FaLaLa! The holiday season is upon us, even before we are able to digest Thanksgiving treats! Do you feel the buzz in the air? The pressure to get everything “done” or “perfect”? You are not alone! In fact, researchers say that up to 25% of people in the US experience a holiday-related depression or anxiety. So maybe everyone ISN’T merry right now…
Funny, not funny, but as a therapist for women, my phone starts ringing OFF. THE. HOOK. after Thanksgiving. Women who have spent time with family, in-laws, maybe too much time with the kids. Women who feel anxious, stressed, overwhelmed, exhausted, some really not feeling the “spirit” of the holidays, most who feel guilt. All of whom are searching for better ways to cope and not only SURVIVE the holiday hustle, but hopefully even THRIVE, and dare I say it? Relax and ENJOY this time!
Here are a few of my favorite things that I share often with my clients. Think of it as a “gift guide” for your mental health…haha! Get it? (Trying to be a blogger…)
YOU CAN SAY NO TO THE COOKIE EXCHANGE (SORRY, KAREN…)
Or the ornament exchange, or the open house. Also? You don’t have to give a REASON. Nope. Not required by etiquette (or at least according to a boundary-encouraging therapist’s book of etiquette). Setting boundaries with your time creates more space to be mindful and intentional with the gatherings you CHOOSE to enjoy. I once heard “If it’s not a HECK YES!!!” when you receive an invitation, you can respectfully decline. Does Karen REEEALLY care if you are not there? You only see her at the PTA bake sale once a year… (***disclaimer: I don’t know anyone named Karen on our PTA, nor have I done a bake sale…)
BE PREPARED FOR PEOPLE WHO DON’T THINK/ACT LIKE YOU
How many of your holiday gatherings are met with some anxiety around a certain person or people that will be there? Will your uncle start talking politics at the table? Does your cousin judge you for having gluten in your spread? Or good LORD, if someone tries to give you parenting advice?! Try this: imagine you’re in a bubble. No words of idiocy can enter said bubble. Just smile and nod inside the bubble, all while breathing deeply. Clench teeth to prevent yourself from reacting. If needed, step outside in the frigid cold air to cool off. Repeat until time is up. (***Disclaimer: these scenarios are COMPLETELY made up…we don’t talk politics in our house and we LOVE us some gluten-filled AND gluten-free treats for my celiac sistah.)
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS PERFECT
Repeat after me: “Good enough, is good enough”. Spending time, money, and energy chasing after an impossible goal is crazy, right? RIGHT?! If you find yourself in a tizzy, redecorating your entire house for your company that’s coming, HOLD IT RIGHT THERE. STOP. Breathe. Take a step back, and ask yourself “does this REALLY matter?” or “would my company not love me for having my house look this way?”. I HOPE the answer to both of those is “NO”. If it’s “yes”, to either one, I would suggest talking through some of that. Xo (***disclaimer: I MAY have redecorated my dining room the day before Thanksgiving, but it was due! Whoops.)
MOVE YOUR BODY
Do NOT let the holiday parties or shopping trips or late nights baking get the best of you. Time to work out doesn’t just appear…like, ever. You have to MAKE IT. Can’t go for a run or hit the gym? No problem! Stretch, and do some breathing exercises. It can help lower your heart rate and blood pressure (which both become elevated with stress and anxiety). I can do an entire book on the benefits of exercise for mood and brain health. Just trust me on this one.
Y’all, I could write a BOOK on all the things that can be stressful or hard during this time of year. Wish I had time! ha! I hope this helps!
Grief is complicated, guys. I mean, duh. Right? So I lost my dad TWENTY ONE years ago. To complications from cancer. A cancer where they gave him 6 months to live and he lived for 6 more years, I might add. (People wonder where I get my mental toughness from?! Haha!)
Anyways…Today is his birthday. He would have been 68 years old. At this point, I have been alive more years without him than with him. So. Weird. I usually get all reflective around his birthday or the anniversary of his death. Here is what has been running through my mind:
1.) Grief has NO. EXPIRATION. DATE. Repeat after me, “Grief has no expiration date.” Just because (fill in the blank) amount of time has passed, doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to feel sad anymore! Do not feel guilty or ashamed about not “getting over it” or “working through it” in a certain amount of time.
