Mental Wellness During The Holidays

While the holidays are a joyful time spent with loved ones, they are also a highly busy and stressful time. It may be a busy time of year at work, and running around shopping and decorating can be stressful. You could also be suffering from the Christmas blues. If you are experiencing the blues, know that you are not alone; they can afflict anyone at any age and are usually caused by a life event. Not to mention the stress of trying to impress others with gifts, attend parties, and deal with family or toxic people, all of which contribute to the blues. People also remember individuals who are no longer alive to celebrate throughout the holidays.  Here is what we do to make it past the awkward hugs, the eye-rolls, and weird, invasive questions about your love life.

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Organize and Budget Gifts

Organization will liberate you! Do you believe you have an insurmountable task list? As with the previous step, break them up. It will stress you out much more if you have this cloud of ideas flying about in your head. If your budget is limited, it is okay to decline gift exchanges. Instead of buying gifts for everyone, encourage them to give to charity, make a homemade gift, or organize a low-cost activity for you all to do. If traveling is too expensive for you, ask family or friends to contribute to the cost of the ticket rather than giving you gifts. If you are unable to attend, request to skype or FaceTime with the individual or persons so that you can still participate in the festivities. Plan your budget ahead of time so you know what you can afford. Here’s what to do:


  • Make your list – List out the names of people you’ll be seeing during the holidays that you want to buy gifts for.
  • Organize by priority – Once you can physically see the list, rearrange it by priority whether it be kids first, then immediate family, followed by extended family or just by the order that you plan on seeing them in.
  • Pick the presents – You can begin assigning present ideas to each person once you’ve determined who you’ll be buying things for. If the process starts to become stressful , brainstorm with some hot cocoa and/or play some soothing music like jazz or holiday-themed songs.
  • Set realistic goals – You probably have a reasonable estimate of your budget for these things, but price each item separately and sum it up. It is easier to plan when you have specific numbers to work with.
  • Finalize it – Top off the whole process by turning all of your information into a checklist, you can even put the dates you’ll be seeing each person to give yourself a little deadline. This way you can mark off the gifts as you go so you don’t forget anything.

It’s Okay To Say No

The holidays may be stressful, especially if you commit to too many gatherings or have unreasonable expectations. When you say yes when you should say no, it merely leads to a flood of overwhelming and resentful feelings. With work and limited vacation time, your schedule is already packed. Don’t try to be in too many places at once since you won’t be able to appreciate your time. You’ll be too preoccupied with getting to the next party or worrying about hosting your own. Take it at your own speed and learn to say no.


You can decline invitations to some gatherings in order to spend more quality time with the people you do prefer to visit. Set priorities and stick to your budget. Take the previous checklist and replace the gifts with family members you want to see. Instead of gift pricing, assign trip prices to each one. If you are unable to accommodate everyone, make plans to visit once the holiday rush has subsided. They’ll probably understand, and also appreciate the break from the hustle and bustle. Visiting after the holidays may end up being more of a gift to everyone involved. 

Don’t Overindulge

Consider all of the pastries and snacks you’ll be eating and drinking throughout the holidays! Our eating habits are tested over the holiday season, with dinners, parties, and cookie tables at every turn.  Overindulging can make you feel tired or sluggish. It can also cause you to gain an unhealthy amount of weight, adding to your mental stress. Take a brief walk to get some exercise. Allow yourself time to be active so that you can appreciate all of the delicious treats.  Attempt to maintain a healthy diet. Consuming whole grains, vegetables, and fresh fruit is the foundation for a healthy body and mind. Eating well can also aid in leveling out your mood.

Make Self-Care A Priority

This is more than just meditation. If you have a fitness routine, don’t let it slip during family visits. Try to go to the gym or perform some home exercises. Sticking to your routines (whether self-care or otherwise) not only gives you a mental lift, but it also establishes an internal norm. You’re going to dedicate your time and energy to people you care about this Christmas season, but don’t lose sight of yourself in the process. Keep your feet on the ground. Make time for activities that make you happy. It could be reading a book, going to the movies, having a massage, listening to music, or walking your dog. It is okay to prioritize alone time when you need to refuel.

mental health tips graphic

Don’t Isolate Yourself

Some people may experience loneliness during the holidays, but if you don’t want to be alone, you don’t have to be. You can join an organization, volunteer at a soup kitchen, attend community events, and meet new people. Volunteering can be a wonderful source of comfort. You can feel less lonely or isolated and more connected to your community by assisting those who are less fortunate. Start a toy or food drive and invite your neighbors, friends, and coworkers.

Be Present

Have a two-week trip planned to see relatives? Take everything one day at a time. This can work even if you are not staying for an extended period of time. One hour, one minute, one second at a time. Simply concentrate on the subject at hand and give it your undivided attention. Don’t be concerned about the rest of it. It is beneficial to employ these bite-size moments during stressful periods. Pay attention in the present moment. If you spend too much time thinking about future occurrences, you will become more stressed in the present.

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Seek Professional Help

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, speak with your mental health practitioner. They can assist you in identifying particular circumstances that trigger you and develop an action plan to modify them. Keep seeing your therapist if you’re already seeing one. If you’re not already seeing one your health insurance will actually cover some mental health services due to the Mental Health Parity Act. 


The Mental Health Parity Act requires insurance companies to handle coverage for mental and behavioral health and drug use problems in the same way that they treat coverage for medical and surgical care. This includes treating them equally in terms of money. For example, an insurance company cannot charge a $40 payment for a mental health professional’s office visit when most medical office visits only require a $20 copay. 


