Prioritize Your Mental Health in 2017

make your mental health a priorityWhile your friends and family are resolving to cook more dinners at home; to lose 50 pounds; to travel more; or to check seeing Tom Petty in concert off the old bucket list, but you’re starting smaller: with yourself. You’ve decided the year 2017 is the year of you.

2017 is the year you have chosen to make your mental health your priority.

Your mental health affects how you think, how you feel, and how you act every day, in every situation. Your mental health affects the way you perceive yourself and how your friends, loved ones, and strangers perceive you too. Your New Year’s resolution for 2017 is to become a better — nay, the best version of yourself by improving your mental health.

Meditate.

The practice of meditation has been shown to offer a variety of health benefits, including improved sleep and decreased anxiety. But it is a practice. To reap the rewards — even and especially when the status quo is ‘busy’ — set aside ten minutes per day to quiet the noise. Take a few moments to reflect on the day; express gratitude for the blessings in your life, and focus on becoming fully present.

Commit to regular exercise.

Exercise is great not only because it releases endorphins in your brain that make you a happier version of yourself, but it helps you work toward that other goal of losing weight. Even better, when the weather is nice, get outside. Research has suggested that walking outdoors surrounded by nature has even more mood-boosting power.

Find your tribe.

Winter is cold and it’s dreary, and for those who struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) it’s even worse, but getting out of the house — social connection and bonding are imperative to mental health, so go on. Get out of the house and do something fun; make new friends. Go to the beach, or schedule a car service for a night on the town. It’ll be worth it.

Eat well.

Healthy eating leads to healthy bodies and healthy minds. Strive to incorporate many different types of fruits and vegetables in your diet, and other tasty brain boosting foods like walnuts. Don’t skip meals, and stay hydrated, and you’ll be well on the path to prioritizing your health and mental well being all year long.

Schedule an appointment with your Washington DC psychotherapist.

The wisdom and guidance of a professional psychotherapist in Washington DC can help you onto a path of self-discovery, and toward more effective methods of dealing with depression, stress, anxiety, and every day life.

Contact Keith Miller Counseling & Associates to discuss how psychotherapy in Washington DC can help you achieve your goal of a happier, healthier you in 2017.

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Fermented Foods May Help Relieve Social Anxiety Symptoms

Bethesda MD Psychotherapy | social anxietyDo you struggle with social anxiety?

Do you find it difficult to connect with people on a personal level in social settings?

Are you sick and tired of feeling uncomfortable at parties?

Did you know there’s food you can eat to relieve social anxiety?

It’s true, according to a research study to be published in the August issue of Psychiatry Research. Researchers at the University of Maryland and Virginia’s College of William and Mary have found that certain microorganisms in fermented foods actually increase the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that counterbalances other neurotransmitters involved with anxiety disorders.

take our anxiety quiz“It is likely that the probiotics in the fermented foods are favorably changing the environment in the gut, and changes in the gut in turn influence social anxiety,” said Matthew Hilimire, assistant professor of psychology at William & Mary. “I think that it is absolutely fascinating that the microorganisms in your gut can influence your mind.”

It’s all about how the gut and the brain interact.

Hillmire and his colleagues developed a questionnaire that asked more than 700 William & Mary students about fermented food consumption, neuroticism, and social anxiety. Participants were asked to indicate if, in the last 30 days, and how much they had eaten of certain foods, including:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir or food or drinks that contain yogurt
  • Soy milk
  • Miso soup
  • Sauerkraut
  • Dark chocolate
  • Juices that contain microalgae
  • Pickles
  • Tempeh
  • Kimchi

What the researchers found is a striking correlation between the amount of good bacteria in the respondents’ gut, and the levels of anxiety in their brains. Those William & Mary students who ate more, and more servings of these probiotic-laden foods were less likely to report social anxiety symptoms such as sweaty palms or racing hearts. Fermented food consumption also had an interesting effect on those students who reported high degrees of neuroticism: The more fermented foods they ate, the fewer their symptoms of social anxiety became.

Probiotics have previously been proven to inhibit anxiety…

But this conversation is the first in regards to social anxiety, specifically.

“Probiotics have also been shown to modify the body’s response to stress, and stress response is highly linked to mental health disorders, such as social anxiety,” Hillmire noted. “In addition, consumption of fermented milk has been shown to reduce the brain’s response to negative facial expressions. By reducing the brain’s response to negative social stimuli, social anxiety symptoms might be reduced.”

