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What Does Love Look Like? Raising Awareness of Teen Dating Violence

Intimate relationships can be some of the most rewarding and some of the most challenging things in life. A healthy and loving relationship between romantic partners provides joy, companionship and emotional support for both people involved. Each person can trust the other to have their interests in mind and always try to do what’s best for their partner. However, intimate relationships can have a profoundly negative impact if one or both of the participants do not care what’s best for the other—if they are physically or emotionally violent or abusive.

Unfortunately, everyone runs the risk of getting into a relationship with an abusive partner, especially since abusers may hide their true behavior early in the relationship. However, young people are especially vulnerable since they may lack the experience to detect or identify dating violence. In fact, approximately one in three adolescent girls in the U.S. is the victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner. Despite this fact, awareness of teen dating violence remains low: some research has found that only 33% of teens who were in an abusive relationship ever told anyone about the abuse, and 81% of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue.

This is why it’s crucial for young people and adults alike to understand the signs of an abusive relationship. To this end, the federal government has designated February as National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month (TDVAM). All month long, organizations like Break the Cycle and Love is Respect (a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline) work to inform the public about the risks of dating violence for teens and adolescents.

As February draws to a close, we here at Cummins Behavioral Health wanted to do our part to spread awareness and show support for this important initiative. In honor of TDVAM, this post explores what an abusive relationship looks like, what a healthy relationship looks like, and how to help prevent teen dating violence for yourself, your friends or your children.

How to Tell the Difference Between Love and Abuse

The trouble with violent relationship behavior is that it can build so gradually that it goes unnoticed. Sometimes, the feelings of infatuation that can be common early in a relationship may blind a person to their partner’s abusive behavior until it has escalated to a dangerous level. Knowing the warning signs of dating violence can help us identify an abusive relationship before it has become unmanageable.

In an unhealthy or abusive relationship, one person attempts to control the other. The abuser might pressure their partner into sexual activities or try to control who their partner speaks to and spends time with. The victim in the relationship might feel like they should only spend time with their partner, and they might feel unable or even afraid to tell others about how their partner is treating them. In extreme cases, the abuser may attempt to manipulate the victim, accuse them of wrongdoing, or even dictate what they should and shouldn’t believe.

According to LoveIsRespect.org, some common examples of abusive behavior include:

  • Physical violence, such as hitting, choking, kicking, shoving, biting, and force-feeding
  • Emotional and verbal violence, such as putting you down, threatening you, telling you what to do, and accusing you of being unfaithful
  • Digital violence, such as sending threats via text or instant message, stalking you on social media, and logging onto your online accounts without your permission
  • Financial violence, such as taking your paychecks, preventing you from working, controlling your spending, and refusing to pay bills
  • Sexual violence, such as pressuring or forcing you into sexual acts, forcing you to watch pornography, or restricting access to birth control

By contrast, a healthy relationship is founded on mutual respect between both partners. People who are in a healthy relationship are honest with each other about their thoughts, feelings and desires, and they trust their partner to honor their confidentiality. Both people consent to any and all sexual activity, and they communicate their intentions and comfort at every step of a sexual encounter. Finally, a healthy relationship has clear boundaries, with both partners agreeing on how much time they spend together, how quickly or slowly they want to become intimate, and what details of their relationship can be shared with other people online or offline.

What You Can Do to Prevent Teen Dating Violence

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Once you know how to identify an abusive relationship, it’s important that you also understand how to help a teen who may be in one. Starting a conversation about dating violence can be difficult, but it’s easier if you know what to say.

If you are a parent or adult authority figure, you should first know that you do have an influence on the decisions young people make. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 25% of people who visit their website LoveIsRespect.org say they do so because a teacher referred them to it.

When talking to a teen about their relationship, it’s important that you make your concern for them known, listen to what they tell you, and accept what they say at face value. Any skepticism or accusations on your part could damage the trust in your relationship and discourage them from speaking up again. Similarly, you should never punish or give ultimatums to a teen who is experiencing dating violence, as this will only make it harder for you to help them. You should also avoid speaking negatively about their romantic partner and choose instead to point out that their actions are disrespectful and harmful.

If you are a teen and you suspect one of your friends is in an abusive relationship, the best thing you can do is offer them emotional support. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them if you think they need help, and listen to what they have to tell you. You should try to be respectful of their feelings and decisions while also pointing out the violent behavior you see and explaining that it is unacceptable. Last but not least, focus on building up your friend rather than tearing down their partner, as this might only serve to push them away from you.

Most importantly, whether it’s you, your friend, your child, or a teen you know who is suffering from dating violence, professional help is always available. Behavioral health therapists and counselors can provide advice, support and resources to help anyone get out of a relationship that’s damaging to their well-being.

Here at Cummins BHS, we believe that every person deserves to be treated with love, dignity and respect in all their relationships. We encourage you to spread this message by telling others about teen dating violence and sharing the signs and symptoms of abusive relationships.

And if you believe that professional counseling may be appropriate for yourself or your child, you can call us at (888) 714-1927 to discuss treatment options.

Looking for more information about dating violence, domestic abuse and toxic relationships? These articles may be helpful.

Identifying Toxic Relationships: Dr. Armen Sarkissian Explains How to Escape the “Drama Triangle” Trap
Giving Domestic Violence Survivors a Chance at Independence: Cummins BHS, Sheltering Wings and RealAmerica Announce Haven Homes

How to Change Your Life Using the Stages of Change Model, with Cummins Therapist David Bonney

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” — Winston Churchill

At some point in their lives, most people will feel the need to make a change. Maybe they’d like to remove something that’s causing them distress, or perhaps they’d like to add a new behavior that will improve the quality of their life. For example, we’ve previously discussed the benefits that practicing mindfulness, getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly can have for a person’s physical and mental health.

However, change can be tricky. Common knowledge suggests that the main obstacle to change is knowing what needs to be done, but this actually isn’t the case. Research shows that the first step in any change is developing an intention to change and believing we have the ability to make that change. Without this internal conviction, any changes to our lives that we might like to make—or think we ought to make—are unlikely to succeed. Once intention is achieved, the change must then be planned out, executed, and maintained into the future.

In fact, the way that successful change happens is very similar regardless of the individual person and the exact thing being changed. Psychologists have found that people move through predictable patterns of thought and behavior as they prepare for and complete a change. This knowledge can be invaluable when we intend to make a change in our life, as it can help us track where we are in the process of change and how to move closer to our goal.

To better explain how someone can make positive changes in their life, we spoke with David Bonney, a therapist and IOT Group Leader at our Marion County office. In this post, David walks us through one of the most popular psychological theories for how people change: the Stages of Change model.

Dividing Change into Its Five Main Parts

David Bonney, MA, LCAC, MAC, CADAC IV, ICOGS
David Bonney (MA, LCAC, MAC, CADAC IV, ICOGS), Intensive Outpatient Treatment Group Leader at Cummins Behavioral Health

As part of their daily work, mental health professionals often assist people in changing their behaviors. This is especially true for therapists like David who specialize in substance use disorder. When coaching a client through a big lifestyle change, it’s helpful to know what they’re experiencing at present and how their intentions might shift. The Stages of Change model is a common tool therapists use to map a client’s journey.

