Holiday stress? This year, strive for simple celebration

Hark all you women who are feeling the stress of the holidays: You are not alone, and you need to take your stress seriously!

While men and women both feel demands this time of year, women are more likely to report higher levels of stress.

Women typically spend more time organizing for family gatherings, decorating, shopping, wrapping and preparing food. While stress should never go unmanaged, these additional pressures over the holidays can lead some women to experience a life-threatening heart problem, according to Dr. Karla Kurrelmeyer, a cardiologist with Houston Methodist Hospital’s Heart and Vascular Center.

The condition is known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy and it is most common among women in their late 50s to mid-70s. It occurs when a short period of intense stress is compounded by trauma, such as a death in the family, a car accident or financial loss. The high levels of stress hormones weaken the heart’s ability to pump. Anyone who develops chest pains or shortness of breath after a period of emotional or physical stress should seek medical attention.

While most of us may not encounter such a severe situation, the fact is stress-relief should be a high priority for everyone. Getting exercise, getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, planning ahead and simply taking a break are all sound ways to lower stress.

But with big holiday celebrations just days away, these suggestions may seem impossible.

It may feel like the only way to escape stress is to cancel Christmas.

Fortunately, it is not always necessary to go that extreme.

Some changes here and there can bring balance and even joy to your holiday. First, think about what is most important to you and then make a reasonable goal. Give yourself permission to do less and, instead, focus on the people and experiences that are most meaningful. Finally, accept that many things lie beyond your control.

Remind yourself that you don’t have to solve every problem, and not all problems are yours to solve.

Personally, I learned to enjoy a simpler holiday by first letting go of “Christmas past”—you know, trying to do things the way my mother used to do it. The experiences she created were wonderful, but life today is not the same. It is not reasonable for for me to re-create the past.

I also began to ease up on my expectations. For example, I started to open up my home to guests even when things weren’t in perfect order. I didn’t want to miss out on a visit with dear friends just because I thought someone might stumble across a dirty sock or a pile of unwashed dishes.

Last year around this time, I had a more on my plate than usual. I had just moved and started a new position at work. I was worried about money and crunched for time. As Christmas inched closer, I settled into a survival plan. I did not decorate cookies. I did not host a big party. I decorated my home using the contents of just one box and set up a 4-foot artificial tree, pre-lit. I took advantage of online shopping, gift cards and gift bags. I sent out zero Christmas cards and instead opted to send out New Year’s cards a month later.

And the good news is: it was a great Christmas. I can vividly remember the feeling of my teenage son’s head leaning on my shoulder as we watched a holiday movie, a fire glowing in the fireplace, lights twinkling in the window. I don’t remember what I bought him as a gift or what he gave me. But I do know we felt warm, close and content. It is a moment that will always remind me to never underestimate the value of a simple celebration.


The column Mind Matters is a regular column of the  Niagara Gazette and Lockport Union-Sun Journal. Re-printed by permission.

Pamela Szalay is the Director of Community Education at the Mental Health Association in Niagara County, Inc. in Lockport, NY and provides educational presentations and workshops on mental health topics for the community. You can reach her by email.

 

10 tips to mental fitness

Re-printed by permission from Greater Niagara Newspapers.

While mental fitnessstress feels unpleasant, it is also unhealthy. This is because our bodies are involved as well as our minds, responding to stress by moving into a state of readiness, a heightened, stress induced state. The consequences include an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, cancer, depression and anxiety. Stress is also related to lowering immune defenses and brain function. Research supports making certain lifestyle changes to improve health, adding both quality and quantity of years. As May is Mental Health Month, here are 10 tips from the Live Your Life Well program of Mental Health America.

