How The Addiction to Dopamine Hijacks the Brain (Part 3)

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Author: Lynda Benigno

The goals of treatment for addiction should comprise of stopping the use of the substance, helping the addict remain substance-free and become productive in all areas in life including family, work and society. No single treatment will work for everyone, and as with other diseases, some trial and error to see what is effective for the patient is needed. One of the most effective methods of treatment is counseling and behavioral therapy. Treatment should also include addressing traumas and any existing psychological disorders. Patients should have a complete physical exam that includes testing for STD'S, infectious diseases and other health problems that the substance use may have caused. Detoxing while under a medical professionals care is preferred and a good first step. Long term follow up care that also includes support from family, friends or a sponsor will help prevent relapse. Restructuring the family unit through family therapy can create a loving and supportive environment that increases the chance of sobriety and aid in the healing process for all who are involved.

Detoxing and the role of medication

As previously mentioned, detoxing under a medical professionals care is preferred. An addict with severe dependence may experience dangerous withdrawal symptoms that can last from days to weeks. While not all withdrawal symptoms are life-threatening, they can be alarming to the addict and those around them. These acute symptoms may include, hyperactivity, sweating, nausea, increased blood pressure or heart rate, body pains or headaches, disorientation, insomnia, night sweats, fatigue, fever or chills, and hallucinations. A medical professional can prescribe medications that can ease withdrawal symptoms and aid in sobriety. These include:

*Naltrexone: Reduces relapse for narcotic and alcohol dependence by blocking opioid receptors that are involved with the pre-frontal cortex of the brain where reward is triggered.

*Suboxone, Probuphine, Sublocade: Reduces cravings and withdraw symptoms for those with opioid dependence

Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy

The goal with behavioral and cognitive therapies is to modify the patient's attitude and behavior related to substance abuse as well as create healthy lifestyle goals that will promote sobriety. This process works to keep the patient engaged in the treatment process and provides incentives to stay sober. Patients learn how to cope with everyday stressors as well as the thoughts and emotions that lead to substance use. They also learn how to how to remove themselves from situations that trigger substance use. By rewarding healthy behavior and consciously seeing thoughts in a realistic way, the patient will learn not to attach a negative emotion or response to their experience. Behavioral and cognitive therapies can be tailored to meet the patients individual needs making treatment effective.

Family Therapy

Family therapy has been shown to be more effective than standard support counseling. Family therapy is used to resolve family conflict, repair relationships and improve the function of the unit as a whole in a way that promotes sobriety. Family therapy will address the impact of addiction, mental health concerns and any trauma that is the result of addiction. Family therapy also helps to validate the experiences of each family member while developing new communication skills and healthy behavioral dynamics. Family therapy provides healing and sobriety for all parties involved.

12 Step Program

12 step facilitation therapy helps promote long term sobriety through engagement with peers. The three basic tenants behind this approach are acceptance, surrender and active involvement. Although the 12 step program was initially developed for alcoholics, the program is useful for various addictions including narcotics and debtors. The program is based heavily on religion, but those with non-religious beliefs have found the program helpful. The focus does not have to be on any particular religion or deity but rather something bigger than yourself such as the universe. The 12 steps are as followed:

*Admit that you are powerless over your addiction and your life has become unmanageable.

*Believe a power higher than yourself can restore you to sanity

* Decide to turn over your will and life to God; however, you understand God to be.

*Take moral inventory of yourself in a fearless manner

*Admit to God, yourself and others the true nature of your wrongs

*Be entirely ready to have God remove all of your defects of character

*Humbly ask God to remove your shortcomings

*Make a list of all persons you have wronged and be willing to make amends

*Make amends to those on your list except when doing so will cause more harm to the other person

*Continue to take a moral inventory of yourself and when you are wrong promptly admit so

*Through prayer and meditation, seek to improve contact with God, pray for knowledge of his will for you and the strength to carry it out

*Having experienced a spiritual awakening, try to carry this message to other addicts and continue to practice these principals in all of your affairs.

Role of a Sponsor in Recovery

Having a sponsor as well as regular meetings offers social support that is a critical component of AA. A sponsor provides one on one support and has usually had experience in the program for an extended period. Majority of sponsors make themselves available 24/7 so that there is someone available whenever the need arises. Since your sponsor is also in recovery, they can detect the early warning signs that you may relapse and provide the extra support needed to help you stay sober. Your sponsor is also responsible for giving honest feedback on behavior and thought patterns as well as helping you through your 12 steps.

Therapeutic Communities

Rehabilitation at a therapeutic community provides a highly structured program where patients reside. The time frame is dependent on the severity of the addiction and can range anywhere from 6-12 months. Staff members, as well as peers, play a role in influencing change. It is a group based approach that also includes medically trained professionals and other specialists such as a psychiatrist. The focus is placed on the overall health and well being of the patient. These include making lifestyle changes such as developing a routine as well as learning life skills that promote sobriety. The patients attend group therapy, individual or family therapy, education classes as well as participating in work-related responsibilities. The running of the community is based on everyone's participation and is highly structured. This tactic promotes healthy socialization skills and helps each person participate constructively in society.

Access to Care

Insurance does not always cover addiction treatment and when it does it may not include treatment for as long as the patient requires. When looking for a treatment center, many are surprised to find that immediate access is not possible. Restrictions placed on clinicians that include how many patients can be treated at a time limits the number of beds available at rehab centers. Without immediate access, an addict may discard the notion of treatment and continue using.

Addressing our response to addiction is critical. Accepting that addiction is a disease also means accepting it should be treated as a disease. Although penalties should be imposed for criminal offenses, addressing the underlying condition with the primary focus on rehabilitation would be much more effective.

