Feminism and Eating Disorders

Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That’s their natural and first weapon. She will need her sisterhood. –Gloria Steinem

goddess

In honor of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I am writing a series on Eating Disorders and Feminism. The first is a guest blog, “Full Women Have Full Feelings,” published on Psyched in San Francisco magazine. 

Have you ever been afraid of being called “The B word” (something that rhymes with
witch)? I know I have. As someone who is attuned to relational dynamics, asserting my own voice, when…

To continue reading Full Women Have Full Feelings, click HERE

 

Part two continues the topic of sexual assault followed by an exploration of how eating disorders do not only affect straight, white adolescent women. Stay tuned!

 

What Anxiety Says… and a Compassionate Response

Anxiety comes up frequently for people in recovery and moms. When I imagine anxiety, it looks like this:

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It is rigid, red and rapidly moving.  Usually, we want anxiety to go away. We want to just get rid of it. But when we ask what anxiety has to say, and respond with curiosity or tenderness to the scared-self, a new relationship can emerge. Below are some examples of what the anxiety part of the self might say.

Here’s What Anxiety Says:

  • I’ve made a bullet-point list for you. You should do everything on the list and then I will go away.
  • (After list is complete): “OK, that was the first one. I now have several more.”
  • Other people have it all figured out, so you should pretend like you do. One way to do this is to look good. I will help you with that. Try to look perfect.
  • You are the only one that struggles with this anxiety. It makes you isolated, and you don’t belong because of it. Therefore, you should hide it.
  • Be very busy. If you’re not busy, doing things, I can help keep your mind be very busy. I can even make your thoughts race.
  • I will always be your friend, but especially from 1:00-4:00am. At that time, I will remind you of the ways you are incompetent, the world is falling apart, and you can’t do anything about it. If you go on social media during this time, I will find lots of evidence for you.
  • Other moms are doing it better. You are not qualified to be a good parent. You should read parenting books to illuminate all the ways you are f*cking up.
  • Your body is the wrong size/shape. You can (and should) fix that. If you do, I may go away (but I will probably stick around because you will need me to manage you, since you can’t be trusted).
  • Not eating, bingeing, purging, drinking, or smoking pot are good ways to get me to go away. (Oh, and you will need to maintain that. And you should hide that you do that, because it is shameful).
  • The world is not safe. I have found lots of evidence of this for you.

As you can see, it is not a kind voice, this anxiety. It is relentlessly hypervigilant to the ways that you are inadequate. Strangely enough, this part of the self is often trying to protect you: from vulnerability, from the unknown. In my training as an Imaginal Psychologist, one way we worked with different parts of the self – and integrating them back into wholeness – was to bring fiercely compassionately objective voice into the dialogue. Compassionate awareness can take several different forms: it can be humourous, fierce, gentle. It can be rational and empirical. In my experience, this compassionate part is much more flowing and less rigid than anxiety. It feels like a deep breath down into the cooling water under the anxiety. It might look like this:

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Here are some examples of what this voice of might say to anxiety. What the Voice of Compassionate Objectivity Might Say:

  • Isn’t it interesting to notice the associations between anxiety and accomplishing or not accomplishing things?  So interesting to notice…
  • I bet you could choose to do some, all, or none of the items on the list, and your value as a human would remain fully intact and whole. How about you try and I will be the witness observing?
  • Is “figured out” an equation? If “it” is figured out, does that mean fear or suffering disappears?
  • Who are those “perfect,” and “busy” people? If they exist, might they be struggling with the same fear of inadequacy you are?
  • If there are 7.5 billion people (roughly) on the planet, do you really think you are the only one who struggles with these thoughts and feelings? Might it not be the very thing that connects your heart, mind, and body with humanity?
  • I wonder what would happen to your thought-speed if I help you breathe. Does it change if you breathe all the way into your abdomen? It doesn’t need to change. But if you are in discomfort from the racing, bringing attention to your breath can help your body shift into parasympathetic (rest) mode. Would you like to try?
  • I will do everything I can to help you get a good night’s sleep, honey. I’m going to help you with loving limits: no social media at night. Not helpful.
  • We can take stock of your strengths and weaknesses during the day and/or with someone who can add compassion and objectivity to the assessment. When you’re feeling weak, that’s not the time to assess your weaknesses.
  • If you can’t sleep, I won’t abandon you. I’ll stay with you and the anxiety. I’ll be right there with you, surrounding you with care and tenderness.
  • Body size and shape have nothing to do with your worth, honey. I know you keep really wanting it to be about that. But I’m going to keep reminding you the answers you seek are not there.
  • Did you show up to the best of your ability as a Mom today?  Your best can be different on different days. That is ok. Mistakes are how we learn. Oh, and put the parenting books down.
  • You can tolerate anxiety. It won’t kill you. You can ride the wave of this fear without medicating it.

These are just some examples. The goal is not to get rid of anxiety. The goal is to develop a different relationship with it. Perhaps it might look like this?

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Obviously, you will have to see what your own voice of Compassionate Objectivity has to say.

For now, I will leave you with a summary that I and some of the people I work with find helpful:

There is nothing wrong with you.

Nobody has it all figured out.

You are safe right now.

You are not alone.

The Winter Solstice

img_1192I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure

the darkness for it shows me the stars.

-Og Mandino

We are in a dark time of the year. There is a reason why there has always been a light-in-the-darkness time, and not just for those needing light in recovering from depression. Historically, in an agricultural society, December was a time when the harvest was done and therefore it was a time to rest, turn inward and reflect. With the days being darker, and Winter Solstice being the shortest day of the year, bringing and celebrating light is a natural response to, well, not going mad in the darkness. We need light. Not only does the vitamin D literally stave off depression, but symbolically we need to know there is light in the dark.

One theory of the origins of December 25 as the date chosen for the birth of Jesus is that it was originally the pagan festival in Rome celebrating “the birth of the unconquered sun,” celebrating the sun-god and the solstice. Hanukkah is also known as “the Festival of Lights,” Kwanzaa ritual include lighting special candle holders called kinaras, and in the December Hindu festival Pancha Ganapati, a shrine with Ganesha (the Hindu elephant god who clears away obstacles) is lit. Shabe Yaldā or Shabe Chelle, held on the Winter solstice, isan Iranian festival celebrating the victory of light and goodness over darkness and evil, and Chahar Shanbeh Sure, the Iranian “festival of Fire” celebrates light over darkness on the last Tuesday night of the year.

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“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”

-Elizabeth Kubler Ross

 

For recovering people, this can be particularly challenging to remember the light: the light of hope, the light of “this too, shall pass,” the light of love. It can be difficult to remember you have an inner light to which you can listen.

There is a lot to be concerned with in the world right now. So much suffering. Holding the light of hope can be hard. So many religions and cultures have this light in the darkness in their symbolism for this very reason. It is a human need; an archetypal commonality we share. Remember that you are only responsible for your light, your candle in the darkness. Light your candle. Revisit, hold onto, re-light this light. In the words of Anne Frank,

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“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”


Light your candle. The world needs it. The world needs you.

5 More Ways to Take Care of Yourself Over the Holdays

Previously, we looked at HALT (Don’t get too Hungry Angry Lonely or Tired),  Keeping Consistency, Taking a Social Media Break, Introversion Recovery Time, and Looking for Similarities. Here are 5 more ways to be mindful of your self-care over the holidays. Remember, the intent is to lean toward kindness to yourself. You are explicitly forbidden to use any of this to beat up on yourself for not doing or being enough.

(And, as I say to my new mom clients, the caveat/abbreviated version for Moms is: Take a Shower, Get Support.)

  1. Practice Loving Kindness  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lovingkindness is both a Buddhist and Hebrew term that is associated with mercy, dignity, compassion, and benevolent affection. Practice this kindness and softening of judgment with yourself and others. I was recently at Mindful Self-Compassion training with Kristin Neff, PhD, author of Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself (HarperCollins, 2011). She led us through a meditation in which we imagined a person who we easily love such as a young child, a pet, or a spiritual teacher. We sat with sending them love for a moment. Then we took a posture in our body-imagination of sending and feeling love such as holding this person in a hug or putting your hands on your heart. Then we transitioned to sending that love to ourselves. Try this. Try sending the love you give freely to others to yourself. In the lovingkindness practice, there are also components of sending the wish to be happy and healthy, free from suffering to a person with whom you feel neutral and with whom you feel hostile. Feel free to try this as well. If you feel your heart closes at this prospect, stay with yourself. You yourself most need your own lovingkindness. If you feel resistance toward self-compassion, watch Dr. Neff’s TED talk: Overcoming Objections to Self Compassion.

 2. Practice Gratitude

I just finished reading the book The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan (Dutton, 2015). In it, she interviews Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, who states:

“Of all the positive strengths we’ve looked at, people who are highest in gratitude are also highest in well-being.”

It was also shared that if you don’t come by gratitude naturally, “gratitude interventions” can have a big effect. I love that. The founder of positive psychology has a brain that doesn’t naturally turn toward gratitude! Can you relate? It’s ok to have a mind that keeps going back to “bad alleyways.” The work is to train it differently, with compassion and perseverance, like you are training a puppy.

Gratitude interventions include: keeping a daily gratitude journal, writing a letter of gratitude to a friend or loved one and reading it to them, taking pictures of things you are grateful for throughout your day. I’m not talking being Pollyanna here. It has to be authentic or it has no effect or meaning. But it can be simple. Some of my recent examples include: being warm and dry out of the rain, making paper snowflakes with my little one (turn toward the fun and away from the scraps all over the floor), talking with a friend.

3. Be of Service

Being of service can be one of the most benevolent AND personally rewarding things you can do. If you can do something big, by all means DO IT NOW. But it doesn’t have to be big. Mother Teresa said:

“There are no great acts. There are small acts done with Great Love.”

Many, many, many people took very small steps (and many took very large ones as well) together to preserve Missouri river at Standing Rock recently. You may find that healing others with similar struggles helps heal your own. If you are a person recovering from an eating disorder or alcoholism, you have the unique gift of being able to understand someone else struggling with the early stages of healing in an empathic, helpful, and non-condescending way. (Keep in mind that you can’t keep it unless you give it away but you can’t give it away unless you have it. So if you are struggling with your own recovery, find another way to be of service right now and let others be of service to you for your recovery.) The feeling of doing something helpful for someone else has a way of providing meaning that no other gift can.

Here a few other examples:

  • Return a grocery cart or pay the bridge toll for someone in the car behind you.
  • Smile or make eye contact with someone you wouldn’t normally.
  • Let someone else get on the train/bus first.
  • Open the door for someone with a stroller.

4. Practice Radical Acceptance.

Carl Rogers said:

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I can change.”

This is a beautiful quote that sums up the environment within yourself that can help ease suffering and, if you want, create change. For the holidays, try practicing “It is what it is.” Look around you, notice and describe what you see, what you smell. Use your senses to bring yourself directly into the present moment. If you can be with that, you will most likely be okay. It is just this moment. Try practicing adding “right now” to aspects that you find difficult to accept and see if that helps soften the suffering of wanting it to be different. This is my body right now. This is my family right now. This is the cabinet of the President elect right now. You don’t have to like it. And accepting is not the same thing as agreeing with or condoning. It is acknowledging that this is what it is right now. The artist Richard Stine is attributed to saying:

“It’s simple. We are where we should be, doing what we should be doing. Otherwise we would be somewhere else, doing something else.”

There can be great relief, power, and spaciousness is the right now. You are right where you are supposed to be. Right Now.

5. Ask yourself what you need.

Only you know what you truly need. Ask the part-of-you-that-knows. Listen and respond.

What do I Need right now? (Only YOU know!)

Whatever it is, be kind with yourself. “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha

Amen (and Women)!

2 Ways to Take Care of Your Self During the Holiday Season

The holidays can be hard. They can be especially difficult for people recovering from disordered eating, alcoholism, depression, or anxiety. The intention of this blog is to help you be a bit more fierce with your own self-care and a bit more compassionate with yourself and others. This is not a list to use to beat up on yourself for not doing enough or being imperfect! May it be helpful, useful, and ease some of your suffering during this time.

  1. HALT

Try not to let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Getting too tired, hungry/hypoglycemic, resentful, or isolating is a recipe for addictive behaviors and/or haltdepression. Imagine yourself to be a little one (this will not be hard for you parents to imagine) who needs regular meals and snacks, regular emotional understanding, and regular sleep. If little ones get too tired/hungry/emotionally not heard, there will be meltdowns. Be a kind parent to yourself. Pack a self-care bag with protein snacks, water, get to bed on time, make plans with friends and/or providers that “get” you so you can feel nourished and grounded. Practice what a friend of mine calls “aggressive self-care.”

2. Keep 1 Thing Constant

Choose one thing – morning meditation, weekly support group, your meal plan, sobriety, journaling, daily inspirational reading. Whatever it is, just keep coming back to this.

A Word About Kindness and Self-Compassion

The intention here is to help you be a bit more fierce with your own self-care and a bit more compassionate with yourself and others… not to beat up on yourself for not doing enough or being imperfect. So if you HAVEN’T kept one thing constant, just restart it. And when you notice you haven’t kept your thing – whatever your thing is that keeps you grounded and sane – constant (We all fall off the wagon on this. It is part of being included in humanity.), notice with kindness and compassion. Imagine you are a puppy. Gently pick yourself up from the place where you are being unkind to yourself and bring yourself back to the place where you are being kind. Gently bring yourself back to the thing that helps you. Just keep coming back.

 

Embody: Learning to Love Your Unique Body (and quiet that critical voice)

I have been following and quietly cheerleading the work of The Body Positive for years. Created by Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott, LCSW, in 1996, The Body Positive is a community offering freedom from societal messages that keep people in a struggle with their bodies. Connie’s experience with an eating disorder in her teen years and the death of her sister Stephanie inspired her life’s work to improve the self-image of youth and adults. She founded The Body Positive in honor of her sister, and to ensure that her daughter Carmen and other children would grow up in a new world—one where people focus on changing the world, not their bodies.

Like Connie, my work is inspired from the desire to break the intergenerational legacy of eating disorders. I want eating disorders to stop with me, and I want my child to be free.

So it was with great pleasure that I read Connie’s book, Embody (Gurze books, 2014), which outlines the work of body positivity beautifully. Early in the book, Connie outlines how the Body Positive model differs drastically from not only dieting, but also a self-help model or cultural message around “arriving” at a static end point in order to be “done” (and therefore not need to grow, feel, work or explore anymore).

Body Positive:                                                          Not Body Positive:

Tools for a lifetime of exploration A static goal-oriented view of life
A definition of health that is based on balanced self-care and self-love An idealized external image of a ‘healthy’ person
No Double binds Conflicting messages that leave people confused or frustrated
Attuned self-care “Rules” about eating and exercise
A foundation of self-love and forgiveness “Shoulds” and punishment
A celebration of diversity as beauty A limited definition of “ideal” beauty
The development of positive communities Connecting with others through negative self-talk

There are so many things that stood out for me in this book. Here are a few that I celebrated in particular:

* Exploring your Body Story through creatively using expressive arts and writing

*Turning your critical eyes toward discernment of negative messages you may have received from your family of origin (without blaming your mother) and culture rather than turning them against yourself.

*Defining and supporting Intuitive eating

*Re-defining exercise as a way to have fun and pleasure in your life (walking, dancing) and release brain chemicals to keep our moods stable rather than a way to punish ourselves or shape our bodies differently

* Including tools for quieting the Critical Voice

*Declaring your Authentic Beauty

Throughout the book, personal stories from Connie, Elizabeth, and people who have participated in Body Positive community are shared. There is a feeling that you are not alone in the struggle, and your are not alone in your journey to re-find (or find in the first place) joy and peace in your body and your life.

It isn’t often that I would recommend a book to friends, colleagues, and my clients! This is that book.

 

5 Ways to Have Fun in Recovery and Motherhood (with free Halloween ideas)

Like many recovering women and moms, “fun” often falls to the bottom of the to do list for me (if it’s even on there). Who has time for fun? I’m WORKING! I’m working being a mom, I’m working being a Psychologist, I’m working running a household!

However, all work and no fun makes … NO FUN! And when there is no fun, this is a set up: for burn-out, depression, relapse, cross addiction, cynicism, unhappy marriages, cranky kids, and wistful fantasizing about times when play included things other than matchbox cars and dressing up like Elsa for the five hundredth time.

Here are some FUN ideas that have worked in our house:

  1. Get Creative in Your Child’s Play by Being Silly Yourself.

(And create a Halloween costume other than Elsa or Star Wars)

If your child likes to dress up like Elsa, and you feel like you are going to throw up if you have to be her sister, Anna, one more time, be something YOU want to be! Put on black clothes, cut out little green dots and be a Black-Eyed Pea! (That is a free Halloween costume idea. You’re welcome. You can now have fun being something-other-than- yet-another-Star-Wars-Princess-Zombie-Superhero walking down the block on October 31st). You can now dance around singing “I’ve Got a Feeling…”

If YOU are having fun, your child will, as well. If they are laughing, that is the goal. Little ones laughing are the equivalent of liquid gold. And who says Elsa can’t play with a singing, hipster vegetable?

2. Have Fun with Literal and Non Literal

My husband came up with this one when he couldn’t take another 2 hours of matchbox cars racing around:11411714_10153358823245120_6846648671725484537_o

It’s a Traffic Jam 🙂

Another thing my little one and I have done is put letters around the house on things that start with that letter. You can play with puns like the letter “T” on the Tea box, and the letter “P” on the potty where your little one goes “Pee.” This can be fun for a few minutes during the witching hours. Every little bit helps.

3. Create a Weekly Ritual 

Our family has movie night every friday. I know some moms that have actually created theme-meals to go with the movie: “poison” (caramel) apples with Snow White or Pumpkin cake with Cinderella. Olaf eggs for Frozen. (More ideas. You’re welcome.) olaf

I myself am too f-ing tired by friday to do this. We order out and have it delivered. Permission to do this. And if you are in recovery and not a Mom, if you have a fabulous (or good enough) babysitter, then by all means go OUT to a movie!

4. Find a Special Place to Visit Regularly.
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It could be a redwood forest or a tree near your house. Whatever this place is, visit it regularly to connect with the-part-of-you-that-knows. This may not be fun in the traditional “Hey, let’s have some fun!” light-hearted kind of way. However, it is the ground from which all creative and fun energy arises. Your Soul/Wise-Mind/Intuition will appreciate having a regular place where you breathe, rest, and reflect. Find a Grandmother tree or create an altar in your home where you can be still. This is that quiet place that is under all the noise of Busy-ness. It is the ocean that all the waves crash back into. Let your mind rest there.

5. Connect with a Friend to Do the Fun Thing You Never Let Yourself Do

Take a moment to ask yourself what you really like doing, but never allow yourself to do. Now: create a date with a friend to do that. Whether it be collage-ing, making art, painting, dancing, yoga, or getting a pedicure, making a date with a friend will make you more likely to actually do it. This accountability can help give you both permission to take having fun more seriously 🙂 Do it before you reach this place, because when you reach this place, you are no fun:

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Many Blessings and Have Fun!

 

Your Brain On Music: How Music Helps Your Brain, Your Recovery and Your Heart

Have you ever had a song come on the radio that suddenly transported you somewhere? A recovering alcoholic friend of mine takes it as a “sign” whenever she hears the song from the movie Frozen “Let it Go,” reminding her that she is not in control and that is a good thing. Another woman I know listened to “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas every day when she was recovering from Postpartum Depression. It was the thread she held onto when she had forgotten what joy felt like. For those four minutes and fifty-one seconds, she could remember. Music enters the nervous system through the brainstem, which neuroscientists suggest may be the “seat of sentience..(To read full article go here, to Psyched in San Francisco, a San Francisco therapy site, where I am guest blogging. Then come back here for the list below!)

Dr. Linda Shanti’s Brief List of Music for Different Life categories

For Recovery, Patience, and Affirmation:

Let it Go (Indina Menzel)

Love After Love (Jami Sieber and Kim Rosen)

Good Day (Nappy Roots)

In My Car (I’ll Be the Driver) (Shanaya Twain)

One Day At A Time (Elton John)

Butterfly, Next Right Step, or Sing, Love, Dance (Jana Stanfield)

Have A Little Faith in Me (John Hiatt)

I Am Loved, Gentle With Myself, Prosperity Chant (Karen Drucker)

 

For Dance:

Cowgirl (Underworld)

Just Let Go (Thin White Duke Remix)

HOPE Let My Love Open the Door (Pete Townshend)

Dream Machine (Downtempo Mix) Hotel Costes

I’ve Gotta Feeling By Urban Beats (Black Eyed Peas)

A Little Bit Of Riddim (Michael Franti & Spearhead)

 

For Meditation:

Golden Bowls of Compassion (Karma Moffett)

Inspiration or Vision (Dr. Jeffrey Thompson)

The Empty Sky (Anugama)

Gaia (Michael Brant DeMaria)

Returning (Jennifer Berezan)

 

For Romantic Love:

The Way I Am and Giving Up (Ingrid Michaelson)

Can’t Help Falling in Love (Twenty One Pilots or Haley Reinhart)

I’m Gonna Be (The Proclaimers)

All My Days (Alexi Murdoch)

 

Breaking Up (the Bitter and Recovery Stages):

Gives you Hell (All American Rejects)

Send My Love To Your New Lover (Adele)

Breakable (Ingrid Michaelson)

Love After Love (Jami Sieber and Kim Rosen)

 

For Kids:

Get Your Booty Out of Bed, Song in Your Heart, or Peanut Butter and JAM, (Charity and the Jam Band)

We’re Going to Be Friends and The Sharing Song (Jack Johnson)

Crazy ABS’s or Food Party (Barenaked Ladies)

Itsy Bitsy Spider (This version: Party Like A Preschooler)

 

For the Earth and its People:

Keep A Green Tree in Your Heart (Charity and the Jam Band)

With My Own Two Hands (Jack Johnson)

Down to the River (Alison Krauss & Union Station)

Creating a Dream (Xavier Rudd)

Imagine (John Lennon)

 

For Sleep:

Dreamy Music For Sleep (Dr. Jeffrey Thompson)

 

 

 

 

A Letter To My Belly

 

Dear Belly,

Every morning my little one pulls up my shirt, kisses you, and says, “I came from there!” You are fleshy now, stretched. I feel warmth and softness when I touch you. Mother. You hang over my jeans a bit. My sagging muffin top. I try not to mentally airbrush you out of pictures- the little traces of shame that still linger, the empire cut shirts, even though I haven’t been pregnant for five years.

Twenty years ago disgust for you filled my world. And crushed my spirit. All the self-loathing, anger, fear and shame were stuffed into you. I’m sorry. So many apology letters written to you in those first years of eating disorder recovery. But I did grow to accept you! And fed you. And then you created an amazing child! (Ok it was my womb, but you are the flesh that stretched to accommodate). You grew and stretched beyond what I thought was possible

Belly, I’m sorry that there are so many images in the world that don’t look like you. I know those images make you feel unloved, disgusting, flabby. I’m sorry those images make you feel wrong.

Those images tell you all kinds of crazy sh*t:

“Be smaller! Be flatter! Do this to be loved! Be big and full of yourself until age seven and then be flat and hungry. But don’t feel hungry! Just look thin! Don’t get angry! Hide your intuition. Don’t listen to it. Be attractive by not being yourself! Don’t get stretched. If you get stretched, get sucked and stitched back in.”

I just want you to know, Belly, they’re wrong, those messages. Contrary to what the images tell you, there is nothing wrong with you. Let me say it again as you have received those other brutal messages so many times.

Belly, there is nothing wrong with you.

5 Super Simple (But Not Easy) Self-Care Strategies for New Moms

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  1. Shower

We all know how easy this was in our former lives. Just hop in! At any time! With no interruptions and for as long as you want! This is no longer the case. However, a shower can make a world of difference. It is actually one of the main action steps I encourage not only new moms, but also clients recovering from depression to take. Cleaning your body helps your mind. It has the capacity to wash away some of the sleep deprivation and frustration. And it has the added benefit of cleaning away stinky-ness having old milk, snot, and poo that your little one may have generously shared. For at least one moment, your body can be clean, and all your own.

  1. Sleep

Don’t stop reading yet! I know, if one more person tells you “sleep when the baby sleeps,” you are going to punch them. So I’m not going to tell you that. However, I want to encourage you to carve out in whatever way works for you and your family, a good chunk of sleep for yourself. There is a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. Sleep deprivation can cause difficulties in concentrating, irritability, problems with reading, speaking, and an increase in appetite. If the deprivation continues, disorientation, visual hallucinations, social withdrawal and/or challenges, memory lapses, and breaks in reality occur.[i] One of the main treatments for moms recovering from perinatal mood disorders (anxiety, depression, psychosis), along with therapy and medication, is sleep. And the sleep needs to be for prolonged period of uninterrupted time. (Disrupted sleep is as bad as no sleep – more on this
in upcoming sleep blog).

Art-HighRez-3932-3157179467-OHere some ideas: hire a night doula, have your partner or grandma take over night feedings for one night, ask your partner to do the middle-of-the-night feeds, or do modified sleep training. Preserve and protect your sleep, however you can. Don’t succumb to the temptation for late night Facebook/Online shopping/Great-ideas-planning-your-new-business-vnture-as-a-mommypreneur. If these are still appealing when you are rested, you will know they are coming from a true need. Otherwise, it’s adrenaline-fueled exhaustion that would be better fed with restoring your sleep.

  1. Sunshine

Did you know that vitamin D is one of the best antidepressant vitamins? Low vitamin D has been linked not only with postpartum depression for the mother[ii] but also increased risk of eating disorders in female offspring.[iii] Getting out of the house can be one of the best ways to bring new perspective to what can feel like drudgery of new motherhood. So pack up all your new accoutrements – diaper bag, pacifiers, bottles, snacks, diapers, etc.- and get out into the sun. It may just be to walk around the block. It may be an adventure like getting to the playground or the coffee shop. You may even coordinate this adventure with another new mom, which leads to the next tip…

  1. Support

It is a recent cultural phenomenon that moms are trying to care for their babies alone, at home, by themselves without a “village” of support. This used to be the extended family, or way, way back in human experience, the tribe. Humans thrive on attachment. Without it, we wither. There is no wrong way to have support as a new mom, other than to not have support as a new mom. Your support could be a mom’s group. It could be your partner. It could be your therapist. It could be YOUR mom. It could be your non-mom friend. It could be your friend who is also a mom. It could be your doula, lactation consultant, or mother-in-law. It could be all of these or some combination of these. But having none of these is a recipe for trying to be Supermom (who doesn’t exist, and lives in the isolated perfectionist imaginations of moms who have no support), which can to Postpartum Depression. I love this quote from Dr. Sue Johnson, the founder of emotionally focused therapy:

“Being the “best you can be” is really only possible when you are deeply connected to another. Splendid isolation is for planets, not people.”

If you are providing attachment to your new little one, YOU need to be strongly attached.

Trying to holdOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA, provide food, and give emotional sustenance to your baby without support yourself is like being a tree without roots. You will fall over, you will wilt, you will not thrive. An then this will happen to your baby, too… It is not only okay, but also essential that you have support! Put on your oxygen masks first, Mama.

  1. Spiritual practice

 Last but not least, having a mindfulness practice can be a helpful tool for tolerating the distress and practicing acceptance with all the learnings of new parenthood. This may be 5 minutes of meditation per day. Or it may be one bite of mindful eating during a lunch otherwise filled with Cheerios being thrown on the floor. It may be a yoga class or writing 1 page in your journal every day. You could practice deep breathing every time you hear your baby cry and your stomach tenses up with anxiety or discomfort. For new moms, it is important to Keep It Simple. Remember: the Buddha was NOT a parent when he became enlightened. Unlike him, you don’t have seven days to sit under a tree uninterrupted. You may have seven minutes. Take it. A good practice is to breath in the suffering of all new moms all around the earth and breathe out loving-kindness to all the new moms all around the earth. I used this practice when I was a new mom. It made me feel so much less alone at 3am.

In Conclusion

You are not alone, Mama. Keep going. Keep practicing any and all of these self-care practices as much as you can for as long as it takes. You are NOT allowed to use this blog to beat up on yourself for what you are not doing. If you are doing that, stop now. Thousands of other moms are struggling right along with you, trying to sleep, shower, get support, see the sunshine, and do spiritual practice! Try, to the best of your ability one moment at a time, to find the kind mother inside yourself for yourself. This kindness is where the real strength of motherhood is: it is this place that is rooted and flexible, fierce and tender. It is the one that defends her right to practice her own self-care as a way to then be able to care for others. It is the mother putting her own oxygen mask on first. In the words of Sue Monk Kidd:

“You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still have to find this part of ourselves inside.”

You can do it mama. If you can’t find her, keep looking. You may need to grow your capacity to be a good mom to yourself along with learning to be a good one to your baby. That is okay. She is there, waiting for you to feed, nurture, forgive, and grow her. Oh, and shower her, too!

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Linda Shanti McCabe is a Mom and Licensed Clinical Psychologist in San Francisco.As always, this blog is written to provide experience, inspiration, and hope – not to provide psychological treatment. If you are struggling with a perinatal mood disorder, a good resource is Postpartum Support International.

All original art images copyright Linda Shanti McCabe

[i] Bulkeley, Kelly, “Why Sleep Deprivation is Torture” Psychology Today, December 15, 2014.

[ii] Robinson et al. Low maternal serum vitamin D during pregnancy and the risk for postpartum depression symptoms, Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 2014.

[iii] Allen KL, Byrne SM, Kusel MM, Hart PH, Whitehouse AJ.  Maternal vitamin D levels during pregnancy and offspring eating disorder risk in adolescence. International Journal of Eating Disorders. Jun 26, 2013.

 

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