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Tuesday, 31 July 2018 14:29

What Is Behavioral Addiction?

When you hear the word "addiction," your mind probably jumps to thoughts of drug or alcohol abuse. However, there are other types of addiction. A behavioral addiction, also known as a "process addiction," is the increasing reliance on a certain behavior or action to feel good.

Behavioral addiction definition

When the idea first began to surface, many people thought it was a hoax. After all, how could someone be psychologically and physically dependent on something they don't put inside of their bodies like drugs or alcohol? In spite of the skepticism, it was increasingly clear that there was more to these behaviors than just someone who didn't want to stop. So scientists began to look at the brain's response to unhealthy behavioral impulses, and they discovered something that has changed the way people think about the brain and addiction.

What Is a Behavioral Addiction?

Recent scientific studies have begun to suggest that addiction can result from anything that causes your brain to crave more of it to feel good. Why? Because when a person feels pleasure over something, their brain releases significant amounts of dopamine and oxytocin, also known as "feel-good hormones." It wants to feel good so it can send a signal out looking for that same feeling again. And again. And again. Eventually, in some people, the brain begins to crave greater and greater amounts of the feel-good hormones, which it believes can only be achieved by performing the action that created them in the first place. This is when it can become a problem.

Because behaviors are not substances like drugs or alcohol, some people write off repetitive actions as just "bad habits." For example, someone who struggles with too much shopping just might be viewed by their friends and family as someone who is materialistic or enjoys the allure of a good sale. And, for some people, this might be true. But, the difference between a bad habit and an addiction is that a person can stop a bad habit if they want to. When something becomes an addiction, the individual loses their ability to successfully remove themselves from the action, thereby endangering themselves and potentially setting themselves up for serious problems as their actions continue.

Common Types of Behavioral and Process Addictions

Some of the most common behavioral addictions stem from everyday activities that are generally harmless to most people. The problem is that, for some people, these actions and interests have gone from a harmless hobby or interest to an activity that takes over their daily routine. While the field of behavioral addiction study adapting because it is such a new topic of discussion, certain addictions tend to be more common than others.

1. Shopping

Shopping is often classified as an "impulse control," which is just a fancy way of saying that someone who is addicted to shopping does it because they can't resist the impulse to buy things and they get a "high" from doing so. Typically, people who struggle with an addiction to shopping are actually doing it to escape feelings of sadness, however, their sense of excitement is replaced by guilt after the fact. Women are more likely than men to struggle with this issue. On the surface, it might seem like a relatively harmless problem, but it is one that can have serious implications if left untreated. In fact, if someone is consumed with shopping, it can have serious consequences for their relationships and their finances.

Shopping addiction

2. Gambling

The only behavioral disorder to be classified by the American Psychiatric Association, studies have shown that gambling stimulates the same parts of the brain as drugs do. What may start out as a harmless way to blow off steam and have fun with friends can spiral out of control as the addict seeks out the next great win. People who have a gambling addiction will continue to bet and risk money, often with serious financial implications.

Gambling addiction

3. Cell phones

Ninety-five percent of Americans own a cell phone, so a cell phone addiction can be particularly difficult to spot. After all, doesn't everyone rely on their phone these days? While it's true that everyone seems to be glued to their phones, someone with a cell phone addiction will not be able to cut down their usage on their own. In fact, they'll likely spend more and more time on their phone, relying on it as a solution to their boredom and becoming visibly anxious and distressed if they become separated from their phone.

Another sign of a cell phone addiction is when the person is unable to put their phone down when they're in the middle of a serious conversation with a spouse or family member. Besides potentially creating relationship problems, excessive cell phone use has been cited in a potential link to anxiety and depression, as well as sleep issues. This means that overuse can create serious health problems if it is not addressed.

Cell phone addiction

4. Sex

Many people have heard the term "sex addiction" about a celebrity. But few people know what it is. Compulsive sexual behavior is identified by all-consuming thoughts about sex and the continuous drive to seek out sexual experiences, typically with multiple partners. It's hard to tell whether this is a problem with the biochemical makeup of the brain or if it stems from a misguided need to find love and acceptance, but it can wreak havoc on an individual's personal and professional life.

Someone with sex addiction will likely not be faithful to their partner or spouse because they are constantly seeking sexual encounters. They may miss work time acting on their impulses, resulting in poor professional performance as well.

Sex addiction

5. The Internet

While this one hasn't been classified as a "true addiction" by experts, it's estimated that somewhere between six and 14 percent of Internet users display signs of compulsive Internet use, immersing themselves in the information superhighway for upwards of 11 hours a day. This behavior has the potential to result in issues at home and work as these individuals become consumed with their online activities, ultimately ignoring their relationships and daily tasks.

