National Desert News: Pumpkin spice with a side of anxiety? How autumn affects mental health.

Hello all! Recently I was given the opportunity to weigh in on a current mental health topic- Seasonal Affective Disorder. Below is the article & a link for you to read the original over at National Desert News. It was exciting to chat with Kelsey Dallas, author, about this subject and I hope you enjoy the article!

Pumpkin spice with a side of anxiety? How autumn affects mental health.

The changing of seasons and shortening of daylight hours can be difficult. Michelle A Coomes
The changing of seasons and shortening of daylight hours can be difficult. Michelle A Coomes

 Therese Borchard welcomes autumn with a sense of dread.

“I think it’s partly the changing of the seasons, but fall is also filled with so much scheduling and newness,” said Borchard, founder of Project Beyond Blue, an online community for people affected anxiety and depression.

Borchard is not the only American stressed out by this season. While some people welcome pumpkin spice lattes, football games and changing leaves with open arms, others dread the annual anxiety-level increase that comes with busier schedules and shorter days.

“Keeping up with everything gives me a lot of anxiety,” she said, listing obligations like parent-teacher conferences and needing to adjust to earlier sunsets.

However, people who feel their moods drop along with temperatures don’t have to settle for unhappy hibernation, mental health experts said. Strategies like trying fall-themed recipes, taking a family trip to an apple orchard or scheduling a warm weekend getaway can help everyone anticipate and enjoy changing seasons.

“There’s a lot to be said for preparing yourself,” said Michelle Coomes, a family therapist in Davidson, North Carolina. “Don’t let (seasonal depression) sneak up on you.”

Challenging changes

The autumn blues happen for a variety of reasons, including the stress of a new school year, worries about the coming winter and general resistance to change, Coomes said.

“Fall is a time when people start getting busier,” she said. “They’re not meeting up with friends as often, and the loneliness starts to build up.”

These emotional shifts heighten the distress some people experience as a result of environmental changes, like decreased access to sunlight and new allergens in the air, said Dr. Steve Schlozman, the associate director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital.

In its most serious form, this distress is referred to as seasonal affective disorder, which is a variety of depression. Around half a million Americans suffer from SAD, and an additional 10 to 20 percent of the population may face “a more mild form of winter blues,” the Cleveland Clinic reports.

Seasonal depression is caused, at least in part, by disrupted brain patterns, a situation that results from decreased sunlight, Schlozman noted. Some people’s brains respond in negative ways to changes in ambient light, leading them to experience fatigue and sadness, among other emotional issues.

Although SAD is associated with winter, the symptoms often begin in fall, as days gradually shorten in the lead-up to the winter solstice Dec. 22, Coomes said, noting that anybody who worries about their emotional health in fall and winter should be proactive about identifying coping mechanisms that will work for them.

“If people can recognize their mood changes earlier, they will be easier to manage throughout,” she said.

Embracing autumn

Struggling with autumn anxiety since childhood, Borchard has learned to enter the season with a game plan.

She makes a point to schedule trips with her two children to apple orchards and fall festivals, as well as to fill her pantry with seasonal treats like stews and caramel apples. In this way, Borchard shifts her focus from dreading winter to anticipating the aspects of autumn she looks forward to all year long.

“If you can appreciate the good parts of fall, you’ll have some fun with it,” she said.

Food blogger Darya Rose echoed Borchard, noting people should try to think of changing weather as an opportunity to mix-up their wellness routine.

As a result of shorter days and dropping temperatures, “it’s easy to get discouraged” about going for a run or even walking your dog, she said. “(But) I use fall weather as an excuse to workout inside while watching my favorite TV show. It almost feels like my workout has become a guilty pleasure.”

Rose also enjoys finding ways to include the season’s produce in her daily meals, and delicata squash has become one of her favorite foods.

The goal of embracing fall in these ways is to supplement the many anxiety-inducing parts of the season with exciting things, Schlozman said, noting that people should get their whole family in on the act because seasonal mood swings can affect children, too.

