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.

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Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety Disorders: Know the Different Types and Symptoms

The past few months have been challenging. As a result, many of us, including children, parents, and seniors, are experiencing feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.

Occasional anxiety over recent events, on top of additional personal stress, is normal. However, the feelings of anxiety caused by an anxiety disorder, do not go away and can worsen over time. These feelings of anxiety can interfere with your daily life and may be difficult to control.

Knowing the difference between normal fears or worries and anxiety disorders is important and can help you recognize them and seek treatment.

Different Types of Anxiety Disorders

Worried Man

Each type of anxiety disorder has its own unique symptoms:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

A person with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) has frequent or constant feelings of worry and anxiety about issues, such as health, work, social interactions, or everyday situations. These feelings can cause problems in areas of your life such as school, work, and social interactions. In some cases, people with GAD have experienced these feelings since childhood or adolescence, while in other cases, they may have been triggered by temporary stress.

Symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Feeling irritable
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
  • Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Tense muscles
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep

Panic Disorder

Panic attacks are periods of intense fear that can occur suddenly. Over time, they can be triggered by certain situations. A person with panic disorder has repeated and unexpected panic attacks, and often worries about when the next attack will happen.

During a panic attack, some people may experience:

  • Feelings of impending doom
  • Feelings of being out of control
  • Heart palpitations, a pounding heartbeat, or an accelerated heart rate
  • Sensations of shortness of breath, smothering, or choking
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking

Phobia-related Disorders

A phobia is an intense fear caused by a specific object or situation. Common phobias include flying and heights, but people can develop phobias regarding almost anything. People with phobias feel fear that is out of proportion to the actual danger caused by that situation or object. People with a phobia may:

  • Experience an irrational or excessive worry about encountering the feared object or situation
  • Endure unavoidable objects and situations with intense anxiety or dread
  • Experience immediate, intense anxiety upon encountering the feared object or situation
  • Take steps to avoid the feared object or situation

Know the Risk Factors

Anxiety Symptoms in the Hands

The risk factors for each type of anxiety disorder can vary, but some general risk factors for all types of anxiety disorders can include:

  • A family or genetic history of anxiety or other mental illnesses
  • Consumption of caffeine or medications (such as certain steroids or over-the-counter cold remedies) that can produce anxiety-like effects
  • Exposure to stressful and negative events in early childhood or adulthood
  • Health conditions, such as thyroid problems or heart arrhythmias

Actions You Can Take

Video Call on Mobile Phone

While you can’t predict what will cause anxiety disorders to develop, you can take the following steps to help reduce the impact of symptoms if you are anxious:

  • Avoid alcohol or drug use since it can cause or worsen anxiety.
  • Make it a priority to get a good night’s sleep, since poor sleep quality, insomnia, or sleep deprivation may increase your risks.
  • Our social interactions have been limited during the last few months but talking with friends over the phone and doing things that you enjoy while staying safe may help reduce your worries.
  • Seek help early if you are experiencing symptoms that don’t go away.

If you have an anxiety disorder, you should work with your doctor to choose the best treatment for you. In addition to psychotherapy or medication, there are other ways that you may benefit from when dealing with an anxiety disorder.

  • Support groups. A support group alone is not a substitute for therapy. But, in conjunction with other treatment, joining a support group and sharing your experiences with others could benefit you.
  • Meditation and techniques to manage stress. These can help people with anxiety disorders calm themselves and enhance the effects of therapy.

We Are Here to Support You

Doctor and Patient

Your mental health is important. If you are unsure whether you are experiencing occasional anxiety or an anxiety disorder, you can call AltaMed Behavioral Health Services directly at (855) 425-1777. We are here for you, and together we can find the answers you need.

AltaMed can provide information to you and your family about the best way to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19. To receive the latest news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, sign up today.

Police Mass Shootings

How to Talk to Your Child About Mass Shootings

A mass shooting topped the national newscast in March, nearly a year to the day after the country shut down because of COVID-19. Then there was another. And another.

News of mass shootings took a backseat to the pandemic despite there being 610 mass shootings in 2020 according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. It was also a record year for gun violence deaths with nearly 20,000 people killed.

Through May 15 of 2021, there have been 178 mass shootings resulting in 206 deaths. There is no clear definition of a mass shooting other than incidents involving several victims of gun-related violence.

Mass shootings are traumatizing, especially for children and adolescents when safe spaces like schools and churches are the settings. Kids need us to make them feel safe but that’s hard to do when we may not feel safe ourselves.

Streesed Woman in Kitche

Manage Your Distress First

You really want to help your kids cope with news of the latest mass shooting, but you can’t help anyone until you help yourself.

Realize that you are feeling a wide range of emotions and that’s normal. We all deal with trauma differently. Feelings can include anger, fear, grief, numbness, shock, sorrow, and others.

You can help yourself by:

  • Talking about it — Get the support you need from people willing to listen to your concerns. This could be a friend, family member, or a professional.
  • Seeking balance — Remember there is good in the world and grab hold of that. It can help your perspective when things look bleak.
  • Taking breaks — Don’t overexpose yourself to information about what happened. It’s ok to take pauses from consuming images, news, and analysis.
  • Honoring your feelings — You may not be a victim of a traumatic event like a mass shooting, but it affects you. Recognize and respect how it makes you feel.
  • Caring for yourself — If you eat well, exercise, and avoid drugs and alcohol, you will be better able to cope with trauma. Use relaxation techniques like meditation to help you sleep.
  • Being productive — Find some way to help those affected. It can help empower you when so many feel powerless.
Woman Talking With Young Girl

Helping Your Kids

Parents and guardians are the first people kids will turn to when they need to feel safe. It doesn’t matter how old children are. You will always be the person who helps them make sense of the world.

It starts with talking. What you say and how you say it depends on their age. But more than anything, they need to know you’re listening.

You may need to start the conversation. That lets them know you care about how they are coping. Talk when you’re in the car together, at bedtime, or dinner. Listen to them and don’t interrupt. Let them say their piece before you respond. Gently correct any misinformation they have, but don’t put down those with different opinions. Let them know it’s OK to disagree while being respectful. Remind them that schools, churches, and other places they go to always tries to keep them safe. Also remind them that you are there to keep them safe and supported.

Kid Sleeping on Father's Chest

Other Ways to Help

  • Keep home a safe place — It’s where all kids go to feel secure. Keep the outside world and its stressors, outside the home.
  • Watch them — Look out for signs of anxiety, fear, or stress. They may lose their appetite, have trouble sleeping, or lose their concentration. Encourage them to identify what they’re feeling and help them work through those feelings.
  • Take breaks — They may be very curious about what happened and want to know more but know when to turn off the news. Make sure to talk with them about what they have seen, heard, or read.
  • Watch what you say — Not just you, but the other conversations by adults in the house. Your kids are always listening, and if they don’t understand something, they might draw their own conclusions which could make things worse.
  • Check in often — Have conversations to gauge their mood and see how they are coping with the situation. Actively listen.

Professional Help Is Here

AltaMed wants you to know you don’t have to do this alone. Our Behavioral Health teams in Los Angeles and Orange County are staffed with licensed clinical social workers who speak English and Spanish. All are trained to help you cope with life stressors and get you through a rough time.

We offer short-term therapy to help with any challenge and can link you to mental health services if you need long-term therapy, no matter what age.

To learn more about our services, call us today at (855) 425-1777.

Tips for Staying Mentally Healthy Through Trying Times