A Christian Perspective on Mental Health

True or False:

  1. A diagnosis of anxiety means that my faith in God is weak.
  2. I cannot truly be a Christian if I suffer from depression.
  3. A child with ADHD is just an undisciplined child.

If you answered true to any of these statements, then please keep reading! All of the above statements are false, but I believe that Satan has done a great job in confusing the minds of the Christian community to believe that these ideas are true. This perspective, that Christians should not suffer from mental illness, is one that saddens me the most. My heart aches for clients that I see that are truly struggling with a mental illness and doubting their faith in God. How can someone who has so much hope in God, feel so hopeless? How can someone who has such anticipation for heaven, feel so much despair? How can one pray daily but still be controlled by anxiety?

These are appropriate questions. So, can a “real” Christian have a mental illness? YES! Absolutely. It is important that we define what a mental illness is and what it isn’t. Depression is not just sadness. Anxiety is not just nervousness. ADHD is not just disobedience. It is not a decision. It is clinical. It is biological. It is chemical. There is actually something physical occurring in your brain that involves neurotransmitters, hormones, genetics, and environmental factors.

Even in the Bible there are instances of godly men who suffered from a mental illness.

  1. Saul – Saul was a powerful king and he was also a very troubled man. He sought to kill his own sons, he attempted to kill David on several occasions and he eventually committed suicide.
  2. Elijah – was a prophet and he suffered from depression. He was in so much despair that he asked God to take his life.
  3. Jeremiah – aka “the weeping prophet”. Enough said! Read the entire book of Jeremiah and you’ll see for yourself.
  4. Jonah – struggled with suicidal thoughts and wanting to die.
  5. Paul – who was probably the most zealous for God, describes a time when his struggles were so great that he “despaired even of life.”

I look at these examples and my conclusion is that yes, you can be a faithful, devoted, committed Christian AND suffer from a mental illness. They are not mutually exclusive. The Bible says that there is no temptation that you feel that Jesus hasn’t felt. So take heart, Jesus knows exactly what you’re going through. It’s easy to feel isolated and somehow different from other Christians, but remember that you’re walking with Jesus even through tough times. Don’t allow your Christian walk to be a barrier to getting the help that you need. And don’t let the fact that you need help be an obstacle in your faith.

The Beauty of Mindfulness

What do you think about when you hear the word mindfulness? Not losing your mind, being quiet, being attuned to social cues, or staying in the present?

Mindfulness as defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is the “quality or state of being conscious or aware of something; or the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis”.

Why would someone exercise this practice at all?

In a person’s average day, thoughts and feelings that surface are appraised as either positive or negative. The thoughts and feelings appraised as negative typically are suppressed or avoided, which affirms them as powerful. This affirmation helps the thoughts and feelings develop into a disruptive part of a person’s framework. In the wake, lots of energy is spent on avoiding those negative thoughts and feelings at any cost. That can mean staying home, not engaging in enjoyable activities, or even self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.

This is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness does not just help you relax, although that ultimately happens, but it also helps you acknowledge and accept the real time experiences in your mind and body without judging yourself for it. The hope is that as you acknowledge, accept and stop struggling to control every sensation, thought, or feeling, you realize its only a process that will pass on like a leaf floating on a stream. With enough practice, individuals can gain self-compassion and break the cycle of avoiding and self-medicating, which only maintains what could ultimately become anxiety or depression.

If you are calm, mindfulness can be relatively straightforward. And while it can be learned in many different ways, breathing exercises or eating exercises are probably the most common way to start. These exercises help slow down the restless mind and create an opportunity to focus on the simple act itself. During a breathing exercise, for example, individuals may be encouraged to be conscious of how the chest rises at inhale and falls at exhale, the temperature of the breath, the cold air as you breath in, the hot air as you breath out, the feeling of your arms hanging on your shoulders, or your bottom on a chair or on the floor. If thoughts arise during a breathing exercise, individuals are encouraged to look at them as non-judgmental observers, not trying to get rid of them or classifying them as good or bad, but just letting them pass on.

Mindfulness may not be as easy when you are not in a peaceful state of mind. Whether you are dealing with an overall feeling of anxiety, a specific trigger, or a fear of losing control, for example, mindfulness can require a great amount of discipline. And in the same vein, if negative thoughts arise during the actual mindfulness exercise, it’s easy for the person to become defensive and lose the intent of the exercise. However, it is these times that are arguably the most important to stay dedicated and re-center on the exercise itself and be a non-judgmental observer.

 

Spooktacular Tips for Parents this Halloween

When you think back on the Halloween adventures of your childhood, what memories come to mind? Were you the kid who always had the best costume? The one who was in intense competition to get the most candy? Maybe you were the teen who had to stay home so someone could man the passing out of candy at home while your little brothers and sisters (who still needed parental supervision) got to go out trick-or-treating. For some families, Halloween can be a time of healthy controlled chaos with block parties, bobbing for apples, and zombie-shaped brownie fun all before heading out to trick-or-treat with friends. However, some younger children may not be too keen on running around the neighborhood with flashlights and stumbling upon a scary costume or decoration. Halloween night has the potential to be a chocolate-induced nightmare and not many children handle that amount of sugar very well. The combination of candy, competition, and a lean toward being easily spooked can create one heck of a bad night. As a parent, you know your child’s temperament- BUT, here are a few things to be aware of in order to make this night as fun and safe as it can be:

  • Monitor your kid’s candy intake! Because you aren’t a hawk and because children can be super sneaky, you’re obviously not going to be able to keep your child away from ALL sugar, all night long. You can, however, make sure they eat a good dinner before they go out trick-or-treating- this way, they’ll be less likely to inhale their candy faster than they are getting it.
  • Set a rule stating “Do not eat your candy until you get back home and check out the goods”. This will not only give you the chance to go through your child’s candy to inspect for allergies, suspicious candies, or unwrapped junk, but will also give you at least some control over what they eat that night (plus, you get to have a few handfuls yourselves before all that’s left is Smarties and Bottle Caps). Let your kids know ahead of time that this candy needs to last them MONTHS. Put the candy in the freezer and allow them to pick out a couple of pieces per day or pack a piece in their sack lunches every once in a while and make it last as long as you can!
  • Anxiety is easiest to manage when situations are predictable. Whether your child is scared of the big kids dressed as ax murders, nervous about going up to random houses to ask for candy, or walking around in the dark, prepping your kids may be necessary.
  • Consider only visiting friend’s houses for trick-or-treating or heading out to get some candy before the sun sets. If your neighborhood is notorious for scary decorations, crazy teenagers going overboard with gore make-up, or big haunted house parties, it may be beneficial to keep your child at home once the sun goes down to help you pass out candy.

Because children are extremely impressionable, keep an eye on what they may encounter. No parent wants their child waking up in the middle of every night for the next 4 months having a nightmare about something he or she saw while out trick-or-treating. Halloween should be a time of dress-up fun, staying up past bed time, and spending time with family and friends- SO, remember to prep your kiddos, make rules clear and reasonable, be aware of what they’re doing/seeing, and most of all, have fun!

Happy Halloween!

Emotional Fitness

“Let go of your stress and smile!” shouted the aerobics instructor over the loud music as she cheerfully encouraged the class to follow her lead. My first couple of negative thoughts were, “Are you kidding me? I’m lucky I made it here, and I’m not in a good mood because I’m really behind on several things that I had to set aside just to make it to class!” I won’t go into detail about my other negative thoughts but suffice it to say that I was tired, irritated, and stretched beyond capacity. As I mustered through the workout I wondered, “How did I let this happen?” I’m usually very good at time management but somehow I slipped this time around, and I was not in a good place.

Have you ever been there too?  You know, where your thoughts are racing a million miles a minute, time is running out, and it seems there’s absolutely nothing you can do to catch up???

As I looked around the room, I wondered if others were experiencing the same thing. There were a few individuals who looked intense—those who were at the front of the class—but others seemed to actually be enjoying themselves in the moment. I’m usually part of that latter group but not today. What happened?

Thinking back over the week, I began to realize where I detoured: I watched a little extra TV a few days, I volunteered to help a friend at the last minute, and one night I stayed up late surfing the Web. While none of these things are detrimental in and of themselves, when added together they inevitably worked against me. Although I had fun doing each of them at the time, in the end I paid for it—dearly. As I said before, I wasn’t in a good place.

Yet right on time my compassion reflex kicked it and as I sent myself positive messages (“You made a good choice to focus on your health,” and “You are getting back on track”), I felt my mind and body slowly begin to let go of the anxiety and tension, and I was able to focus on the workout with thoughts of getting healthy and feeling better. Once I realized I didn’t feel so stressed, I began enjoying myself and wouldn’t you know it—I actually smiled. I guess the aerobics instructor wasn’t too far off after all.

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

Reflecting back later that day, I recalled two important life skills: boundaries and mindfulness.

While exercising relieves stress and keeps us physically fit, practicing boundaries and mindfulness results in improved emotional fitness. When we establish healthy boundaries, we inevitably protect ourselves, which enables us to be responsible stewards over such things as our time. In turn, having healthy boundaries frees us up to practice mindfulness—having the capacity to be present in the moment and to connect with our senses and the environment around us. Good self-care not only includes taking care of our physical bodies but also requires active management of our emotional health. When we make both priorities, we ultimately safeguard our well-being which results in a manageable and balanced life. Are we always going to be perfect in practicing good self-care? No, my account above shows anyone can make a mistake from time to time, but the key is to recognize when you begin to take a detour and then take intentional steps to re-route yourself back to the skills that will help you to restore your emotional fitness.

Am I Okay?

Am I okay? Is this feeling normal? Am I just too sensitive? Am I weak? What’s wrong with me? These questions are very common in my counseling sessions. Men and women, equally, ask if their feelings are reasonable considering their circumstances. How many of you have felt that way? Attempting to replay a scenario with a friend, describing word for word what was said and done to see if your friend reacts the same way. It is the best feeling in the world when a friend validates your story, subsequently confirming that you’re not overreacting.

But what about those circumstances with which you feel no one else could possibly relate:

A difficult marriage, for example, no matter how descriptive you are about a common scenario in your marriage, they don’t seem to get why you are struggling with your spouse and why it’s hurting you so much.

You may be battling with social anxiety, it intensifies when you’re out with friends and they don’t understand why you get so anxious.

Grief after losing a loved one is hard to talk about, those who knew him/her may understand, but it’s been months, you should feel better by now, but you don’t. Is something wrong?

A broken heart after a breakup, your friends seem tired of consoling you, it has been a couple of months now and you still don’t feel like yourself again.

Parenting can be very challenging, but all the other parents around the neighborhood seem to have it all together. This may be your first child, and you don’t really have a way of gauging whether this is harder than it should be.

Should be?

Who designates how you should feel about any given situation? You might encourage yourself to push through a tough new job, or tough first year of marriage, or that pit of anxiety in your stomach that doesn’t go away, or the grief of losing a loved one. But when is it too much to handle on your own? When is it time to seek help? And what if the difficulty in your life is external, meaning its not coming from you? What if the stress is coming from caring for a family member facing an addiction, terminal illness or mental illness?

Research has shown that consistent stress, depression or anxiety can lead to physical ailments such as back pain, headaches and even gastrointestinal issues. Your immune system can be compromised if stress is not dealt with properly. Is this catastrophizing? Not at all, the body and mind is connected, the emotional pain you feel has the potential to affect your health.

What if you’re all about pushing through, not letting things get to you? You’re tough! You may call it suffering well, what does that mean exactly? Suffering well is important, since disappointment or loss can be experienced in almost every area of life. The sweetest things in life require some suffering through sacrifice and hard work. But there is a difference between suffering well and denying your suffering. Suffering well requires acknowledging the feelings and struggle. It requires vulnerability. Inviting someone into your life to say “sounds like you need to take a break,” or “let me help you with that”. Suffering well does not mean ignoring the feelings of disappointment and pain. Ephesians 4:26 says “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” This biblical verse mentions a feeling that most people would describe as unhealthy. Most would say, it’s not good for you to be angry, but the Bible says, “Be angry and do not sin.” You are allowed to feel (fill in the blank with an emotion). But you must do something with that emotion. Suppressing that emotion is not the answer.

Once you are vulnerable, the next step is to learn healthy coping skills. Healthy coping does not make the suffering go away, but it helps you get stronger, emotionally and physically to see that difficult situation with new eyes. It helps you stay grounded in the truth that you will get through that difficulty. Healthy coping may look like counseling, exercising, getting a massage, or all of the above. De-stressing yourself with either one of these healthy coping options helps your mind and body relax so you can think logically about your circumstances and make wise decisions.

Why don’t we give ourselves a break? Why do we need to be validated by others to then admit, “I’m struggling”? Life transitions like marriage, a new job, becoming a parent, losing a loved one, losing a job, a break up, family issues, the list goes on and on, all of these situations can be difficult. The only difference is how you face them.

I’ve wondered why it is so easy for us to pay as much as $50-$200 to get our car checked for that weird sound it keeps making, but we don’t put that much significance on the pain within that won’t go away. The condition of our heart, body and soul is so important. How could we be our best selves to everyone around us if we’re not doing well?

Galatians 6:7-9 says:

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. “

Don’t give up. Take care of yourself. You’re worth it!

The Teen WiFi Epidemic: Teaching your Teen to Disconnect

I recently had my sixteen year old niece over to babysit and was extremely pleased with the job she did. She was timely. She was responsible. She did an exceptional job in getting the baby to sleep and caring for her while we were out. We left home around 7pm after the baby was down and my niece was sitting on the couch playing with her phone as we left. When we returned (6 hours later) my niece was still awake and on her phone. I asked what she had done all night and she said, “Nothing, just played on my phone.” I was a bit surprised but then I remembered my teenage years and how I always tried to stay up late on the phone talking to friends and chalked it up to the “teenage thing.” The next morning we all woke up and the first thing that she did was pick up her phone and check Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat to “find out what she had missed.” We made breakfast and served it, but like a magnet attached to her hand there was the incessant and attention seeking iPhone. When she went to shower or use the restroom she took her phone with her. We attempted several conversations but and it was hard to get a word in with her because she was on her phone. As a matter of fact, she spent the entire day completely consumed with her phone. It was difficult to engage her at any level – troubling. I have a great respect for teenagers – I truly believe many people view them as a nuisance and don’t believe they have much to offer in those challenging stages of life. I disagree wholeheartedly. I think teens are exceptional and when given the opportunity can teach us adults many, many things. I have even chosen a career in which I can work with teens to encourage them and give them a voice. But even for me the cell phone use was maddening. I literally wanted to grab the phone and throw it off of our 2nd floor balcony and yell “HEY THERE!!! LIFE IS HAPPENING OUT HERE AND NOT IN THAT STUPID PHONE!” Of course I didn’t but it did get me thinking…

Disconnecting from technology is difficult these days on everybody, particular teenagers. The good ol’ days of riding down the street on your bike to meet up with your friends are gone…now they just “hit them up on Twitter or Instagram.” It can be challenging as a parent to allow independence and creativity while still setting effective boundaries in regards to the use of technology. Recently a three-year research study was conducted by the Brown University School of Medicine and the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology reflecting the effects of technology on our kids. The results were such that clinically, we are seeing an increase in symptoms typically associated with anxiety and depression. The symptoms include: short-term memory problems, decreased attention span, sleep deprivation, excessive moodiness and general dissatisfaction. The study results were such that when a child or adolescent unplugs, particularly at night, the symptoms decrease. Bottom line, unplugging is necessary.

So-as a parent how do you get your teen to disconnect? How can you allow them the space to express themselves via social media and communicate using today’s technology while encouraging them to look up and see the world around them? How do we ensure their safety? Here a few tips to make it a bit easier:

  1. Give in…a little. Let’s face it- technology is here to stay. As parents you need to learn how this stuff works. Teens love to text- so text your teen. Figure out how social media works so that you can be aware of the dangers and limitations. Google it. If you do not know how to “Google” it reach out for help J
  2. Don’t be the Secret Cyber Stalker Parent: You don’t have to secretly set up a Twitter or Facebook account and cyber-stalk them… just communicate. Tell your teen what the expectations are for social media and that you will be monitoring their activity. Let them know what the dangers of posting things you can NEVER EVER take back. They need to know that you are looking and they need to know what the boundaries are. Respect them enough to let them know what is acceptable and what is not.
  3. Set time limits: Be very clear on when it is inappropriate to be on your phone. For example, when we are at the table we talk to each other and not on the phone. When we have company over, no phones. Leave your phones in the living room before going to bed. Put this in writing if necessary.
  4. There must be consequences: You cannot have limits without clear consequences. This does not have to be complicated. For example: a drop in your grades=less time on your phone daily. The more you communicate the less room for discussion when consequences are implemented. To an extent of course – part of being a teen is testing the limits, so be ready. Again, put this in writing if necessary.
  5. Be an example: Disconnect yourself as well! Model good behavior. If they cannot eat dinner and text, neither can you.
  6. NO texting and driving. Period. No exceptions.
  7. TIME: Spend time with your teenager. Find out what THEY like and DO IT. If you hate video games and your kid loves it – try it! When its time to do something you like be sure it does not involve technology like a walk in the park or time at the driving range. Teach them to enjoy life unplugged and to remember how important a real conversation with another human being is. There is no better way to get to know what your teen is doing than to talk to them and leave an open door for them to talk to you. YOU are important to them regardless of how often they say they hate you.
  8. Let them practice: You will have to give them some wiggle room at some point. How can they practice all the good things you have taught them if you don’t trust them enough to give it a shot? I am all about having boundaries, teenagers need and want them, but have a little faith in the work you have done and let them prove you wrong before bringing down the hammer.

Life Lessons From My Lab (George) #3: Enjoy Every Moment

GeorgeDog#3

I walked into our back room to find our dog, George, frozen in front of the window. Every muscle in his body was tense and his concentration was locked in on something in the lower windowpane.   I was surprised that he didn’t turn his attention to me as I strolled through the doorway. No, at this moment he was 100% focused on the thing that had his attention. Very slowly, George inched forward, careful not to spook the tiny black speck on the glass. I almost busted into a belly laugh when I realized what George was doing.   My hundred pound yellow lab was, “hunting,” a house fly. I held in my laughter so I could watch as the pursuit unfolded in front of me. The small insect skittered a couple of inches across the pane and George’s nostrils flared a couple of times as he sniffed the bug.   Suddenly, the fly took flight, and in the same second, George’s jaws clamped down on the insect mid-flight. Almost immediately, George spit the fly out. He nudged it with his nose a couple of times, and cocked his head curiously to one side, but the fly didn’t move. I knew the, “hunt,” was over when George sighed and plopped down next to the window. He was successful. It was time to rest. He needed to regain his energy for the next big chase.

There was something about this entire scene that made me smile; and as I sat down to write this blog post I realized that I was smiling because of the way my goofy dog was demonstrating some of the mindfulness skills that I work on with my clients. If you are feeling stressed out, anxious, overwhelmed (emotionally, mentally, physically), and hurried, the following skills will help you to calm down and focus on what really matters NOW.

  • Prioritize – Really think about how you use your time. Does how you spend your time reflect what you truly value?
  • Use your senses – When we slow down enough to pay attention to each of our five senses, not only does it help us to relax, but it makes the task at hand more enjoyable. Touch, sight, taste, sound, smell
  • Don’t multitask- efficiency decreases when we try to multitask. Whether we are spending time with a friend, doing algebra homework, cleaning the house, or finishing a project, we will be more efficient when we focus our attention on one task at a time. You might find the task even more enjoyable.
  • Refocus your attention – When your attention wanders to something else, don’t beat yourself up. Just refocus… again, and again, and again.
  • Breathe – Taking deep breaths slows down our respiration, decreases our heart rate, and brings our blood pressure down. This helps us to stay present to the task at hand.
  • Practice – Don’t be discouraged if these seemingly simple skills prove to be hard to implement. Just like anything else, the more you practice mindfulness skills, the easier these skills will become.

Life Lessons From My Lab… GEORGE

GeorgeDog

“No, George! No!” I scream as I sprint across the street. The woman with the beautiful golden retriever has a panicked look on her face as my hundred pound yellow lab begins to mount (yes, MOUNT) her dog. “Oh my gosh. OH MY GOSH!” are the only words that escape me, followed by a slew of other pitiful phrases. “I’m so sorry. I am SO sorry! He never does this. I don’t know what got into him. I’m so embarrassed. I’m so sorry. He’s ‘fixed’…”

As I drag George by the collar back across the street and into our yard, I look over my shoulder to make eye contact with the lady whose dog was just shamelessly humped by my 8 year old lab. Some jumbled version of the following thoughts run through my head:

“I can’t believe I just reassured a total stranger that my dog is, ‘fixed’!”

“I’m so embarrassed, but maybe we can laugh about this?”

“I wonder if she will still be my friend?!”

“I would like to get to know more of our new neighbors!”

My hope for gaining a friendship out of this fiasco is squandered when she shoots me a look of total disgust. As she briskly walks away, the only communication she offers is the back of her head. My mind continues to race.

“What if she thinks I’m a horrible dog owner?”

“She probably thinks that I did not train George.”

“What if she tells all of our neighbors to stay away from us?”

“I hope she doesn’t hate me!”

This is when I catch myself and realize how out of control and irrational my thoughts are. I take a deep breath and start to ask myself some questions.

  1. What am I worried about?

We moved into our new house recently, and I’m worried about what the lady with the golden retriever and my neighbors think of me.

  1. Are there any other fears connected to this worry?

I fear not being liked.

I fear disapproval.

I fear rejection.

  1. Can I control what other people think?

Nope.

  1. If our neighbors dislike or disapprove of me, will I be okay?

Yes. I’ll survive.

  1. What does my anxiety and worry tell me about the object of my trust?

If I worry about others liking me, then my trust is in others. I’m basing my self-worth on my neighbors’ opinion of me and trusting that their opinion is ultimate.

  1. Is their opinion ultimate?

Nope.

I notice my anxiety has dropped significantly because I am telling myself the truth. About this time, George plants a huge, slobbery kiss on my forearm to get my attention. His goofy grin makes me laugh. I am reminded to not take myself too seriously. I lean down to give him a good scratch behind the ear and walk through our front door. George follows behind, tail wagging and I think to myself, “It’s going to be a good day.”

Parenting STINKS – How to maintain your sanity in those first weeks after baby…

As I stood in the middle of my kitchen holding a fussy four-week old, staring at a pile of dirty dishes, pondering when the last time was that I showered, I had a thought: Parenting STINKS. Where was MY new mom glow? Why didn’t my baby look like the perfect, giggly, Gerber ones on TV? Why did I feel like a ghost of my previous self? I was drained, sleep deprived, and seriously questioning God’s decision making skills in allowing me to care for another human being. I was obviously incapable of such a huge responsibility and the fact that I had made no immediate attempt to clean the poop sliding down my shirt was a clear sign that somebody should be driving me to an insane asylum immediately.

I could not, for the life of me, understand how I was not ROCKING this mommy thing! After all, I was the master of the multi-task. Why back in my day (6 weeks ago) I would have had this baby clean and primped, house clean, laundry done, and all while looking like I stepped out of Vogue magazine. Well, at least out of an H&M magazine – who am I kidding? What the heck happened to my life?? It was not one of my finer moments. Most of all, I was NOT enjoying the perfection of that tiny baby in my arms. I was not soaking in her smell. I was not memorizing the innocence in her face. I was not stopping to smell the poop scented roses ya’ll! And it was killing me. The thing is – the “stink” in my parenting had more to do with what was sliding down my shirt and less to do with what I was experiencing once I made a few adjustments. These tips helped me get out of a sleep-deprived fog and perhaps the can also make your new mom experience… well… a little less smelly.

1. TAKE THE HELP: Something about making it through the insanity that is labor and delivery makes us feel superhuman – as we should. You just went through one of the most excruciating experiences that you could ever put your body through. You did it! Your body did not fail you and you brought life into the world. WOW! You can do anything! Yes anything, but that does not mean you have to! It may feel like you can handle everything on your own after that, but the truth is it’s hard and you will only experience your child at this moment this ONE time in your life. You cannot get that time back once it’s gone. So when somebody offers to cook you dinner take that extra time to stare at that perfect little face you delivered. If somebody wants to do your laundry for you –take a nap so that you can enjoy every second with your little one instead of wishing you had some time for a nap. And when some saint offers to stay up with the baby over night so you can get a full nights rest…do a 30-second happy dance and get your tush to bed before they change their mind!

2. GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK: We have so much pressure in today’s society to do it all and do it well. We all have that mom-friend who makes it look so easy. The truth is all of us have different circumstances and I guarantee that just because that mom is not struggling with the same situation you are, she is struggling in another area. Stop comparing yourself to the supermom next door or on TV. Take some time to reflect on the challenges that are set before you and all that you have accomplished already…you already ROCK! So support the women around you who are struggling with their own issues and pat yourself on the back regardless of how many dishes you see or how much laundry there is to clean. You will get to it… but in this moment, enjoy the fruits of your literal labor—that bundle of joy.

3. BE REALISTIC: Having a new baby means you are not likely going to get a full nights rest or make it to most of those invites you keep receiving for showers and weddings and parties. Heck, going to the restroom for a few minutes can take some prayer and an act of God some days. Embrace it! One of my good friends told me words that I won’t forget – it’s just a season. One of the more challenging seasons but still just a season that will pass, and WAY faster than you want it to! You have a choice to focus on the sleep, sex, and “me” time you’re not getting or to try and soak in as much of it as you can before it all passes you by.

4. STOP GOOGLING: Being a new mom means a ton of unanswered questions. Heck sometimes you have a good answer but you want the BEST answer. Of course, we all want the best for our babies. The problem is when you are in a sleep deprived frenzy you check out all your apps, Google, BabyCenter, WebMD and any blog you can get your hands on to get an answer that might temporarily soothe you. You are so caught up trying to make sure you are doing something, anything, to get an answer you don’t stop to hear your own new mom voice. I encourage you to let the internet go, even for a week, and trust your instincts. You have some of those answers all on your own. Nobody knows your baby better than you. Seeking answers from so many different avenues can be more mind boggling than the question or concern at hand. Of course if you think your baby has a medical concern contact your doctor, but also allow your inner supermom to shine and allow yourself some room for mistakes. No mom is perfect but the mere fact that you would go to any length to find the answers for your child guarantees that YOU are perfect for YOUR baby.

5. VENT: Get out of the house for a few hours and get some fresh air! YES, you will think about your baby and it will be hard to walk away but give it a few minutes and you WILL feel better. Find a friend or neighbor and take a walk or get a manicure or even join a mom’s group that will allow you to get some things off of your chest. Talk about it with other mom’s-we totally GET IT. We have been there! Besides, dad and baby need some time to bond. A couple of hours away will do wonders to clear your head. A good chat with another mom will do wonders for your soul! Check out my new mom’s group below where you can meet other new mom’s, a therapist and even an MD. We are here for you too!

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The Mind-Body Connection

If you suffer from symptoms such as headaches, shortness of breath, chest pain or weight gain, your initial thought is probably not “I should evaluate my emotional health”. But in fact, our emotions have significant effects on our physical body. Psychological studies prove that our minds and our bodies are intimately connected. Therefore, good mental health can improve physical health and poor emotional health can cause a decline in physical health.

As a family physician, I would estimate that about two-thirds of my office visits are partly due to stress-related symptoms. What’s more, I have noticed that my patients with physical symptoms caused by stress-related issues almost universally have an extremely difficult time accepting that the root cause of the problem is mentally related.

For example, I have had numerous patients experience chest pain that, despite repeated testing, does not have a physical identifiable cause. Even with multiple visits to the emergency room, EKG’s, lab work and other testing, no cause for the chest pain is found. When I ask them about stress, 99% of the time they are anxious, depressed, or going through an extremely difficult time in their life. Yet generally these patients are reluctant to accept that the stress, worry and anxiety in their life are causing their physical symptoms. It often takes multiple visits, numerous tests and a lot time in discussion on how mental health can cause real physical symptoms. This phenomenon is called somatization – an unconscious process through which psychological distress is converted to physical symptoms.

What we don’t hear very often is that stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: 1) heart disease 2) cancer 3) lung disease 4) strokes 5) accidents and 6) Alzheimer’s. This is partly because the body does not distinguish between physical and psychological stress. Research shows that those who repress their emotions suffer more physically. One specific study shows that cancer patients who chronically avoid expressing their feelings die sooner and in greater numbers than those who freely express their emotions. The ways in which emotions are managed is one of the most relevant but least examined issues in medicine today. Despite all the evidence, unfortunately annual physical exams generally do not include an adequate assessment of emotional and mental health.

But, there is good news! You can take control of both your mental and physical wellbeing. The first step is to recognize the warning signs in order to prevent poor emotional and physical health. Symptoms such as memory problems, diarrhea or constipation, frequent colds, loss of sex drive, inability to concentrate and others could be a warning sign of poor emotional health. Once you recognize these symptoms, spend time reflecting on whether your emotional state could be contributing to these symptoms. Then, seek help from a medical professional, either a counselor or your physician. It is important that you express to your healthcare professional all of your symptoms including your emotional state. With ample insight into your overall health, you will assist your healthcare professional in properly diagnosing and treating you.