This past year presented so many different challenges and obstacles that tested our strength and resiliency. The global pandemic forced us to cope with situations we never even imagined, and a lot of us struggled with our mental health as a result. The good news is that there are tools and resources available that can support the well-being of individuals and communities.
Now, more than ever, we need to combat the stigma surrounding mental health concerns. That’s why this Mental Health Month Ron Huxley is highlighting the TraumaToolbox.com- what individuals can do throughout their daily lives to prioritize mental health, build resiliency, and continue to cope with the obstacles of COVID-19.
Throughout the pandemic, many people who had never experienced mental health challenges found themselves struggling for the first time. During the month of May, we are focusing on different topics that can help process the events of the past year and the feelings that surround them, while also building up skills and supports that extend beyond COVID-19.
We know that the past year forced many to accept tough situations that they had little to no control over. If you found that it impacted your mental health, you aren’t alone. In fact, of the almost half a million individuals that took the anxiety screening at MHAscreening.org, 79% showed symptoms of moderate to severe anxiety. However, there are practical tools that can help improve your mental health. We are focused on managing anger and frustration, recognizing when trauma may be affecting your mental health, challenging negative thinking patterns, and making time to take care of yourself.
It’s important to remember that working on your mental health and finding tools that help you thrive takes time. Change won’t happen overnight. Instead, by focusing on small changes, you can move through the stressors of the past year and develop long-term strategies to support yourself on an ongoing basis.
A great starting point for anyone who is ready to start prioritizing their mental health is to take a mental health screening at MHAscreening.org. It’s a quick, free, and confidential way for someone to assess their mental health and begin finding hope and healing. Ultimately, during this month of May, Ron Huxley wants to remind everyone that mental illnesses are real, and recovery is possible.
Check out the many mental health tools create free at the TraumaToolbox.com.
A common struggle for modern people is a disconnection between the head and heart. We know one thing to be true, in our head, but we don’t feel or experience that truth, in our hearts or lives. We might have “Know-ledge” that someone love us (a partner, family, friend) but we don’t feel or experience the “know-ing.”
The result of this disconnection is a wide rage of negative emotions and physiological reactions. This lack, of knowing in our hearts, is rapidly creating anxiety in the world. The manifestation is broken relationships, depression and suicidal ideations, and addiction to handle pain. A simple remedy is to reconnect the head and heart.
Neuroscience provides the key to reconnecting head and heart through the new science of neuroplasticity. This refers to the brains ability to reorganize into new networks and mental patterns. It used to be believed that the brain and nervous system only grew during childhood and then stopped. All our learned patterns were fixed once we were adults or at least drastically slowed down. We know know that this is not true.
Learning can occur across the lifespan and the brain can reroute circuits, repattern networks, and even create new brain matter in response to new social emotional inputs, environmental influences, repeated practices, and even small amounts of psychological stress (yes, stress). The brain can also relearn skills, like speaking and motor movement, following brain damage.
Because the brain can be redesigned it is called “plastic” or moldable. Children are an example of neuroplasticity. Developmentally, they are “experience-dependent” coming into the world with neuro-hardware possessing basic operating instructions but needing software or experiences from loving caregivers to program the brain and its resulting behaviors or actions.
The infant brain is primed for social contact and seeks healthy attachments. If those attachments are missed or the attachment bond is frightening, as in case of abused and neglected children, the result is a child with severe emotional and behavioral disturbances.
Fortunatley, if a chlid did not “inherit” a healthy attachment, an adult, through deep inner work and repairing with healthy adult partners, can “earn” their lost security.
NOTE: You can learn more about attachment in our free online course at Traumatoolbox.com
Here is a simple two-step practice that has been proven to change the brain in a positive way and connect the head to the heart:
1. Activate your head. What is you WANT to believe but don’t currently feel is true? Write this statement out on a piece of paper and say it outloud. Of course, it will not FEEL true because it is your head that is saying it, not your heart.
