Journal and Blog
So much grief and sorrow has surrounded this week as parents we all grieve with those in Florida, in that complete heartbreak a question is rising,” How do we stop this? Enough is enough.” Press releases and articles circulating social media all offer ideas and reform. Dealing with something so emotionally heavy for all of us and being in a position of helplessness and fear is paralyzing.
As you think about your own ways to create safety in a world we all fear. As information surfaces in articles and press releases, think about the levels of change. Some speak of large system changes; gun reform, mental illness. Others focus on school and community safety, reporting and training. While others pinpoint, homes, parents, individuals. Truth is there needs to be changes on all levels.
Start where you are. Don’t feel like in order for your children to be safe you have to write the legislation, become a principal and police officer, and be a stellar mom knowing every detail of your children's lives. Take little steps in any direction or maybe a couple bits out of each area of change. If politics, legislation are your thing. Jump in, evoke change, share the information in your own way for us less savvy policy lovers. If you can be active in your community-share your talents, maybe a kid doesn’t have a safe loving home, be their example, give them an interest. Coach a rec team, volunteer at your kid school. Never before have we as individuals been able to be so connected, yet socially isolated at the same time. If government and community seem too big of places to start. Focus on what is within your four walls. How do you teach values, respect, differences? What can you do as a parent to be more involved?
Feeling anxious and overwhelmed thrives when we feel powerless and helpless. Accurate information, appropriate change can help create empowerment. Sometimes just having a compartment in our brains gives us a place to store information until we are ready to process it. Watching the news with my kids this week hasn’t been a space I can feel these feeling and have my head spinning with questions and “hows.” Yet as I read information I can think, “Ok they are talking about starting at home, what can I take from this article?” Or “Alright this is a policy change on a larger level, I need this information for when it comes time for me to vote.”
Loved being a part of The Wild Outsiders Club's first mama's mental health night. What an amazing group of moms doing extraordinary things! These incredible women come together weekly with kids in tow to explore trails and complete hikes all along the Wasatch Front. Their story is one I am drawn to. These young moms are finding a way to do what they love and sharing it with one another and the children they dearly love.
One of the first things I always discuss with clients is the details of their support systems. We all need a team! Sometimes we need an entire army, but we always need a few solid friends in our corner. One of the next things I always ask clients about are their interest. What motivates them? When are they happiest? What do they enjoy doing? So often its hard, really hard for clients to identify who is a part of their support system and recognize things they like. I am so grateful Wild Outsiders Club is there. Providing support and friendship with one another and doing what they love all the while being so inclusive to any and everyone.
I still remember reading a post about their fearless, beautiful leader, Ashley Leek. Ashley posted on Instagram about how their club got started. Ashley isn’t from Utah, her and her husband headed west 4 years ago. Being drawn to the recreational Mecca Utah is they knew it would be a good home. Ashley was pregnant, and they were excited to start with such a fresh beginning and had so much they were looking forward to. Fast forward a year after getting settled and the birth of their daughter. Ashley realized she was lonely, isolated and longing for friends. She knew she needed a community of friends. Here is where Ashley becomes one of my heroes. She figured she couldn’t be the only out-doories new mom needing friends and hoping to be able to do the things she loves. So she started her own club. I admire her courage, feeling lonely and isolated she took a huge step to pull herself out of a dark hole. Which is never easy to do. She identified her problem, and didn’t just wait for a way for it to be solved, she created a solution. Last night I was able to witness first-hand the light and friendship she has brought to so many.
The idea of self-care sounds good, right? It’s accepted as being important and recognized as having great value. Yet, the gap between it being a nice thought and being implemented is wide. For moms, it can be more than just a wide gap between thought and action. That’s because for most of us there is an underlying stigma associated with self-care. It is so strategically placed in our minds that we might not even detect its presents. This underlying stigma might sound something like, “If I just liked being a mom more, I would be fine.”
The perception of self-care is that it is only needed when we are not blissfully happy in our roles as mothers. This thought process is dangerously debilitating. This toxic perception fuels the opposite of self-love and creates a pattern of thoughts that destroy any access to self-care we might have considered. Self-care is not selfish, it is not lavish, it is not only for the unhappy, stressed, and weary.
We fall into a trap of self-neglect, when we think self-care involves grand efforts. Having a weekend trip kid-free or a day at the spa can be rewarding activities to look forward to, but these aren’t events most of us can take advantage of frequently enough to sustain us daily. When we get set on big things, it’s easy to feel like, “I have no time, no money or no energy for self-care.”
Self-care also needs to be self-sustaining. We can set ourselves up for disappointment when we depend on others to provide the soothing effects self-care should provide. The Key is to think simple, think small.
Use this recipe for self-care to create your own self-care tools.
Here is a good example of how a mom named Jen that I worked with, used the self-care recipe to help her. Jen struggled with the post dinner clean up. It seemed to take so much time and she was already worn out from her long day. As a way to help her through this task, she thought of ways she could use her sense to create peace. She would turn on soothing music to listen to as she picked up dinner. She also kept the window covering opened over her sink because she loved the view from her kitchen window. Once the kitchen was picked up she would light a scented candle. Here she used sound, sight and smell as simple ways to self-care during a hectic time of day.
Self-care in its many forms increases our ability to exercise self-compassion. Self-compassion empowers us to sustain emotional health. Our inner peace is strengthened not because of the absence of difficulty but because of the stabilizing effect self-care and self-compassion can have. Just like pulling a ripcord opens a parachute to slow free-falling. Self-care figuratively can be the ripcord to open the parachute of self-compassion and together they slow emotional free-falling.
Download your Own Self-Care Postcard
Feeling overwhelmed is no one’s favorite feeling to experience. Yet it’s a regular occurrence for many of us. Feeling overwhelmed makes us feel like no matter what, we can’t accomplish what we really want to. It can seem as though being overwhelmed is accomplishment’s enemy. However, the problem isn’t being overwhelmed it’s how you react to it. It’s your reaction that creates the distance between yourself and your accomplishments.
When feeling overwhelmed, instinctively you attempt to do everything you can to make it go away. Instead of reacting to it, try listening to it. This can be difficult to do because often times when you are feeling overwhelmed, you are actually experiencing several emotions all clustered together under the disguise of being overwhelmed. Ask yourself, “What is it I am actually feeling?” “Where is this coming from?” By asking yourself these questions you can identify the underlying emotions playing into feeling overwhelmed. Think of how you untangle a knot in a rope. You start by finding the ends. When you acknowledge your primary emotions influencing the feeling of being overwhelmed, it’s like identifying the ends of the rope, making the knot of being overwhelmed less complicated. Now with your identified feelings, you can manage being overwhelmed by offering yourself reassurance counteracting the insecure feeling that being overwhelmed creates.
Being overwhelmed has a way of immobilizing our progress, especially if you recognize it as a sign of failure. Instead of being paralyzed by feeling overwhelmed, use your feelings to help you mold your accomplishment for the better. By thinking about how you can make your feelings of being overwhelmed work for you, ask yourself, “Is this something to work towards? Is this something to work though? Is this something to work out?”
Is this something to work towards?
When trying to accomplish something important to you, it’s common to feel fearful. Being rejected, especially when you are working towards something you really want, creates vulnerability. Becoming overwhelmed when things become difficult is likely to happen. Acknowledging you are afraid of rejection, fearful you will fail, and providing yourself with support will help manage the negativity of these emotions. Allowing yourself to feel overwhelmed with the understanding you are working towards what you really want, prevents being overwhelmed from becoming rehabilitating. An example of this is the familiar motivational story of Rudy Ruettiger in the movie “Rudy”. Regardless of how insecure he felt or how many people told him he couldn’t become a Notre Dame Football player; he knew what he wanted. It was worth it to him regardless of how overwhelmed he felt. By acknowledging your underlying emotions and framing your stress, being overwhelmed now has a purpose in your struggle. When feelings of being overwhelmed rise up, you know it’s a sign your comfort zone is growing. At that point, you can reassure yourself it’s worth it to be work towards what is important to you.
Is This Something to Work Through?
Being overwhelmed plays tricks on our mind. It’s easy to find ourselves caught up in the intense struggle and feel like our stress is here to stay. Once we have identified our primary emotions that often appear as doubts, it becomes easier to recognize our current stress is something we can work through. Having young children can be a very demanding time in parenthood. There are so many different needs to attend to. If you were standing in line at a grocery store behind a young mother who is wrestling small children, it would be easy to assume that she is overwhelmed. Feeling inadequate meeting so many emotional and physical needs is understandable, but acknowledging that you are working through a “tough age” and challenging “concern” helps you realize that being overwhelmed isn’t the end point. It will get easier. Circumstances can improve. If you are feeling inadequate but continue to work yourself through the task at hand, you can rework small successes to see you are accomplishing your end goal in small doses all along the way.
Is This Something to Work Out
Feeling overwhelmed creates discomfort for a reason. It’s a way we emotionally can signal our mind and body that something isn’t right. By recognizing feeling overwhelmed as an alarm, we can evaluate if it’s not something that will help us work towards what we want to accomplish or an important influence in working through the process to our end goal. Chances are, there is something we might need to adjust or rearrange. Ask yourselves, is there something I need to work out? Sometimes you might realize it’s not worth it to feel this overwhelmed, anxious, or confused. Leaving a job might be what you need to do to accomplish what your true focus is. Switching positions within a current job, might be the answer to feeling overwhelmed. Rearranging roles, taking a break from a leadership or voluntary position are all examples of how we can work out situations that cause stress and prevent us from the sense of fulfillment and accomplishment we’re all striving for.
When you identify underlying emotions that play into feeling overwhelmed, you regain emotional power lost in the mayhem that being overwhelmed creates. By asking yourself is this something that I am working towards? Something I am working through? Or something I need to work out? You create ways to turn feelings of being overwhelmed into accomplishment.
In Tim Burton’s 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland, Alice says… “From the moment I fell down that rabbit hole, I’ve been told what I must do and who I must be. I’ve been shrunk, stretched, scratched and stuffed into a teapot. I’ve been accused of being Alice and of not being Alice…”
Becoming a mother is a lot like falling down a rabbit hole. You can’t be prepared for what is on the other side. The love you feel for your children. The energy you put into worrying about them. The patience and consistency it takes to teach them. Can shrink, stretch and leave you scratched up over and over again. Some days it feels nothing short of being stuffed in a teapot.
As a clinical therapist I have sat in many sessions with an individual calling herself a mother. Knowing her struggle and heartache and watching week by week as she comes out of it. I know all that shrinking, stretching, and scratching turns Mothers into the most extraordinary beings, humans can become.
I regularly meet with moms struggling with anxiety. They feel crippled by their fears, worries, and overwhelming pressure that sits on their shoulders. In these sessions once we identify what their goals and strengths are, the next thing I often do is help them create a therapeutic toolbox with techniques and resources tailored to their circumstances that help them cope. The coping skills in their therapeutic toolbox becomes how they can apply what we have processed during therapy.
One technique I find helpful for almost everyone is something called grounding. Grounding is technique in cognitive therapy. When used properly, it can calm down intense emotions, giving you an opportunity to separate your emotions and thoughts and evaluate your circumstance in real-time. While focusing on taking deep breaths and inhaling and exhaling, you can focus on each of your senses. What can you see? What can you smell? What can you hear? What can you taste? How do you feel physically? (my back aches, all my weight is on my left hip, etc.) While there are many ways to tailor grounding to an individual, I encourage clients to practice this first in moments of peace when they can spend a lot of time thinking about each of their senses and what they are experiencing. That way, when in a heightened stressful state, using the technique of grounding can take as little as a brief/silent 30-40 seconds. This technique literally grounds yourself in the present. Clearing away the extra emotional noise that anxiety usually brings to a situation.
Let’s look at this common situation as an example. You have finally gotten everyone in the car and buckled up and despite your best effort are now a few minutes late on your way to an appointment. Unchecked, the anxiety of rushing to get in the car might carry over into the way you drive or into your tolerance of repeated questions coming from the backseat. Now, all that unchecked anxiety is turned into raw anger or complete emotional withdrawal both having negative emotional consequences. By taking a few seconds to ground yourself as you drive down the street, it gives you just enough emotional steadiness to put things into perspective and offer yourself some needed self-compassion. Everyone is safe. You are on your way and you did your best. You can now emotionally reset. In therapy you would be able to examine this situation to recognize your triggers and process the underlying emotional layers, leaving you empowered to have options and handle it differently in the future.
All the emotional energy you experience as mothers definitely causes shrinking, stretching and scratching. But, just like Alice in wonderland, through it all she was able to find her muchness. Being able to monitor and regulate your anxiety can help you become as the Mad Hatter might say,” much more muchier”. Alice ends her dialogue about all that has happened to her since she fell down the rabbit hole, with… “but this is my dream and I’ll decide where it goes from here.” Anxiety isn’t your enemy when managed and respected. It can be a tool to motivate, protect, and prepare you. You can use it to create the muchness you are capable of.
Yarrow Therapy was created with mothers in mind. Providing online therapy and therapeutic resources for women. Visit us at yarrowtherapy.com for psychotherapy resources as well as individual and group therapy scheduling.
You know the steps it takes to get out the door, the planning it takes to get through your day. It’s not always a time crunch as it is a never ending list of crossing off tasks. I often hear women say, “I don’t want to be the stressed mom, the one that is yelling, and hardly listening, the one that is impatient and explosive.” Yet when you are feeling rushed somehow you end up being the worst version of yourselves. By following these three rules, you will learn how to manage the negative consequences of being in a hurry.
Rule One: Break the Habit
Feeling hurried is a reaction to stress, and a trigger for stress. When we get stuck in a cycle of responding to and trigging stress with being in a hurry. Urgency becomes a habit. When you start saying, “I feel so rushed all the time.” Or “I never get anything done, yet I am always so busy.” Chances are you have formed a habit of being in a hurry. You might find yourself feeling easily drained, and short-tempered.
The habit of hurry can be one of hurry’s most negative consequences, but take heart just like any habit it can be broke. You can break the habit of being in a hurry, by carving out down time and making sure you are separating your daily tasks.
By identifying your down times. You can create moments to take a break. The longer you have been in the habit of hurrying, the harder this might be to do. Keep a book for enjoyment in the car so while you wait for soccer practice you can read, something fun and light. Give yourself permission to slow down in these brief moments. Break up your day with a walk. Socialize, call a friend, or chat with the other moms at swim practice. Taking intentional breaks can be calming even in smallest of doses. Give yourself an off duty time, at 9pm regardless of what isn’t accomplished you stop working. You can pick up where you left off in the morning.
Another way to break a habit of being in a hurry is to mentally separate your tasks. You run into trouble when all your daily individual tasks become one master task. By separating your duties, it can help you see the in between, maybe even recognizing where the slow points are during the day where you can take a breather. By separating your daily obligations, you prevent frustrations from spilling over into one another.
Rule Two: Know the First Priority.
Hurry has a best friend; its name is control. Often times when feeling anxious and stressed you can fool yourself into thinking, control just like hurry is what you need to decrease the tension you feel. When you are trying to hurry and control everything around, stress and anxiety can sky rocket, feeling overwhelmed and having a low tolerance when things are out of your control is common. Being quick to snap, even yell at those closest to you can be the negative consequence you experience.
By identifying one purpose for each chore or task. You can cut out all the extra things hurry convinces you, you need to control in order to decrease our stress. Ask yourself when you start to feel being overwhelmed creeping in, “what is the purpose I am trying to accomplish?” For example, if you are taking young child to a doctor’s appointment, being on time might be your first priority. While dropping off your preteen at a friend’s, making sure they know they are loved before they jump out of the care might be your number one goal. You might not be able to cut tasks or errands completely off of your to-do list. But you can choose what purpose each task has. What priority is the most important, simplifying the amount of pressure you put on yourself can decrease the tension that causes you to hurry and think you need to be in control of everything.
Rule Three: Build a Connection
When you are in a hurry you often leave those who matter most to you destroyed in your path. Making this one of the most damaging consequences of being in a hurry. Think about how you use the phrase “I don’t have time for this.” Usually when this phases sprays from your mouths it’s in irritation, maybe even anger. Chances are, you aren’t even looking at the loved one slowing you down. While the phrase itself, isn’t harsh or unkind, and most the time it probably is true. But when you shout this out to someone, who has something they feel is important holding them up. What they are hearing is, “you don’t care, I am not important.”
Building a connection means, you are intentional with your relationships. The anxiousness hurry creates makes you feel like you don’t have time to do anything but focus on the task at hand. By complimenting your teenager instead of being annoyed by how long they took to get ready, or giving extra love to your toddler as you buckle them in the car. You aren’t taking any additional time; you are simply building a connection as you go. Your saying and showing, “I see you. I care.”
Building a connection can also be a way to calm yourself down. Taking those few extra seconds to hug your toddler after you zip up their jacket, or laugh with a teen. You get relief from the tension you are carrying too. By building a connection with yourself in moments of intense stress, you can center yourself. Making it so you are less short-tempered by that is happening around you.
"All-or-nothing thinking" is filtering your thoughts through a black or white filter. Making everything either white or black, all or nothing. It can seem like a smart, practical, solution to counteract feeling out of control. Yet, it does the opposite, it limits your options and makes you feel worse.
Does All-or-Nothing Thinking Sneak Into Your Thoughts?
Do you create an "I have to" measuring stick?
Be careful when a thought begins with “I have to." If what follows isn't a very basic need, you probably are at the start of an all-or-nothing thought. You often take something that is important to you or has great value and place it on a measuring stick. Each day that you fall short, in your mind you’re keeping score. Using these shortcoming as evidence and reconfirming in your thoughts how poorly you are handling the difficulty you face.
Do you run a race of "invisible finish lines?"
You might use all-or-nothing thinking as a finish line to your problem… “If I can finish all the Christmas shopping before December, then I will just be able to relax and enjoy the Christmas Season." But you never really get to cross your invisible finish line. You are just left running a race on empty for far too long. Leaving you burnt out, overwhelmed, and exhausted.
Three ways to use flexible thinking
Being Flexible with Your Time
Allow yourself to look at the purpose of a task and find a more suitable time to accomplish it. For instance, you have decided having a family meal together is extremely important and a task you use to measure your success as a mother. In your mind, having or failing to have this meal all together sums up your capability. Night after night, dinner doesn’t go well or doesn’t happen at all, leaving you feeling inadequate. A solution to being flexible with your time might mean moving your meal together as a family to breakfast. You might have to juggle things slightly to make it work. It might be only two weekdays mornings, but it gives you the flexibility to feel, even under times of stressful strain in your life that you are doing enough.
Being Flexible with Resources
We all have things each day we are responsible for, but we also have responsibilities that can be bumped or moved around. Adjusting your resources to meet the emotional energy you have each day helps you reframe from feeling burnt out. Working off a weekly to-do list instead of a daily one. Being flexible with your resources is one of the best ways to stop running a race of invisible finish lines, because your allowing flexibility to give you rest stops when you need them.
Being Flexible with Yourself
It is important to be flexible in your thoughts by offering yourself perspective and patience, and focusing on the progress you have made, instead of only keeping track of what you aren’t able to accomplish.
By being flexible with your time, resources, and self you create empowerment and opportunity for you to handle hard, sticky times of uncertainty and emotional overload.