Our Modern Blended Family – An Intro

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I am excited to announce my first book is being released on November 26th!

At the beginning of summer I was approached by a publisher asking me to write a book about blending families. I’ve always loved writing, and books have been a long-time dream of mine, so it was an honor to be a part of this project.

Our Modern Blended Family is a book based on personal and professional experience. In writing it, I sought to offer useful tips and techniques, understanding the challenges you’re facing, as well as encouraging positive ways of relating to your new family.

You can find my book on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Any visits to my book’s page help to promote my book on those websites, so if you have a minute and don’t mind checking it out, it would be greatly appreciated!

 

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

I, too, am living in the thick of blended family life. If I’m being honest, and I will be throughout this book, I’ll tell you we’ve made mistakes. Our road hasn’t been an easy one, and I don’t write before you as some mystical stepmom goddess who did everything perfectly. Trust me, I did not. Blending families is hard work.

But what are blended families? They come in all shapes and sizes. You’re a blended family because one or both of you have children from a previous relationship, and you have chosen to become a family. You may have once been married but are no longer because of divorce or loss, you may have never been married but still co-parent, or you may be a single parent bringing in new family members. Perhaps you’re just starting to come together as a blended family. Maybe you’ve been at this for a while and are still struggling or in need of a refresher. Wherever you stand today, you’re up for a tough job—though a worthwhile one.

Being a parent can be a difficult job all on its own. It comes with long nights, short days, and endless to-dos. It includes the worry, care, and time you put into your children. When you add blending a family into the mix, everything gets more complicated. You may have many questions. How will we come together? What
will happen to our relationship? How will we co-parent? What will our future bring?

Blended families travel different roads than other families. Sure, this road will have bumps, sharp curves, and sometimes drastic changes in altitude. But you know what? All of these expe- riences make you stronger. I’m here to say that having a happy blended family is possible. I’m here to say you can do this. You can laugh with your children, nourish your partnership, navigate tricky waters, and come out the other side with love and ease. Some of our most beautiful and satisfying experiences in life come as the result of a little extra elbow grease.

 

I look forward to sharing more with you soon! If you want more, Amazon and Barnes and Noble are taking pre-orders now. 🙂

Take care out there,

D

Fears and Frustrations in Couples Counseling

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When I tell people that I really love doing couples, premarital, and marriage counseling, I typically receive one of two responses:

“Wow, good for you! I can’t imagine doing that.”

or

“That’s tough. I went through/knew of someone who got divorced after marriage counseling.”

 

I get it. There is something about working within the most important relationships in our lives that gets people a little on edge. Sure, there are other important relationships, like with our children and our friends. But none with stakes quite as high as our partners. Our partners are in our everyday lives. As important as children are to us, they eventually grow up and live on their own. Our partners, on the other hand, we’re with day in and day out until one of us dies. There’s a reason we call them our significant other. If they weren’t so significant, we’d just call them our other. Or, that person over there. Let’s face it, how we relate to them matters.

It can be scary to not only recognize that such a significant portion of your life is struggling, but that it also needs more help than you can do alone. Reaching out for individual therapy can be vulnerable, so reaching out for two people, doubly so. There are a lot of fears and frustrations people have, and I’d like to share a few things to help you both know my approach, but also to relieve some of the pressure in case you need a little boost to reach out to someone for help.

I’ve gathered these fears and frustrations from people I’ve spoken to over the years.

Three common fears about the outcome of couples therapy:

  1. We’ll get divorced/split up. This must be the number one fear, from my experience. There is truth to it, too, which I think really lights people up. There is a risk of separation or divorce when you come to marriage counseling. Just like there is if you don’t. I think what made couples counseling get such a tough reputation is that people often wait until they are ready to divorce to reach out for help. At this point, the odds of a breakup are high. It’s not impossible, as I’ve seen couples come back from the brink. That happens, though, because they choose for it to. When a relationship is truly over in the heart of one or both partners, there is little a therapist can do to change that. We aren’t in the business of changing hearts. We’re here to help you align your life and mind with your heart and values.
  2. Nothing will change. Also high up there, the fear that once therapy completes, they’ll return to the status quo. This is also possible and is a fear for a reason. Humans are creatures of habit, and they’ll eventually revert to what feels natural if they aren’t putting in constant effort toward new behavior for at least two years. You read that right, folks. It takes at least two years of constant effort to create a new, more connected, more positive status quo. So no, a few months of therapy will not undo fifteen years of discord in a relationship. But a few months of therapy combined with constant effort, openness, and willingness… that can change things.
  3. Everything will change. Isn’t that the trick, though? We want change so badly, but then we often end up deeply fearing the actual process or experience. What if everything changes and I no longer recognize my partner? What if they no longer love me, or I no longer love them? What if our new normal isn’t the normal I thought I signed up for? Can’t they just go back to who they were when we met? Well, can you? You are an imperfect human trying to create a life with another imperfect human. Change can be scary, unknown, and sometimes a little painful. But if you’re really committed- if you really want to spend your days with your partner, then you’ll love whoever they are today and you’ll make efforts to adjust your sails together as you each grow. They’ll need to do the same. I can’t promise you can go back to how it was when you fell in love – in fact, I can near-promise it won’t. If you’re really in this for life, together, I do believe you can create a new relationship, despite the fear.

