How Are We All Doing?

Well, the sun is still shining.  Spring is on its way-….and, we are nearly homebound as we continue to face CoVID-19. 

So much is happening:

  • You may be infected or a carrier, or know someone that is
  • You may be home-bound, either voluntarily or by government order
    • Restricted from going to bars, restaurants, or any entertainment venues
    • Home with the kids and likely in charge of helping the children understand why the crack-down, facilitating home-schooling options, making entertainment opportunities in the house, dealing with siblings’ conflicts, rule and chore enforcement, and household management
    • All alone and isolated
  • You are not able to see those that are vulnerable and elderly in nursing homes, assisted living, and those in senior living due to the risk of exposure
  • You are either unemployed and receiving unemployment compensation or engaged in your employment, exposing you to the risk of infection or a carrier of such
  • You are aware of many small venues closing their doors with their own financial losses due to a lack of customers
  • You have lost much of your retirement or monies held in the stock market with a look at what life may now be like without that added cushion.
  • You realize that life will not be the same once this has all passed.

So, how are most of us trying to deal with all of this?

  • Stress is the new normal, for all of the reasons above
    • Fear and worry about your health and the health of loved ones
    • Sleeping and eating changes
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs
    • Panic reactions
    • Catastrophizing further than what is warranted
  • The sun is still shining; this too shall pass

So, what kinds of things can you do to support yourself:

  • Taking care of yourself, your friends, and your family can help you cope with stress. Helping others cope with their stress can also make your community stronger.  Of course, this is limited to phone, social media platforms or any other non-direct efforts
  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can cause further anxiety and panic.
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities and you are having difficulty functioning
  • When you share accurate information about COVID-19 you can help make people feel better.
  • And, remember; the sun is still shining.

Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW

The “Z” Generation and Mental Health

March is National Teen Mental Health Wellness Month!  Generally, it represents the “Z” generation.

First, you may ask, “What indeed is the ‘Z’ generation”?  According to The Pew Research Center, Generation Z includes those that have had “different formative experiences” than the previous generations; including those born between 1997 and 2012. 

Then, you may ask , “What are those ‘different formative experiences’ that have affected this group of young people”?  Pew Research as well as other research groups have listed numerous experiences that likely have impacted this generation

  • For one thing, this generation experienced the impact of the financial and subsequent emotional struggles of the Great 2008 Recession, with increased family stress and anxiety, as well as its personal effects, such as a surge of latch-key practices and working parents, inability to afford college or carry a large debt load upon graduation from a higher educational program.  They are also experiencing current fears of another financial crisis looming with falling markets.
  • In addition, some claim that those in the “Z” generation have been the only generation thus far that has not experienced any time in their lives in which the US has not been at war.  With the onset being 911, they were either exposed themselves or experienced the reactions of others.  Inside US, they have also been more exposed to fears of sexual assault, abuse, school shootings and street/gang fighting, climate change, political rivalry and escalation, increased exposure to international crises, a decreased spiritual faith, and now a pre-pandemic virus. 
  • The Z generation has also been the first to actively take part of booming technological developments and the widespread availability of wireless internet access, creating insurmountable information and social media opportunities, expansive network throughout the world and in a vast assortment of developments. Some believe the lack of face-to-face contact and obsessive on-line participation has significantly impacted Generation Z.

Lastly, you may ask; “What does any of this have to do with mental health”?   As we draw closer to better understanding this age group and its “different formative experiences”, is it surprising to learn that Gen Z has the “worst mental health of any generation”, according to the American Psychological Association?!!  A recent Economist publication also reported that Generation Z was considered to be the most … stressed and depressed generation in comparison to previous ones” in addition to  CNN Health reporting that “’Generation Z’ exhibited the most mental health problems”. 

Although, overall the Z generation has also declared a commitment to making a difference and achieve a healthier lifestyle, they are also a generation that is struggling with the same, and even more, issues than previous generations.  However, their young adult’s brains are still maturing and they haven’t developed enough to handle the stress most adults do, and have not had the life experiences that many adults have had.  Let’s actively participate in Teen Mental Health Month and lend a hand to the Z’s. 

Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW

Do you Have Difficulty Paying Attention to the Right Things?

What is it like to race down a hill on a bike, and get so side-tracked with all the distractions along the way that you don’t even notice the pot hole in front of you?  That’s what oftentimes happens with those that struggle with attentional and hyperactivity problems.    Those racing brains spill out loads of information, but with an undeveloped filtering system to organize the data overload. If our brains don’t filter out all the sensory input it takes in, we are left with a whole host of intruding thoughts that we don’t know what to do with.

ADD/ADHD is one of the most common mental disorders in children today.  According to a 2018 study from the American Medical Association, the prevalence of ADHD in U.S. children and adolescents has increased from 6.1 percent in 1997 to 10.2 percent in 2016.  Most children outgrow the symptoms with improved brain development, but approximately 4% adults also maintain symptoms. There are at least two primary attentional problems; including:

  • Attentional Problems:  Those that simply have difficulty sustaining attention, making careless mistakes, being disorganized, having difficulty listening to others and following instructions, completing tasks in a timely manner or that require sustained effort, are forgetful and are easily distracted.  Possibly these individuals react to this over-load by retracting within themselves as a coping mechanism.
  • Hyperactivity/Impulsivity Problems:  Those that struggle with excessive hyperactivity, including restlessness and being intrusively fidgety, difficulty being patient or playing quietly, speaking out of turn or interrupting frequently, is oftentimes “on the go” as if driven by a motor, and have difficulty taking turns.  Oftentimes, those struggling with hyperactivity also have difficulty managing their impulses.  For example, they oftentimes engage in activities without thinking or considering the consequences, putting themselves at risk.  Possibly these individuals react to over-stimulation by expelling it out of themselves.

The causes of ADHD are unknown. Researchers say several things may lead to it, including a family predisposition, a chemical imbalance, slowed development in 5 parts of the brain that control attention, brain changes or developmental problems during pregnancy (e.g., poor nutrition, smoking, drinking, substance abuse), etc.

There are multiple treatment efforts made to help those struggling with attentional problems, including behavioral therapy for children and parents, pharmacological therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, ADHD coaching, symptom control treatment, making accommodations, etc.  Unfortunately, if left untreated, those with attentional problems are more at risk of having self-esteem problems, behavioral problems, poor performance at school, troubled relationships; and as adults, substance abuse and legal problems. 

It is important to recognize that the behavior, not the person, is the problem.   These individuals, just like everyone else, respond poorly to being judged, avoided or punished.  Guiding those suffering with this brain disorder is crucial to helping them improve. 

Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW

Are you a Highly Sensitive Person?

A highly sensitive person (HSP) is one who is easily overwhelmed by stimulation outside of themselves, such as loud noises, bright lights, busy schedules, strong smells, and course fabrics or tags.  They can also become frazzled by internal stimulation, such as dealing with other people’s moods, are overcome their own pain, feeling pressure to get things done in a short period of time, becoming moody or have difficulty concentrating when hungry, startles easily, or cannot function without sufficient sleep.  With this level of sensitivity, HSP need to find a way to cope, usually by withdrawing for a while or changing their environment so that it is more tolerable.

With this, it is important to understand that the brains of HSP actually work differently than those who don’t struggle with this.  A HSP’s brain processes information more thoroughly, and with added detail in scope.  They function well when they have time to process and work through what is in front of them.  However, they become overloaded when the stimulation they experience becomes too much.  That is, for example, why they oftentimes enjoy the arts, including concerts and readings, one-to-one conversations, that have with it a more thorough or deeper reflection, and with less demand.

 Unfortunately, an HSP carries traits that the American culture has difficulty assimilating with our high-paced and demanding lifestyle.  Subsequently, HSP’s struggle with low self-esteem, and feel abnormal or devalued or don’t measure up to the standards held by society, oftentimes being told, “You are too sensitive”!

