Are you Battling the Blues or Depression? Understanding the difference between Sadness and Depression

Have you recently suffered the loss of a loved one through death, divorce or break up?  Or, maybe you recently experienced a change in health status, loss of employment or housing.  Any of these circumstances can lead one to respond with sadness, disappointment or anger.  These are normal reactions to life’s complexities.  Unfortunately, such circumstances can also trigger more intense, frequent feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness; which can result in a diagnosis of depression.

What is the difference between sadness and depression?

Distinguishing between a tough spell of sadness and clinical depression is not always easy.  Sadness is a transient event that passes as a person comes to terms with his or her problems.  Depression is an illness; it is not just an extension of sadness.  Depression is not a condition that people can “snap out of” of get over.”  People suffering from depression have a consistent low mood or loss of interest in activities once enjoyed.  Certain types of Depression such as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) can require inpatient hospitalizations.

What are the causes of Depression?

Research indicates there is no single cause.  Biology (certain medications can increase risk); Genetics, environmental factors, social factors and traumatic events can increase an individual’s chance of being diagnosed with Depression.

What are the symptoms?

Individuals must experience the following symptoms on most days for a period of at least 2 weeks to be diagnosed with depression:

Sleep problems-Hypersomnia (too much sleep), insomnia, (inability to fall asleep) and/or waking up in the middle of the night.

Appetite issues-overeating or loss of appetite

Significant weight gain or weight loss

Fatigue or loss of energy

Persistent aches, pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment

Concentration problems


Negative thinking, pessimism

Feelings of worthlessness or guilt

Recurring thoughts of death or suicide


Although individuals suffering from depression may experience similar symptoms; depression affects each individual differently.  There is no particular approach that works for everyone.  The best way to treat depression is to become informed about the treatment options and then tailor them to meet your unique needs.

Treatment tips:

Lifestyle changes can be a powerful tool in managing depression.  These changes may be all one needs to treat depression or it can work in a combination with other forms of treatment.  These changes can include:

  • Exercise: Regular exercise can be as effective in treating depression as medication.  Research has shown that it has a similar effect as antidepressants; triggering the growth of new brain cells.  It also boosts serotonin and endorphin levels.
  • Nutrition:  Eating small, well-balanced meals throughout the day helps to increase our energy and minimize mood swings.  Studies have shown that that people who followed a diet rich in fruits vegetables and fish were less likely to report being depressed. While people who followed a diet that was high in processed meat, chocolates, sweet desserts, fried foods, refined cereals and high dairy products were more likely to report symptoms of depression.
  • Sleep:  Research has shown that people with insomnia have a higher risk of developing depression.  If you are having a hard time going to bed at night; try a bedtime schedule by going to bed at the same time every night, get up and do something relaxing if you cannot stay asleep, shut off the TV, practice good sleep hygiene (use your bedroom or the room you sleep in primarily for sleeping and avoid distractions such as TV, electronics, light), limit caffeine and alcohol (especially later in the day).
  • Medication: Although some forms of depression may require medication; medication only relieves some of the symptoms of moderate and severe depression, it does not cure the underlying problem and may not be a long-term solution.  If you are considering antidepressants for depression, be informed.  Research the side effects and ask your prescribing doctor questions.  If you choose medication as a treatment option, it is more effective in combination with other lifestyle changes and counseling.
  • Social support:  Battling depression can leave one feeling all alone and cause individuals to isolate.  People are meant to be social beings and having the support of caring friends, family and/or professionals can assist one in making the shift from a place of hopelessness to feeling more hopeful.
  • Individual or group therapy:  In individual therapy, building a strong relationship with a caring, empathetic, non-judgmental and competent professional can be helpful in getting to the core of the problem and developing positive coping strategies.  In group therapy; listening to peers going through similar struggles can be validating and help build self-esteem.
  • Relaxation Techniques: Relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation or meditation can relieve symptoms of depression, reduce stress and boost feelings of well-being.

Depression effects people from all walks of life, no one is exempt!  The good news is depression is a manageable and treatable condition.  In battling depression, it is imperative to manage the illness, do not allow the illness to manage you.  You do not have to battle this alone; there is plenty of help out there!

If you or someone you know believe you may be suffering from depression, contact a mental health professional for a consultation or schedule an appointment with your doctor.