“Kids who are doing well socially (in the summer) but then stop hanging out with their friends because life gets busy … have a hard time,” he said.

Schlozman suggested parents make a point to give their kids “unstructured free time,” in the fall, meaning time in which young people can do whatever their heart calls them to do, including taking a walk, reading for fun or hanging out with friends.

Not every family member will appreciate a trip to a pumpkin patch, but everyone will benefit from welcoming the fall and winter months with the intention to find bright spots in a challenging season of change, he said.


I am a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist practicing in the Lake Norman area of North Carolina. I enjoy working with people on improving their lives, relationships and feeling all around more mentally healthy.

Michelle A Coomes MA, LMFT             704-237-0814


How to Get Centered When You’re Feeling Off Balance

Is your busy, chaotic life sending you into a tail-spin on a daily basis? It can be so easy to let life stressors overwhelm us and make us feel like we can’t catch our breath. Here are a few things to try to get you re-centered in a snap when you’re feeling off balance.

How to Get Centered When You're Feeling Off Balance Michelle A  Coomes MA, LMFT Davidson, NC
Michelle A Coomes MA, LMFT Davidson, NC
  • Breathe- Simply put, focusing on your breathing will help remind you that even at your busiest you need to breathe to stay upright and finish your tasks. Close your eyes, count your breaths slowly for 1 minute and notice the difference that it makes in your body.
  • Stretch- Most people agree that yoga can be super relaxing & good for the body. When you’re trying to reach a looming deadline your neighborhood yoga place feels like it’s on another continent! Lie on the floor or stand up and stretch out your body, feeling the sensation of your muscles waking up. Try to do this a few times a day for a quick energizer to get your through your day.
  • Get outdoors- Hop outside to water the plants, walk around the block or even just take your laptop outdoors for a few minutes to feel the sun on your face & take in the goodness of nature.
  • Find your family- Sit on the couch next to your spouse, snuggle up with your little one or get a tight hug from a friend. Feeling the closeness of someone who cares about you can feel wonderful when you’re not feeling connected and can remind you as to what matters most in life.
  • Write/Doodle it Out- Sometimes the best way to make your mind stop spinning is to dump it out on paper & then organize it before picking it back up again. You can even use highlighters to focus on what needs to happen first, second and seeing a pop of color just might brighten your day a bit.

Finally, once you’ve gotten through this period of feeling off-balance take stalk of your life situation and help prepare yourself for how to avoid feeling off balance the next time life becomes busy. Schedule in regular self-care time (hang out with friends, mani/pedi, exercise, get out of town, have a schedule-free day) or set up an appointment to talk with a therapist. Getting mentally healthy can help prevent life feeling out of control. If you’d like to learn more about how therapy can help you be more balanced please call for a free phone consultation.

I am a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist practicing in the Lake Norman area of North Carolina. I enjoy working with people on improving their lives, relationships and feeling all around more mentally healthy.

Michelle A Coomes MA, LMFT             704-237-0814


How to Combat Marriage Fatigue & Keep it Sexy

Hello October! Fall has hit and we’re even beginning to feel a chill in the air. Festivals are popping up every weekend and fun times are just waiting to be had. Except you & your spouse are finding yourselves having the same arguments, same dinner plans & there’s nothing exciting going on inside your marriage.  Keeping a marriage interesting and engaging is hard work, sometimes making it feel exciting seems impossible. Many couples that I see in my practice are seeking out ways to reconnect and not let the stress of day to day build up and cause distance between them.

Below are a few of my favorite tips for those of you who are in a tired marriage that just isn’t much fun. I hope you & your spouse try them out & enjoy them!

Michelle Coomes MA, LMFT Couples Therapy
Michelle Coomes MA, LMFT
Couples Therapy

– Each spouse chooses one evening a week/month to be responsible for creating a sexual experience of their choice to lead. By giving each spouse a designated night they can plan and also build up anticipation for their spouse by sending flirty texts, leaving little notes giving hints or whispering into their ear of what is to come. This type of foreplay really draws the couple together by creating excitement towards being together.