Three common frustrations, sometimes born out of fear and unfortunately others, out of an experience, about the couples counselor or process:

  1. The counselor will take sides. They’ll believe everything my partner is saying, I’ll be the bad guy, and “couples counseling” will really be just about trying to fix me. Sometimes people actually want a therapist to take sides, but in that case, they want the side taken to be theirs, not that of their partner. Nobody wants to be the “wrong one.” And frankly, I don’t believe relationships can ever be just one person’s problem. Even if one person has done the primary betrayal, the other person has participated in the relationship getting to the place it was. It may not always be 50-50, but it is typically pretty close. The approach I take is to not be on either party’s side but on the side of the relationship. Sometimes that means I’m a little harsher on Person A for a session or two, but then it typically switches and the heat is on for Person B. It’s not about who is right. The moment that is the focus, the relationship suffers. It’s more important to be on the lookout for what is best for the relationship as a whole. Find a therapist who will fight for your relationship, you can search for them on the website Marriage Friendly Therapists.
  2. It will be one way in the office, and another way at home. I often hear this, that one person will misrepresent themselves or their partner in therapy. Maybe at therapy, they’re understanding, open, and honest, but at home, they’re closed emotionally and dig in their heels. This happens sometimes- that’s okay. Try and remember that therapy is a practice ground, with the hope that eventually what is practiced will come home with you. Unfortunately, yes, that means both people have to be conscientious about bringing the good home. If you find yourself stuck, find words that are both kind and honest to share in counseling that you’re seeing a pattern. Not only is that good practice for you, but also that way your counselor can help you break down barriers and come up with solutions.
  3. It’ll just be a waste of time. Some couples express this as their frustration. They go to therapy, argue it out, then go home angrier than they came. Nothing gets accomplished, nothing changes. This certainly can happen, and sometimes hashing out an argument can help clarify the pattern you’re stuck in and encourage you to listen differently. Let’s talk about a few things that will keep your therapy focused:
    1. Spend some time in advance thinking about what you think the problem is. Hint: it’s not your partner. If you think it is, okay. Also, come up with what is your responsibility. Do so before each session, with the goal of looking for patterns between you that need mending. This way once you’re in the room, you can express a few hopes you have for that day.
    2. Seek out skills to use at home. Marriage counseling is a combination of processing hurts and increasing skills to change patterns, like improving communication, friendship, and fair fighting. Most of the skills I recommend come from Mindfulness and The Gottman Institute. It may be worth looking around at the different modalities therapists use, and finding someone who aligns closely with what you think would work best for you. There are so many books out there- ask for some recommendations that will support your work and read through them as a team effort with your partner.
    3. Plan on doing homework every. single. day. One hour once per week in therapy will not undo the many hours of interactions between. You must take what you learn in counseling home and put it to practice, then come back and discuss what worked and what didn’t so your counselor can make adjustments to the plan. Remember that you’ll need to put some effort forth every day for the next several years as a start, then for the rest of time, thereafter. This is a commitment to the health and happiness of you, your partner, your relationship, and anyone else involved (like kids, furr babies, etc). It will be tough, but it can also be worth it.

 

Relationships require that you each take care of yourselves, one another, and the relationship itself. You can do this. Reach out for help when you need it (preferably, long before you contemplate divorce!).

D

Even Play Has Its Limits

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Have you been working toward your Registered Play Therapist certificate? If so, you’ll need to submit your application by June 30th, 2019 in order to use the previous application standards.

Don’t worry, though, you can still get your RPT and RPT-S. The Association for Play Therapy (A4PT) went through a helpful and much-needed update to have the certificates show the excellence we carry in working with children. We want them to have high standards in what they expect of us because we have high standards in the care we provide. So what does this mean? You can check out the new official letter A4PT put out here. I’ll explain the highlights below:

  1. New application requirements will be available on their website by March 31st, 2019. Old applications will be accepted until the end of June this year. Then, no applications will be accepted July through the end of December. Any applications sent in during this moratorium will be returned to sender.
  2. Starting January 1st, 2019, applications (postmarked after that date) that meet the new criteria will be accepted.
    1. All live webinar training will be counted toward non-contact hours, which have a maximum of 50 hours of the required training.
    2. Hours must be supervised by an RPT-S. Don’t worry, I’m here for you. Go ahead and contact me now to get started.
    3. Supervisors will have a process to assess and monitor your growth. Yay!
    4. Want to become an RPT-S someday? You’ll need to first hold your RPT for three years to show your advanced level of skill.

I’m happy to answer any questions you might have and support you on your path to providing excellent care to the next generation. As always, feel free to reach out and get the quality supervision you need.

Stay Playful,

D

Mothering Is My Mindfulness

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It was something I hadn’t planned but immediately realized the need for: Meditation and Mindfulness during Pregnancy. Somehow I knew that it would benefit not only me and my family but also this little human I had decided to grow. So I set up my area in my bedroom, woke up 5 minutes early, and meditated every day of my pregnancy.

What I didn’t realize, is that it was also what would pull me out of Postpartum Anxiety. We go to the doctor’s office and fill out questionnaire after questionnaire to check on our potential for Postpartum Depression, but we’re never asked about our anxiety.

See, anxiety is a healthy, normal thing. Right now in our culture, we are constantly trying to rid ourselves and others of anxiety. Imagine for a moment, though, life without anxiety. Sure, we’d be peaceful. Yeah, we might stress less. But what about those life or harm threatening moments that anxiety saves us from? What about the places anxiety helps us perform better? … Like in mothering?

That’s right. Anxiety helps you be a better mother. Anxiety encourages you to check on your baby, want them near, listen intently to their stories and cries, keep a watchful eye over their playing to keep them safe and to worry over how they’re developing, feeling, and thinking. Anxiety is useful.

