Hello everyone! I am so happy to announce that I am now a regular contributor for 30SecondMom!
30 Second Mom is a fabulous website and smartphone mobile app that gives tips to moms in 30 seconds or less. All you have to do is visit the site, set up your login, select the topics and contributors you’d like to follow, and voila! Tips appear on your “stream,” tailored just for you! So, if you’re a mom-on-the-go, take a moment and visit www.30SecondMom.com. This just might be the “tip” you need to make your full life just a little smoother!
Check out a couple of my tips:
Summer Survival: Helping Your Kids Set Summer Goals (watch the 30 second YouTube video of this tip)
7 Strategies for Summer Sanity
Summer is upon us once again with its longer days and warmer weather. Yet for we parents of school-aged children, summer break can be anything but relaxing. I admit, my past few summer breaks have started with a mental breakdown on my part. But this year is different. I have looked back, taken notes, and learned from my mistakes; with only four days of school left, my summer sanity plan is firmly in place. So, allow me to share my 7 strategies for summer sanity in hopes it will bring a little sanity your way this summer too!
1) Evaluate & adjust expectations. This is a biggie. As I’ve written before, “All frustration comes from expectations” (Dr. John Lund); expecting your schedule to remain the same in the summer is simply not possible and your sanity will pay the price if you don’t make some changes. For example, I’ve learned that I need to cut back on my own “projects” during the summer. The less I expect to get done, the less interrupted and frustrated I feel. Instead, I now try to read, relax, and play a little more in the summer, reminding myself that, even though I’m not getting much of my “to do list” done, I am doing some very important things (like strengthening my relationships and resting up for the fall). Expecting a little less in the summer can bring a whole lot more peace of mind. (For tips on altering expectations, read this).
2) Set up summer rules. What are your policies for summer sleepovers, playdates, chauffeur services, and chores? Call a family meeting, discuss, and write them down; then, post them in plain sight. Having written “rules” takes the guess work out of summer days, providing structure and helping children (and parents) know what to expect. One of our rules involves “Summer Kitchen Hours”. These hours are posted next to the other rules, telling the kids when the kitchen is “open” and when it is not. This helps prevent constant grazing and entices my hungry teens out of bed a little earlier, but mostly it helps me feel like I’m not constantly cooking and cleaning. What policies might help your summer run a little more smoothly?
3) Don’t over- or under- schedule. While it certainly helps to have some scheduled activities each week, resist the temptation to sign up for too many. Let’s face it—we live in an overscheduled world, and overscheduling wears parents and kids out. Instead, let summer be a time to slow down from the hustle and bustle of the school year. Planning one activity a day is plenty; and it’s ok to have days with nothing planned at all. It’s actually good for kids to have “nothing to do” sometimes—it allows them to hear their own thoughts and invokes creativity; it also helps them appreciate all they get to do at other times. When my kids start in with “I’m bored,” I tell them, “Great! I’m happy you’re bored—it’s good for you! Go sit and be bored for a while!” This gets plenty of eye-rolling, of course, but usually does the trick. (If they continue complaining, I say, “Oh, good! I need someone to help me get this work done”–they sure run away quickly after that one!). So, be careful with your scheduling–keeping kids (and you) entertained but not drained is a fine line to walk!
4) Do activities that you enjoy. Hiking? Reading? Drawing? Gardening?—whatever you love, look for opportunities to share it with your children; it’s a great way to teach them about the things you love. I love travelling, and now that I no longer have babies in tow taking my kids on trips is something I adore. (The photo to the right, is from when I decided [the week before] to take the fam to Utah. Once there, I took all the kids to Sundance for the day, to hike, bike, ride the lifts, and play frisbee [while my husband played golf]!) I also love music, so writing songs and playing instruments together is another great activity for us. The point is to find what you love and do it—you’ll be so much more engaged in what you’re doing, and your kids will be so much the better for it!
5) Set up some summer help. To avoid breaking down you need some breaks, and summer camps, babysitters, family, or friends can be a big help. You might set up a childcare co-op and swap “free time” with a friend; you might enlist grandparents to take the kids for a while; or, you might ask your partner or spouse to take over for a night or day each week. Whatever your situation, look for opportunities to get some help and then take them! Your sanity will thank you for it, I guarantee.
6) Create daily quiet time. Whether you’re a stay-at-home parent, a work-at-home parent, a work-at work parent (oh, let’s face it—we’re all working parents!), you need some time and space that is just for you. Being “on” all the time is a sure way to burn out. To prevent burn out, set up daily “quiet time”. In our home we have 1 hour of “quiet time” each afternoon. I help the little ones settle down with books, a movie, or coloring, put a sign on my door (“Mom’s Quiet Time—Please Do Not Enter”) and hit my bed for reading, a nap, and usually some dark chocolate. The older kids entertain themselves and they all know not to interrupt or else “mean mom” might make an appearance. It’s good for everyone to have a break from activities and from each other. What can you do to establish some quiet time each day?
7) Be flexible. All this being said, summer really is a test of flexibility. Just because you have a summer “plan” doesn’t mean it won’t change–it will. Just count on it. Remembering strategy #1, if you can expect things to change, you will handle those changes much more smoothly. Just roll with it—that’s what summer is all about. (For more on flexibility, read here).
So, here’s to the summer of sanity! My hope is that, by using these 7 strategies, your summer will not only be more a little more sane, but perhaps even a little (or a lot) more satisfying too!
What are your summer survival tips? What gets you frustrated? What have you found to make things easier? Help us all out by leaving a comment below!
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30 Second Mom Tips/Videos:
Your Postpartum Emotions:
The Baby Blues & You
Up to 80% of all new mothers will experience what is called “The Baby Blues.” If you are aware of this fact then lucky you because many families have no idea what is in store emotionally after the baby is finally here.
Postpartum Emotions for Moms & Dads
Too many families are never told that 4 out of 5 moms will feel sad, frustrated, tearful, anxious, and/or overwhelmed, what many women describe as “an emotional roller-coaster,” in the first days or weeks postpartum. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense that your emotions might be a little out of whack after pregnancy and childbirth, considering all your body and mind have been through. The abrupt changes in hormones, sleep deprivation, and the psychological adjustment to becoming a parent, not to mention the exhaustion of labor and delivery, can easily trigger fluctuations in emotions.[/two_third]
And those first few days are not just tough on moms either. A dad can also have the Baby Blues and is more likely to have symptoms if his partner has symptoms too. It’s sadly ironic that just when we parents desire to be at our very best, we are often physically and emotionally at a disadvantage.
The Good News
The good news is that The Baby Blues are temporary. Neither a “diagnosis” nor a “disorder,” The Baby Blues is a normal reaction to the stress surrounding childbirth, and symptoms should improve within two weeks or so. Knowing this helps normalize the craziness we feel those first few days and relieves the layers of stress we add when we start to fear we are not “normal.” Feeling emotionally abnormal at this time is, in its own way, normal. And telling ourselves we’re “normal” can be just the relief we need even if we are the only ones saying so.
What Can We Do?
So here are a few things couples can do to safely navigate the baby blues:
1) Education: Learning all you can about postpartum emotional adjustment can help normalize your symptoms and also tell you if or when it may be time to get some outside help.
2) Practical Support: Letting others help with housework, childcare, and other basic duties can give you the space you need to let yourself (and your emotions) settle in and heal. It can also give you a chance to catch up on that much-needed sleep that’s likely wreaking havoc on your emotional state!
3) Emotional Support: Having a trusted friend, partner, or family member you can talk to can make all the difference. It’s ok to feel what you’re feeling and having someone who is ok to let you feel it may be just what you need.
4) Partner Support: My best advice for couples is to be patient and kind with one another. Realize this time for what it is–a temporary adjustment period when a tiny baby has all the power and the helpless adults are simply trying to keep up!
Beyond The Baby Blues
The Baby Blues can feel very permanent but they really should only last for a few days or maybe a couple of weeks. If your “blues” are hanging on longer than two weeks or if your symptoms seem to be getting worse you may be experiencing a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder. Seeking counsel from an expert in perinatal mental health can help determine what your emotions are really up to and give you the tools you need to overcome them. (For resource options, click here).
Hang In There!
Your emotions may feel out-of-whack but that’s just part of having a baby. Eventually your body and emotions will resume a more “normal” routine. In the meantime, hang in there. It really does get easier over time, and it really is ok to just give in a little bit and go along for the ride.
Questions about the “Baby Blues”? Leave a comment and let me know!
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Women’s Emotions, Part 3: The Menstrual Cycle & Mood
Today we focus on the menstrual cycle. Sure, all females over age 11 or 12 have one (or at least once had one), but most do not understand how the menstrual cycle actually works and what kind of impact it can have on thinking, mood, and even behavior. It’s important that girls and women are educated about their body’s biochemistry, for it is education that leads to power—in this case, the power to take charge of our emotional well-being.
What is The Menstrual Cycle?
The menstrual cycle is, in a nutshell, “the result of an intricate, precise dialogue between your brain and your ovaries”. Notice that word—brain. If you recall, from Part 1 of this series, emotional health is a combination of one’s brain, hormones, and life experiences. The menstrual cycle is direct communication between your brain and your body, and that communication happens through hormones. Let’s take a look at the hormones in play with the menstrual cycle and how these hormones influence the brain.
Hormones of The Menstrual Cycle
The star of the show is estrogen. Estrogen influences positive moods, thinking, perception, motivation, memory, appetite, sex drive, anxiety and our response to stress. Having plenty of estrogen is what makes us feel relaxed, comfortable, and “well”. Testosterone is also a part of the show, though women have much lower levels of testosterone than men; it affects the limbic brain, which is responsible for primary drives and emotions, including libido. And finally, progesterone. Progesterone has been called “the dysphoric hormone” since it actually works against estrogen, decreasing the number of available estrogen receptors. In fact, evidence shows that in the latter part of the menstrual cycle progesterone may dismantle nerve connections estrogen has set up in the beginning of cycle. Endorphins also play a role, though they’re not hormones. You’re probably most familiar with endorphins from exercise, but these morphine-like petptides are also associated with the menstrual cycle, functioning as neurotransmitters in the brain, affecting appetite, thirst, sex drive, breathing rate, learning, memory, and the regulation of pain.
The 3 Phases of The Menstrual Cycle
Keeping in mind the functions of these hormones (and peptide), let’s look at the three phases of the menstrual cycle: the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase.
During the follicular phase, the first 2 weeks of the cycle, estrogen and testosterone rise and endorphins are released. With increasing levels of these hormones, this is the time when women tend to feel at their best—with clear thinking, easier learning, higher motivation and energy, and more calm emotions. At ovulation, usually day 14 of the cycle, estrogen, endorphins, and testosterone are at their highest levels. They then begin to decrease in the luteal phase.
The luteal phase is the second half of the cycle, when, assuming a woman did not get pregnant, the empty follicle secretes progesterone and estrogen. Not only are the “feel good” hormones receding, but as previously mentioned, progesterone actually dismantles estrogen receptors. (No wonder most women experience declining moods and thinking during the second half of the cycle). Estrogen makes one more attempt to climb after its first drop on day 14, but falls a second time (and is at its lowest) in the last, or premenstrual, week. This is why many women experience Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) 3-7 days before they start their period.
So, what does this all mean?
First, there are actually two drops in estrogen in the menstrual cycle. The first drop sets the stage for the impact on the brain of the second drop.
Second, each decrease in estrogen leads to what is known as an estrogen withdrawal state, and estrogen withdrawal can feel like coming off a drug. If you recall from Part 1, estrogen is a precursor to the neurotransmitters in the brain, like serotonin, that make us feel “well”. The two major shifts in hormones during the last weeks of the menstrual cycle literally alter the signals in the nerve pathways in the brain and can lead to alterations in mood, due to the depletion of serotonin from estrogen withdrawal. (Serotonin depletion is most often associated with Depression).
Third, (and pay attention here) research shows it isn’t the levels of hormones in a woman’s body that impacts her mood as much as how sensitive her brain is to these shifts in hormones. “…It is the particular combination of a woman’s hormone levels and her preexisting brain chemistry along with her life situation that results in her symptoms”. This explains why some women are more affected by their menstrual cycle and more prone to mood changes than others.
Mood & The Menstrual Cycle: A Study
A very interesting study from the 1930’s by a physician and a psychologist puts it all into perspective. The physician monitored the hormone states of women while the psychologist observed their behaviors. What they found was that the psychologist could predict, with amazing accuracy, where the women were in their menstrual cycles, based on behavior alone.
They found that during the first half of the cycle, before ovulation, the women’s emotions and behaviors were more focused on the outside world—on creating and contributing outside of themselves. During ovulation the women were more content, relaxed, and allowed more help and care from others. After ovulation, during the premenstrual phase when estrogen was lowest and progesterone highest, the women were more focused internally, on their own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.
This study illustrates what we women have sensed for years: We feel, think, and even behave differently in accordance with the dialogue of our menstrual cycles.
The Wisdom of The Menstrual Cycle
But this study also shows the wisdom of our female bodies. As author Christiane Northrup states, “I like to think of the first half of our cycles as the time when we are both biologically and psychologically preparing to give birth to someone or something outside of ourselves. In the second half of the cycles, we prepare to give birth to nothing less than ourselves”.
Sure, our menstrual cycles can make our moods feel a little complicated. But if we learn about our body and listen to its wisdom, we will not only have the power to take charge of our emotional well-being, but we will appreciate the incredible power our beautiful female bodies possess.
What are your thoughts on The Menstrual Cycle and Mood? Do you have any questions you’d like to see answered in a future post for the Women’s Emotions series? Connect with me by leaving a comment below! Then, join us for more of the Women’s Emotions series as we discuss emotional health across the lifespan and strategies to improve emotional well-being!
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 Bendeck, T., & Rubenstein, B. (1939). Correlations between ovarian activity and psychodynamic processes: The ovulatory phase. Psychosomatic Medicine, 1 (2), 245-270.
 Northrup, C. (2001). (p. 44).
Kick the Complaining Habit!
No body likes a whiner. Even my four year-old, Sydney, came home the other day from her babysitter and, after asking her how her day was, she said, “Pretty good, mom, ‘cept one thing was bad—Tyler* was whining all day!” (Tyler is her three-year old “boyfriend” she is always trying to kiss, to be like her older siblings, and yes, *his name has been changed to protect his innocence). As I said, no one likes a whiner.
I have to admit, I’ve been known to complain or even “whine” on occasion too. It seems that the more stressed and tired I am, the more verbal I become until I lose my filter and every little thought becomes public notice! I don’t even like being around myself when I act like this. So why is complaining such a draw for so many of us?
There are definitely those who complain simply out of personality style or habit. Circumstances like stress and fatigue can certainly influence our tendency to complain too. But I believe complaining usually starts with purer motives: Most of us simply want to be heard and understood. We want someone to know our frustrations, pain, or upset. We want to know we are not alone. No matter what lies beneath it, however, complaining is a habit worth kicking before it fills us with so much negative energy that we drive those we love away! And even more importantly, complaining is a habit we can kick.
So, what can we do? Some may think the advice, “Keep your thoughts to yourself,” is the way to go. But even though painting on a fake smile, keeping quiet, and always being “fine” may seem like a good idea, it’s bound to eventually lead to either an explosion, an implosion, or at least some really good meat for therapy later in life.
The trick is to be able to talk about how we feel without delving into the pool of indulgent complaints. Here are a few tips to help us strike this healthy balance:
1) Write down complaints. We complain because we have a pile of emotion inside that needs to come out, and writing is a great alternative to saying it out loud. There is something therapeutic about getting things out with a pen and paper (or computer keyboard). It can also help to see our complaints; it can validate those times when things really are crazy and help us let go of the times when they’re not as bad as we think, all without dumping on those we love.
2) Set a “complaining” appointment. It may sound a little bizarre, but setting an appointment for complaining can help too. A time limit will keep it focused. For instance, “I can’t complain at all until 3:30 pm, at which time I will tell all my complaints to my husband with a time limit of 10 minutes”. (It helps to tell the person we’re complaining to ahead of time that we are simply “venting” and don’t need anything more than a listening ear). Not only does this give us a guaranteed chance to air our complaints, it channels our complaints and stops us from needlessly dragging them on. And, most of the time, we’ll probably find that our “complaining appointment” is not even worth keeping.
3) Solve what can be solved, then let it go. The previous tips can help us sort out complaints and give us the voice we desire. But ultimately our complaints need to either be solved or let go. If there is something we can do to handle our complaints, then we do it. If not, then we vent it out and let it go. We will be so much happier and so will those around us.
Kick the Complaints!
So, try these tips and start kicking your complaining habit today! Or try the advice I recently heard from a speaker whose mother taught her that if she added a “Dear Heavenly Father” to the beginning of each complaint and an “Amen” to the end, it’s no longer a complaint, but rather, communication with God. What a concept! He is, after all, probably the only one who really wants to hear our complaints, and the only one (besides us) who can do anything about them.
What do you think about complainers? Are you one? What makes it such a hard habit to kick? Have you found any strategies that work for you? Leave us a comment and share your wisdom!
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Thought Management: Part I
The Link Between Thoughts, Feelings, Body, and Behavior
One of the best tools I’ve learned as a psychologist, mom, and human being is how to understand and change my thoughts. It’s estimated that humans have an average of 60,000 thoughts per day! Were you aware you were thinking so much? Probably not, for a vast majority of these thoughts are what are called “Automatic Thoughts”—they come automatically, without any conscious effort on our part, and most of the time we don’t even hear them. The problem is that our thoughts are linked to our bodily reactions, emotions, and behaviors. Even thoughts we don’t intend or want can set off a cycle of sensations, emotions and behavioral reactions, leaving us feeling out of control. But learning to see the connection between thoughts, feelings, bodily responses, and behaviors empowers us.
The Thought Cycle
Allow me to explain how this works. Life gives us situations. For example, I am walking through the forest when I see a bear. An automatic thought arises, “Ah! There’s a bear!” This thought creates a physiological response: my blood pressure rises, pulse increases, heart rate speeds up, and adrenaline pumps through my body. Almost simultaneously there is an emotion, or several emotions. Facing the bear I feel anxiety, panic, and fear; I then engage in a behavior. In this case, I run away from the bear. (Now, I have learned recently that the best thing to do when encountering a bear is actually not to run away, but for the sake of this example, we will ignore that little fact). Let’s say I run away to safety. What is my next thought? Perhaps, “Wow! I am safe! Way to go, me! Whew!” And my body’s response is for my parasympathetic nervous system to kick in, my heart rate slows, pulse lowers, and breathing resumes a more natural pattern. I have some emotions—joy, relief, satisfaction! And my next behavior? I go out for an ice-cream cone to celebrate my success!
But let’s say I’ve been raised to believe I am good-for-nothing—I am a wimp, I overreact, I always run away from my problems. In this case, after I find myself safely out of the bear’s reach, my thoughts might sound like, “You are such a wimp! Why did you run? It was just a small bear. You probably could have taken it! Why are you always such a coward?” My body’s response would be to keep the cortisol and adrenaline flowing, my stomach would become upset from tension, and my breathing would remain fast and shallow. My emotions might include frustration, anger, disappointment, and self-loathing. And my behavior? I would go and eat an entire carton of ice-cream as form of self-punishment.
This is Aaron Beck’s cognitive-behavioral theory in a nutshell. We can see that not only are thoughts, feelings, the body, and behaviors connected; they are influenced by the thoughts, feelings, reactions and behaviors of our past. And once we can see this cycle, we have a choice: to either ignore what we see, or to listen and intervene when we hear something that doesn’t quite make sense.
My own classic example comes from when I was in graduate school. Here I was, two kids, my husband in dental school, attending a full-time doctoral program, working part-time as a fitness instructor, and obviously surviving on very little sleep. One day I came home to a surprisingly empty house. My husband, OJ, had picked up the boys on his way home and taken them to the park, and I had 2 blessed hours alone. I immediately started cleaning, trying to remedy the bomb of Superman capes, lion’s tails made of belts, Scooby-Doo bowls and silly straws, that covered what once had been our living room and kitchen. It wasn’t until I dug into the pile of dirty clothes to start several loads of laundry that I noticed my body was tense, my frustration mounting higher than the pile before me, and I heard a sing-song voice within say, “I can’t handle this! I’m going to freak out!”
“Wait a minute,” I said to myself, “I heard that! What exactly can’t I handle?” It was the first time I had heard my automatic thoughts and stopped to question them. I was just doing laundry, so why was I so frustrated? After a few moments of listening I heard my answer, “I’m exhausted. I have a quiet home. I want to take a nap, and instead I have to clean and do laundry.” Well, did I have to do the laundry right then? No. It was a choice I had made. So, I decided to unmake that choice and instead choose to take a nap. Sure, the house was still a mess when my family came home, but the difference was that I was no longer a mess.
Can you see the power that listening to and altering your thoughts can have on your life? Through practice we can train ourselves to pay attention to the important thoughts and gleam valuable nuggets of truth—about how we feel, what we need, and ultimately, who we are. Then, we can let the rest go.
Of course, it’s hard to do at first; like any new skill it takes practice to hear, challenge, and change unhealthy thoughts. So it’s best to start small. I suggest if this is new to you that you start by simply trying to hear what you tell yourself in stressful, overwhelming, or even supremely joyful times. Begin to notice the impact your thoughts are having on your life.
Set Yourself Free
It takes time to master your thinking, but believe me, it is well worth the effort. I still use these valuable skills every single day, and I’m teaching them to my children now too. I hope you will join me for part II of my “Thoughts” series, where we will learn to use a Thought Record, and begin to challenge the thoughts that you will, by then, be so much better at hearing. Stick with us as we learn the powerful skill of managing our thinking and discovering the truth of how we feel, behave, and the truth of who we are. After all, you know what they say: “The truth shall set you free.” It will. I assure you. It will.
~This post is based on an excerpt from Dr. Hibbert’s forthcoming book, This is How We Grow
Questions? Comments? I’d love your “thoughts” (pun intended!), so leave a comment below!
Thought Management, Part 2: Coming Soon!
Women & Friendship:
The ABC’s of Making & Keeping Friends
“Make New Friends, But Keep the Old…”:
Today and tomorrow I’m attending one of the largest women’s conferences in the world at my alma mater, BYU. Sitting beside my BFF, Leonore, and surrounded by thousands of remarkable women and their BFF’s reminds me of the power of women & friendship.
Leonore and I have been friends for almost 10 years. We met at church two days after I moved to town. I was holding my newborn daughter and stood up to introduce myself: “Hi. I’m Christi. My husband, OJ, and I have three kids. We just moved back to Phoenix from Los Angeles, where we’ve been living for four years for graduate school. Two weeks ago today I graduated with my doctorate in psychology. One week later I gave birth to my third child. Five days later we moved here. I guess that’s it!” Needless to say I had been feeling quite overwhelmed by all of this, so I was happily surprised and very grateful when Leonore came up immediately after, introduced herself, and invited me to a party later that week!
What prompted Leonore to be so friendly to me? First of all, she’s a very friendly person. But moreso, she was looking for a good friendship too and took advantage of the opportunity. The way she tells it is: “I heard Christi stand up and say, ‘Yeah, I just graduated with my doctorate and had a baby and moved,’ and I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve got to be friends with her!’ So I just ran over, introduced myself, and invited her to a party.” Leonore is definitely an “A” friend. I’ll explain what I mean by “A” friend a little bit later, but first, I’d like to talk about friendship a little bit.
Friendship Facts & Tips
I can’t tell you how often the topic of friendship comes up when I’m working with women in therapy–women who feel like they have no real friends, women who worry their old friendships just aren’t working anymore, women who stress over finding “good” new friends, and women who feel guilty that they can’t live up to what their “good friends” need. When we were children it seemed so simple! I watch my 4 and 8 year-old daughters make friends in minutes wherever they go all the time! But for us “grown-ups” friendship can be much more challenging.
So what are the facts on friendship? How can we create a circle of friends that is healthy for us? Is it really even that important? Here are a few facts and tips that might clear things up.
1) Friendship is important, especially for women. Girlfriends fill a void that partners or spouses usually can’t fill. Sharing tips, emotions, and advice; laughing, crying, and venting, there’s just something about women being with other women that can let us know we’re not alone, help us recharge, and motivate us to go home even better than before.
2) Each person’s friendship needs are not the same. Most of us do not understand this principle. We think that we should all somehow feel the same about friendships and have the same needs, forgetting that each person’s friendship needs are just as unique as we are! Some of us need companionship for frequent outings and events, while others need only one or two close companions to talk things over with on the phone. Some friends need continual contact, while others you might not see for months and then pick up right where you left off (like Leonore and I!). We must learn to be more understanding of the other person’s needs and to accept that even though our needs are different, neither way is “the right way”. We can work to compromise and meet in the middle, or sometimes we may need to accept that our needs are too different and the friendship just isn’t working, and that’s ok too.
3) Friendships change over time. Life events can change a friendship. For instance, when one friend has a baby and the other does not, it can distance the two worlds so much that the friendship simply drifts away. Friendships often fall apart in times of crisis or great stress too, when one friend is suddenly in great need and the other is not able or willing to fill those needs. Whatever the circumstances, friendships do change as our lives change. Remember that this is simply part of growing. As I learned on Pinterest, “As you grow up you don’t lose friends, you just learn who the real ones are” (http://pinterest.com/pin/134756213820487705/)!
4) It’s ok to let go of friendships that no longer work. You will know whether it’s worth the effort or not to keep the friendship. If it’s not, then just wish your friend well and hope you might meet up again in the future. It may be a relief to them too or it may disappoint them. Either way, it’s ok if it is done kindly. (Disappointing others is ok too; it’s part of life). Then, move on. As the children’s song goes, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.” Keep the old friendships that are still working, but don’t be afraid to seek out new friendships that might better suit your needs at that time.
Often we’re uncertain what a “healthy” friendship even means. We may think that everyone needs to be our BFF or we may feel like we need hundreds of acquaintances to be “healthy”. Let me just clarify: Healthy is relative. It’s different for everyone. So how can you know what is healthy for you? Allow me to explain the ABC’s of friendship. This helps me create strong, healthy friendships and it will hopefully help you too.
There are A friends, there are B friends and there are C friends.
Your B friends make up the bulk of your friendships. You like each other, you have fun together, you hang out. They’re good people that make you feel good too—that’s why they’re your friends! B friends are good to have, and you can easily maintain dozens of B friendships at a time.
Then there are your A friends. This is the smaller group of people who you not only like, hang out with, and have fun with, but these are the friends you really “click” with. These friends know you in and out; they really “get” you. But even more, these friends truly inspire you, they push you to be better, and they make you a better person. You will naturally have fewer A friends than B friends. It’s just the way it is. And research shows one, two, or three A friends is all you really need. I repeat: one, two or three A friends is all you really need. Remember that next time you feel like you “only have a couple close friends”. That’s the way we women, for the most part, were made to be.
What about the C friends? These are the friends who, for whatever reason, bring you down, who try to get you off track, or suck you into their own drama so often it helps no one. While you’re kind and friendly to C people, you need to be careful not to spend too much time around them. Exercise caution if you find yourself surrounded with C people. It’s ok and even healthy to set boundaries with friends who are not a good influence. After all, how can you become something you are trying to be when you are undermined at every turn (the same goes for family members like this)!
Quantity vs. Quality
In her book, MWF Seeking BFF, journalist Rachel Bertsche quotes journalist Valerie Frankel’s writings on friendship: ”‘Psychologists have long described four major types of friendships…1) The acquaintance, someone you’d chat with on the street or at a local cafe, who gives you a sense of belonging; 2) the casual friend, a ‘grab lunch’ pal who often serves a specific purpose, such as a tennis or running partner, 3) the close buddy, an intimate trustworthy comrade you can say anything to; and 4) the lifer, who’s as deep and forever as family.’ Franke’s resaerch found that women should have 3 to 5 lifers, 5 to 12 close freinds, 10 to 50 casuals, and 10 to 100 acquaintances”1. Again, the numbers of friendships each of us needs will vary greatly. I say that it’s not the quantity but the quality of friends in your life that really matters. You can have hundreds of acquaintances and still feel lonely. Or you may have one “lifer” and feel happy as a clam.
Friendships come in all shapes and sizes, and they matter. Learn what you need from your friendships. Know that it’s ok to seek out friends that can fill those needs. Remember that you don’t need hundreds of friends and you probably won’t find even dozens of A friends. Take charge of who you let into your inner world by carefully selecting your friendships. After all, you become like your peer group, and if you never surround yourself with friends who lift you higher, how will you ever learn to fly?
I would love to hear your thoughts on friendship! What makes an “A” friend to you? Have you ever had to let a friendship go? How have your friendships changed over the years? Leave a comment and let us know!
1Bertsche, R. (2011). MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend. Ballantine Books; New York, NY.Read More
Women’s Emotions: Part 2
The Emotional Earthquake
Welcome back to the “Women’s Emotions” series. I hope you’ve already gained a little more insight into how women’s emotions work (or don’t work).
If you haven’t had a chance to read the Introduction and Part 1 yet, you may choose to do so, because today we will be building upon the basics explained in the first two segments as we examine how our brains, hormones, and life experiences can combine to create “tremors” and “earthquakes” in our emotional health.
The Earthquake Theory
I learned about the “Earthquake Theory” years ago from the amazing book, Women’s Moods¹. I use it all the time to help women (and the men who love them) better understand their own occurrence of emotional illness. Often, a woman will sit with me and explain, “I’ve never had any kind of depression or anxiety. Now I’m a mess! It feels like it came out of nowhere and I don’t understand why!” The earthquake theory can quickly clear things up.
Understanding Tremors & Earthquakes
As we learned in Part 1, our brains, hormones, and life experiences are connected and influence one another to create our overall experience of emotional health. So what happens when any one of these components is put under extreme stress?
Think of a “real” earthquake. Before it happens, the ground is shifting, little bits at a time, without any indication on the surface of what is happening below. The same goes for us.
Whenever our brain, hormones, or life experiences are stressed or altered, those changes will affect the other two components and can cause significant changes in our experience of emotional well-being, what I call either a “tremor” or an “earthquake. Our challenging, difficult, painful, and traumatic experiences shift our brain chemistry until finally one day, any other little change can come (like a shift in hormones) and make the whole thing crash in on us! This is the emotional earthquake.
A “tremor” is what we call any minor changes in emotional health—mild depressive symptoms, anxiety, irritability, or even Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)—that lasts for a few days or weeks at most but doesn’t significantly impair overall functioning. For example, when your hormones shift just before your period, they cause changes in your brain chemistry (since the two are directly linked—see part 1). For many women these changes will in turn affect not only mood but will also increase stressful life experiences around that time. On the flip side, a woman who has a history of stressful life experiences (which also alter the brain chemistry—see part 1) may suddenly find that she becomes emotionally dysregulated when she gets her period or goes on a hormone-based contraception, the changes in hormones setting off the “tremor” that was already primed to happen.
Women experiencing a tremor will feel “normal” again in time and without intervention.
But experiencing tremors over and over can cause even greater stress on the brain. In fact, we usually fail to recognize just how much our history of tremors, life stress, and hormone shifts can set us up for future emotional meltdowns. Just like a real earthquake, once our brain chemistry is shifted over and over all it may take is one more shift and “boom!” we have an emotional earthquake.
Let me see if I can make this a little clearer by sharing a case example—my own.
My mom was diagnosed with cancer for the first time when I was 15. Then my youngest sister, Miki, was diagnosed with cancer when I was 16. My mother made it into remission, but my then-8 year-old sister died when I was 18. These life experiences, combined with my still-adjusting teenage hormones, led to a “tremor”—what felt like mild depression for a few months but was probably really bereavement.
I came out of the tremor and felt fine until a few years later when I got married (which is a significant life stressor, even my husband agrees!) and we decided to get pregnant. While I was pregnant my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer again. My husband was preparing for dental school and working full-time, I was taking care of my mom and “being mom” for my siblings, and everything seemed fine—until the baby was born (major shift in hormones!). I gave birth to our first baby one year after our wedding and surprise! I got a baby boy and Postpartum Depression (which is definitely an earthquake). It may have seemed, at the time, like the postpartum depression came out of nowhere (it sure felt that way!) but looking back it made perfect sense. All those difficult life experiences combined with major shifts in my hormones, and my brain simply couldn’t take it anymore.
Learning about the earthquake theory is often the “aha!” we women have been searching for, for it helps us understand our emotional shifts just a little bit better. When we can see all that goes into our emotional tremors and earthquakes we can find comfort knowing that there is a very real reason for the changes in our emotions, that things aren’t always as they appear on the outside. It can also motivate us to take better care of ourselves in order to prevent re-occurring earthquakes in our lives.
I hope you will continue to join me in my “Women’s Emotions” series to learn more about what we can do to prevent emotional earthquakes or overcome them at each stage and phase of life. I welcome your comments, questions, and feedback, so please leave me a message below or through email if you desire. I wish you the best in understanding and creating your experience of emotional well-being and look forward to meeting you again soon in this place where “really great people” meet!
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¹ Sichel, D. & Driscoll, J.W. (1999). Women’s Moods: What every woman must know about hormones, the brain, and emotional health. Harper Collins, New York, NY.Read More
Women’s Emotions: Part 1
The 3 Components of Emotional Health
Years back, when I was in graduate school, I sat in my therapist’s office (yes, I’ve been in therapy; every good psychologist has!) and asked her, “Why am I so complicated?” I’d been frustrated by my constantly shifting emotions, and comparing myself to my even-keel husband only made me feel worse! I was already a wife, mother, and college graduate—shouldn’t I have known by then how to understand my own moods?
My psychologist didn’t have the answers either but she did reassure me. “You’re not complicated,” she explained. “You’re complex.” Over the years I learned that she was right—I’m not as “complicated” as I believed, but my thoughts and emotions can seem pretty “complex” at times. In fact, if you’re anything like me, you might have times when your “complexity” feels downright “crazy”. Can anyone relate?
It’s true that female emotional health is, overall, pretty complex. But at the core level, our overall sense of well-being is actually created out of a simple relationship between three complex components: life stress, the brain, and hormones. Today I hope to shed a little light on these three components of emotional health.
1) Life Stress & Experiences:
Research shows that women have much higher rates of life stress than men, overall, including poverty, domestic violence, and caretaking responsibilities¹. We all know the emotional toll that stress can take but did you know that your life experiences also have an impact on your brain chemistry? Male or female, every trauma, loss, or hurt we go through alters the chemistry of the brain so that we literally have a different brain today than we had years, or even a year, ago.
2) The Female Brain:
Your brain is the core of your emotions. This is true for men and women. Emotion originates in the area of the brain called the limbic system and is monitored and regulated by the front of the brain, called the cortex. I did my last internship in neuropsychology, studying the brain, and let me tell you: the brain, in general, is incredible. But the female brain is simply fascinating. Research shows that even as babies females are wired for empathy, hearing others, being heard, observation and reading emotion². In other words, females are born for connection. This makes us want to get to know, nurture, tend, and love others and is arguably one of the best qualities of women overall.
But it’s that same caring nature that can contribute to the higher rates of life stress in women: we simply take on too much and don’t give ourselves a break. When the brain is loaded with stress it begins to look like a seesaw with both ends weighed down. If we continue to load both sides that seesaw will eventually snap! and we will experience depression, anxiety, or just plain burnout. This is called allostatic loading and it happens all the time because we simply don’t do a very good job of taking care of our brains. Understanding the link between life stress and the brain can give us the motivation we need to care for our precious emotional core.
Your hormones are directly linked to your brain chemistry. Estrogen is, in fact, a pre-curser to the neurotransmitters, like Seratonin, in your brain that make you feel “well”. Estrogen helps maintain a steady flow of serotonin; too little serotonin leads to depression. When the menstrual cycle comes along—with an increase in estrogen the first two weeks followed by a drop on day 14, and another drop the week before your period—these shifts in estrogen produce changes in the brain that can create symptoms similar to depression or anxiety³. And some women are more sensitive to shifts in hormones than others.
Learning about these three components, it finally all made sense to me. My brain is the core of my emotions; my life stressors affect my brain; changes in hormones also affect my brain and can cause even more life stress. “Why didn’t anyone ever tell me this?” kept repeating in my mind. Understanding the three components of female emotional health opens the door to minimizing stress, caring for our precious brains, and giving ourselves a break the couple of times a month when all three components are scheming against us.
This is just the beginning to understanding our own emotional health, but I hope it helps you see there’s more to your emotions than meets the eye. The more we learn about the fascinating female brain and body, the greater the opportunity to taking charge of our emotional health. The more we heed the wisdom that our bodies hold, the more we can appreciate the complexity, simplicity, and fascination of being a female.
Can you relate to feeling “complicated” or “complex”? Did you know these things about your body and brain? What have you learned that has helped you manage your emotional health better? Leave us a comment and share!
Also, subscribe to my newsletter (see form above, right) and “like” me on Facebook to learn more about this topic in my continuing series, “Women’s Emotions”!
¹American Psychiatric Association. (2009). Women’s Mental Health Issue Paper.
²Brizendine, L. (2006). The Female Brain. Broadway Books; New York, NY.
³Sichel, D. & Driscoll, J.W. (1999). Women’s Moods: What every woman must know about hormones, the brain, and emotional health. Harper Collins, New York, NY.
Lessons Learned From Solitude
This morning I will pack up my laptop and flip-flops, swing by the best donut shop in the world for a dozen to surprise my kids, and make the 7 ½ hour drive back to my home in Flagstaff, AZ. I’ll be returning from a week-long stay in my mother-in-law’s beach house in Encinitas, CA, all alone. (Ah, alone—it’s one of my favorite words).
At this point you may be thinking how extravagant it is that I’ve had a full week alone by the beach. It’s ok if you are; I’ve thought it too—no one could be more disapproving of my week of solitude than my inner critic! But this week I’ve gotten really good at reminding her, “Look, you know as well as I do that I’ve come here because I have to rewrite my first book and need clarity and time to do it. But even more importantly, I have six kids, a husband, and a career at home and this is the first time I’ve taken an entire week away in 16 years! So back off!” My inner critic has been pretty quiet the past few days—I think I scared her away. (I hope I did).
It makes me wonder why we women, and especially mothers, have such a hard time allowing ourselves to recharge. Why is it so hard for us to accept that we need time that is ours alone, that we need a long, deep breath if we are to exhale all we’ve got onto those we love. And we do love them, don’t we? Of course we do. That’s why we spend so much time giving, exhaling. But without sacred space, time, and solitude we end up like a frozen computer—everybody’s typing away but nothing is getting through! That’s why we need time recharge–to unplug and reboot.
Whether it’s a week, a day, or an hour alone, doing something we love or doing nothing at all, or even if it’s only 15 minutes at the start, end, or in the middle of a hectic day, taking time to recharge is vital to emotional well-being and to our relationships. How can we give our best to our children, partners, families when we have nothing left to give?
I’ve had to work at it, but I’ve gotten much better at forcing myself to take a break; and I do have to force most of the time. I’m almost always flooded with nervous energy and pressure the moment I begin—first, because I’m suddenly 100% alone, a state I envy yet seldom experience, and second, because I immediately feel just how little time I actually have. Be it minutes, hours, or days, I know the time will fly by and I’ll be overcome with the needs of others again all too soon. So I find myself standing, staring, and saying, “Hmm. Well, here I am. Now…where do I begin?”
It will probably be difficult at first for you too. But give it a few moments or hours and, trust me, you will settle into your solitude like a warm bath. Anne Morrow Lindgergh said it beautifully: “Parting is inevitably painful, even for a short time. It is like an amputation, I feel. A limb is being torn off, without which I shall be unable to function. And yet, once it is done, I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before. It is as if in parting one did actually lose an arm. And then, like the star-fish, one grows it anew; one is whole again, complete and round—more whole, even, than before, when the other people had pieces of one” (Gift From The Sea, p. 37).
And as I lounged on my beach chair yesterday and penned this post (with an actual pen!) at sunset, that’s exactly what I found. It was no longer the quiet that captured my attention; it was the sound of children laughing, the sight of a mother snuggling her young child, and the adoration on the faces of a couple walking hand in hand along the beach that made my heart soar. And it made me want to laugh, snuggle, and adore my dear family once again. After all, they are what make my week of solitude the beautiful gift that it has been. Without them I would simply be another lonely soul seeking solace from the ocean, but remembering them, I happily return today carrying with me the calm power of the waves, the dazzling sparkle of the sun on the horizon, and the clarity and peace of the time I’ve had to remember who I am. This is what will recharge me once I am home, just like the memories from home recharge me as I am here.
We all need time to recharge. It helps us appreciate the good in our lives. It helps us walk more slowly, breathe more deeply, and settle into a calmer rhythm fueled, not by schedules and the needs of others, but by nature and the call that comes from within. It doesn’t have to be a week. It doesn’t even have to be a day. But make time and space to recharge yourself. You can take the lessons learned from solitude with you wherever you go. They will make you whole, and open your eyes even wider to the beauty that is and has always been all around you.
How do you recharge? Is it easy for you or a struggle? Share your thoughts on “recharging” by leaving a comment!