Archive for December, 2009

Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s Eve has always been a time to reflect on the changes we want (or need) to make and to resolve to follow through on those changes. Every year clients of mine tell me their lofty plans for New Year’s resolutions- find a boyfriend, lose weight, get healthy, quit smoking- and inevitably, like most people weeks later when I ask about the progress of their resolutions, they confess that they have abandoned their goals. Striving for positive change is important; by following some basic steps, you can improve your chances to achieve your goals.

Set reasonable expectations. Too often we set the bar too high. If you set unrealistic goals you will be doomed from the start. You will find yourself discouraged, lacking motivation and eventually facing failure. Be reasonable with your expectations of yourself- instead of a goal to lose fifty pounds, try to lose 10 and then reassess from there. If you believe your goal is attainable, then you will be driven to meet it.

Don’t be overly ambitious. It is hard enough to focus on making one positive change at a time, yet many people overload themselves with several resolutions. Trying to quit smoking, to better manage your finances and to start exercising regularly is a lot of responsibility to take on all at once. Tackling goals one by one will be far less overwhelming and will improve your chances of success. Remember, January isn’t the only time of year we can resolve to improve our lives; once you meet your goal, then plan to tackle another.

Determine an action plan and the steps you will take to meet your goal. If your goal is to be healthier, define the steps you will take to get there- eat 4 fruits and vegetables a day, get at least 8 hours sleep, schedule a physical, etc. Make sure these steps are reasonable for you, as discussed above, and don’t make your action plan more than you can handle. A resolution without a plan of action is merely wishful thinking.

Develop a support system. If you are committed to making change, share your plan with your family and friends. They can help push you and encourage you along the way. Some goals may be too big to face alone, such as losing weight or quitting smoking. Consider seeking out a support group in the area or online if you need it. Talking to people who are struggling with the same changes as you can help you move forward and meet your goal; it helps to know you are not alone.

Reward yourself. Recognize the positive changes you’ve made and reward yourself along the way. Take pride in your accomplishments and share your progress with others. Once you pass certain milestones, plan a treat for yourself, for example- once you hit your weight lose goal treat yourself to a night out. By setting rewards for yourself you have something to look forward to in addition to the self satisfaction you will feel.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Be flexible and don’t lose sight of your goals. If you fall off track, don’t wait until next year to try again. Evaluate your progress and think about where you failed and adjust your goal and action plan to something that is more attainable.

We could all benefit from some changes in our lives, so take advantage of the tradition of New Year’s resolutions to look back on the past year and evaluate something about yourself to improve upon in the year ahead.

Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D

Director and Founder

Ashburn Psychological Services

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Coping with the Winter Blues: Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder

It is easy to understand why, this time of year, many are struck with a case of the winter blues.  We leave for work before the sun comes up and head home in the dark barely glimpsing daylight.  As the days get shorter and colder many find themselves dealing with sadness, increased appetite and excessive sleeping.  What they may be experiencing is more than a case of the winter blues, but rather seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.  Many of my clients suffer from this disorder and often they just expect it is a part of the season that will pass, but there are treatments that can alleviate or lessen the symptoms.

SAD is a mood disorder associated with depression and related to seasonal variations of light. SAD has been linked to melatonin, a sleep-related hormone secreted by the brain’s pineal gland.  This hormone, which can cause symptoms of depression, is produced at increased levels in the dark.  So, as the days become shorter, these effects are felt by an estimated 6% of Americans.  Eighty percent of those who suffer from SAD are estimated to be women, though the reasons for increased depression in women are not yet understood.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, SAD symptoms include: regularly occurring symptoms of depression (e.g., excessive eating and sleeping and weight gain) during the fall or winter months; full remission from depression occur in the spring and summer months as well as a craving for sugary and/or starchy foods.  Just as sunlight affects the seasonal activities of animals, such as reproductive cycles and hibernation, SAD may be an effect of seasonal light variations in humans.  As seasons change, there is a shift in our “internal clocks” or circadian rhythm, due partly to these changes in sunlight patterns.  This can cause our biological clocks to be out of “step” with our daily schedules. The most difficult months for SAD sufferers are January and February.