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Mindfulness: There’s an App for That

Mindfulness: It can help easy your stress and anxiety. Ask Keith Miller & Associates how. | Washington DC psychotherapyThere’s no better way to ease the stress and anxiety that wreaks havoc on your daily life than with a little mindfulness and meditation. But shutting out the distraction, noise, and interruptions can be difficult, and it’s for that reason that smart software developers everywhere have — you guessed it — developed an array of meditation and mindfulness apps that range from free, to just a few dollars to help you gain a little inner peace, wherever you are.

There’s a mindfulness app for that.

In fact, there are a few we’ve tried on for size:

Headspace

Headspace is so much more than an app; it’s meditation made simple, an easy way to treat your head right. Using proven meditation and mindfulness techniques, Headspace will help you train your brain to lead a healthier, happier, more enjoyable life. The Headspace app experience starts with a quick body scan and a guided, mindfulness coaching session with the company’s founder: “Don’t force your breath, your body already knows how to breathe.”

The Mindfulness App

The Mindfulness App from MindApps can help reduce your stress and increase your wellbeing — in just 20 minutes today. Great for everyone, including beginners and experienced practitioners of meditation and mindfulness, The Mindfulness App is easy to use. Just choose between different types of guided meditations, or meditate in silence, and enjoy the scientifically proven health benefits that come along with the practice of mindfulness.

Stop, Breathe & Think

We’re big proponents of practicing mindfulness here at our psychotherapy practice in Washington, DC, and there simply aren’t enough good things to say about this particular meditation companion app. It’s all in the name of the product, really. Stop. Breathe. And think. The free app features a varied sampling of mindfulness exercises, ranging from short to long: Got just five minutes to clear your head? Or want to tune the world out for an hour? Stop, Breathe & Think is your go-to.

What exactly is mindfulness?

These apps sound great, and all — but they won’t help you if you aren’t sure what mindfulness is, or why it’s surging in popularity as a helpful practice for fitness and mental health resiliency.

Mindfulness is scientifically defined as “state, process and practice of remembering to observe moment-to-moment experience with openness and without automatic patterns of previously conditioned thoughts, emotions or behaviors.” It’s been shown to offer a variety of health benefits, including improved sleep, decreased anxiety, and turning on genetic markers of immune-system functioning .

More than anything, mindfulness is a practice — a habit — that allows you to experience more of life in its fullest. To learn more about mindfulness and meditation, and how its practice can improve the quality of your life, contact Keith Miller & Associates (with offices in Washington, DC & Bethesda, Maryland) for an appointment today.

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How To Tell If You’re Experiencing An Anxiety Attack in Washington DC

Worried woman: Psychotherapy for anxietyAnxiety (or panic) attacks are — well — they’re awful.

Anxiety attacks are periods of intense anxiety, or panic that often occur suddenly, and with no warning. They affect the mind, but more so the body, and can cause extreme fear for the sufferer — especially those who’ve never before experienced such a thing — as the symptoms mimic those of other, more severe maladies.

What is an anxiety attack?

To use the more technical term, a panic attack can be best described as severe dread or distress, often attended by painful physical symptoms that can include dizziness, sweating, a racing heart, chest pain, shaking, or numbness. And then there’s what’s going on inside the mind.

A typical anxiety attack will last five to 10 minutes, during which the sufferer will experience extreme thoughts that might lead them to believe they are going crazy, or that they’re dying — none of which is true.

What causes an anxiety attack?

Stress. Remember, last week, when we talked about stress, its effects on the body, and the subsequent ‘fight or flight’ response? The same concept applies here. Stress can lead to panic, which leads to a chemical reaction in the body, which leads to feelings of anxiety and apprehension.

Panic attacks often seem to come out of nowhere, but they can be triggered: By a lack of sleep; by traumatic life events, such as loss; by drugs, alcohol, or caffeine; or by specific chemical and hormonal imbalances.

If you believe you may be experiencing an anxiety attack, take a deep breath, and know that anxiety attacks are highly treatable.

take our anxiety quizSince most symptoms of a panic attack mirror those of a heart attack, most first-time sufferers end up in the emergency room. It’s always a good idea to rule out any physical conditions that might be causing the symptoms of an anxiety attack. Once you’ve determined that what you experienced in Washington DC really was a panic attack, a few simple lifestyle changes — such as adequate sleep, exercise, and the basic skills of mindfulness (detailed below) for as little as 10 minutes per day — will greatly reduce the severity of, or eliminate panic attacks altogether.

What is the best way to treat an anxiety attack?

The physiology of stopping an anxiety attack is incredibly simple yet profoundly elusive in a moment of panic. The scientific reason for a panic attack is this: Your brain and body’s natural defense system — the stress response — shifts into high gear.

See? Simple. Yet complicated.

If you were running away from your neighbor’s pit bull, the major stress chemicals, adrenaline and cortisol, would be needed to help you leap over the chain-link fence fast enough to avoid a nip from the dog. If you were a zebra, once the threat was gone you would mindlessly resume your activities of munching grass.

Zebras don’t get ulcers (or have panic attacks), because they have no prefrontal cortex — that part of the human brain which imagines or re-lives the experience of stress. When your thinking cortex hasn’t hijacked your body, your parasympathetic nervous system naturally kicks in, to soothe and calm your body with just the right cocktail of chemicals.

This is called the relaxation response.

The solution to a panic attack is already inside of you.

Comforted yet? We’re getting there.

You are not defective; your mind and body are not betraying you.

In fact, the opposite is true. Your mind and body are functioning perfectly during a panic attack — perfectly in response to stress, real or imagined.

Researchers and psychotherapists in Washington DC have uncovered the antidote to disorders of the mind and body caused by anxiety and fear:

A simple skill called mindfulness.

How simple is mindfulness? In the most basic form, mindfulness is the focusing of your attention with the goal of diminishing simulation.

To enhance the effect of mindfulness and engage your relaxation response fully, deepen and slow your exhalation and pull your next breath in deeply using rise of your belly to expand the bottom lobes of your lungs. For eight breaths focus only on the sounds of your breath, the feeling of your belly rising and the sensations everywhere in your body — without judgment or analysis.

Simply begin to notice what you are feeling.

Eventually your mind will quiet itself, and begin to wander less. Through the practice of mindfulness, you will learn how to not jump on the endless freight train of thoughts produced by your wonderful and imaginative neocortex, so you can remain still, calm and at peace.

Have panic attacks become a frequent, maybe even debilitating part of your life?

You may have panic disorder — and you’re not alone. Nearly six million American adults suffer from panic disorder. One of Washington DC’s leading psychotherapy and anxiety counseling practices, Keith Miller Counseling & Associates, can help you unlock the potential of your mind and body’s relaxation response.

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Engage in Mindfulness in Washington DC. Disengage from Stress & Anxiety.

HappinessWhen someone mentions ‘the city that never sleeps’, you think of New York City, right? Of course you do. A nickname coined, and made famous by the Martin Scorsese film New York, New York (and with a little help from Frank Sinatra), it’s one that could just as easily be used to describe, well, the world these days. Everywhere I turn, there are lights flashing, and sounds sounding; and everyone is rushing.

It’s really no wonder more and more Americans are struggling with feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. But I’m here to tell you there is a way out.

You can surmount these feelings of angst, and it may be easier than you think.

How?

Exchange mindlessness for mindfulness in Washington DC.

Mindfulness is, as defined by the expert on the matter — the American Mindfulness Research Association — the “state, process and practice of remembering to observe moment-to-moment experience with openness and without automatic patterns of previously conditioned thoughts, emotions or behaviors.”

The practice, or process of achieving mindfulness usually involves meditation, and has been shown to offer a variety of health benefits, including improved sleep and decreased anxiety. But mindfulness is a practice. To reap the rewards, you must set aside time every day; forgo a bit of productivity and practice being mindful, not mindless.

Press the pause button.

When I mentioned forgoing productivity, you twitched a little, didn’t you? We’re all so busy, and so busy trying to be so productive, we’re largely forgotten what it means to just be… still.

Mindfulness doesn’t require hours of your time to be beneficial. In fact, the best piece of advice I can give you is this: Start small. Set aside a few minutes at the start of every day to reflect on the bigger picture that is your life, and to be grateful, and calm.

Eat mindfully.

It’s true what you hear, that foods high in fat and sugar can have a negative impact on your emotions and well-being. When you choose to eat healthy instead, you’ll have chosen to power your mind, as well as your body.

Healthy eating is a start, but it’s eating mindfully is about more than food:

Turn the television off; put your laptop away, skip the trip to the Beauty Salon. Think instead about the meal in front of you, and the flavors. Savor each bite, and truly give thanks to the food, and all who took care to bring it to your plate.

Be mindful of others.

The practice of mindfulness may be a solitary, introspective one, but as you embrace the stillness and the calm, know that time spent improving your inner self will also improve the way you interact with those around you.

Think of the ones you love; thank the ones you love; help, and give to the ones you love. And soon you’ll find yourself refreshed, newly engaged, and mindful.

Keith Miller Counseling can help you be more mindful in Washington DC.

Contact Keith Miller Counseling & Associates today, and let’s discuss how psychotherapy in Washington DC can help unburden you from stress, anxiety, and depression, and feel more mindful in the process.

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Call 202-629-1949