February is Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month

All relationships exist on a spectrum. What might work for one person, might not work for someone else. That is what makes relationships so unique and special. However, it is important to recognize that all healthy relationships have the same building blocks: communication, respect, trust, honesty, and equality. When these blocks are missing, it may lead to some disharmony and to more extreme cases of abuse.

Relationships can be difficult to navigate for many adults, but teens often are the most vulnerable to abuse due to a lack of understanding, experience, and resources. The CDC reports (2023) that experiencing dating violence in high school can put an individual at higher risk of being revictimized during college. Other consequences include depression and anxiety symptoms, developing unhealthy coping strategies like nicotine, vaping, and/or alcohol use, displaying antisocial behaviors like lying, theft, bullying, and physical intimidation or violence, and thoughts of suicide.

“I just feel so betrayed. He said he’d protect me, and now… I’m just scared of him all the time. I don’t know what he’s going to do next, or how he’ll react when I tell him. I’m going stay until he’s happier. Then I’ll break up with him.”

Teens often develop their ideas of dating at home first. They watch and observe the relationship models in their lives then go out to replicate them. The Office on Women’s Health states, “a boy who sees his mother being abused is ten times more likely to abuse his female partner as an adult. A girl who grows up in a home where her father abuses her mother is more than six times as likely to be sexually abused as a girl who grows up in a non-abusive home (2021).” Often violence and abusive behaviors are first learned at home and from other close, trusted authority figures. This can lead to a variety of maladaptive behaviors, but also lead to some individuals repeating these behaviors when exploring connections and relationships as a teenager and adult.

“She’s so controlling. Like, she’s constantly accusing me of cheating. I didn’t even do anything, but she always needs to know where I am and who I’m with. I’m so tired of it, but I love her so much.”

From the CDC (2020), 26% of women and 15% of men who experienced intimate partner violence as adults reported that their first experience was before the age of 18. While many teens often do not talk about it directly, from a caregiver and parent perspective there are some warning signs that can help you identify when a relationship is becoming unhealthy or abusive.

  • Using insults, intimidation, or humiliation
  • Extreme jealousy, insecurity, or controlling behavior
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Unwanted sexual contact
  • Explosive temper or unusual moodiness
  • Constantly monitoring social media and needs access to location at all times
  • Invasions of privacy and/or showing up unannounced
  • Unwanted gifts, items, or flowers
  • Misusing over the counter substances or illegal substances
  • Threating or causing physical violence
  • Thoughts of suicide

Any one of these warning signs is enough cause for concern. Caregivers and parents can help safeguard a teen and help protect them from dating violence. These conversations can be difficult to have due to stigma, emotional involvement, and general misinformation about what healthy relationships look like. Here are some tips on starting this conversation if you feel a teen in your life is experiencing dating violence:

  • Talk Honestly and Openly
    • Let them know what healthy relationships can look like while expressing violence is NEVER okay in any capacity.
  • Educate Yourself on Teen Dating Violence
    • Look for local support groups, or resources for help. Learn more about the warning signs of domestic violence and related statistics
  • Pay Attention
    • Whether or not your teen verbally tells you what is happening, they may be communicating with you in other ways. Watch for changes in their moods and behaviors, changes in their grades, loss of interest in activities, changes in friend groups, or feeling like they are being watched. Sometimes there can be physical changes like altering appearances, unexplained bruises, or changes to eating habits as well.

Establishing healthy relationships from an early age is important to help teens identify when things are okay. Some additional resources to learn more about dating violence are:

If you or a loved one needs additional support with mental health or substance use due to intimate partner abuse or dating violence, please contact Nicasa Behavioral Health Services at 847-546-6450 or email info@nicasa.org

Mental Wellness in 2024 – 24 Tips to Turn Into Habits

January isn’t only for setting New Years Resolutions, but it is also Mental Wellness Month. This focus helps people prioritize their mental health while exploring new ways to increase their overall wellness. Mental Wellness is more than just the absence of mental illness or mental concerns. It is about promoting healthy strategies to increase your sense of wellbeing and prevention. It is also about shifting from stigmatizing people for their challenges with mental health and restoring a sense of shared humanity with others. Mental wellness works to promote awareness, prevention, and changing attitudes about prioritizing mental concerns, like we do with physical concerns, while extending compassion towards people.

Nicasa Behavioral Health Services has 24 tips to help promote wellness throughout 2024. While working on the practice of mental wellness, we encourage everyone to pick tips that work well for their lifestyle. Start off slowly with intention and you can build upon your progress throughout the year. When starting a new habit, it is important to not get discouraged by a lack of immediate results or progress fallbacks.

Life happens. Keep at it and don’t give up!

  1. Talk to someone.
    1. Now is always the right time to talk to someone if you need help. Don’t put it off any longer and stop minimizing your concerns. Your problems are real because they are real to you. You owe it to yourself to find a trusted person to talk about them with. While talking may not resolve the issue immediately, it does strengthen your resolve to find a better solution for them.
  2. Practice self-compassion.
    1. Compassion means: a strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering or bad luck of others and a wish to help them. Self-compassion is turning that definition inward to extend yourself the same sympathy and wish to help that you show others. This can be incredibly healing while also assisting in reframing your internal dialogue of how you see yourself.
  3. Practice mindfulness.
    1. Carve out a few minutes each day to practice mindfulness. You do not need to do a full meditation, but practice being present, in the moment, and letting your thoughts go without immediate reaction. It can be a challenge at first, especially if stressed out, but with practice you will get better at it.
  4. Redecorate.
    1. New year, new you! Don’t wait until spring to freshen up your space. Often a cluttered, disorganized space can cause increased anxiety and avoidance to deal with other tasks. Find new ways to organize your space. There are a ton of cheap, DIY projects online that can allow you to add more of your personality back into your home.
  5. Practice deep breathing.
    1. Deep breathing is a great way to refocus your mind. Practicing deep breathing can help you gain a sense of control and balance, while focusing your attention on things that are within your control. Take time to practice while making decisions, or to recenter yourself after a long day at work.
  6. Journal.
    1. Journaling can be anything! It can be elaborate, simple, or electronic. You can practice creating your own writing templates, or using a blank note book you bought from Dollar Tree. You can even create sketches, paintings, and collages to represent your thoughts. The act of journaling allows you to record your thoughts and daily activities as you see them. It is a time for yourself, to reconnect with your thoughts and inner self.
  7. Exercise.
    1. Exercise in the gym, at home, or around your neighborhood. Sometimes when starting to work out, people will often create their own barriers—like needing an expensive gym membership, extra workout clothing, new equipment, etc. Keep the goal simple: to invite more physical activity into your life. Small steps can build up to bigger progress. Start with what objects around you, or explore new exercise programs. After you find something you enjoy, then you can consider investing into it.
  8. Practice gratitude.
    1. Showing gratitude can enhance your enjoyment of day-to-day activities, and improve your mental health. It can help ground you back to things that bring you joy, while noticing the everyday details that are often overlooked when bogged down by stress.
  9. Limit caffeine and alcohol.
    1. Limiting caffeine can be difficult when there are so many hidden sources in our food and drinks. Keep in mind, when healthcare providers reference a “standard serving size” a serving of coffee is 8oz with 80-100 milligrams of caffeine, and a drink of 14 grams of pure alcohol (approximately 12oz beer, 5oz wine, 8oz malt liquor, and 1.5oz spirits). Record your daily habits with caffeine and alcohol and set reasonable goals to start with. Remember to be honest with yourself while setting these goals and expectations for success, there will be days where it is easier to cut back than others but make sure you are keeping yourself accountable to this new goal.
  10. Work on incorporating more nutrient-dense foods, and being mindful of habits around meal times.
    1. After the holidays, dieting should be easy, right? With the holidays fueling overindulgence, you might feel like you are so full you might not eat again until February anyways. Many people struggle to adhere to a calorie deficient diet in the winter due to our natural biological response to cold weather and perceived natural scarcity that winter causes. Many people also struggle with fasting diets, fad diets, and restrictive diets. Sometimes it is easier to start with a food log of things you eat in a typical month, and create modifications based on foods you already like and ways to make snacking healthier than eliminate your favorite items.
  11. Get more sleep.
    1. Sleep eludes many people all year round. It’s tough with daily stressors creeping into your dreams. Sometimes the food and drink choices we make while awake follow us into bed. Caffeine and alcohol often cause people to stay up for longer than they anticipated. Some prescription medications can throw off your circadian rhythm as well. Try to limit your consumption of food and drinks that contain stimulants. Also creating a sleep routine, limiting blue-light from electronics, and kicking the television out of your bedroom can help.
  12. Meditation and Yoga.
    1. Yoga and Meditation are a powerful blend of self-compassion, mindfulness, and exercise. Sometimes yoga can be a series of stretches that can improve your flexibility. Don’t let the laid-back nature of the practice fool you though, there are some variations of yoga that are high-intensity workouts, in high-heat and humid rooms, and with animals. Wherever your practice takes you, yoga and meditation are often joined together because they synergize the body and mind while allowing the practitioner space to clear their heads while focusing on being present in the moment.
  13. Set boundaries to improve relationships.
