How Exercise Benefits Brain & Mental Health

Pyramid Online Counseling      Mental Health  
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Full length of healthy woman exercising at home watching online video on laptop. Beautiful female in sports wear doing yoga.

The benefits of physical exercise reach far beyond the physical body. Exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on both mental health as well as brain functionality.

How does exercise benefit mental health?

Although it may not seem like it, physical exercise plays a large role in our mental health. As little as 10 to 15 minutes of physical exercise has been found to improve mental health.

You may have friends who talk about the “high” they get from going on long runs, or how yoga makes them feel more clear headed and content. This is no coincidence.

Exercise can have the following mental health benefits:

  • Exercise can reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. Exercise can help you feel like you are physically releasing stress from your body and lifting that weight off of your shoulders.
  • Exercise, ranging from light to intense, may be nearly as effective as other forms of treatment in reducing symptoms of depression.
  • Exercise classes, running clubs and hiking groups can build your social support system and help you form new relationships over shared interests.
  • Increased happiness has been found in individuals who regularly exercise because exercise produces endorphins, known as the happiness chemical.
  • Exercising can serve as a distraction during tough or stressful times. The bonus is that you are keeping yourself healthy, clearing your mind and decreasing your stress levels while you’re doing it.
  • It may seem counterintuitive, but exercise can give you more energy which makes you more prepared to take on the day. Exercise gets your blood pumping which benefits your cardiovascular health, so your energy levels will increase and you will feel better in general.
  • Establishing an exercise routine can help you create a routine in your daily life, which will make you feel more organized, less stressed and ready for anything that comes your way.
  • Finding a form of exercise that you truly enjoy can turn into you exploring a new favorite hobby. You will reframe exercise from something necessary that you hate doing to one of your favorite activities that you look forward to every day. Experiment with different types of exercise until you find one that you like and will stick with. Try these sports and activities to get you started: running, walking, swimming, yoga, weightlifting, team sports, dance, Pilates, CrossFit, rowing, stationary bikes, jump rope, rock climbing, hiking, boxing, tai chi, biking and kayaking.
  • Exercise has been shown to improve symptoms of ADHD, because exercise floods the brain with dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin; key neurotransmitters, lacking in those who have ADHD, that are responsible for pleasure, reward, attention and focus.

How does exercise improve brain functionality?

The brain is an incredibly complex organ that controls everything we think, feel, and do, and there is a lot we don’t yet understand about it. One thing we do know about the brain is that it can benefit immensely from physical exercise.

Exercise can benefit brain health in the following ways:

  • Exercise can promote the growth of new neurons, or information messengers, in the brain. This neurogenesis, especially in the hippocampus, is thought to provide the resources needed to calm the brain during periods of anxiety.
  • This neuroplasticity can also improve memory and potentially reduce brain shrinkage. This may mean that exercise can be associated with a decreased risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
  • It increases the heart rate, which in turn gets the blood flowing and supplies the brain with more oxygen. Neurogenesis has been found in areas of the brain with more blood vessels as a result of exercise.
  • It can decrease the presence and production of cortisol, known as the stress hormone, which decreases feelings of stress.
  • Engaging in stimulating activities like exercise may strengthen the brain’s cognition and cognitive reserve, which protects the brain from negative brain changes and neurodegeneration. 
  • Exercise gives us endorphins, a chemical that makes us happy and reduces stress.

Pyramid Online Counseling can help you establish an exercise routine that works for you that also benefits your mental health and brain function. Reach out today at 833-525-3077.

Knowing the Signs of Trauma

Pyramid Online Counseling      Mental Health  
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Sad adult woman sitting on dark home corridor floor.

“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams, healing can begin.”

Danielle Bernock, Emerging With Wings: A True Story of Lies, Pain, And The LOVE that Heals

A traumatic event impacts different people in different ways, and may or may not continue to plague their lives as time goes on. Those who are able to undergo a traumatic event and process the thoughts, feelings and emotions in a brief amount of time, might not feel the lasting effects of trauma. Others who continuously feel overwhelmed by the trauma may need to take more intervening steps to experience healing. 