If you or someone you know has a substance abuse problem, please contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-4357

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any physical or mental condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

How The Addiction to Dopamine Hijacks the Brain (Part 2)

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Author: Lynda Benigno

In part one of this series, we covered what addiction is and the physical and psychological consequences. Aside from changes in the brain and decline in physical and mental health, an addict faces a range of consequences that are far-reaching and often extends beyond themselves.

Impact on Family

Addicts relationships become unstable, and separation from family members is prevalent. Addicts often become isolated and may come home late or not at all. Other family members or neighbors may step in and provide care and support for the addict's spouse and children. A spouse, deciding they have had enough, may file for divorce and seek custody of minor children. Financial resources become depleted in order to support the addict's addiction, and unpaid bills that lead to the loss of housing, transportation or use of utilities affects the entire household. Fear, anxiety, depression, guilt, anger, stress, denial, and embarrassment are common for those who live with an addicted family member. Children of an addict may act as a surrogate spouse taking on adult responsibilities such as caring for younger siblings before they are mature enough to do so. The lack of positive role modeling, concepts of normal behavior and trust has a lasting impact on children. Finding it challenging to sustain a meaningful relationship with their addicted parent, a child may lash out in a variety of ways such as temper tantrums or disruptive behavior. Children of addicts are at risk of developing trust issues, impaired learning capabilities, difficulty adjusting to change, increased rates of divorce, control issues, depression, low self-esteem, violence, anxiety and are at a higher risk of becoming addicts themselves. A child born to an addicted mother is at risk for low birth rate, STD'S, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or being born addicted to opioids leading to withdraw after birth. The spouse of an addict who does not use may attempt to compensate for the using parent's shortcomings by taking on the provider role. The non- using spouse, seeking to protect their children and provide emotional and financial security is often overwhelmed and experiences high levels of stress and anxiety. Asking for help becomes difficult because the spouse may feel a great deal of embarrassment and shame and fears judgment from others.

Legal Consequences

It is not uncommon for an addict to experience legal troubles. Impaired thinking leads to poor decision making and an increase in aggressive behaviors. Theft, driving under the influence, possession of a controlled substance and violent crimes are the most common criminal charges an addict can face. Domestic violence has been linked to addiction with upwards of 50% of violent crimes being committed by men who have a substance abuse problem. As many as 80% of child abuse cases are linked to drug or alcohol abuse. As an addicts tolerance builds an addict may resort to theft, stealing from family, friends or committing burglary at retail stores or residential homes. Depending on the offense, an addict may lose driving privileges, lose custody of minor children, serve time in jail or residential rehabilitation program.

Financial Consequences

Due to addiction, an addict may miss work more than those who don't use. Work performance may decline, and professional licenses may be revoked leading to job loss. If an addict faced criminal charges, an employer might refuse to hire them. Failing health, accidents or violence can lead to higher medical bills. Growing drug tolerance leads the addict to spend more of their financial resources on supporting their addiction. Irresponsible spending may lead to foreclosure, repossession of vehicles, loss of utilities and an inability to put food on the table. Legal fees due to criminal charges or divorce and custody battles; including the cost of an attorney, court fees, fines, and time lost at work to attend court appearances add up quickly.

If you or someone you know has a substance abuse problem, please contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-4357.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any physical or mental condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

#ssfravenna #ssravenna #steppingstonecommunityservices

How The Addiction to Dopamine Hijacks the Brain (Part 1)

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Author: Lynda Benigno

Scientific research tells us addiction hijacks the brain. The brain undergoes adverse changes that last long after the effects of the drug have worn off. Wiring in the brain is modified, and neurons die. The prefrontal cortex works with the anterior cingulate cortex in evaluating reward and punishment, controlling motivation, memory, attention, decision making, and regulating mood and emotions. Dopamine, a chemical released from neurons in the prefrontal cortex is released during pleasurable experiences. Eating, sex, exercise, meditation, or listening to music can trigger dopamine release. While a dose of dopamine from healthy activities is not problematic, the release of dopamine from stimulants increases the risk of addiction.

After ingesting a stimulant; dopamine is activated causing intense pleasure. In order to bring stimulation down to a manageable level the brain needs to adapt, so it offsets by reducing the number of dopamine receptor cells or increases the number of dopamine transporters. These changes cause drug tolerance leading to a higher amount of the drug being needed to achieve the same effects that were previously experienced.

For an addict, the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex no longer function properly. The ability to evaluate risk or make decisions becomes impaired. The addict experiences changes in their ability to learn as well as memory. In severe cases, other physical conditions can develop such as damage to organs, skin changes such as lesions or acne and dental problems. Studies show those who abuse drugs are twice as likely to develop a mood disorder and substance abuse has an effect on any pre-existing mental disorders. Mood swings, erratic behavior, psychosis ( losing touch with reality), depression, suicide, and death are possible outcomes. Drug use increases risky behavior and leads the addict to behave out of character, which can have serious consequences. When under the influence an addict is more likely to have an accident, overdose, engage in risky sexual activity, commit violent acts or commit suicide.

The effects of addiction go beyond the physical and mental body. Broken relationships along with legal and financial problems are often consequences an addict faces. We will explore this topic in Part 2.

If you or a loved one has a substance abuse problem, please contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-4357.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any physical or mental condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

How To Deal With A Toxic Work Environment When You Really Need The Job.

