In his book Social scientist Matthew Lieberman argues that our need for social connection is as fundamental as our need for food and water. Social pain, the feeling we get when someone snubs us, rejects us, or bullies us is as real as physical pain. How often have we turned on the news to see a child or teenager has committed suicide after being bullied?
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs places human connection at the center of our well being. It follows our physiological and safety needs but is before self esteem and self actualization. According to Maslow’s pyramid, without human connection of some kind we cannot reach our full potential.
We live in the age of social media. We connect with each other through an electronic device more than verbal or physical communication. We text, send emails, and post messages. A friend of mine looks at her phone every morning to see if her boyfriend has sent her a “Good morning Beautiful” text. If he fails to send that text her anxiety rises. Why didn’t he text me? She doesn’t think he’s cheating. She doesn’t doubt that he loves her. Her anxiety is the result of the instant gratification addiction we’ve all developed from our smart phones. When our parents and grandparents were our age they had to put more effort into connecting. Without a smart phone to send a text they had to make a conscious intention to connect. They might get up earlier in the morning so they had time to have a cup of coffee together at the kitchen table before work and kids and life got in the way. There was no such thing as Netflix and chill. They carved out time to go on picnics, a bike ride, dancing, dinner. In other words, they went out on real dates. Church was massively important and not just for the sermon. The social connection from going to church was extremely important. Folks arrived early and mingled in the hall outside the chapel to say good morning. They often sat in the same pews next to the same people, and after the service everyone stayed for coffee and sweets. Coffee hour was the time to catch up with each other and share what was going on in each other’s lives. Church attendance has decreased in recent years. I myself am guilty of sleeping in and listening to sermons on podcasts. Another intention I am setting for this month is to make the effort to get up on Sundays and start going to church. I miss the social connection.
As adults we have fewer built in connection opportunities than when we were kids (i.e. sports, school). This is why I think it’s more important than ever that when we do have the opportunity to connect with other people we take full advantage. Turn off your cell phone when you are having lunch or dinner with a friend. Those texts and calls can wait 2 hours while you give your full attention to the human in front of you. It’s not just about good manners. It’s about being fully present. You cannot be fully present with the person in front of you if you’re answering texts and calls on your phone.
Make one family meal a day mandatory. Dinner time at the table used to be a big deal. But let’s be realistic; it’s the 21st century and a lot has changed. Both parents work, and work schedules do not always align. After school activities means a lot of driving around in the minivan and not much time for the dinner table. But a family meal doesn’t have to be dinner. A family meal could be breakfast. It may be that the only time of day your family is together is in the morning. So, put a breakfast casserole together in the evening so you can pop it in the oven in the morning. Put oatmeal in your crockpot the night before. Make everyone gather around the table sans phone in the morning for breakfast. Talk about the day ahead. It can have just as great an impact as having dinner together.
Human connection nourishes our heart. But it must be authentic to have a lasting positive impact. I recently cleaned out my friends lists on social media. I removed all the toxic positive people. What is toxic positivity? Well, for me it’s the glossy perfect, always happy, always grateful for god family and life, over-filtered inauthentic folks. I stopped following a lot of brand ambassadors. I cleared my feed of women who layer a half dozen filters on their pictures and look more plastic than human. And, I hid the folks who constantly post the memes and messages telling us all to “Make it a great day!” First, I’m tired of everyone trying to sell me something. I don’t want to buy your shakes, vitamins, or athletic wear. Second, stop with all the filters already! Don’t hide the lines on your face. Those lines tell me you have lived life. And third, spare me the motivational messages. No one wakes up and says “I want to have a shit day today.” Life happens. It comes at you hard and fast. I need to know that when the shit hits the fan I can turn to you and rather than hear you say “Keep your chin up!” you will say something more like “Man that sucks! I’m so sorry you have to go through that.” That is real connection. That is human connection. That is what we’re all hungry for.
Charlie Chaplin said that and I couldn’t agree more. Laughter nourishes our heart and our soul.
Scientists study laughter. Gelatology is the study of laughter and it’s physiological and psychological effects on the body. This branch of science was pioneered by a guy named William Fry of Stanford University. Clinical studies have shown that laughter helps patients with atopic dermatitis react less to allergens. Other studies have shown laughter can alleviate pain, stress, and help with cardiopulmonary rehabilitation. Laughter as a form of therapy has emerged in recent years. Laughter yoga and laughter meditation are the two most common.
Laughter is one of the most contagious human experiences. Have you ever walked into a room full of people laughing and found yourself laughing with them though you have no idea what the joke is? Laughter is a collaboration between the mind and the body. It’s one of the distinguishing features of being human. Laughter helps us to connect and bond with one another. I read somewhere that primates groom each other to connect and bond. I was a cosmetologist for 15+ years. I regularly groomed a lot of people. My clients became friends. They trusted me. People open up to their hairdresser more than they do to a psychologist. I think it’s because of the connection made through the grooming process. But unlike apes and gorillas, we humans live in groups that are too large for the grooming process to help us bond and connect. We can’t all be hairdressers. So, as humans evolved it seems laughter evolved with us to facilitate the group bonding and connection that we need to thrive. Laughter helps us bond quickly and easily with groups of people.
Laughter is so important to our health and well being. It boosts our immune system, aids in circulation, and protects us from heart disease. Laughter lowers anxiety, releases tension, and fosters resilience. My daughter suffers from a severe anxiety disorder that causes her panic attacks and sleepless nights. I have a 6-month-old puppy. Recently, my dog has noticed my daughter struggling at night and has taken it upon herself to comfort my daughter. So how does she relieve my daughter’s anxiety? By making my daughter laugh. My dog will tickle my daughter and act silly. She’ll lick my daughter’s face and basically ham it up. She’ll send Alexa into fits of laughter and within 15 minutes her anxiety is significantly better. Alexa has not had a panic attack in weeks because every time her anxiety gets high enough to trigger a panic attack the dog steps in and uses the power of laughter to calm my daughter down.
I’m setting an intention this month to laugh more. I want to laugh every day. I’m going to set aside time every morning for laughter meditation. There are loads of laughter meditation videos on YouTube. I’m curious to see if my day is different when I begin it with laughter. My focus word will be joy. I am going to consciously focus on the joy in my day and the joy I see in the world rather than all that is disappointing, broken, and failed.
When was the last time you laughed? Really laughed? What made you laugh? How did laughing make you feel?
It’s the second word in my 2019 mantra. The dictionary defines the word as to provide with the food or other substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition. What do you need to grow? What do you need for good physical and mental health?
Nourish is not just an act of providing food. Our hearts and minds need nourishment. Our soul needs nourishment. I’ll be reflecting on the word nourish and what it means to self care all month. Today I’m thinking about old fashioned Sunday dinners.
I miss Sunday family dinner. Growing up we went to my Grandma’s house every Sunday for dinner. My grandmother would make a pork roast, or a ham, or a roast chicken. She would fix all the classic sides – mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables, stuffing, and she always had a dessert.
My Uncle and his family would drive from their home in Midland MI to my grandma’s home in Flint. My cousin would put her young children in the car and drive up from Indiana. The day began around noon. Grandma would make dinner. Grandpa would fall asleep in his recliner. The adults would play scrabble or Trivial pursuit. My cousins and I would color or sculpt with Play Doh. The house was warm and smelled wonderful. Dinner was delicious and when it was done and the dishes washed and put away we would all gather in the living room where Grandma would knit and Grandpa would sit in his chair next to hers and we would talk and laugh for a couple of hours. Then it was time to go home. There were lots of hugs and kisses goodbye. The goodbyes always hurt but the next Sunday we would do it all over again.
I miss Sunday dinner. I miss gathering with family and connecting. No cellphones or tablets. No to do lists. Just us gathered around board games and coloring books. Grandma’s dinner nourished our bodies, but connecting with each other, laughing, playing, talking, nourished our hearts.
My daughter and her cousins don’t know what that is. Sadly, Sunday family dinner has become a relic of the past. It’s an old photograph on the back of quaint greeting cards. Today families only gather around birthdays and big holidays, and when they do gather everyone has their face pointed downwards at a piece of technology.
Lately I’ve found myself craving an old fashioned Sunday dinner. Today I’m going to make a roast chicken. I’m marinating a chicken in apple juice. I’m going to stuff it with oranges and lemons and a bouquet of fresh herbs. I’m going to smear the skin with butter and season it with a poultry spice blend from the Alden Spice Shop in Alden, MI. I’m going to whip up a batch of mashed potatoes and some Stovetop stuffing. I’ll steam some corn and warm up some garlic dinner rolls. I’m going to set the table. I’m going to put my phone and iPad away for a couple of hours and make my daughter do the same. I’m going to pull out some coloring books and sit on the floor with her and connect. No distractions. After dinner we’ll eat a piece of the banana cream pie I made and watch a movie. We’ll laugh. We’ll talk. And I hope, we’ll start a new tradition.
My grandma was a wonderful cook, but her Sunday dinners were not wonderful because of her culinary skills. Those dinners were the best dinners of my life because they were cooked with love and served to a group of people who gathered intentionally to connect with one another. We need more of this in the world today.
What are you hungry for?
One month done. January went by so fast didn’t it? It seems like last week I was toasting the new year, and now it’s February! This year I want to take a pause at the end of each month and reflect. What moments stand out? What lessons did I learn? What am I grateful for?
I love poetry. A good poem sums up all you feel in a few short lines. This month I discovered a poet by the name of Maggie Smith. Her poem “Good Bones” is one of the best I’ve read in a long time. It’s so honest. It’s so raw. It’s beautiful.
This month I made a commitment to myself to improve my health by losing weight through Weight Watchers (now known as WW). I’ve given myself a slow, more realistic start. My goal this month has been simply to track what I eat. It’s the first new habit towards a better me. I kickstarted the program by doing the #7DaysForEveryBody challenge. I usually quit these challenges because I find them stupid and unmotivating, but this one was different. This challenge was not about how many squats I could do or how much water I can drink. This challenge forced me to look inside myself and understand my motivation. It made me see my current self in a positive way. Even if I don’t lose a single pound, I have already succeeded with #WW because the #7DaysForEveryBody challenge made me see myself as a hero and has improved my self esteem and my self confidence.
What Are You Grateful For?
I’ve been practicing gratitude this month. That seems like such a strange thing to say. We practice sports. We practice playing an instrument. You can practice law and medicine. You can practice singing. How the hell does one practice gratitude? How did gratitude become an activity?
To answer that question we need to understand what gratitude is. So what is gratitude? Gratitude is being grateful! Gratitude is being thankful! Grateful and thankful for what? Well, let’s back up a minute and look at that definition again. The dictionary defines gratitude as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Okay, so if that’s gratitude then what is the practice of gratitude?
Practicing gratitude is taking time to notice and reflect upon the things you are thankful for. Practicing gratitude is intentionally setting aside time to notice the little things, the small things, the invisible things. When I first started practicing gratitude I would list the things I’m grateful for. My list looked like this
My list looked like a lot of other people’s list. There is nothing wrong with that list. We should be thankful for all those things. They’re a gift. But intentionally practicing gratitude requires us to go a bit deeper. Practicing gratitude is taking time to notice how wonderful the hot water feels on your skin under the shower and feeling grateful and thankful that you have access to clean, safe, near instant hot water to shower with. It’s taking time to notice the chirp of the one bird on your bird feeder every morning and feeling your heart swell with gratitude for the comfort it’s song brings.
Practicing gratitude is good for your health. There is science to back it up. Studies show that practicing gratitude helps you sleep better and gives you a stronger immune system. This is likely due to lowered stress. Practicing gratitude improves our relationships, our emotions, our career, and the best part is that gratitude makes us feel more gratitude. Gratitude triggers positive feedback loops. The more gratitude we feel the more intense the feeling becomes and the longer that feeling lasts. Journaling in a gratitude journal for 5 minutes a day every day can have the same impact as doubling your income, but the positive feelings from money never last. It’s always awesome when we have more money, but we get used to it and then it’s not enough. This is what’s known as the hedonic adaption. But gratitude just breeds more gratitude.
Practicing gratitude is definitely a skill. I have a place in my planner dedicated to gratitude. Every morning, before I get out of bed, I spend 5 minutes reflecting on my day ahead, my surroundings, and the things and people in my life. Some days it’s easy. Some days it’s not. But, the effort has been worth it. My mood is lifted. I’m not as stressed. Gratitude reduces envy and makes our memories happier.
This month I was reminded of the value of friendship. I had a bad day. A no good, rotten, crappy day. I vented on facebook after smashing my finger in a door at work. My friend Cecilia read my post. More importantly, she read through my post. She knew my frustration was more than just a sore finger. So, in an instant she packed up her car, kissed her husband goodbye, and drove two hours to spend the weekend with me. We didn’t do anything fancy. No trips to the museum or sightseeing. No spa day or shopping. We vegged on my sofa and talked. We talked about philosophy, religion, politics, and metaphysics. We laughed. We meditated. And when the weekend was over I felt so much better. I had more energy. I had better energy. I was recharged. Connecting with Cecilia was exactly what I needed, and I am thankful she knew it even if I didn’t.
I also learned that friends come in all shapes, sizes, and in the most unexpected places. My friend Mary shared a picture of a doe that has been sheltering outside the window of her office. There is an overhang on the roof and a row of bushes that provide shelter from the weather. The doe became a frequent visitor and soon became comfortable to Mary’s presence on the the other side of the glass. Mary set up some straw to make the space more comfortable and give more insulation, and the doe has made herself right at home.
Mary is the doe’s friend, and now the doe is Mary’s friend. She is a wonderful companion for Mary while she is working in her office. It was a small act of kindness on Mary’s part to put out the straw for the doe and allow her to stay in this space, and from this small act of kindness Mary was rewarded with a beautiful new friend.
Lastly, I began reconnecting to my Lutheran faith this month. I’m reading books about the Lutheran church and rereading the Catechism. I came across the meme above yesterday and it really resonated with me. We look to scripture to tell us what to do and how to love, but that’s backwards. It’s the opposite of what Jesus would do. We should use love as the lens through which we study scripture. February is the month of love. Valentine’s Day is coming up. I’m going to reflect on love this month. Thank you for reading and following my blog. What are your end of the month reflections? What are you looking forward to this month? Please feel free to share in the comments.
A love letter to myself
Day 6 of #7DaysForEveryBody challenge – Compliment Yourself.
This is the most difficult writing assignment you’ve ever tackled. Let me begin by saying I’m proud of you.
Stop rolling your eyes. I know you better than anyone. There are some things you need to know.
I love you. Like, I really love you. I love your short squishy body. I love your pale skin and your dark hair. I love your silliness. I love your thirst for knowledge. I love that you can look at a painting by Frida Khalo and cry and two hours later watch an episode of Archer and laugh until you pee your pants. I admire your passion and I’m proud of your activism.
I love you for your strong faith in God and your understanding and acceptance of science. Please don’t believe the lies your mind tells you when you’re lying in bed unable to sleep. That cacophony of noise is nothing but lies. Ignore the so called beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly. You were made perfect in the image of God. Fearfully and wonderfully your life was given purpose from the moment you were conceived. Your beauty shines bright and spreads wider and farther than wildfires. Your joy is infectious. Your kindness spreads like sunshine after a storm.
I know you’re blushing. And now, you’re rolling your eyes again. I told you; I know you better than anyone. I’ve felt your heart break from the inside. I was there when your soul and spirit were crushed. I know your hopes, your dreams, and your fears. I hear the prayers you whisper from the deepest corners of your heart every night.
You need to know that you are an incredible human being. I admire how lovely, tough, and soft you are. You were not supposed to be here. You were not planned.
You were born in a rough neighborhood in a rough town to a single mom the world gave no breaks to. But you didn’t wallow in it. You focused on the love in your home with your mom, your sister, and your brother. You didn’t lament what you lacked. You lived and laughed with what you were blessed with – a family that loves you.
And you are loved. You are so loved. Life hasn’t been easy. But, rather than let it run over you, you’ve figured out a way around the obstacles.
You’ve raised a lovely daughter to be a smart, kind, compassionate, empathetic, lovely human being.
You chased dreams and turned them into accomplishments
You’ve raised your voice for the causes and the people you believe in even when your friends and family told you to be quiet
You’ve sacrificed and fought to help your daughter fight mental illness, fought against your own anxiety and depression, and still had energy to be a voice for others living with mental illness
You are a rock star. You don’t see the world as a broken, fallen, cesspool of sin and hopelessness! You see the world as a big ball of magic and wonder filled with places to visit, corners to explore, weird and interesting things to see, touch, smell, and taste.
You’re not afraid to learn new skills. You know there is no end date for the timetable to learn new things
We’ve made a lot of mistakes these past 46 years. We’ve made a few wrong turns. We’ve broken a few good hearts. But my only regret so far is that it’s taken me this long to tell you how much I admire you. My biggest failure is that I’ve failed to encourage you. I let all the bad little voices in your head whisper things you should never had to hear, things you didn’t need to hear.
But sweetheart, those are little voices. There is only one voice you need to hear and that is the Holy Spirit inside your heart. God’s love for you is unconditional. God made you short and unathletic. God chose not to give you a beautiful singing voice nor the grace and elegance of a ballerina. God designed you, and you were designed with purpose. God doesn’t see all the things you hate about yourself. God doesn’t see all the things society says are wrong with you. God sees you, as you are, as you were designed and created. And, you are loved. You are so loved. You are loved so very much. You are loved by your daughter. You are loved by your family. You are loved by your friends. You are loved by God who made your heart, your mind, and your soul. You were made in God’s image. You were made to love and to be loved.
It all starts with loving yourself.
Today, I commit to never leave you searching for love, affirmation, or acceptance. I commit to reminding you to never seek anyone’s approval. I commit to reminding you every day that Jesus died for you, and you are worthy of that sacrifice.
Because today and every single day
YOU are loved.
YOU are significant.
YOU are worthy.
YOU are kind.
YOU are a light.
YOU are bright.
YOU are enough. You are so enough. Never again try to be anything or anyone other than who you are.
I love you more. Always.
It’s day 4 of 7 Days For Every Body. Today I’m tasked with sharing my favorite exercise move or fitness class.
Confession #2 – I am not athletic. I never have been. I was the short skinny kid in gym class always picked last for a team. Dead last. The only thing worse than being picked last is the sea of disappointed faces when they realize they are stuck with you. I can still feel the bellyache I’d get before gym class. The dread of being yelled at by my classmates for an hour and a half because I couldn’t throw the ball into the basket, or spike it over the net, or remember which way we were rotating in volleyball. I finished my last gym class my sophomore year of high school and vowed never to go to any kind of gym class again. And it was going really well for me, until I got fat and turned 40.
The thing about getting older is that if you don’t use your muscles then you lose them very quickly. And, as your muscles go so does your balance and then eventually your mobility. When you lose your mobility you lose your freedom. Suddenly, gym class has become very important.
Going to fitness classes makes me anxious. It’s a throwback to high school gym class. I see women who are thinner, stronger, faster than I am. I feel judged. Suddenly, I’m the short skinny kid up against the wall in gym class watching everyone else get picked. I’m not a fitness expert. When I go to the gym I feel overwhelmed when I look out at the sea of equipment. Where do I start? How do I use it? What should I do?
Last year I worked with a personal trainer for a couple of months. Her name is Mary Ward. Mary is a retired elementary school teacher with a passion for fitness and cycling. Mary trained me 3 days a week. She taught me about circuit training. She taught me how to mix in cardio with strength. She taught me how to use agility equipment. She taught me how to exercise at home or anywhere using just a few pieces of equipment. But more importantly, Mary taught me to believe in myself. Mary helped me believe in myself. I’m still uncomfortable going to group fitness classes, but I’m confident walking onto the fitness floor at the gym. Mary is an awesome trainer. She kicked my ass during our workouts. She challenged me. Mary’s friendship is a gift. I really miss training with Mary, but I’m pinching my pennies for another goal right now so I’m using what Mary taught me along with an online program and exercising on my own.
I have a membership to the Lifetime Fitness club that’s less than half a mile from my home. I love using the pool, the steam room, and taking yoga classes there. But I really haven’t been utilizing the club enough to justify the monthly cost. Recently, I discovered Alexia Clark. Alexia is an influencer on Instagram. She posts workout videos from different fitness clubs. I love her workouts. They’re simple, fun, and extremely effective. She mixes strength with a lot of movement which I really like. She has a website you can subscribe to and receive a new workout every day. You decide if you want the 30 minute or the 60 minute workout. Then, you decide if you want the home or gym workout. Alexia’s workouts combined with Mary’s teaching have removed my gym anxiety. I don’t feel overwhelmed when I walk onto the fitness floor. I know what I want to do and where to start.
My favorite exercise Mary taught me was how to use kettlebell weights. I love kettlebells! Mary taught me the kettlebell circuit below. It will leave you sweaty, breathless, and feeling like a she hulk beast! This routine is great for cardio, strength, and it’s really fun! It’s a total body -mind exercise.
The Three Bears
Equipment – 3 kettlebells of three different weights 10 lbs, 15 lbs, 20 lbs
10 lbs – 15 kettlebell swings
15 lbs – 10 kettlebell swings
20 lbs – 5 kettlebell swings
20 lbs – 5 kettlebell swings
15 lbs – 10 kettlebell swings
10 lbs – 20 kettlebell swings
You want to rest as little as possible all the way through. This is just one of dozens of fun, effective, challenging exercises Mary taught me. Mary’s routines can be done at home or in the gym. If you’re interested in learning more about Mary’s exercise programs, or you want to work with Mary let me know. I would be happy to connect you to her.
What is your favorite exercise or fitness class?
My mother suffered from major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and bipolar. Growing up I never knew which way or when her mood would shift. She was deeply ashamed of her mental health problems and did not get proper treatment. Towards the end of her life as her physical health declined so too did her mental health. This was very difficult for me and my family. During this time my daughter was struggling with anxiety and panic attack. She was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. We started therapy and put her on medication. We waited more than a year before we finally let our family know that she was undergoing treatment. Why did we wait? Fear. Shame.
My daughter’s mental health issues have been an ongoing challenge. Unfortunately, she inherited her grandmother’s trifecta of MDD, GAD, and Bipolar II with depression. Unlike her grandmother, my daughter has been proactive about asking for and seeking treatment. Its been a roller coaster that has included two inpatient hospitalizations, two outpatient hospitalizations, weekly therapy sessions, and GeneSight testing. There have been numerous medication changes. We’ve tried changes to diet, exercise regimens, meditation, and a host of other alternative treatments and therapies. All of this closely managed by a wonderful psychiatrist. And the result is that today, as I type this, my daughter is on a medication regimen that has significantly reduced her symptoms. She has learned strategies to help her manage the triggers that worsen her symptoms, and for the first time in five years she is living a life not ruled by fear, overwhelmed by the weight of depression and the rollercoaster of bipolar. She is the happy, upbeat, silly girl I used to know.
Two years ago I found myself struggling to get out of bed in the morning. I slept my weekends away. The death of my mother combined with my daughter’s mental health issues left me depressed. The cost of my daughter’s treatment left me struggling financially. This combined with struggles at my job left me with anxiety. I didn’t recognize my anxiety at first. My daughter suffered panic attacks. I didn’t have panic attacks so I didn’t think I was struggling with anxiety. When it all became too much for me to manage I did what I lectured my daughter and everyone else to do. I asked for help. My doctor identified me with depression, anxiety, and grief. Yes, grief not processed becomes a mental health issue. I was prescribed an antidepressant and began therapy. Medication and therapy are a very important part of managing my mental health and I am not ashamed to tell you that because I am not ashamed to be taking care of myself. Just as people take vitamins and drink shakes for their physical health, psychtropics are a very important piece for some to manage their mental health. Just as exercise is an important part of managing our physical health, therapy and meditation are an important part of managing our mental health.
There has always been a stigma around mental health. The top reason people don’t seek out treatment for their mental health is shame and fear of rejection from their family, friends, and community. People desperately in need of inpatient treatment don’t seek it for fear of losing their job. We don’t think anything of taking a week or two off work to have surgery, but taking time off work to seek inpatient treatment for depression for many is out of the question for fear of their boss or coworkers finding out. If you fall on the ice and break your leg you are not embarrassed to spend a week in the hospital, but when my daughter had to spend a week in a psychiatric hospital most who knew preferred we keep it quiet. Don’t share it on social media. Don’t tell anyone. Why? What on earth did she have to be ashamed of?
There is no shame in the mental health treatment game!
Studies show that as many as 60% of people with mental health problems do not take their medications consistently. There are lots of reasons for this. First, there is the financial cost. Some antidepressants are very low in cost and available as generic, which is great. But, new medications and medications for issues like bipolar can be much more costly. At one point my daughter was on a bipolar medication that cost $110 a month after insurance! Thankfully, that medicine proved ineffective to manage her bipolar and she was switched out. Her new medication is not nearly as expensive. Another reason people are reluctant to take medication or go to therapy is denial. Taking medication and going to therapy is admitting that you need help. Its an admission that something is wrong. Society has shamed mental illness so badly that we are terrified to admit that we need help managing our mental health. But really, why should we? Diabetes is a disease of the pancreas. There is no shame in admitting you are a diabetic and no shame to take insulin. A person with diabetes doesn’t try to will themselves to be better. They know they need medical intervention to manage their disease so they can live their healthiest life.
Most people who pill shame or shame mental health in general do not do so intentionally. Their intent is not to make someone with depression or anxiety feel worse. In fact, most of the time their intention is to help. Most of the time pill shaming and mental health shaming don’t come from strangers on the internet or the street but from our own family and friends. Its done by the very people who love us the most and want desperately to help. The problem comes when they give advice and try with loving intentions to fix us. How do we get them to stop? Simply asking them to stop doesn’t work. “Please stop telling me what to do. Please stop sending me articles. Please stop…” all come across to the receiver of the message as “I don’t want your help.” And, the truth is we do want their help. We desperately want and need their support and help. But if those we love the most are going to help us, its up to us to teach them how.
How Do You Help Someone With Mental Illness?
First, let’s start with what mental illness isn’t. Mental illness is not a moral failing. Its not a lack of motivation or laziness. Its not something that can be cured by a change in diet or a strict exercise regimen. Mental illness is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Just as diabetes is an imbalance in the way the body produces insulin, mental illnesses are an imbalance in the way our body produces certain chemicals in our brain. Sometimes the severity of the imbalance is mild and so symptoms are mild. They can be treated without medication using different alternative strategies and therapies. But for most, the imbalance requires sufferers to seek and receive ongoing medical treatment in order to not experience symptoms or active illness.
The problem starts when we tell someone we love that we are undergoing treatment. We share that we are taking medication because medication has side effects and sometimes, with mental health, we don’t realize we are experiencing those side effects. We need our family and friends to be honest with us and look out for us. But, when we tell our loved ones that we are taking medication we are met with silence, stares, and then advice. “Have you tried this herbal?” “You should read this book!” “You should start going to the gym.” “Have you tried this new diet?” “You should come to my church and do this bible study with me”. All of these suggestions while meant well imply that there is something unacceptably wrong with us. A heart attack is a life-threatening illness. When someone you love is prescribed medication to prevent them from having another heart attack you don’t make that person feel badly for taking their pills. Rather, you insist and fret over whether or nor they’ve taken their pills. Mental illness is a life-threatening illness. People with untreated depression and anxiety often end up attempting suicide. Tragically, many are successful. Psychtropic medications and therapy saves lives.
Mistrust of the pharmaceutical industry drives a lot of pill shaming. Antidepressants have a particularly bad reputation. When antidepressants like SSRIs and Prozac were brought to market the media was flooded with stories of people who committed suicide while on these medications. What was not understood then was that patients with severe depression lack motivation. Their depression may be so bad that they are suicidal but lack the motivation or energy to develop and implement a plan. Once a medication regimen is started improvement is slow and gradual. People with depression don’t take a pill before bed and wake up with the sunny disposition of Mary Poppins the next day. Medication takes time to build up in the system to a therapeutic level and as that therapeutic level is increased depression is slowly lifted. This can be a dangerous time for someone struggling with depression. A person who didn’t have the motivation to commit suicide last week may be improved enough this week to find that motivation. But, with close monitoring and careful management and lots of support, we can prevent our loved ones from hurting themselves and in time, the medication will lift their depression so they no longer feel suicidal. Medications also have side effects. Watch a commercial for any prescription drug and it always ends with a voice over detailing all the possible side effects of the medication. Its terrifying! Why would anyone want to take something that could cause severe dry mouth, leg cramping, diarrhea, skin rash, partial facial paralysis, risk of blood clot or stroke, racing heart, or any of the other frightening reactions? In truth, we choose to take medication because we all deserve to live a life that is not ruled by fear or crushed under the weight of depression. The risk of any of those side effects is small. The potential benefits of the medication are great. Pill shaming is toxic. Living with a mental illness is hard enough. Having to defend the decision to take medication and go to therapy to your family and friends makes it harder. People suffer more and much longer because they are afraid of what their family and friends will say and do when they know their loved one has decieded to seek and receive help.
So what do you do for someone you love who is living with mental illness? Just support them. When they tell you they are taking medication keep your ideas and opinions to yourself. Keep your fears and worries to yourself. I promise you the person who prescribed the medication went over the risks in detail with your loved one prior to handing over that prescription slip. What your loved one needs from you is your unconditional love and support. Let them know if you see their mood or behavior getting better or getting worse. Let them know if you notice any tremors or other strange ticks. But otherwise, keep your advice to yourself. And, most importantly do not ask them to explain it all to you. Its difficult to wrap our minds around mental illness. Its hard for patients to understand their disease and until they find the right medication and therapy they can’t answer your questions anyway. The answers change from week to week and month to month. Again, just provide your unconditional love and support.
Lastly, if you reader are struggling with anxiety, depression, racing thoughts, or any other mental illness, please seek help. There is no shame in the mental health game. There is nothing wrong or bad about seeing a therapist and taking medication. Your mental health is as important as your physical health. Make it a priority.
If there is anything more beautiful than a sunrise on Lake Michigan I don’t know what it could be. But let’s be honest, there is something kind of magical in all sunrises. What I love most about the sunrise is the dependability and routine. The sun always rises in the East and sets on the West, and no matter how long the night may seem the sun will always rise. There is a certain rhythm to that routine that is comforting.
Routines are one of the tools in our mental toolbox we can use to take care of ourselves. Routines in selfcare should be given the same level of importance as rituals. They are an island of calm in the stormy sea of everyday life. Their familiarity and dependability are comforting. One of the best things we can do to refresh our mental health on a daily basis is to develop a morning and an evening ritual.
Morning routines set the tone and pace of our day. I used to sleep as late as possible. I hit the snooze button a dozen times. When I finally got out of bed I raced around my bedroom in a frenzy getting dressed and ready for work before rushing out the door. Days blended together. I was always tired. I read an article describing the morning routines of successful people on the internet. The article described the a.m. habits of Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, and Oprah to name a few. The article then went on to list the things you should do every morning to be successful. I’ve noticed a lot of these articles lately. Each one proclaiming that to be successful you need to wake up no later than 5 am, and your morning routine should include a full workout amongst a long to-do list. Well, let me start by quoting author J.K. Rowling’s response to these articles – “Piss off.”
First, let me clarify one very important thing. What you do in the morning upon first waking up sets the tone and rhythm for the rest of your day. If you run around in a frenzied hurry like I did then the rest of your day is an overwhelming, cluttered mess. Trust me on that one. But, if you start your day intentionally, with a ritual, then it sets a tone of calmness for the rest of your day. Now, I’m not promising that establishing a morning ritual will make you as wealthy as Oprah or as powerful as Obama, or as innovative as Jobs. But, I can promise that you will notice an improvement in your mood, mental clarity, and your energy level. So what does a good morning ritual look like? Well, that’s difficult to say. Google morning ritual and you will get a long list of articles describing the perfect a.m. routine. These articles list as many as ten steps. I think morning rituals are a very personal experience. One person’s zen is another person’s hell. Some people set their alarm so it wakes them up to the sound of very loud heavy metal music. Other’s prefer country music. And some, like myself, prefer no music at all. The key to a successful morning routine is do a certain set of tasks in the same order every morning. These tasks should be chosen with intention. What tone do you want to set? Do you want high energy fast paced? Then one of your to dos might be a high energy workout. I find suggested routines that have ten action items to be too overwhelming, so I’ve paired my morning ritual to a top five.
My Morning Top 5
5. Last but not least, I plan my day. I use a Panda brand planner. I would have to write a whole other blog post to tell you how wonderful this planner is. Briefly, this planner provides space for me to journal what I am grateful for, set my focus for the day, plan my schedule, and prioritize my tasks.
This year I’ve been thinking about how to make my morning ritual a bit more productive. So, I’ve set a new intention to try and accomplish my top 3 priorities before I leave the house every day. For example, one of my top three tasks for today is to clean and tidy my kitchen. Usually, this would be a task I would tackle after getting home from work, but I’m going to try and get it done before I walk out the door. My hope is that it will lighten my stress to know there isn’t a sink full of dirty dishes waiting for me when I get home.
What does your morning routine look like? If you don’t have one I strongly suggest you start to develop one. Even if you don’t work outside your home a morning ritual is a valuable tool for your mental health. It helps establish the start of a new day, and it sets the tone for a calm, focused day that you move through intentionally.
What should I wear? What’s for breakfast? What’s on the radio? Where should I park? What do I have to do today? Where should I start? Where should I go for lunch? What’s for dinner? What are we doing tonight? What should we watch on TV? Which movie should we see? Which bill should I pay? What should I get at the grocery store? Should I see a doctor for this? Which workout should I do? Should I go to the gym or exercise at home?
Imagine you’re at the gym and you’ve just finished a grueling workout. A personal trainer, your friend, and others in the gym have been shouting at you for the last two hours. You are lying on the floor covered in sweat, nauseous. Every breath makes your lungs feel like they are on fire. Gradually, your heart rate returns to normal. Your breathing gets easier, and you’ve stopped sweating, but you just can’t get up from the floor. Your body is weak. Your physical energy is depleted. Your paralyzed on the floor unable to move. You fall asleep. When you wake you find that you are able to get up from the floor but you’re moving slowly. Your energy level is still low. You begin a new workout but this one doesn’t go as well as the last. This time you only make it an hour before you find yourself on the floor. You sleep it off again and upon waking you’re moving just a bit slower. You begin your next workout but this one is worse than the last. Thirty minutes into your workout you pull a muscle. You’re angry, frustrated, and resentful. Why are people crowding around the machines? You rest again, but it’s futile. This time when you try to work out you fall down. You injure your knee and now you can’t exercise for a couple of months. It’s easy to see the problem here, right? You worked to hard, didn’t get enough rest, and the quality of each workout declined while the risk of injury increased. Now, what if I told you that the same thing happens to our brains with decision making?
What is Decision Fatigue?
Research tells us that on average most people make 35,000 decisions a day. This is around 2,000 decisions per hour or one decision every two seconds. Does your job require you to make decisions? What kind of decisions? Some decisions are important but not life or death. Teachers make hundreds of important decisions every day. Some decisions have life or death consequences. Doctors and engineers make decisions that impact the health and safety of other people’s lives and families. Some people have time to think through their decisions and what the potential impact and consequences might be. Researchers can spend weeks or months making their next decisions. Teachers very often have very short notice, if any at all, to make very important decisions. Firefighters and emergency room physicians often only have seconds to make life or death decisions.
All these decisions require a certain amount of energy in our brain. Our brain, like our muscles, has a finite amount of energy available for decision making. We deplete it quickly. Factors in our life that drive the number of decisions we have to make determine how quickly we use up the energy we have. When that energy is used up our mind, like our body, becomes fatigued. This is decision fatigue. The consequence of decision fatigue is that the quality of our decisions deteriorates the more fatigued our brain becomes.
What Are the Signs of Decision Fatigue?
Do you feel exhausted all the time? Do you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through your phone while your list of chores grows longer? Are you irritable? These are signs you’re in a state of mental fatigue.
How Do We Fix Decision Fatigue?
Unfortunately a good night’s sleep isn’t enough to refresh our ability to make good decisions. We live in an age where information and choices come at us very fast. Our smartphones and tablets contribute to the problem. There are two strategies that I have found to be the most helpful.
First, reduce the number of decisions you have to make by automating them. For example, meal planning eliminates the choice of what to eat thereby eliminating the need to make a decision. The movie Dear John featured a man whose father was autistic. His father made the same weekly dinner menu his entire life. Every Monday night was meatloaf. There is genius in this. The character had devised a strategy to reduce the overwhelming task of deciding what to cook for dinner by sticking to the same menu. But in doing this he also eliminated the need to decide what to put on the grocery list. These decisions were already made freeing space in his mind. I’ve employed a similar strategy by agreeing on a weekly menu with my daughter. I’m not as rigid as the character in the movie. I easily adapt to a change of plan and I rotate menus as I don’t want to do the same menu for the rest of my life. But I do love not having to think about dinner or grocery shopping. All those decisions are made. Another decision you can automate is what to wear. When I put away my laundry I arrange all of my outfits for work. When I get up in the morning I just put on the next outfit. I never stand in my closet staring at my clothes wondering what to wear. It’s another decision I don’t miss having to make. What decisions in your life do you think you can automate?
The second strategy I use can be summed up in one word – unplug. I am addicted to my phone. I check it constantly. This is a steady stream of information going to my brain and depleting my mental energy. My solution is to unplug for at least 30 minutes every night. If the weather permits I like to take my dog for a walk. My phone goes in my pocket and stays there. No earbuds. No headphones. I listen to the wind in the trees, the cars going by, kids playing ball, and the sound of my dog happily panting as we walk. It’s my favorite way to recharge.
My advice, focus on setting habits that automate as many decisions as possible. This frees up space in your mind for creativity, critical thinking, and increases your energy. Take some time every night to unplug. Make your mental health as much of a priority as your physical health.
Depression, anxiety, post partum depression and anxiety, mental fatigue, stress, post traumatic stress, bipolar, borderline personality, addiction, ADD, so many labels. So many mood and mental disorders. They’re all different. Each provides its own torment, but there is one thing they all have in common. Each and every one is stigmatized the world over. People suffer in silence, fear, and shame. Treatment in the United States is difficult to get even with the best of insurance. Primary care physicians, out of their area of expertise, are reluctant to prescribe psychiatric medications. This makes sense if you think about it. If you had cancer would you rather have your chemotherapy prescribed and monitored by an oncologist who specializes in cancer treatment and sees cancer patients every day, or the family physician who hasn’t studied cancer therapies since their days in medical school? I’d want the oncologist. So it goes with psychiatric care and medication. Unfortunately, even in urban areas with heavy population, quality mental health care is difficult to come by. This is a topic I care deeply about because it affects me and my family. I will write more about this in future blog posts. I want to remove the fear, stigma, and mystery out of mental illness.
What Am I Thinking About This Week?
This week, I am continuing my theme drawn from the first word in my 2019 mantra – refresh. I’m thinking about how we manage and care for our mental health on a day to day basis. What strategies and steps can we take to manage stress, anxiety, and overwhelming fatigue? What can we do to fight off the overwhelming weight of depression when it drags us down and threatens our family and our work life? The health and fitness industry spend millions of dollars keeping us focused on detoxing our bodies and drinking shakes that promise weight loss, eternal youth, and happiness. But if you have even one of the labels above then you know happiness isn’t mixed up in your blender. I wish the health and fitness magazines and websites would put more focus on our mental health. My instagram is flooded with personal trainers, fitness coaches, and weight loss experts. They all have a product to sell. Vitamins, shakes, exercise programs and support groups. None of these are inexpensive, and none of these truly address our mental health needs. I wish more therapists and psychiatrists would share their insights and wisdom on social media.
What Will I Write About?
I’m not going to try and sell you any product or program this week. I’m going to share the small amount of insight, wisdom, and strategies I’ve learned these last few years. I’m going to share four blog posts this week. First, I’m going to write about decision fatigue. I’m going to share my thoughts on what I think is one of the easiest ways we can reduce stress and relieve some of our daily anxiety. Next, I’m going to write about morning rituals and how important they are to set us up for a day with less tension, stress, and anxiety. My midweek blog post will be a topic close to my heart. I’m going to share my thoughts on cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. My last blog post for the week will be on the topic of meditation. I’m going to tell you what it is and what it isn’t. I’m going to share a couple of my personal techniques that have helped both my daughter and I.
Thank you to all who are following my blog. My hope is that you find this space interesting, inspirational, maybe even motivational. Comments are always welcome. Please click the like button so I know someone has been here. I pray you have a wonderful week.