How to Not Drink During the Holidays

 

Whether you are sober or trying to cut back on drinking, it can be particularly challenging to avoid alcohol during the holidays. Alcohol-centric gatherings combined with seasonal stressors can be particularly triggering for those who wish to avoid alcohol or limit their drinking. By remembering the benefits of not drinking and following a few tips, you can still have a merry and festive season sans alcohol.

 

Benefits of Sobriety

Whether you’re sober or sober-curious, avoiding alcohol comes with many benefits, including*…

  1. Better skin
  2. Weight management
  3. Improved nutrition
  4. Improved immunity
  5. Reduced risk of cancer
  6. Reduced risk of heart disease
  7. Better sleep
  8. Improved stress levels
  9. Improved confidence
  10. Improved mental health
  11. Improved relationships
  12. Improved cognitive functioning
  13. Decreased risk for developing mental health issues

*Source: Verywell Mind


Although it can be tempting to turn to drinking when dealing with the stress that comes with this season, this is actually counterproductive, since alcohol can make anxiety, depression and other bad feelings even worse. Fortunately, there are many healthy ways to deal with issues that have nothing to do with alcohol!

 

6 Ways to Avoid Holiday Drinking

  1. Plan ahead for triggering situations: By first identifying situations that can trigger drinking beforehand, you can plan ahead for what to do if/when faced with those situations. Triggers can include people, events, dates and places. Knowing these triggers can help you reduce exposure to them. If you’re unable to always avoid your triggers, working with a therapist to create a toolkit of coping strategies and an emergency plan is extremely helpful. Remember: It’s always okay to leave a triggering situation if possible. 
  2. Stick to your boundaries: “No” is a full sentence. Stand firm in your boundaries when pressured. Leave the situation, event or location where you’re being pressured, or walk away from the person pressuring you. Know that it’s not “rude” to leave situations where people are not respecting your boundaries, and that there is no reason to feel guilty for doing so. Come up with a list of possible situations where you may be pressured to drink, and practice different ways to say “no.” Some excuses you can use include: “I can’t because I’m driving.” “Alcohol doesn’t mix well with my medication.” “I’m allergic to alcohol.” “Alcohol makes me feel sick.” “I have to get up early tomorrow.” “I don’t drink.” Check out this blog post for other useful ways to decline alcohol. 
  3. Use the “Buddy System”: Find a friend (or friends) who doesn’t drink and/or will hold you accountable to not drinking that you can rely on. Join a sobriety group—such as Alcoholic Anonymous (AA)—and find a “sponsor” who can help you when you’re tempted to drink. Hang out with friends or other loved ones who don’t drink in settings without alcohol. Use your therapist as a resource and ally. 
  4. BYOB—Bring Your Own (Non-Alcoholic) Beverages: Bring your favorite non-alcoholic beverages with you to events where there may be alcohol. There’s more refreshing non-alcoholic (NA) options now than ever! Fun festive NA drinks include hot chocolate, hot apple cider or sparkling apple cider. You could also bring your favorite soda or juice, flavored seltzer water, or even alcohol-free wine or mocktails!
  5. ‘Tis the season for alcohol-free events and traditions: You don’t have to go to events/parties with alcohol involved. Turning down invitations—for whatever reason—is 100% okay to do. In lieu of these types of events, there are plenty of alcohol-free activities you can do this season—such as hosting your own alcohol-free holiday party, going ice skating, baking cookies, making holiday decorations with friends, and much more. Check out this list for more fun alcohol-free holiday tradition ideas.
  6. Work with a therapist: Behavioral interventions—such as therapy and support groups—can be extremely beneficial when it comes to managing and reducing alcohol intake. Therapists can equip you with coping strategies and provide help navigating the emotional aspects that can trigger drinking.

 

Please note: If you’re a chronic heavy drinker and have decided to go sober, it’s important to first consult with a medical doctor before quitting drinking. Your doctor can help you go sober in a safe way so you don’t experience dangerous symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, as well as help you find additional treatment options and support. 

 

 

Final Thoughts

Embracing sobriety or cutting back on drinking during the holidays can lead to even more joyful and rich experiences this season. By planning ahead, creating and sticking to your boundaries, leaning on your support system and coming up with your own traditions, you can enjoy all the merriment this season has to offer without relying on alcohol. 

You don’t have to go through this journey alone. Valera Health offers a gamut of virtual mental healthcare services so you can get the high-quality care and support you need and deserve. Our services include individual therapy, group therapy and support groups, psychiatry, medication management and more. 

We also offer many support group options that can help you navigate the emotional aspects that lead to drinking among peers and licensed mental healthcare professionals. For established Valera Health patients, our Co-Occurring Disorders Program is designed to help individuals navigate the emotional aspects of substance use and recovery. While our Co-Occurring Disorders Program tackles mental health and substance use disorders, it is not a substitute for detoxing off of alcohol or other substances. 

To schedule a free consultation with a Health Connector who will match you with a provider and services, click here or visit  https://www.valerahealth.com/consult-today/.

10 Messages of Hope for Survivors of Suicide Loss

Those who’ve lost a loved one to suicide face a complex type of grief which may leave them feeling alone, confused or even guilty. Carrying on after suicide loss takes immense strength and courage. While it may feel like this pain will last forever, through time and with support healing is possible. Whether you’re a survivor of suicide loss, or know someone who is, these messages about life after loss can help you find hope.

