Fitting In

What does it mean to fit in? We spend all of high school obsessing over it (or pretending not to obsess over it), all in the name of trying to find a community we belong to. But it also goes far beyond high school and affects us way into adulthood. So much of our lives are consumed with just trying to find a place where we feel like we’re comfortable, happy, and safe—and this sense of community looks different to everyone.

We wanted to take a closer look at what it means to fit in and how we feel when we find a community to engage with, which is why we surveyed 2,000 people to better understand how a sense of community affects us from high school through adulthood. Here’s what our survey had to say.

Fitting In 1

Continue reading Fitting In

Tech and Mental Health

Mental health is an important part of a balanced wellness plan. Although seeking out care for mental health has been taboo in the past, this attitude is changing—especially as technology is playing a larger role in how we get support for our mental and physical wellness, particularly with phone and tablet applications.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular mental health applications over time, and what these apps have to offer to help us improve our mental health. Continue reading Tech and Mental Health

Pressure & Youth Sports Study

Youth sports can offer a wide variety of positive benefits, such as team-building, personal commitment, friendly competition, and exercise. However, youth sports can make some children feel overwhelmed, under pressure, and like a failure for what is supposed to be a fun, important learning experience. We surveyed 1,000 Americans to get a sense of how rampant the pressure to succeed is within youth sports, as well as see what kind of effect it has had on people throughout their lives.

Continue reading Pressure & Youth Sports Study

The benefits of group therapy

Group therapy

Group therapy is gaining in popularity, thanks to the fact that it has proven to be both cost-effective and just as beneficial as individual therapy, according to a 2012 article from the American Psychological Association.

In the article, Dr. Gary Burlingame, a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, cited more than 50 clinical trials that compared patients who were assigned to group therapy or individual therapy, all of which showed that both types of therapy worked equally well for improving people’s mental health.

Despite its proven effectiveness, some people are hesitant to try group therapy because they are afraid to talk about their inner-most thoughts in front of a roomful of strangers. But, Dr. David Daskovsky, Senior Psychologist at Yellowbrick, says group therapy can be enormously helpful to those who are willing to give it a try.

Groups can be especially helpful for young adults who are in a life stage where they are establishing their own identity. “Young adulthood is a time when people are defining themselves. They’re dealing with issues of belonging, and trying to figure out how they can integrate themselves into a new social world.”

That’s why the young adults at Yellowbrick participate in group therapy several hours a week — sometimes in groups focused on inter-personal processes, sometimes in psycho-educational groups, sometimes in groups focused on specific issues such as trauma, addiction or eating disorders.

Most group therapy sessions, at Yellowbrick and in other settings, feature about five to 10 people facilitated by one or two therapists. Typically, group members are encouraged to jump into the conversation and share their own thoughts and give feedback to others in the moment.

So what exactly are the benefits of group therapy? Here are a few ways group therapy can help you:

  1. Realize You’re Not Alone
    Often in life, it’s easy to feel as if you are the only person who has ever dealt with the problems that you face. Being in a group of other people who are struggling with similar issues can help put your own problems in perspective. “Group therapy really helps people to feel and to be less isolated and less alienated because they can see that others share and can understand their difficulties,” Daskovsky says.
  2. Reduce Social Anxiety
    Group therapy can also help people learn how to make friends and improve social interactions — something Daskovsky says is especially important for young adults who are in a stage of life where they are defining themselves and trying to figure out how to integrate themselves into a new social world.“Often people come for treatment to Yellowbrick because they have anxiety about being in social situations,” Daskovsky explains. “Groups provide the opportunity for people to get more comfortable being with other people and learn to identify and express their feelings in the presence of others.”
  3. Learn How to Deal with Conflict
    Whether it’s a dormitory, a team, a club, when you have a mix of personalities in a group setting, you’re bound to experience some conflicts. Daskovsky says these conflicts in a group psychotherapy, while uncomfortable, are actually very useful because one can learn how to deal with conflict in a direct and helpful way with the support of the group members and leader.
  4. Learn How to Speak Up
    If you grew up thinking that you were supposed to stuff your feelings or that your opinions didn’t matter, group therapy is a great way of learning how to have a voice. “People learn how to hold their own in a group. If you are a person who tends to give up your own opinions in deference to others or out of fear of conflict, a group can provide the opportunity to practice recognizing and expressing your own preferences and opinions. ” Daskovsky says.
  5. See How You Behave in the World
    One of the most beneficial aspects of group therapy is the fact that you can observe how you typically act in a group situation and experiment with trying out new behavior. “Groups are a microcosm of the larger social world,” Daskovsky explains. “The roles that we tend to take on in the world will be present in the group.”For example, if you’re typically someone who is a caretaker of other people, or someone who dominates, or someone who shrinks from competition with other people, you are likely to reenact those roles in the group. Group members can function like a mirror to help each other to recognize the roles each member takes. “For example, there are some people who hesitate to speak, feeling as if everyone else’s problems are more important than their own, but then feel resentful that their issues go unnoticed, while some others tend to take charge but end up feeling burdened by the responsibility” Daskovsky says. Noticing these characteristic patterns is a first step towards being able to make changes.
  1. Deal With Shame
    A major source of difficulty for many emerging adults relates to hidden shame, e.g., about not “keeping pace” with your peers or not having achieved what you think you “should” have achieved at this point in your life. Research and clinical experience indicate that the way to move through and past shame is to move towards it, that is to practice speaking out about the hidden and shameful aspects of ourselves in the presence of others. Group therapy is usually a safe and supportive place to begin to face and deal with shame.

Millennials And Debt—The Long-Term Effect

Credit cards, student loans, mortgages, car payments—today’s millennials have more debt than ever, and studies show that there can be a long-term health effect on the stress this causes.

Two-thirds of millennials aged 23 to 35 have at least one source of long-term debt, while one-third have more than one source. Average student loan debt in the United States amounts to $40,000, while 37 percent of Americans younger than 40 have accrued student loan debt. Student loan debt in the United States is higher than any other kind of non-mortgage debt in the United States, and according to a recent report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, student loan debt now totals more than $1.2 trillion. More than 40 million Americans, more than Canada’s entire population, have student loan debt. Continue reading Millennials And Debt—The Long-Term Effect

Brain Training: How Strengthening Your Brain Can Improve Your Mental Health

Brain training

When people talk about mental health, they don’t often think about the “health” part of the phrase. In fact, most people assume that the only way to recover from mental illness is to take medication or spend hours talking to a therapist.

But it turns out that it’s possible to train our brains to improve brain health, just the way we train our bodies.

“Your brain is an instrument. It’s a living, changing, malleable thing,” explains Elizabeth Wade, an occupational therapist and Life Skills Specialist at Yellowbrick. “The more you use your brain, and the more different ways you use it, the more flexible and adaptive your thinking patterns can become.”

Having a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, can interfere with your ability to think clearly. Someone with depression may have brain waves that are slowed down, while someone with anxiety and stress may have activity in a rigid but chaotic pattern — both of which would prevent someone from being able to make reasonable, meaningful decisions.

In fact, brain scans of the young adults who come to Yellowbrick show that initially many have significant cognitive impairments in areas such as attention, memory, decision-making and executive functioning.

Wade says many people with mental illness have a tendency toward rigid thinking and often have difficulty seeing multiple options or solving problems. For example, someone with mental illness may think “I’m not good at making friends,” or “I’m a terrible person,” and the more the person thinks those same thoughts, the more ingrained they become in his or hermind.

That’s why Yellowbrick uses brain training to re-wire our neuropathways, helping us to make our brains become more flexible, which allows us to ultimately think different thoughts.

In order to do this, the young adults at Yellowbrick participate in computer-mediated cognitive exercises designed to enhance problem solving, memory, visual spatial understanding, attention and more. For example, one brain training module may require you to remember a string of numbers, while another one may have you organize images, solve a Rubik’s cube, or mentally rotate a picture. In addition, the young adults engage in real-world cognitive training, including group problem-solving, where they have the opportunity to see that there are many different ways to approach a problem.

