Anna I. Guerdjikova, PhD, LISW, CCRC
Director of Administrative Services, Harold C. Schott Foundation Eating Disorders Program
Lindner Center of HOPE

 

 

 

 

Emotion regulation refers to the process of generating and maintaining an emotion, as well as the ability to modulate its’ intensity and frequency in order to achieve socioemotional competence and sustain mental health. In modern society, from early age, we learn inhibition to downregulate our emotions (for example, to not cry in public or to not say anything when angry) which often results in emotional restraint. True emotional regulation is reached through focused monitoring, evaluating, and modifying of our emotional reactions and depends on the person’s age, temperamental characteristics and environmental circumstances. Some examples of successfully practicing emotional regulation include being able to calm self-down after something exciting or upsetting happens, sustaining focus on repetitive tasks, refocusing attention on a new task and controlling impulsive behaviors. The skill to emotionally regulate depends significantly on the persons’ age and brain maturity and thus understanding that some of the time the individual is not difficult or spoiled, but developmentally or circumstantially unable to control their emotions can help build empathy and strengthen family systems and relationships.

DOs in Emotional regulation

  • Do create safe space for all emotions- the good, the bad and the ugly. Being happy should be equally accepted in the family as being angry or sad.
  • Do model emotional regulation for your children and peers every time you can. Work on naming your emotion (ex.” I am very upset with you now..”), the reasons for it/ the trigger, if you know it (..”because you hit your sister..”) and the solution you have (..”so I will take a moment to regroup and then we will talk about how I am feeling and what helps me go through it”)
  • Do practice awareness of your reaction to the emotional dysregulation in others. The goal it to learn to respond to their outburst (observe, acknowledge, empathize and work through it) rather than react (yell back or slam the door and leave).
  • Do prepare and reflect. When a challenging situation lays ahead, take the time to prepare yourself and the child for it and afterwards reflect on how preparation and having a rescue plan had helped to minimize emotional outbursts.

DON’Ts in Emotional regulation

  • Don’t expect emotional regulation if the person is hungry, thirsty, tired, lonely or in other way physically unsettled. Emotions are felt in the body and learning how the body reacts to them is a crucial step in recognizing and further regulating them.
  • Don’t ignore or minimize kids’ emotions. They might see overly dramatic, or unnecessary, or inconvenient (airport tantrums, anyone?) but for the child they are real and often intense. Work on acceptance that even if we don’t get it, it is real for them and our job is to validate their struggle/excitement and teach them how to better self-regulate.
  • Don’t pretend you “feel it for them” if you do not. It is ok to state that “I don’t know what you are going through but I am here for you and I am willing to help you out in any way I can”.
  • Don’t try to “fix it” or make it go away or focus on it for too long. Emotions are fleeting, they can feel very intense when they occur, but most of them resolve or lose their overpowering force if the person “stays with it” (recognizes it, tolerates the distress for negative emotions and responds, rather than reacts) for long enough. Learning this skill early on can be truly helpful in adulthood

Practical skills to help with emotional regulation

Mindfulness techniques. There are many ways to focus on the “now” to help tame an emotional outburst. A simple example is the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Exercise. It can distract from the anxiety trigger, focus the person on the present moment, and help them relax in their body. Ask the person to : name 5 things they can SEE in the room (have them list them out loud) ; name 4 things they can FEEL (sock on my feet, knots in my belly) ; name 3 things they can HEAR (my voice, radio); name 2 things they can SMELL right now (my coffee) ; name 1 thing they can TASTE (if not in the moment, what did they taste last night) . This can be shortened to 4-3-2-1 or even 3-2-1, depending on the circumstances.

Relaxation techniques– teach yourself and your young ones deep breathing. Yoga Dragon breath and the Camel pose can be a fun quick way to release tension.  Explode like a volcano/ Balloon technique can be practiced anywhere and most children under 10 years of age find is helpful (pretend you explode like a volcano/popped balloon- you can jump up and model the eruption with your hands and make a lot of loud dramatic volcano sounds). Using movement, music and sensory activities can help further relax and refocus one’s brain.

Diligent self-care – emotional regulation is impossible in a body with unmet basic needs, namely being tired, hungry, thirsty, lonely or sick. Daily self-care, particularly getting enough rest depending on the person’s age, should be encouraged and taught by parents, especially to teens and young adults who have more autonomy and can make the connection between being overly tired and overly emotional and further

For many families, the start of the school year means the start of activities, socialization, and helpful structure. For others, it signals the start of anxiety – anxiety about grades, socializing, separation from loved ones, and the like. Anxiety is very common in childhood and adolescence and often does not require mental health intervention.

Common childhood fears include:

  • loud noises
  • costume characters
  • the dark
  • separation from parents
  • social anxiety

However, some children may develop clinical levels of anxiety, warranting attention from a mental health provider. It is estimated that 9% of youth ages 3-17 have had an anxiety disorder. The prevalence rises as children move into adolescence.

If mild anxiety is normal and expected, how do you know when it is a problem?

It might be a problem if anxiety is…

…getting in the way of school.

…getting in the way of friendships or personal goals.

…negatively impacting their mood.

…causing significant strain on the family.

So, what can I do as a parent?

It can be highly distressing to witness a child suffering. Parents may also find it frustrating if their child cannot or will not engage in developmentally appropriate activities due to anxiety (e.g., go to school, complete chores, sit at the dinner table). This can make it hard to know what to do to help

First, identify whether the fear is based on a true threat. Use your judgment here, but if there is clearly a threat or the anxiety is in proportion to the situation, validate and support your child. And just because a fear is valid, it is not always solvable or preventable. Encourage your child to tolerate the anxiety and convey your confidence in their ability to cope.

For anxiety that seems out of proportion to the actual threat, it can be helpful to educate your child. Many young children are still learning about what is dangerous and what isn’t. However, if your child comes to you repeatedly to get reminded or reassured that they are okay, this may no longer be helpful.