“In the area of substance use counseling, the Stages of Change model is one of the predominant models, if not the most predominant model, counselors tend to use across all agencies,” David says. “It’s something that I support as well. I see a lot of validity to it, and it can apply to almost any consumer that we work with.”

The Stages of Change model divides behavior change into five discrete parts that a person progresses through in order. Although the goal of any change is continuous forward progression, a person may regress to a previous stage of the model if they have a relapse in behavior. The stages are as follows:

  1. Pre-contemplation: At this stage, the person has not yet considered changing their behavior. They have either not thought of a change they’d like to make in their life, or they don’t believe that an existing behavior poses a problem. According to David, “In some cases, pre-contemplation is denial. The person’s opinion is, ‘I don’t have a problem, so therefore there’s nothing to work on.’ “
  2. Contemplation: A person at this stage has noticed an opportunity or problem in their life and has started to think about making a change. “With substance use disorder, contemplation is, ‘Yes, maybe there is a problem here. I’m not ready to do anything about it, but I recognize that there’s a problem with my substance use in some way or another,’ “ David says. “They might even go so far as, ‘Maybe I need to stop doing this because it’s a problem.’ “
  3. Preparation: The person has now committed to making a change and is considering how to go about doing so. They may be seeking advice from other people or planning out a course of action. David says, “Preparation is, ‘What am I going to do about this?’ Maybe the person is talking to others or seeking out treatment. It’s the idea that there is a motivation to do something different, no matter what the motivation is.”
  4. Action: As the name implies, a person at this stage is taking measures to make a change. This is typically done by cutting back on harmful behaviors or adopting beneficial ones. “In the case of mental health, the person might be in therapy and actively trying to practice new coping skills and avoid triggers, at whatever level of success. The person is actually making those efforts,” David says.
  5. Maintenance: At the final stage, the person continues to practice their target behaviors and avoids relapsing into old behaviors. This stage is ongoing and does not have a definitive end. “Someone in maintenance is in compliance with whatever they’re supposed to be doing. The idea is to continue doing the things that have gotten them to this point and adapt to their new routines,” David says.

Taking the First Step Toward Change

Stages of Change model
An illustration of the Stages of Change model

Every stage in the Stages of Change model is an integral part of the behavior change process. However, the transition from pre-contemplation to contemplation deserves further discussion. Intention to change is the linchpin that holds the process together, and developing that intention is not always easy. This is especially true when the change is something that we ought to do but not necessarily something that we want to do.

This is a situation that David encounters frequently in substance use counseling. “We have some consumers who have been referred to Intensive Outpatient Therapy (IOT) who say, for whatever reason, ‘I’m not ready yet,’ or ‘I don’t want to go.’ What we might do at that point is meet with them individually to explore their reservations,” he says.

This type of counseling relies on a technique called motivational interviewing. During this process, the therapist or counselor guides the client toward behavior change by exploring their desires and intentions. Rather than telling the client what they should do, the therapist accepts where they are in the change process and helps them clarify any ambivalent feelings they may have. This format prevents therapy from devolving into a power struggle and empowers the client to take responsibility for their own actions.

As David explains, motivational interviewing can help a person decide to make a change by their own choice, on their own terms, and at a speed they’re comfortable with:

“Motivational interviewing is about meeting people where they are with the ultimate goal of building engagement. Sometimes in the pre-contemplation stage, consumers attempt to go in a circle. I try to step outside the circle right away by accepting the consumer for where they are and accepting their line of thinking, whether it’s misguided or not. Then I try to challenge any beliefs they may have that are contrary to what they’re saying. For example, if they say, ‘I want to get off probation,’ I’ll ask how they are going to get off probation. If they then say, ‘Well, I have to quit using,’ I’ll ask what it’s going to take for them to quit using. Then they might say, ‘I’m not going to quit using because there’s nothing wrong with what I’m doing, but I want to get off probation.’ In that case, I’ll try to point out the conflict in their thinking, but I’ll allow them to draw that conclusion rather than give them the answer. So, what we’re trying to do is break down defenses and avoid any power struggles, and by doing that, we’re trying to empower the consumer versus take their power away.”

When the time comes to make a change in our life, the Stages of Change model can be a useful tool both inside and outside of therapy. We recommend using it to track progress toward your goal and anticipate what will come next on your journey.

If you’d like professional assistance when working toward behavior change, you should know that our therapists and counselors here at Cummins BHS would be happy to help! Simply call us at (888) 714–1927 to discuss your counseling options and schedule an appointment.

If you’d like more advice related to changing your behaviors and improving your life, we recommend reading our New Year’s post about setting better goals!

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How to Set New Year’s Goals You Can Actually Accomplish, According to Behavioral Health Professionals

Identifying Toxic Relationships: Dr. Armen Sarkissian Explains How to Escape the “Drama Triangle” Trap

Relationships with other people are a large part of what makes life worth living. This includes everything from parents and children to relatives, siblings, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, spouses and romantic partners. Healthy relationships enrich our lives and encourage us to develop as individuals. However, unhealthy relationships do just the opposite, making us dread or despise the other person and stifling our ability to grow.

Unhealthy relationships may also be called “toxic relationships,” a term coined by self-help author Dr. Lillian Glass in her book, Toxic People. According to Glass, toxic relationships are marked by conflict, competition, disrespect, and a lack of support and cohesiveness between the two people in the relationship. These malicious intentions can manifest in different ways depending on the nature of the relationship. For example, domestic violence is common in toxic relationships between intimate partners and family members, but less so between friends and acquaintances.

It’s not too hard to understand the difference between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one—the difficulty is in understanding why unhealthy relationships develop in the first place. We often assume that bad relationships form because one or both of the participants are “bad people,” but this perspective is flawed and overly simplistic. In reality, many unhealthy relationships exist because the people in them are following unhealthy behavior patterns without realizing it.

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, we hope to shed light on some of the harmful patterns of behavior, or “roles,” that people sometimes adopt in interpersonal relationships. We spoke with Dr. Armen Sarkissian, Senior Psychologist at Cummins Behavioral Health, to learn more about one common pattern of dysfunction in relationships: the Drama Triangle.

The Unending Drama Between Rescuer, Persecutor and Victim

Dr. Armen Sarkissian, EdD, HSPP
Armen Sarkissian (EdD, HSPP), Senior Psychologist at Cummins BHS

In essence, the Drama Triangle (which is also called the Rescue Triangle or Karpman’s Triangle) is a set of three interrelated roles that people may play in a relationship: rescuer, persecutor and victim. Under this pattern of behavior, one person acts as the victim while the other acts as either a rescuer or a persecutor. When the victim is confronted with an obstacle in their life, they feel powerless to overcome it and believe they need someone else to do it for them. A rescuer or persecutor believes that the victim is powerless, and they either try to help them or condemn them for it.

This dynamic is harmful because it creates conflict between the people in the relationship and prevents either of them from solving the problem at hand. “The feelings that go with the triangle don’t let you use your potential because you’re stuck in one of the three roles,” Dr. Sarkissian says. “Basically, it is not a healthy way to behave in the world and relate to others.”