If you are in Allegheny County or surrounding areas; contact us for a free 15 minute phone consultation at (412)414-7782 or (412) 607-4805 for a free 15 minute consultation

HandinHand Counseling Services, LLC

801 N. Negley Ave Suite #5

Pgh, PA 15206

Compassion Fatigue: Tips for Recognition, Prevention and Management

I have been in the helping profession for 14 years.  I remember when I decided to pursue the Masters in Social Work (MSW) in 2003; my mentor at the time challenged my decision.  She asked, “You can be anything you want, why social work?”  She begged me to choose a different profession due to the high expectations and low compensation in the profession.  My answer, “I love helping others and if I chose another profession I would be doing so strictly for the pay. I could not see myself pursuing another profession.” I felt it in my spirit.  GOD called me to the field of social work.  Eight years later I still would not change my answer.  Most days I share the excitement and energy I had 14 years ago.  I experience both rewarding and challenging days.  The rewarding days motivate me and allow me to keep hope in situations that appear hopeless.  When I experience challenging days or weeks, I have to remind myself of my why and the cause is bigger than me.

I would be remiss not to mention those days that are beyond challenging.  These are days when you find yourself running on “fumes,” uncertain if you have it in you to answer another phone call, respond to another email, sit through another session or meeting, complete more paperwork or respond to another crisis.  Whether you worked in the helping profession for a few weeks months or years; you are absorbing someone else’s energy, emotions and problems almost daily.  Absorbing this level of intensity on a consistent basis can result in “Compassion Fatigue.”

Compassion fatigue, also known as burn-out, secondary traumatic stress or vicarious traumatization is defined as a condition characterized by a gradual lessening of compassion over time.  This condition is common in individuals working directly with trauma victims, individuals providing any type of therapy, coaching, and case management or any service that requires one to assist in management of emotional and/or physical pain.  This condition is common in direct line workers or first responders such as EMT’s, nurses, doctors, social workers, counselors and psychologists.

How do I know if I am experiencing compassion fatigue?

Recognize the signs!

In recognizing the signs, reflect on the baseline of your emotions, energy, sleep patterns, appetite and socialization.

Do you feel exhausted even after getting more than 6 hours of sleep each night?

Do you consistently have difficulty falling and/or staying asleep at night?

Do you find yourself consistently dreading meeting with clients?

Do you consistently struggle with being present in sessions with clients?

Do you find yourself consistently desensitizing from the trauma experienced by your clients?

Are you having nightmares of the trauma experienced by your clients?

Have you given up hope on your ability to help your clients make positive changes?

Do consistently become anxious when thinking about work?

Have you noticed an extreme increase or decrease in your appetite?

If you answered yes to 4 or more questions, I highly recommend that you seek the self-care options (which may include seeking professional help) that I will discuss in the next section.

Other red flags include



Chronic lateness


Diminished sense of personal accomplishments


Gastrointestinal complaints

Physical and mental exhaustion

Frequent headaches


Upon recognizing the aforementioned signs of compassion fatigue, we have time to prevent a “full blown episode” of being burned out.

Know your limits.  Set boundaries with your clients. This means not taking calls after business hours (after ensuring that they know who to call in the event of crisis).  If you are one who feels compelled to answer the phone after hours; turn it off!  You are not ignoring your clients; you are modeling the setting of boundaries.  Boundaries keep us safe and you will need your energy to continue to help them.  It is important for our clients to understand our roles in their lives as professionals.  Lines can get blurred because we are giving care and seeing them at their most vulnerable states.  However, as a wise woman told me, “You can’t be everything to everybody” Set your boundary!

Unplug.  Similar to turning your phone off; when you are off, enjoy your time off.  Do not think about work; do not check your emails, voicemails and it may be helpful not to discuss work.  For example, if you are exhausted at the beginning of the work week, take the day off and do not feel guilty.  Use this time to recharge.  Think of your body as a battery that needs re-charged from time to time.  Listen to your body.

Breathe. When you find yourself in a stressful situation, breathe!  Take a long, deep breath in and slowly exhale.  Breathing calms the reactive part of our brain.  It is so automatic, that oftentimes we forget or are unaware of the benefits of taking deep breaths.  Deep breathing helps us to find our center.