In addition, the Affordable Care Act also provides protection for mental health services. Mental health is covered as an essential health benefit in all ACA-compliant plans. As with other medical illnesses, your plan should cover some or all of the cost of mental health care. All ACA-compliant plans must include the following mental health services:


  • Outpatient individual or group counseling and therapy
  • Diagnostic services like psychological testing and evaluation
  • Ongoing outpatient treatment such as treatment programs and medication management
  • Outpatient treatment for alcohol or chemical addictions
  • Detox services
  • Substance abuse recovery treatment
  • Inpatient mental healthcare in a psychiatric facility

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Any visit has the potential to cause family turmoil. You want your parents/relatives to have a good time and enjoy your visit, but the holidays may bring a whole new level of stress to the situation. Maintaining excellent relationships with friends and family has surprising health benefits, so these trips are well worth it in the long term. Just keep these pointers in mind, and you should be okay. As for finding health insurance to cover your mental health, consider us Santa’s helpers. A licensed EZ insurance agent can explain the advantages and disadvantages of each plan, while also helping you in developing the plan that is ideal for you. 


Working with an agent saves you time and stress because you won’t have to decipher legal language or read fine text. Agents perform all of the heavy lifting, so you can relax knowing that your coverage is tailored to your specific financial and medical needs. Not to mention that EZ agents can save you hundreds of dollars on health insurance rates each year. We accomplish this by being able to search both on and off the market for the most cheap plans.


We can also locate and apply any discounts you may be eligible for. Also,we don’t simply provide you a strategy; we also aid you in maintaining it after the fact! We can assist in filing claims with your provider as well as renewing your coverage when the time comes. To get a quote, enter your zip code into the box below or call one of our qualified representatives at 877-670-3557.

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Are You Falling into the Mental Health Self-Diagnosis Trap?

We’re living in a time when getting professional mental health care is much easier than it used to be, and much less stigmatized. And that’s a good thing! There’s so much information out there, allowing everyone to learn more about the mental health issues that they or their loved ones could be dealing with. And generally, knowledge is power, right? 

Yes, but there could also be a darker side to all of the sharing about mental health concerns that’s happening on social media, and the internet at large. Influencers who share their stories on social media, and even some of the so-called experts putting out information on mental health on the internet, are leading many people to self-diagnose conditions like ADHD and depression. And that might not be such a good thing. If you’re falling into the mental health self-diagnosis trap, you might want to consider what mental health professionals say about relying on the internet as a diagnostic tool, and even as a form of therapy.

The Rise of Self-Diagnosis

The wealth of information we have, and the rise of influencers and others sharing their thoughts on mental illness everywhere on the internet, has led to an explosion of mental health self-diagnosis, especially among younger people. There is a ton of user-generated content on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram that encourage people to identify with a particular mental health issue. 

graph on the rise

Just check this out: hashtags on TikTok in 2021 include 2.7 billion views for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), 2.5 billion for Tourette’s, and 1.5 billion for DID (dissociative identity disorder). And most of the videos being consumed are not strictly informational videos. Rather, they are “personal experience” videos that detail how the creator of the video has struggled with a particular disorder, how they went about diagnosing their issue and how their diagnosis changed their life, what their new self-understanding means for them, how they’re addressing their condition, etc. 

This type of content is huge. In fact, a recent study reported that of the 100 most popular ADHD videos on TikTok, the highest engagement was with personal experience videos, averaging nearly 3.9 million views each. But it’s not just TikTok content that’s driving people to self-diagnose. According to Joseph E. Davis, Ph.D., writing in Psychology Today about the numerous studies over the years he’s done on self-diagnosis of mental conditions, the people he has interviewed cite “Google searches, newspaper and magazine articles, talks with friends and family, and pharmaceutical advertisements as sources of stories and ideas about particular disorders that resonated with them and persuaded them that they suffered from a particular condition.”

But is this necessarily a bad thing? He also says that most of the people he spoke to sought help from professionals after “self-diagnosing,” so maybe the information available to them is not a bad thing, since it encouraged them to examine their own mental health. But Davis doesn’t fully agree.

Should We Leave It to the Pros?

Davis worries that people are treating mental illness as a kind of catch-all explanation for other issues in their lives. He also points out that people aren’t treating these conditions as they would any other health condition that needs a diagnosis based on specific parameters. 

He says, “Interviewees in my study did not treat their self-labeled conditions as having objective, predefined medical meanings on the model of afflictions like diabetes or heart disease. Rather, they defined the conditions in their own self-referential terms, flexibly fitting a definition to their own way of thinking about the meaning of their experience and their self-identity.” He gives an example of a TikTok video describing the “symptoms” – wrongly – of ADHD as including “anxiety shivers,” “random noise making,” and “being competitive”.

fake news stamped on newspaper
There is a lot of misinformation out there, which can lead down a dangerous path.

And yes, that is certainly a danger of using something outside of the medical profession to “diagnose” yourself. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and a lot of temptation to cling onto somebody’s personal story as a way to explain what you’re struggling with. Davis stresses his belief that many people who self-diagnose a mental health condition are often doing so to find some meaning in – and even a community of people – surrounding  “all manner of troublesome, frustrating, and disappointing experiences.” 

