Categories
Interview

Celebrate Counseling

By: Divya Venkataraman

April is National Counseling Awareness Month, according to the Greater Baltimore Counseling Center. It is a time to not only honor the professionals in the counseling field but to also understand the importance of counseling and the vast benefits it can bring.

Counseling has made a huge difference in my life — thanks to my guidance counselor at Monta Vista High School (MVHS), Clay Stiver. Whether it be helping me with anything academic-related, with future career aspirations or even with social-emotional aspects, it is safe to say that a counselor’s presence while I navigate the strenuous years of high school has positively impacted my life. I truly appreciate being fortunate enough to have someone so vested in not only my academic success but my general well-being as well. 

That being said, this month is a perfect opportunity to delve deeper into the often-overlooked profession of counseling and just how remarkable it can be.

Counseling Defined

Merriam Webster defines counseling as: “professional guidance of the individual by utilizing

psychological methods especially in collecting case history data, using various techniques of the personal interview, and testing interests and aptitudes.”

MVHS Guidance Counselor Clay Stiver expands on this definition of counseling using his own experiences as a counselor.

“I look at counseling as a supportive collaboration towards a goal of some kind — [whether it be] academic counseling, college counseling or social-emotional counseling,” Stiver said. “The goal can be dealing with a crisis of some sort of working on long term goals — academically or social-emotionally.”

Stiver also shares his joys of counseling — and how they shape his profession.

“I really like helping people,” Stiver said. “And high school is such a big transitional time; I wanted to be a support for students — a conduit to success or social-emotional growth. It is rewarding.”

Counseling Responsibilities

Along with being a counselor come responsibilities pertaining to the job; these responsibilities can vary depending on the specific type of counselor — since there are many. In general, Betterteam states that counselors are responsible for hearing what their patients may have to say, creating treatment plans for individual patients and developing strategies for coping.

Stiver describes his specific profession as a guidance counselor for MVHS — someone who handles three main domains when counseling students: the academic and college domain, the career domain and the social-emotional domain. He also outlines the responsibilities of his specialized counseling profession.

“[On] a surface level, my responsibilities cover the three domains of my profession,” Stiver said. “When it comes to academics, it is to make sure my students are on track to graduate [MVHS] and deliver [the MVHS] yearly guidance curriculum. But it is also to give support to parents, students or teachers — to be here for crisis situations and help find resources.”

The Benefits of Counseling

There is often a stigma surrounding counseling — that it exposes your weaknesses and is something that you should not engage in. Yet this is not true.

As Brené Brown — a research professor at the University of Houston — says in her novel Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable but they are never a weakness.”

Brown articulates the importance of sharing vulnerability rather than being scared of the act. Counseling is a way to do so — to help out instead of exposing weakness. Stiver shares the same sentiment; regardless of what one may be going through, counseling has the potential to offer some help.

“[Counseling] can provide new perspectives — a neutral third party,” Stiver said. “It entails having an advocate for, in my case, students who do not feel as though they have a voice. [Counseling] provides a listening ear as support.”

Reaching Out

Clearly, counseling can have innumerable merits — and one can always reach out to get help. In fact, Stiver shares a few ways to do so.

“If I was a student, I would do one of three things — or all three,” Stiver said. “The first is to see one of the guidance counselors [at school] — a brief chat can help a lot, whether it be with resources or social-emotional support. [Another option] would be to go to my doctor and talk to them about what services they may know of or provide themselves. [The third option] is going to my parents — if appropriate given the situation — for help.”

Looking Ahead

Unfortunately, guidance counselors — although extremely valuable — are not equally accessible to some students across the United States of America, particularly low-income students. In fact, more than one-fifth of public high schools across the nation do not have access to even one guidance counselor, as reported by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights in 2016. Though many protests have occurred to persuade districts to offer more resources — such as guidance counselors — for schools, progress is still quite slow. 

“We can do better,” Stiver said. “We, as a school, say that we prioritize mental health — it is time to show it.”

Given that this month is National Counseling Awareness Month, it is important, more now than ever, to share the benefits of counseling; every student in the nation should have access to someone who can help them with their school careers as Stiver helped me with mine. Every student in the nation deserves someone to help them live up to their absolute fullest potential — someone who can give them the academic, career and social-emotion support they need.

Categories
Self-Compassion

Biculturalism: Part 1

By Anya Deshpande and Malavika Eby

Listen to our Biculturalism podcast episode here!

What is Biculturalism?

Biculturalism is the coexistence of two originally distinct cultures which often makes it even more confusing for first and second-generation immigrant youth to figure out our identities and where we belong. Depending upon the racial demographic surrounding us, we can even feel pressured to “choose” one culture over the other. Almost all of the people that surround us are from families of different cultures, and sometimes it feels good to have people to relate with. But, when we feel like we’re in a tug-of-war battle between two cultures, it becomes important to find a balance between the two. 

Struggles with Biculturalism

The world around us isn’t as black and white as we’d like it to be. Many times, we like to categorize things so they at least seem to make sense to us. Stereotypes, as much as they suck sometimes, make the world easier for us to understand. But when it comes to our own identity, in our struggle to classify ourselves one way or the other, we lose sight of the “middle identity” that exists between different cultures. But, there’s no need for any of us to be fully defined by one label. We’re all so different in our family backgrounds, our interests, our attitudes toward our culture, our upbringing, and the million other aspects of our identities. We don’t need to fit in or change according to what we think a certain identity “should” look like. To add on, identity is a spectrum, even when it comes to something seemingly straightforward like ethnicity and culture. Even if we have the same ethnic background as many of our friends, one part of our culture could influence us differently than it influences them. 