Seek Supervision. Unfortunately, most of us get too comfortable in our routine and neglect the supervision and guidance of a more seasoned professional.  Some of the benefits of supervision include an objective perspective and a supportive environment.  An objective perspective during supervision can assist you in viewing your situation through a different lens, thus shifting from a place of cynicism to a place of empathy.  The support of a supervisor is invaluable.  Sometimes the role of the supervisor may be to listen to your concerns and encourage (or even direct) you to take time off.

Lean on your support systems:  Often times we assist our clients in finding their support systems, now it’s your turn.  Confide in your spouse, significant other, best friend, family member, or trusted colleague.  You do not have to battle this alone.


Most of us in the helping profession find ourselves burned out in just a few days of returning to work from a week vacation.  How do you learn to manage yourself in “the pressure cooker?” The most important thing you can do to sustain yourself is to develop your core principles and values of practice.  If you are working for a company, you may want to ask yourself,” Does this company’s mission line up with my personal mission statement?” If the answer is no, it may be time to re-evaluate your plan.  If you are a business owner, you may want to ask yourself, “Is my company equipped to serve our target population?”  If not, it may be time to go back to the drawing board to re-evaluate your plan for meeting this need.  Or, do you still desire to help this population?

As helping professionals, we get the privilege of having people trust us at their most vulnerable states, opening up their hearts, minds and lives to us.   We are charged with the responsibility to do no harm.  A huge part of doing no harm is recognizing when we are burned out and taking action.  Sometimes helping is our best and worst quality as our help can hurt our clients if we are giving from a dry well.  There are a lot of withdrawals being deducted from our spirits on a daily basis.  It is up to us to find ways to make healthy deposits into our souls.  This may include seeking help, and that is okay, we are humans and we are not exempt!

Now it’s your turn to share. Do you struggle to disconnect?   What are some of the things you do or plan to do to disconnect when feeling burned out?

If you or someone you know is displaying any of the signs mentioned in the article, contact me for a free 15 minute consultation at (412) 414-7782  You do not have to go through this alone!

The Power of Listening: Tools for Improving Communication

Are you listening to understand or listening to respond?  When we listen to understand, we are attentive to the speaker by remaining silent, giving good eye contact (without staring), perhaps a smile or a head nod, being mentally present in the conversation and allowing the speaker the space and time to process their thoughts and feelings.  Listening to respond occurs when we are anticipating our response, waiting for a second of silence to jump in with questions and comments, or worse to finish the speakers’ sentence!  Listening (to understand) is a key component in building and maintaining any successful relationship including marriage, friendship, parent-child, professional and business.  Some will discover they were blessed with the gift of listening to understand, while others must work to acquire and sharpen this skill.

What are the tools for being an effective listener?

Active listening is just that; we are actively concentrating on what is being said, rather than just hearing the message of the speaker.  In other words-listening to understand!  Listening is an active process; it is not something that just happens.  Through this process, a conscious decision is made to make the shift from listening to hear to listening to understand.

What is the role of an active listener?

In communication between 2 people; 2 roles are assigned, sender (speaker) and receiver (listener).  The sender sends the message and the receiver (listener) gives understanding.  The listener’s role is imperative as it influences the sender to communicate more freely.  The receiver gives understanding through nonverbal and verbal cues.

Nonverbal Cues:

Facial expressions: Be mindful of the expressions you make when the speaker is talking.  Frowning, smirking and lack of affect can be intimidating and shut down the lines of communication.  Good eye contact (without staring) reinforces that you are listening and mentally present in the conversation.  A smile may help the speaker relax thus communicating more freely.

Posture: Slouching, folding arms, clasping hands, hands on hips are examples of non-verbal cues that can send the message that you are disinterested or waiting for an opening to “attack.”  Try sitting up straight with open arms and hands on lap or near your side.  If you “talk with your hands”, sit on your hands to help with the urge to interrupt the sender.  Open arms and attentive posture are non-judgmental stances that speak “I care about what you have to say” and “I am interested in you.”

Distractions: Limit distractions! Fidgeting, clock/watch watching, doodling, texting and staring into space can send the message that you are not interested in listening to the speaker and impatiently waiting for the conversation to end.  If the receiver is engaging in any of these distractions, s/he is not able to be an active listener as s/he is not mentally present in the conversation.

