Social Media and Mental Health: Why We Can’t Stop Scrolling

Have you ever found yourself feeling upset at someone on Instagram you don’t even know? Or felt offended that one of your friends did not “like” your most recent photos? Or maybe even felt jealous of a stranger’s feed showcasing their seemingly perfect life?

Social media has created a second world for us to navigate, in addition to our already busy and complicated in-person lives. Navigating world #2 is not only time-consuming, but also psychologically confusing for people.

On the one hand, your online world #2 can’t be touched or quantified – it’s vague, elusive, and exists in your head. On the other hand, the emotional experiences that occur as a result of what happens on social media are completely real; these “events” cause physical and neurological changes in our bodies. What can be particularly troublesome about this type of stress is that it has become a baseline for people that lurks in the background of our day-to-day.

Social media creates a constant anxious and uneasy feeling that can only be quelled by logging in again and hitting “refresh.”

I did a little research on my Instagram stories to learn more about how people are feeling about social media lately. The percentage of my followers who participated was pretty astounding, and was the most responses I’ve ever received when doing polls. This tells me that this topic is definitely on people’s mind.

The results were as follows:

  • 99% of people who participated have questioned if social media is good for their mental health.
  • 76% of people try to set limits on social media.
    • Less than 1% said these limits always work.
    • 39% said that the limits either rarely or never work.
  • Less than 1% of people indicated that they consistently feel good after going on social media.
    • 16% of people almost always feel badly after.
    • Most people experienced a mix of both good and bad experiences.
  • The top two reasons for staying on social media were not wanting to miss out on resources (47%) and wanting to stay in the loop with friends and family (35%).
  • When asked about the biggest drawbacks of social media, 42% identified that social media is addictive.
  • When asked about what gets in the way of spending less time on social, the top choice was that it’s hard to break the scrolling habit (76%).
  • 73% of people feel that the negatives of social media outweigh the positives.
  • 99% of participants were open to hearing about how to meet their needs in ways other than social media.

(Disclaimer: these polls were VERY informal, and by no means are formal research. There are GAPING deficits in this if you were to critique this from a research standpoint! However, the results tell us some things that are worth talking about).

What I gained from these polls was the following: a LOT of people are questioning if their social media use is good for their health.

The biggest issue that people have with social media is that it is addictive and difficult to stop.

Limit setting works for some, but not others. People often don’t feel good after spending time on social media, and this can be luck of the draw. You don’t want to give it up because there are valuable resources they enjoy, and you want to keep in touch with friends and family….But you still feel the negatives largely outweigh the positives. And here is where we get stuck.

Many people asked for boundaries and tips to help with this; and I have good news and bad news about this.

The good news: There are strategies that can be effective. These strategies are going to work well for the personality type that is good at moderation.

The bad news: most of us are NOT good at moderation when it comes to things that are designed to be addictive, thus beginning the Russian Roulette. Most of the time, things might go fine for us; but all that it takes is one scrolling and comparison bender to bring you back to that anxious, uneasy, and unhappy feeling.

Your love/hate relationship with social media is not your fault, nor is it a sign of a personal weakness. It actually makes perfect sense.

Social media is designed to keep us coming back (thus creating addictive habits) through intermittent reinforcement. Intermittent reinforcement is the most likely to produce repeat behavior when we are rewarded only some of the time, at an unpredictable frequency. This is how slot machines operate, to give you context. And most of the time, you don’t win.

Sometimes when you post on social media, you get lots of likes and comments. Other times, you get fewer. And the kicker is, there is no true rhyme or reason as to why. Number of likes is not indicative of value of your post because of the infamous “algorithm.”

The algorithm rewards content that drives more users to their platform – not things that are particularly meaningful, or even true. Whatever is going to keep people clicking and scrolling is going to be showcased. You might be going on social to scroll through what your friends were up to, and all that you see are reels of people doing viral dances or ads for products from celebrities you follow.

This is not to say that there isn’t truly valuable content rewarded by the algorithm – I follow quite a few mental health professionals on Instagram who post some fantastic stuff, and they go viral. They are good at what they do and their content is great. My point here is that this is not always the case. I see a lot of highly questionable and unethical things posted by mental health professionals as well, and some of my trusted colleagues and I definitely raise an eyebrow and sanity check one another about what we are seeing.

Social media has always been problematic for mental health because of the fact that it leads us to constantly evaluate ourselves through others’ eyes.

Add in Instagram changing the rules of the game without giving you the rulebook, and you have a recipe for anxiety and low self-esteem.

Now let’s go back to social media being world #2 for us to navigate. In this world, it’s like a fun house with mirrors all over, and you can’t really tell where you are going. You fumble around, and some moves work, but a lot of moves don’t. You leave feeling confused and unsure if you really want to do that again.

This is inherently stressful for us.

Our brains were also not designed to manage such a large “circle of concern” (aka people and things that matter to you).

So, what do we do about this?

In order to make decisions about our time spent on social media, we need to become clear about what matters to us – and then make decisions based on those values.

I could very easily give you “ten tips to reduce screen time.” But the thing is, you’ve probably already tried these things, and you’re reading this blog because they haven’t worked. That’s because when we implement a one-sized-fits-all approach to our habits without careful consideration of our values, these methods end up falling flat.

When you take inventory of what is important in your life and then decide how social media both adds and detracts from this, you will have a workable foundation from which to make changes.

