Mental


Running on Grief 6

Running on Grief

I’d like to try and start sharing a few other thoughts here about running and exercise and faith and grief that I’ve “kept in my heart” and pondered over, even though it’s almost impossible to try and put these feelings into the right words.

Sometimes while I’m running, I suddenly feel a little self-conscious as I think about what I’m doing and how silly it must look. Not just because of how I run (which I’m sure looks silly enough by itself), but I think about the why? Why would I run unless I was late (which happens often) or unless a hungry tiger was chasing me? (That happens less frequently.)

I’ve been a runner – meaning I’ve freely chosen to go out and run for “fun” – off and on for many years since about the time I was in 5th grade and track season was starting up. To many people, and even to me at times in the middle of a hard race or practice, I’ve wondered –

Why? Why in the world am I doing this?!

Over the years, I’ve learned that there’s always a deeper meaning and reason to running beyond pumping your legs as fast as you can and trying not to die in the process. 

For me, that reason has varied during different seasons of my life but it’s always provided a great space and time to process my thoughts and pray.

Around this time last year, I decided I wanted to make exercise a daily habit instead of something I did every now and then when I felt like it. A friend invited me to join her in an online “Challenge Group” – basically an online fitness accountability group.

Together with that and another friend’s advice to try the Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred programs and the BeFit videos and acquiring a treadmill from another friend (I have great friends!), I was doing very well with developing a good routine and starting to feel pretty good too.

Then mid-November came, when my Dad’s doctors found cancer on his lungs, and then early December, when they confirmed it was non-smoker’s stage IV lung cancer (but with a very positive “years not months” prognosis”), and then, just a few weeks later, his incredibly unexpected and shocking death right before Christmas.

 

Needless to really have to say, I had a hard time exercising during that time – it’s hard to run or do much of anything when you have a big huge emotional knot in your stomach.

In the weeks and months after that, it was still too hard to think about exercising – it was hard enough just getting out of bed and trying to continue life “as normal” since it was anything but normal anymore.

By March, I decided I needed to do something to get myself moving again but knew it would be too hard to do it on my own at home. I needed a place to plug in until I could get moving on my own again. So I joined the Y, knowing that by paying money per month I’d have to go and make the money well spent.  I made a daily schedule for myself based on the group exercise schedule and asked a few friends to help me stay committed by inviting me to come with them when they went.  I thank God for the many good friends he has blessed me with.

Most people say exercising helps them feel better when dealing with anxieties. At first, for me, it made me feel worse.

I honestly didn’t really feel like doing it and I mostly hated it while I was there. I struggled a lot with thoughts and questions like, “if we’re all going to die one day and the eternal life is all that really matters why waste my time on the things of this world by exercising?” I didn’t feel like dying (though I wished I could at least take a peek and see where my dad was), yet I didn’t know how to continue living, I honestly didn’t really know what I was supposed to do.  I was stuck in a room with no obvious way out.

I wanted a place to escape my grief and instead found myself confronted with it – it followed me and even intensified the harder I worked out. 

The faster I ran or the harder I pushed, I’d get flashbacks of our 24-hour ordeal in the hospital, re-living the trauma of those moments.  Images of my Dad in the hospital and weeks preceding it flashed in my mind with every surge of adrenaline. I missed him so, so, so much. I couldn’t get away from it.

I was lifting weights with my arms while hauling around the deadweight of grief in my heart. 

Yet, since I didn’t know what else to do, I just shrugged my shoulders and forced myself to keep going.

I remember one evening – or maybe it was morning, I can’t remember that time very well – I couldn’t stand it anymore. My spirit was drowning in grief and I could hardly breathe anymore, frustrated, annoyed, desperate and confused about life, death, God, everything. 

I angrily went downstairs, grabbed the treadmill key, turned it on and, like Forest, I just started running, and I ran, and ran, and ran. (Though I didn’t run till I grew a beard or reached every ocean in the US.)

I ran and it felt as if my heart opened while I ran and all the waves of emotions of sadness and confusion flowed out of me and pumped through my veins, powering me along. My legs and arms pumped and my heart sobbed and sobbed and prayed and cursed and grunted and screamed.

When I finally stopped – I have no idea how long I ran and didn’t care – a strange feeling came over me. Peace, maybe? Relief? Whatever it was, I knew it was good.

My body ran and my soul began thawing – healing.

Ten months later, I’m still running, still exercising regularly, and even ran my first 5K in my life! Slowly, I’ve started enjoying running and exercising again instead of just forcing myself to do it without any satisfaction.

I used to see people’s pictures they’d post of themselves captioning their exercise or running accomplishments and feel almost jealous of their outward “perfection” and happiness. Now I wonder if that’s what others think when they see me at the gym or hear about my running/exercise accomplishments. Maybe others think “she’s got it all together”. But really I’m still healing.

I think everyone finds different ways to process grief or anxiety or other challenges in life. For me, running and exercise (and writing about it) have become an important tool and aid in my own healing process.

Running and exercise have always provided an analogous way for me to better understand life and my faith. I’m still pondering how the finite and temporal act of exercising fits in with the whole eternal life thing. More on that to come…


Seven Simple Ways to Deal with Anxiety in Motherhood {Day Seven: Help Others & Ask for Help} 1

Prayer Breathing, keeping a Gratitude Journal, taking Time Outs Alone and spending Time In TogetherTalking it Out and Taking Care of our Body are all excellent Ways to Deal with Anxiety in Motherhood.  The last and but most often dismissed way to get help with anxiety is to –

Help Others and Ask for Help

So far, I’ve shared ways for how you can help you deal with anxiety in motherhood. All those are great and are very effective but here’s really no better way of escaping from our own problems than getting out of our own heads to help the people around us who are struggling also.

When we stop and notice that other people exist around us, we can begin focusing on them instead of getting stuck in our own misery. Sometimes, I believe we are allowed to suffer so that we can understand others’ suffering and be moved to do something to ease their pain since we can truly empathize.  Suffering with others brings Peace and Grace.

Helping others gives us a sense of purpose.  When I can do something for another, it steers me away from being pulled in and controlled by my anxiety and instead gives me something sturdier to hold onto. Here are a few simple ways to help others that shouldn’t add too much stress – if done with a grateful heart.

  • Sit down and write a kind note or send a quick message to a friend. Tell them how grateful you are for their friendship or ask how her day is going.
  • Buy or make some special after-school snacks or double your dinner and bring the extra to a mom who is having a rough time lately.
  • Call a friend and invite her over for lunch or tea and open your ears and your heart to her.

Help Others and Let Others Help YOU

Carry another’s cross with them and let them help carry yours. It helps us to help others and it helps others to let them help us.

Moms are excellent actors – we know how to put on a good face in public, volunteer for everything under the sun and make it look like we are fine even when we are suffering a terrible interior darkness of anxiety or depression.

Asking for help is one of the hardest things for us to do but it’s an essential way to get ourselves out of the pits of despair. Sure, others are suffering a lot too but that doesn’t mean our own problems vanish or even that they are insignificant compared to others’ – and we have to be careful not to use “helping others” as a way to avoid or hide from our own problems. (speaking to myself here!) It’s a temptation to compare our own struggles with others.

Another person’s struggles – as real and difficult as they may be – do not diminish or negate our own difficult situation. 

We moms have so much to do, our plates and our hands are always full. All the time. Even when we sleep – if we sleep – we’re still thinking about everything we have to do. For me, when I think of everything need to get done I feel panicked easily because I think I have to get it all done all by myself.

We’ve all heard the time-old phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child”. Well, it takes a village to raise a mother also! We need each other. We need our spouses. We need our parents and family members, our parish and communities, we need our neighbors, and yes – we might even need the people at the daycare or gym’s nursery once in a while too.

Ask others to help you! Ask for help carpooling, meals, babysitting so you can catch-up at home or get some much-needed sleep or whatever it is you need help with – ask for help!

Yesterday, we had a few different activities going on at the same time and I wasn’t sure how I was going to get everyone dropped off or picked up where they needed to be without losing my brains in the whirlwind.  I decided to do what my mom says and “Just Trust God!”. Not even a few minutes after I sent up a quick prayer to entrust the situation to Him, my brother called and offered to take and bring home one child so I’d only have one activity to drop off/pick for. He really saved me and my sanity!

Seek Outside Help from a Professional

Finally, we may also need help from someone outside of our home and community life – someone who is passionate and cares about helping others with their mental health, someone who spent many, many years and time and hard work to learn about mental health so that they could spend their days listening to and helping others navigate the dark and muddy waters of anxiety or depression or other mental health issues.  Someone who can give us an unbiased, professional, and rational opinion from the outside looking in.

There is NOTHING wrong in seeking out the help of a professional Psychiatrists, Psychologists, or Licensed Mental Health Counselor. NOTHING. In fact, it might even be wrong if you don’t seek out this help.  When we are physically sick or when we break a bone or have a sprain what do we do? Go to the medical doctor. When our minds are fuzzy, we live in a perpetual state of panic and anxiety, and we have a hard time getting out bed to do the smallest things – why don’t we go to the doctor then?  Going to a doctor or counselor for your mental health is just as important as going to the doctor for your physical health. 

There was a time in our family life when I hit rock bottom and was having an incredibly difficult time with one child in particular. By the end of an awful, awful summer time together, I said – I need help! So we made an appointment with a family therapist. I was incredibly anxious when we first went but after the first few sessions I knew I had waited too long, I should have gone years before. I had told myself I could “fix myself” and my child on my own by reading books and figuring it out. But I couldn’t. I needed someone who could look at our specific and unique situation and talk to me and my husband and child face-to-face and give us concrete and practical tips for dealing with each situation. It was a life saver and a relationship saver. 

I’ll share more of what I learned from our experience another time but know that if you have thought to yourself, “Hmm, I wonder if I should go to a therapist?” the answer is Yes. From my experience, by the time you’re willing to admit you need to go you’ve already needed to go way before that.

Well, that concludes the expanded list of of the Seven Ways to Deal with Anxiety in Motherhood. I hope this has helped you as much as it has helped me to write it all out. Now I just need to remember my own tips and somehow stay accountable to them. I’ll pray for you and I ask that you please pray for me also! 

If you have other tips you’ve found helpful, I’d love to hear them!


Seven Simple Ways to Deal with Anxiety in Motherhood {Day Six: Take Care of Your Body}

So far, I’ve given ideas for how to take care of your mental health with Prayer Breathing, keeping a Gratitude Journal, taking Time Outs Alone and spending Time In Together and Talking it Out.  Today’s Way to Deal with Anxiety in Motherhood is to:

Take Care of Your Body

Anxiety may feel like only a “mental” condition but the health of our physical body plays a critical role in our mental health. Our brains require sufficient sleep and proper nutrition to function properly and our bodies also crave stimulation.

Exercise

Engaging in some sort of physically challenging activity has amazing power over anxiety. When you feel like running away, go run! Or walk or dance – whatever it is, move your body!

I recently re-joined the Y and it has been a huge help in getting me out of my own “fog”. All the endorphins help balance out those stress hormones and clean out all the toxic anxious thoughts that tend to clog up in my brain. Plus, it makes me feel like I’m doing something positive for my health instead of just wallowing at home in self-pity eating my anxiety up in pounds.

  • Find friends to work-out with or to at least check in on you to keep you accountable – it’s harder to stay home when you know someone is waiting for you.
  • Participate in group exercise – it’s more challenging and motivating when you’re working out with others. The instructors are great at motivating and guiding you to push just a little harder to get the most of your work-out.

If you can’t join a gym, there are many other ways to stay active.

  • Set an alarm in the morning and go out for a walk before everyone else wakes up. I’ve taken walks in the middle of the day or even after the kids are in bed just to clear my head.
  • If you follow me on my Facebook page, you’ll also know that I’ve even been so desperate as to run laps around the rooms in our basement before a kind friend gave us a treadmill. People probably thought I was insane. Which wasn’t too far off but that’s why I was doing it, to stay just under that insanity line.

Eat Healthy

I’m not going to go too deep with the nutrition thing because honestly, trying too hard to eat “healthy” can become a source of anxiety of its own. Instead of focusing on what not to eat, I’ve just been trying to focus more on adding more of the good and then I’m not as hungry for the bad. If you follow me on Instagram, you know I like to share my salad ideas that are really simple.

People probably think it’s weird (or annoying) that I always share food pictures but it motivates me to #eatmoresalad  by sharing and hopefully helps encourage others to do the same. Keep it simple, keep it healthy, don’t overthink it.

Sleep!

Aside from staying active and eating healthier, I really can’t talk about taking care of your body to deal with anxiety without mentioning how immensely essential SLEEP is.

I remember reading once that the number one cause of post-partum depression leading to psychosis is sleep deprivation. Of course, this makes total sense – when I don’t get enough sleep I tend to act like a maniacal crazy lady instead of a loving and caring mother. Getting enough sleep is probably one of if it not THE most important thing you can do as a mother for yourself and your family. Yet, it’s also the hardest, especially when you have little ones who don’t seem to care how much sleep you get or don’t get.

None of our babies slept though the night – unless you count sleeping for 2 -3 hours at a time (or less) “sleeping through the night”.  I’m pretty sure I spent the first three years after each child walking around like a zombie. No wonder I felt depressed and anxious all the time! And then, as if I wasn’t tired enough, I’d say “yes” to doing too many things for other people and didn’t have enough energy to say “yes” to my own family.

Why do we do this to ourselves? I wish I could offer a magical solution to the sleep problem but I know that sometimes it’s virtually impossible to get enough good sleep depending on your “season” of motherhood. But there are a few things you can try. 

Go to bed earlier

I tend to want to stay up and have “me” time or time to catch up with my husband after a long day. It is good to have that time to catch-up but it’ll be better for your relationship if you make sure you get adequate sleep. My husband and I are night owls so I have to ask him to make me go to bed by 11 at the latest!  This is probably still too late, I should aim for 10 and then maybe I’ll actually fall asleep by 11. 😉

Get up earlier

What? Isn’t that supposed to say later? Well, yes and no. Here’s what I’ve discovered. If I sleep in too long, I’m actually crankier because I end up having to rush around to get myself ready and everyone else up and out the door on time on school days. I crave time alone in the mornings so if I get up earlier I have time to get myself ready, maybe even catch up reading or prayer, before everyone else wakes up.  So even though I may not have slept as long in hours, I feel like I saved a ton of energy by giving myself time to fully wake up before plunging into the noise and chaos of the morning rush.

Take Naps!

I love naps! When my babies napped, I napped. Not! I usually used that time to do laundry or fiddle around on the computer or do anything I couldn’t do while they were awake demanding things from me or getting into stuff.  But, when I did make time for a little nap – even if it was only 20 minutes – it made a world of a difference!  My youngest doesn’t nap anymore but I do. I’ll let him have some “show time” with a video while I watch the back of my eyelids on the couch with him. Sounds lazy but it helps recharge my energy supply up so I can continue giving of myself to the kids, especially when they come home from school.

If you feel like you’re doing all these things – exercising, eating right, sleeping well and enough – but you’re still feeling bogged down and listless, it might be a good idea to talk with your doctor about it. Ask them to check your hormone and blood levels as there could be deficiencies that your body needs for energy.  I’m not a medical expert at all but I have done enough reading and talked to enough women to know that sometimes a little hormone or vitamin/mineral supplementation can really help replenish those energy reserves and, in turn, give your body what it needs to combat anxiety and depression. It’s worth looking into.

I could go into a tangent on how important it is to take care of your body by building up a body self-esteem and positive body image for yourself but that’s a whole ‘nother post of its own and this one’s already too long as it is. Suffice it to say – take care of your body and your body will take care of you. 

Next, I’ll end with how Helping Others and Asking for Help is a Way to Deal with Anxiety in Motherhood.

 


Seven Simple Ways to Deal with Anxiety in Motherhood {Day Five: Talk it Out} 2

Do you ever feel like you’re trapped in a the web of your own negative anxious thoughts? Anxiety effects the whole body but its most apparent in our thoughts. We can get control of our thoughts with Prayer Breathing, keeping a Gratitude Journal, taking Time Outs Alone and spending Time In Together.  The next Way to Deal with Anxiety in Motherhood is to:

Talk it Out

If there’s one thing most women love doing, it’s talking about how we feel. I suppose I really can’t speak for all women, but I find it incredibly helpful to process my thoughts by talking them over with someone else. As I talk, the words spill out, and I can almost feel the tangled mess of knots in my brain unwinding. Usually, once I’ve said what I need to say out loud, I don’t feel those same negative thoughts I just spewed out. My mind is cleansed and ready to stock up on positive thoughts again. Talk your feelings out of your brain by speaking them with words. Look those words in the eye and then let them go. 

  • Pour your thoughts out with words in a journal. Write down a list of everything making you feel anxious. It’s amazing how helpful it is to do this. Often times, once I pinpoint the source of my anxiety, I don’t feel as anxious about it because it there is now a reason for my craziness that I can find ways to deal with.  Even if I can’t really do anything about it, at least I know now why I’m feeling the way I’m feeling and sometimes that’s enough.
  • When you’d like a more human response than your journal can offer, make time to share your anxieties and thoughts with your husband, a close friend, or even with an amicable and patient priest/spiritual director. While you might not be able to see clearly enough through the haze of you anxiety, another person can take a look at it from the outside and guide you out of the fog to clearer skies.
  • Talk it Out with a trained professional. Psychiatrists, Psychologists and Licensed Mental Health Counselors became what they are to listen to you and help you. Journaling your thoughts out by yourself and talking them over with a friend are great but if you need more than just a good listener, it’s worth paying to talk it out with a professional who can offer their medical and professional ear and provide concrete tips to deal with chronic anxiety.

Speaking of twisted knots, have you seen this painting of “Mary, Undoer of Knots”?

Look at her face, brow furrowed and deeply focused on the task at hand.

That’s her concentrating hard on helping you undo those knots of anxiety and frustration in your life. Talk to her. Give her your “knots”. Let her help you. She is your Mother after all.

Who do you go to when you need to Talk it Out?

 

Next, I’ll share how Taking Care of Your Body is a very important way to Deal with Anxiety in Motherhood.


Seven Simple Ways to Deal with Anxiety in Motherhood {Day Four: Time In Together}

Prayer Breathing, a Gratitude Journal, and Time Outs Aloneare all great ways to take control of Anxiety in Motherhood. Today’s Way to Deal with Anxiety in Motherhood is:

Time in Together

As great as it is to get out on your own every now and then, sometimes what we really need is to stay home for a day. Not to say that getting involved in activities is always a bad thing. In fact, it can help to get everyone out of the house at least once each day for a change of scenery and to establish reliable routines. Yet, getting over involved leads to overwhelm, more anxiety, and ends in an ugly and terrible burnout that hurts you and your family.

In fact, for me, getting too busy is one of my biggest anxiety triggers. There’s so much pressure on mothers to do everything and be everything to everyone (except ourselves) all the time and I fall into that trap time after time. I often run full speed into a brick wall before I realize that I’m trying to do too much all at the same time.

There are many good ideas for how to “be a good mother” but that doesn’t mean we have to try and live out all of those ideas all at the same time. There’s nothing wrong with just doing one thing at a time. In fact, studies and experience has shown that even while moms can multitask, it doesn’t mean we can always do it all well. Something ends up suffering – and it’s usually us which, in turn, means our family suffers right along with us.

If and when you find yourself running on fumes and feel like all you want to do is stay home under your covers all day – maybe you should. Or, at least maybe you should stay home for the day and just be a family together.

  • Make breakfast or a fun snack together – this could be as simple as spreading butter on bread so don’t over think or fantasize this!
  • Curl up on the couch, or on a blanket outside if it’s nice, and read books together, or watch a fun family movie together. (Psst, it’s ok if you fall asleep, you’re still with them.)
  • Or, give the kids a project to work on or set them loose outside while you work on catching up in the house. You’ll feel so accomplished when you finally file those papers, find your kitchen counters again, and get all the piles of laundry off the floor and in their respective closets and drawers.
  • Take time to write out all yours and your family’s commitments and activities. Pray about it and honestly decide  if you really have to do all of them right now. If not, prayerfully and honestly decide what can be paused, postponed, or cut out all together.
  • Remember, your primary responsibility is simple: Love your family. All your kids really want from you – is you. Instead of trying to do all sorts of things for them – simply be with your family more. 

What do you like to do together with your family?

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