Category Archives: Anxiety

Motherhood and Alcoholism: When is it a problem?

Alcohol has widely become “part” of motherhood as odd as that may seem. Our culture is normalizing this practice and minimizing its potential impact on moms and their families. There are social media groups and websites like “mommy needs vodka,” and “moms who need wine.”

As a mom myself it has become commonplace to hear “when is it too early to start drinking?” or “wine time.” There are many moms that turn to alcohol at the end of the day, or even the middle if it’s a “special occasion” (like Tommy using the potty for the first time). We use alcohol to celebrate the small victories, to numb our stressors, and to dispel boredom. Moms feel like they deserve that glass of wine at the end of the day, they should be allowed to do something for themselves, and while all of that is true — when does the drinking become a problem? 

This past weekend was Mother’s Day and while it is a time to honor moms and all that they do, it is also a time to recognize the need to care for our moms. Moms need to be well. They need to be healthy and happy to take care of their families and themselves. 

While there are many factors that can impact whether a person is a problem drinker — everything from past traumas to genetics to things become habitual, despite their health repercussions. As a society that is putting alcohol in the face of moms everywhere, maybe we should start to reassess. Do moms really “need” alcohol? No, they don’t. Do they deserve to treat themselves? Yes, of course, they do. But, everything needs to be done in moderation. 

Drinking becomes a problem when it is a core thought. If you are constantly watching the clock waiting for that magical time when it is socially accessible to pour that first glass of wine and then next thing you know the whole bottle is gone. We tend to laugh about it. “Oops, I finished the whole bottle.. oh well.” But, we need to be careful. We need to look for other ways to care for ourselves. 

Rather than making alcohol your nightly ritual, try meditation, yoga, a special TV show, talk with your spouse, a weekly night out with friends, something other than the bottle. Drinking feels like a special dessert, a treat. It feels harmless and normal. But it can easily get out of control. That glass can turn into a bottle, which can turn into a bottle a night and next thing you know you are feeling crappy all the time, you are having trouble caring for your kids, you are overrun with guilt, you are hiding it from your spouse, it can easily escalate. 

Being a mom is hard work, don’t get me wrong, and while alcohol can make it feel a little better for a moment it can easily lead to more problems. My advice to you is to reign it in, seek help from a licensed professional, and work to develop healthier coping mechanisms. You don’t need to feel guilty, or alone, in this battle. We are here. We can go forward together for a healthier you. 

How do you cope with motherhood?

How to combat parental anxiety

Of course, you are going to worry if you are a parent. You are, after all, wearing your heart outside your body. Your kids are your world and it terrifies you that something could happen to them. But, what if you are one of those parents who is constantly terrified to the point where it is hard to function in daily life?

Are you faced with overwhelming anxiety about your kids playing outside because they might get hurt, they might get abducted, or hit by a car? These are all valid worries but when they are all consuming they can get in the way of letting your kid be a kid. They can make it hard for you to sleep and function as a parent. And, that anxiety can rub off on your kids. So — what do you do? How can you combat parental anxiety?

Tips to ease parental worry

1.) Do your research. Yes, many times as parents we are told to stay away from the internet because it always points the worse, and yes that can be true. But, the internet can also be a resource. Of the 800,000 missing children, only 115 of them were taken by strangers (Psychology Today). What really are the risks? How likely is it that your child is going to be abducted from the front yard? How bad would it be if he/she/they broke their arm climbing a tree? Is it really the end of the world if they miss a night of sleep? Confront your fears as realistically as possible. 

2.) Teach your kids. If you talk to your kids and teach them the things they should be careful of then you have less to worry about. Teach them to not talk to strangers. Teach them to wait at the corner and look both ways before crossing the road. Teach them to stay on the sidewalk. Teach them to stay close to you, to be aware of their surroundings, to not give up personal information unless they know they have found someone safe (like a police officer or a doctor). Talk to them about their worries, their concerns. 

3.)Practice mindfulness and meditation when you are anxious. Take a moment with your child to listen to the sounds around you, count as you breathe in and out, and take in the small moments. Appreciate all the energy and the innocence and the beauty your kids bring to your life. 