Surround ourselves with people who share our identity

While the racial and cultural demographics and norms around us will constantly change, the only approval we need is our own. It’s also important to have diverse friendships. It helps us to better understand others’ attitudes toward their cultures, learn about their diverse experiences and put our identity struggle in perspective. Though there will be differences here and there between how we each perceive our ethnic backgrounds, we can always use others’ experiences as a framework to develop our views. It can also teach us to accept people for who they are and prevent ourselves from racial stereotyping when we open ourselves to diverse groups of friends. If we’re willing to get to know people of all backgrounds, our worldview can be much wider and even richer. 

Expose ourselves to both cultures and learn

To conclude, our identities belong to ourselves. It is pretty confusing to come to terms with who we are when we are surrounded by multiple cultures that each seem to want to pull us to their side. Maybe our parents want us to be closer to our roots and maybe it’s easier to fit in at school when we align ourselves with American culture as closely as possible. That’s messy and a very valid struggle. But as said before, no one’s opinion matters here as much as our own. We should explore these different parts of our cultural backgrounds because that’s how we’ll figure out which of those things we enjoy and feel most comfortable with. If we accept ourselves, we will always feel like we belong. If we find our places on the spectrum and validate whichever places they may be, we’ll feel absolutely content just being ourselves.

Also, stay tuned…more to come next month!

Categories
Teen and Parent Wellbeing

Bipolar Disorder

By Vihaan Parekh

About the Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that causes severe changes in energy, mood, and concentration within a relatively short period of time.

There are three main types of bipolar disorder. All three types of bipolar disorder cause severe changes in mood and energy. There are different types of mood changes that one can go through. There are manic episodes that cause a person to show extremely irritated, elated, and restless behavior (there are less severe manic episodes that are classified as hypomanic episodes). On the contrary, there are depressive episodes that cause people to appear sad, suicidal, energy-ridden, and hopeless.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are three types of Bipolar disorder; Cyclothymic Disorder, Bipolar I Disorder, and Bipolar II Disorder. 

Cyclothymic Disorder is a rare type of Bipolar disorder whose symptoms are not as severe as those with Bipolar I or II Disorder. If you have this disorder you would experience noticeable mood shifts that go up and down from your normal moods. For some time, you may feel amazing, happy, and motivated, but this changes when you experience a low period which makes you feel sad and depressed. Besides these temporary highs and lows, you may feel completely fine. Although the highs and lows of this disease are less extreme than their bipolar disorder counterparts, it is still imperative to seek help managing these symptoms because they increase your risk of bipolar I and II disorder.

Bipolar I Disorder causes mood swings that include a mixture of emotional highs (mania) and emotional lows (depression). Episodes of having symptoms of depression and mania at the same time are also possible. When your mood shifts to depression you may feel sad and lose pleasure in most of your activities. When your mood shifts to mania you may feel full of energy and irritable. These varying mood swings can affect sleep, energy, and the ability to think clearly.

Bipolar II Disorder causes depressive and hypomanic episodes. It does not cause the full-blown manic episodes that Bipolar I Disorder causes.

Signs and Symptoms

People with bipolar disorder experience distinct periods of emotional changes regarded as mood episodes. Mood episodes are prolonged mood swings where the symptoms last every day for most of the day. These mood episodes may also last for longer amounts of time such as days or weeks.

These symptoms vary from person to person and are not the same with everyone. A person may still have bipolar disorder even if their symptoms are less extreme than those listed above. Some people with bipolar II disorder experience hypomania, which is a less severe form of mania. During a hypomanic episode, a person may feel good, happy, and productive. Even though they may not be able to feel anything irregular, their family and friends may notice changes in their behavior. Without the required treatment, hypomania could turn into severe mania or depression. 

Diagnosis

Getting a proper diagnosis and good treatment can help people with bipolar disorder have very healthy, active, and fulfilling lives. The first step to getting diagnosed is to talk with a doctor or a licensed health provider. Your doctor might refer you to a psychiatrist, who will help you to open up about your thoughts, feelings, and behavior patterns. You may be asked to complete a self-evaluation about your symptoms and your family members and friends might be asked to provide information about your symptoms.

A person is diagnosed with Bipolar disorder based on their symptoms, experiences, lifetime history, and family history. Bipolar disorder is diagnosed during late adolescence and early adulthood. Bipolar symptoms can appear in children, although this is very rare. Bipolar disorder can also appear during pregnancy or childbirth. Even though the symptoms of Bipolar disorder will vary over time, it still requires lifelong monitoring and treatment. Following a structured treatment plan can lead to a much longer and better life.

Categories
Teen and Parent Wellbeing

Stereotypes

By Arya Jodh

What do you think stereotypes are? 

Often we mistake them as something uncommon, something that we don’t perpetuate or have applied to us, but stereotypes are apparent in almost every aspect of our lives. It isn’t hard to imagine a world where everyone looks at you through a judgmental filter in order to sort you into different social categories because that is already a part of our reality. These are stereotypes. By textbook definition, a stereotype is “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.” Commonplace labels based on stereotypes, even the seemingly harmless ones like “jock”, and “nerd,” can be  problematic because of how deeply they are rooted in society, continuously spreading ignorance and false assumptions.

It is first important to reflect on your life, actions, and experiences regarding stereotypes. To do that, follow these two steps: 

Step 1) Take a moment to bring to mind any stereotypes you may have applied to people in your own life and what negative effects that may have had. Acknowledging the issue is the first step to making progress in being mindful about everyday actions and language.

Step 2) Take another moment to think about whether others have applied stereotypes to you, and how that made you feel. You could have been a victim of hate speech, or something about your identity was the target of a “joke” and you might have been told to “chill” about it. Stereotypes are present nearly everywhere in our everyday lives and can manifest as casual assumptions we’ve made about the people around us, both positive and negative, which can accumulate to fuel interpersonal conflicts, bullying or even hate crimes.