Internet addiction

6. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) / Behavioral Compulsions

While it can take many different forms, compulsive behaviors can become "addictive" in the sense that the person doing them is unable to stop repeating them over and over again. OCD can take many forms, but some of the most common ones include contamination OCD, symmetry OCD, checking OCD and hoarding OCD.

OCD types

Similar to someone with OCD, a person with a behavioral compulsion spends a lot of time on that compulsion. It may lead to emotional suffering and distress, especially in the case of people who are experiencing compulsions like hoarding, trichotillomania — an obsessive need to pull out one's own hair — or excoriation — the compulsive picking of one's skin.

Causes of Behavioral Addiction and Factors to Consider

The hard thing about identifying and treating a behavioral addiction is that scholars and professionals still disagree about how to classify them. Many believe that the presence of the addiction is the result of a combination of hereditary and environmental factors. Their causes and treatment methods continue to be subject to much discussion as researchers attempt to dig deeper and come to a better understanding of them. However, what is clear is that the individuals who move from engaging in an occasional habitual behavior to being addicted to a certain behavior might not have as much control over it as researchers once claimed.

Causes of behavioral addiction

More recently, scientists have begun to uncover evidence that the brain is capable of reacting to certain behaviors much in the same way it reacts to the presence of drugs or alcohol in the body. This is the "feel-good hormone" response mentioned earlier. That doesn't mean that any action can become addicting if it's done enough, but, in the case of certain behaviors, such as the ones listed above, the feelings of pleasure that they create can stimulate the brain and lead it to want to experience that "high" again and again. So, it signals the individual that the best thing they can do is to repeat the action that caused the feelings of pleasure.

Similar to substance abuse, over time, it takes more and more to achieve those feelings, which leads to an increase in the behavior to the point where it can become disruptive and have potentially serious consequences for the individual performing the behaviors.

Some of the skepticism over the idea of behavioral addiction comes from the fact that these behaviors are not always as dangerous as abusing drugs or alcohol. For example, someone with a shopping addiction isn't actually doing anything to harm their body. However, the problem is that it can create serious issues in other areas of their life if they are unable to control their impulses. They can experience severe financial hardship such as credit card debt and bankruptcy, as well as do damage to relationships with people they care about, especially if their financial troubles impact a spouse or other close family member. And, while it may sound extreme, sometimes a behavioral addiction can even lead to trouble with the law.

Symptoms of Behavioral Addictions

A person who is caught in the grip of a behavioral addiction is likely to display certain behaviors over time, as they continue to seek out the good feelings that their behaviors create in their brains.

The hard part of behavioral addictions is that they aren't always obvious to the individual or their loved ones in the beginning. For example, most Americans pick up their phone on average of 110 times a day. But, someone who is addicted to their phone might take this a step farther, by displaying signs of anxiety when they don't have their phone or using their phone to escape real-world encounters with coworkers or loved ones.

When it comes to a behavioral addiction, there are a few key signs that an individual has moved from simply enjoying a certain behavior to being addicted to it.

  1. An inability to stay away from the behavior: In other words, they can't stop thinking about it or doing it. The average person is able to limit their activity if they sense they are starting to go too far. But someone who has become addicted to the behavior relies on it to feel good and "normal." For example, someone without a shopping addiction will be able to recognize that they are spending too much money and they will simply stay away from the mall. But, for a person who is addicted to shopping, they won't be able to simply make the decision to stay away. In fact, they will most likely increase the frequency of their action because, over time, it takes more and more to get the same "high" from doing it.
  2. Lack of self-control: A person who is not suffering from a behavioral addiction can recognize that there is a time and a place for certain behaviors and limit their actions accordingly. For example, the average person knows that they need to put their phone down during a business meeting or an important conversation with a loved one. If someone is addicted, however, they won't be able to limit their cell phone usage to focus on what's going on around them. They also generally won't be able or willing to stop even when their action is causing distress to themselves or others, as in the case of addictions like hoarding or excoriation.
  3. Lack of awareness of the problems they are creating or an unwillingness to admit to it: Someone who is addicted to a certain behavior is not likely to admit they have a problem. They may not be able to see that their behavior is potentially dangerous to them or others around them, or they may blame it on someone else. This can make it harder to convince someone to ask for help — after all, why would someone ask for help if they don't think they need it? Sometimes, certain behavioral addictions can also be associated with anxiety and depression, although the cause/effect relationship remains unclear, which means that many symptoms related to those conditions may be present as well. Because of this, there may be such a complex set of issues surrounding their behavioral addiction that the person is unable to figure out how to change, or they may not want to because they just want to keep feeling "good."
  4. Lack of emotional response: Because of an addict's lack of awareness, there is often a lack of emotion over their activity. They may neglect their family or friends to engage in the behavior without thought to how they may hurt them. They may miss work or struggle to perform professionally because of the amount of time they are devoting to thinking about and acting on their impulses. For example, someone with a gambling addiction may skip work to participate in gambling, reducing their productivity at the office and jeopardizing their employment. Or someone who suffers from an addiction to sex may seek sexual encounters with other partners even if they are in a committed relationship, which can hurt their loved ones and create significant relationship problems as well.