This pattern of relating is sometimes learned from childhood experiences. In particular, early research on the Drama Triangle found that it frequently plays out in families when one parent has a substance use disorder. “We’re talking about the early ’80s, when the drug of choice for most people was alcohol,” Dr. Sarkissian explains. “That pattern fit with most families of alcoholics. There was an alcoholic father, a rescuer mother, and the children. The wife would try to cover up for the husband’s drinking, and the children were the victims because they had no power.”

However, anyone can fall prey to the Drama Triangle regardless of their childhood and past experiences. Whenever someone believes that they or another person don’t have the power to help themselves, they are susceptible to falling into the Drama Triangle. Once in the triangle, they will alternate between the three different roles, and they’ll have a hard time getting back out of it. Dr. Sarkissian explains,

“We all, to a certain degree, do this without being aware of it. And once we’re in the triangle, we play all three roles. When relating to colleagues, especially, we can start to feel victimized, and then persecute the other person, and then feel bad and go into rescue mode. The interesting thing is that once you get used to this pattern, then you constantly get into it with others. People tend to identify with one role more often than the others, so once you’ve identified as a victim, for example, you’ll constantly find people who are either persecutors or rescuers—either ‘knights in shining armor’ or perpetrators.”

How to Break Out of the Drama Triangle

The Drama Triangle
Image from Claude Steiner’s "Scripts People Live." 1971. Grove Press, New York.

As mentioned above, the underlying theme of the Drama Triangle is a belief, conscious or unconscious, that people are essentially unable to help themselves. This is what leads a person to adopt one of the three roles and keeps them stuck in these roles. If they wish to break out of the Drama Triangle and begin having healthy relationships, they must learn to respect their own agency and the agency of other people.

“The idea is that I respect you enough to believe that you are able to take care of yourself,” Dr. Sarkissian explains. “I think one of the key points is that if I say ‘I can rescue you,’ in some way I’m saying, ‘I’m better than you. You don’t know how to do this. Let me show you.’ “ In the same way, someone in the persecutor role looks down on the victim, and the victim perceives themselves as inferior to their peers.

Of course, the person in the victim role is often in legitimate need of help with some situation or problem. If you choose to provide assistance, it’s important to hold the other person accountable for their own success or failure. Dr. Sarkissian suggests, “If you’re going to help somebody, respect them enough to believe that they can take care of themselves but just need help right now. Make an agreement about what you’re going to do and what the other person is going to do. If you jump in there and do it for them, you haven’t helped them at all. What you’ve done is emphasized and proved to them that they are not able to take care of themselves.”

There’s one final hitch that can keep people stuck in the Drama Triangle, and that’s the fact that it can be difficult to even realize when we’re in it. In many cases, a person becomes so familiar with the behavioral patterns of the Drama Triangle that they no longer appear abnormal. According to Dr. Sarkissian, the best way to detect these patterns is to pay close attention to the emotions you feel toward other people:

“If you want to work on your relationships, then you have to pay attention to your internal feelings when you’re relating to people. If you go through the three feelings of the triangle with one person—if you feel guilty and want to rescue them, and then you get angry because they’re not doing what you’re asking them to do, and then you feel like you’re powerless to do anything with that person—then you’re probably in a Drama Triangle with that person. If you feel these three emotions, then you’re probably going through the three roles.”

As we go through our lives meeting new people and forming new relationships, we always run the risk that one of them may become toxic. On this Valentine’s Day, we encourage you to examine all of your relationships for unhealthy behaviors such as those found in the Drama Triangle. If you discover that you are in a toxic relationship with someone, keep in mind that counseling or therapy with a mental health professional could help.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you and your loved ones from Cummins BHS!

How Stigma of Mental Illness Affects African American Communities

“People of color, particularly African Americans, feel the stigma more keenly. In a race-conscious society, some don’t want to be perceived as having yet another deficit.” — Bebe Moore Campbell, author and journalist

When it comes to delivering appropriate mental health care to people who need it, stigma is the enemy for everyone involved. Feelings of shame about having a mental health disorder can prevent a person from seeking help, which unnecessarily delays their recovery and could lead to their condition worsening. And although people of every race and ethnicity experience stigma, it can be especially formidable for those in the African American community.

For example, even though rates of mental illness are similar for all races, only 31% of African American adults with mental illness receive treatment for their condition, compared to the U.S. average of 43%. Qualitative research has found that some African American mental health consumers reported delaying their treatment due to concerns about stigma. And most worryingly, the rate of suicide death among African American youth is increasing faster than for any other racial or ethnic group, suggesting that stigma and other barriers are preventing them from receiving the mental health care they need.

Although mental health stigma affects everyone, these statistics show that it’s especially challenging for the African American community. In observance and celebration of Black History Month, we here at Cummins Behavioral Health wanted to bring awareness to the unique difficulties that African American people face when seeking treatment for mental health issues. After all, it’s only by calling attention to problems in behavioral health care that we can begin to do our part to fix them.

To get a better understanding of the issue of stigma in the African American community, we spoke with Michelle Freeman, our Director of Operations for Marion and Hendricks Counties. She explained some of the roots of stigma among African Americans as well as what mental health organizations can do to address the needs of the community.

Trust and Distrust: A Key Facet of Stigma

Michelle Freeman, LMFT

There are several common explanations for why African American people tend to experience stigma differently, and in some cases more strongly, than people of other races and ethnicities. Many of these explanations involve trust, either of individuals or of entire institutions.

The African American community has endured many unique hardships throughout its history, from slavery to the civil rights movement and socioeconomic inequalities that continue to this day. Over the centuries, the community has developed a strong sense of resilience and self-sufficiency that has allowed it to endure the many struggles it has faced. The flip side of this resiliency is that acknowledging a mental illness can sometimes be perceived as an admission of weakness.

“I think part of the issue with stigma is around this long-standing idea in the African American community of who can be trusted with deep, personal issues that may be impacting a family, whether it’s ongoing trauma or medical or mental health issues,” Michelle says. If a person doesn’t trust that their community will support their decision to seek therapy or counseling, then they might refrain from doing so or feel ashamed that they need help.

On the other hand, centuries of institutional oppression and inequality has made some in the African American community distrustful of government organizations and even the medical establishment. Adding to the problem is the fact that African American mental health patients have historically been misdiagnosed at a higher rate than White patients, and that African Americans are far more likely to be criminally charged for substance use than their White counterparts. These factors often create feelings of suspicion among the African American community, adding to the stigma of seeking mental health care.

“We have to admit that we have a historical component regarding trust and how active one in the African American community would be to seek out services as a result of fear,” Michelle says.

How Mental Health Organizations Can Help Erode Stigma

Fortunately, the stigma surrounding mental illness can be challenged and weakened in two main ways. The first way is by individuals being open and honest about their mental health struggles and encouraging others in their community to do the same. Over time, this communal vulnerability can go a long way toward reducing stigma. However, mental health organizations can also help reduce stigma through community engagement.

“I think we really need to be engaged and active in the community, such as at the Black & Minority Health Fair, so that we can make sure people are getting the information they need and that individuals understand that we’re a safe place where they can come and seek treatment,” Michelle says. “We also need to engage our faith communities regarding education of mental health and seeking help when symptoms arise, because in the African American community, faith and the church community are often protective factors.”