Highly sensitive people need to accept and tailor their life accordingly, just as we all do.  They need to take advantage of their in-depth insight and introspection and use it to the good.  We all want to be in sync with our brains.  Each of our brains carry with it its own processing speed, ability to tolerate stimulation and its level of adaptability.  We go with what works, without judgment.   HSP offer much to our society and our personal lives.  And, if we all marched to the same drummer, it might be easier; but oh, so boring and simple.  Wearing our uniqueness gives us a little bit more salt to keep life more interesting and worthwhile.

Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW

Children’s Transition to a Blended Family

What do you do as a parent of a blended family that truly is not so well blended? How do you deal with your kids who openly demonstrate their dissatisfaction of the “blended family” by being disturbingly defiant and/or refuse any encouraging involvement with their new stepparent? How do you deal with the non-custodial parents’ distrustful challenge of your parenting as your children frankly complain about their new stepparent? Unfortunately, these questions are all too common in a blended household. So, what do you do?

First, it helps to understand the dynamics children often face. For example, oftentimes children hold on to the hope that their parents will reunite. For children to accept a blended family, they are also giving up their wish that their parents will reunite. It is a difficult transition for children to realize that their dream of family reunification is no longer a reality. As the blended family emerges, children oftentimes find this to be the place where they realize their dreams are shattered and their hopes are lost. Oftentimes, children act out this loss with aggression and defiance, depression, or detachment. Blended parents need to help their children accept that their new blended family is integrated and that all family members are bonded together.

Children also struggle with loyalty issues, especially to their non-custodial parent who struggles with the loss of custody. As the children take sides and try to protect the other-parent, an escalating emotional strain oftentimes develops between themselves and the new stepparent. Children respond best if both biological parents decide to work collaboratively and support each other’s parenting efforts. Probably the most influential factor in children’s adjustment Lo their parents’ divorce is their parents’ mutual efforts at joint parenting all through their growing up years. Unfortunately, this mutual effort occurs too rarely. In its place, blended parents need to rise to the occasion and create a strong parental bond that encourages their children to establish healthy relationships with both biological parents, without taking sides.

Of course, there are several other risk factors involved in blended families that affect its success, such as the merging of children from two different families and the alignments between them, the level and style of parenting and the disciplining between the parent/stepparent, and the adaptability of each of the family members towards change. However, although these are all factors, a strong parental team effort can draw up much power and influence of a successful blended family. Blended parents can empower their children by eliciting and facilitating mutual respect, kindness and concern for one another and enhance a peaceful living environment where daily issues can be negotiated without them developing into ongoing conflicts. Children need stabilization within the family and benefit most by recognizing that they now belong to a new family identity, which they can begin to value and uphold. If a parent/stepparent can truly help their child(ren) feel belonged, the other battles will seem slight in contrast.

Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW

Healthy Brain 101: How to Keep Your Mind Sharp as You Age

Eat your fruits and vegetables. Get your daily exercise. Don’t neglect your annual physical.

As we age, these statements get drilled into our heads by our doctors, our family members, and by the media. We must take care of our bodies to live a long, happy life. 

While it’s true that taking care of your body is important, it’s also important to take care of your mind. Life is so much more fulfilling when your body and your mind are strong and active. 

Keep reading for some healthy brain tips to keep your mind sharp as you age.

Read, Write, Repeat

Reading and writing are important at every age, but they’re especially helpful later in life when our brain function starts to naturally lag with age. The act of reading does several different tasks within our brain. 

First, it continues the process of learning. It also connects and coordinates various brain functions. Reading uses your eyes to see, your mind to comprehend, and your memory to retain information. 

Writing does something similar. It allows you to express creativity while exercising the fine motor skills associated with picking up a pen or typing on a keyboard. Writing also helps manage stress and anxiety. 

If you don’t already do so, start a habit of reading when you have a few minutes of free time. Keep a journal handy so you can write down your thoughts throughout the day. And repeat this process every day to keep your mind sharp!

Get Out and About

Yes, exercise is important and it’s something you need to do every day to keep your body healthy. But exercise is also really great for your mind. 

Getting out of the house for a walk brings fresh air into your lungs. It gets the blood pumping in your veins. And this fresh blood and oxygen is fuel for a healthy brain. 

Another important part of getting out and about is socializing. Keeping up good relationships with our friends and family is so important for strong mental health. 