Encourage approach coping. Research tells us that overtime, with repeated exposure to feared situations, anxiety will reduce. Avoidance can reinforce anxiety in the long run. Try encouraging your child to engage in activities that they are avoiding. Don’t allow them to avoid doing what is expected in your house or given their developmental level.

This may involve facing your own distress. When you see your child in distress repeatedly, it is normal to become overprotective. You may start anticipating what they fearand protect them. Parents do this because seeing your child in distress is HARD, and it can feel cruel to maintain expectations (e.g., child to sleep alone in their own bedroom) when they are visibly upset.

Just remember that overprotectiveness is NOT helpful because:

  • it can promote avoidance
  • it reinforces the belief that the world is dangerous
  • it reinforces the belief that your child is not capable of managing distress

Positive reinforcement. Acknowledge how difficult it is to be brave and praise your child when they go outside of their comfort zone. Implementing tangible rewards can also be helpful in motivating children to face their fears.

Differential attention. Sometimes, families can get into a pattern where the anxious child gets more attention when fearful. This can inadvertently reinforce anxiety and dependency. By providing relatively more attention when children are engaging in brave or expected behavior, you can help to reverse this pattern.

Modeling. Children learn by watching you, so keep an eye on what you are teaching them through your actions. When you can, demonstrate bravery and willingness to mess up.

Scaffolding. Scaffolding can be a very useful technique when the behavior change needed is too challenging to be expected all at once. It involves providing enough support for your child to engage in a desired behavior (e.g., school) and then slowly reducing that support overtime.

If you think your child may have an anxiety disorder, talk to your pediatrician or a mental health provider. And if you need extra help, seek advice from a professional. Many providers also offer tailored education and parenting support.

 

Lindsey Collins, Lindner Center of Hope new studio portraits. UC/ Joseph Fuqua IIBy: Lindsey Collins Conover, PhD
Lindner Center of HOPE, Staff Psychologist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By: Laurie Little, PsyD 

Lindner Center of HOPE, Staff Psychologist

Plants that have psychedelic properties have been used across all continents for centuries to aid in rituals, recreation and in healing. Over time, researchers have found that psychedelic medicines can also be profoundly effective in treating mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety and in ameliorating the effects of trauma.

Although a psychedelic medicine can be derived from a plant or created in a lab, the user will experience what can be described Laurie Little, PsyD as non-ordinary or altered states of consciousness. These states may include hallucinations, unusual perceptual or sensory experiences or an altered sense of space and time. Many users of psychedelic medicines also report profound experiences of inner peace, compassion towards themselves and others and deeply meaningful spiritual realizations. When combined with psychotherapy, psychedelic medicines have the potential to heal in ways often not seen with traditional therapies.

The psychedelic medicines that are most often being studied with mental health conditions are psilocybin (derived from mushrooms), LSD, Ketamine, Ayahuasca and MDMA. There have been numerous studies showing the effectiveness of psychedelic medicines on treatment resistant depression, end of life anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, eating disorders and substance use disorders.

One of the most rigorously studied medicine is MDMA for the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In studies conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), 88% of participants with severe PTSD experienced a significant reduction in their symptoms and 67% no longer met criteria for PTSD only two months after their treatment.

The question remains, why is the treatment so effective? What is it about the combination of psychedelic medicine and psychotherapy that is so profoundly healing?

One possible theory is that psychedelic medicines offer the user an opportunity to look at difficult or traumatic experiences through a new lens that they have never had before. A psychedelic experience can potentially slow down the experience of time, engender feelings of safety and compassion, provide profound experiences of meaning and purpose and foster or deepen a connection to a higher power. Many of these experiences when applied to processing an old wound or trauma can have a profoundly healing impact.

Case Vignette:

John Doe is a veteran who has seen horrors that most of us cannot imagine. He has spent the better part of his adult years struggling with recurring nightmares, intrusive thoughts and strong feelings of survivor guilt and shame. He lives alone, avoids most people when he can and spends most of his time ruminating about what he should have done differently in his life.

At the behest of his family, John has tried traditional psychotherapy, but has gotten so overwhelmed by symptoms of panic and flashbacks, that he quits. It is too painful to talk about and he assumes it won’t help.

However, when John was given the opportunity to participate in an MDMA assisted therapy session, he was intrigued. He had been hearing more and more about how psychedelics could help with trauma but was afraid to feel hopeful. He had been resigned to feeling this way for so long. He agreed to give it a try.

While taking MDMA, John felt an alert state of consciousness, yet he felt calm and safe in a way that he had not felt for years. He felt at peace and relaxed. When he was gently guided to recall aspects of his past, he did not resist or feel panic like he had before. He was able to recall the events with a certain kind of distance. He could understand now that he was just doing what he could to survive. He could see now for the first time in his life that his so called “enemies” were also doing what they could to survive. He began to realize how true that was for all of the world. After that initial session of MDMA assisted therapy, John was then able to engage in traditional therapy in a way he never could before.

Although many researchers and therapists are aware of how profoundly helpful these medicines can be, there is still a great deal of stigma associated with these medicines. Because these medicines are still illegal in the United States, desperate patients are either travelling to other countries or are finding therapists who are privately using these medicines through “word of mouth”.

The Food and Drug Administration gave approval for certain psychedelic medicines to be researched, as long as they were held to the same standards as other pharmaceutical medications. This has led to a resurgence of new studies showing the safety and efficacy of psychedelic medicines for a multitude of mental health conditions. It is projected that several psychedelic medicines (including psilocybin and MDMA) will become legal and available for therapeutic use within the next one to two years.

