11 Habits That Can Actually Be Signs Of Mental Illness

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While the signs and symptoms of different mental illnesses can be tricky to spot, it helps to consider how they might show up in the form of certain daily habits. By knowing what to look for, it can be easier to see these habits for what they really are, and even get some help. Because if they’re holding you back, or negatively impacting your life, then they very well may be something worth treating.

“A habit becomes a sign of mental illness once it hijacks your physical and/or mental well-being and interferes with your [life],” Dr. Georgia Witkin, Progyny’s head of patient services development, tells Bustle. “For instance, constant worry [can lead you] to make life-altering changes, such as not leaving the house,” which can impact your career, relationships, and hobbies.

These habits can take many forms, and will be different for everyone. But what you’ll want to keep an eye out for are habits that seem out of character, or ones that are making life more difficult. When that’s the case, “it’s worth a visit to a healthcare provider who can help to identify and address the underlying issue(s),” Susan Weinstein, co-executive director of Families for Depression Awareness, tells Bustle.

With that in mind, read on below for some habits that can be a sign of a mental health concern, according to experts.

1. Wanting To Spend More Time Alone

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“No longer wanting to see loved ones or participating in hobbies is indicative of mental illness,” Dr. Witkin says, with depression being one of the most likely culprits, since it can make it difficult to go about your usual routine.

That said, it’s always OK to take time for yourself, and hang out alone. But if you used to go out, see friends, or enjoy certain hobbies, it may be a good idea to reach out to a therapist, if you can no longer find the energy to do so.

2. Missing Work Or Appointments

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If you’re generally on top of your schedule, but have developed the habit of showing up late to work, calling out, or blowing off appointments, take note.

“Individuals [that] frequently disengage could be dealing with high anxiety, which often leads to avoidance, or possibly depression, which can lead to an inability to reach out,” Reynelda Jones, LMSW, CAADC, ADS, tells Bustle.

Even things like bipolar disorder, and other mental health issues, can make it difficult to get to work on time — or even get there at all.

3. Spending A Lot Of Money

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There’s nothing wrong with going shopping, or treating yourself to something nice. But for many people, excessive spending can be a sign of a health concern.

For example, “spending large amounts of money often manifests in an individual whose experiencing a manic episode,” Jones says, which is an aspect of bipolar disorder.

“Often the individual spends money beyond [their] financial means,” she says, only to feel really guilty or hopeless about how much they spent, once they come down from this phase. If this has become an issue for you, it may be time to ask for help.

4. Feeling Irritated & Picking Fights

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While it’s fine to have the occasional disagreement, acting in an excessively angry or cranky way, or picking little fights with others, isn’t a habit that should be overlooked.

“Anger and irritability, such as flying off the handle or constant grousing, can be signs of depression or bipolar disorder, particularly when they seem unprovoked and unusual for that person,” Weinstein says.

If these habits sound familiar, reaching out to a therapist may be a good next step, so you can figure out what’s going on.

5. Starting New Projects And/Or Businesses

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This is another habit that’s common among people who have bipolar disorder. But unlike folks who are starting businesses because they’ve thought it through and are thinking clearly, someone with this disorder might go forth with no concern to the risks they’re taking on, Jones says.

When someone is manic, they might also talk rapidly or jump from topic to topic, Dr. Indra Cidambi, psychiatrist and addiction expert, tells Bustle. Or they’ll take on too many things at once. Oftentimes, manic episodes are followed by periods of depression, which is when these grandiose plans can fall apart.

While it’s always great to learn new things, start new projects, and get excited about business ideas, this habit could mean something isn’t quite right.

6. Developing New Mannerisms

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“A shifting posture or gesture or even how we walk throughout our day can signal shifts in mood, which can often be a sign of mental health concerns or maybe even mental illness,” therapist Erica Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT, tells Bustle.

It could, for example, point to a mood disorder, since movement can be a “reflection of our emotional state and mental health,” she says. Think along the lines of new mannerisms, and other habits that seem out of character.

7. Misplacing Things

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Not being able to find belongings in a messy room, along with an inability to make decisions and forgetting things, can be a sign of depression, Weinstein says.

If this is a problem you’re struggling with, let a doctor know. They can help you figure out if it is, in fact, stemming from depression, and set you on the right course of treatment.

8. Staying Up All Night

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“Sleeping either too little or too much can be a symptom of a mental disorder,” Dr. Witkin says. “Often times, anxiety disorders cause insomnia or restless sleep, while depression causes oversleeping and eventual fatigue.”

In general, it’s healthy to sleep about seven to nine hours a night. If this is something you struggle to do, you may want to look into reasons why, including possible mental health issues.

9. Worrying About The Day Ahead

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While it’s common to feel a bit stressed or worried as you think about the day ahead, it might be a sign of anxiety if you worry to the point of distraction, avoid certain situations, or play out worst-case scenarios.

As Dr. Cidambi says, “Excessive worrying that is disproportionate to normal, everyday events is one important sign that one may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.”

10. Repeating Small Daily Rituals

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“Normal rituals we might all partake in that are a way to mark a change of pace for the day — such as kissing a [partner] goodbye, or checking to make sure that we have our keys or phone — are normal, and can be helpful rituals,” licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Scott Hoye, PsyD, tells Bustle.

But for folks with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), these habits can take over. Instead of locking your front door once, for example, you might lock it ten times, or even drive back home to lock it again.

That’s because this disorder can cause you to doubt yourself, perform rituals over and over again, or experience magical thinking. So when a habit has turned into an obsession, Dr. Hoye says it may be a sign of a mental health concern.

11. Needing A Drink After Work

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There’s nothing wrong with getting a drink after work, having wine with dinner, or hanging out at the bar. But if this habit has turned into something you need to do in order to relax, consider how it might be a way to mask symptoms of anxiety or depression, Dr. Hoye says.

