No Shame.

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.

  • Pill shaming isn’t the only driver of fear. Shame and embarrassment associated with going to therapy or inpatient or outpatient hospitals stays is one of the biggest deterrents to patients receiving treatment. We’re not afraid or embarrassed to let our coworkers, boss, or family know we are going to a dentist or doctor’s appoint. We’re not afraid or ashamed to say we’re going to a physical therapy appointment. But we are terrified and ashamed to admit we are seeking treatment for mental illness. And, the fear is justified! The repercussions can include loss of employment, loss of friends, loss of family, and being ostracized from your community. There are a lot of assumptions made about people who seek treatment for their mental illness.
  • They’re weak. Oh Lord! This is the biggest misconception of all of them. People with mental illness are a lot of things but weak is not one of them. They are the strongest, baddest, MF’ers out there. They are battling the demons in their head in silence. They are literally fighting for their lives every minute of every day. They are in a constant state of crisis yet walking around behaving as if all is fine.
  • They’re “crazy”. Yeah, so what? Everyone is a little crazy. What the hell is “normal” anyway?
  • They are talking about YOU to their therapist. No. They’re not. They are talking about their feelings, trying to make sense out of their extreme emotions, and figuring out how to quiet the cacophony inside their heads.
  • Their therapist and psychiatrist are telling them what to do! Oh I wish. I really do. This would all be so much easier if the therapist could just say “Next time do this..” and everything will be better. Its just not that easy. Therapy is really hard work. Its painful. It requires you to go to the places in your head and heart you are desperately trying to run away from. It forces you to confront the monsters in your head. But, it allows you to do those things in a safe space.
  • There is a time table. “When will you be done with your therapy?” Well, maybe never. Depression and anxiety are lifelong diseases just like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Therapy may be required as part of the regular treatment plan for life. And really, there isn’t anything wrong with that. Some people consider it a waste of money. Therapy is not cheap. But everyone prioritizes their money in a different way and there is nothing wrong with prioritizing your mental health. Especially if therapy keeps your depression and anxiety managed well enough to prevent suicide.
  • 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.

    Your Top 5

    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

    1. Feed and snuggle my fur babies. My cats and my dog are so cuddly and snuggly in the morning! It lasts until they’re satisfied that I’m fully awake and then they demand to be fed. So, I take full advantage of this time and soak up all the snuggles.
    2. Hydrate. I keep a bottle of water on my nightstand. After I feed all the fur kids I crawl back in my warm bed and drink that bottle of water. I’ve found that water makes me as alert as caffeine but without the jitters.
    3. Meditation, Bible study, and reflection. I use a guided meditation from one of the apps on my phone. I like breathing exercises in the morning. I also use a 10 minute reflection on gratitude. I take time to read a daily devotion and a Bible study passage and really reflect on what the passages mean to me. I finish up with prayer.
    4. Stretch. I’ve never been a flexible person but I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older that my muscles are really tightening up. I spend about 15 minutes stretching out.

    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.

    Mental Fatigue

    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?

    1. Difficulty concentrating on tasks
    2. Lapses in attention
    3. Difficulty remembering what you were doing
    4. Failure to communicate important information
    5. Unintentionally doing the wrong thing
    6. Unintentionally failing to do the right thing
    7. Feeling overly emotional

    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.

    Refresh Your Mental 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.

    Chrissy

    Say Your Prayers!

    “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

    My grandmother taught me that prayer when I was a child. She made me say that every night before I went to sleep. The prayer is from the 18th century which was a time when childhood deaths were very high. As a child I didn’t understand the morbid nature of the words. Kids in the 1970s didn’t die in their sleep from a sudden onset of measles or other childhood illness. But when I became a mother and started to teach my daughter to say this bedtime prayer I was horrified when I realized the meaning behind the words. So, I let the ritual of my childhood go, and I didn’t teach my daughter the value of saying bedtime prayers. I do wish I had. Bedtime prayer is so much more than a cute childhood tradition.