Author: Lynda Benigno

Approximately one-third of human life is spent working, one-fifth of American workers report working in a hostile or threatening environment. Workplace incivility is defined as the accumulation of thoughtless actions that leave employees feeling disrespected, intentionally ignored, undermined by colleagues or belittled by insensitive managers. A study in 2018 looked at the correlation between incivility in the workplace and symptoms of insomnia; findings suggested workplace incivility led to negative workplace rumination that takes a toll of sleep quality. Poor sleep affects your body's physical and psychological well being. Those that struggle with sleep problems and high-stress levels are also at higher risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, difficulty managing anger, and a shortened life span. There is this idea that a bad job is better than no job; however, studies show those who went from unemployment to a poor quality job had higher biological indicators of stress than those who remained unemployed.

Employers set the tone for the work environment, deciding what is valued and tolerated in terms of a code of conduct. There are some red flags to look for when trying to determine whether your workplace is toxic.

* You are overworked leading to burnout and feelings of anger toward your employer.

* You experience workplace dread: Feelings of dread and stress that are present despite being home or engaging in personal time.

* You have a toxic manager: Displays anger or resorts to issuing threats, humiliating employees, intimidation, verbal abuse, or undermining an employees ability to accomplish his or her work.

*Poor communication: There is no communication at all, poor communication between employees and supervisors, withholding information or giving misleading information.

*Policies and Procedures are inconsistent: Company rules are implemented for one group while everyone else does what they please. This includes management not being held to the same ethical and behavioral standard as inferiors or playing favorites.

You may not have much control over your work environment, but you do have control over how you cope. If speaking with management gets you nowhere, practicing psychological detachment will reduce the effects of working in a toxic environment. Psychological detachment involves avoidance of work-related thoughts, actions, and emotions during non-working hours. When coupled with relaxation this practice results in better sleep, less mental exhaustion and better overall health. You are making a conscious choice to shift your focus from work to something that brings you joy, leaving no room for negative work-place rumination.

Along with avoidance of work-related thoughts during non-work hours, you can try the following:

* Exercise

*Plan future events such as vacations

*Meditation

*Listen to music

*Engage in hobbies or volunteer work

- I highly recommend volunteer work, in a toxic work environment you may feel what you are doing is meaningless; helping others can give you a

sense of purpose and feel good boost.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any physical or mental condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

#ssravenna #workstress #ssfravenna #mentalhealth #payday

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, or maybe just slightly depressed?

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Author: Lynda Benigno

Imagine you are, by all outward appearances, put together and active. You go to work every day, attend social events with family and friends, and engage in hobbies. People who know you would say you have got everything in your life under control, you are a high achiever, and everything appears fine all of the time. However, underneath something festers. You push through your thoughts and feel little to no joy during your day. When you get home, you are exhausted. Sadness, anger, guilt or self-doubt slowly returns. You went through the motions of another day, decide to watch some tv and go to bed. You may be getting through each day, but that doesn't mean you don't need help.

The term" high functioning depression" is not an official diagnosis. It is a buzzword coined mainly on social media and blogs as a description for what it feels like to have PDD, Persistent Depressive Disorder or Dysthymia. Many people have said the buzzword used to describe PDD has helped them talk about their condition more openly or got them back into therapy to work on their coping skills. PDD is a less severe but more chronic form of major depressive disorder. There are nine different forms of depression currently recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Your level of functioning is used for diagnostic purposes. The low end is crippling depression. Basic hygiene, getting out of bed, difficulty maintaining relationships or holding down a job are characteristic of crippling depression. Goals set in talk therapy for crippling depression are more clearly defined because the impact on daily life and functionality is more apparent, taking a shower or going to the grocery store would be actionable goals. With PDD, identifying actionable goals during treatment can be more difficult because the patient is performing daily functions and the patients desired outcome is often vague, he or she just wants to be happy. Symptoms of PDD mirror that of other depressive disorders and may vary from person to person.

Symptoms of PDD can include :

*Lost interest in daily activities

*Hopelessness

*Low self-esteem

*Feelings of inadequacy

*Sadness, emptiness

*Trouble concentrating or making decisions

*Irritability or excessive anger

*Feeling of guilt or excessive worry

*Poor appetite or overeating

*Excessive sleeping or insomnia

*Patients with PDD are often high achievers who seek perfection and may have trouble slowing down or resting.

Recognizing symptoms and seeking help is an important step to take to start feeling better. Identifying myths is just as crucial because they can keep you from seeking treatment.

These include:

*Depression always involves episodes of crying or irritability

*Depression always contains thoughts of suicide

*There must be an identifiable reason for your feelings ( often there is no explanation other than " I just feel this way")

*Functionality is always tied to your emotional well being

*Everyone who has depression has the same symptoms and experience

Medication, when used in conjunction with talk therapy has been proven to be the most effective for patients with PDD. Your treatment can vary depending on a number of factors, including, willingness to get better, your ability to tolerate medication, and severity of symptoms. Acceptance of your condition, giving yourself permission to slow down and lifestyle changes are also beneficial.

No one gets better overnight, be gentle with yourself. Seek support from friends and family who are capable of being equally gentle. It takes strength to seek treatment so take a moment to recognize that strength within yourself. Sometimes it takes some trial and error to figure out how to get to equal footing. Staying on a long term treatment program will help prevent relapse of symptoms. Genetics, trauma, and stress are contributing factors and can be addressed in psychotherapy. Depression, no matter which type you suffer from, is a lifelong companion, but it does not need to be so loud.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the Nation Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

Combating Chronic Fears

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Author: Lynda Benigno

When we are born, we have two fears, the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. Some fears are primal and keep us safe; the rest is a result of the culture we grow up in and the conditioning we experience as children. Primal fear served an evolutionary purpose, keeping humans alert from predators and animals that posed a threat. In today's world, primal fear takes the form of making enough money to live comfortably and keeping our homes safe from potential intruders. In small doses, fear can motivate us to meet deadlines, personal goals or prevent us from doing something dangerous such as driving after drinking. Too much fear can rob you of joy and become debilitating.