Kristy L. Hardwick, EdD, LPCC-S Lindner Center of HOPE, Outpatient Therapist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sun is shining; the days are longer. Summer is approaching. For some, summer is a break from study or work. For others, it may be an opportunity to take a week of vacation to relax and rejuvenate. Whether it is a two-to-three-month break, or simply more time in the evening to enjoy the sunshine, it is a time for which most look forward. It is often a time of joy, laughter, and reprieve. Summer is associated with rest and play, all of which can promote positive well-being. And I embrace all of it.

However, I am also keenly aware of the various tragedies we have collectively experienced over the recent months. With the “last day of school” and the “first vacation of the summer” pictures also come news of mass shootings, war, and other difficult events. There is exposure to pain and suffering on multiple levels, whether indirectly or directly.

Thus, I get the sense “the sun is shining, but it is also dark!” I find it necessary to acknowledge the current conflicting duality of our reality and the distress which many are experiencing, while sharing a few reminders to help us navigate through.

First, during times like this, it is crucial to recognize it is normal to have a plethora of intense thoughts and feelings, as well as an urge to act. It is also expected there will be differing viewpoints and ways these events affect individuals based on a variety of factors.

Second, it is important to highlight there are times when words are insufficient to convey the depth and intensity of feelings or to comfort adequately. Perhaps we don’t know anyone personally who has been directly affected by one of the current tragedies. Yet, we have been impacted. We may find ourselves juggling varying thoughts and feelings and struggling to put these into words. I would invite us to lean into what we are experiencing in our bodies. Accept there may not be “right words.” However, we can give space for our thoughts and feelings, accepting them as we experience them.  Sitting in silence might be necessary. It might also be helpful to focus on possible actions. For example, if we are feeling helpless, we might brainstorm a way we can make a difference or identify an area where we do have control. We can also find ways to show care, concern, support, and express meaningful presence with others amid the current tragedies.

Perhaps we do know someone who has been directly affected by one of the various tragedies or observe others being more deeply impacted by our current shared experiences. Again, we may not know the “right words” to say to those who have suffered directly from a tragedy or are in more distress. That is okay. There is a reason why words fall short; it is because ultimately, they often do. Thus, instead of getting caught up in “saying the right words,” we can focus on embracing being a meaningful presence. We offer authentic support through honest connection. Even saying, “I don’t know what to say; however, I am here for you,” or “I don’t understand or know the solution, but I am here to listen.” Offering just to be with someone is powerful.

Next, we may experience discomfort when we feel “caught in the middle” of opposing circumstances or even opposing feelings. On the one hand, it is summer. We have plans to relax, find joy, rejuvenate. Yet, we find ourselves surrounded by various tragedies. The degree of impact may vary. We are both impacted and aware of the suffering; yet also are navigating daily lives. We are both excited about summer plans, but also angry and sad about world events. Or we may be struggling with different stressors or difficult life circumstances, but also must continue to function. In these situations, it can be powerful to embrace “both/and.” Often we are influenced to exist in an “either/or” mindset. Either we are happy, or we are sad. Either we are fulfilled, or we are discontent. Yet this negates the complexity of both the outer world, and our inner worlds. Joy and pain can coexist; celebration and grief may show up hand in hand. Vacations are happening in the middle of world conflict. We are both celebrating our young adults graduating college and mourning for those killed in a mass shooting. Embrace and hold space for “both/and.” Multiple, often conflicting, thoughts and feelings can be true at the same time. It is necessary to accept all of them.

Lastly, we can utilize healthy coping skills to navigate these “distressing-at-a-loss-for-words-embracing-both-and” times. Consider strategies which have been helpful in the past, as well as those we may not have utilized previously.

Find ways to express our thoughts and feelings, giving ourselves permission to hold several thoughts and feelings simultaneously, while also releasing them. (Allow time for “both/and.”) Resist the urge to hold them in. Even if we have moments of “no words,” we must find ways to release them in nonverbal ways and then be willing to let words flow when they do come, without judgment. Releasing feelings is an important skill to practice.

Get moving, be active. We cannot separate the various parts of our bodies; they are all interconnected. Moving is good for all areas of our health, increasing endorphins. Research also supports various activities such as yoga, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system, decreasing stress and muscle tension. We can engage in physical activities we love, whether it be swimming, kayaking, or biking.

Be creative. Engaging in novel and creative activities increases dopamine. Make art; write, create music. Simply listening to music has been found to decrease anxiety and stress. (We can even combine the coping skill of releasing and expressing feelings with this one!)

Seek social support. Make connections. We increase the oxytocin (the “love hormone”) in our brains by spending time with family, friends, and pets. We are inherently built to be in relationship with others.

Stick to routine; take the vacations we have planned. Routine helps us stay motivated and organized.

Maintain healthy habits. Sleep/rest. Eat well, hydrate.

Limit social media/news exposure when current events become too distressing.

Seek ways to advocate and get involved in organizations created to assist survivors of events or those which support issues we find important.

And lastly, let us not hesitate in seeking professional help if levels of distress increase, we are unable to function or fulfil roles, unhealthy coping has increased (drug/alcohol use), there is difficulty sleeping or change in appetite, and if experiencing severe hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. We are here to help when the sun is shining but it is also dark.

By: Jennifer B. Wilcox, PsyD
Staff Psychologist, OCD and Anxiety Disorders Program

 

 

 

 

What is compulsive hoarding?

Hoarding Disorder is a psychiatric illness and is considered to be a subtype of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th Edition (DSM-5) defines Hoarding Disorder (HD) as:

Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value. This difficulty is due to a perceived need to save the items and to the distress associated with discarding them.

The difficulty of discarding possessions results in the accumulation of possessions that congest and clutter active living areas and substantially compromises their intended use.

The hoarding causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining a safe environment for self and others).

The hoarding is not attributable to another medical condition and is not better explained by another mental disorder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How is compulsive hoarding different from normal clutter or collections?