– Be mindful of changing the subject when the topic becomes overdone into one about something the couple can look forward to doing together. No need to share your frustration for 15 minutes that the copier at your office wouldn’t print or how your friend’s garden looks better than yours. When you notice that you or your spouse is going on a rant over something out of your control, switch it up and tell them how excited you are to be close with them in bed or about the dinner plans out you have this weekend. Or throw a curve ball and share a fantasy that you want to play out with them!

– Get involved in an activity in your community. Taking couples yoga, joining an intramural sports team or joining a meet up club that hikes are all great ways to have social things to do together that you can look forward to. It’ll feel great exercising together and you’ll love watching your spouse in action.

-Stay in bed together on a Saturday morning (schedule sleepovers for your kids!) Taking time to linger in bed together in the morning light can be just dreamy- allow yourself to lay in each other’s arms with coffee or mimosas on hand. You might even decide that morning sex is the perfect way to start your weekend!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these quick little tips on how to combat marriage fatigue & keep it sexy! Improving your marriage doesn’t have to be drastic. Taking time to connect each day and recognizing the little moments when you can spark excitement can go a long way. If you would like to learn more about how to improve your marriage through therapy please feel free to reach out to me, I’d love to help.

I am a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist practicing in the Lake Norman area of North Carolina. I enjoy working with people on improving their lives, relationships and feeling all around more mentally healthy.

Michelle A Coomes MA, LMFT             704-237-0814


Gentle Ways to Add Mindfulness to Your Day

Mindfulness- being aware of your self your surroundings in the present moment, is becoming a more recognized practice in our society. I, for one, am happy to see people have a stronger desire to focus on their current self and how simple things can bring joy in the moment. Research in this cool info-graphic shows that people have been found to be happier when they are practicing mindfulness compared to daydreaming about their next beach getaway. Mindfulness practices can decrease anxiety, improve concentration and memory, help you be more connected with those around you and even improve your health goals (diet, exercise, distance goals.)

Building mindfulness into your daily routine doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming for it to begin to show its benefits either. Start small with these gentle ways of getting the hang of mindfulness below and soon you’ll be finding yourself wanting to focus on the present more often and with less effort. Continue reading

5 Quick Tips for Getting Your Family Ready for Homework

Happy September! For most of you with children school has started or is just around the corner. Is your home and family ‘homework ready?” What I mean by that is, are you mentally and physically prepared to have your kids be successful at tackling their homework once it starts coming home in their backpacks? School supply lists start showing up at stores and in your inboxes as early as July to make sure you have everything you need to send your kids off to school with. I have yet to see one supply list, email or blog post on the topic of preparing for homework.

So because starting back to school can be busy and carpool lines can be stressful, here are 5 quick tips to help you be prepared when your little students come home with a backpack full of homework.

1.) Don’t forget to have a stash of school supplies for at home, too.

When buying a stockpile of pencils, crayons & glue don’t forget to hold a few back for use at home. Keep a pencil case with a few essentials (erasers & pencil sharpeners too!) so you don’t have to rely on your child remembering to lug those items back & forth with them from home. Because when science project or book report time comes around do you really want them having to rely on your crafter’s glue & fabric shears? Probably not!

2.) Make room for homework time.

Where is the best place that you son or daughter can be the most productive with the least amount of distractions? If left to their own choices, most kids would likely choose in front of the t.v. or on their bed as their homework spot. For some that may work but for many there are too many temptations to do something aside from their algebra so it’s best to set up a space where they’ll be most successful. You can create a homework nook where their supplies are handy or even set up at the kitchen table so you can help out while cooking dinner. Having a place to set up books and worksheets each night can help your child acclimate quicker into doing their homework because they don’t have to find and clear a space before they can get started.

3.) Stick to a plan.

Make a plan for after school each day, post it and make it happen. Coming home from school can be a mix of thoughts, needs and feelings, easily creating a sense of chaos. By having a plan for the afternoon you won’t have to feel like you’re barking orders trying to redirect your child each day because they already know the lineup for the afternoon. I like making a visual plan that shows the to-do’s and then can be marked off once completed.

4.) Get clear on expectations.

Similar to a plan, talking with your child about what you expect from their homework time can help ease responsibility off of you as the parent and onto your child. For example, when they know that they can’t access screen time until homework is done you’re setting them up with clear expectations for what needs to happen before they can move on to a different activity. This combined with a plan can reduce whining and bargaining!

5.) Hungry bellies lead to empty minds.

School days are long and refueling with a small and healthy snack before or during homework can go a long way in making homework time easier. Have a snack in the cupboard or fridge for quick options and reduce your child’s time standing in the kitchen scouring for something sweet. Help remind them that healthy food choices are good for the brain and that dinner is just right around the corner.

**Bonus tip- Leave a little room in for wiggling.***

Sometimes things happen and your homework plans will go right out of the door with your child as they race off down the street on their bike. You know what your child needs whether it’s a nap, outside time or a trip to the ice cream shop to vent over a scoop of chocolate. Kids need to know that with structure and routine comes the human need for wiggling outside the lines and parents who can recognize that.

I hope that these 5 quick homework time tips can help your household be more prepared for after school. If you have any of your own homework time tips please feel free to comment below & let me know. I wish you all a great school year full of learning, growth and smiles.

I am a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist practicing in the Lake Norman area of North Carolina. I enjoy working with people on improving their lives, relationships and feeling all around more mentally healthy.

Michelle A Coomes MA, LMFT             704-237-0814

Meditation: How a New Tech Gadget has Helped Me Find Calm


I have discovered a favorite new tech toy and I just cannot get enough of it! Muse- the brain sensing headband is a mini bio-feedback machine that came into my life about 2 months ago and it’s changed the way I meditate and get into a focused, calm mode on a daily basis.

Here’s the quick breakdown of Muse: you wear Muse like a foreword facing headband across your forehead & behind your ears. There’s 5 sensors that will measure your brain waves and report back to a free app on your phone which connects via Bluetooth. The app tests your brain with a simple task (such as think of all of the names of cities you can think of) for a moment so it can see what your brain waves look like when you’re mind is active. Next the app prompts you to begin a meditation session where you can choose between an ocean scene or a rain shower for as short as 2 minutes and all the way up to 45 minutes. You’re encouraged to focus on your breathing and quieting your mind. Now for the exciting part- when you begin thinking it starts storming to help you become aware of your busy mind. When you calm your mind and focus back on the meditation the rain calms and for long periods of calm you’ll hear birds chirping. It’s the simplest and coolest way to be aware of where your focus is when you’re in the act of meditating. Once you’ve finished your session the app compiles your stats & shows you exactly what percentage your mind was calm, active and neutral, even how many birds were chirping.

I’ve meditated for several years but Muse has helped me become more diligent (the app can send you reminders) and also more aware of my level of calm and focus. I’ve noticed that using Muse regularly has allowed me to be more aware of when my mind is racing or even wandering when I am trying to be focused. I’ve even had several of my clients give it a go, many being surprised how active their mind is when they think they are calm. Having Muse in my office, some clients come in early to meditate with Muse to get in the mindset for their session with me so they’re feeling more prepared and focused to focus on their goals.

For more information about Muse you can head over to their website and check it out or contact me to come in and give it a try in a session. I most often use Muse to assist in sessions relating to anxiety, ADHD and being more self aware. I have found that it has an impact in a fairly short period of time.

Choose Muse Brain Sensing Headband

I am a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist practicing in the Lake Norman area of North Carolina. I enjoy working with people on improving their lives, relationships and feeling all around more mentally healthy.

Michelle A Coomes MA, LMFT             704-237-0814

Families Who Dine Together…

“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art,” François de La Rochefoucauld.

Overall family health is an immense benefit that occurs when families eat together. Families who regularly eat together tend to be more healthful in their eating habits and have healthier outcomes. Family meals furnish a meaningful opportunity to provide a role model for healthy eating and can be used to encourage courtesy and other social manners. Continue reading