Of course, the effectiveness of community engagement will be limited if mental health organizations don’t also take steps to better understand that community. According to Michelle, this is why it’s crucial to promote cultural competency among care providers:

“We need more culturally-competent physicians, therapists and psychologists. When we’re meeting with someone who belongs to a particular subculture, we need to recognize the role that might play in how we approach treatment. At Cummins, we’ve established a Cultural Competency Committee that helps us look at diverse populations, identify best practices for treating those populations, and engage our employees across the organization to be a part of this conversation so we can make sure we’re providing the best possible treatment for every population.”

Last but not least, ensuring that care is financially accessible for everyone in the African American community can help erode stigma by making therapy a normal self-maintenance practice rather than an extravagant expenditure. “It’s important that we’re looking at accessibility, affordability of services, and socioeconomic factors that might limit a person’s access to health insurance. It’s a multi-pronged issue that needs to be looked at systemically,” Michelle says.

Here at Cummins, we recognize the mental health realities and difficulties faced by the African American community, and we are committed to providing life-enriching care to people of all races and ethnicities. If you are having concerns about your mental health and would like to discuss the possibility of treatment, please give us a call at (888) 714-1927.

On behalf of the entire staff at Cummins Behavioral Health, we’d like to wish you a wonderful Black History Month 2020!

Black History Month 2020

If you’d like to learn more about the unique mental health challenges of people from diverse backgrounds, we recommend our blog post from last year’s Minority Mental Health Month!

Minority Mental Health Month 2019
Shining a Spotlight on Minority Mental Health Month with These Indiana Organizations

New Indiana State Museum Exhibit Aims to Help “FIX” the Opioid Crisis in Our State

Since at least 1999, when opioids began to be prescribed at a high rate, the United States has been gripped by the major public health crisis that is opioid use and overdose. This epidemic of prescription and illegal opioids has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and had an impact on countless more. According to statistics from the CDC, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, and of the 70,200 recorded drug overdose deaths in 2017, around 68% involved an opioid.

The opioid crisis has hit many Midwestern states particularly hard, and Indiana is no exception. The State Department of Health reports that in 2017, Indiana had a drug overdose rate of 29.4 deaths per 100,000 people, it’s highest rate ever. This put our state in 14th place in the nation for most drug overdose deaths, with a greater year-to-year increase in overdose rates than any other state except New Jersey and Nebraska.

In response, Indiana governor Eric J. Holcomb has stressed the importance of helping individuals who suffer from substance use disorder as well as understanding the nature of their disease:

“Substance use impacts our family, friends and neighbors. That’s why continuing to help more people enter recovery will always remain a top priority. The more we know about the ways it affects people, the better equipped we’ll be to avoid dependence or support someone you love.”

Indiana Governor Eric J. Holcomb
Governor Eric J. Holcomb

To this end, the Indiana State Museum is opening a new exhibit called “FIX: Heartbreak and Hope Inside Our Opioid Crisis.” A collaboration between the State Museum and more than 50 community partners across Indiana, the exhibit will explore the many faces of this crisis that affects all Hoosiers, ultimately aiming to build empathy and reduce stigma surrounding opioid use disorder.

Cummins’ Carman Allen, a Certified Recovery Specialist with a Substance Abuse Endorsement, is contributing her personal story of addiction and recovery to one portion of the upcoming exhibit. We spoke with Carman to learn more about her contribution and what to expect from FIX when it opens on February 1st.

Viewing the Opioid Crisis through a Personal Lens

Carman Allen, CRS-SA
"I like to encourage and inspire hope with everything that I do, not because of my job, but because of who I am," says Carman Allan, CPS-SA, a peer recovery specialist at Cummins Behavioral Health.

For Carman Allen, the opioid epidemic is a crisis with very personal stakes. “Part of my history includes opiates and other drugs,” she says. Today, she leverages her own experiences to help others who struggle with substance use, co-facilitating Intensive Outpatient Therapy groups at Cummins and serving on the Board of Directors for the Indiana Addiction Issues Coalition. As such, she is able to speak about substance use disorder from the perspective of both a behavioral health provider and a person who is in recovery.

This made her a perfect choice for a part of the Indiana State Museum’s exhibit that focuses on the stories of individuals in recovery from substance use. “I was at an event for Cummins, and I ended up meeting someone from the State Museum,” Carman explains. “She talked about this exhibit and how the museum wanted to take a bold voice to the community about the opioid epidemic, and I was invited to do an interview. The whole idea is to give an up-close-and-personal view of people that are recovering and what that looks like in the community.”

Carman’s interview will be shown alongside others in the exhibit at special video kiosks, providing a glimpse into the recovery stories of real people who have survived opioid dependence. She believes her contribution, and the contributions of others like her, will help the public see individuals with substance use disorder as real people and inspire the hope of recovery for those who are still suffering. Carman says,

“I was so grateful that it gave me liberty not only to share about my addiction and recovery, but also to focus on how, for me, that was a co-occurring disorder. It allowed me to not just say, ‘I started using drugs and this is what happened.’ It allowed me to create a picture, so to speak.

I really do believe that recovery is real, and I believe that it is possible for everybody. And it’s no longer connected with just one type of person or a couple types of people. This is something that is affecting our whole community, our whole state, our whole country. And I think that the more we can put a face on it and bring awareness to it, the better, even for people that still might be suffering. They might see it, and that could spark hope.”

What to Expect from the Full State Museum Exhibit

FIX: Heartbreak and Hope Inside Our Opioid Crisis

In addition to stories of recovery like Carman’s, the FIX exhibit will include many ways for attendees to learn about the history and scope of the opioid crisis. “The exhibit is about building awareness, decreasing stigma, empowering the community with education, and showing what it looks like to be in the process of recovery,” Carman says.

In the exhibit, visitors will also be able to:

  • Explore the science behind opioid use disorder and cravings, and walk inside a giant fabric brain.
  • Hear true stories of recovery in video kiosks.
  • Experience art created in response to the crisis, including photography of what recovery can and does look like by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Bill Foley.
  • Get up-close with artifacts from similar health crises in the past, and find out how what we learned then could help us today.
  • Engage in stress-reducing exercises such as a worry shredder, calming table or “recovery yoga” which can help everyone—not just those in recovery.
  • Find ways to affect positive change in this crisis and explore resources provided by community partners.

Along with the exhibit in Indianapolis, programs addressing the crisis will take place at the museum in Indianapolis as well as the 11 historic sites around the state, utilizing the help of community partners. The programming will extend beyond the run of the exhibit, for as long as the communities see a need for it.

These programs will include:

  • Courageous Conversations: A forum featuring different community members from around the state who will speak about their ties to the crisis and open a discussion for all to participate.
  • “Love Over Dose”: A play from Young Actors Theatre written by teens, for teens about a teenager who overdoses—and leaves close friends and family to decide whether to follow in her footsteps or make positive changes.
  • “One Choice Changes Everything”: A program featuring a CVS pharmacist who speaks to teens and their families about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and answers questions.
  • Daily engagement throughout the run of the exhibit, including music therapy, art therapy, community conversations, hands-on activities and more.