And if you have used a stereotype, you might not have done it on purpose! It could have been unintentional, based on what you learned through observing your family’s and friends’ beliefs, and the people stereotyping you might not realize their mistake either!  Regardless of intention, people can suffer very serious mental distress as a result of being stereotyped, especially children and teenagers because they are still in the process of developing their own identity all while society is telling them to label themselves. These stereotypes place people into confined boxes that they don’t necessarily fit into in order to label them as “something”. These labels may be wrong, or just don’t show the whole picture. A prominent part of society where stereotypes are used is school. Stereotypes at school are used by teachers, students, sports coaches, parents, and the list goes on. As we said before, the use of stereotypes might be unintentional or purposeful. For starters, gender and dress coding is a huge and widely held stereotype. Female presenting people in the hallways will get dress-coded for “showing too much skin” while biological males can take their shirts off during athletic practices and not get any negative consequences. Another stereotype common at schools is students being unofficially ranked at school based on race. Many of you have heard “asian nerd” or “dumb blonde”. Statements like these are so common and used flippantly. Often, it may not seem insulting in the context it is used, but if you take the time to think about if the context was different, things take a different meaning and effect. It is important to be mindful with your words and avoid stereotypes because while it is not always insulting, someone is always categorized incorrectly, and by being mindful, you can combat this. 

In addition, often we hear intentional statements being made, like “you’re good at this sport for a girl” or in other cases “you’re smart for someone who’s pretty”. These are called microaggressions. These little comments are the intentional, negative use of stereotypes. If you catch yourself using a microaggression or catch someone else, take some time to figure out why it can be wrong and how to look at the situation differently in order to not use microaggressions. Scaled up from microaggressions come prejudicial bullying. Some examples of this were crime against East Asians after the spread of COVID-19, or the hate crimes stemming from the rampant Islamophobia after 9/11. These prejudicial stereotypes are rooted in society, are harder to unlearn and are more subtle, which can make them harder to realize they are wrong. They can come from personal upbringing, school social environments, or even the widespread media. And as mentioned before, these can lead to verbal, physical, and even cyber bullying. 

People, especially kids, who grow up being bullied based on these stereotypes can struggle with their self-image and self-worth, and they create an overall negative environment to grow up in. At school, when a child is targeted by bullies who based their targets on religion or race because of stereotypes, a person can feel like a piece of their identity is worthless. This is because they are being shown by their surroundings that they are being perceived as an outcast. Mentally, especially in teens who are working to solidify their identity, this can cause social anxiety in the sense that they experience a loss of self-confidence and may end up feeling the need to unnecessarily change themselves for other people or to fit in. This can harm teens’ “self-image,” or the way that they view themselves. Especially nowadays, where more and more teens are feeling insecure about themselves, bullying from others could really damage someone. Within the past couple of years, suicide rates in teens have been rising, so it is important that teens feel comfortable in their own bodies to be who they really are. One example of this outside bullying influence is body shaming people. Social media creates a harmful stereotype saying that people need to have a “perfect body” to be pretty and things like that. This can lead to teens feeling the need to change themselves for others or to “fit in” to the stereotype, which could result in serious conditions such as eating disorders. When someone receives a negative comment based on stereotypes through social media about their physical or mental state, it is harder to deal with. This is because social media provides an outlet that can hide the instigator. Not being able to know who the other person is can leave the victim feeling helpless because they can’t stand up for themselves without taking extreme measures. 

Let’s take a look at some other stereotypes that target teens in general. There is a wide-held bias against teens that a lot of adults believe. Usually, adults place teens into a category that says that teens are inherently “up-to-no-good”. And even when an adult has known a teen for a long time and knows they are a good person, the adult trusts the stereotype more than they trust the teen themselves. On top of that, many adults have an expectation that a teen should have their future planned out and should be doing everything they can in school to get good grades, sports, extracurriculars, and the list goes on. This double standard can cause anxiety and cause the individual to feel a lot of pressure. This can lead teens to feel like they aren’t good enough for their parents or other adults, or that they will never meet their expectations. And eventually, even if teens feel comfortable enough to share their feelings, many adults tell them they are being “sensitive”, also perpetuating stereotypes about mental health. And this leads to a never-ending cycle of teens feeling like they aren’t good enough for their parents, and bottling up their feelings. This lack of trust doesn’t let communication happen, which is essential in building a healthy relationship without stereotypes. 

In all of these situations, it is important to be aware and informed. Be mindful of your language and actions to create healthy and positive environments for you and people surrounding you. Taking the time to be informed will also help you in the event you need to resolve a situation created by stereotypes. If someone calls you out for using a stereotype, don’t get defensive and try to prove yourself, just own up to it, apologize, and move on. It is essential to be mindful of how big of an impact yours, or someone else’s words could potentially have and to be mindful of others’ feelings on the receiving ends of these types of jokes and bullying situations. By taking others’ feelings into account, it is easier to not use those stereotypes. Overall, stereotypes are prominent in almost every decision in our lives today. Realizing these biases and views on society and making efforts to come together and respect each other’s differences can make a huge impact. As a community, we can work together to unroot any deeply held stereotypes or prejudices that are prominent in our world today. 

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they aren’t true, but they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Categories
Body Dysmorphia

Self-Injury Awareness

By: Meghaa Ravichandran

Trigger Warning: This article includes mentions of self-harm with details of cutting. 

With the advent of spring, mental health awareness continues to remain strong as we kick off the month with Self-Injury Awareness Day on March 1st. More frequently judged than treated, people who self-harm often do not receive the proper treatment they need to regain a healthy mindset but are bullied for their scars and labeled ‘attention seekers’ instead. Self-harm is the act of deliberately harming one’s own body through cutting, scratching, burning, self-hitting, inserting objects into the skin, and more. 