Think of anxiety as a person in your car. They’re keeping an extra eye out, helping you navigate and stay safe in treacherous situations. They serve a purpose, so long as you keep them as a passenger and don’t hand over the wheel. Mindfulness can help make that easier.

Meditation and mindfulness is not just for single 20-somethings out on a personal quest. Nor is it just for monks, nuns, or people without kids who have time for that sort of thing. Mindfulness and meditation is for everyone, including moms. Heck, especially moms.

You can read more about mindfulness here.

Meditation is the formal practice of sitting down and becoming fully present. Mindfulness is the awareness you bring to your daily life between formal meditations. You know those moments when you feel a little (or a lot) overwhelmed by the changes, expectations, and daily life workload and your kiddo won’t stop eating the dog food? Yeah. Mindfulness is for those moments so that you can pause making lunches, packing diaper bags, and worrying over being late and kneel down. It allows you the space to check in on what’s really important in those tough moments so you can respond in a way that encourages cooperation and relationship. It keeps us from scolding toddlers who are being toddlers, pleading with babies to just be okay for a minute in their lounger, or power struggling with our school kiddos about whether they should wear jackets.

When you get overwhelmed, pause. Take in a deep breath, breathe it out slower than you took it in. Ask yourself a couple of things:

  1. What is the most important thing? (hint: it’s almost always your relationship with your kiddo)
  2. What do you and/or they need right now? (go realistic- a deep breath? a hug? a 30-second dance/wiggle party?)
  3. What are your options? And which is the most skillful one? (you always have options: you can scream at them, ignore them, power struggle, melt into a puddle of tears, or come to their level, acknowledge their experience, set limits around misbehavior, and steer them in another direction)

I’ve saved the best part for last.

Here’s my favorite part about mindfulness and mothering: it allows me to enjoy it. Not survive it, not simply get through the day. Mindfulness is what makes me love being a mom. It makes me one of those delusionally happy moms we don’t really believe mean it when they say that it’s the best part of each day.

If I’m caught up in thoughts about my house, work, or relationship issues and I have my daughter nearby, I can close my eyes, kiss the top of her head, and breathe in the oatmeal/calendula scent of her conditioner. Suddenly, whatever was happening before that moment is gone. At that moment, I’m home. If I’m worried about her at night, I can sneak into her room, sit by her bed, and listen to her quiet snoring. If I’ve been stressed and disconnected all day, I can use the warmth of the bathwater and the sound of her laughter to melt away stress. I can use snuggle up in the chair story-time to re-connect.

Mothering is my mindfulness.

Could it be yours?

 

Did you know I run The Mom Circle, now at The Family Village? Check out the info on my Services page.

Take care out there,

D

Unlocking Your Heart

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You’ve made it! It’s our final week in our moving through depression series. So far we’ve discussed the importance of:

This last week is an important one. Perhaps one of the most debilitating parts of depression is the incessant “why?”

What’s the point? is one of the most painful questions we can ask ourselves, primarily because it insinuates that there isn’t one. What comes next is what I call the darkness. This is where suicidal thoughts run rampant and we tuck further and further into our despair. Don’t forget, there is help.

First, let’s talk about how to find your passion. It doesn’t have to be a hard process. In fact, it should be a fun, heart opening, exciting process. What is passion? Passion is defined as a “strong and barely controllable emotion.” Whoo. Yes. Passion is like fire, it ignites and takes over your senses. When you find passion you can lose your sense of time, entering into a flow state. Flow is that experience where your mind becomes hyper focused (especially on your senses), time disappears, and you feel an immense sense of calm and happiness.

Talk about a depression fighter!

Here are some ideas for finding your passion:

  • What is something that excites you? (duh – but a good place to start!)
  • What do you spend your time researching and reading about (books, magazines, online, social media, hashtags you follow, etc)? See any themes?
  • What do you find yourself inexplicably and repeatedly drawn to? Art? Music? Dance? Helping others? Outdoors? Competition? Animals? Parenting? Event Planning? Travel? Crafts? DIY?
  • Look at your local library or in your neighborhood for opportunities to take classes, join clubs, or meet up with others to try new activities (and maybe see if one of them sparks!).

There are a lot of people out there who will tell you how to cognitively find your passion by thinking through the steps and blah blah blah. I’m not one of those people.

Passion is not of the mind, but of the heart. There is little your mind can do in this process, and most often it actually stands in the way. “Yeah, I like ______, but there’s no way I could/have time/resources/money to do it.” Mind = not helpful. My hope is you go around, heart open, and see what breathes fresh air into it. Then, do more of that.

If you’re deep in the thick of it, you might have to do things you cognitively know you like, without the deep sense of peace and happiness. For most clients, I’ve seen this last anywhere from 2-8 months. Keep in mind, you have to keep doing these things (and all the steps of moving through depression). Over the course of those months, you’ll slowly begin to pull out of the mud (it isn’t that at six months you wake up and suddenly enjoy everything!).

Once you know your passion, you have to value it. Simply knowing your passion without valuing it is like walking up to the right door and not having the key to unlock it. We value our passions by carving out time for them, nurturing them, and enjoying them without judgement of how often or how well we do them. We engage in our passions for the simple pleasure of doing them, knowing that they are as important as any chore or job that is to be done.