 

 

1. Healing is not about moving on or ‘getting over it.’ It’s about learning to make peace with our pain and finding purpose in our lives again.” — Shirley Kamisky

 

2. “Moving on doesn’t mean letting go.” — Mary VanHaute.

 

3. “Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” — Vicki Harrison

 

4. “If you’ve lost a loved one to suicide—even if you, yourself, have dealt with depression and suicidal ideation—you may often wonder why. And that’s okay. Allow yourself that space.” — Karen Espenshade

 

5. “One thing I learned is however I decided to grieve is the right way for me. Everyone’s different.” — Ron Prickett

 

6. “Loss from suicide is like no other loss, and there’s no time limit for grieving. Allow yourself that time to process. And then talk to someone, anyone.” — Deenie Bagley

 

7. “The best piece of advice I got was, ‘Once you accept that many, if not most, of your questions will never be answered, you can start to move forward.’” — Michele Starbeck

 

8. “Talk about them. Be proud of them. Losing a courageous battle doesn’t make you weak” — Jennifer Betts

 

9. “A person never truly gets over a suicide loss. You get through it. Day by day. Sometimes it’s moment by moment” — Holly Kohle

 

10. “Continue to live your life, know that it’s OK to smile again. Don’t ever be ashamed or let anyone make you feel ashamed.” — Jackie Burson

 

 

 

 

Support For Suicide Loss Survivors

While feelings of grief may never go away, we can learn to make peace with these feelings. 

There is no one “right way” to grieve or a set time period for grieving. Grief, and healing from suicide loss, looks different for everyone—and that’s okay. Don’t be afraid to ask for help—it’s always available, whenever you’re ready for it. 

 

Here are 5 resources for suicide loss survivors:

  1. American Foundation for Suicide Loss Prevention — Living with Suicide Loss
  2. Healing Conversations — Personal Support for Suicide Loss
  3. A Handbook For Suicide Survivors
  4. Suicide & Crisis Lifeline — Loss Survivors
  5. Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors

 

If you’re in need of additional support, Valera Health offers individual therapy as well as grief support groups. Visit https://www.valerahealth.com/consult-today/ or click here to request a free consultation with a dedicated Health Connector who will help you find a therapist. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing a medical emergency, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at “988” or go to the nearest emergency room. 

9 Tips for Seasonal Affective Disorder

As the sun goes down earlier and temperatures drop, we find ourselves longing for sunshine and warm weather. However, for some individuals, seasonal changes bring more than just a longing for summer again, and can cause the onset of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Seasonal affective disorder occurs in cases where “…these mood changes are more serious and can affect how a person feels, thinks and handles daily activities,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). SAD begins and ends around the same time each year, and typically resolves in the spring to summer months.

Fortunately, there are a handful of ways to relieve the symptoms of SAD that can be done from the comfort of your own home. You don’t have to wait until the warmer months come around to experience relief.

Tips for Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Tip #1: Get a light therapy lamp. 

This type of lamp is specifically made to treat conditions like SAD. Because of the amount of light intensity they produce, light therapy lamps have the ability to mimic sunlight, which in return triggers positive mental and biological effects. Experts recommend that you should slowly ease into the use of your light therapy lamp, gradually leading up to using this light for about a half an hour per day. They also find it crucial to expose yourself to some light in the morning (before 10 a.m.)  so depressive thoughts and effects subside early on. 

Tip #2: Wake up & go to bed with a dawn simulator.

Dawn simulators—a.k.a. sunrise alarms—are alarm clocks designed to help you improve sleep by waking up and going to bed gradually. By using timed lights, they mimic how the sun rises in the morning and sets at night, tuning in with natural circadian rhythm patterns. Dawn simulators are known for benefits such as boosting energy, improving sleep and decreasing stress levels.

Tip #3: Exercise.

Exercise is one of the best ways to release feel-good endorphins—a fast acting mood booster. Exercise can help ease feelings of depression and anxiety. Getting enough exercise is also a great way to calm down and clear the mind. During winter and fall months, gyms provide a solid place to exercise without having to brave chilly weather. Or, if you prefer to stay in, these at-home exercises will get you moving.

Tip #4: Journal.

Journaling can help you release your thoughts and feelings, which in turn can help improve anxiety and mood levels. We recommend utilizing specialized journal prompts designed for those experiencing SAD in mind—one one of which can be downloaded here.

Tip #5: Limit alcohol consumption.

When you’re experiencing constant low moods, it can be easy to turn to alcohol for comfort. However, this is actually counterproductive as drinking when depressed can result in worsening depressive symptoms and spiraling negative thoughts. Although it may be tempting, It’s important to be conscientious of how much you’re drinking and how it makes you feel so you don’t end up feeling even worse—both physically and psychologically.

Tip #6: Aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy—or diffusing or rolling essential oils—is a great way to quickly boost your mood and promote relaxation. Putting essential oils in a diffuser or taking an aromatic bath before bed are great ways to channel inner peace and calm.

Aromatherapy experts recommend these oils for improving SAD symptoms:

  1. Patchouli Oil (Pogostemon cablin)
  2. Bergamot Oil (Citrus bergamia)
  3. Cardamom Oil (Elettaria cardamomum)

For more oils that promote relaxation and help with depression symptoms, click here.

Tip #7: Stick to a schedule.

