Discovering Spiritual Wellness

Discovering Spiritual Wellness

Very few people are attuned with their spiritual health which has a significant effect in the over-all wellness of the mind and body. Spirituality is unique to each individual. It can be sought by way of a particular faith tradition such as Christianity, Hinduism, or Buddhism (which can also be pursued as a life philosophy). It can also be manifested in the level of growth that we experience in personal relationships, or in simply being truly at peace with nature and the world around us.

Those who are not in touch with their spiritual needs usually experience deep longing, apathy, discontent and even more extremes such as sadness, depression, intense anger, fear, anxiety, and grief. These negative feelings can create the environment for emotional, physical, and mental health dysfunction. People who suffer from repeated physical or emotional abuse often feel as if they carry a “wounded and broken heart”. Most of us do not realize that our heavy-heart directly influences our well-being, relational health and overall quality of life. Denial of the depth of distress will only aggravate the situation, increase the likelihood of depression and anxiety and can even lead to serious medical conditions and illnesses.

Spirit and Heart

Recent studies have shown the connection between depression and anxiety, and the correlation of depression with development of heart diseases. These risk factors are considered to be nearly equal to high cholesterol and diabetes. According to research, patients going through depression are twice as likely to die from the complications of a heart attack, compared with people who don’t have depression. Some experts even suggest that depression and anxiety should be classified as new risk factors for the development of heart disease.

People who are alone and with little or no social support system tend to be more sickly, with greater chances of developing heart disease and a shorter life expectancy, than those blessed with a wide circle of friends and other relationships that provide emotional and moral support. There seems to be a direct connection between illness and lack of love as documented in research studies conducted by Dean Ornish, M.D., a respected cardiologist from the University of California in San Francisco.

And while medications can be helpful there are many people who do not respond well to drugs because of emotional as well as physical ailments. And let’s face it, medications can help with physical and even some emotional health issues, but not spiritual health. This is where drug-free approaches such as meditation, Tai Chi, prayer, yoga and psychotherapy, comes in.

Reflection and Gratitude

As an example, let’s take a look at a meditative practice that comes from Sufism called “Practicing Remembrance” — an ancient spiritual practice that actually originated in Islam, and best known in the West through the poetry of Rumi. Sufism focuses its many practical and effective methods of healing on the heart with a simple but miraculous way of opening a person to the healing of gratitude, love and letting go.

Sound familiar?  Sure it does. Contemporary psychotherapy, Eastern philosophy and most major religions today lean in this same direction. A combo of self reflection and gratitude – 12 Step folks will likely recognize these concepts are core parts of Alcoholics Anonymous as well.

Journey Well

Some Christians practice “contemplative prayer”, Buddhists often engage in meditation as a practice. Whatever your practice, path or tradition – remembering to keep a space for the spiritual and commit to some practice of keeping it alive in your life is very important.  Remember, spiritual wellness at it’s very core is simply this; discovering a sense of meaning in your life, and living out the reason and purpose of your existence.

However you choose to manifest this in your life, I wish you well. When it comes to the mind, body and spirit – the latter often holds the other two together more than we might think.

Journey Well.

Love and Friendship

“Love is something learned only by the long, hard labor of life. It is sometimes over before we’ve ever known we ever had it. We sometimes destroy it before we appreciate it. We often take it for granted.” – Joan Chittister

I enjoy reading and listening to philosophical and spiritual thinkers, from St Thomas Aquinas to Pema Chodron, Thomas Merton, S. Susuki and Joan Chittister.

The below is an excerpt from a book by Joan. I think it sums the message of Valentine’s up in a simple, yet meaningful way.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

“Ananda, the beloved disciple of the Buddha, once asked his teacher about the place of friendship in the spiritual journey. “Master, is friendship half of the spiritual life?” he asked. And the teacher responded, “Nay, Ananda, friendship is the whole of the spiritual life.”

Love is something learned only by the long, hard labor of life. It is sometimes over before we’ve ever known we ever had it. We sometimes destroy it before we appreciate it. We often take it for granted. Every love, whatever happens to it in the long run, teaches us more about ourselves, our needs, our limitations, and our self-centeredness than anything else we can ever experience. As Aldous Huxley wrote: “There isn’t any formula or method. You learn by loving.”