It is not uncommon for people to acquire a few extra possessions from time to time, resulting in occasional clutter. However, while normal clutter or collecting doesn’t usually interfere with a person’s daily functioning, compulsive hoarding often does. Compulsive hoarding also differs from normal clutter or collecting as it tends to become unmanageable, overwhelming, and causes significant distress or family discord. Though collections usually bring people joy and fill them with pride, hoarding often comes with shame and embarrassment.

Why do people hoard things?

Compulsive hoarding is thought to result from a combination of factors including genetics, environmental factors, life experiences, and learned behaviors. The reason one person hoards may not be the same as the reason someone else hoards. Some people who hoard are compulsive shoppers and acquire more things than they need or have room to accommodate. Others may have difficulty categorizing or making decisions about what to do with particular items. Sometimes they can’t remember what they own or where it is, leading to the purchase of duplicate items. Other times people hold on to possessions for emotional or sentimental reasons or get anxious when they discard things. Some people believe that the hoarded items may be useful someday and keep the items despite not needing them currently. The level of insight a person has about their struggles in these areas can vary widely from completely absent insight to good insight.

What types of things do people hoard?

The types of items a person hoards vary based on factors such as the reason they are hoarding and how severe their hoarding issues have become. Some commonly hoarded items include books, newspapers, magazines, boxes, bottles, clothes, food, items purchased in bulk, collectibles or vintage items, furniture, animals, or digital media.

How many people suffer from Hoarding Disorder and who does it affect?

While the exact prevalence of people who suffer from Hoarding Disorder is not certain, it is estimated that it affects approximately 2.5% of the general population. Studies have shown that prevalence rates in men and women are nearly equal and appear to be consistent across developed countries. Most studies report onset between 15 and 19 years of age and show a chronic course over the lifespan.

What is the treatment for Hoarding Disorder?

Hoarding Disorder is treated using Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a type of therapy that allows someone to work with a therapist to shift their thinking patterns and change their behavioral patterns to healthier ones. Randomized controlled trials have shown this to be an effective treatment for hoarding. While the data on the efficacy of medication for Hoarding Disorder is limited, there is some evidence to support the use of medication in the treatment of this disorder. For those hoarders who have limited insight, a Motivational Interviewing (MI) approach can help to foster their motivation and confidence. Finally, working on skills that improve the hoarder’s ability to maintain attention and focus, categorize items, and decision-making can be beneficial in treating Hoarding Disorder.

What can I do to help a loved one who seems to have issues with compulsive hoarding?

It is generally not recommended for family and friends to discard hoarded items without the hoarder’s permission. This can be extremely distressing for a compulsive hoarder and tends to make them upset, anxious, or angry. Instead, it is recommended that friends and family talk to their loved ones about their concerns and help them to seek professional treatment. Additional resources are available at the International Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Foundation (IOCDF) and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

Resources:

American Psychiatric Association, 2013. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition. American Psychiatric Association Publishing, Arlington, VA.

Treatment of Hoarding Disorder

https://instituteofliving.org/programs-services/anxiety-disorders-center/what-we-treat-at-the-adc/compulsive-hoarding

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/hoarding-disorder/what-is-hoarding-disorder

Postlethwaite, A., Kellett, S., Mataix-Cols, D., 2019. Prevalence of Hoarding Disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders 256, 309-316.

by: Ronald Freudenberg, Jr., MA, LPCC-S
Outpatient Therapist, Lindner Center of HOPE

Anxiety can take many forms.  Anxiety is also one of the most common reasons one might seek out mental health treatment.  In this blog, we will explore some of the most frequently occurring anxiety disorders, as well as panic attacks, which can be part of a Panic Disorder (but do not have to be, as will be discussed later).  We will also look at effective strategies for preventing, treating, and managing anxiety disorders and symptoms of anxiety.

Regardless of how anxiety may present for one person, the various anxiety disorders all have at least one thing in common…fear.  Whether it is described as worry, nervousness, feeling “on edge,” or something else, the basic emotion of anxiety is fear.  We all experience some anxiety sometimes, and in fact, you may have heard that a little bit of anxiety can be a good thing from time to time.  It serves a protective purpose when it tells us to avoid people, things, or situations which could be dangerous.  Anxiety can also help us by keeping us on our toes and motivating us to perform well under pressure, such as when pulling an all-nighter before an exam, giving a big presentation at work, or playing in the championship game.  Yet, as with any negative emotion, anxiety can become problematic when it becomes too frequent, too intense, lasts for too long, or interferes with our lives and our ability to function well, as can happen in the context of the following types of anxiety disorders.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Adjustment Disorder

Sometimes, one may feel excessively stressed or anxious about a certain thing or things in one’s life.  People often describe this as “situational”, and the clinical term is an Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety.  (It can also present with depression, or other emotional/behavioral responses.)  An example might be if one would experience something stressful like the loss of a job.  Of course, most people would likely feel some anxiety about this.  However, an adjustment disorder is thought of as when one’s response is out of proportion with what may be typically expected.  With this type of anxiety, once the stressor has resolved, so will the anxiety.  So, when that same individual lands a new job, he/she/they will feel better, simply put.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is very much like it sounds.  This is when a person feels generally anxious, worried, and nervous much of the time (more than half of their days) about any number of different subjects.  In order to meet criteria for the diagnosis, one must experience this type of anxiety for at least six months, find it difficult to control the worry, and present with at least some of the following additional symptoms: restlessness, trouble concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, sleep difficulties, and/or trouble concentrating.  Although every person is unique, classically, a person with GAD may tend toward long-term anxiousness, worry excessively about many things (such as finances, family, work, health, world events, etc.), and lay awake in bed at night doing so.

Phobias

Specific Phobias are another type of anxiety disorder in which a person experiences strong fear and anxiety about a specific thing (object or situation), and actively avoids that thing or endures exposure to it with intense discomfort.  In this writer’s experience it is relatively rare for this to be a person’s main reason for seeking treatment, at least in outpatient settings.  Perhaps that may be because many anxiety-provoking subjects can be pretty easy to avoid.  (When was the last time you unexpectedly came across a snake?)