It’s not uncommon for folks experiencing excessive worry, for example, to develop ways to relax, such as reaching for a drink. So if you’re concerned, don’t hesitate to let a doctor know.

It can be tough to spot these habits, and see them for what they are. But if you or someone else notices them, it doesn’t hurt to seek out the help.

By speaking with a therapist, you may realize that one of your habits was, in fact, a sign of a mental health concern. And in doing so, you’ll be starting the process of getting help and support, so you can get back to feeling better.

Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.`

Clinical Depression: What Does That Mean?

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Depression ranges in seriousness from mild, temporary episodes of sadness to severe, persistent depression. Clinical depression is the more-severe form of depression, also known as major depression or major depressive disorder. It isn’t the same as depression caused by a loss, such as the death of a loved one, or a medical condition, such as a thyroid disorder.

To diagnose clinical depression, many doctors use the symptom criteria for major depressive disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Signs and symptoms of clinical depression may include:

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability, or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies, or sports
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Anxiety, agitation, or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking, or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures, or self-blame
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

Symptoms are usually severe enough to cause noticeable problems in relationships with others or in day-to-day activities, such as work, school, or social activities.

Clinical depression can affect people of any age, including children. However, clinical depression symptoms, even if severe, usually improve with psychological counseling, antidepressant medications or a combination of the two.

Updated: 2017-05-13

Publication Date: 2017-05-13

Why We Worry: Understanding Anxiety And How To Help It

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Most of us are familiar with the dry mouth, racing heart and knotted stomach that are the hallmarks of feeling anxious. Usually this is a fleeting response to danger and uncertainty. In some people, however, the state of high alert won’t switch off. Their anxiety becomes so draining it is impossible to leave the house or function in daily life.

One woman feels agitated and lightheaded each morning when she wakes. She worries about the accidents that might befall her if she travels to work, but also about what would happen if she had nothing planned for the day. Another avoids work, friends or even walking her dog in case it triggers another panic attack. One man finds it difficult to pick up the phone for fear he will mash his words and be misunderstood.

These are real cases of people who have sought help for their anxiety. Their experiences aren’t unusual. Anxiety disorders – including generalised anxiety, panic attacks, social anxiety and phobias – are the most prevalent mental health problem in the US and Europe, and a growing number of reports from other regions suggest they could be a global concern. In the West, they cost healthcare systems more than $40 billion each year. On average 1 in 6 of us will contend with an anxiety disorder at some stage in our lives – women more than men.

Read more: Brain and mental health

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The damage is real. Anxiety disorders have been linked to depression and increased substance abuse, particularly of alcohol. A recent study found that men who have anxiety disorders are twice as likely to die from cancer as men who don’t, even when factors such as drinking and smoking are taken into account.

So what is the cause of all this anxiety? Is there more of it about, and what is the best way to tackle it?

How much anxiety is normal?

Anxiety is a natural response that evolved over millions of years to make us more vigilant and prime our bodies to flee danger. But feeling anxious because you heard a noise on a dark street isn’t the same thing as having an anxiety disorder. “The key thing we look for in the clinic is whether anxiety is interfering with a person’s day-to-day life, or causing them a lot of distress,” says Nick Grey of King’s College London.

To clinical psychologists like Grey, “maladaptive beliefs” are a hallmark of anxiety disorders and are often used to diagnose the type of anxiety someone has. In social anxiety disorder, the most common anxiety disorder, you might believe that blushing will result in people laughing at or shunning you. People with this type of disorder experience persistent and overwhelming fear before, during and after social events.

If you have panic disorder, you might assume that you are having a heart attack if your heart starts to race. The physical symptoms of anxiety – a pounding heart, difficulty breathing, feeling dizzy or flushed – will then come on in a rush. Everyone can experience such panic attacks from time to time, but in panic disorder the attacks are regular and become a source of anxiety themselves.

Other maladaptive beliefs are less specific. Generalised anxiety disorder is characterised by chronic worrying about a range of different events or activities, for at least six months. If you have this condition, the belief driving your anxiety could, for example, be the feeling it’s your job to take care of other people, or that you have responsibilities that you must meet at all cost. To decide who to refer for further treatment, doctors might use a tool called the GAD7 test.

“Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health problem in the west“

Are we more anxious than we used to be?

The Roman politician and philosopher Cicero was among the first to define anxiety as an illness, in the 1st century BC. Our current medical definition dates to 1980, when the American Psychological Association estimated that between 2 and 4 per cent of people in the US had an anxiety disorder. Today, some studies suggest it’s more like 18 per cent in the US and 14 per cent in Europe.

Such figures have led some to conclude we are in the midst of an anxiety epidemic, fuelled by factors such as economic anxiety, social media and the rise of the 24-hour society. The reality is more complex. The apparent increase is probably due to changes in diagnostics over the years, which make long-term comparisons difficult. “I think we are becoming more stressed and that has to do with having a lot of demands on our time,” says Jennifer Wild of the Oxford Centre for Anxiety Disorder and Trauma in the UK. “But if you’re looking at the prevalence of anxiety disorders, they haven’t gone up.”

There is tentative evidence to support this conclusion. For instance, Olivia Remes and her colleagues at the University of Cambridge found little overall change in the number of people around the world affected by anxiety disorders between 1990 and 2010. Their meta-analysis, published earlier this year, found that roughly 1 in 10 people experience anxiety at any given time, and about 17 per cent are likely to experience it at some stage in their lives.

Remes found that adults under the age of 35 were disproportionately affected by anxiety. Similarly, Borwin Bandelow and Sophie Michaelis at the University Medical Centre in Göttingen, Germany, found evidence that the prevalence of most anxiety disorders peaks in 18 to 34-year-olds before dropping off again. Specific phobias were the exception, peaking in 35 to 50-year-olds.