In other words, he believes that a lot of people are stressed, overwhelmed, exhausted, unhappy at their jobs, etc, and are searching for insight, relief, and other people who share their experiences. And that’s easy to understand. But he and other experts are adamant that a mental health diagnosis should only be made by a mental health professional, since these assessments can be complex, and need a trained, objective eye. 

Not only that, but some experts worry that this explosion of people encouraging others to self-diagnose could actually cause its own problems. In one extreme case, Dr. Adeola Adelayo, MD, a practicing psychiatrist with Banner Behavioral Health Hospital, says “We’ve seen an explosion of Tourette-like tics in our unit and every single case has been linked with watching countless TikTok videos about people with Tourette syndrome. [They] don’t have Tourette’s, but they aren’t pretending either. They have a functional movement disorder as a result of stress and possibly underlying anxiety or depression which may or may not have been properly diagnosed.”

After a series of individualized treatment plans and two weeks off of TikTok, the patients were back to normal – the tics were gone – showing just how powerful and influential these TikTok videos can be.

That’s the worst case scenario, but even in the best case, a lot of experts just feel frustrated that we’re not leaving this to the pros. Says Dr. Adelayo, “It creates this horoscope type of effect. People see enough of these videos, they start to relate to any number of the potential symptoms and even begin to present with some of the same symptoms. The thing is psychological illnesses don’t happen that way. Just because you pee a lot, doesn’t mean you have diabetes. You just don’t have diabetes because you say you have diabetes.”

Is There a Positive Side to All This?

Are all mental health professionals completely bugged or distressed by the explosion of lay people “diagnosing” themselves? Not necessarily. Consider the perspective of Micheline Maalouf, a licensed mental health counselor, and owner of Serein Counseling in Orlando, Florida. A client of hers convinced himself that he was living with OCD because he watched a TikTok video and “checked off” all the symptoms he had. 

He told her, “I saw this TikTok video about signs that you may have OCD. I resonated with some of the symptoms but not all, so I’m not sure if I have it. My situation wasn’t exactly like the person’s in the video, but it got me thinking.”

While Maalouf was careful to explain that diagnosing something like OCD is much more complicated than ticking off a checklist, she also says she is thankful for conversations such as these for two reasons. First, it means the client has some self-awareness, which is a good thing. And second, it provides her with more insight into her client and the potential issues they need to work on in therapy, regardless of whether the issues match the client’s self-diagnosis. 

And self-awareness and insight can only be positive things, when coupled with an open mind about what you might be struggling with! It’s just important not to get stuck on a “diagnosis” that you are sure is correct.

And not only that, but social media, when used in a positive way, can actually foster a feeling of community and belonging for those looking for mental health answers. It’s really opened the door for people to get more comfortable with talking about neurodivergence, anxiety, depression, and trauma, and it has helped lift some of the stigmas from these issues, as well as from others like autism.

So it’s not all bad, but if you’re engaging with this type of social media, it’s important to be careful who you look to, and where you go, for advice. You should also remember that social media isn’t actually therapy, and that you should take a break from it when you need to! And if social media feels like it’s starting to affect your daily life, please talk to a professional.illustration of a woman speaking to another woman

The bottom line is, if you’re experiencing symptoms of a mental health issue, including the following, please speak to a mental health professional:

  • Social isolation
  • Irritability
  • Decreased sleep
  • Decreased academic/work performance
  • Difficulty concentrating

But with that being said, if you are stressed, overwhelmed, exhausted, and/or unhappy, as Davis suspects many people who are falling into the self-diagnosis trap are, it is also in your best interest to seek help! There’s no need to guess at what’s troubling you, or to only find a connection through an app or a screen. There is help out there, there are people to connect with, and it’s 100% OK to ask for that help and that connection! 

Co-written by Joanna Bowling

7 Facts You Need to Know About Mental Health and Aging

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s clear that, after the few years we’ve had, we need this time to focus on our psychological well being. But here’s the thing: a lot of the talk surrounding mental health lately has been centered on young people, and while that is an extremely important topic, we need to remember that there is no age limit on mental health issues. In fact, older adults can be hit especially hard in this area. So, for this Mental Health Awareness Month, we’d like to remind everyone of that fact, and restart the conversation about mental health and aging with some important facts.

1. Mental Health Issues in Older Adults Are More Common Than Many People Thinkolder man talking with a doctor

We have a rapidly aging population. It’s projected that by 2050, we’ll have leapt from 900 million people over 60 to around 2 billion! And we have to start recognizing that all of these millions of older adults need to have their mental health needs addressed in the same way that we address their physical needs. Why? First of all, mental health is incredibly important: we know that good mental health contributes greatly to an overall feeling of well-being. But on the other hand, untreated mental health disorders in older adults can lead to diminished functioning, substance abuse, poor quality of life, and increased mortality. 

Second of all, mental health issues are very common among older adults – maybe more common than many people think. According to the CDC, around 20% of adults over 55 (or 1 in 5) experience some sort of mental health concern, with other studies putting that number at 1 in 4 adults over 60. The most common issues are depression, cognitive impairment, and anxiety. Depression and dementia are the most common, affecting 5% to 7% of the population over 60. Anxiety follows as a close second, with the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting that it affects 3.8% of older adults. Considering the size of the older population, these numbers are pretty concerning.