If you have chronic fear, the world can look like a scary place, and your memories will confirm your fearful experience. Fearful messages are everywhere. Watch the news; every other story contains a message of fear. Chronic fear can interrupt brain functions that regulate emotion, non-verbal cues, and the ability to reflect before acting and behave ethically. The long term stress you experience with chronic fear kills the brain cells in your hippocampus leading to deterioration of memory and short circuits the response paths creating constant feelings of anxiety. You will experience fatigue, depression, accelerated aging and you are at risk for premature death.

Decisions made based on fear are rarely good ones. In a fearful state, the choice is being made based on emotions, when our feelings take over we discard logic and facts. Instead of making a confident decision that will lead to growth we experience regrets or a lot of what if's. Low confidence in your decision leads to more fear, and it becomes a vicious cycle.

Instead of getting caught up in your fears and emotions, make decisions based on what you want instead of what makes you feel fearful. Ask yourself if the choice you are about to make will bring you happiness. Gather all of the facts and information, so you are making an informed decision. Trust your past personal experiences, perhaps the last time you made the right decision you experienced an excited flutter in your stomach, and you just knew it was the right thing to do. A bad decision may have led to a stomach ache or knot in your throat. Your body often gives you clues as to what is right for you, take the time to listen. If you have difficulty making decisions or letting go of your fears, especially if it interferes with your daily life, talking to a therapist may be right for you.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

Reaching High For The Prestige

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Author: Lynda Benigno

We are all operating under a system. It's a game we were born into, and we are expected to play the game whether we want to or not. Our conditioning demands it. The most asked question a child will hear is "what do you want to be when you grow up?". At that point, they are already players in the game. They are reaching for a destination, one that seemingly has an endpoint but in reality, will follow them the rest of their lives.

Each day we are inundated with the message of needing more and reaching for the stars. We use words such as "grind" to describe the relentless pursuit of financial goals and acquisition of material goods. Through email, mailbox, social media, billboards and television, we are swamped in advertisements and little reminders that enough is never enough. Photos and videos on social media, especially those of celebrities carry the message that if you work hard enough, long enough and really want it, you too can be just like them. This is not to say goals, financial or otherwise are detrimental. Goals are a healthy practice, but when your goals consume your life to the point that you experience excess stress, sleep deprivation, little time for family, friends, and most importantly yourself, it becomes problematic.

Stress and anxiety are prevalent in our society. Anxiety affects 40 million adults each year and is the most prevalent mental illness in the United States. It's not just adults who are affected. Anxiety is common among children aged 6-13 and very common among 14-18-year-olds. Only 36% of adults get treated for their anxiety. Access to affordable healthcare as well as stigmatism contributes to such a low number. The expectation of success at any cost, the fallacy that doing always leads to positive results, fear of failure or disappointing others, keeping up with the Joneses and the idea that happiness is elusive but found in acquired goods or others definition of success undoubtedly affects our mental health. If we were honest, we would admit its exhausting.

As a society, we attach tremendous value on things and status. We look for the next big thing, rarely taking a moment to acknowledge the little victories we achieve each day. For some just getting out of bed is a victory. We stop thinking about what we truly want out of our lives and find ourselves living up to everyone elses expectations and standards. We cease being individuals; rarely taking the time to stop and look inward to see that the destination is where we are now. Sure, there are things you want to do and more achievements to be had, but right now you are allowed to be happy with where you are. A goal, when executed with balance, should be celebrated. I only wish more would remember it's the relationships we form, the time given to a friend, space where we allow ourselves to exist as we are, the souls we touch with kind words and encouragement, the love we have to give, that will weave the fabric of success. Know thyself and live for love, at the end of the day it's all we truly have. It is the ultimate destination.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

Enjoying the Moment

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By: Bethany Latimer

Have you ever had a delicious meal arrive in front of you and moments later look down to see that it was almost gone and you hadn’t really fully enjoyed it? Maybe you were too busy thinking about something that happened in your recent past or were worrying about something coming up in the near future? Most of us have trouble living in the moment. Our minds continuously shuffling through thoughts about the past and future.

Mindfulness; the ability to be fully aware of what is happening with our minds and bodies in the present moment. The Eastern World has practiced mindfulness since the beginning of time. The Western World is becoming aware of why this practice is so important. It is not an easy practice and it takes practice! There are hundreds of techniques to help a person stay in the present moment. These can often be done with more focus and awareness if you have some training in monitoring your thoughts and “self-talk.”

 Mental health therapy is an excellent way to start becoming aware of the thoughts and self-talk that cycle through your head. It is hard to sort through by yourself. After all, our own minds often can not see the problems of our own minds! Getting feedback from a therapist that can recognize patterns in dysfunctional thinking can allow one to clear out some of that clutter that goes through our heads. We can examine reasons why we stay stuck in the past or overly focused on the future. We can learn to live in the moment and enjoy what is right in front of us. The ultimate way to find peace.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

The Power Of Music Therapy

Music Therapy at Stepping Stone Foundation

Author: Lynda Benigno

Think about the last time you listened to your favorite song. You tapped your fingers or feet, sang along or maybe you danced to the beat. The song triggered a memory, made you feel happy or sad. Perhaps the lyrics expressed what you were feeling but haven't been able to articulate.

