Clair Mellenthin’s interview on Fresh Living on KUTV.
Clair Mellenthin’s interview on Fresh Living on KUTV.
Most people are aware that eating healthy and exercising will result in a smaller waistline. I am not sure, however, that people understand the impact eating healthy and exercising have on your mental health. Think about it: your brain is a body part, right? If poor eating can make your heart suffer and not function properly, why wouldn’t poor eating make your brain suffer as well?
There is a lot of scientific research supporting the fact that eating a whole foods, plant-based diet can improve mood and decrease the occurrence of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. In a study published in the 2012 Nutritional Journal, participants who decreased consumption of meat, fish, and poultry improved several mood scores in just a few weeks. In 2009 Arch Intern Med, Dr. Grant Brinkworth and colleagues found that a high carbohydrate, low fat, and low protein diet (plant-based) resulted in significantly lower rates of depression and anxiety. These are just a few of the many studies showing the mental health benefits of eating a plant-based diet.
Part of the benefit of eating plants is that there are thousands and thousands of chemicals and nutrients that our body uses on a cellular level to rebuild and repair itself. Scientists haven’t even identified all the advantages to these chemicals and nutrients there are so many. We need to trust our body to use nature to be in optimal health. The evidence is clear: our brain needs natural plant food to function the most optimally. Sadly, we are often misinformed on nutrition-related topics because there are a lot of people who make a lot of money if you eat poorly (there isn’t necessarily a lot of money for marketers to make off of you if you follow a plant-based diet).
When it comes to exercise, most people think of endorphins and all that jazz. This is all good and well, but I love exercise for my clients more for its ability to increase distress tolerance. Physical exercise is ALWAYS a mental exercise also. If I can push my body to a point of discomfort for my overall benefit, what else can I do that is hard? If you talk to avid exercisers, none of them say, “Yeah, I have been doing this long enough that it doesn’t hurt anymore. I feel only pleasure in mile 13.” Seasoned athletes still experience discomfort and pain (if not more) but have learned to tolerate it.
Your increased distress tolerance works as a shield against debilitating hardship. I have seen so many clients begin to exercise and all of a sudden, they have increased confidence and start to believe they can do hard things! While going to the gym may not seem like a big deal, it is a huge deal for your brain. The important key to implement this is to find an activity YOU love. If it isn’t running on a treadmill, then don’t do that. Walk your dogs or play frisbee or do something else entirely.
Some clients I have are weary of taking mood-altering pharmaceuticals, but are they bothered enough to get really uncomfortable and change their eating and movement patterns? I am not suggesting that research shows these changes to be a direct cure for mental health problems. Research can’t entirely do that. However, I am suggesting that it is certainly worth adding to the tool box and trying in order to have an overall better mood and mental health.
For more tips and support changing your lifestyle to improve your mental health, schedule an appointment today!More
“Today on Fresh Living Clair Mellenthin, a therapist at Wasatch Family Therapy, sat down with Brooke with some coping skills anyone can use to help deal with anxiety. About Clair Mellenthin: Clair Mellenthin, LCSW, RPT-S is a sought after speaker, author, and trainer.” – KUTV 2NewsMore
When I was a small child, my family had several large German shepherds as pets. I don’t remember the times those dogs jumped on me and knocked me down, though I have been told it happened. I do remember growing up with an intense fear of large dogs. Throughout my childhood, when I saw a large dog, my primary instinct was to run away.
Unfortunately for the young-child-me, dogs enjoy a good game of chase. By running away, and encouraging the “big scary dog” to chase me, I was reinforcing my own fear: that dogs were scary and should be avoided at all costs.
Anxiety is often a “big scary dog”. We feel the discomfort, and seek to avoid it by running away, or avoiding situations that cause anxiety. When we avoid anxiety-provoking situations, we reinforce in our brains that those situations are unsafe, creating a cycle of fear and anxiety that grows the more we avoid specific situations.
In order to retrain our brain, we have to confront the big scary dog. This can be an overwhelming task, so it is important to have tools to draw from. Three helpful tools are box breathing, positive affirmations, and challenging thinking errors.
Take a deep breath, filling your lungs completely while imagining moving your lungs in the outline of a square. At each corner, pause and hold the breath for 4 seconds, then exhale along the next side of the square. Breathing in this way helps to regulate your nervous system, increasing your sense of calm.