4.) Take care to make things as safe as possible. If you have a pool, make sure it has a fence and make sure your kids know the pool rules. Make sure your kids know your phone number, secret words (in case someone else has to pick them up from school), address, etc. 

5.) Create a list. What are the pros and cons of parenting your child over-protectively? What do you want for them? What do you want to avoid? When you take some time to really think about it, it will help to put things into perspective. 

6.) Get help. If you can’t seem to work through your fears and anxieties, seek help from a licensed mental health professional. They can help teach healthy coping techniques and provide suggestions on how to move through anxiety rather than having it cause a roadblock. 

It is ok to worry. It is ok to be overprotective. But you don’t want it to interfere with yours or your child’s day-to-day life. It is impossible, sadly enough, to put your kids into a bubble and keep them safe all the time. They have to learn some of these things on their own and you can help to be their guide. 

What to do when your family doesn’t believe in mental health

I hear the argument against counseling and mental health all the time. People say “my family doesn’t believe in mental health and say I don’t need to see a therapist.” They think it is “unnecessary,” or a “waste of time,” “useless,” etc. But, think about it this way — who do you talk to about car problems? A mechanic. Who do you call when you have a sore throat or a cough that won’t go away? A doctor. Who do you see when you have pain in your tooth? A dentist. 

Those who don’t believe in mental health don’t know anything about mental health. You talk to your mechanic about your car, your doctor about your physical health, and your therapist about your mental health. Talk to your family about what they are competent in—maybe it is their opinions about cooking, sewing, sports, parenting, marriage, etc. But if you are struggling with emotional concerns, depression, anxiety, marital issues, parenting strategies, etc. talk to someone who is trained in these topics and can help to give you healthy tips to move forward positively in life. 

Wonders for the Willing

Therapy is one of those things that can do wonders for the willing. If you are open to the first step of coming into an office setting to try to improve your life, to work towards living your best days, then you could benefit greatly. Your friends and family might think they are helping by telling you that you don’t “need therapy” but there is nothing wrong with seeking help when you are struggling. In fact, that is a healthy step in the right direction—kind of like eating more vegetables, going to bed earlier, and exercising. 

Leave the mental health expertise to the mental health professionals and take care of you. 

Connecting with loved ones at bedtime: It is good for your health

A healthy bedtime routine with the people we love can be a smart way to close off the day. To let go of stress, and rest peacefully.

Whether it is cuddles with a child, a bedtime kiss, laughing and talking with a spouse, feeling physically or emotionally connected to those we love can decrease cortisone levels and stress-related health risks. It is a routine that everyone in the home can look forward to, and it is a nice way to put some finality into the day…to know you are not alone in this busy life, and tomorrow is a new day. 

A psychological scientist at Wayne State University explored the link between cortisol levels—also known as the stress hormone—and physical health. Cortisol is present in nearly every cell of the body, impacting learning, memory, and emotion. It also helps to regulate the immune system. The scientist Richard Slatcher found the more connected to their relationships people felt, the healthier cortisol levels they had. 

A Healthy Bedtime Routine

Some ideas for a healthy bedtime routine may include:

1.) Exchanging “I love you’s.” This is a good habit to get into because as much as we feel we don’t need to always say it, it helps to hear it and know your children or spouse mean it. It is healthy for everyone. 

2.) Go to bed at the same time as your spouse. This provides time to reconnect, even if only for a few minutes. It is time where it is just the two of you. Even if it is a few exchanges about your day or some more intimate cuddle time, maybe a laugh or two, it is a good healthy habit and keeps you both on the same page. 

3.)Unplug. Bed is not the place for your phone or laptop. Leave that stuff at the door. This is time for your marriage, for your children. 

4.) Prioritize getting a good nights rest. Try to go to bed at an early enough time to get ample sleep. Better sleep means better mental and physical health, and better handling of stressful situations. 

5.) Don’t try to settle arguments. The old saying “don’t go to bed angry” is not always true. Not everything has to be fixed before getting some shut-eye. In some cases, it can be better to get some good rest and then reassess in the morning when you are refreshed and focused. 

6.) Take a few minutes to practice gratitude. Think about one good thing that happened in your day and share it with your spouse or your kids. It will leave the day on a happy note and improve overall mental health. 

The loneliness of being a perfectionist

It is hard to be perfect. In fact, it is impossible for everything we do to turn out exactly the way we want it to. It is impossible for everything to be perfect, leading to an immense and overwhelming sense of pressure for a perfectionist.

Being a perfectionist means always striving to be the best at everything. To be on the top, at the pinnacle, and it is a very lonely place to be. There are many different kinds and combinations of perfectionists with two of the big ones being: overt and covert. 

Overt vs. Covert

The overt perfectionist has a strong want for order around them at all times. They have anxiety when things get chaotic and tend to want to always be “right.” The overt perfectionist fears failure and therefore won’t try things they might not be good at. They want to do everything they can to not lose control and believe abilities are pre-determined and not able to be developed. (SOURCE: huffingtonpost.com; Smith, A.W. (2013). Overcoming Perfectionism. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.)

The covert perfectionist often hides their perfection actions and thoughts. They have low expectations of those around them and act as if they want to be average or carefree but secretly want to the be the best. The covert perfectionist may choose to underachieve to avoid the pressure or competition with those that might be better at something. (Smith, 2013)

Regardless if you are a covert, overt, or a combination of both, the inner struggle of a perfectionist can be overwhelming. And, it is made even more difficult by the fact that those around us often find it hard to relate. Our peers have difficulty empathizing and understanding the frustration, the NEED to be the best. 

The perfectionist is often told to “get over it,” “no one is perfect,” “try harder next time,” or “it is not a big deal.” The result often leads to more mental stress, to depression, anxiety, and difficulty maintaining relationships. Our society views perfectionism as a positive quality. It leads to success in business and life, but there is a happy medium. There has to be a way to try hard, to work hard, but to also accept and let go when things don’t go as planned. When we study and study and study for the test and there are questions we still are not ready for, we need to accept we tried our very best and maybe next time we will take a different approach. 

If you are one of those people who consistently struggle with the urge to be perfect and to be on top, then it can be helpful to receive help from a mental health professional. Talk to someone who can not only understand why you feel the way you do but to help you with skills to curb these feelings and help you to live a healthier, happier life. Frequently clients also find it helpful to be in support groups, to find people who do know how to empathize with your feelings, to help you know you are not alone. 

Finding YOU after pregnancy

You went through the whole nine (really 10) months of pregnancy and were excited, scared, anxious, elated about the new little human entering your life. Now the baby is here and you are consumed with sleepless nights, overwhelming days, and a profound loss of who you once were.

Having a child is a major life change—we all know this—but what can be shocking is that feeling that you don’t recognize yourself. You don’t know who you are anymore. It is important that you reconnect with your old self, embrace your new normal, and not lose sight of what is meaningful to you. Yes, of course, that new bundle of joy is your world and he/she is at the top of the list all day every day but you also need to care for yourself. By failing to take time for you—even if it is a short coffee outing with a friend or a solo trip to the gym—you are hurting yourself. If you don’t take care of you, it is a lot harder to take care of the others in your life.

It is common for moms to feel like that is all they are— “I am a mom, but what
else?” It is the new mom identity crisis and it can be rough. So what can you do to reconnect with yourself after pregnancy?

Reconnecting with YOU

1.) Connect with friends in new ways—Instead of late nights at bars or concerts,
meet your friends for book clubs, coffee dates, or playdates at the park. You need
to continue to have adult conversations and adult time, and support from others
who understand your challenges.

2.) Embrace a hobby—Maybe it is going for a run, hiking, knitting, painting, or writing…whatever it is that makes you feel alive and gives you a sense of accomplishment make time for it. It can be daunting to think about adding another thing to your list, but this stuff is important for you, your happiness, and the happiness of your family.

3.) Don’t compare— You are your own person. It does you no good to compare yourself to others. The mom guilt is there, we all have it but it is not necessary. You need to care for yourself, and you should not feel guilty that you are doing something for you rather than staring at your sleeping child for hours on end. It just hurts your soul.