2. Activate your heart. Picture this statement “as if” it were true. Hold that image in your heart while you take slow, deep breaths. The breathing will keep the body from overriding the statements as not true. It just wants to protect you from hurt or disappoinment. Ignore it, or better yet, thank it for trying to protect you and continue to picture it.
This is not “whoo-whoo” philosphy. This is science. Research has proven that daily expressions of gratitude create literal changes in brain structure and mental functions. This is measureable change! The brain looks for reasons to validate what it believes. If you believe that you people are rude to you, your reticular activating system (a group of neural connectsion in your brain stem that play a crucial role in maintaining behavioral arousl, direct focus, and conciousness) will filter sensor input to be congruent with the thoughts you think about yourself and your world. The brain validates what you believe! If you think people are rude, you will see rude people everwhere. They are not hard to find…
If you think that people are kind and generous toward you, the reticular activating system will filter out the rude people and notice only kind and generous people. In turn, this will reinforce your knowledge of kind and generous people, and increase your knowing additional kind and generous people, developing new neural pathways in the physical brain so you have new mental capacity and memories, and new moods and behaviors will develop.
If this doesn’t convince you, listen to this interesting fact:
The heart is a more power, electrical object than your brain! The heart is about 100,000 times stronger electrically and up to 5000 ties stronger magnetically than the brain. Although imperceptible to us, the heart give off an electromagnetic (EEG) field that can be measured up to three feet away from our bodies. It you are depressed, angry, bitter…can others experience it whether they mentally understand it or not? Of course, they can. Ask any highly sensitive person and they will tell you how challenging it is to be in a room with another sad or angry person. The emotional field will shift their emotional state as well unless they mentally (head and hearts connection again) rehearse this this feeling is not their but belongs to others.
Here’s another fact:
The heart is not just a blood-pumping organ, it is a sensory organ. It acts as a “sophisticated information encoding and processing center that enables it to learn, remember, and make independent functional decisions.”
An emotion is e-motion or energy in motion. It is not just thoughts, in our head, that direct our lives. Our heart is an important area of personal and spiritual growth as well. We need it to have healthy relationships, make successful business decisions, and overcome traumatic events. This latter area is called “neuroresilience” as is a term coined by Ron Huxley in his online course: TraumaToolbox.com
It is really time to stop using our heads without connecting our hearts. Use the two-step practice, allow the principle of neuroplasticity to affect new change, and find more freedom in thoughts and emotions.
No one, in my generation, has every experienced a global crisis like the pandemic that kicked off in 2020. The unfortunate consequence of this medical crisis will be a new global crisis that affects our mental health.
As a therapist that specializes in anxiety and trauma I have seen a dramatic increase of both in the lives of children and adults. Individuals who already struggled with these issues have increased in personal distress, substance abuse, and suicidal ideations. Even people, who never had problems with depression, anxiety, or panic are now showing symptoms that damage their jobs, health, and relationships.
Government agencies and mental health clearinghouses have ramped up funding to meet this challenge that is likely to continue for the next fear years. The cost is greater than the monies supplied to treat it. We all pay emotionally and spiritually.
Now is the time to address these issues with information, advocacy, and proven methods that help prevent and stop mental health concerns.
When it is chronic and untreated, adverse events can become toxic stress and severely impact individual health, social and cultural structure, and economic stability.
Trauma affects everyone and has known no boundaries. It affects children and adults from all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. It is one of the common denominators for individuals receiving services from social services organizations, and its structural disorganization shows up in correctional institutions, jails, schools, hospitals, and the workplace.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” [https://www.integration.samhsa.gov/clinical-practice/trauma-informed]
The upside of recognizing the commonality of adversity and toxic stress causes us to respond compassionately to ourselves and others!
This continual horror, triggered by events in the individual’s world, leads to a nervous system shutdown that has repercussions in the ability to read and express social cues, access executive brain skills, and find motivation or purpose in life. For researchers like van der Kolk, the body is key to understanding trauma treatment. This insight into toxic stress opens the doors of hope to helpers burdened by the cold cognitive concepts consisting of thought processes alone.