But sometimes, if we’re lucky, we live long enough to grow into it in such a way that because of it we come to recognize the value of life. As the years go by, we come to love flowers and cats and small infants and old ladies and the one person in life who knows how hot we like our coffee. We learn enough about love to allow things to slip away and ourselves to melt into the God whose love made all of it possible. Sometimes we even find a love deep enough, gentle enough, tender enough to detach us from the foam and frills of life, all of which hold us captive to things that cannot satisfy. Sometimes we live long enough to see the face of God in another. Then, in that case, we have loved.”

—from 40 Stories to Stir the Soul by Joan Chittister

How the Brain Reacts to Traumatic Grief

How the Brain Reacts to Traumatic Grief

There are many things to keep in mind when considering events that are described as “traumatic” and capable of causing considerable and long lasting grief. Perhaps one of the most important things to remember is that the response of someone who has experienced a traumatic event is due to intense chemical changes in the brain. This means it is usually completely natural and often not under the control of the individual. Expecting someone who gone through a traumatizing event to get over it is unrealistic, counterproductive and insensitive. None of us can simply “snap out of it” so expecting that is not realistic and completely lacking in empathy.

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Because the reactions have a biochemical basis, the prolonged nature of a series of traumatic events or the severity of even a single event can cause mental disorders. These may be due to trauma or grief and sometimes both. We will discuss trauma and grief separately to develop a better understanding. Even so, it is important to understand they are interconnected and that trauma is often followed by severe grief and sorrow. If the initiating events are severe enough, disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder can develop. In the worst case scenario, both disorders render the patient incapable of continuing their life and they cannot remain functional. These disorders are diagnosed illnesses of the brain and should be treated as such by seasoned and qualified treatment professionals.

Trauma:

There are a number of events that can cause significant trauma such as the loss of a loved one or being subject to sexual abuse, rape and bullying among others. During the event itself, a “flight, freeze or fight mechanism” is initiated in our brain caused by the release of chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol. Our body responds to prepare for danger by increasing breathing and heart rate and directing a large amount of blood flow to our muscles to face the danger and as such we experience anxiety, fear, panic and stress.

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If the events are severe enough, the brain is rewired to respond to stimuli even long after the event has passed. Sometimes these stimuli are only remotely related to the event and in severe cases may have no relation to the event whatsoever! The region in our brain known as the hippocampus is responsible for converting short term to long term memory. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, can cause reduction of volume of this area and this causes the brain to have difficulty distinguishing past events from the present which often causes these triggers to occur. PTSD also causes reduction in the volume of the prefrontal lobe of the cerebral cortex; an area in the brain responsible for controlling the amygdala of the brain which causes these emotional responses. The amygdala then becomes hyperactive leading to increased response to often innocuous stimuli.

As a result of all this the patient undergoes flashbacks, nightmares and experiences panic and fear to any event that can remotely trigger the memory of the initial trauma. This entire process can be solved with proper medication and psychotherapy with a specially trained professional.

Grief:

Grief is the emotion encountered after a traumatic event. This motion can, at times, run its course. However, prolonged continuation of the same or even different traumatic encounters, can cause an individual to develop Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). It is imperative to understand that this is a medically diagnosed disorder of the brain and that patients can’t simply fix themselves by trying to be happy or making an effort to go out more.

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Patients will often isolate themselves and experience emotions of guilt and self loathing at times as well. They may feel a lack of energy when it comes to carrying out their regular activities and experience long bouts of sadness and gloom. Or they may perceive situations and the future in a negative light and with a lack of hope. Physical symptoms can also include feeling tired, muscle aches, headaches, nausea, insomnia and reduced or increased appetite. At their worst, they may be prone to self harm and immediate help is required.

Depression:

Depression is linked to decreased levels of serotonin in the brain which becomes the biochemical cause of the feeling of gloom and the physical and emotional symptoms described. Depression is an illness that has to be treated with appropriate medication and psychotherapy with a seasoned professional.

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The above discussion makes it crystal clear the trauma and grief aren’t emotions that any of us can simply snap out of or that should be taken lightly. They can progress to serious mental illness and hence appropriate measures should be taken to help and support the patient through the disorders associated with traumatic events.

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Cancer & Emotions Part V: A Guide for Patients and Family – Coping with Cancer

Cancer & Emotions: A Guide for Patients and Family Part V: Coping with Cancer

If you need help coping with your cancer diagnosis and treatment, but all you can find online are sources implying that you are (or should be) depressed, then this article is for you. Yes, it’s a normal part of coping with cancer to experience anxiety and depression. But some folks have a very active and strong support system within their family and friends, a great spiritual or faith tradition at their center and a fabulous doctor. So, maybe you are one of these lucky ones. If so, perhaps you’re not depressed, but just need some encouragement, good advice, or just a virtual high-five for hanging in there through your treatment? Here are a few suggestions, tips, and recommendations that can hopefully put a smile on your face and help you push through.

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Get Informed

You might be way past this tip, but just in case, I thought I should include it. Gather as much information as you can about your type of cancer, different treatment options, tests and procedures that you need, and possible side effects. Write things down and get a family member or friend to help you, if needed. Keep in mind that you want to be informed and prepared, but you don’t want to obsess over this information. Find a balance between becoming a responsible expert on your condition versus going overboard. Even more important than gathering information is how you will use the information, which brings me to my next point.

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Create A Plan of Action

Make a to-do list of questions to ask, doctors to contact, reading/researching that you want to do, how to prepare for tests and procedures, etc. Think about want you want to do with the information you receive during appointments, from other patients, or anything you learn along the way. There are apps that you can download on your smart phone that can help you stay informed and organized.

Physical and Emotional Well Being

After running around to appointments, tests, procedures, friends/family homes, and support groups, you might begin to feel like you’ve taken on a part-time job. Take time for yourself to do an activity that you enjoy. If you find that you’re spending a lot of time around other people, make sure to spend some relaxing time alone every day. It’s okay to let others take care of you, but make sure you spend time taking care of yourself too. Try to keep routines similar to the ones you had before you were diagnosed. You’re schedule will need readjusting
in order to keep up with the demands of your treatment, but you want to maintain some sameness and normalcy.

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Talk, Vent, Express Yourself

Having a healthy outlet to release your feelings is so important, now more than ever. Everyone has different preferred ways of expressing their feelings. While some are talkers, others do better writing a story, blogging, or journaling. Don’t let emotions and thoughts about your diagnosis and treatment build up. Feelings are not meant to be kept inside you. If you want to talk, family and friends are usually our first choice, but sometimes it’s hard to handle the (inevitable) emotions and worries from loved ones (i.e., you don’t want to end up
being the designated therapist for others when you really need to talk yourself). In this case, you can talk to a mentor, mental health professional, or support group. You can join or start your own online blog (we did). Whatever the means, express your feelings about adjusting to this new journey in your life.

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Medically-Assisted Treatment for Drug Addiction with Methadone, Suboxone and Vivitrol

Methadone, Suboxone and Vivitrol; Medically-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for Drug Addiction

Drug addiction in this country has reached a level so great that we now call it an “epidemic”. And in truth, it has spread as fast as many globally known contagions. So, what do we do about it?

The first step in fighting addiction to drugs such as heroin and substances like alcohol is to understand that once you become addicted to these substances, it changes your brain. Addiction becomes like a disease; a chronic ailment of a major organ or system (ie the brain). Many would say addiction is a disease.

While some of the damage can be healed with time, therapy, community support and medically-assisted treatment, others are permanent and will at most be brought to an “in remission” state (your brain does not un-learn what has traveled along it’s “reward pathway”). A better understanding of this brain disease goes a long way for someone fighting addiction as well as to help, inform and support their loved ones.

Opiates and the Brain

Once addictive substances enter our body they go strait to our brain and bind to opioid receptors in our brain. Our brain responds by producing a substance called dopamine. Dopamine makes us feel pleasurable and it is the substance in our brain that causes “the high” we feel under the influence of these addictive substances. With persistent use or abuse, our brain is reprogrammed to expect and crave for this pleasure. This craving and longing becomes the basis of addiction-in-action and if the body does not receive the substances it craves, it experiences withdrawal symptoms. This is the cause of not only the behavioral changes in addicts but also the bodily side effects such as nausea, vomiting, headaches and muscle aches. These reasons also make it clear that while use of these substances is by free will in the beginning, once a person is addicted, they are in fact struggling with a disease and require treatment to counteract the above mechanism.