Admitting the problem

Treatment Options for Behavioral Addictions

Treatment options for behavioral addictions can vary, depending on the individual and their needs. Because it can be hard to "cure" a behavioral disorder, so to speak, most treatment options center around various kinds of therapy designed to help the individual manage their impulses. To date, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been proven to be the most effective strategy for combatting behavioral addiction and helping individuals suffering from them to return to a "normal" life.

CBT centers around the idea that many psychological problems stem largely from unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior. This type of therapy has been shown to be helpful in teaching individuals how to cope with the issues they are facing by learning new thought patterns and healthy coping skills. Some people believe that CBT involves psychoanalysis and digging deep into past "hurts," but it is actually geared toward managing symptoms and learning how to modify their behavior so that they are no longer doing the destructive behaviors they have become addicted to.

How CBT works

Ultimately, the goal of CBT is to teach people to be their own counselor in a sense — as they develop coping skills, they can adapt their thinking and behaviors on their own outside of the therapy setting.

CBT can be used in either a group or individual setting. Individual counseling is exactly what it sounds like — one-on-one sessions between a counselor and the individual dealing with a behavioral addiction. These can be helpful because the focus is solely on the person and their specific situation. Many find that they feel safer sharing their thoughts when they aren't in a setting with other people. When they feel safer sharing, people tend to be more likely to keep their appointments and continue their therapy.

People are also typically more honest about their struggles when they are in individual counseling sessions. This can be a huge benefit to their treatment because honesty helps the counselor to have a better understanding of the issues they are facing so that they can develop a treatment plan that is the most effective option for the individual.

While there are a lot of benefits to individual counseling, group therapy has also been shown to be a very effective option, especially when it's done in conjunction with individual therapy. While it can initially be overwhelming to share very personal information with a group of unfamiliar people, often people with a behavioral addiction find that it's comforting to be in a group setting.

Some people prefer the group setting because it takes away the pressure of being the only one who has to share. It can also be comforting to spend time with other people who share similar struggles. Many people often find that group therapy provides a level of support and accountability that is instrumental in making significant and positive changes in their lives.

Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Many people feel embarrassed or ashamed to be struggling with a behavioral addiction. Some don't even want to admit there is a problem because it can be embarrassing to admit that they are struggling with a behavior that is so normal to other people, such as shopping or using their cell phones compulsively. Asking for help can be especially hard for women because they tend to be viewed as their family's support system.

The truth is, functioning as a wife and mother while juggling a career, or as a busy professional, along with personal and family obligations can be hard. And sometimes women turn to unhealthy ways of coping with the stress or develop compulsive behaviors that they can't fix on their own.

Brookhaven Retreat is a women-only treatment facility designed to offer help and support when things get rough. Our compassionate and helpful staff understand the struggle that behavioral addictions can present, and we are ready to help walk with you through your journey to reclaim your life.

If you or a loved one are struggling with a behavioral addiction, please contact us today.

Published in Brookhaven Blog

Each year, millions of Americans struggle with mental health issues. Among the vast spectrum of challenging health conditions, depression and anxiety are two common struggles that impact the day-to-day quality of life for young adults. Anxiety affects over 40 million people over the age of 18. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for someone who has an anxiety disorder to also face depression and vice versa. These commonly co-occurring disorders often influence one another and create more hurdles for those afflicted to overcome.

One quarter of teens show symptoms of depression

Adolescents are especially at risk for developing these disorders. Nearly one-quarter of teens will show symptoms of depression by the age of 18. This depression during teenage years can carry on to college years if not addressed.

Depressed college students are twice as likely to drop out of school as their peers. The fact is that many universities and collegiate facilities are recognizing that the effects of depression and anxiety have a negative impact on academic performance.