Even if the overall prevalence of anxiety disorders hasn’t increased, anecdotal evidence suggests that the type of anxiety people are experiencing is changing. When Nicky Lidbetter, chief executive of Anxiety UK, joined the charity 20 years ago, the majority of queries they received were from people with panic disorder or agoraphobia, an extreme fear of open spaces. “Nowadays it is health anxiety [hypochondria] and social anxiety,” she says.

What causes the symptoms of anxiety?

Although we are still a long way from fully understanding what is going on in an anxious brain, recent studies offer some insights into why anxiety seems to take over in some people. Central to it all is the amygdala, a brain region that processes our emotions and triggers the release of the hormones responsible for the fight-or-flight response.

The amygdala is linked to parts of the prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex that process social information and help us make decisions (see diagram). During bouts of everyday anxiety, this brain circuit switches on and then off again – but Oliver Robinson at University College London and his colleagues have shown that in people with anxiety disorders it seems to get stuck in the on position. “We think it might be amplifying negative information in your surroundings to make sure you pay attention to it, and triggering a fight-or-flight response so you’ll run away,” says Robinson.

Studies suggest that fear memories stored in the amygdala prime us to respond to threats we have previously experienced. This response is normally kept in check by a parallel circuit: in healthy people, inputs from the prefrontal cortex can temper our learned response and even overwrite it with new memories. Occasionally the system fails, however. Psychiatrists have found that war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder – a kind of anxiety disorder – have abnormally low levels of activity in their prefrontal cortex, and unusually high levels in their amygdala.

Ultimately, an overactive amygdala appears to hype up the familiar symptoms of the fight-or-flight response by stimulating a network of hormonal glands and brain regions called the “HPA axis” – causing rapid heart rate and breathing, a dry mouth, shaking and tense muscles. The fight-or-flight response also has less obvious effects, like slowing digestion and making us more susceptible to pain.

Understanding these interactions will help design better treatments. For instance, Robinson’s circuit switches on when levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin are low, which could explain why a class of antidepressants known as SSRIs can reduce anxiety levels: they increase the availability of serotonin in the brain. “Maybe serotonin is applying the brakes to this particular circuitry,” says Robinson.

Are some people naturally more anxious than others?

Do you calmly navigate life’s bumps or agonise at every turn? Psychologists have long argued that people have innate dispositions that explain how we act, one of which is neuroticism – or proneness to anxiety. A recent study of more than 106,000 people identified nine regions of the genome that seem to correlate with neuroticism. Some of these contain genes previously linked to anxious behaviour, such as CRHR1, which regulates release of the stress hormone cortisol. The same gene has also been associated with anxiety-related behaviour in mice, and panic disorder in humans.

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Some people are therefore naturally more prone to anxiety. But even if you are a natural-born neurotic, this doesn’t mean you will develop an anxiety disorder. “Having a high level of dispositional anxiety is a risk factor for developing an anxiety disorder, but you can be highly anxious and completely healthy,” says Marcus Munafo, a behavioural neuroscientist at the University of Bristol, UK.

Your age (see “Are we more anxious than we used to be”) and sex are factors at play. Population studies show that women are about twice as likely to develop an anxiety disorder as men. In part, this may be down to hormones and their influence on the brain. The surges in oestrogen and progesterone that occur during pregnancy, for instance, have been linked to obsessive compulsive disorder, an anxiety-related condition. Remes points out that there may be other explanations too, such as the fact that women tend to cope with stressful situations differently. “They worry a lot more about what’s going to happen, which can increase their anxiety,” she says. “Men tend to take a more problem-focused approach.”

“Being a natural-born neurotic doesn’t mean you’ll develop anxiety disorder“

The anxious brain

What’s the best way to tackle an anxiety disorder?

If you have an anxiety disorder, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is likely to be the first recommended treatment. Considered the gold standard in treatment, it aims to address the maladaptive beliefs that drive your anxiety. Once they have been identified, CBT helps you challenge them. “If someone is worried about blushing, we might put blusher all over their face and make them have conversations with people to see that they generally don’t even notice,” says Wild. “For panic disorder, you might get someone to run up and down the stairs, to show them that even if they do an extreme behaviour, they aren’t going to have a heart attack.”

A shortage of therapists has spurred the development of online delivery of CBT. In a pilot study of 11 people with social anxiety disorder, Wild found that nine of them responded to online CBT and seven achieved remission, although it is too early to say if this is better or worse than face-to-face therapy.

Therapy isn’t for everyone, however. Some people don’t respond well to therapists or analysing their own behaviour. In this case, a second line of attack is drugs, which can redress chemical imbalances in the brain.

Several studies have shown that people with panic disorder and generalised anxiety disorder tend to have lower levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which is thought to help the amygdala filter out unthreatening stimuli. Blocking GABA production in rats has been shown to trigger anxiety-like symptoms.

Benzodiazepines, a class of common anti-anxiety drugs which includes Valium, work on this system but are highly addictive. Doctors may feel more comfortable prescribing antidepressants, says Lidbetter. These can help with the physiology of anxiety as well as the secondary symptoms, which often include depression. However, Lidbetter believes that this is a field that needs to move on. “We need a new benzodiazepine-type drug – something which isn’t addictive,” she says.

Exercise can help with day-to-day anxiety and is a helpful additional strategy for people with anxiety disorders. It triggers the release of mood-boosting endorphins, and forces you to concentrate on something other than your own thoughts. Then there’s diet. A team led by Phil Burnet at the University of Oxford has found that taking a fibre-rich supplement to encourage the growth of beneficial gut bacteria for three weeks caused people to pay more attention to positive words on a computer screen and less attention to negative ones. Upon waking each morning, the volunteers also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their blood. “We saw a small but significant effect on the underlying psychological mechanisms that contribute to anxiety,” says Burnet.

Modern life may be packed with events outside your control, seemingly designed to foster anxiety and self-doubt. The important thing is to recognise the symptoms and do something about them.