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There has been a lot of controversy (and misinformation) in the addiction treatment field when it comes to methods of intervention and care. For the addict and family looking for treatment options, just trying to find the right treatment center or physician can in itself seem overwhelming. When it comes medication-based interventions and treatment it can seem almost impossible to determine what is research, what is opinion/personal account and where the line between them falls. Hopefully the information below will at least give you a basic run-down so you can feel better informed and prepared to talk with your doctor.

(*Please note; we do NOT support all of these treatments. This article is simply to give you some clear, basic information).

Methadone:

Methadone is a drug that belongs to the class of drugs (which includes heroin and morphine) that binds to the opioid receptors in the brain discussed above and causes the usual effects that these drugs produce. Methadone is an “agonist” – an opiate used to treat an opiate. However, these drugs reportedly don’t produce the same high associated with drugs such as heroin. In this way they are used to reduce the cravings associated with addiction and limit the withdrawal effects seen in drug abuse. Methadone dosage is carefully adjusted and tapered off with recovery and abandonment can cause resumption of the withdrawal symptoms.

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However, methadone is itself a habit forming drug and is intended only to be taken under the supervision of doctors and with proper counseling. Moreover, alcohol should be avoided when taking methadone. It can also cause slow breathing, alter heart rate and cause dizziness or weakness. If overdosed or severe side effects are seen, a physician should be contacted immediately as overdose has the capability of being fatal. Methadone is a “lifetime” treatment – meaning it is used for maintenance and being eventually off it is rarely a part of the treatment plan.

Suboxone:

Suboxone is a combination of Buprenorphine and Naloxone. It is a partial agonist opioid treatment. Suboxone acts in a similar manner as Methadone by attaching to the opioid receptors and causing the above mentioned effects in the same manner. However, Suboxone is a partial-agonist opiate and causes these effects “partially”. This means that the intensity of the effects are not the same level as when using Methadone even though the general effects are the same. Reportedly, if you increase the dose of Suboxone beyond a particular level, the strength of any side effects will not increase any further even though the dosage is increased. This makes Suboxone much safer for use as any overdose or abuse is not nearly as potentially harmful as with Methadone. However, patients who were addicted to extremely high doses of opiates may not benefit as these drugs won’t produce the intense effects they crave. Additionally, there are concerns that some physicians may be prescribing the drug as a “maintenance” treatment, like Methadone – which is very expensive and to many is contrary to many of the missions of addiction treatment in that this prevents the addict from ever really becoming drug free.

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Vivitrol:

Vivitrol is a non-addictive drug, unlike both Methadone and Suboxone, and helps prevent drug use or relapse. Vivitrol blocks the opioid receptors in the brain and is said to be an antagonist – having no opiate properties at all. By blocking the receptors it blocks the high or pleasure one normally feels with drug abuse and helps eradicate withdrawal symptoms. It is taken as an intramuscular injection (IV) every month which is intended to stop any chance of abuse or overdose and also makes successful compliance much easier for the patient.

However, it is only started after the patient has stopped taking the substance for seven to ten days. Care should be taken that no substance abuse is carried out while taking Vivitrol because serious withdrawal symptoms can occur. Side effects include damage to the liver and hence if any symptoms associated with liver damage such as nausea, vomiting or jaundice occur, a physician should be contacted. (Vivitrol can be started while in a residential treatment program and before discharge. You can speak with your physician to determine if this is right for you).

It is important to note that it is ill advised and potentially deadly to begin and/or continue the treatment of addiction by yourself. This should only be done under the supervision of physicians and counselors who will help you decide and locate the best treatment options available based on your personal situation and need. Detox should always be done in a safe, professional and medically monitored environment.

Author’s Note:

And keep in mind, abstinence is the best path, over time. Any treatment for addiction that sees medication as a long-term treatment or “maintenance” should be treated very cautiously. Addiction recovery isn’t easy – anything worth doing rarely is. So, if someone is “selling” you a fast cure, in all reality, it probably isn’t. Medication for addiction recovery is like a cast for a broken limb; it may be needed for a brief period to hold things in place while healing begins – but who wouldn’t question wearing one for several months or years? Talk to a seasoned, addiction professional and also talk to a doctor or psychiatrist who is actually trained and boarded in addiction medicine.

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Depressed Teen at Home?

Depressed Teen at Home?