Next on the docket will be an IG video that will cover the following:

  • How to identify your core values
  • How to decide how to spend your time according to these values
  • Habit hacks and strategies for implementing these decisions

In the meantime, if you are eager to get started on some more material about how to have a healthier relationship with social media, two books that can get you started are Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport, and How to Break Up with Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life, by Catherine Price.

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The Healing Power of Telling the Truth in Therapy

I was recently listening to a podcast called “Tell Me Something True,” hosted by Laura McKowen, author of “We are the Luckiest” and founder of “The Luckiest Club,” a sober support space. Laura hosted Dr. Anna Lembke, Chief of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic at Stanford University. Much of this blog post is inspired by thoughts shared by both Dr. Lembke and Laura on the episode called “Our Dopamine Nation.”

In the episode, Laura and Dr. Lembke talk about the role of therapy in recovery from addiction; how social media has become both an addictive and sometimes toxic space for people; and the healing power of being able to tell the truth in therapy. There are tons of interesting ideas that came up in their conversation. I’ve chosen three that stood out to me to expand upon here.

1. Therapy is not just about someone listening to us talk about our problems. It is about being able to tell the unfiltered truth (maybe even for the first time).

Therapy provides us with the unique opportunity to tell the unfiltered truth to someone. These may be unspoken truths about ourselves or difficult things that have happened in our lives. These truths need not even be “big things;” they could be a series of small things that we deny to ourselves (consciously or subconsciously) because they are just too painful to acknowledge. They could be white lies that keep repeating themselves, and we aren’t even sure why.

Not telling the full truth to ourselves and others is often not intentional – it’s just this thing that can slowly happen over time as a protective mechanism from pain, and this eventually starts to erode our sense of congruence.

Truth telling starts as a slow process in therapy. As we start to piece together our stories with a supportive professional, the truth weaves itself into a more cohesive narrative. We might not even know truths about ourselves until we start to say our stories out loud. When we are able to speak the truth, Dr. Lembke states that we are able to “put the world in order.” Putting the world in order helps our lives to make more sense to us. When our stories don’t make sense, and the puzzle pieces don’t quite fit, this can lead to a sense of unease and anxiety.

2. Unless we really know why things happen, we can’t make informed decisions. Therapy helps us understand the “why” so that we can figure out what do to next.

Figuring out the “why” often involves taking a trip back in time to our formative years: childhood, relationships with our parents, romantic relationships, friendships, and significant events that have happened. It is crucial to understand the “why” in order to contextualize our current behaviors (especially ones that we wish to change). If we can understand how things came to be, we can learn more about things that presently trigger us. Knowing our triggers allows us to better utilize a “pause” button to respond as things happen, rather than reacting in the heat of the moment. We can make better decisions going forward in our lives when we understand our “why.”

3. When we tell the truth, people are drawn to us and this promotes intimacy. Therapy is a safe place to practice this.

Time and time again, clients have voiced to me their fear that they are unique in how much they have screwed up in their lives, and it is terrifying to acknowledge the truth out loud. This is actually not a unique experience; we all think we are more f*ed up than the person next to us, when that is seldom true. Everyone has their own version of problematic in their lives. Therapy becomes an amazing space to test out vulnerability with someone who we can trust not to judge us (or repeat what we say). When we share our struggles, we ease our suffering. We are reminded of our shared humanity and that we not in it alone.

When we can share our unfiltered truth and test out being more honest about our feelings, we can experience being accepted fully for who we are. Therapy is so valuable because our most impactful experiences almost always happen in context of relationships. Reading self-help books and doing work on our own absolutely has its place; but in my humble opinion, there are some types of healing that can only happen through the process of being truly seen and accepted by someone else who knows our truths. When we can learn to tolerate emotional intimacy and vulnerability through truth telling in therapy, this translates to all of the other relationships in our lives. We learn to create more depth in our relationships; to show up as our authentic selves; to pursue our goals and dreams with confidence; and to seek out healthy, loving people in our lives.

In summary, telling our true stories is an essential part of our growth and healing.

When it comes to our mental health, all roads lead back to the willingness to be radically honest about our lives. When we are honest, we are lighter – even when the truth isn’t pretty. It simply feels better not to hide (from others or ourselves).

Whether you seek out this opportunity for honesty and truth telling through therapy, a life coach, your journal, or a trusted confident; all that you can do is start somewhere. It will be messy, uncomfortable, and imperfect. But if you can continue to put one foot in front of the other and go all in on the process, the benefits are immense.

How can you bring the concept of truth telling and honesty to your life today?


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On Transition

As the sticky summer heat fades into chilly fall mornings that greet us with the crunch of leaves under our feet, we are reminded of how temporary everything is. We wait all year for summer, and then it’s over in a blink. We savor the brief interlude of fall’s beauty before winter comes through with its darkness and chill.

This fall season, nature’s transition, becomes an opportunity to reflect on our own personal transitions, like starting up work again; ending a relationship; moving; going away to college; or having a baby.

When transitions occur, we make lots of arbitrary rules for ourselves in an attempt to get some ground under our feet.

We impose strict routines, rigid schedules, and abide by fixed ideas that place things into neat and tidy categories.

On the one hand, these structures can be building blocks for sound mental health. They are stabilizing, grounding, and help us simplify our little corner of a complicated world.

