Sleep tip: Write a to-do list

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If you’re one of those people who can’t fall asleep because tomorrow’s tasks are trampling through your head, consider taking up a simple habit: Spend 5 minutes writing a to-do list before bed every night.

Researchers recently assigned a group of people to do just that, and they determined the practice was more helpful than spending 5 minutes writing about what you’ve accomplished during the day — a task that some researchers thought might promote positive, restful feelings.

It turns out writing down the to-do list, instead of getting the mind working and triggering anxiety, allowed people to offload the burden of tomorrow’s worries and more easily go to sleep.

Other tips (these are from the National Sleep Foundation) include:

  1. Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends.
  2. Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual.
  3. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon.
  4. Exercise daily.
  5. Evaluate your room for sleep disturbances.
  6. Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows.
  7. Use bright light to help manage your circadian rhythms.
  8. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening.
  9. Wind down.
  10. If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired.
  11. If you’re still having trouble sleeping, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor or to  find a sleep professional.

Sleep is so important for your mental and physical health! If you’re not getting the sleep you need, don’t procrastinate. Make a change.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

New Year’s resolution: Improve your mental health

It’s resolution season, and I’ve got one for you: Make a goal to improve your mental health this year.

I talk about it ways to do that in this blog often. Here’s a recap of some changes you can make:

I want to note that probably the most common resolution is to lose weight or become more fit. Some of the mental health resolutions above overlap with those health-based goals. I think it’s important to approach these goals with the attitude of becoming more physically and mentally healthy rather than focusing on looking better. Placing too much value on how you look is not good for mental health. And rather than having a pounds-based goal, consider choosing an activity-based goal. It’s the behaviors that make the biggest difference!

The Washington Post published a fantastic article on New Years Day about the science behind keeping your resolutions. Tips include to start out strong, aim high but allow some room for error, and link a new habit to an old one. Read up and good luck!

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Facebook’s mental health blog post: My take

We’ve known for years that social media — with Facebook being one of the most prominent platforms — can negatively effect mental health. You probably saw about a week ago that Facebook came out with a blog post about that topic.

In the post, the company acknowledges research asserting that technology can drive people apart and make them depressed. But it also claims such research may not be valid and doesn’t tell the whole story. Facebook, it insists, can improve mental health, too. Strong relationships are important for overall health, the bloggers point out correctly, and Facebook can strengthen those relationships.

The blog also points us toward research I hadn’t seen: A University of Michigan study found that how you interact with Facebook makes a difference for mood. Those who just read their feeds end up in worse moods than those who post or talk to friends.

So the company is making efforts to steer people toward actually interacting with their networks. They’re pushing posts from friends you’ve shown you care about to the top of your feed. They’re giving users the option to temporarily “snooze” content from friends they aren’t interested in. They’re giving people more control over how they interact with their exes on the site. And they’re working to connect users, especially suicidal people, with mental health resources.

I appreciate these changes, though I’m not sure I’ve noticed much of a difference. I still see a lot of click bait in my feed, even though they claim they’ve made friends’ posts more prominent. Curating your feed to hide posts from people who make you feel bad is a great thing — definitely do it. As for Facebook working harder to push mental health resources, I love it.

A more important change I’d like to see — but will probably never see — is a feature alerting users to how much time they’ve spent using Facebook and suggesting a break. There are so many more meaningful things we can do with our time, things that promote our mental wellbeing rather than detract from it. And while I agree that building strong social support systems is crucial, you have to weigh that against the depression that results from comparing your real life to the edited highlights of other people’s lives.

If you find yourself feeling down after spending time on social media, I suggest trying a break from it. Uninstall the apps from your phone for a week and see how it changes how you’re feeling. There are better ways to strengthen relationships.

I’ve said it before: Get outside. Read a book. Do something creative. Volunteer. So many of us need to find a better social media/life balance. Let’s pay more attention to how we’re feeling when we’re on social media and choose to spend our time doing things that make us happy.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Alone time benefits mental health

When it comes to mental health, there’s a difference between being antisocial and being unsociable, a recent study shows.

Where antisocial behavior (avoiding social contact because of dislike or anxiety) can be bad for mental health, being unsociable (preferring alone time because you enjoy it) can actually be good.

In this study, researchers surveyed 295 young adults. They asked the participants about their motivations for spending time alone and about other traits like creativity, depression, and anxiety. Those who reported spending time alone because of a simple preference tended to not suffer from depression or anxiety, and they tended to be more creative.

And creativity is great for mental health! I’ve written before about the benefits of doing art, no matter your skill level. Doing creative things also staves off dementia and enhances brain functionality. It can decrease depression and anxiety and improve self-esteem.

So this holiday season, while it’s important to build up relationships with family and friends, remember to take breaks from the festivities to breathe and nurture your creative side.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

10 ways gratitude improves your life

Thanksgiving is here. Isn’t it such a great holiday? It’s all about being with people you love and appreciating what you have.

This probably won’t come as a surprise to you, but even science is behind the idea that gratitude is good for you!

To celebrate Thanksgiving, here’s a roundup of some scientific findings about gratitude:

  1. Expressing gratitude is linked to positive social, psychological and health outcomes like optimism, exercise, and feeling healthy.
  2. Saying thank you strengthens romantic relationships.
  3. People who are grateful for what they have are more likely to find meaning in life.
  4. Thanking a new acquaintance for their help makes that acquaintance more likely to want to be your friend.
  5. Gratitude and good sleep are connected.
  6. Writing letters expressing gratitude increases happiness.
  7. Counting one’s blessings can benefit depressed people who haven’t responded to medication.
  8. Gratitude increases self-esteem and decreases depression and suicidal thoughts.
  9. The more you practice gratitude, the more thankful you feel.
  10. Giving thanks can result in better mood, better sleep, less fatigue, and a healthier heart.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Both obese and anorexic women short on “feel-good” chemical

If you’re anorexic or obese, there’s a good chance you’re depressed, too. More than 50 percent of anorexic women and 43 percent of obese people suffer from depression.

Surprisingly, a new study shows the biochemistry contributing to depression and anxiety in those two opposite physical conditions appears to be the same. Both obese and anorexic women have low levels (50 percent of normal or less) of allopregnanolone, a steroid that enhances the signal produced when the neurotransmitter GABA binds to its receptors, resulting in a general feeling of well being. Women in either weight category with low levels of allo were more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety.

Several previous studies have connected low allo levels with depression in the past, but its levels have never before been linked to anorexia or obesity.

Meds that increase the body’s ability to convert progesterone into allo could be helpful for treating depression and anxiety in these women who are outside normal body weights. We need more research before going that route, though. Scientists are working on that.

If your weight is at either end of the spectrum and you’re feeling depressed, come on in. We can talk about how to successfully modify your behavior to get you to a healthier weight along with what medications might help.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Spanked children grow into depressed adults

My headline overstates it — not all people who were spanked as children grow up to suffer from depression — but a new study shows there is a link. Children who are spanked are more likely than children who are not spanked to feel depressed, attempt suicide, have drinking problems, and use drugs as adults.

That puts spanking — defined as “using physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury, to correct or control the youth’s behavior” — on the spectrum of physical and emotional abuse. Other violent acts against children have similar effects to those associated with spanking.

Opinions vary about the best ways to discipline children, but experts agree that good behavior should be taught calmly and consistently. The goal of parental discipline should be to teach a child to discipline him or herself eventually. Go here to read more about age-appropriate discipline.

The spanking study recommends public health outreach to direct parents toward positive parenting — focusing more on recognizing and promoting good behavior than on punishing bad behavior.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Early school start times linked to adolescent depression and anxiety

Want a simple way to cut down teenage anxiety and depression across a community? Start school at 8:30am or later.

Earlier this month, researchers released the results of a study that showed adolescent students with school starting at 8:30am or later have better mental health than their earlier-starting counterparts.

You might think it’s because they’re getting more sleep, but that’s not necessarily true. Even when you just look at the students who are already getting enough sleep (between 8 and 10 hours), those with later start times were mentally healthier.

That’s not to say good “sleep hygiene” can’t help. For teenagers, healthy sleep means avoiding caffeine after 6pm, turning off electronics before bedtime, keeping a consistent sleep schedule, and getting between 8 and 10 hours of sleep. Across the board, with early or late school starts, the teens who met those guidelines were less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.

Here’s what one of the researchers had to say:

“Our study is consistent with a growing body of research demonstrating the close connection between sleep hygiene and adolescent mental health. But ours is the first to really look at how school start times affect sleep quality, even when a teen is doing everything else right to get a good night’s sleep. While there are other variables that need to be explored, our findings show that earlier school start times seem to put more pressure on the sleep process and increase mental health symptoms, while later school start times appear to be a strong protective factor for teens.”

Teenagers are going through a complicated time already, with brain development, hormones, and social pressures all bearing down on them constantly. If we can help them out by adjusting their school schedule, let’s do it.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

World Mental Health Day: Putting the stigma to rest

October 10th was World Mental Health Day, and the world took note.

Publications across the web published articles and opinion pieces about mental illness, and public figures as well as everyday people spoke up about their own experiences on social media. Here are some highlights:

“It’s an important day because we’re forced to talk about something that so many of us have shame around, and that’s our feelings of inadequacy, our feelings of feeling that we’re not enough, dealing and struggling with depression — these are things we all deal with. I have been to a therapist because I have felt depressed. It’s not something to be embarrassed about. It’s normal. … If you’re feeling that, please know you’re not alone.”
-Justin Baldoni, actor and director, on Instagram

“Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression, and 260 million suffer from anxiety disorders—many of whom live with both conditions. A study by the World Health Organization found that such disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity each year.”
-World Mental Health Day 2017 By the Numbers, Fortune

“It’s #WorldMentalHealthDay. Look after yourself. And others :)”
-Rickey Gervais, actor, on Instagram

“If you don’t struggle with mental illness, you might not know that there are big differences between being depressed and feeling sadhaving anxiety and being nervous, or feeling jumpy and suffering from PTSD. Contrary to some outdated beliefs, a person suffering from mental illness is not able to will themselves to be well, though as someone who has suffered from depression my entire life I can fake being well because sometimes I have to.”
-What Is World Mental Health Day? 5 Ways To Show Your Support This Year, Bustle.com

“Mental health affects us all just as physical health. Just because we can’t see what’s in someone’s head doesn’t mean it’s not happening. This is something that’s been a big part of my life and has affected me and many around me. We need to change the way we talk about people experiencing mental health difficulties. It is very very real.”
-Conor Mason,  singer, nme.com

Kindness Matters: Youth with high mental health inventory scores are significantly more likely to describe their environments as kind. 79% of “mentally healthy” high schoolers say their schools are kind places. However, 61% of youth describe themselves as stressed and 1 in 4 say they are nervous all or most of the time. 90% of youth think mental health is an important priority but less than half talk about it with anyone. ☹️ These statistics are highlights from a “Kind Communities Survey” done by @btwfoundation with Benenson Strategy Group. It focused on youth (15-24) and parents to explore the factors that impact youth mental wellness including a their relationship and environment. So simply, #BeKind #BeKind #WorldMentalHealthDay #BornThisWay #BornThisWayFoundation #mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness #depression #anxiety

A post shared by xoxo, Gaga (@ladygaga) on

 

“We hope that this small act helps to continue a growing conversation about mental health in our community.”
-Investors Group Field lighting up purple for World Mental Health Day, cba.ca

“Whatever your problems may be, (diagnosed or not), they don’t equate to you being broken. In my own life, it’s been unhelpful to think of mental health problems in this way, particularly when you’re struggling. You are who you are at this moment in time, and you’re doing your best. Brains are plastic. People can, and do, change.”
-There’s nothing wrong with you, marinabook.co.uk  (Marina Diamandis, singer)

“New Zealand has a population of almost 4.7 million and the 606 Kiwis who took their lives in 2016-17 show that the problem isn’t getting any better. This most recent national suicide rate in New Zealand marks the third consecutive year the figure has risen, as well as the highest number for the country since the start of statistics began being recorded.”
-World Mental Health Day: Shoes Lined Up Around The World To Show The Devastating Costs Of Suicide, huffingtonpost.com.au

“While the conflict is mainly between armed groups, it is the people of Tumaco who have borne the brunt of the violence. Pervasive  fear and insecurity have had a devastating impact on people’s health. Every day people suffer threats, extortion, displacement, injury, torture, sexual violence, forced recruitment, and other abuses, and see family and friends lose their lives. This has led to high levels of anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.”
-World Mental Health Day: Healing Hidden Wounds in Columbia, doctorswithoutborders.org

“As some of you may know, I was recently diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, a form of depression. Depression affects more than 16 million people in this country and there’s no cure per se, but for anyone dealing with it, there are treatments that can help. First of all, if you think you’re depressed, see a doctor and talk to them about medication. Also, be healthy. Eating right and exercise can make a huge difference. And finally, if you’re in the cast of a late night comedy show it might help if they do more of your sketches.”
-Pete Davidson addresses borderline personality disorder on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ usatoday.com

I could go on and on. It has been fantastic to see all the people who are willing to speak up about mental illness and reach out to others who might be suffering. The stigma around mental illness is fading, but it’s still a big hurdle for many who need treatment. I hope awareness and understanding will continue to grow!

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Changing the brain for stressful social situations

I never cease to be amazed at how we can physically change our brains with the thoughts and behaviors we choose.

This week I read about a study focused on determining how different mental exercises affect our brains and our responses to social  stressors. The study found that each of three mental training programs changed the structure of the brain networks supporting the skills the programs focused on. Everyone in the study felt less stressed after dealing with an uncomfortable social situations, and some of the participants — depending on which type of mental training they did — produced significantly less stress hormone in these situations.

It’s exciting — if you feel like social situations stress you out, you can change that.

The first type of training in the study was mindfulness meditation. Six days a week for three months, participants engaged in sessions where they focused on their breath, on sensations in their body, and on visual and audio cues in their environment. At the end of the three months, their brain structures had changed in areas known to be associated with executive function and attention.

The second type of training was “socio-affective.” That means it centered around developing positive feelings in interactions with others—feelings like gratitude and empathy— as well as developing skills for dealing with difficult emotions. At the end of three months, the brains of subjects who received socio-affective training had changed in areas related to these emotions and behaviors. These subjects also showed lower levels of stress hormone following a stressful situation.

The final type of training was “socio-cognitive.”  It helped participants to both understand their inner workings and perceive experiences from the perspective of those they interacted with. Along with changes in the perspective-related areas of the brain, these subjects also showed a reduction in stress hormone release after a stressful social situation.

If you feel like you could benefit from some  changes in the social areas of your brain, seek out counseling. A mental health professional can help you develop new thought patterns and reduce the amount of stress you feel in difficult social situations.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.