After spending time listening to understand the sender, the receiver will use the following verbal cues to demonstrate understanding of the sender’s message.

Verbal Cues:

Reflection: Listen for the message and consider the content and meaning being the sender’s message.  For example, after listening to the message to reflect feeling, the receiver might say, “Are you saying you felt_____?”  Then, go back into receiver role and allow sender to answer your question.

Clarification: Similar to reflection, but the receiver is clarifying gray areas by asking questions as opposed to assuming.  To clarify, the receiver would ask an open ended question, “When you said _______, did you mean_____?”  Then, go back into receiver role and allow sender to answer your question.

Summary: Repeat what the sender has said in your own words, by highlighting key points. This will allow the sender to inform the receiver if they got it right.  If the sender says yes, you got it right, congratulations; you have learned the skill to listen to understand.   Even, if the sender says no, it is okay to be wrong.  Use this as an opportunity for sharpening your listening skills.  As hard as it may be, sometimes we have to “Do something and sit there (and listen)!”

The outcome of “Listening to Understand” is not to figure out who was right versus who was wrong.  The purpose is for one person to assume the receiver role and one person the sender role to be afforded the opportunity to resolve conflict to move forward in their marriage, friendships, professional relationships, business relationships and parent-child relationships.

I would love to hear your feedback. Please share your experiences or struggles with listening to understand in any relationship.

If you or someone else is struggling with communication, feel free to contact me at or to schedule a free phone consultation.

What’s In it For Me?: Making the Shift from Thinking to Doing!

Most people buy into making changes when the benefit of changing outweighs the benefit of remaining the same. In other words What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)? What’s In It For Me to quit my job? What’s In It For Me to start a new business? What’s In It For Me to leave a toxic relationship? What’s In It For Me to Eat Healthier and/or Exercise? What’s In It For Me to quit smoking or drinking? To some of you, making the decision to change these behaviors may seem like no brainers. Have you ever attempted to undo a behavior that you engaged in for months or even years? Inviting one to change a behavior that has become part of their daily routine can be a tall order. We are creatures of habit and we fight change!

Allow me to note the Stages of Change as a frame of reference in discussing the Change Process. There are 6 Stages of Change which include:

1.  Pre-Contemplation: Individual is not ready for change, does not view behaviors as problematic and has no intent to take action.

2.  Contemplation: Individual begins to view behavior as problematic and weighing the pros and cons of change.

3.  Preparation: Individual is ready, creating a game plan for change and begins to take small steps toward action.

4.  Action: Individual begins making noticeable changes and replaces problematic behaviors with healthier behaviors. **Back sliding and relapsing is normal in this phase. Coaches, mentors and counselors can assist individual in viewing this as an opportunity to get back to the drawing board and remember their motivation for wanting to change.

5.  Maintenance: Individual has taken action for at least 6 months and is working to prevent relapse.

6.  Termination: Individual has no temptation and does not see the benefit in reverting back to old behavior.

It is imperative to identify where an individual is in the stages of change. Some questions to consider when assessing one’s readiness to change include:

What would get in the way?

Why is this important?

What are your reasons for wanting to change?

What are some reasons for remaining the same?

What are some benefits of staying the same?

What are your concerns about staying the same?

What are the benefits of changing?

What are your concerns about changing?

As a practitioner, I invite many people to accept my invitation to change various behaviors through a technique known as accommodating and challenging. I accommodate to empathize with the struggle and offer support through a difficult process. I challenge by giving individuals an objective perspective and push them to do something different.

“It will get worse before it gets better” is a phrase often used to describe what most people experience in the change process. Hearing this phrase may sound invalidating to someone considering changing a behavior. Informing someone it will get worse is preparing them for the discomfort that comes along with change. Which brings us back to “What’s In It For Me” (to sacrifice my comfort).

I also like to describe the change process as scary in the beginning, messy in the middle and beautiful in the end. Everyone’s journey through the change process will look different. Some may experience bouts of joy, pain, clarity, confusion, relief, ambivalence, disappointment and defeat. All of these feelings are normal reactions to doing something different and pushing to get on the other side of change.

How long will it take for one to successfully change a behavior?