    1. Setting boundaries isn’t meant to block people out, they are meant to communicate what you are comfortable with. More importantly, communicating what you are uncomfortable with in a direct way. Everyone has boundaries regardless of how they are communicated. Some people also have different boundaries for different people, or for different places. Only you can decide what is an appropriate boundary for you and how it gets communicated to others. An example: At a holiday party a family member repeatedly said something inappropriate to your partner, and in the moment, you may not have said anything for fears of making the situation worse for your partner or with other family members. You may choose to communicate to that person a few weeks later that you are not okay with how they addressed your partner and in the future you will leave the gathering if they do not show them the same respect they show you. Thus, establishing a clear boundary when you feel safer to do so and a consequence for going over it.
  14. Take a break from social media.
    1. Doomscrolling is a modern phenomenon in which someone binges potentially negative content on the internet or social media apps (WebMD). Doomscrolling and obsessive social media checking can increase anxiety, depression, and overall have a negative impact on your mental health. Set limits to how long you use social media or limit the kinds of content you allow yourself to view.
  15. Hydrate.
    1. Staying hydrated can make you feel better, inside and out. If you normally do not drink water, getting in 2.7 to 3.7 liters of water can be overwhelming. Increase your amount slowly and explore water flavorings. Try adding frozen fruit into your water inside of ice cubes, or cold brew herbal tea bags—just check to see if they have caffeine in them so you know how much you are consuming throughout your day. Find what works for you.
  16. Be outside more and bring nature inside with plants.
    1. House plants help to establish house care routines and liven up a space. Talk to a local green house to see what plants are native to your area, or if your green thumb is more on the brown side, what plants are more forgiving to beginners. Gardening outdoors can also improve your mood as well as your appreciation for your home. Hiking and outdoor walks are also a great way to connect with nature and improve your mental health.
  17. Play music and dance.
    1. Research has shown listening to music can decrease feelings of anxiety and depression, improve memory, sleep quality, mental alertness, and decrease blood pressure (org). Throw in dancing and you have great physical activity to improve your mood. Dance like no one is watching or learn to ballroom dance with your partner. However you do it, including music into your daily routine can help get you into a better headspace.
  18. Limit how much you multitask.
    1. Even though many jobs seem to require it, multitasking can take a toll on you mentally. Regular multitasking can lead to cognitive loss, memory problems, loss in productivity, increased anxiety and social anxiety, chronic stress, and errors that can harm yourself and others around you (com). Even though society has come a very far way, our brains are still only made to handle one task at a time. Even with people who proclaim they are excellent multitaskers, their brains still have to make the same adjustments to switch between tasks and make the reward analysis decisions which slow everyone down—leading to a loss in productivity and errors in work. Try to limit how much and when you multitask. Like avoid talking on the phone while driving in a car or completing several complex tasks at once (working on a report while scheduling appointments).
  19. Set goals.
    1. Set realistic goals that do not have an “all-or-nothing” catch to them. Example of all or nothing goals are, “I’m going to workout every day,” “I’m going to grow my business by 200%,” or “I’m never going to eat out again.” These goals do not account for life-events that may get in the way of their achievements, and many people are immediately discouraged by fallbacks in progress. Goals should be something to help set new habits and make improvements that are appropriate to your life.
  20. Celebrate achievements.
    1. Life has many reasons to celebrate successes. Celebrate a promotion, completing a certificate program, avoiding a bad habit, and/or reaching a recovery milestone. Celebrating small achievements can keep you motivated as you work your way to bigger ones.
  21. Plan a vacation or a getaway.
    1. Making a plan gives you something to look forward to. When you are looking forward, there is hope that better days are coming soon. Making plans can increase positive feelings and decrease depression and anxiety. Even if it is a small weekend getaway, getting out of your normal routine every once in a while, is good for your mental health.
  22. Try something new.
    1. Try a new workout class, take an art class, or try out a DIY home décor tutorial for beginners. Learning a new skill can make you feel empowered, increase your self-esteem, and decrease feelings of depression and anxiety. Remember, being bad at something is the first step to being good at anything. A project flop is a fun story, and sometimes can create an even more interesting piece than a successful one.
  23. Practice forgiveness.
    1. Forgiving is hard. It’s hard to forgive others, and at times it is even harder to forgive yourself. Work on ways to incorporate forgiveness into your mental health journey. If you cannot forgive the person or situation that happened, then work on forgiving yourself to carry that experience differently with you. Eventually it will become easier with time.
  24. Work towards bringing balance into your life.
    1. Striking a balance can be an interesting opportunity to fold in all the new habits you want to create into your established routine. If you find that work is consuming more time away from doing the things you want to do, or being with the people you want to be with, then find ways to build balance there. Sometimes it is not practical to cut back on hours, but work on finding ways to leave without bringing it home.