The teenage years are emotional mine fields. Sometimes you might feel that your teenager is always depressed because that seems to be the mood they project a most of the time. Does it seem like they just don’t want to be with the family?  Or maybe they spend most of their time at home closed up in their rooms? Perhaps they seem to do nothing but stay plugged in to their smart phones, tablets or gaming systems? An adolescent suffering from depression can be hostile to you, exceedingly grumpy or easily lose their temper. But then, this sounds like a lot of teenagers, doesn’t it?

So, what’s the difference is between this behavior, which seems like their normal attitude lately, and a full blown depression? The truth of the matter is that it’s sometimes difficult to tell just where their teenage angst ends and real depression begins.

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Common Signs of Concern

A teenager suffering from depression may show signs of hopelessness, cry often, be tearful, or may begin to write dark poetry and become interested in dark themed music and movies. They may begin to feel that life is not worth living, to the point that they neglect their personal hygiene because it’s simply not worth their effort. A depressed adolescent can feel as though this dark cloud over them will never leave and therefore their future is bleak. Boredom and the loss of any enjoyment from previously engaging activities is another sign of depression

Low self-esteem is common in a teen suffering from depression. Their sense of self-worth, which is always difficult to maintain during the teenage years anyway, takes a huge hit when depression creeps into the life of a teenager. Depressed teens may feel worthless or that they’re simply not good enough. Feelings of guilt can overwhelm them when things go wrong, as though every bad thing that happens is their fault.

Feelings and Emotions

Teenagers are already susceptible to feelings of inadequacies. When a perceived rejection occurs to a depressed teen whose sensitivities are already heightened, it can result in a devastating emotional spiral.

Bouts of irritability, lashing out at those around them and isolating themselves from friends or family can also be signs of depression. Sometimes a depressed teenager will ‘reject’ their own family in an attempt to preempt being rejected by them.

Traumatic events can also be a causal factor – especially those suppressed and not talked about or shared in a safe environment. And what teenager do you know that tells everything to their parents? If you know there have been some pretty scary or painful events in your teenager’s life talking with an teen counselor or working within a group may be helpful for them. When trauma or loss is involved, you might consider adding EMDR to your toolbox to help your teen.

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A decline in grades or behavior at school can also be a warning of more serious problems. Especially if they become hostile when approached about the situation, it could also be a sign of depression. There are so many traits in depression that can mimic normal teenage phases. It can be difficult for parents to determine whether or not a teenager is suffering from a major depressive episode.

In the Family?

A teenager who is suffering from depression probably has one or two parents at home who are also struggling with this mental health issue. Genetics/biology play a role and but so does environment/exposure. If you feel your teenager, or a teenager you care about, is in danger, please contact their parents, their school counselor or religious leader so that they can receive the help they need.

Chemistry as Agonist

Drugs and alcohol are not always in play when depression is on the table. But let’s be clear – it’s a common risk especially for teens and young adults. If your teenager is using drugs and/or alcohol – this will only increase emotional and other problems. Parents sometimes dismiss this, attributing “recreational” use as a seemingly normal part of youth. But whether dependency, abuse or recreation; mood altering substances always wreck havoc in the long run.

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It’s what many call the “play now, pay later” principle and the price gets very steep when the turmoil of adolescence and depression are in the recipe. In addition, we now know that use of drugs and alcohol during teenage and early college years (while the brain is still developing) has a permanent effect on the brain. If these are part of your teen’s current picture, don’t minimize the seriousness of the risk it holds for the kid you love.

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If you are a parent of a struggling teenager or college-aged young adult, listen to your heart. If you are seeing signs of concern don’t ignore them. Reach out, ask questions, get support – be active and get involved. You cannot afford to be their friend – you have to be a parent. If you need more support, reach out to a friend or family member. If you need more information or guidance, a counselor can be a great help as well.

Cancer & Emotions Part IV: A Guide for Patients and Family – Cancer Self Care

Cancer & Emotions Part IV: A Guide for Patients and Family
Cancer and Self Care

Now it’s time to take care of you. Not the physical you, but the personal you. Cancer self care is as important as almost any part of your treatment plan. Take it seriously and commit to it. This article will highlight a few common sense, but not often enough applied, self-care and emotional-care tips, strategies, and techniques to help you through the depression and anxiety that are a normal part of the journey.