However, there is a shadow side to this intense structure. When we are beholden to these fixed habits, routines, and rules, we may unintentionally be going against the natural current of our lives.

This rigidity might be avoidance of our inevitable encounters with new versions of ourselves that are born of transitions.

When our lives change, we change. The fabric of who we are becomes newly woven with experiences that shape us into someone different.

There is a new you that emerges with each new chapter. In one lifetime, we will meet many different versions of ourselves.

Anxiety can result when we cling in desperation to who we were before, when that “you” isn’t there as it was before. We experience internal tension when we fight this newness and attempt to return to what was before.

After all, it’s scary to change. We spend a lot of energy curating and cultivating the person we want to be. When our lives and circumstances change and we find ourselves becoming someone we don’t recognize in the mirror, it is unsettling at best and more likely terrifying.

We are reminded that a lot of the control we *think* we have is really an illusion and an attempt to feel safe in a truly unpredictable life.

This is not to say that who you were is gone when things change – but rather, more colors are added to the fabric of your identity and threads of wisdom are gifted to us.

An antidote to anxiety in the face of transition is radical acceptance, which means that we accept reality for what it is, rather than willing it to be different. When we let go of the illusion of control that we all so desperately seek, we can experience a huge exhale, like the one that happens after a good, long cry. The relief of this exhale comes from acceptance of the flow of life’s seasons and chapters – rather than resistance.

My heartfelt message to you is this: It can feel scary to change, but it’s healthy (and inevitable) that we change.

If you can hold on through the feelings of groundlessness that accompany these transitions, there can be something beautiful on the other side. This is not to say that all routine and structure be thrown away; rather, it can be helpful to use these methods as tools to ground you as you make room for new things to emerge.

Breathe through the changes, be gentle with yourself as you adapt, and keep an open mind as you get to know new parts of yourself through these transitions. While change might start out as feeling scary and unwanted, it may just be the beginning of a beautiful metamorphosis.


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Combatting Depression through Relentlessness

You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings.

Elizabeth Gilbert

I adore this quote by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s a reminder of how temporary and transient moments of happiness or feelings of “arrival” can be. As soon as we feel like we have achieved it, completed it, or gotten “there” (wherever “there” is), the moment fades. Other feelings, like sadness, stress, unworthiness, and fear might creep in. This is normal- this is life. And it can feel 10x more intense if you suffer from depression.

When we think about depression, often the first thing that comes to mind is chemical imbalance (particularly serotonin). A lot of research has been done about what causes depression, and evidence points to the idea that the relationship among brain chemistry, mood, thinking, and behavior is such that the arrows of causation point in both directions, not just one (Kirk Strosahl & Patricia Robinson, The Mindfulness & Acceptance Workbook for Depression).

Put simply, this means that behaviors impact brain chemicals, and brain chemicals also impact behaviors. It’s a reciprocal relationship.

It’s really difficult to say that depression is exclusively caused by a chemical imbalance- because how we move, what we ingest, what we watch on TV, and what we think about all directly impact our brain chemistry on a daily basis. It’s both.

We all have genes that we are born with that predispose us to certain things, which include mental health conditions; however, your environment on daily basis directly impacts how these genes are expressed. You can start doing things today to change how your genes express themselves. Through meditation, for instance, your brain waves change. They enter a more restful state that allows for healing to occur in the body and for stress hormones to calm the heck down. How cool is that?? Our brains are amazing. 

This is good news for those suffering with depression.

How you behave impacts your brain chemistry- meaning that you do not have to be a passive bystander to the current state of your brain and what’s going on in there. This means that there is something you can do about the way you feel, rather than committing yourself to the belief that your brain is unchangeable, and that you have to live with these feelings forever. Our brains are plastic and ever-changing.

In order to cultivate more joy, happiness, and freedom, sometimes it requires being relentless in the pursuit of feeling even just a little bit better.

Some days you might just wake up feeling mentally or physically horrible. Take note of the feelings, offer them non-judgmental acceptance, and be open to what messages your feelings carry. Give them space to be.

AND…When your feelings have had their time (whether that be hours, days, weeks, or even years), eventually you will reach a moment where you might decide it’s time to shift gears and focus on even small steps in the direction of healing.

That’s when the RELENTLESSNESS comes in. Some days, that might mean taking a few deep breaths and telling yourself you’re doing great. Other days, that might be yoga, singing at the top of your lungs in the car to the emo music you loved in high school (Empty Apartment by Yellowcard is my personal favorite song to belt out in the car when I’m stressed) or journaling all that hard stuff out. Sometimes it’s all of those things, repeatedly, in order to get through the day. And maybe you cry a few times throughout that process because damn, this shit is hard, and painful, and it’s not easy. Maybe every hour you have to take a second to give yourself a pat on the back for getting through.

Let me be clear- depression and any form of mental illness is a battle every day. It’s not as simple as just “trying harder to feel better.”

Because no one chooses these feelings. What I hope you take away from this is the idea that there are things you can intentionally and strategically do to improve your mood state even just slightly. I doesn’t mean it’s simple or easy. But the bottom line is, we have to start changing this myth that we are passive receivers when it comes to our health.

We can do things every day to impact our health, change our brain chemistry, boost our immunity, and strengthen our bodies.

You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings.