This article appeared in print under the headline “Worry…”

On The Days Depression Makes You Feel Nothing At All

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Today is a blah day. It isn’t that there is anything terribly wrong today. There are issues looming, yes, but there are always issues of late. There is nothing pressing, though.

It is just a blah day, a day where I lay in bed, struggling to find a reason to get up. I’ve had to pee for a couple hours now. Yet, the dull ache in my bladder is not enough to pull me from under my covers. I should probably brush my teeth. Maybe get dressed and get a bite to eat. I have been awake for more than five hours now, even before the sun rose. Yet, here I still lay.

I feel blah. While the world around me continues with its hustle and bustle, I have no motivation, no desire to do anything. Nothing seems interesting or important. Nothing is pressing enough to pull me from this funk.

I would go back to sleep if I could, call in sick from life itself. I feel like nothing, not myself. I feel numb.

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Days like this are common with depression. Those who have never struggled often assume that depression is all bouts of random sadness and tears. Yes, I have those days, too, and it is draining when everything and anything feels heart-wrenching and makes me want to cry. Yet, even worse, perhaps, than the days when I feel everything too strongly are the days I feel nothing at all.

On these days, I have trouble pulling myself up or doing anything. I’m not being lazy. I just don’t see the point. I am pulled into a gray abyss, where there’s no purpose, no joy, no motivation, no will to live. It isn’t that I’m suicidal and actively want to die, either. I just have no will to live. The emptiness is all-consuming.

People suggest I should just “try” to be happy or to be positive. If only it were this simple. Again and again, the “should be” and “could be” options roll around in my mind but I’m numb to them all. Deep down, I know I should be getting up, doing something, living life.

Yet, my brain has me in a death lock. “What’s the sense?” and “Why bother?” it parrots to me again and again. Its voice is booming and deafening. I can hear nothing else. I would love to just smile, think a happy thought and have it vanish away like a puff of smoke but it’s solid and real to me. It takes the form of four solid walls, caging me in, holding me hostage, refusing to budge or listen to reason.

Those blah days are the worst because I feel trapped in this numbness. I cannot escape. I never know whether it will last one day or one week. There is never an end in sight, never a scheduled sweet release.

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Blah days drag on and on until at some point I begin to feel everything too strongly again. On blah days, I would welcome the tears, the anguish, the pain and the struggling just to feel anything at all.

It has been more than hours now, and I’ve barely managed to write a few paragraphs. Yet, those feel like a tremendous accomplishment. I call it a victory. I have done something, which is more than I am able to achieve on most blah days. I still have to pee, though the dull ache has grown into a steady cramp. Breakfast time has come and gone, and lunch time has arrived. Yet, I still don’t have any desire to eat anything, let alone get up.

There are calls I should make and things I should be doing. Yet, my depression still echoes in my head that I shouldn’t bother, that nothing is worth the effort. It tells me to stay in bed, just let this day drift on by, that it doesn’t matter.

Nothing matters. It is all I can hear. It is deafening. I am adrift in a sea of hopelessness and emptiness. I feel paralyzed.

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I swear I am not being lazy. I’m just trapped in a battle with my own mind. I feel lost and alone. I feel trapped in this emptiness. I feel nothing. I feel numb. I feel blah. This is what depression feels like.​

This Comic Sums Up Exactly What It’s Like Living With Depression

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This article was originally published at The Mighty. Reprinted with permission from the author.

8 Physical And Mental Health Benefits Of Owning A Dog

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We can thank our dogs for many things – laughs, companionship and muddy paw prints on the carpet included. But do you ever stop and think about the more long-term impacts that owning a dog can have on your physical and mental health?

This National Love Your Pet Day (20th February), we are thanking our pets for the health benefits they bring to our lives, from exercise to increasing confidence.

8 mental and physical health benefits of owning a dog

1. You might visit the doctor less

An Australian survey found that dog owners make fewer visits to the GP in a year and are less likely to be on medication for heart problems or sleep issues.

2. You could be less anxious

Veterinarian Dr Jo Gale, Mars Petcare Scientific Advisor, says: “Several studies have found that interacting with pet dogs or therapy dogs is associated with reductions in the stress hormone cortisol and reductions in self-reported anxiety.”

2. You could have lower risk of cardiovascular disease

A nationwide 2017 study in Sweden found that owning a dog could be beneficial in reducing the risk of the owner developing cardiovascular disease, thanks to having increased motivation to exercise and a non-human social support network. Interestingly, the study found that owning hunting breeds lowered the risk the most.

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3. You are more sociable

An American study, which looked at three factors of being sociable – getting to know people, friendship formation and social support networks – found that dog owners are five times more likely to know people in their community. They found that dogs, acting as companions, helped owners be more sociable on every level, from one-off interactions to the development of deep friendships.

4. You might live longer

In the Waltham Pocket Book of Human-Animal Interactions there is a wealth of evidence to suggest that the physical benefits of having a dog can lead to a longer, healthier life. Section 8 reads: “The many health benefits of regular physical activity are well documented, and include lower rates of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, depression and certain types of cancer.”

5. You have higher self-esteem

2017 study by the University of Liverpool found that growing up with a dog can increase self-esteem in children. It also found young people with pets to be less lonely and have enhanced social skills. Lead author, Rebecca Purewal, states: “Critical ages for the impact of pet ownership on self-esteem, appear to be greatest for children under 6, and preadolescents and adolescents over 10.”

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6. You exercise more

A 2019 study by Lintbells found the average dog owner walks 870 miles every 12 months with their pets. That equates to just four miles less than the distance between John o’Groats in Scotland and Land’s End in Cornwall. Just over half of the 2,000 British adults surveyed owned a dog, and they walk, on average, more than 21 miles a week – 17 of which are with their pet. That’s around seven miles more than non dog owners who only clock up 14 miles a week.

7. Children miss less school

Veterinarian Dr Jo Gale says: “Having pets in the home has been linked to enhanced immune function in children, as evidenced by better school attendance rates due to fewer illness-related absences. The effect was particularly strong for younger children (five to eight-years-old) and, in some cases amounted to nearly three extra weeks of school attendance for children with pets.”

8. You are less likely to be lonely

Studies have shown that, out of any other pet, dogs have the strongest connection to loneliness, mainly because they are on show a lot more. Over 80% 0f people who took part in Mars Petcare’s 2018 research said that, just one month after getting a dog, they felt a lot less lonely.

How To Spend The First Hour Of Your Work Day On High-Value Tasks

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Don’t begin the activities of your day until you know exactly what you plan to accomplish. Don’t start your day until you have it planned. — Jim RohnEvery morning, get one most important thing done immediately.There is nothing more satisfying than feeling like you’re already in the flow.And the easiest way to trigger this feeling is to work on your most important task in the first hour.Use your mornings for high-value workLean to avoid the busy work that adds no real value to your work, vision or long-term goal.

Low-value activities, including responding to notifications, or reacting to emails keep you busy and stop you from getting real work done. Make time for work that matters.

In his book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, David Allen says, “If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.”

Research shows that it takes, on average, more than 23 minutes to fully recover your concentration after a trivial interruption.

Productive mornings start with early wake-up calls

“In a poll of 20 executives cited by Vanderkam, 90% said they wake up before 6 a.m. on weekdays.

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, for example, wakes at 4 a.m. and is in the office no later than 7 a.m.

Meanwhile, Disney CEO Bob Iger gets up at 4:30 to read, and Square CEO Jack Dorsey is up at 5:30 to jog.”

The first quiet hour of the morning can be the ideal time to focus on an important work project without being interrupted.

Don’t plan your day in the first hour of your morning

Cut the planning and start doing real work. You are most active on a Monday Morning.

Think about it. After a weekend of recovery, you have the most energy, focus and discipline to work on your priorities.

Don’t waste all that mental clarity and energy planning what to do in the next eight hours.

Do your planning the night before.

Think of Sunday as the first chance to prepare yourself for the week’s tasks.

Monday mornings will feel less dreadful and less overwhelming if you prepare the night before.

If you choose to prioritize …

There are one million things you could choose to do in your first hour awake.

If you choose to start your day with a daily check list/to-do list, make sure that next to every task you have the amount of time it will take to complete them.

The value of the of putting time to tasks is that, every time you check something off, you are able to measure how long it took you to get that task done, and how much progress you are making to better plan next time.

Get the uncomfortable out of the way

You probably know about Brian Tracy’s “eat-a-frog” – technique from his classic time-management book, Eat That Frog?

In the morning, right after getting up, you complete the most unwanted task you can think of for that day (= the frog).

Ideally you’ve defined this task in the evening of the previous day.

Completing an uncomfortable or difficult task not only moves it out of your way, but it gives you great energy because you get the feeling you’ve accomplished something worthwhile.

Do you have a plan from yesterday?

Kenneth Chenault, former CEO and Chairman of American Express, once said in an interview that the last thing he does before leaving the office is to write down the top 3 things to accomplish tomorrow, then using that list to start his day the following morning.

This productivity hack works for me.

It helps me focus and work on key tasks. It also helps me disconnect at the end of the day and allow time for my brain to process and reboot.

Trust me, planning your day the night before will give you back a lot wasted hours in the morning and lower your stress levels.

Try this tonight.

If you’re happy with the results, then commit to trying it for a week.

After a week, you’ll be able to decide whether you want to add “night-before planning” to your life.

Want to get more done in less time?

You need systems not goals. I’m creating a new course, Systems For Getting Work Done to help you create a personal productivity system to get 10X more done in less time. Sign up to be notified when it launches.

This article first appeared on Medium.

A Counselor Explains How Introverts Can Banish Social Anxiety

Author Article

A young introvert suffers from social anxiety.
I’m a counselor, and many of the introverts I see come to me because of anxiety. Some of the clients I see have diagnosable anxiety disorders, but those who don’t aren’t suffering any less. When I say anxiety, I mean “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure,” according to the American Psychological Association.Anxiety can come in many forms and have many different causes, but in this article, I’d like to focus on social anxiety. Let’s take a look at the major signs of social anxiety, plus how you can free yourself from it by fixing “thinking errors.”

Signs of Social Anxiety Disorder

According to the American Psychiatric Association, you might have social anxiety if you experience the following:

  1. Feeling anxious or afraid in social settings. You might feel extremely self-conscious, like others are judging or scrutinizing your every move. For an adult, this might happen on a first date or a job interview, or when meeting someone for the first time, delivering an oral presentation, or speaking in a class or meeting. In children, these behaviors must occur in settings with peers — rather than adult interactions — and will be expressed in terms of age appropriate distress, such as cringing, crying, or just generally displaying obvious fear or discomfort.
  2. Worrying quite a bit that you’ll reveal your anxiety and be rejected by others
  3. Consistently feeling distressed during social interactions
  4. Painfully or reluctantly enduring social interaction — or avoiding it altogether
  5. Experiencing fear or anxiety that’s disproportionate to the actual situation
  6. Having fear, anxiety, or other distress around social situations that persist for six months or longer
  7. Finding that your personal life, relationships, or career are negatively affected. In other words, your anxiety makes it quite difficult for you to function in day-to-day life.

For a diagnosis of Social Anxiety Disorder, these symptoms must be present for six months or longer and not be better explained by another mental health or medical diagnosis.

Why Is Social Anxiety Common in Introverts?

If you’re an introvert who experiences social anxiety, you’re not alone. The research shows that introverts are far more likely to suffer from it than extroverts. A small study done in 2011 found that “social phobia patients” were significantly more often introverts (93.7 percent) than not (46.2 percent). Although not all introverts suffer from social anxiety, this study suggests that us “quiet ones,” by nature, may be prone to it in one form or another.

Social anxiety can be excruciating. Introverts, in my practice, struggle with it because they tend to overthink and overanalyze situations. They may find themselves caught in a cycle of planning out a conversation only to have it go differently than their script. This puts them on the spot — an introvert’s nightmare — and creates a high level of anxiety.

They then may fall into the trap of mind-reading. Mind-reading is what some therapies, like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, call “thinking errors.” These patterns of thinking can be helpful in some situations, but when overused, can actually be quite harmful.

Many introverts (especially highly sensitive introverts) are particularly vulnerable to the “error” of mind-reading because they’re so good at attuning to others’ body language, emotions, and energy that it feels like they always know what someone else is thinking — even though they don’t actually possess telepathy.

When a conversation goes off-script and anxiety is heightened, introverts may assume others are thinking critically of them and take this assumption as fact. The thoughts of “now he thinks I’m an idiot” — though most likely false — create even more anxiety. It’s a vicious and debilitating cycle.

But you can banish social anxiety. Let’s take a look at the power of identifying and correcting thinking errors.

The Power of Fixing Thinking Errors

Let’s take an example from my practice. One young woman who came to me had a hard time making new friends. This girl was more mature than her cohort and seemed to be having trouble initiating conversation. As we talked, it came to light that her introverted trait of thinking before speaking had spiraled out of control. She’d rehearse for hours what she was going to say to a certain person, then be caught off guard when the conversation didn’t go as scripted. She then feared that people thought she was stupid or awkward (she was mind-reading) and became highly anxious.

After a conversation like this, she’d ruminate over what she should have said for days or weeks. Obviously, this left her too anxious to start any new conversations with anyone, which lead to a cycle of reinforcing her anxiety about social situations and her avoidance of them.

What did we do about it? The first step was education; we discussed both overthinking and mind-reading and how they relate to her introverted nature. She discovered that her tendency to overthink was very helpful in situations where she needed to analyze information and come to a conclusion, like schoolwork, but that with friends and family, it was creating a barrier to close relationships.

She was also able to see that while she is very attuned to others’ emotional states, she isn’t telepathic and can’t actually read others’ minds.

This education into the thought patterns that were feeding her anxiety gave her some valuable insights. For instance, she realized that the thoughts of “stupid” weren’t what she feared others would think of her, but what she thought of herself. Once we hit on this critical insight, she began to understand that her overthinking and mind-reading were actually ways to distract her from the mean things she was saying to herself.

It took quite a few sessions to help this girl become more self-compassionate and to lessen her overthinking. However, by the end of the school year, she was able to not only talk to new people, but to tackle intense, conflict-laden conversations she’d always avoided before.

Anxiety Doesn’t Have to Rule Your Life

This example gives us some valuable insight into how the introvert’s natural penchant for deep thinking and attunement to others can sometimes lead to harmful inner states. It also gives us a road map to moving forward and feeling better.

If you’re an introvert who suffers from social anxiety, the first step is to do what you do best: look inside and bring awareness to the thought patterns that are no longer helping you. Some of the best ways to do this are mindfulness, yoga, and journaling. Mindfulness trains the mind to be non-judging and discerning of thoughts and feelings; yoga helps relieve stress and is a moving meditation; and journaling brings up the unconscious thoughts, feelings, and beliefs we aren’t aware of in daily life that may be holding us back.

Ask yourself if there are thinking errors that are contributing to your anxiety. Are you like the girl I described above? The next time you notice yourself committing a thinking error, don’t judge or beat yourself up for it. Instead, simply notice it — there’s power in this alone! You might go a step further and intentionally replace your thinking error with a positive thought (even if you aren’t totally feeling it yourself at the moment). Try something like, “even though I’m scared, it’s going to be okay” or “I’m a likable person, and people enjoy being around me.”

Here are some more tips to help you mindfully control anxiety, and here’s a great explanation of mindfulness for introverts.

Your social anxiety won’t disappear overnight. But by stepping into mindfulness and identifying/correcting thinking errors, you can stop it from ruling your life.

What Happens When You Embrace Dark Emotions

Author Article

When I was 15, my mother died in a car accident. Not knowing how to deal with the enormity of my loss and grief, I threw myself into homework and activities. I never missed a day of school and tried to control everything in my life. This strategy succeeded in some ways—I was able to get good grades, for example. But the inner cost of pushing away my grief and sadness showed up in other ways. I became anxious around things I couldn’t control, like unexpected changes in plans and minor injuries. And as I grew older, I started to harbor irrational worries, such as the fear of exposing my baby in utero to toxic fumes when walking past a strange smell. It was not until later, after my first child was born, that I was able to fully grieve the loss of my mother with the help of a therapist and feel all of the emotions I had spent so many years trying to ward off. As I write in my new book, “Dancing on the Tightrope,” the desire to avoid what’s unpleasant and seek what’s pleasant is part of human nature. But avoiding unpleasant emotions—rather than accepting them—only increases our psychological distress, inflexibility, anxiety, and depression, diminishing our well-being.

Dancing on the Tightrope: Transcending the Habits of Your Mind and Awakening to Your Fullest Life” (Wellbridge Books, 2018, 172 pages)

Research suggests that when we turn toward our cravings, we’re less likely to engage in addictive behaviors. When we turn toward our physical pain, we’re less likely to be trapped in cycles of chronic pain. When we turn toward our sadness, we’re less likely to be stuck in depression. And, when we turn toward our anxiety, we’re less likely to be paralyzed by it and can find it easier to bear.

Learning to embrace dark emotions not only reduced my anxiety but also gave me the ability to experience the joys of life more fully and trust in my ability to handle life’s challenges. As a therapist, I have also seen tremendous healing with my patients as they have learned to embrace their difficult emotions.

If we want to live more fully and be our most authentic selves, we need to turn toward our pain, not try to suppress it. But what can help us get there? The tools of mindful attention, self-compassion, and acceptance—which all come together in a practice I call “The Door.”

To do this practice yourself, make sure to start with emotions that aren’t too intense. You might want to work with a skilled therapist, especially for more intense emotions. Here’s what The Door involves.

Step 1: Develop a Willingness to Open the Door

Imagine that you’re opening the door and welcoming your emotions to come and have a seat somewhere in the room. You can picture this seat as close to or as far away from you as you like. From this perspective, you can take a gentle and curious look at what is there.

Often people will picture their emotions as having some kind of color, shape, or form. Sometimes they envision their emotions as cartoon characters or as younger parts of themselves. Part of the practice is simply to accept whatever arrives.

This is a new experience for most people. Who wants to let anxiety in the door? Who wants to welcome in sadness or anger? But when we let in whatever arrives and see it from a bit of a distance, we can take a curious look and explore what is there.

Step 2: Take a Curious Look at Whatever Walks in the Door

Mindfully observing what we’re feeling can help us cope with whatever is before us. It can be useful to name our feelings—”Oh, that’s hurt; that’s jealousy; that’s anger”—because, as simple as this sounds, we often don’t pay attention to the nuances of what we’re feeling. Consequently, important information gets lost along the way. Labeling our distressing emotions gives us a way of validating our inner experience, but it has the added benefit of dialing down their intensity.

It can also be beneficial to see our emotional “visitors” as temporary guests. Adding the phrase “in this moment” to a statement like “I am feeling stress, anger, or hurt” can help us be with what is there without feeling overwhelmed. Other things you might say to yourself include:

  • Can I allow myself to notice how this is showing up in my body and in my thoughts?
  • If this feeling or part of me could talk, what might it say?
  • What might it want or need?

Being curious rather than fearful or rejecting your emotions provides a better lens for understanding them.

Step 3: Give Yourself the Gift of Compassion

Besides pushing away uncomfortable feelings, many of us have been conditioned to judge our emotions in negative ways. We’ve learned that if we show sadness, it’s a sign of weakness, that we’re a bad person if we feel anger or jealousy, and that we should “move on” when we experience loss. When we come face-to-face with difficult emotions, we often tell ourselves to buck up and stop being silly or that there’s something wrong with us.

When we practice mindfulness in combination with self-kindness and a recognition of our common humanity—the fact that we all suffer as human beings—we cultivate self-compassion, a quality that’s been linked to psychological well-being.

To practice self-compassion, imagine sitting with a good friend who is suffering and think about how you might extend a gesture of compassion. What would your body language be like? How might you listen? What sensations would you feel around your heart?

Now picture that person extending compassion towards you. What might they say or do? What words would you find comforting or soothing?

Chances are, they wouldn’t be telling you to cut it out or that you shouldn’t be feeling this way. They might say, “That sounds really hard. I’m here for you.” Or perhaps they would simply extend a hand.

When we can learn to sit mindfully with our own emotions and bring compassion to whatever we’re experiencing, it’s as if we have become that caring friend, sitting with ourselves. Learning to be there for ourselves, through the positive moments—and the painful ones—can be tremendously healing.

While embracing our dark emotions takes courage and practice, using The Door technique allows us to open to a gift on the other side. Each time we practice being with our difficult emotions, we grow inner resources, learn to trust in our capacity to handle our experiences, develop resilience to move through life’s challenges, and find ways to pursue what truly matters. Each of us has the power to face what is hard if we only open the door.

Beth Kurland is a clinical psychologist, public speaker, and author of three books, including “Dancing on the Tightrope: Transcending the Habits of Your Mind and Awakening to Your Fullest Life,” from which this essay was adapted. This article was republished from Healthline.com

Mental Self-Harm: 3 Ways We All Constantly Abuse Ourselves

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The concept of Self-Harm is generally confined to acts of physical self-abuse, but observation of our own inner dynamics, reveals the same phenomenon taking place mentally, well before it manifests in our behaviour.

In this article we explore three ways in which all but the most self-aware and emotionally intelligent are constantly compromising their mental health by indulging in addictive, repetitive and habitual cycles of thinking and feeling:

1. Imagination – To illustrate how we abuse our imaginations, a thought exercise may help: Stop whatever you’re doing and look at all the man-made artefacts that you’re surrounded by: tables, chairs, buildings, computers, cars etc. Each of these began life in someone’s imagination as a thought. It was conceived as a concept in the womb of a mind – the imagination. In many cases these creations are the results of millions of human imaginations interacting over decades, centuries and millennia.

Our imaginations are, arguably, the single most powerful faculty that we are in possession of, to do with what we will. Your imagination is available to you at every waking moment of your life, to create whatever thought-form you desire, with no exceptions.

But, of course, your imagination doesn’t care how it’s used – it is just a tool. So when you use it to create scenarios in which you imagine yourself to be less than you are, this is problematic.

Using your imagination to create a self-image that is not professionally competent, in spite of your achievements, Imposter Syndrome, is a common form of abuse that most of us will experience.

Another is the creation of imagined situations that we fear – the worst case scenario – sometimes masquerading as planning. The continued imagination of these outcomes with their attendant feelings – worry or anxiety – has a causal link to depression.

But perhaps the most damaging way in which we use our imaginations against ourselves is through the creation of self-images that deny our full potential: I can’t do thatI don’t deserve this; they have all the luck.

2. Sympathy – originally meaning affected by like feelings, Sympathy is the admission of others’ feelings into one’s own experience, rather like open guitar strings will vibrate in sympathy with a human voice. But the problem is fundamental: how can we ever be quite certain that we are feeling what the other is feeling? And even if we were able to experience another’s feelings, to what end?