Recognizing the body’s role on the mind and the mind on the body has opened the door to new therapies that allow for deeper healing!
Get more healing for you and your family with Ron Huxley’s online courses at FamilyHealer.tv or schedule a session with Ron today.
The effects of COVID-19 has resulted in many business and services moving to remote work. This has many benefits and costs for society and this is especially true in the field of mental health.
Traditionally mental health was done face-to-face, in a office with a licensed therapist. At times, it took place in the clients home, when they were unable to come to an office, due to health or lack of transportation. In rare cases therapy took place over the phone when all other options were not possible. Today, all of this has reversed with online options being the first choice and in office being last.
In reality, online options for mental health has been researched for many years, although the application of it was rare. As technology has increased, and federal and state laws have adjusted, we are recognizing as online or TeleMental Health works.
Information from a recent conference on TeleMental Health reveals 4200 articles show the safety and effectiveness of this modality.
Consequently, many clients are finding that the convenience of doing online options outweigh the disadvantages. Some of these advantages include not having to find baby sisters, more flexible appointment times, quicker access to help when needed, reasonable rates for therapy, and better time management.
Supportive research shows TeleMental Health to be effective in addressing a wide variety of mental health issues and concerns, compatible to in-person care, and is creating new models of care through the use of powerful technologies.
New models of therapy maybe be an example of “fighting fire with fire” where TeleMental Health/technology rises to the challenge of increased mental health and substance abuse problems in a world that is locked down and social isolated. According to a report by the Center for Disease Control: “Overall, 40.9% of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder (30.9%), symptoms of a trauma- and stressor-related disorder (TSRD) related to the pandemic† (26.3%), and having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3%).”
New models of care should not result in lower standards of care. TeleMental Health must follow the highest standards to deliver personal, confidential, and effective treatment. This involves appropriate informed consent, intake and assessment, progress note documentation, mandatory reporting, and duty to warn/protect.
Ron Huxley is a licensed marriage and family therapist with 30 years of experiences. He uses traditional and non traditional mental health models to provide the highest level of care to individuals and families. He has been the director of community-based mental health, provided direct and online training, and was involved in the early research and delivery models of telemental health with organizations such as the TeleBehavioral Health Institute (TBHI) and works with national institutions, such as the National Center on Adoption and Permanency.
You can schedule an online TeleMental Health appointment with Ron immediately or go take an online course on anxiety and trauma at FamilyHealer.tv
All families experience trauma differently. Some factors such as the children’s age or the family’s culture or ethnicity may influence how the family copes and recovers. After traumatic experiences, family members often show signs of resilience. For some families, however, the stress and burden cause them to feel alone, overwhelmed, and less able to maintain vital family functions. Research demonstrates that trauma impacts all levels of the family:
■ Families that “come together” after traumatic experiences can strengthen bonds and hasten recovery. Families dealing with high stress, limited resources, and multiple trauma exposures often find their coping resources depleted. Their efforts to plan or problem solve are not effective, resulting in ongoing crises and discord.
■ Children, adolescents, and adult family members can experience mild, moderate, or severe posttraumatic stress symptoms. After traumatic exposure, some people grow stronger and develop a new appreciation for life. Others may struggle with continuing trauma-related problems that disrupt functioning in many areas of their lives.
■ Extended family relationships can offer sustaining resources in the form of family rituals and traditions, emotional support, and care giving. Some families who have had significant trauma across generations may experience current problems in functioning, and they risk transmitting the effects of trauma to the next generation.
■ Parent-child relationships have a central role in parents’ and children’s adjustment after trauma exposure. Protective, nurturing, and effective parental responses are positively associated with reduced symptoms in children. At the same time, parental stress, isolation, and burden can make parents less emotionally available to their children and less able to help them recover from trauma.
■ Adult intimate relationships can be a source of strength in coping with a traumatic experience. However, many intimate partners struggle with communication and have difficulty expressing emotion or maintaining intimacy, which make them less available to each other and increases the risk of separation, conflict, or interpersonal violence.
■ Sibling relationships that are close and supportive can offer a buffer against the negative effect of trauma, but siblings who feel disconnected or unprotected can have high conflict. Siblings not directly exposed to trauma can suffer secondary or vicarious traumatic stress; these symptoms mirror posttraumatic stress and interfere with functioning at home or school.
Download the complete fact sheet at http://TraumaToolbox.com and learn more practical tools on how to have a trauma-informed home. Contact Ron Huxley today to set up a therapy session or organize a seminar for your agency or event at email@example.com / 805-709-2023. You can click on the schedule a session link now on the home page if you live in the San Luis Obispo, Ca. or Santa Barbara, Ca. area.
Unfortunately, when we experience trauma, we develop protective programs, layered deep in our nervous system, that want to avoid situations that might put us in danger or extreme stress/threat. We want to emphasize that this is a protective program and not a negative one, but that it can continue to play out in our lives and relationships, that is no longer needed in our lives. Being aware we have these program helps us address them which opens a door to learning how to adapt.
This process of being aware, addressing difficult issues, and learning to adapt is just one way we can increase our mental toughness.
Mental toughness is about courage, not perfection.
Facing difficulties, after going through traumatic experiences takes courage. Fighting against our own inner protective programs is hard. Taking risks to trust again is tough. Learning to believe in a hope-filled future seems impossible. This isn’t perfection. It is about the process requiring a change of heart. In faith-based terms, we call this transformation.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
This verse describes that mental toughness or resilience is an inside job. It doesn’t come from outer performance. It comes from an inner transformation of beliefs about ourselves and the world. It can’t be sustained by an external force. True, lasting toughness comes from a conversation of our will.
Kelly McGonical, in her book, The Upside of Stress, doesn’t view stressful events as good or bad. She claims that true resiliency comes from finding the good in the stressful situation and learning new ways to deal with challenges. It isn’t that you have to go through trials in order to learn how to deal with them. We all go through tough times. It is how you react to what you can’t control that helps us be mentally tough.
Viktor Frankl, Psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor stated: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of his human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. To choose one’s way (1959).”
Our ability to choose – what we call our will – is the key to bouncing back and moving forward. It is where we find our true freedom. In my own Christian walk, I have found that it is the “truth that sets us free (John 8:32). Trauma not only overwhelms the nervous system, programs protective emotional programs deep within us, it also redefines our identity.
John O’Donohue, contemporary priest, poet, and philosopher, encourages us with the words: “Your identity is not equivalent to your biography. There is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility. Your life becomes the shape of the days you inhabit.”
Another step to mental toughness is to express daily gratitudes. A lot of scientific studies have been done on gratitude and it has become an foundational tool for shifting our negative attitude in psychology and spirituality.
Try using the Center for Healing Minds exercise called the 5-3-1 Gratitude Practice:
5… Meditate 5 minutes a day focusing on the breath or taking a break from your to-do list to de-stress and calm the mind. You can use various online videos and apps to help with this process.
3… Write done 3 good things that happened today. Research suggests a positive relationship between gratitude and higher levels of resilience.
1… Do 1 act of kindness per day. Hold the door open for the person coming into a store behind you, pay someone a compliment, be generous in your tipping.
Gratitude blesses others and transforms the inner life of the giver.
Mental toughness is the ability to bounce back, move forward, and shifts negative perspectives. It is how we resist, manage, and overcome difficult moments in our lives. We need it to feel renewed hope following trials and traumas that have impacted our inner self.
There is a common problem in social work and mental health today in trying to label people who have experience trauma. The reason for this is that trauma can impact the brain and the body in a way that produces a wide-range of symptoms that can be confusing to understand.
