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Sanity Through Sleep

Posted: January 11th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

A woman sits in my office with tears falling down her cheeks and a look of haunted desperation.  She just had her umpteenth fight with her husband, barely gets through whatever she can of the endless daily demands, and interactions with the kids feel like obligations instead of something she can look forward to.  While it’s tempting to think this is a blend of anxiety and depression, my conclusion was different, “I want you to go home and take as long a nap as you can.  Then, when you have given yourself time to have three consecutive nights of at least eight hours of rest, let’s meet again.”  Although surprised by my response, she faithfully followed my recommendation.  The next time we met, she was a different person.  “I can’t believe everything seemed so bleak.  Sleep helped me take a break long enough to see where balance was badly needed and to stop putting myself last all the time.”

With the start of the New Year, it seemed like the perfect time to begin looking at the ways we could promote a general sense of well-being and stop habits that cause emotional messes.  The best place to start is with some good old fashioned prevention.  Several key activities can help us avoid feeling like are emotions are like raw nerves, but the one that is most undervalued but has profound impact is adequate sleep.

You may not know this, but you have several phases of sleep, one part helps repair the body like tissues, muscle growth and protein synthesis.  Another phase helps with mental functioning like making sense of what we have emotionally experienced, processing what has occurred and then storing it all into usable memory.  If we are not getting enough sleep, we are preventing these vital processes from completing.

Here are a few quick questions to determine if this relates to you?

  • Are you often tired during the day or have moments of sudden sleepiness? This may mean that you have significant sleep debt- your body is like an accountant.  If it does not get what it needs, it will decrease functioning until the debt is repaid.
  • Is your weight stable or are you fighting a gain? Research shows that if you’re overtired, there is less interest in exercising or making the effort to make healthy meals.  In addition, leptin and serotonin levels decrease, which are the hormones that helps you feel full.  This means that tired people are hungrier, have lower metabolism, and crave high-fat and high-calorie foods.  In time, this can lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes!  If you want to learn more, talk with your doctor or nutritionist!
  • Do you think clearly and have good memory? Or does your brain feel a bit fuzzy and decisions-making difficult?  Jodi A. Mindell, PhD is a professor of psychology at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and author of Sleep Deprived No More.  She states that there are numerous studies that show sleep deprivation “impairs your cognition, your attention, and your decision-making.” There is a substantial decrease in solving logic or math problems, and odd mistakes (like leaving your keys in the fridge) are more common” (For those of you who know me, I do misplace my keys and phone, but never my child).
  • Are you fairly resilient to the common cold or frequently sick, making you want to run from the building screaming when someone sneezes? There are a few studies that have shown that those with sleep deprivation were three times more likely to get sick than those with seven hours or more of sleep per night.  Knowing how gross Nyquil tastes, this might be worth it in and of itself!
  • Are you at risk for heart disease or hypertension? Growing evidence of research suggests that seven or less hours of sleep greatly increased coronary artery calcification- a predictor of a future heart attack.  There can also be elevated risks of hypertension, stroke, an irregular heartbeat, and heart disease.  Yikes!
  • If you have manic or unipolar depression, do your symptoms appear to be extra strong? This relates directly to the story mentioned at the start.  Sleep deprivation looks almost identical to major depression, hence the recommendation to fix the real problem, not the symptoms.  Good sleep sets up the brain for positive feelings, while deprivation has enjoyment of activities reduced and interferes with people’s social lives.  Those with sleep deprivation are also more prone to be angry or violent. (Dement, p. 274)
  • What is your quality of life? How long do you want to live?  As a final thought, three separate studies suggested that sleeping five or fewer hours per night may increase mortality risk by as much as 15 percent.10 

Most of us do not associate these struggles with sleep, but they are very real side effects.  If you want to follow Spock’s advice of “live long and prosper,” then quality sleep must be included in the plan.  So the first step in making this happen is to do your best to get at least eight hours of sleep per night.  For some of you, this might be a huge adjustment.  Just keep reminding yourself that any fears of lost productivity will be countered in gains of a refresh mind and better health.  If you are struggling to make this happen even though you are trying, the next article will address some behavioral strategies that can address the habits that promote insomnia.  In my fourteen years in private practice, I have found that these behavioral changes correct most problems without any need for medication!