Schedules are crucial when dealing with SAD, as many individuals with this condition struggle with waking up and sleeping. Being able to keep a steady and regular schedule is very helpful when it comes to improving sleep quality and keeping your body in a balanced state throughout the day. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Keeping a regular schedule will also expose you to light at consistent and predictable times…which is beneficial for your circadian rhythm.”

Tip #8: Consider medication.

Antidepressants can be a helpful tool for combatting the depressive symptoms that come with SAD. If you’re considering going on antidepressants for SAD, make sure to consult your doctor first.

Tip #9: Try Therapy.

Therapy is a great way to learn coping strategies for managing and improving SAD symptoms. In therapy, you can learn new skills to help you navigate the emotional lows that come with SAD and receive much needed support during these difficult seasons.

Final Thoughts

At Valera Health, we offer virtual mental healthcare treatment tailored to each individual. Our services include individual therapy, group therapy, psychiatry and medication management—all of which can be effective tools for individuals with seasonal affective disorder. Our seasonal Holiday Support Group can help participants find relief and manage the unique struggles that come with this time of year such as SAD, stress, loneliness and more.

Whether you’re struggling with SAD or other mental health issues, we’re here to help you find the right provider for you. To request a free consultation with a Health Connector who can match you with a provider, visit https://www.valerahealth.com/consult-today/ or click here

Remember that seasonal affective disorder is temporary. By practicing self-care and being aware of your needs and challenges around SAD, you can find relief.

Works Referenced:

Beth W. Orenstein and Michelle Pugle. (n.d.). 14 ways to ease seasonal depression. EverydayHealth.com. https://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/treatment/ways-to-ease-seasonal-depression/ 

Health, A. (2019, December 9). How to use light therapy for sad. Adventist Health. https://www.adventisthealth.org/blog/2019/december/feeling-sad-try-light-therapy/#:~:text=You%20should%20absorb%20light%20from,some%20light%20before%2010%20a.m. 

Loeb, K. (2020, December 18). Tips for managing seasonal affective disorder (during a pandemic). Vail Health Foundation. https://vailhealthfoundation.org/news/tips-for-managing-seasonal-affective-disorder-during-a-pandemic/?gclid=CjwKCAjwp8OpBhAFEiwAG7NaEreVRwjA3xDEIhhywNhN17zDJylUEe0cWqy_Bt-vrHTHIrj77zeqVxoCdCYQAvD_BwE 

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (n.d.). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651 

Williams, K. (2023, October 7). 13 essential oils for seasonal affective disorder. Aromatics International. https://www.aromatics.com/blogs/wellness/13-essential-oils-for-seasonal-affective-disorde

Mastering the Art of Panic Attack Prevention: From Panic to Peace

In the labyrinth of life, there are moments when the body’s fight-or-flight response becomes triggered with astounding intensity out of the blue, despite there being no imminent danger around us. These moments are referred to as “panic attacks.” 

Whether you’re someone who personally experiences panic attacks or you’re hoping to support a loved one, these tips can help you navigate the storm that is panic attacks.

 

Symptoms of a Panic Attack

Many times, panic attacks are physical manifestations one experiences as a result of high anxiety levels. These physical symptoms can be so severe an individual experiencing them may believe they are having a heart attack. Panic attacks can be triggered by severe anxiety, phobias, a change in environment or by being under heavy, long-term stress.

Signs you may be having a panic attack include:

  • Hyperventilation (rapid breathing)
  • Rapid heartbeat 
  • Sudden numbness in the hands 
  • Nausea 
  • Chest pain that feels “stuck” in the mid-chest area 
  • Sudden dizziness 
  • Hot flashes 
  • Shortness of breath (feeling like you can’t get enough air)
  • Shivering or shaking uncontrollably
  • “Pins and needles” sensation (the feeling of uncomfortable tingling or prickling)

While it’s hard to stop a panic attack in its tracks, there are ways you can regain control, lessen the intensity of symptoms and ease yourself out of this uncomfortable experience.

 

 

How to Work Through a Panic Attack

Sensory grounding 

  • The keywords here are ice and sweets. If you’re able to, grab a cold washcloth, water bottle or ice cube and rub it on your face. Panic attacks can induce hot flashes so cold stimuli may help you to cool down and calm down, which in turn can shorten panic attacks and make them more bearable. Another way to try this type of sensory grounding is to quickly dunk your head or face under cold water (make sure the water isn’t too freezing first!). Some people prefer to do the “sour candy trick” instead by sucking on a super sour candy when feeling panicked. The tart taste helps with refocusing and shifting attention away from the symptoms of a panic attack. If you’re prone to panic attacks, we recommend carrying sour candy around whenever you’re out and about so you always have them handy, just in case.

Affirmation statements 

  • Work on telling yourself positive, affirmative statements. These can be phrases like “This will pass and is temporary,” “I am in control, I’m feeling overwhelmed but I will get through this,” or “This feeling is uncomfortable but not dangerous.”

Close your eyes + do square breathing

  • Closing your eyes may help you calm down and block out overstimulation around you in order to bring you back to the present. While your eyes are closed, practice the “square” breathing technique, also referred to as “box breathing.” This technique happens in fours. Begin by letting trapped air out through your mouth, then inhale through your nose for four seconds. Hold that breath for another four, then exhale to the count of four. 

Adopt a “focus object”

  • It can be helpful to adopt a focus object, which is something around you to focus all of your attention on during a panic attack. When you decide on an object, try and take mental notes of everything about it. This can include the texture, color, shape, sound, temperature or smell of your chosen object. This method is useful for both relaxing and distracting your brain from panic attack symptoms.

 

What Can I Do to Prevent Panic Attacks?

  1. Practice mindfulness. Practice mindfulness regularly by saying daily affirmations or taking five minutes each morning to practice deep breathing.  
  2. Keep an orange in the freezer. Though it may sound odd, having a frozen orange on hand can help when you are experiencing high anxiety or feel a panic attack coming on. When you start to notice the onset of panic attack symptoms, grab the frozen orange and rub it on your neck, arms or face. The freezing cold sensation of the orange as well as its bumpy texture can essentially “shock” an overwhelmed sympathetic nervous system back to its neutral and relaxed state. 
  3. Take preventative lifestyle measures. If you do feel relatively more anxious than normal, it could be beneficial to cut out or cut down on things that have been shown to increase anxiety, such as caffeine, cigarettes and alcohol.
  4. Prioritizing getting enough sleep. Sleep is crucial in times when we experience severe anxiety. When you’re sleep deprived, this prompts a higher level of cortisol through the bloodstream, which in turn activates the nervous system and puts us at a higher risk of experiencing physiological symptoms of anxiety—like panic attacks. 

 

 

What Should I Do After Having a Panic Attack?

Following a panic attack, many individuals still experience lingering physical and emotional pain and anxiety, sometimes referred to as a “panic attack hangover.” After a panic attack, we’re often left feeling exhausted and completely fatigued. It’s easy to feel mentally trapped and stuck in a state of still feeling panicked or on overdrive, even after the panic attack itself has ended. 

When you catch yourself caught up in the dread of a panic attack hangover, remember that there are ways to get you out of this funk that don’t require much energy. 

First, try journaling. Journaling is a great and easy way to get all your thoughts down on paper and focus on being present in the moment. Not only will this help relieve some anxiety, but it will also allow you to clear your head and focus better afterwards. 

Exercise—like meditation, yoga, or walking—is another great way to refocus your energy and mind, allowing you to get yourself into a new environment

Getting a good night’s rest and fueling yourself with nutritious food can also help curb a panic attack hangover by boosting energy and reducing fatigueLearning how to manage panic attacks can be a long and hard process, but worthwhile in the end. Continue to be patient with yourself and give yourself grace while exploring new techniques that work for you. With time and effort, you can gain control over your panic attacks.

 

Additional Support

Therapists and psychiatrists are a great resource for anyone who struggles with anxiety. Valera Health’s licensed medical professionals are here to provide you with additional anxiety support should you need it. If you’d like to work with a therapist or psychiatrist who can help you manage your anxiety, visit www.valerahealth.com/consult-today/ or click here to schedule a free consultation with a dedicated Health Connector.

 

 

Works Referenced:

American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Panic disorder: Answers to your most important questions . American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/panic-disorder 

Brognano, W. by: A. (n.d.). Panic (anxiety) attack hangover: Symptoms & how to cope. Choosing Therapy. https://www.choosingtherapy.com/panic-attack-hangover/ 

Gotter, A. (2023, February 28). 11 ways to stop a panic attack. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-stop-a-panic-attack#prevention 

Group, P. (n.d.). What to do when you feel the signs of a panic attack coming on. https://www.priorygroup.com/blog/what-to-do-when-you-feel-the-signs-of-a-panic-attack-coming-on 

Marks, J. (2021, October 8). The best grounding techniques for anxiety relief. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/anxiety/using-the-five-senses-for-anxiety-relief 

Pallarito, K. (2022, June 9). 14 signs you’re having a panic attack. Health. https://www.health.com/condition/anxiety/panic-attack-symptoms 

Perkins, C. (2021, August 4). The science behind panic attacks – and what you can do to manage them. ideas.ted.com. https://ideas.ted.com/the-science-behind-panic-attacks-and-what-can-you-do-to-manage-them/ 

Person. (2021, October 19). Do candy warheads stop panic attacks? 5 panic attack hacks that work. Nebraska Medicine. https://www.nebraskamed.com/behavioral-health/do-candy-warheads-stop-panic-attacks-5-panic-attack-hacks-that-work 

Schuckit, M. A. (1996). Alcohol, anxiety, and depressive disorders. Alcohol health and research world. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6876499/#:~:text=The%20greater%20the%20amounts%20of,also%20are%20likely%20to%20intensify 

Stöppler, M. (n.d.). Panic attack symptoms: Shortness of breath, racing heart, & more. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/panic-attack-symptoms 

5 Books You Need to Read This National Book Month

By Taylor Transtrum & Ellie Luciano 

 

Calling all bookworms! National Book Month has arrived—the time to celebrate literary magic, page-turning words and the joy of reading! Our therapists know first-hand the power that books can hold when it comes to our mental health—and lucky for you, they’ve decided to share their favorite fiction and nonfiction book selections to devour this October. Within each page you’ll find unique perspectives, invaluable lessons and journeys of introspection. Your new favorite book awaits you!

 

 

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma 

Author: Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

Selected by Abby Fink, LMSW, Clinical Program Manager, Group Therapy, Valera Health

Raved about by psychologists everywhere, this #1 New York Times Best Seller is a poignant read that offers keen insights into the science and research behind post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), innovative treatments, pathways to recovery and personal stories about PTSD survivors sure to tug at your heartstrings.