“FIX” opens at the Indiana State Museum in downtown Indianapolis on Saturday, February 1st and will remain open until February 7th, 2021. We encourage anyone who cares about the health of our community and our state to find some time to explore the exhibit.

For Carman Allen, initiatives like the FIX exhibit show that the tide is changing in our country’s decades-long battle with opioid use and overdose: “The doors have been opened to walk through and to keep reminding people that recovery and healing is real. But it is a journey, because we don’t arrive. Recovery is not a destination; it is absolutely a journey.”

If you’d like to learn more about substance use disorder and how Cummins can help those who suffer with it, we suggest reading our blog post with Tracy Waible, our Director of Recovery Services!

Dual diagnosis SUD
Managing Dual Diagnosis: Cummins' Tracy Waible on How to Identify and Treat Substance Use with Co-Occurring Disorders

Exercise and Mental Health: How Physical Activity Improves Mood, Cognition, and Overall Wellness

“Food is the most widely abused anti-anxiety drug in America, and exercise is the most potent yet underutilized antidepressant.” — Bill Phillips, nutrition and fitness author

There are many proven benefits of regular physical activity. It’s well known that exercise can help people control their weight and decrease their risk of health conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure, but it has also been shown to increase energy levels, improve sleep quality, and boost self-confidence. Unfortunately, only 23% of American adults get enough exercise, according to statistics from the CDC.

Exercise is so beneficial for health that the government recommends adults get as much physical activity as they can throughout the day. Kaitie Delgado, a Registered Clinical Dietitian and ACSM-Certified Personal Trainer at Hendricks Regional Health, explains:

“The new 2020 guideline is that you should be moving as much as possible. It used to be, and it will still be encouraged, that you get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week. You may have heard the suggestion that you do a 10-minute walk in the morning, a 10-minute walk at lunch and a 10-minute walk at dinner. Now they’re saying that you should be doing that all day long, and that the more activity you have, the better.”

Kaitie Delgado, Clinical Sports Dietitian at Hendricks Regional Health
Kaitie Delgado, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, ACSM-CPT

In addition to the numerous physical health benefits that exercise provides, it can also improve many aspects of mental health. For example, research has shown that exercise can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression after only a single session of physical activity. Exercise is also highly effective for alleviating feelings of distress, and it has been shown to increase cognitive functioning and mental acuity, especially among older adults.

For these reasons and more, physical exercise is a simple and effective method you can use to improve your mental health, regardless of whether or not you have a diagnosed mental health condition. We spoke with Cummins’ own Letitia Haywood, Director of Operations for Boone County and an advocate of the benefits of exercise, to learn more.

Exercise and the Mind-Body Connection

Letitia Haywood, Director of Operations for Boone County at Cummins Behavioral Health Systems
"I recognize the benefits of exercise for mental health because I know how it makes me feel better," says Letita Haywood, LCSW, LCAC, C-IAYT, and Director of Operations for Boone County at Cummins BHS. In addition to her 25+ years working in the field of mental health, Letitia is also a yoga facilitator and International Certified Yoga Therapist.

You may be wondering how exercise, an activity that uses our physical body, can have an effect on our mental state. In an earlier blog post about laughter, we explained that our physiological state can actually change our emotions and mood, an interaction commonly referred to as the mind-body connection. In the same way that laughing can make us feel happy, exercise can affect our minds by altering activity in areas of the brain that control motivation, mood and memory.

“Research has proven exercise to be a good source of medicine for many mental health issues,” Letitia says. “We know that those who exercise feel energetic throughout the day, sleep more deeply at night, experience greater clarity of mind, tend to have a greater outlook on life, are more optimistic and feel a greater sense of happiness, self-confidence and overall well-being. Research has also proven that exercise relieves stress and boosts overall mood.”

On top of its impact on energy and mood, physical activity tends to improve memory, cognition, and neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s natural ability to change the way it operates. This can be especially beneficial for people who suffer from trauma-related stress and anxiety, as Letitia explains. “When I was participating with the team at Heartland Yoga Community, we worked with stroke victims, veterans with chronic pain and veterans with PTSD to demonstrate the long-term effects of yoga on their brains, their mood, their anxiety, and on any residual trauma effects that they had from their service time. We saw some phenomenal results. The veterans continued to come back, and we knew their minds were being rejuvenated just by way of their self-report,” she says.

According to Letitia, the restorative effects of exercise make it an ideal way to manage the symptoms of a variety of cognitive and mood disorders:

“Exercise can positively impact anxiety, depression, ADHD, PTSD, and even bipolar disorder. Back when I did my first practice with Larue Carter Hospital, they incorporated daily exercise for the adults who had schizophrenia, just to keep them mobile and not sitting in the corner of a room. It can really change the perspective of any individual that has a mental health disorder. It’s an opportunity to breathe deeply, to relax, to socialize, to strengthen their muscles and to strengthen their brain output, just by changing the environment and doing something that lifts the heart rate and helps calm the nervous system.”

How to Begin Reaping the Rewards of Exercise

Exercise for mental health

If you’d like to begin exercising for your physical and mental health, then you’re in luck, because it’s not difficult to get started. Some people hear the word “exercise” and think they need to join a gym or start doing long-distance running, but your physical activity doesn’t need to be high in intensity to provide health benefits. “It’s been noted through research that modest amounts of exercise can make a difference, which is fabulous news for those who may not have tons of time to commit to the gym,” Letitia says. “No matter one’s age or fitness ability, exercise can be modified to be a powerful tool to help anyone feel better mentally and physically.”

Before beginning any exercise regimen, it’s a good idea to talk to your physician about what kind of physical activity would be most appropriate for you. This is especially important if you have certain medical complications like high blood pressure, a heart condition or weak joints. Once you know what kind of exercise will suit you best, it’s important to choose an activity that is both challenging and enjoyable for you. “What feels good to you? What makes you smile but also makes you want to scream a little bit when you have to do it?” Letitia says.

When you begin exercising, be sure to take things slowly at first and ease into your routine. Exercising too strenuously, too soon increases your risk of sustaining an injury, so you should start with lower-intensity exercises and gradually increase their difficulty when they are no longer challenging for you. Letitia offers a few suggestions that you can consider:

“If you’re a runner, then maybe you can start with a walk-run program, where you walk for one minute and then run for one minute. If you’re older and you have some joint issues, then you can start with walking, and maybe that program would be walking for 15 minutes one day and then taking a day off to do some strength training exercises. I also think you should try to find an accountability buddy who can say, ‘Hey, Letitia, we didn’t do our five minutes yesterday. Let’s make sure to get in ten minutes today.’ It’s always nice to have that support and accountability when you’re doing something that you know is good for you, that you can try to get out of by making excuses, but that you feel really good about when it’s all done.”

Getting regular exercise is an easy, inexpensive and surprisingly effective way we can manage and improve our mental health. However, the physical component of exercise isn’t the only thing that makes it good for us. When done correctly, exercise also has a mental and a spiritual component, as Letitia explains:

“It isn’t just physical exercise that leads to better mental health. We want to make sure that we’re going a little bit deeper and focusing on body, mind and spirit as a collective, whole-person exercise experience. We might do that through deep breathing exercises, positive affirmations, or participating in an exercise group or an organized sport—things that feed our mental body as well as our social, more spiritual body. The three have to go together to provide the greatest benefit to our mental health.”