Wade says by challenging your brain, you are activating different neuropathways and improving your ability to adapt to the challenges of the world.

Of course, if you don’t have access to these specially designed computer brain training programs, there are other ways you can strengthen your brain on your own.

4 Brain Training Tips

  1. Try Something New
    “One of the best pieces of advice I can give is to try something new every day,” Wade says. You can drive a new way to school or work, make a new recipe, read a new book, etc. “When you do something new, you’re no longer on autopilot. You’re noticing things, you’re alive and in the moment.” Not only does that help create new neuropathways, it also doesn’t give you time to wallow on your problems.
  2. Consider Multiple Options
    When facing a problem or making a decision, brainstorm possible solutions with the critical part of your mind turned off. Give yourself the freedom to explore and propose approaches. Consider the pros and cons of each option only after you have developed a list of possibilities. This method reduces rigid thinking and opens you up to more creative solutions.
  1. Do Things the Hard Way
    Another way to train your brain is to avoid using technology as a crutch. Instead of copying a phone number one digit at a time, try to remember the entire thing at once, then check to see if you are right. Or try to figure out an arithmetic problem by hand, using your calculator only as a backup. Engaging in any activity that is mentally challenging, including the ones mentioned, will strengthen your brain.
  2. Exercise
    Getting your body moving is another great way to support the health of your brain. Wade says exercise can help boost the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain, which is the most energy-intensive organ in the body. Studies have shown that exercise can help with memory, attention, and executive function.

5 Signs That You May Be Minimizing Trauma


We all have a tendency to minimize traumatic events. We tell ourselves, “That’s in the past. I should be over that by now.” It’s certainly a healthy response to want to let go and move on. But trauma doesn’t typically resolve on its own, and eventually our bodies and minds will let us know when something needs to be addressed.

“No one wants to say ‘I’ve been traumatized,’” says Robbie Bogard, Director of Integrative and Group Services at Yellowbrick. “You may not define your symptoms as trauma-related. You just know something is wrong.”

Ironically, one of the reasons trauma becomes minimized is that there is such a broad variety of experiences that qualify as traumatic. Serious physical injury is one obvious cause of trauma, but any event that leaves you feeling frightened, alone and interferes with your life going forward can be considered traumatic. It can be the result of a powerful one-time event, or come from a series of unpleasant experiences that leads to long-term problems, such as growing up with an alcoholic parent, being shamed about being overweight, being date raped or being in an abusive relationship, or many other scenarios.

Traumatic experiences overwhelm the mind and body’s ability to integrate the experience into memory and store it as you would other life experiences. For that reason, it keeps showing up in many ways, including those described below.

So how do you know if you are suffering from something you’ve told yourself was “no big deal”?

Signs You’ve Experienced Trauma

  1. You feel overwhelmed
    Did something happen unexpectedly? Were you unprepared for it? Did you feel helpless to prevent it? Do you feel you can’t talk to anyone about it because no one else can understand? Feeling that you have no control over your life or no one to turn to is a sign of trauma.
  1. You have flashbacks
    Are you being triggered by certain sights, sounds, or smells that remind you of the incident? Is your life being interrupted by intrusive symptoms, whether in the form of upsetting images, memories, nightmares, crying, or sudden anger? Any strong emotional or physical reaction that doesn’t seem to be connected to the present situation can be the result of a buried trauma.
  1. You often “space out”
    Feeling numb or having flat emotions is a common result of trauma. Maybe you have difficulty staying present, or find yourself disconnecting from others. This desire to isolate or zone out could mean that you haven’t processed a painful memory.
  1. You overreact or respond inappropriately
    Do you startle easily? Does the slightest stress send you into panic mode? Bogard calls this a “hyper-aroused response” and says it’s another sign that you may be minimizing a trauma.
  1. You feel ashamed
    Do you sometimes feel that you can’t do anything right? Do you find yourself thinking, “If only I hadn’t done that, this never would have happened”? One of the most common types of trauma is interpersonal trauma, which includes physical or sexual abuse, or bullying. Shame plays a big part in this kind of trauma, as well as a tendency to blame yourself.