4.) Ask for help — Don’t be afraid to ask a grandparent or a friend, or hire a part-time babysitter so you aren’t doing it all, all the time. If you are feeling like you could really use an hour away then take it. Losing your cool and your sanity isn’t going to be helpful for you or baby.

5.) Take care of you—Find time for that shower, or to get that haircut. Take naps when you are tired. Forget about the laundry, it will get done eventually. Take a deep breath. You will get through.

If you are struggling with feelings of being overwhelmed, depressed, sad, alone, or you just feel like you could use someone to talk to seek out a qualified counselor. And, know you will find yourself again.

Guilt & Shame: Whose Life is it Anyway?

Guilt, we all know that deep-down gut feeling and some of us know it all too well. We feel it all the time. About everything. But why? What real reason do we have to condemn ourselves to such feelings all the time? It is draining and it makes our life events less enjoyable. 

Clients come to me all the time telling me they feel guilty for taking a break, for actually using the vacation time given to them, and for choosing to stay at home when feeling sick or drained. I always ask them, what does that guilty voice say? Whose voice is it? And, whose life are you living? Is this your life, or the voice of life’s past?

Why do we feel guilty all the time?

1.)We want people to like us. We are people-pleasers.

2.)We are focusing on the “shoulds”— the stuff we tell ourselves we should be doing. We should be cleaning the house. We should be folding the laundry. We are comparing ourselves to what we think other people are doing with their time, instead of caring for ourselves.

3.)Perfectionism—we have a fear of letting people down, of not allowing ourselves to make mistakes.

4.)Childhood conditioning—we were taught as children to always put people first and to feel responsible for other people’s happiness. Sometimes we feel like we are failing to live up to the expectations of others.

5.)Manipulation—we are susceptible to having our buttons pushed by other people. You are exhausted and desperately need a break, yet when your boss calls you to come in two hours early to work on a project you do it. 

Next time you feel guilty over caring for yourself, take a breath and think about that voice in your head. What do you really think of what it is saying? What would you say to someone else in your situation? This will help you to live by your own standards, rather than someone else’s.

You must take care of yourself before you can fully take care of you. If you find it difficult to care for yourself without feelings of guilt, then it may be time to seek out a licensed professional counselor to help. After all we are here in this world to live it, to enjoy it, and to enjoy those around us. If we are constantly consumed by feelings of guilt or shame for doing things that make us happy, then we can’t fully live. 

The weight of holding a grudge

Holding a grudge is tough work. It weighs you down, it is exhausting, and it is bad for your health. A study done by Hope College researchers found that people who imagined situations in which they had been unforgiving, experienced an increase in physiological symptoms. Those who were holding a grudge had higher heart rates, more sweating, and higher blood pressure than those who had chosen to forgive. 

I have met with several clients who are depressed and angry as they struggle with past experiences.They have become all encompassed in these moments and the unfavorable feelings they have for those that have committed wrongdoing towards them. In some cases, these clients can’t sleep, focus, and they aren’t eating well. They cry all the time and feel lost and unengaged in their current lives. When these same clients were able to find it in themselves to forgive, they felt lighter, happier, and were able to obtain more success in their personal lives.

An obstacle to healing

Holding on to that deep-rooted anger does no one any good. It won’t fix the past or prevent things from happening in the future, it just adds to stress levels. Some of us hold grudges not because we want to stay mad forever, but because we just don’t know how to let go. Grudges come with an identity — you are the victim and you were wronged, and that is part of who you are. In order to let go and forgive, you have to be willing to drop that part of your identity. That can be a hard thing to do. Yes, this bad thing did happen to you by this person but it doesn’t have to become you. You were someone before this bad thing happened, and while you aren’t the same as you were entirely you don’t need to let these experiences define you. And, certainly making yourself sick over it is not helping you.

A grudge becomes an obstacle to healing. You must find some way to accept that the past happened, and move forward—grudges don’t allow for that kind of healing. If you are finding it difficult to let go, it can be helpful to meet with a qualified counselor. They can help you work through those feelings and find the strength to move forward as a happier, healthier you.