2. Mental Health Issues Can Lead to Physical Issues

To pick up on a point from above, mental health and physical health go hand-in-hand, especially among older adults. Physical issues, like reduced mobility or chronic pain can lead to mental distress, and older adults with physical health conditions such as heart disease have higher rates of depression than those who are healthy. But, this is a two-way street: untreated depression in an older person with heart disease can actually lead to worse outcomes. In fact, studies show that treatment programs for depressed elderly patients suffering from cardiovascular disease and other major illnesses usually take longer than normal and are less successful. 

Mental health issues like depression can affect older adults physically in other ways, too. Depression can lead to overeating and obesity or, can even cause a significant loss of appetite and lower energy levels, sometimes resulting in a condition known as geriatric anorexia. Older adults with mental health issues could also end up with insomnia and memory loss, which is bad in itself, but can also lead to more accidents around the house or on the road.

3. Mental Health Issues Can Develop Later in Lifeblack and white picture of a man holding his head

While some older adults with mental health issues have been living with them for their entire lives, some develop these concerns later in life. Mental health can deteriorate after a stroke, or even after a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, cancer, arthritis, or diabetes; some medications can also cause changes in mental health. Not only that, but the changes brought on by getting older, or declining health, can cause some older adults without a history of substance abuse to begin abusing medications, alcohol, or drugs.

4. Depression Is Often Overlooked in Older Adults

Conventional wisdom says that young people tend to experience mental health issues more often than older adults, and that might be true, but it’s also true that older adults seek help less often than young people do. And not only that, but according to the CDC, “Older adults are often misdiagnosed and undertreated. Healthcare providers may mistake an older adult’s symptoms of depression as just a natural reaction to illness or the life changes that may occur as we age, and therefore not see the depression as something to be treated. Older adults themselves often share this belief and do not seek help because they don’t understand that they could feel better with appropriate treatment.”

In fact, according to some studies, primary care physicians fail to diagnose depression 50% of the time, and only half of older adults who discuss specific mental health problems with a physician receive any treatment.

5. Older Adults Have the Highest Rates of Suicide

Think older adults don’t die by suicide at the same rate as younger people? You’re right: older adults actually have the highest rates of suicide of any age group. To be more specific, people aged 85 and over have the highest suicide rate of any age group, and those aged 75 to 84 have the second highest, with men dying by suicide more often than women. Not only that, but older adults’ suicide attempts tend to be more lethal: for people 65 and older, there is one suicide for every four attempts, compared to one suicide for every 20 attempts for all other age groups.

6. There Are Signs to Look Out For

While mental health issues can develop later in life in people who had never been previously diagnosed with them, they generally don’t come out of nowhere. Aging brings with it a lot of changes, both in physical condition and in life circumstances, and these changes can become risk factors for mental health issues. Risk factors can include things like:

  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Dementia-causing illness (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease)
  • Illness or loss of a loved one
  • Long-term illness (e.g., cancer or heart disease)
  • Chronic pain
  • Medication interactions
  • Physical disability or loss of mobility
  • Physical illnesses that can affect emotion, memory, and thought
  • Poor diet or malnutrition

There are also warning signs to look out for that can mean things aren’t quite right, like:

  • Change in sleeping patterns (not enough sleep or oversleeping)
  • High stress levels or constant worrying
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Trouble feeling positive emotions
  • Unusual ideas or behaviors
  • A need or dependence on drugs and alcohol
  • Feeling hopeless or giving up
  • Constant headaches and pain
  • Anger and irritability
  • Engaging in high-risk activities

If you or a loved one are experiencing the above, you should speak to your doctor or a trained mental health professional as soon as possible – and don’t be put off or told that what you’re feeling is a normal part of aging! As we’re about to discuss, we need to be doing more for the mental health of older adults.

man sitting across from another man with his head in his hands and the other one listening
It is important to seek help if you are experiencing mental health issues before it gets worse.

7. We’re Not Doing Enough

While adequate social and emotional support is associated with reduced risk of mental illness, physical illness, and mortality, we’re just not doing enough to keep older adults in tip-top mental shape. Unfortunately, the older people get, the less likely they are to say they receive the social and emotional support they need, according to the CDC. Their studies show that adults aged 65 or older were more likely than adults aged 50–64 to report that they “rarely” or “never” received the social and emotional support they needed (12.2% compared to 8.1%, respectively).

And, again, our health system is dropping the ball on this, with far too many older adults not being adequately diagnosed, cared for, and treated. Consider these shocking statistics:

  • Primary care physicians fail to diagnose depression 50% of the time.
  • Only half of older adults who discuss specific mental health problems with a physician receive any treatment.
  • Researchers estimate that up to 63% of older adults with a mental disorder do not receive the services they need.
  • 75% of older adults who commit suicide have visited a primary care physician within a month of their suicide.

This is an unacceptable state of affairs, especially when studies show that 80% of older adults recover from depression after receiving treatment that includes both psychotherapy and antidepressant medication. Mental health issues are not a normal part of aging, but they are treatable, we just need to do more to raise awareness in older adults and those who care for them. 

So this Mental Health Awareness Month, take the time to check in with yourself and your loved ones, make sure you know the risks and what to look out for, and stay as social and active as possible to keep yourself in a good mental state and connected to what and who you love. And if you or a loved one are struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out to a trusted professional and get the help you need and deserve. Growing older has its challenges, but you have the strength to face them head on, with a little help if needed. 