Back to my girl Elizabeth G. for a minute. We have got to participate relentlessly in our lives, every day, in order to cultivate more goodness. It’s not a passive act. It’s not luck. It’s repeatedly doing the hard thing. And when you keep doing the hard thing, and pushing the limits of what you think you can do, and learning new ways to take care of your mind and body, you start to see change. It creates a domino effect that can lead you to places you never thought you could go.

Part of my job is to share novel ideas, cutting-edge research, and information about how we can take charge of our mental & physical health, and ultimately our lives. Stay tuned for the next post with some tips about how to be relentless in your pursuit of feeling better, and I would love to hear from you if you need some support in this process.


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Strengthening Your Mental Health during the Global Pandemic

There are no known mental health experts in pandemics right now – because all of the people alive at this moment have never lived through one. In one sense, we are all grappling through this together and figuring it out one day at a time.

However, there are some genius experts in the field of trauma. A pandemic is categorized as a trauma, and there things that we can do proactively right now to maintain our mental health during this unprecedented time.

On Thursday, I attended a webcast put on by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, author of “The Body Keeps the Score” and one of the leading trauma experts in the world. This post is a summary of what I learned in this training, and 99% of these ideas are credited to Dr. van der Kolk. I hope this offers you a sense of validation about things you have been thinking about, while also providing you with practical tools that can help you to remain active, empowered, and hopeful.

Disclaimer: Doctors, nurses, others on the front lines, and people whose families or businesses have been directly touched by Coronovirus are experiencing something that far surpasses the what I’m writing about today. While these tips can still be helpful, I think it’s worth noting that there are varying levels of how this pandemic is impacting people. For the heroes who are out there on the front lines, your experience is going to be vastly different from those of us at home, playing the waiting game. There are supports available to you tailored to your unique experience, and I would recommend looking into EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy). You can search for therapists on psychologytoday.com that specialize in this- there are plenty out there.

Bessel explained that much of the world is in a pretraumatic state; that is, a state of “holding our breath.” We know what’s coming, we know social distancing and isolation is taking a toll on us, but we are in the eye of the storm right now and don’t know exactly what is on the other side. It’s actually quite unusual to have the complete cognitive awareness that you are in the midst of something that could traumatize you. This pandemic is a drawn-out process. While this is undoubtedly a disorienting experience, it’s also positive that we are afforded the ability to have this awareness and proactively do things to buffer the impact of this event on our mental health.

A friend of mine talked to me yesterday about anticipatory anxiety: “I’m okay right now, but will I be so obsessed with germs that it creates distance between me and other people when this is all over? Is this experience going to have long-term consequences such that we don’t want to shake hands with new colleagues or hug old friends anymore?” She has never had anxiety and this has never been a thought for her. The uncertainty and not knowing is a really uncomfortable place to be right now.

Not knowing exactly how this will fully impact us yet is hard to wrap our minds around. Especially when our day-to-day is usually planned with such meticulous attention to detail. Google calendar runs our lives, and the calendar has gone blank. We force our lives to be just so, and then in an event like this, we realize that much of the control we think we have is illusory.

Whew, so that’s a lot to digest.

But stay with me: here’s where hope comes in. There are things we can be doing every single day to maintain resilience, strength, connection, and health that will help us all to recover from this, mentally and physically, when this is all over. And it will eventually be over.


First, we must develop awareness of what is happening.

Then, we must put it into words.

Lastly, we make intentional choices.

Dr. van der Kolk identifies seven preconditions for trauma that we are experiencing right now. Below, you’ll see a brief summary of each condition, and then some specific tools that Bessel recommends to empower you and protect your emotional, physical, and social well-being.

Preconditions for trauma and action steps:

  1. Lack of predictability. Routine, order, and plans are very stabilizing to our psyche. For many of us, our routine has completely turned upside down.
    • Action steps you can control to make things more predictable:
      • Plan your day and plan your week. Print off a paper calendar you can decorate and hang up. Make dinner plans with your family or virtually with friends and family, plan a hike, plan your exercise times and virtual workout or yoga classes. Create schedules that include things you can look forward to, even if it’s just one week at a time.
  2. Immobility. Our stress hormones are up. Usually when this happens, our body prepares to fight or flight. Our movement is limited right now due to staying home and less ability to “do.” These means that the stress hormones need a place to go and we have to get creative about how we can do that.
    • Actions steps you can control to increase movement:
      • Cook meals, build things, run, walk, yoga, cleaning projects, yoga.
      • Dance parties!! Turn on your favorite music and just dance around, either alone or with your “quan-team.” There are plenty of virtual dance workouts that are streaming live so that you can feel connection to others while also moving around.
        • Online Yoga Resources: virtual classes through local studios to support local, Yoga with Adriene, Nike Training App (Alex Silver Fagan)
  3. Loss of connection. It is unnatural to be staying in your house or apartment for days and weeks on end. We exist in contexts of our relationships with other people. Trauma always involves a sense of not being seen and not being heard. This is why it is so important to make regular video contact with family, colleagues, classmates, friends and neighbors.
    • Actions steps you can control to increase connection:
      • Visual connections are recommended as opposed to just audio – using apps like Facetime or Zoom. On a biological level, comfort and safety is found in the rhythm of conversation and attunement through facial expressions.
      • Wave to your neighbor and make eye contact while you are out walking (even from 6+ feet apart!)
      • Tactile connections, like petting your animals
      • Family meals, games, dress up, story telling, music making (creating music and share it on social media!)
      • Meditate on peace and healing for the world
  4. Numbing out and spacing out. It is natural when overwhelmed by terrible to things to numb through TV, drugs, or alcohol.
    • Action steps you can control to reconnect to yourself:
      • The way to feel alive is via your body- Moving, breathing, dancing, singing to music.
      • Mindfulness and meditation help you to notice and observe what is going on, both in and outside of yourself. Without noticing, you are just reacting.
      • Once you can notice yourself, you have the ability to observe and make choices.
      • Friendships, relationships, and therapy can also help you find words for the internal experience when you are having trouble on your own.
        • Meditation and mindfulness resources: Insight Timer (Sarah Blondin’s meditations are great), Sanvello, Mindsight.
  5. Loss of sense of time. A core trauma state is a sense of timelessness and feeling like this will last forever. Our spring and summer plans are all up in the air, and when every day feels the same, this can be really disorienting.
    • Action steps you can control to reconnect to yourself:
      • Write a few lines in a journal each day. Write about five lines, including: what happened that day, something your grateful for, something that troubles you, or anything else on your mind.
      • We must live with a sense that every moment is different from the next. Light a candle, open the window and let a warm breeze come through. Notice how the wick burns down and light changes as it gets later in the day.
      • As you walk through your yard or walk down your street at dusk, notice flowers blooming.
      • When you meditate, notice uncomfortable sensations (ow my leg hurts) and thoughts (I’m bored). Then you notice thoughts shift to something else (the leg cramp went away) and (when I breathe deeply, I feel a little better).
      • Time may feel like it is standing still in the world with absence of plans, but we can create this sense of changing time in very small ways within our own homes and our internal being.
  6. Loss of safety. The pandemic is a threat of illness and safety. When we feel unsafe, it is hard to focus on anything else.
    • Action steps you can control to increase sense of safety:
      • Being connected to those in your household, and also having privacy and boundaries. Have a designated space where you can withdraw when you need alone time.
      • Pay attention to good news. People are recovering and getting better. Google acts of kindness.
      • Take good care of your health through basic things like getting enough rest, eating well, and hydrating.
  7. Loss of sense of purpose. Much of our lives are built around our work and career. Many of us spend more time at work than with our families. Now working from home, or perhaps not even working at all, many are are left with the question: “Who am I without the role of who I am in my workplace, among coworkers and colleagues?”
    • Action steps you can control to increase sense of purpose:
      • Think about how your role extends beyond your job. Parent, sister, brother, friend, spouse, creator, music maker, writer, etc.
      • Identify things you can get lost in, and do more of those things to feed your soul. Reading, music, writing, knitting, cooking, whatever it may be.
      • Can you use this time to uncover more about who you really are, what you want, where you’re going, where you need in the future?

In summary, I read a quote on Instagram yesterday that really resonated with me.

“We are all in the same boat, but we are not in the same storm.”

We are all in this together, but each of us is experiencing this pandemic to varying degrees. For some, working from home feels like a break. For others, the anxiety about the virus is crippling. Then there are the frontline heroes, it’s every waking moment of their day. There is no “right” or “wrong” experience, but it is important to reflect on how you honor your own experience while also honoring and respecting your neighbor, community, and the world.

“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”

Nelson Mandela

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What to do about the Winter Blues

If you live in Upstate New York like me (or any part of the country facing shorter days, less sunlight, and colder weather), your body and mind may be rebelling against these seasonal changes with mood shifts and decreased energy levels. Some people experience this in a pattern that occurs every winter and lifts in the spring. If this pattern impacts your day-to-day functioning, you may be experiencing a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).


What is SAD?

SAD is a condition affecting millions of people across the United States each year. This condition occurs more commonly in women; people living in dark, cold climates; and people who have a predisposition to mental health struggles. Someone who has a mood disorder already is more likely to experience extra sensitivity to the changes that come with the seasons.

People with SAD can experience the following symptoms during the winter months:

  • increased depression
  • desire to sleep more
  • increase in appetite
  • low energy
  • loss of interest in activities you enjoy
  • feelings of agitation
  • social withdrawal

Disclaimer: MOST people struggle with some of these symptoms at some point or another. If you live in a wintry climate, it’s not uncommon to have a touch of SAD going on. This is due to what happens in our body when we have less sunlight. The symptoms listed above can be your body’s normal response to a change in season. However, if you find yourself feeling so depressed that it is hard to get out of bed in the morning, you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, or your functioning to be significantly impacted on a day-to-day basis, it is advisable to seek out a mental health counselor and/or your doctor to talk about this.


What causes SAD?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the exact causes of SAD are unknown. There are, however, some biological changes that have been measured in people exhibiting SAD symptoms that give us some clues.

  • People with SAD have trouble regulating one of the main chemicals in the brain responsible for regulating mood: serotonin. When serotonin is out of whack, this can lead to mood shifts.
  • People with SAD may produce less Vitamin D. Vitamin D is believed to play a role in serotonin activity. Vitamin D insufficiency may be associated with depression.
  • People with SAD may overproduce melatonin. Melatonin is responsible for regulating sleep. Increased darkness = increased melatonin. This can lead to lower energy levels and increased desire for sleep.