Can Depression and Anxiety Affect Academic Performance?

Depression and anxiety can impact any aspect of a person's life including their academic performance. The number of college students seeking help for their mental health afflictions hitting record highs. Students seeking out counselling centers have dramatically increased over the last decade and is exponentially higher than the rate of increases in enrollment. Students surveyed said that their depressive symptoms made it hard to function and reported feeling overwhelming anxiety. Many of these students are also more likely to harm themselves or attempt suicide.

Mental health disorders aren't simply changes in emotional states. The varying, ongoing symptoms of each unique disorder directly affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Factors like inherited traits, environmental exposures before birth and brain chemistry can contribute to these illnesses. Additional risk factors could increase the likelihood that these conditions may develop. These include having a family history of mental health issues, undergoing a stressful or traumatic experience, substance abuse, lacking social bonds or other chronic medical conditions, and can cause significant complications throughout all aspects of your life.

Transition from highschool

Although these conditions can appear at any age throughout a person's life, the fact is that young adults are vulnerable to developing mental health issues like depression and anxiety. The transition from high school to college forces many students to face challenges, pressures and conflicts that they may have never been confronted with at home. These new social, academic and financial struggles can trigger or reveal depression and anxiety in some young adults. Some can overcome these symptoms on their own. Others require professional intervention.

The symptoms of mental health disorders do more than merely distract a student from focusing on their studies. Psychological disorders can disrupt cognitive functioning and reduce intellectual performance. Cognitive dysfunction is believed to have a strong correlation with mental health diagnoses like depression and anxiety. These conditions can significantly alter cognitive functioning, particularly memory retention and the absorption of knowledge. With such a profound influence, it's no surprise that these disorders negatively impact the academic performance of college students. Depression and anxiety directly impact the ability to learn.

How Depression and Anxiety Affect Your Ability to Learn

Studies have shown that there is a link between depression, anxiety and lower academic performance. Mental health conditions can affect college students at any level. In assessing groups of students in varying years, first-year students reported increased instances of self-harm and suicide consideration while upperclassmen reported more significant impacts on their academic performance due to their mental health afflictions. Students, educators and mental health professionals agree that there is a concerning prevalence of mental health issues that impact the lives and academic performance of college-aged individuals.

Mental health issues impact learning

Though some may be quick to categorize depression and anxiety as emotional afflictions, it should not be ignored that these two conditions have a profound impact on cognitive functioning. Research shows that emotion and motivation create two psychological processes that have dramatic influence over cognition and behavior. More specifically, when emotion and cognition interact negatively, this can increase the likelihood of the manifestation of anxiety and depression-related symptoms. These conditions are also associated with deficits in executive function like memory retention, focus and adjusting behavior based on environment.

How Anxiety Impacts Academic Performance

Stress is a common feeling many people experience when faced with a range of situations. This biological response can be positive or negative and typically is experienced for a short period. In an academic context, the stress experienced when studying for a test may help an individual enhance their focus and achieve a higher test score. In contrast, negative stress can cause an individual to have an upset stomach before an exam because they are worried about their performance.

Anxiety may have similar symptoms, however, these symptoms are often enhanced and continue for long periods of time. While stress can motivate a person to overcome a challenge, anxiety is an intense and sometimes irrational feeling of worry that can become debilitating. Anxiety can cause an individual to become physically sick or severely distraught at the thought of taking a test, giving a presentation or other academic activities. Instead of triggering a biological response that can enhance academic performance, anxiety causes physical and mental symptoms that can dramatically inhibit cognitive functioning.

Anxiety's impact on learning activities

Physiological symptoms among students experiencing anxiety include:

  • Feeling cold or chills
  • Increased nervousness or panicking
  • Sweaty palms
  • Stomach pain or discomfort
  • Significantly increased heart rate
  • Quickened breathing

Psychological symptoms among students experiencing anxiety include:

  • An absence of interest in an area of academia which they perceive as difficult
  • Increased nervousness before engaging in formal academic classes
  • Experiencing significant panic
  • Going "blank" while taking examinations
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless when completing assignments

How Depression Impacts School Performance

There are many periods in life during which a person will feel sadness. For college-aged adolescents, sadness may be triggered by homesickness, academic failures, the death of a loved one or the dissolution of a romantic relationship. Those who experience sadness are typically able to still function normally in their daily lives. This sadness usually lasts for a short period and is accepted, reconciled and moved on from. 

