Overcoming Mom Guilt

If there’s one topic that keeps coming up in my work with mothers (besides the need for self-care!), it’s “mom guilt.” If you’re a mother, you know what I mean. Guilt over our own frustrations, weaknesses, and learning moments and what these might have “done” to our children.Guilt over not doing enough, not being enough. Guilt that maybe we really aren’t good enough.

Last week was Mother’s Day–a day on which moms everywhere should feel celebrated, appreciated, and loved. But in my experience, too many moms, instead, feel guilty. Hearing of other mothers’ successes, they feel like “I’m not as good as that,” like “I shouldn’t be celebrated,” like “I’m failing as a mom.” We’ve all been there. At least, I know I have. So, why is it so easy to fall into the trap of mom guilt?

Mom Guilt: Why is it so Common?

First, we feel guilty because we love our families. We love our children, our spouse/partner, and we want the best for them. It’s therefore easy to feel down on ourselves when that “best” isn’t happening. Postpartum depression, anxiety, motherhood depression, hormone shifts that wreak havoc on our emotions, and major life events and stress can make us feel like we’re “weak,” like we can’t do the job we so desperately want to do in the way we want, need or feel we “should” do it.

When kids make poor choices, we moms often take it upon ourselves, making us feel like we’ve somehow failed as mothers. We feel guilty when we’re exhausted and need a break, when we need help, and even when we’re feeling good and just want some time to ourselves. We feel guilt when we don’t “love” every moment of motherhood, even though that’s just part of the deal of being a mom. And the list goes on…

All of this can lead to feelings of self-doubt, guilt, shame, and even self-loathing that bring us down, down, down in a spiral of negativity and despair. This is what guilt does, and why I always say, “Guilt is good for nothing.”

The 2 Types of Guilt

Actually, I used to say “Guilt is good for nothing..,” but now I add, “…unless you use it for something better.” There are actually two types of guilt, and understanding the difference between these is crucial to overcoming mom guilt.

First is what I call “Depressive Guilt.” Depressive guilt is that downward spiral I described above. It drags us down and makes us feel low and useless. This type of guilt is good for nothing, for the more depressive guilt we have, the worse our situation gets.

The second type of guilt is “Motivational Guilt,” and it is good for somethingif we use it for something good. Motivational guilt comes when we’ve done something wrong and we know it. It comes when we feel remorse for our words, thoughts, or behavior, and we know we need to change. Motivational guilt has the potential to lead to change; in fact, by nature, this type of guilt is meant to help us change.

Allow me to explain, using my favorite metaphor for guilt: gasoline. Gasoline is a good thing when we use it for good things, like helping a car to drive or a lawn mower to mow. But, gasoline is also highly flammable. If we pile up gasoline in our garage, or rather, if we hold on to depressive guilt, allowing it to fester or rot or bury itself deep inside and adding to it over and over, eventually, all it takes is one little spark and “Boom!” the whole thing goes up in flames. If, however, we use that gasoline (or motivational guilt) for some greater purpose; if we put it in our car and drive somewhere beautiful, or if we put it in the lawnmower and make the lawn beautiful, then we’re actually using it for change and growth. Motivational guilt can help us apologize, forgive, repent, and seek a better way, leading us to that “somewhere beautiful” we so long to be.

How to Overcome Mom Guilt

So how can we use this understanding of the two types of guilt to overcome our own mommy guilt?

1) First, acknowledge the guilt. We can’t do anything until we acknowledge something needs doing. Only once we’ve identified, “Yes, I feel guilty,” can we truly begin.

2) After you acknowledge the guilt, examine it. Ask yourself, “What is this guilt all about?” “What am I really feeling guilty for?” This will help you determine if it’s guilt for something you feel remorseful about and want to change or guilt that’s just pointing fingers, filling your heart with despair, and dragging you down.

3) Ask, “Is this depressive guilt or motivational guilt?” Answer honestly. Remember, guilt is a feeling, an emotion. It’s not a reflection of who you are.

4) If it’s motivational guilt, pointing you to change, then it’s time to start the process of change. You might go and say you’re sorry right away; you might take some time to formulate a plan for change in your parenting approach; or you might need to take a whole lot of time as you work on true forgiveness. As long as you use the guilt as fuel for change, it doesn’t matter how long it takes. (Read about the Spiral of Change, here.)

5) If it’s depressive guilt, then the answer is to practice letting go. I know “letting go” is much easier said than done, but it’s an essential element in overcoming mom guilt, much of which tends to be of the depressive sort. How can you let go? That’s a big topic for another day and another post (coming soon), but to start, you can do the following.

  • FEEL. “Freely Experience Emotion, with Love” (This is How We Grow, p.184). You can’t let go of something you haven’t fully experienced yet. You must FEEL the guilt in order to heal from the guilt, in order to let it go. Tell yourself you can feel the guilt and that, even if you don’t like feeling it, you will survive feeling that emotion.
  • Lean back from the emotion. As you FEEL the guilt, lean back from it, reminding yourself that it is not you. (Watch this 3-minute therapy video, “How to Overcome Powerful Emotions: FEEL,” on my YouTube channel.)
  • Remember letting go is a choice we make over and over again. Yes. Letting go is a continual choice only we can make. When I work on letting go, it’s helpful for me to ask myself, “What would I feel like if I didn’t have this emotion? If I didn’t carry this burden? If I could really just let this go?” I then imagine how I’d feel, and let me tell you, it is a hundred times better than carrying things around I can’t change and don’t need. Try this, and then cling to that imagined feeling of release, and choose to let things go. Repeat as often as needed until it has gone.


My daughter and me, walking along the beach. It’s moments like this that remind us, “You’re doing better than you think you are.”


I hope you realize you ARE better than you think you are. You ARE enough. You ARE worthy of all the time, appreciation, care, and love you and your family wish to give. I hope you realize “Guilt is good for nothing…unless you use it for something better.” And I hope you choose to work on overcoming guilt so you can feel these things I’m telling you and begin to believe them for yourself.




For more tips, skills, and tools, listen to my one-on-one Motherhood Radio “session,” Overcoming Mom Guilt, here,

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FREE Webinar! Intro to “Women’s Emotions”: What you were never taught about your Brain, Hormones, & Mental Health”

Introduction to Women's Emotions- What you were never taught about your brain, hormones, & mental health! www.DrChristinaHibbert.com

What creates the ups and downs so common in female emotions?
What role does the brain play, and how do hormones factor in?
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Join me for my new, FREE webinar all about “Women’s Emotions,” as we explore the relationship between hormones, the brain, life experiences, and the unique qualities that create women’s emotional and mental health.


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I’ve been teaching seminars on women’s emotional health for years, and I’ve found that this is information EVERY woman is needs.

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In fact, many women are desperate for this understanding–desperate for answers to why they feel how they feel, why their moods fluctuate so much, and what they can do to increase wellness and mental and emotional health in their lives. In fact, my previous articles on “Women’s Emotions,” parts 1, 2, and 3, have been some of my most popular, and each time I teach on this topic, the women in the audience (and often the men who love them) ask, “Why was I never taught these things?”


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#1 Amazon Bestseller, This Is How We Grow, by Dr. Christina Hibbert, Available now on Amazon.com! www.ThisIsHowWeGrow.com
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FEEL: How to Cope with Powerful Emotions (plus video)

FEEL-How to Cope with Powerful Emotions (plus video), www.DrChristinaHibbert.comPowerful emotions can be scary. Grief, anger, sadness, pain, fear, can feel intense, overwhelming, and out of control. We fear feeling powerful emotions because we believe they will overtake us; we fear that once they are free, we may never be free of them again.

So, we ignore, distract ourselves from, and eventually box these emotions up and shove them deep down, like caged predators, in an effort to prevent the frightening consequences we envision if they were ever to escape. But, as a wise woman once said, “Just because your feelings are buried alive doesn’t mean that they die.”(1) In fact, the longer feelings are buried, the more they fester and grow, until they control us, stronger than ever.


Emotions are Simply Emotions
What are we really afraid of? Sure, they feel immense, but all emotions, however powerful as they may appear, are simply that—emotions. Like the clouds that float across the sky may appear threatening, the most they can do is rain or hail or snow for a little while. Emotions are the same. And in raining, hailing, snowing, the clouds lose their power. They literally dissipate. So it is with emotions. We fear their threatening appearance and run from the rain of feelings, but it is only through allowing the rains to fall that the darkness and threat eventually drains away and disappears. Feelings, once felt, don’t stay for long.


FEEL Emotions
Instead of running from, ignoring, burying, or fearing emotions, we need to FEEL them. And by FEEL, I mean: Freely Experience Emotion with Love. It’s not easy, especially if you’re used to ignoring feelings, but this 3-Minute Therapy YouTube video, “How to Cope with Overwhelming Emotions” shows you how, so check it out. It’s well worth 3 minutes of your time.

[stream provider=youtube flv=http%3A//www.youtube.com/watch%3Fv%3DC4nE8_xV9bA img=x:/img.youtube.com/vi/C4nE8_xV9bA/0.jpg embed=false share=false width=640 height=360 dock=true controlbar=over bandwidth=high autostart=false responsive=16:9 /]


FEEL to Heal
You don’t have to force it. Simply let yourself feel what is there. When anger comes, feel angry. If fear has you in its grips, really focusFEEL-How to Cope with Powerful Emotions (plus video); www.DrChristinaHibbert.com on feeling that fear. When sadness weighs like a boulder on your heart, feel sad. Cry. Scream. Hear yourself say you may never get up again. Feel it. Then, love yourself. Be kind. Compassionate. Take care of yourself. And the pressure will loosen, just a bit. The chest will inhale just a little easier.

Only after you FEEL will you begin to heal. As you sit with your emotions, feel them, and love yourself through, you take the control back. The emotions no longer remain stuck and festering, but begin to unfasten themselves from being a part of you. And it is only then that you will see, they never really were. (Adapted from my bestselling memoir, This is How We Grow, now available on Amazon.com!)





How do you cope with powerful emotions? Have you tried to FEEL them? Leave a comment, below, and let us know!




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(1) Iyanla Vanzant, Oprah’s Lifeclass.

Thought Management, Part 2: How to Change Your Thinking (& Your Life!) Using a Thought Record [plus video]

In Thought Management, Part 1, we learned about the connection between thoughts, feelings, the body, and behavior. We learned about the thousands of automatic thoughts that run through our minds each day, and how one little, unnoticed thought can lead to a whole lot of trouble if we do nothing about it. (If you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you do!).

In Part 2, we shift our focus to what we can do about our thoughts, using a little tool I love, called a “thought record”.


One of the Best Tools for Thought Management: The Thought Record

A thought record is just a piece of paper with several different columns, including: “Date,” “Situation,” “Automatic Thoughts,” “Feelings,” and “Rate Feelings 1-10”. However, when used correctly, that little piece of paper can allow you to step back and look at thoughts objectively, to see which thoughts are “truthful” and which are not so truthful, and provide you with the chance to change the thoughts you don’t want.  Initially, a thought record helps you notice your automatic thoughts, write them down, and learn to tease them apart from what you’re feeling. In time, a thought record can also help you identify and alter false thoughts and beliefs into something more helpful and truthful for you.

Today we’re focusing on the first steps of using a thought record: learning to identify difficult situations, thoughts, and emotions, and writing them out. I’ve attached a copy of a basic thought record, below, for you to view or to print and use, if you’d like.

Thought Record, Part 1; www.DrChristinaHibbert.com


How to Use a Thought Record: 3-Minute Therapy

Since it’s much easier to show you how to use a thought record than to write it out, I made this video, as part of my “3-Minute Therapy” series. I urge you to take 3 minutes and watch as I explain exactly how the thought record works. Then, join me back below for a couple more points to get you on your way.

“Change Your Thinking with a Thought Record: 3-Minute Therapy w/Dr. Christina Hibbert, YouTube

 [stream provider=youtube flv=http%3A//www.youtube.com/watch%3Fv%3Dre8VbR0h1hU img=x:/img.youtube.com/vi/re8VbR0h1hU/0.jpg embed=false share=false width=640 height=360 dock=true controlbar=over bandwidth=high autostart=false responsive=16:9 /]


6 Tips on Using a Thought Record

Now that you know how the thought record works, there are a couple of things that might be helpful to understand:

1) It’s hard to hear automatic thoughts at first. If you’re not used to it, be patient. Give yourself time to learn how to listen and hear them. It often helps to talk out your situations and have someone else help you identify your thoughts. Therapy is great for this–I have clients bring empty thought records to me and we fill them out together. It’s so easy for me to hear and write their thoughts as they tell the story. I highly recommend it if you need help.

2) Most people have a hard time distinguishing thoughts from feelings, at first. It often feels like a jumbled mess and it can be tough to tease them apart. The thought record helps you work on this, so keep at it and ask for help if you need it. It’s so much easier to deal with thoughts and emotions when you can see them as the separate entities they are.

3) As you work on this, you’ll begin to notice patterns of thoughts and feelings. Certain feelings will come up often, and will usually be related to the same types of thoughts. It’s good to see how often you’re dealing with the same old things. Very motivating!

4) Over time, you’ll be able to pull out “themes” from your thoughts. For instance, you might always automatically go to the belief that you’re “not good enough,” or that “everyone always abandons” you, or that “life is against” you. It’s good to know what these “themes” are, for then you have the chance to challenge and change them.

5) At first, it may be minutes, hours, or days later that you write things down. It’s hard to want to pay attention to your thoughts and emotions right away at first, even if you hear them. That’s ok. The important thing is to write them down, whenever you do it. Writing them down gives you the chance to come back later, with fresh eyes, and see the truth of the situation. And it also gives you the chance to work on that “truth”.

6) Eventually, you’ll be able to hear the automatic thoughts and beliefs, challenge them, and change the ones you want to change while you’re still in the situation, or even before the situation gets really going. Yep, eventually, if you work on it, you will. How’s that for changing your life?


Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life! (It’s Worked for Me!)

Now you know what a thought record is and, hopefully, why I think it’s such a great tool. I’ve been using thought records, on and off, for over 10 years, and they’ve been essential in helping me identify what’s really going on when I’m feeling powerful emotions or engaging in behaviors I don’t understand and don’t want. I still struggle with hearing and changing my thoughts sometimes, but this tool has been one of the best things I’ve ever learned, for it’s helped me change so many false thoughts and beliefs and thus has helped me overcome so many false emotions. I hope it helps you too!


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.drchristinahibbert.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/square-head-shot1.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Clinical Psychologist, Mom of 6, Postpartum Couples DVD Producer, Non-Profit Founder, and expert on Parenting, Women’s Emotions, Pregnancy & Postpartum, and Grief & Loss, Dr. Christina Hibbert loves songwriting, learning, and teaching what she learns. An “over-thinker” by nature, Dr. Hibbert’s had plenty of chances to work on “Thought Management” and is happy to share her best ideas and tools with you![/author_info] [/author]

Thought Management, Part 2: How to Change Your Thinking (& Your Life) Using a Thought Record, www.drchristinahibbert.com


Join me as we learn the next, important steps of using a thought record in: How to Challenge and Change Thoughts Using a Thought Record! (coming soon!)


And, please, leave me your questions and comments below as you try this out! I’d love to know what you think!





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5 Reasons “Self-Esteem” is a Myth

5 Reasons Self-Esteem is a Myth, www.drchristinahibbert.comFor years, I have noticed that almost everyone who walks through my private practice door is really dealing with the same core issue: poor “self-esteem”. Whether struggling through depression, anxiety, addiction, relationship issues, parenting challenges, or even life stress, when we get to the core of the issue, it almost always has to do with some false feeling or belief about oneself.


This has had me wondering: “Why is it so hard to feel “self-esteem?” After all, it’s a hot topic; a Google search will return 76, 200,000 results! There is plenty of advice out there on how to “understand” self-esteem, “evaluate” self-esteem, and “improve” self-esteem, on teaching self-esteem to kids, teens, women, couples, grandparents! (OK, I didn’t see any on grandparents, but I’m sure it’s out there somewhere). As one major psychology site said, “Perhaps no other self-help topic has spawned so much advice and so many (often conflicting) theories.”[1] And I agree.


Self-Esteem is a Myth

So, if we know “self-esteem” is a problem and we know there’s plenty out there to teach us how to overcome the “problem,” then, why does the problem so strongly persist? I see people all the time who have read these books and articles and have really tried; yet they still don’t feel self-esteem. They don’t believe they’re of worth.


Could the fact that so many people are struggling to feel “self-esteem” be a clue that something is not right? Because I can tell you, something isn’t right. In fact, I’ve come to see that the entire concept of “self-esteem” is not right. And that is the real problem: The very thing we are trying to pursue is a myth.


Allow Me to Explain

You may be thinking, “But wait?! Aren’t we supposed to pursue self-esteem? Aren’t we supposed to teach it to our kids and make sure we help others pursue it too? Isn’t it the way we learn to love ourselves?” Certainly, that’s what we’ve been taught. But what we’ve been taught is wrong. Allow me to explain.


First, let’s define “self-esteem”. According to dictionaries and even psychologists, Self-Esteem means:

1)   Belief in oneself; self-respect; undue pride or conceit[2]

2)   One’s overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth

3)   A judgment of oneself as well as an attitude toward the self

4)   Encompasses beliefs, emotions, thoughts, and power of conviction about oneself[3]

5)   “Self-esteem, is the positive or negative evaluations of the self, as in how we feel about it.”[4]


Reading these definitions, it’s easy to see that “self-esteem,” while it sounds like a valuable and worthy goal, is based on one’s own thinking, perceptions, and emotions related to one’s own performance and behavior. And that’s where the problem lies.


5 Reasons Self-Esteem is a Myth

We can never build a permanent sense of our own worth if we base our worth on things that are bound to change. This is why Self-Esteem is a myth:


1)   Self-esteem is based on what we do and how we behave.

If our worth is based on our performance or behavior, then we are bound to feel poorly about ourselves when our performance or behavior drops; and it will drop—it’s human nature. We are more than what we do and how we behave.


2)   Self-esteem is based on how we feel about ourselves.

Basing our worth on our emotions can never succeed, because emotions are fickle. Like clouds in the sky, they come and go according to the pressure in the air. Our emotions can also be false. We can feel like a “bad” person when that’s absolutely not the case. We are more than how we feel about ourselves.


3)   Self-esteem is based on what we think about ourselves.

While I believe self-evaluation is a positive tool for personal growth, we mustn’t base our worth on our thoughts and evaluations. Most of us have flawed thoughts running through our minds all day long, and many times we don’t even know they’re there! We are definitely more than what we think about ourselves.


4)   Self-esteem is based on how we’re doing compared to others.

We don’t just evaluate ourselves on how well we’re doing compared to our own potential (which is healthy); with self-esteem, we compare ourselves to others. It’s fine to compare to others at times if it helps us see something to work on or inspires us to grow, but usually comparing to others just makes us feel worse about ourselves. The truth is, no matter how great we are at any given thing, there will always be somebody smarter, faster, skinnier, braver, kinder, and more “talented”. That’s when the identity crisis hits. “I thought I was good at that, but now I’m not so sure.” We absolutely cannot base our own worth on what others do or don’t do.


5)   Self-esteem is based entirely on judgments, whether from others or from ourselves.

And nothing good can come of that. We are certainly more than we or anyone else judges us to be.



If Not Self-Esteem, Then What?

I hope it’s easy to understand, now, why self-esteem is so hard to obtain, why, like a sand castle, it’s so hard to maintain and so easy to 5 Reasons Self-Esteem is a Myth, www.drchristinahibbert.comdestroy. It looks beautiful and sturdy, but one shift of the wind or tide and down it crashes.


Yes, we need to feel good about ourselves. Yes, we need to love ourselves. Yes, we deserve both of these. But the answer is not to be found in what we do, what we say, how we look, how we perform, what others or we believe, or how we feel. For, when we base our worth and love for ourselves on anything external, we will always fail. It may not happen right away, but it will.


Yes, “self-esteem” is a myth. What we really need to work for is discovering what is already within, discovering our self-worth.



Be sure to Check Out Part 2: “If Self-Esteem is a Myth, then what is the Truth?”: Understanding Self-Worth


Self-Esteem & Self-Worth

Discovering Self-Worth: Why is it so hard to Love Ourselves?

Self-Esteem vs. Self-Worth: Q&A w/Dr. Christina Hibbert [plus video]

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[2] Webster’s Dictionary

[4] E. R. Smith/D. M. Mackie, Social Psychology (2007), p. 107.



The Baby Blues and You

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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[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.drchristinahibbert.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/square-head-shot1.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Clinical Psychologist, Mom of 6, Postpartum Couples DVD Producer, Non-Profit Founder, and expert on Parenting, Women’s Emotions, Pregnancy & Postpartum, and Grief & Loss, Dr. Christina Hibbert loves songwriting, learning, and teaching what she learns. Learn and Grow with Dr. Hibbert and her community of really great people![/author_info] [/author]

Women’s Emotions, Part 3: The Menstrual Cycle & Mood

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”[1]. 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”[2]. 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[3]. 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”[4].

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!

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.drchristinahibbert.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/square-head-shot1.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Clinical Psychologist, Mom of 6, Postpartum Couples DVD Producer, Non-Profit Founder, and expert on Parenting, Women’s Emotions, Pregnancy & Postpartum, and Grief & Loss, Dr. Christina Hibbert loves songwriting, learning, and teaching what she learns. Learn and Grow with Dr. Hibbert and her community of really great people![/author_info] [/author]

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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. Pg. 79. Harper Collins, New York, NY.

[2] Northrup, C. (2001). The Wisdom of Menopause: Creating Physical and Emotional Health During the Change. (p. 42-3). Bantam Books: New York, NY.

[3] Bendeck, T., & Rubenstein, B. (1939). Correlations between ovarian activity and psychodynamic processes: The ovulatory phase. Psychosomatic Medicine, 1 (2), 245-270.

[4] Northrup, C. (2001). (p. 44).

Thought Management: Part 1

Thought Management: Part 1, The Link Between Thoughts, Feelings, Body, & Behavior, www.drchristinahibbert.com #CBT #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.

Case Example

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.

Start Small, Gain PowerThought Management, Part 1, www.drchristinahibbert.com

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.



Questions? Comments? I’d love your “thoughts” (pun intended!), so leave a comment below!

Click Here for “Thought Management, Part 2

How to Change Your Thoughts (& Your Life) Using a Thought Record!” (plus video)




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Related Posts/Articles:

5 Reasons Self-Esteem is a Myth

If Self-Esteem is a Myth, then What is the Truth?: Understanding Self-Worth

Self-Esteem vs. Self-Worth: Q&A with Dr. Christina Hibbert

“Sleep Better, Cope Better”: 6 Insomnia Causes & Cures

How to NOT Be Ungrateful: 10 Things for Which I am NOT Ungrateful

How to Make Lasting Change: 10 Lessons from the Transtheoretical Model of Change that will Change Your Life!



Parenting Practice: Getting Good at “The Let-Go’s”

Parenting Practice:

Getting Good at “The Let-Go’s”

Welcome to my new series, “Parenting Practice”. I may have learned a lot about parenting in my psychology practice, but my true expertise has come through the practice of raising my own family. In order to survive as a mom of 6, I’ve had to learn a few tricks. In this series I will share some of my best tips and tricks with you in hopes that “practice” really does “make perfect” (or at least “better”)!

Today we explore one of my favorite (and most used) tips–getting good at “the let-go’s”. “The let-go’s” is my name for the many things I must let go of each day in order to ensure a greater measure of sanity for myself and my family.

For example, most days I let go of my need for a clean house. I let go of tidying up while the kids are at school in exchange for using my limited time more constructively, which also allows the kids the chance to help with chores when they get home. Matching socks and ironing are easy let-go’s for me, along with sheet folding and using fancy dinnerware. I let go of having all the beds made (though I do make my own) in lieu of letting us all get a few more minutes of much-needed sleep in the morning. Not only do I benefit from my let-go’s; you can see the great benefits I’m giving my family—opportunities to learn the value of hard work, to sleep more, and to iron their own clothes (yea for that)!

I’ve also learned to let go of my wants in order to get more of what I needMost of the time I let go of my want for more sleep in order to meet my need for an “hour of power” each morning, but sometimes I let go of my want for an “hour of power” in favor of getting a little more sleep. I let go of my want for high expectations in my work when I’m home with my kids all day in favor of my need for less frustration when they interrupt me. It’s gotten easier not to run every time I hear someone arguing or someone starting to cry in order to fill my need (and theirs) of teaching them how to handle things on their own. During preschool time this morning, I let go of my want to write, answer phone calls, and return emails, opting instead for a much-needed nap in the couple of hours of while my kids were all (miraculously) away!

And there are so many other “let-go’s” that come each and every day. Today, in between driving kids to and from doctor’s appointments, scouts, music, sports, picking up prescriptions and such, I had to let go. For one, I had to let go of being on time to everything.;I was 5 minutes late for music class, 10 minutes early for boy scouts, and 15 minutes late for pick ups! I let go of my 11 year-old actually wearing his scout shirt to scouts, for one, because we couldn’t find it, and two, because I’ve yet to sew on any of the patches he’s earned. I let go of giving my freshman and sophomore sons a ride home from sports, allowing them the opportunity to enjoy the warm day and melting snow instead. I let go of a healthy dinner in exchange for a “fun” and quick trip to Sonic for Chili Cheese Coneys and tots. I let go of working on my 8 year-old’s school project, opting to use the vanishing night time to cuddle her and my 4 year-old and read to them instead. I did give everyone hugs and kisses goodnight after we said our family prayers; some things are too important to let go.

I’m not always good at the let-go’s; it’s something I have to practice every single day. But I do know that the more I practice, the more I am able to let go, and the more I let go, the greater the peace for my family and me. So get out there and practice getting good at “the let-go’s”. It may be tough at first, but believe me, you will quickly become amazed at just how many things you can “let-go” of each and every day!

What are some of your let-go’s? Leave a comment below and share with us!

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.drchristinahibbert.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/ChristinaHibbert_150.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Clinical Psychologist, Mom of 6, Postpartum Couples DVD Producer, Non-Profit Founder, and expert on Parenting, Women’s Emotions, Pregnancy & Postpartum, and Grief & Loss, Dr. Christina Hibbert loves songwriting, learning, and teaching what she learns. Learn and Grow with Dr. Hibbert and her community of really great people![/author_info] [/author]

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Frustration & Expectations

4 Simple Steps for Lowering Expectations & Obliterating Frustration

“All frustration comes from expectations.” I learned this listening to a talk by Dr. John Lund years ago and it changed my world. Think about it. Whenever I’m feeling frustrated it’s because there was an expectation somewhere in my mind that was never met. If I have no expectations of a person or situation, I can’t be disappointed.

Birthdays are a great example; if they weren’t, we wouldn’t be singing, “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.” We build up in our mind the way things “should be” until we can actually see the decorations, taste the perfect birthday cake, and hear the praise our guests will shower upon us. The same goes for relationships. We continually set up expectations for how the people we love should behave: what they should say, do, and not do. And we’re continually disappointed because they don’t live up to our ideals. But how can they live up to our ideals when we’ve never communicated to them what we expect?

This is the trouble with expectations: we don’t have a clear view of what we expect and even when we do, we rarely communicate it. Then we blame others for our frustration, crying, “You should have known!” But under the banner of “All frustration comes from expectations,” we find that we must surrender, for the blame lies only with ourselves.

So what are we to do? Allow me to suggest “4 Simple Steps for Lowering Expectations and Obliterating Frustration”:

1) Identify your expectations. Ask, “What do I expect from this person or situation?” Then listen honestly.

2) Identify the reality of the current situation. “What is really happening here?” is a good question to ask. Then listen honestly.

3) Compare the expectation with reality. Ask yourself, “Is my expectation realistic in this situation?” Sometimes the answer is “yes” but most often you’ll find the answer is “No.” Accept either answer.

4) Either alter your expectation to match reality or alter reality to match your expectation. (One little hint: It’s usually much easier to alter expectations than reality).

Simple, right? Identifying expectations gives us the opportunity to challenge, alter, and communicate them to others. I can tell my friends what I expect for my birthday and they can choose to make that expectation come true or not. I can tell my husband I expect flowers on our anniversary and then he has a choice. Of course we all know the consequences if he makes the wrong choice, but at least I know I am doing the right thing. I am taking responsibility for my own frustrations, and in doing so, I am much more likely to find that my realistic, communicated expectations are, more often than not, happily met.


What are your thoughts on  overcoming frustration? Leave a comment and share with us!


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.drchristinahibbert.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/ChristinaHibbert_150.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Clinical Psychologist, Mom of 6, Postpartum Couples DVD Producer, Non-Profit Founder, and expert on Parenting, Women’s Emotions, Pregnancy & Postpartum, and Grief & Loss, Dr. Christina Hibbert loves songwriting, learning, and teaching what she learns. Learn and Grow with Dr. Hibbert and her community of really great people![/author_info] [/author]

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