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Social Support

Getting “support” from others has many meanings and can be achieved through so many different avenues. You just have to choose the method that works for you. Let me explain. Keeping in touch with a social support network (e.g., friends, other people going through cancer) prevents you from isolating yourself. Less isolation equals less depression and anxiety. The reason I say that the type of
social support you get has to work for you is because if you agree to, let’s say, join a cancer support group, but you don’t love talking in front of lot of people or aren’t ready to listen to other people’s struggles, then odds are, you won’t frequent the group. Maybe you prefer smaller groups or one-on-one contact with a mentor. Ask your doctor or go online and search for resources for cancer patients in your community.

If you don’t want to go alone at first, ask a friend or family member to go with you. Find a method or meeting format that you’re comfortable with and get out there. I often tell my clients, “it’s got to have the 3 P’s”; purpose specific to your needs (ie a cancer support group, etc), presence (you gotta show up regularly) and participation (if you aren’t active and engaged then you are missing the most important part),

Activities

This might be the last thing you feel like doing if your treatment leaves you tired and/or you’re too stressed to think about (much less do) anything “fun.” This tip is not meant to be fun…at first. The point here is to pick an activity that you are able to do and that you somewhat enjoy or have a special interest in. This includes (but is not limited to) cooking, knitting, fishing, scrap booking, swimming, hiking, cycling, or drawing. You get the idea. You should pick an activity that is accessible to you (i.e., you don’t have to travel far to participate, it doesn’t cost too much money) and that you can do at least two to three times weekly.

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You might be wondering, “What does this have to do with depression and anxiety?” The idea is that when you engage in certain novel activities, different parts of your brain are activated and stimulated. This neurological activity is like rocket fuel for the parts of your brain that protect you from depression and anxiety. It’s like your brain juices start flowing (i.e., neurotransmitter release) and this makes you feel better.

A Note On Knowledge

This just means educating yourself about depression and anxiety. This tip is good in moderation because there is such a thing as overdoing it here. Inform yourself through reliable online material and books and get several opinions, but then stop. I say this because it’s important to not obsess over learning about depression and anxiety. You want to become an expert at applying what you have learned to your every day life. Knowledge is great, but what you do with that knowledge is more important.

Do I Really Need Counseling?

Seeing a licensed mental health professional can be helpful if you are dealing with depression and anxiety throughout your cancer treatment. Even if you are fortunate enough to have a great support group of family and friends, sometimes it’s still a good idea to seek the objective and neutral feedback and treatment from a therapist. Talking to your support network is important, but serves a different purpose. Sometimes you can’t (or don’t want to) vent or discuss sensitive topics with family or friends because they will have their own feelings and emotional reactions to anything you tell them. In other words, if you’re sad or worried, your family/friends might respond to you with equal (or greater) sadness and worry.

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Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

There are many different therapy models and treatments for depression and anxiety, but a common (and effective) one is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) (and even Mindfulness Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy or M-CBT). CBT is a short-term therapy approach that looks helps you look into how your thinking and behavior influences the way you feel. It might sound simple, but studies on the effectiveness of CBT for people dealing with depression and anxiety have been pretty impressive. An experienced counselor who specializes in working with cancer patients and their families will include M-CBT or CBT as well as other approaches, tailored to your individual and personal situation.

One Last Thought

Remember to talk to your doctor about your depression and anxiety. Avoid doing what (unfortunately) many people dealing with depression and anxiety do: They keep it to themselves as if they were the first and last person in the world dealing with it. And yes, a lot of times it may feel exactly like that. This tendency to keep depression and anxiety hush-hush is probably related to the stigma surrounding mental health (but this is a topic for another article). Talk to someone if you are feeling depressed or anxious during your cancer treatment. There are so many options and solutions out there for you. Stop, Take A Moment, Breathe, You Can Do This !

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Cancer & Emotions Part III: A Guide for Patients and Family – Depression and Anxiety During Cancer Treatment

Cancer & Emotions Part III: A Guide for Patients and Family – depression and anxiety during cancer treatment 

You’ve been diagnosed, you’re going through treatment, seeing (too many) doctors, going back and forth, appointments, prescriptions, health insurance phone calls. All of a sudden, the enormity and terror of it all hits you like a ton of bricks. Your life has changed so drastically that you don’t even recognize it. Depression and anxiety during cancer treatment hits everyone, often in unexpected ways.