In my experience, when scrolling through social media, there are often more judgemental comments than supportive ones when a stranger online has the courage to ask for help. I’ve also seen hate comments on posts/videos regarding healed self-injury scars, with unfriendly sentiments comparing cuts on one’s wrist to a barcode on grocery products. However, there is always hope in the darkest crevices of the Internet and life as supportive communities spread awareness regarding self-injury and break down the surrounding stigma and social barriers. 

It is reported that around 15% of teenagers have reported some form of self-injury with skin cutting being a prevalent method (Mental Health America). Self-harm is often a last resort for many people as they try to process negative emotions and the downhills in life through an unhealthy coping mechanism. Although people who self-harm may be suicidal, the majority are not as they seek temporary relief and fall victim to a self-destructive cycle of self-injury. By engaging in self-injury, a person believes they gain control over their body when everything else in life is uncontrollable. 

As with all mental health issues, self-injury causes many problems to one’s health in the short and long term. Physically, it may cause permanent scarring, uncontrollable bleeding, addictions, and infections. Mentally, it can exacerbate negative emotions such as guilt or shame, lead to avoiding friends/family, cause more interpersonal difficulty in close relationships. 

Starting a conversation with those around you on this topic is often very difficult to initiate. After setting a serious tone for the discussion, make sure to create a safe space, allowing others to express themselves and offering emotional support when needed. Remember to listen and not judge. If you believe a person you know has been harming themselves, you can look for these warning signs and direct them to treatment:

  • Unexplained frequent injures (ex: cuts & burns)
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty handling feelings
  • Problems in relationships
  • Unstable work/home environment
  • Keeping sharp objects on hand
  • Statements of hopelessness/worthlessness
Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash.com

Professional and self-made treatment options for those who self-harm are abundant, but often hard to access due to socioeconomic status, inability to ask for help, uncertainty regarding resources, etc. Ensuring that everyone knows that such treatment exists makes a difference, so here are some examples of beginning the road to recovery: 

If you would like to observe Self-Injury Awareness Day with us, here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Check up on a friend – even the littlest actions mean a lot
  • Take a depression screening at your local clinic
  • Bring a guest therapist to school for free community consultations
  • Attend local/national events near you or organize your own!
  • Do your own research if you would like to dive into the issue deeper
  • Speak to a professional to seek help or learn more. 
    • Pro Tip: Organize a speaker series to bring in educational discussions to your school community!
  • Listen, don’t judge – think twice before leaving hateful comments online or speaking badly in real life
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash.com

Sources:

National Day Calendar. “Self-Injury Awareness Day – March 1.” National Day Calendar, 22 Feb. 2022, https://nationaldaycalendar.com/self-injury-awareness-day-march-1/. 

“Self-Harm.” Crisis Text Line, 4 Aug. 2021, https://www.crisistextline.org/topics/self-harm/#how-to-deal-with-self-harm-4. 

“Self-Injury (Cutting, Self-Harm or Self-Mutilation).” Mental Health America, https://www.mhanational.org/conditions/self-injury-cutting-self-harm-or-self-mutilation. 

“Self-Injury Awareness Day.” National Today, 14 Dec. 2021, https://nationaltoday.com/self-injury-awareness-day/. 

Categories
Sleeping Well

Sleep On It

By Divya Venkataraman

At some point or another, we have all had to make a tough choice. We may think, ‘do I want to major in biology or chemistry?’ or ‘should I rent or buy this house?’; when faced with difficult decisions such as these, we tend to begin panicking. 

In situations like these, one of the most common pieces of advice heard is: “sleep on it.” Yet, is this just another excuse to procrastinate, or is this actually a good idea that helps our mental well-being? 

Truth is, this saying is one of the most accurate phrases one might say. In fact, a good night’s rest is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, improving attention, behavior, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, can have horrible effects on one’s health.

Executive director of sleep medicine at Harvard University, Russell Sanna, Ph.D., believes that sleep and its importance cannot be overstated in the slightest. “If you’re having a problem in life or at work,” he tells WebMD, “analyze the problem and its possible solutions, [then] sleep on it before making a final decision.” 

Unfortunately, sleep is often overlooked, especially among adolescents. In between extracurriculars, calculating our GPA, worrying about chances of getting into a college, developing social status and studying – for the SAT, ACT, AP Exams, finals and so much more – we also need to spend time eating, breathing and sleeping. So, which one do we cut out when we become swamped with work? 

Well, cutting down on eating or extracurriculars will just save a couple of hours of the day. But sleep? If we cut down our sleep from the suggested 9 hours to about 4, we are gaining a whole 5 hours to work! Many students have admitted that they just need time for work: in the debate between time versus sleep, time often wins. 

This is where the problem lies: the lack of sleep may gain you some time here and there — but in the long run, you’re actually taking away precious time in your future. Sleep doesn’t just help you feel good tomorrow but helps our brain and body function as a whole. While you are able to gain an extra 5 hours to work every day without sleep, you are actually impairing yourself in the future — the lack of sleep has been proven to lead to major physical health issues. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the link between sleep deprivation and chronic diseases has grown significantly — including a connection to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease. 

A lack of sleep doesn’t only affect one’s physical state, but the mental state as well. In fact, sleep deprivation leaves your brain exhausted, prohibiting it from doing its duties well. During sleep, your brain is rejuvenated; pathways between neurons in the brain form — allowing you to remember what you’ve learned — while REM sleep stimulates areas of your brain essential in spatial memory and learning. In fact, according to a study conducted by Harvard Medical School, out of 10,000 adults, those with insomnia are five times more likely to develop depression or anxiety. Additionally, they were also 20 times more likely to develop panic disorder. 

A lack of sleep is not something to take lightly, having many negative effects on physical and mental health; we may be thinking in a short-term way because we want success now rather than later, but we should also look into taking care of our future. 

The next time you are planning your day, try scheduling everything before a certain time to ensure that you are sleeping on time. The next time you are swamped with work, take a breath and manage your time properly. The next time you are faced with a hard decision, take your time to listen to one of society’s best advice and sleep on it.

Categories
Thought Management

How I Boost My Self Esteem – A Teen’s Experience

By Krish Jhurani

There is one specific quality in humans that gives us the power to achieve sky-high goals. The one virtue that emperors over millennia have manipulated to cause the downfall of many empires. This, my friends, is the power of self-esteem, the evaluation of one’s self-importance. It is one of the few qualities that is easily broken, but difficult to rebuild. 

Self-esteem, in a way, can be thought of like trust. When someone takes advantage or lies, the bond of trust between two individuals is broken, and hence, it is hard to believe the person again. Similarly, due to disturbing experiences, one’s self-worth can diminish, and this can create a wall of sorrow and misery. In order to conquer this dejection with bliss, it is of utmost importance to understand the two main qualities that contribute to self-esteem, which are confidence and self-respect.

As I stated before, throughout history, many kings and rulers intimidated their enemies with unfriendly letters, malicious threats, and rumors. This caused the ruination of many big empires, since the subjects’ and soldiers’ morale decreased, therefore letting their emotions get the best of them. Mind games were played and self-esteem crashed.

 Likewise, experiences in life do the same with us. They attempt to destroy our confidence and self-respect by causing anxiety and stress and making our minds heavy. The natural human response would be to just keep tolerating all of it until the difficulty goes away. But how long can one face the same problems again and again?

There is always a limit, and to reduce the stress on the mind, several methods exist. The most popular is meditation. Unique styles of meditation are taught, such as mindfulness, spiritual or transcendental. From my experience, the most effective has been spiritual. It aims to silence the mind and send vibrational energy (comes from your mind and thoughts), to each of the chakras, or power points of the body. Being easily done, an individual does not have to sit in a specific posture but can do it while doing everyday work. However, the ideal way is to sit, close your eyes, and turn on some peaceful music. 

Imagine all your tension flowing out of you like water from a fountain, and your mind emptying all its thoughts into that “flowing water”. Power is being filled within you, as you send positive energy to your mind and organs. Finally, as you open your eyes, try to maintain that stage of silence, and watch as your day goes by blissfully. 

Personally, my work gets done quicker after meditation, and I feel less distracted. Other forms such as mantra meditation involve chanting or praying. These methods of de-stressing yourself help boost confidence, and hence self-respect. These two “sub-qualities” make up what is known as self-esteem. So, if you often feel inadequate or demoralized or have low self-esteem, try meditation and work on your thoughts and feelings to achieve this peaceful state of mind. You can do it!

Categories
Body Dysmorphia

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

By Meghaa Ravichandran

February’s most celebrated holiday, Valentine’s Day, is (now) a heartfelt honoring of love as couples exchange gifts mainly centered around chocolates and flowers. Just one week after Valentine’s Day, however, is a week dedicated to National Eating Disorders Awareness (NEDA), taking place from February 21 – February 27, 2022. The official campaign sloga, See the Change, Be the Change, signifies the era of activism and awareness that is changing the public’s perception on eating disorders as well as accessibility to helpful resources for those with eating disorders. 

Basic Information:

Eating disorders are a serious mental illness that affect a person’s internal relationship with food and body image, often leading to serious effects such as unhealthy weight loss/gain and intrusive thoughts. These disorders can affect people of all ages and backgrounds, but researchers have found that eating disorders more commonly impact teenagers and young adults. On average, almost 3 years pass before those experiencing eating disorder symptoms seek help. 

Types of Disorders:

There are a multitude of eating disorder classifications, but here are three common types: 

Anorexia Nervosa (AN): Characterized by unhealthy weight loss and distorted body image, people with anorexia restrict their intake of food, often not noticeable at first glance as one does not need to be underweight to be struggling. Both thinner and plus-sized individuals can be diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, which is classified with two subtypes: restrictive and binge-purge. AN can be fatal as suicide is the second leading cause of death for people diagnosed with AN. 

  • Diagnostic Criteria:
    • Restriction of energy intake
    • Intense fear of gaining weight even though underweight
    • Disturbance in the way one’s body weight/shape is perceived 
  • Symptoms: Dramatic weight loss, developing food rituals, denying feeling hungry, limited social spontaneity, concerned about eating in public, sleep problems, dry skin, muscle weakness, etc…

Bulimia Nervosa (BN): Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by a cycle of binging followed by compensatory behaviors such as forced vomiting and fasting. Individuals diagnosed with this disorder can be any weight. Recurrent binge-and-purge cycles affect the entire digestive system, leading to chemical imbalances in the body that affect other organ functions, which can cause fatal consequences such as cardiac arrest. 

  • Diagnostic Criteria: 
    • Recurrent episodes of binge-eating
    • Recurrent inappropriate compensatory behavior to prevent weight gain
    • Episodes and behavior occur at least once a week for three months
    • Self-evaluation influenced by body shape/weight
  • Symptoms: skips meals or takes small portions of food at regular meals, disappears after eating often, drinks excessive amounts of water, teeth are discolored, self-injury, calluses on back of hands from self-induced vomiting, unusual swelling in cheeks, etc…

Binge Eating Disorder (BED): One of the most common eating disorders in the U.S. and one of the newest eating disorders formally recognized in the DSM-5, BED is characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food, a feeling of loss of control, and not regular use of unhealthy compensatory measures. Unlike BN, BED is not followed by compensatory measures so individuals with this disorder are often overweight. 

  • Diagnostic Criteria:
    • Recurrent episodes of binge eating
    • Marked distress regarding binge eating is present
    • Occurs at least once a week for 3 months
    • Not associated with recurrent use of compensatory behaviors
  • Symptoms: frequent diets, having secret recurring episodes of binge eating, disruption in normal eating behaviors, feelings of disgust/depression/guilt after overeating, eating alone out of embarrassment, stomach cramps, difficulties concentrating, etc… 

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): Another new diagnosis recognized by the DSM-5, AFRID is similar to anorexia as individuals who experience both limit their intake of food. However, those diagnosed with AFRID do not feel distress regarding their body’s appearance (body dysmorphia). AFRID can stall the growth and weight development of children and results in psychological problems as well. Children with a co-occurring anxiety disorder, habits of picky eating, and diagnosis of autism/ADHD are more likely to develop AFRID. 

  • Diagnostic Criteria:
    • Eating/feed disturbance result in one of four effects
    • Does not occur exclusively during course of anorexia/bulimia
    • Not attributable to concurrent medical condition
    • Not better explained by lack of available food/ cultural practice
  • Symptoms: dramatic weight loss, only eat certain textures of food, fears of choking/vomiting, consistent/vague gastrointestinal issues around mealtime, limited range of preferred food becoming narrower, menstrual irregularities, muscle weakness, impaired immune functioning etc… 

Other eating disorders include Pica, Rumination Disorder, Laxative Abuse, Orthorexia, and more. 

Resources: 

If you or anyone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, contact the Eating Disorders Helpline at 1(888)-375-7767 for treatment referrals and support/encouragement. Eating Disorder Hope has also compiled a list of websites available for those struggling with certain eating disorders both based in and out of the U.S. 

If you would like to raise awareness and join the fight against eating disorders, you can take action on the official NEDA website where you can share your story, register for a spring 2022 NEDA walk, represent NEDA on your college campus, volunteer as a landmark photograph, and plan a NEDAwareness Week Event.  


Works Cited: 

“Eating Disorders.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders. 

“Information by Eating Disorder.” National Eating Disorders Association, 21 Feb. 2018, https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/information-eating-disorder. 

“Nedawareness Week.” National Eating Disorders Association, 19 Feb. 2022, https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-involved/nedawareness.

Categories
Kindness and Acceptance Teen and Parent Wellbeing

Smile

By: Divya Venkataraman

There’s a common phrase that says, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” And for the Taarika Foundation, kindness — in any form through any medium — matters.

This year, Random Acts of Kindness Week is from February 13, 2022, to February 19, 2022, according to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation — a week to reflect on the positive impact of kindness. 

With the period of uncertainty — the Pandemic — we have been and still are facing, it seems appropriate to take any chance we can get to make someone else smile; we do not know what others may be facing in a time like this, and we can only hope that our presence brings a positive aura anywhere we go. 

How can we do this? 

You guessed it: random acts of kindness! Random acts of kindness provide a way to release positivity into any environment. They bring the community together regardless of background — lifting people’s spirits while making you feel good in the process of helping others.

Illustration by Divya Venkataraman

What’s more, according to UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine, researchers have found that witnessing kindness also inspires people to be kind, a phenomenon referred to as “moral elevation.” Ultimately, random acts of kindness act as a medium for people to offer kindness to others regardless of socioeconomic status, disability, race and more.

Why Random Acts of Kindness?

Kindness is shown frequently in the world we live in — a reality easily overlooked by many. Large or small, these acts of kindness are common, even if we may not always be aware of them nor their positive effects in the community; and while kindness is often covered by the shadows — going missed by many — its beneficiaries are tenfold. 

We all should strive to make kindness more noticeable in society; kindness has the power to make a difference — random acts of kindness shown to strangers and friends alike have the influence to bring more smiles to more peoples’ faces.

Why do Random Acts of Kindness Work?

Random acts of kindness have been proven time and time again to make both the recipient and giver of kindness feel an elevated sense of contentment. According to UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine, it has the power to not only make one think more highly of themselves but also become “more aware of positive social interactions.” 

According to a research paper published in Oxford Handbooks Online by Kennon M. Sheldon, Julia Boehm and Sonja Lyubomirsky, variation in kindness is the key to happiness. To avoid the feeling of redundancy with kindness, an approach that includes various ways to express kindness to different people can help with enacting positive change in the community. Random Acts of Kindness are one of these methods we can use to help make a change in whatever environment that surrounds us. 

Moreover, according to a study conducted by Sheldon et al. published in the Review of General Psychology, a significant increase in happiness was measured in participants who performed five random acts of kindness for six weeks consecutively. Random acts of kindness have the ability to bring change to anyone and everyone’s lives regardless of past history. 

How to do Random Acts of Kindness?

It’s time to look outside the box and express your kindness. Kindness matters — it can be as small as a smile and holding the door open for someone or as large as protests, delivering food and raising awareness for mental health.

Illustration by Divya Venkataraman

Random acts of kindness are a venue to show your kindness. Regardless of whether we know the recipient or not, the kindness expressed at random intervals — with no forthcoming — allows for a way to bridge the community together and ultimately make multiple people feel good.

The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation even offers a list of diverse Kindness Ideas to refer to. I hope everyone takes the time to look at the list and express kindness in their communities!

Looking Ahead

Aesop once said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” I like to think kindness has a ripple effect: your kindness doesn’t just make you feel good, your kindness spreads to others as well. Then their kindness spreads, and so on until we get a communal kindness movement. 

Ultimately, kindness is a universal value that will unite people — it is an avenue upon which everyone can agree on. So, whether it be a simple random act of kindness in a community or anything else, we should all start enacting kindness in our communities, looking beyond differences and instead recognizing the underlying humanity in each and every one of us. I’d recommend starting by showing a random act of kindness to someone near you right here and right now; whether you know them or not, kindness can make anyone smile.

Categories
Body Dysmorphia

A Therapist’s Role in Eating Disorders

By Krupa Shanware

In this episode, Taarika youth ambassadors Krupa and Anisha interview Dr. Nan Shaw, a therapist, about family-based therapy and its uses in relation to eating disorders.

Taarika Foundation(TF) Krupa: Welcome back to another episode of Mindful, Beautiful, and Thriving. Once again, I’m Krupa,

TF Anisha: And I’m Anisha! Today we’ll be continuing our podcast series on Body Dysmorphia and Eating Disorders with an interview with a therapist who specializes in eating disorders and family based therapy. 

TF Krupa: Today’s guest is Nan Shaw. Nan, thank you so much for speaking with us today!

Nan Shaw: Me too. Thank you!

TF Anisha: So first off,

Would you tell us about what kind of therapy you provide for youth, specifically, with an eating disorder? 

Nan Shaw: Yeah. So primarily when working with teens with an eating disorder I offer family therapy, and specifically family-based therapy(called FBT), which is a very specific kind of family therapy that is designed for adolescents with eating disorders. It’s an outpatient therapy that takes 6-12 months to complete. Sometimes it can take longer, sometimes less time, but that’s basically generally how it goes. And another part of that and how I work is also working with teens. I work with doctors, dieticians, and the family therapist, and as part of the family therapy I meet with the teen and the parents together. And sometimes the siblings too. And then if there are situations where a family can’t be involved, let’s say a college student that lives far away from their family, I sometimes also work with the teen/adolescent only, that’s called adolescent-focused therapy.

TF Krupa: That’s super interesting, I didn’t actually know you work with the family as well as the child. So [since] you specialize in family-based therapy,

Could you elaborate a little bit about what working with a patient’s whole family is like, and family involvement is important?

Nan Shaw: The working with the whole family I personally think is wonderful, I came and do this work as a family therapist anyway, and I particularly like that because really the whole family is involved in the illness, I think it’s important to involve the whole family in the recovery, and everyone is sort of in on it and everyone in the family also deserves to have the education, the support, the tools to help the teen with the eating disorder get better. But the primary focus really is getting the teen better. Family involvement is important because at its core an eating disorder is considered an illness that is keeping the teen from eating enough to survive or feeling out of control maybe with eating too much or purging and it’s the nature of the illness that the teen can’t change this by themselves let’s say. So who better to help than the parents. And also I just want to say when I say parents I also mean caregivers, maybe whoever is caring for the youth whether it’s a parent or someone also in charge. And the other reason I think it’s important to include the family is that by the time an eating disorder has been identified in a teen, they’ve been struggling by themselves for quite a while, and it’s scary and exhausting. So I think of it as sort of when they’re getting the family involved, so like the cavalry has arrived and they no longer have to do it but themselves.

TF Anisha: Right. I’d just like to say that that’s really eye-opening to me and something I didn’t know before. So we actually previously talked with a teenager who did struggle with an eating disorder and they talked about how it helped them open up to their parents a lot more. So I think on that topic,

Would you be able to talk about just what common challenges you come across when you work with teenagers and teenagers’ families?

Nan Shaw: So that’s a great question actually. Probably the first one I think of is that for the teen, even a teen that wants help, this type of treatment, family-based treatment of really any eating disorder treatment, can initially feel like things are being taken away. Whether it’s the diet they’re interested in or an exercise they want to do, that suddenly parents and other people such as myself are all involved in that. And it can feel, particularly I think to teens who are more independent and doing more by themselves to suddenly have professionals all in their business and parents all in their business, can feel both insulting and threatening and of course that’s not the goal. And because the illness by definition creates a situation where a teen isn’t eating enough or is purging too much and can’t intervene, we have to do that. But it can feel like something’s being taken away.

Another thing I think teens often [find] challenging with eating disorder recovery is if they’re dealing with anorexia and have to gain weight, that’s a hard thing. I mean we live in a culture where losing weight is always honored, and we have no idea when someone’s losing weight, and gaining weight is always judged or at least it feels that way. And so hearing from a teen in and saying “Guess what you have to gain weight,” that can be a hard thing to sit with comfortably.

Two other challenges I think of, another is that there’s sort of a belief in this treatment that all life stops until you get better and that is to prioritize recovery over everything else. And so teens that are heavily invested in their academics, studying for the SAT, or loving their soccer team, suddenly everything is “Wait, hold up, you can’t do this, you’re gonna have to leave school early” or you know “Soccer’s on hold.” That can be really hard and scary. In truth we have to “All life stops” until you get better. And then I think the last challenge for teens is they can feel pretty ashamed of what’s going on and isolated, maybe not talking to their friends, not wanting to go out and have pizza with their friends because they’re having a hard time having pizza, feeling really out of step with their peers.

TF Krupa: Yeah that was perfect. I didn’t really know any of that before, and I’m glad that we could talk about this because I know a lot of teenagers, they have these kind of like isolation issues and things about missing out on their teen years in general. And I feel like having an eating disorder would amplify that so much through recovery. I know everyone’s experience must be different, but just a follow-up question:

What advice would you give to youth dealing with an eating disorder, or for their parents?

Nan Shaw: So, let’s start with the youth with the eating disorder. I’d start with hope, that people get better, that there’s treatments out there that have been shown to work. FBT has been found to be quite successful, it’s the most successful treatment, considered really the first one. So, not to give up hope, and then [they’re] not in this alone. I would remind them that things that are being taken away or ways that the therapists or the parents are intervening are just for now, that’s sort of the hallmark of family-based treatment that we often end every sentence with, and that’s just for now. Because that’s true, [as] soon as a teen is feeling better, weight restored, eating more appropriately, we want to give all these things back. That’s the goal of treatment. So “for now” is a really important concept.

I think I would also advise “Tell somebody.” It’s an illness of secrecy, an eating disorder thrives in secrecy, and so the more open and honest a teen can be with those around them where there’s friends, parents, teachers, the better [the] chance for recovery.

And an eating disorder can’t live where there’s openness and honesty,

Dr. Nan Shaw

so I would say tell somebody, and then recognizing that recovery is hard, treatment is not all that comfortable, and that it may be hard and it may feel a little worse before it gets better but it absolutely gets better. So I would also want to say “Hey, this gets better. Hang in there.”

So for parents, I would have different advice. Some of it is similar, things like hope and “You’re not alone,” and “This is just for now,” are all important concepts for the parents, who can feel kind of bad and weird to suddenly be making sure you’re home for dinner, things like that. So “For now” is really important for the parents to know as well.

The other thing I say to parents is often by the time an eating disorder is recognized, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg, that what you can see above the water is just a little bit. You kind of go, “Huh, my kid’s struggling a little bit,” but often what’s beneath that and once treatment starts there’s a whole bunch of stuff going on underneath and that the eating disorder might be much more powerful on the teen than parents ever realized. So I’d like to prepare the parents for that, that maybe what you’re seeing is just the tip of the iceberg, and because of that, parents [who] do the quicker success to recovery goes to parents who basically kind of drop everything at the start and really focus. So they may have to take off from their work to really focus. So it’s, say, all hands on deck, giving all you got as soon as you find out about it. And you can’t overreact. I often tell parents, because parents say “Well I don’t wanna overreact, do I really have to keep her from camp,” and I might say “Well you can’t overreact, because you’re trying to save your kid’s life.” So maybe she could have gone to camp or he could have gone to camp, but why not keep them safe if you need it?

And the other thing, it’s really important for parents, is this idea of prioritizing their child to get better versus feel better. Getting better means hard stuff like eating a meal or completing a meal you don’t want to, or gaining weight if you don’t want to, or not being able to use the bathroom after a meal if you wanted to. And both for teens but also for parents, it doesn’t feel good if your kid is uncomfortable. You don’t want them uncomfortable. And yet recovery is in the analogy we often use, you may have heard this before, is imagine – and I’ve worked with parents before who use this for children children who’ve had cancer for example, and chemotherapy tends to be pretty uncomfortable, and yet if a child was struggling to go do that, the parents don’t go “Ah you can skip it today.” They will say, “I am so sorry,” and “I know this is hard,” and “I’m with you every step of the way, we’re going to get through this.” Feeling better would be to skip it right, but getting better would be to go but doing it lovingly. So that would be what I would say to the parents.

TF Anisha: Thank you for all of the advice you just gave, I think it was really helpful and I really hope that it does resonate with anybody in the audience. And so, kind of I think this was a perfect segway for the next question, because on the topic of people silently struggling with eating disorders, I know that me and people and in my community and both Krupa and I, we’ve seen people maybe start on that path to maybe a really difficult eating disorder or any sort of form of feeling body dysmorphia. And it’s an uncomfortable decision to have with a friend, so just

If you could give us any advice on how to make that better for everyone to kind of lovingly approach that sort of topic with a friend, that would be great.

Nan Shaw: That is a great question. And I guess the first thing I’d want to say is there’s no right answer. So feel free to do what kind of feels right. I guess I’d answer that two ways. If somebody that either – sibling or a friend – is not in treatment or you don’t know if they’re in treatment, I would suggest one, making it talkable. If not with a friend, you know you don’t feel comfortable talking with a friend, maybe just someone else. So you as the observer that’s worried can also go to another adult, teacher, school counselor, parent, your own parent, just say “I’m worried.” So, you could approach the friend or approach somebody else so you can get some help because being worried about a friend also creates its own anxiety. 

If you want to talk to the friend, and again there’s no right answer here […] I like to recommend what I call

“Share the Dilemma.”

Dr. Nan Shaw

So, your question is even a dilemma. “What do I do, I care about this person I want to say something, is it my business? Will I hurt their feelings?” It’s a dilemma. So a great way of approaching dilemmas from my perspective is you share. And you go to this friend [and say] “I have a dilemma. I care about you, I’m worried about something, and I might be completely off and I also don’t want to upset you or make you mad. But I wanna ask you if you’re okay.” […] So you share the dilemma, and most of the time that goes really well because you’re not coming at it “I know and I know exactly what needs to happen and I’m worried.” But you’re like “I don’t know what to do here but I know I care about you and I’m worried and this is what I’m seeing.” So that’s […] if somebody’s not in treatment and you’re worried they’re not getting help.

If somebody is in treatment, and you’re worried about them, for whatever reason, one of the things we say in family-based treatment, the friends and siblings, in particular, the role of a friend and a sibling is just to do that, a friend and the sibling. So you say “Hey let’s go see a movie” or play a game or if you see them struggling with a meal, distract. Talk about the most recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy or something. You just play the role of  a friend and a sibling in a distracting way, it’s not your job to make them feel better or feel responsible for their recovery, to just be a friend or a sibling.

And the other really cool thing friends and siblings can do is practice what a lot of recovery is, which has to do with body compassion, body acceptance. So you yourself don’t get involved, even if you want to, but you just don’t get involved in conversations about the latest fad diet or your own negative body comments, if you’re feeling that way, or any kind of judgment about body, […] size. And it could be good for the friend or sibling to also not engage in that, it’s usually not really very helpful. It doesn’t help our self esteem to bash our own bodies so it can be a very powerful difference just to not engage or if a friend says “Hey do you know how many calories are in what you’re eating?” you go “You know what I really just don’t care,” even if you do care.

TF Krupa: Thanks so much for that, I know it’s definitely going to be helpful for our listeners, and as Anisha said, both of us have seen people kind of start to go on that negative trend and I know that it will also helpful for us if it ever escalates for them. Thanks again for joining us on this episode of our series on eating disorders and with that comes the end of this interview. See you guys next week!