These five signs of trauma can be your mind know you have important emotions that need to be processed. If you’ve been denying or ignoring any of them, know that there are steps you can take to begin to truly move past trauma.

Steps to Recover From Trauma

  • Seek out someone who is experienced in helping others.
  • Tell a trusted friend.
  • Join a group for survivors of trauma.

Bogard says that the goal is to be supported as you connect your feelings to your memories. Integrating the two will allow you to release self-blame, sadness, anger, and fear. You’ll minimize not the trauma itself, but the ability it has to affect your life.

For more information on Yellowbrick’s trauma recovery treatment, click here.

It’s a Shame: The symptoms of shame and how to combat it

symptoms of shame

Shame is one of the most powerful emotions that we feel. It can cause us to sever relationships, sink into depression, fuel addictions and eating disorders, and even lead to suicide.

“Shame has to do with the negative feeling about ourselves, which can get activated anytime we are frustrated or get challenged,” explains Dr. Bryn Jessup, Director of Family Services at Yellowbrick.

“Shame is an existential feeling of unworthiness,” Jessup says. “When people feel shame, they believe that they are ultimately an inadequate person or an unworthy person.”

For many people, shame is an emotion you feel to a varying degree almost every day. Anytime you think you’ve done something wrong, don’t know something, or just feel uncomfortable in a social situation you may be feeling a version of shame.

How Shame Affects Young Adults

It’s also an emotion that is especially potent for young adults, who are in a stage of life where they are constantly learning new things. For example, young adults who are taking a challenging college class, doing an internship, or starting a new job will face many things they don’t know. They may feel shame asking for help, but that is the only way they’ll be able to learn.

“You have to have face-to-face interactions where you’re seeking someone’s assistance and support and asking for help. For many people, that is a recipe for activating shame,” Jessup says.

Plus, young adults are also in a life stage where they are making new friendships and forging new romantic relationships — both of which are ripe for feeling inadequate, insecure or unloveable.

Since feelings of shame are so prevalent in early adulthood, it’s especially important for young adults to learn to identify feelings of shame and know how to deal with them.

What Are the Symptoms of Shame?

Shame is an emotion that can take many forms. Here are some common symptoms of shame:

  • Wanting to Disappear
    Most often, shame causes people to want to bury their heads and disappear — anything to pull out of connection with another person. If you’ve ever wanted to avoid returning a phone call, back out of a date, or call in sick for a job interview, you probably were feeling some amount of shame.
  • Anger
    Another common way people react to shame is by feeling anger. Often it’s easier to blame someone else than to think you may have done something wrong, and the anger helps mitigate your own feelings of shame.For example, when a parent yells at a teenager and the teenager runs to his room and slams the door, the teenager’s anger is really covering up his own feelings of shame.
  • Self-Blame
    Shame can also cause people to heap blame onto themselves. For example, when a teacher corrects you or gives you criticism, if you respond by thinking, “I am such an Why did I even take this class? I should quit,” you are feeling shame.
  • Addiction
    When you’re feeling shame, you may want to use something (alcohol, drugs, food, sex etc.) to give you temporary relief from those negative feelings. However, if those substances get in the way of your life, you may feel ever more shame for using them, causing a vicious cycle.

How to Combat Shame

Ironically, sharing your negative, self-critical thoughts with another person is one of the best ways to combat shame.

Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston’s Graduate School of Social Work who has studied topics such as shame, vulnerability and worthiness, has been a strong proponent of sharing your vulnerability, essentially admitting your feelings of shame so you can be more connected to others.

For example, if you go on a date and say, “I’m really afraid you’re not going to like me,” the other person will most likely respond to your authenticity and give you a positive affirmation.

That’s why going to individual or group therapy can be immensely helpful in rewriting the shame messages in your head.

“If a client begins to have an experience of the therapist who knows the worst truths about them and is still willing to be in a relationship with them, they can often start to let go of some of their core shame,” Jessup says.