What is trauma? 

Trauma is the response to an event which is incredibly distressing and/or disturbing. It inhibits one’s ability to cope and feel a full range of emotions, it causes helplessness and it negatively impacts one’s sense of self. Simply put, trauma hurts one’s emotional, physical, mental and spiritual stability. 

What causes trauma? 

A situation does not need to escalate into war, a natural disaster or a devastating accident to cause trauma. Trauma can be caused through a catastrophic event like any of the above, but it can also occur through long-term exposure to critically stressful experiences. Such experiences that cause trauma overtime include: 

  • Physical, sexual or emotional abuse
  • Racism, oppression or discrimination
  • Witnessing or being victim to violence or terrorism
  • Neglect, especially as a child
  • Living with someone struggling with a substance use disorder or mental health disorder
  • The death of a loved one, especially in the case of suicide
  • Domestic violence
  • Rape

This list is not all-inclusive, as individuals process trauma and experience trauma in varying ways. 

Signs of trauma 

Just as traumatic situations vary, so too do the signs of trauma vary. Unlike listing the symptoms of a cold, it’s not quite as easy to list the symptoms of trauma. However, there are signs which do appear to be more common and consistent in individuals who’ve undergone a traumatic experience, and which can be a starting point from which counselors can diagnose and begin the treatment of trauma. 

Signs fall into separating categories, including emotional, behavioral, physical and cognitive changes.

Emotional 

  • Shame or guilt
  • Difficulty feeling positive emotions
  • Anger or irritability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety 
  • Panic attacks
  • Emotional shock
  • Numbness

Behavioral 

  • Avoidance behaviors, like staying away from people/places/things that trigger memories of the event
  • Lack of interest in social events and previously enjoyed activities/hobbies
  • Easily irritated or quick to lash out
  • Reckless or self-destructive behavior 
  • Keeping busy all the time to avoid thinking about the traumatic event/situation

Physical

  • Constant exhaustion and fatigue
  • Edginess, or being easily startled
  • Changes in eating and/or sleeping patterns
  • Headaches and achiness in the body

Cognitive

  • Intrusive thoughts of the events
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Intense emotional distress as a response to something reminding one of the event
  • Inability to concentrate or recall memories
  • An overwhelming sense of fear

Again, this list of symptoms is not all-inclusive, but the manifestation of these signs, along with an experience which could be classified as traumatic, can be a concrete indicator of trauma in one’s life.

Identifying trauma

The first step to addressing trauma begins with the recognition that there might be a connection between patterns of behavior in your life to events which occurred in the past, that had a lasting effect on your mind and spirit. 

Perhaps the event was obvious, such as an act of violence; maybe the event was not one isolated incident, but a chain of events defining your up-bringing. The latter can be more difficult to pinpoint, especially if the trauma was experienced as a child. What you grew up with could be considered “normal” in your mind, until certain realizations bring about the truth, what characterized your childhood is not normal at all and had a lasting, negative impact on your wellbeing. 

Coming to such realizations on your own can take time, patience and a strong sense of self-awareness. It’s not impossible to recognize trauma in your own life, but it can take longer to heal when you’re attempting to identify and address it alone. 

Seeking trauma healing and treatment

When it comes to diagnosing and addressing trauma, healing is best brought about with the trained guidance of a trauma-informed therapist. These individuals not only have experience with trauma, but they are trained to see individuals as more than just another trauma case. They help individuals experience healing by taking the time to understand their personal story, their life experiences and their individual methods of coping with trauma. Through this understanding, a personalized treatment plan can be created to promote permanent, lasting healing.

To speak with a trauma-informed therapist today, contact Pyramid Online Counseling at 833-525-3077.

Your Guide to Managing Work-Related Stress

Pyramid Online Counseling      Mental Health  
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Silhouette of stressed businesswoman in the office.

Work-related stress is becoming more and more commonplace in our workplace culture. Overtime, high expectations, and limited staffing compounds this issue until it feels like it’s too much to bear. Take control over your work-related stress by following these tips.

Use your vacation time

One of the best ways of dealing with work-related stress and anxiety is to step away from work entirely, even if only for a day. Whether you actually go on vacation or just plan a personal day full of all of your favorite things, allow yourself to take a break from your work. Don’t forget, you are entitled to take your vacation time, so you should not feel guilty about taking a couple of days off.

Don’t bring your work home with you

It has become increasingly more difficult to know how to deal with work-related stress during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly if you have been working from home. When your workplace is your home and your home is your workplace, it can feel as though you are always – or always should be – available for whatever your work needs at any time. This can contribute to constant stress and anxiety, because you will always be thinking about work.

To counter this feeling, refrain from bringing your work home with you, physically and mentally. If you work in a physical location, leave your laptop, paperwork and any other projects at work; they can wait until tomorrow. If you work remotely, make a designated “office” space in your home, even if it’s just a tiny corner in your living room or bedroom. Do all of your work at this space, and when you log off for the day, leave all of your work there. Working from your bed or the couch may be more comfortable, but you may begin to associate those spaces in your home with your work-related stress.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Build trust and relationships with your coworkers, as they can serve as a support network of folks who intimately understand your work-related stress. If you are feeling stressed because you’re not sure how to complete a certain task, ask one of your coworkers who might be more familiar. If you’re feeling burned out because of your workload, ask your manager if it would be possible to transfer some of the balance among the team.

Utilize your employee assistance program

An employee assistance program (EAP) is a service offered by employers for the benefit of your employees. EAPs can provide free and confidential mental health counseling, family services, addiction counseling, stress and time management, career counseling, financial counseling and more. Check with your employer to see if an EAP is available to you as part of your benefits package.

Set boundaries

Remember that you do not exist for the sole purpose of going to work; likewise, your job is not your entire identity. Strike a healthy work-life balance by keeping your work at work; don’t bring your personal life into the office, and don’t let work get in the way of enjoying your hobbies or time with friends and family.

A work-life balance can be achieved by:

  • Not being responsive while on vacation. During your personal time off, don’t feel pressured to answer work-related calls or emails. You have earned your vacation time and deserve to enjoy it.
  • Keeping your work emails separate from your personal email. Remove your work email from your personal device, and resist the urge to quickly check your email in the evenings or on the weekend.
  • Taking the full time you are allotted for breaks and lunchtime. Treat breaks as a mini vacation and refrain from doing any work. If another employee approaches you in the break room during your lunch hour, kindly let them know you are taking your lunch and will be available to help when you are finished.
  • Not talking about work when you are not at work. The more you talk about work, the more you will think about it, and the more it will become part of your daily life and identity.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a meditation practice that strives to help you feel more in tune with your thoughts and feelings while grounding yourself during stressful times. In an ideal world, work-related stress symptoms would vanish the moment you stepped out of the office. This, unfortunately, is not the case for most people. Work-related stress and anxiety can affect all aspects of your life. Racing thoughts and excessive worry can prevent you from getting a restful night of sleep; a spiked heart rate and hyperventilation can make you feel on-edge, even if you are not at work. Though these symptoms may stem from work-related stress they need to be treated holistically.

Plan out your projects

Make daily and weekly to-do lists with manageable, attainable goals. Work will feel less daunting when you know exactly what is ahead of you, and formulating timelines and plans for each project may help to alleviate work-related stress. Make sure to also discuss expectations with your manager, both as an employee and for each project, so that you are set up for success from the beginning.

Consider going to counseling

Pyramid Online Counseling offers teletherapy through a secure platform for those experiencing work-related stress and anxiety. Counseling can provide you with additional coping skills for present and future incidents of work-related stress. Get help today by reaching out at 833-525-3077.

Incorporating Stress-Relieving Activities Into Your Daily Life

Pyramid Online Counseling      Mental Health  
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If you’re currently taking medication to help you manage stress and anxiety, we’re not here to tell you to flush all those pills down the drain. Your doctor prescribed said medication for a reason, and suddenly removing them from your regimen could cause more harm than good. 

