolar may suffer from the hallucinations or delusions that come from psychosis during either their manic or depressive phases, although it is more common during the manic stage.

It is not 100% known why those with bipolar disorder may have psychosis as well, but it could be related to a genetic trait, brain structure or a chemical imbalance. The symptoms of the psychosis can start with things like diminished performance in school or work, building lack of personal hygiene, more and more difficulty communicating or concentrating.

These symptoms can build into more serious ones such as limiting social contact, constant suspicion of those around them, lack of emotion, and anxiety. These symptoms all cumulate into hallucinations, delusions, incoherent thoughts or speech and a general lack of awareness. You may notice that this person uses rapid speech and often has unconnected and irrational thoughts. They lose track of their thoughts quickly and often will abruptly change subjects without notice.

Hallucinations are at their core, things that someone experience through any or all of their senses but is wholly unnoticeable by those around them. A delusion, however, is an unshakeable belief that they will hold about something that is untrue. These can be positive and great things they believe about themselves, such as they have these fantastic superpowers, or they can be more paranoid delusions such as someone is always following them or out to get them.

Mood-incongruent psychosis is when the hallucinations or delusions that a person is experiencing are not related to their current feelings or beliefs. These behaviors will seem entirely out of place and tend to be more severe than the ones that come along with mood-congruent psychosis.

Those suffering from bipolar with mood-incongruent psychosis will often be prescribed different types of medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotics or mood stabilizers. Therapy will often consist of psychotherapy or electroconvulsive therapy.

Herrick Lipton is the CEO of New Horizon Counseling Center in New York and is also an advocate for mental health. For more information about Herrick or to get in touch with New Horizon Counseling Center for resources, please visit nhcc.us or call 718-845-2620.