When listening to music, a synesthetic experience is triggered as the emotional, memory and language centers of the brain connect during processing. The pleasure centers of the brain are activated, and dopamine is released. Early dopamine rushes can occur in anticipation of your favorite parts of familiar music and peak emotions. Oxytocin, the bonding hormone is released and peaks when singing along. The oxytocin boost that music lovers experience can also make them more generous. Prosocial behaviors - those that are voluntary and intended to benefit others such as kindness, helpfulness and empathy increase, especially when music is appreciated in a group setting such as a concert. Listening to music also boosts the immune system, decreases the stress hormone cortisol, improves mood and establishes new neural connections.

Studies show using music as a form of communication with autistic children can increase emotional understanding. It has also been proven to be a low-risk treatment option for those with mood disorders and neurological conditions such as dementia, stroke, and Parkinson's with no adverse side effects. Music is beneficial in the workplace too. One interesting study showed that office workers who were allowed to listen to their favorite music completed tasks more quickly and were more creative while problem solving than those who had no musical choice at all. Diners at restaurants where music with positive messages is played leave bigger tips. Listening to sad music can create a cathartic experience promoting healing.

It's not just listening that provides benefits, playing an instrument changes brain structure. Learning to play an instrument increases gray matter in the brain. Musicians often have improved auditory processing, reasoning skills, and memory. Learning to play an instrument at a young age causes the most impactful changes and can protect the brain against dementia.

No matter what you choose to listen to music touches everyone in one way or another.Songs become our friends, the artists who write and perform them become our family. Sometimes they are there for us when no one else is, helping us to remember the things we almost forgot, bringing us joy, helping us to heal and be a little more gentle with others and ourselves. A song can speak for us when we lose our voice and help us feel connected with something outside of ourselves. Music is a bridge to all that we are, but we may have forgotten, a vibration.

We want to hear from you. What are some of your favorite songs to listen to and how do they make you feel? Leave your comment on our Facebook or Instagram page.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

How to get through the holidays after a trauma.

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Author: Lynda Benigno

Exhausted, scared, numb, lonely, angry. Emotionally and maybe physically tapped out. Whatever feeling it is inside of you is okay. The holiday season can be especially difficult for anyone who has gone through a trauma or experienced a loss. The expectation is everyone should be joyful no matter what is going on inside. We don't want to make others uncomfortable, so we stuff our emotions down and put on a smile. This expectation extends beyond the holiday season. There is a general push in society to be optimistic at all times. While I will be the first to admit I believe in the importance of optimism in everyday life, I also think it has its time and place. Ignoring our emotions, attempting to cover them up seemingly for our own sake or the sake of others is at best, damaging. Being present isn't just about the joys in our life, it means giving full attention to the unpleasant as well. Acknowledgment can be a catalyst for change when you are ready, but you don't have to be ready now.

Whatever negative emotions you have, they are yours to have. It is your experience for as long as you need it to be. The experience does not define you as weak. Honoring those feelings- by recognizing its presence and allowing yourself to feel it fully, makes you pretty darn strong. Feel no guilt for the existence of those feelings or taking the time to honor them. Notice when you accept those emotions that you are still breathing, you are still standing, and you are strong.

Sometimes our emotions are not something that needs to be resolved quickly so we can go about our day. We can find compassion for ourselves by honoring our emotions as opposed to covering it up with positivity. People you are close to may be well-intentioned and want to help because they want you to feel well. Sometimes this has more to do with their discomfort; they see you are not happy, and they want to "fix" so that you feel happy, and so do they. If we recognize this tendency, we can respond with compassion. I recommend using a phrase such as: " Thank you for trying to help, I am processing right now and need some time.".

No one's life is free from discomfort, and our emotions can be challenging to get a handle on sometimes. I promise you are not alone. You may wake up one day and feel unhappy. You have no idea why, no clue as to what brought it on. That's okay! If you know why it's occurring that's okay too. There is zero need for you to justify it to anyone. Now that's not to say you can walk around and treat others terribly because of it and unfortunately that does occur. We have all heard the saying " Hurt people hurt others.", and if you are having difficulty processing your emotions or projecting your hurt onto others, I highly recommend you speak with a therapist.

I want you to know it's okay that you don't feel okay, take all the time you need.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

A few ways to stop overthinking everything.

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Author: Lynda Benigno

Overthinking creates a lot of misery. If you are an over thinker, you find yourself unable to silence the continuous stream of thoughts. You over analyze interactions and events with a narrative that is primarily negative and may include "what if?", " what would I do differently?" and "what I should have said was.". All the while the problem in your head becomes bigger and bigger.

Overthinking is different from introspection. Introspection is like having a meeting with yourself, a chance to check in and gauge where you stand emotionally and spiritually. You take inventory and gain an understanding of your true self, the things about yourself you would like to change and set goals that lead to personal growth. Introspection leads to productive action, overthinking leaves you paralyzed in the thought process.

Studies find overthinking takes a toll on your overall well being. People who overthink are more likely to experience headaches, muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, irritability, restlessness, sweating, anxiety, and a distorted view of problems. While stuck in rumination, problem-solving becomes more difficult because instead of looking for a solution, you dwell on mistakes. As you ruminate the risk of mental health problems increase, this leads to more overthinking. You become trapped in a vicious cycle.

Most overthinking comes from our fear of the unknown. We also focus on past and future events heavily. Overall these are things we have little to no control over. As a former control addict, I can say with some certainty relinquishing the grip on everything around us can be incredibly liberating. It frees up your time, head space and makes room for positivity and gratitude. We have no way of changing past events, and the future comes to you in the present moment.

