Mental Health & Addiction Care

No Sprint, Lacing Up for Pandemic’s Mental Health Marathon

Posted on Sep 1, 2020 in Mental Health & Addiction Care, Scroll Images

The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging our mental health in ways we could have never predicted, and some people may feel they’re beginning to run on empty as far as ways to cope with all the change and loss.

“Coping as a primary strategy no longer works. It’s time to try something new,” says Holly Anton, an integrative therapist with Sutter’s Institute for Health & Healing. “Adaption is now the long-term objective.”

Rather than grieving for the way of life you may have lost with the pandemic, Anton recommends finding ways to create a meaningful life in the here and now.

Where do you want to put your energy? What deserves your focus? How can you make the most out of today? You can choose how you relate to the circumstances.

Importance of Maintaining a Routine

Structuring your day with activities and goals makes it predictable and gives individuals a sense of being in control of their environment,” says Anton.

On a basic foundational level, Anton recommends people eat healthy foods and get exercise. “You want your body tired at the end of the day so it’s ready for sleep. Put devices away at least two hours before bed and give your mind a chance to wind down with your body.”

Read more of Anton’s advice on ways to mentally adapt in this San Francisco Chronicle article.

Parents, Be Kind to Yourself as the School Year Gets Underway

Posted on Aug 12, 2020 in Mental Health & Addiction Care, Scroll Images

Many parents and guardians of school-age children are buckling up for back to school while simultaneously trying to balance their own work-from-home lives.

In an interview with CBSN, Lisa Giovannetti, an integrative psychotherapist with Sutter’s Institute for Health & Healing (IHH), lays out the psychological impact of the extended lockdown on parents and guardians. She describes how parents can help identify and manage big emotions for themselves and their children. She also addresses burnout and asks parents to acknowledge they can’t do it all— and thinking that they can isn’t being fair to themselves. After all, managing everything amid this pandemic is no picnic. It’s unfamiliar territory and parents and guardians are learning as they go.

Watch the full interview here.

To help parents and guardians out, Giovannetti discusses how to role model coping skills for kids and teens. She looks at building in structure for the whole family and setting realistic goals that can be amended since no day is going to be perfect.

“We want to acknowledge that bad days are going to happen, that’s part of life and expected during a stressful time. We want to look at how we can move forward compassionately. To mentally gear up, parents should aim for routine but also lots of flexibility,” says Giovannetti.

How to Support Children and Teens during COVID-19

Posted on Jun 23, 2020 in Mental Health & Addiction Care, Scroll Images

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Every young person’s response to a traumatic event like a pandemic is unique and varied, but one thing is certain—it’s stressful. For many children and teens, stress commonly takes shape in the form of resistance, grief or even loss. These are intense emotions for developing minds, so it’s critical they don’t go unchecked.

“As parents, we set the stage for how our kids learn to navigate experiences,” says Anna Morgado, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Sutter Health. “They model behaviors based on what they see, so it’s important we provide support and create channels for safe and open dialogue.”

Morgado continues, “One of the hallmarks of a crisis is that people may feel stuck and like it will go on forever. Talking about ‘when this is all over, we will do…’ provides comfort and a sense of control.”

Here are ways to talk with your kids about COVID-19:

Information provided by Sutter’s Children’s Bereavement Art Group.

• Talking to children about COVID-19 is similar to talking to children about grief. Parents and caregivers should use concrete, simple and developmentally appropriate language to explain concepts.
• Follow your child’s lead. Allow them to ask questions and see where the conversation goes. When talking to teens, you might say, “Are your friends talking about coronavirus? What are they saying?” For younger children, you might say, “Have you heard grownups talking about a new sickness that’s been going around? What have you heard?”
• Talk openly and honestly to children about what’s happening.
• Mention the symptoms of the virus are similar to a flu (cough, fever, shortness of breath). Most people who get the virus have mild symptoms.
• Explain that the virus isn’t very common in children.
• Let them know if someone feels very ill, they can go to the hospital.
• Empower your child by letting them know they can help by practicing good hand washing, not touching their face and sneezing into their elbow.
• Let them know this time of quarantine and social distancing will pass—it’s temporary.
• Explain social distancing as, “We need to stay at least six feet away from people in public and wear masks so that we protect ourselves and others.”
• Tell them that a pandemic can be explained as, “People all over the world are sick with this virus.”

Possible behavior changes from your child

It’s okay that things aren’t normal right now. However, we need to be vigilant when our kid’s behavior is off. Here are changes to look for:

• Excessive crying or irritation in younger children.
• Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (e.g., toileting accidents or bed wetting).
• Excessive worry or sadness.
• Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits.
• Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens.
• Poor academic performance or avoiding schoolwork during the school year.
• Difficulty with attention and concentration.
• Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past.
• Unexplained headaches or body pain.
• Use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.

How to support your child

Supporting your child doesn’t have to be a huge lift. Here are activities that will go a long way in bringing normalcy and consistency to their day:

Provide structure and a daily routine. Work together to establish a daily plan that includes mealtimes, bedtime, work time, playtime, creative time and exercise. Set small goals every day. Do your best to attend to your child and your own body, brain and emotions.
Share your feelings while also providing reassurance. Let your child know caregivers are there to keep them safe. Helpful statements include: “There are lots of amazing grown-ups, such as doctors and nurses, working hard to keep us healthy” and “We’ll get through this together.”
Model good self-care. Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, eat well and stay connected to your friends and family members.
Encourage expression. Let your children express themselves through art, writing, talking things out and physical activity.
Use touch. Take advantage of extra time during the quarantine for cuddles, hugs and play. Physical closeness and care go a long way in helping children feel safe and loved.

Reaching out for help

“These are extraordinary times, so if your child’s in a temporary funk for a day or two that isn’t overly concerning. However, if this prolonged state doesn’t budge, then it may be time to enlist a third party,” says Morgado.

Whether by phone, video chat or in-person, talk to your primary care provider about options. “It’s important to meet children where they are. Our therapists are incredibly skilled at helping kids understand, build resiliency skills and move forward,” says Morgado.

The National Parent Helpline is at 1-855-4A-Parent (1-855-427-2736).

The Sacramento Regional Family Justice Center’s 24-hour Parent Support Line is 1-888-281-3000.

Stress Relief Gone Wrong – Are You Developing Unhealthy Coping Habits?

Posted on Jun 11, 2020 in Mental Health & Addiction Care, Scroll Images

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The pandemic’s disruptions to daily life have been many. Seamlessly navigating through this new normal may feel like something only Instagram influencers are capable of tackling with grace, when the truth is many of us are just trying to make it from one day to the next. During these days dotted with question marks, it’s easy to develop habits that can have negative and unintended consequences on our physical and mental health.

“We are all looking for relief from life’s stresses, but we don’t always have the right tools. And trying to power through isn’t realistic or a good long-term solution,” says Kim S. Narvaez, a licensed family and marriage therapist with Sutter Health.

“The upshot is there are ways you can develop skills to cope with life’s ups and downs and find healthy ways to relax and feel better,” she says.

Here are some tips for setting yourself up for success:

Avoid Unhealthy Short-Term Strategies

Notice if you have fallen into negative patterns which may have started off as ways of comforting yourself, like obsessive online shopping, excessive social media use, watching too much TV, and mindless eating.

Be aware that unhealthy habits may turn into addictions and diagnosable conditions requiring treatment and professional help. Smoking tobacco, drinking too much alcohol, illicit drug use, online gambling, binge or restricted eating, hoarding, and self-injury like cutting are all signs you are dealing with stress in unhealthy ways.

Develop Healthy Habits

Good coping strategies help us through the rough times and get us moving in the right direction. The following are signs that you are doing things that are helpful:

• You feel proud, accomplished, confident and productive
• You have positive thoughts about yourself, others and the world in general
• Your coping tools don’t result in wasted time, effort and money
• Your mindset is hopeful, without feelings of shame or guilt
• You feel more energized, present and effective

Be Proactive

Don’t let unhealthy behaviors put you on defense. Instead, avoid developing them altogether by taking steps to:

• Identify harmful coping behaviors and make a commitment to stop
• Set personal goals to achieve a healthy lifestyle and create a self-care plan
• Be consistent in using strategies to properly tackle minor and major stressors
• Recognize how you are responding to uneasiness, minor annoyances, restlessness, boredom, isolation, disconnection, sadness, worrying, insecurities, and feeling overwhelmed.

Get Support

“Enlisting the support of a spouse, roommate or buddy to check in with is a good strategy to incorporate into your weekly routine,” says Narvaez. “They know you well and can help point out behaviors you’re unaware of.”

If your issues become too much to bear and you feel like you’re spiraling to gain control, then seek professional help. Your primary care provider can refer you to a licensed, professional therapist who can help you gain awareness, reach goals and change behaviors.

“There’s zero shame seeking help,” says Narvaez. “Acknowledging, addressing and getting unhealthy behaviors in check is a responsible way of taking charge of your health.”

Feeling Anxious Because of COVID-19?

Posted on Jun 10, 2020 in Mental Health & Addiction Care, Scroll Images

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. – We are all worried about our health, safety and protecting our loved ones right now. As the COVID-19 crisis continues, it’s more important than ever to protect our mental health and build resilience.

Recognize Anxiety Overload

“Anxiety is a signal from our brain that puts us on alert, mentally and physically, to both real and perceived dangers. It’s normal to feel anxious right now. But anxiety overload can cause physical symptoms and impact wellbeing,” says Kim S. Narvaez, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Sutter Health.

“Be aware of the signs,” says Narvaez. “These may include: restlessness, aches and pains, sweating, heart pounding, stomach problems, difficulty concentrating, feeling on edge, excessive worrying, irritability, obsessions, uncontrollable behaviors and fearfulness.”

Try Mindfulness to Help Manage Anxiety

Mindfulness is a useful tool that you can practice easily by paying close attention to yourself and your surroundings.

“The goal is to be present and notice what is going on within yourself,” says Narvaez, “Listen to how you are feeling, without any distractions or the need to do anything. This allows us to process thoughts and information calmly so we can move forward in a less reactive way.”

You can practice mindfulness in several ways. Click here to learn more about relaxation, breathing and meditation techniques.

Take time to reflect and ask yourself questions such as:

• Are my thoughts out of proportion to what is actually happening?
• Am I acknowledging my feelings?
• Am I giving myself enough credit for all the things that I am doing?

You can learn more about mindfulness and stress reduction on the Sutter Health website.

Reach Out for Help

Your mental health is important to your physical health and your overall wellbeing. Notice if your anxiety is escalating. If you want more help, contact your primary care physician who can provide you with a referral to licensed, professional therapists who can help with personal problems.

Senior Well-Being: How to Maintain Mental and Physical Health While Sheltering in Place

Posted on Jun 1, 2020 in Mental Health & Addiction Care, Scroll Images

CASTRO VALLEY, Calif. – As shelter in place restrictions are gradually eased this summer, people are still being advised by public health officials to stay home as much as possible and to maintain physical distancing. While some restrictions are loosening, the virus is still circulating in the community and it remains dangerous—especially for older people. Sheltering in place can help keep you safe, but for some it can have a downside too, leading to feelings of isolation, loneliness or even depression.

During the pandemic many older adults have found new ways to stay connected through technology, others may not have access to the internet at home or may not feel comfortable with video calls or social media platforms that could help keep them connected to friends and family.

What can be done? Recognizing feelings of isolation, loneliness or depression is the first step in alleviating them. Taking some simple actions can help make sheltering in place more tolerable.

James Chessing, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist at Sutter’s Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, says, “Sheltering in place is certainly a major challenge, but still only a challenge, one of many that a senior has dealt with in his or her life. Framing it that way calls to mind the coping skills that were used to surmount past challenges, as well as the memory of having succeeded in dealing with other tough situations. While the current situation may certainly be different, the skills or coping devices used in the past may be applicable now. Remembering that feeling of success may give hope.”

Dr. Chessing’s tips to help older people stay socially connected while maintaining physical distance include:
• set up regular phone call check-in times with loved ones
• become pen-pals with a friend or relative
• take advantage of the pleasant summer weather and set up outdoor seating (spaced the minimum six feet apart) to enjoy face-to-face conversations
• get some training or coaching on how to set up a video visit or talk via FaceTime—try asking a your adult child or a tech-savvy teenage grandchild

Just as human connection impacts mental health, so too does physical health. It’s important to your mental health to maintain your physical well-being. One strategy to keep your physical health strong is to maintain a regular schedule, says Pamela Stoker, an injury prevention specialist with Eden Medical Center’s Trauma department.

“Maintaining a regular daily schedule can provide comfort, familiarity, and health benefits. We recommend creating a daily schedule with regular mealtimes, regular bedtime and wake-up, and regular exercise. Irregular meals and sleep can have a negative impact on your hormone levels and medication responses. An irregular schedule can also cause your blood sugar to fluctuate, which can lead you to make unhealthy food choices—like reaching for cookies when you’re tired. And changes in sleep patterns, like staying up late one night and going to bed early the next, can affect metal sharpness, lower your energy level, and impact your emotional well-being.”

“The good news is that regular exercise helps keep your body strong, protects you from falls, and improves your mood,” says Stoker.

Adding to the feelings of depression and loneliness can be the feeling of lack of control, says Dr. Chessing. Even before the pandemic, some older people may have struggled to maintain independence while accepting the help of family and friends. Well-meaning family and friends may try to be helpful by delivering groceries or handling other errands in order to keep you safe from the virus, but this help may cause feelings of discomfort. You may not want to rely on others too much and you may feel your independence is slowly being stripped away. It is important to discuss these feelings with loved ones; remind them of your strengths, while acknowledging your own limitations. As Dr. Chessing reminds us “having open communication will allow you to explore the facts and weigh the risks in order to make informed decisions about behaviors.”

In uncertain and distressing times such as these, you or someone you love may find that it’s not enough just to stay connected with others and maintain a regular schedule—you may find professional help is needed. In the extreme, feelings of depression, loneliness, and lack of control can lead to destructive behaviors like excessive drinking, violence or self-harm. That’s why Dr. Chessing recommends staying in close contact with your doctor and reaching out for help if you feel overwhelmed.

The hardest part may be asking for help, but help is available without judgement.

Call your doctor or call:
Friendship Line California 24/7, toll free: 888-670-1360. Crisis intervention hotline and a warm line for non-emergency emotional support for Californians over 60. The phone line is staffed with specialists to provide emotional support, grief support, active suicide intervention, information and referrals.
Crisis Support Services of Alameda County, 24/7, toll free, 1-800-260-0094. Additionally, Crisis Support Services of Alameda County has expended service to include friendly visits by phone for home-bound seniors.