Play Therapy for Adults

Think for a moment about children at play.  They are often creative, happy, laughing, less inhibited, more daring.  Play can be good therapy for children as well as adults.  Do we grow out of being playful as we age?  Do we learn to become so overly cautious and self-conscious that we forget how to free ourselves from our adult responsibilities just to have fun?  Wouldn’t it perhaps lift our spirits to go run in a park, plop down on a swing and soar into the sky, propel on a scooter, or play a lawn game?  Whether you are around kids or not, challenge yourself to join in the fun, letting your body feel free, your mind be unburdened by responsibilities just for a few moments, and your chronological clock to run backwards a few years.  Enjoy the moments, and seize the day.

SMART goals

Goals are excellent for us to have.  Goals can guide us toward our future, toward changes we want to make, and toward accomplishments we wish to achieve.  Creating a SMART goal has five essential parts.

what is a smart goal?

S = Specific

M = Measurable

A = Achievable

R = Reasonable or Realistic

T = Time-limited or Time-specific

For example, someone might have a goal to get a new job.  Without a reasonable plan, it might seem daunting and frustrating on a daily basis to think and dream about that new job, but not know where to start or have any progress toward it.

A “smart” goal sounds like this: “I will submit 1 job application each week, and accept all interviews offered even if only for the experience.”  Notice that the goal isn’t focused on the outcome of getting the job, but on the steps that are under your control.  The goal is specific in terms of the action, measurable (1 application per week), achievable based upon the time and energy available to do a job search, reasonable, and has a timeframe.

When you set goals for yourself, try using the acronym above to guide you toward setting goals that are SMART.  Good luck!

Adolescents and Health Concerns

Youth have many options for procuring health care information.  In addition to healthcare professionals, parents and friends, they also have the internet.  We surveyed a nationally-representative sample of 5th through 12th grade youth in the US.  Our goal was to understand where youth obtain health care information.  Over half said they turn to their parents and/or a doctor or other health professional for health care information.  However, 25-33% also gleaned health care information from potentially unreliable sources, such as magazines, television shows, newspapers and the internet.  Of further concern, 10% responded that they did not know where to get health care information.

The survey also asked if there were adolescent health topics that they wouldn’t discuss with their health care provider.  Over one-third of boys and girls said they would be too embarrassed, afraid or uncomfortable talking about physical or sexual abuse, menstruation, body changes and sexuality.

Opportunities for improvement

Adolescent health is too important not to discuss.  We can be better advocates for adolescent health care, asking youth appropriate questions and providing them private opportunities to discuss sensitive topics.  Health care professionals and others can work on establishment of a good rapport, taking time out to listen to teens, assuring and maintaining confidentiality, and helping them access appropriate information when needed.

Because you matter.

Building the belief that you matter starts early … like when you skin your knee and your mom kisses it “all better,” or when you color a picture that is hung on the front of the refrigerator, or you get to choose a special meal to be made for the family on your birthday.  Perhaps it’s a kind little handwritten note someone placed inside your lunchbox or a card that you receive in the mail for no reason at all other than “just because…..”  It happens when you are looked in the eyes with compassion and care when you speak, and when someone notices a pleasant change to your appearance, a milestone achieved in your life, or even that your mood has shifted.

Examples like these can help us feel as though we are important, that we are visible, that we are significant enough for someone to take notice of us or do something that makes us feel special.  And the feedback loop on how much value you believe that you have continues on through adolescence and adulthood, as if there is a lifelong score being kept with tallies for “I matter” on one side and “I feel like I don’t matter” on the other.

Who are the people in your life that make you feel visible or important or special, who help you believe that you matter?  Spend time with them, perhaps more than you do presently.  After all, you do matter.

Weight management.

With the new year comes resolutions for many people, and one of the most common is related to weight.  When we combine our knowledge bases for prevention of eating disorders (e.g., anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa) and prevention of obesity and overweight, we generally come up with the same list of strategies for long-term, methodical weight management.  Combining regular treatment strategies for individuals diagnosed with eating disorders with results from the National Weight Control Registry (a longitudinal study of over 4000 previously overweight adults who have successfully maintained a healthier weight for multiple years), successful weight management at a healthy weight incorporates the following strategies:

  • eating breakfast every day, and eating regularly (4-5 times) throughout the day
  • limiting the frequency of eating out at fast food establishments
  • eating a lower-fat, higher carbohydrate/fiber diet
  • watching less than 10 hours of television per week
  • exercising, on average, about 1 hour per day at a moderate level (e.g., walking, aerobics class, biking, swimming)
  • self-monitoring weight, portion sizes, and meal planning

These practices may be appropriate for individuals who are overweight by medical standards or who seek to maintain a current healthy weight.  Note that extreme measures, such as overexercising, skipping meals, or using harmful measures such as laxatives or diet pulls were not listed as successful strategies.  In fact, the use of extreme measures may affect basal metabolic rate in such a manner that weight is gained over time!  So, treat your body well with a daily, methodical, and moderate weight management plan.