Phototherapy or bright light therapy has been shown to suppress the brain’s secretion of melatonin.  Although, there have been no research findings to definitively link this therapy with an antidepressant effect, many people respond to the treatment.  The device most often used today is a bank of white fluorescent lights on a metal reflector and a shield with a plastic screen.  For mild symptoms, spending time outdoors or arranging homes and workplaces during the day to receive more sunlight may be helpful.  One study found that an hour’s walk in winter sunlight was as effective as two and a half hours under bright light.  If phototherapy doesn’t work, an antidepressant medication may prove effective in reducing or eliminating SAD symptoms, but there may be unwanted side effects to consider with medication.

If you or someone you know struggles with depression this time of year, you should contact your physician or a mental health professional to accurately determine A diagnosis and treatment. Keeping an accurate log of your mood, energy, eating and sleeping habits over time will be helpful for determining whether any changes are in fact seasonal.  Although you may be tempted to boost your exposure to light around the home, consultation with a medical professional will be important because the intensity, frequency, and duration of light treatments may vary from individual to individual.  Additionally, a professional may recommend other forms of treatment in addition to light therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and/or medications.  Our psychologists and psychiatrists are available to answer your questions at www.ashburnpsych.com

Remember that small things like a walk on a sunny winter day can be a boost both physically and mentally. And spring is only a few months away!

Dr. Oberschneider

Founder and Director

Ashburn Psychological Services

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Postpartum Depression

As new parents you are likely experiencing a number of feelings — both highs and lows. This is very normal, and as many as eighty percent of new mothers (and some new fathers) suffer from what we call the “the baby blues.” Symptoms are short lived, ranging from a few hours to a few days, and typically involve feelings of isolation, headache, tearfulness, hypochondriasis (i.e. unsupported bodily worries), irritability, sleeplessness and impaired concentration.  The baby blues is not the same thing as postpartum depression, nor is the baby blues a definite precursor for postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression (PPD), also called postnatal depression, is a form of clinical depression that affects new mothers (and sometimes new fathers) after birth and within the first year postpartum.  The condition is surprisingly common with studies showing that about 5 to 9 percent of women will develop postpartum depression; however, less than one in five of these women will seek professional help.

PPD symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following:

Guilt * Emptiness * Sadness * Feeling inadequate in taking care of the baby * Hopelessness * Low self-esteem * Social withdrawal * Becoming easily frustrated * A feeling of being overwhelmed * Inability to be comforted * Sleep and eating disturbance Decreased sex drive * Spells of anger towards others * Impaired concentration and speech and writing * Low or no energy * Increased anxiety or panic attacks * Exhaustion

Ashburn Psychological Services has a highly trained team of pediatric, child, adult and geriatric PhD and MD specialists.  If you have any questions or concerns regarding postpartum depression for yourself or your spouse as new parents, one of our well trained professionals will speak to you by phone.  If needed, that clinician will then schedule a consultation with the most appropriate team member to develop a treatment plan that is right for you and/or your spouse.  Treatment at Ashburn Psychological Services may involve individual therapy, a postpartum group, a parenting group, parent education and guidance meetings or parent-infant bonding and attachment work with a licensed clinical psychologist, or a medication consult with one of our board certified adult psychiatrists.

We are here to help, and we invite you to call our office manager, Renee Rider at (703) 723-2999 to speak with one of our clinician’s.

Ashburn Psychological Services now has offices in Ashburn and Leesburg to better serve you.

Dr. Michael Oberschneider

Founder and Director

Ashburn Psychological Services

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Poplar Springs Hospital:  Residential Treatment Center

Ashburn Psychological Services Director, Dr. Oberschneider, met with representatives from Poplar Springs Hospital, a highly regarded residential treatment center in Petersburg, VA.  Poplar Springs has several programs for children, adolescents and adults in need of residential care.  More specically, they offer a residential center for adolescent females between 11 and 17 years of age, a residential treatment center for sexually abused youth; males between 11 and 17 years of age, an adolescent acute unit, an adult acute unit and an active duty military unit for service members from all branches of service.

Ashburn Psychological Services and Poplar Springs Hospital will work closely to support our Northern Virginia families in need of residential care.  For additional information on Poplar Springs, please contact Melissa Mitchell, NoVa Community Liaison for the hospital.

Dr. Oberschneider

Founder and Director

Ashburn Psychological Services

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