How To Rise and Shine

Cluff Counseling - How to Rise & ShineWhether we are facing depression or anxiety, love to sleep, or are just plain exhausted, we all have days where it is hard to find the willpower to get out of bed in the morning. The rigors of school, work, parenthood, and life may be all too daunting, and we end up staying in bed or indoors all day. Keep reading for ways to help make those rough mornings a little more bearable.

Are you a morning person? I will be the first to tell you that I am absolutely not. I love and cherish my sleep. But I also love a beautiful sunrise, the crisp morning air, and the quiet stillness of the city before everyone else wakes up. Some mornings are easier to pull myself out of bed than others. Have you ever had a morning where all you want to do is stay in bed all day? To some degree, we all struggle leaving our warm, comfortable beds in the morning–but it is especially challenging for those facing a mental illness. In this blog post I will give some counsel to help make those tough mornings a little easier.

Many of us lack motivation in the morning. We find it hard to get out of bed, get dressed, take care of our children or put in a full day’s work. This lack of motivation is exacerbated for those struggling with a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, personality disorders, trauma and eating disorders. In a previous blog post I explained how a mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feelings, mood, ability to relate to others and function each day. Mental illness is much more common than many of us think; 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year (and anyone is susceptible, regardless of age, gender, income, social status, race/ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or background)!

This article is intended for all readers, not just those who face mental illness. As I previously stated, we all have days where we would rather stay in bed all day and not face life. So what can we do when we find ourselves dreading getting up for the day?

  1. Build a routine.

Building a routine is incredibly helpful to maintain stability and avoid unexpected stressors! Here are a few ideas:

  • Go to bed and wake up around the same time each day.
  • Have a morning ritual. Start with something you love like a warm beverage or a hot shower); be in control of your mood (if you start off on the wrong side of the bed, recognize that you have the ability to change that!); eat a nutritious breakfast; go to the gym (you will feel better all day if you just get it over with!); send a thank-you email to someone; plan how you will react to challenges you may face during the day; kiss someone you love; etc.
  • Get ready for the day. Even if you are unemployed or have no set plans to leave your house, get ready. Shower, brush your teeth, apply makeup, get dressed, etc. It increases feelings of productivity and also boosts confidence!
  • Structure your time. Being employed and working steady hours each day helps tremendously. Then, when you are not working, use your free time wisely; set goals and have places to be and things to do. Knowing that you have somewhere to be makes getting out of bed easier than if you have no commitments or engagements.
  • Take your medication and/or supplements. If you have been prescribed medication, have a set time each day to take it. It is there to help you. If you are experiencing side effects or want to considering changing your dosage, talk to your doctor.
  • Have a consistent end-of-day routine. Just like children, adults thrive off of routines. Signal to your brain that bedtime is approaching by consistently doing the same things before bed–it could be watching your favorite show after dinner, reading, taking a hot bath, brushing your teeth, meditating, praying, writing in your journal, etc.
  1. Give yourself a time limit.

Try the 3600 second challenge–basically, you have an hour from waking up to get out of bed. Literally set a time you need to be up and compete with yourself to meet that goal.  Ellyse Rafferty, writer of mental health from The Mighty recommends 60 minutes, and calls it the one hour rule:

  • Give yourself an hour to get up.  With 60 minutes or 3600 seconds you can try to muster the inner strength to get up and bravely face reality.
  • Applaud yourself for baby steps. Some mornings you may get up from your bed only to make it onto the floor or into the shower. But that is progress.
  • Know your limits. Some days it is okay to stay in bed if that is what you truly need (this could be true when getting over an illness, recovering from overworking, raising energetic children, or even after moving).

You may find that setting a time limit will motivate you enough to move quicker than you would without having a goal set in place. You really can do a lot with 3600 seconds!

Having a routine in place and giving yourself a time limit are simple tools that can work hand in hand to help make those hard mornings a little smoother. Try these suggestions! I have found that they work in my life, and I am certain adding more structure to your life and using a time limit can help you get going in the morning. Please do not hesitate to let me know if you or someone you care about needs extra coaching–either with establishing a routine or dealing with a mental illness. Remember, mental illness is not a life sentence. You can do this one morning, one hour, one second at a time. I am always here to help!

(**A note for those facing mental illness: Although these two tips will greatly help, they are not intended to replace the need for therapy, support groups or when necessary, medication. Please consult with a trained, certified therapist if you believe you may be struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues.)