Here are a few things you can try to reduce overthinking :

-Throughout your day take time to notice your thoughts. Realize what is true and what is a made up scenario in your head. If what you are thinking is true, acknowledge its presence. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions arise and honor them. If it is something you can change make a plan and take action. It may be you must confront someone who hurt you or apologizing if you were in the wrong. If your thoughts are a made up scenario gently remind yourself that your thought pattern is not based on truth and is something you have no control over. Release it into the universe or to God. Journaling can be helpful in the release process; writing down thoughts and feelings helps to clear out the junk that is cluttered up in your head. You can also pinpoint negative thinking patterns and gain a better understanding of yourself.

-Try doing something you love. If you think about the last time you were engaged in an activity that brought you immense joy you may realize that you zoned in on the task and your concentration remained relatively unbroken. You zone in because at that moment you are fully invested in what you are doing. Occasionally an intrusive thought may occur, but you are quick to dismiss it as an annoyance because you are fully present in the moment.

- Find the humor in the ridiculous. If you think about it, so much of what we think about is quite absurd. A few days ago in the car, I observed countless people with leaf blowers and rakes, working tirelessly to make sure there wasn't a single leaf touching their grass. I questioned society's obsession with having a perfectly manicured lawn. Sure, there are practical reasons to cut your grass, but I wondered what was so offensive about leaves in the grass. Nature is full of disorder, why do we insist on trying to control it? I stepped back for a moment, and then I laughed at myself; I spent 15 minutes asking countless "whys?" about something I have no control over. Does someone raking leaves in their yard have a direct impact on my well being? Nope. Do I care? Nope. Is it life altering? Nope. If my spouse asked how my day was, I wouldn't tell him I spent 15 minutes talking to myself about leaves and lawn care because it sounds ridiculous. We humans are funny and fickle creatures. It's not necessary to take ourselves seriously all of the time.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

Growing your Compassion with 4 Steps.

compassion

Author: Lynda Benigno

 

What is true compassion? The definition of compassion is  "to suffer together". Although conceptually similar to empathy they are two different things all together. Empathy serves as a bridge to compassion, allowing you to feel what another person feels.  Compassion arises when you are confronted with another persons suffering and feel a need to relieve that suffering as if it were your own.

 

When we feel compassion, we secrete oxytocin the "bonding hormone". The supramarginal gyrus, part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for empathy, pleasure, and caregiving is triggered. Your heart rate slows and the need to relieve the other persons suffering becomes aroused.

 

I believe fostering compassion in ourselves and our children has the potential to change the world. I know, that sounds like an audacious statement, but I feel it with fierce intensity. If everyone in the world could look at other human beings as just that, another human being with more similarities than differences, how much different would our interactions with each other be? We all have the same innate needs, to avoid suffering and experience happiness. If we cared about others suffering and joy as much as our own, what would the impact be on society as a whole?  Will compassion alone will solve all of our problems? Probably not, but I do believe it plays an intricate part in relieving a good deal of heartache.

 

Here are a few steps that can be done to help grow your compassion capabilities. I have confidence in them because it offers a way of being;  if it becomes a part of your daily routine, there is the potential to alter the way you think about your interactions with others. When you change the way you think your behavior is more likely to follow.  

 

Start with Empathy as a Meditation Practice

 When interacting with another person put yourself in their shoes.  Sounds easy to do and for some people, it is an automatic response. For others, the first reaction is to go to self, in other words, how is this problem affecting me. Let's say a friend comes to you with complaints of marriage woes and the first thought in your mind is "Oh no, why is this my problem?".  Stuck in a self-mindset, you don't actively listen, and if you are not actively listening, you can not imagine yourself in their situation. The alternative is to choose to listen actively and imagine yourself in their position. Any thoughts you have about the problem should be mentally acknowledged briefly and then bring yourself back to hearing and feeling. It is the same practice during meditation while listening to your breath, you choose to bring your focus to what is in the present moment, a friend in pain. This mental exercise is useful in nearly any social interaction.

 

Kindness

At the heart of compassion is kindness, a simple means to alleviate someone's suffering. It does not always need to be a grand gesture. A kind word, encouragement, running an errand, giving a hug, or being a listening ear can have a significant impact on someone's pain.

 

Reflect

If you are in a situation in which someone is unkind to you, try to think of why that may be. That is not to say that you are looking for excuses to dismiss disrespectful or rude behavior or that such behavior should be tolerated. The goal is to respond in a way that doesn't return the same negative energy creating a vicious cycle. If you are talking to a person who has become combative or angry, before responding or reacting, think of the persons past. Have they experienced trauma? Were they not taught well as a child? Are they unusually stressed or tired? People who mistreat others are usually suffering. Their actions and words have less to do with you and more to do with what they are going through internally. Knowing this, you can respond with compassion and respect. If your spouse worked long hours, experienced many difficulties throughout the day and returned home in a foul mood, there are a few ways you could respond to his grumpiness. You can become passive-aggressive, avoid him altogether, match his energy and argue or you could say " I know you had a long and stressful day, and I would like to talk to you about it, but I will not do so until you have had a chance to calm down and speak to me with respect". While setting a boundary, you also acknowledge the pain the other person is experiencing, opening the door to compassion in action.

 

Self Reflection

Knowing thyself is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and others. The act of going within to analyze our actions, words, beliefs or just the events of the day benefits our understanding of who we are and makes way for personal growth. Our own growth impacts interactions with others. Take a few minutes at the end of your day to think about your interactions with others. Can you think of anything you could have handled differently? Are there ways you can do better? If you were unkind, did you apologize?  Make it a daily goal to do better, one interaction at a time. Remember that effort counts and be gentle with yourself as well. Its okay to not be perfect every moment of the day. If you are trying, you are learning and making progress.

 

 The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your health care provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Foundation at 330-577-6656.

Words that can build yet also destroy.

Words the Build and Words that Destroy

Words that can build yet also destroy.

Author: Lynda Benigno

 Words have potency, the potential to build a child up or tear them down, motivate or destroy. Your tone is just as important as the words you use. Infants understand facial expressions and tone before language develops. By the age of two, they are responding to verbal communication. As a child begins to get older, the language used by parents and caregivers have a stronger impact on social development, cognitive skills, and emotional development. Words are just words you might say, but science tells us differently.

 All humans have the desire to be understood, accepted, seen and heard. We seek unconditional love, the room to make mistakes without condemnation, and an environment where we can be expressive. Children are no exception. If you are a parent, think back and count how many times you have told your child to think before they speak. Now ask yourself if you are holding yourself to the same standard.

 Children who grow up in homes with degrading and accusatory language, hypercritical and shaming words, frequent comparisons to other children and veiled threats grow up feeling inadequate. The child, ever mindful they are watched from a critical lens can experience a drop in self-esteem, depression, guilt, anxiety, and an inability to manage negative emotions. They may feel self-hatred, become withdrawn or combative, engage in self-harm or turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism. What we know from research is the brain of a child who grows up in a safe, responsive and supportive environment develops normally. In a hostile and unsupportive environment, grey matter of the brain undergoes literal structural changes affecting the hippo campus ( emotion regulation), the frontal cortex ( decision making) and the corpus callosum ( sensory, motor and cognitive superhighway between the brains two hemispheres).  It is indeed a form of abuse.

 As parents and caregivers, we have an obligation to self-reflect.  It is imperative we work through our past traumas and baggage, so we do not pass our wounds to future generations.

  What words will you choose for your children's tiny ears today? Choose wisely, for they will shape who they become.

 If you know a child who is being abused, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

 

 

 

 

The Law Of Attraction

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Author: Lynda Benigno

Research into quantum mechanics shows the simple act of observation creates the observer's reality. If you are not aware of something; be it an object, situation, feeling, thought or person, it won't exist in your subjective reality. The placebo effect shows us negative and positive attitudes produce corresponding results. In other words, the way we think and feel creates our outer world experiences and often influences what action we decide to take.

Everything in the universe is in a constant state of vibration. The colors you see are all vibrations at a particular frequency as are the sounds you hear. Your brain is so powerful it can translate the waves you see and hear into something you can recognize. This translation becomes your reality. Like attracts like vibrations of similar frequency and they become drawn together. If we condition our minds, the outer world and our reality will reflect our new vibration. Just as the environment of a child can either enrich or impede development, your thoughts and subsequent actions can have a powerful impact on your reality and success.

When in a state of confidence, grace, and appreciation, synchronicities increase, patterns appear, and you attract people who are on the same wavelength. Vibrating on a level that matches your desired reality puts you in control of your destiny.

There are simple steps you can take today to help you manifest your heart's desire. The first step is holding a firm belief that you will have the desired outcome. Leave no room for doubt. Trust that the universe ( or God) wants the best for you and is conspiring to give you exactly what you need to attain your goals when you need it and in a time frame that will serve the highest good.

The second step is to behave as if its already yours. If your desired outcome is a new job, when you go to the interview allow your thought patterns to reflect your capabilities and strengths as if you are already doing the job. Like a mantra, you may choose to list these attributes starting with "I am " while getting dressed or in the car.

The third step is to take action to reach your outcome. Permit yourself to release anything that is not directly in your control. Take any necessary steps that are in your reach to attain your desire. If you wanted to start a business, you would apply for a loan, network with others who are successful in the same industry and research the particular requirements needed to get started. Your positive actions coupled with your specific thought patterns will help propel your aspirations into reality.

The last step is to practice gratitude. While there is nothing wrong with desire, appreciating the blessings and joy already present has been shown to increase happiness, deepen relationships and increase productivity. As a result, it helps you reach your goals.

Happy Manifesting!

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

A Meditation Time out

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Author : Lynda Benigno

 

When you were a child, you probably experienced a timeout. The purpose of a timeout is to give time to reflect and compose one’s demeanor. Whether or not timeouts are useful depends on who you ask. A little over 30 years of scientific research has garnered mixed results. What science does tell us, is taking the time to breathe does have positive benefits for people of all ages.

 

Taking conscious breaths throughout your day can be like hitting a reset button on your brain. Mindful breathing can improve cognitive functioning as well as mental and physical well-being. Slow deep breaths with your exhale slightly longer than your inhale, are stimulating for your parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is the rest and digest system. It is responsible for conserving energy as it slows heart rate, decreases blood pressure, regulates intestinal activity and induces relaxation response within the body.  Byproducts of parasympathetic nervous system stimulation include increased intuition and sound decision making.

 Various breathing techniques exist for therapeutic purposes. Conscious breathing is useful because it shifts your awareness, allowing your mind and body to pause and reset. If you are focused on your breath, you are not focusing on the stressors, and you begin to relax.

 I find conscious breathing most effective at the start of the day or the end of the day. Aside from focusing on your breath, there are no rules. You can sit in a chair or lie down on your bed. If you are at work or in a social situation, there is no shame in excusing yourself and going to the bathroom. Rest your hands comfortably on your belly or at your sides. Close your eyes and inhale slowly and as deeply as you can, count to 4 in your head. Notice the feel of your hands moving upwards as your torso expands like a balloon.  As you exhale count to 6, notice the sound of your breath and the gentle breeze produced as air leaves your lungs. If you become distracted by thoughts or noise in the environment that is okay, continue to breathe until you feel calm and relaxed.  For some, visualization is more helpful than listening to and feeling their breath. If that is the case, think of something pleasant such as the beach while breathing.

 Find what works for you and don't be afraid to make your own rules. Happy Breathing!

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

Kid Confidant (When You Use Your Child As Your Therapist)

kid confidant

By: Bethany Latimer

Many times in our lives we are disappointed, or flat out failed, by the other adults we call our support system. We hope to get good advice or have their undivided attention when we come to them with a problem. Instead, they are preoccupied with their own problems, too busy scrolling through their phone or turning to you for advice without taking the time to listen when you start speaking. It is frustrating. We all need someone to talk to. In come the kids. They are pretty good listeners, often very empathetic (they feel bad for mommy or daddy), and let’s face it, they are often around. Hence, it becomes very easy to fall into a pattern of unburdening your problems on a child. We find ourselves complaining about other adults (often people your child knows and loves), we use them to lift our spirits when we are sad, we give them too many details about the horrible things that have happened to us.  In short, our worries become their worries. Why this is NOT okay:

-        Children have a child’s perspective, they often cannot see the bigger picture that the adult can, leaving them to feel hopeless and worried because they are incapable of doing anything about what you are telling them.

-        You are causing damage to their relationships. The people you complain about our often people they love and care about. When you berate and disrespect these people, you damage that person's character. The child builds resentment toward the adults in their life.

-        Finally, kids should have time to grow, explore and be kids. When you give them your adult problems, they miss out on just enjoying the little things that make life so much fun. They start to worry like you do, taking them out of the present moment.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

Prostitute or an Affair? Help Us Settle a Debate

marriage counseling affair - stepping stone counseling

Recently in my couples therapy group a comment was made. A young woman said to the group, "I would prefer my husband have an affair, prostitutes are so trashy." Another woman countered, "not me, with a whore you know it's just for sex, that I can live with." The group engaged in a lively debate, which resulted in a lot of laughter, I am happy to say. So what do you think? Would you be more heartbroken to find that your husband has slept with a prostitute? or that your husband is having an affair? We would love to hear your thoughts...

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

#ssfravenna #ssravenna

Say It Like You Mean It

communication mishaps and texting

Ahh, communication. So many words to explain ourselves, yet so many times we feel like we aren’t being heard or understood. The result, we end up repeating ourselves, or using more words to explain or justify or actions. Still there is a misunderstanding, which often results in disagreements that lead to arguments. Most people don’t understand the 4 styles of communication (assertive, passive, aggressive and passive-aggressive), and don’t really understand the fact that they are not being direct and assertive. Many times, this has to do with how we are raised. If the adults in our home got their way by using aggressiveness, most likely they taught you that this is how to speak to others. If people in your home were passive and didn’t voice their preferences or were taught to take a “back seat” to others, they often become passive adults that get walked on. Why is it important to understand your style of communication?

·         Clear communication results in less disagreements and less time wasted

·         Assertive communication reduces the likelihood you will get taken advantage of by         others

·         Understanding your communication style allows you to learn ways to make changes and get more of what you want

·         Direct and assertive communication often raises other’s feelings of respect toward you, which can lead to promotion and pay raises

·         You don’t have to feel guilty about saying things you don’t mean or walk away with the feeling that you should have said something

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

#ssfravenna #ssravenna

What to Do When Your Loved One Won't Get Help

Addiction and chemical dependency stepping stone foundation Ravenna Ohio

One of the most emotionally challenging parts of life is watching a person you love suffer. You see this person wrapped up in a sickness (addiction, unhealthy relationship, self-sabotage, you name it), and the person just can’t or won’t get help for themselves. Meanwhile, you watch the unravel happen. You spend many moments in anxiety, or outright fear for this other person. No matter what you say, or do, just doesn’t seem to get through. You secretly hope the next negative consequence will be enough to change things, and then it doesn’t…

So, what can you do? The only answer, get help for yourself. Here is why:

·         You can learn coping skills to reduce your own anxiety

          You can learn tools to keep you from enabling the sick person to stay sick

·         You can learn how to focus your energy on yourself and your own goals

·         One of the best motivators for people who are sick is seeing someone else ask for help

·         You can find acceptance and peace, even if the other person never changes

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

Affected by Trauma

war and trauma

By: Bethany Latimer

Trauma is defined as a distressing or disturbing experience. An estimated 7 out of 10 people have been through a traumatic event. People are resilient, they make it through horrible events in life and continue to manage life, day by day. However, there is a difference in “managing” versus “thriving” in life. Although, we can cope with trauma with the help of friends and family, trauma often lingers in the form of depression, anxiety, quick mood changes and physical ailments like headaches, stomach aches and more. Trauma shows up in the form of nightmares, flashbacks and avoidance of situations that may remind us of the trauma. People may tell us “life goes on” or “life is for the living.” Though these people may mean well, it certainly doesn’t mean the event is forgotten or that we have healed. In some cases, we perceive the trauma as so shameful or humiliating that we keep it to ourselves. Often it takes a professional to help us navigate what the trauma means for our personal story and how we get past the strong emotions associated with it. Therapy is an excellent way to heal from a trauma and feel whole again.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.