Plus, therapists can help you identify certain situations that tend to provoke feelings of shame in you.

“Therapists can help by providing insight into your shame dynamics,” Jessup says. “Once you track what’s going on inside you, then you have options.”

To learn more about how shame impacts young adults and contributes to self-destructive behaviors, come to our upcoming seminar entitled, “Shame Resilience: Hiding in Plain Sight,” taking place at our Evanston headquarters on Dec. 9.

10 Tips for College Students with ADHD

college students with ADHD

For years, ADHD was thought to affect mainly elementary and high school-aged students. But increasingly, research has shown that ADHD continues to affect students into their college years and beyond.

In fact, a 2010 study published in Psychiatry Research tracked 110 boys with ADHD over a 10-year period and found that 78 percent of them continued to have full or partial ADHD symptoms as young adults. And the National Resource Center on ADHD estimates that 2 to 8 percent of college students suffer from ADHD.

Unlike high school, which is usually a highly structured environment, college tends to feature longer classes, big blocks of unstructured time, and lots of independence — all of which can be especially challenging for students with ADHD who struggle to sit still, plan ahead or make decisions in the moment.

However, that doesn’t mean college is impossible for students with ADHD. By taking some extra steps and getting outside support, students with ADHD can have a rewarding college experience. Here are 10 things that may help:

  1. Choose a College with Good Support Systems
    When researching colleges to attend, look for ones that cater to students with learning disabilities. Search for schools that offer smaller class sizes, interactive learning, alternative majors and other resources. There are also some schools that have programs specifically geared toward students with learning disabilities.
  1. Tell Your Professors
    Once you’re at school, make sure to take advantage of the help that’s offered to you. One of the most important steps is to alert your professors at the beginning of each semester to your disability so they can make accommodations for you, such as giving you more time on tests or letting you listen to audio versions of text books. You can also ask the disabilities office to help communicate with your professors about your needs.
  2. Sit at the Front… or the Back
    Since students with ADHD have a harder time concentrating, some students find it helpful to sit at the front of the classroom to reduce distractions. Other students, however, like to sit in the back of the room so they can stand up to stretch or take a break if they need to.
  3. Avoid Large Lecture Classes
    Sitting in a huge lecture hall and listening for an hour and a half might be especially challenging for a student with ADHD. Instead, when possible, try to take smaller classes that offer interactive learning experiences, such as group projects and discussions.
  4. Join a Study Group
    Studying by yourself can be hard for students with ADHD, who may struggle with comprehending the material and want to give up. Studying with others can keep you motivated and when you don’t understand something, you can ask the other students in your group for help.
  5. Use a Calendar
    Whether you use an old-school calendar or download a planning app for your phone, writing down all of your tasks for the day is key to staying focused. At the beginning of your day, try to plan out what needs to get done so you aren’t forced to have to make decisions on the fly that may overwhelm you.
  6. Take Classes That Interest You
    The more interested you are in a subject, the more likely you’ll be able to pay attention and absorb the material, says Lucy Turek, Education and Career Specialist at Yellowbrick. “You’ll be a lot more successful in life if you do something you want to do than if you do something you think you’re supposed to do,” she says.
  7. Take Classes Where You’re Active
    Not all classes in college require sitting in a classroom. Try classes such as dancing, geology, mountain climbing or other courses that get you outside and moving.
  8. Get Enough Sleep and Eat Right
    If you’re not taking care of your body, you can’t function at your best. That’s why maintaining a regular sleep schedule and eating right are so important for thinking clearly. “Having that circadian rhythm, eating the appropriate amount and exercise is all important to maintaining good brain health,” says Dana Bender, an occupational therapist who is also director of Core Competence Services at Yellowbrick.

    Bender also says maintaining good mental health is also key, so seek help if you are depressed, anxious or have other mental health issues.

  9. Stay Positive
    Although having ADHD can make studying and succeeding in college challenging, try not to get discouraged by your disability. “Have a positive viewpoint about college that it’s where you’re able to blossom and become your own person,” says Elizabeth Wade, an occupational therapist and Life Skills Specialist at Yellowbrick. “Remind yourself of what your dreams are and don’t give up on them.”