Melissa Cluff is a licensed therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:
Barking Up the Wrong Tree: “Morning Ritual: The 7 Steps That Will Make You Happy All Day”
Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
Cluff Counseling: “Taking the Stigma Out of Mental Illness”
HereToHelp: “Dealing with a Mental Illness Diagnosis”
The Mighty: “The ‘One Hour Rule’ I Use on Days When Mental Illness Makes It Hard to Get Out of Bed”
Mayo Clinic: “Coping and Support”
National Alliance on Mental Illness: “Mental Health by the Numbers”
National Alliance on Mental Illness: “Mental Health Conditions”
PsychCentral: “Building a Routine When You Have Bipolar Disorder”

Photo Designed by Freepik

Outdoor Therapy: Nature’s Cure

Outdoor Therapy - Cluff Counseling - Dallas TherapistWhen Stacy Bare returned from his deployment to Baghdad in 2006, he struggled with alcoholism, a cocaine habit, and suicidal thoughts. In 2010, a fellow veteran took him rock climbing and things began to turn around. “If I hadn’t started climbing, I’d probably be another sad statistic. The focus it gave me let me leave my troubles on the ground.”

Recent studies show that being outside has both positive psychological and physiological benefits. Ecotherapy (also known as green therapy, nature therapy, and earth-centered therapy) is contact with nature and is a powerful new kind of therapy. It has been found to be just as effective against depression as traditional psychotherapy or medication, and the amazing thing about ecotherapy is that it is free! Not only is it free, but it is completely accessible to anyone at anytime.

Our ancestors recognized the benefits of nature as they spent the vast majority of their time outside; only recently have humans begun to spend more time inside than outside. Growing up, I remember playing outside every evening, after dinner until bedtime; now it is more common for kids to be inside on their handheld devices, than outside playing. Think about the last time you spent a few quiet moments outside. Did you experience the calming and mind-quieting effect that nature can have? Did you feel like you could put your fast-paced life on pause, and take deeper breaths? We often overlook the natural health benefits available to us, for free, just outside our doors. My evening walks do wonders for clearing my head, lowering my stress, and helping me get in my daily step count!

Many have documented the benefits of spending time in nature. Henry David Thoreau (best known for his book, Walden) wrote of the therapeutic effects of nature by saying, “I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” Prominent writers, poets, and philosophers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Muir, Charles Darwin, and Frank Lloyd Wright have also written that nature has played an integral role in their quest for happiness and personal fulfillment. Said Frank Lloyd Wright, “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”

A few years ago, researchers at the University of Essex found that 90 percent, of those suffering from depression in the study, felt a higher level of self-esteem after a walk through a country park, and almost three-quarters felt less depressed. Another survey, by the same research team, found that 94% of people with mental illnesses believed that contact with nature put them in a more positive mood. Nature has a natural healing effective that we need to tap into more.

Through his time spent enjoying mother nature, Stacy Bare was able to overcome alcoholism, a cocaine habit, and suicidal thoughts. He turned his life around; he is now the director of Sierra Club Outdoors and a large advocate that adventure therapy be on par with pharmaceutical treatments. He says that physician-recommended outdoor recreation would be a cheaper, safer alternative to prescription drugs and would result in less depen­dence on medications and lower health care costs. In 2013, Bare partnered with Dacher Keltner, a psychologist from Berkeley, to organize rafting trips for veterans. Their findings are striking–35% experience a decrease of PTSD symptoms after a single two-day rafting trip. They summarized, “We have pharmaceutical solutions for health problems that can be solved by the great outdoors.” One vet, in the study, took up kayaking and reduced the amount spent on his meds from $25,000 per year to $5,000!

Although these findings certainly seem indicative of improved mental health and decreased cost of government funding, there is still work to be done before a healthy dose of nature can be an actual prescription. “If we could package the outdoors and call it a pharmaceutical, it would be sold widely.” Bare is certain continued research can usher in the day when we can get a prescription to cover the cost of of guides, specific gear for outdoor recreation, a rafting trip, or new hiking boots. He says, “No one questions using sick time to go to the therapist. If you end up healthier and more productive by taking a powder day, it just makes sense. Xanax isn’t seen as an extravagance, and time outdoors shouldn’t be either.”

I know that it is not easy to make time to take care of ourselves–to put down our paperwork or housework and turn off our computer– and to get outside. We have many obligations and responsibilities that demand our attention, and taking the time for self-care seems like one more thing to fit into our schedules (to learn more about self-care, read this post).  Getting outside can be as simple as gardening, bird watching, taking a stroll around your neighborhood, swinging or having a picnic at the park, paddle boarding, jogging, viewing the sunrise/sunset, taking a leisurely ride on a bicycle, and a host of other activities. We must identify what is keeping us from taking care of our bodies and minds and make the necessary changes. Literally schedule time for yourself!

Next time you are feeling frustrated with life, down, or lonely, reach for your tennis shoes instead of your medication. Enjoying a healthy dose of mother nature does incredible good for both your mind and body.  I offer walk and talk therapy for some of my clients; it is amazing what can be accomplished when I spend just 20 minutes outside walking with my clients at the beginning of a session. Please do not hesitate to contact me today to schedule your first personalized session.