Like anxiety, depression is a common mental health disorder that takes on many forms with varying severities. Unlike sadness, depression significantly alters parts of the brain. Though sadness can be felt during depression, some may not feel it at all. Instead, they may experience other symptoms that interfere with their daily lives on a long-term basis. This illness can present a range of physical and mental symptoms and is a prevalent condition among college-aged students.

Physiological symptoms among college students experiencing depression may include:

  • Abuse of drugs or alcohol
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Drastic changes in appetite or weight
  • Physical pain like muscular discomfort or headaches
  • Difficulty sleeping, insomnia or oversleeping

Psychological symptoms among college students experiencing depression may include:

  • Loss of interest in hobbies, activities or social engagements
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Engaging in self-harm or attempting suicide
  • Difficulty concentrating on homework assignments or in class
  • Difficulty retaining information read in textbooks or learned in class
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism about academic future
  • Feelings of isolation or helplessness

The Impact of Depression and Anxiety Disorders on Cognition

Depression and anxiety alone or as co-occurring disorders can dramatically affect an individual's academic performance. These diseases can hinder the brain's ability to think, understand, learn and remember information. Studies show that stress, depression and anxiety experienced by college students of varying years have had a negative impact on their academic success.

Negative impact on college performance

Areas in which these mental health conditions can negatively affect cognition include:

  • Memory retention
  • Memory retrieval
  • Problem-solving abilities
  • Ability to learn

Impaired Memory Retention and Retrieval From Depression and Anxiety

Both anxiety and depression can lead to problems with memory. Research suggests that while those with depression might be able to retain memories, they may find it difficult to discern specific identifiable details. For instance, though they may be able to determine whether or not they had seen a set of objects before, they may be unable to distinguish one set of objects from another set that possesses similar identifying features. This may be because those with depression have a smaller hippocampus, the memory processor of the brain.

Though it is suggested that anxiety in certain contexts can help an individual remember a situation with greater detail, too much anxiety can have the opposite effect. High anxiety can cause an individual to lose focus on their surroundings and shut out all external observations. It can also influence the perception and memory of events in a negative way. For example, because an individual is in a negative state of mind they may internalize neutral stimuli with a negative bias.

Chronic stress and anxiety may also cause brain inflammation that results in short-term memory loss. In a study, mice exposed to long-term stress had inflamed hippocampus regions that created memory loss. These stresses parallel the traumatic anxieties that some individuals feel. If a college student is constantly in a state of high anxiety or panic, it may cause them to compromise their short-term memory even after brain inflammation has subsided. This could cause weeks' worth of behavior and memory problems for those facing pressures of collegiate academia.

Short-term memory loss

Anxiety and Depression's Influence on Problem-Solving and Learning Abilities

Both problem-solving skills and the general absorption of knowledge are affected by anxiety through the ineffectiveness of working memory. The working memory is the brain's short-term memory system that enables an individual to retain information while actively solving a problem. When debilitating amounts of anxiety force this system to operate inefficiently, working memory capacity suffers. Without a reliable working memory, an individual will find it difficult to successfully accomplish a task. This anxiety could cause an individual to be unable to use complex problem-solving skills in school and life.

Though many people have learning disabilities, there are a substantial number of people who have legitimate mathematic anxieties. By actively avoiding the emotional strife that occurs when trying to accomplish mathematical tasks, an individual can overload and disrupt their working memory. Mathematics anxiety is considered separate from test or generalized anxiety, though it may have some correlation. This anxiety interferes with the ability to solve mathematical problems in academia and real-life applications.

Depression can cause individuals to experience increased risks of academic underachievement. Studies have shown that depression in adolescents can lead to cognitive impairment and social dysfunction which directly impacts academic performance. Symptoms like fatigue, hopelessness, stress and physical pains can make it difficult for an individual to function in an academic environment, decreasing their ability to successfully learn. Depression and anxiety have caused many college students to drop out, withdraw or shift to a part-time schedule which negatively extends their academic careers.

Signs That Depression and Anxiety May Be Impacting Your School Performance

Those faced with depression and anxiety in their late adolescence may not realize that their symptoms are having a negative impact on their academic performance. During times of difficulty throughout our lives, we may feel overwhelmed with stress or burdened with sadness. The transition from early adolescence to adulthood is a significant milestone that can affect mental health, especially for those adjusting to life in college. Some individuals may not realize that negative changes in their mental health during this transition are actually symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Life changes can affect mental health

Many mental health disorders do not necessarily display overt physical signs or symptoms of affliction. Depression and anxiety, separately or together, may cause you to feel a variety of physical, emotional and mental symptoms. You may experience negative feelings or behave in new ways. Your symptoms of one mental health issue could actually be related to another and one individual may display symptoms that are different than another's.

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you are unsure if depression and anxiety are impacting your academic performance:

  • • Are your grades dropping significantly because you are unable to focus on your schoolwork?
  • Are you feeling sad, empty or hopeless regularly?
  • Do you get very angry, frustrated or irritated for any reason, even small instances that shouldn't normally cause this turmoil?
  • Have you lost interest or enjoyment in the hobbies or activities that used to make you happy?
  • Are you sleeping too much, unable to fall asleep or experiencing nightmares or discomfort that constantly wakes you up?
  • Do you often feel exhausted or have a constant lack of energy that makes it difficult to complete even small daily tasks?
  • Has your appetite changed so drastically that you are either not hungry and losing weight or constantly hungry and gaining weight?
  • Do you feel overstressed, restless or agitated on a regular basis?
  • Do you find yourself acting, speaking or thinking slower than normal?
  • Are you experiencing headaches, backaches or other physical pain that you can't explain?
  • Do you sometimes feel that you're worthless, do you fixate on past failures or feel guilty about events that aren't your fault?
  • Do you have thoughts of death and suicide or have you considered or attempted suicide?

If you answered yes to all, some or even one of these questions, you may be unknowingly suffering from depression and anxiety. Even if you don't believe that your studies are the root of your issues, any mental affliction could cause you to underperform at school. Remember, depression and anxiety impact cognitive functioning which can create difficulty in all aspects of your life including memory retention, memory retrieval, problem-solving abilities and the ability to absorb information and learn.

Seeking Treatment for Depression and Anxiety Can Improve Performance

Depression and anxiety are serious mental health issues that present individuals with a number of physical, emotional and cognitive challenges which are often difficult to overcome. Thankfully, there are many forms of treatment available that cater to the many variations of depression and anxiety, both separately and together. Many of these psychotherapies involve talk-based therapy sessions in which an individual and their counselor discuss the struggles, feelings and thoughts that manifest during episodes of depression and panic. Therapy options for college students with depression and anxiety can range from one-on-one sessions to group therapy sessions.

Getting help for anxiety and depression

Cognitive behavioral therapy is regarded as one of the most effective treatment option for those suffering from generalized anxiety disorders. CBT seeks to help individuals become their own therapists by developing coping skills and learning to change their negative patterns of thought, emotion and behavior. Instead of focusing on past events, CBT addresses the current issues an individual is facing and focuses on helping them move forward via healthy coping strategies. The individual will ideally help themselves through their anxiety by applying these learned behaviors during stressful situations.

Medications may also be used in conjunction with therapies depending on the treatment plan outlined for each particular individual. A mental health professional can help to determine the best course of treatment based on the individual's needs.

These treatments may help them manage stress and cope with depression in healthy ways, regain their focus, compartmentalize their problems, increase their self-confidence when faced with adversity and improve their academic performance.

Overcoming Anxiety and Depression at Brookhaven Retreat for Women

Depression and anxiety are powerful mental afflictions that can negatively impact, disrupt and damage many facets of your life. Though stress and sadness are natural parts of life, anxiety and depression are medical illnesses that can severely harm your physical, mental and emotional health. Unfortunately, choosing to cope with these problems by self-medicating with alcohol, substance abuse, co-dependent relationships, isolation, anger or binge-eating is not an effective solution, but one that many college students turn to. To emotionally heal and move forward successfully, many people require compassionate support and professional treatment.

Brookhaven Retreat is a safe and caring facility where women can find serenity and support. As one of the most innovative mental health retreats for women in the country, we offer 90-day treatment programs that address issues with mental health, substance abuse and emotional strife. We provide comprehensive recovery for those who need assistance regaining control of their lives and rediscovering who they truly are.

If you're experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety as you continue your transition into college, know that you're not alone. The experts at Brookhaven Retreat are here to help you progress from adolescence to adulthood in healthy, positive ways that do not impede your academic performance. Call us today and let us help you resolve these issues so that you can progress forward into a life of happiness and success.

Contact Brookhaven Retreat for Help

Published in Brookhaven Blog

We've all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but when you are constantly on the go, breakfast tends to get put on the back burner. However, the importance of breakfast can not be understated. Not only does it nourish your body, allowing you to establish a healthy lifestyle, but it can also boost your mood and let you start your day off right.

You may not have time to make a healthy meal for yourself every morning, but most people can take the time to push a button on their blender. Smoothies are blended concoctions that allow you to have a quick and healthy meal every morning. Depending on what you add to your mix, certain ingredients can help you to think more clearly and be at your best for the day. In other words, you can create a brain-boosting smoothie.

5 Brain-Boosting Smoothie Recipes

There are tons of ingredients you can pack into your morning smoothies, including those that make your brain happy and healthy. Here are five brain-boosting smoothies filled with foods that give tons of benefits to your mind and body, such as:

  • Boosting blood flow
  • Stabilizing blood sugar
  • Protecting brain cells
  • Improving memory

1. Blueberry Brain-Boost Smoothie

Infused with both blueberries and walnuts, this smoothie gives you a double dose of antioxidants and phytochemicals. These components are essential to cognitive function, giving your morning memory the boost it needs. Plus, walnuts contain essential fatty acids that support brain cell development. The rich nutty taste blended with blueberries is a delicious bonus.


  • 1 cup of apple juice
  • 1 fresh ripe banana
  • 1 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1/4 cup raw walnuts


Combine all ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth.

2. Banana Coconut Smoothie

Low in natural sugars and high in fiber and other nutrients, coconut may be an essential ingredient in the battle against memory loss. This smoothie also contains medium-chain triglycerides, which act as a steady source of fuel for your brain all morning long.


  • 1 cup 1% milk or substitute hemp, almond or rice milk
  • 1 frozen banana, thawed slightly
  • 1 scoop of protein powder
  • 2 tablespoons of unsweetened coconut


In a blender, combine all ingredients and blend well.

3. Flaxseed Smoothie

Although this smoothie recipe is pretty standard, it incorporates a number of ingredients that add to brain health. Flaxseed is not only an excellent source of fiber, but it also has omega-3 fatty acids that give your body a healthy source of fat while still being a low-calorie grab every morning.


  • 1/2 frozen banana cut into chunks
  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons flaxseed meal
  • 1 cup vanilla soy milk or substitute with vanilla almond milk


Place all ingredients into the blender and puree until smooth.

4. Dopamine Delight Smoothie

If you need a little extra boost, then you'll love this energizing smoothie. It contains a healthy dose of protein that will give you a boost dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with motivation and happiness. The moderate caffeine is a nice added ingredient to keep you focused during your morning routine.


  • 1/2 cup small, frozen banana
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup soy milk, either vanilla or plain
  • 1 double shot espresso (You may substitute for 1/4 cup regular or decaf coffee if desired!)
  • 1 scoop vanilla whey protein powder (or other protein powder of your choice!)


Combine all ingredients except for the protein powder. Blend on high in the blender until smooth. Add a scoop of protein powder and blend lightly until incorporated.

5. Green Tea and Blueberry Smoothie

This smoothie is chock full of ingredients that will benefit your brain immensely. The blueberries and green tea provide essential antioxidants. On top of that, green tea includes theanine and amino acids that help you focus and relax. The addition of honey is not just to sweeten the smoothie, either. It contains 22 essential amino acids that are the building blocks of brain cells.


  • 3 tablespoons of water
  • 1 green tea bag
  • 2 teaspoons of honey
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 medium banana
  • 3/4 cup calcium-rich vanilla soy milk


Microwave or boil water and steep the green tea bag for three minutes, then remove tea bag. Stir honey into the tea until it dissolves. Combine all the ingredients in a blender, including the tea, and blend on high until smooth.

Happy Blending!

We hope all these amazing smoothies will give your brain a happy and healthy morning for a great start to a productive day!

Published in Brookhaven Blog

Stress is a common occurrence. Most people experience mild levels of stress every day, which is completely normal. You're running late, traffic is horrible, the kids are fighting — a million and one different things can cause stress levels to rise. However, some people experience more than these normal levels of stress. Although stress and anxiety overlap in many respects, anxiety is a chronic and recurrent condition.

There are a number of common signs that most recognize as side effects of anxiety, a few symptoms are less well know and less common. This means you might not even know that you have an anxiety disorder. Below are some uncommon anxiety symptoms.

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety affects millions of Americans. This mental health disorder is characterized by how it makes patients feel on a regular basis. Worry, anxiety or even fear plague their life and can often interfere with daily activities. Most of the time, those who have anxiety often experience physical, cognitive and behavioral symptoms associated with the disorder. This includes:

  • Nervousness or fear
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Constant worrying
  • Panic attacks
  • Cold sweats
  • Trembling

Harder-to-Recognize Anxiety Symptoms

Although most people can recognize their anxiety symptoms, other side effects of the disorder are more surprising and thus harder to pinpoint. If you are struggling with any of the following physical signs, they could be warnings that you have an untreated anxiety disorder:

1. Tense Muscles

If you've had anxiety for a while, you may not notice that your muscles are always tense. Many of those with anxiety disorders unconsciously flex their muscles, ball their fists or even clench their jaw. Exercise is a great way to relieve this tension, as well as long, hot showers.

2. Ongoing Stomach Issues

Sometimes it's not what you eat that causes an upset stomach. The gut is extremely sensitive to stress, and anxiety disorders can lead to reoccurring stomach issues or even irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

3. Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath can be a warning sign of a serious medical disorder like asthma, allergies, pneumonia, emphysema or even heart conditions. However, it can also indicate that you may be struggling with anxiety. When people panic or grapple with stress, this can lead to hyperventilation, which is when you exhale more than you inhale. This means you are getting less oxygen in your blood, causing your blood vessels to narrow. Anxiety-related breathing difficulties also can also lead to tingling in your fingers or lightheadedness.

4. Skin Problems

When your body undergoes high levels of stress, as it does with anxiety, it often releases more hormones like cortisol. This can cause the glands under your skin to secrete more oil. When excess oil is caught in hair follicles, acne is a common result. The chemicals produced by your body under stress can lead to additional skin issues as well, like increased sensitivity, inflammation and other discomforts.

5. Hair Loss

Losing your hair is a common way your body reacts to stress. There may be three root causes tied to stress-related hair loss:

  • Telogen effluvium: Increased stress causes hair follicles to go into their resting phase making it easier for hair to fall out while shampooing or combing it.
  • Trichotillomania: A compulsive urge that is tied to anxiety where people pull hair from their scalp, eyebrows or other areas.
  • Alopecia areata: Believed to be caused by stress, this is when the immune system attacks hair follicles, causing hair loss.

Don't Struggle With Anxiety Alone

If you recognize that you are suffering from any of these symptoms, then you may have an undiagnosed anxiety disorder — but you do not have to struggle with it alone. Seek help from a professional.

Contact Brookhaven Retreat to find out more about our women's only facility where you can get help for your anxiety symptoms from caring and compassionate professionals.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Thursday, 12 July 2018 18:50

How Does Depression Affect the Brain

Many people associate depression with feelings of sadness, tiredness and lack of motivation or energy. What many don't understand is that depression isn't just a feeling. It's a psychological condition that affects the way you think, feel and even behave.

Although it's categorized as a mood disorder, major depressive disorder (MDD) could be rooted in chemical changes occurring in the brain.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a condition that causes feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Although some people have mild cases that occur only occasionally throughout their life, others struggle with bouts of depression their entire life. This intense, long-lasting form is called major depressive disorder (MDD). Symptoms of depression can impact every aspect of a person's life, from their performance at work or school to physical functions like eating or sleeping.

Those diagnosed with MDD typically exhibit five of the more common symptoms every day for at least two weeks. These common symptoms include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness or sadness
  • Lack of interest in activities and things they once enjoyed
  • Decrease or increase in appetite
  • Lack of sleep or sleeping too much
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Although the cause of depression is not known precisely, researchers believe that it may be a combination of factors including genetics and stress plus hormonal imbalances and biochemical reactions in the brain.

How Depression Affects the Brain

Three parts of the brain show distinct characteristics in those with depression which may play a role in the development of MDD:

1. Hippocampus

The hippocampus found near the center of the brain, stores memories and is responsible for the production of a hormone called cortisol. When the body experiences physical or mental stress, cortisol is released. Times of extreme stress or even a chemical imbalance can cause the release of excessive amounts of cortisol. This shrinks neurons in the hippocampus and slows the production of new ones, which could be the reason why many people with depression struggle with memory and concentration.

2. Prefrontal Cortex

Located in the very front of the brain, the prefrontal cortex regulates emotions and is also responsible for decision making and memory formation. The excessive amounts of cortisol produced by the hippocampus can also cause this part of the brain to shrink.

3. Amygdala

When you experience emotions such as pleasure or fear, these responses are facilitated by the amygdala. Due to the constant exposure to high levels of cortisol, those with MDD have an enlarged and hyperactive amygdala. Not only does this disturb sleep and activity patterns, but it can also cause the body to release irregular amounts of other hormones and chemicals leading to further issues.

Seeking Help for Depression

If you're struggling with depression, don't feel like you have to do it alone. There is help available from those who understand how depression affects you. Brookhaven Retreat is a facility just for women that serves those struggling with depression and other mental health disorders. To learn more, contact our caring and compassionate team today.

Published in Brookhaven Blog