I routinely meet with people who are struggling with the pressures of raising kids. It’s a 24/7 job that can spark a roller coaster of emotions depending on the day: fear, resentment, joy, frustration….and that’s just before breakfast.
But one of the most common emotions that my therapy clients struggle with goes to the heart of how they see themselves as parents. And that feeling is shame.
WHAT IS SHAME?
The experience of shame is deeply personal and can make us question how we see ourselves in everyday life.
As a parent, shame can lead to feelings of unworthiness and self-doubt around how we’re bringing up the next generation, particularly when certain parts don’t work out as we envisioned or planned.
WHERE DOES SHAME COME FROM?
Moms and dads often have an image in their mind of what parenting ‘should’ look like. Aptly coined the ’myth of the perfect parent’, this romanticized outlook is usually formed before the babies are even born and the messiness (literally and figuratively) or parenting truly sets in.
This universal idea of what parenting ‘should’ look like can also give rise to a million smaller ‘shoulds’ that creep into our everyday thinking. For example:
I should be breastfeeding my baby.
I should be balancing career and family.
I should always enjoy spending time with my kids.
I should never yell or show frustration.
The trouble with all these ’shoulds’ is that they put an unrealistic pressure on moms and dads to parent a certain way and can lead to feelings of defeat when things don’t work out. This disconnect between expectation and reality is where shame starts to set in.
WHAT ELSE IS AT PLAY?
While the issue of shame around parenting isn’t anything new, certain aspects of modern life aren’t helping.
Social media, for example, has made it easier than ever to compare ourselves to one another and fill our minds with doubt about what we should and shouldn’t be doing as parents. Just last year, a survey of 500 Canadian women revealed that 82% of moms compare themselves to other moms online and 69% said they have “insecurities about motherhood” due to social media.
SO, WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Despite the emotional challenges of parenting in today’s world, there are strategies that can help:
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The end of December is synonymous with celebration, but it also signals the start of another time-honoured tradition: making new year’s resolutions.
The act of pledging to start doing something “good” or stop doing something “bad” is one that’s observed by many Canadians annually. But, is it a healthy way to start the year?
You may be surprised to read this, but I don’t think it is.
THE DOWNSIDE OF MAKING BIG PROMISES
According to a recent study, the top 10 New Year’s resolutions for 2019 were:
When you combine this list with the fact 80 percent of resolutions fail by February, the cracks in this longstanding ritual begin to appear.
Overhauling aspects of our lifestyle is challenging at any time of year, but particularly when its tied — not to internal motivation or readiness — but to a fixed date on the calendar. If we pledge to make major and unrealistic changes without actually being ready, the chances of failure increase and we can end up feeling more demoralized and unhappy than before we started.
AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH
Rather than making lofty and life-altering resolutions at the start of the year, I suggest approaching January 1st with a renewed commitment to wellness and self-care.
Life can be frenzied and stressful enough without piling on a list of new tasks to achieve. I’d prefer, instead, my clients focus on learning who they are and how to healthily move forward when life doesn’t go as planned.
In dedicating more time to personal wellness and less time to pressure-driven goals, we can hopefully strive for a healthier, wiser and more improved self in 2020.
Wishing you a peaceful and happy New Year!
‘Tis the season for family gatherings and while many people enjoy reconnecting with relatives at this time of year, others feel less than cheerful about it.
There are several reasons someone may dread a holiday get together, but one that’s come up a lot in recent weeks is the unease some clients have expressed around spending time with a toxic family member.
If you’re struggling with a similar worry in the lead up to the holidays, below are some self-care tips and strategies that may help.
If you have decided to attend:
This time of year is merry for some and challenging for others. If you’re concerned about encountering a toxic family member during the holidays, consider the above steps and reach out to a therapy professional if you need additional strategies or support.
Wishing you a peaceful and joyous holiday season.
It’s not an official diagnosis, but the term “eco-anxiety” has gone mainstream as a way of describing the stress or despair some people feel when it comes to climate change.
And it’s not hard to see why.
Dire assessments about the environment and seemingly non-stop images of natural disasters have permeated our lives near constantly. Sixteen-year-old activist Greta Thunberg captured international attention in September when she was literally moved to tears describing “the beginning of a mass extinction” due to global warming.
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL
A 2017 American Psychological Association study revealed that climate change can affect individual mental health in a variety ways and can lead to stress-related problems from depression to substance abuse. On a macro level, environmental upheaval (i.e. from droughts or flooding) can displace entire communities and lead to long-term feelings of insecurity, powerlessness and fear.
To further understand the real-time impact of climate change on our psyche, look no further than the results of a recent U.S. study that found 20 percent of millennials believe climate change will lead to the end of human civilization in their lifetime.
So, what can be done to overcome eco-anxiety?
TIPS AND STRATEGIES
Being conscious of climate change is important but it's necessary to have coping strategies if your concern becomes too consuming. Here are some solutions for managing climate-related stress.
We were blessed with a beautiful summer here in Ontario, which makes the inevitable start of winter a tough pill to swallow.
And while cold temperatures combined with shorter days can irk even the toughest Canadians on occasion, some people struggle intensely when the mercury takes a dip.
I’m speaking today about Seasonal Affective Disorder.
UNDERSTANDING SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER
Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly known as S.A.D., is a type of depression linked to changes in the weather that typically sets in during the fall and winter months.
Research suggests S.A.D. is caused by fluctuations in sunlight that can disrupt a person’s biological clock and lead to feelings of sadness and depression. Lack of sunlight is also believed to impact important brain chemicals, like serotonin and dopamine, that are directly linked to behaviour, cognition and mood.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF S.A.D. AND WHO IS MOST AT RISK?
Symptoms of S.A.D. generally turn “on” and “off” at similar times each year and can range in severity from behavioural to physical. People suffering from S.A.D. may notice a drop in energy levels, changes in mood, appetite or sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating and an overall sense of sadness that lasts for days or weeks on end.
Studies show women and young peopleare most at risk for developing S.A.D. It’s also more common for people with a family history of the condition and those living in places with major swings in daylight hours throughout the year (i.e., people living far north or far south of the equator).
STRATEGIES AND TREATMENT
While we can’t change the weather or the hours of sunlight in a day, we can change how we cope when the seasons turn.
With daylight savings and the start of colder temperatures, it’s clear that seasonal change is upon us. Be on alert for signs of S.A.D. and consider the above strategies to help yourself or your loved ones overcome it.
You knew things would be different, but maybe you weren’t prepared for how different.
From leaving the security of your parent’s house to finding yourself plunked inside a giant lecture hall (um…who are all these people?), the shift from high school to university is a big one.
So big, in fact, that it’s a common issue I discuss with my adolescent clients.
The transition to post-secondary can be broken down into three distinct areas of change: personal, social and academic.
If you’re finding the shift from high school to post-secondary to be challenging, consider the below strategies to help ease the change.
The transition to post-secondary is a major milestone in any student’s life and while the change may go seamlessly for some, it may be more difficult for others. If you or someone you know is having difficulty adjusting to university life, consider the above strategies or reach out to a therapy professional for additional support.
It’s hard to believe September is just around the corner and these lazy days of summer will soon give way to fall routines.
For children and parents alike, this time of year tends to be filled with mixed emotions as excitement blends with nervousness in the lead up to a new school year. These feelings are common and completely normal, especially in the case of new or first-time students.
If your child is feeling a tad anxious ahead of the new school year, below are some tips that may help ease their anxiety and calm your nerves too.
Switching from summer mode to school mode is always an adjustment, but with the right outlook and approach, it can go smoothly. Consider the above strategies for making the next few weeks a positive transition for the whole family.
It’s the postpartum struggle almost no one talks about.
Like new moms, new dads can also suffer the devastating effects of depression in the periods before, during and after pregnancy. But since men don’t endure the hormonal fluctuations associated with childbirth, a common misconception is they must be exempt from struggles like postpartum depression (PPD).
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
A 2015 Canadian study revealedthat roughly 13% of first-time fathers experienced “elevated depressive symptoms” during the latter stages of their partner’s pregnancy. Even starker is the fact that an overwhelming majority (80%)of men refuse to seek medical care until convinced by their spouse, likely due do the ongoing stigma and misinformation surrounding male PPD.
SYMPTOMS & FACTORS
Similar to new moms, symptoms of PPD in new dads can range in severity and adopt many different forms. Below are some common examples:
While a personal or family history of depression can be a contributing factor in PPD among men, other considerations may also be at play, including:
As I mentioned above, an overwhelming majority of men suffering with PPD refuse to get help until persuaded by their partner.
Research shows, however, that speaking with a registered therapist can be very effective in treating symptoms of perinatal depression in men. In addition, online support groups are available for those wishing to share their experiences anonymously. Medication may also be prescribed in the most extreme PPD cases.
The important thing to remember is that male PPD is nothing to be ashamed of. It can be overcome and support is always available.
Like so many things linked to childbirth, women’s emotions both during and after pregnancy can be incredibly hard to predict.
And while society has gradually become better at helping new mothers identify postpartum feelings of depression, sadness and withdrawal, other symptoms associated with giving birth haven’t been as widely explored.
I’m speaking today about postpartum anxiety.
WHAT IS POSTPARTUM ANXIETY?
Together with its more well-known counterpart, postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety affects approximately 23% of Canadian mothers, according to Statistics Canada. It is characterized by excessive nervousness, nonstop worry and an inability to relax in the aftermath of childbirth that impacts a mother’s ability to care for herself and her newborn child.
Unfortunately, these signs often go undiagnosed by medical professionals or get lumped in with “new mom jitters” that so many women experience in the frenzied days and months following delivery.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP?
A reasonable amount of worry is to be expected after having a baby, especially as a first-time parent. It’s when those feelings of fear or panic become overwhelming (for example: you avoid leaving the house with your baby out of fear they’ll get sick or hurt or you can’t sleep for worry of leaving them unattended) that it’s time to seek additional support.
If you’re feeling overcome with anxiety after giving birth, speak to your pediatrician or OBGYN about getting help, including asking for a referral to a therapist with perinatal experience. Speaking to an expert can be beneficial in and of itself but they can also provide evidence-based solutions, like grounding exercises and controlled breathing techniques, aimed at promoting relaxation.
Medication that is safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding may also be recommended in the case of extreme postpartum anxiety.
Though often harder to recognize and more seldom discussed than postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety is a real condition affecting a significant percentage of new moms. Thankfully, it is also highly treatable and does not have to define your experience of motherhood.
Do not hesitate to seek help if you or someone you love is showing signs of postpartum anxiety. It’s never too late and support is always available.
You registered them in the middle of winter thinking you’d have more than enough time to get prepared, but now the start of summer camp is around the corner and…well…you’re both feeling a bit unsettled.
Rest assured those feelings are completely normal— especially if this is your child’s first time away from home. Thankfully, with the right combination of positivity and planning, you can ease your own mind and help make their first summer camp experience one to remember.
PROS OF SUMMER CAMP
First and foremost, it’s important to remember why you thought camp was a good idea in the first place!
The upsides of summer camp are many. From developing leadership and social skills to building confidence and spending active time outdoors, camp is a unique ecosystem for kids to learn and grow outside the classroom.
In fact, a University of Waterloostudy of both day campers and overnight campers found that 69% of participants showed positive growth in the area of emotional intelligence, while 67% displayed growth in the areas of self confidence and personal development.
Speak to any summer camp alumni and chances are they’ll tell you how their most beloved memories and cherished life experiences are tied to their childhood summer camp.
Still, even with all its benefits, the prospect of putting your kids on a bus and sending them away for weeks or even days at a time can be daunting for everyone involved.
You may find yourself asking: Will they be well taken care of? Are they going to be homesick? Will they shower and eat properly? These questions are perfectly valid and likely go through the mind of every parent in your shoes.
If you or your child are feeling a bit anxious in the lead-up to camp, the below tips may help:
PREPARING YOUR KIDS
From nurturing independence to fostering physical activity, there are endless benefits to a summer spent at camp. By following the above steps, you can help ensure this summer is a successful one for the whole family.
Lindsay Ross, MSW RSW, is a clinical social worker in private practice in Toronto, Ontario.