Holistic approaches to combatting SAD symptoms:

I am a strong believer that the best place to start when coping with this condition is to keep it simple. When it comes to determining the best way to manage any mental health symptoms, including those associated with SAD, the last thing you want to do is throw your body in a whirlwind by making any drastic changes. Don’t turn your world upside down in an attempt to find an answer. What is most effective in combatting any mental health symptoms is to start by paying attention to the basics about how you are treating your body and mind.

Here are some questions you may want to think about if you are experiencing the winter blues:

What are you eating? 

  • A balanced diet is key to all aspects of your health, including mental and physical. If you are eating like crap, you will feel like crap. You cannot expect to feel good emotionally if you are not taking care of your physical body. Eating processed food leads to inflammation in your body. Inflammation leads to overall malaise and mental health symptoms.
  • Mindful indulgence in a warm and healthy soup or roasted root vegetables can be good for both your body and your mind. There are so many healthy and delicious options that can satisfy cravings for comfort food (including vegan and gluten-free). A few of my favorite Instagramers to check out for healthy and amazing looking recipes are Deliciously Ella and Lee from America.
  • Vitamin deficiency can seriously impact your mood, especially if you are lacking Vitamin D or B vitamins. I would highly recommended seeing a trained nutritionist and getting some blood work done to check out your vitamin levels. Based on what comes up, a nutritionist can recommend a vitamin regime to help. Be wary of taking too many supplements without the guidance of a professional (it can damage your kidneys). Vitamins are not regulated by the FDA and it is important to know exactly what you are taking (the brand matters) and how much to take. I take the Metagenics brand. Each day, I take a probiotic that supports respiratory health, a fish oil, and a multivitamin.

What does your daily routine consist of?

  • Our. bodies. love. routine. I have personally struggled a lot with this one. I eventually found myself running at least 15 minutes late to work EVERY morning because I did not have a good morning ritual to help me get out there door. Something that helped me a lot was writing out my morning schedule in ten minute increments. This included ten minutes of meditation and excluded any time spent on my phone. Physically writing out a plan that I can look at every day has helped me tremendously. Being on time for work is such a simple thing that helps start your day off on a much better note than rushing in late.
  • There are so many other additional benefits of having a solid routine. Routine can help reduce stress by eliminating the number of choices that we have to make throughout the day. Less choices = less stress. If you know what you are having for breakfast every morning, what time you plan to go to the gym, and what time you start winding down for bed at night, you are doing your body and mind a huge favor. Your body will adapt to consistent routines, even busy ones, which will ultimately help you feel more in control throughout your day.

Are you doing things to increase your daily feelings of joy?

  • What makes you feel good? And are you doing enough of this? I have really been challenging myself with examining the use of my phone. I have noticed that when I spend 30 minutes scrolling on my phone, I feel unaccomplished and guilty after. I feel like I have lost 30 minutes of my day for nothing. When I spend 30 minutes doing something that involves creativity, I feel so much better and relaxed.

Is there an underlying problem you are ignoring that just happens to creep up around the winter months?

  • Different seasons can be reminiscent of times in our life that may have been hard for us. Holidays can be difficult for some and bring challenging family dynamics to the forefront.
  • Pay attention to the patterns of how you feel during each season. Write about what hurts, or talk to someone about what hurts. Addressing these patterns head on can help you reclaim power over your mood states.

Final tips:

  • Exercise! Do some hot yoga, skiing, snowshoeing, or even just a few minutes of a workout on You Tube before you go to work in the morning. Exercise boosts endorphins, which can improve your mood.
  • Try aromatherapy (I use Young Living). There are tons of essential oils that can help boost mood and improve health in general. If you are looking for guidance with Young Living, I know some great reps so feel free to email me and I can set you up with them!
  • Get a light therapy energy lamp for your office. One of my office spaces does not have a window, so I recently ordered the Verilux Happy Light (Full-Size) off Amazon.
  • Be patient. Figuring out a way to manage your SAD symptoms effectively may take some experimentation and time.

 


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Surprising Lessons from my Digital Detox

dig·it·al de·tox

[digital detox]

NOUN

informal
  1. a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world.

    “break free of your devices and go on a digital detox”

    (Urban Dictionary)


Last weekend, I decided to see what the buzz was all about and try out a digital detox. This decision was made as a result of several factors, the first being the fact that my thumb had been physically aching as a result of all of the time spent on my phone lately. I actually felt somewhat pathetic about this. Granted, I did had some “good reasons” as to why this happened: job demands, business emails, texting family, etc. etc. etc. Despite these rationalizations of why it was acceptable that my thumb was throbbing, I decided that this just simply was not okay when I Googled “texting thumb pain” and was greeted by pictures of several strange looking hand braces. I realized that perhaps the ache in my thumb was a sign of something bigger that I should take a look at.

What baffled me about this is that I consider myself to be a pretty present person. I keep my phone in my purse at dinner. I’m usually a slacker when it comes to responses on group texts. So how was this happening?! My own lack of awareness of what was going on with my relationship with technology brought me to the point where I felt a digital detox was necessary to unpack this situation.