Social Anxiety Disorder

An exception to anxiety that is easily avoided, is Social Phobia, also known as Social Anxiety Disorder.  Social Phobia exists when the source of a person’s fear is social or performance situations in which one may feel subject to scrutiny or judgment by others.  Social anxiety may arise when one feels uncomfortable mingling with new people at a party, walking through halls of (seemingly) glaring eyes at school, or giving a speech.  From an evolutionary perspective, if anxiety helps us to avoid dangerous things which threaten our survival, being ostracized from one’s tribe and forced to try to survive alone in the wilderness is near the top of that list.  With this in mind, it is little wonder that public speaking is often cited as people’s number one fear.

 

 

 

 

 

Panic Attacks

Finally, let us explore the issue of panic.  So, what is a panic attack? Panic Attacks, according to the DSM-5, occur when a person experiences an “abrupt surge” of anxiety which reaches a peak within minutes and includes (at least four of) the following symptoms.

Symptoms of Panic Attacks

  • Racing/pounding heart
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Choking sensations
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Numbness/tingling
  • Feeling of unreality or detachment from one’s self
  • Fear of losing control, “going crazy,” or dying

When one develops a fear of having additional panic attacks and exhibits maladaptive behaviors designed to avoid or limit the likelihood of them, this is called a Panic Disorder.  Further, if one’s fear and avoidance includes public situations away from home, open or enclosed crowded spaces from which it would be difficult to escape should panic-like symptoms arise, that is called Agoraphobia (which may, but does not have to, co-occur with Panic Disorder).  Also, according to the most recent edition of the DSM, panic attacks are now thought to be a feature which may occur in the context of a spectrum of other mental health disorders, substance use disorders, and some medical conditions.

Treatment of Anxiety, including Treatment for Panic Attacks

When it comes to treatment of anxiety, it is unrealistic for one to expect to live out the rest of their days, anxiety-free.  One can no more be “cured” from anxiety, than from happiness, sadness, or anger.  These are basic human emotions, and there are reasons why we have them.  However, the good news is that anxiety symptoms, whether mild or debilitating, can be effectively prevented, treated and managed, usually by a multi-faceted approach.

How to Manage Anxiety, including Managing Panic Attacks

Medications can often be a very helpful part of a person’s treatment plan.  Antidepressants, such as SSRIs, and some SNRIs, are commonly used to treat ongoing symptoms of anxiety, while benzodiazepines (such as Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, or Ativan) are sometimes used on a shorter-term or as-needed basis to alleviate acute anxiety or panic.  (Caution is usually advised with the latter due to their addictive potential.)  Some antihistamines, beta-blockers, and anticonvulsants have been shown to be helpful for anxiety as well.

Various forms of talk therapy can be beneficial by providing a safe, supportive experience in which a person can process fears and learn to implement rational coping thoughts to overcome them.  Therapy can also assist one to form new behaviors to mitigate symptoms of anxiety.  Regardless of the specific therapy used, a common element is learning to approach, rather than avoid, that which causes one’s anxiety.  Anxiety and fear lead to avoidance by definition, while summoning the courage to face and overcome our fears cuts them down to size (this is commonly referred to as “exposure”).  Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT, as well as Radically Open DBT), and mindfulness-based psychotherapies are common effective treatment approaches.  Mindfulness can help one learn to be in and accept the present, increasing one’s capacity to tolerate feelings of discomfort while reducing anxious thoughts about the future.

Treating and Managing Panic Attacks

In the case of panic attacks, it is advised to first rule-out any medical causes of the symptoms which can mimic other medical issues, specifically heart disease.  If another person is present during a panic attack, they provide support and reassurance, helping the person to talk through it or asking what they need that may be helpful.  In addition to medication, there are other helpful strategies for panic symptoms.

Strategies for Managing Symptoms of Panic Attacks

  • breathing or relaxation exercises
  • physical exercise
  • mindfulness/grounding exercises (such as a sensory check-in)

Coping Skills for Anxiety, including Panic Attacks

Therapy can also help a person develop effective coping skills for preventing and managing anxiety.  These may vary depending on personal preferences, but can include increasing social supports, problem-solving for stressors, journaling, exploring spirituality, exercise/movement, etc.  Practicing healthy self-care habits (such as getting regular exercise and restful sleep, managing health conditions, and minimizing/avoiding alcohol, caffeine and other drugs) and generally trying to live a balanced lifestyle can simultaneously help to reduce the stress one may experience in life, while increasing one’s ability to effectively cope with anxiety.

Summary:  Anxiety is a common human experience, but persistent and debilitating anxiety, is often what causes people to seek treatment. There are a variety of types of anxiety. Panic or Panic Attacks are among the types of anxiety. Learn what are panic attacks, symptoms and causes and treatments for panic attacks and other anxiety disorders.

Learn more about panic attacks and anxiety.

The Difference Between CBT and DBT (Cognitive and Dialectical Behavioral Therapies)

Stacey L. Spencer, Ed.D.
Clinical Neuropsychologist, Lindner Center of HOPE
EMDR Trained therapist
Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neuroscience

 

There are many, many possible types of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is an optimal treatment method for mental illnesses.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) are among the most common psychotherapies.

CBT vs DBT

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

One that has been in the public sector for decades, and that you’ve likely heard of, is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). If you’ve ever gone to therapy, it’s very likely that the therapist you saw practiced CBT. This therapy, also called talk therapy, helps people better understand how thoughts influence our feelings. The goal of CBT is to talk through problems and help frame thoughts differently. CBT is typically time-limited and there are specific goals and homework provided. You might start out with a situation that troubles you, or one you may find troubling. With the guidance of the therapist, you identify the thoughts around the situation and work on finding alternatives and ultimately changing the behaviors in order to feel better. So, it’s thought-feeling-action-focused. Some mental flexibility is involved given that most of these thoughts are automatic and can become engrained.