 

 

Get Me Out of Here: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder

Author: Rachel Reiland

Selected by Kelly Finn, LCSW, Supervising Therapist and Team Lead, Valera Health

Get Me Out of Here is a gutting memoir that unveils the raw truth of what borderline personality disorder (BPD) feels like from the inside. Sparing no details, Rachel Reitland paints an intricate picture of how her BPD affects every aspect of her life. Even in Rachel’s darkest moments, readers of this book will find hope in her story and discover that with ongoing treatment and determination, healing is possible.

Bonus Read:

“For the comic book readers out there, many of the Wonder Woman graphic novels touch the topics of grief, forgiveness, and diversity—all of which can speak to those of us who struggle with mental health issues in our life.” — Kelly Finn, LCSW, Supervising Therapist and Team Lead at Valera Health

 

 

The Glass Castle: A Memoir

Author: Jeannette Walls

Selected by Victoria Abruzzo, LCSW, Associate Director of Clinical Operations and Supervising Therapist, Valera Health

Described by Entertainment Weekly as “nothing short of spectacular,” The Glass Castle tells the true story of the eccentric yet dysfunctional upbringing of Jeannette Walls. Raised by free-spirited and nomadic parents, Jeannette and her three siblings learned to fend for themselves at a young age, having only each other to lean on throughout their abnormal childhood. In an attempt to forget her difficult past, Jeannette buried these roots for two decades. Now, she’s ready to speak her truth in page-turning detail.

 

 

Happiness for Beginners

Author: Katherine Center

Selected by James Riter, LCSW, Supervising Therapist, Valera Health

After getting divorced at 32, Helen Carpenter struggles to piece her life back together. At the recommendation of her brother Duncan, Helen signs-up for an intense wilderness survival course in the backwoods of Wyoming. Despite her best wishes, it ends up being another disaster on top of a year filled with a seemingly endless stream of disasters. But within the struggle, Helen learns the beauty that can come when faced with life’s hardest challenges.

Brené Brown, professor and New York Times bestselling author, sings praise for this heartfelt novel: “This wise, delicious, page-turning novel won’t let you go. Katherine Center writes about falling down, growing up, and finding love like nobody else. You can always see yourself and the people you love in her characters and their stories.”

 

 

Turtles All the Way Down

Author: John Green

Selected by Ellie Luciano, Clinical Intern, Valera Health

Turtles All the Way Down is a favorite of mine as it’s eye opening, relatable and extremely descriptive. This story is an honest reminder that everyone is going through something whether you can see it or not, and every person’s mental health experience is uniquely theirs. Green does a phenomenal job at putting the harsh reality of living with anxiety and OCD into words through the main character Aza. Aza encompasses what OCD can feel like for many individuals and portrays what goes on in the mind of someone suffering with OCD and anxiety incredibly well—all through the in depth descriptions of compulsions, thought spirals, relationships, and dialogue.” — Ellie Luciano, Clinical Intern, Valera Health

 

You can find all of these fantastic book selections online, in stores or at your local library. For even more great reads, Valera Health offers a virtual book club centered around mental health through engaging discussions and book selections. Visit our group therapy page and calendar to join the next session or to explore other therapy groups (currently available in NY and MA). 

To schedule a free consultation with a Health Connector who can help you get started with group therapy, individual therapy or psychiatry/medication management, click here.

 

Know the Warning Signs: Mental Health Issues in Children & Teens

As a parent or caregiver, it can be hard to know whether your child is exhibiting behaviors that are normal for their age or if there’s something deeper going on.

You may find yourself saying “I guess that’s just how they are at that age,” or “Teenagers, am I right?” when they are being difficult or acting out. 

However, it’s important to be aware of the signs that your child or teenager is struggling with their mental health because, if ignored, this can greatly impact important development milestones and areas of life including: relationships with peers and family; learning ability; emotional development and physical development; and even your child’s ability to navigate the world or simply get through each day. 

Keep reading to learn how to spot the signs that your child or teen is struggling with their mental health—and what you, as a parent, can do to help them thrive.

 

 

Signs of Mental Health Issues in Children

Children may exhibit signs of mental health issues in many different ways, which can vary from child to child.

Here are some common signs to look out for:

  • Outbursts, tantrums or lashing out
  • Extreme anger, rage or irritability
  • Persistent sadness lasting two or more weeks
  • Hurting oneself or expressing a desire to hurt oneself
  • Fascination with death or suicide
  • Hitting or acting violently towards other children or adults
  • Drastic changes in mood or personality
  • Sleeping problems such as having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, bedwetting or nightmares
  • Loss of weight or refusal to eat
  • Frequent stomach aches
  • Frequent headaches
  • Extreme shyness
  • Poor academic performance
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Avoiding or missing school 
  • Bullying others
  • Reporting being bullied
  • Being socially withdrawn or avoidant


Signs that your child is struggling with their mental health can differ depending on what age they are. This blog post further discusses additional signs of mental health issues in infants, toddlers and young children.