As if all of these this weren’t enough, you’re lying in bed at night (or first thing when you wake up in the morning) after an overwhelmingly “busy” and appointment-filled day and that feeling hits you. That empty, helpless, scared feeling; deep down in your gut. That worried “What am I going to do?” feeling.

Normal Reaction to Abnormal Situation

This (what I have described) is so common. It is actually the most common occurrence that people diagnosed with cancer describe. That’s if and when they get around to describing it because there is an unsolved mystery surrounding mental health: In general, people just don’t want to talk about it. The brave ones who do, tell strikingly similar stories, which means that depression and anxiety during cancer treatment is often part of the typical “package” of dealing with cancer. You are not alone.

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Not Your Fault, Is Your Challenge

Things can get a little confusing too because sometimes it’s hard to tease out where the depression and anxiety are coming from. What is causing the symptoms is important because that will lead to a clearer understanding of how to treat the emotions and feelings. The majority of people think, “It’s me, there’s something wrong with me,” when in reality depression and anxiety during cancer treatment can occur due to a variety of reasons.

One reason is that some medications and specific treatments have depression and/or anxiety as part of their side-effect profile! If this reason is ruled-out, then maybe it is “you.” But I have news for you: if the depression and/or anxiety is coming from within you, then congratulations you are a normal human being. Experiencing depression and anxiety is a normal part of the diagnosis and treatment process.

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It might be easier for you to understand this concept if you think of the opposite scenario: Imagine someone undergoing cancer treatment and not feeling depressed or anxious. Aside from this being very weird, it’s also not normal. You would think that this person is either in complete denial or that something else is seriously wrong. I know that we are all different and everyone reacts differently to change and stress, but the take home message here is that becoming depressed and anxious during cancer treatment is your body’s way of processing everything that’s going on. It’s a normal response to an abnormal situation.

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What You Can Do Now

Keep in mind that although it’s normal and part of the “process,” depression and anxiety during cancer treatment can be addressed and alleviated. Your physical health is not the only thing that cancer has touched. Your mind and in fact the very heart and soul of you at your core need healing, too. You can use this depression and anxiety to aid your entire healing process, to help you grow stronger, and to help you learn the skills you need to face not only this illness, but also life and all the ups, downs, surprises, changes, and challenges that life has in store. This is a special strength that not everyone has the opportunity to build on because not everyone has been given this challenge that you are faced with.

I work with cancer patients and their loved one. It’s a passion and a path. If you or someone you know’s life has been touched by cancer, please consider sharing my information with them.

“Release your struggle, let go of your mind, throw away your concerns, and relax into the world. No need to resist life; just do your best. Open your eyes and see that you are far more than you imagine.”
Dan Millman, Author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior

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Healing Retreat for Trauma

Healing Retreat for Trauma

In his book “The Body Keeps the Score”, Bessel van der Kolk beautifully examines the way trauma will often stay stuck in an individual’s body as well as their mind. As a result, their brain’s alarm system will go haywire and they become trapped in repetitive patterns of trauma re-creation.

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Trauma Is Relative

Trauma is relative, and it is not how extreme an event is for us that determines whether or not it is “trauma”, rather it’s the way that negative experience is defining and controlling our life. Furthermore, for many people struggling with an unresolved trauma history, talk based therapies may not be enough to really help. For the trauma survivor, just talking about a traumatic event often produces feelings of being overwhelmed and even dissociation. The frontal, reasoning part of our brain will go off line and what is left “driving the bus” is our primal brain; the amygdala and the limbic system. So even though you may have a client nodding and responding to questions, they may very well be a thousand miles away. Disconnecting from body and mind has kept many people safe for a long time, and that learned defense mechanism will often still kick in, even in the therapy office.

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In my private practice I sometimes have clients where there is only a certain point we can go to before it becomes unsafe. It is really hard to dive into someone’s deepest and darkest story when I know, and they know, that they have to pick up the kids from school in an hour. I am not saying that individual therapy is not helpful and effective, on the contrary – it absolutely is. But when it comes to severe trauma, people often need something more.