Cognitive Distortions are often discussed in CBT.  CBT helps us to break up negative thought patterns or “thought traps” that can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression and cause us to avoid. A technique to help one move away from this type of thinking and often employed in CBT is “cognitive shifting”. With the help of awareness in what a person focuses on (in this case, often the negative cognition/thought/belief) the idea is that this helps us learn to shift our focus to something more helpful or innovative. There are many Cognitive Distortions under this umbrella. Examples of catastrophizing could be magnifying or minimizing. I read a good description once of this being a “billowing cloud of everything can go wrong” and believing it inevitably will.  Or in Minimizing when we downplay our successes.

A CBT-oriented therapist might give someone who tends to catastrophize events in their lives, leading to anxiety, for instance, a worksheet and walk through the process with them. This is hypothesized to have evolved as a way to help us survive during the immediate crisis. Now that we have developed higher-level reasoning skills, this can turn against us, as these negative thoughts can turn sticky.

One way to start is to help the client identify what they are currently most worried/anxious about. The client might start by specifying what they imagine will occur without using “what if” statements. Instead, the focus is on the client’s own predictions, e.g., “ I will fail the exam and get kicked out of school.” You ask the client to rate how much they believe this to be true from 0-100%. Next, the client is asked to take a step back and consider the likelihood of the catastrophe to occur. By helping the client to take a step back and assess the fear from a different perspective and re-interpret their concerns, this is called “reframing”.

Working on ways to cope with and manage these fears/anxieties by not diving into them is a strategy that CBT therapists employ. It takes practice and yet studies have shown that finding more balanced ways of managing these types of thoughts can lead to better mental and physical health outcomes. By helping the client to explore the underlying thoughts, emotions and beliefs and problematic thinking, they can work towards a more balanced view of themselves. The hope is that by helping the client change their perception to support more positive thinking, they will reduce distress and suffering and lead a more fulfilling life.

To recap, CBT features the following:

  • Treats emotional response
  • Is time-limited
  • Works best with solid therapist-patient relationship
  • Relies on the application of logic and reason
  • Employs structure to guide tailored treatment

What is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) comes from dialectical theory and is actually a type of CBT.  DBT posits balance; not leaning too hard in one direction or another. This modality was originally created by Dr. Marsha Linehan in her work with people with chronic life-interfering behaviors, like self-harm and chronic suicidal thoughts. It has expanded to help with many other issues. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy techniques utilize individual therapy, group skills class and coaching. Groups emphasize learning specific DBT coping skills and there is homework given in-between to reinforce what was learned. Four pillars of DBT include:

Mindfulness

Emotion Regulation

Distress Tolerance

Interpersonal Effectiveness

DBT mindfulness involves living with intentional awareness of the present moment. This includes not trying to push away or reject the moment but to notice it and not attach ourselves to it. As Dr. Linehan describes, this is by “Attending to the experience of each new moment, rather than ignoring the present by clinging to the past or grabbing for the future.” This takes practice and patience and can take many forms. Some examples of mindfulness include meditation in the form of noticing by either opening or focusing the mind. Contemplative prayer (in any spiritual form) is another mindfulness practice along with mindful movement such as yoga, martial arts, hiking, tai chi.

Emotion Regulation involves understanding and naming one’s emotions. By helping to learn to identify emotions, one can hope to gain an understanding of what they do for us. Goals of this are to decrease the frequency of unwanted emotions, the vulnerability to them and decrease emotional suffering.

Distress Tolerance are skills for when involved in a crisis situation and the goal is to not make the crisis worse. By utilizing skills of Radical Acceptance, one can achieve freedom from suffering and being “stuck”. This can help by reducing acting on intense emotions and tolerating painful events. These are only utilized in a crisis situation, where the event or experience is highly stressful and short-term.

Lastly, Interpersonal Effectiveness skills are to help assist with either strengthening current relationships or end destructive ones, to learn to say yes/no effectively, resolve conflicts before they get overwhelming and create and maintain balance in relationships.

The Difference Between CBT vs DBT in Treating Certain Illnesses

Not all mental illnesses respond to treatment in the same way.  The difference between CBT and DBT must be taken into consideration when determining the optimal treatment method for an individual. CBT has been shown to be effective when treating depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), phobias, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. DBT was created to help people who might be easily dysregulated and tend benefit from learning ways to self-soothe, communicate more effectively with others and find ways to reduce significant distress.

The Difference Between CBT and DBT Treatment Methods

The difference between CBT and DBT are defined. CBT focuses on the connection between thoughts, feelings and behaviors and how they influence each other. DBT emphasizes regulating emotions, being mindful and tolerating the uncomfortable. CBT guides patients to recognize troubling thoughts and redirect them, while DBT helps patients accept themselves, feel safe and manage emotions to avoid harmful behaviors.

When comparing CBT vs DBT, both therapies have aspects of how our thinking influences our emotions and behaviors but are different in their approaches and structure of the therapeutic process. Both modalities are evidenced-based, that is, much research has gone into showing whether they are effective.  When choosing a therapist, as important as it is to find someone in-network or with openings, it’s equally so to know what treatments are most effective for the reasons you’re seeking therapy in the first place. Therefore, asking about CBT vs DBT and which one might work best for you, would be an important next step in this process.  This is the best way to determine if CBT vs DBT are right for you.

Knowing your diagnosis is key to determining what therapy will be most effective for you. However, many people have more than one diagnosis, and sometimes people use a blend of therapy elements to best manage symptoms.

It can be confusing to know what techniques will best help you. CBT and DBT are some of the more common therapy practices, and have been shown to help individuals suffering from a number of mental illnesses.

Choosing to take care of your mental health is just as important as your physical health and finding providers that utilize evidence-based practices will provide you with the best outcomes possible.

For more information about DBT skills group at Lindner Center of HOPE.