    Are bedtime prayers a Christian thing?

    Prayer is communication from your heart to a higher power, to the universe. You don’t have to be Christian to say a bedtime prayer. Jews say the Shema, Hindus say the KaracharaNa, and Dias for Muslims. In fact, you don’t have to be religious at all. Non secular parents have started teaching their children bedtime rituals focused on gratitude. Many atheist parents have their children say the following poem by Dani Shapiro from her memoir Devotion

    May I be safe; may I be happy; may I be strong; may I treat others with kindness; may I live with ease

    Isn’t saying a bedtime prayer a kid thing though?

    I’ve given this a lot of thought. For thousands of years, across cultures and continents, one thing humans have always done is incorporate some form of prayer in their daily routine. Seems logical to me that there must be some purpose for prayer in our lives no matter how old we are or what our spiritual beliefs are. Our world today is chaotic. We are overloaded with information coming at us fast. In the cult of busy that has sprung up in this digital age we rush through our days without taking time to pause and reflect. Our jobs keep us connected nearly 24/7 with laptops, mobile phones, and tablets. At night we crash in our beds exhausted craving sleep only to be kept awake by our racing mind.

    Creating space in our evening hours for reflection, meditation, and prayer is more than just reviving a childhood routine. Routines are just habits. Things we do mindlessly. Bedtime prayer is a ritual. Rituals are intentional acts we set apart from our everyday life. Bedtime prayer should not be a mindless childhood rhyme or a bible verse recited from memory. Bedtime prayer should be something that lifts us up out of the mundane pace of life and for a few moments connects us to something more sacred. Bedtime prayers should not focus on the fear of death or the wrath of God. Bedtime prayers should focus on gratitude and appreciation. Bedtime prayer should be a ritual of thanks and a time for personal reflection.

    Bedtime is a perfect time to pause and reflect on the day. What went right? What is good about life? It may be that the only thing good is that you were able to get out of bed but giving thanks for that small victory is powerful for overcoming depression and anxiety. Bedtime is a perfect time to reflect on what could be better. What could you improve with a bit more discipline and effort? Creating space in your bedtime routine for a few moments of prayer is a powerful tool to help you let go of stress, practice gratitude, and find peace.

    Sure, bedtime prayer is great if you’re religious but what if your an atheist? I’ve got news for all you nonbelievers. Bedtime prayer is just as helpful for you as it is for us secular folks. As a Lutheran, I believe that I am communicating to God from my heart when I pray. That can be intimidating sometimes. I mean, what the hell do you say to the almighty? So when I find myself overwhelmed by the idea that I am talking to God, I remind myself that I am made of stardust. I am stardust speaking to the stars. Maybe this image is more comfortable for you if you’re a nonbeliever?

    Taking time before I close my eyes for the night to give thanks and reflect on my day is one of the ways I refresh my mental health. It’s my mental pause and reset. It gives me the clarity to see that maybe it wasn’t such a hellish day after all. It forces me to remember what is going right rather than ruminate on all that is going wrong. And as a Christian, it comforts me to know that God is listening.

    My personal bedtime prayer is below. Feel free to try it out. I would love to hear what you think in the comments.

    Dear God, my day is drawing to a close and I’m ready for a good night’s sleep. As I close my eyes tonight I pray for loved ones around me, for friends, and all who need you. I pray that your comfort, mercy, and grace as plentiful as the stars in the sky will touch all who need it. Bless me with rest so that I wake refreshed and ready to begin another day. Thank you for blessings so undeserved and too numerous to count.

    I close my prayer with my favorite bible verse.

    2 Timothy 1:9

    For God’s not given me a spirit of fear but a spirit of love and of power and a sound mind to live each day and glorify his name.

    Amen.

    Better Than Ambien!

    Insomnia got you? I know your pain. So so tired but can’t fall asleep. Or worse, you fall asleep only to wake up and toss and turn the rest of the night! I know a few hacks that will help you fall asleep and stay asleep. They work better than sleeping pills and are safer.