The Power of Vulnerability

We live in a society that rewards those with courage and valor. We are taught from a young age that it’s good to face our fears, for doing so is often the catalyst for powerful and lasting change.

And yet, how many of us allow ourselves to be vulnerable?

Think of the amount of courage it takes to allow yourself to be in a position where your heart might get broken. To say “I love you” first. How much courage does it take to put yourself out there and make new friends? Go for that promotion? Rely on others instead of only ourselves?

The Benefits of Vulnerability

We know the obvious benefits of courage. Wars are won, bad guys are put in jail, people are saved from burning buildings. But how can we benefit from being vulnerable?

More Intimacy

Opening up to another human being and sharing your deepest emotions is what ultimately builds healthy and lasting relationships. When we expose our authentic selves, we set ourselves up for potential heartache, yes, but also for ultimate connection.

Better Self-Worth

Being vulnerable also allows us to accept ourselves as we are, flaws and all. This helps us to STOP comparing ourselves to others and experience a tremendous boost in our self-esteem and self-worth.

It Begets Compassion

Getting comfortable with our own vulnerability means we can also be comfortable with others’. And this means, in those times when the people in our lives show their vulnerability to us, we can respond with compassion.

Start the Journey

As they say, every journey starts with a single step. Your journey toward embracing your own vulnerabilities will also start with a single step. This may mean spending more quiet time alone. It may mean the next time a good friend asks, “How are you?” you tell them the truth.

It may also mean digging deep and uncovering some old wounds and darkness that you have been ignoring. And for this part of the journey, you may want to consider seeking guidance from a trained therapist who can offer tools and advice.

If you’d like some assistance on your journey, please get in touch with me. I’d be more than happy to discuss how I may be able to help.

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What is Equine-Assisted Therapy?

Many of us have always known that we feel better and calmer when we are around nature or animals. And studies have consistently shown that there is indeed therapeutic value of human-animal interaction. So it’s no surprise that Equine Assisted Therapy has become an increasingly popular mental health treatment.

Equine Assisted Therapy is a form of experiential therapy that includes horses and a specialist psychologist or counselor working together with a client to create positive behavioral outcomes and change. Growing evidence now supports the effectiveness of treatment with horses in a therapeutic environment. 

Equine-assisted therapy can help clients of all ages who suffer from depression, anxiety, ADHD, conduct disorders, addiction, trauma, eating disorders, spectrum and health difficulties, dissociative disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other mental health difficulties.

How Does Equine Assisted Therapy Work?

There are therapists that have been specifically trained in Equine Assisted Therapy in conjunction with traditional protocols. These therapists guide their clients through a series of activities including observing, handling, grooming, groundwork, and structured challenging exercises focused on the client’s goals and needs.

Benefits of Equine Assisted Therapy

A variety of psychotherapeutic benefits have been reported for Equine Assisted Therapy. Here are some of them:

Builds Trust

The first step in this treatment is to be able to trust the horse and the therapist, and eventually yourself. This trust-building has a profound effect on the client’s interpersonal relationships moving forward.

Reduces Anxiety and Depression

There has been a lot of research on the ability of human-animal interaction to significantly reduce psychological anxiety and depression.

Increases Self-Esteem

Everyone’s self-esteem gets a real boost when they challenge themselves to learn and master new skills. This is particularly true of children and adolescence. Equine Assisted Therapy has people trying new things and interacting in new ways in a non-competitive, non-judgmental environment, which leads to improved self-esteem and confidence.

Mindfulness

Equine Assisted Therapy integrates mindfulness in a big way. Throughout each session, clients are asked to be present, at the moment, calm, centered, and focused. This is because horses are incredibly sensitive and they pick up other’s emotions very quickly. To be around horses requires the ability to be calm and present.

If you think or someone you know might benefit from Equine Assisted Therapy, please call my office. I would be happy to answer any additional questions you may have and discuss how this approach might help.

 

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