 

Danielle J. Johnson, MDDanielle Johnson, MD, FAPA
Lindner Center of HOPE/UC Health Psychiatrist
Lindner Center of HOPE Women’s Mental Health Program Director
University of Cincinnati College of Medicine Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychiatry

 

 

Psychiatric medications are prescribed to treat the symptoms of mental health disorders. They can stabilize symptoms and prevent relapse. They work by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain. Serotonin is involved in mood, appetite, sensory perception, and pain pathways. Norepinephrine is part of the fight-or-flight response and regulates blood pressure and calmness. Dopamine produces feelings of pleasure when released by the brain reward system.

One in ten Americans takes an antidepressant, including almost one in four women in their 40s and 50s. Women are twice as likely to develop depression as men.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors Side Effects

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) increase levels of serotonin. Fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), fluvoxamine (Luvox), citalopram (Celexa), and escitalopram (Lexapro) treat depression, anxiety disorders, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, eating disorders, and hot flashes. Potential side effects include jitteriness, nausea, diarrhea, insomnia, sedation, headaches, weight gain, and sexual dysfunction.

Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) increase levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. Venlafaxine (Effexor), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and desvenlafaxine (Pristiq) are used to treat depression, anxiety disorders, diabetic neuropathy, chronic pain, and fibromyalgia. Potential side effects include nausea, dry mouth, sweating, headache, decreased appetite, insomnia, increased blood pressure, and sexual dysfunction.

Tricyclic Antidepressants Side Effects

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) also increase serotonin and norepinephrine. Amitriptyline (Elavil), clomipramine (Anafranil), desipramine (Norpramin), nortriptyline (Pamelor), doxepin (Sinequan), trimipramine (Surmontil), protriptyline (Vivactil), and imipramine (Tofranil) are used to treat depression, anxiety disorders, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, and insomnia. Possible side effects include sedation, forgetfulness, dry mouth, dry skin, constipation, blurred vision, difficulty urinating, dizziness, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, increased seizure risk, and cardiac complications.

Other Antidepressants Side Effects

Bupropion (Wellbutrin) increases levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. It treats depression, seasonal affective disorder, ADHD, and can be used for smoking cessation. It can also augment other antidepressants. Potential side effects include anxiety, dry mouth, insomnia, and tremor. It can lower the seizure threshold. There are minimal to no sexual side effects or weight gain.

Trazodone (Desyrel, Oleptro) affects serotonin and mirtazapine (Remeron) affects serotonin and norepinephrine. They are both used for depression and sleep. Mirtazapine has minimal sexual side effects.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) increase serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Isocarboxazid (Marplan), phenelzine (Nardil), selegiline (Emsam), tranylcypromine (Parnate), and moclobemide are associated with more serious side effects than other antidepressants. There are dietary restrictions and numerous drug interactions. MAOIs are often used after other antidepressant classes have been tried. Other antidepressants need to be discontinued for a period of time prior to starting an MAOI.

Newer antidepressants include Viibryd (vilazodone) which affects serotonin, Fetzima (levomilnacipran) which affects serotonin and norepinephrine, and Brintellix (vortioxetine) which affects serotonin. Brintellix and Viibryd have mechanisms of action that make them unique from SSRIs. Viibryd is less likely to cause sexual side effects.

Excess serotonin can accumulate when antidepressants are used with other medications that effect serotonin (other antidepressants, triptans for migraines, certain muscle relaxers, certain pain medications, certain antinausea medications, dextromethorphan, St. John’s Wort, tryptophan, stimulants, LSD, cocaine, ecstasy, etc.) Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include anxiety, agitation, restlessness, easy startling, delirium, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased temperature, profuse sweating, shivering, vomiting, diarrhea, tremor, and muscle rigidity or twitching. Life threatening symptoms include high fever, seizures, irregular heartbeat, and unconsciousness.

Estrogen Levels With Antidepressants in Females

Varying estrogen levels during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, postpartum, perimenopause, and menopause raise issues with antidepressants and depression that are unique to women. Estrogen increases serotonin, so a decrease in estrogen at certain times in a woman’s reproductive life cycle can reduce serotonin levels and lead to symptoms of depression. Hormonal contraception and hormone replacement therapy can reduce or increase depressive symptoms; an increase in symptoms may be more likely in women who already had major depressive disorder. During pregnancy, antidepressants have a potential risk to the developing baby but there are also risks of untreated depression on the baby’s development. With breastfeeding, some antidepressants pass minimally into breast milk and may not affect the baby. The benefits of breastfeeding may outweigh the risks of taking these medications.   Antidepressant sexual side effects in women are vaginal dryness, decreased genital sensations, decreased libido, and difficulty achieving orgasm. Women should communicate with their psychiatrist and/or OB/GYN to discuss the risks and benefits of medication use vs. untreated illness during pregnancy and breastfeeding; the use of hormonal treatments to regulate symptoms associated with menses and menopause; and the treatment of sexual dysfunction caused by antidepressants.

By: Annie Ward, MSN, PMHNP-BC
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, Lindner Center of HOPE

When we think of eating disorders, our society tends to think of individuals in emaciated bodies. Disordered eating is more common than not, and does not discriminate against body size, gender or race. The line between dieting and disordered eating is blurred in our society. There are narratives tightly woven into our culture which lead to disordered eating habits being encouraged, and unfortunately often praised. Sadly, they are only acknowledged as problematic when the physical manifestations become unignorable and when they can no longer be labeled under the guise of “healthy diets”.

One of the most common disordered eating patterns that I encounter in clients (whether they are seeking help for an eating disorder or not) is the binge-restrict cycle. This pattern can start with either binge eating or restricting. Essentially, when we restrict nutrition, our bodies increase our hunger cues as they search for sustenance, to alert you that your body needs food. This can often end up in a binge-eating episode which involves eating a large quantity of food while feeling out of control. Unfortunately, the feeling of lack of control often results in shame, which may then lead to subsequent restriction of nutrition. This may be due to feeling full after a binge or primarily due to shame, but unfortunately fuels the cycle of binge-eating and restricting.