It’s OK to Not Be OK: How to Respond to That One Little Question

Hey – are you okay? It’s a question all of us get asked a lot, probably almost as much as “How are you?” And both of these little, innocent questions can seem much bigger if you’re going through something that’s making you feel “not okay.” So this Mental Health Awareness Month, we want to talk about the questions that are meant to be caring and/or simply polite, but can end up being endlessly awkward. So, if you’re not actually “okay,” how can you respond to these questions in ways that either: 

  • Don’t open up wounds that you aren’t prepared to discuss with that particular person OR
  • Convey that you aren’t, in fact, okay, and begin an open discussion about what’s going on and what you need?

It’s OK to Not Be OK 

First things first: we want to be really clear that it’s always okay to not be okay. We have all been through a lot the last few years, with fear, loneliness, and uncertainty creeping into the lives of even people who considered their mental states solid as a rock before 2020. 

black and white picture of a person sitting down holding their legs

But it doesn’t have to be the recent pandemic, or even any major life event, that has you feeling anxious and/or depressed. Both of these are incredibly common issues that affect millions of people, so you are certainly not alone. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population, every year. Major depressive disorder (MDD) affects more than 16.1 million American adults, or about 6.7% of the U.S. population age 18 and older, in a given year, and persistent depressive disorder (PDD) affects approximately 1.5% of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year. And those are just some of the mental health concerns that affect people every day, and that can be made worse by difficult patches in life.

So yes, it’s okay to not be okay, but it is important to get help if you’re struggling. It takes courage to share that you aren’t okay, and that you need help, but insisting that everything is fine when it isn’t will only make things worse. So talk to a trusted professional, someone who you feel safe opening up to. 

But if you are going through a time in your life when you’re struggling, it might be the smaller everyday interactions, the ones that seem less consequential, that might begin to feel difficult. So let’s look at how you can navigate those situations.

Steps for Dealing with THE QUESTION

If you know you’re going to have difficulty answering the questions “Are you okay?” or “How are you?” with some polite small talk, think about the following strategies:

1. Think about who you want to have this conversation with

Just as it’s always okay to not be okay, it’s also okay to not want to discuss your mental state with everyone who inquires, no matter how well-intentioned they might be. In fact, if you are going through a very difficult time, it can make things feel even more emotionally draining, or prolong a grieving process, if you’re constantly being asked  “Are you okay?” 

Some of the people asking you this are curious (and they can be politely assured that you will be fine if you’re not ready to satisfy their curiosity), and others need to reassure themselves that they are doing their part to “be there for you.” You can be honest with them that you are indeed going through a difficult time, but it’s okay for you to talk about other things for now. 

But there are other people who you can open to when they ask about your mental state, people in your life who have the right skills to provide emotional support, and an empathetic ear. These people don’t even have to be in your immediate family or your closest circle of friends, but if they’re ready to offer their optimism and empathy, or constructive ideas if that’s what you need, they might just be the right person to lean on. 

2. Consider the intentions of the person asking

red question mark with a silhouette of a person in front of it
Consider who is asking you if you are okay before answering, so you know if they are genuine or not.

Similarly to thinking ahead of time about who you want to open up to, when confronted with the actual questions “Are you okay,” “How are you,” etc, it’s okay to take a beat and consider the intentions behind the question. First of all, who’s asking? Are they someone you are close to, someone you believe truly cares about you? Or are they a more casual acquaintance who’s just asking the question in a polite, automatic way?

If you determine that this is not someone who you would trust with your intimate secrets, or even if you just don’t feel comfortable opening up, it’s okay to simply be polite and indicate with your answer that you’re not really up for talking about things on a deeper level. Try responding with something like:

  • I’m hanging in there, thank you so much for asking. How about you?
  • Ugh, we’re all going through tough times, right? How about we talk about some good stuff?
  • Life is tough, but so are we, right? What’s going on with you?
  • (If they still persist) You know, I’m just processing some stuff right now, and I’m not really ready to talk about it, but I appreciate your concern. 

On the other hand, if the person asking is really asking, and they are someone with whom you’re willing to share your emotions, don’t be afraid to reach out. You can simply say, “Actually, it’s been a really tough week. Would you be up for talking about it with me?” You might find that you can be relieved of some of your heavy burden, if only for the time that it takes to get coffee together. Or you might even come away with some new ideas and a new outlook on how to get further support. 

3. Think about how answering will affect you

As we’ve said, these little questions can really take their toll, for a variety of reasons. Being asked them can feel like a reopening of wounds, or being asked them might make you feel like it’s just so obvious that you’re not okay. You might even worry that opening up will be a burden on the people asking. So step back, take a breath. Remember, you don’t have to answer everyone with a bearing of your soul, and those who you do want to open up to are your support system, and are asking you out of genuine concern. 

But what about the people in between? Those asking out of concern, and with whom you want to open up to to a certain extent, but who you might not always want to tell all the details? There’s a way to find a balance. 

4. Set boundaries

How do you find that balance? Remember that it’s great to have multiple people you can open up to when you feel you need to, but that you won’t always want to open up fully to everyone all the time – and there are ways you can express that to these people in your life. For example, if you start feeling like a friend that you’ve opened up to is now constantly walking on eggshells, asking you “Are you okay? How are you?” in a certain way, you can tell them that not every conversation you have has to be so heavy. Let them know how much you appreciate them being there for you, and you will take them up on their offer of support when you need it, but for now it’s totally okay for you to talk about all the little things you’ve always talked about as friends!

And on the subject of setting boundaries, remember also that you can set boundaries in the conversations that you choose to have. For example, if the person you’re talking to tries to hijack the conversation and steer it towards their solutions or wants to make it all about “fixing” your problem, and you’re not ready for that, it’s okay to tell them that right now you just want to vent. Kindly tell them that you appreciate them wanting to help, but really all you need/are ready for right now is someone to listen – and maybe further down the road you might want to discuss how to move forward.

5. Don’t take unhelpful responses personally – and find someone that IS helpfultwo people sitting at a table with coffee cups

So maybe you’ve chosen not to answer that “Are you okay?” or “How are you?” with polite chit chat, and you’ve told the truth – you’re not okay. And the person asking is completely unhelpful, uncomfortable, or brushes you off – that can feel devastating. But remember that their response is no reflection on your needs. They are still valid, it’s just that that person was perhaps not in the right place to respond to your needs, or maybe has something going on in their own life. Don’t let their response shut you down; it’s important to let someone else know you’re not okay, and continue to look for the help you need until you get it.  

There’s no question about it: life can be tough. But so are you! That doesn’t mean, though, that you need to go it alone. If you’re “not okay,” please don’t hesitate to reach out to someone you trust and take the first step in the process of healing.

This Mental Health Awareness Month, Let’s Find Ways to Support Each Other!

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we hope this month, as always, you’re doing great! But we also get it if you’re struggling – many of us are after the last couple of years. But there’s also good news: according to a poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association, almost 70 million adults resolved to find ways to improve their mental health at the end of last year. That’s around a quarter of the adult population! As American Psychiatric Association president Vivian Pender, MD, said in a press release, “To see one in four Americans focusing on their mental health in this moment is important and encouraging.”

So this month, we want to keep this trend going. To that end, we’d like to hear your stories, and we’d also like to highlight some organizations that are working hard to support those living with mental health issues, whether they can be of help to you, or you’re looking for a worthwhile place to donate or volunteer. 

The State of Mental Health in America

While resolutions to work on mental health are indeed encouraging, there are unfortunately still a lot of reasons we need those resolutions. Just check out these statistics: illustration of a person sitting down with sad faces around and the word depression over it

  • Nearly 50 million Americans (almost 20%) are experiencing a mental illness. 4.91% are experiencing a severe mental illness.
  • 9.5% of the adult population is living with a depressive disorder, while 18% of Americans aged 18–54 are suffering from an anxiety-related disorder.
  • 1 in 5 teens suffer from a mental illness, yet many avoid seeking help.
  • Most people living with mental health issues have two or more conditions, like depressive disorder and anxiety.
  • The Mental Health America (MHA) annual State of Mental Health in America report found an increase of 664,000 people from last year’s dataset reporting serious thoughts of suicide.
  • Women in the U.S. are two times more likely to suffer from depression when compared to men.
  • Women attempt suicide more often, but men are four times more likely to die by suicide.
  • Over half of all adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment, totaling over 27 million adults in the U.S. who are going untreated. The percentage of adults with a mental illness who report an unmet need for treatment has been increasing every year. 

These statistics are certainly less encouraging than our resolutions, but we also want to bring you some good news. First, let’s look at some positive mental health trends to look out for this year, and moving forward. 

Moving Forward

Fortunately, mental health is becoming more of a priority in our country, and there is research being conducted into how we can improve mental health services, address racial and socioeconomic disparities, and get to a place where we can all enhance our well-being, starting with our state of mind. The following are just a few positive trends to be aware of:

  • Nearly 61% of adults have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetimes, so clinicians, health care practitioners, educators, and mental health professionals are widely embracing a trauma-informed approach to care to address trauma among the broader population. This will mean a more holistic approach to treating mental health issues.
  • Soon you might be able to take a blood test to easily detect a mental health condition like depression. In April 2021, researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine developed a novel blood test for mental illness, suggesting that biological markers for mood disorders can be found within RNA biomarkers.
  • We will most likely see the continued expansion of telehealth services for mental health. Not only that, but according to Nathaniel Ivers, PhD, department chair and associate professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, “Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many mental health professionals now have the training, experience, confidence, and technology to conduct telemental health services effectively and ethically. It also has the potential to increase mental health treatment access to rural and older adult communities.”
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a non-invasive method of brain stimulation, has been studied extensively in recent years and is being increasingly used to treat certain mental health conditions. As the FDA continues to approve these types of treatments, it could mean help for people whose depression is not improving with traditional methods. 
  • Virtual reality, which has recently been approved as a way to help combat chronic pain, could also become an effective method for treating mental health concerns, since it can help users learn a number of behavioral and cognitive skills to cope with things like stress. 

As we said, the above are just a few innovations to look out for as we all try to improve our mental health. And for now, while we might not have all of these technological advances in place yet, and while we might not even have equal treatment for all, or a way for everyone to access help, there is something we do have. We have a lot of people working very hard for a lot of organizations that are supporting mental health. Let’s take a look at just a few of them.

Organizations Supporting Mental Health

illustration of person lying down and a person sitting next to them
NAMI works to ensure individuals with mental illness live fulfilling, healthy lives.

As we’ve pointed out, a huge number of Americans are living with mental health conditions. But even though mental illness is so common, there is still a lot of misunderstanding and stigma associated with it, and it’s often difficult for individuals to seek the help they need. That’s where mental health charities can step in. Check out the following organizations:

1. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Through advocacy, public awareness, support, and education, NAMI works to ensure individuals with mental illness live fulfilling, healthy lives. They work to help remove the stigma surrounding mental illness and to promote public policy, but they also help people directly through their hotline and help page. In fact, over 50,000 people were able to seek help in 2020 through their toll-free NAMI HelpLine (800-950-6264) alone, and the help page of their website got over 233,000 hits!