  1. Turn to family and friends. To feel supported, valued and connected, allow yourself to accept help or a word of advice and encouragement.
  2. Stay positive. Studies have shown that optimists have a lower risk of dying.
  3. Get physically active. While experts do not know exactly how this happens, exercise can boost mood!
  4. Help Others. Forget your troubles by helping someone else with theirs.
  5. Get enough sleep. Stress is often the culprit in preventing a good night’s sleep, yet sleep is so important to helping us cope.
  6. Create joy and satisfaction. Give yourself permission to participate in fun, relaxing activities on a regular basis.
  7. Eat well. Nutritious food boosts your brain power as well as your mood while helping to fight disease.
  8. Take care of your spirit. There have been correlations to longer life among those who regularly attend religious services while meditation has shown to increase activity in the feel-good part of the brain.
  9. Deal better with hard times. A healthy way to deal with a difficult life challenge is to talk through an issue with a friend or adviser to explore options and choose a course of action.
  10. Get professional help if you need it. If you are not able to feel better on your own, don’t be afraid or ashamed to seek professional help. Call the Mental Health Association in Niagara County at (716) 433-3780. If you feel you have reached a point of crisis please call the Niagara County Crisis Services Hotline at (716) 285-3515. I hope you will consider making healthier choices starting today!

Original publication date: May 24, 2015. Mind Matters is a regular column of the Niagara Gazette and Lockport Union-Sun Journal.

Pamela SzalayPamela Szalay is the Director of Marketing and Operations at the Mental Health Association in Niagara County Inc. and provides educational presentations and workshops on mental health topics for the community. You can reach her by email.

To download an easy-to-print version of this article click here: 10 tips to mental fitness

 

First Aid for Mental Health

Re-printed by permission from Greater Niagara Newspapers.

Imagine yomental health first aidu are out to lunch with a friend, co-worker or parent. As you begin your meal, you notice something odd: she can’t seem to lift her fork. You make a little joke and she responds by smiling on just one side of her mouth. It occurs to you that these are the signs of a stroke. Calmly, you ask her to say something but she can’t put a sentence together. At this point, you know it’s time to call 9-1-1.

Now imagine another, similar scene. This friend, colleague or parent you have known for years has met you for lunch but is behaving oddly. He has just ordered a second drink yet you have never known him to drink at lunch. There is also a change in mood: instead of being excited about an invitation to play golf, he seems not to care. In fact, he doesn’t seem to be able to focus on the conversation. You react by thinking, “what’s wrong with him? Why can’t he control himself?” You may be uncomfortable addressing the situation and simply leave feeling disappointed.

When a person shows unusual behavior, feelings or thoughts, it can be a sign of mental distress. Rather than judgment from friends and family, what that person needs is something akin to “mental health first aid”: someone else to recognize there is a problem and offer assistance in getting the best help.

Because the general public lacks knowledge about basic mental health, it is common for signs of mental illness to go unrecognized for years. Both the person suffering and the people around him may not realize that the symptoms are real, potentially serious and treatable. Unfortunately, the impact of our ignorance is not small.

When mental health disorders go unrecognized and untreated, there are serious implications to an individual’s physical health, quality of life and independence. Consider this: mental illness can take 25 years from someone’s life. That’s more than all cancers combined and possibly more damaging than smoking 20 cigarettes a day. Early intervention can lessen the impact and even prevent the development of a serious disorder that could interfere with education, work and family life.

There is also a corresponding cost to society. The financial costs of mental illness rival that of cancer. Jails and juvenile detention centers are full of individuals who might not be there if their mental illnesses had been properly addressed at the onset. Finally, social services must often intervene to provide assistance to people who can no longer keep a job or were never able to finish school. Basically, our lack of understanding about mental health prevents both the identification and treatment of disorders– a concerning situation especially when we consider that the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that almost 44 million adults had a diagnosable mental disorder in 2012.

While many changes can be made to public policy, there are things each of us can do starting now to be more responsive to mental health issues. It starts by taking care of those around us. Family, friends, co-workers, teachers, school counselors and neighbors are often the first to notice when something is “not quite right” with someone. Each of us can certainly learn to recognize the signs of a mental disorder in the same way we would recognize the signs of a heart attack or stroke.

Here are some key things to look for: recent social withdrawal or apathy, an unusual drop in functioning at work or school including quitting sports, failing or inability to concentrate, dramatic changes in appetite, sleep, hygiene or mood, a heightened sensitivity to sounds, sights, smells or touch, and problems with logical thought and speech. Basically, uncharacteristic and peculiar behavior, feelings or thinking should raise a red flag.