It can be helpful to think about how this cycle was useful for our hunter and gatherer ancestors. They may have gone several days without food, and when they found it, the body wanted to obtain as much nutrition possible, because it didn’t know how long it would have to survive without food again. Their bodies pumped out hunger hormones to protect them and sustain them. Your body works the same way– it cannot identify why it is not getting food. I hope that you wouldn’t expect our ancestors to feel shameful for eating more when they found food- and hope this helps you understand why you should not feel shameful for eating more after a period of restrictive eating. Additionally, our bodies have natural weight settling points and when we restrict, to conserve the energy we have, we slow down our metabolism to conserve resources. This is one reason why diets are overwhelmingly unsuccessful.

In order to learn what your body needs and wants, one of the best things that you can do for yourself is structure regular nutrition throughout the day- regardless of what your eating looked like the day before. Our society certainly defaults to making us believe that we should eat less if we “overdid it” the day before, but this is simply not true. Your body needs and deserves consistent nutrition every day.

If you struggle with fatigue, poor concentration, mood swings, headaches or lightheadedness—these are a few of the ways that inadequate nutrition can present. They can present quickly after your body realizes it needs more fuel, and may not get better until your body can trust that you will consistently give it the nutrition it needs. I would encourage you to explore your relationship with nutrition and how it may be affecting you physically— and mentally.

What should we learn from this? 

  1. If you feel you ate too much of a meal or snack, you should forgive and forget. You deserve to eat all meals and snacks the next day. Returning to a consistent pattern of nutrition will help break the binge-restrict cycle.
  2. Our society promotes “health” but this often gets twisted into unhealthy recommendations which can lead to the binge-restrict cycle. This can then lead to guilt, shame, and eating disorders. Be wary of “healthy” diets.
  3. Consistent nutrition is self-care, and it is not helpful to use nutrition as a form or judgment of self-control

If you are struggling with this, reach out for help with an eating disorder specialist who is knowledgeable about Health at Every Size- you do not have to look a certain way to have an eating disorder or be “sick enough” to get help

By: Jessica Kraft, APRN, PMHNP-BC
Lindner Center of HOPE, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is more isolated to the changing of the seasons. It can happen in the spring and summer but occurs most commonly in the fall and winter months. We know that everyone is going to have a bad day from time to time, and it’s not uncommon for some to face more challenges in the winter months when the weather is colder and the days are shorter. But when does this become a problem that requires intervention?

What are some of the common symptoms of SAD? 

  • Feeling down or depressed for most of the day, almost every day
  • Less interest in hobbies, social activities, or things that have brought you joy in the past
  • Decreased concentration at home and at work
  • Fatigue, sluggishness, or low energy
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Changes in appetite (increased craving for carbohydrates) or changes in weight
  • A general feeling of hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

It is hard to estimate the number of people who have SAD, as many do not know they have it. It’s also thought that the number in recent years has been higher due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Women can be at higher risk for developing SAD as well as those who live further north. SAD most commonly develops in young adulthood, it often runs in families, and can often be co-morbid with other mental health conditions including depression, bipolar, anxiety, ADHD, and eating disorders.

It is not entirely understood what causes SAD, but research indicates that people with SAD may have reduced activity of serotonin, too much melatonin production, or even vitamin D deficiency. Changes in these areas may impact the body’s daily rhythm that is tied to the seasonal night-day cycle. Negative thoughts and feelings about the winter and its associated limitations and stresses are common among people with SAD, as well as others. It is unclear whether these are “causes” or “effects” of the mood disorder, but they can be a useful focus of treatment especially when seeking therapy.

If the above symptoms start to interfere with day-to-day life, it may be beneficial to seek out care for SAD. For some it may be ideal to start with their primary care provider in order to rule out other medical conditions that could be responsible for symptoms of SAD including alterations in thyroid hormones, low blood sugar, anemia, or viral infections like mono. If there is not an identifiable medical cause, seeking psychiatric help may be beneficial.

What are some of the common symptoms of SAD?

  • Light therapy – a common approach to SAD since the 1980s. The thought is that exposure of bright light every day can supplement the lack of natural sunlight/sun exposure in the winter months. Sitting in front of a light box of 10,000 lux daily during the winter months in the morning can be a helpful intervention.
  • Talk therapy – the most common type of talk therapy for SAD is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Vitamin D supplementation – there is mixed research on how helpful supplementation of Vitamin D is for SAD but some find it helpful and a good option to try prior to trying a psychiatric medication.
  • Psychiatric medication – for those who haven’t seen much improvement with light therapy or CBT, psychiatric medication can be an option including SSRIs (Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, etc.) or Wellbutrin. It is important to keep in mind that treatment with one of these medications may take several weeks in order to be efficacious, for some up to 6-8 weeks.
  • When doing research on this topic I came across many anecdotal stories from those struggling with SAD and what interventions they tried and found helpful. Some examples included going outside more often, taking a trip, caring for something like a plant or a pet, finding a new hobby or interest, staying social, creating new rituals, consistent exercise, quality nutrition, good sleep, and maintaining a consistent schedule.

What are some of the common symptoms of SAD?

One of the helpful things about treating SAD is the predictability of when symptoms set in compared to other sub-types of depression that are much more variable. Unfortunately there is little research answering the question of whether or not this can be prevented or if there is a significant benefit to starting treatment early. Of the limited data available the medication Wellbutrin was found to be the most helpful intervention to start early.

Sources:

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml 

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder 

https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/covid-19-seasonal-affective-disorder-sad 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7302868/ 

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2215036620303072 

https://forge.medium.com/advice-for-coping-with-seasonal-depression-from-9-people-who-have-it-a5c04fdfe996