Looking for more ways to improve your mental health through basic wellness interventions? We recommend our posts on nutrition and sleep below!

Fruits and vegetables
How Nutrition Affects Mental Health with Cummins' Jamie Selby and Hendricks Regional Health's Kaitie Delgado
Dr. Ashleigh Woods Explains How—And Why—to Get a Good Night's Sleep

Managing Dual Diagnosis: Cummins’ Tracy Waible on How to Identify and Treat Substance Use with Co-Occurring Disorders

Substance use disorder, otherwise known as substance addiction, afflicts millions of people across the United States every year. According to statistics from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, the exact number is around 20.3 million people aged 12 or older. Substance use disorder, or SUD, can be a devastating disease for the person who has it as well as their loved ones, affecting everything from their physical and mental health to their economic stability.

In addition, it’s not uncommon for someone with substance use disorder to also struggle with other mental health issues. When this is the case, the person is said to have a dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder. According to the same survey mentioned above, 9.2 million adults had both a mental illness and SUD in 2018. However, about half of adults with co-occurring disorders did not receive treatment for either ailment.

As these statistics show, co-occurring disorders are a very significant issue in modern mental health. If a person who is suffering from co-occurring disorders does not receive proper treatment for both conditions, then there’s a high probability that their problems will only continue. Therefore, it’s important that mental health professionals and their patients know how to identify and treat co-occurring disorders.

As part of its mission to inspire the hope of recovery for everyone, Cummins Behavioral Health is dedicated to improving the lives of individuals who suffer from substance use disorder. We spoke with Tracy Waible, our Director of Recovery Services, to learn more about SUD with co-occurring disorders and the best way to treat this difficult condition.

The Problem with Co-Occurring Disorders

Tracy Waible, LCSW, LCAC
"There's a high correlation between substance use disorder and an array of other mental health disorders," says Tracy Waible (LCSW, LCAC), Director of Recovery Services at Cummins Behavioral Health.

In general, substance use is more common among people who have a mental health issue than it is among people who do not. In cases of co-occurring disorders, it’s possible for either disorder to develop first. An individual who has a mental health disorder may turn to substance use as a way of managing their symptoms, but research has shown that alcohol and drugs worsen the symptoms of many mental disorders, proving that substance use is not an effective coping strategy for mental illness.

People who suffer from mood disorders or who have experienced traumatic situations can be at especially high risk of developing co-occurring SUD. “There’s a very high correlation between PTSD and substance use disorder,” Tracy says. “A lot of people that come through our programming might have experienced trauma as a child, which could lead to them developing substance use disorder over time.”

In fact, trauma and mental illness are two key risk factors for developing SUD, especially when they occur during a person’s childhood. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, risk factors are qualities of an individual or their environment that put them at risk for developing behavioral problems. Risk factors are offset by protective factors, which are qualities that promote successful coping and adaptation to life situations. Understanding risk factors and protective factors is an important part of preventing and treating substance use disorder, as Tracy explains:

“When someone comes to Cummins seeking treatment for substance use, we use the Surgeon General’s Report on Drugs, Alcohol and Health to go through the risk factors and protective factors for developing SUD. We even train our elementary providers to do this, because some of the risk factors have to do with behavioral health issues that emerge as early as kindergarten. For adults, we use this activity to decrease stigma and shame. They can see what risk factors they had as a child, what protective factors they lacked, and how they got to where they are now. Overall, we see what we can do for prevention or wrap-around services to bolster some of those protective factors for people.”

Providing Dual Treatment for a Dual Diagnosis

We know that SUD can often come with a co-occurring disorder, and we know that treating both disorders is essential for a person’s recovery. The question that remains is how to manage treatment of a dual diagnosis.

As with any person coming into treatment, the first thing a therapist should do is assess the appropriate level of care for the client. “We use an evidence-based tool called the ASAM Criteria at intake to decide how many hours of service someone needs,” Tracy explains. At Cummins, a therapist can identify any disorders an individual may have on top of SUD and refer them to a variety of additional outpatient services, including individual therapy, family therapy, peer services, skills training and employment services. Medication-assisted treatment for substance use and medications that can help manage mental health symptoms are also available.

If a person requires a high level of care for their substance use disorder, then they might be a good fit for Intensive Outpatient Treatment, also known as IOT. This level of treatment lasts longer and goes more in-depth than standard outpatient SUD care. “IOT is nine hours a week, and it’s done in a group setting. We currently have two IOT groups in Hendricks County and one group each in Marion, Boone, Montgomery and Putnam counties,” Tracy says.

In addition, all substance use treatments provided at Cummins leverage peer recovery services to increase consumer comfort and improve treatment outcomes. Tracy explains,

“Peer recovery specialists take part in our IOT groups and are embedded in all of our SUD programming. They offer lived experience and help consumers find hope that recovery is possible. If a person isn’t sure that they want to engage in IOT, the peer recovery specialist can talk them through our services and why they’re important. They can also help people feel more comfortable when they get to their first group session, because they’re someone the person has already met and is comfortable with. Finally, peer specialists will also see some of the group members individually to help them find community resources like 12-step meetings.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorder, we encourage you to look into treatment with Cummins BHS. Our therapists and counselors can provide treatment for substance use as well as any co-occurring mental health issues you may have.

In the words of Tracy Waible, at Cummins, “Our philosophy is to treat the whole person. We want to look at every area of their life to see how we can help them move forward in those areas and be happy, healthy, productive human beings.”

For more information about the different types of services Cummins provides, we recommend reading our blog posts on school-based services and employment services, which you can find below!

How Avon Community School Corporation and Cummins BHS Are Supporting Students' Mental Health
Employment Services: Helping People with Mental Disabilities Find Rewarding Work

The Power of Being Thankful: Jessica Hynson, Jeremy Haire & Mindy Frazee Explain the Benefits of Gratitude

“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Gratitude isn’t a concept that we tend to give much thought on a regular basis. Most of the time, we’re too preoccupied with work, family matters and the little concerns of daily life to stop and feel grateful. However, making the time to think about gratitude can be very beneficial for our mental health and wellness.

The benefits of gratitude have been well established through psychological research. For starters, a large body of evidence suggests that gratitude is associated with an overall sense of well-being in life. Gratitude is also a protective factor against many types of psychopathology, as gratitude interventions have been proven useful in reducing symptoms of depression and distress. Practicing gratitude is also beneficial for interpersonal relationships, as studies have shown that expressing gratitude toward another person improves our view of that relationship.

This research has established that there is indeed a power to being thankful, but as with all wellness behaviors, knowing what to do is only part of the solution. The key is in putting that knowledge into practice, especially when the behavior, like gratitude, goes against our natural mode of thinking and acting.

To better understand the importance of gratitude, we spoke with Cummins therapists Jessica Hynson, Jeremy Haire, and Mindy Frazee. Together, they explained why gratitude can be so difficult for us to practice sometimes—and how we can gradually “rewire” our brains to be more grateful in life.

Why Gratitude Doesn’t Come Naturally

Cummins therapists Jessica Hynson, Jeremy Haire and Mindy Frazee
Cummins therapists Jessica Hynson, MA, CSAYC, LMHC (left), Jeremy Haire, LMHC (middle), and Mindy Frazee, LMHCA (right)

For better or worse, human beings are very good at detecting problems. This probably has to do with the way our brains are “wired,” which may have helped our ancient ancestors avoid danger and survive. Today, it means that we’re simply more inclined to see the bad in life than the good. “All too often, our minds are focused on solving the issues of the day (i.e. what’s for dinner, do I have to go to the store again, who is going to pick up Billy from practice) and not so often do we set aside time to focus on what’s going well in our lives,” Mindy explains.

The problem with this mode of thinking is that it takes for granted the good things in our lives. These could be anything from relationships with friends and family to a roof over our heads, a filling meal, a pleasant day outside, or even our favorite song playing on the radio. Even when we are struggling in life, we usually have something positive to be thankful for, and focusing on these things can make a significant difference in our outlook. According to Jessica, “When we stop focusing on the negative and instead focus on the positive, it can really change our attitude, our mentality, our mood—it can just change everything.”

Of course, looking for silver linings can be difficult when we feel surrounded by problems. The good news is that gratitude becomes easier and more natural with practice, and it’s a behavior that we can choose even when other parts of our lives seem out of control. Jeremy says,

“With depression especially, consumers may feel like their mood is out of their control, like it’s something that is controlling them and so much of their day. Gratitude is helpful in the sense that it’s something people can do on purpose. It can help them feel like, ‘Oh, this is something I can choose. It’s something I can do regardless of what I’m feeling in a moment. It’s something that, once I get into the practice of it, I see the benefit of.’ And once they practice it, it gets easier and easier, and the things that they notice are things they would’ve never paid attention to at the beginning.”

Simple Exercises for Practicing Gratitude

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Fortunately, practicing gratitude is relatively easy to do in our day-to-day lives. One of the simplest and most popular ways is to keep a gratitude journal. Journaling is a great way to increase mindfulness and manage mental health problems, and regularly writing down things that you’re grateful for is a sure way to build a mindset of gratitude. “It’s a way to focus and reflect on the events or moments that you appreciate and want to remember,” Jeremy says.

If you choose to try your hand at gratitude journaling, there are a few different ways you can approach it. “There are different kinds of gratitude journals you can get,” Jessica says. “You can do free-form, where you might write down three things that you’re grateful for today. You can also get journals with prompts, because some people really can’t think of anything positive right now. They might think, ‘Nothing is positive today,’ but the prompt can get them thinking outside the box.”

If journaling isn’t for you, you could try meditation instead. “One of the gratitude exercises I recommend is a guided meditation focused on compassion and kindness,” Mindy explains. “You can find some great free apps for this. I usually recommend Stop, Breathe & Think. Affirmations are another way one can cultivate a mindset of gratitude towards self and others. An example of an affirmation might be, ‘I am grateful for my body and all of the wonderful things it does for me.’ “

Finally, you can experiment with different ways of reminding yourself to be grateful. You could leave post-it notes with positive affirmations around your home or in your car, or you could set daily reminders on your phone to do your gratitude exercise. Another strategy is to have a gratitude partner whom you express your gratefulness toward, which is particularly useful for romantic couples. Finally, you can create a gratitude jar filled with pre-selected exercises that you pick at random and complete each day.

However you choose to practice gratitude in your daily life, remember that gratitude is just that—a choice! If we choose to be grateful for the good things around us, it won’t solve all of our problems, but it can help us lead happier, more fulfilled lives.

For more wellness strategies and coping skills you can use to improve your mental health, check out these other posts from our blog!

Laughter: Do It Just for the Health of It!
What Do Food Critics Know About Savoring Life?

How to Set New Year’s Goals You Can Actually Accomplish, According to Behavioral Health Professionals

Many people think of a new year as a fresh beginning. With the old year gone, we may envision the coming one as a clean slate for redirecting and refocusing our lives. We may set goals for ourselves that we’d like to accomplish in the new year, with the tradition of making “resolutions” being particularly popular.

But as common as New Year’s resolutions are, they’re also notorious for being abandoned. In fact, one study conducted by the University of Scranton found that only 19% of people still kept their resolutions two years after making them. The question is, why do so many people fail in their resolutions? And perhaps more importantly, what are the secrets of the 19% of people who succeed in them?

A big part of the answer revolves around goal setting. Specifically, the way we set goals for ourselves can have a large impact on whether or not we achieve those goals. For example, a well-set goal is achievable as long as we can maintain our willpower and stay motivated to complete it. By contrast, a poorly-set goal is nearly impossible to accomplish even with the utmost determination and an iron will.

With this in mind, we spoke with several therapists here at Cummins Behavioral Health to learn how they guide clients through goal setting in their day-to-day work. Here’s how behavioral health professionals suggest setting goals that you can actually accomplish in the new year.

Four Steps to Setting Better Goals

Cummins therapists Jessica Hynson, Jeremy Haire and Mindy Frazee
Cummins therapists Jessica Hynson, MA, CSAYC, LMHC (left), Jeremy Haire, LMHC (middle), and Mindy Frazee, LMHCA (right)

The process of setting achievable goals can be simplified down to four main steps:

1. Define your objectives

The first step of setting any goal is defining it. This may seem obvious, but it can be surprising how often we may want something without having a clear picture of exactly what it is. Jeremy Haire, a therapist at Cummins’ Crawfordsville office, gives an example:

“When we set goals with consumers, we’re trying to summarize what the problem is. First, the person has to identify the thing they want to improve. We start with the intake assessment, and at that stage, they’re usually just describing symptoms. For some people, or maybe even most people, they haven’t really put that into a goal. It’s more like, ‘These are my problems.’ For their goal, I like them to answer the question, ‘What is that important thing that I’m willing to do something about?’ “

When choosing a goal to work toward, spend some time cataloguing any problems in your life and thinking about their root causes. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be able to set objectives to effectively address those causes.

2. Make your goal simple, realistic, and measurable

When setting your goal, it’s important to think small and practical. The goals that are easiest to accomplish are simple instead of complicated, realistic instead of exaggerated, and easily measurable instead of vague and intangible.

An important part of this step is determining the specific actions you can take to reach your goal. In psychological terms, this is known as operationalization. In other words, you must plan out the operations you can perform that will lead to accomplishment. Jessica Hynson, a therapist and team lead at our Avon office, elaborates:

“When I’m working on goal setting with consumers, people might say things like, ‘My goal is to lose weight.’ I’ll ask, ‘How are you going to do that?’, and they’ll respond, ‘Well, I’m going to lose weight.’ The problem is that doesn’t mean anything, because if they could just magically lose the weight, they would. So I have to change that up and ask, ‘How do you lose weight?’, and they might say, ‘Oh, well, maybe if I stop going out to eat so much.’ Then they can make a goal to only eat out two times a week, for example.”

In addition, instead of trying to set a large, multi-faceted goal for yourself, you should set a series of small goals that you can work through one at a time. “I would emphasize the importance of setting goals that one can attain in order to build momentum. Once a small goal has been successfully achieved, then you can move on to the next level,” says Mindy Frazee, another therapist at our Crawfordsville office.