Visiting with family and friends gives our brains a type of mental gymnastics. The act of carrying on a conversation makes you think about your words and helps the coordination between thinking and speaking. Plus, socializing with others releases all sorts of happy hormones into your system that can brighten your mood.

Puzzle, Play and Perform Often

Keep your mind sharp by puzzling it… often! Brain games and thought puzzles are an excellent way to get your mind moving. Plus, they’re a ton of fun!

Playing physical games is also great for your health. Join an age-appropriate sports league, like a local tennis team, a curling club, or a racketball group. This type of exercise is great for your body and also makes you think and strategize. It’s a win-win situation!

Consider learning how to play a musical instrument. Music is a wonderful way to calm your mind and make you think at the same time. And performing in front of others will get you out of your comfort zone, which is a very healthy activity for a sharp mind!

Healthy Brain = A Healthier Body

Your brain and your body work in tandem to make you the beautiful person you are. Without either component working at full capacity, your quality of life will suffer. So get to work on your healthy brain today! Start implementing some of these tips now.
At St. William’s Living Center, we have a department dedicated to improving mental health. Visit our website today to learn all about our mental health services.

A Wise Man Seeks Contentment; Regardless of Life’s Circumstances

First, what really is “Contentment”:  According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, being content “is having true peace of mind and it has absolutely nothing to do with any external pleasure or condition, but rather than your attitude”.  Stop for a moment and ask yourself: Are you content? Where would you rank your contentment today?

Oftentimes, we let our negative scripts play in the forefront, filled with worries and fears, anger or resentment, doubts and defensiveness.  As this becomes such a habit, we are subtly losing our grip and surrendering to the war of discontentment.  We may seek contentment, but our thoughts, feelings and our actions are spinning away from the curve. 

With all these negative scripts, we oftentimes find unhealthy ways of coping to deal with the emotional pain or try to avoid it all together.  These can include distracting ourselves with habits of over-eating, being detached or uninterested in others, drug or alcohol abuse, blaming others and being resentful, deliberating on our own misfortunes, increased irritability, or experiencing more pain due to feeling emotional pain. 

If we work very hard to be happy, and mind you, it takes very hard work to be happy in this world, we may feel right and good, and more content during our battles.

So, how do I get there?  Here are some ideas:

  • Become aware of your negative thoughts and how they are triggered.
  • Practice challenging your negative thoughts to determine if they are realistic or biased that unnecessarily support a continued negative mood
  • Rephrase your thoughts so that they are more realistic, or optimistic.  Fight the tigers of negative thinking.  Think, “This is just a bump in the road rather than this is a monstrous mountain that cannot be passed”.
  • Put yourself in control of your attitude
  • Set your goals on what is meaningful and with purpose
  • Focus on what is good and right.  Clarify your values and focus on the person you want to be like
  • Work on being more lighthearted, generous, creative, kind, encouraging and helpful
  • Remember in detail the good memories of yesterday
  • Meditate on the good characteristics of others.  We all have an angel and devil on our shoulders. Seek the angel – in you and in others.  The one, who gets the most attention, wins.
  • Realize that we all make mistakes, and the opportunity before us is learning from them
  • Pay attention to what is happening “now”.  Stop the racing or wandering thoughts.  Pay attention to what you are paying attention to.
  • Feel good about helping others be more content
  • Practice laughing
  • Realize that the years are short

Of course, contentment does not take the reality out of living.  We still go through many hardships.  Life is not easy and no one promised us a rose garden.  However, there are things we can be in charge of.  Being wise, seeks contentment.    It is an attitude.  It is a resolution. It is a decision.  It is a life-long pathway of living that we can take with us so that we are better equipped to deal with the rough spots on our bumpy road.

Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW

Will my Child be OK?

Most parents worry if their child will be ok, especially because they can’t protect them from all of the hardships their children face while growing up.  Parents only have so much control over what happens and although most of us do the best we can in our parenting at the time, we oftentimes look back and wished we had parented differently. 