Words are powerful, and we tend to believe the words we tell ourselves. A friend recently recounted her experience on a climbing wall. “I was doing really well, until I looked down. At that point I panicked and told myself, “I can’t do this”, I sat frozen for several seconds and then let go of the wall, letting the ropes catch me and return me to the ground.”
If we constantly tell ourselves “I can’t do this”, “This is too hard”, or “My anxiety is too high for coping right now”, we are likely to give up early or avoid the situation entirely. When those thoughts pop into our minds, we can replace them with a positive affirmation. “I can do this”,“I am capable”, and “I’m stronger than I feel” are all positive affirmations that can help push back against the anxiety that is preventing us from reaching our goals or functioning in daily life.
Challenging Thinking Errors:
Thinking errors are irrational patterns of thinking that often come along with anxiety or depression. As with positive affirmations, we can replace thinking errors by challenging them. Common thinking errors include all-or-nothing thinking (where we view things in very black and white terms), mind reading (where we assume we know what another person is thinking), filtering out the positive (where we focus entirely on the negative, and ignore anything that might counter our current thoughts), and emotional reasoning (taking our feelings as signs, i.e., I feel scared, so I shouldn’t attend this event).
Recognizing then challenging these kinds of thinking errors can help us confront our anxiety by reminding our brain that there are other ways to see the world and we do not have to be stuck in our anxiety.
If you have tried utilizing these tools and need more support in confronting the big scary dog of anxiety in your life, Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy can help retrain your brain to see the dog not as a snarling beast, but as something more approachable. ERP therapy is effective in treating anxiety as well as obsessive compulsive disorder.
If you are struggling with these issues, schedule an appointment with Alice in either the Bountiful or Cottonwood Heights office at (801) 944-4555.More
In 1949, Hank Williams composed the song, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” The single reached # 4 on the Country charts that year, and many great legends followed to record the song as well; Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley just to name a few.
As you read and ponder the lyrics below; what memories and emotions come to mind?
Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I’m so lonesome I could cry
I’ve never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry
Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves began to die?
Like me, he’s lost the will to live
I’m so lonesome I could cry
The silence of a falling star
Lights up the purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I’m so lonesome I could cry.
A recent article in Harvard Business Review entitled, “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic,” reports that there is good reason to be concerned about social connection in our current world. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet the rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980’s. Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. Another article (this one in Psychology Today) expresses it this way: “Even though our need to connect is innate, some of us always go home alone. You could have people around you throughout the day or even be in a lifelong marriage and still experience a deep, pervasive loneliness. Unsurprisingly, isolation can have a serious detrimental effect on one’s mental and physical health.”
What is Loneliness?
Loneliness has been described as a social pain and an unmet longing to connect, physically and emotionally with someone else. It has been linked to depression, anxiety, paranoia, panic attacks, sleep problems, tiredness, lack of motivation, cognitive decline, heart disease, and even suicide. People who are lonely often share certain characteristics. These include having experienced trauma and loss during their lifetime and having spent their childhood years being cared for by individuals who have harsh, critical and negative parenting skills. In children, a lack of social connection is directly linked to several forms of antisocial and self-destructive behavior.
How is Loneliness Treated?
Doctors are recommending that individuals who experience loneliness be evaluated for possible symptoms of depression and anxiety; as well as receiving treatment from a mental health professional if warranted. Don’t allow loneliness to impair your physical and emotional health or affect your rate of mortality. Our therapists here at Wasatch Family Therapy are available to treat loneliness and improve your quality of life.
Sue Hodges LCSWMore
Some of my fondest memories from growing up are with my childhood dog. To this day, I still remember the times my family dog was there to support me. Being a tall individual, walking down stair cases with short ceilings proved difficult at times. Once or twice, I would hit my head very hard on a large beam down our family stairs. Of course I’d tumble down the stairs in agony as if I had just cracked my skull open. No sooner than I could check for blood (which there never was any) was our family dog Bridger there to provide me emotional support. With an expression of deep concern on his face he would nudge his nose near my face and lay there with me in my pain. This support for my brief pain was a memorable experience from my teenage years.
Flash forward a few years to now where my wife and I have our own dog Baloo. While pet ownership is not always easy, my wife and I can both attest to the emotional benefits that Baloo has brought us in our day-to-day stresses and anxiety. Our dog is always available to snuggle or just provide love when we are home, which has been a large stress reducer for our family. Whether he’s providing a sense of love and affection or making you laugh by silly behaviors, your pet is there provide you some joy.