 

Signs of Mental Health Issues in Teenagers

According to Verywell Mind, the following signs are indicative of mental health issues in teenagers:

  • Being irritable or angry frequently
  • Feeling overwhelmingly sad, worried, scared, or hopeless
  • Experiencing extreme mood swings—such as alternating between euphoria and depression
  • Behaving moody and withdrawn. They may stop communicating with you and prefer to be isolated. They may stop seeing their friends, or communicating with them via phone, text, or social media.
  • Losing interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Developing a fear of common things or being scared to try new things
  • Having difficulty coping with everyday activities and stressors
  • Being unable to relate to others or express their emotions
  • Changing their appearance drastically or neglecting their personal hygiene
  • Picking fights with friends, family members, teachers, or school authorities
  • Sleeping all the time or having trouble sleeping. They may often feel tired or low on energy.
  • Eating all the time or having no appetite. You may notice changes in their weight or eating habits.
  • Having unexplained physical ailments such as headaches, stomach aches, or other complaints
  • Having difficulty with learning, thinking, remembering, or concentrating
  • Performing poorly at school or having no interest in school work
  • Using substances such as alcohol, marijuana, or drugs
  • Engaging in risky, unsafe behaviors or causing trouble at home, school, or in their community
  • Engaging in self-harm
  • Talking about death or suicide

 

 

How to Help Your Child or Teen

Healing starts at home. If you notice your child is acting differently or having a difficult time, encourage them to talk openly with you about their feelings. Create safe spaces for them to talk without the fear of being judged. Voice your concerns to teachers, coaches and other adults who are involved in your child’s life. They may be able to provide extra information about what is going on, or simply play a supportive role in your child’s life.

Provide your child with downtime, space and opportunities for self-care. Treat them with compassion, especially if they are acting out. Don’t forget to treat yourself with compassion and practice self-care too. Be patient—they might not feel like opening up at first, so continue to encourage them and remind them you’re here for them when they need you.

Your child or teen may also feel more comfortable talking to a mental healthcare professional who can provide them with additional support and an outside perspective. 

Valera Health’s Child and Adolescent Program (CAP) was designed specifically with children, teens and adolescents ages 6-17 as well as for parents and caregivers. Through an age-appropriate and data-driven approach, our CAP therapists, psychiatrists and nurse practitioners have continually seen improved outcomes for their patients. Our Health Connectors are here to help you and your child find a licensed mental healthcare provider who’s the perfect fit. Visit www.valerahealth.com/consult-today/ or click here to schedule a free consultation.

Valera Health is Here to Help Your Child or Teen with Their Mental Health

Emotional and mental health plays a pivotal role in developmental milestones for children and teens. If you’ve noticed your child, teenager or adolescent is struggling emotionally or behaviorally, Valera Health can help. 

Our therapists, nurse practitioners and psychiatrists are highly experienced with working with children, teens and adolescents ages 6-17 and use a science-backed and age-appropriate approach to telemental healthcare.

 

Valera Health’s Child & Adolescent Program (CAP)

Valera Health’s licensed therapists, psychiatrists and nurse practitioners use data-driven treatment methods tailored to the individual needs of each child, teen or adolescent. Our providers work around you and your child’s schedule by offering flexible sessions that range from 30-45 minutes to accommodate after school needs. 

Our providers have a proven track record of improving outcomes for Child and Adolescent Program (CAP) patients. 

According to recent statistics, Valera Health’s CAP outcomes have shown an average decrease of 4.9 points from the baseline score (based on intake) for GAD screenings (standard screening model for Generalized Anxiety Disorder). PHQ scores (a.k.a. Patient Health Questionnaire) decreased 4.8 points from baseline on average. 

Our CAP providers specialize in helping children and teens with bullying, anxiety, depression, ADHD, school stress, grief and loss, childhood trauma, childhood mood disorders, behavioral issues, parenting issues, family/parental issues, anger management, self-harm and stress management. 

We walk parents and caregivers through every step of their child’s treatment plan, so they can rest assured their child receives the high-quality care they need and deserve. Additional parental and/or familial support is also available as needed.

 

 

CHILDREN

Our CAP practitioners are highly-trained in age-appropriate mental healthcare for kids exhibiting signs of mental health issues. Our complete care model has been shown to be highly effective when it comes to treating common childhood difficulties such as anxiety, mood fluctuations, ADHD, school or family stress, adjustment issues and more. We offer treatment for children ages 6+.

 

TEENS & ADOLESCENTS 

We offer a wide-array of specialized therapeutic and psychiatric services to help teens and adolescents adapt to challenges such as anxiety, depression, identity, trauma, confidence-building, stress management and much more. Our CAP providers understand how to connect with teens on both an individual and age-appropriate level. Teen and adolescent services are available for patients ages 13-17.

 

FAMILY + PARENTAL CARE

Parents and caregivers play a pivotal role in their children’s mental health—which is why we include them in their children’s wellness journey every step of the way. Providers meet periodically with parents to review their children’s progress through measured results. When appropriate, therapists may also meet with parents to review individualized parenting and communication strategies. We also provide individualized adult care for parents, families and caregivers to help them face familial and parenting/caregiving challenges head on.

 

 

How Do I Get Started?

We make finding mental health support for your family easy with our simple consultation and matching process. The first step is to submit an online consultation form to let us know what services you’re looking for. After you’ve submitted your consultation form, a Health Connector will help you find a provider who is a perfect fit for your child, adolescent or teen. From there,  you can expect individual intake meetings for both yourself and your child with your chosen provider(s). 

Parents/caregivers will be included in their child’s ongoing care and communications so they will always be in the know. 

Get started today by clicking here or visiting www.valerahealth.com/consult-today/ to schedule a free consultation!

More Than PMS: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments for PMDD

 

 

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a serious disorder that affects millions of women everywhere. Yet, many people confuse PMDD with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). So how do we tell the difference between PMDD and PMS? Keep reading for answers. 

 

What is PMDD & How is it Different from PMS?