Some children are hammered with obstacles while others sail through without much of a hitch.  Unfair, but the reality.  Although those most vulnerable tend to experience more frequent and severe obstacles; there are those that have a biological resistance to hardship and can fight off the difficulties without feeling vulnerable while others with a more susceptible biological makeup struggle with even the slightest bump in the road.  It’s no one’s fault.  It just is the way it is. 

What is needed for a child to be ok?  Research indicates that the single most common factor for children to help them be ok is their children’s involvement in a stable and committed relationship with a supported adult or caregiver. With this, children are more able to develop resilience.  Of course, this pressures parents to work through their parent/child struggles, yet it breathes a sigh of relief and hope for parents as they build this relationship and gain some influence over their child being ok. 

So, how can we predict if our child will be ok?  There are four factors that help children be more resilient to the difficulties they face.

  • Parents need to ensure that their child is hooked into a relationship with themselves and with other supportive adults.
  • Parents need to help their child/adolescent develop a belief about themselves so that they become drivers of their own lives, believing they have the power to contribute to their life’s destiny. 
  • Parent also need to provide opportunities for their child so that they can adapt to life’s ups and downs, learn how to regulate their own strengths and limitations, manage their emotions and utilize helpful coping strategies when facing difficulties.
  • Parents need to encourage their child to seek and find faith-based hope to help in their quest for a good life, with values, goals, traditions, and standards they incorporate into their inward being.

Is my child going to be ok?  At least with these suggestions, there is a very good chance your child will become resilient to the many obstacles they face until they are adult.

Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW

Children and Mental Health

Oftentimes, we excuse our children from having mental health problems because we want to protect them from the stigma of being labelled.  Instead, we prefer to accept that they will simply “grow out of it”.  Unfortunately, 1 in 5 children have a mental health issue, and 2/3 of them don’t receive mental health treatment.  Those without treatment may indeed improve on their own, especially with good guidance and learning how to cope with the problems they are having.  However, oftentimes, these children develop further mental health problems as they grow into adulthood because their problems were never acknowledged and they didn’t receive ways to deal with their struggles.   

Oftentimes, children reveal their symptoms through their behaviors and is oftentimes seen in how they are functioning within the home, at school and/or in their social interactions.    Common behaviors include a decline in school performance or poor grades, repeated refusal to go to school or take part in normal activities, persistent disobedience, frequent temper outbursts and increased irritability, sleeping and eating problems, withdrawal from others, frequent tearfulness, increased worry or anxiety, being quite fidgety or hyperactive, and the list goes on.   Without treatment success, potential consequences include school failure, involvement in the criminal justice system or legal problems, social services involvement and possible placement, self-injurious behaviors, sexual promiscuity, or suicide.

There are various screenings that are helpful to identify if a child is reaching their full potential or if they are heading towards emotional, attentional or behavioral problems.  Kids have lots of stress in their lives.  They need adult help.  Let’s do what we do best – take care of our hurting children.

Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW

Losing the Potential of a Good Relationship Due to Our Own Lack of Awareness

Aren’t we supposed to put the needs of others first?  Isn’t there the belief that If we give to others, they will in turn reciprocate; especially in relationships?  Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way.  In fact, it has become increasingly noticeable in our close relationships that we teach people how to treat us.  Specifically, if a partner acts one way, the other tends to react to the contrary as a means to find a balance.   For example, if you are passive or your spouse is more controlling, your partner unintentionally plays out the opposite role.  Or, if you are exceedingly generous, you may be teaching your partner to be more self-centered, without either one of you being aware that your generosity has gradually grown into resentment and your partner has lost focus on a mutually nurturing relationship.    We seek a balance, and instead of being on the same team, we try to find an equilibrium by being contrary to one another.

Likewise, we oftentimes choose partners that corroborates with the “dance” we oftentimes mimic and are accustomed to while growing up and witnessing our parents’ relationship.    Despite efforts to “be different” from how our parents got along, we oftentimes find ourselves repeating what we tried hard to avoid.  

Despite good intentions, these patterns seem to sway us in directions we do not want to go.  Staying balanced without the extremes, and leading our own “dance” without generational influences can happen by being more aware of these patterns and communicating with each other about them.

Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW