Motherhood & ADHD

People love the Mental Load Cartoon by Emma. It demonstrates how women are managing so many of the day-to-day ‘small’ tasks that often go unnoticed. These tasks can be making sure there is enough food, having enough clothes, researching which daycares are best etc.

‘Small’ tasks add up quickly. For moms who feel they have to do everything, and who take on the burden of care for baby and partner unconsciously, it’s one of the reasons why they become overwhelmed as a parent. This fact is hard to navigate for any mom, but to the ADHD mom brain, it can feel impossible. Why? ADHD brains ‘turn off’ (decrease in brain activity) when it comes to mundane activities. This makes it extremely challenging for many ADHD parents to handle the particular demands of child-rearing with ease, especially if they have not developed systems they need to help their brain complete these types of tasks.

TRAITS OF THE ADHD MOM BRAIN

Here are some common struggles I see with ADHD moms:

  • Feeling overwhelmed with organizing all the baby items

  • Feeling frustrated and self-critical when they can’t find things the baby needs (like a thermometer, etc.)

  • Not able to keep up with the extra laundry, dishes, and cleaning

  • Missing the energy and excitement that they used to experience when their brain was ‘turned on’

  • Struggling to maintain schedules for the kids

  • Feeling incompetent when forgetting to schedule or keep appointments, like doctor checkups

  • Struggling to self-regulate when their kid is pushing limits

On top of the largely unacknowledged mental load that is generally demanded of women in this country, society sends the message to women that they need to love being a parent and naturally excel at it, or there is something wrong with them (not the system). Hence, the ADHD brain may absorb these unrealistic messages and fall into a vicious cycle of self-criticism and feeling like a ‘bad’ mom. The truth is that many parents are not even diagnosed with ADHD until their kid receives a diagnosis—so it can take years of trying (and failing) to do what works for neurotypical brains, before getting the help they need to start enjoying parenthood.

STRATEGIES FOR THE ADHD MOM BRAIN

Once you’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, there are tips and tricks to help you feel successful:

  • Talk to your psychiatrist/doctor about medication

  • Work with a therapist that specializes in adult ADHD to help build executive function and learn skills that will make the mundane tasks of parenting work for your brain

  • Talk to your partner about the mental load and hand off tasks that are more challenging for you (like buying clothes, picking up the kids from school, etc.)

  • Check out the resources for ADHD on my website

  • Learn to focus on what your brain does best! ADHD brains have a lot of strengths that can be challenging for the neurotypical brain

Not even Wonder Woman can do it all. Ask for help when you need it. We’re all responsible for raising the next generation together.

Marijuana's Unknown Risk

The risks of drinking alcohol seem to be public knowledge, which can be life saving in many instances. For example, we are aware that while most people can use alcohol in moderation and be okay, while others are at risk for alcoholism.

Marijuana is similar to alcohol in that most people can use it moderately without suffering any long-term repercussions. However, what fewer people know about is the connection between marijuana use and severe mental illness (meaning that it can have psychotic symptoms), specifically schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. As with alcohol or any other substance, it’s important to understand the risks that using marijuana poses, so you can make informed choices.   

The Link Between Marijuana and Mental Illness

At time of writing, researchers do not fully understand the connection between marijuana use and mental illness. They have, though, developed several theories.

First is that individuals who are already predisposed to schizophrenia and/or bipolar disorder may be using the drug to self-medicate their symptoms. If that’s the case, by the time a diagnosis is made, it’s impossible to ascertain if the symptoms of mental illness were present before drug use began.

A second theory posits that brains predisposed to mental illness find marijuana use more pleasurable than the average brain, leading to higher rates of drug abuse among individuals with clinical diagnoses.One study found that “early use and heavy use of cannabis are more likely in individuals with a vulnerability to psychosis.”

Finally, some researchers theorize that marijuana use directly contributes to an individual actually developing mental illness.

More research is necessary in all three cases.  

What Do We Know about Marijuana and Mental Illness?

  • Research  shows that marijuana use by individuals born with two types of genes  increases the chance of developing schizophrenia.

  • Studies show that pre-illness cannabis use causes earlier onset and more severe symptoms for individuals predisposed to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (1).

  • Marijuana use before adulthood (age 18) increases an individual’s chance of developing early-onset schizophrenia (1).

  • NPR’s article on new research showed daily use of high potent cannabis quadruples the risk of psychosis.

Marijuana Use as a Lifestyle Choice

Just like alcoholism, individuals cannot know for certain if they are predisposed to a mental illness or if cannabis use will increase the chances of developing one.  That said, there are some risk factors that you can be aware of to make better decisions about marijuana use.

Think of marijuana use like any other lifestyle choice.  If you know, for example, that you have a higher risk of getting a certain type of cancer or other disease, you can decrease that risk by making conscious choices about the foods you consume and the activities you engage in.  Doing so doesn’t automatically guarantee that you won’t get cancer, but your choices can reduce or increase your chances.

Marijuana and Higher-Risk Individuals

People who have medical histories like the following may be more at risk for developing a mental illness as the result of marijuana use.