As I packed my things for a trip up to the Adirondacks, I shot off a few texts to friends, family, and anyone important who might panic if I didn’t respond to them over the weekend. I let them know I would be off the grid until Sunday. Some irrational fears came to the surface right before sending these texts: will people think that I’m “too good” because I’m not going to be responding for the weekend? Will this seem pretentious? Will people get it? To my relief, I received a lot of immediate responses that were positive and encouraging. The positive feedback empowered me to turn my phone off, and put it at the very bottom of a drawer to provide some finality to the situation.

I experienced a lot of really surprising moments during my detox, with the biggest being that I did not miss my phone. Prior to leaving my device behind, I thought that I was going to experience some kind of withdrawal. I was prepared for this weekend to feel more painful than enjoyable as a result. However, as soon as I got driving, I didn’t think twice about it. I think the biggest factor that allowed me to truly let go was letting people know what I was doing. I had no guilt, no loose ends, and had given myself total permission to let go.

Although I did not miss my phone, mornings did feel very really strange without it. I realized upon waking that the first thing I do (and have done for years) is check email and social media. It felt really odd to wake up and not immediately engage in this habit that has developed such deep roots in my life. Having this separation from social media during my first waking moments led me to have a somewhat “aha” moment: why would I want to spend my first few moments of the day looking at pictures of what other people are doing? This is essentially opening the floodgates to comparison, FOMO, and curated realities before we have even had a chance to check-in with ourselves. I was really struck by what a disservice I do to myself by checking my phone first thing every morning and how this takes away from my ability to be mindful in my life.

The coolest and most enjoyable part of my digital detox was my experience of time. I felt like I had all the time in the world. I felt like the day stretched on forever (in a good way). In less than 48 hours, I read a 300-page book, went for a half-day hike, watched a football game, and went out for dinner at one of my favorite spots on the water. I realized how much of my panicked “there’s not enough time!!” thoughts are really a result of how much time I waste scrolling through social media and email.

I was able to enjoy the present moment so much more. I realized how much my phone can feel like a ball and chain. Even when it is tucked away in my purse, I feel its presence and feel the need to tend to it. Without my phone being physically on me, I felt free of this. There was nothing else to do but actively pay attention to and embrace the world around me. I enjoyed the “little things” more: my first sip of morning coffee; the way the fall air and campfire smell wafted through the open window; the beauty of an incredible sunset over the water; the crunch of the leaves under my feet on my hike; and the complete silence of the forest that just makes you feel like you are wrapped in a warm blanket at the center of the universe.

I also found myself talking to people more. I had a great conversation with a few fellow hikers at the top of a mountain. I talked to the cashier at the grocery store. I was more in tune with others and felt more connected. This may seem like a simple thing, but there is something quite magical about feeling a true connection with other people, even strangers, without the distraction of your phone in your hand. I realized that even holding my phone in my hand is a sign that screams: “Don’t talk to me!!” How sad is this to walk around engrossed in the world on a screen, rather than engaged with others? How many missed opportunities do we have when we are responding to that text or checking our Instagram to have some authentic conversations with people? Our perspective and lives can truly change in an instant; how many opportunities are we missing to learn something new, to gain a friend, or to have a shift in perspective through conversations with the people around us?

I had a totally refreshing mental reset. While I felt great about the results I experienced this weekend, I realized it would be important to set some boundaries in place in my life to keep this momentum going. It is easy to unplug when you are in a beautiful place without Wifi. It was important to figure out how this could translate back into my day-to-day life.

I have developed some strategies outlined below that so far have been really helpful to me!

  1. Get real about your screen time. There is an app you can download called “Moment” that offers some awesome features that track how often you are on your phone; how many times you unlock your phone throughout the day, and what apps you are spending the most time on. This can be a great first step if you are unsure if you really need to work on your relationship with your phone.
  2. Do not check social media, email, or anything else on your phone for the first 30 minutes you are up in the morning. This is such a critical time to slowly ease into your intentions for the day and get into a positive mindset. Scrolling on social media while in bed turns into a rabbit hole that can leave you feeling emotionally hungover afterwards, and this can ultimately affect the energy that you bring to your day.
  3. Find mindful activities to replace your screen time in the morning. I often use the Calm app to do a 10-minute meditation in the morning while I am having my coffee. I cuddle up in a blanket, light a candle, and focus on the positive intentions that the app has to offer. I love this app because you can chose what type of meditation you need for that day. I recently completed the “seven days of stress” series and it was really helpful. The beginning of the meditations usually offer some practical tips before getting into the more peaceful part of things.On days that I am looking for something a bit more active, I have been doing ten minutes of journaling. I often read one passage out of “Journey to the Heart: Daily Meditations on the Path to Freeing Your Soul” by Melody Beattie and then write for a few minutes. There are ultimately a million different ways to start your day with something positive and grounding other than screen time, so I encourage you to experiment a bit and find something that works for you.
  4. Delete social media apps off of your phone. This is something that I did a while ago, and I have found it to be incredibly helpful. You can still access your social media through the browser, but it takes a lot more effort that way. I have found myself thinking twice before getting on social media because frankly, it is a pain to type it all into Safari, and human nature is to want things to be easy.
  5. Put your phone in the other room. If you are reading a book, spending time with your significant other, or just want some time to chill, physically remove your phone from your space. Check it every hour if you are worried about missing something, but then come back to what you were doing without getting sucked into everything on your phone.
  6. Don’t feel like you owe people something. In the world we live in now, it can be tempting to think we owe people an immediate response, and we get anxious when we don’t give that to them. We really don’t owe anyone this. In the business world, it’s polite to give someone a response within 24 hours- why can’t this apply to our phones, as well? It’s important to get out of the habit of thinking that we are responsible for someone else’s immediate desire to hear back from us. Of course, if you are expecting an important call or are trying to make plans with a friend, it makes sense to be more in touch, but I have found that any effort to develop a bit more consciousness around this is a good step in the right direction.
  7. Talk to people about your efforts to reduce screen time and be more mindful. If people know about your efforts, they will be more understanding if you aren’t responding to their texts immediately. It can also be helpful to share about your experiences with others so that everyone can learn and grow together.