Often in passion we end up finding purpose. Our purpose is in broader terms than our passion. Our purpose may be to bring the world beauty, joy, knowledge, or to reduce suffering. Purpose, like passion, is not something you can find by thinking about it. It can be felt in times when you’re quiet inside, sometimes because the world outside you is quiet, others because it is chaos. If you glimpse your passion or purpose for even a second, appreciate that. Try not to let yourself get frustrated it was only a moment. It’s a moment more than you had, and the more you work to open up to yourself and your heart, the more those moments will come. And the longer they’ll last.

 

The path through depression is a difficult one. It is one that takes time, repetition, and perseverance. I typically tell people to anticipate two years before they’re able to make a new behavior feel natural (that’s about how long it takes to prune one behavior pathway and build a new, solid one in your brain). If you’ve only been struggling with depression a few weeks or months, it most likely won’t take that long. But if you’ve been in the darkness for longer than you can clearly remember, it might. It’s normal, difficult, and absolutely possible.

I believe in you.

And if you need a little help, reach out.

Until next time,

D

 

Create A Mind Of Giving

 

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The importance of giving to others cannot be readily overlooked. We learn the value of contributing from our families when we’re little. Even if your family didn’t place a large importance on it, you can commit yourself to it now.

So why do it?

When we give our time, money, or thought to another we are generating good things in our own minds, hearts, and lives, in addition to benefiting them. Think of it this way, if you look around the world and judge those you see, you end up having a mind of judging. In turn, then, you feel judged by others (because we all assume others think the way we do). If this is true for a mind of anger, judgement, or greed, then couldn’t it be true for giving and caring?

How nice would it be to look around and assume everyone around you wants to contribute, participate, and care for themselves and everyone they come in contact with?

It’s a whole new world.

Volunteering connects us to our community and fights off loneliness. It nourishes the spirit, relaxes the mind, and focuses our energy into productive efforts instead of the ruminating darkness of depression. I often hear from clients who have undertaken a volunteer job statements like:

I don’t know what it is. When I’m volunteering, I just feel so much better. I can focus on their problems and forget about mine for a while. It warms my heart to help a kid or elderly person in need. It’s for them, but it helps me too.

In times when money can feel like such a struggle for so many of us, it is even more important to give your time to something that you appreciate or believe in. The more we value our time, the more valuable it is when we give it to others.

How can you get started? Consider some of the following questions:

  1. How much time do I have to devote each week, month, or year?
  2. How long of a commitment am I willing to do? None? Six months? Two years?
  3. What are some things that I’m passionate about or interested in?

Once you have the answers to the above questions, it’s time to set out. But where to start? You can begin by thinking of what you’re interested in. Local government? Check out your city or town for a board you can sit on. Animals? Reach out to rescues or humane societies. Want to devote the next few years? Maybe it’s time to look into something like Doctors Without Borders or the Peace Corps. Not sure? Try one of the following websites for ideas and connections:

Whether you devote a few hours once or twice per year, or every day for the next several years, giving back to your community and world is a practice that depression can’t beat.

We’ve almost reached the end of our Moving Through Depression Journey. How have you been doing thus far?

See you next week,

D

 

p.s. thanks for the forgiveness on this post being late this week!

Show Up Wholeheartedly

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We’re in the homestretch! Only three more weeks of hard work before… well.. before you continue with all the great work you’ve been putting in. 🙂

This week we’re going to talk about participating.

What does that mean? In our work of taking better care of ourselves, we’ve looked at taking care of our body, emotions, mind, and now… our social self.

Research has shown over and over that social interaction not only helps us be happier, it also has a connection to longevity. Put another way, we live longer, better lives when it includes others.

I talk more about why Women Need a Village in another blog post, so feel free to check that out!

Desire for connection is in the survivalist part of our brain, along with our breath, heartbeat, and sleep. It’s no wonder things like rejection, social isolation, and loneliness are so dangerous for our spirit, then. There’s a reason that Romeo wishes for death over banishment. Banishment is the ultimate punishment because it means a slow, lonely death thinking of all that one has lost.

Humans are social creatures. As individualized as we are in the US, we sometimes lose sight of this. We mistakenly believe we can survive, even thrive, in solitude. We rely on one another in ways beyond what we see each day. If you’re uncertain, just think of what it takes for you to get an apple from the grocery store. Think of all the people that it took to stock those shelves, get the apple to that store, pick, grow, and plant the apple. Think of who invented, built, and maintains the machinery, vehicles, and buildings used to transport that apple. Think of who raised all those people, taught them, fed them, and clothed them. In a strange way, it takes nearly everyone in the world just for you to buy an apple from the store.

I often hear people say they’re simply introverts, and thus don’t like people. I get it, except that isn’t how introverts work. Being an introvert myself, we can appreciate times of solitude to recharge, but ultimately we’re still human and need connection. And in fact, it’s been shown introverts do well in one-on-one or small group (less than 4 people) situations.

I also hear how difficult it can be to make friends these days, with how intent we are on socializing instead through social media. Let’s remember from our unplugged conversation, your brain does not recognize online relationships as social interaction. It needs another warm body in the room to interact with!

Ultimately, what I am asking is for you to participate in your relationships, even when it’s tough. And let’s be honest, depression is tough. Even when all you want is to retreat into the dark softness underneath your covers, even when it feels like nobody cares and that you don’t matter, I’m asking you to reach out. You’re not the only one who struggles, and connection is healing beyond belief. Here are a few ways you can participate in the relationships in your life:

  • Call someone. Maybe you find yourself wondering who you would call, frustrated that you’re always the one that has to reach out, or unsure of what to say. Call someone anyway. If only to ask how they are, what’s going on in their life, and to really care and listen to them.
  • Volunteer with or for others. For instance, make friends with someone in need at a retirement community. Work at a food bank and help families get the supplies they need to stay afloat. Come check in next week when we talk more about volunteering!
  • Say yes more often. When you’re down and sleep is all you can think of, it can be all too easy to come up with reasons for not doing things when you’re invited. The more you say no, the less people ask. So, start saying yes. If you’ve already no’d yourself into a no-ask situation, reach back out and ask when the next lunch date is with your coworkers or peers.
  • Get a pet. Specifically one that is soft and cuddly that you feel able to care for. Tell them about your day. They require you be responsible to them, and it can gently encourage you to get up and get out there.
  • You need a village. You need people outside of you, your parents, your partner, and your dog. You need friends. You don’t have to see them everyday, but you do need to care, reach out to them, and keep them in your thoughts.
    • Not sure where to find your village? Use your internets. The following websites can help: Meetup, Nextdoor, Peanut (for moms), Nearify, We3, and Meet My Dog. Of course, always use your best discretion when using online tools for meeting others.
    • Reach out to the people around you. Go to coffee shops and don’t sit on an electronic device. Join a class, book club, or workout group. Check out events in your area where you might find like-minded people. Step out of your comfort zone and be okay with whether or not your attempts are successful. If you’ve attempted, you’ll be successfully taking care of yourself.
  • In the relationships you’re already in, check in with them. Ask them how the relationship is going, how they’re doing, and invite them for a regular meetup. Show up, wholeheartedly, and others are more likely to show up for you.

It’s time to get out there. If you see someone at a party or get together who’s struggling to chat, go invite them into conversation. You can be friendly to anyone, and the more you reach out the more likely you are to find those special people who can be friends for the long haul.

You can do this, but you don’t have to do it alone.

See you next week!

 

Stepping Up Your Sleep Game

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We’re back for week six! How have you been doing? Let’s recap. So far we’ve reviewed the following steps in moving through depression:

  1. Exercise
  2. Meditate
  3. Own Your Sh*t (yep- I said it!)
  4. Eat Right
  5. Unplug

Take a moment and reflect upon which you’ve been rocking, and the ones that could use a little oomph. There’s no shame when you’re trying something new. If you’ve been struggling, no time like the present to recommit!

Sleep is one of the most important parts of being a human. We need sleep in order to think, grow, learn… basically in order to human. There’s a lot of great information on the National Sleep Foundation‘s website.

We all know sleep is good for us. So why is sleep so difficult for so many people? It’s estimated about 35-40% of Americans struggle with sleep issues. That’s nearly half of us.

Let’s talk about Poor Sleep and how to overcome it in order to further our journey through (and eventually out!) of depression.

Poor sleep is any one (or combination) of the following: difficulty falling asleep, nighttime wakings, non-restorative sleep, or short sleep times. For the sake of our depression conversation, we’ll also include over-sleeping. Surely, physical conditions can make sleep more difficult. And, the worse a mood is and the more stressed you are, the worse your physical conditions. It can be a cycle.

Not getting proper sleep is detrimental to your well being. When you are sleep deprived, your risk of cardiovascular disease increases due to a process of increase inflammation, increase sympathetic nervous system, cortisol, and disrupt your vagus nerve (which controls the connection between your brain and major organs, as well as whether you’re anxious or calm).

It’s important to understand your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm, aka your sleep/wake cycle, is like an app running in the background of your brain. It is responsible for understanding time and functions in 24 hour cycles to help you be alert when you need to and sleep when you need to. Part of it is naturally occurring, but part of it is triggered by the environment. For example, when it is dark your brain is triggered to feel sleepy. The average person feels the sleepiest times between 2-4 am and 1-3 pm (hence, the after lunch lag). If you’re all caught up on sleep, you won’t notice the swings as much.

Since some of your circadian rhythm is environmentally triggered, you have some room to make improvements. Here are some tips to trick your body into getting the sleep it needs. You might notice they are similar to the steps you’ve already taken!

  1. Avoid naps, if possible, for now. If you have an afternoon slump, drink a big thing of water and take a walk.
  2. Reduce caffeine and keep it before noon so it has time to get out of your system. Careful of too much dark chocolate at night!
  3. Exercise during the day so your body spends the energy it needs to sleep well. Stretching before bed can be helpful for restless limb issues.
  4. Unplug at least an hour before bed. Melatonin production begins when it gets dark, and the light of electronics can disrupt this. As it gets closer to bedtime, allow the lights to dim some.
  5. Create a consistent waking and sleeping routine. 
    • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Shoot for falling asleep within the same 60 minutes each night. Staying up and sleeping in late can disrupt your cycle.
    • Consistent bedtime routines are key. Do the same relaxing things in the same order each night. Color, read, journal, or take a bath or shower. You know you’re consistent when your dogs know it’s bedtime before you say anything, because they know what it means, for example, that you’re filling your water glass.
  6. Body scans are particularly helpful for falling asleep, as are progressive muscle relaxation meditations. You can also listen to sleep stories (bedtime stories for adults) on apps like Calm.
  7. Sleep in a room that is dark, quiet (noise makers are helpful for blocking out environmental sleep disrupters), and cool.
    • Pro Tip: if your room is messy, it might help your sleep to clean it first!
  8. Do not sleep with electronic devices on or where they can flash and wake you. If you need sound to fall asleep, try sleep stories, podcasts, or audiobooks. Something that doesn’t disrupt your brain’s ability to produce melatonin and put you to sleep.

As an adult, you should get between 7-9 hours of sleep. The younger you are (under 18) the more sleep you need, up to 18+ hours a day as a newborn. Everyone is individual, but if you are functioning on 6 or fewer hours of sleep at night, you’re not functioning. That little sleep triggers stress hormones in your body and makes everything else more difficult, including recovering from depression. If you’re sleeping more than 10 hours each night, you may need to look at whether you’re getting enough exercise, nutrition, etc. See if you can wake up an hour earlier and get your body going with a shower, walk, or meditation.

If you sleep little and try to get more, you might find that you feel groggy in the morning. That’s because of sleep debt. The sleep you don’t get accumulates. Think of your sleep like a checking account. In order to spend energy, you need to deposit energy. If you don’t deposit sleep, you get bounced checks and overdraft fees. Keep up the more sleep for a few weeks and then see how you feel before you give it up.

I get a lot of feedback from people that struggle to shut their minds down at bedtime. Yes. You are not alone. Even I struggle with this sometimes. Try the tips above, specifically unplugging an hour before bedtime, getting daily exercise, and trying a meditation to help you fall asleep. If you find yourself stuck between not quiet awake and not quite asleep as you ruminate, get up. Go get a glass of water, hit the restroom, sit on the floor and stretch. Try not to turn on any lights if you can help it.

  • Pro Tip: Visualizations can help calm the thoughts. I envision my mind as a white board. I spray it down, then wipe all the thoughts away. Sometimes I have to spray my white board several times and really clean in the cracks. I’ve had other people envision chalk boards (my mind goes right to nails on a- I can’t even type it!), paintings, turning off a mental TV, turning the page of a book, etc. Come up with some visualization to help you clean up your mind.

Ultimately, your brain needs to be at optimal functioning in order to recover. It needs meditation, nutrition and water, checks and balances, quiet time, and sleep. It also needs social interaction, which we’ll talk about next week.

You can do this. Recovery from depression is possible. You have the beginning basics to care for your body. It’s time to do it. Especially when you don’t want to or can’t find the energy. Even if you turn the TV off for an extra 20 minutes, color for 5, or meditate for 2.

Whatever steps you take are steps. Your commitment and gentle effort can get you to a life that works for you. If you need extra help, reach out.

Take care,

D

Balance Darkness with Light

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Can you believe it? You’re halfway there! We’re starting this week having spent the last month working on our diet, exercise, meditation ritual, and sh*it owning process on our path to moving through depression. What’s next in store for you? You betcha. It’s time to unplug.

I’ll admit, this is a little bizarre timing with the whole Facebook scandal thing. Or perhaps it’ll just be that little bit extra motivation. Let’s talk about, though, why you don’t need a scandal to unplug.

My guess is that you’ve heard that use of electronics can increase your risks of depression and anxiety. It’s even more dangerous for teenagers and young adults.

There’s no shortage of people out there asking us to unplug more often. There’s also plenty of cartoons depicting just what it does to us. Like this from the NY Times about how phone use is impairing intimate relationships:

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You can take a handy quiz they have set up to check how your relationship with your phone is. Believe you me, the irony of you reading about less electronic use on my blog is not lost on me.

I could spend a lot of time explaining to you the ways in which overuse of electronics is harmful to you. And you probably know most of them already. Here’s a personal example.

I recently decided to give the whole Instagram thing a try. I know, I’m behind. Let’s blame it on me being old. But let me share with you what I’ve found.

It’s starts off innocent enough. You just want to connect with people and share fun stories. Then likes come through, follows, comments. So you check out their pages, like some things, maybe search through hashtags. Suddenly you’ve lost a half an hour, maybe more, to doing nothing but scrolling through endless pictures. But posting is fun, especially since it gets your creative juices flowing with both photography and writing. Soon life becomes little moments wanting their pictures taken. Then more likes, comments, follows. More searches. More time lost. So you try not to use the app, but find yourself still picking up your phone more than you need to. Or thinking of the next time you’ll have a few minutes to peek through, promising yourself you won’t spend more than five minutes…

After a week of using Instagram, I noticed several things. For starters, my sleep sucked. I had a difficult time falling asleep every night that I checked it. My attention waned, as my ability to stay present in the moment was snatched away by wondering. My work suffered, as little moments that could have been spent well were wasted away. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I couldn’t keep it up. I remember the struggle when Myspace came out. Then Facebook. It sucks you in.

Oh man, and streaming services? Forget it.

Excessive electronic use, whether through phones, computers, TV, tablet, or what-have-you, is hurting your mental health. Recent research has also shown that social media is especially damaging and increases the risk of suicide in teens who use it more than 5 hours per day. Think about what it does to our kids’ brains to spend all day every day on tablets at school. It’s how we teach them now. Here are some other ways electronic use is disruptive:

  • Incomplete and often unrealistic expectations. Many people post more about the things that make it appear as though they have a great life, family, body, etc.
  • Avoidance of feelings. It can be terrifying to open up and let feelings have space, and infinitely easier to quiet them with a quick distraction.
  • Internet is the perfect marketing scheme. It only shows you what it thinks you want to see. So if you’re depressed, you’re probably going to get more suggestions on the topic or relate to others online who are also in a dark place. Like parents get a lot of parenting links in their ads and “sponsored posts.” Or if you click on political support things for this person, you’re going to see more positive things about them and more negative about their competition.
    • You can’t get out of depression by feeding it more depression. You need to balance your exposure to the darkness with things that bring you light.
  • It eats time. Time that you might feel you don’t have in order to eat right, exercise, meditate, spend time with friends, keep up a clean house, etc. If you have time to check your social media, play games, or scroll through something, binge watch something, then you have time to take care of yourself.
  • Dangers of anonymity. Cyber bullying is real, and it’s not just for teens. Just read any lengthy comment feed.
  • Getting overstimulated. It’s important that the brain has both excited times and relaxed times. Electronics are like little strobe lights. You need downtime too.

I hear a lot of “good” reasons for people to be on electronics.

For example, it’s how I keep in touch with people! It doesn’t have to be. Did you know that your brain does not experience the interactions via snapchat, instagram, facebook, etc as social interaction? Face to face, real social interaction and emotional intimacy is vital to your ability to thrive.

Oh, it helps me relax or blow off steam! Actually, it helps distract you. Which is not the same thing as coping. Distraction can be a useful skill, but it cannot be your only skill.

Remember last week’s assignment of letting go of excuses.

So why don’t we stop? It’s called addiction. Addiction, simplified, is compulsive use despite harmful consequences. The way I describe addiction is simple: it starts with using something to avoid having to feel, be alone with ourselves (or our thoughts), or like reasons. It’s an escape. Of course, in some cases it becomes its own beast.

Does that sound like something you might do? Like perhaps taking a “break” from one electronic device by using another?

I get it. Electronic, and especially phone, overuse is pervasive. I dare say it’s the most common form of addiction, and it’s not just in our country.

What are we to do?

Well, let’s be honest. Computers, including those mobile and miniature ones we keep in our pockets, aren’t going anywhere for now. When it comes to helping our mental health, it’s important that we’re using them responsibly. Here’s a place to start.

Danielle’s 10 Do’s and Don’ts:

  1. Pay attention for how much time you’re on your phone, including using various applications. A tech way of doing this is through apps like Moment.
  2. Don’t spend your time with others on your devices unless absolutely necessary. Hint: it’s hardly ever necessary.
    • Here’s a fun game: Phone Stack. Whoever picks up their phone first pays the bill.
  3. Do look for opportunities to enjoy life around you. If you’re waiting for something, engage people around you in conversation. If you’re outside, take a deep breath.
    • You can also do the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise. 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you feel, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste. You can switch the senses up to match where you are.
  4. If you use an app too much, delete the app and access it through your internet browser. Or turn off notifications. Or limit yourself to a certain number of minutes on that app each day. Or make it so you have to enter your password each time you want to use it.
  5. Stop electronic use at least an hour before bedtime. Do something neurologically soothing in order to help transition yourself into sleep.
    • Examples of activities: Stretching, shower/bath, reading, journaling, coloring, meditating, etc.
  6. Carve out time for quiet reflection. This can be praying, meditating, a bath, or a walk outside. Make time to not only be with yourself, but allow space for your feelings. If need be, turn on music instead of TV.
  7. Make commitments and stick to them. Like no phones at dinner or only checking a social media app once per day.
  8. Read real books. Like the ones you check out from the library, where you physically turn each page to read it. They even smell good.
  9. If you must distract, do it with quality, light promoting content. Like The School of Life, Happify, or Calm.
  10. Pay attention to what you’re pumping into your psyche. Is it positive? Violent? Dramatic? Loving? Competitive? Twisted? What do different shows and media do to your psyche? Ever watch tattoo shows and want a new tattoo? Or cooking shows and get on a cooking kick? Hint: Media affects you.

You can do this. Less time in virtual, more time in reality. Your mood, relationships, brain chemistry, social life, and spirit will thank you.

What’s one way you can find balance today?

See you next week for our talk about sleep? You’ll already be a step ahead if you quit with the bedtime electronics.

Take care out there,

D

What Depression Eats

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There are a few topics in our culture that seem to beg an exorbitant amount of attention for the wrong reasons. One of those topics is diet. There are so many ideas about what a *right* diet is. Paleo? Atkins? Vegan? Vegetarian? Pescatarian? Keto? Jenny Craig? Low Fat? Gluten Free? South Beach? Weight Watchers? Blood Type Diet? Histamine Intolerance? Dairy Free? Or perhaps you’ve been looking into a Master Cleanse…

I can’t tell you which of the above diets is good for you. Or which are a little outdated (Does anyone still do Jenny Craig?). I’m not a nutritionist. There are people for that.

What I’m here to tell you is about the connection between what we put in our bodies and how that affects our mental health. When it comes to recommending diet, you’ll most likely hear me recommend something that meets the following criteria:

  1. It doesn’t stress you out, bring up anxiety, or create an obsessive behavior to do (though sometimes changes can be emotionally trying at first).
  2. It consists of real food.
  3. Eating isn’t a way of numbing out difficult feelings (though small amounts of dark chocolate can help regulate hormones) or a means to control or punish oneself.

Our eating habits are learned young, based on how our parents ate, the culture of food in our family, and our own relationship with it. If you want to know more, try the book First Bite. Just because they’re learned young, though, doesn’t mean they’re out of our control.

We can learn to take back our relationship to food.

Too often we don’t pay attention when we eat. Perhaps we zone out on our phones, computers over “lunch break,” or sit in front of the TV (we’ll talk about electronics next week). Rarely do we really taste our food.

When was the last time you intentionally and mindfully consumed a food, pausing before eating, during chewing, after swallowing, 20 minutes later, 4 hours later, and two days later to notice the various responses your body had to the food?

Some food might feel amazing during the tasting/chewing part, and the satisfaction might even continue 20 minutes later. But what about later that day, or a couple days later? Does that food contribute to your body feeling healthy, energized, nourished, and strong? Did that food’s benefits disappear once the sugar high subsided? Or worse, did it contribute to worsening depressive symptoms?

*Body Scan Meditations can be helpful in learning how your body responds to food*

It’s true, there is a link between worsening depressive symptoms and high refined sugars. Here’s a quick and dirty list of foods that may deserve a closer look at how they might negatively impact your mood:

  1. Sugar. Some research suggests that it can increase depression, as well as risks for diabetes and dementia. Remember how earlier we talked about how depression wants you to do what makes depression stronger? Ever crave sweets to try and stamp out a bad mood? Sugar is in way more than you think. Even “healthy” cereals can have too much! Try and stay under 5g of sugar, to start.
    • *Note: this includes artificial sweeteners.
  2. Fast and Fried food. The Journal of Public Health Nutrition states that eating these foods can increase your risk for developing depression. It’s also thought that clogging of arteries can reduce blood flow to the brain, which impedes function.
  3. Caffeine. Too much caffeine can impact your sleep and create the jitters, which could trick your brain into thinking it’s anxious. Try to cut down to one cup of coffee or tea each morning if you’re a heavy user.
  4. High Sodium and Highly Processed foods. They take a lot more energy for your body to process and can contribute to fatigue: a symptom of depression. There is also a lot out there about how preservatives, food dyes, and additives could contribute to mental health and behavior disruption. I’ll let you do the research on that one.

What about foods that are good for you and your fight against depression? Here are some foods thought to boost mood:

  1. Dark Leafy Greens – Nutrient Dense and Inflammation Fighting
  2. Berries – Antioxidants have been shown in some studies to reduce depressive symptoms.
  3. Foods containing Folic Acid
    • Broccoli, Beans, Tomatoes, Bananas, etc.
  4. Foods high in Omega 3s – supports brain function
    • Flax, Chia, Edamame, Walnuts, etc.
  5. Avocados – They’re just a powerhouse.
  6. Protein Rich Foods Boost Energy & Alertness
  7. Complex Carbs can help boost mood, too. There is some thought that carb cravings come from low serotonin. But reach for whole grains! (If your bread responds like tempurpedic, it’s probably not whole grains).
  8. Drink A LOT OF WATER. I like to drink as many ounces as I am pounds. Pretending I’m 100lbs (I’m not), I’d strive for 100 oz. That’s just me. The big guys recommend about 100 oz for women and 120 oz for men each day.

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Okay, Danielle. Enough lists. What is the point?

My point is that your body deserves your respect. It’s worth honoring and loving your body by fueling it with what it needs to function at its best. If your body is suffering, how can your mind feel good? They’re connected.

You might notice I didn’t recommend that you increase your consumption of frozen goods like taquitos, hotpockets, or veggies in cheese sauce. Or maybe that’s just what my depression ate. I also didn’t recommend you eat more potato chips, french fries, or soda. Are you surprised?

Of course not. You know what is good for you, and you still don’t always eat it. My husband is a big fan of the “I’d rather die early and be happy eating what I want” mantra. If you want to tell yourself this, that’s fine. But I’m going to just leave this one question here…

are you really happy?

Since we’re talking about what we put in our bodies, let’s just throw one more thing out there. We all know alcohol is a depressant, right? And that when we’re depressed, drinking only increases symptoms. But did you know that you have to be careful with any recreational drugs, including marijuana? Marijuana has been shown to play a role in the onset of schizophrenia in those with predispositions or other mental health issues. Additionally, withdrawal symptoms from marijuana include anxiety, depression, and irritability that can last months.

In the name of not using food to numb out our feelings, being mindful about the good things we put into our bodies, and dedicating ourselves to honoring our bodies… until depression is a thing in the (distant) past for you, probably best to steer clear of alcohol, marijuana, and the like.

 

The goal with all of this is simple: consume more of what feels good because it is actually good for your body. Consume less of what feels good because it helps you numb out difficult emotions. Honor your body by feeding it fresh fruits, veggies, lean means, and whole grains. Make little adjustments that feel sustainable and aren’t painful. Uncomfortable, fine. That indicates growth. Painful? Pull back a little.

It’s important that you don’t go into this like a crash diet. We’re not trying to operate under extremes. We’re wanting to make lasting change. Your taste buds can change to appreciate real food, but that takes time. If you want a little treat here or there, it’s not a problem. It’s only a problem when you can either feel the urge to keep eating it or want it when you’re having a rough day.

If you find yourself several days or weeks into a food relapse, it’s not too late to re-commit yourself to living healthier. You also don’t have to drop a ton of money on organics if that isn’t feasible or important to you. Start with limiting your time in the aisles at the middle of the store.

Just like we don’t want to extreme crash diet, we don’t want to extreme calorie count either. Love your body in moderation. As a woman, if your caloric intake is at the bare minimum of 1,200 per day, your brain is operating in survival mode. It can’t thrive and recover from depression when it’s worried about whether it’ll live the day. Recommended calories for women are in the 1,600-2,400 per day range, whereas men are in the 2,000-3,000 range.

Let’s work on worrying less about calories and more about feeding your body what it needs to be healthy.

As always, if you’re wanting to make big changes or are worried about your health, consult a doctor.

Phew!

Does that feel like a lot?

Take care of yourself out there. We’ll see you next week. And remember, keep up with your exercise, meditation, sh*t owning, and healthy foods.

D