Anxiety as a mom: Turns out, its part of evolution

I have always struggled with a small degree of anxiety, but I was not prepared for what happened after I had kids. Now my anxiety is full blown. I worry a lot, nit-pick at my spouse for not doing the dishes fast enough or right (aka the way I would have done them). I have feelings of my heart racing and my head overflowing with worry all too often, but why? Why is my anxiety so much worse as a mom than it was before?

It turns out a lot of it has to do with the brain, and the love hormone: oxytocin. 

Oxytocin first surges during pregnancy and continues to surge to promote bonding after the child has arrived, according to researchers. The hormone increases with a simple look from a mom to a child, a snuggle, or tears from a “boo-boo.” And moms aren’t alone, researchers have found similar changes in the brains of dads who provide a lot of caregiving (source: theatlantic.com). 

The Oxytocin Effect

The same hormone that creates those feelings of unconditional love, strengthens bad memories. Research by Northwestern University suggests oxytocin could be the reason why events that cause emotional pain, such as being bullied at school or tormented by a boss, can have effects that linger long after the event is over and can trigger anxiety in the future. The hormone has been shown to strengthen the social memory of the brain.

Researchers found when a negative or stressful social experience takes place, the hormone activates the part of the brain that intensifies the memory. Oxytocin also increased feelings of being fearful and anxious during stressful events occurring long after the original event. 

So, yes the same hormone that is increasing feelings of love and making you drool over your child. The same one that makes you want to pick up and cuddle your child—even when they are keeping you up all night, or getting snot all over your shoulder —is the same one that is increasing fear and worry of bad things happening. Is it really the worst thing if the dishes aren’t done the way you want them? 

The good news is now that we know about the double-edged sword of oxytocin, we can use the power of other parts of our brain to reign it in. To stop and assess the situation before immediately getting to high-anxiety level. To be mindful. While you are in the midst of imagining the worst that could possibly happen to your child, your child is playing quietly next to you. Rather than sending yourself into a tizzy, stop, breathe, and talk to yourself about what is happening at the moment, right here, right now. Find out if there is immediate evidence that makes you feel this way, if there is no evidence and you still feel overwhelmed by anxiety then it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional. Call a qualified counselor, such as the Women’s Therapy Institute, where we can help.

Are you having a pigeon day or a statue day?

Sitting in a restaurant one day with my five-year-old, I noticed a sign that said: “some days you are the pigeon and some days you are a statue.” I had a little giggle about it and thought this might be a fun way to teach my children about the ups and downs of life. 

The truth is some days you will be the pigeon, going about your business and living a carefree existence, and other days you will be the statue getting pooped on by the pigeon—metaphorically, of course (unless it is really one of “those days”). So now when they are having a tough day, I ask my children in a humorous tone “are you having a pigeon day or a statue day?” It helps my children to identify the ups and downs of their life, talk about it, laugh about it, let it go, and understand that life is not all good all the time. 

All in the way we think about it

Life is not easy, we all know this, but we have control over the way we process life’s ups and downs. It is all in the way we think about it. Some days don’t go as planned—you overslept, the hot water in the shower was used up, your toast was burnt, you were late to work, it can go on and on and on… and these moments have the ability, if you let them, to disrupt the rest of your day and rub off on the people around you. Rather than sulk about how much your life sucks, at that point in time, laugh it off. Except that today you are the statue, and maybe tomorrow you will be the pigeon. 

Let it go, take a deep breath, and look for the positive in the situation. Maybe you missed some early morning drama at work because you were late, maybe you had a couple extra minutes to spend with your kids, maybe you treated yourself to a special coffee or a chocolate bar, or maybe you just need to accept that tomorrow is a new day. 

The way we react to the ups and downs of our days can teach our children a lot. It is important that we set good examples and help them process their feelings. Maybe they forgot their gym shoes or didn’t get the seat they wanted on the bus, or the cafeteria ran out of pizza before it was their turn —teach your kids to reassess, to look for the positive, to understand they will have pigeon days and they will have statue days. Little moments don’t need to lead to a pile-up of unhealthy emotions, they need to be let go.