2. Mental Health America (MHA)

This organization is all about promoting good mental health for all, with a strong emphasis on prevention, advocacy, and educational programs. One of MHA’s core philosophies is their B4Stage4 Philosophy: “that mental health conditions should be treated long before they reach the most critical points in the disease process,” similar to how we strive to prevent and treat cancer well before Stage 4.

3. Rethink Mental Health Incorporated

Rethink Mental Health Incorporated encourages us all to “rethink” the stigma associated with mental health issues and empower people to get the help they need. They do this through educational programs, as well as advocacy programs that encourage those who are struggling, or who can encourage others to get help, to speak out. Rethink Mental Health Incorporated also has a more creative side, with music and art programs. 

4. Child Mind Institute

Here’s another statistic to throw out there: half of all mental illness occurs before the age of 14, and 75% occurs by the age of 24. That’s why the Child Mind Institute focuses on bettering the lives of children and families of children struggling with mental health and learning disorders. They offer treatment options, as well as support for families and teachers, and conduct crucial research.

5. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)

As we noted above, the number of people with suicidal thoughts is increasing every year. But the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is working hard to change this, by supporting those affected by suicide through research, education, and advocacy, with local chapters in all 50 states. In addition to funding a lot of critical research and hosting local events, AFSP is also currently supporting and funding the 988 crisis response system, which is a new number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (also called just Lifeline) that will be operational nationwide by July 2022. The current number is 1-800-273-TALK or 8255.

6. The JED Foundation (JED)

The JED Foundation’s mission is to protect the emotional health of, and prevent suicide for, our nation’s teens and young adults. They partner with high schools and colleges to help give teens and young adults coping skills by encouraging community awareness, understanding, and action for young adult mental health. They also engage in public policy and advocacy, but it’s their “Seize the Awkward” campaign, which encourages young people to have important (but sometimes awkward!) conversations with each other about their mental health, that really stands out as a unique initiative.

7. The Trevor Project

head puzzle of 4 different colors being put together by a hand
The Trevor Project provides crucial mental health resources for members of the LGBTQ community under 25 years of age.

You might know this organization as one that supports young LGBTQ people – but how do they support them? With a lot of focus on mental health. The Trevor Project provides crucial mental health resources, focusing on issues such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and suicide prevention in members of the LGBTQ community under 25 years of age. They have resources like crisis intervention tools, suicide prevention trainings, and other community resources.

8. Shatterproof

Shatterproof is a nonprofit that focuses on how substance abuse and mental illness impact communities across the United States. They seek to end the stigma around substance abuse and help treat and prevent addiction by advocating for policy change at the federal and state level. They also provide educational tools and support for those seeking treatment.

9. Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective

BEAM’s goal is to help remove systemic barriers that often block African Americans from  accessing mental health resources. The nonprofit does this through education, training, advocacy, and the creative arts. In addition to other resources, BEAM has mobile crisis unit services in some states.

10. The National Center for Transgender Equality

While this is a more holistic organization, the National Center for Transgender Equality also offers a variety of resources for transgender mental health issues. 

Through advocacy, research, education, treatment services, and destigmatization, these organizations all work in some way to make life better for those living with mental health issues and their families. Please consider contacting one if you need help, or donating to one if you can afford to do so – you can even make a difference by volunteering! 

The bottom line is, any one of us can go through difficult times, and considering how common mental health issues are, most of us know someone who is even if we’re not. So, this month (and every month), let’s find ways to support each other, and ourselves. Feel good out there!

Fighting Impostor Syndrome

How would you feel if you won a gold medal at the Olympics? We’d feel pretty shocked if we did, that’s for sure! But seriously, what if you trained and trained and were the best…would you feel like you deserved that medal for all your hard work and talent? Or would you have a sneaking, anxious feeling like you were fooling everyone and shouldn’t really be where you are? That’s how an Olympian who won gold at the last Olympics recently described her feelings – she said that she felt like she was struggling with “impostor syndrome.” This phenomenon is something that you might be dealing with, too, even if you haven’t had a word for it, so let’s take a look at what it is, and how you can feel less like a fraud and more like the superstar that you are.

What Is Impostor Syndrome?

If you’ve ever thought something like, “I’m a fraud,” or “I’m fooling everyone” when it comes to your achievements, level of competency, or abilities, then you already know what impostor syndrome is. And if you’re nodding along, you’re definitely not alone. Studies show that around 70% of people have experienced at least a bout of impostor syndrome in their life. 

While impostor syndrome is most common in people who are considered high achievers, or in people with high level jobs, it can affect anyone “who isn’t able to internalize and own their successes,” according to psychologist Audrey Ervin. Anyone struggling with it will know the feeling of fear that they have just been lucky so far, and are going to be unmasked at any time as the fraud that they are.

african american man upset holding a copy of his face smiling
Studies show that around 70% of people have experienced at least 1 bout of impostor syndrome in their life.

What impostor syndrome is not is just regular old self-doubt. That feeling can creep in now and again, and make you doubt your abilities and competence, but impostor syndrome tends to be more persistent, and more colored by anxiety. Again according to Ervin, “I would describe it as a series of experiences. It’s characterized by chronic feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, and fraudulence despite objective success. It’s hard to internalize success and genuinely hold the belief that you’re competent and capable.”