Make it count.

In the movie Titanic, Jack directs Rose to “Make it count.”  Whether your life ahead of you is long or short, try to live each day to its fullest.  Extend your reach for the shiny brass ring on the carousel of life.  Carpe Diem.

Your life is your own.  Live it passionately.  Savor authentic relationships.  Relish in intellectual curiosity.  Celebrate the miracles of the moments.  Find joy and contentment.  Make each moment count.

Relaxation in three minutes.

Margaret Townsend is a certified breath work practitioner in Portland, Oregon who shares this three minute relaxation exercise for wellness [this exercise was originally printed in Real Simple magazine, August 2015].

Investing three minutes each day can help you feel more centered and energized.  Try it first thing in the morning when you are still in your pajamas.

Stand with your feet apart, a bit wider than hip-width, and imagine little springs in all of your joints: ankles, knees, hips, fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders and jaw.  Bounce a bit into these “springs,” then begin to shake your whole body in a comfortable but vigorous rhythm, allowing your shoulders to move up and down, your head to bob, your hands to flap, and your breath to be free.  Keep this going for a whole minute.  When you stop, just be still for a moment and feel the natural movement of your breath; notice how alive your body feels.

Now sit down on a comfortable surface.  With your jaw relaxed and your chest and belly soft, take an inhale, feeling the breath flow in, bathing your body and mind in refreshing, cleansing energy, then falling freely into an exhale.  Allow the next inhale to come like a gentle wave rising, so there’s a nice, soft, circular feel to the breath – no break between inhale and exhale.  Continue this connected flow for about two minutes.  Then sit for a moment, breathe naturally, and enjoy being awake and feeling whole.

Evolution or Revolution?

There’s an impatience in our lives.  We’re technologically connected at the hip, (blue)tooth and thumbs.  We can update our information on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to let those in our circle know instantly what or how we are doing.  So where’s the pixie dust and magic want to make mental health issues improve instantaneously?  In the words of the Beatles, you say you want a revolution?

Changes in mental health typically do not occur overnight.  I suppose there are some exceptions, but true change is more likely to be evolutionary than revolutionary.  That means that we can benefit from being patient and deliberate in our pursuit of mental health change.  Perhaps an applicable analogy is that we are our best guinea pigs for our own research – – we try something new (like getting more sleep at night, taking a mindful walk on a daily basis, or opening up to a trusted person) and observe over time if that helps.  If it does, then keep doing it.  If it doesn’t, then we try something else new that might be helpful.  The evolution of the improved and happier you will emerge in time, yet it may emerge along a timeline that is longer than that which you wanted.  Be patient, as only when we continue to work on building our foundation and working daily on these practices that enhance our mental health do we reap the long-term benefits.

Health Now or Disease Later?

I saw a quote recently and thought it was very appropriate for some of what we confront in the health field.  The saying goes, “If you do not make time for health you will eventually have to make time for disease.”  I believe this quote is appropriate for both mental and physical health – – that how we spend our time living our lives now directly influences how we will live our lives later.  I regularly speak about the benefits of routine mental health practices – – adequate sleep, taking time out for calm/relaxation (yoga, meditation, prayer, deep breathing), setting boundaries around our most important commitments while ridding our lives of unnecessary distractions, etc. – – and how those practices can impact optimal mental health functioning.  Physical health practices, such as regular low-impact exercise, appropriate nutrition and hydration, good posture and abstinence from smoking and excessive alcohol use, can also directly influence our bodies and quality of life.

I believe that the amount of time we spend focusing on good physical and mental health now is a more efficient use of our time compared to dealing with diseases later.  Furthermore, placing our efforts on good health practices today is enjoyable!!!  {Seriously, have you ever seen or heard anyone enjoy going to dialysis, having radiation or chemotherapy, or suffering through heart disease?}

Ask yourself this, “What am I doing regularly now to help maintain good health?  What can I do better to improve my health even more?”  Go for health now and enjoy the rewards!

Taking Action.

I’ve been struct by the paralyzing force – – the incapacitating nature – – of indecision.  Acts such as looking for the best job, the perfect partner, or the optimal career path in college can lead to emotional debilitation and immobilization.  Sometimes, people are mired down by numerous imperfect options, and subsequently choose nothing.  “Paralysis by analysis.”  No taking action; only finding stagnation.

Choosing an imperfect path may be uncomfortable, yet it is an important step toward learning what you like, what you don’t, and how to move forward.  Making a decision and learning from it also teaches us of our amazing capacities to be more than we may have anticipated we could be.

“Be bold and courageous.  When you look back on your life, you will regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.”  – – H. axon Brown, Jr.