As the winter months start, the days get shorter, and the weather gets colder, many people feel the effects in their mood and daily patterns. Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern in the DSM-5, is a condition that, “effects 0.5 to 3 percent of individuals in the general population; it affects 10 to 20 percent of people with major depressive disorder and about 25 percent of people with bipolar disorder” (medineplus.gov). Causes may include a reduction in serotonin and an increase in melatonin the winter months, as well as lower vitamin D.
Signs to Look Out For
-Feeling sad or depressed
-Trouble with concentration and motivation
-Lack of energy
-Low motivation and trouble concentrating
-Irritability or agitation
Seasonal Affective Disorder is highly treatable. Some treatments include talk therapy, light therapy, medication, and vitamin D. Therapy light boxes and lamps can be found online and can be used for 20 to 30 minutes a day to boost mood. Talking to a therapist about how you are feeling and how to cope with the winter months is a great option to get started in improving your mood and well-being. Opening up to your support system can also help too. Overall, reach out for help if you experiencing signs of depression especially in the winter months to work on coping skills, self-care, and symptoms management.
Hi everyone! I thought I’d get a bit more personal in my next blog post. To begin, my name is Caroline Hubschman, and I am a licensed social worker (LSW) from New Jersey. I have my bachelors degree in psychology from the University of Maryland and my masters degree from Rutgers in social work. I have over a decade of experience in the mental health field working with many different populations and in various settings. My main focus now has been in the treatment of depression and anxiety as a private practice psychotherapist.
In one of my last semesters in college at the University of Maryland, I had a lot of free time. I have always been a go-getter and life-long learner. I reached out to a local psychiatric hospital and a residential mental health rehabilitation community to apply for a couple of unpaid internships. I wanted to grow my experience and learn more in a field that fascinated me. The funny thing is, the rehabilitation community did not have any positions open but I cold-called them and convinced them to hire me as an intern! They gave me a full-time position once I earned my bachelor’s degree and I worked there for almost 3 years in total.
In residential mental health, our clients lived in an apartment setting and our office was an apartment as well. We helped people with case work, medication management, groups, apartment care, and outings. There was always something to do and I loved the team atmosphere. My group “Feeling Fabulous with Caroline” was one of my favorites to bring self-care to the participants in the program. I would go out and buy self-care items like nail products and love to see the beaming faces of my clients as they engaged in a fun activity. Most of this early work was with people with schizophrenia which was a fascinating and great first experience for me.
As I moved on in the years with different roles in transitional living for substance use and community mental health casework, my passion grew for the disability community in particular. Losing an autistic family member to suicide inspired me to work with this population. I wanted to learn how to teach people with disabilities and neurodivergence the skills for leading fulfilling lives in particular. I worked as a counselor in a workshop with folks with developmental disabilities in Florida for a couple of years. This was a program that prepared adults to enter back into the mainstream workforce and was a great place for people to learn as well as make a paycheck completing piecework. The humidity, hurricanes, and flying cockroaches were not for me, so I decided to move back to my home state of New Jersey after 4 years.
After a couple weeks back, I jumped right into a training course to become a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT). I worked with autistic clients from ages 2 to 18 in this time for a few years, mostly in-home work and in centers. I loved the problem-solving and quick thinking that came with this job, as well as the creativity in teaching clients new skills. Hearing a child speak for the first time, learn how to eat on their own, or how to socialize with peers were just a few of the experiences that inspired me to work in this field.
I decided that to really pursue my passions, I would need to return to graduate school with my already 12 credits from attending the University of Maryland School of Social Work. I was accepted into Rutgers and continued there until I earned my masters degree. During this time, I also interned for a charity program with Muslim refugees, and then as part of the disability community as a support coordinator. Visiting and observing different facilities, homes, families, and other supports made me more aware of how to work with stakeholders to ensure that people had the best lives possible. My final internship was working in community mental health doing one-on-one and group therapy with members of the IDD (Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities) population . The intersection between the IDD and LGBTQ+ populations has been a passion of mine since then.
This has brought me to where I am today as a private practice psychotherapist. My rich experiences throughout the years have continued to inspire me to do what I love; helping others and making a difference in people’s lives. Of course, there have been ups and downs and a lot of learning opportunities. I feel that I will be a student my entire life as I navigate different areas of mental health. I hope you enjoyed my brief story of my experiences throughout the years as a mental health professional and that you too can find your passions.
Comment below any questions that you may have about the mental health field and if you are interested in learning more!
Check out this quick mental exercise to bring you back into the present moment to reduce stress and anxiety!
Grab a small object that can fit into one or two hands. This should be an object that does not have any emotions attached to it. You are going to keep your full attention mentally and physically onto the object. Try to keep full awareness of this object while also focusing on your breathing. You are now going to experience the object with your senses. Take caution with taste and smell!
Start with sight by looking at all the details of the object. What do you notice about it? What color or colors is it? It is small, medium, or big? Do you notice anything special or unique about the object? Focus on the features of the object.
Feel the object with your hand or hands. What is the texture? Is it smooth, rough, grooved, hot, cold, heavy, light, etc.? Focus on how your hand or hands feel after touching it.
Take time to smell, taste, and listen to the object if possible! Maybe using a candle, candy, or an object that makes music is best for you!
As with other meditations, do not judge the object or your thoughts about the object. This practice is for stress and anxiety relief as you can put your full awareness on an object in the present.
What object did you use for your meditation and how did you find the practice useful for you? Comment below!
I often hear my therapy clients talk about wanting to find more ways to relax, clear intrusive thoughts, and to stay in the present moment. To combat this, I recommend starting with meditation as a great tool for decreasing stress, anxiety, depression, and more. “Guided” meditation is the perfect way for beginners to start meditating with the help of a voice to lead the person through guided imagery. This gives a person the opportunity to focus on the message from the meditation which soothes a wandering mind. Guided meditations can be found on YouTube or various phone apps like Calm.
First, search for the type of meditation and time length that you are interested in. I like to start my therapy clients with a 2 to 5 minute meditation and choosing a category like “stress reduction” that the client can focus on. I like to listen to a 5 minute meditation when I’m feeling overwhelmed during the day and this easily brings me back to the present moment with more focus and vigor for my work. Apps like Fitbit can even track your heartrate during a guided meditation to see how calm and relaxed you are getting! Here are some tips to get you started and to get the most out of guided meditation:
Do choose the right setting: You are going to want a relaxing atmosphere and to either lay down or sit in a comfortable position. Limit distractions and make sure you are in a safe environment (not driving). There are also walking meditations that you can listen to and enjoy nature!
Don’t judge your thoughts: Let your thoughts drift by like leaves on a stream. Just label your thoughts as simply “thoughts”. You can even label them specifically like, “Wow, just another anxious thought is going by!”. Pick imagery that works best for you.
Don’t strive for perfection: Learning how to meditate is a process and takes practice. You are not going to be a “perfect” meditator. Thoughts will creep in and it’s up to you to let them pass by. Make a plan to practice regularly.
Do choose a category that works for you: YouTube for example has thousands of guided meditations with different categories. Examples include: anxiety, stress, positive energy, sleep, deep relaxation, finding peace, overthinking, fear, and panic. Choose depending on the topic that you’d like to pinpoint and give different categories a try!
Do incorporate breathing: Deep belly breathes and consistent breathing is important to combine with guided meditation audio and videos. Practice different techniques such as box breathing to get the most out of your time meditating. Box breathing (instructions below) is the perfect way to start! Check out this link for some breathing exercise ideas: https://www.healthline.com/health/breathing-exercise
What are your favorite tips for getting the most out of guided meditations? Comment below!
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present moment and taking in your 5 senses to ground yourself where your feet are at. According to helpguide.org, mindful eating can “promote better digestion, keep you full with less food, and influence wiser choices about what you eat in the future”. Stress and anxiety that built up over the day can also be lessened by putting your full focus on savoring your meals. Mindful eating is similar to general mindfulness in that you are taking your time to enjoy each meal by following these easy steps!
Eat slower – Enjoy each bite of food and savor the different flavors. Try setting a timer for each time you lift your utensils or put your utensils down after each bite. Slow yourself down as you go and recognize a full feeling to know when your body is satisfied with the amount you have eaten.
Stay away from distractions – Put aside your phone and turn off your television. Give your full attention to the food in front of you. Keep your focus on the meal at hand.
Try to use all 5 senses – Sight, touch, smell, hearing, and of course taste should all be engaged at your mindful meal. Notice the textures of the foods you are eating. Decipher each flavor as you go. Recognize the different sounds of chewing. Take in the smells of your food. Try feeling what the different foods are in your hands (bring a napkin!). Observe how your body feels and your fullness as you go.
4. Try to focus on your food – Take this time to focus fully on the present with your meal. Try to put any thoughts about the past or future on hold for now. Think about where your food came from and practice gratitude for the food you are enjoying.
“Boundaries” is a term that many people use when talking about relationships with friends, family, co-workers, and other individuals in their lives. Boundaries are established rules and limits that we set in order to have healthy connections with others. These boundaries allow us to speak up for ourselves and our own needs while protecting the relationship. Boundaries are all about respect and understanding. Our values come into play by determining what is most important to us and how these values shape our decisions in relationships. For example, if your top value is timeliness, a boundary may be that your friends and family needs to put in efforts to be on time for events. Know your boundaries before entering a situation. Use assertiveness, confidence, and respect when setting boundaries.
Types of Boundaries
Rigid – Not forming close relationships to avoid being hurt, does not share personal information, does not ask for help, has few close relationships
Porous – Accepts being mistreated or disrespected, overshares personal information, fears rejection, very dependent on others
Healthy – Respects their own values, shares an appropriate amount with others, communicates their needs, allows others to say “no” to them
These boundaries can be different depending on setting, people involved, and culture. Boundaries come in all types: physical, emotional, sexual, material, time, and intellectual. Again, all boundaries are based on respecting others’ needs and are violated when this is not followed through.
Ways to Say “No”
-I don’t want to do that.
-This is unacceptable.
-I changed my mind.
-I can’t do that for you.
How do you set and use boundaries in your personal relationships? Comment below!
Acting impulsively can get the best of us sometimes, especially when we have trouble regulating emotions like anger, disappointment, and frustration. When you’re driving and see a red light, you wouldn’t usually keep going through it. When we see a yellow light, we slow down and act cautiously until green gives us the signal to go. In the same way, the Stop, Think, & Act Skill helps us to reduce impulsive actions by thinking through situations. I’ll break down this simple skill into 3 steps to help you to make better decisions.
-Imagine a stop sign or stop light in your mind.
-Pause and take a deep breath.
-Step away from the situation if needed and take a break.
-Identify how you are feeling
-Calm down your entire body and mind.
-Check out some emotion regulation and de-escalation skills in my earlier blogs to get through this difficult step.
-Identify the problem.
-Think through the different options for facing the problem.
-What is the best resolution?
-What are the consequences to your possible actions?
-Try a pros and cons list.
-Be cautious and take your time.
-Move forward with the best option.
-Go back and revise your action step as needed.
This is a simple tool for learning how to regulate your emotions, think through those hard issues, and act accordingly!
Journaling is a great tool for tracking emotions, expressing feelings, and processing events. You may be thinking, how can I get started and stay consistent with this healthy habit? Below are 10 ways for journaling beginners to get started!
1. Start with setting a small goal such as writing in your journal 3 days a week for 10 minutes each time. Work your way up to a bigger goal over time or find the sweet spot that works for you. Even writing one sentence a day is a great place to start!
2. Use guided journal with prompts to help you to organize your thoughts and have topics to focus on if you are struggling with free form writing.
3. Try out a brain dump where you write out every thought you are having at that time.
4. Use your journal for gratitude by writing at least 3 things a day that you are grateful for or happy with in your life.
5. Find out which type of journal works for you. Some options include paper and pen, your computer, or your smart phone to write down your thoughts.
6. Decide if you’d like to keep your diary private or find some ideas that you’d like to share in therapy!
7. Figure out the best time for you to journal. Would it help to journal in the middle of the day if you are feeling stressed and need to let emotions out? Do you like to reflect on your day at night? Would you like to set intentions in the morning?
8. Write out your pros and cons of situations that are troubling you.
9. Write out a letter about a topic or interaction that is bothering you. You can decide what you want to do with the letter afterwards, to send it or share with a trusted person. It just helps to get those ideas on paper and see how you want to proceed with the situation.
10. Use a journal as part of self-discovery and finding solutions to problems. You can use the journal to vent but it is best to circle back and process situations in order to come up with resolutions.
Comment your favorite tips for journaling below! I also recommend the app Daylio to my clients for tracking moods and there is a daily journaling feature!
Wellness planners are great tools to track your mental and physical health journeys. You can start with a notebook, bullet journal, digital, planner or paper planner to jot down different categories of wellness. I personally use a Happy Planner wellness extension pack with a weekly spread to write out what I’m working on. There are also journals with prompts that can be purchased for goal and wellness tracking.