At Yellowbrick, we provide support for college students with ADHD through our Core Competence and Psychiatric Home Health Services. College students who live within a few miles of our Evanston location can receive in-home visits from staff who can help with time management, educational and career counseling, planning, organizing and executive functioning. Click here for more information on our Core Competence and Psychiatric Home Health services.

6 Tips for Staying Sober During the Holidays

Sober during the holidays

The holidays can be an emotional time for many people, but for those who have recently stopped drinking, navigating the holidays can be especially challenging.

What makes the holidays so appealing to people — catching up with the same relatives and friends and doing the same traditions year after year — is exactly what can make it tough for newly sober people to stay sober.

“Alcoholics Anonymous, which was founded in the 1930s before we had a lot of neuroscience knowledge, understood that we respond to cues around us,” explains David Baron, Medical Director at Yellowbrick and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at The Chicago Medical School.

“Addictions have a lot to do with the dopamine reward system,” Baron says, explaining that addicts associate certain people, places and things with drinking, which they associate with feeling good, and that feeling drives their desire to drink.

So if every Thanksgiving meant drinking beer while you watched a football game with your family, just the act of watching the football game can make you want a drink.

“What people are feeling when they anticipate the holidays is because their brains have learned to respond that way, including rewiring circuits so they respond to those external cues,” he says. “Those circuits can be re-wired again in many cases, but it takes sustained sobriety over a period of time, and re-learning new, non-drinking responses to the same cues.”

Luckily, there are ways that people who are newly sober can go back into old situations and manage not to drink. Here are a few tips for how to stay sober (and sane) during the holidays.

  1. Avoid old drinking buddies
    For many young adults, going home for the holidays often means catching up with old high school friends, and if those people were ones you used to drink with, getting together with them now that you’re sober might prove difficult. “It might mean telling friends that you can’t see them if that’s what it takes to stay sober,” Baron says.
  2. Find a list of local meetings
    Before you head home for the holidays, make sure to make a list of all of the 12-step meetings nearby. You can even tell your sponsor which ones you plan to attend to keep yourself accountable. Depending on how you’re feeling, you may need to go to only one or two meetings during your visit, or you may need to go to multiple meetings a day. Many AA meetings make a point of being open on holidays, but some groups do close on Thanksgiving or Christmas, so make sure to call the local number to check which ones will be taking place.
  3. Have an Honest Conversation with Your Family
    Let your family members know what sorts of things may make you want to drink. Let them know that you may need to excuse yourself from certain family events that may trigger you, or that you may need to pass on other activities in order to go to a meeting. Assure them that it’s not hostile, it’s just what you need to do to take care of yourself.
  4. Plan Ahead
    Baron recommends that your talk to your sponsor ahead of time and tell him or her what you’re going to be doing and when.Baron says it’s also smart to create a relapse prevention plan and anticipate what you’re going to do in different circumstances. For example, you can make a plan that if you start to feel angry or upset with your mom, you can tell her assertively what’s bothering you, and if she persists, you can let her know you will have to leave the room to avoid drinking in response to your feelings. If you’re still triggered after a few minutes, you will call your sponsor. And if you do that and you still feel like drinking, you can go to a meeting. Remember, it’s ok to leave a family event if that’s what you need to do to stay sober.
  5. Make Phone Calls
    For many, when you spend time with your family, staying connected to your sponsor and other people in your AA group is crucial. Making calls — if necessary, scheduled ones — to support people and telling them how you’re feeling will go a long way in enabling you to tolerate your family.
  6. Encourage Your Family and Friends to Support You
    If you’re newly sober, the last thing you want is for someone to keep offering you a drink and forcing you repeatedly to make a difficult choice not to drink. To avoid this, you may need to be honest with your family and friends about your sobriety and ask them to support you by not offering you anything to drink.Also, many family members and friends may ask you if it’s ok for them to drink, even if you’re sober. If it is, great. If not, don’t be afraid to tell them you’d rather they abstained too.