  1. Those with mental illness in their family history, especially schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

  2. Those who use marijuana before age 18.

  3. Those who are heavier and more frequent cannabis users than the rest of their peer group.

  4. Those who use marijuana to fight feelings of depression and anxiety when not prescribed by a doctor.

  5. Those who exhibit premorbid signs of schizophrenia, which can look like anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal.

  6. Those who exhibit any of the prodromal phase symptoms.

  7. Those who use high potent cannabis on a daily basis.

Note: Having one or more of these traits does not mean that you will eventually develop a mental illness. If you are concerned about your chances, however, it’s a good idea to see a qualified medical health practitioner, as the sooner one seeks treatment, the better the prognosis.

Note: I am not trying to debate the merits of medicinal marijuana. I am simply offering information about the potential risks of cannabis use for some individuals.

  1. Ringen, P., Nesvåg, R., Helle, S., Lagerberg, T., Lange, E., Løberg, E., . . . Melle, I. (2016). Premorbid cannabis use is associated with more symptoms and poorer functioning in schizophrenia spectrum disorder. Psychological Medicine, 46(15), 3127-3136. doi:10.1017/S0033291716001999

How Positivity Can Become Toxic

What could be the downside of a “look at the bright side” mentality? There’s no road map to handling emotions that aren’t positive.

Humans are built to withstand tough emotions. These emotions provide helpful information to survive and thrive in this world. Old fairy tales talked about darkness, injustice, and often lacked a happy ending. These storytelling traditions helped set the expectation that sometimes life will be lonely, scary, and require grit and resilience to find happiness. These stories also provide parents an opportunity to talk about darker emotions and how to navigate them. It normalizes these feelings and can support kids in finding ways to cope with them, and move through them, rather than sweep them aside. Being “positive” even when our circumstances are challenging is not by itself a healthy or resilient coping strategy

Today, many popular children’s books and movies end happily, even if there is pain or suffering that precedes it. This can send a number of troubling messages: that deep happiness comes only through suffering; that if you aren’t happy, there is something wrong with you (because even these fictional characters find happiness in spite of their travails); that happiness is its own reward, no matter how you got it; that the sadness of a situation only depends on how you look at it.

Emotions provide us with useful information and signals (just like our bodies do) and can help us make changes that may lead to more fulfillment and happiness. Ignoring or avoiding darker emotions may eventually lead to mental health issues or turn (somatize) into lethargy or physical pain.  

Our bodies signal to us when we’re getting sick and need to rest. Our reactions give us insights into our emotional needs. So the next time you tell yourself (or someone tells you) you are ‘overreacting,’ be curious about the root cause of your reaction (emotionally) and why.

Is it sometimes helpful to try taking a positive outlook? Yes, of course.  But if you find yourself ignoring feelings and experiences in attempt to be ‘positive,’ it can actually become toxic. . Death is hard, breakups are hard, rejection is hard. Hard things happen and it doesn’t mean that they will not eventually have a deeper meaning or positive impact in your life. However, the change comes from experiencing the emotion first (or accepting that it happened). (On the flip side, getting stuck in the negative is also a sign that you may need support in processing your emotions). Studies show that accepting mixed emotions is better for your overall physical and mental health and reduce age related health declines.

The resistance to negative emotions impacts our relationships: people tend to be defensive and dismissive of his/her partner’s experience if they are afraid of a negative emotion. This tends to show up in ways of gathering evidence to prove why the person shouldn’t feel that way to protect themselves from acknowledging their behavior hurt the person. In doing so, one has ‘protected’ themselves from a negative experience by rationalizing why the other shouldn’t feel bad, but it disconnects the relationship instead strengthening it through connection. It actually makes the relationship stronger to be able to acknowledge each person’s experience.


I highly recommend watching the movie Inside Out. The point of this well done movie is for the emotion Joy to figure out why the emotion Sadness needs to exist. If we can accept our emotional experience and needs, we provide an opportunity for healing, growth, and connection. Therapy can be helpful in learning how to recognize and accept your emotional world. All of us learn how to experience our emotions. Most of us need help unlearning how to deny our emotions.

Are You in a Toxic Work Relationship?

Are you in a toxic work relationship?

Job interviewing is a lot like going on first dates. There are highs and lows. In between interviews you imagine how wonderful this company may be and how it could meet your professional needs. Or you may be worried about some red flags that could lead to an unhealthy work environment. Knowing when to take a new job, or to leave a current job that isn’t a good fit, can be hard (just like a relationship) because normally it isn’t all bad.  

Work is where you spend the majority of your week and a positive or negative environment can really impact your overall health and life. Here are some warning signs that may make you want to rethink your workplace situation:

  • Does your boss/company keep making promises they do not fulfill to keep you ‘happy’?  Examples are: No-to-little raise this year but we really value your work and will be giving raises next year (repeat cycle).

  • Company is under resourced (not enough employees, funds, etc.) and ask you to work more because the work is so important and the need is so great (without adequate compensation for you).  

  • You feel blamed, belittled, or unsupported by your manager.

  • Do you lack influence on what you do or the work environment you are in?

  • Are you not credited for the work you do?

If these things are present, spend some time thinking about your work environment. Are there concrete ways you can imagine improving your work environment? Do you feel able to approach your supervisor or HR manager about your professional needs and ask what they could do to support you?  It can also be helpful to set check-ins with yourself to gauge how you’re feeling and honestly assess how your work environment is impacting you in all areas of your life. Is it so energy-consuming that you’re not tending to other needs - physical health, mental wellness, being a present romantic partner or family member?  

Making the decision to leave can be a hard and complex one. For example, it can be scary to bring up concerns if you fear that you may experience a negative consequence at work. It can be terrifying (and perhaps not feasible) to leave a job if you do not have another one lined up. Or if the work situation has become toxic, you may not have the energy to even look for another job. You may also be concerned about the impact on your friends and colleagues if you left.

Getting support during these times to help you understand what is going and why, can bring clarity on what you want to do.  A few steps to help make a decision are:

  1. Spend time examining your values and goals.  

  2. Reflect if your work environment is aligning with your values and goals.

  3. Examine your boundaries around your values.  Are there boundaries that are too flexible or strict?

    1. Sometimes it’s helpful to think of what you would want for a loved one or your child. Would you think it’s ok for them to put up with (fill in the blank) environment or behavior?  If it’s ok for you, but not for them, that’s a sign that you may need a better boundary for yourself.

  4. Examine any ways you may be able to influence your work environment to be a healthier fit.

  5. Weigh the pros and cons of staying in the job or leaving, and the impacts this would have in all areas of your life - financial, professional, personal.

  6. Intentionally make a decision knowing the potential consequences and accept that whatever happens, you made the best decision with the information you had at the time.  

If you find yourself struggling with a particular boundary, therapy may be helpful.  Many times, intense feelings at work can be a sign of unresolved pain from the past. Seeking therapy can help heal from past events that may be influencing your current work situation, like helping you realize how work situations are actually triggers for painful, unresolved feelings unconnected to your job.  An example of this are children who helped their families by over functioning (the parent was sick or unavailable, or a sibling needed a lot of attention). These children may grow into adults who tend to dismiss their own needs and prioritize the needs of others or the company to the detriment of their own health.  

If you’re someone who compartmentalizes your emotions, it’s difficult to predict how a workplace environment will impact other carefully guarded areas of your life. This doesn’t make it any less urgent. Sometimes realizing that the workplace has become toxic is the first step in figuring out the solution - not only to your professional happiness, but also within your other intimate relationships. And just like a relationship,  the earlier you work on areas of concern the easier it can be to make a positive change.

When Clutter Makes Your Relationship Messy

In The Tale of Two Brains™ (ADHD and non-ADHD brain), one of the most common stressors is messiness. To the neurotypical brain, living in the chaos of disorganization can be stressful. To the ADHD brain, keeping a house tidy is stressful.

In The Tale of Two Brains™, team cleaning normally plays out something like this:

The partner with the neurotypical brain tries coaching their ADHD partner by sharing the techniques that work for them. They may try to encourage putting things away after using them or share how important it is for them to have a clean space. Or they may patiently wait for the other person to notice the pile of clothes on the floor before realizing that their person may never notice it.

Unfortunately, none of these things normally work for the ADHD brain. This in turn might lead the other person to believe their ADHD partner doesn’t care or isn’t trying.

To the ADHD brain, it can feel frustrating to see that their mess negatively impacts their partner. They may attempt big cleaning projects, yet leave them unfinished. This scenario often leads to self-criticism or defensiveness, as the world— and shows like Marie Kondo’s “Tidying Up”—say that tidying up is easy. This can lead to explosive fights over little things like cleaning off a table.  

Most of the time, the ADHD person IS trying hard but doesn’t have the skills to function that way. This conflict creates unnecessary stress in the relationship. The messiness causes anxiety or frustration in the non-ADHD brain, while for the ADHD partner, the stress comes from knowing their partner is unhappy. They want to fix the situation without fully being able to. Basically, the two brains do not know how to work together when it comes to cleaning.  

The ADHD brain needs a different type of organizational style that works for THEIR brain (check out the Marie Kondo for ADHD blog). Small, mundane tasks actually decrease brain activity in the ADHD brain, making it extremely difficult for them to put things back where they belong. It is the equivalent of asking someone with a neurotypical brain to do something really challenging, like present an unfamiliar topic at work without time to prepare.

Now, an ADHD brain would generally rock that task, because their brain turns ON when other brains turn off. Understanding that putting the milk back in the fridge is actually a big ask for someone with ADHD can help both partners come up with new ways to keep their place clean.

Here are 3 tips to help your two brains work together to minimize stress and anxiety:

Schedule—Routines help ADHD brains, so set a short amount of time each day to do a quick team pick up or cleaning challenge. Doing the same thing at the same time helps the ADHD brain not switch into crisis mode in order to turn the brain on. I recommend 5-10 minutes daily to pick up an area of the house before a designated relaxation time.

Games & Challenges—Instead of creating a crisis, create a fun challenge. Who can pick up the most items in five minutes? Who can do the best dance moves while sweeping? These are ways to turn the ADHD brain on without the anxiety. This works great with kids too!

Celebration—Celebrate the cleanliness of your house with praise, high fives, or a victory lap.

Want more helpful advice on living with an ADHD brain? I highly recommend seeing a couples therapist specializing in ADHD and non-ADHD couples (like me!). Generally speaking, relationships can suffer from not knowing how to communicate effectively with each other’s brain. It is also hard to get out of patterns that have been occurring for years. I’ve found that couples may need a “bootcamp” of sorts to jumpstart using techniques that will effectively communicate with BOTH brains.

Marie Kondo for ADHD

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As the Marie Kondo craze sweeps the nation, a group of my favorite brains, ADHD brains, may once again receive messages that cleaning is simple. While the KonMari method appeals to many, this message may cause those with ADHD to feel like failures when they can’t effectively tidy up like on the popular Netflix show. There is hope for these ADHD brains. Here are some ways to adapt the KonMari method so it works for them.

People with ADHD normally need a different organizational style that works for THEIR brains. Small, mundane tasks actually decrease brain activity in the ADHD brain, making it extremely difficult for them to put things back where they belong. Their brains often need to actually see things in order to remember their to-do lists or know where things are.

Therefore, an ADHD brain may be more comfortable with lots of stuff lying around or piled up in a corner or on a desk. However, sometimes they need to tidy up,  either for hosting guests, or if their mess stresses out their partner or roommate.

Let me break down the ways I’ve witnessed ADHD brains try to force their brain to keep things tidy:

  • Crisis—They make doing the dishes a catastrophic event that induces anxiety in themselves and others. (Ex. if I leave this dish out my house will be infested with cockroaches and my partner will leave me!)

  • Big Projects—They begin to “organize” one room and make a complete mess. They then lose interest and leave the space worse off than before.  

  • Disaster Zone—They wait until the place is an absolute disaster AND a real crisis before they start picking up.

Because of these common ADHD cleaning styles, Marie Kondo’s method has the potential to help the ADHD brain, because having fewer items is helpful in general. However, the KonMari method requires some tweaking to work for the ADHD brain.  This is important to know if someone with ADHD is trying to implement the KonMari method.

  • ADHD brains will love the big project idea. However, without a coach or a T.V. show to motivate them to put everything away when they have purged the unwanted items, an ADHD brain may dump all their clothes on the dining room table and leave them there for months.  Ask a friend or hire an organizer to help with the last part. Setting a deadline can also be helpful.

  • ADHD brains do better with less stuff, but tend to struggle to find a good home when attempting to organize their stuff. Using a professional organizer who specializes in ADHD brains can help ADHD brains organize their homes in ways they can remember.

  • Marie Kondo’s sock drawers are beautiful, but folding and storing clothes that way is setting up an ADHD brain for failure. ADHD brains tend to work better with a “dump and search” method of  organizing. Try a sock box or basket instead.

Want more?  Keep an eye on my ADHD Corner for more tips for the ADHD brain.  

Fighting over the small stuff with your partner? The real reason might surprise you

Have you ever felt baffled by your partner’s behavior?  Can’t understand why they can do all these great things but not put the milk back in the fridge? Can’t pick up a room?  Struggle to arrive anywhere on time?

Does your partner have ADHD? 

Approximately 9.4% children in the US have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) according to the CDC.  Our school systems are making great strides in understanding the ADHD brain and how to create a more productive learning environment for children with this condition. However, most adults with ADHD did not have these advantages as school kids, instead enduring a learning environment that was challenging for their brains, signaling that they were bad students, lazy, or problem kids (to name a few). They were not given the skills to develop their executive functioning in a way that talks to their brains. And so they had to find their own work-arounds in this non-ADHD-dominated world.

As adults, they may have found work environments in which they can excel and have an advantage. These professions tend to be ones with a lot of stimulation, crisis, and action.  Examples include entrepreneurs, emergency service professionals (police, firefighters, ER doctors/staff), or creative/artistic professions. It can be mind boggling for partners (and sometimes the individual him/herself) to see a person be so successful out in the world yet struggle with simple tasks at home. It can help to see brain scans of different types of brains, which show that mundane tasks (like doing the dishes, putting things away) actually decrease brain activity in ADHD brains, though they increase activity for neurotypical brains. For partners, this can take away the sting of feeling unheard or devalued when your partner does not respond to requests that seem simple to you but not to him or her. 

One of the reasons I love working with ADHD & non-ADHD mixed couples is that I can help them understand how to talk to each other’s brain effectively. A lot of the typical relationship-improving skills will not work in this type of dynamic which is why specialization in ADHD is important in looking for a couples therapist that will be a good fit for you. 

Here are 3 techniques to communicate more effectively to someone with an ADHD brain:

1.     Praise, Praise, Praise. If you want someone to do the dishes (or any mundane task), make a HUGE deal of how amazing it was for them to do it.  What may be a simple task to you is actually a really challenging task for an ADHD brain, and a big praise reflects the amount of effort they made. Commenting, “It’s about time” or “It isn’t that hard” minimizes the effort they’re making. A BIG acknowledgment will go a long way in reinforcing the motivation to work at something challenging.

2.     Defusing Defensiveness. If you notice your partner becoming defensive over a question or comment, try asking them if they heard criticism or blame and let them know that you didn’t intend it to come off this way. A lot of ADHD brains hear blame when other brains don’t. Knowing this can help de-escalate or prevent potential conflicts.

3.     Value the Gifts each type of brain gives the relationship. When you’re talking about things you need from each other, acknowledge the positive qualities  that each person brings to the table. For example, someone who may tend to run late may also be really good at being present, or is flexible when something doesn’t go according to plan.

Here are 3 techniques that an ADHD brain can use to communicate better with a neurotypical brain:

1.     Repeat back what your heard. If you hear blame or criticism, ask your partner if you heard it correctly by repeating it back.  Your brain may be drawing from past experiences  that may make it sound like the statement is bigger than what the person actually intends. For example, when your partner says, “We’re out of coffee,” they may just be making an observation that they’re simply out of coffee, without a lot of feeling behind it. To an ADHD brain, they may hear, “It’s your fault that we’re out of coffee,” which then triggers explanations of why they aren’t at fault for not knowing the coffee is gone. 

2.     Count to 3 before jumping into a conversation. Your brain is able to process a lot of information so fast that it’s easy for you to jump in or change directions in a conversation without even realizing it.  This can leave your partner feeling unheard or like there isn’t space for them to contribute to the conversation. Waiting 3 seconds to make this move (which will feel like an eternity, but only to your brain) allows the other person’s brain to connect with the topic at hand in a way that works better for them.

3.     Value the Gifts. Acknowledge and appreciate that your partner may do more of the small stuff or the mundane organizing. You can acknowledge how planning ahead like this helps your relationship stay organized and, by being so efficient, makes more time for fun activities to do together.

If you are in a relationship where these things are coming up, going to a couples counselor that specializes in ADHD (like me!) can be incredibly helpful. It takes a lot of work to rewire your relationship pattern and nervous system. While these tips may seem easy, they can be really challenging to do on your own.

The Happy Holiday Toddler Monster

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Holidays tend to be a special time when family gets together and magical characters (like Santa) appear.  Many parents had hopes and dreams of what the holidays would look like when they started a family. Maybe it included everyone getting along, a beautifully decorated tree, appreciative kids opening gifts. Perhaps your child is old enough to be excited about the holiday cheer and all your holiday hopes seem within reach....when reality happens: your toddler is freaking out!  


3 things to keep in mind this holiday season with toddlers: 

1.     Toddlers are amazing feelers. They express unrestrained joy and sadness with equal intensity. All of these holiday rituals are new, intense, and stimulating events for their little bodies and brains. They may be surrounded by family members, off schedule and full of sugar, and have a lot of new, exciting items that their brains will think to climb, play with, and destroy. In experiencing their pure joy, you will also witness the crash (which may lead you to believe that your child has been replaced by a monster). 

a.     Tip: Add some down/quiet time before and after the ‘main events’ to help give their little brains time to recharge, helping minimize the intensity of the crash. 

b.     Tip: Try to keep to schedules and routines as much as possible in a new environment.

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2.     Your feelings matter, too! Your dreams of a perfect holiday may be influencing your feelings around the holiday time. There isn’t a way for your toddler’s brain to understand how much time, love, and effort you put into a magical experience, which can be infuriating if things all go wrong. 

a.     Tip: Take time for yourself so you can recharge and have space to feel all your feelings. Holidays also tend to bring up feelings of loss that may impact your ability to respond to the toddler monster. Maybe it is disappointment from when you were a kid or grief from the loss of a loved one with whom you used to enjoy this holiday time. When you are experiencing some big feelings it can be harder to respond patiently to a toddler meltdown.

b.     Tip: Talk to your partner/family about supporting you in ways that will fill you up if your toddler drains you. This may include stating/showing their appreciation on all the work you have done or taking your child so you can get a break. 

3.     Create your own traditions that work for all of you. This may or may not look like what is portrayed in our popular culture, and that’s ok. Breakable ornaments and shiny lights may be torture for your toddler (and therefore you) and not joyful.  Try making your environment work for all of you and find the connection and laughter if it all goes wrong. You are learning how to be a parent and that will always be a journey; you’re not supposed to get it right all the time. 

a.     Tip: Read my article, Sometimes Getting it Wrong is Getting it Right, in case you lose it with your toddler.

b.     Tip: Talk to your partner/family about your intentions and goals for the holiday season and reflect if your actions and environment are in line with your intentions.

Remember that toddlers will tend to express their negative emotions and experiences more often with their primary caretakers. It means you’re doing a good job making them feel safe enough to express how they feel. So if they do well with the grandparents and are monsters with you, just remind yourself it means you’re an AWESOME parent and they trust you can handle it. 

Mental Health Check-up

WHEN WAS YOUR LAST MENTAL HEALTH CHECK UP?

In so many areas of our health, we recognize that prevention is key: we teach our children to wash their hands and brush their teeth, and we make the annual trip to the doctor. So why is the mental health check up not common practice?  

The big reason is that too many of us don’t regard mental health as urgent or as consequential as our physical health, or we feel a stigma around seeking professional expertise for mental health wellness.

But don’t let this stop you! Reasons why mental health check ups are important:

Stress is encouraged and normalized in our culture and has serious mental and physical health consequences. Professionals overseeing mental health check-ups can monitor stress levels and make recommendations depending on need.You can establish a baseline of functioning over time with the same therapist. This is particularly helpful in catching illnesses early.

Mental health is similar to physical health in that you can increase strength and resiliency by doing mental workouts (like mindfulness, meditation, learning how to resolve conflict , etc.) Check ups can provide tools and activities that may have a positive impact on your overall wellbeing.

Most of us are carrying unresolved pain from the past.  This could be a bullying or weighty experiences in childhood (involving parents, peers, perhaps major arguments with friends). Unresolved pain is like an invisible weight you carry; you may be so accustomed to it that you don’t realize its impact. It can also impact your current relationships in negative ways.  Most people who work through “stuck pain” report feeling like a weight has been taken off of them, or that it feels life changing.

Mental pain is the same as physical pain and has lifelong consequences if not treated.  Being proactive goes a long way in preventing serious illnesses.

Even if you’re ready to schedule a mental health check up, your insurance provider may not cover it. So then what? I suggest you advocate for this critical, preventative care by:

  • Talking to your insurance provider and employer to advocate they include this in their services.

  • Research peer companies/business/organizations that provide more comprehensive mental health coverage, and share this with your employer.

  • Contact your elected representatives  to advocate for better mental health coverage.

  • Become involved with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), an organization that advocates for mental health services.

  • Talk to your companies about providing more benefits for mental health as they do physical health.  Afterall, if you just got in a big fight with your significant other, how great is your work productivity?  


Making annual mental health check ups a priority can be life-changing, even life-saving.


Sometimes Getting it Wrong is Getting It Right

As parents, we are bombarded with information  telling us how to do things right, or all the things we are doing wrong. In the era of information overload, parenting guilt and worry are taken to a new level.

But there is a simple truth in parenting that is so powerful, it is often forgotten:

Good parenting means you get it WRONG at times so you can make a repair. You acknowledge what happened and  honor your child’s experience. This is more powerful and helpful than always getting it ‘right’.

When you notice yourself feeling guilty or bad about snapping at your kid, remember that this is a POWERFUL moment to acknowledge how you feel and how you behaved is not ok. And then you make amends. This skill will help your child in every aspect of his/her life and strengthen your relationship. So take a deep breath, and show your child that it is ok to not be perfect, to make mistakes and make amends.  This is has more impact in teaching your child how to navigate life when he/she loses it. It demonstrates how to be accountable, how to acknowledge someone else’s experience without it defining oneself (i.e, if they feel bad that means I am bad), and how to use the important emotion of guilt that will make a relationship stronger. Parenting is tough. Hopefully knowing that it is beneficial to mess up (and make a repair) can hopefully make it a little easier.

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Teaching Emotional Recognition & Regulation: DIY Calm Down Kit

KEEP YOUR CALM
Building a Calm Down Box to recognize and regulate your emotions

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What is a Calm Down Box?: This is a personalized kit to help identify your most intense feelings and learn healthy coping strategies you can use to regulate them. A Calm Down Box uses all 5 senses so that  you can explore what your body and mind connects with the most. When you experience overwhelming emotions, you can move through items in the box, using each item to locate the source of your intense feelings.

Why should I use one?: Being able to recognize and understand your own emotions is important for self-regulation and mental wellness. It also helps to build self-awareness and mental strength to handle stressful situations whenever you encounter them.

Who else can use it?: This box is great for all ages! Toddlers beginning around age 2 will connect with the variety of stimuli and activities within the box and enjoy learning about emotions. Teaching children how to use it is a powerful way that parents can model positive emotional self-awareness (and learn better practices at the same time, as many of us were not taught these skills when we were younger).

Where should I keep it?: Calm Down Boxes should be easily accessible so you can find them in a hurry. You can also keep these items grouped in an area of your home; here in Austin, schools call these “Peace Corners,” where kids can take themselves when they need a break. Keeping these goodies in a box or bag makes them simple to transport on trips around town or on vacation. 

When is a good time to use it?: Calm Down Boxes are always good to have on-hand, but can be especially useful during major life changes or difficult transitions. During those moments, it can be soothing to redo your Calm Down Box,  exchanging or adding an extra item or two. These also can make thoughtful gifts for a child when they are going through a family change (death, divorce, moving) or having a tough time at school. 

*IT IS IMPORTANT TO INTRODUCE AND PRACTICE USING THE CALM DOWN BOX WHEN CALM. Ask your child to notice any changes in their body after using an item. You can also use imaginative play to “pretend” an emotion and use the box to help process it. Remember, all feelings are ok. Your goal is to help the behavior associated with the emotion to be a helpful and not harmful one.

Below are my personal recommendations in each sensory area.

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TOUCH: Touch is calming for a lot of people.  Here are some of my favorites with Amazon links for purchase:

Magnetic Sand is fascinating to use and therefore a great way to self- regulate. You can keep it in a plastic container with a lid to minimize the mess.

These fidget toys work well both for for touch and visual senses.

Play-doh is another visual and touch sensory experience. Did you know that you can also make your own?

 

Squishies, stress balls, and soft stuffed animals are great as well.

 

SMELL:

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Bath and Body Works has a lot of trial-size lotions in various scents.  Put two or three in your box.  (Tip: They tend to have great sales on Black Friday.) Adults can use scented oils and candles to provide a scent.

TASTE:

Tic-Tacs, suckers, or salty snacks can be helpful to have in your box.

SIGHT:

Moody Cow Meditates  and the Sparkle Wand (these two items go together).  You can also make your own glitter jar DIY, which is fun for everyone. 

 

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Mandala Coloring Books can be amazing in calming down one’s body and mind. It can be a great activity to do before bed if you or your little one has an active mind.

Bubbles!  Bubbles are great ways to calm down with breath, sight, and touch.  A fun activity can be assigning an emotion to each bubble and then pop it away!

Journaling - Writing about how you feel can be eye-opening. Here’s a list of prompts here and here to reduce anxiety.  Adults/older kids can also utilize gratitude journals or stationary to write appreciation notes to those they care about. After you have figured out what is going on and why, remembering something that you are grateful for and expressing it can help change a mood. 

Breathing balls.

Emotion Cards and Books:  These nurture emotional intelligence and help children understand what they’re feeling.  You can also help them by making observations, like, “ It looks like you’re feeling disappointed that you have to stop playing.”  Here’s a short, helpful video about helping your children understand their emotions in the moment. My 2 year-old loves these feelings and dealings cards.  We also have a large poster of feeling faces he can go to show me how he is feeling.

SOUND:

Create a playlist or use a pre-made one on Spotify.

Use noise-cancelling headphones, because sometimes it’s silence that we’re needing.

Bring your attention to the noises around you. If possible, go outside and listen.

Beyond the Calm Down Box

Another helpful diagnostic when you are having BIG emotions is “HALT”.  Many times, our emotions feel exacerbated because we’re also feeling one or more of the following:

H: Hungry (or feeling Hot)

A: Angry

L: Lonely

T: Tired

The Calm Down Box is just one method for confronting big emotions and finding healthy ways to cope with them. I highly recommend the movie Inside Out to help change a perspective that ‘negative’ emotions are ones we want to ‘get rid of.’ Also this wonderful train tunnel metaphor helps us understand why we shouldn’t shortcut through emotionally challenging territory - and that doing so actually diminishes our resiliency.   

We have hard emotions for a reason: they give us information, help us form strong, intimate relationships, and build resiliency. Shifting your mental frame about this and keeping a toolbox handy for those inevitable tough days is a powerful action you can take for your own wellbeing.

 

Premarital Counseling

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PREMARITAL COUNSELING

A long-term investment with immediate benefits

Relationships have a deep impact on your overall health. Strong, long-term relationships reduce stress and anxiety, increase life expectancy, and help people be more productive. However, in relationships where there is a lot of conflict, uncertainty, or instability people find themselves so preoccupied  that it’s hard to concentrate at work or enjoy normal activities. 

It’s important to realize that all relationships will have conflict, but it’s possible for couples to use conflict to bring them closer together. This is a learned skill that takes special knowledge and practice. Generally, people do not want to hurt each other. When couples disconnect or behave differently, it is usually because their defensive instincts kick in. This is why it’s so important to learn how to counteract those instincts by developing the skill for staying connected. 

Premarital counseling is a great way to learn these skills  that has huge benefits. Imagine not feeling stressed when you and your partner fight. Most people will say that their relationships are great 99% of the time but that 1% is incredibly painful. These skills teach couples how to fight well, be emotionally responsible to one another, and to invest in their relationship on a daily basis. It also makes it easier to come in for a quick tune up session if either person notices more fights or arguments. The sooner a couple comes in, the easier it is to repair and re-connect. Otherwise, it’s like an open wound that, without treatment, can fester and become more complicated to treat. If a couple neglects this caretaking and continues to have unresolved issues, these infect many other areas of the relationship, making treatment that much harder. 

An analogy I like to use is that strengthening your relationship is like going to the gym. You can do it on your own, go to a class, or get a personal trainer. Using a personal trainer will help you achieve your goals more quickly and easily, and enable you to make modifications depending on your body and needs. Taking a class helps you complete a full work out when you might otherwise stop earlier on your own. Similarly, using a relationship ‘trainer’ can help you dig deeper, and safely explore insecurities and vulnerabilities. Strengthening your relationship in this way is really hard, mentally and emotionally, but the payoff is tremendous. Trying to do this work on your own can lead to relationship injuries (think of sharing something vulnerable and if your partner rejects or dismisses it, it can create a hesitancy to share things in the future). 

Why is premarital counseling better with a trained premarital couples counselor? 

●      Licensed Couples Counselors pick up on any underlying issues that may impact healthy communication.

○      This can include dysfunctional  family dynamics, past trauma, personality differences, or having ‘non-neurotypical’ brains.

○      For example, look at my article on the ADHD and Non-ADHD couple. Many of common communication techniques won’t work for a couple like this because they need to learn how to communicate specifically with a different type of brain. 

●      A premarital counselor can explain the research and why people are wired differently.

●      Premarital counselors experience working with couples in all stages of their life and relationship.

●      Couples can come back in for counseling with someone who knows their history.

●      Unlike trained premarital counselors, many couples counselors will see premarital couples but will not cover a curriculum, use an assessment, and explore future times that are stressful for most relationships. 

●      Premarital counseling is a non religious approach that can be beneficial for those who may not share the same religious beliefs or identify as agnostic or atheist. 

There is evidence that even taking 8 hours before marrying to explore your relationship and learn these skills is huge. Positive outcomes include:

●      Increasing marital satisfaction by 52%

●      Decreasing chance of divorce by 30%

●      Decreasing areas of conflict by 83%

●      Increasing communication and conflict resolution skills

●      Reducing wedding planning stress

One of the reasons I love working with couples, especially in premarital counseling, is that relationships are powerful. They restore, heal and create safety. I love helping couples learn those skills so they can have a better relationship and be able to identify the signs of when to come in for extra support. Ultimately, we know this to be about prevention. No matter where you are in your relationship, stepping into marriage with a strong foundation and the confidence to use these skills will remove many barriers that most couples typically face. Why wait until your relationship doesn’t feel good to take action, when you can make it feel even better today? Check out my Premarital Group and Private Classes today!

 

 

 

HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT THERAPIST FOR YOU

Why getting started is often the hardest part

Many friends ask me how to find a good therapist. There are many different types of therapies that work great for some but not for others because each of us is wired differently. I find that certain people connect well with talk therapy while others respond better to activities and tools. Tools can be mental exercises or physical actions to take.

 For example: when you feel anxious, do this deep breathing exercise.

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You can think of achieving mental health in the same way you think of physical exercise. The end goal of exercise  is good physical health and there are many ways to obtain it (bootcamp, gym, swimming, yoga etc.). Maybe you prefer running over swimming, and finding out what works for you will better motivate you to obtain your goal. Similarly, the goal of good mental health is resiliency (strength);there are several ways to achieve this. So  if you had a counseling or therapy experience you didn’t connect with, don’t be shy about trying a therapist who uses a different technique.

But first, how to narrow down the best type of therapy for you to explore? Here’s my quick breakdown:

If you want: Tools, activities, ‘homework’

Look for a therapist that uses:  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

Good for: Anxiety, intrusive or repetitive thoughts, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

 

If you want: Connection and understanding

Look for: Attachment and Relational Therapists

Good for: Depression, isolation, loneliness, healing from childhood issues

 

If you want: Direction, problem-solving

Look for: Strength-based, Coaching, Motivational Interviewing, Solution Focused

Good for: People experiencing transition (college, job change, new relationship, etc.)

 

If you want: Understanding of relationship patterns and behavior, understanding how you’re feeling

Look for: Psychodynamic therapy

Good for:  Personality disorders, childhood difficulties (especially with parents), fears within a relationship (abandonment, etc.)

 

If you want: Help changing behaviors with addictive substances (caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, drugs)

Look for: Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC), Motivational Interviewing (MI), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Good for:  People wanting to make difficult lifestyle changes with a substance that has addictive properties

 

If you want: Peace, managing turmoil and difficult experiences, tools to connect you to yourself

Look for: Mindfulness, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Good for: Anxiety, depression

 

If you want: Healing from a traumatic event

Look for: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Narrative Therapy

Good for: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Acute Stress Disorder, Traumatic Event(s) (car accident, natural disaster, etc.)

 

If you want:  Support with grief and loss

Look for: Specializing in Grief, Narrative Therapy, Attachment Therapy

Good for: People who lost a loved one, complicated bereavement

 

If you want: Help with your relationship

Look for: Someone who specializes in couples therapy, uses Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), The Gottman Method (good for left-brain thinkers), and Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy (PACT)

Good for: Strengthening your relationship, reconnection, decreasing stress and conflict, extramarital affairs, parenting issues, healing from past hurts

 

Once you’ve identified which type of therapy you think might address your needs, see if you can set up an initial consultation or time to talk on the phone with a therapist. Tell the therapist what you’re looking for and ask if it they think the two of you would work well together. You can share any concerns or fears that you may have about therapy and see how they respond. You can always bring up what you like and don’t like in your therapy sessions and change therapists if it doesn’t feel like a strong fit.
                       

A good place to start looking for a therapist is Psychology Today.  You can search by location, insurance accepted, and specialties.  
 

Stepping into therapy can be overwhelming and intimidating. Sometimes the hardest part is simply getting started. Use this guide to arm yourself with more knowledge upfront, and hopefully that will give you the confidence to take this positive step for your well-being, both now and in the future.