While PMS and PMDD share some overlapping symptoms, PMDD goes well beyond PMS symptoms and can be debilitating for those who experience it. 

Clinically, PMDD is classified in the DSM-5 as a mood disorder in which symptoms occur in a cyclical manner in relation to menstrual cycles. 

PMS, on the other hand, is not classified as a mood disorder in the DSM-5, which psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists use to diagnose mental health conditions. 

 

 

Signs of PMDD

According to the National Library of Medicine, “In the majority of menstrual cycles, at least 5 symptoms must be present in the final week before the onset of menses, start to improve within a few days after the onset of menses, and become minimal or absent in the week postmenses.” 

PMDD symptoms include:

  • Depressed mood, feelings of hopelessness or self-deprecating thoughts
  • Anxiety, tension, and/or feelings of being “on edge”
  • Decreased interest in usual activities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lethargy, fatigue or lack of energy
  • Change in appetite including overeating or specific cravings
  • Hypersomnia or insomnia
  • Feeling overwhelmed or feeling like things are out of control
  • Physical symptoms including breast tenderness/swelling; joint or muscle pain; bloating or weight gain 

 

In addition, one or more of the following symptoms must be present for the diagnosis of PMDD:

  1. Marked affective lability (such as mood swings, a sudden onset of sadness, sudden crying or tearfulness, increased sensitivity to rejection)
  2. Marked irritability, anger or increased interpersonal conflicts

The severity of PMDD symptoms often cause interference with work, school, usual social activities or interpersonal relationships. 

If you’re curious about what people living with PMDD experience, check out this Women’s Health article for personal stories. 

 

 

Tracking PMDD Symptoms

Tracking PMDD symptoms and the dates when these symptoms occur is an important part of PMDD diagnosis. Some doctors require that symptoms be tracked over two or more menstrual cycles in order to provide a diagnosis. Typically, the onset of PMDD symptoms begin 7-10 days before your period and reside by the end of menstruation.

Menstrual cycle tracking apps are a great way to track both PMS and PMDD symptoms. Many allow you to select symptoms you are experiencing throughout the month, as well as help you track your monthly menstrual cycle so that it’s easier to predict. Here are 11 OB-GYN recommendations to help you track your menstrual cycle.

 

Online PMDD Support Groups

Fortunately, there are a ton of online communities and educational resources out there to help those struggling with PMDD.

Here are 3 PMDD support groups we recommend:

  • IAMPMD
    • This website has both resources for those with PMDD and for medical professionals who treat PMDD. It’s packed with PMDD related blog posts, symptom management advice, peer group resources (including a Facebook support group) and more.
  • r/PMDD on Reddit
    • This reddit sub is a support community where those with PMDD can come together for support, advice and to share personal experiences. If you need to vent, this is a great place to do so!
  • Inspire Premenstrual Disorders Support Group
    • This non-social media group welcomes open discussion and questions from the PMDD community.

If one of your loved ones has PMDD, this blog has great information on how to help them with this disorder. Try to learn as much about PMDD as you can, while also taking time for your own self-care. 

If you or someone you know are having a mental health emergency, including suicidal thoughts or actions, call 988 for emergency help. The 988 hotline is available nation-wide, 24/7. 

While PMDD can feel isolating and strange, remember that you are not alone and support is available.

 

 

PMDD Treatment

If you are experiencing the symptoms of PMDD, know that it isn’t “all in your head” and that your experience should be taken seriously by both yourself and medical professionals. A licensed mental health professional, such as a licensed therapist or psychiatrist, can help diagnose PMDD or rule out other possible causes of your symptoms.  

Therapy, antidepressant medication and lifestyle changes can also help alleviate some of the mental health symptoms caused by PMDD. At Valera Health, we offer affordable, remote therapy and psychiatry services from the comfort of your own home. Click here to schedule a consultation and talk to a Health Connector for free today!

6 Mental Health Support Groups for College Students

Navigating college can be a stressful and confusing, yet exciting process—and mental health issues among college students are far more common than one might think. A 2023 report by the National Education Association (NEA) shows that mental health disorders are at an all time high among college students. As part of this report, over 90,000 students across 133 U.S. campuses participated in a mental health survey.

The NEA survey results show:

  • 44% of students reported depression symptoms
  • 37% students reported experiencing anxiety
  • 15% of students surveyed reported considering suicide (the highest rate in the survey’s 15-year history)

The college mental health crisis affects students of all backgrounds, all income levels, all genders and gender identities, all sexual orientations and all races. Which is why Valera Health offers a flexible and robust virtual group therapy program perfect for any college student. Part therapist-led, part peer-led, group members will find support among their peers—no matter what they are struggling with.

What therapy groups are available for college students?