Dement, W. C. (1999).  The Promise of Sleep.  New York, NY: Dell Publishing.



Staying Engaged

Posted: November 15th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

We’ve now had a week to sit with the results of the election.  Whatever is your political persuasion, there is a lot of unknown regarding the political ramifications of the results.  The important thing to do now is to not get comfortable or engage in what is called “slacktivism”, doing things that help us feel better but which have no real impact.  Consider what elements of our country that are most important to support and protect, ensuring that we are not just considering our own needs, but those of our American family as well.

Progress Now sent out a list of some wonderful organizations to consider.  Here is hoping that we each embrace our important roles as citizens and make sure we protect the valuable rights we have enjoyed but are easy to loose.

Ian Silverii wrote:

We have to stand together for what we believe in no matter what the politicians in Washington do. Colorado can be a model for fixing the problems America faces. Sign up now for rapid-response alerts to help us respond.

Once you’ve signed up for action alerts, connect with local organizations working on issues important to you. In Colorado, we have a wealth of strong public policy and advocacy groups working every day to solve problems our community faces, protect our rights, and build a prosperous future. Donate, join their lists, volunteer; we’ve got to start now…

Abortion rights: NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado is the political action leader of the pro-choice movement in Colorado. Connect with NARAL for information on abortion legislation, and take action at the state and national level to protect reproductive rights. Additionally, to learn about more great work being done to protect women’s rights in Colorado, you can also connect with the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR) and Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado.

Immigration: the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition is a statewide coalition of organizations to founded improve the lives of immigrants and refugees by making Colorado a more welcoming, immigrant-friendly state.

Health care policy: The Colorado Consumer Health Initiative is a statewide, non-partisan, non-profit organization working so all Coloradans can get affordable, high-quality and equitable health care.

Education: Great Education Colorado‘s mission is to drive educational excellence for all Colorado students by harnessing the power of grassroots activism, and stimulating wise investment in Colorado’s public schools, colleges, and universities.

Latino organizing: Generation Latino is organizing the collective energy, imagination and creativity of Colorado’s young Latino community and channeling our ideas into policies that will build a path to better jobs, higher wages, affordable healthcare, accessible education, and immigration reform.

Social Justice: multiple grassroots organizations are working hard to promote social justice and end the scourge of police violence against communities of color. Connect with Black Lives Matter 5280, the NAACP Colorado Montana Wyoming State Conference, Together Colorado, and the Colorado People’s Alliance.

Civil liberties and privacy: The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado‘s mission is to protect, defend and extend the civil rights and civil liberties of all people in Colorado through litigation, education and advocacy.

Environmental protection: Conservation Colorado works with communities statewide to ensure that our quality of life, environment, and public health are protected. We work to elect pro-conservation leaders to public office and hold decision-makers accountable.

Economic policy: The Bell Policy Center produces the ideas, analysis and action that make opportunity happen–advancing the debate around family economic security and driving public policy solutions that help Coloradans get ahead and stay ahead. The Colorado Fiscal Institute provides credible, independent and accessible information and analysis of fiscal and economic issues facing Colorado.

LGBT equality: One Colorado is the state’s leading advocacy organization dedicated to advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Coloradans and their families.

Progressive communities of faith: Founded in 1998 by a group of clergy and laity to help Coloradans to put their faith into action as a force for good in public life, the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado brings together people of different faiths to drive equality, human rights, and opportunity.

Housing and homelessness: the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless has been helping the homeless for more than 30 years. CCH considers the definition of homelessness to be anyone who lacks a fixed, regular or adequate residence.

Gun safety: Colorado Ceasefire advocates for freedom from gun violence throughout the state.

5 Tips to Improve Your Self-Talk

Posted: January 6th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

The following is a lighthearted but great approach to those nagging tapes in our heads that gradually wear us down. The tips demonstrate how we do not have to be at the mercy of these messages, just like we would want to stand up to an obnoxious, arrogant person putting us down. However, do not just read these words- try them out. If you dedicate some time to a tip and create a new habit, it may make enormous changes in your energy, confidence, and outlook.

Understanding Mental Struggles

Posted: January 13th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

There is an idea that seems to endure despite research: people with mental health concerns deserve to be judged. It is believed they either lack self-control, are weak, or are simply undesirable burdens in society. I have even heard people state that the real issue is the consequence of sin. These beliefs harm people in multiple ways such as ostracizing already distressed souls or nationwide policies like the 1963 Community Mental Health Services Act that put unsafe and incapacitated individuals out on the streets. In my own practice, there are common feelings of guilt, shame and despair and subsequently noticeable relief when someone finds acceptance through our work together.

In all honesty, I cannot understand why there is so much venom around those with mental issues. I will never forget a statement made by someone after we watched a movie about the English writer, Virginia Woolf. This person believed that her depression and suicide showed how selfish people become when in this state. This woman had been plagued with breakdowns since the age of thirteen, dealt with sexual abuse by two brothers, and endured early losses of key family members. She also was afflicted with mental illness that clouded her mind and made every lovely element of life inadequate in overcoming her darkness. In her suicide note, Virginia wrote to her husband, “Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate.” Virginia Woolf’s story was not about her taking advantage of others or somehow benefiting from her struggles. This was a tortured soul. She may have seemed “simply down” on the outside, but inside she was in a battle with her mind and it eventually destroyed her.

Perhaps Kay Redfield Jamison was accurate when she said, “The horror of profound depression, and the hopelessness that usually accompanies it, are hard to imagine for those who have not experienced it. Because the despair is private, it is resistant to clear and compelling description.” (p. 105, 1999) I certainly understand that it is hard to fathom such despair of depression, the uncontrolled franticness that comes with mania, or the inability to tell delusion from reality like schizophrenia. I also realize that it is upsetting and painful to see another person tormented. Yet neither seems to explain the compassion void often seen in our society.

Another problem is the belief that people with mental issues have omnipotent control over their suffering. “Just think positive.” Sure, there is benefit to learning how to address negativity; however, there are limits to this solution. With such a belief, people are being asked to get better through wishing it so. However, they are asking for the thing that’s been compromised (the brain), to be the functional enough to cure itself!

A client just today said, “I know my panic is irrational, but it rages on anyway.” Many of the deep seated beliefs causing pain are resilient to logic. Logic works when the problem is logical; but emotional distress requires emotional solutions. Aside from sharing with others, most people do not know how to help their emotional struggles.

The truth is that temperament, genetics, brain structures, and environment sometimes combine in such a way as to have devastating, effects. There are painful costs to mental struggles including decreased quality of life for clients and their families, substantial economic loss, and the potential for mortality. Every thirteen minutes, someone commits suicide. Of those deaths, ninety percent have treatable mental disorders. Whether suffering from a mental illness or struggling to cope with a major transition or multiple stressors, many of the factors mentioned above are not within a person’s control.

Sometimes, just facing the day is all that can be managed.

We need to stop seeing mental affliction as a choice. We need to stop believing that anyone with sense would ever elect to suffer. We do not say someone is weak if they are dealing with cancer, even though it is heavy on all the people involved. Let’s give those with mental struggles the same benefit of the doubt. The mentally afflicted are more than just their struggle; they are people. They need our help to work against pervasive stigmatizing labels and appreciate those things that seem easy to some, seem insurmountable to others. Provide them with patience, support, and most importantly, compassion.

***Please note: there are treatments that have proven to provide significant relief for those with mood disorders or other mental health issues. Nutrition, exercise, supports, therapy, and medication are just a few of the ways help can be provided. If you or someone you know needs help taking that first step, don’t hesitate to call me at 303.915-5597.

Jamison, K. R., (2000) Night falls fast: understanding suicide. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.
1Berto, P, D’Ilario, D., Pierfrancesco, R, Di Virgilio, R., and Rizzo, F. (2000). Depression: Cost of illness studies in the international literature, a review. The Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics J. Mental Health Policy Econ. 3, p. 3–8. (January 9, 2013). (January 9, 2013)

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Tania Henderson
M.A., L.P.C., N.C.C.