3. Track your progress

Once you’ve set the goal you want to work toward, you need to make sure you don’t forget about it. Again, this may seem self-explanatory, but experience shows that this is not the case. “Probably the biggest downfall to people’s New Year’s resolutions is saying them on January 1st and then never looking back on them again. By June, they wonder what their resolutions even were that year,” Jessica says.

The best way to remember your goal is to keep track of your progress toward it, and the easiest way to do that is to build it into your routine. For example, if you use a calendar or daily planner, you could schedule a progress check-in at the beginning or end of each week. Alternatively, you could set daily reminders for yourself on your cell phone or another electronic device.

Tracking your progress toward your goal is essential for staying motivated and assessing your performance. It’s also a great way to identify problems and obstacles, as Jeremy explains:

“With consumers, we set objectives for a time period, so that way we can come back and review. We can talk about progress, what’s been helpful, what’s been working, where they are, and what that looks like as far as where they’d like to be. We see if there’s anything getting in the way of their progress. It gives us a chance to review, evaluate and reassess. Are we on the right track, or do we need to make some other changes?”

4. If you slip up, don’t give up

The last thing to remember when working toward a goal is that one misstep doesn’t constitute failure. Rather, it simply means that you need to refocus your efforts and try again. “People can get discouraged and think, ‘Well, I didn’t go to the gym this week, so I failed. Where’s the chips?’ And I’ll say, ‘No, just make a better choice tomorrow,’ “ Jessica says.

In fact, the same study on New Year’s resolutions cited above found that even the people who kept their resolutions for two years suffered slip-ups along the way, with an average of 14 slips per person. This shows that it doesn’t matter how many times you suffer a lapse in your target behavior as long as you keep trying and practicing.

Above all, try not to expect perfection from yourself, as this will only lead to disappointment and frustration. “Sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves at once. Then, when we struggle, we might give up and feel negative about ourselves, which impacts our mental health in negative ways,” Mindy says.

New Year's resolution

If you put these simple steps into practice when creating goals for yourself, you’ll have a much greater chance of successfully completing them. We encourage you to use these steps for any New Year’s resolutions you’re working toward, or for any and all goals you set for yourself throughout the year!

Goal setting

Looking for suggestions for improving your mental health in 2020? Consider making a New Year’s resolution to improve your wellness in one of the categories below!

Dr. Ashleigh Woods Explains How—And Why—to Get a Good Night's Sleep
Fruits and vegetables
How Nutrition Affects Mental Health with Cummins’ Jaime Selby and Hendricks Regional Health’s Kaitie Delgado

Tips for Beating the Holiday Blues from Cummins’ Chief Clinical Officer Robb Enlow

Traditionally speaking, the end-of-the-year holidays are often associated with concepts like love, happiness, warmth, family, friendship and togetherness. But despite conventional wisdom, there are many realities of the holiday season that can make it decidedly less than “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Although the holidays are intended to be a time for relaxation, they typically come with a host of unique stressors. These may include increased busyness, stressful family interactions, social functions or lack thereof, pressures related to gift giving, and even the expectation to be happy. These stressors can sometimes trigger feelings of anxiety, sadness and loneliness referred to as the “holiday blues.”

People who have pre-existing mental health conditions like depression can be especially vulnerable to these effects. For example, in one survey conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64% of people with a diagnosed mental illness reported that the holidays make their condition worse. In addition, 75% of respondents said the holidays contribute to feelings of sadness or dissatisfaction.

If we hope to make it through the holiday season with our mental health intact, we need to know how to deal with negative thoughts and avoid common triggers. We spoke with Robb Enlow, Chief Clinical Officer at Cummins Behavioral Health, to learn some of the best strategies for beating the holiday blues.

Robb Enlow on Beating the Holiday Blues

robb_enlow
Robb Enlow, LMHC, Chief Clinical Officer at Cummins BHS

As a trained mental health therapist, Robb Enlow has helped many individuals work through behavioral health problems and crises, and the holiday blues are no exception. “Not everyone perceives the holidays as a happy, joyful time. For some people, they can cause an increase in depression,” he says.

According to Robb, there are some simple interventions that anyone can use to help fend off or alleviate holiday-related depression. Here are his four most valuable strategies, along with some suggestions for putting them into practice:

Seek social support, avoid isolation

If you find yourself feeling sad or lonely during the holidays, the best thing to do is seek emotional support from friends and family instead of remaining alone. “Depression is a disorder in which people do isolate,” Robb says. “Through their sadness or grief, they tend to stick by themselves, so this advice is going to the contrary of what people would normally do when they’re feeling down. You don’t necessarily need to seek out lots of people, just someone who can provide good support for you.”

A good example would be close friends, family members, or a significant other who understands your emotional struggles. Don’t worry about inconveniencing the other person or people—if they are true friends, they won’t mind supporting you in your time of need.

Continue regular wellness behaviors

One way to put negative emotions in check is to maintain your physical and mental health. This means not letting your normal wellness behaviors lapse on account of the holidays. “Number two on the list is to continue wellness behaviors such as getting enough sleep, eating the right food, not over-indulging in food, and avoiding alcohol,” Robb says.

Do your best to adhere to your regular sleep and exercise regimens during the holidays, even if this means skipping some events or gatherings. In addition, be mindful about the amount of sugary treats you consume. Don’t stray too far from your nutritional guidelines, and reach for healthy snacks whenever possible.

Re-frame negative thoughts

If negative thoughts start running through your head, it’s important not to dwell on them, as this will only worsen your mood and lead to more negative thinking. Instead, you should practice changing your thought patterns to prevent your mood from spiraling in a negative direction.

When re-framing your thoughts, the key is to divert your attention away from the idea that bothers you and toward something more comforting or constructive. Robb gives the following example: “If you’re thinking, ‘I should be happy. I should be jolly like everyone else,’ recognize that’s not necessary and re-frame the thought to something like, ‘This only comes once a year. I’m going to be able to make it through the holidays. This, too, will pass.’ “

Avoid social media triggers

Social media can be a source of anxiety and depression for many people, and this is especially true during the holiday season. “Around the holidays, people like to post all these fabulous Norman Rockwell, Currier and Ives-like photos. That’s what you see on social media, and if that’s not your experience, then that can get you thinking, ‘I should be doing that. I shouldn’t be like this,’ “ Robb says.

If you’re susceptible to these kinds of triggers, you might consider taking a break from social media during the holidays. Instead of comparing your life to the videos and images you see online, turn off your screens for a while and pay attention to your own experiences—especially those that are pleasant or rewarding.

While it can be normal to feel a little down during the holiday season, persistent sadness or anxiety could be symptoms of a deeper behavioral health issue. If your “holiday blues” don’t pass or get worse over time, we encourage you to seek help from a mental health professional. Our therapists and counselors at Cummins BHS are equipped to help with a wide variety of behavioral health problems.

We wish you and your loved ones a very happy, relaxing, and fulfilling holiday season!

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For more wellness tips and strategies you can use during the holidays and throughout the new year, we recommend the articles below!

Laughter: Do It Just for the Health of It!
What Do Food Critics Know About Savoring Life?