2.) Find your people. Or person. The one(s) you can always go to for support, a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen. If you don’t have this in your life, consider therapy. Therapy can offer a safe space for all of this, including working through the complexities of your grief.
3.) Grief doesn’t ever go away. It just becomes less in the center of your world with time and healing. Of course, the first year is SUPER. HARD. Yes. And the “firsts” without your loved one: first Thanksgiving, first vacation, first birthday. But also? Sometimes you can be brought back to your grief even as time gets farther and farther away from the loss. Like, every year, it makes me sad that I have the same pictures of my dad. And, MAN. The fashion back then? AWFUL. But seriously, it makes me realize how long it’s been without him, to see the same REAL PICTURES (picture of a picture on social media) year after year.
4.) You are allowed to be OKAY without the person you lost. You are allowed to move FORWARD in your life (notice I didn’t say move ON?). You are allowed to heal. You are allowed to laugh. You are allowed to love. You are allowed to have great days.
5.) Share the good memories with people who never knew your loved one. My kids never knew him. I became a parent long after he died (11 years later!). There are studies that show that sharing nostalgic stories of your childhood with your children can be associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety in them! I am NOT. KIDDING! I didn’t make this up. So even if your loved one wasn’t the St. Teresa, recount stories that you are fond of, with your offspring. You are helping their mental health in the long run!
6.) And finally. A loss is a loss. Whether it's the death of a family member, a pet, the loss of a friendship, transitioning in stages of life. Grief is valid when it feels like grief TO. YOU. No one can tell you what it should feel like for YOU. You do you, boo. And get support. No matter WHAT the circumstances.
WOW! So This came up in a session a couple of weeks ago, and it has run rampant throughout other sessions with many of my clients! When I say the word “EXPECTATION(S)”…what comes up for you?
What are your expectations of self?
What are your expectations of others? Your spouse/partner?
What are your expectations for your KIDS?!
If you’re like me, you have or have had expectations at some point that are probably a little (or a lot) too high or rigid. Maybe you expect your postpartum body to “bounce back” in a couple months. Or perhaps you expect your husband to read your mind and “empty the freaking dishwasher without me asking all the time!!”. Or here’s one…maybe you expect your children to remain ANGELS in the checkout line at Target or while out to dinner after a long day at school.
Any of these sound familiar? ;-) If you find yourself feeling frustrated, let down, or down right PISSED some (or a lot) of the time…I’m going to ask you to look inside. If the same thing keeps happening over and over, and we don’t try and do anything different….that’s the definition of???Riiiiight….INSANITY.
Think about it like this: if we expect too much of ourselves, won’t we continuously feel let down? As an example: “I have to get all (58) things done on my list, or I won’t feel good or accomplished” WHO CAN GET 58 THINGS DONE IN A DAY?! Look at your expectations. Being too harsh? Too aggressive? Too perfectionistic? Take a deep breath. Know you are human, not Super Woman. Know you are allowed to make mistakes, have a bad day, have a day where you don’t feel like folding 58 loads of laundry…for the umpteenth day in a row. Be kind to yourself. Adjust those expectations to be a little bit more realistic. K?
The same can be said with our expectations of our offspring (or others’ ;-)) Do you ever LOSE IT because your child isn’t doing EVERYTHING you SAY?! And even worse – if they have a meltdown?! Kids aren’t allowed to melt down!! Oh…but we can? HaHa! I personally have adult temper tantrums all the time! Take a step back. Look at all the stimuli that could have assaulted your little human’s world previously during the day, and then ask yourself “Would I be losing it too?”. Exactly. Again, take a deep breath, lean in, and love on that little booger. Expecting them to not have a reaction is why we feel frustrated, but if we can come to expect kids to be human beings with feelings and opinions TOO, then we aren’t going to feel let down…it’s our own expectations, that are possibly too high or rigid, that create the frustration. Not the kiddo’s behavior. Make sense?
OK and lastly, our PARTNER. To keep is simple, take a good honest look at what you expect of your partner. Maybe it’s a lot, maybe it’s not enough! Next, HEAR MY WORDS…(or read, whatever…)…DOES HE OR SHE KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEED OR EXPECT FROM THEM?? Like, clearly spelled out. Consistently discussed or re-negotiated. Written DOWN if needed? Because here’s the thing that we (*cough*) women tend to do…(myself included, mmmkay?): we EXPECT our partner to READ OUR MINDS. Or we EXPECT our partner to KNOW how or when to do all the things you typically do in the EXACT. RIGHT. WAY. It won’t resolve until you ask for what you need. I know…asking for help is a whole other blog post. So stay tuned, friends!
As a therapist, my NUMBER ONE recommendation for any of my clients’ first sessions is usually this:
MAKE. SELF. CARE. A. NON. NEGOTABLE.
Cliché, I know. I feel like there is so much out there across all media platforms about “self-care”, and how moms in particular, need to be doing it. And on the flip side, there are a million posts and articles about how moms don’t have the time, or the resources, or the energy. I know. I get it. I’m a mom too! But follow along with me for a minute while I explain some math…and a little imaginary/visualization exercise…
OK. I explain self-care using a cup. Usually, it’s my Starbucks cup that’s sitting next to me in my comfy office (I’m a therapist for MOMS and my office is directly next to a Starbucks AND a Target…how GENIOUS?!). OK. Back to my lesson…
SELF-CARE IS WHAT FILLS OUR CUPS. It doesn’t have to involve a 6-figure trip to the spa, or a vacation! It can be FREE, and only last 5 MINUTES! Self-care is anything that brings a smile to your face, a breath of fresh air into your day, an “aaahhhhh’ kind of moment. It can be a leisurely walk or a hard run. It can be 5 minutes of peace and quiet (maybe you have to lock yourself in your closet…you do what you can!) or a phone (not text) convo with your college bestie. It can be a mani or pedi, sure, or a date night! It can also be saying “no” to something that feels like an obligation and “yes” to yourself. See where I’m going with this? All of these “little” things, can add up, as they drop more into our cup. Lots of little droplets CAN ADD UP to having a full(ish) cup!
When our cup is FULL (ish), we are happier, more patient, show more compassion and grace, yell less, laugh more, have clearer minds and hearts, love harder, feel refreshed/rejuvenated (don’t go TOO crazy, we’re still moms…we just feel more refreshed than maybe newborn stage of mommin’??), breathe easier, work harder….do you feel me? Does anything resonate with you about feeling like your cup is FULL? It feels pretty darn awesome.
Here’s the flip side. THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS IN A SINGLE DAY THAT TAKE FROM OUR CUP. POURS OUT OUR FULLNESS. OUR SENSE OF CALM. Rushed morning routine, meltdowns before 8am (yours or the kids...), email blowing up before you get into the office, kids arguing because one looked at the other, you didn’t sleep well last night, no coffee in the house (the WORST). And this can all happen before 9am! All of those “stressors”, we’ll call them….pour more and more from your cup. Take from your reserves. Little by little, or in full-on spill the whole cup on the floor.
Now, when our cup is EMPTY (or on fumes), we can feel anxious, even depressed. We tend to be more irritable, less compassionate, more exhausted, yell more, laugh less, worry more, sleep less, feel burnt out, have a harder time joining in, connect less, argue more. Not. Fun. Right? Anyone know the feeling when their cup is empty?? I do. It’s not pretty. Ask my husband! OR my kids…
REMEMBER I said it was a simple math equation? Or would this be a math manipulative? I don’t know….
SELF-CARE > LIFE STRESSORS IN ORDER TO KEEP SOMETHING IN YOUR CUP. So, not an “equation” but more of a word problem? Whatever. Read that again and take it in. If you have a TON of life stressors, add more self-care. If you do one thing for yourself and think “I’m good! I’d be selfish to do more!”, look at your life stressors again. And adjust. Am I making sense?
Self-care is NOT SELFISH. It is NOT a luxury (remember, it can be free and only take 5 minutes???). Self-care is a NON-NEGOTIABLE if we want to make it, mamas. Or ANYONE! Dads, millennials, single Gen Z-ers, baby-boomers. Anyone! And if you feel guilty taking care of yourself, or time away from the kids or family, that’s a WHOLE other blog post, so stay tuned ;-)
This is how the initial phone call typically goes:
Caller: “Yes hi, I was hoping to set up an appointment…I had a baby xx months ago, and had some anxiety here and there, but it’s gotten worse/hasn’t gone away/interfering with my normal functioning…My OB said I probably have “postpartum”, but I’m not sad. I’m not depressed. I’m not, like, crying…”
Mamas…sound familiar? I can’t TELL you how many calls I get like this. Women who are struggling to find answers. Women who are tired of their brains racing all day, worrying about “what-if” scenarios relentlessly. Women who are afraid of their own thoughts because they seem so “out there” or disturbing. Women who can’t seem to sit still or sleep, despite utter exhaustion. Women who are postpartum, but do NOT FEEL DEPRESSED.
Here’s the thing. As a mental health clinician who specializes in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (more on what THAT mouthful means later), I see more women in my practice who experience pregnancy or postpartum ANXIETY, not DEPRESSION. While I am extremely pleased with more providers recognizing when a mama is struggling, and recommending they “take this Zoloft” or “go talk to this therapist”, I think some women feel misheard or misunderstood when this idea of “postpartum depression” is delivered to them. If it doesn’t fit their symptoms, I’ve had a lot of women wondering what in the WORLD was happening to them. Unsettling, right?
Postpartum Anxiety (PPA) actually occurs in more women than postpartum depression. 1 in 7 women will experience postpartum depression, yet 1 in 10 women experience postpartum anxiety. In many cases, women report beginning to feel “on edge” shortly after giving birth. It is marked with constant worry or racing thoughts that do not diminish. Many times, PPA has physical symptoms including shortness of breath, elevated blood pressure, dizziness, numbness/tingling in your body, rapid heart rate. While some worry after bringing a new life into the world is completely normal, after a couple of weeks, mama should be able to dismiss the worry as irrational or almost like mental noise. If this is not happening, if the thoughts/worries stay “stuck”, mama, REACH OUT. There is help!
Like postpartum depression (PPD), there are recommended outlets for mama to begin to feel better. First, let your “person” know that you are struggling. You do NOT have to go through this alone. Sometimes, even the act of sharing some of your thoughts is enough to alleviate the intensity of the anxiety. You can also reach out to your OB, pediatrician or trusted medical provider. Here is what you say…”Hi I had a baby (blank weeks/months/a year!) ago and I am struggling with what I think is postpartum anxiety. Do you have a list of providers (counselors, chiropractors, support groups, psychiatrists) that deal with this?” See? There you go. There’s a script that is simple, and let’s them know what you NEED. That can take the hesitation to call and try and explain something that doesn’t feel explainable down a notch, a little, right?
I will say, it is often a combination of support, therapy to learn coping skills to manage the distorted thoughts that come with anxiety, and sometimes medication is involved. And guess what guys?? MEDICATION IS OK. Not everyone needs it. Not everyone wants it. But there ARE medications that can be safe during pregnancy and for nursing mamas and babies. And if you begin taking something, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will have to take it forever. If you begin taking something like an SSRI, it also doesn’t mean you are “weak” and “can’t handle” the stresses of motherhood. Mamas. This is MORE than stresses of motherhood. This is biochemical and hormonal in nature. If you need medication for postpartum anxiety, it’s the same as needing insulin for Diabetes…your brain needs help regulating chemicals like serotonin, like your pancreas needs help with insulin production. (Is it your pancreas?? I think so…whatever, you get my point?).
If nothing else, learn more and feel more validated by checking out these 2 great resources: