September Is the New January

Did you think January is the only time to set New Year’s resolutions? Think again. In some important ways, September is the start of a fresh new year; with the temperatures dropping and kids off to school, now it’s the ideal time for a reset.

 Some religions mark the new year with September’s completion of the old year’s cycle of sowing and harvesting.

The crispness of autumn air moves people to clear out closets and garages of outgrown toys and furniture. Families are falling back into a rhythm of meal planning and eating better, as the summer philosophy of “whatever, as long as we don’t turn on the oven” falls away.  And of course, we all benefit from earlier bedtimes becoming the norm as days shorten.

 Sure, you could wait for January 1 to reflect, and make a bold new commitment to make your life better, but with the fresh chill of September in the air, why not start right now?  

Four Benefits of a Social Media Detox

Are you tired of seeing your acquaintance’s endless vacation pictures? Did your relative post an ignorant post about immigration again, and you are starting to dread the family gathering? Do you find yourself checking how many likes your gorgeous pool side cocktail got? It might be time to step back and figure out if your social media usage is benefiting you or the faceless company that created the app. 

On social media, everyone posts their most flattering selfies and best moments. It is very unlikely that anyone is going to put their horrible experiences on display for everybody to see. If someone travels around the world, they will probably post a bunch of photos of it on Instagram, but if they get fired for incompetence, they probably won’t mention it on Facebook. Why compare your life to the other’s virtual life you see on social media and feel depressed? Why compare your worst moments with everyone else’s best? Taking a break from social media will make you more content and more satisfied with your life. When you take a much needed Facebook vacation, you might discover unexpected benefits.

1. You will get valuable time back

Gone will be the endless scrolling and reacting to push notifications that makes us compulsively tap and click. Now there will be time to squeeze in 15 minutes of learning a new language while standing in a line or catching up with your favorite science fiction author while sitting at the pool. When was the last time you have finished a great book?

2. You will get rid of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)

With your social media icons deleted, you will no longer agonize over why you didn’t go to the renaissance festival and had the best turkey leg of your life. No worries over why you didn’t see the latest musical when it seems like everybody from the office has taken a selfie in their audience seat. 

3. You will appreciate your life more

Without the constant flood of other people’s manicured lives, you will refocus on your own life and you can finally be free to stop comparing your lifestyle to somebody else’s exotic vacations and expensive throw pillows. Practice gratitude for your health, family, and running water without the constant comparisons. 

4. You will be less depressed

Social media usage has been proven to increase rates of depression in adults. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh asked 1,787 American adults to report how much time they spent on 11 popular social media platforms (for non-work purposes). Most participants spent an average of 61 minutes on a social media site a day and the longer they lingered -  sharing, liking or hashtagging, the more prone to depression they seemed to be.

Using social media is a fun modern way to document your life but its addictive nature (which was specifically designed to keep you hooked) can be a true detriment to one’s life. Try a social media detox for a weekend or a day and re-discover your life in its pure form.   

Now is the best time to seek therapy

Summer is rapidly approaching in the northeast, as our days are getting longer and warmer. We are spending more time outdoors doing what we love. Many people report feeling better during the summer months, with many seasonal symptoms lifting as the weather improves. This trend is encouraging for everyone. Sometimes we may think of ourselves as fully balanced emotionally and mentally. All the dysfunctional symptomology of our winter lives has disappeared in the summer sunlight. It is important to know that in many cases, this is usually a cycle that is highly dependent on the seasons of the year and the weather that coincides with it. 

 

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) has been extensively researched for years in the medical/mental health communities. It is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. Symptoms typically start in the fall and continue through the winter months.  

 

We usually don't associate SAD with the beginning of summer, because the season of SAD doesn't start until the fall, but research shows that starting therapy in the summer can help build an arsenal of tools to combat depression in the fall. Early care can alleviate or minimize the symptoms of SAD that can creep up on people in September, when the sunlight starts to change and melancholy begins to sneak in. With an experienced therapist as your guide you can be prepared and ready to spot the first symptoms of depression/anxiety, and you will know how to reduce your anxiety levels and raise your overall mood going into the fall and the holiday season.  

 

As an experienced psychotherapist with over 40 years of treating individuals with anxiety and depression, especially Seasonal Affective Disorder, I am willing to guarantee that this year, those who engage in therapy with me will have a much happier and healthier fall and winter than previously experienced. 

May all of you have a most wonderful summer as well as a healthy and happy fall and winter.

All the best,

Dr. Al Levy

 

From Dirty Soil to Better Mental Health

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Spring has sprung in Connecticut. We can now spend more time outside doing things we enjoy and that benefit us in unexpected ways. Gardening is proven to be a simple, fun and relatively inexpensive hobby that can be a gift that keeps on giving beyond the homegrown tomato or peas.

Gardening is a very gentle form of exercise. Think of all the raking, lifting and digging that one does. It provides a minimal workout in fresh air while putting minimal stress on the body unlike crossfit or running.

In the previous blog, I have mentioned the need to go outside and be exposed to the sun so the body can regulate its sleep cycle through the release of the hormone, melatonin. Another hormone triggered by the sun is serotonin, responsible for mood stability and regulating levels of anxiety and depression.

Gardening is a great way to meet new people and create friendships while you share stories of never-ending weeding or the joys of a great harvest. Many towns and cities have now community gardens, and they are a wonderful place to exchange tips and compare notes on how to best handle problems that every novice gardener encounters. If you are on a budget, check with your local library if they have a seed library where you can “borrow” seeds that other members have donated.

 Nothing improves the mood quite like reconnecting with nature. By cultivating an outside space that's soothing to be in, you also provide yourself with a peaceful, safe space in which you can fully relax. Even if you only have a tiny area, like a windowsill or a balcony, just having somewhere with a bit of greenery can give you a valuable chance to avoid the challenges of city living , allowing you to focus on the calming sights, sounds and scents of Mother Nature.

Protect Your Sleep in 5 Easy Steps

The Daylight Saving time change is quickly approaching (set your clocks one hour forward on Sunday March 10 at 2AM). Though it may not seem like much, this one hour change will throw some of us off our sleep schedule for up to several weeks. A full night of sleep is extremely essential to our well-being. Lack of sleep has been associated with worsening of high blood pressure and cholesterol, which are risk factors for heart disease and stroke. An increase in sleeping hours is correlated with lowering inflammation and stress hormones in our blood. Also, the so called “brain rust” which is the buildup of metabolic byproducts of brain chemistry is removed during a full night’s sleep. This buildup of iron has been now linked to early onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Follow these tips in the upcoming days to prepare your body for the impending time change:

  1. Increase your time in bright light. Go outside as much as you can and expose your hands and face to the sun. The bright natural light signals to your brain and hormones when the prime waking hours are and your circadian rhythms will adjust to proper sleep hours.

  2. Minimize “blue light” in the evening. One hour before bedtime, switch off any screens and turn to a book or try some journaling. Alternatively, you could try special orange tinted sunglasses that are designed to block the blue light, or download an app such as f.lux to block blue light on your laptop or computer.

  3. Go to bed 30-60 minutes before your usual bedtime to start compensating for the hour “lost”.

  4. Avoid drinking alcohol and coffee. Alcohol is known to increase snoring and sleep apnea. Coffee late in the day is of course a well known stimulant and sleep disruptor. Try replacing caffeinated drinks with herbal or decaffeinated alternatives.

  5. Clear your mind before bed. Think of pleasant events that transpired during the day. Resist watching the news, since that will likely raise your stress hormones. Replace stressful activities with listening to relaxing music, reading a book, taking a hot bath and meditating. Try out different strategies and find what works best for you.

New Year's Resolution & the Blues

We’ve all done it! Gotten through the holidays, and hopefully enjoyed them. And with the New Year, we’ve celebrated life, being alive, and maybe even made some resolutions. 

For me, I resolved in this new year, to love people more - to try to accept everyone just for who they are, flawed human beings, and have more compassion for everyone caught in a world filled with anger, hatred and strife. For actually, we’re all just trying to find some happiness, some peace of mind, for ourselves, for our families, in these very trying times.  My resolution to love more fully and deeply includes attempting to forgive those who have unintentionally and even intentionally hurt me, even including family members, close and further away in the mix. Acceptance, compassion, love and forgiveness comprise the art of living - giving and forgiving. These are easy words to say and often times very difficult to do, especially consistently. The intention is there, the action may or may not be. It’s all very scary really. I have already failed many more times than I have so far succeeded this year, and it’s barely the third week of 2019. 

And the blues of failure, disappointment and loss have already set in. Tommy, my 83 year old barber in Westport, one of the most loving people I have ever met, has died, moved on to another dimension of life. I already miss him. When I need a haircut in a couple of weeks, I think I’ll shave my head instead. Plus, it will at least make my dermatologist happy for a moment as he examines me.

Along with the more  normally present post-holiday blues, is there a way through this grief, this depression, the anxiety, in the attempt to really love?  So what does it take? 