(Melissa Cluff is a licensed therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.)

Resources:
Cluff Counseling: “Are You Addicted to Your Phone?”
Cluff Counseling: “Self-care: Is it Selfish?”
CRC Health: “Why Nature is Therapeutic”
Los Angeles Times: “A new twist on mental health: Running with the therapist while discussing life’s problems”
Outside Online: “It’s Time for Doctors to Prescribe Outdoor Therapy | Outside Online”
Psychology Today: “The Power of Nature: Ecotherapy and Awakening”
WebMD: “Do You Need a Nature Prescription”

People image created by Jcomp – Freepik.com

Reclaiming the Bedroom, Part I: Benefits of Sex

Benefits of Sex - Cluff Counseling, Marriage & Family Therapy**This will be the first post in a blog series on sex; this particular segment will focus on the benefits of sex. Stay tuned for my future posts on the common excuses/hindrances to sex, as well as how to communicate to overcome those barriers.

Life can and will get in the way of your sex life. Although some view sex mostly as a pleasure-inducing activity, physical intimacy can be an incredibly powerful force for good in your relationship. Read on to see what I have coined as the top nine emotional, physical, mental, and relational benefits to sex.

When you and your spouse or partner first started seeing each other, the sparks flew and the attraction was strong. Chances are that your sex drive was extremely heightened. Then slowly things started slowing down… intervals between sexy encounters grew longer and longer, until you could not even remember when you were last intimate. What happened? Work, bills, kids, arguments…reality happened, and your euphoria dissipated. First and foremost, I want you to know that this is okay and completely normal. At the start of most relationships, attraction and physical intimacy seem to come easily.  Just because it is harder after 3, 7, 10 years of union/marriage, does not mean that it always has to stay that way!

Sex has many benefits, both to your physical, emotional, and relational health. Here are a few:

  1. Sex improves immunity. People who have sex 1-2 times a week have significantly higher levels of immunoglobulin A–which is the first line of defense in our bodies. Some studies are finding that sexually active men and women are actually taking less sick days!
  2. Sex improves heart health. Studies have found that men who engaged in sexual activity twice a week were 45 percent less likely to develop heart disease than those who did so once a month or less.
  3. Sex reduces stress and lowers blood pressure. There is a direct correlation between sex and improved stress response.
  4. Sex helps women with bladder control and helps lower the risk of prostate cancer for men. For women, intercourse strengthens pelvic floor muscles, which contract during orgasm, which improves bladder control and helps avoid incontinence! For men, research is finding that men who ejaculate at least 21 times a month have a lower risk of prostate cancer!
  5. Sex is great exercise. Did you know that sex literally burns calories? Men burn around 100, and women expend 69. This statistic varies depending on the length of your session (these numbers were gathered based on an average of 25 minutes from start of foreplay to finish). If you are interested in calculating how many calories you burn the next time you have sex, multiply the time in minutes by 4.2 for men or 3.1 for women. Sex also helps maintain flexibility and balance!
  6. Sex can clear the mind. If you have a “noisy brain,” sex reallocates your blood flow to your genitals and can help clear your thoughts.
  7. Sex releases endorphins that make you feel good. These “feel-good chemicals” ease stress, increase pleasure, invite calm, and boost self-esteem.
  8. Sex improves sleep. During orgasm, oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone”, is released, which promotes sleep.

The greatest benefit of all is 9. Sex increases intimacy and improves relationships. Of course, this is only accomplished when your love making is done with mutual interest and respect. Sex and orgasms result in increased levels of the hormone oxytocin (that “love hormone” I mentioned earlier), which helps you feel bonded to your partner. A study was published in 2015 that surveyed 30,000 Americans over 40 years; the results were that couples who have sex at least once a week are happiest. Intercourse is the highest expression of love, and it does wonders for a marriage. Plus, the more often you have sex, the more probable it is that you will want to keep doing it (yet another benefit of sex–increased libido)!

Although sex has many benefits, most of us seem to engage in intimacy less than we should or would like to. My upcoming posts will address the barriers to a healthy sex life, as well as how to overcome them. Communication with your spouse is key. If your relationship with your spouse is strained, or you need help communicating about this sensitive subject, please come talk to me. It is often difficult for many people to talk to their spouse, if they feel their sex life needs improvement, let alone a therapist. Please remember that therapists are trained, licensed individuals who have heard it all before; I know how to help.  Set up your first session with me today and together we can help you reclaim the bedroom.

**Tune in next month for the upcoming installments in this series on reclaiming the bedroom. I will be talking about some of the most common sex-stoppers I hear from clients, as well as my advice for how to overcome these obstacles.

Resources:
American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists
The American Journal of Cardiology: “Sexual Activity, Erectile Dysfunction, and Incident Cardiovascular Events”
Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
EurekAlert: “Couples who have sex weekly are happiest”
Men’s Health: “How Many Calories Do You Burn During Sex?”
Mercola: “The Top 11 Benefits of Sex”
PubMed: “Blood pressure reactivity to stress is better for people who recently had penile-vaginal intercourse than for people who had other or no sexual activity.”
USA Today: “How often should you have sex with your partner?”

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What You Need to Know About Trauma

Cluff Counseling - Childhood TraumaMary J. Blige was only five years old when she was sexually abused. The trauma of that experience has followed her all of her life. She blamed herself for the molestation, felt great shame, believed she had no worth, and eventually struggled with alcoholism before finding hope and healing for her childhood trauma.

A quick look in the dictionary will render a simple definition of trauma: a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. The American Psychological Association describes trauma as an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. There are two types of trauma: big “T” trauma and little “t” trauma. An example of big “T” trauma would be rape or war; this type of trauma threatens one’s very life and safety, and often result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Examples of little “t” trauma would be being teased in elementary school, always being picked last for a team, divorce, death of a beloved pet, losing a job, or losing friends by moving during childhood. Although little “t” traumas are more common, they can be just as life-altering as big “T” traumas. The majority of my clients have experienced some degree of trauma and need assistance to overcome the accompanied shock, denial, unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. Although these feelings are normal responses to trauma, they can be quite unsettling and can make it hard to function. To heal from the effects of trauma, it is important to seek help with a properly trained, licensed counselor. The ramifications of not seeking and receiving adequate care can be far-reaching.

Mary J. Blige is not the only celebrity who has spoken publicly about their childhood trauma. A short, non-comprehensive list of familiar faces who have faced trauma include Eminem, Missy Elliott, Nicki Minaj, Charlize Theron, Christina Aguilera, 50 Cent, Ashley Judd, Queen Latifah, Jim Carrey, Drew Barrymore, Angelina Jolie, Shania Twain, and even Oprah. It is possible that your neighbor experienced trauma early on in life, or your spouse, or even you yourself! According to the Mental Health Connection, 60% of adults report experiencing abuse or other difficult family circumstances during childhood and a whopping 60% of youth, age 17 and younger, have been exposed to crime, violence and abuse either directly or indirectly. Although some think children and adolescents are too young to remember or be affected by trauma early on in their lives, the above facts provide evidence that people DO remember and are affected by events early in their lives.

Every child responds to trauma differently. Some will have no ill effects, while others may suffer immediate and acute effects. Still others may not show signs of stress until some time after the event. According to the Mental Health Connection, those who experience childhood trauma are…

  • 15 times more likely to attempt suicide
  • 4 times more likely to become an alcoholic
  • 4 times more likely to develop a sexually transmitted disease
  • 4 times more likely to inject drugs
  • 3 times more likely to develop depression
  • 3 times more likely to have serious job problems
  • 2.5 times more likely to smoke
  • 2 times more likely to have a serious financial problem

As if those figures are not frightening enough, early trauma affects brain development. Earlier this year, a study was published which measured the impact to the brain after trauma. Researchers scanned the brains of 59 youth, ages 9-17, and found statistically significant evidence that traumatic stress leads to premature aging of the brain.

So how can we address it? How can we help our children–or ourselves–properly process, deal with, and move through the effects of trauma? Come and see me. Getting help from a certified, licensed therapist is an essential step of recovery. Other ways to start healing from trauma is by talking–and even writing–about it. This can bring clarity, raise immunity, and improve life functioning. Play therapy is also an option (for children); this is a method of therapy where the child can draw, paint, and use any type of play as a means of encouraging expression/communication of their feelings. For teenagers and adults, EMDR and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are commonly used to successfully treat trauma.

Clinicians and philosophers have tried countless ways of treating trauma and anxiety in order to find, as the philosopher Seneca called it, tranquillitas, or peace of mind. It takes time and work, but it is possible. My heart aches hearing about the trauma my clients have experienced, but I feel so satisfied as I witness them find freedom from the emotional bonds that accompanied their trauma. If you or someone you love is carrying this heavy burden, please contact me today.

(If you are a parent, you may be struggling with how to talk with your children about a traumatic experience in their lives. This article is for you.)

Resources:
American Psychological Association, “Trauma”
Cluff Counseling: “Are You are Secondary Survivor?”
Cluff Counseling:  “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
Cluff Counseling: “What is Trauma?”
Education Development Center: “Promote Prevent”
Mental Health Connection, “Recognize Trauma”
Molecular Psychiatry, “Preventing intrusive memories after trauma via a brief intervention involving Tetris computer game play in the emergency department: a proof-of-concept randomized controlled trial”
Psychology Today: “What Childhood Trauma Does to Brain Development”
Psychology Today: “What is Trauma?”
VH1: “These Celebrities’ Horrific Childhood Stories Will Make You Hug Your Parents Tightly”