    The magic pill I’m talking about is lavender. Not your grandma’s lavender soap. I’m talking about real lavender oil. Lavender oil was prized for its hypnotic effect by the ancient Romans. Essential oil isn’t the only way to use lavender. Below are some of my favorite ways to use lavender to help me get to sleep and stay asleep.

    1. Lavender/vanilla pillow spray. Mix some lavender oil and vanilla in an atomizer and spritz on your pillow just before bed. The combination is heavenly!
    2. Burn lavender and pine incense. Lavender and pine blend together beautifully. The soft glow of a burning stick of incense. The aromatic smoke coiling up and floating in your bedroom will lull you to sleep.
    3. Brew yourself a cup a lavender tea! A cup of hot tea before bed is soothing and a wonderful part of a bedtime routine. Chamomile is known for its calming and relaxing qualities, but chamomile has nothing on lavender!
    4. Treat yourself to a piece of lavender chocolate. Lavender chocolate is not something you’re likely to find in your grocery store. I buy it at lavender festivals myself. You can find a variety of lavender chocolate on Amazon. A Google search will also lead you to several confectioners who know know how to stir lavender buds into creamy milk chocolate.
      Rub some lavender oil on the arch and sole of your feet before climbing into bed. Vick’s vapor rub on the bottom of your feet for a cold is known to help quiet a cough and relieve a congested head. Lavender essential oil on the feet is just as potent for sleep.
  • So there you have it! My favorite ways to use lavender to help me get a good night’s sleep. I hope at least one of these gems will help you.
  • Bedtime Stories for Adults

    First came adult coloring. We found a way to relieve our anxiety by resurrecting a popular childhood pastime. Now, there is a way to relieve insomnia by resurrecting another childhood treasure – bedtime stories for adults!

    I know; it sounds silly. Coloring sounded silly until we tried it. There is some science to support a bedtime story for adults is as beneficial as it is for children. Reading to children does more than just improve their vocabulary. It signals that the day has come to an end. Resurrecting old habits is easier than creating new ones. Have you heard of the sleep paradox? Simply put, sleep comes when we’re not trying to fall asleep. When we try to fall asleep our analytical brain monitors our efforts which keeps us awake. The more we try to fall asleep the more awake we become. Sometimes when I can’t sleep I read. Surely reading a book will help me relax and then I can fall asleep! Unfortunately, when we read we are using the analytical side of our brain. Experts say we should turn off all electronics two hours before bed. In fact, we shouldn’t even have our phones or tablets in our bedrooms. Our eyes are fatigued from staring at screens all day and the electromagnetic fields will keep us awake.

    I recently learned two interesting facts about sleep. First, as our bodies drift to sleep our hearing is the last of our senses to shut down. But, it’s also the first of our senses to come back as we wake up. Second, when we are in REM sleep we dream in pictures not in words. So what do these things mean?

    Listening to a story as we lie in bed taps into an old childhood ritual. It signals our bodies that it’s time to sleep. It helps turn off our analytical brain creating more space for the peaceful brainwaves needed for a deep, restful sleep. Using audio to read rather than our eyes helps to systematically shut down our senses preparing our mind and body for sleep.

    So where do you find bedtime stories for adults? One of my personal favorites is a podcast called Levar Reads. This podcast is free on most podcast apps. Levar Burton reads short stories. Remember Levar Burton from Reading Rainbow? Well, now he is reading short stories from modern authors. The stories are anywhere from 20 minutes to 45 minutes long. Levar’s voice is just as hypnotic now as it was 30 years ago. Sometimes I’m able to stay awake until the story ends. Mostly, I make it about 15 minutes.

    If podcasts aren’t your thing try audio books. The Audible app lets you download and listen to audio books through Amazon. There are other apps that let you listen to audio books for free. Popular audio books include the Harry Potter series, The Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit, Treasure Island, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Check out the audio books available at your local public library. Many libraries now allow you to check out audio books through Audible.

    Another way to listen to a bedtime story is through a meditation app. Calm is the most popular app for bedtime stories. Matthew McConaughy reads a story on Calm. Unplug is one of my favorite apps. The content is diverse. In addition to guided meditations and videos there are bedtime stories. I would tell you more about them, but they put me to sleep too quickly to remember what they are about!

    One of the most important things we can do for our bodies and our minds is to get a good night’s sleep. It’s the first step to refreshing our mental health. Rather than hiding from my electronics at night, and lying in bed awake trying to will myself to fall asleep, I’ve been bringing my phone to bed and putting it to work reading me a bedtime story.

    Shushybye, close your eyes, and quiet your mind. Let your body rest and wake up feeling refreshed.

    I’m So Tired

    I’m exhausted. Drained. Running on empty. I struggle to get out of bed every morning. I hit snooze a dozen times. I drag myself through the day, come home from work and crash on the sofa, and then go to bed. The alarm goes off the next morning and the cycle repeats. Sound familiar?

    I hate being tired. The days blend together and tasks on my to do list pile up. The first word in my 2019 mantra is Refresh. Refresh is a verb. It means to give new strength, energy, or to reinvigorate. Refresh is my focus for the month of January. I’ll be blogging about ways to refresh the mind, the body, and the soul. I want to refresh my mental health.

    Exhaustion is not just physical it’s mental. A good night’s sleep can restore physical exhaustion. But mental exhaustion requires more than sleep for recovery. Mental exhaustion is what happens when our mind is overwhelmed. Stress, anxiety, depression all lead to mental exhaustion. How do we shut off the noise in our mind and refresh our mental health?

    Insomnia, poor sleep, too much sleep, restless sleep, what the hell is a good night’s sleep anyway? And how do we get it?

    I’m not talking about fatigue fighting. I want to prevent fatigue. I’m setting my intention this month to carve out time to do things that will refresh my mental health. Meditation, music, prayer, rituals, and mindfulness are tools I will be using and sharing with you. Did you know there are bedtime stories for adults? Did you know applying lavender oil to your feet will help you sleep? Do you know what decision fatigue is? I’m going to write about all of these things this week. I’m going to share all the apps, oils, and ideas that help me. I hope you will follow along and share your ideas as well.

    The Best Is Yet To Come!

    Happy New Year!

    Today is the beginning of 12 new chapters. It’s the first of 365 opportunities. It’s 52 chances to turn dreams into realities. 2018 is in the past. All the mistakes, failures, and disappointments are behind us.

    Social media influencers and life coaches are busy. Newsfeeds are full of memes and posts motivating us to be “better” and to set intentions. I hate NYD intentions. We make a grand promise to the universe and then feel like a complete failure a year later vowing to get it right next year. Last year I adopted a mantra rather than set an intention. My mantra was Just Breathe. When life became overwhelming, when problems turned into crisis, and I felt like there was no room left in my rope to tie another knot I would tell myself ” Just Breathe.” I would close my eyes and take slow deep breaths. It was calming. It brought clarity. I included meditation in my morning routine. Looking back at 2018 and how I used this mantra rather than try to live by a goal-based intention I am so grateful for the inspiration, peace, and hope my mantra gave me. Because it worked so well last year, I’m doing it again this year.

    This year’s mantra is three words – Refresh, Nourish, Connect. They were chosen to remind me to take care of myself first. The ups and downs of the last couple of years has taught me that if you do not put yourself first then you will wind up depleted emotionally and mentally with nothing to give to those who depend on you most.

    Refresh. This word reminds me to take time out to pause and reset. It’s a reminder that it’s not lame, lazy, or selfish to go to bed early or take a nap. It’s taking time to recharge my energy levels. It’s not silly to sit with my crystals and my singing bowl and meditate. It’s taking time to clear out the noise in my mind. It gives me peace and allows me to focus.

    Nourish. To me this word is about so much more than food. Yes, I will be trying to lose weight this year, and I’ve signed up with Weight Watchers to help me on that journey. But, I’m not interested in just nourishing my body. This word is my reminder to nourish my mind and soul as well as my body. Nourish is my reminder to carve out time to curl up on the sofa under a blanket and read. Nourish is the mantra I will use as I reconnect with my Lutheran traditions and grow spiritually. Nourishment is for the body, mind, and the soul.

    Connect. This word is my reminder that I am not an island. It’s not irresponsible to ignore the household chores and spend time with friends. It’s a reminder to put my phone away when I am with my family and friends. I spend enough of my day staring at a screen. Face to face human connection is important for our mental health. Connect is about sharing ideas and starting conversations.

    These three words – refresh, nourish, and connect will be the themes that guide my blog writing this year. I’ve redesigned my blog space around them and you’ll find tabs under the menu labeled Refresh, Nourish, Connect. I’ve mapped out blog posts for January, February, and March. This month, I am focusing on Refresh. I’ll share with you all the ways I am taking time to rest, recharge, and revive my mind, body, and soul. I welcome your ideas, thoughts, and opinions in the comments.

    What is your new year tradition? What are your intentions or mantras? What do you think of when you hear the word refresh?

    Bye 2018! Hello 2019

    Here it comes. A new year. The stores are discounting the last of their holiday merchandise to clear room on the shelves for Valentine’s day. While the brick and mortar stores are cleaning up the remnants of Christmas a different industry is getting ready for its busiest time of year.

    The diet and fitness industry is gearing up. Social media feeds are overflowing with life coaches selling you happiness, self confidence, and a healthier you in a bottle of vitamins or a meal replacement shake. Join their online groups and make new friends! Share your fears, your insecurities, and your doubts with strangers in a group chat. Everything you need to change your life delivered to your door conveniently charged to your credit card.

    May I suggest a different approach for 2019?

    New Year New You!

    Shave inches off your newsfeed rather than your waistline

    Reduce the amount of negative self talk in your head rather than the calories on your plate

    Feel amazing, hot, and confident not because you choked down a chalky shake and a handful of supplements but because YOU ARE amazing, hot, and confident without all that crap!

    Healthy living should be because you love yourself and you want more out of life; it should not be because of what you see on your Instagram feed. We do not put enough importance on our mental health. We have an endless supply of resources to help us lose weight and exercise. We’re obsessed with our gut health and our heart health, but what we should be talking about is our mental health. Depression and anxiety are deadlier than gluten or sugar, but we’re too busy meal prepping to notice.

    This year why don’t we worry less about the ingredient list and prioritize our mental heath, our emotional health, and our relationships? This year, let’s focus on all of our relationships- our relationship with food, with our bodies, with social media, with our family and our friends. Rather than drinking laxative teas and meal replacement shakes and popping fat burners and working out 2 hours a day, why don’t we just celebrate the skin we’re in with all of its flaws?

    Let’s learn to love our squish! Show off our stretch marks and cellulite with pride of a life lived! Let’s start 2019 knowing our worth and welcome the New Year with intention rather than resolutions.

    This year I am dieting my newsfeeds. I’ve removed all accounts that drive me to comparison. Comparison is the thief of joy. I want my newsfeeds to be filled with things that make me laugh, spark my imagination, light my soul on fire, and generate discussion. I am detoxing my negative self talk. I’m going to make an effort to be kinder to myself. I’m going to transform my confidence rather than my body. I’m going to stop obsessing on all the things I can’t do and celebrate the things I’m great at! I’m going to remind myself that I’m a rockstar!

    Make 2019 the year of YOU. Not a skinnier you, or a “better” you. Just YOU, just as you are. Pay more attention to the people and the things that make you feel empowered. Spend time with yourself. Take yourself on a date! People will only love you as much as you love yourself no matter what size clothing you wear. Be more you and less of a wannabe to attract the people and the things in your life that bring you joy.

    Cheers!

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