However, we are here to tell you that in addition to your medication, there are dozens of medicine-free routines, practices and habits you can put into practice to help you manage your stress and anxiety. Perhaps, over time, the practice of these habits will help lessen the need for medication and give you greater control over your stress naturally.

1. Diffuse essential oils

Aromatherapy has been used for many years as an effective means of boosting the immune system, purifying the air and reducing stress. Plus, stress-reducing essential oils make your house smell really nice and tend to be less toxic than candles. Some particularly good scents to diffuse (or apply topically) include lavender, ylang-ylang, Roman chamomile and clary sage. 

2. Stop drinking so much caffeine

We won’t deny you your morning coffee, but we will encourage paying attention to just how much caffeine you consume throughout the day. Caffeine is a stimulant, it does more to your body than keeping you awake. It can increase your stress and anxiety and cause an unpleasant feeling of jitters or shakiness. Instead of additional caffeine, opt for lots of water and watch your stress naturally reduce and your energy naturally increase.

3. Talk to your clinician about adaptogens

Adaptogens are natural supplements that support your adrenal glands from which stress hormones are released. Adaptogens such as ashwagandha, jiaogulan and tulsi utilize their natural properties to minimize stress-inducing chemicals and counteract the effects felt by stress, leaving you more relaxed and calm, naturally. Before incorporating an adaptogen into your routine, be sure to clear it with your doctor as some have been known to mix poorly with certain medications.

4. Exercise

The endorphins released via exercise not only promote an overall sense of wellbeing but naturally reduce the levels of stress-inducing chemicals in your brain. Have you ever gone on a run to burn off steam? Felt better after a yoga or spin session? Experienced more mental clarity after a nice long walk? It’s the way the brain responds to exercise and the resulting lessening of stress that makes exercise such an effective and simple stress reducer.

5. Journal

Sometimes our stress seems like a mountainous obstacle, but only because it’s kept all up in our heads. Taking the time to write about the things in life causing you stress can offer you fresh perspectives, help you figure out how best to deal with the stressful situation and allow you to realize it’s not as overwhelming as you initially believed. Plus, journaling gives you the chance to slow down and process what is going on, providing you with a moment of rest and attention given solely to you.

6. Talk to a friend

Friends can be incredible supports, mentally and emotionally, during stressful times. When you feel overwhelmed with anxiety or stress, tap into your friends or a close family member, and allow them to offer you guidance, provide a healthy distraction and remind you about the important things in life.

7. Consider an emotional support animal

Maybe you already have a fluffy best friend, or maybe you’ve never considered one. It can’t be denied that animals have a unique way of calming anxiety, reducing fears and offering a sense of peace. Dogs especially get you out of the house and into the fresh air for daily walks. Cats know when you need an extra cuddle or two, even reptiles can bring you joy in ways you didn’t expect. 

8. Say no

Sometimes our stress roots from being overcommitted and stretched thin as butter across toast. Overcommitting, be it to work, social events, family, friends, classes, whatever it is, can have detrimental impacts on our mental and physical health. With so much emphasis put on busyness and racing from here to there and so little respect for leisure and rest, culture tends to glorify the burnt-out, overworked and overcommitted human. We weren’t designed for that lifestyle, which is why learning to say and stick to your “no” is one of the best things you can do to reduce your stress. 

9. Reach out for help

Counseling can do wonders for stress management. Talking with a licensed counselor can provide alternative coping mechanisms to stress, help you brainstorm effective methods of dealing with stress that doesn’t involve additional medication, plus the trained knowledge of a counselor will provide perspectives and tools you might not have considered before. When it comes to seeking the best for your mental health, there’s no need to go at it alone and no shame in asking for help when you need it. If it allows you to deal with your stress in a natural and healthy way, seek it out. 

For additional tips on managing stress and anxiety without medication, or to get in contact with a mental health counselor today, contact Pyramid Online Counseling at 833-525-3077.