Most professionals are not “trauma-informed” meaning they haven’t received training on how trauma affects every area of human functioning or how to treat the whole person. Trauma, particularly the adverse experiences endured in early childhood, that can result in coping mechanisms that mimic criteria of various clinical diagnoses.
What are some of the labels you have heard placed on traumatized children or adults?
and many more…
In addition to a lack of trauma awareness, we are all “meaning-seeking creatures” that want to label everything so that we can feel better about ourselves and our world. Unfortunately, it can do a lot of damage to the people we are labeling. If we label incorrectly, we will treat them incorrectly. This is might also be why so many survivors appear to “sabotage” their success. It isn’t a real desire to ruin their life. They need sensitive professionals and parents who understand how to deal with the root, trauma issues.
Fortunately, there is a national movement to train parents and professionals, who work with traumatized children, to become more “Trauma-Informed.” This movement is reaching out to homes, school, and organizations and explaining “What is trauma?”, “Impact of Trauma on the Brain, Behavior and Health”, “Adverse Childhood Experiences”, “Power of Resilience”, “Regulation Skills”, “Dissociation”, “Mindfulness and Compassion”, “Recognizing Signs and Symptoms of Trauma in Children”, “Attachment Disorders”, “Post-traumatic stress and Post-trauma Growth”, “Trauma in the Community”, “Avoiding Re-traumatization in Survivors”, “Trauma-Sensitive Schools”, “Faith-Based Approaches to Trauma” and more.
The focus of these training efforts is shifting the primary question inherent in treatment plans, screenings, programs and polices from asking “what is wrong with you” to “what has happened to you”.
This paradigm shift starts the dialogue with survivors, humanizes our practices and helps traumatized children and adults on how to find true healing.
If you would like Ron to train your organization on Trauma-Informed Care, contact him today at 805-709-2023 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a recent training on Trauma-Informed Care, I led the group through a mindfulness exercise that explored the nature of suffering. The goal was to bring a higher level of compassion for others in emotional pain.
Suffering refers to the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship. We know, in our heads, that everyone goes through difficult times but in our hearts, we neglect to connect with others, in their pain. This is because we are in pain too!
Professionals, who work with hurt people, are double-agents. They provide trauma-informed care and services to others AND they have experienced trauma too. We can be triggered by others pain and this will result in a distancing of emotions in order to keep ourselves safe. We sometimes call this a “professional distance” or “objectivity.” It might help us feel safer but it will also disconnect us from the heart of what we are trying to do in serving others. How to maintain this balance is the subject for another discussion. In the meantime, try this mindfulness exercise called “Just Like Me…” Examine how you feel before and after reading through it. Use it weekly or as often as you need to reconnect you with others who have experienced trauma and loss.
“Think of someone you like or dislike that you want to expect positive feelings and forgive. It help to think of that person who is similar to you. Take deep breaths and repeat after me…
This person has a body and a mind, just like me.
This person has feelings, emotions, and thoughts, just like me.
This person has in his or her life, experienced physical and emotional pain and suffering, just like me.
This person has at some point been sad, disappointed, angry, or hurt, just like me. This person has felt unworthy or inadequate, just like me.
This person worries and is frightened sometimes, just like me.
This person has longed for friendship, just like me.
This person is learning about life, just like me.
This person wants to be caring and kind to others, just like me.
This person wants to be content with what life has given, just like me.
This person wishes to be free from pain and suffering, just like me.
This person wishes to be safe and healthy, just like me.
This person wishes to be happy, just like me.
This person wishes to be loved, just like me.
Now, allow some wishes for well-being to arise:
I wish that this person have the strength, resources, and social support to navigate the difficulties in life with ease.
I wish that this person be free from pain and suffering.
I wish that this person be peaceful and happy.
I wish that this person be loved.
Because this person is a fellow human being, just like me.”
Need a therapist or trainer on healing from the hurt of trauma? Contact Ron Huxley today at email@example.com.