If you become concerned about someone’s mental health, the creators of Mental Health First Aid, Betty Kitchener and Anthony Jorm, suggest following these five steps: assess for risk of suicide or harm; listen nonjudgmentally; give reassurance and information; encourage appropriate professional help; and encourage self-help and other support strategies.

If you suspect someone is actively suicidal, you can call the Niagara County Suicide Prevention Hotline at (716) 285-3515. For a list of all the emergency phone numbers in Niagara County, you can obtain a Help Book from the Niagara County Mental Health Association in Niagara County Inc. by calling (716) 433-3780 or going online at http://www.mhanc.com.


Original publication date: March 15, 2015. The column Mind Matters is a regular column of the Niagara Gazette and Lockport Union-Sun Journal.

Pamela Szalay is the Director of Marketing and Operations at the Mental Health Association in Niagara County Inc. and provides educational presentations and workshops on mental health topics for the community. You can reach her by email.

Pamela.image

Grief Share Support Groups in Niagara County

Written by Maggie Campbell and Jan Mauk

GriefMost of us understand that, within our lifetimes, we will experience the death of a loved one. When we do, we will learn some painful lessons about grief and loss. Although we may realize that grief is a normal reaction to loss, we may be surprised at the intensity of the uncomfortable emotions that we feel. Grief can leave us feeling overwhelmed as we struggle with the finality of the loss of a person we treasured. We may experience genuine pain and emptiness. Our lives may become disrupted and unsettled. Because we may find it difficult to talk about grief’s effects, the Mental Health Association in Niagara County conducts grief support groups twice a month in both Niagara Falls and Lockport.  Originally formed for those whose loved ones have died in sudden, traumatic ways, the Grief Share support group meetings are now open to all who are grieving.

 Led by licensed mental health professionals trained in both grief and psychological trauma, the groups are all about “the stories.” Participants report that being able to tell their “grief stories” without being judged helps them cope with the sadness, loneliness, longing and other emotions that accompany grief.  In the words of participants: “People in this group ‘get it.’ They know what I’m going through, because they’re going through the same thing.” “It gives me someone to talk to. I found I could breathe again.” “This is one of the only places where I talk about it (grief) anymore because I still need to. I can say things here I wouldn’t say other places. “The stories may be different, but they all come down to the same thing – loss.

With loss being the common denominator in these groups, participants learn what works for others while grieving.  Over time they also become aware of what works for them — how to reduce the stress of grief, how to find comfort and support during the grieving process, how to adjust to a changed life.  They have a chance to talk about their grief and to listen to others.  “It helps me cope. I can hear how others cope.” “There is no pity here,” but there is understanding, compassion, and acceptance.  Group members learn what’s normal about grief and come away feeling relieved. In the words of a participant: “It’s nice to know I’m not crazy!”

Grief Share groups are ongoing, free of charge, and always have a mix of “newcomers” and “veteran” grievers who support and inspire each other. There’s a time for tears but also a time for laughter. People remain in the group as long as necessary and leave when they are ready, which is different for each individual. Group members are encouraged to talk freely about their grief, which seems to help. Sharing the pain seems to lighten the load. All discussions are confidential: “What is said in the group stays in the group.” One group member said, “We’re free to say whatever.”

What do people get out of participating in a support group? The participants answer: “It’s the day I set aside for remembering my son. It’s important to the grief process.” “I came to support a friend of mine and discovered that I have grief issues, too.” “It decreases stress.” “I can laugh and cry a lot.” “I feel safe and secure.”  “It still hurts but not as bad.” “No one prepares us for grief. This group gives me hope.” “I feel embraced by the group. I feel loved.”

If you or someone you know has experienced a loss by death, you are invited to attend one of the Grief Share groups. Meetings are held as follows:

For more information about these and other support groups we offer, please call 716-433-3780 or visit http://mhanc.com/support_groups.html