Meeting Physical and Mental Health Goals Should be Top Priority

Pyramid Online Counseling      Mental Health  
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While it might seem like a lot of work at the start, taking care of your health is one of the most important things you can do. Making sure your body is well-nourished and cared for physically sets you up for all-around success since it provides you with more energy and better mental stability, plus it helps prevent illness and disease in the long run. 

Setting health goals for 2021

Last year was an odd combination of being hyper-focused on health, while at the same time not living to the best of our abilities because of quarantining and stay-at-home orders. No one is blaming anyone for that, but it’s time to make up for the lost time.

When setting health goals for yourself, you’ll want to make sure your short-term health goals line up with your long-term health goals, and that your goals are specific. While it’s great to want to “eat better,” it can be hard to meet such a vague goal. What does eating better look like? Is it cutting your sugar intake by half? Is it making sure at least one-quarter of the food on your plate is vegetables? Is it eliminating carbs? No matter what health goal you set, make sure it’s specific and measurable so you know how to meet it and whether or not you are meeting it.

Healthy ways to start

Only you know exactly what you need in terms of making the best decisions for your health, but these examples can give you some idea of where to begin. 

  1. Get 7-9 hours of sleep

No more of this five, maybe six hours of sleep thing. It’s bad for your body and bad for your mind. National Sleep Foundation Guidelines state that adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night to give their bodies time to recharge. Plus, it’s the time when your body’s systems go to work. Ever wonder why, when you’re constantly exhausted, you also find yourself frequently battling illness? When you don’t sleep enough, your immune system isn’t given the time or strength to fight infection – so less sleep means you’re more prone to infection.

  1. Exercise for 30 minutes

You’ve heard it before, but we’ll say it again. Especially if you work a desk job, you need to be getting at least 30 minutes of exercise in a day. It keeps your blood flowing and transporting oxygen properly throughout your body, works your muscles and joints, clears your mind, can get you out of the house and produces mood-boosting endorphins. The list of why you need to move your body can go on forever, but the main point is, your mental and physical health depends on it.

  1. Eat breakfast every morning

Skipping breakfast is an unfortunate way to start the day because eating in the morning gives you the energy your body needs to carry out the day’s requirements, and it starts your body’s metabolism first thing. This can actually lead to benefits in weight management, including weight loss. When you eat breakfast, you’re less likely to overeat later on and you’ll receive important vitamins and nutrients from meal choices like fruit, yogurt and eggs.

  1. Drink enough water for your body

If you’re thirsty, you’re not drinking enough. It’s important to be drinking water constantly throughout the day, as the fluids help remove toxins from the body, carry nutrients where they need to go, help regulate body temperature, normalize your blood pressure and more. It’s recommended for men to drink 101 ounces of water and women 74 ounces of water per day. Buying a water bottle with a specific number of ounces is an effective and easy way of keeping track of how much water you have left to drink in a day. 

  1. Reduce your inflammatory food intake

Inflammation in the body leads to all sorts of aches, pains and an overall feeling of unwellness. It can be the cause of sore muscles and joints, an upset stomach and even red, broken-out skin. By eliminating inflammatory ingredients – added sugar, red meats, mayonnaise, bread and highly processed foods – you can reduce inflammation in the body and feel good about the better foods you’re eating instead.

  1. Read one book every month

If you have a goal to reach, you’ll take the steps to meet that goal. If you’re reading a book a month, you’ll begin eliminating unproductive tasks in order to take the time to read. This might mean spending less time mindlessly scrolling social media or choosing to start or end your day with 30 minutes of reading instead of watching the news. Not only does reading help you unplug while still keeping you entertained, it educates, relaxes and offers a time of peace and silence. 

Taking steps towards a healthier you

Prioritizing your health is as simple as knowing your goals and taking the steps to meet them. It’s always good to take a moment to identify what those goals are and how you’re to achieve them, rather than just having good intentions of living a healthy life, mentally and physically. When you take active steps, you can regain control over your health and begin making decisions best for you. 

To learn more about healthy living, and how a healthy physical state positively impacts your mental health, contact Pyramid Online Counseling today at 833-525-3077.