Woman Meditation

Meditate Your Way to Less Stress

Americans are overwhelmed by stress. The American Psychological Association (APA) has called it a “national mental health crisis.”

According to the APA, 27% of Americans experience such intense stress that it impacts their ability to function. Common stressors include inflation, violence, crime, and politics. Meditation is a free and extremely effective way to get your stress in check and put yourself on a path to better physical and mental health.

Inside Blog Meditation

Meditation Basics

Meditation has been around for thousands of years. It was originally seen as a way to gain a deeper understanding of the spiritual forces in people’s lives. Today, it’s most often used to reduce stress and relax.

Meditation can help people focus their thoughts to gain perspective on what may be causing them stress. Identifying stressors can then lead to reducing the effect those stressors have on you.

The emotional benefits of meditation can include:

  • Building stress-management skills
  • Fewer negative emotions
  • Focusing on the present
  • Getting perspective on stressful situations
  • Increased creativity
  • Increased patience
  • Increased self-awareness
Meditating Under a Tree

Types of Meditation

The goal of meditation is to help you relax. It can be as simple as sitting in a quiet place and listening to your breath. Other forms can be a little more involved. Here are some examples:

  • Guided meditation — Use your imagination to see places or situations that are relaxing. Try to involve as many senses as you can. There are apps that can help with this form of meditation.
  • Mantra meditation — Repeat, in your mind, a calming word or thought to help you focus.
  • Loving-kindness meditation — Open your mind to feelings of love and compassion both to others and yourself. Try to let go of anger you’ve been holding.
  • Visualization — Try to imagine a scene that invokes happiness and relaxation. Use all five senses to make the visual as real as possible.
  • Movement meditation — Unlike many forms of meditation that rely on stillness, movement meditation is about making small movements at a slow pace, while keeping your mind calm. 
  • Body scan meditation — Try scanning your body for sources of discomfort, tension, or pain. By concentrating on physical areas, you’ll feel more connected to your entire self – not just your mind. 
  • Focus meditation — Devote 100% of your attention on a feeling, a sound, or even an object. Stay present but try to calm your inner thoughts and let the sensations of whatever you’ve chosen to focus on take over.
  • Qi gong — Pronounced CHEE-gung, this form of traditional Chinese medicine combines breathing exercises with movement, meditation, and relaxation. Talk to your doctor before doing any meditation that involves movement.
  • Tai chi — This is a Chinese martial art that combines slow, graceful movement with deep breathing.

Common Elements of Meditation

Each form of meditation has different features however, these are some common elements across all types of meditation:

  • A quiet setting
  • A comfortable position
  • Focused attention
  • Relaxed breathing
  • An open attitude
Grass Meditation

Health Benefits of Meditation

There has been extensive research into the health benefits of meditation. It has been shown to help people dealing with a number of different issues including anxiety, depression, and sleep disruptions.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, here are some health-related topics that include studies on the benefits of meditation.

  1. For cancer patients and survivors — The Society for Integrative Oncology recommends meditation as one way to help reduce the anxiety and stress for people suffering from cancer symptoms and treatment side effects.
  2. Blood pressure — The American Heart Association supports using meditation as a complement to standard treatment to lower blood pressure.
  3. Menopause — Yoga, tai chi, and other meditation techniques have been shown to reduce the frequency of hot flashes, stress, muscle and joint pain, sleep disturbances, and mood changes.
  4. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) — Research shows that meditation may help reduce the pain that patients with IBS patients experience.

Meditation vs. Mindfulness

While meditation is a tool that can be used to calm down and improve emotional balance, the root of meditation is mindfulness. Mindfulness – separate from meditation – is about living in the ‘now’, rather than dwelling on the future or past. Practicing mindfulness keeps you in the present and helps you accept the emotions or sensations that arise.

Add Meditation to Your Health Regimen

Meditation can be another part of your routine to stay healthy. Add it to your activities, just like you would exercise or eating right. AltaMed can support you in those efforts. We’re here to meet the health needs of you and your entire family — both inside and out.

AltaMed Behavioral Health Services is also there to help you find healthy ways to manage the stress that surrounds us. Call us at (855) 425-1777.

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Mental Health

Tips for Staying Mentally Healthy Through Trying Times

People have been struggling to cope with some form of fear, grief, or anxiety for more than 20 months. Stress has become the “new normal.”

This time last year we were preparing to spend our holidays apart from loved ones as isolation was the practice during the first year of the pandemic. Now we have vaccines that have provided us greater freedom to gather. Still misinformation and political wrangling have kept us from putting COVID-19 in our rearview mirrors. It’s just something else to add to our stress and anxiety.

It’s important that we acknowledge our stress and deal with it in a healthy manor. Just like it’s important to get vaccinated and take precautions to put an end to the pandemic, it’s important to address any mental health concerns and change behaviors that may have sent you down a path toward depression.

Defining Mental Illness

The term mental illness is used to describe a broad range of conditions that vary from mild to moderate to severe. It is extremely common affecting one in five U.S. adults, in 2019. That is the most recent figure available. That figure is probably much higher now since the start of the pandemic.

Mental illness falls into two categories: any mental illness (AMI) and severe mental illness (SMI). AMI can literally be any mental condition that affects your mood, thinking, or behavior. They include depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors. SMIs are similar but they drastically affect a person’s ability to function normally.

Woman With Face Mask Thinking

Making Things Worse

The pandemic has only made mental health a bigger issue in the last 20 months. As creatures of habit, we were thrown for a loop as we lost the routine, dependability, and stability of our daily lives once the pandemic started.

The forced isolation, the onslaught of bad news, and the loss of jobs, income, and lives were almost like something out of a dystopian film. Stress became our new normal. Left untreated,
stress can cause:

  • Changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feelings of anger, fear, frustration, sadness, and worry
  • Physical reactions like headaches, body aches, stomach problems, and rashes
  • Worsening chronic health problems
  • Increased use of tobacco, alcohol, and other substances
The Therapist Takes Notes from the Patient

Acknowledge You Need Help

Far too many of us have been trained to ignore these feelings. We’re taught to fight through, keep your chin up, or just to get over it.

It doesn’t work that way. It’s important to acknowledge that you may need help to get over a mental health hurdle. That’s OK. Too many people don’t get treatment however because of the stigma around mental illness and treating it.

It can lead to discrimination at work, in school, or in social activities. Family, friends, and co-workers don’t fully understand what’s going on. You might start to think that you won’t succeed, or you begin to define yourself by your feelings. You should never let that stigma keep you from seeking treatment, however.

Worried Adult Couple Sitting on Sofa

Getting Past the Stigma

Stigma can be overcome. Just like you wouldn’t deal with a mental illness alone, you have resources to help you get past the stigma. They include:

  • Getting treatment. It’s only through treatment that you can identify what’s wrong and then find solutions for reducing the symptoms that are interfering with your life.
  • Not giving into shame. You are not weak. People often need help when dealing with mental health concerns. Connecting with others can help boost your self-esteem and get past destructive self-judgment.
  • Not isolating yourself. It’s important to reach out to people you trust. They might be hard to find at first, but there are caring and compassionate people who have been through similar struggles. They can offer you support if you confide in them.
  • Not identifying with your illness. You have an illness. You are NOT your illness. You may have bipolar disorder, or you may have schizophrenia. You are not bipolar, and you are not a schizophrenic.
  • Joining a support group. You can talk with a physician or counselor to find local programs or internet groups that can educate people about your condition. This offers support for you and helps to educate others.
  • Getting help at school. If your child is dealing with mental health issues it is illegal for the school NOT to accommodate them. Educators at every level, from elementary through college must make adjustments for children to the best of their abilities. Not doing so can lead to civil or criminal penalties.
  • Speaking out. Giving your voice to fighting the stigma against mental illness will boost your confidence and the confidence of others.

Help for the Mind and Body

It’s natural to feel worried, sadness, and loneliness from time to time. But if these feelings start to interfere with your ability to get through your daily life or start making you feel bad physically, it may be time to ask for help. To learn more about AltaMed’s Behavioral Health Services, call us at (855) 425-1777.

If you have suicidal thoughts and feel like you could be a harm to yourself or others, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255.

Sad Boy

Tips for Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Last month we “fell back” with the end of daylight-saving time and the start of standard time. Morning comes sooner, but darkness also starts earlier.

This marks the start of fall-onset seasonal affective disorder (SAD) for millions of Americans. It’s been called the “winter blues” but for many people, there’s a lot more to it.

It’s important to know the difference between sadness and depression and how you can work through your struggles, what to expect, and when to visit a doctor for help.

Girl Looking At Her Computer

SAD Signs

About 5% of adults in the U.S. experience SAD and it typically lasts 40% of the year according to the American Psychiatric Association. It is a form of depression, and it has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours. SAD also gets more prevalent the farther north you live. Juneau, the capital of Alaska, which gets only six hours and 22 minutes of sunlight on Dec. 21, the shortest day of the year, sees significantly more cases of SAD than Los Angeles. But it’s still a condition that needs treatment.

Symptoms specific to fall-onset SAD include:

  • Oversleeping
  • Craving foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Low energy

There are also the more common signs of depression:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide

If you have suicidal thoughts and feel like you could be a harm to yourself or others, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255.

Sad Girl Looking at the Window

Who Gets SAD?

While anyone can be affected by SAD, it is more common in women than men, and more common in areas where there is less sunlight in winter. It’s more common in people with bipolar disorder. People with SAD typically have other mental disorders like anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or an eating disorder. It can also run in families.

It’s not clear what causes SAD but there seems to be a correlation with the chemicals serotonin and melatonin. These are hormones that help regulate our bodies. Serotonin helps regulate mood while melatonin helps us maintain a normal sleep cycle.

Family Dinner by Lamplight

Potential Treatments

The typical treatments include light therapy, medication, and psychotherapy or a combination of all three. It’s important to be aware of any additional mental health disorders you may have as light therapy could trigger manic episodes for those who are also bipolar.

  • Light therapy — Patients sit near a special light box each morning when they wake up. The light mimics outdoor light and seems to affect the brain chemicals linked to mood. It usually starts working within a few days.
  • Medications — Antidepressants help some people with SAD. It sometimes takes several weeks to notice the full benefits from an antidepressant, and you may have to try a few to find the right one.
  • Psychotherapy — This is also called talk therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy that can help you identify and change negative thoughts and actions. It can also teach you healthy ways to cope, and help you manage stress.

You can also take some control by:

  • Getting outside, especially within two hours of waking up
  • Exercising regularly, which can help reduce stress and anxiety
  • Opening blinds and sitting next to windows

Help for the Mind and Body

It’s natural to feel worried, sad, and lonely from time to time. But if these feelings start to interfere with your ability to get through your daily life or start making you feel bad physically, it may be time to ask for help. To learn more about AltaMed’s Behavioral Health Services, call us at (855) 425-1777.

If you have suicidal thoughts and feel like you could be a harm to yourself or others, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255.

Meditate Your Way to Less Stress