There is no time table for change, so we must have patience with ourselves. It is imperative to set realistic expectations about what you are willing and able to do. Expect to have setbacks, disappointments, relapses and failures. When experiencing these uncomfortable moments take some time to reflect on these questions: What lesson can I take from this setback? How can I get better at handling disappointments? Allow these experiences to enhance your toolbox for dealing with the unknown void best described as change. Embracing change is inevitable, growth is optional.

I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes: “Choices, Chances and Changes: You must make a choice to take a chance or your life will never change.”

Please share your thoughts and experiences in attempting to change your behavior or help someone to change their behavior.

Feel free to contact me to schedule a free 15 minute consultation @ or


Do you find yourself constantly looking forward to the next event as an opportunity to eat? Do you consistently overindulge in “bad foods” and justify the behavior with statements such as “I’ll work it off at the gym tomorrow!?” After a stressful day, do you seek food for comfort?  If you answered yes to at least two of these questions, you are probably amongst those who “live to eat.”  In the Western Culture we attend various events throughout the year such as, but not limited to birthdays, holiday parties, graduations, promotions, weddings, baby showers and sporting events where we use food as a tool to celebrate and bond.  By no means am I suggesting that we should avoid these events where “bad food” may be offered.  However, I am offering an alternative to LIVING TO EAT, which is EATING TO LIVE.

Living to eat usually speaks to a bigger problem.  Those who live to eat often struggle with self-discipline and lack healthy outlets or coping skills.  Everyone needs an outlet in order to traverse through life’s complexities.  Unfortunately, food is the outlet of choice for many Americans.  In fact, studies conducted in 2014 have shown that over 68% of Americans are overweight and more than 34% are obese.  Experiencing the loss of a loved one, loss of employment, income, housing, going through a divorce are life altering events that can open the door for us to use food as an outlet, thus becoming “emotional eaters.”  Emotional eaters consume food based on how they feel.  Sometimes they overindulge or under-indulge in search of the food to provide the comfort needed to get through trying times.

By now you may be wondering: “How do I eat to live?”  The following 3 tips can help you make the transition from Living to Eat to Eating to Live.

  1. Mindset: In order to be successful in positively modifying any behavior, we must begin with our mindsets. Take the time to reflect on your philosophy about dieting. Do you overindulge in food? If so, why? Do you under indulge in food? If so, why? When are you most likely to overindulge in bad foods? Before overindulging, ask yourself “Why am I eating this?” “Do I need this?” Do you have a healthy support system in place? Do you have an accountability partner? An accountability partner should be someone that we look up to, someone who can offer an objective perspective. Having an accountability partner is a great way to help us shift our thinking.  Most of us do not want to let down someone we admire.
  2. Planning: In order to prevent falling into the trap of living to eat, we must educate ourselves with the proper information. This includes being aware of the ingredients in the food we are putting into our bodies. Read the back of food labels. If you can’t pronounce the ingredient, should you eat it? Eating to live can also be expensive, so it is crucial that we budget for the food needed to support our healthy lifestyle. We must also be diligent in the preparation of our food. This will require taking the time to prepare meals for the day or week (breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks). When we have healthy meals and snacks available to us, we are less likely to go on an eating binge. This process will require time, patience, consistence and persistence.
  3. Action: We discussed the mindset and planning needed to transition to eating to live and ultimately owning a healthier lifestyle. Now it’s time to make a commitment and just do it! If you are busy and concerned you will miss a meal, set an alarm for the times you PLAN to eat. Set aside time for eating meals and try to avoid eating and working. If you travel for work; pack food in a portable cooler or a thermal bag. Finding a strategy or routine that works for you may take some trial and error, but please do not get discouraged.

Cars are only as good as the maintenance, upkeep and fuel that we place in them.  When we eat to live, we are fueling our bodies. But, it is important that we fuel our bodies with the right foods in order to have the energy needed to get through those long days. Most of us will devote countless hours to excelling on our jobs and building our businesses but neglect the maintenance of the driving force; which is YOU!

As previously mentioned, eating to live can be expensive and can feel like a full time job. You can choose to pay a low cost now while it is within your power to change or you can have the decision made for you to pay later with your health. We only have one body to live in; we must treat it with care!

Now it’s your turn! Please share your experiences with living to eat vs eating to live. What are your health and wellness goals?

Feel free to contact me at if interested in health coaching including meal planning and fitness.