  1. ADHD Support: ADHD can play a huge impact on our ability to navigate school, work and interpersonal relationships. In this supportive skills-based group, participants will learn practical skills for managing ADHD symptoms, maximizing motivation, building confidence, reducing stress, increasing energy and mood, improving relationships and optimizing daily functioning.
  2. Anxiety/Depression: School, work, life stressors, worries and additional troubles can cause impairments in our lives that are challenging to navigate, manage and cope with. In this adult therapy group, participants will learn skills to help them alleviate anxiety and depression through thought processing, mindfulness, social engagement, exposure, and CBT while using a strengths based and person centered approach. Participants will gain social skills, problem solving abilities, decision making efforts, and emotion regulation skills to help increase awareness, mood, energy, and positivity so that they can build self-esteem and confidence to live a more fulfilling and purposeful life.
  3. Intersectionality: This group provides a safe space for those who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) to freely express themselves amongst a group of their peers. Topics of discussion include trauma, microaggressions, workplace stress, relationships/partnerships and breaking the cycles of unhealthy parental relationships and more.
  4. LGBTQIA+ Support: Open for LGBTQIA+ identifying individuals, this collaborative, community-building and identity affirming group is peer and therapist-led. Together, we will focus on topics including coming out, late bloomers, navigating healthy relationships, communicating with family, building community, queer parenting, accessing gender-affirming care, kink, and non-monogamy. Nothing is off limits!
  5. Anxiety/Trauma: Presented through a trauma-informed lens, this group provides participants with a safe space to improve decision-making skills as well as discuss life transitions, work and/or school-related stress, relationship stress and more. Participants will work with both a therapist and their peers to develop coping strategies that will help them better navigate how to handle daily stressors and other triggers/symptoms of anxiety. Participants will also learn how trauma can impact our daily functioning, life goals and wellbeing and will learn strategies to help overcome these obstacles.
  6. Trauma Survivor Support: Created for young adults (ages 18-25)  who have experienced relational and/or sexual trauma, this group teaches participants a variety of coping skills for responding to and processing trauma. Among the many things participants will learn are self-validation techniques, how to address triggers and grounding techniques for dissociation/fight-or-flight trauma responses. Group participants will also learn how to reframe cognitive distortions and negative thoughts, basic self-care techniques, mindfulness, journaling techniques, how to discuss trauma with family and partners, and how to communicate relationship needs and difficulties around sex. 

How do I sign up?

At this time, the virtual groups listed above are only available in the state of New York. For our group therapy programs, we accept most major insurances as well as offer affordable self-pay rates ($42.50/session). Members must be 18+ to join. 

Valera Health also offers virtual individual therapy and psychiatry in 10 states and 20 languages. 

In addition, patients receive complimentary access to the Valera Health app, which is full of mental health resources and exercises, and access to live chats with your Care Team so that you can continue to make progress inside and outside of sessions. 

We accept most major insurances, Medicaid/Medicare and self-pay in order to make mental healthcare accessible and affordable for anyone in need.

If you’d like to join one of our therapy or support groups, or are interested in receiving individualized care, visit www.valerahealth.com/consult-today/ to schedule a free consultation with a Health Connector today! 

8 Ways to Support a Grieving Friend

 

Grief is a complex and powerful emotion. When the people close to us experience grief, it can be challenging to know how to support them in such a vulnerable state.  When supporting a loved one who is grieving, compassion and empathy are key. 

Everyone grieves differently—some people need a shoulder to cry on while others feel your love through home cooked meals or simply letting your friend know you’re available if they need to talk.

If you know someone struggling with grief, we’ve put together eight ways to help our friends during this fragile time in their lives. 

 

8 Ways to Help a Grieving Friend

  1. Have a sympathetic ear. One of the best ways to help a grieving friend is to simply listen to them. Allow them to feel safe in expressing their emotions, thoughts and needs. Avoiding jumping to putting a positive spin on things or offering advice (unless asked). Really take in what they are saying and let them feel heard. 
  2. Help out with meals. When dealing with grief, even getting out of bed each day can be a struggle, so having the energy to cook yourself or your family meals throughout the day can be extra challenging. Bringing your friend home cooked meals can make all the difference when supporting someone going through a difficult time.
  3. Extend a helping gesture. Grief can make everyday tasks so overwhelming that they seem impossible. Offer to help your friend with things they may feel uncomfortable asking you directly. This can be watching their kids for a couple hours, going grocery shopping, taking their pet for a walk, or helping with sorting through certain belongings.
  4. Check in often. It can be easy to feel like you’re being overbearing, but showing constant support and compassion can go a long way for someone who is grieving. A daily or weekly check in to see how they are feeling and how you can support them can help them feel seen, supported, and loved. 
  5. Validate their feelings. When helping someone through grief, it’s easy to jump to cliches like “time heals all wounds.” Instead, try to acknowledge the difficulty of their grief journey and validate how they feel in that moment. 
  6. Remember the big dates. Dates like one month or year anniversaries, holidays, or birthdays can be extremely difficult for those who have suffered loss. Reach out, whether it means a call, text, note, or showing up to celebrate and remember or mourn. 
  7. Offer to connect them to someone you know who may have gone through something similar. Sometimes one of the most helpful things when going through a hard time is talking to someone who has been through the same experience. Connecting two friends who have gone through similar losses can be extremely helpful for them both. 
  8. Support them in talking to a professional if needed. Grief can be overwhelming and a long process for many. If you notice your friend really struggling to cope,  encourage them to see a professional and offer to look for a professional with them, or even join them for their first session. 


 

Suggesting a grief therapy support group is another great way to help a friend through this difficult time. 

Valera Health offers multiple virtual grief and loss group therapy for individuals living in the state of New York. In these groups, participants will gain mutual support, have a safe space to process their feelings, and learn coping mechanisms to help them through the stages of grief.  Learn more about the benefits of joining a grief support group here

Supporting a friend through grief is a testament to the strength of our friendships and depths of our compassion and sympathy. While we navigate the terrain of loss alongside our grieving friends, it’s important to remember to be kind and help them toward healing and renewal at their own pace.