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What Is Needed

Survivor’s of trauma need a sanctuary: A safe and controlled place where they can get vulnerable and let got of the pressure to hold themselves together. This is why I love working in week-long intensive therapy settings with trauma survivors. In these personal and powerful retreats we are able to engage that primal brain with both experiential and body based approaches. By removing someone from the responsibilities and distractions of daily life and providing them with 24-hour therapeutic support, they can finally let themselves unravel the trauma story that has been shaping who they are for far too long. Yes, it isn’t easy, it may require missing a couple days of work as well as a financial investment, but that is a very small price to pay to be truly free.

Written and offered by Brennon Moore, MS, CTT, CADC-II.

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Cancer & Emotions: A Guide for Patients and Family Part II: Coping with Grief & “Why Me?”

Cancer & Emotions: A Guide for Patients and Family
Part II: Coping with Grief & “Why Me?”

Any article on grief when you’re coping with a cancer diagnosis and undergoing treatment would not be complete without the often-cited “Five Stages of Grief” by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Often cited is actually an understatement. The “Five Stages of Grief” model is discussed or mentioned in almost every article, blog post, book, or magazine publication on illness, death, loss, or any moment in life when things don’t go as we plan (i.e., the rug is pulled from under our feet or we fall smack down on our faces and don’t know what to do). It’s understandable, though, because Dr. Kubler-Ross definitely knew what she was talking about. Although the model was initially created to help people prior to death, it is now used to help people going through all sorts of issues, whether you’re dealing with an illness yourself or you’re supporting someone who is going through difficult times. Here I offer my spin on the “Five Stages of Grief”.

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Stage One: Denial (“Who? Me?”)

When initially diagnosed with cancer, some people believe that it’s a mistake or that it can’t be happening to them. They might even put off beginning their treatment because of disbelief, but at a deeper level, they are really just overwhelmed with emotions, questions, concerns, and fear. When we’re stressed or scared, denial is our friend because denial is a survival instinct: It protects us from the potentially dangerous and damaging effects of stress. If you don’t believe that something is happening, then as far as your mind is concerned, it’s not happening. Denial kicks in when we need to process something new, unknown, and/or scary, but we need to process it slowly, at our own pace, so that it’s not so overwhelming.

Stage Two: Anger (“Why me?!”)

This stage is characterized by feelings of frustration, especially towards those closest to the grieving individual. Some people will enter the Anger stage immediately after diagnosis, while others will experience Anger after Denial. Feelings of Anger sometimes occur when the grieving person can no longer stay in the Denial stage (i.e., the diagnosis becomes too real). In this stage, a lot of blaming can occur. The grieving person wants to blame someone, anyone, for the illness. Some individuals feel they are being punished for some reason and will blame themselves.

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Stage Three: Bargaining (“I’ll trade you.”)

Sometimes, people wish to try to avoid their illness and feel like they can still go back to the way things were before diagnosis. Individuals will promise themselves or others (or a sky-borne deity) that they will change their ways or sacrifice something in exchange for health. Bargaining involves a misplaced sense of responsibility or blame that the grieving person puts on themselves for the cause of their illness. They feel that if they become “a better person” then a miracle will occur or they will be given a second chance and they can be well again. This implies that the person feels as if they were “bad” before and the illness is their “punishment.”

Stage Four: Depression (“What’s the point…”)

Some individuals will enter a depression stage after they recognize that they can’t avoid their illness and that the illness is real. Just like in the Denial stage, they are overwhelmed with their circumstances, but unlike the Denial stage, they accept their illness (and feel like giving up). The thought of fighting the illness feels bigger than what they believe they can handle. Many individuals will withdraw from family and friends and demonstrate an “I don’t care” or “Leave me alone” attitude.

Stage Five: Acceptance (“Everything might be alright.”)

Many individuals come to the point where they accept their illness and even embrace it. They figure that there’s nothing they can do about it, so they may as well accept it and stop stressing. This stage involves the person having a more calm view of the illness and more stable emotions about their circumstances.

Research hasn’t supported Kubler-Ross’ model, but regardless, people like it and people can relate to it and I guess that’s important too. These stages can occur in any order and some people might skip some stages, repeat two or three of the same stage, or remain in only one stage. Grieving is a process that is so unique to every individual, but understanding the process makes us feel a sense of relatedness. A sense that we are not on this journey alone and that when we read things like this article or the numerous other self-help texts and advice on how to cope, we know that these things exist because others have gone through and felt what we are feeling. This is proof that we are not alone in our struggles.

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