While impostor syndrome is not recognized as an “official” mental health condition, and has no diagnosis, there are some signs to look out for, including:

  • Anxiety – Psychologists point out that it’s rare to see someone struggling with impostor syndrome who doesn’t also struggle with generalized anxiety or social anxiety.
  • Persistent self-doubt about past, present, and future experiences – Again, impostor syndrome goes beyond just self-doubt.
  • Fear of being “unmasked” – With impostor syndrome, you’ll experience a persistent fear that you’re going to be “found out” as a fraud, even though you deserve your achievements.
  • Belief that your achievements are due to luck – You might not even feel happy about or proud of what you’ve done. In fact, you might actually feel relieved, or even distressed, that you’ve managed to get lucky or have experienced some sort of fluke.
  • Need for validation – You might feel the need to look to authority figures (like a boss or family member) to decide if you’re really successful.
  • Pressuring yourself – If you feel like an impostor, you’ll often pressure yourself to work harder to be worthy of what you feel you don’t deserve, to keep others from recognizing what you think your shortcomings are, and to ease your feelings of guilt.
  • Big goals and disappointments – You might set some goals that would be very challenging for anyone to meet, and then feel disappointment when you fall short of your own expectations.

Who Experiences Impostor Syndrome?

As we pointed out above, anyone and everyone can struggle with impostor syndrome in their life. It was originally thought to mostly affect women, but studies have not shown that to be true. Others think that it only affects more accomplished or high-powered people, but that is not the case. What a lot of experts agree on, though, is that there are some patterns that appear in people who experience impostor syndrome, and that they fall into certain types:causcasian man covering his face with his hands

  • Perfectionists – For this type of person, meeting only 99% of their goals is a sort of failure. They set super high expectations for themselves, and making any mistakes will make them question themselves and their abilities.
  • Experts – This type of person wants to know every piece of information and get every type of training, which can hold actually hold them back from speaking up for fear of looking stupid, or applying for jobs for fear of not looking qualified.
  • Natural geniuses – Many things come naturally to this type of gifted person, so if they have to work hard at something or struggle with it, they will question everything and begin to think they are a complete impostor.
  • Soloists – This type of person feels the need to do everything themselves, and if they have to ask for help, they will feel like they have failed.
  • Supermen/women – These superheroes push themselves to achieve more than anyone else around them, and will feel stressed out and like an impostor if they’re not accomplishing something all the time.

Dealing with Impostor Syndrome

The above, as we said, are patterns of personality types that often experience a lot of impostor syndrome in their life, but really anyone can struggle with it. So how can you deal with these feelings of inadequacy and fraudulence? There’s not a treatment as such for impostor syndrome, but with a lot of focus on mindfulness, you can get on the road to overcoming it! You can start with strategies like the following:

Questioning yourself

Ok, maybe questioning yourself sounds like how you wound up with impostor syndrome, but we’re talking about a different kind of questioning yourself. If you find yourself having negative thoughts about your abilities or accomplishments, take a step back and start critically questioning these thoughts. Ask yourself, is this feeling really objectively accurate? Why am I feeling this way? Are these thoughts helping me or holding me back? You can delve even deeper, and ask things like “What core beliefs do I hold about myself?” “Do I believe I am worthy of love as I am?” or “Do I have to be perfect for others to approve of me?”

Reframing your thinking

Some psychologists suggest that there is a lot of superstition, or even almost compulsion, that fuels the cycle of feeling like an impostor. The suggestion, then, is that you gradually try to change those superstitions by changing your patterns of behavior. For example, let a friend see something you’re working on before you think it’s finished or completely perfect, or cut down on the amount of time you spend on perfecting something. This might help you put things in perspective, and put the importance of your achievements in their right place.

Embracing your Successes

If you’re struggling with impostor syndrome, you’re probably negating any successes in your life, no matter how big or small. To combat this, try to list your successes, no matter how big or small, and allow them to really sink in. Over time, you’ll hopefully begin to see a more realistic picture of your achievements, which will give a boost to your feelings of self-worth.

Sharing Your Feelings illustration of 2 silhouettes, one sitting in a chair and the other one at a desk

Talk to someone about how you’re feeling. The outside perspective of a friend, mentor, or therapist can help bring you back to reality. You can also work on building up your network of mutual support; this network can offer guidance, validate your strengths, and encourage your efforts to grow (and you can do the same for them!). 

Stopping the comparisons

Nobody can do it all, and you don’t need to be perfect or excel at everything. There will be others whose talents are different from yours, and that’s okay. Instead of beating yourself up in comparison with others, take an interest in what those other people have to offer, and in learning about their skills. And, as with most things, use social media wisely and in moderation!

Don’t let impostor syndrome hold you back 

You might feel like you don’t belong, but don’t let that stop you from going for what you want. Know your worth, let others recognize your worth, and pursue your goals.

Feeling like a fake can be very, very real for a lot of us. From affecting our feelings of self-worth, to stressing us out with self-inflicted pressure to achieve more and more, to holding us back from pursuing our goals, the cycle of impostor syndrome can take a big toll on our lives. But instead of fighting these feelings, acknowledge them, and try not to let doubt control your actions. Remember to show yourself some kindness and compassion, and if you’re still struggling, speak to a therapist who can help put things in perspective.