For adults, pets have been shown to do the following:
Here is some ammunition for all those children out there begging their parents for pets. Recent research done by Tufts University found that children tend to have better coping skills in correlation to a relationship with a pet (Rajewski, 2016). The study found that pets provided children with more confidence, better peer relationships, and more stability when parents were often out of the home (Rajewski, 2016). Animal ownership was also shown to help with providing all children with emotional support which is non-judgmental (Rajewski, 2016). Animals are able to provide loving and caring support just by being there for a child or adult.
Let me provide a disclaimer here: Pet ownership is a huge commitment and should not be taken lightly. In some circumstances it can lead to increased stress, anxiety, or an additional financial expense. If you are unsure about animal ownership spend some time with the animals at a shelter or volunteer to help with a friends pet. Benefits can still be found with these animals and reduce the need for an immediate commitment.
While our pets can be supportive, they are not always able to help us overcome all adversity. For help with the complex and simple challenges of life, consider visiting a therapist. Just like your pets, therapists will not judge you and can be there to support you through life’s many changes. If you are considering therapy and are worried what it will be like, please come and see me at Wasatch family therapy. I strive to provide everyone who comes with a comfortable, safe and non-judgmental atmosphere so that those I work with can succeed. Please do not hesitate to contact me at Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555. Together, we can learn further tools to help you through your specific changes, and I will be sure to tell you some funny stories about my dog.
Nathan Watkins, AMFT
Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Julius, H., & Kotrschal, K. (2012). Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin. Frontiers in Psychology, 3. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00234
Haley, E. (2017, March 26). The Healing Power of Animals. Retrieved January 18, 2018, from https://whatsyourgrief.com/healing-power-of-animals/
Rajewski, G. (2018, January 18). How Pets Help People. Retrieved January 11, 2016, from http://now.tufts.edu/articles/how-pets-help-people
Robinson, L., & Segal, J. (2017, October). Mood-Boosting Power of Dogs. Retrieved January 18, 2018, from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/mood-boosting-power-of-dogs.htmlMore
Life seems to have a way of getting crazy just when we don’t have time. There’s your child’s homework assignment that they forgot was due…tomorrow. An impending deadline at work that can’t be delayed any longer. What about the band concerts, dance lessons, or basketball games for your kids? School, church, and family obligations and responsibilities that we “have” to do. How do we balance all the demands on our time and energy?
Recently, I came to the point of realization that it wasn’t physically possible for me to accomplish and meet all my obligations the way that I had envisioned in my head. It was possible (though difficult) to meet the responsibilities on my list, but not in the way that I wanted them completed. Having realistic expectations of what I can and need to accomplish within the parameters of my life was a hard realization for me. I don’t just want to complete a task; I want to excel at that task. However, my overly high expectations of myself were leading to feelings of stress, anxiety, and negative self- worth. How do we combat these dueling feelings of inadequacy and the need for perfection?
Sounds simple enough right? However, how often do we sit down and write out all the demands on our time and energy for a day and then rank them? Try taking just 5 minutes and jotting down all the things that you need (or think you need) to accomplish for that day. Is it reasonable? How do you feel when you look at the list? Is it empowering and motivating? Or, do you feel the stress and anxiety like I did when I looked at mine? If your list is motivating, then you might have a good balance. However, if you react like I did, that’s a good indication that you are over-extended and need to pare it down a bit. How can I cut out something I “need” to do?
For those of us that suffer with perfectionistic tendencies, it’s hard to accept that less than perfect is good enough. Do we really need to be on every PTO committee at our children’s schools? Or, is being on one “good enough”? Are there things on your list where you can give yourself permission to be average? Adjusting the expectations that we set for ourselves can be a difficult thing to do, but I’ve found that being more flexible about what is and isn’t acceptable leads to a lot less stress.
After completing the first two steps, I realized there were several areas of my life where I’d created exceedingly high expectations. I had scheduled myself into a corner that didn’t allow for any deviation. Allowing for some flexibility in my schedule is very freeing; I don’t have to be doing something all the time. When something unexpected does pop up, I’ve left enough leeway to adjust accordingly.
I’ve learned that being able to look objectively at various aspects of my life and see where I can make improvements by doing less, either physically or mentally, is necessary at this stage. I simply can’t be or do all the things that I tried to tell myself that I had to. However, by carefully evaluating and choosing to prioritize the things most important to me, accepting that sometimes less than “perfect” is good enough, and allowing flexibility be my new mantra; I have a sense of strength, empowerment, and resiliency that was previously lacking.More