I hope you all can learn a bit from my experience with digital detox- I would love for you to email me at barbshepard@counselingsecure.com with any questions or thoughts that you have about this topic! You can also find me at @counselorvibes on Instagram.

 


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“If you aren’t in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

This quote, credit to Brené Brown, just makes me want to applaud.

In the spirit of Brené’s philosophy on vulnerability, I want to let you know that I debated saving this blog post for a later time. I found myself so inspired by this quote and knew that I would enjoy writing about it; however, the inner critic in me thought that it might be better for you to have a chance to read a few warm and fuzzy posts before starting off a post with profanity. The inner critic told me to water myself down a bit in order to be well-received.

The braver part of me realized that starting off with warm and fuzzies would simply not be authentic; this would not give you an accurate depiction of who I am as a person or therapist. I sincerely believe that good work in therapy takes place between two people who have an energetic compatibility, and part of my purpose in keeping a blog is so you can get to know whether we would work well together.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the importance of kindness, warmth, and living life with grace and compassion. These things naturally become woven into the fabric of who you are when you are a therapist or healer. But I also have an edge. We all do. We all have that part of us that wants to keep it real, that wants to show up authentically and be seen. This edge is the difference between who you really are and the person you think people want you to be.

Most people spend a lot of time and energy teetering this edge. We all have something important to say, something unique to offer, or something creative to share — and we often end up diluting it or muting it. Because we are afraid that it won’t be quite enough. We are afraid that what we have to offer will be greeted with criticism — or even worse, silence.

So we learn to be a certain way, and our true selves end up getting buried. If you have seen the episode of Friends where Joey is wearing several layers of clothing (“could I BE wearing anymore clothes?!”), this is what I want you to picture. Each time that we hold back what we really feel, we cast on another layer that covers up what’s inside. Add a layer of disconnection. Then a layer of self-doubt. Then a layer of perfectionism. And before we know it, we feel like we are in a blazing sauna because of all the layers and we aren’t sure how to escape. So we self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, shopping, eating, and all these other things that distract us from the pain of actual problem, which is that we are wearing 30 layers of clothing and that the only way to stop sweating is to start taking the layers off. The numbing helps us feel better for a short-time, but it doesn’t get to the root of things.

It’s really hard to shed the layers, because these layers now feel like the real you. You’ve been wearing them as a suit of armor for so long that you don’t even know what’s under there anymore. You may think, “What if what’s inside is scary? What if I don’t like what’s in there? What will everyone else think?”

To go back to Brené Brown’s quote, shedding the layers is like going to battle in an arena. You are suited up and ready to go with Joey’s clothing as your armor. The layers protect you from fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt. But… these layers also diminish your ability to feel all the good stuff, like compassion, joy, and creativity. The thing with numbing is that you can’t selectivity numb. If you numb the negative emotions, you numb all the positive emotions too.

What is it worth to you to feel the positive things? Are you willing to go into the arena, shed those layers, and feel vulnerable in order to experience true joy and fulfillment?

You will undoubtedly feel like everyone is watching. It may feel like complete hell to shed that first layer because you know that some people are going to criticize you. Acknowledge that, and also acknowledge that there is nothing that you can do about the it. The critics will always be there. So it’s important to recognize them (“hey guys, I see you, welcome”) followed up with Brene’s words of wisdom: “If you aren’t in the arena also getting you ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” Anyone can sit on the sidelines and judge your efforts to do something brave. It’s a cheap shot. But getting sucked into feeling bitter about the critics or hateful toward them doesn’t serve you. It takes up space and dims the light of your bravery and courage. So rather than wasting your energy on them, just simply give them a nod and take pride in the fact that you are getting your ass kicked, getting dirty, fumbling, and ultimately working toward something amazing.

I’ll leave you with a final thought. No matter what it is you are working toward, whether it be going back to school, trying for that promotion, or working on bettering yourself as a human being through counseling, it’s not about the end result. This may sound cliché, but it is so. true. The process and the journey that unfolds as you work toward what you think your goal is ends up taking you down roads you never expected. Each time you take an act of bravery or courage, you change a bit. And you may end up forgetting what the original destination was as you begin to experience infinite possibilities you create for yourself by being brave. Being brave does not have to be some big thing that everyone sees. It can be accepting a compliment; trying something new; or doing something that makes you feel even slightly uncomfortable.

Bravery is like strengthening a muscle- each time you take a brave step, it gets a bit easier. For a while, you may feel like an imposter each time you do something brave. But this imposter syndrome won’t last. Over time, repeatedly doing brave things will become an inextricable part of who you are.


References:

Daring Greatly, By Brene Brown
Brené Brown: Why Your Critics Aren’t the Ones Who Count


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