A surgeon needs no personal experience of a heart attack to perform heart surgery. A psychologist need not be a psychopath to work with one. The fact that I cannot feel someone’s emotions does not mean that I don’t want to help them. That I am aware of their distress is enough to evoke a compassionate response.

Sympathy is an abuse of one’s own feeling system and can all too easily degenerate into ownership of, and responsibility for others’ challenges. This syndrome not only burdens the sympathiser with feelings they are not entitled to, it also interferes with the other’s ability to respond accordingly.

3. Criticism – entertaining negativity about your circumstances, yourself and your relationships is another form of self-abuse. The etymology of the word critic suggests a sense of separation into parts, and a discrimination between those parts. Hence the symbology of the sword of justice. A similar metaphor is used with regard to the intellect which is intended to be sharp, as in a rapier wit.

So when the criticism is turned upon oneself, the sharp mind can inflict the most appalling damage on itself , reducing self-worth, self-esteem and self-confidence, to ultimately create a psychopathology.

Yet criticism of others, although superficially different, does not protect the critic who still chooses to immerse themselves in negativity of their own creation. And, of course, if the criticism is projected, then the source is the same.

So why do we habitually engage in these practices that destroy our well-being? One answer is that the western system of education prizes the intellect above everything, and that little else gets a look-in.

And so, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail… or rather:

If you live by the sword, you die by the sword.

The Many Conditions that Mimic Depression

Author Article

Finding the right diagnosis for any disorder requires a comprehensive evaluation. Indeed, many illnesses share many of the same symptoms.

Take symptoms such as headache, stomachache, dizziness, fatigue, lethargy, insomnia and appetite loss. There are countless conditions with these exact indications.

Similarly, many mental illnesses share the same symptoms, said Stephanie Smith, PsyD, a psychologist in practice in Erie, Colo., who specializes in working with individuals with depression. Which makes “the process of diagnosing mental illness tricky, to say the least.”

For instance, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and bipolar disorder can look like depression. All three cause difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, and increased worry, Smith said.

Anxiety also mimics depression. According to psychotherapist Colleen Mullen, PsyD, LMFT, like individuals with depression, people who struggle with anxiety might not want to get out of bed. They might stop going to work. They might withdraw socially. However, depression isn’t driving the person’s behavior. Anxiety is.

“An anxious person may stop engaging in their outside world because of the level of anxiety they experience when they try to leave their home.” Because of this, they might, understandably, become depressed, as well. Still, it’s important to treat the anxiety symptoms first (which, in turn, will help to diminish the depression), said Mullen, founder of the Coaching Through Chaos private practice and podcast in San Diego.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is another condition that’s hard to distinguish from major depression. According to Mullen, “PTSD and depression share the following symptoms: memory problems, avoidant behaviors, reduced interest in activities, negative thoughts or beliefs about self or others, inability to concentrate, feeling disconnected from others, irritability and sleep disruptions, and of course, mood changes towards negative emotions.” The biggest tell-tale sign of PTSD is that a person experiences or is exposed to a traumatic or tremendously emotionally straining situation, she said.

Medical conditions mimic depression, too. Two examples are chronic fatigue syndrome and low blood pressure, Mullen said. In this piece Psych Central blogger and author Therese Borchard discusses six conditions that feel like clinical depression but aren’t: vitamin D deficiency; hypothyroidism; low blood sugar; dehydration; food intolerance; and even caffeine withdrawal.

Gary S. Ross, M.D., believes all patients diagnosed with depression should be screened for thyroid dysfunction. As he writes in his 2006 book, Depression & Your Thyroid: What You Need to Know:

There may be rare cases of depression that cannot benefit from thyroid treatment. Nevertheless, in every case of depression, it is optimal practice to test very thoroughly for thyroid dysfunction, much more thoroughly than is usually done in initial screening examinations. When the testing is thorough, then if anything is found in keeping with a low thyroid function, it is crucial to include some kind of thyroid treatment protocol in the overall treatment plan for maximum benefit to the patient.

(Learn more about testing and diagnosis in this piece.)

Having the correct diagnosis is vital. “[I]t leads to a more precise, effective treatment plan,” Smith said. “If we don’t know what we’re dealing with at the beginning of treatment, our interventions can be like shooting arrows in the dark: not very accurate and possibly dangerous.”

Indeed, an accurate diagnosis is life-saving. Literally. Mullen has heard horror stories of primary care physicians diagnosing women with depression when their sluggishness, depressed mood, and weight gain were actually symptoms of cancer. Similar symptoms also may be due to a heart condition, which if undiagnosed, puts a person at risk for severe medical consequences, she said.

This is why it’s so important to have a comprehensive evaluation. See your primary care physician for a series of tests to rule out medical conditions. Ask for a referral to a therapist who specializes in mood disorders, so you can receive a psychological evaluation.

What does a thorough psychological assessment look like?

“[A] good clinical interview includes lots and lots of questions,” Smith said. She asks everything from how long clients have been experiencing their low mood to whether they’ve recently had any changes in their life. Mullen takes into account the person’s current stressors and psychosocial history. The latter involves assessing social support—or lack thereof—and work, education, legal, medical and family history. “It helps us understand the person in the full context of their life thus far.”

Smith also might give objective screening measures such as the Beck Depression Inventory. “It can take one to four sessions to get all the information I need to make a fully informed diagnosis.”

You may or may not be struggling with depression. As Smith said, “depression is a condition almost everyone is familiar with, so it can easily become a catch-all phrase or diagnosis. But there are literally hundreds of other mental health disorders, one of which may better capture the symptoms you are experiencing.”

Either way, take your symptoms seriously and seek second opinions, Mullen said. Because you know yourself better than any professional who spends several hours assessing your symptoms. “Advocate for yourself and ask questions so that you understand what [the professional] recommends for a treatment plan and why.” This is your body. Your mind. Your health and well-being. Advocating for yourself in all areas of your life is one of the best things you can do.