I take a deep breath. I hold it equally as long as I breathed it in. Then I let it out equally as long. I wait equally as long before I take another deep breath. Nothing else matters except the breath. I let go of all else in my mind that is going on, following only the breath. I let all my emotions dissolve in the concentration on my breath. Nothing else matters but the breath. And then I start the whole process over again. Ultimately it leads to letting go of my opinions, my wants, my longings, the things of life I identify with, yet are not really who I am. And the ultimate question arises in me - Who am I?

In the meantime, we can feel more centered than before following the breath. We can feel more energy, more enthusiasm and maybe we can find a little more determination to follow our New Year’s resolutions if we chose to set them. Perhaps the post New Year’s blues and the sadness of the long winter ahead will leave us for greater peace of mind, and will lead to a more open heart. 


Happy New Year to All!

Dr. Al Levy

Footprints

Life is a journey, an exploration, an adventure. For most of us it is a predominantly joyful experience, though with many ups and downs. Where ever life’s transitions take us, it ultimately leads to the heart. 

We can sometimes feel depressed, anxious, beaten down before that adventure is complete. The journey we are on, this great odyssey, is one of finding our inner resources. Through an increasingly healthy mind, we can find our heart. From selfishness we can move together towards increasing selflessness. From pain and suffering, we can move together towards increasing joy. 

The journey is made less difficult when someone is with us who cares about our well-being, and through unconditional love knows the way back home to the heart. 

Who is it that can help us, when we are in need? Who is it that can help us when we are suffering through life’s difficulties, and we almost seem to be lost on our journey? Do you know someone who seems to have equanimity and compassion? Can you find someone who stays away from the destructive elements of daily life? Can the person reach out to you as an individual, who is trying to live in greater love and awareness of the common struggles of humanity, in order to help you find your heart, to find the inner light that can be found by any of us, and cultivated to establish real change? 

We can make fast progress, and get the help we need, traveling as far as our mentor or therapist has progressed. Three decades ago, I found such a person. She was my mentor and my teacher. She once said to me, “A person in therapy can only be helped as far as the therapist has gone.” She knew the way home to the heart, and beyond into the depths of the inner Self. 

This inner journey is the key to true health of mind, body and spirit. It is a great honor to be invited to help an individual, a couple, a family to find their way back to themselves, and to travel it together, for awhile.

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Why Meditate?

Meditation is the number one antidote to stress – daily stress and especially accumulated stress. Meditation is known to increase productivity and efficiency in the workplace.  Meditation permits the physical body’s energy to increase and balance. Meditation helps increase the ability to concentrate, to focus especially on the daily tasks at hand. Meditation permits the mind to heal from the aberrations of past experience and daily life. Meditation balances the emotions and promotes equanimity and compassion for all life. Meditation is the fastest way to self-actualize and reach the fullness of one’s inner potential. Meditation is the number one process for evolution of consciousness. Through Meditation one can heal every aspect of their life and continue growing from there.

For the greatest degree of effectiveness, daily meditation is best. Upon waking, before eating, or two hours after eating, or before going to bed at night, 20 to 30 minutes of meditation, once or twice a day is all that is needed to maximize all of the benefits that meditation has to offer. A daily routine of meditation becomes a positive habit just like brushing your teeth and eating a meal. It is essential for clearing the mind of the debris of daily life, and such a pleasurable way to do it, too. 

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Journaling

A practical way to start healing the wounds of suffering within us is journaling. Writing our daily thoughts and feelings in a journal is not only therapeutic, it can also be insightful. It is a very effective way to relieve the stresses of our daily lives.

    You can keep the entry, which is entered in your own time, as frequently or infrequently as you want, whenever and wherever you like. You can choose to save it or discard it. Shred it or burn it. Maintain it all, or in part, like a diary or an erasable white board. It’s your journal, your entries, your self-healing process, and yours to do with as you like.

    If you’re in therapy, you can share your journal entry with your therapist, or maybe you’d rather not. It’s yours to reflect upon, gain insight from, and to do with as you please.

    Journaling can be a very safe way, a very personal and private way to get to know your most inner thoughts and feelings, to get to know your personality, your mind and your heart in a deeper, more sincere and more authentic manner than you thought before.

    Through the journaling experience, we open the door wide to the possibility of living life with greater authenticity and integrity of self. Dare to be yourself. Be true to yourself and all who surround you will be influenced in subtle ways to be true to their self more and more.

    Journaling with pen and paper is best as it simultaneously activates and engages different parts of the brain directly connected to stressful experiences, deeper thoughts and emotional realities, and affords the opportunity to release them. However, if you prefer the computer or tablet, it’s better than not. 

    The road to increased self-awareness and freedom is greatly fostered through journaling. Give yourself the chance.

    So why not start journaling today and your growth is on the way.

 

- Dr. Al Levy